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Stoppage time penalty ignites Bilbao's Champions League hopes

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By Reuters
Stoppage time penalty ignites Bilbao's Champions League hopes
FILE PHOTO: An Athletic Bilbao fan waves a giant flag with the team's colours during a Spanish First Division soccer match against Villarreal at Bilbao's San Mames stadium February 26, 2006. REUTERS/Vincent West   -   Copyright  Vincent West(Reuters)

(Reuters) – A last-gasp penalty propelled Athletic Bilbao to a 3-2 win over Levante on Wednesday which sparked hopes of qualifying for next season’s Champions League as they moved to within four points of fourth spot in La Liga.

Bilbao, who spent the first half of the season toiling around the relegation zone but have surged up the standings since Gaizka Garitano took charge in December, strolled into a first-half lead with Yuri Berchiche’s fifth minute strike and an own goal by Aitor.

But they lost control of the game after the interval and Levante pulled a goal back through striker Roger Marti’s penalty, while Uruguayan defender Erick Cabaco headed in an equaliser in the 89th.

Bilbao reacted by pouring down the other end and earning a penalty when captain Iker Muniain collided with Levante’s Moses Simon, prompting furious protests from the visiting side, who had had a goal ruled out in the first half.

Spain international Muniain smashed the ball high into the net from the spot, giving his side a third consecutive league victory which leaves them eighth in the standings, four points behind fourth-placed Getafe after 30 games.

(Reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)