Football: Luis Suarez earns Barcelona win at Bilbao in La Liga opener

FC Barcelona's Luis Suarez (second from right) celebrates after scoring the opening goal against Athletic Club during the Spanish Primera Division soccer match at San Mames stadium, in Bilbao, Spain on Sunday.
FC Barcelona's Luis Suarez (second from right) celebrates after scoring the opening goal against Athletic Club during the Spanish Primera Division soccer match at San Mames stadium, in Bilbao, Spain on Sunday. PHOTO: EPA

MADRID (REUTERS) - Barcelona got their bid for a sixth La Liga title in eight years off to a winning start when Luis Suarez buried a fine volley shortly after halftime to secure a hard-fought 1-0 win at Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.

The Spanish and European champions' victory at the San Mames, in which Lionel Messi had a first-half penalty saved, was sweet revenge for Barca following their 5-1 aggregate defeat by Bilbao in this month's Spanish Super Cup.

It came at some cost, however, as both midfielder Sergio Busquets and fullback Dani Alves picked up injuries that ended their participation in the game.

A well-organised and hard-pressing Bilbao made life difficult for Barca in the early stages before Suarez was tripped by Gorka Elustondo in the penalty area in the 30th minute and Messi stepped up to take the spot kick.

Bilbao goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz made a fine diving stop, becoming only the second man after Valencia's Diego Alves to save a penalty from both Messi and Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo.

It was Messi's 14th failed spot kick for Barca on the Argentina captain's 63rd attempt.

Barca made the breakthrough in the 54th minute when Suarez found space in the area and the Uruguay forward smashed a superb volley into the net from Jordi Alba's chipped centre.

Sergi Roberto, who had a fine game at right back after replacing Alves in the 19th minute, cracked a shot against the frame of the goal on the hour before Barca coach Luis Enrique had to make another change when Busquets appeared to damage an ankle in a clash with Bilbao striker Aritz Aduriz.

The Spain international was taken off on a stretcher and there was no immediate word on the seriousness of either his injury, or that of Alves, who looked to have tweaked a groin muscle.

Real Madrid and new coach Rafa Benitez get their La Liga campaign underway later on Sunday when they play at promoted Sporting Gijon.