European soccer news: Athletic Club ends 40-year drought, Bayern sink

The end of the European soccer season is getting closer, with title races reaching their last stages and cup finals being decided.

Saturday delivered some sensational action, with Marquinhos making history at Paris Saint-Germain, Christian Pulisic adding yet another goal to his tally, and Bayern Munich once again coming undone, this time at Heidenheim.

The undoubted highlight, however, was the tense Copa del Rey final between Athletic Club and Mallorca. Which club triumphed on penalties? ESPN’s Weekend Review has you covered with all the details below.

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The lead: Athletic Club end 40 years of hurt to lift the Copa del Rey

It took a while. Until 12:48 a.m. local time in Seville, in fact, when after 90 minutes, half an hour of extra time and a penalty shootout, Athletic Club’s 40-year wait for a major trophy came to an end.

Almost three hours of tension ended in an explosion of emotion from the Basque half of La Cartuja stadium as Álex Berenguer‘s spot kick found the net, giving Athletic a 4-2 shootout win over Real Mallorca — after the game had finished 1-1 — to see them lift the Copa del Rey for the first time since 1984. Generations of Athletic fans had never seen their team win the cup. They had lost five Copa del Rey finals in the last 15 years. Not this time.

It wasn’t always the prettiest final, but it was riveting, with nail-biting drama and moments of real quality from both teams. One of them was Dani Rodríguez‘s opening goal for Mallorca in the 21st minute, curling into the corner after two shots from teammates had been kept at bay. Another was Oihan Sancet‘s equaliser, early in the second half, from Nico Williams‘ clever pass.

Williams was the game’s outstanding player, and the winger was named MVP. While his older brother Iñaki looked nervous, often miscontrolling or making bad decisions, Nico was a persistent threat. He could have scored a hat trick, with a first-half goal disallowed for offside, followed by an effort put into the side netting, and later a shot deflected inches wide in extra time. Mallorca right-back Gio Gonzalez ended up hanging onto Nico’s shirt in desperation.

Whatever the result in Seville, history would have been made. Yes, Athletic had gone four decades without a major trophy, but Mallorca had only won one in their entire history, the 2003 Copa. An estimated 90,000 Athletic fans had travelled down from Bilbao to Seville for the game — many of them without tickets — and filled the city centre for hours before kick-off. Mallorca fans were here in numbers too, but they were the underdogs chasing a dream; Athletic were under pressure to deliver.

Athletic were the better side, with more possession — 69% to Mallorca’s 31% — and more shots — 30 to 13 — creating an xG, or expected goals scored, of 2.47 to Mallorca’s 0.58. But Mallorca had their moments too and stayed in the game right until the very end. Canada international Cyle Larin had a great chance to make it 2-0 before Sancet levelled. In extra time, Vedat Muriqi had a header well saved by keeper Julen Agirrezabala. And then to penalties, with two goalkeepers who are second choice for these clubs in LaLiga but had been given the chance to impress in the Copa: Agirrezabala and Mallorca’s Dominik Greif. Agirrezabala saved from Manu Morlanes to give Athletic the advantage, before Mallorca’s Nemanja Radonjic shot over the bar. Berenguer buried the decisive penalty, and Athletic’s long-awaited party could finally begin. — Alex Kirkland

Sunday talking points around the leagues

Bayern’s season going from bad to worse

Bayern Munich’s away game at Heidenheim was supposed to be a tune-up for their Champions League quarterfinal clash with Arsenal on Tuesday. But it turned into a nightmare in the second half when Bayern frittered away a 2-0 lead in front of a 15,000 sell-out crowd to lose 3-2. Just to put things into perspective, Heidenheim’s entire wage bill is less than Harry Kane earns at Bayern per annum.

Promoted Heidenheim are located halfway between Munich and Stuttgart in the sleepy region of Ostwürttemberg, where green fields and mid-sized industrial companies dominate the scenery, and have earned a reputation as a difficult team to play against. Still, after Bayern had dominated the first portion of the game and led by two goals, it seemed so far-fetched that the home side, coached by Heidenheim native Frank Schmidt since 2007, could stage a comeback.

However, FCH managed to do so, with striker Tim Kleindienst once again taking the spotlight. He scored the equalizer after another beautifully timed cross from Jan-Niklas Beste. The winger was recently called up by Germany national team coach Julian Nagelsmann, but had to pull out due to an adductor strain. Kleindienst later finished off a quick transition attack during which Bayern’s defense seemed completely lost.

Fascinatingly, Bayern manager Thomas Tuchel picked Dayot Upamecano and Kim Min-Jae as his pairing in central defense. Truthfully, the duo, at times, did not look like they once cost €42 million and €50 million in transfer fees, respectively. Perhaps it was just Tuchel’s way of experimentation, as he recently preferred Matthijs de Ligt and Eric Dier as his first-choice pairing. Expect the Dutchman and the Englishman to start against Arsenal on Tuesday – it could get messy at the Emirates.

As for the German championship, Bayer Leverkusen are 16 points ahead of Bayern following another commanding win, this time over Union Berlin. Leverkusen could seal the title next weekend if they beat Werder Bremen. – Constantin Eckner

Marquinhos makes history as PSG are held by lowly Clermont

Marquinhos made his 435th appearance for Paris Saint-Germain in their 1-1 draw against Clermont at the Parc des Princes to equal the club’s record set by Jean-Marc Pilorget more than 30 years ago. The Brazilian centre-back, who made his debut back in September 2013, came on after 67 minutes when PSG were behind 1-0 after a shock opening goal by Clermont, the team bottom of the Ligue 1 table and destined for relegation.

Luis Enrique left all his superstars and usual starters on the bench for this game, four days before their Champions League quarterfinal clash against Barcelona. The Paris manager fielded very much a C side with 17-year-old PSG academy prodigy Senny Mayulu, making his first-ever first-team start.

The league leaders dominated heavily and finished the game with 23 shots, seven on target for an expected goals of 2.84 and hit the woodwork twice as well. But the Parisians had to wait the 86th minute to see Gonçalo Ramos equalise after a lovely one-two with Kylian Mbappé, who came on at the same time as Marquinhos.

For the home side, the most important was to continue their unbeaten run which goes back to Nov. 7, and 27 games in a row now in all competitions. They are still 13 points clear of Brest in second place, who face Metz on Sunday. For Clermont, still bottom of the table, five points away of the relegation playoff spot, it is a good point which unfortunately might not be enough to stay up. — Julien Laurens

Americans Abroad: Pulisic hits another stunner

Saturday was a banner day for Americans playing for clubs in Europe.

For starters, Pulisic scored his 10th goal of the Serie A season in AC Milan’s 3-0 win over Lecce. With that, Pulisic surpassed his previous single-season scoring record when he scored nine with Chelsea in the 2019-20 season of the Premier League. The goal itself was also a beauty, too. In the sixth minute with the score at 0-0, Pulisic received the ball from just outside the box, cut over to his left foot and fired.

Not to be outdone, the United States national team contingent in the Netherlands contributed three goals on Saturday. PSV Eindhoven — which might as well be spelled U-S-A these days — beat AZ Alkmaar 5-1, with two goals assisted by Malik Tillman and one by Sergiño Dest.

With these three additional goal contributions, the American trio at PSV of Tillman, Dest and Ricardo Pepi are now responsible for 37 goals in all competitions this season. — Caitlin Murray

News of the day

  • Wrexham forward Paul Mullin scored his 100th goal for the club with his header against Colchester United on Saturday. Mullin has been instrumental to Wrexham’s rise in recent years, which audiences will know well from the TV series Welcome to Wrexham, scoring 47 goals in all competitions last season as they won the National League title and earned promotion to League Two for the first time in 15 years.

And finally, on Saturday…

Back to the Copa del Rey for today’s And Finally…

Check out the ridiculous atmosphere at San Mames in Bilbao:

The catch here? The final was being played at the Estadio La Cartuja in Seville, over eight hours’ drive away. Athletic’s fans that had missed out on tickets to the final sold out their home stadium and watched all the drama unfold from there. What a way to celebrate a historic win. — Mike Wise

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