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Luka Modric comes off the bench to give Spanish leader Real Madrid 1-0 win over Sevilla

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Luka Modric came off the bench and lifted Real Madrid to a 1-0 win over Sevilla by scoring from long range to keep his team firmly in control of the Spanish league title race on Sunday.

The 38-year-old Modric collected a deflection with one touch before unleashing a powerful strike that grazed the post before finding the net in the 81st minute. The former Ballon d’Or winner had gone on just six minutes before with the leaders stymied in attack without injured top scorer Jude Bellingham.

Madrid was heading toward a second straight draw after being held 1-1 at Rayo Vallecano in the last round of games. Another stumble would have given Barcelona reason to hope that it might just be able to mount a challenge after it overtook Girona for second place on Saturday.

Madrid’s victory kept it eight points above Barcelona and nine clear of Girona, which plays Rayo on Monday.

Bellingham, the league’s top scorer with 16 goals, has missed three games with a left ankle sprain.

NICO SENT OFF

Nico Williams was sent off with two quick yellow cards to leave Athletic Bilbao with 10 players just before halftime in its 3-1 loss at Real Betis.

The Spain winger got his first card for a foul and compounded that by earning a second booking for his apparently sarcastic applause of the referee.

The loss meant Athletic failed to take advantage of Atletico Madrid’s 2-2 draw at bottom side Almeria on Saturday. Athletic remained in fifth place at three points behind fourth-place Atletico. Betis moved into sixth, seven points behind Athletic.

Chimy Ávila scored his first goal for Betis since joining from Osasuna in the winter transfer window to take the 13th-minute lead. Yuri Berchiche added an own-goal before Williams was sent off in the 40th.

Gorka Guruzeta's goal gave Athletic some hope in the 52nd, but Betis midfielder Johnny Cardoso added a third with a strike from the edge of the area in the 67th.

In the first half, an assistant referee had to leave the match after she ran into a television camera and cut her head.

LAST-GASP EQUALIZER

Darwin Machis’ goal deep in injury time snatched Cadiz a 2-2 draw with Celta Vigo in a meeting of two teams in danger of relegation.

Iago Aspas and Williot Swedberg gave Celta a 2-0 advantage before Juanmi Jiménez pulled one back for the hosts in the 66th. Rafa Benítez’s side was still eyeing a victory until Machis curled a shot in from the corner of the area just before the final whistle.

Celta, in 17th, remained the last team clinging to safety while 18th-place Cadiz was in the drop zone at three points behind.

“You think you have it in the bag, you are up 2-0, and they score two goals on plays we could have stopped, so it is obvious we missed an opportunity,” Benítez said. “We didn’t know how to manage those final minutes.”

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer

Joseph Wilson, The Associated Press