Valencia’s heroic effort to fight back from a deficit kept them in a decent position to advance to the Copa del Rey final, with Yunus Musah helping to lock down a nervy final phase.
Athletic Bilbao 1 – 1 Valencia
Musah was initially left on the bench for the first leg of Valencia’s semifinal matchup against Athletic Bilbao in the Basque country, but played the final quarter-hour plus a seemingly endless amount of added time as they escaped the San Mamés with a draw.
After having started and excelled in every Cup game for which he has been available so far this season, the American was omitted from the starting lineup due to a general shuffling resulting from the arrival of on-loan teenage prospect Ilaix Moriba, a former Barcelona prodigy who was begrudgingly sold to RB Leipzig in the summer.
The hosts were generally the dominant side, out-possessing, out-passing and out-shooting Valencia, however were only able to treat the home crowed to a draw as a result of their efforts.
After a cagey opening phase, Athletic opened the scoring in the 37th minute after Raul Garcia snuck in behind the wall of Valencia players defending a free kick from Iker Muniain, and headed in at the near post for the 1-0 lead.
As the halftime whistle approached, an on-field disagreement erupted after Valencia’s Mouctar Diakhaby blatantly shoved Garcia to the turf, resulting in the benches clearing and Valencia sub Maxi Gómez being shown a straight red.
Luckily, the expulsion of a sub didn’t leave Valencia at any disadvantage, and they were able to equalize five minutes past the hour mark. A strong buildup saw Goncalo Guedes fire a cross in front of goal that Bryan Gil redirected towards the target.
Athletic keeper Julen Agirrezabala made a spectacular one-handed block of Gil’s attempt, however his deflection was directly to the foot of Hugo Duro for an easy tap-in from a few yards out.
Musah entered in the 75th minute for Guedes, as both teams tried to gain a footing to make a last push for the victory.
While Athletic did more to control the overall tempo in the final phase, it was Valencia who would have felt as though they deserved the victory, after Duro was toppled in the area in the 90th minute by Daniel Vivian. The referee saw it differently, despite replays showing what looked to be a clear foul, and even showed Duro yellow for his vocal arguments.
In the end, the game ended after just over 96 minutes as a 1-1 draw, setting the table for what will be a pressure-packed second leg in three weeks’ time.
With the away goals rule being abolished starting this season for the two-legged semifinal, the teams are on fully even terms heading into the return leg in Valencia’s Mestalla on March 2.
In the meantime, they will face two relegation candidates – Alaves and Mallorca – with a difficult visit from Barcelona sandwiched in between in La Liga action.