Europa League - De Gea fails to prevent United loss

Thu, 08 Mar 22:03:00 2012

David de Gea's heroics could not prevent Manchester United from slumping to a 3-2 first leg loss to Athletic Bilbao after a breathless Europa League last-16 clash at Old Trafford.

Athletic Bilbao's Spanish forward Fernando Llorente (4R) celebrates after scoring during the UEFA Europa League round of 16 first leg football match between Manchester United and Athletico Bilbao at Old Trafford in Manchester, north-west England on March - 0

Wayne Rooney scored first for United on 22 minutes, but it was barely deserved and a vibrant visiting side illustrated their dominance by moving 3-1 ahead courtesy of some wonderfully energetic and slick passing movements.

The gigantic striker Fernando Llorente headed a deserved equaliser for the La Liga team on 44 minutes before Oscar de Marcos turned to smack home a delicious volley on 72 minutes.

Iker Muniain added a third with a minute left on the clock after United goalkeeper De Gea had thrown himself across his goal to pull off the last of several outstanding saves from a stinging De Marcos effort.

Rooney gave United hope for the second leg at San Mames next Thursday when he drilled a penalty beyond goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz in stoppage time, but it is a minor miracle Sir Alex Ferguson's side got out of the match with just a one goal deficit.

Ferguson admitted that his side had been "well beaten" on the night, but was not happy about the award of a free-kick in the lead-up to Bilbao's third goal when Patrice Evra was penalised for passing the ball after a boot came off. Bilbao took the free-kick quick and went up the other end of the park to score a third goal.

In truth, United could have lost by more than the odd goal in five as Marcelo Bielsa's young team set about their task with some relish roared on by a vociferous band of 7,000 travelling supporters who enjoyed their trip to Manchester as if they had won the trophy.

This was their first trip to United on an official visit since 1957, and they had not come to defend.

Llorente set the tone for the evening when he walloped a shot inches wide on four minutes before Rooney struck from close range in United's first attack of the night after Iraizoz could only knock the ball straight out from Javier Hernandez's effort.

Markel Susaeta should have equalised on 32 minutes when he lobbed wide after racing clear before De Gea dived to tip Andoni Iraola's shot wide.

Athletic finally equalised when Llorente powered a fine header into the corner of the net from Susaeta's delivery that was beyond De Gea before he even saw it.

De Gea was called upon to make exceptional saves from Munian and Llorente at the outset of the second period before Llorente smashed an effort wide of goal when he should have scored as Athletic threatened to run riot.

Ander Herrera dinked a lovely little ball over the top for De Marcos to finish for his side's sublime second goal. Muniain then added a third for the visiting side, but at least Rooney's second of the night gives United some hope, however slim it might appear after this going over.

David de Gea could not prevent Manchester United from slumping to a 3-2 first leg loss to Athletic Bilbao in the Europa League last 16. - 2

Eurosport

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