Champions League: Real Madrid returns the favor, takes 3-0 lead on Borussia Dortmund

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Real Madrid has taken the first step toward avenging last year’s UEFA Champions League semifinal loss, adopting Borussia Dortmund’s formula while doing so. Whereas last year’s final four meeting between the clubs opened with a 4-1 win for BVB in Germany, this year’s quarterfinal saw an equally lopsided result in leg one at the Santiago Bernabéu. With goals from Gareth Bale, Isco, and Cristiano Ronaldo, the nine-time champions earned a 3-0 win over last year’s finalists, taking a potentially decisive lead into next week’s leg in Westphalia.

Bale opened the scoring after only two minutes, poking a Daniel Carvajal pass beyond Roman Weidenfeller from close range. Isco, starting in place of Ángel Di María, doubled the Merengues lead in the 27th minute, while Cristiano Ronaldo’s 14th goal of the tournament early in the second half allowed the hosts to cruise through the final whistle.

Borussia Dortmund, decimated by injuries for most of the season, where without six of their would be starters, absences reflected in El Real’s dominance from the opening whistle. Though BVB beat Real Madrid 4-3 over two legs in last season’s final four, the team has already conceded as many goals at halftime this year, with the Spaniards putting 11 shots on target to Dortmund’s two over 90 minutes in Madrid.

After holding 61 percent of the match’s possession, Real Madrid is on the verge of its fourth straight semifinal, though the club has not reached a final since 2002 – the year it won its ninth European title. After today’s lopsided result, the club is one step closer to its coveted decima, hoping to become the first team to claim 10 UEFA continental crowns.

(MORE: Paris Saint-Germain crush Chelsea in absorbing Champions League clash)

Bale opened the scoring almost immediately when a run through the middle of the penalty area left him with a chance in front of Weidenfeller’s net. Beating defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos to a ball played in front of goal, Bale poked his shot past Weidenfeller and into an empty net, giving the hosts an early lead.

After controlling play over the next 24 minutes, Real Madrid broke through with a second goal just before the half hour-mark. From just beyond the penalty area, Isco, starting in place of the ill Di María, finished into the left of goal, giving the hosts a reward for a dominant opening 27 minutes.

In the second half, a third score mitigated any damage a potential Dortmund away goal might have, with Luka Modric’s piercing attacking on the BVB defense producing Ronaldo’s score. Dribbling through the middle for the park, the Croatian midfielder danced around multiple defenders before laying off to Ronaldo, who moved around is own defender before an easy left-footed finish from the middle of the box. With his competition-leading 14th score of the tournament, Ronaldo helped reverse the deficit Real Madrid carried out of the Westfalenstadion last season.

source: AP
Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored Real Madrid’s third goal, left the game late with an apparent foot injury. (Photo credit: AP Photos.)

All was not good for Ronaldo, though. In the 81st minute, Spain’s leading goal scorer went to ground with what appeared to be a foot injury. Substituted for Casemiro, the Ballon d’Or winner left under his own power, but his departure marked the latest in a series of first leg injuries during the quarterfinals.

(Injuries: Piqué | Costa | Ibrahimovic)

Real Madrid’s occasionally shaky defense gave Dortmund multiple chances at an away goal, the best of which game near the hour mark. Then, Marco Reus, moving in from the right flank, put a ball cross the face of goal, on which Iker Casillas weakly pushed toward the middle of the box. Attacking midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan was there and attempted to fire Dortmund’s opener in from nine yards out. Pepe, however, leapt from this right-center back position to block the shot, preserving his team’s clean sheet.

Carrying the same feeling last year’s meeting had while moving from Germany to Spain, the teams’ quarterfinal resumes next week in Westphalia, with Dortmund left to deal with the same three-goal deficit they handed Real Madrid. In last year’s second leg, the Merengues managed to make it close, scoring twice before BVB was able to bleed out the match.

Without an away goal, however, Dortmund’s task is slightly more difficult. Whereas a third goal last year would have earned Real Madrid a place in the semifinals, a 3-0 win would only force extra time, leaving BVB with a massive hole coming out of leg one.

Steven Gerrard didn’t want any part of Coutinho in training

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Steven Gerrard has issued some fairly hilarious comments regarding former Liverpool teammate Philippe Coutinho.

The Premier League legend admits there were days in training that the sight of the Brazilian wizard on the other side of the pitch made him lash out.

[ MORE: Palace fans must be patient ]

It seems Gerrard wanted nothing to do with marking Coutinho in small-sided games, and the idea of “Stevie G” spouting off in frustration when Brendan Rodgers posted Coutinho across from him is a wonderful mental picture.

From The Liverpool Echo:

“He’s impossible to defend against,” Gerrard told BT Sport after Saturday’s game.

“I mean when I used to train against him, I’d hate it if I was on the opposite five-a-side team. I wouldn’t go near him. And sometimes I’d say to him: ‘Keep away from me! He can embarrass you [as a defender]. He can stand you up, he can both ways, he’s got such a low centre of gravity. He’s sharp, he’s quick and he’s two or three steps ahead of defenders. He’s so, so clever.”

Again, the vision of Gerrard throwing his hands up with a “Nope, not having this today” is amazing. Even if exaggerated, we love it. We picture that old meme with the office worked tossing papers through the air.

Patience with Hodgson required by Palace

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Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson is 0-2 in his new gig and the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t exactly within touching distance.

The latest defeat is a 5-0 blowout at Manchester City, and the immediate road ahead is sobering: at Manchester United and home to Chelsea. Following a trip to Newcastle, who is in form, the Eagles have matches vs. West Ham, at Spurs, and versus Everton.

[ MORE: Premier League Sat. roundup ]

Palace is 0-6 overall and the first team in the history of the Premier League to go goalless through its first six matches.

Palace fired Frank De Boer after four league matches and a summer in which the club failed to add much to its squad.

And Hodgson is feeling his way through the dark. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of this is the timing of Palace’s change.

From the BBC:

“I am learning about the team all the time and they are learning,” said Hodgson.

“Our focus has to be in May. By the latter part of the season the players must know what we are looking for. They should feel stronger by then.”

To be shooting for May has to be overwhelming for the Selhurst Park faithful but may indicate their most reasonable promise of life in the Premier League.

Palace fans cannot afford to get caught up in how Sam Allardyce saved them a year ago, because his turnaround coincided with the Eagles’ purchases of Luka MilivojevicMamadou Sakho, and Patrick Van Aanholt. An influx of talent does not save a season alone, but we’re fairly sure Alan Pardew would’ve relished the chance to work with two new backs and a stabilizing center midfielder.

Remember that Allardyce then retired, which says something given his willingness to bask in any light in which he can claim a modicum of credit.

So Hodgson, known for his relentless training methods, needs to be given his time. Palace will likely have at-most one point after the next two PL matches, and they may have not scored yet. History can be daunting, but supporters need to exhale and realize the road ahead is long.

Kenya loses hosting rights to 2018 African Nations Championship

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ACCRA, Ghana (AP) Kenya has been stripped of the right to host the 2018 African Nations Championship.

The Confederation of Africa Football cited “accumulated delays” in Kenya’s preparations for the tournament, which is the continental championship for players playing in their home leagues.

[ MORE: Premier League Sat. roundup ]

CAF made the decision to take the tournament away from Kenya at an executive committee meeting in Accra, Ghana, on Saturday and opened the bidding process for a new host on Sunday. CAF says applications must be received by next Sunday and the new host will be announced in just over two weeks.

The African Nations Championship is scheduled to be played from Jan. 12-Feb. 4.

Kenya’s preparations for the 16-team tournament were already troubled before August when its presidential elections were nullified and a re-vote was ordered. That re-vote is scheduled for next month, and the political instability has meant preparations for the soccer tournament have been undermined.

CAF also says it is opening a tender process to recruit an audit firm to examine Cameroon’s preparations for the 2019 African Cup of Nations, Africa’s top soccer event.

Like Kenya, Cameroon’s readiness to host the Cup of Nations has been under scrutiny. CAF says it needs to examine the state of Cameroon’s “infrastructure to host the tournament,” with the 2019 Cup of Nations the first to be expanded from 16 to 24 teams.

MLS Snapshot: Red-hot RSL end Sounders’ unbeaten run at 13

Photo credit: Real Salt Lake / @RealSaltLake
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The game in 100 words (or less): With the Seattle Sounders’ 13-game unbeaten run now a thing of the past (and the final four of those games all draws), Real Salt Lake (two losses in their last two, including wins in four of their last five) might just be the hottest team in MLS not named Atlanta United (just one loss in their last 12, including wins in three of their last four; combined score: 17-3). Furthermore, Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Seattle at Rio Tinto Stadium boosts RSL into fifth place in the Western Conference, two points clear of the San Jose Earthquakes and Houston Dynamo, as Mike Petke’s side makes this year’s improbable, late charge toward the MLS Cup Playoffs, in much the same fashion Brian Schmetzer’s Sounders did a year ago. Jefferson Savarino, who scored one and assisted one on Saturday, has proven himself a star on the rise in recent weeks, and has RSL playing their best soccer of the year at exactly the right time.

[ MORE: MLS weekend preview — ATL host MTL; RSL desperate vs. SEA ]

Three moments that mattered

52′ — Savarino slams home Rusnak’s pass for 1-0 — RSL have themselves an attacking trio (Savarino, Albert Rusnak and Brooks Lennon) that loves to play together, and that joy really shines brightly in moments like this.

66′ — Mulholland slams home from Savarino’s cross for 2-0 — Savarino turned provider just 15 minutes later, getting in behind Joevin Jones, corralling Joao Plata’s through ball, and picking out Mulholland atop the six-yard box.

92′ — Rimando makes a stunning save to deny Dempsey — Clint Dempsey tried to sneak a quick free kick past Nick Rimando, but the all-time greatest goalkeeper in MLS history was over it.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Jefferson Savarino

Goalscorers: Savarino (52′), Mulholland (66′)