Sporting stun Athletic
Sporting Lisbon stunned Athletic Bilbao to win their Europa League semi-final first-leg 2-1.
By Adam Bate
Last Updated: 19/04/12 10:24pm
Sporting Lisbon stunned tournament favourites Athletic Bilbao to win their Europa League semi-final first-leg 2-1 in the Portuguese capital.
Second-half goals from Emiliano Insua and Spain international Diego Capel turned the tie on its head and ensured Sporting can take a one-goal lead to Bilbao.
Things had looked bleak for the home side when Jon Aurtenetxe connected with Markel Susaeta's deflected free-kick to give the Basque side the lead early in the second-half.
Indeed, prior to Aurternetxe's opener, Sa Pinto's Sporting side appeared content to ensure it was a tight affair as they sought to stifle Athletic's attacking ambitions.
It worked for much of the first-half with prolific target-man Fernando Llorente cutting an unusually isolated figure.
Marcelo Bielsa's men stepped up the tempo after the interval, even missing an excellent chance to take a two-goal lead when Venezuela international Fernando Amorebieta hit the upright.
But Insua's remarkable header - taken on the up from 12 yards out - raised the roof at the Estadio Jose Alvalade and changed the whole tone of the evening.
And with a little over 10 minutes remaining, Capel fired a fierce left-footed drive past Gorka Iraizoz to win the game for Sporting and set up an intriguing second-leg in Bilbao next week.
Sporting had settled the quicker and Insua drew an early save out of Iraizoz before Ricky van Wolfswinkel fired just wide.
Athletic's first decent opportunity arrived in the 12th minute, and really should have resulted in the opening goal of the game but the unmarked Llorente, usually so deadly in the air, powered his header from Susaeta's corner a foot over the crossbar.
Susaeta and Ander Herrera saw long-range efforts go wide and saved by Rui Patricio, respectively, as Athletic sought a valuable away goal, but Sporting were looking dangerous on the break and twice came close following lightning-fast counter-attacks.
The first saw Joao Pereira drive in a rising shot from the edge of the box which appeared to strike the outside of the post, although Iraizoz looked to have it covered.
Then, moments after Van Wolfswinkel had seen a 20-yard effort go just wide, Sporting broke away again but Stijn Schaars, after being set up by Capel, fluffed his lines
Sporting also threatened first at the start of the second half but, after Insua had seen his cross-shot parried by Iraizoz, it was Athletic who took the lead.
Susaeta curled in a free-kick from the right and after Insua had failed to cut the ball out - slicing his attempted clearance behind him instead of away from danger - defender Aurtenetxe slotted in at the far post.
That was a huge blow for Sporting, but it could have got even worse five minutes later as Athletic hit the woodwork, Amorebieta latching onto a loose ball inside the area to drive in a shot that struck the inside of the post before staying out.
Susaeta then saw a looping header land on the roof of the net with Rui Patricio struggling as the visitors went in search of a potentially decisive second goal.
At that stage it looked like Athletic would be left holding all the aces for their return to San Mames, but with their final dreams slipping away, Sporting staged a superb fightback.
Van Wolfswinkel spurned a great chance to equalise in the 69th minute when he glanced a header wide from close range, but within six minutes of that miss the home side were on level terms.
Insua was the quickest to react to a bouncing ball in the Athletic area to guide a header just inside the far post.
Buoyed by that goal, Sporting started to lay siege to the Athletic defence and it was 2-1 four minutes later when Capel drilled in a low 25-yard shot that fizzed into the near corner.
Substitute Bruno Pereirinha, having replaced Capel, should have made it 3-1 in the 84th minute but curled just wide from the near the penalty spot as Athletic survived a late onslaught to limit the damage.