Benzema goal holds up as Real Madrid claim 1-0 lead over Bayern Munich

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Playing out as a treatise against the primacy of possession, Real Madrid willingly and victoriously ceded control of the home leg of its UEFA Champions League semifinal. Instead, hosting defending champions Bayern Munich, Carlo Anelotti’s side made the most of the few counter attack chances it was able to muster, defending a Karim Benzema opener for 71 minutes en route to a 1-0 win at the Santiago Bernabéú.

The match’s only goal came with the game’s first true chance, with a counter down the home team’s left producing a ball fed into the Bayern area for Fabio Coentrão. The Ballon d’Or winner’s pass across Manuel Neuer’s six-yard box ended with Benzema’s uncontested finish, giving the nine-time champions an early lead. Despite late chances for Thomas Müller and Mario Götze, the advantage held up through Howard Webb’s final whistle, inching  Ancelotti’s team closer to the club’s coveted decima.

(MORE: Three things we learned from Real Madrid’s win vs. Bayern Munich)

Bayern would finish the match holding 72 percent of the possession, out-passing the Merengues 667-256 while only putting four shots on Iker Casillas. Real Madrid, in contrast, tested Neuer five times, proving more dangerous with the limited possession sought.

The same dynamic iss likely to play out next Tuesday at the Allianz Arena. Bayern Munich, trying to become the first back-to-back European Cup winners in 24 years, will need the goal it couldn’t craft at the Bernabéu. Real Madrid, seeking the club’s 10th European championship, will hope Benzema’s goal will help them avoid a fourth straight exit at the semifinal round.

Opening the match by dominating 80 percent of the ball — a rate that would persist through halftime — Bayern Munich assumed its expected control of the match, even if that control failed to translate into chances. Instead, it was Real Madrid the produced the night’s first true opportunity – a counterattack that led to Coentrão on the ball, approaching the byline. Drawing both Munchen central defenders wide, the Real left back was able to roll a ball across the top of the six-yard box to Benzema at the far post, with Manuel Neuer unable to get across to prevent an easy 19th minute finish.

Though Bayern continued monopolizing the ball over the next 26 minutes, all the chances fell to the hosts. In the 27th minute, a ball crossed from the left by Benzema took a subtle, unfortunate bounce on Ronaldo when the team’s leading scorer tried to one-time it near the penalty spot. In the 41st, Ángel Di María  volleyed another ball crossed from the left over Neuer’s cross-bar, leaving the teams to go into halftime at 1-0.

Within minutes of the second half kickoff, Real Madrid was testing Neuer again, with a sharp angle shot from Ronaldo forcing Neuer to ground to protect his far post.  Mid-way through the half, Ronaldo would have another chance from the left of the penalty area, one Neuer was able to push out for a corner. As Ancelotti and Pep Guardiola started making changes, the limited possession Real Madrid was electing to keep started to fade, with the Merengues left of hold out per the match’s final 10 minutes.

That spell produced a chance for Müller from just outside the area, though the German international left his shot just outside Casillas’s right post. In the 86th minute, Bayern’s best chance of the game fell to Götze, 10 yards out at the right post, though his attempt to go across goal was hit right at Casillas. A late penalty appeal from Müller was ignored by Webb, who eventually blew the whistle on El Real‘s first leg shutout.

It was the type of defensive performance which, if replicated next week, will see the Merengues to Lisbon – into the European final the squad could never reach under José Mourinho. Beyond those three years, though, Real Madrid’s Wednesday performance puts the club 90 minutes closer to easing angst 12 years in the making. Another showing like tonight’s in Germany, and the kings of Europe will get their change to reclaim their crown.

La Liga releases schedule: First El Clasico coming in December

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It’s Christmas in July for fans of La Liga Friday as the Spanish league published its schedule for the upcoming season.

Defending champions Real Madrid travel to Deportivo La Caruña on August 20, the opening match of the season while its rival Barcelona hosts Real Betis.

As it’s La Liga, the first date most fans searched for was the first El Clasico of the season, and the biennial battles between Real Madrid and Barcelona will take place on December 20 and May 6, with Real Madrid hosting the first match.

The first match comes just ahead of the Spanish winter break, while the second match comes at a busy period at the end of the season, where both teams will be hoping to still be competing in the UEFA Champions League.

Other interesting matches to keep an eye on in the first few weeks of the season include Real Madrid hosting Valencia in week two, the Barcelona derby between Barca and Espanyol in week three and Atletico Madrid taking on Sevilla in week six.

Here’s a look at this year’s La Liga schedule.

Conte: Costa “situation was very clear” in January

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At this point, there is no doubt Diego Costa‘s future lies away from London and Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte broke his silence on the Brazilian-born Spain international striker, saying he’s been ready to move on from Costa since January, when Costa and Conte had a disagreement following a big-money offer from Chinese club Tianjin Quanjian during the winter transfer window.

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“I don’t like to talk about players who are not here but the only thing I can tell you [is that] in January, the Costa situation was very clear, for the club for him and his agent,” Conte told reporters Friday. “For me the situation is closed.”

It’s an amazing turn of events after Costa scored 20 Premier League goals in Chelsea’s title-winning 2016-2017 season, including 14 goals through the end of December. But after falling out with Jose Mourinho a year earlier, the same issue happened again under Conte, with Costa proving much less effective down the stretch.

But Conte and Costa were able to put their differences aside on the field, photographed multiple times hugging after wins, as well as after winning the title.

Costa is reportedly now agitating for a move back to his former club Atletico Madrid, but the Spanish club’s transfer ban until the next window complicates matters. In a World Cup year, would Costa be willing to sit out half a season just to leave Chelsea?

If Costa’s time in the Premier League is up, he’ll go down as one of the league’s best pound-for-pound goalscorers. He scored 52 goals in 89 Premier League appearances, with seven more cup goals in his three-year spell at Chelsea.

And if he is gone, defenders across the Premier League will sure be happy to wave goodbye.

Sparta Prague signs France midfielder Rio Mavuba

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PRAGUE (AP) Sparta Prague says it has signed France midfielder Rio Mavuba to a three-year contract.

The 33-year-old Mavuba comes from French club Lille, which he joined in 2008. Before that, he played for Bordeaux and Spanish club Villarreal.

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Mavuba was on the France team at the 2014 World Cup.

He is the 10th player signed by Sparta after Italian coach Andrea Stramaccioni took charge in May.

Mexico 1-0 Honduras: Pizarro strikes early to put El Tri in Gold Cup semifinals

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Mexico had little trouble dispatching Honduras as El Tri won 1-0 in Glendale, AZ and eased into the Gold Cup semifinals.

Just four minutes into the game, Mexico took the lead as they got Honduras on its heels, with Rodolfo Pizarro sticking the ball in at the far post at the end of a scramble. Jesus Duenas carved a ball through the defense, and while Elias Hernandez whiffed on the tap-in, Pizarro was right behind him to finish the chance.

Mexico settled in after scoring, while Honduras tried to out-muscle El Tri, with the latter receiving a pair of yellow cards in the first 45 minutes. There were precious few other chances throughout the first half, with Honduras completely incapable of creating anything in the attacking half.

Mexico continued to dominate out of the halftime break, but they lost Monterrey midfielder Jesus Molina in the 65th minute with discomfort, replaced by Chaka Rodriguez. The best moment for Honduras as they chased the game late came in the 78th minute as Jose Corona made a spectacular save when substitute Alexander Lopez nearly scored directly from a corner. They came close again in stoppage time after a set-piece as Alfredo Mejia scuffed a shot agonizingly wide.

Honduras ended their Gold Cup without a single goal scored. They technically defeated French Guyana 3-0 in the group stage, but that came on the typical forfeit scoreline, whereas the actual game played ended in a 0-0 draw.

Meanwhile, Mexico will take on Jamaica in the semifinal in a rematch of last tournament’s final.