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Champions League: Diego, Neymar goals leave Atlético, Barcelona even after leg one

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Four games, four draws leave Barcelona and Atlético Madrid even after leg one of the teams’ UEFA Champions League quarterfinal, with the latest in the clubs’ combative, season-long struggle ending as even as the previous three. After 0-0, 1-1, and 0-0 results defined the teams’ matchups in August and January, April’s installment also failed to distinguish the sides, with goals from Brazilians Diego and Neymar leaving the teams drawn 1-1 after 90 minutes in Catalonia.

But to imply Diego’s score is a mere goal understates its quality. In the 56th minute, with the ball on the right flank, the January signing made a quick move around Xavi Hernández before launching a speculative shot from eight-to-10 yards above the penalty area. Hit hard enough to take all the spin off the ball, the man who came on for an injured Diego Costa saw his shot buckle toward the upper-right hand corner, beating Pinto with a shot Víctor Valdés would have been stressed to stop. For the second time this season, Atlético had a lead on Barcelona.

(MORE: Barcelona loses Gerard Piqué early against Atlético)

And for the season time this season, Neymar pulled it back. A quick run behind right back Juanfran just outside the penalty area 15 minutes later met a brilliant through ball from Andrés Iniesta. Opening his hips up on a far post curler, the Brazilian superstar nestled his shot in the right side netting, scoring his second huge goal of the season against Atlético.

A final 20 minutes of Barcelona pressure couldn’t find a winner, with trademark frantic but organized defending at the edge of Atlético’s penalty area keeping the home side from another breech of Thibault Courtois. As Barcelona continued to increase the pressure — cognizant of the importance to taking a lead out of the first leg — counter opportunities began to appear for Atlético. Promise and danger became symbiotic as Barcelona tried to break through, with Lionel Messi’s 86th minute free kick nearly cashing in while sending Courtois diving toward his post.

At Felix Brych’s final whistle, the score became the latest example of what a perfect match these teams have become. Through 360 minutes, nothing but an away goal in Barcelona meaningfully separates these two sides, with the technique, execution, and intensity of Barcelona thwarted in the face of the organization, determination, and intensity of Atlético. For every advantage the Blaugrana usually carry into a matchup, Atlético has an antidote: Belief coupled with proof that they are every bit their more renown opponents’ equals.

(MORE: Diego Costa leaves after half an hour)

Gerard Piqué’s first half injury could have been decisive, but Barcelona’s possession game (71%) rendered it meaningless. Diego Costa leaving at the half hour mark should have been a devastating blow for Atlético; instead, Diego’s inclusion ended up producing an away goals edge. No matter how much fate, happenstance, misfortunate or luck try to separate these teams, Atlético and Barcelona seem destined to finish as equals.

Only now, the teams aren’t exactly equal. Just as Neymar’s away goal at the Vicente Calderón provided a superficial difference in August (one that won Barcelona the Spanish Supercopa), Diego’s blast at the Nou Camp has Atlético in front. Next week in Madrid, that seemingly innate organization and intensity that the Colchoneros have carried to the top of the Spanish league could also carry them into the Champions League semifinals. A third 0-0 between the teams will land Simeone’s side in the final four.

Viktoria Plzen set to sign midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz

Obafemi Martins, Oniel Fisher, Andreas Ivanschitz
Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
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PRAGUE (AP) Czech champion Viktoria Plzen is close to signing Austrian midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz.

Plzen says Ivanschitz agreed terms for a contract lasting 1 + seasons and will sign it when the team returns from a training camp in Spain. Ivanschitz has already joined the squad at the Oliva Nova resort, the club says.

Ivanschitz helped the Seattle Sounders win their first MLS Cup in December.

[ NEW HOMES: Fonte | Berahino ]

No financial details were given.

The 33-year-old Ivanschitz also played for Rapid Vienna and Red Bull Salzburg in Austria, Mainz in the Bundesliga, Levante in Spain and Panathinaikos in Athens.

Ivanschitz played 69 games for Austria in 2003-14, scoring 12 goals.

FIFA allows Matip to represent Liverpool during AFCON

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 29: Joel Matip of Liverpool heads to score his team's third goal during the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Liverpool at Selhurst Park on October 29, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images
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Joel Matip is going to get to play for Liverpool during AFCON after all.

The center back had turned down the chance to represent Cameroon at the Africa Cup of Nations, and Liverpool was forced to apply to FIFA for a waiver.

[ PL PREVIEW: Swansea vs. Liverpool ]

Matip suffered an ankle injury in December, adding to his desire to stay at Anfield. He declared himself internationally retired and was one of six Cameroon players who refused call-ups for AFCON.

He last played for the Reds on Dec. 11, and can be selected by Jurgen Klopp against Swansea City on Saturday.

Man United captain Rooney raises $1.5m from charity game

FILE - A Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017 file photo of Manchester United's Wayne Rooney leaving the field after the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Liverpool at Old Trafford stadium in Manchester, England. Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney says he raised 1.2 million pounds ($1.5 million) for charity from a friendly game against former club Everton last year. (AP Photo/Dave Thompson)
AP Photo/Dave Thompson
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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney says he raised 1.2 million pounds ($1.5 million) from a friendly game against former club Everton last year.

That represents the profits, after operational costs, from August’s sellout match at Old Trafford and goes toward the Wayne Rooney Foundation’s target of raising 5 million pounds for children’s charities.

[ NEW HOMES: Fonte | Berahino ]

Rooney said: “I’d like to thank all the fans who came to the testimonial and made it such a special night. They’ve raised a huge amount of money for children who are disadvantaged and it will make a real difference to their lives.”

Rooney is one goal from breaking Manchester United’s scoring record, with the striker currently tied with Bobby Charlton on 249 goals.

Rooney joined United from Everton in 2004.

WATCH: Lewandowski’s juggling stoppage time winner

Bayern's Robert Lewandowski celebrates after scoring his side's first goal during the German soccer Bundesliga match between SC Freiburg and FC Bayern Munich in Freiburg, Germany, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. (Patrick Seeger/dpa via AP)
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Robert Lewandowski picked up where he left off.

The Polish striker scored twice for Bayern Munich, once in stoppage time, as the Bavarians improved their Bundesliga lead to six points after toppling Freiburg 2-1 on Friday.

[ MORE: Bundesliga second half preview ]

And what a winner it was, Lewandowski taking a Douglas Costa cross with two juggling touches before hitting an offspeed bouncer inside the post.

It was the league’s first match following the winter/holiday break, giving Bayern a cushion before RB Leipzig takes the pitch against Eintracht Frankfurt in a Top Five tilt on Saturday.

Lewandowski moves closer to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the goal scoring chart. His 13th and 14th goals have him two back of Borussia Dortmund’s striker, as Lewandowski pursues a third Golden Boot in four seasons.

Full Weekend Schedule
Freiburg 1-2 Bayern Munich — Friday
Augsburg vs. Hoffenheim — Saturday
Schalke vs. Ingolstadt — Saturday
Darmstadt vs. Borussia Monchengladbach — Saturday
Werder Bremen vs. Borussia Dortmund — Saturday
Wolfsburg vs. Hamburger SV — Saturday
RB Leipzig vs. Eintracht Frankfurt — Saturday
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Hertha Berlin — Sunday
Mainz vs. Koln — Sunday