Portugal Soccer Europa League

Spain: Cristiano Ronaldo hurt, Real Betis tempting fate again

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La Liga’s global brand has become as much about the rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid as the competition itself, but the competition’s greatest inner-city derby took place on Sunday. That when Sevilla, battling at the edge of the league’s European spots, welcomed Real Betis back to the Sanchez Pizjuan. Whereas the Seville rivals once shared a volatile coexistence, Betis’s 2011 return to the Primera Division saw the derby resume in a less-heated way. On the outside side of a then ever-increasing Spanish duopoly, Sevilla and Real Betis recognized the synergistic virtues of being in the same division.

Yet coming into today’s game, Betis found themselves in last place, a six-match unbeaten run in league leaving last year’s seventh place finishers three points from safety. With the club likely to go through in their Europa League group (sitting first in Group I through four rounds), the Beticos are in danger over-exposing themselves. A team having trouble taking care of business in league will be left waging battles on two fronts into 2014.

The Primera part of that struggle took a turn for the worse two minutes into Sunday’s derby. After José Antonio Reyes played through to Carlos Bacca, the Sevilla attacker’s right-footed strike dug Betis an early hole. While the visitors appeared poised to pull the lead back, outshooting Sevilla 5-2 over the next 40 minutes, Paulao’s foul on Reyes late in the half earned the Brazilian defender a second yellow card. When Stephane Mbia headed home the restart, Betis went into half down two goals, one man.

Second half goals from Vitolo and Vicente Iborra left Betis embarrassed, but a four-goal loss to their arch rivals is now the least of their worries. Fourteen matches into the season, Pepe Mel’s side has two wins and nine points, their -16 goal difference hinting this is more than just a slow start. While the team has the talent to play closer to the level of last year’s team, as has often been the case in Betis’s history, talent isn’t enough. Just over two years into their Primera return, Betis is beginning another fight for their first division survival.

Ronaldo to join Messi on the sidelines?

Gareth Bale scored, as did Karim Benzema, Isco, and Álvaro Morata, but the big news after Real Madrid’s win over a 10-man Almeria was the injury to Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese star left after 52 minutes with a hamstring injury resulting from a first half challenge.

“It was for precaution,” Ronaldo told the media after the match. “It’s nothing special. I was kicked in the first half and had the muscle a little stiff.”

Though Lionel Messi is out until 2014 with a hamstring injury of his own, it looks like La Liga will be spared the absence of its two biggest stars, even if that doesn’t necessarily mean Ronaldo will return any time soon. With matches against Galatasaray and Valladolid over the next seven days, Real Madrid can afford to exercise caution with their main weapon.

Elsewhere

  • Valladolid 0, Osasuna 1 – An unlikely goal from Oier (in fairness, his second of the season) leaves Valladolid in 17th place, the Spanish defender heading his team to their fourth win of the season.
  • Barcelona 4, Granada 0 – First half penalty conversions from Andrés Iniesta and Cesc Fábregas had Barça up two before Granada lost a man, with second half goals from Alexis Sánchez and Pedro finishing the job.
  • Real Sociedad 4, Celta Viga 3 – Mexican not-so-international Carlos Vela scored four times, twice after Andreu Fontás’s second half dismissal. Down 3-1 after 56 minutes, La Real left unexpected winners.
  • Atlético Madrid 7, Getafe 0 – Yet another red card on a weekend that saw seven dismissals allowed Atleti to score five times against 10 men, Diego Costa’s goal grabbing headlines.
  • Levante 0, Villarreal 3 – Playing 80 minutes against 10 men, the Yellow Submarine got two goals from Ikechukwu Uche, allowing them to continue their consolidation of fourth place.
  • Elche 2, Valencia 1 – Cristian Herrera’s 84th minute winner helped the home side end their three-match winless run, allowing them to join Los Che was one of four teams with 17 points.
  • Malaga vs. Athletic Club – Athletic will be looking to pull within one of Villarreal, while Malaga hopes to put more than one point between themselves and the drop.

Report: West Ham offer $22 million for AC Milan striker Carlos Bacca

MILAN, ITALY - MARCH 20:  Carlos Bacca of AC Milan celebrates his goal during the Serie A match between AC Milan and SS Lazio at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on March 20, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)
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West Ham’s search for an elite striker continues, with their newest target AC Milan’s Carlos Bacca.

According to Sky Sports, the Hammers have bid $22 million for the striker, who led Milan with 18 goals in Serie A play last season.

However, after paying $34 million to sign the striker last summer, it is believed Milan would be unwilling to sell their top scorer for less than $30 million.

MORE: All 2015-16 PL season reviews ]

At 29-years-old, Bacca has been one of Europe’s most consistent forwards over the past few seasons. After bagging 49 goals in 108 appearances for Sevilla, he earned a move to Milan last July, finishing third in Serie A scoring in his first year with the club.

West Ham’s chairman David Gold has been open about his desire to sign a world-class striker, with Lyon confirming that they rejected a $45 million bid from the Hammers for Alexandre Lacazette.

VIDEO: Neymar takes batting practice before New York Mets game

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 31:  Brazilian soccer player  Neymar Jr stands in the New York Mets dugout before the game against the Chicago White Sox at Citi Field on May 31, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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We all know Neymar’s skills with a soccer ball, but what about with a baseball bat?

Spoiler alert: He’s better with his feet.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Copa coverage ]

The Barcelona and Brazil superstar was in New York on Tuesday night and hit up the batting cages at Citi Field before the Mets game against the Chicago White Sox.

Taking swings lefty, Neymar made some contact but didn’t necessarily have the smoothest stroke…

He then hit the field and got back to his roots, showing off some footskills while juggling a baseball.

I’m not too sure if Neymar is a baseball fan, but this may make him the Mets’ newest, most famous supporter (sorry Jerry Seinfeld).

Neymar is in the United States as he has some time off after the long Barcelona season. He is not playing in the Copa America with Brazil, but will instead play in the Olympics in August.

Messi’s tax fraud case begins with player avoiding court

BARCELONA, SPAIN - APRIL 17:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona looks on  during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Valencia CF at Camp Nou on April 17, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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MADRID (AP) Lionel Messi’s tax trial began Tuesday with the player deciding not to appear in court for early proceedings.

Messi is facing a prison sentence of nearly two years on charges he failed to properly pay taxes for part of his earnings from Barcelona from 2007-09.

[ FOLLOW: All of PSTS’s Copa coverage ]

The Argentina playmaker is not obligated to appear in the Barcelona court until Thursday, when he is scheduled to testify before a judge. Sentencing is not expected until next week.

Messi and his father, Jorge Horacio Messi, have been charged with three counts of tax fraud for allegedly defrauding Spain’s tax office of 4.1 million euros ($4.5 million).

Because of the trial, Messi is missing Argentina’s preparation for the Copa America Centenario, which begins Saturday in the United States. He is expected to fly straight to the U.S. to join his teammates after the trial ends. Argentina debuts in the tournament on Monday against defending champion Chile.

Even if found guilty, it is highly unlikely that Messi or his father will face any jail time. They have denied wrongdoing.

[ COPA AMERICA PREVIEWS: Group A | BC | D ]

“Everything is good. Everybody is calm,” said Messi’s lawyer, Enrique Bacigalupo, as he arrived at the Barcelona court on Tuesday.

The trial is centered on alleged unlawful activities of Messi’s father, but authorities said the player knew enough to also be named in the case. Officials said that although Messi was mostly unfamiliar with tax issues, there was sufficient evidence to believe he could have known and consented to the creation of a fictitious corporate structure to avoid paying taxes on income from his image rights.

In addition to each facing a prison sentence of 22 months and 15 days, Messi and his father could also be fined in the amount defrauded and ordered to pay all legal proceedings and the loss of any possible tax benefits for a year and a half.

Messi is just the latest high-profile player to have to deal with Spain’s tough tax system. Neymar, Javier Mascherano, Adriano and Xabi Alonso also were targeted by authorities recently.

[ MORE: Marcelo giving away UCL winners’ medal…on Facebook ]

Mascherano, Messi’s teammate with Argentina and Barcelona, earlier this year was handed a suspended one-year prison sentence for not paying nearly 1.5 million euros ($1.6 million) in taxes for 2011 and 2012. Brazil striker Neymar recently had to testify before a judge because of alleged irregularities involving his transfer to Barcelona. He and the club were accused of withholding the real amount of the transfer fee, in part to avoid paying the full amount of taxes.

Messi was also being investigated by Spanish tax authorities after his name was among those released in the probe of international offshore accounts, known as the Panama Papers, although he was not charged for those allegations.

VIDEO: Bayern’s David Alaba scores brutal own goal for Austria

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David Alaba is going to want this one back…

While playing in a friendly for Austria, the Bayern Munich left-back scored a cringe-worthy own-goal that his teammates will surely never let him forget.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s EURO coverage ]

With Austria leading Malta 2-0, goalkeeper Ramazan Ozcan played out of the back to Alaba. As pressure come from Malta’s strikers, Alaba turned and played a blind pass back to his keeper.

The only problem is, his keeper wasn’t there.

Ozcan did the right thing and moved outside of his goal to give Alaba support, only the defender never picked up his head to realize. Austria would hold on to win the match 2-1.

[ MORE: Klinsmann treating USMNT’s Copa opener vs. Colombia like a final ]

After winning their EURO qualification group with nine wins from ten matches, Austria has high hopes of making a run in the tournament. They will play in Group F with Portugal, Iceland, and Hungary.