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Copa del Rey: Real Madrid’s winter surge continues with Atlético’s ouster

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When Real Madrid took a 3-0 lead on rival Atlético in last week’s first leg, few expected La Liga’s Cinderella story to continue into Copa del Rey‘s final. But given what we’d seen throughout the season from Diego Simeone’s Colchoneros, a play for pride seemed to be in the offing today at the Vicente Calderón. Atleti weren’t going to go on to defend their title, but with the type of unrelenting performances we’ve come to expect from Spain’s surprise contenders, Atlético could remind their rivals why they’re even with Spain’s big two in the Primera Liga.

That didn’t happen. Instead, Cristiano Ronaldo lured Javi Manquillo into a penalty in the second leg’s seventh minute. At the quarter-hour mark, combination play between Gareth Bale and Isco drew a second penalty from Emiliano Insua. Within 15 minutes, Real Madrid had quelled whatever faint hope the Calderón held before kickoff. With 75 minutes left, on their way to a 2-0 victory, they’d put Atlético in a five-goal hole.

Atleti fans showed their displeasure by hitting Ronaldo in the head with a thrown object as the teams left for halftime. It didn’t matter. Ronaldo appeared unharmed when he surfaced for the second half, with Atlético failing to make a dent in El Real’s lead before full-time was mercifully blown.

Their Copa defense over, Atlético’s left with the perception that the entire perception of contention they’ve created under Simeone is about to crumble. Though they’re still even with Barcelona and Real Madrid atop the Spanish table, they’ve lost three games in a row. Between two defeats to their rivals and the weekend upset at Almería, the Colconeros have been outscored 7-0 in their last 270 minutes. As of last Tuesday, they had only lost once all season.

But as steep as Atlético’s decline has been, El Real’s surge has been just as pronounced. Lingering behind Spain’s two leaders for much of the season, the Merengues are now the league’s form side, having finally converted January’s innocuous possession into a swarm of February goals. In a week’s worth of games against Atlético and Villarreal (who they beat this weekend at the Bernabéu), Carlo Ancelotti’s team has scored nine times, a surge that makes them contenders for three titles.

Are they a serious contender for their long-sought decima? No. Nobody’s a serious contender compared to Bayern, but in league and Copa, Real looks as strong as anybody. Of course, the main anybody is Barcelona, but with the Blaugrana also trying to shake off some winter rust, there’s little that seems to separate the two sides.

Seemingly destined to meet in Copa’s final, and having one more Clasico in La Liga, Real and Barça will get to draw their comparisons on the field. Whether Atlético can keep up is a major doubt after another multi-goal loss.

Coleman explains why he stayed as Wales coach, rejected Hull

ZENICA, BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA - OCTOBER 10: Head coach Chris Coleman of Wales celebrates after the Euro 2016 qualifying football match between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Wales at the Stadium Bilino Polje in Elbasan on October 10, 2015. (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)
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CARDIFF, Wales (AP) — Chris Coleman says he chose to remain as Wales manager despite interest from Premier League side Hull because he’s in a job that is “close to his heart.”

The Football Association of Wales rejected an approach for Coleman from Hull this month, with the Welshman deciding to stay on rather than resigning.

Coleman, who guided Wales to the European Championship semifinals against the odds, said on Wednesday that “if someone comes and it’s the Premier League, anybody, you kind of look at it sideways. Of course.”

But, Coleman added, managing your country “comes around once, if you’re lucky.”

Coleman has made no secret of his desire to manage in club football in the future, but says “what I’ve got here is something very special and close to my heart.”

FOLLOW LIVE: The UEFA Champions League finds its last five group stage teams

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 24:  Joe Hart of Manchester City warms up prior to the UEFA Champions League Play-off Second Leg match between Manchester City and Steaua Bucharest at Etihad Stadium on August 24, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Who’s going to join Porto, Monaco, Legia Warsaw, Ludogorets Razgrad and Celtic as playoff teams to join the UEFA Champions League group stage?

The biggest names of Wednesday’s slate are cruising after their first legs, with Manchester City and Borussia Monchengladbach putting five and three goals on the board, respectively.

[ MORE: Champions League Tues. roundup ]

Could the match be Joe Hart‘s last for City? The longtime backstop gets the call with the transfer window a week away.

In the other three cases, things are wide open. Rostov plays Ajax, Red Bull Salzburg faces Dinamo Zagreb, and APOEL lines up Copenhagen.

Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League slateFOLLOW LIVE

Borussia Monchengladbach (3) vs. (1) BSC Young Boys
Rostov (1) vs. (1) Ajax
Red Bull Salzburg (1) vs. (1) Dinamo Zagreb
APOEL (0) vs. (1) Copenhagen
Manchester City (5) vs. Steaua Bucuresti (0)

FOLLOW LIVE – EFL CUP: Four Americans in the 18 for Fulham, Sunderland, Bournemouth

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 13: Lynden Gooch of Sunderland challenges David Silva of Manchester City during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Sunderland at Etihad Stadium on August 13, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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The newly-renamed EFL Cup, formerly the League Cup, rolls on Wednesday with four more matches ahead of the evening’s third-round draw.

American attacker Lynden Gooch starts for Sunderland, while Tim Ream starts for Fulham and Luca de la Torre is on the Cottagers’ bench. Emerson Hyndman is on the bench for Bournemouth.

Tuesday’s action saw Premier League sides West Brom and Watford excused from the tournament.

Wednesday’s EFL Cup scheduleFOLLOW LIVE

Accrington Stanley vs. Burnley
Fulham vs. Middlesbrough
Morecambe vs. Bournemouth
Sunderland vs. Shrewsbury Town

L.A. Galaxy’s Keane retires from Republic of Ireland duty

DUBLIN, IRELAND - OCTOBER 11:  Robbie Keane of Republic of Ireland applauds the fans during the EURO 2016 Qualifier match between Republic of Ireland and Gibraltar at Aviva Stadium on October 11, 2014 in Dublin, Ireland.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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Robbie Keane is ending a big chapter in his career.

Fear not, Galaxy fans, the 36-year-old living L.A. legend isn’t calling it quits on club soccer, but Keane is done with representing the Republic of Ireland.

Keane will play one more game for the Boys in Green, a friendly against Oman next week, before leaving the Republic to qualify for the World Cup without him.

[ MORE: Yedlin, Newcastle make it official ]

In a sprawling and understandably emotional — if not moving — statement, Keane says he isn’t going to stop playing for his club anytime soon, and that he hardly dreamed he’d get to this point.

No player has been capped (145) or scored (67) as many times for Ireland than Keane.