Borussia Dortmund hold off Real Madrid, reach Champions League final

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Real Madrid needed one of their early chances to go in. Without it, Borussia Dortmund were able to stop most of Tuesday’s drama before it started, though in seeing out a 4-3 aggregate win over the Spanish giants, BVB allowed two late goals to bring the match into doubt. Thanks to a 2-0 win on Tuesday, the final, 180-minute scoreline flattered Real Madrid, though for all of the moments Dortmund had shown their superiority, they were still left one goal from elimination when the final whistle blew.

After series of early second half chances for BVB extinguished any momentum remaining following Real’s dominant opening push, late goals from Karim Benzema (82′) and Sergio Ramos (88′) put the hosts within one strike of May 25th’s final. But unable to stress Roman Weidenfeller for the eight minutes between Ramos’s tally and Howard Webb’s final whistle, los Blancos failed to accomplish the daunting tast Dortmund assigned them last week: Overcome a 4-1 to revitalize hope of a 10th European title. And in that vein, Borussia Dortmund were able to avoid a reverse of last round’s miracle against Málaga.

It’s the first time in 16 years Borussia Dortmund will play for the European Cup, their only other final appearance coming in 1996-97. That year, BVB got two goals from Karl-Heinz Reidle to overpower Juventus 3-1 at Munich’s Olympiastadion, claiming one of the two European trophies that sit on the club’s mantle.

If Dortmund’s to add to that haul, there’ll likely be another link to Munich. Bundesliga champions Bayern, up 4-0 on Barcelona, are expected to move past their Catalan opposition tomorrow at Camp Nous and make May’s final an all-German affair.

Before their late push, El Real’s biggest threats came early, with two José Mourinho changes creating an advantage down Real Madrid’s right. Luka Modric, in for Sami Khedira in a holding role, caused problems by overloading that flank in the attacking phase, while Michael Essien, assuming Alvaro Arbeloa’s normal spot at right back, flexed Dortmund’s defense with his early connections to Mesut Ozil.

In the fourth minute, those changes paid off with a chance for Gonzalo Higuaín that’d been worked through Modric then Ozil. Alone in front of goal, the Real striker turned and struck off Roman Weidenfeller as the Dortmund keeper charged to close the Argentine’s angles.

In the 16th minute, Weidenfeller made another strong read on Ozil, racing to the edge of the box to force the Madrid creator to pull his shot wide. Three minutes earlier, the BVB keeper had stoned Cristiano Ronaldo from point blank range, his stellar opening act keeping Real Madrid from converting chances into much needed momentum.

By the middle of the half, Dortmund had come into the match enough to start countering Madrid’s forays. Eventually, BVB saw of the ball to start building play, their careful attacks doing more to see out the half than threaten Diego López.

The second half initially got worse for Real Madrid. Robert Lewandowski missed an easy chance created for him by Marco Reus and Kevin Grosskreutz (who came on early for an injured Mario Götze). One minute later (50′), Lewandowski put shot off the crossbar, while in the 63rd minute, Lopez had to lay out to prevent Ilkay Gundogan from putting away a ball rolled across goal by Reus. In less than 20 minutes after halftime, BVB seemed to quell the sliver of ambition Real held at kick off.

In the 82nd minute, Real finally started climbing into the match. Kaká, whose mid-half insertion saw the home side go to three at the back, sent a ball wide right from the edge of the area to Ozil, whose pass back in was one-timed by Benzema past Weidenfeller. Six minutes later, a set piece over the area was kept in play by Benzema, whose ball back for Ramos was went into the top of Weidenfeller’s net

If Real had moved closer before the tie’s 172nd minute, the late surge would have been a silver lining. Instead, history will see it as irrelevance. Had Higuaín or Özil converted early chances, the match would have taken on a completely different dynamic. Yet on the list of what ifs accumulated over 180 minutes, those may have been the thinnest.

Real Madrid were never in this tie until it was all but settled, and although the first 20 and final 10 minutes at the Bernabéu showed they were capable of more, the final scored showed that even when their backs were against the wall, the Merengues were again no match for Borussia Dortmund.

Pep Guardiola praises Man City’s “animals”

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Pep Guardiola‘s Manchester City have set a new English top-flight record with 15 consecutive wins and, of course, comparisons are already being made as to just how good this City side are.

Runaway leaders of the Premier League with an 11-point lead heading into the busy festive period, City are being compared to the great teams in PL history.

Their winning run means they’ve accomplished something none of the other great PL teams have, and it seems like there is no stopping City.

Speaking to the media after the 4-0 win at Swansea on Wednesday which clinched the record, Guardiola praised his players for breaking the record but also their ability to not only excel when they have the ball but to hunt in packs to win it back.

“In history there have been some amazing teams – Liverpool, [Manchester] United with Sir Alex Ferguson, Chelsea with Jose Mourinho. A lot of good, good teams and we are the first ones to win 15 games in a row,” Mourinho said. “Of course that will not make sense if we do not win the title, if we don’t win the title it will just be a record. This record will be broken but it will not be easy. When (my players) don’t have the ball they go to win it like animals. At this level it’s so competitive. That means we are strong in the head.”

Guardiola’s team have made the best start in Premier League history to a season with 49 points from their opening 17 games and 16 wins from those matches.

They’ve scored 52 goals and the duo of David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne are controlling the tempo of each and every game they play in, but not much has been said about the tenacity in City’s play to win the ball back.

That quality has always been a hallmark of Guardiola’s teams at Barcelona and Bayern Munich with the fabled “six second rule” mentioned time and time again as he set his players a target of six seconds to win back possession of the ball.

City did that time and time again against Swansea on Wednesday with Silva regaining possession on multiple occasions in midfield and releasing the likes of Sterling and Sergio Aguero to attack.

There is a lot more behind this ruthless City side than just breaking winning and scoring records. Their extreme hunger for success and doing the dirty work was duly noted by Guardiola.

USSF says nominations submitted for 8 president candidates

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CHICAGO (AP) The U.S. Soccer Federation says it received the required three letters of nomination for eight candidates in its presidential election, one fewer than the total of people who announced their intention to run.

The USSF is conducting background checks on the candidates whose nominations were received by Tuesday night’s deadline. The governing body said the check is to ascertain that a candidate has “no conviction or no contest plea to a felony or crime of moral turpitude” and it will announce the candidate slate after completing the process.

[ MORE: Atlanta acquires Nagbe ]

Sunil Gulati, the USSF president since 2006, decided after the Americans failed to qualify for the World Cup that he will not seek a fourth four-year term.

The nine people who announced they are running include former men’s national team players Paul Caligiuri, Eric Wynalda and Kyle Martino; U.S. women’s goalkeeper Hope Solo; Soccer United Marketing president Kathy Carter; USSF vice president Carlos Cordeiro; Boston lawyer Steve Gans; New York lawyer Michael Winograd; and Paul LaPointe, Northeast Conference manager of the United Premier Soccer League.

The election will be held in February.

Madrid rallies to beat Al Jazira, reach Club World Cup final (video)

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Gareth Bale scored an 81st-minute winner as Real Madrid came from behind to beat Emirates club Al Jazira 2-1 on Wednesday and reach the Club World Cup final.

Madrid will try to win its third world title in four seasons when its faces South American champion Gremio on Saturday.

[ MORE: Premier League Weds. roundup ]

The match had two goals disallowed by video review, one for each team.

Madrid struggled early and allowed the local league winners to open the scoring with a goal by Brazilian forward Romarinho just before halftime.

But Cristiano Ronaldo equalized early in the second half and Bale netted the winner less than a minute after entering the match as a substitute for Karim Benzema.

Paul Clement admits helplessness at facing Man City

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Swansea City manager Paul Clement may have the enduring quote of the season so far when it comes to facing the behemoth that is Manchester City.

[ RECAP – City hammer Swansea ]

The suffering Swans have had their share of poor performances this season — Clement later said January transfer spending “is a must” if the club wants to stay up — but he’s throwing his hands up in the air when it comes to Wednesday’s loss at the Liberty Stadium.

The man sounds exasperated, and sorry for his team. From the BBC:

“At times it was horrible to be on the sideline watching that, seeing my side trying but suffering for long periods. They’re not the games that will decide our season but it was hard to watch at times because they were so dominant. For me, one of the best sides I’ve ever come across. So many good athletes, so many intelligent footballers and it’s really hard to pin them down. We actually had some attempts on their goal so I’m disappointed we didn’t get on the score sheet but they were a far superior side to us. We’ve got to put it aside that game. We’ve got Everton away (next) and we’ve got to try and pick something up there.”

All that’s left is for Clement to pick up a clarinet, awkwardly blow into it, then point at Pep Guardiola and say, “He’s good.”

Free message board points to the first one to name the reference.