Bilbao to play Schalke in Europa League quarters

Athletic Bilbao were rewarded for eliminating Manchester United in the Europa League by being drawn on Friday to play Schalke in the quarterfinals.

Updated: March 17, 2012 13:45 IST
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Nyon, Switzerland: Athletic Bilbao were rewarded for eliminating Manchester United in the Europa League by being drawn on Friday to play Schalke in the quarterfinals.

"It was a fiesta for us," Bilbao secretary Javier Aldazabal said of the Basque club's impressive 2-1 win on Thursday, following a 3-2 upset of the English champion at Old Trafford.

"To be in the European last eight, it's a surprise but we are enjoying it."

Atletico Madrid, the 2010 winner, will play at home first against Hannover in another Spain-Germany clash.

Spain's third challenger, the 2004 UEFA Cup winner Valencia, will travel to the Netherlands for the first leg against AZ Alkmaar.

Sporting Lisbon, who ended English interest by beating Manchester City, are at home first against Metalist Kharkiv of Ukraine.

The quarterfinal first legs will be on March 29, and second legs on April 5.

In the subsequent semifinals draw it was: Atletico Madrid or Hannover vs. AZ Alkmaar or Valencia; and Sporting Lisbon or Metalist Kharkiv vs. Schalke or Athletic Bilbao.

Bilbao won admirers for the fearless way they attacked and dispatched United with a passing game in the style of Barcelona.

They have reached the quarterfinals of a European competition for the first time since losing the 1977 UEFA Cup final against Juventus.

"Our history is there," Aldazabal told The Associated Press. "The last 20-25 years have been very poor times for us, but it seems as though now good times are coming."

Bilbao suffered for its policy of selecting only players with Basque connections in the post-Bosman Ruling era of free labour movement within Europe and no nationality limits on clubs' rosters.

"It's not just what you get, but how you get it. That is quite important for us," the club official said.

Spain forward Fernando Llorente, who joined Bilbao's ranks as a boy, has become the public face of a bright young team guided by former Argentina and Chile coach Marcelo Bielsa.

"It's really motivating for us that we can play at European level with our policy and philosophy," Aldazabal said.

Still, Bilbao's principled stance will be tested fully, with the first leg in Germany, by a Schalke team which reached the Champions League semifinals last year.

"We didn't want to meet Spanish teams because we consider them very good, and another team we didn't want was Schalke," Aldazabal said.

Schalke coach Huub Stevens said he respected Bilbao's unselfish style.

"They play as a team. They beat Manchester United twice and deserved it both times, that tells us a lot about how strong Athletic Bilbao is," Stevens said.

In the semifinals, first-leg matches will be played on April 19, and the returns on April 26.

The final is on May 9 in Bucharest, Romania.

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