Sevilla maintain chase of Barca, Real Madrid

Sevilla's midfielder Vicente Iborra (R) vies with Athletic's midfielder Raul Garcia during the Spanish league football match March 2, 2017

Sevilla moved to within two points of La Liga leaders Barcelona as Vicente Iborra's first-half winner earned a hard-fought 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao.

In a battle between the two principal candidates to take over at Barca next season after Luis Enrique announced his decision to step down at the end of the season, Jorge Sampaoli edged out Ernesto Valverde in a nervy 90 minutes at the Sanchez Pizjuan.

Sevilla remain third, just a point behind Real Madrid, who also have a game in hand on their title rivals.

"It was a very stressful game," said Sampaoli.

"It was important to have won in a game where we didn't play our nearly at our best."

The hosts started brightly as Stefan Jovetic headed just over before Bilbao goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz made a fine double save to deny Jovetic and Joaquin Correa.

Sevilla were awarded a penalty on 14 minutes when Luciano Vietto was upended by Borja Etxeita.

And despite Iraizoz's best efforts once more as he saved Jovetic's spot-kick, Iborra forced home the rebound for the only goal.

Athletic twice came close to an equaliser either side of half-time as Raul Garcia headed against the woodwork before stinging the palms of Sergio Rico.

However, Sevilla held on to remain firmly in the title hunt.