Ronaldo scores twice, but controversial call allows Real Madrid to salvage 2-1 win at Elche (Video)

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Real Madrid got away with one here. At least, Pepe did, but at the same time, the Portuguese international’s antics saved his team from what would have been a crucial slip. And thanks to the penalty he drew, Real Madrid was able to get out of Elche with a 2-1 win.

That win game via Cristiano Ronaldo’s second goal of the day: a penalty conversion five minutes into stoppage time; beating Manu Herrera into the low left hand corner; scored two minutes after the fourth official had raised “3” on his board. But the “extra” extra time was the result of a dramatic, 92nd equalizer from Richmond Boakye, the 20-year-old Ghanian taking advantage of Real Madrid’s uncharacteristic defensive breakdown to seemingly hand the Merengues their second blemish of the year.

In a league were the title contenders need to shoot for 100 points (and two teams are perfect through six rounds), any draw to a non-contender is huge. That Real Madrid was about to be handed their second draw could have sparked serious debate in Spain. Are los Blancos are capable of keeping up? Or is this last year all over again?

That’s why Pepe’s act, as disappointing and predictably cynical as it was, looms large. On a 95th minute corner, the Real Madrid defender grabbed Carlos Sánchez’s right arm and pulled the Elche midfielder down on top of him. But that’s not how César Muñiz saw it, the match’s referee pointing to the spot ahead of Ronaldo’s decisive conversion. To kind, Pepe was taken to ground on the corner, and while that violation often goes unpunished under normal circumstances, it drew a whistle today.

There’s no way around it. On some level, Real Madrid didn’t deserve this result. Pepe fouled Sánchez, should have been carded himself, but Muñiz misinterprets the play differently. As a result, Real Madrid get the win and stay two points back of Barcelona and Atlético Madrid (both 6-0-0).

The moral element that everybody will discuss: Should Pepe, independent of whether he would get caught, seek to play in such a cynical, deceptive manner. When games are scheduled and teams agree to take part in them, do they accept that matches could be decided in this unfair manner? Or is the intent for the 22 players to try and play within the rules? Or within a reasonable margin of them?

Pepe’s intent clearly defies that. Perhaps it’s a “if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying,” scenario, in which case, Pepe should be applauded for his effort. Or perhaps, in less jaded terms,  players should expect their opponents to do everything possible to get a result. Perhaps Sánchez should have avoided Pepe altogether, given the defender’s reputation for gamesmanship.

Me? I tend to think this kind of variation happens enough, you should expect a couple of weird outcomes like this per season. Is it right? Is it wrong? I’m not sure. It just happens. Every team should expect to be on the wrong end of it occasionally, an explanation that won’t placate Fran Escribá’s team tonight.

Europa League Preview: Everton, Milan look to make group stage

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Everton look to make it back into the Europa League group stage for the first time since the 2014-2015 season and it has a two-goal advantage heading into the second leg of its tie.

Ronald Koeman and co. travel to Croatia to face Hadjuk Split Thursday having won the first leg at Goodison Park, 2-0. Everton is coming off a hard-fought draw on Monday with Manchester City and will be on short rest heading into the match.

Elsewhere in Europa League action, AC Milan take its 6-0 aggregate lead to Skopje, Macedonia as the legendary club looks to return to the group stage of a European competition for the first time since 2013-2014.

Here’s a look at all of Thursday’s Europa League matches, with the current aggregate scores:

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EFL Cup Rewind: Southampton, Newcastle knocked out by Championship sides

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Last season, Southampton made it to the EFL Cup final. This year, it’s a different story.

The Saints were bounced by Wolverhampton Wanderers, 2-0 at home on Wednesday in the second round of the cup. Joining Southampton of Premier League sides going home early was Newcastle, which lost 3-2 after extra time at home against Nottingham Forest.

Four other Premier League sides did advance to the third round, as Stoke City, Huddersfield Town, West Ham United and Burnley all won their fixtures.

Here’s a look at the rest of Wednesday’s EFL Cup action:

Blackburn 0-2 Burnley

Cheltenham 0-2 West Ham

Huddersfield 2-1 Rotherham

Newcastle 2-3 Nottingham Forest

Southampton 0-2 Wolverhampton

Stoke City 4-0 Rochdale

Breaking down who each Premier League team could face in the UCL Group Stage

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The UEFA Champions League group stage lineup is complete, with five Premier League clubs making the list.

On Wednesday, Liverpool joined Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City and Manchester United in the group stage after beating Hoffenheim, 6-3 on aggregate in the playoff qualification round.

Thursday’s Champions League draw (2 p.m. ET) will place clubs into groups of four, where they’ll play three matches at home and away.

Here’s a look at the four coefficient pots and who each Premier League club could face:

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Follow Live – Texas Derby, Cascadia Cup headline busy night of MLS action

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Welcome to MLS Rivalry Week.

The surging Houston Dynamo could move to first place in the Western Conference with a win over rivals FC Dallas while the current first-place side, the Seattle Sounders travel north and across the border to face Vancouver Whitecaps FC.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

The Dynamo have made an impressive turnaround under coach Wilmer Cabrera and he’ll have the trio of Ricardo Clark, Alberth Elis and star forward Erick Torres available to face Dallas after missing the Dynamo’s match at Vancouver last weekend, which ended 2-1 in favor of the Whitecaps.

FC Dallas are in its worst form of the season, winless in its last four games, but the team will be extra motivated to beat its rivals.

El Capitan is on the line after draws between FC Dallas and the Dynamo in two matches earlier this season.

Meanwhile up in Vancouver, the Whitecaps host a Sounders squad that pulled out a last-gasp victory last weekend over Minnesota United. While the team is in great form on the road recently (two wins and two draws), the top story heading into the game is the unexpected absence of Joevin Jones, who left the Sounders for his home in Trinidad and Tobago ahead of the upcoming international break.

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On the other side, Fredy Montero faces his former club and carries an interesting record into Wednesday’s match. Of his 35 MLS goals, 11 have been scored against Cascadia Cup competition.

Here’s a look at Wednesday’s action:

Full schedule

Columbus Crew vs. LA Galaxy – 7:30 p.m. ET

D.C. United vs. Atlanta United – 7:30 p.m.ET

FC Dallas vs. Houston Dynamo – 8 p.m. ET

Toronto FC vs. Philadelphia Union – 8 p.m. ET

Real Salt Lake vs. San Jose Earthquakes – 10 p.m. ET

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Seattle Sounders – 10 p.m. ET

Portland Timbers vs. Colorado Rapids – 10:30 p.m. ET