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Champions League Final: Key battles for Borussia Dortmund vs. Bayern Munich

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With just over 24 hours until billions across the world switch their attention to Wembley Stadium, players of Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich are keying themselves up for what could be the biggest game of their careers.

Players form both sides have won trophies, played in finals and tasted the big occasion before. But this has extra-spice to it.

Two German teams. Two bitter rivals. Two teams high in confidence after dismantling two Spanish giants in the semifinals.

Throw Mario Götze’s transfer from Dortmund to Bayern in the mix — Munich paid the near $60 million release clause for Borussia’s star player and academy product to become theirs, just hours before Dortmund’s crucial semifinal game against Real Madrid — and we are going to have one heck of a humdinger in North London on Saturday afternoon.

(More: Champions League Final infographic, Borussia Dortmund vs. Bayern Munich)

Individual battles will crop up all over the pitch, with both sets of players extremely familiar with each other after years of battling it out on the Bundesliga stage. Götze is out injured which is a huge blow for Dortmund, with the 20-year-old key to their attacking impetus. However his absence will have spared him an awkward battle before he joins up with his new Bayern teammates this summer.

They’re probably sick of the sight of one another. That cranks the intensity up even higher. Let’s see which key battle will determine which German side will be victorious.

DANTE v ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI

Brazilian Dante has become a key member of Bayern’s backline since arriving from Borussia Monchengladbach last summer. They conceded just 18 goals in 34 games. 21 goals less than any other German defense. They also equaled a club record of 20 clean sheets. Dante will have to keep his composure to stop the towering Lewandowski, who smashed in all four goals to defeat Real Madrid in their semi-final first leg win at the Westfalenstadion.

The big Polish striker could be on the move to some of the Europe’s biggest teams. It would be a great sendoff if he could seal the UCL trophy for Dortmund.

MARIO MANDZUKIC v NEVEN SUBOTIC

At the other end of the pitch another massive battle will take place between two giants.

Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic has hammered home 20 goals this season for Bayern, but just two in UCL action. His strike-partner Thomas Muller has scored eight as Mandzukic’s tireless work rate and clever runs often opens up space for others to exploit. Serbian international, Neven Subotic, is given the task to keep him quiet. With US soccer fans knowing the massive defender only too well after he represented the US as a youth international and played at the University of South Florida before switching his allegiance to Serbia and moved to the Bundesliga.

This will be a mammoth battle with elbows and heads flying everywhere.

BASTIAN SCHWEINSTEIGER v SVEN BENDER

It feels like Schweinsteiger has been around for decades. Because he has. But he’s only 28 and is the heart and soul of Bayern’s midfield. The German international will be looking to lift the UCL title after twice missing out to Inter Milan and Chelsea in recent seasons. That will drive all the Munich players on.

Schweinsteiger will break up player and get attacks going, as he looks to dominate the midfield. However that won’t be easy with Sven Bender around. The 24-year-old holding midfielder has been solid as a rock in the holding role and if he plays well and breaks up Bayern’s offensive fluidity, Dortmund has a big chance of winning the Champions League crown for just the second time in their history.

Ranieri criticizes Leicester for lacking “desire and heart”

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18:  Claudio Ranieri, Manager of Leicester City looks dejected during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Millwall and Leicester City at The Den on February 18, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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LONDON (AP) Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri criticized his players for lacking “desire and heart” in a 1-0 loss at third-tier Millwall in the FA Cup fifth round on Saturday, the latest setback for the stuttering English champion.

[ MORE: FA Cup roundup — Premier League sides underwhelm in 5th round ]

Leicester, which is one point above the relegation zone in a woeful defense of its Premier League title, is without a victory in its last eight matches.

Millwall played most of the second half with 10 men and won thanks to a 90th-minute goal.

“I want to speak again with the players and say we have to fight every match,” an animated Ranieri said. “Who wants to fight? Tell me. I need the soldiers, I need the gladiators.

[ MORE: Fifth-division Lincoln City shock PL side Burnley in FA Cup ]

“It is strange because last season we won for this, to be more determined than the opponent and play with more heart than the opponent. We could also lose but we would fight every match. I want to see this, the fight until the end.”

Leicester’s next match is against Sevilla in the first leg of the Champions League last 16 on Wednesday.

FOLLOW LIVE: Spurs, Man United away in FA Cup 5th round

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 16:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United celebrates after scoring his third and his sides third goal during the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 first leg match between Manchester United and AS Saint-Etienne at Old Trafford on February 16, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Saturday’s FA Cup fifth-rounders served up the biggest Cupset of them all — fifth-division side Lincoln City knocking off Burnley of the Premier League — as well as two moderately shocking results — Leicester City losing to 10-man Millwall (League One) and Manchester City drawing 0-0 with Huddersfield Town (Championship).

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Sunday’s FA Cup 5th-rounders ]

On Sunday, two more of the PL’s big boys hope to avoid upsets and reach the quarterfinals of the 2016-17 tournament. First up, Tottenham Hotspur visit Fulham’s Craven Cottage in a renewed London derby, followed by Manchester United’s trip to Blackburn Rovers’ Ewood Park. For live scores and updates, hit the above link, or click right here.

Saturday’s FA Cup results

Burnley 0-1 Lincoln City — RECAP | REACTION
Huddersfield 0-0 Manchester City
Millwall 1-0 Leicester City
Middlesbrough 3-0 Oxford United
Wolverhampton Wanderers 0-2 Chelsea

Sunday’s FA Cup schedule

Fulham vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 9 a.m. ET
Blackburn Rovers vs. Manchester United — 11:15 a.m. ET

Monday’s FA Cup schedule

Sutton United vs. Arsenal — 2:55 p.m. ET

Report: AC Milan negotiating new deal for keeper Donnaumma

ROME, ITALY - FEBRUARY 13:  AC Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma gestures during the Serie A match between SS Lazio and AC Milan at Stadio Olimpico on February 13, 2017 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)
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Gianluigi Donnarumma has quickly become one of the most coveted goalkeepers in the world, and he’s only 17 years old.

[ MORE: Gameiro nets hat-trick in five minutes for Atletico ]

And that’s why AC Milan plans on doing everything in its power to hold on to the Italy international.

[ MORE: U.S. U-20s fall to Panama to begin CONCACAF Championship ]

According to CalcioMercato, the Rossoneri are preparing to lock up Donnarumma to a big deal once he turns 18 next week in order to fend off the likes of Premier League duo Chelsea and Manchester United, as well as Real Madrid.

However, agent Mino Raiola could stand in the way of Milan as they attempt to negotiate with the promising shot stopper out of fear that the club won’t be able to compete with Europe’s best teams.

Also, it has been suggested that Raiola is seeking at least $4.25 million per season for Donnarumma plus add ons, while Milan is said to be willing to go as high as $2.1 million annually.

Donnarumma is currently in his second professional season with Milan and has risen to the Italian national team level over the past year as well. The young keeper is seen as the logical successor to Gianluigi Buffon once his international career concludes.

Baggio marks 50th birthday by visiting quake victims

ROME, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 01: Roberto Baggio (L) is challenged by Diego Lugano during the Interreligious Match For Peace at Olimpico Stadium on September 1, 2014 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
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AMATRICE, Italy (AP) Italian great Roberto Baggio marked his 50th birthday on Saturday by visiting towns devastated by earthquakes last year.

[ MORE: FA Cup Saturday wrap — Man City held against Huddersfield ]

Baggio opted not to celebrate his milestone surrounded by celebrities, and instead spent the day in Amatrice, which was almost wiped out by the Aug. 24 earthquake.

The former world footballer of the year, who met children and others from the central Italy region, said “it was very emotional,” and he went there with his family “to fully understand what so many people are going through.”

Baggio also met the mayor of Amatrice, Sergio Pirozzi, and said they will remain in contact, “and we will try to do something concrete.”

Baggio was moving on to nearby Norcia, which was also damaged, and there was a party organized with a birthday cake.

The Aug. 24 quake killed nearly 300 people and left a further 4,000 homeless. There were aftershocks for several days as well as more quakes in October and January.

Baggio, who was nicknamed “Il Divin Codino” (The Divine Ponytail) for the hairstyle he wore for most of his career, scored 27 goals in 57 appearances for Italy and helped the Azzurri to third place in the 1990 World Cup and runner-up four years later, when he famously missed the last penalty kick of the shootout in the final with Brazil.

He won the Serie A title with Juventus in 1995 and with AC Milan the following year.