Soccer Football – LaLiga – Athletic Bilbao – FC Barcelona – San Mames, Bilbao, Spain – March 12, 2023. FC Barcelona’s Raphinha scores the goal. REUTERS/Vincent West

BILBAO, Spain, March 12 (Reuters) – Brazilian winger Raphinha secured a 1-0 La Liga victory for Fútbol Club Barcelona for the second game in a row, this time at Athletic Bilbao, cementing the leadership of his team ahead of a potentially decisive week for the league season. , in which they receive their great rival and second place, Real Madrid.

Repeating the combination of goalscorer and provider from last week’s 1-0 win over Valencia, Raphinha scored a brilliant goal just before half-time, after a brilliant pass from midfielder Sergio Busquets saw the Brazilian hide behind the defense.

But Raphinha’s goal was one of only two Barca shots on target in a frenetic game in which the hosts were superior for much of the game.

Athletic Bilbao smashed two shots off the crossbar, while a shot from Iñaki Williams in the dying minutes of the match was ruled out due to a controversial handball in the previous game.

Barcelona have 65 points, nine ahead of second-placed Real Madrid, who must win at Camp Nou next Sunday to maintain their chances of defending the league title. Athletic is ninth with 33 points.

Encouraged by the approximately 40,000 supporters who filled San Mamés, Athletic Bilbao dominated the game from the start with the Williams brothers, Nico and Iñaki, constantly threatening the Barça defence.

Álex Berenguer was close to scoring in the 24th minute after Barca defender Jules Koundé missed a back pass to Marc-André ter Stegen. The Athletic striker was planted in front of the goalkeeper, but his shot went just wide.

Man of the match Ter Stegen made several crucial saves to keep a clean sheet, the first in the 30th minute when he cleared a close-range shot from Iñaki Williams with his hand.

He was lucky at the next corner, when Raúl García’s header hit the crossbar.

But when Athletic have everything under control and knock on the door, Raphinha uses an unstoppable shot to give Barca some breathing space before the break.

Athletic continued to struggle in the second half and in the 71st minute Berenguer smashed a ball into the post while trying to complete a counterattack inside the box.

Five minutes later, Ter Stegen prevented Athletic from leveling with an incredible fingertip save on Iker Muniain’s shot from the edge of the box.

In the 88th minute, Iñaki Williams fired in to beat Ter Stegen, but his shot was canceled by Muniain’s handball early in the game, after VAR intervened and the referee checked the replay on screen, which outraged fans. players and fans.

The hosts had another chance in added time, but Ter Stegen’s reflexes prevented Yuri Berchiche’s goal and Marcos Alonso came off the line to save Oier Zarraga’s rebound shot.

(Reporting by Fernando Kallas in Madrid; Editing by Ken Ferris; Editing in Spanish by Darío Fernández)

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