UEFA Champions League: Manchester United holds out for draw from Real Madrid

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Real Madrid dominated from the opening kickoff, but thanks to a corner kick converted by Danny Welbeck, Manchester United was on top early at the Santiago Bernabeu. Though the Merengues were able to equalize through Cristiano Ronaldo 10 minutes later, the Red Devils held on for the final hour to escape Spain with a valuable road goal and a 1-1 draw.

The result will be disappointing one for Real and manager José Mourinho. Having given up a road goal, his team must score at Old Trafford when the teams resume their two-legged affair on March 5 in Manchester.

That El Real are in this situation despite controlling the first leg is cause for both optimism and regret. Based on today’s play, Real Madrid have reason to believe they will be the better side regardless of when or where the next game is played. But Los Blancos should also regret their failure to take advantage of 61 percent possession and eight shots on target. In a game where one corner kick can get an outgunned team a road craw, being the better side is often not enough.

(MORE: Borussia Dortmund get result at Shakhtar Donetsk.)

The edge in shots would have been greater were it not for a strong day from goalkeeper David de Gea. The former Atlético Madrid keeper not only recorded seven saves but managed Real’s shots such that the hosts never had a chance to followup on a number of well-hit chances. Though those attempts produced 12 Real Madrid corner kicks, strong aerial work from Rio Ferdinand, Phil Jones, and Jonny Evans left the favorites unable to convert.

Manchester United went up in the 20th minute after a long ball out of their end led to a corner won by Shinji Kagawa. From the left of goal Wayne Rooney swung the restart to the middle of the penalty area at the edge of the six-yard box. Welbeck peeled away from defender Sergio Ramos just in time to head a shot inside the right post, putting United in front.

Ten minutes later, it was Real Madrid’s turn to profit through the air. An unmolested cross from the left flank found Cristiano Ronaldo at the far post against out-matched left back Patrice Evra. Ronaldo elevated uncontested and uncoiled onto a ball put just against the right post, giving De Gea no chance to stop the equalizer.

(MORE: Drilling down on Real-United.)

Though the final hour was dominated by Real Madrid, Manchester United came closest to recording a go-ahead goal. In the 72nd minute, Robin van Persie got a chance through the right in transition, his shot from 10 yards pushed onto the crossbar by Diego Lopez.

Moments later, van Persie was fed behind the defense and threaded his shot around an oncoming Lopez. Xabi Alonso dropped back and cleared the slow bouncer off the line.

By the end of the match, José Mourinho was playing to preserve the draw, with Luka Modric brought on for Angel Di Maria before Alonso gave way for Pepe. With Alex Ferguson making similar choices — bringing on Ryan Giggs for Kagawa, Antonio Valencia for Welbeck, and Anderson for Rooney — the teams had acquiesced to the draw before Felix Byrch’s final whistle.

Check back later this afternoon as ProSoccerTalk drills down on both Manchester United’s visit to Real Madrid and German champion Borussia Dortmund voyage to Ukraine to face Shakhtar Donetsk.

FIFA subjects 2026 Morocco World Cup bid to fresh scrutiny

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Morocco’s World Cup bid is facing fresh scrutiny this week with the arrival of another delegation from FIFA after an initial task force found deficiencies in the proposals for the 2026 tournament.

In a downbeat conclusion to the visit by the FIFA inspectors last week, Morocco’s bid leader acknowledged it had to improve the quality of the submission made to FIFA in March because inadequacies were identified by football’s governing body.

[ MORE: UCL semifinals predictions ]

The previously unplanned second inspection of Morocco is an indication of the more rigorous process introduced by FIFA following criticism in 2010 that World Cups were awarded to the riskiest nations in 2018 (Russia) and 2022 (Qatar).

There will also be closer scrutiny of human rights of the bidders before the vote on June 13 when Morocco is currently due to be taking on a joint challenge from the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The Associated Press revealed last week Morocco did not declare its anti-LGBT law to FIFA in the human rights risk assessment included in the bid book. The documents – along with the North American submission – will now be scrutinized for any gaps by human rights experts.

“That process involves an expert third-party assessment of the robustness of the human rights content of both bids that will directly inform the administration’s own evaluation,” Rachel Davis, who sits on FIFA’s human rights advisory board, told the AP.

“We are confident that the process will result in a fair assessment of the human rights situation in all four countries involved in the bids, and a roadmap for how to deal with any deficiencies that FIFA will then require the successful bidder to commit to.”

Davis, who is managing director of the Shift human rights organization, said an evaluation of the human rights in the bidding nations will be included in a report to the FIFA Council, which will also assess the verdict of the evaluation task force. A bid with low scores can be blocked by the council from advancing to a vote of up to 207 football nations at the FIFA Congress on June 13.

While Morocco has said it needs to spend almost $16 billion on infrastructure for the 48-team World Cup, including building or renovating all 14 stadiums, North American does not require any tournament-specific building work. Morocco bid president Moulay Hafid Elalamy said at the end of the FIFA inspection that officials “made some remarks on the conditions of some of the stadiums.”

The new batch of technical staff being deployed from FIFA HQ to Morocco did not make a similar follow-up visit to North America after the task force inspected the rival bid’s facilities this month.

“Following the visit of the 2026 bid evaluation task force to Morocco last week, it was decided to have an additional working visit this week to complement the initial analysis of the task force and clarify some aspects of the bid,” FIFA told the AP.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

Watch Live: Everton v. Newcastle

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Everton host Newcastle United on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with the Toffees and Magpies both sitting pretty in midtable.

[ LIVE: Stream Everton-Newcastle ]

Sam Allardyce and Rafael Benitez have both been around the block a few times but at the moment Allardyce is under pressure and Benitez is working miracles with four wins on the spin as the newly-promoted Magpies have stayed solid defensively all season.

In team news Everton start Tosun, Walcott and Bolasie in attack with Wayne Rooney in midfield.

Newcastle make one change with Islam Slimani making his first start for the Magpies as he comes in for Dwight Gayle.

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UEFA Champions League semifinal predictions

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With the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League to kick off over the next few days, let’s take a look at both games and predict which teams will make it to the final in Kiev on May 26.

[ MORE: Champions League scores

Liverpool or Roma? Real Madrid or Bayern Munich?

Here’s the lowdown as two eagerly anticipated games take center stage across Europe.


Liverpool vs. AS Roma
First leg: Apr. 24, 2:45 p.m. ET at Anfield
Second leg: May 2, 2:45 p.m. ET at Stadio Olimpico

This should be one heck of a tie with defending optional for both teams but both have very different ways of playing. Jurgen Klopp will unleash the fluid trio of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino on an often brittle Roma defense but the Italian giants have a giant in their own up top in the shape of Edin Dzeko. How Virgil Van Dijk and Liverpool’s defense deal with the threat of Dzeko will likely decide the outcome of this game. Liverpool will look to feed off the famous Anfield atmosphere to wrack up a big first leg lead before they head to Roma for Leg 2, and I fancy Salah to blow his old team away in the first leg. Liverpool to advance 4-2 on aggregate.

Bayern Munich vs. Real Madrid
First leg: Apr. 25, 2:45 p.m. ET at Allianz Arena
Second leg: May 1, 2:45 p.m. ET at Santiago Bernabeu

A proper heavyweight clash as Bayern and Real do battle knowing that whoever wins will be the favorites in the final. Cristiano Ronaldo is in the form of his life (again) after a slow start to this season and Zinedine Zidane’s side made hard work of it against Juventus in the last round but are on course for a third-straight UCL trophy. As for Bayern, they have been in imperious form and you feel like Robert Lewandowski can get the better of Real’s center backs. Expect this to be a tight game with extremely high quality from both teams. Real being at home in the second leg is a big advantage. Real Madrid to advance 3-2 on aggregate. 

Cologne’s Hector extends contract despite likely relegation

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COLOGNE, Germany (AP) Germany defender Jonas Hector has shunned reported interest from Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund by extending his contract with Cologne – despite the club’s almost certain relegation from the Bundesliga.

Cologne, eight points from safety with three games remaining, says its 27-year-old captain has signed a two-year extension to 2023 instead of using a release clause in his contract.

Hector, who has been at the club since 2010, says, “It wouldn’t have been a problem to switch to another club after this season but it didn’t feel right for me. I belong to Cologne and want to tackle the new season with the team and the fans behind us.”

Cologne sporting director Armin Veh says Hector’s decision is, “a great signal for the team, the club and our fans.”