Tromso 1-1 Athletic Bilbao (3-4 agg.): Lions Through After Tame Tromso Tie

Los Leones stand firm to progress to the group stages following a hard fought draw in Norway...

Athletic Bilbao are safely through to the Europa League group stages after a testing tie away to Tromso of Norway.

A Javi Martinez penalty ten minutes into the second half gave the Spanish side the lead in an evenly fought contest and they withstood some strong Tromso pressure to preserve the draw.

The first half was a tense affair with neither side committing too many men forward. Tromso seemed happy to bide their time knowing that a 1-0 win would be enough to send them through while Athletic were happy to hit the home side on the break.

In a fairly even first 45 minutes, Fernando Llorente and Markel Susaeta went close for the visitors while Morten Moldskred, the Tromso danger man, was always a threat.

The breakthrough came for the visitors when Miika Koppinen conceded a penalty with a rash challenge after 55 minutes before Javi Martinez dispatched the spot kick low to Sead Ramovic's right and just beyond the 'keeper's reach.

Despite the one goal lead, Bilbao failed to gain an edge and were comfortable with soaking up some pressure from the home side while hitting them on the counterattack.

Five minutes later Sigur Rushfeldt restored parity for the home side. The veteran forward rose highest to meet Moldskred's cross, sending a looping header back past Gorka Iraizoz to make it 1-1.

The equaliser breathed new life into the home side and the Basque visitors were under pressure for much of the second half, defending a host of second-half set-pieces as the Norwegians looked for a goal that would send them in front on the night and on the aggregate scoreline.

Goalkeeper Iraizoz was a commanding presence inside the Bilbao penalty box, comfortably collecting the corners and free-kicks Tromso sent his way.

Iraizoz won't have thanked his outfield players though as they conceded a number of needless free-kicks inside the Bilbao half, which nearly proved costly, when Rushfeldt pounced on a Moldskred header but the Lions 'keeper reacted well.

Tromso continued to probe but failed to create any clear cut opportunities as the resolute Bilbao defence put in a solid and organised display which was so clearly lacking in the first-leg at San Mames.

A resilient Athletic Bilbao held out for a deserved 1-1 draw, a 4-3 aggregate win and will head back to San Mames to reflect on a successful night and can now look forward to the group stages .
Paul Madden,