BILBAO (Reuters) - Barcelona turned up for Friday’s La Liga opener at Athletic Bilbao parading a fresh-faced side containing expensive new recruits but they left cursing a strike from a rival player they know all too well.
Aritz Aduriz was on the pitch for no more than a minute when he swivelled his body to meet an arching cross from Ander Capa and smashed the ball into the net with an overhead kick in the 89th minute, giving Bilbao a 1-0 win over the champions.
The 38-year-old striker famously scored a hat-trick against Barca in a thumping 4-0 win in the 2015 Spanish Super Cup and this time he upstaged the debut of Barca’s new signings Antoine Griezmann and Frenkie de Jong.
Barca coach Ernesto Valverde worked with Aduriz for four seasons while at Athletic and he knew exactly where the ball was heading when it came towards the towering Basque striker, who is to hang up his boots at the end of the season.
“When I saw him shaping to shoot I knew exactly what would happen, it’s an area of the game he utterly dominates and I wasn’t surprised by the strike at all,” said Valverde.
“With Aduriz on the pitch any ball crossed into the area is deadly and he scored a brilliant goal.”
Athletic coach Gaizka Garitano described Aduriz as “a competitive animal”.
“He is the first to arrive at training and the last to leave. You might lose some sharpness with age but you never lose your hunger or your competitiveness,” he added.
“It was an incredible goal. Even though he is 38 he has a unique ability at striking the ball and he has won us the game. He is a player that no matter how old he is he makes the difference.”
It was the 15th consecutive season in which Aduriz has scored in La Liga and his 158th strike overall.
The striker savoured the moment, recognising it might be one of his last.
“It’s incredible when the fans cheer for you like they did today, it’s impossible that I won’t end up missing that but everything must come to an end,” he said.
“Sometimes football is so beautiful and when you least expect it a ball like that comes to your feet and goes into the net.”
Aduriz’s goal inflicted a first opening day defeat on Barca since they were beaten 1-0 at minnows Numancia in 2008.
“We did not play like we usually do and they put us under a lot of pressure and if you’re not at your very best then a team like Athletic walks all over you,” said Barca defender Gerard Pique.
“We have just come back from pre-season, we have new people in the team and this defeat could serve us well because it’s better to lose now than at the end of the season. Now we can start charging our batteries.”
Reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Pritha Sarkar