Four goals: Another night to remember from Zlatan Ibrahimovic

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Consider the magnitude of star it takes to overshadow the huge collection of talent they’re accumulated at Paris Saint-Germain. We’re talking about one of the world’s best defenders (Thiago Silva), a world-class number nine (Edinson Cavani), a uniquely exciting attacker (Ezequiel Lavezzi) and a player that many have called the next Andrea Pirlo (Marco Verratti).

Imagine the type of talent that can put distract from all those stars, and you’ll come up with some version of Zlatan Ibrahimovic – a player whose combination of skill and gravitas overshadows one of the most expensive rosters ever assembled.

That squad won on the road in Champions League by five goals on Wednesday, a performance that would normal be triumphed as a rare show of excellence. Instead, after their captain’s four-goal performance, Zlatan will be the story coming out of Anderlecht. And he only needed 62 minutes to write it.

“Ibra” started his day in the 17th minute with one of the easiest goals you’ll ever see him score. A perfectly placed ball from Gregory Van der Wiel went through the six-yard box, between goalkeeper and defenders, and onto Ibrahimovic’s foot. The redirection proved the most mundane goal of Ibra’s day.

Five minutes later, Ibrahimovic slightly over-ran another ball from Van der Weil while attacking near-post. To compensate, he allowed the ball to run onto his trailing right foot. The Swedish international then hit a back heel that beat Thomas Kaminski – the type of shot that forced you to ask whether he was setting up for the back heel all along.

Ibra’s third goal came in the 36th minute and will be the one you’ll see over-and-over during the next 24 hours. With a right-footed shot first time from 28-yards out, Ibrahimovic flexes the back of Anderlecht’s net with a ball stuck as well as you’ll ever see:

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In the second half, after his team had found a fourth, Ibrahimovic finished with the most surgical finish of his night. Put behind the defense and into the right side of the penalty area, Ibra hit a bouncing ball from a sharp angle against the left post, the path of the rebound across goal sending his shot into the near-side netting.

Given the angle and where he hit the ball, that spot may have been Ibra’s only option. To the left, and it goes off the post and out. To the right, and it finds Kaminski’s hand. He not only hit it, but he did so with the same degree of intent he put behind his third goal.

Talk all you want about Messi or Ronaldo, Ibra’s attitude or persona, but there’s only one player in the world that consistently does things like this. And when you hear people fawn over him, comparing his play to artistry, they’re talking about nights like this, where Ibrahimovic not only finds one highlight reel goal but strings together three or four.

This isn’t luck or happenstance. This isn’t a guy asking ‘why not’ every time he tries something new. This is intent. This is skill. This is a man who expects to score when he hits a ball from a near-impossible angle, the reason why Ibra gives us three or four like this each year.

It’s also why we watch European soccer. It’s for performances like these. It’s for nights like tonight. It’s for the transcendent talents who, at any moment, remind you of what can be done with a ball – a lifetime’s worth of work coupled with the type of imagination that sees a clearance rolling out of the penalty area as a chance to swerve a shot into the upper-left hand corner.

Talk about Zlatan’s arrogance if you want, but when we see nights like this, anything else would be false modesty. There’s no arguing what this guy can do with a soccer ball. Or, in the case of his last two goals, what he does to a soccer ball.

Performances like these are what it’s all about.

Spanish police dismantle match-fixing scheme in 3rd, 4th tiers

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MADRID (AP) Spanish police have dismantled a match-fixing scheme involving players and clubs in the country’s lower divisions.

Authorities said more than 20 people have been detained as part of the police operation launched on Monday, including players, although no names were immediately disclosed.

The matches under suspicion were in the third and fourth divisions this season and last season.

The match-fixing scheme reportedly involved Chinese betting sites.

The Spanish league said the operation was based on information collected by its analysts about suspicious activities.

UCL preview: Chelsea host Barcelona; Bayern vs. Besiktas

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  • Chelsea vs. Barcelona, at Stamford Bridge
  • Bayern Munich vs. Besiktas, at Allianz Arena
  • Champions League round of 16 resumes on Tuesday

[ UCL: Spurs fight back to draw Juventus | Liverpool thrash Porto in leg 1 ]

Chelsea, mired in some of their worst form since the disastrous 2015-16 season, welcome a Barcelona side enjoying one of the best six-month runs of results in the famed club’s entire history. The Blues have won just four of their last 12 games across all competitions, while the Blaugrana have lost once in 38 games.

On the plus side, Chelsea enter Tuesday’s colossal clash as winners of their last two games — back-to-back wins for the first time in 2018 — having outscored the likes of West Bromwich Albion and Hull City by a combined 7-0. Star striker Alvaro Morata returned to action against Hull after five weeks out with a back injury, thus Antonio Conte has something of a selection dilemma on his hands with the Spaniard perhaps only partially fit, and Olivier Giroud racking up a goal and three assists in the last two games, his first starts for the club.

Barcelona, meanwhile, have conceded just two goals in their last nine games (all competitions) and even managed to overturn their lone defeat, to Espanyol, and advance to the Copa del Rey semifinals (and eventually final). Despite losing Neymar in the summer, Barca mostly cruised through their Champions League group, only dropping points in draws away to Juventus and Olympiacos. Lionel Messi has, strangely, never scored a goal in his eight career appearances against Chelsea, a record which has been spoken about at length in the build-up to Tuesday — similarly to the goal-less record which plagued him against Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, whom he finally bested back in September.

[ MORE: Man City win big away to Basel | Real Madrid 3-1 PSG ]

In the other round-of-16 first-leg matchup on Tuesday, five-time (soon-to-be six) defending Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich host surprise winners of Group G, Besiktas, ahead of the likes of Monaco, RB Leipzig and Porto.

Since taking over on an interim basis (through the end of the season), Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes has won 21 of 22 games of which he’s been in charge, including four of six games during the group stage en route to finish second behind Paris Saint-Germain, while also racing out to a 19-point lead back home in Germany.

Aguero involved in clash with Wigan fan after FA Cupset

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Sergio Aguero was involved in a confrontation with a Wigan fan as ugly scenes marred the end of the third-division side’s shock FA Cup win over Manchester City on Monday.

[ MORE: Wigan shock Man City, the world and themselves ]

Fans spilled on to the pitch at DW Stadium as the host celebrated its 1-0 fifth-round win against the runaway English Premier League leader.

Supporters from both clubs were involved in disturbances, while television pictures appeared to show a home supporter and striker Aguero involved in a physical exchange.

Aguero appeared to hit the supporter after the fan said something to the player, and Aguero had to be held back by his City teammates.

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Advertising hoardings were also ripped out and thrown as a pitch invasion by Wigan fans got out of hand while the defeated City players were being escorted off the pitch.

Footage also appeared to show objects, including an advertising board, being thrown at police officers by fans in the City end.

Wigan shock themselves: “Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet”

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Wigan Athletic didn’t just shock Manchester City with their FA Cup fifth-round slaying of the runaway Premier League leaders; nor did they merely shock the rest of the footballing world; they also shocked themselves into disbelief, according to defender Dan Burn.

[ MORE: Goodbye, quadruple! Wigan bounce 10-man City from FA Cup ]

Speaking following Monday’s triumph over Pep Guardiola‘s quadruple-chasing side at the DW Stadium, Burn admitted he himself didn’t know what to make of the night that would undoubtedly highlight and change his own professional career — quotes from the BBC:

“Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet. It was a really tough game. The belief was always there. We’ve got Will Grigg, who does what he keeps doing.

“We pride ourselves on our clean sheets. We had a couple bad results before, so we wanted to prove ourselves, so a clean sheet against the best team in England is great.

“Once we scored, the fans really got behind us, just knew we needed to hang on. It was the longest 10 minutes of my life.”

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Manager Paul Cook was able to articulate his happiness and pride only slightly better — “It feels great” — but offered the highest of praises to his players, whom “had to ride [their] luck at times” during the game, and gave everything they had to the cause, because that’s the only way you beat a team like Man City:

“It feels great. It’s such a severe test. They’re such a strong side and move the ball so well. We had to ride our luck at times and the sending off is always a big incident.

“Our lads deserve credit for their work and some of the blocks they made were outstanding, and to beat Man City you have to do that.”