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Thursday, December 02, 2004 

Athletic 1-0 Steaua

A solitary Joseba Etxeberria goal, struck in added-time at the end of the first-half, was enough to secure Athletic Club Bilbao victory and give them a great chance of going through to the last 32 of the UEFA Cup although defeat could not stop FC Steaua Bucuresti celebrating their own qualifying passage.

Attacking waves
A single-goal victory was the least Athletic deserved from a Group B game which saw them launch a wave of attacks on the Romanian side’s goal. However they found it hard to beat Vasili Khomutovski, who made a couple of outstanding saves that his coach, the former Italian international goalkeeper Walter Zenga, would have been proud to claim as his own.

Steaua sure
The result leaves both sides at the head of Group B on six points and their goal difference is identical, each having scored four and conceded three. Steaua have completed their fixtures while Athletic still have one game to play, away against R. Standard de Liège. But whatever the results on Matchday 5, Steaua are assured of one of the three leading positions while Athletic need just a point to be sure of joining them.

Tough test
This was always going to be a tough assignment for them with centre-back Petre Marin and striker Daniel Oprita both suspended. In addition Florentin Dumitru, Tiberiu Curt, Sorin Paraschiv and Cristian Ciocoiu were all injured. But they started forcefully and Dorinel Munteanu was the first to bring the goalkeepers into action, Daniel Aranzubia gathering his shot at the second attempt. Khomutovski also looked none too convincing in the wet conditions with his first piece of work – fumbling a low shot from Santiago Ezquerro.

Pure class
However, the save that Khomutovski made from the same player in the 33rd minute was pure class. He had little time to react to Ezquerro’s header as the forward raced in to meet a free-kick and the keeper did exceptionally well not only to get a hand to the ball but to turn it around the post.

At last
It looked as if Athletic would go into the interval without scoring. Then Ismael Urzaiz headed down and Etxeberria, a threat throughout, put his volley out of Khomutovski’s reach. Urzaiz was to the fore again at the start of the second half with a header directed just wide. Athletic were intent on adding a second goal but Steaua were defending with dogged determination and behind them Khomutovski refused to be beaten a second time.

Urzaiz denied
In the 54th minute a pinpoint Etxeberria cross offered Urzaiz the chance to double Athletic’s lead but again Khomutovski saved well. The home side tired after that and almost let Steaua back into it. Aranzubia made a crucial block in the 77th minute after Nicolae Dica, finding himself in a generous amount of space, tried to dink the ball over him and moments earlier Andrei Cristea, standing unmarked at the far post, headed the ball agonisingly across the face of goal from Gabriel Bostina's cross.

Source: uefa.com

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