First Division - Day 22

Athletic Bilbao 1 - Real Madrid 0

Bilbao: Lafuente; Larrainzar, Oscar Vales, Lacruz, Larrazábal; Urrutia (Felipe 11'), Orbaiz; Etxeberria (Cuéllar 92'), Julen Guerrero, Alkiza (Yeste 72'); Urzaiz. 4-2-3-1.
Real Madrid: Casillas; Michel Salgado, Hierro, Karanka, Roberto Carlos; Iván Helguera, Makelele (Solari 75'); McManaman, Guti (Morientes 57'), Munitis; Raúl. 4-2-3-1.

Team changes: Bilbao: Alkiza for Yeste / Madrid: Munitis for Figo.

1-0. 03. Alkiza. Flicked Etxeberria's pass up over defender into net.

Athletic Bilbao bounced back from their seven goal defeat by Barcelona to restore their pride with a single goal victory over leaders Real Madrid. Bilbao's manager Txetxu Rojo maintained his faith in almost the same line up as in the Nou Camp, sure that his players would respond to messages of support from fans throughout the week. The only change was the introduction of Alkiza for Yeste, and it proved an inspired move, the unsettled midfielder scoring the only goal in the third minute of his 300th game in the first division. Del Bosque also made one change in the Madrid side, but it was an important one, Munitis replacing the suspended Figo at first on the right wing, but then interchanging with McManaman who had started on the left. The absence of Figo left the visitors without their key to goal, and they hardly created a chance throughout the game.

Alkiza's goal came in the first attack of the game, Casillas showing his inexperience coming out to the edge of the area to cover Urzaiz, who laid the ball back to Etxeberria leaving the keeper stranded. Etxeberria quickly played it on to Alkiza inside the penalty area, and he lobbed it in as best he could into an undefended net. Guti shot wide a few minutes later after beating the offside trap, and Bilbao responded through Urzaiz who headed against the post with Casillas beaten. Madrid though were not hitting the target, and Munitis failed three times in quick succession to find a way through just after half time. Referee Ansuategui Roca turned down no less than four penalty appeals, three from Madrid including one by Lafuente on Guti which ended in Larrazábal and Guti having words (or telepathic transfers judging by the way their heads were touching), and another by Lacruz on second half substitute Morientes which seemed quite clear, and then at the other end when Julen was felled by Karanka, the Bilbao star making just too much of a meal of it for the referee to swallow.

Eventually though time ran out for Madrid, ending a twelve match undefeated run and reducing their lead at the top to four points. It was not a major problem especially with Barcelona losing as well, but raised the question whether they depended too much on the creative play of Figo. He will in any case be back for their midweek Champions League match with Lazio, and for their upcoming league games with Deportivo and Barcelona which could be decisive in the final outcome of the league this season. Bilbao will be grateful for the three points which takes them back to mid-table, but also for the confidence which the victory brings them. Their objective is still qualifying for Europe this year, and this must help to put them back on track. The lions are roaring again.