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Marcelo hails 'spectacular' Casemiro after Real Madrid winner vs. Athletic

Real Madrid extend their lead atop La Liga with a narrow 2-1 win over Athletic Bilbao.

Real Madrid vice-captain Marcelo hailed his teammate Casemiro as "one of the best midfielders in the world" after his fellow Brazilian hit a crucial winner in Saturday afternoon's 2-1 La Liga win at Athletic Bilbao.

Madrid went ahead midway through the first half with a Karim Benzema strike, but Athletic hit back soon after the break when Aritz Aduriz headed in from close range.

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Zinedine Zidane's side themselves responded quickly when Cristiano Ronaldo flicked on Toni Kroos' corner and Casemiro showed composure to control the ball and fire past Athletic keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga.

The former Castilla holding midfielder had also played a typical combative role in a tight battle at San Mames, standing up to Athletic's physically imposing Aduriz and Raul Garcia in particular.

Marcelo told BeIn Sports after the game that his low-profile countryman had come through to become a really important player for the Bernabeu outfit.

"Casemiro has improved in a spectacular way," Marcelo said. "He is a kid who works a lot. For me it is a privilege to play with him for club and country. He is one of the best midfielders in the world."

The result put Madrid five points clear of second-placed Barcelona in the table, and ensures that Zidane's team will be top during the coming international break, regardless of what happens when Valencia visit the Camp Nou on Sunday evening.

Casemiro celebrates after scoring the winner for Real Madrid.
Casemiro celebrates after scoring the winner for Real Madrid against Athletic Bilbao.

"That is important of course, but we just think about picking up points each week," Marcelo said. "We do not think about what lead we have. We will just keep working and it was important to stay top of the table before the international break."

Marcelo said that Zidane had prepared his players well for what they knew would be a tough, physical game, and his team had known how to make and take the chances required to get three points.

"A game here is always difficult," he said. "We are in the final stretch in La Liga. We knew it was going to be more than difficult. They play good football, know how to battle.

"But we came through in the end. We had trained this week, had time to prepare for the game. We knew what we had to do, what the boss asked of us, and we came out with the victory."

Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan

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