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July 29, 2017

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Atletico Madrid hang on to sneak by Eibar

BARCELONA, Spain -- Atletico Madrid held on to beat Eibar 2-1 on Saturday to record an unconvincing first win of the Spanish league season as the defending champions continue to struggle without suspended coach Diego Simeone.

Atletico received the trophy as champions of last season before the match to the delight of the packed Vicente Calderon Stadium.

And it looked ready to keep the celebration going after taking a 2-0 lead in a one-sided half hour following headed goals by Miranda and Mario Mandzukic in the 11th and 25th minutes.

But Eibar defender Abraham Minero's gorgeous goal in the 33rd apparently made the promoted club believe it could compete, and the modest Basque side kept its chances to draw alive through a second half that had the home fans on edge.

Also, Athletic Bilbao routed Levante 3-0, Sevilla won 2-1 at Espanyol, and Celta Vigo settled for a 1-1 draw at Cordoba.

Whether it's the absence of their inspirational coach on the sideline or the goals of Diego Costa from the last campaign, Atletico has yet to show the same intensity and conviction that powered it to last season's league title.

Assistant coach German Burgos directed Atletico from the dugout with Simeone watching from the stands as he served the first of a four-game ban in the league for vehemently protesting during the Spanish Super Cup earlier this month. The Argentine had already missed Atletico's league opener, a drab 0-0 draw at Rayo Vallecano, due to a suspension carried over from last season.

Simeone attended the media after the match and attributed his team's troubles to the several changes made to his squad.

"We have to work and improve," Simeone said. "The characteristics of the guys who have arrived are not the same as those who left. We are working hard so the new players can adapt."

Atletico looked set for a placid home league debut after Miranda redirected Jorge "Koke" Resurreccion's corner kick into the net in the 11th.

Mandzukic followed that by taking advantage of Eibar's slack marking to nod Gabi Fernandez's floated free kick home in the 25th.

Eibar seemed overwhelmed by its first ever away game in the topflight category, but Javi Lara's sharp strike to test goalkeeper Miguel Moya in the 32nd marked a shift in the match.

A minute later Minero scored with a beautiful curling shot to finish off an equally exquisite combination of one-touch passes culminated by Angel Rodriguez's back-heeled flick to set him up on the edge of the area.

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