Spain roundup: Messi hat trick highlights penalty-filled ‘El Clasico’ for the ages

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A match rife with controversy, excitement, embellishment and goals, goals, goals pushed Barcelona one point back of Real Madrid, now locked in a tie for first place with Atletico Madrid.

After a first half of epic proportions found Sunday’s El Clasico knotted up at 2, La Liga giants Barcelona and hosts Real Madrid doubled down on the excitement in a second half befitting of the hype.

The first tally of the second half found Ronaldo winning a controversial penalty after some boot-to-boot contact with Dani Alves that appeared to occur just outside the box. He finished low and hard to the left of Valdes to restore Madrid’s lead, 3-2 in the 55th.

But the PK shoe was on the other foot eight minutes later as Sergio Ramos picked up a red card for Real Madrid. If the first decision carried controversy, this one was that and then some, as Neymar was free of Ramos when he appeared to trip over his own two feet, literally, inside the box. Lionel Messi finished and it was 3-3.

Dani Alves’ strong strike in the 74th minute beat the keeper but struck the post hard as Barca poured forward against Real’s 10 men.

Barca won the match’s third penalty in the 84th minute, when Xavi collided with Xabi Alonso inside the box. Messi converted his hat trick but more importantly launched Blaugrana within a point of both Madrid teams.

You have to feel a little bit for Atletico Madrid, who dispatched Real Betis 2-0 on the road earlier on Sunday. Braian Rodriguez saw red in the 55th minute for the hosts, and Diego Costa and Gabi scored in the second half to give them 70 points on the season, temporarily vaulting Atletico into a first-place tie with Real.

Elsewhere

  • Celta Vigo 0-2 Malaga — A brace from Ignacio Camacho staked the road side to its lead before a red card to Duda made it 10 men and “hold on tight.” They did.
  • Granada 1-0 Elche — Yacine Brahimi’s 63rd minute goal was later helped out by a red card to Elche as Grenada pulled into 11th place and relative safety in the survival fight.
  • Valladolid 1-1 Rayo Vallecano 1 — An own goal was offset by Alberto Bueno before half, but the draw keeps the visitors safe and the hosts three points behind in 18th place.
  • Osasuna 1-2 Sevilla — Carlos Bacca’s penalty conversion in first-half stoppage time held up as the match-winner as Sevilla moves into fifth for at least a day.
  • Valencia 2-1 Villarreal – Javi Fuego outdoes Giovani dos Santos two goals to one, but the visitors still hold a six-point advantage between the 7th and 8th place teams.
  • Espanyol 0-0 Levante – An 88th minute red to Levante’s Víctor Casadesús didn’t provide enough time for the hosts to find a winner.
  • Athletic 1-0 Getafe — Markel Susaeta played hero with a 40th minute tally
  • Almeria vs. Real Sociedad – Monday

STANDINGS

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Atlético Madrid 29 22 4 3 66 21 45 12-3-0 10-1-3 70
Real Madrid 29 22 4 3 80 30 50 12-0-2 10-4-1 70
Barcelona 29 22 3 4 85 25 60 13-0-1 9-3-3 69
Athletic 29 16 7 6 52 32 20 11-3-1 5-4-5 55
Sevilla 29 13 8 8 53 44 9 7-3-4 6-5-4 47
Real Sociedad 28 13 7 8 49 39 10 9-3-2 4-4-6 46
Villarreal 29 13 6 10 49 36 13 7-5-3 6-1-7 45
Valencia 29 11 6 12 41 40 1 8-3-4 3-3-8 39
Levante 29 9 10 10 26 35 -9 5-5-4 4-5-6 37
Espanyol 29 10 7 12 32 34 -2 7-3-5 3-4-7 37
Granada 29 10 4 15 28 39 -11 6-1-8 4-3-7 34
Celta Vigo 29 9 6 14 33 41 -8 3-6-6 6-0-8 33
Málaga 29 8 8 13 28 36 -8 5-2-7 3-6-6 32
Rayo Vallecano 29 9 3 17 33 63 -30 5-0-9 4-3-8 30
Elche 29 7 9 13 24 41 -17 5-5-5 2-4-8 30
Osasuna 29 8 5 16 25 50 -25 5-2-7 3-3-9 29
Getafe 29 7 7 15 26 46 -20 4-6-5 3-1-10 28
Valladolid 29 5 12 12 31 49 -18 4-7-3 1-5-9 27
Almería 28 7 5 16 27 52 -25 4-4-5 3-1-11 26
Betis 29 4 7 18 23 58 -35 4-3-8 0-4-10 19

CCL wrap: FC Dallas disappoints; Club America struts (video)

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The CONCACAF Champions League returned Tuesday with Toronto FC’s 2-0 quarterfinal first leg win in Colorado, and a trio of ties began Wednesday across Panama, Costa Rica, and Honduras.

[ WATCH: Fred’s vicious free kick ]

Tauro 1-0 FC Dallas

Veteran striker Edwin Aguilar scored a big goal, and goalkeeper Oscar McFarlane did plenty of good things as the Panamanian side struck a wild first blow against its MLS visitors.

Here’s a random fact underscoring how remarkable of a failure this would be for FC Dallas: Only six of Tauro’s roster members have their own Wikipedia page.

Deportivo Saprissa 1-5 Club America

Cecilio Dominguez and Mateus Uribe each bagged a brace, and Renato Ibarra also scored as the tournament’s top team sauntered into and out of Costa Rica on Wednesday. Club America has been to seven CCL finals, and one every single one.

Motagua vs. Club Tijuana — 10 a.m. ET

Honduran hosts hope to have a leg to stand on — pun intended — once the tie heads to Mexico.

West Ham to friendly neighbors Dag & Red: “Will help save our club”

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English Conference Premier side Dagenham and Redbridge has seen better days, and is getting a hand from a Premier League pal.

[ WATCH: Fred’s vicious free kick ]

West Ham United will pay a visit to Dag & Red as part of the latter’s #SaveTheDaggers campaign, and the March 21 date will cost fans between $7 and $21 to see a top flight side at 6,000-seat Victoria Road.

Dagenham and Redbridge chairman Paul Gwinn said, “It really will help save our club.”

“So please come on down to the Chigwell Construction Stadium for an additional night of football. Bring a friend, or two, or more and we can use the gate takings to help get us back on track,” reads a press release.

Dag & Red was founded in 1992 and climbed as high as League One in 2011, and plays just 2.5 miles from West Ham United’s training ground. Newcastle’s Matt Ritchie and Dwight Gayle are among Dag & Red alums in the Premier League.

It’s a terrific gesture from West Ham, and is even more impressive in the United States where the growing club game is increasingly cutthroat (especially between non-synced leagues).

Angry Di Francesco extremely quotable after Roma loss

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AS Roma manager Eusebio Di Francesco absolutely roasted his charges after i Lupi tossed aside a Cenzig Under-inspired lead to fall 2-1 at Shakhtar Donetsk in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie on Wednesday.

Di Francesco had praise for Edin Dzeko, who assisted Under’s goal, as well as goalkeeper Alisson, but was mostly enraged by his side.

[ MORE: Recap + Fred’s vicious free kick ]

Rather than construct a narrative, we’re going to point out our five favorite selections from Di Francesco’s post-match talk.

4) “The difference was that in the first half we tried to hurt them while in the second we were looking to hold on – to what? I don’t know.”

— “To what? I don’t know” is hilarious. Di Francesco’s side has posted some serious wins this season, including killing off Chelsea 3-0 at home and coming back from 2-0 to draw the Blues at Stamford Bridge. He doesn’t preach sitting back.

3) “There were far too many schoolboy errors – even by players with a wealth of international experience.”

— Schoolboy errors!

2) “I saw two completely different teams out there today. There were lots of players I should have taken off after we conceded the first goal.”

— Again, one mistake by a number of players on Facundo Ferreyra is enough for Di Francesco. He’s not just happy to be here.

1) “I can’t imagine we’d get arrogant just because we’re winning an important game. It’s not as if Roma are used to reaching the final every year.”

— When you’re willing to essentially rip an entire club’s history — Roma’s been to just two UCL quarterfinals since losing the final to Liverpool in 1984 — you’re putting your footprints in new cement.

Europa League preview: Rating every second leg

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Christian Pulisic and Borussia Dortmund are one of many teams with their UEFA Europa League fates realistically in the balance come Thursday’s second legs of the Round of 32.

[ MORE: Sevilla 0-1 Man Utd | Mourinho reacts ]

Aside from a sextet of big teams posting blowouts, there’s still hope for the Round of 16 and a step closer to an automatic berth in the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League.

Basically done

Atletico Madrid 4-1 Copenhagen — 1 p.m. ET
Sporting Lisbon 3-1 Astana — 1 p.m. ET
Arsenal 3-0 Ostersund — 3:05 p.m. ET
Milan 3-0 Ludogorets Razgrad — 3:05 p.m. ET
Athletic Bilbao 3-1 Spartak Moscow — 3:05 p.m. ET
Braga 0-3 Marseille — 3:05 p.m. ET

In four of these cases, the heavy favorites emerged with multiple goal leads and at least three away goals.

Actually done

CSKA Moscow beat Red Star Belgrade 1-0 on Wednesday to win 1-0 on aggregate.

Unlikely, but big club lurks

RB Leipzig 3-1 Napoli — 1 p.m. ET
Villarreal 1-3 Lyon — 1 p.m. ET

In the case of Napoli, their 3-1 home loss to Leipzig was stunning but it’s impossible to rule out a club with such firepower. Villarreal trails by two to Lyon, but is home and dangerous.

Advantage one side, but anyone’s guess

Lokomotiv Moscow 3-2 Nice — 11 a.m. ET
Lazio 0-1 FCSB — 1 p.m. ET
Zenit Saint-Petersburg 0-1 Celtic — 1 p.m. ET
Red Bull Salzburg 2-2 Real Sociedad — 3:05 p.m. ET
Atalanta 2-3 Borussia Dortmund — 3:05 p.m. ET

Salzburg’s two away goals in a draw feels like a one-goal lead, and the one-goal matches are especially interesting. In the case of Atalanta, 1-0 to the Serie A side could undo Michy Batshuayi‘s first leg heroics for BVB.

Wide open

Plzen 1-1 Partizan Belgrade — 1 p.m. ET
Dynamo Kyiv 1-1 AEK Athens — 1 p.m. ET

Yes, nil-nil will get it done for the hosts, but there wasn’t a 0-0 in the entire group of first legs.