Elche FC v  Real Madrid CF - La Liga

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.

Messi returns ahead of schedule, sporting golden hair (photo)

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - JUNE 26: Lionel Messi #10 of Argentina looks on against Chile during the Copa America Centenario Championship match at MetLife Stadium on June 26, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Chile defeated Argentina 4-2 in penalty kicks. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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Lionel Messi is back with Barcelona a week earlier than expected, as the Camp Nou set prepares to defend another La Liga title.

That means Messi will be on the roster for the International Champions Cup, as Barcelona is slated to play Celtic, Leicester City, and Liverpool.

[ MORE: Manchester Derby in China on Monday ]

That’s not the only surprise from the 29-year-old, who has pulled an Aaron Ramsey and dramatically altered his ‘do.

Glad to have him back on our screens a bit earlier than planned, and — although I’m far from a style icon — I’ll be just as glad when the blonde grows/washes out of his head.

Ronaldo seeking new contract, says he’ll miss UEFA Super Cup

FUNCHAL, MADEIRA, PORTUGAL - JULY 22: Dionisio Pestana, Cristiano Ronaldo and Miguel Albuquerque (President of the Regional Government of Madeira) during the opening of the new 'Pestana CR7 Funchal' Hotel owned by Cristiano Ronaldo on July 22, 2016 in Funchal, Madeira, Portugal. (Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images)
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Cristiano Ronaldo’s long summer has earned him an extended vacation, but the knee injury he suffered in the EURO 2016 Final would’ve kept him from this season’s first big club match anyway.

The 31-year-old star will not be available for the Aug. 9 UEFA Super Cup match between Real Madrid and Sevilla, saying he’ll be back in the mix just one day later.

[ MORE: Discussing Yedlin’s future ]

Ronaldo also said he’s going to speak with the club about extending his contract, which runs through the 2017-18 season. He’s very been vocal about his desire to finish his career at the Bernabeu, and will put pen to paper in order to prove it.

From Sky Sports:

“I spoke to the president on the phone and when I get to Madrid, we will talk about it.

“Obviously it’s something I want, I have mentioned it many times, and the club also wants it. But we only spoke briefly, and there will be more concrete things to come.”

No surprises here, though it would’ve been nice to have Ronaldo on our screens for the match-up between his Champions League winners and the Europa League champions.

Guardiola, Mourinho prepare for derby in China, shake off personal rivalry

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 16: Barcelona manager (L) Josep Guardiola shakes hands with head coach Jose Mourinho of Real Madrid before the start of the La Liga match between Real Madrid and Barcelona at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on April 16, 2011 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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Preseason matches rarely have legitimate hype, let alone live up to it.

Yet Monday will see Manchester United and Manchester City tangle outside of England for the first time in history, and there are a lot of fans looking forward to the early morning match in China.

[ MORE: Discussing Yedlin’s future ]

A lot of that has to do with it being the first match-up between Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho as bosses of City and United, to the extent where journalists asked whether the longtime rivals would shake hands (admittedly a weird question, as if to say, “Are you a grown-up?”).

They essentially issued the same answer, and here are Mourinho’s comments, from ManUtd.com:

“Of course I will shake his hand – why wouldn’t I? I don’t understand the question to him or to me. We were opponents for three years [in Spain] but we are professionals. I don’t see why I wouldn’t shake his hand.”

Both managers also talked, understandably, about fitness and health being their No. 1 goal of the match, and there are concerns about the pitch in China due to heavy rains.

Guardiola also gave insight into Vincent Kompany‘s continued struggles with recovery from the injury that hampered him for much of last season, refusing to give a timetable for the captain’s return.

MLS Snapshot: Colorado Rapids 1-1 FC Dallas (video)

COMMERCE CITY, CO - JULY 23: Marlon Hairston #94 of Colorado Rapids celebrates after scoring a first half goal past Chris Seitz #18 of FC Dallas during a game at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on July 23, 2016 in Commerce City, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
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The game in 100 words (or less): In keeping with the the theme of “we never really learn anything in MLS, it just kind of happens,” both the Colorado Rapids or FC Dallas had the chance to make a massive statement in the two sides’ ongoing race for the Western Conference and Supporters’ Shield (FCD entered Saturday’s clash at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park with a three-point lead), but they ultimately settled for a 1-1 draw, and we settle for “wait until next week, maybe we’ll actually learn something then.” At least the goals were great, though — Marlon Hairston opened the scoring by rounding the goalkeeper with traffic in all directions, and Victor Ulloa unleashed a rocket from well outside the penalty area to equalize late on. In that sense, the 90 minutes were befitting a first-versus-second matchup. The draw means the Rapids are unbeaten in their last 15 league games, but the LA Galaxy, who won away to the Portland Timbers and inched two points closer to the league’s elites, are ultimately the day’s biggest winners.

[ MORE: Previewing the rest of the MLS weekend ]

Three Four moments that mattered

26′ — Akindele goes inches wide of the far post — Quick, decisive movement around the penalty area is the only way to create that half-yard of space needed to fire a shot off.

33′ — Hairston breaks out, Zimmerman makes the dramatic block — Hairston was thisclose to having a one-on-one chance on goal, but Walker Zimmerman made a spectacular recovery run and an even better last-second sliding tackle to deflect Hairston’s shot narrowly wide of the post.

44′ — Hairston rounds Seitz to make it 1-0 — Composure, quickness, finesse. Hairston displayed it all on this goal, his second in as many games.

82′ — Ulloa unleashes a blast from 25 yards out f0r 1-1 — If not for the net on the goal, Ulloa’s strike might still be traveling at an ever-so-slightly upward trajectory for the rest of time.

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Man of the match: Sam Cronin

Goalscorers: Hairston (44′), Ulloa (82′)