Athletic Club did the unthinkable on Thursday when they came back from a 2-0 deficit in Athens, Greece to beat Panathinaikos 3-2. For most of the game the Lions were not playing well and found themselves chasing the ball and unable to establish possession. Thankfully, three late goals changed everything. After the match, Kuko Ziganda spoke to the media and admitted that it was the worst game since he took over as the manager and that the performance was surprising.
“We were not good at all. It was the worst game since I began leading the team a month and a half ago. We started strong, but could not keep it. In the second half we started better. The players are very excited about this competition and it would have been very tough to lose today. We were surprised. In the preseason and the two previous Europa League matches we have been solid, but today we weren’t at our best. We rushed when we had the ball and chased when we didn’t have it. We were not organized in defense either and now we have to improve from this performance.”
Ziganda went on to say that the team can and should play much better, while also highlighting the fact that his players never gave up hope that they could come back. He said it is hard to win on the road against Panathinaikos, but Athletic always believes in themselves.
“We can and should play better. We have the quality to play much better and I think we showed that at the end. The DNA of this team is incredible. The reaction and response of the players has been precious. We had seven magical minutes and we were able to turn the game around. This team never surrendered, never tired. We never gave up hope even after a horrific two goal deficit. The players showed faith in themselves and pride in the match. We have players who can score goals at any time and Aritz Aduriz is always in that position. This was a game that we didn’t lose hope, even though we were awful for a large portion. It is not easy to win here, but it is clear that we always trust in ourselves.”
The return leg will take place next Thursday at the San Mamés and the winner of the tie will advance to the group stage of the Europa League. However, Athletic can’t think about that match quite yet. On Sunday they will begin their La Liga season when they host newly promoted Getafe to kick off the new year. The Lions want to get out to a strong start domestically and it will be interesting to see how Ziganda rotates his players with the Basques playing four games in eleven days.