Atletico stay ahead with narrow win

Atletico Madrid moved a step closer to an unlikely Spanish title triumph when they battled back from a goal down to secure a 2-1 win at fourth-placed Athletic Bilbao in La Liga on Saturday.

The hard-fought victory at the San Mames, only the second home defeat for Bilbao this season, maintained Atletico's one-point lead over champions Barcelona, who won 1-0 at Espanyol in the earlier kickoff thanks to a Lionel Messi penalty.

Atletico have 76 points with seven games left, equalling their tally from last season when they finished third, while Barca, who host the Madrid club in their Champions League quarter-final first leg on Tuesday, are on 75.

Third-placed Real Madrid avoided a third successive defeat when La Liga top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo netted his 28th goal of the campaign and Gareth Bale struck twice in a 5-0 stroll at home to city neighbours Rayo Vallecano. Real have 73 points.

Barca's trip across town to face local rivals Espanyol, who are eighth on 40 points and still have a chance of qualifying for Europe, was potentially their stiffest test remaining before their final game of the season at home to Atletico in May.

The decisive moment of the match came when Espanyol fullback Javi Lopez handled the ball in the area and Messi dispatched the spot kick with 13 minutes remaining, the Argentina forward's 23rd La Liga goal of an injury-disrupted season.

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