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Champions League Athletic

AS AS 02/05/2014 F. J. Garrido

“Heaven can wait” stars and was directed by Warren Beatty in 1978, but tonight Athletic wanted to make their own version in Vallecas. They weren’t in the mood to wait for their mathematical classification for the play-off round of the Champions League.

Athletic secure fourth spot. Athletic secure fourth spot.

Though the game was delayed by 15 minutes, while the ground was cleared of the confetti and paper the Rayo fans had thrown on the pitch to celebrate staying in the Primera, the footballers didn’t forget their script; they had their lines memorised to perfection. That, and how to neutralise Rayo’s qualities. They made it clear from the start, pressing high and seeking to force an error from Rayo’s rearguard. And, although Rayo aren’t the team they were in the first two thirds of the league, offering quite as many chances at the back, they’re still hardly perfect.

The pressure forced the home side to forget the passing football they are used to and send the ball long on occasion after occasion; it’s not a style of play that suits them. Athletic, however, got their prize for having more ambition from two dead-ball situations. The first was a corner taken by Susaeta, at which San José knew exactly how to take advantage of Rubén’s mistake in coming for the ball and not getting there. The second was another corner, which Rayo defended badly and De Marcos took advantage firing through Rubén.

The secondary role Athletic wanted Rayo to play didn’t convince the home side, who quite rightly, felt they had sufficient quality to play more of a starring role. For that reason, or maybe because Athletic’s pressure was less suffocating in the second half, Rayo were more recognisable and were found in Iraizoz’s box far more often and with more danger, though without the intensity of previous games.

Athletic’s third came from another set-piece. This time from the boot of Herrera, who sent a free-kick past Rubén. The thousands of Athletic fans celebrated in style, as their side made utterly sure of fourth place and the Champions League spot.

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