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FC Barcelona striker Luis Suárez celebrates his second half goal against Athletic Club on Sunday. / MIGUEL RUIZ-FCB

Luis Suárez’s textbook left-footed volley nine minutes into the second half was all Barça needed to open their league season with a 1–0 victory over Athletic Club on Sunday afternoon in Bilbao. The bang-bang goal came after an equally impressive cross of the same ilk from the boot of Jordi Alba.

A trio of big names — two for Barça, one for Athletic — were forced to abandon the pitch with injuries in a game that had all the features of a battle of attrition. Blaugrana starters Dani Alves and Sergio Busquets left the game on either side of halftime courtesy of a pair of hard knocks from Athletic striker Aritz Aduriz, neither of which were deemed foul-worthy.

Game-changer

But the Catalans trudged on and after the Basque defensive stalwart Mikel Balenziaga pulled up lame on 50 minutes the balance of the match was was tipped for the remainder. Suarez’s strike came just four minutes after Balenziaga went out.

Sergi Roberto almost booked Barça some insurance when his near-light speed shot from the right wing easily beat Athletic Club goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz only to ping high off the crossbar.

The Basques gave Barça zero breathing room in the first half, marking the Barça players like a bevy of pestering flies in a courageous attempt at stemming the flow of the feared Catalan attack.

Oh, so close

Luis Enrique’s eleven did come close on a pair of occasions, however, but sauntered off to the intermission with the game mired in a scoreless deadlock.

Lionel Messi had a penalty kick saved by Iraizoz on 31 minutes — the Argentine sacrificed power for precision but in doing so gifted Iraizoz that extra fraction of a second he needed to make the save.

Minutes later in the 35th Luis Suárez and Rafinha rolled back-to-back balls through the Basque goalmouth but nobody was in position to pull the trigger.

The victory means FC Barcelona have now won their first La Liga match for a seventh consecutive season.


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