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.


Atletico catching all the breaks in Champions League

Updated 12 August 2020

Atletico catching all the breaks in Champions League

  • A victory against Leipzig will put Atletico back in the semifinals for the first time since 2017

LISBON: So far so good for Atletico Madrid in the quest for their first Champions League title.

Diego Simeone’s team have caught all the breaks going into the decisive final-eight tournament in Lisbon.

Old foes Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo are gone. They drew Leipzig instead of a more traditional powerhouse for the quarterfinals. And their rival lost its top player after Timo Werner left for Chelsea. Even when things went wrong and the squad was hit by COVID-19, Atletico avoided the worst as only two players were infected and they could still make the trip to Portugal.

Things have been looking good for Simeone and his players.

A victory against Leipzig on Thursday will put Atletico back in the semifinals for the first time since it was eliminated by Ronaldo’s Madrid in the last four in 2017. Ronaldo and Madrid had defeated Atletico in the final in 2014 and 2016, and also ended the rival’s run in the quarterfinals in 2015.

Ronaldo again was Atletico’s nemesis last season after joining Juventus. Atletico lost to the Italian team in the round of 16 after Ronaldo scored a hat trick in the decisive second leg in Turin.

But this time Ronaldo and Juventus were eliminated by Lyon in the last 16, the same stage in which Madrid were knocked out of the tournament by Manchester City. Only two past champions are still left in the competition — Barcelona and Bayern Munich — and they play against each other in the opposite side of the draw, meaning Atletico could only meet one of them in the final.

Leipzig are a relative newcomer to the Champions League, having reached the group stage only twice. This is the first time they made it to the knockout round. They eliminated Tottenham in the round of 16, but now they won't count on top scorer Werner, who did not extend his contract by a few weeks to finish the season with the German club before moving to Chelsea.

Atletico stunned defending European champion Liverpool in the last 16, advancing after a 3-2 win in England.

“The game against Liverpool will go down in history and was one of the best we’ve had in a long time,” Atletico striker Diego Costa said. “It gave fans high expectations and we will give our best to try to meet those expectations. Hopefully we will play well and luck will stay on our side.”

Costa said Atletico will not take Leipzig lightly despite  the rival’s lack of experience in international competitions.

“They are very strong on the ball and know what they are about,” he said. “They have made it to the quarterfinals and have no pressure.”

There was a scare within Atletico this week when it announced two positive test results for COVID-19 among the group that was traveling to Lisbon. There were concerns that an outbreak within the club could have affected the team’s participation in the tournament in Portugal, but new tests showed that only Ángel Correa and Sime Vrsaljko were infected and the squad could travel to Lisbon.

Vrsaljko was not even going to play because he is nursing an injury, while Correa isn't among Atletico’s top stars even though he led the team in assists this season.

After coming agonizingly close recently, Atletico hope the breaks will keep going their way and that they  will finally get to lift the coveted European trophy.