Two from Diego Costa help Atlético Madrid cruise past Milan in Champions League, 4-1 (5-1, agg.)

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Atlético Madrid is into the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals, staving off an early hint at drama from visiting AC Milan to post a 4-1 victory. The result gives Diego Simeone’s team a 5-1 aggregate win over the seven-time champions, with goals from Diego Costa (two), Arda Turan, and Raúl Garcia delivering the win at the Vicente Calderón.

Costa’s first goal came in spectacular fashion in the third minute when, at full stretch, the Spanish international redirected Koke’s cross home at Christian Abbiati’s far post. The lead proved short-lived as Kaká headed home from close range after a Andrea Poli cross to make it 1-1.

Before halftime, however, Turan’s deflected volley beat a helpless Abbiati to restore Atlético’s two-goal edge, with a header from Garcia mid-way through the second period eliminating all of Milan’s lingering hopes. Demoralized, Milan saw Costa score his seventh goal of the competition in the 85th minute, completing its disappoint night in Madrid.

The victory sends the Colchoneros into the final eight for the first time in 17 years, while Milan exit the competition at the first knockout round for the second consecutive tournament. Ensuring no Italian team will be in the final eight, Milan’s early exist adds to frustrations incurred by a 11th place standing in Serie A.

The Rossoneri entered the day with a 1-0 deficit after Costa’s 83rd minute winner three weeks ago in Milan gave Atleti a 1-0 lead. Costa doubled that lead three minutes into the second leg when Koke, cutting in from the right, vaulted a ball toward Abbiati’s far post. Reaching with his left leg shoulder-high from five yards out, the Atlético striker put his teammate’s pass into the back of the Milan goal before landing flat on his tailbone. Up two, Atlético appeared destined for an easy night.

That appearance evaporated just before the 30 minute-mark when a ball put toward the byline on the right allowed Poli to put an uncontested ball toward Thibault Courtois’ far post. The gigantic Belgian was unable to traverse the goalmouth in time to stop Kaká’s easy header, with right back Juanfran having lost track of an attacker who’s up to 30 Champions League goals.

Milan’s control of possession through the game’s next 10 minutes went for naught when a long ball chested down for Turan gave the Turkish international a chance from the top of the arc. Volleying a ball after a quick thigh trap, the Atlético midfielder put his shot off Daniele Bonera and past Abbiati, with the deflection preventing the Milan keeper from denying the hosts a 2-1 halftime lead.

When Milan couldn’t pull the goal back early in the second, the match adopted a feeling of inevitability – as if Atlético had already qualified for the quarterfinals. When Garcia headed his team’s fourth goal home in the 70th minute, all doubt left the Calderón. A goal starved AC Milan would need three to move past their favored hosts, a hope rendered mute when Costa blasted his seventh goal of the competition in from the right edge of the six-yard box.

That favorite’s status, in doubt as Atlético struggled ahead of the first leg, proved well-earned at the end of 180 minutes, with a Milan team that’s limped through its Serie A campaign proving no more capable in Europe. Atlético, conversely, has reclaimed the form that carried them through January – quality that made them dark horses in this competition.

Though potential quarterfinal opponents will prefer the Atleti to Bayern Munich or Real Madrid, Atlético will be dangerous come the quarterfinals.

FOLLOW LIVE: 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs knockout round

Sporting Kansas City forward Dom Dwyer, center, is congratulated by teammates, including midfielder Roger Espinoza (27), following his goal during the first half of an MLS soccer match against the Houston Dynamo in Kansas City, Kan., Saturday, Aug. 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
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The knockout round of the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs concludes on Thursday, as four teams vie for the final two places — one in the Eastern Conference, one in the Western Conference — in the conference semifinals, which begin on Sunday.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: MLS Cup Playoffs knockout round ]

Up first, the East’s fourth-seeded D.C. United welcome the five-seed Montreal Impact to RFK Stadium for the two sides’ third meeting of the 2016 season. Each of the year’s first two clashes finished a 1-1 draw, in July and August. Didier Drogba is expected to be unavailable for the win-or-go-home tie. United finished the regular season with four wins in the last five games, while the Impact won just two of their last eight.

[ MORE: Preivewing Thursday night’s knockout-round games ]

In the nightcap, the West’s fourth-seeded Seattle Sounders will take on the five-side, Sporting Kansas City, at CenturyLink Field. Sporting were victorious in both regular-season meetings this year — 1-0 on opening day, and 3-0 in late-July, the day the Sounders essentially quit on Sigi Schmid. Since that blistering hot day in KC, the Soudners have lost just twice in 14 games (eight wins, four draws).

Thursday’s MLS Cup Playoffs schedule

D.C. United vs. Montreal Impact — 7:30 p.m. ET
Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting KC — 10 p.m. ET

Cristiano Ronaldo says Ashley Cole is the toughest player he faced

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Cristiano Ronaldo has faced the best defenders in the world during his time with Manchester United, Real Madrid and the Portuguese national team.

He has also caused fits for most of those defenders with goal after goal for club and country. But, there have been some players who have at least made it difficult for the all-time leading goal scorer in Real Madrid and Champions League history.

According to Ronaldo, former Chelsea and Arsenal defender Ashley Cole was the toughest player he has faced in his career.

[ MORE: VIDEO: Incredible Pelle goal in China ]

“Over the years I had some great battles with Ashley Cole, he does not give you a second to breathe,” Ronaldo told Coach Mag. “He was such a tenacious player when he was at his peak, quick, tough in the tackle. You knew it would never be an easy game.”

During his time with Manchester United, Ronaldo faced Cole on numerous occasions while Cole was with Arsenal and Chelsea. The two have also faced off in international competition between Ronaldo’s Portugal and Cole’s England.

It’s certainly high praise for Cole, who now plays in MLS for the LA Galaxy. At the age of 35, Cole has started 25 matches for the Galaxy this season, scoring one goal.

Phil Neville praises Juan Mata’s play to Manchester United

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Juan Mata has appeared in 116 matches for Manchester United since moving to Old Trafford in 2014. In that time, Mata has scored 29 goals and recorded 18 assists.

Despite his performance for the team, some thought Mata would be moved when Jose Mourinho came to town, including former United player and assistant coach Phil Neville.

Neville told Sky Sports, “I actually thought he would be the first out of the door when Jose came, but he’s actually becoming one of the most important players.”

Neville praised Mata’s contributions and versatility for United. “He is never injured, he provides a lot of assists, he plays in two or three different positions, and he scores important goals.”

Manchester United has lacked an identity under Mourinho and recently faltered in the Premier League as the team is winless in its last three matches.

[ MORE: Mourinho gets FA charge ]

Could Mata be the answer to some of United’s problems?

The Spaniard is a classic No. 10 with the ability to dictate his team’s attack and create scoring opportunities for his teammates. Mata can also put the ball in the back of the net as evidenced by his winner against Manchester City in the EFL Cup.

Mourinho has options in the center midfield with the likes of Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick in addition to Mata on the roster.

However, given the team’s Premier League struggles, it could be worth giving Mata a chance as the team’s No. 10.

David Moyes faces FA charges after being sent off during EFL Cup

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David Moyes and Sunderland have gotten off to one of the worst starts in Premier League history.

If they fail to earn a point against Arsenal this weekend, they will tie the 1995-96 Manchester City team for the worst start ever through 10 matches with two points.

It appears those frustrations carried over to the EFL Cup for Moyes. On Wednesday, the manager was forced to leave the dugout toward the end of Sunderland’s 1-0 loss to Southampton after he protested a no-call from referee Chris Kavanagh.

Moyes was charged by the FA for his protests, saying the manager “used abusive and/or insulting words towards a match official”.

It’s just another thing to add to Moyes’ plate as he looks to keep Sunderland’s hopes of safety alive in the Premier League.