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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.

Southampton: Van Dijk won’t leave, selling days likely done

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - MARCH 29:  Ralph Krueger the Southampton Chairman looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Newcastle United at St Mary's Stadium on March 29, 2014 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
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Ralph Krueger doesn’t plan on selling any more big Southampton stars, and there’s none brighter than Virgil Van Dijk.

The Dutchman is perhaps the best center back in the Premier League, regularly linked with transfers to anywhere from Manchester City to Liverpool.

[ MORE: Liverpool hires new CEO ]

But Krueger says Saints have had enough of selling big assets. Southampton has sold Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Sadio Mane, and Nathaniel Clyne in the past three seasons, and those are just the names to go to Liverpool. Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama have also moved on from St. Mary’s.

From Sky Sports:

“We would like to move away from that and we feel confident this summer will be a lot quieter in Southampton and we can keep the core of this team moving forward for a few years.

“That is going to be important when you see how excellent the group is right now and how exciting the football is. The game we are playing is a pleasure to watch and a pleasure to be part of.”

Saints were the more effective side in a 3-2 EFL Cup Final loss to Manchester United this weekend, but are well off the pace in the race to make back-to-back trips into Europe.

It will be hard to hold onto Van Dijk and even new bright light Manolo Gabbiadini without Europe, but Krueger is a strong leader with the ability to convince almost anyone to buy into a plan.

Real Salt Lake signs Plata to multi-year DP deal

Real Salt Lake forward Joao Plata (8) gestures while walking during an MLS soccer game against New York City FC Saturday, May 23, 2015, in Sandy, Utah. (Leah Hogsten/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP) DESERET NEWS OUT; LOCAL TELEVISION OUT; MAGS OUT
Leah Hogsten/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP
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SANDY, Utah (AP) Real Salt Lake has re-signed forward Joao Plata to a multi-year contract and he will continue to hold a designated-player spot.

The 24-year-old was acquired from Toronto FC before the 2013 season and he has 30 goals and 30 assists in regular-season play with RSL.

[ MORE: Liverpool flops vs LCFC ]

Plata ranks No. 3 on the team’s all-time assists list and No. 5 in goals. He has 33 goals and 35 assists during his MLS career.

Real Salt Lake begins the season Saturday when it hosts Toronto FC.

Gotze out indefinitely with metabolism disorder

ROTTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - NOVEMBER 06:  Mario Goetze (R) and Ann-Kathrin Broemmel attend the MTV Europe Music Awards 2016 on November 6, 2016 in Rotterdam, Netherlands.  (Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images for MTV)
Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images for MTV
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Mario Gotze’s last few seasons have not fulfilled the expectations thrust about the World Cup-winning attacker.

Gotze, 24, scored the 113th minute goal that lifted Germany past Argentina in the 2014 World Cup, but has endured successive disappointing seasons between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.

[ MORE: Liverpool hires new CEO ]

With just two goals this season, Gotze has played just 24 minutes since BVB came back from winter break. On Monday, the club revealed why: a metabolism disorder that will keep him out for an indefinite period of time. From Sky Sports:

“We are glad to know the reasons for Mario’s complaints and we are convinced that after recovering he will give us extra quality with his exceptional abilities,” said Dortmund’s director of sport Michael Zorc.

“Mario gets the full backing and maximum support from all of us at Borussia Dortmund on his way back.”

It’s been a while since we’ve seen Gotze at his best, and here’s hoping this problem is both curable and the reason for his struggles.

Liverpool hires EA Sports executive as new CEO

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Liverpool has named Peter Moore as the successor to chief executive office Ian Ayre.

Ayre, 53, is off to 1860 Munich this summer, and has stepped down early to allow Moore to take over.

[ MORE: Liverpool flops vs LCFC ]

A Liverpool-born executive, Moore was the chief operating officer at EA Sports and has also worked with Microsoft and SEGA.

The move “completes a transitional phase” which saw several new names join the fray. From The Liverpool Echo:

The appointment completes a transition plan by FSG which included appointing Michael Edwards as sporting director while Billy Hogan was promoted to the role of managing director and chief commercial officer.