BILBAO, Spain – Athletic Club defeated Granada on Wednesday in the first leg of their Copa de Rey semifinal by a 1-0 margin that understated the dominance of the home side in front of more than 49,000 at San Mames stadium.
And Athletic’s inability to translate their evident superiority into more goals – albeit two were erased by VAR – is the one bright spot for the visitors as they look ahead to the March 5 second leg in Granada.
Iker Muniain and Iñaki Williams would have given the hosts a likely insurmountable advantage in the tie if not for the play of Granada goalkeeper Rui Silva.
Yet the first chance of the night belonged to Granada. A cross from Victor Diaz found Roberto Soldado behind the Athletic defense in the 6th minute only for the shot to drift wide. Moments later, home keeper Unai Simon had to make a stop against Yangel Herrera.
But Athletic seized the initiative and created five scoring opportunities between the 15th and the 23rd minutes.
Silva had to bat away a powerful strike from Williams and did well to deny Mikel Vesga on a shot that caught the keeper by surprise.
Raul Garcia saw his header go over the crossbar, while Granada got lucky when Yuri Berchiche’s cross failed to reach Williams waiting at the near post and Vesga inexplicably passed on a sitter, allowing Silva to smother the ball.
Just as Granada was beginning to breathe a sigh of relief after surviving the onslaught, Dani Garcia lofted a deep ball to an unmarked Williams, who drove into the area before passing to Muniain for the easy goal.
After a pause for VAR to determine whether Williams used his arm to control the ball, the goal went up to make it 1-0 for Athletic in the 41st minute.
Athletic, who ended the night with 67 percent possession, let Granada have the ball after the re-start, but the hosts remained the more dangerous side.
A goal that would have doubled the lead was called back for a clear offside before Williams flubbed an opportunity on the counter.
Then it was the turn of Athletic defender Ander Capa, who forced an outstanding save from Silva and then beat the Granada keeper on a subsequent try.
But VAR intervened again to take down the goal after spotting an infraction by Williams, who went on to test Silva again.
Granada mounted a late charge. Simon handled a solid strike from Carlos Neva and watch with his heart in his mouth as a curving corner kick brushed the near post and landed just outside the goal.
Athletic’s Basque regional rival, Real Sociedad, will face second-division club Mirandes on Thursday in the first leg of the other semifinal tie.