BARCELO, Jan 6: Athletic Bilbao gave cancer-battling teammate Yeray Alvarez the best imagible gift, beating mighty FC Barcelo 2-1 in the first leg of their Copa del Rey pre-quarterfil tie.
Alvarez, still recovering from testicular cancer, was among the roughly 50,000 people in the stands at San Mames for the contest here on Thursday, reported Efe news agency.
The hosts built a 2-0 lead in the first half and hung on to win despite playing the fil 10 minutes of regulation with only nine men.
Athletic threatened the Barça goal just 90 seconds into the match, a sign of things to come as the Bilbao side opted for an uccustomed 4-4-2 that held the visitors to only two chances in the first 20 minutes.
The home team’s first goal came in the 25th minute on the counterattack, with Aritz Aduriz heading the ball just inside the far post.
Barely three minutes later Aduriz helped Iñaki Williams make it 2-0 for Athletic, who nearly got a third goal before the half-time break.
An improved Barcelo clawed one back seven minutes into the second half on a direct free kick from Lionel Messi.
The goal inspired the visitors, who came close to equalizing on two occasions even before Athletic’s Raul Garcia was ejected in the 72nd minute for a second yellow card.
Things got even worse for the hosts in the 80th minute, when Ander Iturraspe found himself sent off for his second yellow card of the night.
Athletic weathered the storm, with players and fans heaving a sigh of relief as a shot from Messi bounced off the post in the last play before the fil whistle.
The second leg takes place next Wednesday at the Nou Camp. IANS