Aston Villa's captain Ron Vlaar gestures to the fans after their win against Reading during their English Premier League soccer match at The Madejski Stadium, Reading, southern England

Crucial win sees Aston Villa move out of Premier League drop zone

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Aston Villa were the better team for most of this one, but it’s relatively common state for Villa – the superficial, unrewarded control that Paul Lambert’s team has often “enjoyed” throughout a troubling campaign. When an early Nathan Baker own goal left Villa to rue Christian Benteke’s early misses, Lambert’s team looked set for what would have been a crushing loss.

But today was one of the rare instances were Villa’s quality came good. A quick response from Benteke pulled Villa even, and when Gabriel Agbonlahor put the visitors up 2-1 at half time, Villa had all they needed. After 45 more minutes of Reading looking like the 19th place team they are, Aston Villa had a desperately needed three points, with Brad Guzan only having to make three saves.

Villa came into the match in 18th place, an astonishing station for one of the bigger clubs in English soccer. But their poor results and lack of improvement had pundits and fans questioning if they were destined to go down.

That made today’s match at Reading crucial. Not only was the game against one of the league’s bottom feeders a chance for crucial points, but Villa couldn’t afford to give Reading a needed boost.

Instead, it was the Lions that got the boost, one that came from the two men you’d expect to step up. Benteke has clearly been Villa’s best player this season. His goal was no surprise, but that it was Agbonlahor who scored such an important goal was apt. He is one of the few impact players left from the Martin O’Neill teams that serve as the reference point for the club’s current plight.

Those teams competed for Europe. This team’s fighting for survival. Three points at Reading took a huge step toward that goal, if for no other reason than it puts the Royals on the bring of the Championship.

With the result, Villa moves into 17th place, pushing Wigan into the drop. The Latics have a match in hand, having been pulled into FA Cup competition on Saturday. With a goal difference advantage, Wigan would stay up, should they convert on their match in hand.

But with nine games to go in the season, a three-point lead only matters so much. How the team’s playing is arguably more important. It portends to future points – points that could render Wigan’s match in hand irrelevant.

Villa took a big step forward today. The competition wasn’t fierce, but for a team that has often failed to convert control into concrete results, three points were huge.

Here’s Gabby Agbonlahor’s game-winner, courtesy FOX Soccer:

USC wins NCAA women’s soccer national championship

Southern California's Morgan Andrews celebrates after scoring a goal against West Virginia during the first half in the NCAA Women's College Cup soccer final, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016 in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
AP Photo/Tony Avelar
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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) Katie Johnson broke a tie in the 75th minute and Southern California won the NCAA women’s soccer title Sunday, beating top-ranked West Virginia 3-1 at Avaya Stadium on Sunday.

The second-seeded Trojans (19-4-2) also won the College Cup in 2007.

The Mountaineers (23-2-2) lost for the first time since a 1-0 setback to Georgetown on Sept. 18. West Virginia had a 17-game unbeaten streak snapped, and allowed three goals for the first all season.

Johnson, who also had the winning goal in USC’s 1-0 semifinal victory over Georgetown on Friday, was wide open in front of the net when Leah Pruitt took a pass up the left sideline, beat defender Easther Mayi Kith, and delivered a perfect cross. Johnson simply rolled the ball into the goal to the right of goalkeeper Rylee Foster.

Johnson scored again off an assist from Nicole Molen in the 87th minute.

The Trojans got on the board just 1:22 into play after Julia Bingham directed a corner kick to the top of the penalty box, where Savannah Levin headed the ball forward to Morgan Andrews, whose header from 5 yards eluded Foster.

West Virginia’s Ashley Lawrence, a member of the 2016 Canadian Olympic team, tied it in the 66th minute when she ripped a shot from the top left corner of the penalty box just inside the near post.

After USC took the 2-1 lead, the Mountaineers nearly drew even in the 81st minute on a shot by Heather Kaleiohi that was stopped on a diving save by goalkeeper Sammy Prudhomme.

The Mountaineers outshot USC 21-8 and held a 9-1 edge in corner kicks.

The Trojans joined North Carolina (21 titles), Notre Dame (3) and Portland (3) as the only multiple winners of the College Cup.

USC won its 126th national team title on the same day its men’s water polo team lost 10-8 to Cal in the NCAA final just 45 miles away in Berkeley.

West Virginia, in its first College Cup final, was hoping to claim its first NCAA title in any sport besides its co-ed rifle team, which has won 18 national titles.

VIDEO: 70-yard volley from Chile is nearly impossible to believe

Alejandro Camargo, Universidad de Concepcion
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His name is Alejandro Camargo, and he scored what might just go down as the best goal of 2016 on Sunday: an impossibly perfect volley from well beyond the halfway line.

[ MORE: PL roundup — Chelsea top Man City; Arsenal, Spurs win big ]

Miguel Pinto is the opposing goalkeeper whose long-range clearance, which covered about 50 yards during the final seconds of Universidad de Concepcion’s clash with O’Higgins in the Chilean first division, was taken off the fly, first-time, by the Argentine midfielder to seal a 3-1 victory for the home side.

[ MORE: Serie A roundup — Roma, AC Milan win, still tied for 2nd ]

“The coach told us Pinto was always playing in advance of his goal, so I closed my eyes and hit it,” Camargo said after the game.

“Hit it and hope” has never looked so good.

Roma fans stay away from derby to protest new security barriers

A view of a huge section of empty seats as Roma fans desert derby in protest over security barriers, during a Serie A soccer match between Lazio and Roma, at the Rome Olympic stadium Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia
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ROME (AP) Roma’s most ardent supporters stayed away from the derby match against Lazio in protest at barriers introduced at the start of last season in their area.

Normally filled with supporters waving huge banners, lighting flares and singing, half of the “curva sud” — southern end — of the Stadio Olimpico was left empty for Sunday’s match.

[ MORE: Serie A roundup — Roma, AC Milan win, still tied for 2nd ]

Three of Roma’s locally born standouts held a meeting with the “ultra” fans during the week. Captain Francesco Totti, Daniele De Rossi and Alessandro Florenzi asked the supporters to return, and the club itself has also tried to resolve the matter.

But the appeals had no effect.

In contrast, Lazio fans filled the northern end of the stadium as usual.

The plexiglass barriers were put in place by city officials for security reasons.

VIDEO: “Behind The Badge: Watford FC” — Episode 2

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In Episode 2 of Behind the Badge: Watford FC, watch the players’ recovery after a win against Leicester, a look at the club’s one-of-a-kind internship program and a flashback to a memorable moment in Watford’s history.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

To watch past episodes of Behind The Badge, including last season’s edition featuring a look inside Crystal Palace, head over to the full archive by clicking here.

[ MORE: PL roundup — Chelsea top Man City; Arsenal, Spurs win big ]

First episode: Watch full episode, here
Second episode: Above video
Third episode: Sunday, Dec. 11, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Fourth episode: Sunday, Dec. 18, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN