Barcelona win amid refereeing controversy


Raphinha (22) of Barcelona celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during La Liga week 25 match between Athletic Bilbao and Barcelona at San Mames Stadium in Bilbao, Spain on March 12, 2023.

Still mired in controversy over payments to the company of a former refereeing committee official, Barcelona have restored their lead over Real Madrid to nine points in the Spanish league after a late VAR decision went their way.

Barcelona beat Athletic Bilbao 1-0 on Sunday after video review disallowed an 87th-minute goal by Bilbao forward Inaki Williams for a handball in the buildup.

VAR also was used to confirm Barcelona’s winning goal by Raphinha after it was initially disallowed for offside.

The review of Williams’ goal took nearly three minutes. When the decision was announced, it drew loud jeers from the home fans at San Mames Stadium.

Madrid had moved to six points off the lead with a 3-1 win at Espanyol at home on Saturday. Barcelona and Madrid play the final league “clasico” next week at Camp Nou stadium.

Sunday’s controversy came hours after Madrid had announced it would side against Barcelona in the legal proceedings that the rival is facing over its payments of millions of euros over several years to a company that belonged to the former vice president of Spain’s soccer refereeing committee.

Prosecutors on Friday formally accused Barcelona of alleged corruption in sports, fraudulent management and falsification of mercantile documentation. An investigating judge will decide whether the accusations should lead to charges. The Catalan club has denied wrongdoing.

Raphinha scored the winner in first-half stoppage time with a shot from inside the area after a superb pass by Sergio Busquets. The lineman raised his flag but video review determined the Brazil forward was in a legal position.

There didn’t immediately appear to be anything wrong with the goal by Williams, but the referee was asked to look at Iker Muniain’s touch of the ball with his arm earlier in the buildup, and it was deemed to have been enough to disallow the goal.

Bilbao, who stayed in ninth place, hit the woodwork a couple of times and were also stopped by great saves from Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Real Betis and Villarreal dropped points in their bid for Champions League places after a 1-1 draw.

Borja Iglesias opened the scoring for Betis in the 38th minute and the hosts equalised through Yeremy Pino in the 55th.

The result kept Betis in fifth place, three points behind Real Sociedad in the final qualification spot for the Champions League. Villarreal stayed sixth, four points behind Betis.

Third-place Atletico Madrid, level on points with Sociedad, visit mid-table Girona on Monday.

Carlos Fernandez scored three minutes into the match but fourth-place Sociedad couldn’t manage more than a 1-1 draw at Mallorca.

South Korea midfielder Lee Kang-in equalised early in the second half for 10th-place Mallorca, who are winless in three consecutive games.

Sociedad had midfielder Mikel Merino sent off in the 90th.

Sevilla came from behind to beat Almeria 2-1 at home with goals from Lucas Ocampos in the first half and Erik Lamela in the second.

Sevilla moved to 13th place, two points clear of the relegation zone.

Almeria, who opened the scoring with Sergio Akieme in the second minute, dropped to second-to-last-place.

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