Newcastle United 5-1 Stoke City: Red card controversies lead rout (video)

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Martin Atkinson is going to want to avoid the papers in Stoke-on-Trent after a nutty first half ended with just nine Potters on the pitch.

Stoke, on brutal away form, came into St. James Park as just the opposite and carried play to the home side, even opening up a 1-0 lead on a superb goal from Oussama Assaidi. The 25-year-old Moroccan moved in from the left wing and into the 18-yard box before sending a dart past Tim Krul.

Then came a boatload of controversy. First, Glenn Whelan picked up a deserved yellow for kicking the ball away after a sloppy foul on Moussa Sissoko before snagging a suspect second for a kick to Yohan Cabaye that the Frenchman appeared to embellish a bit.

Whelan was sent off, and manager Mark Hughes also headed to the stands for booting a loose ball onto the pitch in protest.

The Magpies earned a penalty when last-man Marc Wilson took down Loic Remy in the box. Atkinson gave Wilson a red card and Stoke were down to nine men.

But Thomas Sorensen stopped Remy’s kick and the Potters braced for a challenge. Stoke raced back moments later and were unlucky not to earn a free kick when Mike Williamson blocked a pass with his arm.

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Yet there was no whistle, and NUFC roared back in the other direction to see Remy blast home an equalizer.

We met halftime and Newcastle Chronicle scribe Lee Ryder injected a little bit of Northeast cynicism into the event.

The Magpies did not bungle the opportunity, systematically dismantling Stoke in the second half. They scored thrice before adding a penalty and Atkinson’s guilt may have prevented not one, not two but three additional calls for penalties in the remaining minutes.

Newcastle United: Krul; Debuchy, Coloccini, Williamson, Santon (Haidara, 61); Sissoko, Cabaye, Anita (Shola Ameobi, 46); Ben Arfa, Remy, Gouffran (Cisse, 72)

Goals: Remy (44, 56), Gouffran (48), Cabaye (66), Cisse (PK, 80)

Stoke City: Sorensen, Cameron, Shawcross, Wilson, Pieters, Walters, N’Zonzi (Muniesa, 72), Whelan, Adam, Assaidi, Crouch (Palacios, 59)

Goals: Assaidi (29)

Zlatan confirms Manchester United departure

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic has confirmed myriad reports he’s leaving Manchester United with a perfectly-Zlatan Instagram message.

Ibrahimovic is expected to join the LA Galaxy next week.

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The words aren’t too important, but Ibrahimovic posted an old graphic of him in Greek god garb, arm-wrestling a devil. So he’s got that going for him, which is nice.

The living Swedish legend, 36, has been limited to seven appearances, one start, and one goal in returning from a season-ending knee injury, but finishes his Manchester United tenure with an impressive 29 goals and 10 assists in 53 games (deduct the seven and one for peak impressiveness).

Bale breaks Wales scoring record

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Gareth Bale has now unquestionably written his name into Wales history.

The 28-year-old Real Madrid scored a hat-trick for Wales in its 6-0 demolition of China, taking his overall tally to 29 goals, breaking Ian Rush’s record.

“It is right up there, maybe as the best,” Bale told reporters after the game. “I suppose when I was a little boy I never dreamed of being a record-breaker for Wales. It is a massive honor. I was not thinking about it, but now it has come it’s an incredible honor and one of the best things I’ve achieved in my career. On a personal note it’s great to break the record, but I could not have done it without my team-mates.”

Bale was unable to carry Wales to the 2018 World Cup, but he first became a National Team legend by helping take Wales to the Euro 2016 semifinals, scoring three goals along the way.

Here’s a look at Bale’s record-breaking goal.

Sporting KC giving away creative “Bike Opara” bobblehead

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In his ninth Major League Soccer season, Ike Opara has scored just a dozen regular season goals.

He’s known more for his physicality in the backline, for creating space for teammates on set pieces, or heading balls on to teammates with slightly more fleeter feet.

But in June 2017, it all came together for Opara in a magical moment, where he beat an offside trap from the LA Galaxy and scored an insane bicycle kick for Sporting Kansas City.

Now, to honor Opara’s ridiculous goal, Sporting KC has announced the first 10,000 fans through the gates at Children’s Mercy Park on March 31 will get a “Bike Ike” bobblehead, with him in flight kicking the ball towards goal over his shoulder.

You’ve gotta love the creativity and fun the Sporting KC marketing department is having. Hopefully, Opara can give the team another memorable goal in 2018.

Van Dijk named new Netherlands captain

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Virgil Van Dijk has had a pretty decent last three months since moving to Liverpool, and the towering defender earned a new personal achievement on Thursday.

Van Dijk was named the newest captain of the Netherlands National Team, where he’ll play under former manager Ronald Koeman. Van Dijk’s first game as captain will be against the nation where he currently plies his trade, England, on Friday.

“I am very happy with it, it is a great honor to be the captain of your country,” van Dijk said at a pre-match press conference Thursday. “Everyone knows that Koeman gave me the chance at Southampton, I am very grateful to him. This is very special.”

Van Dijk’s commanding presence in the Liverpool backline and previous stops at Southampton and Celtic make him an obvious choice for captain, taking the place of the now-retired Arjen Robben. At just 26-years old, van Dijk could carry the armband for a half dozen years if he keeps up his strong form.