Trying to make it to its third straight Copa del Rey final, Athletic Bilbao was held to a 1-1 draw at home against Valencia in the first leg of the semifinals. (More Football News)
Raúl García opened the scoring for the hosts with a header off a free kick by Iker Muniain in the 37th minute, but Valencia equalized in the 65th with a goal from close range by Hugo Duro off the rebound of a shot by Bryan Gil.
The second leg will be on March 2 at Valencia’s Mestalla Stadium. Real Betis rallied to a 2-1 win at Rayo Vallecano in the first leg of the other semifinal on Wednesday.
Athletic lost to Basque Country rival Real Sociedad in the final in 2020 and to Barcelona in the decider last season. It is the competition’s second most successful club with 23 titles, behind Barcelona’s 31, but it hasn’t lifted the trophy since 1984.
Athletic is one of the hottest teams in Spain recently under coach Marcelino García Toral, having eliminated Barcelona in the Copa’s last 16 and Real Madrid in the quarterfinals.
It is unbeaten in five matches in all competitions, with its last loss against Madrid in the final of the Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia, after it eliminated Spanish champion Atlético Madrid in the semifinals.
Athletic was outplayed by Valencia in the beginning of Thursday's match at San Mamés Stadium but gradually regained control and was the most dangerous team the rest of the match, though it was unable to capitalize on its scoring chances.
Athletic sits eighth in the Spanish league, three spots ahead of Valencia, which is trying to return to the Copa final after winning its eighth title in the competition in 2019.
Valencia had won its last three Copa matches but was winless in its last five in the Spanish league.
The visitors loudly complained of a penalty not given after a breakaway in the final minutes.