SEVILLE: Athletic Bilbao’s indomitable desire and spirit, forged from the club’s fierce local identity, overpowered a Barcelona side containing world class players but lacking cohesion to win the Spanish Super Cup on Sunday.
Led by their bearded forward Asier Villalibre, who played the trumpet on the pitch after the 3-2 extra-time win, Athletic’s full-blooded celebrations showed the team’s sense of unity, something Barca have been missing for a while.
Barca forward Antoine Griezmann blamed the team’s defeat on a lack of communication in defence.
“We didn’t defend well, we didn’t talk to each other. When the ball goes out someone needs to shout out instructions,” he said.
Griezmann, who spent his formative years at Athletic’s local rivals Real Sociedad, praised his opponents’ fighting spirit after they which twice came from behind to cancel out his goals.
“They pressed us very well, they gave everything until the last minute,” he added.
Athletic coach Marcelino, who was taking charge of only his third game since succeeding Gaizka Garitano, was also in awe of his new side.
“It’s incredible how these players work and fight. They were so determined to win this game and we’re very proud of them,” he said.
While Barca’s team contained eight nationalities from three continents, Athletic’s players all hail from Spain’s Basque region and neighbouring Navarre, a talent pool of little more than three million people.
The majority of their players, including goalscorers Oscar de Marcos, Villalibre and Inaki Williams, came through the club’s academy, rather like the great, all-conquering Barca side coached by Pep Guardiola between 2008 and 2012.
Lionel Messi is one of the few remaining players from that squad but the Argentine was sent off for striking out at Villalibre and conceded last month he has struggled to warm to the current Barca side.
The Athletic squad, however, are so close that six players, including trumpet player Villalibre, decided to form a band during last year’s lockdown, covering hit songs from the Basque region.
“Everything can be summed up by heart and faith,” said Athletic striker Williams, whose scorching strike early in extra time won the match.
“We believed in ourselves, we knew we had the capabilities to win the game. We had to lean on our spirit, never give up and show our passion. That’s what Athletic is all about.” – Reuters