Athletic Bilbao left back Mikel Balenziaga had a match to remember in his side’s 3-1 win over Sevilla Sunday. It was game No. 332 as a professional, his 129th with Athletic. With the score at 1-1, Balenziaga set off on a dribble, rounded his marker and fired the ball into the far corner of Salvatore Sirigu’s net with aplomb. If Balenziaga didn't quite look like he had embarked on a goal celebration before, it was for good reason. This was his first score in 10 years as a professional player.
Athletic went on to win the game 3-1–a fourth successive victory that lifts it into fourth place, into Champions League contention–but for Balenziaga, it was not the goal that was significant.
“The joy that my teammates showed towards me, that was what was really special,” he said of the locker room ovation he received after the game.
These are exciting times at Athletic, a club that famously only hires Basque-born players, a policy it would rather be relegated with than change. The club is in the Europa League this season but with more performances like this at its new San Mames home, it could be targeting the Champions League next season.