Real Madrid near title with 1-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao

Real Madrid's Spanish defender Sergio Ramos celebrates after scoring a goal during the La Liga match on Sunday against Athletic Bilbao. (AFP)
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Updated 06 July 2020

Real Madrid near title with 1-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao

  • This was Madrid’s toughest fixture left and they might have been content even with a point

MADRID: Sergio Ramos scored his 22nd consecutive penalty on Sunday as Real Madrid held on for another 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao to inch closer to winning La Liga.

Ramos’ fifth goal in seven games since the restart gives Madrid a seven-point lead over Barcelona.

Anything but a victory for Barca would probably leave them too much to do with four games remaining, especially as Madrid own the superior record head-to-head.

This was Madrid’s toughest fixture left and they might have been content even with a point against a robust, well-organized Bilbao side.

But after edging out Getafe on Thursday, through a Ramos spot-kick, Madrid repeated the trick at San Mames, their captain’s nerve from the spot combining with a gutsy display to grind out a pivotal win.

Ramos was perhaps fortunate not to concede a penalty himself when, off the ball, he seemed to slip and tread on the foot of Raul Garcia, but Madrid escaped.

Instead, the defender’s 10th goal of the season, the best tally of his career, gave Madrid their third 1-0 win in a row, as well as a fourth consecutive clean sheet.

“It’s a massive win,” said Ramos. “We knew today was going to be one of the biggest games that we have left. It’s always a difficult game away at Bilbao and we saw it like that. We’re happy with another crucial three points that put more pressure on Barcelona.”

Ramos said he is always confident on penalties.

“In those moments of doubt that’s when I feel most comfortable. I wanted to take the responsibility,” he said. “But if I wanted individual recognition I would play tennis.”

Bilbao’s Iker Munain said Madrid had again been lucky with decisions.

“We’re not going to win it thanks to the referees,” said Ramos. “People have to look at themselves and be critical of their own performances. Based on the points, it seems we’re doing well at the moment.”

Madrid were without key players, with Raphael Varane nursing a neck injury and Eden Hazard out with pain in his ankle.

Eder Militao replaced Varane while Marco Asensio made his first start in 14 months up front.

There were chances at both ends in the first half and Bilbao had the best of them. Williams twice went close but was denied by a block by Marcelo and then a superb tackle by Militao while Raul Garcia’s header was pushed out by Thibaut Courtois.

Karim Benzema would have had a tap-in had Dani Carvajal executed a cushioned pass across the box but his touch was too high.

Asensio’s free kick had created the chance and he swung in two more brilliant crosses before half time, only for Rodrygo and Benzema to miss with their heads.

The second half was tighter as both teams slowed in the heat and a more cautious contest seemed to suit Madrid, whose moment came in the 73rd minute.

Marcelo was rewarded for a lung-busting run into the box, where he reached the ball just ahead of Dani Garcia, who twisted his body into the left-back and bundled him over.

Referee Jose Gonzalez consulted VAR and awarded the penalty, which Ramos whipped into the bottom corner.

Bilbao looked tired and never really threatened an equalizer but could have been gifted one had Ramos been penalized for the clumsy collision with Raul Garcia. Ramos survived and Madrid held on.


Gomis ensures difficult night ends in victory for title-chasing Al-Hilal

Updated 12 min 59 sec ago

Gomis ensures difficult night ends in victory for title-chasing Al-Hilal

  • Costly penalty miss leaves relegation-battling visitors Al-Fateh to ponder what might have been

RIYADH: The outcomes of three penalties went a long way to deciding the outcome on Monday as league leaders Al-Hilal took another step towards a record 16th top-flight championship title, beating Al-Fateh 2-1 in the final match of round 24 of the Saudi Professional League.

The Riyadh side have won both their matches since the season resumed last week after a hiatus lasting more than four months as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

Earlier in the day, second-placed Al-Nassr — who were comprehensively beaten 4-1 by Al-Hilal last Wednesday — cut the lead at the top of the table to six points thanks to a 2-0 away win at Abha Club. This was expected to be a temporary reduction, but the evening turned out to be anything but comfortable for Al-Hilal’s Romanian coach, Razvan Lucescu, and his players against an Al-Fateh team sitting third from bottom in the league, one point from safety, and fighting for SPL survival.

Things seemed to be going according to script for the home team when they took the lead in 38 minutes through a Bafétimbi Gomis penalty, after Yasser Al-Shahrani was fouled in the box — although it took the intervention of the video assistant referee to make the correct decision after the referee wrongly penalized the Al-Hilal player.

Al-Fateh improved after the break and equalized on 52 minutes when the unlucky Gomis deflected a Gustav Wikheim corner into his own net.

Sofiane Bendebka almost gave Al-Fateh a shock lead on the hour mark when he danced through Al-Hilal’s defense but his left-footed shot was deflected for a corner.

Al-Hilal, driven on by captain Carlos Eduardo, Al-Shahrani and the excellent Salem Al-Dawsari, piled on the pressure as the clock ticked down. Yet it was Al-Fateh who were presented with a golden opportunity to take the lead and potentially claim three priceless points. With 10 minutes left, the referee awarded the visitors a penalty — but much to the annoyance of their Belgian coach, Yannick Ferrera, Marwane Saadane’s casual attempted chip went over the bar.

His complacency proved costly just four minutes later, as Al-Hilal were awarded another penalty, this time as a result of a handball by Bendebka. Once again, Gomis made no mistake from the spot to give the home side a lead that proved enough to take all three points.

“We knew this was going to be a difficult match, just as it was in the first match we played against Al-Fateh,” said match-winner Gomis.

“After the long break and after the mental effort that went into the last match (the derby against closest challengers Al-Nassr), it was always going to be tough. But we knew that even if we didn’t perform to Al-Hilal’s usual standards, we could still ensure that we got the points. The three points today are very important as we chase the title.”

Despite two wins out of two since the resumption of the SPL, and a lead of nine points with only six games left, the Frenchman refused to take anything for granted.

“In this league the differences between the teams are very small,” he said. “Nothing has been decided yet in terms of the title.”

Al-Fateh captain Mohammed Al-Fuhaid preferred to focus on the positives from the game, rather than dwell too much on the missed opportunity.

“Luck wasn’t with us,” he said. “We got the penalty in the last 10 minutes and we could have got that second goal.

“We had played very well — the players’ performance was heroic in my opinion. Everyone played their part: those who started and the substitutes who came on in the second half. Hopefully we can put this behind us and look forward to the coming matches.

“Next up is Abha. We have to focus on it and play like we did today, and hopefully luck can be on our side and we can get a positive result.”

Regardless of Al-Fuhaid’s philosophical public attitude, Al-Fateh remain in 14th place and the result will be seen behind closed doors as a missed chance to leapfrog struggling Al-Ittihad.

“You can say our situation is more dangerous now,” Al-Fuhaid conceded. “But we should have no fear if we can play to the same level we did today, or better, in the coming matches.”

Al-Hilal goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf was relieved to secure the three points after a tough, but ultimately successful, week.

“It was a difficult match but in the end the circumstances worked out in our favor,” he said. “We managed to get the win, which is all that counts. We weren’t complacent, but we had a break of four months and perhaps we overexerted ourselves in the derby.”

In the day’s other matches Al-Shabab beat Al-Taawoun 1-0 in their mid-table clash, while bottom-of-the-table Al-Adalah gave their chances of survival a boost with 2-1 victory over Al-Hazm, who are now only two points clear of the relegation zone.