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Ronaldo’s Portugal held by Mexico at Confed Cup

June 19, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Cristiano Ronaldo brushed off speculation about his Real Madrid future, although Portugal conceded a late equaliser in a 2-2 draw with Mexico at the Confederations Cup on Sunday.

Mexico

Ronaldo teed up Ricardo Quaresma to fire Portugal ahead in the first half in Kazan, but the goal was cancelled out before the break by Mexico striker Javier Hernandez’s bullet header.

Cedric Soares restored Portugal’s lead on 86 minutes, but Hector Moreno’s stoppage-time header salvaged a point for Mexico in their Group A opener.

“We could have killed off the match but it didn’t happen. The draw is a fair result without doubt,” said Portugal coach Fernando Santos, whose side wore black armbands in honour of the victims of a deadly forest fire back home.

“I would like to say something on behalf of my players. People are very sad in Portugal and the players are thinking of all those who are suffering from what’s happened.”

Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio said his team deserved their point but admitted there was work to be done going forward.

“Hector Moreno’s goal handed Mexican football a huge result,” he said.

“We still need to work on our finishing, we’re not efficient enough in the final third of the pitch.

“The next match will be very tough because New Zealand will give it their all.”

Ronaldo, 32, is reportedly furious over a tax probe into the off-shore accounts dealing with his image rights, and has reportedly vowed to leave Spain.

According to Spanish paper Marca on Sunday, Real Madrid’s coach Zinedine Zidane even broke off his holiday to call Ronaldo to try to persuade his star not to quit the club.

But Portugal’s talisman was at his best in an action-packed first half in his team’s opening match, with hosts Russia and New Zealand still to come in the group.

Ronaldo’s superb volley looked to have helped Portugal take the lead, but the video assistant referee came to Mexico’s rescue after Nani had put the ball in the net.

When Ronaldo’s volley thumped the crossbar, Nani pounced on the rebound, but the video ref spotted that four players were offside.

However, Portugal, and Ronaldo, were not to be denied.

The Euro 2016 winners took the lead on 34 minutes when Ronaldo sprinted into the box and his beautifully-timed pass found Quaresma unmarked in the area.

The Besiktas winger drew Mexico’s goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa and tapped home the opening goal.

But Mexico responded with Hernandez testing Portugal keeper Rui Patricio, before putting his side level.

Mexico’s all-time top scorer grabbed his 48th international goal from 93 appearances after some dreadful defending by Portugal.

Borussia Dortmund midfielder Raphael Guerreiro failed to deal with a cross into the box and Carlos Vela teed up Hernandez, who met the cross with a diving header.

After an explosive opening period, the second was a much tamer affair as both teams squandered half chances as the tempo dropped.

With time running out, Southampton right-back Cedric pounced on a loose ball and slammed home Portugal’s second goal.

But with the 90 minutes up, Mexican defender Moreno rose highest from the final corner of the game to head in the equaliser.

Two-goal Ronaldo keeps Madrid kings of Europe

June 5, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice as Real Madrid crushed Juventus 4-1 in Cardiff on Saturday to become the first team to retain the European Cup in the Champions League era.

Ronaldo

The Portugal superstar’s opener was cancelled out by an astonishing Mario Mandzukic strike, but goals from Casemiro, Ronaldo and Marco Asensio secured Madrid’s third Champions League triumph in four years and 12th in total.

Now a four-time Champions League winner, Ronaldo finished as the competition’s top scorer for the fifth season running, substantially enhancing his chances of matching fierce rival Lionel Messi’s tally of five Ballon d’Or crowns.

“We’re very happy to be the first team to win the Champions League in two consecutive years,” said Ronaldo, who has now scored exactly 600 goals for club and country in his extraordinary career.

“I finished the season very well. It is another record, a record that these players deserve and we are delighted.”

Zinedine Zidane, a head coach for only 17 months, became the first boss to oversee back-to-back European Cup successes since Arrigo Sacchi’s fabled AC Milan team won the tournament in 1989 and 1990.

“It’s a tremendous joy for the players and for this immense club,” Zidane told beIN Sports Spain.

“I am happy because it is not easy to win things like La Liga and the Champions League, and this year we did it with hard work and desire.”

Victory crowned a glorious season for Madrid, who have pulled off a La Liga and European Cup double for the first time since 1958, having also won the Club World Cup and European Super Cup.

Zidane’s joy was his former club Juve’s despair, Massimiliano Allegri’s side crashing to a fifth successive defeat in Champions League finals and seventh in total, extending their own desperately unwanted record.

The first Champions League final to be played beneath a closed roof saw Juve hit their heads against a familiar ceiling as they missed out on a chance to complete the first Treble in their history.

The Italian champions had substitute Juan Cuadrado sent off after he was shown a second yellow card for a gentle push on Sergio Ramos that drew a lamentable overreaction from the Madrid skipper.

“We thought we had enough to win the game. I cannot explain why we played like we did in the second half,” said Juve captain Gianluigi Buffon, now a three-time beaten finalist.

“Real Madrid deserved to win in the second half. They showed their class and the attitude needed to play in this kind of game.”

Following an elaborate pre-match ceremony involving American pop act Black Eyed Peas at the Principality Stadium, Juve settled first.

Gonzalo Higuain worked Keylor Navas twice, while Miralem Pjanic’s snappy half-volley forced the Madrid goalkeeper into a smart one-handed save.

Madrid drew first blood in the 20th minute when Ronaldo flicked the ball wide to Dani Carvajal before artfully sweeping the Spaniard’s return pass into the bottom-left corner via a nick off Leonardo Bonucci.

It was a fine strike, and it made Ronaldo the first player to have scored in three finals in the post-1992 Champions League age, but it was quickly cancelled out by Mandzukic’s masterpiece.

Bonucci’s flighted pass from deep was volleyed into the box by Alex Sandro and Higuain chested the ball down before teeing it up for Mandzukic.

The Croatian forward took a touch with his chest and then, as he fell, hooked a sublime volley over Navas’s despairing dive and beneath the crossbar.

But after the break, it was Zidane’s men who set the tempo and in the 61st minute Casemiro put them ahead.

The Brazilian midfielder unleashed a shot from 25 yards that flicked off the heels of Madrid old boy Sami Khedira before spinning past the helpless Buffon.

Three minutes later it was game over as Ronaldo netted his 12th goal in this season’s tournament, moving him a goal clear of Messi, and 105th overall.

Luka Modric sped to the byline on the right and crossed as Ronaldo darted ahead of Bonucci at the near post to guide a shot past Buffon.

Cardiff native Gareth Bale made an appearance as a late replacement for Karim Benzema, having been out since April 23 with a calf injury.

Sandro headed wide from a Dani Alves free-kick, but Juve’s fire went out when Cuadrado was given his marching orders and substitute Asensio added to their misery with a late tap-in from Marcelo’s cut-back.

Juventus bar Zidane’s path to history with Madrid

June 3, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Only Zinedine Zidane’s former club Juventus stand between the Real Madrid coach and football history in Saturday’s star-studded Champions League final in Cardiff.

Real Madrid

A head coach for only 17 months, the former France playmaker can become the first manager to win back-to-back European Cups since AC Milan’s Arrigo Sacchi in 1989 and 1990 and the first in the Champions League era.

Zidane had a hand in Madrid’s ninth, 10th and 11th European triumphs — as a player, assistant coach and head coach — and the quest for the ‘Duodecima’ (12th) brings him up against an old flame.

“If you’d said I was going to live all this when I was a child, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Zidane told Friday’s pre-game press conference at the Principality Stadium.

“But I’m living it and I’m enjoying it. I’m enjoying what’s happening to all of us. I’m just the coach.

“It’s really beautiful to be able to play the final again, like we did in Milan (in 2016). We’re ready to play.”

Victorious against city rivals Atletico Madrid in the 2014 and 2016 finals, Real are chasing a third success in four seasons.

It would allow them to proclaim European dominance with a conviction they last possessed during Alfredo Di Stefano’s five consecutive wins of the late 1950s.

Zidane, 44, has already led his team to glory in La Liga, ending a five-year league title drought, as well as the Club World Cup and European Super Cup.

Cristiano Ronaldo, meanwhile, can claim a fourth European crown, which would only enhance his chances of matching fierce rival Lionel Messi’s haul of five Ballon d’Or successes.

The 32-year-old Portuguese has exploded reports of his demise with stunning hat-tricks against Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals and Atletico in the last four.

With 10 goals to his name, he needs one more to equal Messi’s tally in this season’s competition and become a Champions League top scorer for the fifth season running.

The final could prove a glorious homecoming for Madrid’s Cardiff native Gareth Bale, although the Wales star is expected to start on the bench due to a calf injury, with the in-form Isco due to continue in his place.

While Zidane, Ronaldo and Bale hope their good fortune in the competition continues, Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon is praying for a turning of the tide.

A beaten finalist in 2003 and 2015, the 39-year-old Italy great dreams of adding the ultimate club honour to the World Cup winner’s medal he collected in 2006.

“Real Madrid are used to winning finals,” Buffon said.

“We’ve lost a number of finals. So maybe it’s a good match in that sense. We’re going to try and overturn our record in history.”

Juve must shed their status of perennial Champions League bridesmaids, having finished runners-up on a record six occasions and lost their last four finals.

Italian champions for the sixth year running and Coppa Italia winners, the Turin giants are also aiming to become only the eighth club to complete the European Treble.

They were pursuing the same milestone in 2015, when they lost 3-1 to Barcelona in Berlin, but coach Massimiliano Allegri says his streetwise side are now ready to take the final step.

“In 2015 we got to the final and deserved it, but we perhaps were not strongly motivated,” he told reporters on Friday.

“We didn’t feel confident enough because we’d had struggles in the Champions League for a number of years.

“We didn’t get to the final by chance, but we didn’t expect to win. This year it’s completely different. We’ve been growing gradually. Juventus have improved a lot.”

While Madrid possess the competition’s sharpest attack, Juve boast its meanest defence, having successively shut down the sparkling attacks of Barcelona and Monaco en route to Cardiff.

Beneath a closed roof at the Principality Stadium — a first for a Champions League final — a classic contest beckons.

Atletico comeback falls short as Real reach final

May 11, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Real Madrid inflicted a fourth Champions League elimination on Atletico Madrid in as many years on Wednesday, losing their semi-final second leg 2-1 but progressing to the final 4-2 on aggregate.

Real Madrid

Atletico had threatened an incredible comeback, Saul Niguez’s powerful header and Antoine Griezmann’s penalty inside 16 minutes cutting Real’s aggregate lead to a solitary goal.

The hosts fed off a ferocious atmosphere for their final Champions League match at the Vicente Calderon before moving to the Wanda Metropolitano next season.

However, Isco’s away goal just before half-time settled Real’s nerves and left Atletico with too much to do to progress.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s first leg hat-trick ultimately proved decisive and Real will seek to become the first side to defend the trophy in the Champions League era when they face Juventus in the final in Cardiff on May 3.

“I am delighted to reach the final,” said Real boss Zinedine Zidane.

“It is a long road to get there and to do so two years in a row, you have to congratulate the squad.”

An already fierce rivalry between the Spanish giants has intensified in recent years by Real’s three Champions League victories over Atletico, including in the 2014 and 2016 finals.

However, Atletico’s players went a long way towards making amends for their meek display in the first leg eight days ago in a thrilling opening.

“The team showed once more why they have been competing at this level for so many years,” said Atletico coach Diego Simeone.

“Those first 20, 25 minutes will be in the history of the club.

“The atmosphere was one of those magical moments in the Calderon that will live in people’s memories forever.”

Real goalkeeper Keylor Navas denied Koke from close range and Fernando Torres headed over, before at the other end Jan Oblak made a brilliant save from Casemiro’s header.

Atletico got the goal they needed to get back into the tie 12 minutes in when Koke’s outswinging corner was met powerfully by Saul for his fourth Champions League goal of the season.

Just three minutes later Atletico truly believed they could pull off the most unlikely of comebacks when Fernando Torres was upended by Raphael Varane inside the box.

Griezmann had missed his previous two penalties against Real, including in last year’s Champions League final.

This time the French international found the net, albeit with a bit of fortune as Navas got a hand to his mishit spot-kick but couldn’t keep it out.

Fierce challenges then rained in from both sides as Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakır struggled to keep control, with five players booked inside the opening 37 minutes.

However, Real regained their composure to get the vital away goal they needed for some extra breathing space just before half-time.

Karim Benzema somehow escaped the attention of three Atletico defenders on the by-line and cut the ball back for Toni Kroos.

Oblak made another brilliant stop to deny the German, but Isco followed up from close range to bundle the ball home.

Ronaldo had scored eight times in his previous three Champions League appearances, however, the closest the World Player of the Year came to adding to his record 21 goals against Atletico was a driven free-kick at the start of the second half that was beaten away by Oblak.

Atletico had their chances to put the tie back on a knife-edge as Navas produced an incredible double save from Yannick Carrasco and Kevin Gameiro.

The Costa Rican then got down low to his right to turn behind Griezmann’s low volley and Gameiro failed to turn home another great opportunity from point-blank range.

A torrential thunder storm disrupted the final stages, but lightning has now struck four times for Atletico against Real and Zidane’s side will head to Cardiff seeking a 12th European Cup against his former club.

Ronaldo hat-trick leaves Real on verge of final

May 3, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Cristiano Ronaldo proved Atletico Madrid’s Champions League destroyer once more with a hat-trick as Real Madrid took a commanding 3-0 semi-final, first leg lead on Tuesday.

Ronaldo

Ronaldo extended his lead as the all-time top scorer in Madrid derby matches by taking his tally to 21 and put Real firmly on course to defend their title in the final in Cardiff on June 3.

The Portuguese rewarded a bright Real start by heading home Casemiro’s deflected cross after just 10 minutes.

Ronaldo then smashed home from just inside the area and turned home Lucas Vazquez’s cross in the final 20 minutes as Real continued their domination of Atletico having eliminated them in the Champions League for the past three seasons.

“The team was tremendous. I scored the goals but the team was phenomenal from start to finish,” said Ronaldo.

The sides meet again for the second leg on May 10.

“We have a good advantage but the tie isn’t over yet,” added Ronaldo.

“Atletico are a good side and it is not a coincidence they are in the semi-finals again. We have to be concentrated next Wednesday.”

Atletico boss Diego Simeone, meanwhile, told his side to forget their latest derby demolition and hope for a miracle at the last European match at their Vicente Calderon stadium next week.

“We need to forget about this game,” said the Argentine.

“It seems impossible, but it is football and football has these unexpected things that make it marvellous.

“Until the last drip of hope is gone, we will give it everything we have.”

Real needed a stoppage time equaliser en route to beating Atletico in the 2014 final, scored a late winner in the quarter-finals a year later and edged last season’s final between the two on a penalty shootout.

However, there was far more a gulf between the sides this time round.

Real piled on the pain in the opening stages for the 4,000 visiting away fans and could have killed the tie in the opening half hour.

Atletico were handed a lucky escape on seven minutes when Jan Oblak parried Dani Carvajal’s effort at the end of a careering run and the Slovenian recovered to also turn behind Karim Benzema’s follow-up effort.

There was no let off three minutes later, though, as Atletico failed to clear a corner and Casemiro’s bouncing cross looped up for Ronaldo to power home a header.

Oblak kept Atletico alive in the moments that followed with a brilliant save from Raphael Varane’s header and more comfortable stop from Isco.

However, at the other end, Keylor Navas rescued Real from conceding a vital away goal when he got a touch on the ball as Kevin Gameiro tried to round him when clean through on goal.

The majority of the efforts continued to rain down on Oblak’s goal as Luka Modric drilled a shot from the edge of the box inches wide.

And Benzema then acrobatically turned a Ronaldo cross just over the bar.

The only negative news of the night for Real was an injury to right-back Dani Carvajal just before half-time as he pulled up with a muscle problem that looks set to keep him out of the second leg.

Clear-cut chances were far harder to come by after half-time as Atletico toiled to create, whilst Real sat on their lead waiting for the chance to counter-attack.

However, once again in ties between these two, Real got the slice of luck to go with their extra quality.

The ball rebounded up perfectly off the heels of Filipe Luis for Ronaldo to blast high past Oblak.

And Ronaldo completed his second hat-trick against Atletico this season four minutes from time when Lucas Vazquez’s cutback picked out the four-time World Player of the Year to slot home from close range.

Suarez double keeps Barca level with Madrid

April 30, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Barcelona and Real Madrid remain locked together on 81 points at the top of La Liga after seeing off Espanyol and Valencia respectively on Saturday.

Suarez

Madrid maintain the edge as they have a game in hand but needed a winner four minutes from time from Marcelo to see off Valencia 2-1.

Luis Suarez scored twice as Barcelona gratefully pounced on a series of Espanyol errors to win the Catalan derby 3-0 and move top of the table thanks to their better head-to-head record over Real.

Jose Manuel Jurado was the Espanyol villain as he dragged well wide with easily the clearest chance of the first half.

The former Watford midfielder’s misplaced pass then teed up Suarez to end a five-game goal drought with a neat finish five minutes into the second period.

Lionel Messi didn’t add to his 49 goals this season but still played a vital role as he teed up Ivan Rakitic for Barca’s second 14 minutes from time.

And Suarez benefited from another defensive howler, this time from Aaron Martin, to slot home his second three minutes from the end.

At the Bernabeu, Marcelo’s late intervention saved Cristiano Ronaldo’s blushes despite the Portuguese setting another goalscoring record as he failed to beat Valencia goalkeeper Diego Alves from the penalty spot for the third time in four attempts.

Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane recalled eight of the side that started last weekend’s 3-2 Clasico defeat to Barcelona and had been rested for a 6-2 thrashing of Deportivo la Coruna in midweek.

However, the habitual first team nearly got off to the worst possible start when Santi Mina hit the post inside the first minute.

But Ronaldo eased Real nerves as he planted Dani Carvajal’s cross into the far corner in characteristic fashion on 27 minutes.

That goal took Ronaldo’s tally in league football to 367 goals to surpass legendary English striker Jimmy Greaves across Europe’s top divisions.

However, even the four-time world player of the year struggles to beat Alves from the spot as the Brazilian made his sixth penalty save of the season when he dived low to his left to deny Ronaldo early in the second half.

That miss looked costly when Dani Parejo’s brilliant free-kick set up a grandstand finish eight minute from time.

Yet, for the seventh time in La Liga this season, Madrid struck as Marcelo cut inside onto his weaker right foot to fire across and past the helpless Alves to joyous scenes of relief at the Santiago Bernabeu.

“It is true that we were in a comfort zone for 30 minutes, the fans were the same,” said Zidane.

“After Valencia scored they started to push the players on once more and it was a completely different match.

“We know we are going to have to suffer until the end of the season.”

Next up for Real is a Champions League semi-final first leg on Tuesday at home to a Atletico Madrid side full of confidence after they thumped Las Palmas 5-0 to move three points clear of Sevilla in third.

Atletico struck three times in the first 18 minutes in the Canary Islands as Kevin Gameiro netted a double either side of Saul Niguez’s header.

Kevin-Prince Boateng was then sent off for Las Palmas and Atletico made their man advantage count with further goals from Thomas Partey and Fernando Torres.

Tony Adams’s Granada were relegated after they lost for the fourth straight game since the Englishman took charge, going down 2-1 at Real Sociedad.

Meanwhile, Levante sealed promotion back to La Liga with a 1-0 win over Real Oviedo.

Madrid hit Deportivo for six, Barca relegate Osasuna

April 27, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Real Madrid again made light of the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo as they crushed Deportivo la Coruna 6-2 to maintain the upper hand in the La Liga title race on Wednesday.

Real Madrid

Madrid and Barcelona are locked on 78 points at the top of the table, but Real have a game in hand over their title rivals.

Barca remain top thanks to their better head-to-head record as Lionel Messi struck twice to relegate Osasuna in a 7-1 thrashing.

Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane made nine changes in all from the side that lost 3-2 to Barca on Sunday to reignite the title race.

Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and the injured Gareth Bale were left out the Madrid squad for a third straight away league game, but again their absence wasn’t missed.

“It is the hardest job for a coach. When they play like they did today and then maybe they won’t play in the next game,” said Zidane.

“We know I have a phenomenal group of players and all of them are ready for the challenge between now and the end of the season.”

Alvaro Morata smashed home at the near post to give the visitors the perfect start after less than a minute.

James Rodriguez then added a second from Lucas Vazquez’s cross as Madrid threatened to run riot inside the first 20 minutes.

However, the European champions have now kept just one clean sheet in their last 15 games and their defence was breached once more when Florin Andone turned home Gael Kakuta’s mishit shot 10 minutes before half-time.

Vazquez, though, restored Real’s two-goal lead before half-time and Zidane’s men could even have reached double figures in a dominant second period.

Morata unselfishly teed up Rodriguez for his second of the night before Isco sealed a stunning individual display by smashing home 13 minutes from time.

Joselu got another goal back for Deportivo with a fine looping header, but fittingly Real had the final say when Casemiro’s piledriver slipped under Deportivo ‘keeper Przemyslaw Tyton.

At the Camp Nou, Barca fans paid homage to Messi’s brilliance against Real in scoring the winner and his 500th goal for the club with the last kick of the game in Sunday’s El Clasico.

The five-time World Player of the Year responded by opening the scoring as he pounced on an error in the Osasuna defence to stroll through on goal and lift the ball over the advancing Salvatore Sirigu.

Andre Gomes has been the scapegoat for many of Barca’s most disappointing defeats this season.

But the Portuguese had arguably his best night in a Barca shirt as he drilled home Ivan Rakitic’s cross to make it 2-0 on the half hour.

“We had the chance to use a lot of players that have played fewer minutes,” said Barca boss Luis Enrique.

“It is a game that boosts those individuals, the team as a whole and gives us hope for the end of the season.”

Roberto Torres’s free-kick briefly brought Osasuna back into the game three minutes into the second half.

Barca, though, simply went through the gears with a four-goal burst in 10 devastating minutes.

Firstly, Gomes slotted home his second of the night after Gerard Pique’s initial effort came back off the post.

Messi then curled in his 49th goal in 47 appearances this season from the edge of the area.

The Argentine instantly made way for 19-year-old Carles Alena to keep him fresh for Saturday’s Catalan derby at Espanyol.

Paco Alcacer also grabbed a double for Barca’s fifth and seventh.

And in between times Javier Mascherano bagged his first goal in 319 Barca appearances by blasting home from the penalty spot.

Osasuna’s relegation was confirmed after Leganes beat Las Palmas 3-0 to move six points clear of the drop zone.

And Real Sociedad boosted their chances of qualifying for the Europa League with a 3-2 win at Valencia.

Neymar out of Clasico after Barcelona lose patience

April 23, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Barcelona will not risk calling up star forward Neymar for the potential title decider with Real Madrid, the Spanish champions said on Sunday, just hours before El Clasico.

Neymar

The loss of the suspended Brazilian forward deals a big blow to Barcelona’s hopes of denying their fierce rivals a first La Liga crown in five years.

Barcelona appealed to Spain’s Court of Arbitration for Sport (TAD) late on Friday over Neymar’s three-game ban in the hope it would be frozen, which would have allowed him to take part in the must-win showdown at the Santiago Bernabeu.

But with the pivotal clash looming — kick-off is at 1845 GMT on Sunday — Barcelona said they were abandoning their bid to have Neymar available.

“Given the legal uncertainty of the lack of a decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport with the game tonight less than 12 hours away, and to focus all attention on the sporting aspect, the club has decided not to call up Neymar,” an angry Barcelona statement said.

The Catalans said the TAD had created “a huge legal void”.

Neymar is in the middle of a suspension for his red card and subsequent sarcastic applause of the officials in Barca’s damaging 2-0 defeat to Malaga two weeks ago.

The club argue that until a ruling on the appeal is held, Neymar’s ban should be suspended and therefore allow him to feature at the Bernabeu.

“As a coach I am prepared to play with Neymar or without him,” manager Luis Enrique said on Saturday.

In the absence of a TAD ruling, Barca would have been taking an enormous risk by playing Neymar as they could have been sanctioned with a defeat for fielding an ineligible player.

Enrique says his last Clasico — he will leave Barcelona this summer — is a must-win: Madrid hold a three-point lead at the top with a game in hand on their rivals.

“Given how close it is to the end of the season it is a decisive weekend,” said Enrique.

“This time a Clasico can decide or almost decide the league or leave it very open. For us it is like a final, only a win will do.”

Madrid could be boosted by the return of Gareth Bale from injury, but the fact the Welshman may not be risked is a further sign that Real have far more room for error.

Bale has been sidelined by an inflammation of the muscles around where he suffered ligament damage in his right ankle that kept him out for three months earlier in the season.

“He will be with us on Sunday,” said Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane.

“You will see tomorrow what team we are going to start with.”

Should Bale not start, the on-form Isco is favourite to take his place, as he did for Madrid’s thrilling 4-2 Champions League win over Bayern Munich after extra-time in midweek.

Centre-backs Raphael Varane and Pepe are Madrid’s only injury absentees meaning Zidane is expected to name the same starting XI as against Bayern.

“There is a lot of tiredness, but also a lot of excitement and desire to keep doing what we are doing,” added the Frenchman.

Only victory will salvage Barca’s season after crashing out of the Champions League at the quarter-final stage to Juventus in midweek.

“For some it means it is a very attractive challenge and for others it means pressure,” Enrique said.

“I prefer to take it as an attractive and marvellous challenge. It’s a chance to move level on points with Madrid.”

Ronaldo hat-trick fires Real into semis

April 19, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Cristiano Ronaldo scored a controversial hat-trick to become the first man to reach 100 Champions League goals as Real Madrid overcame 10-man Bayern Munich 4-2 after extra time in Tuesday’s thrilling quarter-final second leg.

Ronaldo

The holders surged through 6-3 on aggregate at an exhilarated Santiago Bernabeu to take their place in Friday’s semi-final draw for a record seventh consecutive year.

But Real were pushed all the way by Bayern, who battled back from a 2-1 first-leg deficit to send the tie into extra time thanks to Robert Lewandowski’s penalty and an own goal from Sergio Ramos.

However, after Arturo Vidal was sent off, Ronaldo hit the century mark in Europe’s top club competition on 104 minutes and completed his hat-trick five minutes later.

Bayern were left incensed, though, as Ronaldo’s second and third goals were clearly offside.

“To score six goals against a team like Bayern Munich isn’t easy so we deserved to go through,” the Portuguese striker told Spanish TV station Antena 3.

“Real Madrid is Real Madrid, we are used to suffering and we are happy to be in the semis once again.”

Marco Asensio gave a night of high-class action the finale it deserved with a sensational solo goal to rub salt in Bayern wounds.

“The (red) card for Arturo wasn’t a card and then the two goals from Cristiano are offside so clearly we are not happy,” said Bayern coach Carlo Ancelotti.

“In a quarter-final you have to put a better referee, or it is the moment to introduce video refereeing, which is what UEFA are trying because there are too many errors.”

The German champions had been beaten on their previous four trips to Spain without even scoring a goal.

However, knowing they needed at least two to progress, Ancelotti’s men started on the front foot and were left to rue a huge opportunity just eight minutes in.

Marcelo made a miraculous block to deny Thiago Alcantara before former Real winger Arjen Robben scuffed into the side-netting on his trusted left foot.

Much like the first leg, Madrid weathered the early storm and had plenty of chances to go in front before half time.

Jerome Boateng bailed out a rare mistake from goalkeeper Manuel Neuer as he cleared off the line from Ramos after Neuer fumbled a simple cross.

The half-time whistle brought some respite to proceedings on the field, although the Bayern fans were involved in a minor clash with police at the break.

The disturbances quickly died down and Bayern soon gave the travelling 4,000 from Germany something to cheer when play resumed.

Another goal-line clearance by Marcelo from Robben’s dinked effort temporarily saved Madrid.

But the hosts didn’t escape moments later when referee Viktor Kassai pointed to the spot as Robben went down under a challenge from Casemiro.

Lewandowski stayed cool under the pressure and converted from the spot for his 39th goal of the season.

Ronaldo looked to have eased Madrid’s nerves when he steered Casemiro’s cross into the far corner 14 minutes from time.

However, Real’s celebrations were very short-lived as just a minute later the ball ricocheted around their box and Ramos turned into his own net.

The balance of a topsy-turvy tie turned Madrid’s way again with five minutes remaining as just as in the first leg, Bayern were reduced to 10 men when Vidal saw a second yellow card for chopping down Asensio.

The extra man proved decisive as Madrid settled the tie with a three-goal burst either side of half time in extra time.

Ronaldo took advantage at not being flagged for offside as he controlled and fired low past Neuer to become the first man to reach a Champions League century.

Four minutes into the second period of extra time he had Marcelo to thank for a brilliant run and unselfish pass that allowed the Portuguese the simplest of finishes to complete his hat-trick despite again being in an offside position.

And Asensio sealed victory in sensational style with a stunning solo run and low right-footed finish as many Bayern players sank to their knees knowing Champions League glory had passed them by for another year.

Ronaldo hits 100th European goal as Real Madrid win at Bayern

April 13, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Cristiano Ronaldo netted his 100th European goal on Wednesday to give holders Real Madrid a 2-1 comeback win at 10-man Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-final, first-leg.

Ronaldo

“I wanted to reach this record. To be able to reach this mark is an honour and against a team like Bayern it is even better,” Ronaldo, who scored both goals, told BeIN Sport Spain.

Arturo Vidal headed Bayern into a first-half lead, but then skied a penalty attempt on the stroke of half-time before Ronaldo volleyed the defending champions’ level.

Bayern played the last half an hour a man down after centre-back Javi Martinez was sent off for two fouls on Ronaldo within three minutes of each other.

Four-time world player of the year Ronaldo then slotted in the winner between goalkeeper Manuel Neuer’s legs for the winner 13 minutes from time.

“We believe we can still do it, we were the better team in the first half, could have made it 2-0 or 3-0,” Neuer told ZDF.

But Bayern were outplayed in the second-half and most of Real’s 23 shots on goal came after the break.

“We had everything under control in the first half, but didn’t use the room consistently,” said captain Philipp Lahm. “The tipping point was the red card.”

Security was tight at the Allianz Arena in the wake of Tuesday’s attacks on the Borussia Dortmund team bus and both teams arrived with a heavy police escort.

There was a large police presence and inside the stadium there was polite applause when the announcer made reference to Dortmund’s ordeal in the preceeding 24 hours.

Bayern suffered a blow before kick-off when top-scorer Robert Lewandowski, who has netted 38 goals this season, dropped out with a bruised shoulder and Thomas Muller deputised as striker.

Bayern were also missing injured Germany defender Mats Hummels against Real’s formidable BBC attack – Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Ronaldo.

Bayern went ahead on 25 minutes when playmaker Thiago Alcantara swung in a corner from the right which Vidal powered through Real goalkeeper Keylor Navas’s hands.

The Chile midfielder could have added a second when he headed Arjen Robben’s cross wide of the post soon after.

Real made a poor start, rarely threatening Germany’s goalkeeper Neuer, back after minor foot surgery a fortnight ago.

A strong drive from Ronaldo on 41 minutes which Neuer blocked having palmed a Benzema header onto the woodwork with 18 minutes played were their best first-half chances.

Vidal could have finished with a first-half hat-trick when he stepped up to take a penalty after Dani Carvajal’s handball from a Franck Ribery shot.

However, the Chilean smashed the spot-kick high over the crossbar.

It was a miss Bayern were soon to regret.

Real were level two minutes after the break when Carvajal found space on the right and fired in a cross which Ronaldo volleyed past Neuer.

Bale, who has laboured with an ankle injury recently, came off on 58 minutes and Real raised the tempo after he trudged off.

Having already picked up a yellow card for pulling Ronaldo back on 58 minutes, Martinez was shown a red for again fouling the Portugal captain just three minutes later.

Real’s superstar then hit the winner as substitute Marco Asensio, on for Bale, put in a low pass for Ronaldo to tap the ball home between Neuer’s legs.

Real defender Sergio Ramos had the ball in the Bayern net with time running out, but the goal was ruled offside but the Spaniards have the upper hand for the second leg at home next Tuesday.

Bayern host Real Madrid in Champions League quarter-final 1st-leg

April 11, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Bayern Munich host Real Madrid in Wednesday’s mouthwatering Champions League quarter-final, first-leg, with Carlo Ancelotti’s Bavarians looking once again to be the Spaniards’ ‘bete noire’.

Real Madrid

And the subplots to the Allianz Arena clash are fascinating.

Bayern boss Carlo Ancelotti coached Real to the 2014 Champions League crown and is up against his former assistant from that triumph, Madrid’s current head coach Zinedine Zidane.

World Cup 2010 winner Xabi Alonso, who also won the 2014 Champions League before joining Bayern, will face his ex-club for the last time before retiring in June.

And Real’s Germany midfielder Toni Kroos is another to be coming up against his former employers.

Ancelotti says “little things will make the difference” between the star-studded squads that will see two goal-scoring giants go head-to-head.

Bayern’s top-scorer Robert Lewandowski, with 38 goals in all competitions this season, is up against Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, with 26 goals from 36 games.

That may be modest by his standards, but Ronaldo has tormented Bayern in the past with four goals in as many games and the Bavarians will be wary, especially with backup from Wales star Gareth Bale and France’s Karim Benzema.

Lewandowski suffered a bruised shoulder in scoring twice in Saturday’s 4-1 hammering of Borussia Dortmund, but expects to be “100 percent” fit.

Bayern are on a Champions League record of 16 straight European wins at the Allianz Arena and that’s a record Dutch winger Arjen Robben is keen to maintain.

“We have to up the ante, we have to signal (to Real) from the first minute that there is nothing to take in Munich and we want to win the game,” he said.

Bayern are looking to recover their ‘bete noire’ nickname, given to them by Real fans after Munich won eight of 14 matches against Real between 2000 and 2012.

All that changed in the 2014 Champions League’s semi-final when the team coached by Pep Guardiola was thrashed 4-0 in Munich, crashing out 5-0 on aggregate as Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos netted twice each.

That defeat remains Bayern’s record home European loss, yet there is no talk of revenge ahead of Wednesday’s clash.

“This is the quarter-finals, but it sounds like a final,” said Bayern captain Philipp Lahm.

“We’re playing against an absolute top team, who have top players in every position. We will have to play to our potential.”

Both sides are missing key defenders, though.

Germany’s Mats Hummels was ruled out after damaging ankle ligaments on Sunday so Jerome Boateng and Javi Martinez will form the centre-back partnership.

Hummels faces a race against time to be back for the return at the Santiago Bernabeu on April 18, while Real have defenders Pepe and Raphael Varane ruled out of both legs.

Pepe suffered a double rib fracture in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid, while Varane is out for a month with a hamstring injury.

Right-back Daniel Carvajal trained on his own on Monday and is struggling with a knock.

Bayern received a boost on Monday with Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer back in training following a minor foot operation 10 days ago, while Thomas Mueller is also fit after an ankle injury.

“We’re very confident. It’s a European cracker featuring two top teams,” said Mueller.

“We also notice it outside the club, not only in terms of the media, but also when talking to friends or acquaintances in Munich.

“Everyone’s talking about the game.”

Atletico close on Real Madrid ahead of derby

April 5, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Atletico Madrid’s fine form continued as Filipe Luis scored the winner in a 1-0 win over Real Sociedad to close to within seven points of La Liga leaders Real Madrid on Tuesday.

Atletico

Luis had scored his first goal of the season in Saturday’s 2-0 win at Malaga and netted for the second consecutive game for the first time in his career by rounding off a fine team move on 28 minutes.

Fernando Torres, Yannick Carrasco and Angel Correa all passed up chances to add to Atletico’s advantage, but they held on to move three points clear of Sevilla in the battle for third.

Real Madrid still have two games in hand on Atletico, but the two face each other in the Madrid derby on Saturday.

Real and Barcelona are in action on Wednesday when they take on Leganes and Sevilla respectively.

Atletico will travel to the Santiago Bernabeu brimming with confidence after a fifth straight La Liga win.

“Other than the opening 15 minutes when they dominated the ball, we imposed our tempo, pressed well high up the pitch and created chances,” said Atletico boss Diego Simeone.

“It is a very important win.”

Antoine Griezmann came close twice in quick succession against his former club as his first effort was deflected behind before Geronimo Rulli got down well to save low to his right.

The French international was also involved in the only goal as Luis exchanged passes with he and Torres before slotting home.

Torres then somehow failed to double Atletico’s lead as he turned Carrasco’s low cross onto the post with the goal gaping an then fired the rebound into the side-netting.

Carrasco was also then wasteful as he shot too close to Rulli after an unselfish cutback by Griezmann.

Griezmann was replaced by Angel Correa with 19 minutes remaining as Diego Simeone looked ahead to Saturday’s derby and the visit of Leicester in their Champions League quarter-final, first leg next midweek.

And Correa also passed up a huge chance to seal the three points when he blasted wide with just Rulli to beat 10 minutes later.

A third defeat in four games sees Sociedad slip to seventh as Villarreal and Athletic Bilbao boosted their chances of Europa League qualification.

Bilbao were 2-0 victors over Espanyol thanks to Aritz Aduriz’s first-half double to move up to sixth.

Villarreal are in fifth as Adrian Lopez scored the only goal in a 1-0 win at Real Betis.

Reina out to stop old Premier League foe Ronaldo

March 6, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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If Napoli goalkeeper Pepe Reina reproduces the kind of form that was key to Saturday’s 2-1 win over Roma against Real Madrid in midweek, a Champions League upset could be on the cards.

Raina

But the former Barcelona and Liverpool shot-stopper would be forgiven for also hoping Cristiano Ronaldo forgets his shooting boots Tuesday when Napoli bid to overturn a 3-1 first leg, last 16 defeat against the 11-time European champions.

At the Santiago Bernabeu last month, Reina and Ronaldo were meeting for the first time since the 2008-2009 season, when they both played Premier League football.

In England, they met a total of six times and, with three victories, a draw and two defeats while playing for Manchester United, Portugal’s four-time Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo comes out on top.

Ahead of Tuesday’s clash at what Reina hopes will be a “red-hot” San Paolo, the odds, and statistics, are firmly stacked against Maurizio Sarri’s hosts.

If Napoli are to go through on away goals, they will have to do what no team has managed since Wolfsburg beat Madrid in the quarter-finals nearly a year and 46 games ago — keep a clean sheet against Los Blancos.

As Napoli look to reach the quarter-finals for the first time, Madrid are poised to reach their seventh in succession.

Yet even defeat last time out, Reina was defiant in their chances, saying post-match: “We have to believe in the comeback, because we can beat Madrid 2-0 at home.

“A goal away from home is very important. We have nothing to lose. Real were and are the favourites, but they can expect a red hot reception at the San Paolo.”

If Reina’s performances for a slick Napoli side currently being inspired by the goalscoring exploits of Dries Mertens are anything to go by this season, he could provide the much-needed X factor.

Reina was superb in a thrilling 2-1 win over Roma on Saturday that saw him deny Diego Perotti at the death with an acrobatic, one-handed save he pushed onto the crossbar before sweeping the ball away away with his leg.

It was an inspired stop that secured the win for Napoli and reduced the gap on second-placed Roma to two points, but Roma, who are already eliminated, are not Real Madrid.

Quantifying past meetings between Reina and Ronaldo is a difficult task: although United came out on top, Ronaldo has now only beaten Reina twice in seven encounters, once from the spot.

It took until his fifth match against Reina, during the 2007-008 season, for Ronaldo to beat the Spaniard, hitting United’s second in the 79th minute of a comprehensive 3-0 win at Old Trafford.

The second, and last time Ronaldo beat Reina was from the penalty spot in the 23rd minute of a 4-1 league defeat late in the 2008-2009 campaign.

Although both Ronaldo and Bale sat out Real’s 4-1 win at Eibar at the weekend due to injury, the Portuguese star is expected to be fully fit on Tuesday when Madrid will look to extend their impressive form in Europe.

Zinedine Zidane, who is expected to make five changes in all with Marcelo, Dani Carvajal and Toni Kroos joining Bale and Ronaldo, insisted Ronaldo’s injury “isn’t serious”.

Ronaldo may not have been on target when Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos and Casemiro all beat Reina last time out.

But Reina’s familiarity with the Portuguese star will be welcome. Even when he didn’t play against Ronaldo, he offered advice to others on how to stop his “spear-like” shots in dead ball situations.

“You have to be careful, and watch them all the way because you don’t know until the last moment where the ball is going to go,” Reina advised then Barcelona ‘keeper Victor Valdes prior to the Champions League final against United in 2009.

“Ronaldo’s free-kicks are like a spear.”

Ronaldo didn’t score on that occasion, when Barcelona triumphed 2-0 in Rome.

Real Madrid stage Villarreal fightback, Messi nets winner for Barcelona

February 27, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo hauled Real Madrid back from 2-0 down to win 3-2 at Villarreal on Sunday and regain top spot in La Liga from Barcelona.

Real MAdrid

Earlier, Barca had momentarily usurped Real thanks to Lionel Messi’s winner four minutes from time in a 2-1 victory at Atletico Madrid.

Real lead Barca by a point, but also have a game in hand on their title rivals.

“We showed character to turn the game around,” said Real boss Zinedine Zidane.

“With everything that happened today it was vitally important to get the three points.”

Bale was recalled to the starting line-up for the first time in three months after a long-term injury layoff and Real’s shock 2-1 defeat to Valencia in midweek.

And the European champions looked set for a second straight defeat as Villarreal struck twice early in the second half.

Firstly, Manu Trigueros volleyed home Samu Castillejo’s knockdown before Cedric Bakambu burst onto Bruno Soriano’s through ball to slot past Keylor Navas.

Ronaldo almost replied immediately, but Madrid’s luck looked out when his sweetly struck volley came back off the post.

However, Bale started Madrid’s fightback as he rose highest to power home Dani Carvajal’s cross 25 minutes from time.

Villarreal had enjoyed the better of the opening hour, but were swamped by wave upon wave of Real attack for the final 30 minutes.

The visitors needed a slice of luck, though, when Soriano was harshly adjudged to have handled inside his own area 15 minutes from time.

Ronaldo took responsiblity from the spot to smash home the equaliser.

Villarreal had lost goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo midway through the first half to what looks like the fourth cruciate knee ligament injury of his career.

“Asenjo seems to have torn his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) in his left knee. It’s a real shame,” said Villarreal coach Fran Escriba.

And his absence was to prove crucial for Real’s winner seven minutes from time as substitute goalkeeper Andres Fernandez let Alvaro Morata’s powerful header from Marcelo’s cross squeeze under his body to complete a rousing Real fightback.

Under-fire Barcelona coach Luis Enrique thanked the “terrible” state of Atletico’s pitch for Messi’s winner at the Vicente Calderon.

Messi stabbed home at the second attempt after his first effort was blocked to register his 27th career goal against Atletico.

“It was a terrible pitch for passing the ball, but I think it favoured us for both the goals,” said Enrique.

Rafinha’s scrappy effort fired Barca into the lead just after the hour, but Atletico responded seven minutes later through Diego Godin.

Defeat leaves fourth-placed Atletico just one point clear of Real Sociedad in the battle for the final Champions League slot.

“We competed very well, but they showed their class in both areas,” said Atletico coach Diego Simeone.

Following their Champions League thrashing at the hands of Paris Saint-Germain and struggles at home to Leganes last weekend, Enrique switched from the Catalans’ habitual 4-3-3 to a 3-4-3 with Messi forced into an advanced midfield role.

The change in tactics did little to stem Barca’s slump in form early on as Atletico dominated the opening half hour.

Atletico’s best effort of the opening half came from long range, though, as Antoine Griezmann’s driven effort on his weaker right foot forced a brilliant flying save from Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Luis Suarez screwed horribly wide after being played in by Messi at the start of the second-half.

Then at the other end, ter Stegen made another excellent stop to deny Griezmann from a narrow angle.

The deadlock was eventually broken in scrappy fashion on 63 minutes as Rafinha profited from a loose ball inside the area to fire low into the far corner.

However, the lead lasted only seven minutes as Godin rose higher than a host of Barca defenders to flick home Koke’s free-kick for the equaliser.

Yet, when Barca needed a potential season-defining goal, Messi again came up trumps with his 35th in as many games this season.

The five-time World Player of the Year’s first effort from Suarez’s cut-back was blocked, but he followed up to prod past the helpless Jan Oblak and move Barca top of the table for a few hours.

Bale sees silver lining in injury misery

February 19, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Gareth Bale hopes three tough months on the sidelines will have their recompense by helping Real Madrid’s bid for La Liga and Champions League glory and Wales’ hopes of reaching the World Cup.

Bale

Bale made an instant impact on his first taste of action for 88 days after damaging ankle ligaments as he fired home Madrid’s second in a 2-0 win over Espanyol on Saturday just 13 minutes after coming off the bench.

And the Welshman hopes he can match his fantastic form from the final three months of last season after suffering from injury problems earlier in the campaign.

“Every cloud has a silver lining, hopefully I am a bit fresher than maybe some others,” said Bale.

“It can work in my advantage to be out for a little bit, but the important thing now is to get back to 100 percent and playing well and to help the team.”

Victory took Real four points clear of Barcelona at the top of La Liga with a game in hand.

However, Zinedine Zidane’s men face an intense final few months of the campaign with 18 La Liga games and their defence of the Champions League still to play for.

Bale’s return is also a timely boost for Wales boss Chris Coleman ahead of his side’s crunch World Cup qualifier away to the Republic of Ireland on March 24.

“I plan not to get injured any more,” added Bale.

“Hopefully now I can keep building my fitness up over the next few weeks…hopefully I can be fit for Real Madrid as soon as possible to play 90 minutes, and obviously for Wales as well.”

Bale was given a hero’s reception on his return by the Santiago Bernabeu crowd.

And he admitted getting on the scoresheet was just a bonus to the joy of being back among the action.

“I was happy just to be on the pitch. To get a goal is an extra bonus and thankful to help the team and see the game off,” he continued.

“There has been some tough moments, but we have an amazing medical team here. Jaime Benito (physio) has been incredible for me, my family have been amazing, my fiancee, my kids.

“It’s been a difficult time but when you get a reception like that it makes it all worth it.”

Madrid face tougher tests over the next week with trips to Valencia and Villarreal to come.

And Bale insisted he isn’t expecting to be rushed back into the starting line-up by Zidane.

“I’ve been out for three months so it will take a few weeks to get back to 100 percent, it’s just about managing my game time.

“It depends how I feel game-by-game. Today was 20 minutes. I will speak with the manager about Valencia and Villarreal.”

However, Zidane admitted Bale brings special qualities that others can’t offer.

“We only have one Gareth Bale,” said the Frenchman. “We are happy to see Gareth back with the team. He is a special player, he gives us something different from the rest.”

Gareth Bale returns as Zidane holds other stars in reserve

February 18, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Gareth Bale will make his return from a three-month injury layoff when Real Madrid host Espanyol on Saturday, coach Zinedine Zidane confirmed on Friday.

Bale

However, Zidane has handed a weekend off to a host of other key men as Luka Modric, Karim Benzema, Sergio Ramos and Keylor Navas were not included in the Frenchman’s 19-man squad.

Bale hasn’t featured since suffering ankle ligament damage in November and is expected to be eased back into action as a second-half substitute.

“Bale is with us. He will be in the squad and the idea is that he has minutes,” Zidane said on Friday.

“He is an important player. He has quality, pace, we know the damage he can do to the opponents.

“We are happy and he is even more so to get back playing. He is desperate to return.”

Madrid can move four points clear of Barcelona with a game in hand at the top of La Liga should they record a 10th consecutive victory over Espanyol.

However, after the demands of an intense 3-1 Champions League last 16 first leg win over Napoli in midweek and a La Liga trip to Valencia to come on Wednesday, Zidane insisted he didn’t want to take any risks with the fitness of Navas, Ramos, Modric or Benzema.

“We have two or three players with niggles. Not significant injuries, but niggles.”

Navas’s absence means Zidane’s son Luca is included in the squad as the third choice goalkeeper.

Zidane has already handed a first-team debut to his eldest son Enzo this season.

However, Kiko Casilla will start in goal, whilst Zidane confirmed that Alvaro Morata will finally get his chance to start in place of Benzema up front.

Spanish international Morata has been linked with a move away from the Bernabeu come the end of the season after becoming frustrated at his lack of action since rejoining the European champions from Juventus in June.

“I don’t want him to go. Alvaro is at home here,” added Zidane.

“He has had minutes, although fewer than Karim. Tomorrow he will start and I know that it is not the last game that he will start.”

Real Madrid bounce back to beat Napoli

February 16, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Real Madrid shrugged off conceding an early away goal to take a huge step towards a seventh straight Champions League quarter-final as goals from Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos and Casemiro sealed a 3-1 win over Napoli on Wednesday.

Kroos

Lorenzo Insigne’s stunning 40-yard strike had the travelling hordes in dream land after just eight minutes of the last 16 first leg.

However, Benzema soon headed home an equaliser before Kroos and Casemiro fired home from outside the box early in the second half to give the holders a commanding lead ahead of the second leg on March 7.

“We played a great game, above all at the start,” said Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane.

“The shame was to concede given the start we made, but we equalised quickly to get back in the game and in the end it is a logical result.”

Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri lamented his side’s slackness in possession, but believes they still have a chance back at the San Paolo given it had taken what he considered Real’s best performance in three months to beat them.

“Clearly Madrid played their best game of the past three months and we didn’t play our best,” said Sarri.

“If we manage to play at our best we are not that far away. We may lose (in the second leg) but we can go for it.”

With former Napoli great Diego Maradona watching on, the atmosphere reached fever pitch before kick-off as up to 10,000 travelling fans were estimated to have made the trip from Naples for only their side’s second ever appearance in the last 16.

By contrast, Real are in the knockout stages for the 20th straight season and it was the home fans who nearly had something to cheer inside 30 seconds as Benzema’s shot from close range was parried by Pepe Reina.

However, it was Napoli who got off to the perfect start just eight minutes in when Insigne took aim from 40 yards and caught Madrid ‘keeper Keylor Navas out of position with a superb effort that curled around the Costa Rica international.

Madrid, though, showed the response of champions to level just 10 minutes later when Dani Carvajal’s cross with the outside of his right boot picked out Benzema to power home a header from close range.

Cristiano Ronaldo should have had one of the two goals he needs to reach 100 in European competition on 27 minutes when great work from Benzema and Luka Modric freed the World Player of the Year inside the area, but he blasted well over the bar.

Madrid’s control of the first 45 minutes grew as the half went on and only a combination of Reina and the post denied the hosts a lead at the break.

This time Ronaldo was inch-perfect with his low cross for Benzema, but his effort was tipped onto the woodwork and behind by Reina.

The tie did swing decisively in Madrid’s favour within 10 minutes of the restart however.

Firstly, Ronaldo played provider once more with a fine run down the right and measured cut-back for Kroos to slot home from the edge of the box.

Then Napoli were struck by a thunderbolt from the most unlikely source as defensive midfielder Casemiro pounced on a looping clearance to volley first-time past a helpless Reina.

Napoli had the chances to set up a thrilling return leg as Dries Mertens, who had scored 14 goals in his previous 11 appearances, fired over with the goal at his mercy from former Madrid winger Jose Maria Callejon’s fine lay-off.

Mertens also saw another effort smothered by Navas from close range and Callejon a goal ruled out for offside as Napoli slumped to their first defeat in 19 games.

Rested Real Madrid wait on Gareth Bale return

February 10, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane hopes to have Gareth Bale back before the second leg of his side’s Champions League last 16 clash with Napoli.

Bale

The postponement of Madrid’s visit to Celta Vigo last weekend due to storm damage caused to Celta’s Balaidos stadium has allowed Zidane to recover a fully-fit squad bar Bale, who is still working his way back from ankle ligament damage.

The Welshman hasn’t featured since late November and whilst Wednesday’s first leg against the Italians is likely to come too early, Zidane is confident of having Bale back well before the return in Naples on March 7.

“The return isn’t till March 7 so hopefully he is with us before then,” Zidane said on Friday.

“He is back on the field and the only step he has left is to train with the rest of the team.

“He is working very hard and I can see the desire he has.”

The suspended Toni Kroos is Madrid’s only other absentee for Saturday’s visit to rock bottom Osasuna.

Marcelo, Luka Modric and Dani Carvajal are among those to return from injury

However, Madrid have only won one of their past six league meetings away at Osasuna and Zidane is not expecting an easy ride despite the fact the Navarrans are yet to win at home in La Liga this season.

“We have had time to work, physically we are good and ready to play,” added Zidane.

“It is a very difficult place to go and we know that it is top against bottom, which I don’t like at all.

“It has always been difficult for us at El Sadar and that isn’t going to change.”

Madrid extends La Liga lead as Barca, Sevilla slip-up

January 30, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Real Madrid extended their La Liga lead to four points and still have a game in hand over their title rivals as Cristiano Ronaldo was on target in a 3-0 win over Real Sociedad at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Ronaldo

Earlier on Sunday, Barcelona were left to rue La Liga’s lack of goal line technology as they weren’t awarded a clear goal in a controversial 1-1 draw at Real Betis.

However, Barca still moved up to second on goal difference as Sevilla were reduced to 10 men after just two minutes in a 3-1 defeat at Espanyol.

Madrid had won only one of their previous five games and were dumped out of the Copa del Rey by Celta Vigo in midweek.

However, even without six first-team regulars through injury, Real took a huge step towards a first La Liga title for five years against an in-form Sociedad, who remain just one point off the top four in fifth.

“After a few difficult days we were back to being ourselves tonight. It was a complete performance against a strong opponent,” said Real boss Zinedine Zidane.

“We can say it has been a good night for us because our rivals have drawn or lost.”

Mateo Kovacic opened the scoring with the only real chance of the first-half as he timed his late run from midfield perfectly for Ronaldo’s through ball and slotted low beyond Geronimo Rulli.

The roles were reversed six minutes into the second-half as this time Kovacic’s pass split the Sociedad defence and Ronaldo coolly chipped the onrushing Rulli for his 20th goal of the season.

Sociedad’s uphill task was made impossible 15 minutes from time when Inigo Martinez was sent-off for a second bookable offence.

And Alvaro Morata made the 10 men pay as he bulleted home Lucas Vazquez’s cross for the third eight minutes from time.

There was far more drama at the Benito Villamarin as Barca were largely outplayed by Betis, but still felt hard done by after referee Alejandro Jose Hernandez failed to award them an equaliser when the ball crossed the Betis line shortly after Alex Alegria’s opener 15 minutes from time.

“We have to help the referees,” Barca boss Luis Enrique told BeIN Sports Spain.

“The technology can help them. I say that for all situations not just ones that go for me, but against me too.”

Luis Suarez did at least rescue a point in the dying seconds, though, as he slotted home Lionel Messi’s through ball for his 21st goal of the season.

However, he was less understanding as he claimed the ball “was a metre over the line.”

The hosts dominated opening 75 minutes as Dani Ceballos saw a dipping long-range effort come back off the bar before Ruben Castro struck the post with Marc-Andre ter Stegen beaten at his near post.

The German goalkeeper had a moment to forget for the opening goal as he failed to get a good connection on an attempted punch under pressure from two Betis players and the ball fell kindly for Alegria to tap home.

Conceding appeared to wake Barca from their slumber and they were doubly denied by Hernandez seconds later as Neymar went down inside the area and the ball ricocheted off Riza Durmisi and over his own line despite Alissa Mandi’s best efforts.

Yet, La Liga’s refusal to implement goal line technology due to pricing fears cost Barca dearly as no goal was given.

Betis should have sealed the three points when Castro broke clear on goal eight minutes from time, but Ter Stegen redeemed himself with a fine save.

And that miss proved crucial as Messi finally found the space to slip a pass through the Betis defence and Suarez dispatched the ball into the far corner.

“The feeling I have is that we have won one point (not lost two),” added Enrique.

There was also refereeing controversy at Espanyol as Sevilla’s shot at moving top lasted barely two minutes when Nico Pareja was very harshly sent-off on top of conceding a penalty for a trip on Pablo Piatti.

Former Sevilla favourite Jose Antonio Reyes showed no mercy to his former club as he converted from the spot, but Stefan Jovetic levelled for the 10 men inside 20 minutes.

Reyes haunted Sevilla once more as his free-kick was headed home by Marc Navarro in first-half stoppage time.

And Gerard Moreno sealed the three points for Espanyol as this time Navarro was the supplier for his headed finish.

Rattled Real Madrid aim to halt sudden slump

January 27, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Real Madrid host high-flying Real Sociedad on Sunday aiming to reverse an alarming dip in form that has seen Zinedine Zidane’s seemingly unbeatable squad just two weeks ago fail to win in three of their last four matches.

Real Madrid

The European champions bowed out of the Copa del Rey to Celta Vigo in midweek with a 2-2 draw at Balaidos not enough to overturn a 2-1 first leg deficit.

Zidane’s men still enjoy a one point lead over Sevilla, with Barcelona a point further adrift in third, and a game in hand over their title rivals.

However, the visit of Sociedad, who are level on points with fourth-placed Atletico Madrid, kicks off a daunting run of fixtures for Real with four away league games to follow in February.

“I prefer it to happen now than in a month’s time with La Liga or the Champions League on the line,” protested Madrid captain Sergio Ramos on Real’s slump.

Madrid’s dip in form has coincided with a series of injury problems with seven first-team regulars missing the trip to Vigo.

Only Raphael Varane is expected to return for the weekend with Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez, Luka Modric, Marcelo, Dani Carvajal and Pepe again unavailable.

Zidane has particular problems at full-back as the much-criticised Danilo suffered another harrowing night in scoring an own goal in midweek, whilst Marcelo’s understudy Fabio Coentrao has made just one previous La Liga appearance this season.

Sociedad are also suffering a Copa del Rey hangover as they were thumped 5-2 by Barcelona on Thursday to bow out 6-2 on aggregate.

That victory extended Barca’s winning streak to five games — their longest of the season so far.

Luis Enrique’s men have the chance to leapfrog Madrid and Sevilla to the top of the table for at least a few hours as they are the first of the top three in action on Sunday away at Real Betis.

“We wanted a good performance to keep the positive run we are on since the start of 2017 going,” said Barca midfielder Denis Suarez after netting twice against Sociedad.

“Now we have to think about the game at Betis, win it, and put pressure on those at the top.”

There is another Seville against Barcelona clash as La Liga’s most in-form side Sevilla travel to Espanyol looking for a sixth straight win.

Jorge Sampaoli’s men have registered Sevilla’s best ever points tally for the first half of the season and can also go top ahead of kick-off at the Bernabeu with another victory.

Spanish international Vitolo remains out injured, but Samir Nasri should return after missing last weekend’s 4-2 win at Osasuna.

The other two Copa del Rey semi-finalists go head-to-head in Vitoria as Alaves host Atletico Madrid on Saturday.

Villarreal’s poor start to the year has seen them fall behind in the chase for the top four, but the visit of lowly Granada provides the Yellow Submarine a great chance for their first win of 2017.

And Valencia’s recent revival will be tested as they try to inflict Las Palmas’ first home league defeat of the season on Monday.

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