Remember it forever: Bayern Munich eliminate Barcelona, 7-0

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Barcelona was never equipped to challenge, and it showed. It showed with every inept attack thwarted by Bayern Munich’s commanding defense. It showed in every frantic challenge needed to prevent Munich’s first goals. And ultimately, embarrassingly, and historically, it showed on the scoreboard.

Down 4-0 to visiting Bayern Munich at kickoff, the Lionel Messi-less hosts scarcely put up a fight, with Bayern’s three-second half goals turning a walk into a rout. After their 3-0 loss at the Nou Camp, Spain’s champions-to-be exit Champions League with an embarrassing 7-0 aggregate loss, a result sure to leave European soccer in awe of the juggernaut this Bayern team’s become.

After a goalless first half, Bayern winger Arjen Robben opened the scoring with a 48th minute left-footed finish into the far netting from the right side of the box. In the 72nd minute, Gerard Piqué’s failed clearance of a Franck Ribery cross left the Barcelona defender with an own goal. Completing the rout, Thomas Müller scored his third goal of the tie, heading past Victor Valdes in the 78th minute.

The victory sets up last week’s inevitable. For the third time in four years, Bayern are in the UEFA Champions League final, this time set to face dethroned Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund in the competition’s first-ever all German final.

MORE: Bayern’s bold, beautiful plan

Dortmund confirmed their place yesterday with an unexpectedly close call at the Santiago Bernabéu, with late goals from Karim Benzema and Sergio Ramos leaving Real Madrid one goal from advancing come full-time. But with Barcelona leaving Messi on the bench and Sergio Busquets out of the team, a starting XI that was also deprived of Carles Puyol, Javier Mascherano and Jordi Alba never came close to exhibiting the quality required to overturn a four-goal deficit.

Instead, it was Bayern providing a muted version of last week’s onslaught. Barcelona again held much of the ball, yet it München provided all of the threats, with only sliding tackles from Piqué preventing the visitors from padding their lead early. With Alex Song fully embracing a libero’s role, Barcelona tried to go wide-to-in on Bayern’s defense, but with Davi Alves unable to make headway against David Alaba, Barcelona were no more dangerous than last week’s inept showing in Munich.

But it was Alaba who made the game’s first meaningful impact, a beautiful diagonal ball from just inside his attacking half dropped into the foot of Robben. Robben was allowed to cut inside to use his only weapon, his left foot, and curled a ball into the side-netting from 16 yards out.

Attacking from wide also created Bayern’s final two goals, both through Franck Ribery. In the 72nd minute, a ball played wide by Luiz Gustavo (who had come on for Bastian Schweinsteiger) saw Ribery drill a high ball across the top of the six-yard box. Piqué misjudged the cross. As he tried to put a clearance up and out of play, he saw the ball hit off his knee and easily beat a defenseless Valdes.

Six minutes later, a ball sent out by Mario Mandzukic allowed Ribery to loft a perfect far post cross for Müller, who need only elevate to meet the ball and score from one-yard out.

Demoralized, Barcelona played the final 15 minutes more worried about an escalating embarrassment than any futile attempts to save face. Whatever semblance of pride that could have been salvaged was scattered by the flight of Piqué’s own goal. Having entered the round with a flock of believers convinced they were still the world’s best team, Barcelona leave the competition beneath the seven-goal burden of their reality: They are far adrift of Europe’s best, proving much closer to Paris Saint-Germain and Milan then another European Cup.

MORE: Highlights – Bayern send off Barça

If the last two days have proved anything, it’s that Bayern Munich deserve the mantle of Europe’s best. After a 7-0 win, the discussion ceases to be interesting. If Borussia Dortmund upset Bayern at Wembley, it should be seen as a significant upset, because whereas Bayern’s German rivals struggled to maintain the three-goal lead they carried into the Spanish capital, Bayern capped a performance for the ages, the lopsided nature of which may ultimately do them a disservice in history’s eyes.

Years from now, when people see 7-0 as the tie’s final score, they’ll assume Barcelona was a shadow of their former selves – a team who’d fallen from the ranks of Europe’s elite. Only half of which is true, of course. Barcelona are clearly not the team they were two years ago, but their walk through La Liga leaves them credentials as strong any non-Bayern team in Europe. They may be closer to PSG than Bayern, but almost any of Bayern’s challengers are. Barcelona are still very formidable opposition.

Yet Bayern embarrassed them, an achievement which, in time, we’ll hopefully come to see as a symbol of München’s greatness, not Barcelona’s failures. Though Barça’s not playing at their same Champions League-winning levels, after today, it’s unclear even the great teams of Cruyff or Guardiola could derail this Bayern Munich juggernaut.

At least, after completing a 7-0 rout at the Nou Camp, it’s worth a discussion.

While PSG has won the title, Areola’s playing for his future

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PARIS (AP) Although Paris Saint-Germain has easily won the French title, Alphonse Areola still has plenty to play for.

The next four games could be crucial in deciding whether PSG keeps the goalkeeper or tries to sign a big name in the transfer window, possibly Thibaut Courtois. The 25-year-old Areola is the same age as Courtois, but has nowhere near the international standing of the Chelsea keeper.

[ MORE: Turkey hands bid plans to UEFA for EURO 2024 ]

It is hard for Areola to stand out, however, in a team noted almost singularly for its attacking prowess. While PSG has already scored more than 100 league goals, and remains on course to reach 100 points this season, Areola has rarely been talked about.

The common perception is that PSG will thrash teams in the French league, so letting in a goal or two is irrelevant.

However, Areola has been one of PSG’s most consistent players this season, and last Sunday he made a personal record of eight saves in a 1-0 win at Bordeaux.

He was also one of the few PSG players to come through the loss to Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League with any credit. Without Areola’s shot-stopping, and particularly his bravery rushing off his line, the 5-2 aggregate loss would have been bigger.

With 104 goals, PSG’s attack is the best in the league by far and has netted 25 more than deposed champion Monaco.

But PSG’s defense is also the best and Areola has conceded only 21 goals in the 31 he has played. Although PSG has dominated most of those, losing only twice all season, he has still made on average four saves per game.

Having replaced Kevin Trapp as No. 1, Areola has missed only three league games all season. It represents a reversal for both.

When Trapp was signed by former coach Laurent Blanc in 2015-16, Areola went on loan to Spanish club Villarreal. He established himself as regular in Villarreal’s side and gained further experience in the Europa League. Spanish media were largely impressed by his consistency and his agility on the goal-line.

He returned to PSG and battled with Trapp for the starting position last season. But coach Unai Emery seemed unsure who he really preferred, with Trapp starting 24 games to Areola’s 14. PSG ended up losing the title to Monaco.

But the hierarchy is much clearer now and the error-prone Trapp, once hailed by Blanc for his passing out from goal, is the one expected to leave.

Areola has further incentive to do well with the World Cup coming up. He is challenging Marseille goalkeeper Steve Mandanda to be France’s No. 2 behind Hugo Lloris in Russia. For now, Areola is a squad member but has yet to make an international appearance under coach Didier Deschamps.

But he has done well at every level for France, starting with the under-16s a decade ago. He got his first taste of international success when he helped France win the Under-20 World Cup in 2013.

While Paul Pogba was one of the stars of the tournament, Areola’s crowning moment came in the final itself. France drew 0-0 with Uruguay and he saved two shots in the penalty shootout. Prior to the shootout he had a word with France’s designated penalty takers, confidently telling them “do your job and I’ll do mine.”

With Emery almost certain to be replaced next season, it promises to be a frenetic offseason of buying and selling at the club.

But whoever replaces Emery should perhaps think twice before letting Areola leave. The Parisian-born Areola came through the youth ranks at PSG, as did center half Presnel Kimpembe and midfielder Adrien Rabiot.

Star-studded sides like PSG often import their best players and fans are happy to see them arrive, because it shows ambition. But they nevertheless identify more closely with homegrown talents such as Areola.

More AP Ligue 1 coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/Ligue1

Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire

Infantino has ‘full confidence’ in Samoura amid ethics issue

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA President Gianni Infantino says he retains “full confidence” in secretary general Fatma Samoura after an attempt to embroil her in an ethics investigation.

[ MORE: Turkey hands in bid plans to UEFA for 2024 EUROs ]

Samoura has expressed irritation at “totally ridiculous and baseless” claims she broke FIFA rules by not declaring an alleged conflict of interest in the 2026 World Cup bidding contest.

FIFA has not specified the exact nature of the complaint or the progress of any ethics investigation after it was alleged she was a relative of former Senegal player El Hadji Diouf, who is an ambassador for Morocco’s bid.

Samoura insisted on Wednesday the former Liverpool forward “is not a member of my family and therefore everything is crystal clear.”

FIFA’s top administrator received a public show of support from Infantino.

“I can confirm my full confidence in Fatma Samoura to lead the FIFA administration,” Infantino said in a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday.

The former United Nations official was hired by Infantino in 2016 months after he was elected as Sepp Blatter’s successor.

Morocco is due to take on a joint bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico in the June 13 vote for the 2026 World Cup host.

Photo: Flamengo supporter tattoos club jersey on body

MAURÍCIO DOS ANJOS VIA VICE
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A supporter in Brazil has taken fandom to a whole new level with a piece of body art that shows his devotion to the club.

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]

Maurício dos Anjos, a passionate Flamengo fan, has been a life-long supporter of the Rio de Janeiro-based club, and has the tattoo to prove it.

While it may look like body paint, Dos Anjos has a tattoo on the upper-half of his body depicting the Flamengo jersey, and it’s pretty awesome.

“People ask me if I don’t find it strange that I’m always wearing a Flamengo shirt. And I just don’t,” dos Anjos told VICE. “To me, it’s normal. But it doesn’t seem like anyone I talk to about it actually dislikes my tattoo.”

In total, Dos Anjos says the body work took over 90 hours and 30 sessions to complete the tattoo.

Has the perception of MLS really changed?

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When David Beckham arrived in Los Angeles back in 2007 his presence changed the complexion of Major League Soccer for all the right reasons, and the perception of the growing league changed.

[ MORE: Go behind the scenes at NYCFC’s new training facility ]

Over the years, MLS has strived to move into the upper-echelon of the global game, in an attempt to compete with the likes of the Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga, but naysayers still indicate to this day that the United States’ top flight lacks the quality of the aforementioned.

Phrases like “retirement league” and “uninspired” have been used to describe MLS in the past, particularly when it comes to the league’s willingness to spend boatloads of cash on notable players well past their prime.

Examples such as Andrea Pirlo, Steven Gerrard and Rafael Marquez have at times dampened the perception of MLS due to the lack of quality on the pitch from those players, along with several others that had previously boasted extensive resumes.

Now, we’re at a time where MLS has picked up its scouting, with clubs focused more on younger, more skilled talents from South America and Europe.

That has led to major signings over the past several years, such as Ezequiel Barco, Miguel Almiron, Diego Rossi and Jesus Medina, to name a few.

Has that changed the overall complexion of MLS though?

On Thursday, Kevin De Bruyne‘s agent, Patrick de Koster, suggested in an interview that the Belgium international would likely “finish” his career in MLS.

“For now, he’s very happy at this club,” De Koster said. “We always look what the best solution for the player, both financially and football wise. Kevin’s future? I can see him finish at Los Angeles.”

This comes on the heels of a 36-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic joining the LA Galaxy in a move that has sent shockwaves across the league and the world because of the Swede’s great presence on a global scale.

It’s not to say that players like Ibrahimovic, or previous signings like David Villa and Didier Drogba cannot help the overall growth of MLS, because they certainly bring an awareness to the matches and draw attention to their respective clubs.

However, the long-term viability of MLS has been and will continue to be sustained on youth players succeeding in the league, as well as being able to draw promising young talents into the top flight of the U.S.