HEARTBREAK AT ANOETA AS SOCIEDAD OUT ON AWAY GOALS
Hero and Zero: Captain Prieto, despite scoring twice, missed the game-winning penalty.
Coming off of their difficult 1-0 away loss to Schalke in the first leg of the Champions League Qualifiers, Real Sociedad had to look to make a major impact back home at the Anoeta to try and reach the group stages. They came within inches of upsetting the odds.
Anthony Annan was given a start in central midfield for Los Txuri-Urdin despite being at the center of the racial slur controversy following the training ground bust up the other day. The alleged offenders, Markel and Gorka Elustondo, were both excluded from the squad entirely and were nowhere to be seen in the stadium.
As the game kicked off, the Anoeta was rocking as the fans tried to urge Sociedad on to the group stages. However, it was that man again to make the difference for Schalke 04; Jefferson Farfan. The pacy Peruvian winger was brought down by Antonio De La Bella in the box, and, although it looked like a dive, the spot kick was awarded. Farfan finished coolly to make it 2-0 on aggregate, both goals coming from penalties.
It seemed all of San Sebastian was stunned, but that only lasted for the better part of two minutes. Captain fantastic came to the rescue yet again for Hasan's men as Xabi Prieto's scything through ball found Canales in acres of space in the box. The wily attacking midfielder made no mistake with his finish, bringing Sociedad back within striking distance. 2-1.
Four minutes later, the tide shifted entirely. This time, Canales turned provider and Prieto turned benefactor. Canales sprayed the ball out to the right flank for his captain who burst past two defenders and rolled the ball past the helpless Ralf Fahrmann. Neal Hasan was ecstatic on the touchline, but it wasn't over yet. The score was 2-2 over both legs, but Schalke was still through on away goals.
Playmaker: Canales was hailed by Hasan after the match for his excellent performance.
La Real continued to push men forward and were dominating ball possession, but Schalke's back line stood sturdy after that, and the two sides headed into the locker rooms at half time with the score at 2-1 on the night, Schalke still with their necks in front on away goals.
The second half wasted no time in getting exciting. Kevin-Prince Boateng, the newly signed Ghanaian midfielder from AC Milan, clipped a delightful ball in behind Jon Gaztanaga for Julian Draxler to run on to. The youthful Germany starlet took one touch to settle before rifling the ball into the near post with his left foot and putting Schalke firmly in charge of the fixture with only 40 minutes left to go.
Exactly on the hour mark, though, Sociedad was thrown a lifeline. Benedikt Howedes had clumsily knocked over substitute Imanol Agirretxe in the box, and the referee had awarded a penalty (the second of the game and the fourth of the tie, yet only the first to Sociedad). Xabi Prieto stepped up confidently and smashed the ball
right into the post.
A collective groan of agony erupted from Los Txuri-Urdin faithful, and yet Sociedad pushed on, knowing nothing less than two goals would be enough. Howedes, Matip, and Kirchhoff, leading a makeshift back 5, fought tooth and nail to keep away the rampant Spaniards' attack.
With five minutes left to go, Prieto tried to atone for his mistake. Esteban Granero's cheeky backheel found the winger in space on the right side of the box, and Prieto made no mistake in hammering the ball straight into the top corner on his first touch. 3-3 on aggregate, and now it was all hands on deck for Sociedad in search of the winner.
They pushed forward hard for the last seven minutes, but to no avail as the Schalke defense powered through and held on to the away goals victory, 3-3 the final score.
"The lads fought like warriors," said Hasan after the match. "Every last one of them left everything out on the pitch, and I cannot fault their commitment nor their performance. Sergio [Canales] and Xabi [Prieto] were both excellent today, true leaders of our attack. Of course it was a tough moment for Xabi [with the penalty miss] but I can assure you, he will bounce back."
All of this sentimental talk, however, came shortly after a fiery tirade against the refereeing in both legs. "We hardly got any calls, not to mention Schalke received no less than three penalties, two of them on dives, I would argue. The refereeing was atrocious."
Regardless, Schalke are through to the group stage by the slimmest of margins, and Real Sociedad will have to settle for a Europa League spot despite a spirited performance.