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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.

Kaka hoping to stay in Orlando beyond 2017

ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 08:  Kaka #10 of Orlando City SC dribbles the ball during an MLS soccer match between the New York City FC and the Orlando City SC at the Orlando Citrus Bowl on March 8, 2015 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images)
Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images)
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Kaka is enjoying life in Florida.

The former Ballon d’Or winner is hoping to stay with Orlando City SC beyond the end of his contract, which runs its course after the 2017 season.

[ MORE: Real Madrid now winless in three ]

Kaka has been very good for the Lions, scoring 19 goals and 15 assists in 53 total matches. Reports had said he’s skip town after the third year of the deal, but Kaka refutes that idea.

From MLSSoccer.com:

“A misunderstanding because I am very happy here,” Kaká told reporters at MLS Media Day on Tuesday. “I had a three year contract, so this is the last year under this contract, but my idea is to stay here.

“Of course we never know what can happen at the end of the season or during the season, but my idea for now is to stay in Orlando and stay in the league.”

Kaka turns 35 in April, but has been consistently good even if injuries kept him to 24 MLS contests last season. If he puts forth a similar season, there’s little reason for Orlando — or another team — not to take a chance on Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite.

Gabriel Jesus cleared, could make Man City debut

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 20:  Gabriel Jesus of Palmeiras runs with the ball during the match between Palmeiras and Botafogo for the Brazilian Series A 2016 at Allianz Parque on November 20, 2016 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images)
Photo by Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images
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Gabriel Jesus could go straight into Manchester City’s starting lineup.

The 19-year-old Brazilian has finally been cleared to suit up for the English side after finishing a title-winning campaign with Palmeiras.

With four goals in six caps for the Brazil national team and an Olympic gold medal with their U-23 side, Jesus is among the hottest prospects in the world.

[ MORE: City fifth in “Money League” ]

City is struggling, and the fresh injection of attacking talent could be music to the ears of boss Pep Guardiola (who, fun fact, celebrates his 46th birthday today).

From the Manchester Evening News:

“He’s a great player. Going to Europe is a good thing for a player. He will grow quicker, he will start to understand football in another way and also be respected inside the football scene.

“I guess that for Gabriel Jesus it was a good thing to leave Brazilian soccer, he did everything he had could in [Brazil]. He’s going to a very difficult, competitive [type of football] but I think that he can be successful.”

Jesus had 21 goals in 46 matches this season with Palmeiras.

Casemiro: “Real Madrid aren’t ever allowed to lose”

MADRID, SPAIN - JANUARY 18:  Henrique Casemiro of Real Madrid heads the ball against Daniel Wass of Celta de Vigo during the Copa del Rey Quarter Final, First Leg match between Real Madrid CF and  Celta Vigo at Bernabeu on January 18, 2017 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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The pressure at Real Madrid can be overwhelming, and the players who thrive there generally have thick skin and short memories.

They also take losses pretty seriously.

That goes for the manager as well, as both Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane and Casemiro have reacted to Real’s third-straight non-win in serious fashion.

[ MORE: Real no longer No. 1 in money ]

Remember, this is coming after the first match of the “slump” — a 3-3 draw with Sevilla — was the final match of a world record 40-match unbeaten run.

Casemiro, whose record in the Real Madrid lineup is as good as anyone’s, said this (via Marca):

“Yes, it’s worrying to lose again,” he said just after the full-time whistle. “Real Madrid aren’t ever allowed to lose. The defeat against Sevilla has hurt us.”

And if you want to tell Casemiro to relax, that only one of those matches was in league play and the club still leads the table by a point with a match-in-hand on nearly everyone… well… enter Zidane.

“I’m the one responsible and I must find the solution,” he said in his post-match press conference. “I wasn’t surprised by the way Celta played, as we knew that they’re a team that can really hurt you. I’m not worried, although it’s a bad moment. We know that we can overcome it and we are going to overcome it.”

I’m far from a Real Madrid fan, and you can credit Florentino Perez’s ideas and the hanky-waving fans for a lot of that, but it’s impossible not admire how seriously Real takes the business of winning. And maybe, just maybe, the fan and board expectations occasionally help the squad.

Run-up shootouts, per-player match limits on FIFA’s agenda

Marco van Basten, Dutch football manager and former football player, poses for a photo on the green carpet while arriving prior to the The Best - FIFA Football Awards 2016 ceremony held at the Swiss TV studio in Zurich, Switzerland, Monday, Jan. 9, 2017.  (Walter Bieri/Keystone via AP)
Walter Bieri/Keystone via AP
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Restricting players to 60 games a year. Replacing penalty shootouts with eight-second run-ups. Introducing orange cards to send players off for 10 minutes. Scrapping offside.

Former AC Milan and Netherlands forward Marco van Basten is using his role as technical director at FIFA to propose a series of changes to soccer to stir a debate.

[ MORE: Costa back for Chelsea ]

Rather than using his job to meddle, Van Basten highlights the need to preserve soccer as the world’s most popular sport.

“I have spoken to a lot of coaches and players,” Van Basten said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We have to promote quality instead of quantity. We are playing too much football now. We have to defend players because they have to play so much and are not fresh or fit anymore.

“That’s bad for the quality of the game. Even in June when the big tournaments are played players cannot perform to their maximum because now if players are really successful they can play up to 75 official games in the year. I think that’s a bit too much and maybe they should stop at 55 or 60.”

Although FIFA will expand the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams from 2026, that won’t burden players with any additional games. Instead, clubs sides would have to explore reducing the number of fixtures, potentially by reducing the number of lucrative friendly games played on tours.

[ MORE: Real Madrid now winless in three ]

“That’s all for money but we have to think about football and not money,” said Van Basten, who was hired by FIFA in September. “For a lot of clubs that’s not easy. But there is enough money in football.

“(Cristiano) Ronaldo and (Lionel) Messi are earning so much money. If they are earning a little bit less but performing better that’s good for football.”

Asked about countries like England or France no longer playing two cup competitions alongside their league fixtures, Van Basten said: “In my opinion that should be an interesting discussion.”

Van Basten knows some of radical changes he proposed to the AP could make traditionalists uneasy. But the 1992 FIFA world player of the year wants to ensure the global game has a say on its future.

“We should not just let the game be organized by those with the money,” he said from FIFA HQ in Zurich. “The big clubs like Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City and Real Madrid who have everything.”

“In football you need opponents, competition because if you are alone with two or three clubs controlling everything you don’t have any competition.”

Here are some potential changes to soccer proposed by Van Basten:

PENALTY SHOOTOUTS

Rather than burdening players with an additional 30 minutes of action when cup games are level after 90 minutes, Van Basten is suggesting going straight to penalties.

“I think everybody is pretty tired after 120 minutes,” Van Basten said.

Now penalties are a test of nerves with players having one chance to beat the goalkeeper from the penalty spot.

“Maybe the player should start 25 meters from goal and then you can dribble the goalkeeper or shoot early,” he said. “But you have to make a goal within eight seconds. It’s more skill and less luck. It’s maybe a bit more spectacular. It’s more football but it’s still nervous for the player.”

NO OFFSIDE

Scrapping the offside rule could make soccer more visually appealing, Van Basten advises.

“I think it can be very interesting watching a game without offside,” he said. “Football now is already looking a lot like handball with nine or ten defenders in front of the goal. It’s difficult for the opposition to score a goal as it’s very difficult to create something in the small pieces of space they give you.

“So if you play without offside you get more possibilities to score a goal.”

FOUR QUARTERS

Soccer is increasingly intense and grueling, with a single 15-minute break between 45-minute halves.

“We are trying to help the game, to let the game develop in a good way,” Van Basten said. “We want to have a game which is honest, which is dynamic, a nice spectacle so we should try to do everything to help that process.”

Introducing four quarters could be advantageous.

“The coach can have three times with his players during the game,” Van Basten said.

SINBINS

Now there is no middle ground between players being shown a yellow card and receiving a red card and then being removed for the rest of the game.

“Maybe an orange card could be shown that sees a player go out of the game for 10 minutes for incidents that are not heavy enough for a red card,” Van Basten said.

Such an instance could be when a player commits repeat fouls that didn’t warrant yellow cards or obstruct opponents. Five misdemeanors could earn a player a place in a sin bin for 10 minutes, Van Basten said.

NEXT STEPS

Any changes to the laws of the game cannot be forced through by Van Basten, however close he is to FIFA President Gianni Infantino. He said he wants to listen to the views of world before any proposals are taken to the game’s law-making body, The International Football Association Board. FIFA controls half of the eight votes on IFAB, with the other four retained by the British associations.

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