The Croats missed a good chance to keep this tie alive as they were beaten 3-1 by what looked like Athletic’s second string side, so they clearly face an uphill task in the return leg.
Slaven Belupo finished last league campaign in 3rd place, just two points behind Hajduk Split and with the Croatian giants now much weaker than last term, it is team from Koprivnica that are now considered the best side in the top flight after Dinamo Zagreb.
Coach Roy Ferencina has managed to create a very homogenous unit that enjoyed a really good start to the season, with 6-0 and 4-2 Europa League victories over Portadown followed by two league wins.
Nevertheless, Slaven could do nothing to avoid defeat in Bilbao, despite the fact that the hosts were missing quite a few first team regulars, so no wonder away win now pays just 1.57 (4/7) at Stan James.
The Pharmacists were beaten by Split at the weekend, and with Davor Vugrinec and Mario Gregurina still sidelined through injury, the hosts don’t have much to hope for before the clash with Athletic.
Probable starting line-up (4-2-3-1): Rodic – Puric, Grgic, Bubnjic, Pilipovic – Canadjija, Kokalovic – Glavica, Rak, Delic – Busic.
Athletic Bilbao enjoyed a very promising season last term, although defeats in Europa League and Copa del Rey finals left a bad taste in the mouth.
The club chiefs somehow managed to persuade El Loco Bielsa to remain at the helm, while all key players stayed at San Mames despite heavy interest from abroad.
The Europa League clash against Slaven came at a bad time as Athletic were without several important players, but the back-ups did a great job to record a 3-1 win and make their job easier in the return leg.
Ander Herrera and Iker Muniain have since resumed training after returning from the 2012 Olympics, but Javi Martinez was allowed few more days to rest and he is out of contention for this game.
New signing Aritz Aduriz has recovered from a hamstring injury and he could start, but Ion Aurtenetxe and Fernando Amorebieta remain sidelined. Fernando Llorente is likely to be left on the bench after expressing his desire to leave the club.
Probable starting line-up (4-3-3): Iraizoz – Iraola, Ekiza, San Jose, De Marcos – Herrera, Iturraspe, Inigo Perez – Ibai Gomez, Aduriz, Muniain.