Sevilla a near-lock for Champions League after beating Athletic

Bilbao, Spain, Jul 9 (efe-epa).- Sevilla came from behind here Thursday to defeat Athletic 2-1 and take a big step toward clinching a top-four LaLiga finish and Champions League play in 2020-2021.

The victory brings Sevilla level on points with third-place Atletico Madrid with 63 points from 35 matches, but the Colchoneros have a better goal difference.

More importantly, Sevilla moved 6 points clear of Villarreal, the only team within striking distance.

Athletic, now ninth with 48 points, are likely out of contention for the Europa League spots after failing to hold off Sevilla’s second-half comeback.

Losers on their nine previous visits to San Mames, Sevilla turned in a solid performance on Thursday, controlling the flow of play for most of the contest.

Yet the Bilbao side could be forgiven for wondering if the outcome would have been different if VAR had reviewed referee David Medie Jimenez’s decision not to award the hosts a penalty for a clear foul by Munir El Haddadi against Iñigo Martinez in front of the Sevilla goal with five minutes left in regulation.

The visiting squad were better at the start, with up to 80 percent possession during the first quarter of an hour, but a series of chances for Youssef En-Nesyri, Sergio Reguilon and Suso came to nothing.

Instead, the first goal would go to Athletic. Four minutes after losing defensive stalwart Yuri Berchiche to injury, the hosts went ahead just before the half hour thanks to Ander Capa, who hammered in after Jules Kounde’s attempted clearance left the ball at his feet.

Sevilla’s attempt at a response went nowhere and only a quick reaction by Jesus Navas following a giveaway in the 6-yard box allowed the visitors to avoid conceding a second goal.

They survived another close call early in the second half, when Athletic’s Iñigo Cordoba would have scored if he hadn’t shot too close to goalkeeper Bono.

Sevilla finally broke through in the 69th minute with a goal from Ever Banega on a direct free kick, taking the lead five minutes later when sub El Haddadi found the net amid a scramble in the box.

While Sevilla improved their Champions League prospects, 18th-place Mallorca helped their bid to stay up by beating Levante 2-0 on goals by Cucho Hernandez and Take Kubo.

With 32 points, Mallorca sit 3 behind 17th-place Alaves, who have game in hand. Levante are 12th with 43 points.

In another game with a bearing on relegation, second-from-last Leganes drew 0-0 with Eibar, who are 15th and have yet to achieve safety. EFE ro/dr

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