Spain roundup: Ronaldo hat trick, Bale double lead Real Madrid’s rout of Sevilla

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Jokes about Gareth Bale’s failed move to Real Madrid had become so odious that the Welsh international’s Wednesday performance should be seen as an act of charity. His two goals within 27 minutes at the Bernabéu not only silenced that tedious analysis but ignited a breakout from the Blancos, Real Madrid going on to win 7-3 over visiting Sevilla.

Bale, that unskilled clot truly prescient analysts rightly passed judgment on after five La Liga matches, is now up to three goals in six Primera Division game – an unacceptable one-in-two rate from a wide attacker. Though he’s only been in the Spanish capital for a couple of months, this far-fetched experiment has gone on for too long. Its time to ship him back to Tottenham — nay, Southampton — once and for all.

In the real world, Real’s world record had them up two within a half-hour, with Cristiano Ronaldo adding the first of his three goals from the spot in the 32nd minute. Sevilla, however, would respond with a pair before halftime, Ivan Rikitic (penalty) and Carlos Bacca making it a one-goal game at intermission.

By the hour, Real Madrid had restored their there-goal lead, with score from Karim Benzema and Ronaldo making it 5-2. Rakitic’s second brought Sevilla within two before a third from Ronaldo, a missed penalty kick from Rakitic, and a Stephane M’Bia sending off ended the visitor’s hopes. When Benzema completed his double in the 80th minute, Real Madrid had their highest scoring day of the season.

For Bale and Benzema, their contributions went beyond the goals column, Each player added two assists while giving their best performances of the season. For Bale, the performance helps the winger move beyond the injury-riddled start to his Real Madrid career, while Benzema’s day comes after being excluded from the starting XI for this weekend’s Clasico.

As for the team, coming into the contest El Real had scored 20 times in 10 games – a prodigious rate, but one that put them behind Barcelona and Atlético Madrid on the league’s goal scoring charts. With today’s outburst, Real temporarily pass their crosstown rivals, who will try to improve on their 26 goals against Athletic tomorrow.

Defending, however, is still a problem for Carlo Ancelotti’s side. In today’s shootout, they gave up three goals, an unconverted penalty, and 16 shots (six on target). While Barça and Atlético have held their opponents to seven goals each, Real Madrid has now conceded 14 times this season.

Elsewhere today in Spain:

Real Valladolid 2-2 Real Sociedad: A pair from Antoine Griezmann had the visitors up two by the 53rd minute, but a three-minute outburst that produced goals from Daniel Larsson and Javi Guerra left the match even in the 78th minute. Sociedad were ultimately denied their third-straight win.

Valencia 1-2 Almería: Los Che suffer the indignity of being the first team to lose to Almería, with goals from Marco Torsiglieri and Aleix Vidal giving Spain’s cellar dwellers three points at the Mestalla. Jonas opened the scoring in the first half with a conversion from the spot after a Rodri penalty, but with six saves in Almería’s goal, Esteban Suárez never conceded from open play. Already under pressure, Valencia coach Miroslav Djukic could see a pink slip after this one.

Osasuna 3-1 Rayo Vallecano: Osasuna came into the match with Spain’s second-worst attack, an ailment cured by Rayo’s league-worst defense. Oier’s first minute goal gave the home side an immediate lead, an edge Oriol Riera doubled 12 minutes later. Early in the second, Roberto Torres completed Osasuna’s scoring, with Alejandro Gálvez pulling one back after Miguel Angel de las Cuevas had been sent off.

Barkley ineligible to make Chelsea debut in FA Cup replay

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Ross Barkley was expected — and himself expected — to make his Chelsea debut on Wednesday, when the Blues host Championship side Norwich City in a third-round FA Cup replay at Stamford Bridge.

Alas, the 24-year-old English midfielder has been ruled ineligible due to a lesser-known and -applied rules surrounding transfers and player registration.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup | Wednesday preview ]

Barkley completed his move from Everton to Chelsea, for $20 million, on Jan. 5, the day before Chelsea and Norwich drew 0-0 at Carrow Road. In order to be eligible for Wednesday’s replay, Barkley is required to have completed his transfer prior to the noon cut-off the day prior to the original tie. While the time of official approval is unknown, Barkley’s move wasn’t announced by the club until after 5 p.m. in the UK.

As such, Chelsea will attempt to set up a behind-closed-doors friendly this week, in order to provide Barkley a bit of game action as he builds fitness and sharpness ahead of a potential debut against Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com). Barkley hasn’t seen a single minute of first-team action this season after suffering a serious hamstring injury in the summer.

FA Cup preview: Three more PL sides face 3rd-round replays

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Three more Premier League sides, including a top-four fighter, attempt to join a dozen of their top-flight contemporaries in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Wednesday…

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup ]

Chelsea and Swansea City host Championship opposition in the form of Norwich City and Wolverhampton Wanderers, respectively, while Bournemouth will make the 500-mile roundtrip to take on League One side Wigan Athletic.

The Blues, who now sit fourth in the PL after their disappointing 0-0 draw with Leicester City, could manage only a scoreless draw with the Canaries at Carrow Road earlier this month. They are winless in their last four games across all competitions — all draws — including their League Cup semifinal first-leg draw with Arsenal last week; the last three of those all finished without a single goal scored. Chelsea, who are tied with Liverpool with the fourth-most FA Cups in their history (7), lost out to Arsenal in last season’s final at Wembley Stadium.

Swansea are undoubtedly the side on highest Cupset alert, as Wolves are the runaway leaders and champions-elect in the Championship (10 points clear after 27 of 46 rounds played), thus able to devote more attention to the FA Cup than the typical second-division side. With the two sides separated by just a single place in the English footballing pyramid (Swansea, 20th in the PL; Wolves, 1st in the Championship), they appear destined to swap places by the end of May.

Meanwhile, Bournemouth’s punishment for conceding a pair of early goals to a side currently 32 places below them in the pyramid, is the long, midweek trip from the south coast to the DW Stadium in the northwest of England. It was the Premier Leaguers who needed a two second-half goals, including Steve Cook‘s 90th-minute equalizer, to draw level at home in the first meeting.

Tuesday’s FA Cup replay actionFULL ROUNDUP

Leicester City 2-0 Fleetwood Town
West Ham United 1-0 (AET) Shrewsbury Town
Mansfield Town 1-4 Cardiff City
Sheffield Wednesday 2-0 Carlisle United
Reading 3-0 Stevenage

Agent: 37-year-old Ronaldinho has retired

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SAO PAULO (AP) The brother and agent of 2005 Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldinho announced Tuesday that the former Brazil and Barcelona playmaker has retired from football.

Roberto Assis made the announcement to Brazilian media on behalf of the 37-year-old midfielder, who played his last professional match in 2015 for Brazil’s Fluminense.

“Ronnie’s professional career is over. He wants to be a football ambassador, do charity, and work with his friends in music from now on,” Assis told The Associated Press.

Assis hopes to schedule some farewell matches for Ronaldinho after the World Cup in Russia, which ends July 15. The initial plan is to play games in Brazil, Europe and Asia and to also get Brazil’s national team involved, Assis said.

Last July, Ronaldinho said on the sidelines of a friendly in Chechnya that was he was “too old” to return to action.

The Brazilian’s decorated career also includes one World Cup title (2002), one Champions League victory (2006) and two Spanish league titles with Barcelona, and two FIFA world player of the year awards (2004 and 2005).

Ronaldinho started his professional career at Gremio in southern Brazil in 1998. He left for Paris Saint-Germain in 2001 and was signed by Barcelona two seasons later.

At the Camp Nou, he was the engine of a team that took Barca back to the limelight. However, after a series of club trophies, Ronaldinho’s career took a downturn. He was often accused by Brazilian and Spanish media of lacking professionalism, despite his mentoring of a then youthful Lionel Messi.

In 2008, with Messi then leading Barcelona, Ronaldinho left for AC Milan. Despite being part of a team that won Serie A in 2011, he failed to reach his previous heights as a player.

When returning home became a real option, Ronaldinho frustrated Gremio’s efforts to re-sign him and joined Flamengo instead.

Disappointing performances in Rio de Janeiro took him to Atletico Mineiro, a club that then was more often fighting against relegation than for titles.

Yet a more mature Ronaldinho took Atletico to a different level.

In his last great run, Ronaldinho carried Atletico with his superb passes and dazzling dribbles to second place in the 2012 Brazilian Championship.

A year later, he was the key to his club lifting its first Copa Libertadores, South America’s most prestigious club trophy, but his hopes of playing at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil were dashed.

Ronaldinho left to play for Mexico’s Queretaro in 2014-15, but was mostly on the bench.

He played his last seven matches as a professional for Fluminense, though his performances were a far cry from his best days in Spain.

Now living in Rio, he has appeared in advertisements all over the world since leaving Fluminense.

USL granted 2018 2nd-division sanctioning by U.S. Soccer

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U.S. Soccer has officially granted the United Soccer League second-division sanctioning, behind first-division Major League Soccer, for the upcoming 2018 season, as well as first-division status for the National Women’s Soccer League.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan unveiled by Liga MX side Club Leon ]

USL, which will feature 33 teams in 2018, had been granted temporary second-division sanctioning, alongside the North American Soccer League, in 2017. As NASL’s demise continued and accelerated — the league will not begin play this spring, opting instead for a late-summer kickoff, after a number of its teams either folded or jumped ship to USL — USL, with the help of MLS, quickly pounced to capitalize — from U.S. Soccer’s statement:

Sanctioning allows NWSL and USL to operate a Division I and II league, respectively, during the 2018 season and includes a two-year pathway to full compliance with the Professional League Standards. USL has demonstrated substantial progress toward reaching full compliance since being granted provisional Division II sanctioning in 2017.

Conspiracy theorist’s take: USL supplanted NASL as the U.S.’s second-most viable professional men’s league — and more importantly, being granted official second-division status — paves the way for MLS to, at some point well down the line — say, 2030 or so — implement its own multi-tiered system of promotion and relegation, featuring anywhere between 60 and 80 teams, while still remaining a single-entity structure closed to the lower reaches of the sport in America, as the lines separating MLS and USL have only become more and more blurred in recent years.

[ MORE: Donovan ready to “win championships” after ending retirement ]

MLS realizes that public demand for promotion and relegation in the U.S. has grown significantly louder in recent years — particularly given the climate of the sport after the men’s national team failed to qualify for the World Cup, and subsequent ongoing presidential-election campaign — thus an open-but-not-really-open system which satisfies neither side will eventually be the end result.