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Three things we learned from Atlético Madrid’s draw in Barcelona

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The teams’ fourth meeting of the season ended the same as the first three, but we were better for it. Another perfectly balanced game between Barcelona and Atlético Mardid ended 1-1 today at the Nou Camp, and while that road may yet loom large, today’s game was another example of how perfectly matched these two teams have become.

After a scoreless first half that saw Gerard Piqué and Diego Costa leave with leg injuries, a long distance blast into the upper-right hand corner from substitute Diego game Atleti that precious away goal. Fifteen minutes later, brilliant work from Andrés Iniesta and Neymar produced a goal from the Brazilian, a tally the Blaugrana were unable to build on over the last 20 minutes.

(MORE: Diego, Neymar goals leave Atlético, Barcelona even after leg one)

Here are three things we learned from the first leg of the teams’ UEFA Champions League quarterfinal:

1. It’s about more than the stars … until it’s not – When an apparent leg injury forced Barcelona defender Gerard Piqué from the game in the 12th minute, an Atlético team that got a surprise start from forward Diego Costa looked to have a huge edge. But 18 minutes later, Atleti’s star striker was limping off, too, leaving Diego Simeone with his third (David Villa) and fourth (Diego) choice options leading his attack.

Though the game lost two of its most talented players, it was no worse for it. In fact, Tuesday’s contest was indistinguishable from the combative and enthralling games that characterized the teams’ first three battles. When Diego’s early second half blast found Pinto’s upper-left hand corner from distance, you could argue the game was actually (if unintentionally) better for losing two stars.

Then came the reminder of what stardom can do. Sure, Atlético right back Juanfran may have been caught a step out of position on Barcelona’s equalizer, but it took a sublime pass from Andrés Iniesta to exploit that crack. Neymar pounced and put an inch perfect shot around Thibault Courtois. It was going to take two of the world’s most talented players to break down Atlético. For one brief moment, they managed to do so.

Barcelona and Simeone’s Atlético have developed such distinct identities, it would take more than two injuries for them to change. But part of that identity is the brilliance of their players. And there are few more brilliant than Andrés Iniesta.

(MORE: Three things we learned from Manchester United and Bayern Munich’s draw)

source: AP2. Clearly, Atlético’s going nowhere – You can understand why people don’t want to believe in Atlético, but at this point, there’s no reason to think this team can’t compete with Europe’s best. They’ve been doing so ever since Diego Simeone came on board.

Earlier this year, the doubt was understandable. Small sample, and such. Combine that with the team’s recent track record, the names in the squad, and the lack of day-to-day coverage La Liga gets around these parts (let’s face it: it’s still Barcelona, Real Madrid, and who? as attention spans go), and the idea that Atlético’s a fluke has been allowed to persist. Sure, they drew Barcelona three times this year, but Champions League would be different, right?

For those not watching Manchester United-Bayern Munich, we saw how serious Barcelona has been. And in the 360 minutes Gerardo Martino’s team has played against Atlético, the team’s led for none of them. It’s not just that Atlético has been competing in these games. They’ve been the closer side to wining them (well, two of them).

We’ve seen enough by now to know Atleti are for real. Even people who don’t follow the Spanish league can buy in. Now it’s a question of whether “for real” translates into “Champions League semifinalist.”

(MORE: Brilliance of Barcelona, Atlético Madrid has begun to transcend results)

3. We need to stop and smell these roses – The longer this battle goes, the more amazing it becomes. Barcelona and Atlético, so perfectly matched, are slated to play six games this season. But whereas in previous seasons, when Barça and Real Madrid engaged in a seemingly endless series of Clasicos, it’s hard to get enough of Atlético and Barcelona.

From earlier today:

It’s the perfect match of opposing styles. It’s soccer’s yin against football’s yang. It’s modernism, possession, and technique matched against timeless emotion and organization. It’s a team that looks beyond the typical trappings of athleticism and brawn facing a side that leverages their power to complement their passion. From the same league, both sporting Argentine coaches, Barcelona and Atlético Madrid couldn’t be more different, yet, after each set of 90 minutes they play, the scoresheet’s left them beautifully identical.

It’s a contrast makes results like today’s 1-1 special – more valuable than a win could have been for either side. Because at this point, a victory would defeat the purchase. The battle’s balance of physique, application, and philosophy has produced some of the best soccer of our lifetimes: what’s become a 360-minute marathon, where each side has brought evermore perfect free soccer out of the other.

We’ll see it again next week, we’ll see it again on the last day of the Spanish season, and if we’re lucky, we might get two more draws. but after these teams change this summer, the balance will be thrown off. Savior this time we have with Atlético and Barcelona.

Report: West Ham offer $22 million for AC Milan striker Carlos Bacca

MILAN, ITALY - MARCH 20:  Carlos Bacca of AC Milan celebrates his goal during the Serie A match between AC Milan and SS Lazio at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on March 20, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)
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West Ham’s search for an elite striker continues, with their newest target AC Milan’s Carlos Bacca.

According to Sky Sports, the Hammers have bid $22 million for the striker, who led Milan with 18 goals in Serie A play last season.

However, after paying $34 million to sign the striker last summer, it is believed Milan would be unwilling to sell their top scorer for less than $30 million.

MORE: All 2015-16 PL season reviews ]

At 29-years-old, Bacca has been one of Europe’s most consistent forwards over the past few seasons. After bagging 49 goals in 108 appearances for Sevilla, he earned a move to Milan last July, finishing third in Serie A scoring in his first year with the club.

West Ham’s chairman David Gold has been open about his desire to sign a world-class striker, with Lyon confirming that they rejected a $45 million bid from the Hammers for Alexandre Lacazette.

VIDEO: Neymar takes batting practice before New York Mets game

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 31:  Brazilian soccer player  Neymar Jr stands in the New York Mets dugout before the game against the Chicago White Sox at Citi Field on May 31, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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We all know Neymar’s skills with a soccer ball, but what about with a baseball bat?

Spoiler alert: He’s better with his feet.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Copa coverage ]

The Barcelona and Brazil superstar was in New York on Tuesday night and hit up the batting cages at Citi Field before the Mets game against the Chicago White Sox.

Taking swings lefty, Neymar made some contact but didn’t necessarily have the smoothest stroke…

He then hit the field and got back to his roots, showing off some footskills while juggling a baseball.

I’m not too sure if Neymar is a baseball fan, but this may make him the Mets’ newest, most famous supporter (sorry Jerry Seinfeld).

Neymar is in the United States as he has some time off after the long Barcelona season. He is not playing in the Copa America with Brazil, but will instead play in the Olympics in August.

Messi’s tax fraud case begins with player avoiding court

BARCELONA, SPAIN - APRIL 17:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona looks on  during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Valencia CF at Camp Nou on April 17, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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MADRID (AP) Lionel Messi’s tax trial began Tuesday with the player deciding not to appear in court for early proceedings.

Messi is facing a prison sentence of nearly two years on charges he failed to properly pay taxes for part of his earnings from Barcelona from 2007-09.

[ FOLLOW: All of PSTS’s Copa coverage ]

The Argentina playmaker is not obligated to appear in the Barcelona court until Thursday, when he is scheduled to testify before a judge. Sentencing is not expected until next week.

Messi and his father, Jorge Horacio Messi, have been charged with three counts of tax fraud for allegedly defrauding Spain’s tax office of 4.1 million euros ($4.5 million).

Because of the trial, Messi is missing Argentina’s preparation for the Copa America Centenario, which begins Saturday in the United States. He is expected to fly straight to the U.S. to join his teammates after the trial ends. Argentina debuts in the tournament on Monday against defending champion Chile.

Even if found guilty, it is highly unlikely that Messi or his father will face any jail time. They have denied wrongdoing.

[ COPA AMERICA PREVIEWS: Group A | BC | D ]

“Everything is good. Everybody is calm,” said Messi’s lawyer, Enrique Bacigalupo, as he arrived at the Barcelona court on Tuesday.

The trial is centered on alleged unlawful activities of Messi’s father, but authorities said the player knew enough to also be named in the case. Officials said that although Messi was mostly unfamiliar with tax issues, there was sufficient evidence to believe he could have known and consented to the creation of a fictitious corporate structure to avoid paying taxes on income from his image rights.

In addition to each facing a prison sentence of 22 months and 15 days, Messi and his father could also be fined in the amount defrauded and ordered to pay all legal proceedings and the loss of any possible tax benefits for a year and a half.

Messi is just the latest high-profile player to have to deal with Spain’s tough tax system. Neymar, Javier Mascherano, Adriano and Xabi Alonso also were targeted by authorities recently.

[ MORE: Marcelo giving away UCL winners’ medal…on Facebook ]

Mascherano, Messi’s teammate with Argentina and Barcelona, earlier this year was handed a suspended one-year prison sentence for not paying nearly 1.5 million euros ($1.6 million) in taxes for 2011 and 2012. Brazil striker Neymar recently had to testify before a judge because of alleged irregularities involving his transfer to Barcelona. He and the club were accused of withholding the real amount of the transfer fee, in part to avoid paying the full amount of taxes.

Messi was also being investigated by Spanish tax authorities after his name was among those released in the probe of international offshore accounts, known as the Panama Papers, although he was not charged for those allegations.

VIDEO: Bayern’s David Alaba scores brutal own goal for Austria

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David Alaba is going to want this one back…

While playing in a friendly for Austria, the Bayern Munich left-back scored a cringe-worthy own-goal that his teammates will surely never let him forget.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s EURO coverage ]

With Austria leading Malta 2-0, goalkeeper Ramazan Ozcan played out of the back to Alaba. As pressure come from Malta’s strikers, Alaba turned and played a blind pass back to his keeper.

The only problem is, his keeper wasn’t there.

Ozcan did the right thing and moved outside of his goal to give Alaba support, only the defender never picked up his head to realize. Austria would hold on to win the match 2-1.

[ MORE: Klinsmann treating USMNT’s Copa opener vs. Colombia like a final ]

After winning their EURO qualification group with nine wins from ten matches, Austria has high hopes of making a run in the tournament. They will play in Group F with Portugal, Iceland, and Hungary.