Sevilla, Spain, Mar 13 (EFE).- Real Betis triumphed over Athletic Club on a lone goal by Borja Iglesias in the first half, putting the Seville squad into several European competitions from which the Bilbao team remains ineligible after a match in which the home team played the last quarter hour shorthanded before some 46,000 fans at Benito Villamarin Stadium after the expulsion of Nabil Fekir.
After a first half in which Manuel Pellegrini’s team were in the driver’s seat and took advantage of one of several chances to get onto the scoreboard in the 20th minute, Athletic fruitlessly sought to stage a comeback after the break, even after Fekir was booted on an outright red card for attacking Muniain after being fouled.
It was a critical match for the European zone between teams separated on the La Liga table by just six points, but Betis could do little but try and react after being offensively stymied and mentally exhausted in its past few outings, falling from third place to fifth and facing off against a Basque squad that needed to win after going down in the Copa del Rey semifinal round.
Pellegrini made five changes in his starting 11, but his Athletic counterpart – Marcelino Garcia Toral – faced with several key absenses due to injury, made only one alteration in the squad he’d fielded in the 3-1 win over Levante.
The clash was a physical and competitive one, with Betis seizing the initiative and playing straightforward ball, but although Athletic came close to their rivals’ net, manned by Rui Silva, they couldn’t really create any palpable danger for the home team.
Betis, on the other hand, was clearly more incisive, getting into the Athletic area via the wings and creating more high-quality ball movement, with Iglesias making himself into a true nightmare for the visitors.
Twenty minutes into the action, Iglesias received a great centering pass from Juan Miranda from the left and then, after a play with Fekir, knocked in a header past Unai Simon for the single tally of the evening.
The Bilbao squad sought to respond but, although there was the “will,” there just wasn’t the “way” as their drives lacked any precision and their most dangerous asset, Iñaki Williams, had a header easily knocked away.
After the break, it was much of the same, although urgency motivated Athletic and Marcelino made a couple of changes to try and reshuffle the deck. But Betis maintained its advantage and mounted sporadic attacks, including a new header by Iglesias which didn’t connect.
Things almost got out of control for the home team when in the 80th minute the talented Fekir kicked at Muniain after De Marcos stopped him with a foul, whereupon he was dealt a red card, leaving his squad shorthanded for the duration.
Athletic tried to taken advantage of being up a man, but there wasn’t enough time and they were barely able to create any problems for Betis, who defended perfectly and deserved the win.
Betis: Rui Silva; Sabaly, Pezzella, Bartra, Miranda (Aitor Ruibal, m.70); Guido Rodriguez, Paul (Edgar, m.87); Canales, Fekir, Juanmi; Borja Iglesias (William Carvalho, m.73).
Athletic: Unai Simon; De Marcos, Vivian, Yeray, Yuri; Berenguer, Vencedor (Nico Serrano, m.84), Vesga (Zarraga, m.71), Muniain; Sancet (Raul García, m.84), Iñaki Williams (Nico Williams, m.58).