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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.

Pep Guardiola: “Maybe I’m not good enough”

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Pep Guardiola has admitted he “may not be good enough” for his players at Manchester City.

Ahead of City’s clash against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) Guardiola has been defended his squad after severe criticism from the media.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

City were hammered 4-0 at Everton last weekend, their worst league defeat since 2008 and Guardiola’s worst-ever league defeat as a manager.

With plenty pointing the finger of blame at goalkeeper Claudio Bravo and City’s defense, their manager put himself in the firing line.

“They are good players. I have respect for the guys, so why would I say the guys are not good? So I don’t understand the lack of respect for the professionals when they have been amazing players, and [people saying] they are not good enough for me. Maybe I am not good enough for them,” Guardiola said. “They are Manchester City players, top players. They have a lot of quality. They have shown that many times in the past and this season.”

Mind games.

Guardiola, 46, is no doubt facing the biggest challenge of his season as City look to at least seal a top four spot in this his debut season in England. The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager has already “said goodbye to the title” and if they lose against red-hot Tottenham at the Etihad Stadium then more questions will be asked of his tactics and if they can work in the Premier League.

So far the possession-based slow build up style has been hot and cold for City, with plenty of counter-attacking teams in the PL (Chelsea, Spurs, Everton, Leicester etc.) having a field day against a shaky defense.

Despite being 10 points off the pace, Guardiola is sticking by his philosophy. One thing really sticks out to me from his first few press conferences in England: “We will see if my style of play can work in the Premier League.”

So far, it’s not.

Watch Live: Liverpool vs. Swansea City (Lineups, Stream)

SWANSEA, WALES - MARCH 16:  Kyle Naughton of Swansea City is closed down by Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Liverpool at Liberty Stadium on March 16, 2015 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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Liverpool host Swansea City to Anfield on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with the Reds aiming to stretch their unbeaten run at home in the Premier League to 18 games.

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Jurgen Klopp is a little concerned with the number of games his team have had to play over the past few weeks, but a victory against the struggling Swans would momentarily move his side just four points behind leaders Chelsea who play on Sunday.

As for Swansea, new manager Paul Clement knows a win would take his team out of the relegation zone and with new signings arriving that would be a massive boost. It would also be a massive ask for the Welsh side to get anything at Anfield but this may be a good time to play Liveprool after their midweek trip to Plymouth in the FA Cup and the EFL Cup semifinal second leg against Southampton coming up on Wednesday.

In team news Liverpool start with Philippe Coutinho once again, while Joel Matip is on the bench after the Reds finally settled the dispute with Cameroon. Swansea hand debuts to new signings Martin Olsson and Tom Carroll.

LINEUPS

Liverpool: Mignolet; Clyne, Lovren, Klavan, Milner; Can, Henderson, Wijnaldum; Lallana, Coutinho, Firmino. Subs: Karius, Sturridge, Moreno, Lucas, Origi, Matip, Woodburn

Swansea City: Fabianski; Olsson, Mawson, Fernandez, Naughton; Cork, Carroll, Fer; Sigurdsson, Llorente, Routledge. Subs: Nordfeldt, Rangel, Amat, Fulton, Dyer, Borja, McBurnie

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.