Real Madrid carefree, trouble-free in win over Galatasaray

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It would be more accurate to say Real Madrid were never tested than trot out the old cantor cliché, but within the parlance of soccer matches, both descriptions hold. Scoring ten minutes into today’s Champions League match against Galatasaray, El Real were able to play the match with a friendly’s intensity, particularly after a 29th minute goal from Karim Benzema presented Gala head coach Fatih Terim with an unenviable choice: Do we pull back and try to limit the damage ahead of a second leg in Istanbul? Or do we persist with our commitment to attacking soccer, the value we promised we’d uphold ahead of our trip to Madrid?

When Wesley Sneijder was subbed off at halftime, we knew the answer, with defender Gohkan Zan brought on in his place. That change could have been about balance, moving Albert Reira into midfield as Galatasaray set up wider, but having generated a couple of good chances in the first half (most notably through Emmanuel Eboué in the 44th minute), Gala’s attack wasn’t the problem. Terim was trying to consolidate, something that went by the wayside when Gonzalo Higuain scored in the 73rd minute. Down 3-0 after 90 minutes, Galatasaray are left to ruminate over whether they should have pulled back from minute one.

(MORE: Caballero impenetrable for Málaga vs. Dortmund.)

Though some recommended Terim choose only two of Burak Yilmaz, Didier Drogba and Sniejder ahead of the match, the Gala boss stuck with the same 4-3-1-2 formation he’s come to prefer since incorporating the club’s January buys. Given the monumental nature of their task, it’s hard to blame him for wanting to play his own way. Galatasaray could have employed a more defensive set up, but the odds of containing Real Madrid would have still been slim. Why go down being something you’re not, Terim could have argued.

It’s the type of no-win situation that’s unavoidable for an underdog. You can look at what a team like Chelsea did in last year’s tournament and say there’s always a chance, but not everybody has the personnel to play that way. Felipe Melo would have been dismissed by halftime, and the central defense would have been left exposed. In Terim’s mind, Gala may have been at their best trading punches with Real.

Ten minutes in, they took the first punch, with a ball played by Mesut Ozil into the left of the penalty area allowing Cristiano Ronaldo to score his competition-leading ninth Champions League goal. Near the half-hour mark, poor defending on a Michael Essien cross gave Benzema an easy finish at the far post. In the second half, Higuaín added what will likely amount to insurance.

Galatasaray scoring three against Real is a huge challenge, particularly given José Mourinho has six days to plan against it. To do so without giving up a goal is an even bigger task, and that scenario would only guarantee Gala extra time. If they’re scored upon, the Turkish champs will need five goals to advance to their first semifinal.

In today’s preview, we asked if history implied the quarterfinals are a step too far for Turkey’s best. On Wednesday, it looked that way. Real Madrid played with same intensity you’d see during a Copa del Rey visit from a second-tier side. At times that conceded chances, and others it meant they weren’t as clinical as they could have been. But they still won, 3-0.

Andrija Novakovich: “It’s a good feeling” to earn USMNT call up

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As the U.S. Men’s National Team continues its transition towards qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, a new face has emerged for the Stars and Stripes ahead of its upcoming friendly against Paraguay.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Kekuta Manneh to roster ahead of Paraguay friendly ]

Striker Andrija Novakovich earned his first call up on Sunday when U.S. manager Dave Sarachan named the Telstar player in his squad, which will play the South American side on March 27 in Cary, North Carolina.

The 21-year-old forward has been nothing short of brilliant in his first season with the Dutch second-division club, scoring 18 league goals for Telstar — who sit fourth in the Eerste Divisie.

“It’s a good feeling to get the call-up and hopefully it will be a very good experience,” Novakovich said. “They [the U.S. national team] sent the club and myself an email saying that I was on the preliminary roster and we were just waiting, and then this week I got another email saying I was on the final roster.

“I called my Mum right away and she’s proud, she’s happy.

“I’m just there for the experience — of course I want to play, of course I want to get the opportunity and hopefully that will happen, It’s an honour to be called up and I’m very proud and very happy.”

Novakovich, a Wisconsin native, is currently on loan at Telstar from English Championship side Reading.

The young USMNT player moved to England back in 2014 to join Reading’s academy, despite originally planning on playing for Marquette University following high school.

Despite this being his first senior-team call up, Novakovich is familiar with the U.S. national team setup. Novakovich has previously represented the Under-17, U-18 and U-20 national teams.

Lionel Messi suggests 2018 will be his final World Cup

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Lionel Messi’s track record as a professional has encompassed just about every imaginable accolade, but one that has eluded he and his Argentina national teammates is winning the World Cup.

[ MORE: Kekuta Manneh added to USMNT squad ahead of Paraguay friendly ]

The Barcelona star has played a significant role for the Albiceleste since debuting for Argentina back in 2005, and even helped guide the South American power to the 2014 World Cup final, however, harsh criticism from local media could push Messi and many of his teammates towards not returning to the national team.

This wouldn’t be the first time Messi has contemplated international retirement, though.

Following the 2016 Copa America Centenario final — which resulted in a Chilean victory over Messi’s Argentina — the Blaugrana attacker announced his retirement from the Albiceleste. While he has since returned to the international scene, it appears Messi is once again considering a halt from representing Argentina.

“It’s just the feeling that this group of players has. It seems that having reached three straight finals didn’t mean anything,” Messi told La Cornisa TV. “Obviously, we depend on results and unfortunately, we reached three finals and we didn’t win them.

“A lot was said about us. The criticisms hurt back then. But the demand is going to be there for this group to get it done. We think that if we don’t do it, we are going to get a lot more [criticism] and we are not going to have another possibility.”

Argentina has fallen in three consecutive major finals dating back to 2014, including two Copa America competitions and the World Cup.

Messi says these shortcomings have weighed heavily on him, and that winning a World Cup is still the one goal that has left him hungry.

“I’ve cried many times for lost finals,” the Barca forward said. “I cried for not being able to fulfill the dream of our nation. My desire is the same as every Argentine, which is to lift the World Cup.”

He continued: “To win a World Cup is not easy. It doesn’t happen often. The last time we did things well but due to minor details we didn’t get it done. We are very enthusiastic and eager to lift the cup for our country. I hope God helps us and it happens.”

Messi has scored 61 international goals in his international career for Argentina, the most of any player from his native country.

Brazil to play Austria in final warmup game for World Cup

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VIENNA (AP) The Austrian soccer federation says Brazil will play its final warmup game for the World Cup against Austria on June 10, a week before the five-time world champions take on Switzerland in their Group E opener.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Kekuta Manneh to roster ahead of friendly ]

The match will be played in Vienna at Ernst Happel Stadium, the same venue where both teams last met in a 2014 friendly, which Brazil won 2-1.

Brazil has further build-up games against World Cup host Russia (March 23), world champion Germany (March 27) and Croatia (June 3) ahead of the June 14-July 15 tournament, where it also meets Costa Rica and Serbia in the group stage.

Austria failed to qualify for the World Cup but will also play friendlies against Russia on May 30 and Germany on June 2.

Fiorentina renames training ground for Davide Astori

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Fiorentina’s training ground has been renamed “Centro Sportivo Davide Astori” in honor of the club’s deceased captain.

[ MORE: Manneh added to USMNT squad ]

Davide Astori died in his team hotel room on March 4, shocking the Italian soccer world and triggering tributes around the world of soccer.

The respected Italian national team center back has had number retired by both Fiorentina and former club Cagliari.

Thousands packed a Florence piazza to salute the player en route to his funeral, and the club won its first match after his passing following vivid pre- and in-match tributes.