Ronaldo brace, Jesé injury highlight Real Madrid’s Champions League victory over Schalke

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In a game that had all of its drama sucked out three weeks ago, Real Madrid and Schalke gave the Bernabéu’s support and an impressive visiting contingent a look at each club’s future. Yet on a day when a huge part of that future was stretchered off early, the meaninglessness of Tuesday’s game took center stage. Real Madrid, entering the day’s festivities up 6-1, added a 3-1 to their total. After a game in which neither El Real nor Schalke cared too much about the day’s result, the Merengues are still through to UEFA Champions League’s quarterfinals.

Cristiano Ronaldo opened the day’s scoring in the 21st minute when Gareth Bale, on in the eight minute for the injured Jesé, set up first goal of the night. Ten minutes later, a deflection from Sergio Ramos off Tim Hoogland’s long distance shot caught Iker Casillas wrong-footed, allowing Schalke to equalize.

In the 74th minute, Ronaldo added his second, blasting home a shot from beyond the penalty area to make it 2-1. One minute later, Álvaro Morata registered his first Champions League goal, with Bale picking up his second assist of the night.

It’s the fourth straight year Real Madrid has made the final eight, but with early news of a cruciate injury to Jesé circulating by match’s end, the day’s result took on a slightly different context. Though Cristiano Ronaldo ran his season’s goal total to 41, with 13 coming in seven Champions League appearances, the Merengues are left waiting for news on the extend of their 21-year-old’s injury.

The incident occurred early as Schalke challenged the aspiring Spanish international in the right corner. Though Jesé was eventually stretchered from the field, he initially returned and seemed able to continue. By the eighth minute, however, Bale’s number was being raised by the fourth official, signaling the start to worries about the young star’s knee.

It wasn’t long before Bale, originally scheduled to rest, made an impact. Running onto the end of a Morata through ball, Bale get behind the Schalke defense to the right of goal. His square ball into the six for an oncoming Ronaldo allowed the Portuguese star to convert his 12th goal of the competition.

Ten minutes later, Schalke had tied it up, with an unexpected source bringing them to 1-1. Tim Hoogland, allowed to carry the ball to within 26 yards from his right back position, let go of a speculative shot that caught the bottom of Sergio Ramos’s outstretched boot. The deflect gave Casillas no chance to stop Schalke’s second goal of the tie.

In the second half, Ralf Fährmann stops on Ronaldo and Isco gave the impression the Royal Blues could make it to full-time at 1-1. Then, a two-goal outburst just before the 76th minute mark put the game away for the hosts.

The first came from Ronaldo, whose drive from outside the penalty area caught Fährmann’s lower left corner to put Real Madrid in front. A minute later, Bale set up Morata in front of an open net to give the 21-year-old striker his first Champions League goal.

The outburst only added to what was already an embarrassing final score. Schalke, who had entered the day down five, carried no misconceptions about their fate. No matter what, they were going out of Champions League, part of the reason they pulled striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar at half time.

But with their second half capitulation, the Miners leave Spain 9-2 (agg.) losers, with Real Madrid having further established themselves as the team most likely to keep Bayern Munich from a second straight title.

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

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LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.