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Monday, March 12, 2012

Ferguson upbeat on Europa League hopes

Manchester United were dispatched three goals to two by Athletic Bilbao at Old Trafford on Thursday, in what could come to be regarded as one of the more exciting matches of the 2011/12 Europa League.

Wayne Rooney opened the scoring for the Red Devils against the run of play, but a sprightly Bilbao side quickly equalised, courtesy of a powerful header from centre forward, Fernando Llorente.

Athletic, who are perhaps best known for their strict recruitment policies, favouring players from the Basque territories of Spain and France, added another at the 72nd minute mark. Oscar de Marcos volleyed home a lofty pass from Ander Herrara. Anyone following the Europa League betting will have been stunned.

The victory appeared complete for the tourists twenty minutes later, when pacey teenager, Iker Muniain, added a third for Bilbao. David de Gea palmed the ball wide into the path of the Spaniard, who needed only to outrun the United defence to score.

Muniain's effort did not come without complaint from the United players; the free-kick that led to Los Leones' final goal was given in controversial fashion, when the referee penalised Patrice Evra for striking the ball with a boot missing.

The German official, Florian Meyer, awarded the free-kick on the grounds that players cannot continue playing unless they wear the full football uniform, boots included. "The real rule", Alex Ferguson said, "is you can, but when the play is stopped you have to go off the field."

Manchester were awarded a penalty mere seconds after Muniain's goal, in what will have been regarded as recompense for Meyer's decision by United fans. Rooney thumped the ball past Bilbao 'keeper, Gorka Iraizoz.

United are now on shaky ground in the Europa League. Bilbao have an away goal advantage for the second leg at San Mames, meaning that Fergie's team need a confident win to qualify for the quarter-finals. Fans of football betting should remember this.

"They were the better team. It's an uphill fight for us," Sir Alex added. "The question is, can we win the match over there? I think we can."

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