Copa del Rey: Real Madrid take three-goal, first leg lead on Atlético

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If you saw this coming, raise your hand and either present your Real Madrid Club de Fútbol membership card or crown yourself to a genius, because today’s result came out of nowhere. With an early second half goal from Jesé bookended but own goals from Emiliano Insúa and Miranga, the Merengues blew by league-leading Atlético Madrid, taking a commanding 3-0 lead after 90 minutes of the teams’ two-leg Copa del Rey derbi.

With two own goals, the surprise result could be seen as more bad luck than a reflection of Atlético’s deficiencies. The reality: It was a combination of both. El Real’s 17th minute opener came as a massive deflection of a Pepe shot saw an Insua inadvertently beat goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. The final goal (73′) came after an Ángel Di María shot clipped Miranda’s heal. With better luck, Atlético would be returning to the Vicente Calderón with a workable 1-0 deficit.

But Real Madrid fans can point to the 71 percent possession their team held. They can point to the 21-8 edge in shots and the 7-3 edge los Blancos had in shots on goal. While Real Madrid weren’t necessarily three goals better, they were clearly the better team on the day, worthy of a result that snaps their two-game losing steak to their cross town rivals.

The game had the energy of a true derby – something that wasn’t always been present before Atlético’s recent surge. In the opening moments, the Bernabéu crowd unveiled a huge tifo featuring an ominous figure warning Atlético not to read too much into their recent success in one of the world’s most lopsided top-level rivalries. The opening minutes, controlled by Real Madrid, saw two spirited teams eager to set an early tone in their 180-minute match – motives that led to a physical game that would normally suit Atlético. By halftime, however, Atleti had so little control of the match, Diego Simeone sacrificed newly acquired Diego for the less attack-minded Cristian Rodríguez.

It didn’t help. Two goals later, Atlético had finished its worst performance of the season – only the second time the team has lost in all competitions. Though the team can try to placate themselves with the fact two goals came off their own boots, Simeone’s side failed to respond to any of the challenges presented by El Real. For a side that’s defined their rise on the ability to transcend expectation and circumstance, today’s was a surprisingly passive performance.

Simultaneously, Real Madrid unveiled a dominance they’d unable to muster against this level of competition. This wasn’t the team that played Barcelona. It wasn’t the team that lost to Atlético. This wasn’t the squad that failed to assert themselves against Juventus. Instead, los Merengues played to their immense talent level, hinting the recent tweaks Carlo Ancelotti has instilled may finally pay off.

Thanks to today’s result, the first payoff could be a spot in the Copa del Rey final. Although a second leg at the Calderón awaits, El Real’s three-goal lead should be safe – particularly if they’re never willing to give Atlético the ball.

FIFA subjects 2026 Morocco World Cup bid to fresh scrutiny

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Morocco’s World Cup bid is facing fresh scrutiny this week with the arrival of another delegation from FIFA after an initial task force found deficiencies in the proposals for the 2026 tournament.

In a downbeat conclusion to the visit by the FIFA inspectors last week, Morocco’s bid leader acknowledged it had to improve the quality of the submission made to FIFA in March because inadequacies were identified by football’s governing body.

[ MORE: UCL semifinals predictions ]

The previously unplanned second inspection of Morocco is an indication of the more rigorous process introduced by FIFA following criticism in 2010 that World Cups were awarded to the riskiest nations in 2018 (Russia) and 2022 (Qatar).

There will also be closer scrutiny of human rights of the bidders before the vote on June 13 when Morocco is currently due to be taking on a joint challenge from the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The Associated Press revealed last week Morocco did not declare its anti-LGBT law to FIFA in the human rights risk assessment included in the bid book. The documents – along with the North American submission – will now be scrutinized for any gaps by human rights experts.

“That process involves an expert third-party assessment of the robustness of the human rights content of both bids that will directly inform the administration’s own evaluation,” Rachel Davis, who sits on FIFA’s human rights advisory board, told the AP.

“We are confident that the process will result in a fair assessment of the human rights situation in all four countries involved in the bids, and a roadmap for how to deal with any deficiencies that FIFA will then require the successful bidder to commit to.”

Davis, who is managing director of the Shift human rights organization, said an evaluation of the human rights in the bidding nations will be included in a report to the FIFA Council, which will also assess the verdict of the evaluation task force. A bid with low scores can be blocked by the council from advancing to a vote of up to 207 football nations at the FIFA Congress on June 13.

While Morocco has said it needs to spend almost $16 billion on infrastructure for the 48-team World Cup, including building or renovating all 14 stadiums, North American does not require any tournament-specific building work. Morocco bid president Moulay Hafid Elalamy said at the end of the FIFA inspection that officials “made some remarks on the conditions of some of the stadiums.”

The new batch of technical staff being deployed from FIFA HQ to Morocco did not make a similar follow-up visit to North America after the task force inspected the rival bid’s facilities this month.

“Following the visit of the 2026 bid evaluation task force to Morocco last week, it was decided to have an additional working visit this week to complement the initial analysis of the task force and clarify some aspects of the bid,” FIFA told the AP.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

Watch Live: Everton v. Newcastle

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Everton host Newcastle United on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with the Toffees and Magpies both sitting pretty in midtable.

[ LIVE: Stream Everton-Newcastle ]

Sam Allardyce and Rafael Benitez have both been around the block a few times but at the moment Allardyce is under pressure and Benitez is working miracles with four wins on the spin as the newly-promoted Magpies have stayed solid defensively all season.

In team news Everton start Tosun, Walcott and Bolasie in attack with Wayne Rooney in midfield.

Newcastle make one change with Islam Slimani making his first start for the Magpies as he comes in for Dwight Gayle.

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UEFA Champions League semifinal predictions

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With the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League to kick off over the next few days, let’s take a look at both games and predict which teams will make it to the final in Kiev on May 26.

[ MORE: Champions League scores

Liverpool or Roma? Real Madrid or Bayern Munich?

Here’s the lowdown as two eagerly anticipated games take center stage across Europe.


Liverpool vs. AS Roma
First leg: Apr. 24, 2:45 p.m. ET at Anfield
Second leg: May 2, 2:45 p.m. ET at Stadio Olimpico

This should be one heck of a tie with defending optional for both teams but both have very different ways of playing. Jurgen Klopp will unleash the fluid trio of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino on an often brittle Roma defense but the Italian giants have a giant in their own up top in the shape of Edin Dzeko. How Virgil Van Dijk and Liverpool’s defense deal with the threat of Dzeko will likely decide the outcome of this game. Liverpool will look to feed off the famous Anfield atmosphere to wrack up a big first leg lead before they head to Roma for Leg 2, and I fancy Salah to blow his old team away in the first leg. Liverpool to advance 4-2 on aggregate.

Bayern Munich vs. Real Madrid
First leg: Apr. 25, 2:45 p.m. ET at Allianz Arena
Second leg: May 1, 2:45 p.m. ET at Santiago Bernabeu

A proper heavyweight clash as Bayern and Real do battle knowing that whoever wins will be the favorites in the final. Cristiano Ronaldo is in the form of his life (again) after a slow start to this season and Zinedine Zidane’s side made hard work of it against Juventus in the last round but are on course for a third-straight UCL trophy. As for Bayern, they have been in imperious form and you feel like Robert Lewandowski can get the better of Real’s center backs. Expect this to be a tight game with extremely high quality from both teams. Real being at home in the second leg is a big advantage. Real Madrid to advance 3-2 on aggregate. 

Cologne’s Hector extends contract despite likely relegation

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COLOGNE, Germany (AP) Germany defender Jonas Hector has shunned reported interest from Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund by extending his contract with Cologne – despite the club’s almost certain relegation from the Bundesliga.

Cologne, eight points from safety with three games remaining, says its 27-year-old captain has signed a two-year extension to 2023 instead of using a release clause in his contract.

Hector, who has been at the club since 2010, says, “It wouldn’t have been a problem to switch to another club after this season but it didn’t feel right for me. I belong to Cologne and want to tackle the new season with the team and the fans behind us.”

Cologne sporting director Armin Veh says Hector’s decision is, “a great signal for the team, the club and our fans.”