Updated February 26th, 2024 at 09:15 IST

Luka Modric comes off the bench to give Spanish leader Real Madrid 1-0 win over Sevilla

Luka Modric, who started the game as a substitute, scored from long range to help Real Madrid defeat Sevilla 1-0 and maintain control of the La Liga race.

Luka Modric celebrates with his teammates after scoring his team's first goal during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real Madrid and Sevilla at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium | Image: AP
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Luka Modric leapt atop the advertising board, pumped his arms and joined the collective roar of the Santiago Bernabeu.

The veteran Real Madrid star, who has seen his minutes shrink this season, had just become the hero for the Spanish league leader with a scorching winner after coming off the bench in a 1-0 win over Sevilla on Sunday.

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The normally calm Croat was possibly shouting for more than joy as he celebrated just his second goal of the season. Perhaps there was a bit of vindication, of showing everyone — Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti included — that he could still decide games even in an increasingly young Madrid squad.

The 38-year-old Modric collected a deflection with one touch before unleashing a powerful strike from outside the area that grazed the post before finding the net in the 81st minute. Modric had gone on just six minutes before with the leaders stymied in attack without injured top scorer Jude Bellingham.

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“It is what always happens. We never give up. We have shown it many times, that this is a part of Real Madrid’s DNA,” Modric said about his goal. “We knew that today it was important not to let points get away because Barcelona would have closed the gap and we couldn’t allow that. Our insistence throughout all the game bore its fruit.”

Modric has helped Madrid win five Champions League titles and the player won the 2018 Ballon d’Or award. This season, with Bellingham replacing him in the starting 11, he has mostly been the subject of speculation about whether his playing days in Madrid’s all-white are nearing their end.

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“It is very difficult to leave (Modric) on the bench, but every day he is an example for the entire squad,” Ancelotti said. “It is in Luka’s hands to decide what he does next season, and we are just waiting for his decision. It is difficult to manage (a situation like his) and I understand perfectly what Modric may be thinking when he does not play because I went through it as a player.”

Madrid was heading toward a second straight draw after being held 1-1 at Rayo Vallecano in the last round of games. Another stumble would have given Barcelona reason to hope that it might just be able to mount a challenge after it overtook Girona for second place on Saturday.

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Madrid’s victory kept it eight points above Barcelona and nine clear of Girona, which plays Rayo on Monday.

This was the third game that Bellingham, the league’s top scorer with 16 goals, has missed with a left ankle sprain.

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NICO SENT OFF

Nico Williams was sent off with two quick yellow cards to leave Athletic Bilbao with 10 players just before halftime in its 3-1 loss at Real Betis.

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The Spain winger got his first card for a foul and compounded that by earning a second booking for his apparently sarcastic applause of the referee.

The loss meant Athletic failed to take advantage of Atletico Madrid’s 2-2 draw at bottom side Almeria on Saturday. Athletic remained in fifth place at three points behind fourth-place Atletico. Betis moved into sixth, seven points behind Athletic.

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Chimy Ávila scored his first goal for Betis since joining from Osasuna in the winter transfer window to take the 13th-minute lead. Yuri Berchiche added an own-goal before Williams was sent off in the 40th.

Gorka Guruzeta’s goal gave Athletic some hope in the 52nd, but Betis midfielder Johnny Cardoso added a third with a strike from the edge of the area in the 67th.

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In the first half, an assistant referee had to leave the match after she ran into a television camera and cut her head.

LAST-GASP EQUALIZER

Darwin Machis’ goal deep in injury time snatched Cadiz a 2-2 draw with Celta Vigo in a meeting of two teams in danger of relegation.

Iago Aspas and Williot Swedberg gave Celta a 2-0 advantage before Juanmi Jiménez pulled one back for the hosts in the 66th. Rafa Benítez’s side was still eyeing a victory until Machis curled a shot in from the corner of the area just before the final whistle.

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Celta, in 17th, remained the last team clinging to safety while 18th-place Cadiz was in the drop zone at three points behind.

“You think you have it in the bag, you are up 2-0, and they score two goals on plays we could have stopped, so it is obvious we missed an opportunity,” Benítez said. “We didn’t know how to manage those final minutes.”

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Published February 26th, 2024 at 09:15 IST