Barca win Spain league opener; Madrid held 0-0

The China Post - - SPORTS - BY TALES AZ­ZONI

Lionel Messi missed a penalty kick but Luis Suarez scored in the sec­ond half to give Barcelona a 1-0 vic­tory over Ath­letic Bil­bao in its Span­ish league opener on Sun­day.

That gave the de­fend­ing cham­pion a small gap on archri­val Real Madrid right away, as Rafa Ben­itez started his stint in charge with a 0-0 draw at pro­moted side Sport­ing Gi­jon.

Suarez net­ted the win­ner from close range af­ter a left-flank cross by Jordi Alba in the 54th minute at Bil­bao’s San Mames Sta­dium. Messi had a chance to open the scor­ing in the first half af­ter a dis­puted foul on Suarez in­side the area, but the Ar­gen­tine play­maker had his low shot from the spot saved by goal­keeper Gorka Iraizoz.

“We won the game and that’s what’s im­por­tant,” Suarez said.

A dis­ap­point­ing re­sult in the opener would have raised more ques­tions about Barcelona af­ter an un­usu­ally dif­fi­cult start to the sea­son. The club was stunned by Bil­bao last week in the Span­ish Su­per Cup fi­nal, los­ing the ti­tle 5-1 on ag­gre­gate.

Bil­bao pre­sented the Su­per Cup tro­phy to the nearly 50,000 fans that packed the San Mames on Sun­day, but the team could not keep its mo­men­tum go­ing against the Span­ish pow­er­house.

Barcelona played just well enough to earn the vic­tory, and had most of the sig­nif­i­cant scor­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties. Sergi Roberto hit the cross­bar with a right­footed shot in the 60th, and Messi made one of his tra­di­tional runs past sev­eral de­fend­ers near the end of the game but his shot came out weak for an easy save by Iraizoz.

Messi’s best chance was the 32nd-minute penalty kick, when his left-footed shot was de­flected wide as Iraizoz dived to his right to tip the ball away.

Bil­bao play­ers loudly com­plained at the penalty call as it ap­peared there was only light con­tact by de­fender Gorka Elus­tondo on Suarez. Re­plays also showed that the Uruguayan striker ap­peared to be off­side at the time of the pass from the back field.

Luis En­rique’s team be­gan its sea­son with a de­pleted squad be­cause of in­juries and sus­pen­sions, and it only got worse Sun­day when right back Dani Alves had to be sub­sti­tuted in the first half and Ser­gio Bus­quets in the sec­ond be­cause of ap­par­ent in­juries. Star striker Ney­mar was re­cov­er­ing from the mumps and fel­low Brazil­ian Adri­ano was in­jured, while Ger­ard Pique and Jeremy Mathieu were sus­pended.

“It’s a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion, they are very im­por­tant play­ers for our team,” Suarez said. “But we have a lot of qual­ity play­ers to re­place them if needed.”

Madrid, try­ing to end a three­year ti­tle drought in La Liga, dom­i­nated at the El Moli­non Sta­dium but couldn’t cap­i­tal­ize on its scor­ing chances, in­clud­ing a few good ones in­volv­ing Cris­tiano Ron­aldo and Gareth Bale. Sport­ing Gi­jon goal­keeper Ivan Cuel­lar made a great save on Ron­aldo’s shot in the 84th to keep the dead­lock in­tact.

Newly signed Croa­tia midfielder Ma­teo Ko­vacic made his de­but in the sec­ond half but wasn’t able to spark Madrid to vic­tory.

Af­ter the fi­nal whis­tle, Sport­ing Gi­jon play­ers and fans cel­e­brated the re­sult in the team’s re­turn to the top flight.

“We showed char­ac­ter and per­son­al­ity in the sec­ond half,” Ben­itez said. “We went for the win but just couldn’t score.”

In one of the late games, Celta earned a 2-1 win at Le­vante, which played a man down nearly the en­tire match af­ter los­ing midfielder Si­mao Mate to a red card in the fifth minute. Real Betis sal­vaged a 1-1 home draw against Vil­lar­real thanks to a late goal by Ruben Cas­tro.

Atletico Madrid be­gan with a lack­lus­ter 1-0 win over new­comer Las Pal­mas at its Vi­cente Calderon Sta­dium on Satur­day thanks to a 16th-minute free kick goal by An­toine Griez­mann, while midfielder Salva Sevilla scored early in the first half to give Es­panyol a 1-0 win over 10-man Getafe.

The league strug­gled to pro­duce goals on its first two days, with score­less draws be­tween Va­len­cia- Rayo Val­le­cano, Real So­ciedad- De­portivo La Coruna and Sevilla-Malaga.

AP

FC Barcelona’s Luis Suarez cel­e­brates his goal af­ter scor­ing against the Ath­letic Bil­bao soc­cer team dur­ing their Span­ish La Liga soc­cer match, at San Mames sta­dium in Bil­bao, north­ern Spain, Sun­day, Aug. 23.

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