Real Madrid came out of the gates firing in its final match at Bilbao's Catedral. The fiery San Mamés crowd had a little extra bite to it for its last opportunity to see the merengues play in the beautiful stadium that's been standing since 1913. Not but a minute into the affair, Cristiano Ronaldo silenced the scene when he fired home a trademark free kick goal that cleared the wall and dipped enough to give the veteran net-minder Gorka Iraizoz no chance.
Both sides would go on to create bright chances in front of goal, but Real Madrid and its supporters were once again reminded of why the now-healthy and saintlike Iker Casillas will struggle to assume his usual spot as the team's first choice keeper. Diego Lopez provided two brilliant saves in the 20th minute as well as on the brink of halftime to keep los blancos in the driver's seat. The one area of definite superiority that Diego Lopez has over Iker Casillas, his distribution with his feet, was once again on full display.
The second half threatened to boil over on many occasions. Ronaldo was a constant target of physical challenges, and even a rake across the face from Mikel San Jose in the 73rd minute. Raúl Albiol was perhaps fortunate not to have suffered a serious leg-breaking injury seconds later from a clattering, cynical challenge from Gaizka Toquero, which earned the midfielder only a yellow card somehow.
While Athletic Bilbao seemed more inclined to instigating and endangering, Ronaldo and company got the final laugh. Second half goals came from a familiar towering header from CR7 on a Xabi Alonso set piece and a well-worked Higuaín goal facilitated by the Portuguese. The Argentine striker found the back of the net only seven minutes after being introduced for Karim Benzema.
Álvaro Morata was subbed on for CR7 in the 79th minute. Jeers and whistles greeted Ronaldo's farewell, but the Portuguese terrorizer seemed to be enjoying and basking in the moment. Real Madrid will feel grateful for escaping Bilbao with a clean sheet from a makeshift defense and with no further injuries to a squad that was resting the likes of Özil, Kaka, Essien and Árbeloa.
Madrid reclaimed its second place spot in La Liga, currently sitting 13 points behind leaders Barcelona. Athletic Bilbao currently sits in 14th place. Tonight's result at San Mamés did nothing to alleviate the strange and disappointing season it's been for Marcelo Bielsa's men.
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