Champions League Preview: Can Madrid launch mighty comeback vs. Dortmund?

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There’s digging yourself a hole, then there’s doing what Real Madrid did last Wednesday.

The Spanish giants imploded in the second half at the Westfalenstadion last week, as they succumbed to a rampant attacking display from Borussia Dortmund and now need a miracle in the second leg to overturn a 4-1 deficit.

This afternoon Jose Mourinho’s Real side welcome Dortmund to the Santiago Bernabeu in what promises to be a blood and thunder affair. After Robert Lewandowski’s four goal virtuoso performance swept Madrid aside, Mourinho needs Cristiano Ronaldo and his talented support acts to carve open Dortmund’s defense with regularity on Tuesday afternoon. (2:45pm, Fox Soccer Channel)

What they’ve said…

Madrid

Sergio Ramos: “There is no bigger motivation than playing in a UEFA Champions League final. I’ve been here for eight years and never played in one. There is nothing better – we have to believe we can get back into it. We want revenge. We have negative memories from the first leg and we want to play. We know our fans will support us from the first minute but that won’t be of any use if we are not focused on the game. The result in Dortmund was fair – there is nothing left to say when you lose as we did last week. We just have to do our best.”

Jose Mourinho: “I feel this is the most important match in ten years for Real Madrid, but I also felt that in Dortmund and we played like [it was] a friendly. If I don’t win the Champions League nothing changes. There are many coaches who haven’t won it, so I have to thank God because I’ve done so twice. I have considered Borussia a candidate to win this competition since the beginning of the season. Sometimes football is not fair to one team, but it was in Dortmund and Borussia deserved to win. Anything is possible though.

Jurgen Klopp: “I’ve heard around 8,000 of our supporters are coming here. Back home, the supporters will also live the game intensely. We can fulfil the dream of many fans and so we must respond in the correct manner. The team needs to be disciplined and compact while also looking to be daring. We’ve had this idea of how to play for a long time, it is not mine, it belongs to the team. I didn’t invent the game. Theories are easy, it’s putting them into practice that counts.”

Key factors

Keeping Lewandowski quiet will be key to Madrid if they have any chance of recording the resounding victory required. The big man isn’t just a target player, he makes superb runs in behind the defense and his movement at set pieces is fantastic. The biggest issue for Madrid will be finding the balance between all out attack and steady possession, because Dortmund are set up in such a way that devastating counter-attacks are likely to follow if Real neglect their defensive duties.

Score early, stay patient. That should be Madrid’s mantra as they aim to come flying out of the traps. We have seen many times this season in La Liga how they’ve gone two or three goals ahead early in games, then sat back and toyed with the opposition for about 30-40 minutes, before finishing off with a flourish and racking up plenty of goals. That said, Dortmund are unbeaten against Real in three games this season, winning two. A huge task lies ahead for Los Blancos.

Prediction

3-1 to Real Madrid, which means Dortmund will win 5-4 on aggregate. My heart wants to say that Madrid will pull off one of, if not the, greatest comebacks in European history this afternoon. But I can see them coming up just short. That said if they score twice before half time, anything is possible. My biggest fear is that Real will flood forward and allow Dortmund to score the crucial away goal that will likely settle this tie and send them into the UEFA Champions League final at Wembley on May 25.

Barcelona defends Messi over “unfair” suspension

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says Lionel Messi’s four-match international suspension for insulting a linesman was “unfair and totally disproportionate.”

[ MORE: Messi handed ban by FIFA ]

Barcelona released a statement Wednesday expressing “its surprise and indignation” with FIFA’s decision to sideline the playmaker for so long following the incident in Argentina’s win over Chile in World Cup qualifying last week.

The punishment was announced before Argentina lost at Bolivia 2-0 Tuesday, a result that left the two-time champions at risk of not qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Russia.

Barcelona says it “wishes to reiterate its support for Leo Messi, an exemplary player in terms of conduct both on and off the field.”

Pending an appeal, Messi will only be available to play in Argentina’s final qualifier, on Oct. 10 against Ecuador.

World Cup hopes back on track: What next for USMNT?

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After a four-point haul over the past week in their two crucial 2018 World Cup qualifiers, the U.S. national team is back on track and heading in the right direction.

[ MORE: Latest USMNT news ]

Bruce Arena led the USMNT to a thumping 6-0 win over Honduras last Friday and then a gutsy 1-1 draw in Panama on Tuesday in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying, as the Hexagonal standings will now look a lot better to U.S. fans who saw their team sitting bottom of the pile for the past four months following defeats to Mexico and Costa Rica which cost Jurgen Klinsmann his job.

So, the “Road to Russia” is looking a little less daunting for the U.S. but there are still tough tests ahead in the months to come in World Cup qualifying as well as a Gold Cup campaign on home soil in July.

First let’s look at the standings in the Hex. Ah, that’s better but things are now very tight aside from Mexico running away with things.

With six games to go the U.S. currently occupies the play-off spot as the top three teams in the Hex standings will qualify automatically for the World Cup and the fourth-place team has to play against the fifth-place team from qualifying in the Asian Football Confederation region.


Mexico — 10 points (+4 GD)
Costa Rica — 7 points (+4)
Panama — 5 points (0)
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USA — 4 points (+1)
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Honduras — 4 points (-5)
Trinidad and Tobago — 3 points (-4)


And these are the USA’s six remaining qualifiers as they aim to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

June 8: vs. Trinidad and Tobago
June 11: at Mexico
September 1: vs. Costa Rica
September 5: at Honduras
October 6: vs. Panama
October 10: at Trinidad and Tobago

The first three games at crucial. If the U.S. manages to get seven points from those three matches, that’s magical. Even six points by beating T&T and Costa Rica on home soil would be superb. Yet, if the U.S. drops points to one or both of T&T and Costa Rica, that puts so much pressure on themselves to pick up wins on the road at Honduras and T&T in two of their final three qualifiers. That would not be an ideal scenario.

Still, heading into the past week the aim for the U.S. was to get back on track in qualifying and give themselves a chance of making the 2018 World Cup. They’ve done that. Now, the hard work begins.

Chelsea chase Alexis Sanchez; Man United want Dier

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The summer transfer rumors are heating up long before the heat of summer arrives…

[ MORE: Zlatan to stay at United?

On Wednesday it is being claimed by the Guardian that Alexis Sanchez has become Chelsea’s “No.1 target this summer” as the Arsenal and Chile forward has yet to sign a new deal with the Gunners.

Per the report, Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has drafted up a shortlist of the players he wants to sign this summer and Sanchez is at the top of the Italian managers wishlist as he is also close to signing a new deal at Stamford Bridge.

Sanchez, 28, has a deal at Arsenal until the summer of 2018 but if the north London club fails to agree a new deal with him this summer (as well as Mesut Ozil and Arsene Wenger, but that’s another story…) then they’ll have to sell him on or risk losing him for nothing as a free agent next season.

The striker scored twice for Chile in their 2018 World Cup qualifying win over Venezuela on Tuesday and has been essential all season long to Arsenal, scoring 18 goals and adding nine assists after playing through the middle on his own for much of the campaign.

Would Arsenal really sell Sanchez to a PL rival? It wouldn’t be ideal but it’s not like they haven’t done that in the past. Think of Robin Van Persie, Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy.

The thought of Sanchez on one wing with Diego Costa up top and Eden Hazard on the other wing at Chelsea should be enough to get Arsenal to offer their star man whatever cash he wants — the report states he wants $310,000 a week which would almost double his current $160,000 a week salary — when they sit down to discuss the new deal at the end of this season.


Elsewhere in north London, Tottenham Hotspur’s versatile defender Eric Dier has been linked with a $50 million move to Manchester United this summer.

According to Neil Ashton of the Sun, Dier, 23, is being lined up to replace Michael Carrick in the holding midfield role at United.

Now, Tottenham are notoriously tough to do business with and chairman Daniel Levy will not want to lose one of his top prospects and an England international to a direct rival in the Premier League.

That said, Dier has been used in multiple positions by Spurs this season and Mauricio Pochettino appears to prefer Victor Wanyama and Mousa Dembele as the holding midfielders and the emergence of Harry Winks has seen Dier’s importance questioned by some.

The fact that Dier can play in holding midfield or anywhere across the back line will also suit Moruinho who likes to have a smaller squad to work with and per the report the Portuguese boss has been a long-time admirer of Dier. His power to break up the play and also use he ball safely could work very well alongside Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera.

PHOTOS: Bizarre Cristiano Ronaldo statue unveiled

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Hang on, is that really meant to be Cristiano Ronaldo?

On Wednesday the Portugal and Real Madrid legend had Madeira Airport named after him just outside his hometown of Funchal and during the ceremony a bust of his head was put on show.

Except, it looked horrendous…

Take a look for yourself in the photos below. See.