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Real Madrid reaches first final in 12 years, routs Bayern Munich

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Two early goals from Sergio Ramos and a third, record-setting score from Cristiano Ronaldo quickly siphoned the drama out of Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League semifinal second leg, with set piece execution and counter attacking precision leaving Bayern walking dead coming out of halftime. Unable to produce any of the five goals they needed after the break, the defending champions were left pummeled on their home field, the eventual 4-0 (5-0, aggregate) win for Real Madrid putting the nine-time champions into their first final in 12 years.

After Bayern’s typical dominance of the ball defined the first 15 minutes, Ramos headed home a corner in the 16th, finishing from an unmarked spot just outside the six-yard box. Four minutes later, it was Ramos again, having run onto Pepe’s flick of another corner for their team’s second goal. Just before halftime, Ronaldo quieted the faint hops FCB may have carried into the dressing rooms, his finish on a 34th minute counter giving the visitors a demoralizing three-goal advantage.

Just before full-time, Ronaldo capped the home team’s embarrassment, going under a Bayern Munich wall to convert a direct kick into the left of Manuel Neuer’s net. Having defeated Barcelona 7-0 in last year’s semifinals, Bayern were shown out of this year’s after a 12-goal swing, the 5-0 defeat extinguishing hopes the Bavarians could produce back-to-back three-trophy seasons.

With the win, los Blancos, in addition to claiming their first victory at Bayern Munich, have navigated the hurdle that tripped them in each of the last three seasons. In the process, the club has put itself within reach of its coveted decima, an achievement that will force them to vanquish a familiar foe. Next month in Lisbon, El Real will face either crosstown rivals Atlético Madrid or 2011-12 champions Chelsea, a team led by former head coach José Mourinho.

The match’s opening moments were defined by the same one-way traffic that characterized last week’s leg in Madrid, with El Real quickly getting behind the ball while looking for a counter. In the 15th minute, however, Real Madrid earned its first corner of the game, a restart played in from the right by Luka Modric. Finding Ramos in a seam of Bayern’s zone, Modric delivered what would become the game’s opening goal, with a header from just outside the six-yard box beating Neuer toward the left side of goal.

Four minutes later, it was more of the same from Real, though the team used a middle man to bridge the next Modric-to-Ramos corner. After central defense partner Pepe flicked on the visitors’ second chance of the match, Ramos was able to run onto another header from the box, his redirection toward the lower-right corner giving Real Madrid a 3-0 aggregate lead.

source: AP
Sergio Ramos’s early brace sparked Real Madrid to a dominant display in Munich. (Photo: AP Photos.)

Collecting themselves, seemingly trying to get to halftime and reassess, Bayern’s already faint dreams were dealt another blow in the 24th minute, with Ronaldo’s record 15th goal of the tournament finishing the day’s scoring. Off a counterattack led by Gareth Bale, Ronaldo was able to finish under an oncoming Neuer from near the edge of the penalty area, assuring he’d take part in a third Champions League final.

Allowed to control possession through the rest of the match, Bayern’s frustrated demeanor gave way to resignation, an attitude that gave the last half of play a through-the-motions feel. Needing five goals to advance, the defending champions couldn’t even feign a playing for pride naiveté. This team was experienced enough to know the battle was lost, an view that hit home when Bayern wall jumped over Ronaldo’s late direct kick, allowing the Ballon d’Or-winner’s second goal to roll past a stunned Neuer, giving him 16 for the competition.

To the extent there was a downside for Real Madrid to Tuesday’s result, it came late in the first half. With a sliding tackle that took down Bastian Schweinsteiger, midfielder Xabi Alonso earned a yellow card. Combine with the caution the Spanish international carried into the match, Alonso will miss the final.

That Tuesday’s game was lost so early will surely lead to a second guessing of Pep Guardiola’s approach, particularly in light of the team’s demising form in the long-won Bundesliga. But today, as Carlo Ancelotti predicted, mentality seemed just as important as style or tactics. Whereas Real Madrid has acquired a reputation for mental fragility, a quality the surfaced in the last league Clasico against Barcelona, the Merengues have been spectacularly, suddenly steeled. They’ve not only deal with Barcelona (in the Copa del Rey final); they’ve also solved their Champions League semifinal blues.

Instead of uncertainty, the talk going into Lisbon’s final will center around the decima. Be it against their Madrid rivals or their former, controversial coach, the nine-time champions have a chance to claim the title that’s defined the last 12 years of their existence. Number 10 is only 90 minutes away.

Report: Agent in China, Rooney could leave Man Utd this month

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 13:  Wayne Rooney of Manchester United poses with the Premier League trophy at the start of the Premier League trophy winners parade on May 13, 2013 in Manchester, England  (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
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Could Wayne Rooney‘s days at Manchester United be over as soon as the end of the month?

The BBC reports that Rooney’s agent is in China in the hopes of negotiating a contract with a Chinese Super League team.

[ MORE: Leicester grabs away goal ]

The 31-year-old is said to be wanted by Jiangsu Suning and Tianjin Quanjian. The former club has ex-Chelsea standout Ramires, while the latter is coached by Fabio Cannavaro and boasts Axel Witsel and Alexandre Pato.

From the BBC:

There are no guarantees of success and it is thought a deal remains highly unlikely before the Chinese transfer window closes on 28 February.

And if he does not leave this month it seems certain he will go in the summer.

Rooney is the all-time leading scorer for both Manchester United and England. While his legacy is secure at the former and the latter, will a move to the CSL end his time under Gareth Southgate at England before another World Cup?

So many questions to unpack as one of the Premier League’s all-timers looks set to leave the country in the next six months.

Real Madrid adds intrigue to La Liga race with rare loss (video)

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo, right, and Real Madrid's Lucas Vazquez, left, react after failing to score against Valencia during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Valencia and Real Madrid at the Mestalla stadium in Valencia, Spain, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Alberto Saiz)
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The lone Wednesday match on La Liga’s docket injected some drama back into the chase for Spain’s crown.

Real Madrid fell 2-1 at Valencia, unable to overcome conceding twice in the first 10 minutes.

The match was one of two matches-in-hand Real held on its rivals for La Liga’s title. Now Real’s one-point lead over Barcelona and three-point advantage over Sevilla seem a bit more manageable.

[ MORE: Man Utd onto Europa Rd of 16 ]

Simone Zaza and Fabian Orellana netted for Los Che, but Cristiano Ronaldo’s 44th minute goal was the only answer the leaders could muster before full time.

Zaza’s goal was a stunner:

Real could rebuild its lead over the weekend, with Barcelona off to Atletico Madrid on Sunday and Sevilla traveling to Betis on the heels of its UCL win over Leicester City.

But for now, life’s a bit more exciting in Spain. Real hosts Barcelona on April 23, and hosts Sevilla on the penultimate weekend of the season.

Standings

 

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Real Madrid 22 16 4 2 57 20 37 10-2-0 6-2-2 52
 Barcelona 23 15 6 2 63 19 44 7-3-1 8-3-1 51
 Sevilla 23 15 4 4 46 28 18 9-1-1 6-3-3 49
 Atlético Madrid 23 13 6 4 43 19 24 8-2-1 5-4-3 45
 Real Sociedad 23 13 2 8 36 32 4 7-2-3 6-0-5 41
 Villarreal 23 10 9 4 30 15 15 7-3-2 3-6-2 39

WATCH: Giovinco nets rain-soaked preseason beauty

TORONTO, ON - MAY 07:  Sebastian Giovinco #10 of Toronto FC is presented with the MLS Audi Golden Boot Award as leading scorer for the 2015 season prior to an MLS soccer game against FC Dallas at BMO Field on May 7, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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We still can’t get over Sebastian Giovinco’s omission from the list of finalists for the 2016 MLS MVP Award, and the Toronto FC magician gave us another reminder of his greatness on Wednesday.

Playing a preseason match against Minnesota United on a rain-soaked pitch, Giovinco scored a brace. One of those goals came off an ankle-breaking dribble and finished with rain splashing off the net.

[ MORE: Man Utd onto Europa Rd of 16 ]

Yeah, he’s still good.

Giovinco turned 30 last month but still looks good money to dance up the statistical leaderboard this season. The Reds open at Real Salt Lake on March 4.

Leicester after one leg vs. Sevilla: “We knew they are better than us”

Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri catches the ball during the Champions League round of 16 soccer match between Sevilla and Leicester City at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan stadium in Seville, Spain, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Miguel Morenatti)
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Sevilla probably should’ve put Leicester City to bed.

Thanks to Kasper Schmeichel, the Spanish powers couldn’t do that. Now stubborn Leicester is a 1-0 win away from progressing to the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals.

[ MORE: UCL wrap-up ]

Credit to Jamie Vardy, too, who put away a rare Leicester chance to give the Foxes a road goal from its trip West, but Schmeichel was magnificent.

And Leicester certainly knows how to defend and hit teams on the break.

“We knew they are better than us, they have high quality in possession. We suffered. They showed their quality but we showed our heart. We showed belief and never game up. That makes me satisfied.

“At the end, if we are a little more calm on the counter-attack, we could have done more. It was very important to match them and every result is still open.”

It certainly wasn’t easy to get to the final whistle. Here’s Vardy.

“Everyone has given 110 percent and everyone has come off absolutely blowing. We knew we had to be patient and take our chances but we knew we could hurt them on the press and that’s what Danny (Drinkwater) did. He got it over to me and I slipped it in.”

Again, we wouldn’t sleep on Leicester despite Sevilla’s dominance at home. King Power Stadium will be riled up come March 14, and one moment of magic could be enough for another miraculous moment for Leicester lore.