Spain roundup: Barca, Atletico, Real Madrid all win; Osasuna rises

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It was a weekend for the big boys, and Atletico Madrid‘s hopes for a La Liga title moved even closer after Rudi Garcia’s 14th minute tally pushed the hosts by Villarreal to remain atop the table with 79 points, one more than No. 2 Barcelona.

Speaking of Barca, have you heard of this Lionel Messi fellow? Presumed dead (or at least “just great”) in December, the 26-year-old bagged another two goals as the hosts all-but-condemned Real Betis to the drop. His 15th penalty pen was met by an 86th minute goal to complete the brace. It gives him 10 goals in his last five La Liga matches, which is pretty decent if you’re looking for adjectives.

Real Madrid walked into Anoeta like they owned the place, beating Real Sociedad 4-0 behind goals from four different players. It was 1-0 at half before Gareth Bale, Pepe and Álvaro Morata netted in the second half to complete the win. Sociedad remains six points back of No. 4 Athletic Bilbao, which plays Monday, and three back of No. 5 Sevilla.

Easing concerns over UEFA Champions League second legs, each Top Three club faces a Bottom Six club next week, though only Real Madrid is home. In UCL, Real is on the road with a 3-0 lead on Borussia Dortmund, while Barca heads to Atleti tied at one.

There was an absolutely massive relegation six-pointer at Almeria, where a 32nd minute goal from Arribas (above) would stand as the match-winner as Osasuna picked up an unlikely three points on the road to leap out of the relegation zone, passing the hosts by those three points.

Elsewhere

  • Rayo Vallecano 3-0 Celta Vigo — Bueno lived up to his name with a second-half brace that, upon completion, see teams five points clear of the relegation zone.
  • Valladolid 0-0 Valencia — Scoreless draw does little for the visitors’ hopes for Europe, but the home team will be happy with the point that moves them out of the drop on goal differential.
  • Sevilla 4-1 Espanyol — Kevin Gameiro has his A-game in order, with a brace in the home side’s onslaught of the “other” Barcelona side.
  • Malaga 4-1 Granada— The visitors slipped back toward the drop zone by going down 4-0 before pulling one back in the 78th minute to save a little face in goal differential, which could become crucial.
  • Elche 1-0 Getafe – Richmond Boakye’s 90th minute winner dramatically pulled the home team four points ahead of the visitors, who slipped into the final drop slot.
  • Levante vs. Athletic – Monday

 

Standings

 

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Atlético Madrid 32 25 4 3 70 22 48 14-3-0 11-1-3 79
Barcelona 32 25 3 4 92 26 66 15-0-1 10-3-3 78
Real Madrid 32 24 4 4 90 32 58 13-0-2 11-4-2 76
Athletic 31 16 8 7 53 34 19 11-3-2 5-5-5 56
Sevilla 32 15 8 9 59 47 12 9-3-4 6-5-5 53
Real Sociedad 32 14 8 10 54 48 6 10-3-3 4-5-7 50
Villarreal 32 14 7 11 51 38 13 7-6-3 7-1-8 49
Valencia 32 11 8 13 44 45 -1 8-3-5 3-5-8 41
Levante 31 10 10 11 29 38 -9 5-5-5 5-5-6 40
Espanyol 32 11 7 14 35 40 -5 7-3-6 4-4-8 40
Málaga 32 10 8 14 35 40 -5 6-2-8 4-6-6 38
Rayo Vallecano 32 11 3 18 37 68 -31 7-0-9 4-3-9 36
Celta Vigo 32 10 6 16 34 47 -13 4-6-6 6-0-10 36
Elche 32 8 11 13 26 42 -16 6-6-5 2-5-8 35
Granada 32 10 4 18 29 46 -17 6-1-9 4-3-9 34
Osasuna 32 9 6 17 28 53 -25 5-3-7 4-3-10 33
Valladolid 32 6 13 13 32 50 -18 5-8-3 1-5-10 31
Getafe 32 8 7 17 29 49 -20 4-6-6 4-1-11 31
Almería 32 8 6 18 34 60 -26 5-5-6 3-1-12 30
Betis 32 5 7 20 28 64 -36 4-3-9 1-4-11 22

Kenya loses hosting rights to 2018 African Nations Championship

Photo by Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images/Getty Images
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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′)

MLS Snapshot: FCD’s winless skid hits 10 in loss to MNUFC

Photo credit: Minnesota United / @MNUFC
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The game in 100 words (or less): Just when FC Dallas think they’ve hit rock-bottom, the fall a little bit farther. Oscar Pareja’s side saw its winless skid hit 10 games on Saturday, with a 4-1 loss away to Minnesota United, a side themselves with all of three wins from their last dozen games. Gone now are the games in hand that buoyed FCD’s hopes just a few weeks ago, as they’re now level on games played with many of the sides presently ahead of them in the race for a Western Conference playoff spot, save for Real Salt Lake (level on points) and the San Jose Earthquakes (one point ahead). Following their sixth loss in 10 games, FCD remain eighth in the West, a point behind the Houston Dynamo for the sixth and final playoff place (RSL play later on Saturday with a chance to go fifth themselves. Minnesota, meanwhile, distance themselves from the 10th-place LA Galaxy and sit just six points behind FCD, having rebounded nicely after an appalling start to their expansion season.

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

Three Four Five moments that mattered

14′ — Akindele arrives late, slams home for 1-0 — Tesho Akindele waltzed through the penalty area, unnoticed and unmarked, before arriving at the top of the six-yard box just in time to meet Michael Barrios’ cross.

24′ — Ramirez finishes after a beautiful through ball sets him up — Kevin Molino picked the right pass, and played it perfectly (with a bit of help from Walker Zimmerman), and Christian Ramirez made no mistake with the finish.

35′ — Ibarra volleys past Gonzalez to make it 2-1 — Ramirez turned provider on Minnesota’s second goal, lofting the ball into the penalty area for Miguel Ibarra, whose first-time take beat Jesse Gonzalez to put the home side ahead.

68′ — Shuttleworth denies Diaz from the spot — Two games, two saves from the penalty spot for Bobby Shuttleworth.

71′ — Finlay finishes some fancy build-up for 3-1 — Heartbreak on one end of the field, heartbreak on the other end of the field. Anything and everything that could go wrong for FCD, continues to go wrong for FCD.

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

Man of the match: Christian Ramirez

Goalscorers: Akindele (14′), Ramirez (24′), Ibarra (35′), Finlay (71′), Danladi (88′)

MLS Snapshot: Fire lose again, continue slide into KO round

Photo credit: MLS / @MLS
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The game in 100 words (or less): The Chicago Fire’s slide toward the mean — some might call it regression, indicating maybe, just maybe, they overachieved during the first half of the season — continued on Saturday, following a brief reprieve to begin the month. Veljko Paunovic’s side lost its seventh game in 11 outings, falling 3-1 away to the Philadelphia Union. Bastian Schweinsteiger remains sidelined with a calf injury, but the rest of Chicago’s key figures — Nemanja Nikolic, Dax McCarty, David Accam and Matt Polster remain in place. Chris Pontius did the majority of the damage on Saturday, bagging Philadelphia’s first two goals, followed by CJ Sapong for the third. Luis Solignac grabbed a consolation goal inside the final 25 minutes, but the damage had been done. The result means Chicago (48 points) remain third in the Eastern Conference, still four points back of New York City FC and just two points clear of Atlanta United, who have two games in hand.

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

Three moments that mattered

10′ — Pontius heads the cross home for 1-0 — Keegan Rosenberry cut inside and delivered a delicate, left-footed cross into the box. Pontius got away from his man and met the ball with his head at the top of the six-yard box.

55′ — Pontius again, this time on the rebound — Fafa Picault’s shot was saved by Matt Lampson, but no one followed up to boot the rebound clear. Pontius reacted quickest, and the lead was two.

64′ — Sapong pokes it home for 3-0 — This is Sapong’s 14th of the season, tying Sebastien Le Toux’s club record (2010), and reminded me once again the Peter Vermes insisted on playing Sapong as a winger for multiple seasons before trading him.

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

Man of the match: Chris Pontius

Goalscorers: Pontius (10′, 55′), Sapong (64′), Solignac (67′)