Bilbao’s 38-year-old striker stuns Barcelona in title defence opener

MADRID (AFP) – Barcelona made a nightmare start to the defence of their La Liga title on Friday night by losing Luis Suarez to injury and then losing 1-0 to Athletic Bilbao, after a sensational late volley from substitute Aritz Aduriz.

Suarez hobbled off in the 37th minute with what looked like a calf injury before Aduriz came on in the 88th, the 38-year-old striker who has announced he will retire at the end of the season.

This was a spectacular start to the finale as Aduriz threw himself into the air and acrobatically volleyed past Marc-Andre ter Stegen to send San Mames wild on La Liga’s opening night.

“The competition has put us in our place,” said Gerard Pique afterwards. “We were not us.”

Barca were already without Lionel Messi, who sustained a calf injury during pre-season, and will lose Philippe Coutinho, on a loan deal “agreed in principle” with Bayern Munich.

Barcelona’s Antoine Griezmann reacts during the game. PHOTO: AP

Suarez will undergo tests next Tuesday to diagnose the length of his absence but Messi’s return, and perhaps negotiations for Paris Saint-Germain striker Neymar, might assume added urgency during his absence.

Antoine Griezmann will be expected to step up too but after joining from Atletico Madrid in July, he endured an underwhelming debut. Coutinho is evidence of the need for time to adjust.

Bilbao, who finished eighth last season, held Barca to a goalless draw in February and they were good value for another point until Aduriz intervened.

He has scored more than 200 goals in his 20-year career but perhaps none as memorable as this one. La Liga’s first of the season may even prove to be its best.

“Sometimes football can be so beautiful,” said Aduriz afterwards. “It will be impossible not to miss this but everything has a beginning and an end. I am incredibly grateful to be able to choose this ending.”

For Barca, there was at least the consolation of an excellent performance from Frenkie de Jong, also making his debut in place of Sergio Busquets.

De Jong fully justified his place with a serene display, seamlessly linking midfield to attack and dictating tempo with a maturity well beyond his 22 years.