Football

Zidane pleased with Real's character in tough win

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane was pleased with the way his side "dug in" to battle to a 2-1 La Liga victory at Athletic Bilbao on Saturday.

The visitors welcomed back Gareth Bale from his two-match suspension, but it was Real's Casemiro who took on an influential role and stamped his mark all over the crucial victory.

The Brazilian midfielder was the architect of Real's opener against Bilbao, splitting the defence with a long ball from the halfway line to Cristiano Ronaldo, who crossed for Karim Benzema to score.

Bilbao, who had lost only once at home all season, scored a deserved equaliser through a close-range header from Aritz Aduriz in the 65th minute.

Casemiro then restored Real's lead three minutes later by losing his marker from a corner to meet Ronaldo's flicked header.

It was the Brazilian's third goal of 2017, adding to his thunderous volley against Napoli and his strike against Granada to tripe his tally from last season.

It also helped Real's bid to land a first league title since 2012, taking them five points clear of nearest challengers Barcelona - who hosted Valencia this morning - at the top of the standings.

"We won at a very difficult ground, we had to dig in, but we played with real character," Zidane said.

"Athletic are a side who fight until the end and they caused us problems. It was extremely important to win today and keep on track.

"There are 11 games left in the league and every single one will be crucial, against some very tough opposition.

"We're top of the table, but that doesn't mean anything."

Zidane hopes this week's international break will not prove too costly for his squad, who will face Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

"Few players will get a rest. Some will even be playing significant games, but there's nothing we can do about it," the Real Madrid coach said.

"I can rest up a bit, but they won't have chance to do so. I won't be speaking to any national coaches telling them to leave players out.

"When they come back, we have got nine games in 28 days and that is when we will have it all to play for. I am sure we are going to need every player."

Bilbao coach Ernesto Valverde hoped his team would be able to maintain their push for European qualification over the closing matches of the domestic campaign.

"We have played a good match, but we have not taken a victory from the performance. We deserved more," he said.

"Our rivals respect us very much, so we have to keep that going until the end." - WIRE SERVICES


OTHER RESULTS

  • Las Palmas 1 Villarreal 0
  • Eibar 1 Espanyol 1
  • Alaves 1 Real Sociedad 0
  • Real Betis 2 Osasuna 0
  • Leganes 0 Malaga 0
la ligaREAL MADRIDathletic bilbao