Iker Muniain was the hero as Athletic Bilbao survived a scare against Slaven Belupo to move into the next round of the Europa League.
Marcelo Bielsa’s men led 3-1 from last week’s first leg at San Mames, but defender Alen Maras got the Croatians back into the tie on 27 minutes when he curled a left-footed free-kick over the wall to give Gorka Iraizoz no chance.
The home side thought they had drawn level on aggregate just before the break but Vedran Puric’s piledriver from outside the box came back agonizingly off the woodwork.
Athletic boss Marcelo Bielsa had seen enough during the opening 45 minutes and sent on Inigo Ruiz de Galarreta, Iker Muniain and Fernando Llorente for Borja Ekiza, Ibai Gomez and Gaizka Toquero at half-time.
The move paid dividends just two minutes into the second half as Llorente broke free of the offside trap and squared the ball to Muniain, who had the simple task of guiding the ball into an empty net.
Despite the setback the hosts continued to press, more often than not through long-range efforts, and they were rewarded on 68 minutes when substitute Mario Gregurina’s low shot from the edge of the area somehow found its way into the corner of Iraizoz’s net.
That was the signal for Roy Ferencina’s men to pile forward and they had what looked a good shout for a penalty turned down two minutes from time when the ball appeared to strike a Bilbao hand following a melee in the box.
However, the Basques held their nerve to go through 4-3 overall and put themselves into Friday’s draw in Nyon.
Slaven Belupo 2-1 Athletic Bilbao
Athletic Bilbao won 4-3 on aggregate
Scorers: Maras 27 (S), Muniain 47 (A), Gregurina 68 (S)
Athletic Bilbao: Iraizoz; Iraola, Gurpegui, Ekiza (Ruiz de Galarreta 46), Inigo Perez; Iturraspe, Ibai Gomez (Muniain 46), Toquero (Llorente 46), De Marcos, Isma Lopez; Susaeta
Slaven Belupo: Rodic; Kokalovic, Glavica, Bubnjic; Puric, Canadija (Grgic 74), Batarelo (Gregurina 66), Maras; Rak; Bucic, Delic (Vugrinec 74)
Referee: Makkelie (Hol)