Real Madrid win Champions League, seal tenth title after dramatic comeback

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Real Madrid beat crosstown rivals Atletico Madrid 4-1 after extra time in a gripping UEFA Champions League final in Lisbon, as Real clinched their tenth European cup after a rousing comeback.

La Decima has finally been secured.

The world’s most expensive player, Gareth Bale, was the hero as his 110th minute header put Real 2-1 up and then Marcelo and Cristiano Ronaldo put some gloss on the scoreline late on to give Real the trophy they’ve wanted for over a decade.

Atletico Madrid led in the first half through Diego Godin’s header, following a bad mistake from Real ‘keeper Iker Casillas. That goal looked to be enough to hand Atleti their first-ever UCL title in their 111 year history, but Sergio Ramos popped up with seconds left in regulation to head home and send the match into extra time.

Their latest UCL crown was Real’s first title since 2002 when they beat Bayer Leverkusen in the final in Glasgow, as the final whistle sparked jubilant scenes from the Real fans, players and coaching staff at the Estadio da Luz.

Madrid will, once again, be Real’s as the most decorated club in European Cup history added another title to the trophy cabinet.

MORE: Three things we learned from Real Madrid’s Champions League win

Early on Real started the brighter of the two teams and a marauding run from right back Daniel Carvajal found Karim Benzema but his ball towards Bale was cut out by Atletico ‘keeper Thibaut Courtois.

Diego Costa’s injured hamstring was the big storyline leading up to the game and even though the Spanish international started the match, he walked straight off the pitch and down the tunnel after just nine minutes of the final. It almost looked scripted from Simeone and his staff, as Costa’s final was over and Adrian Lopez replaced him.

Real continued to dominate possession but couldn’t find a way through as the opening stages of the UCL final was extremely tentative. Atletico tried to get things going but after Costa’s early substitution the Spanish champions failed to threaten in the final third apart from sporadic set pieces. Real threatened on the break and Ronaldo hit a dipping free kick on target but Courtois saved well after Angel Di Maria was hacked down by Raul Garcia. Several meaty challenges began to fly in — Sergio Ramos, Sami Khedira and Raul Garcia were all booked in the first half — as the crosstown rivals went at it as half time approached.

source: AP
Casillas was caught out of position and Godin’s header looped over him to make it 1-0.

In the 32nd minute a glorious chance arrived as Tiago inexplicably gave the ball away to Bale and the Welsh wizard carved through the heart of Atletico’s defense but somehow steered his shot wide of the post under intense pressure. Real were getting closer. Then Atleti struck as Godin headed over Casillas, who was floundering in no man’s land after a corner was only half cleared, and Atletico made the most of a goalkeeping blunder from Real’s captain. Uruguayan international Godin scored the crucial goal which won Atletico the La Liga title away at Barcelona just days before and his header gave his side one hand on the UCL trophy heading into half time.

After the interval Real pushed for the equalizer and Ronaldo came close three times in quick succession with a deflected free kick that was tipped over from Courtois, then he saw an effort knocked wide from the resulting corner and then Ronaldo sent another effort off target. Real’s momentum began to build. Up the other end Adrian Lopez struck a volley towards the bottom corner but Real managed to deflect the ball wide as they continued to struggle defending set pieces.

With 30 minutes left Ramos’ ball from the left almost found Ronaldo in the box but the Portuguese forward slightly misjudged his jump and the ball skimmed of his head and wide. The momentum continued to swing in Real’s favor but substitute Isco dragged an effort wide as the clocked ticked down in Lisbon with Atleti 1-0 up.

Real pressed for the equalizer which would send the game into extra time but Bale sent a shot wide, then scuffed another effort into the side-netting and Ronaldo’s acrobatic effort flew over the bar. Atletico defended like lions as the final minutes arrived and Real threw the kitchen sink at their fierce rivals.

Finally Real broke through, as Ramos headed home Luka Modric’s free kick from the right in the 93rd minute to send Real’s fans wild and the game into extra time.

There were plenty of tired legs throughout the extra 30 minutes of play as players from both teams felt the impact of a breathless 90 minutes of action. Modric’s deflected effort in the 108th minute saw Real come close to inching ahead. The crucial moment then arrived in the 110th minute as Bale headed home from close range after Di Maria’s shot was well-saved but the ball popped up perfectly for the Welshman to play the hero. After that Marcelo ran towards goal and smashed in a low effort, then Ronaldo bagged a late penalty to make it 4-1 and hand Real the title.

Real Madrid are European champions.

LINEUPS

Real Madrid: Casillas; Carvajal, Ramos, Varane, Coentrao (Marcelo, 59′); Khedira (Isco, 59′), Modric, Di Maria; Bale, Benzema (Morata, 79′), Ronaldo.

Goals: Ramos, (93′), Bale (110′), Marcelo (118′), Ronaldo (120′)

Atletico Madrid: Courtois; Juanfran, Godin, Miranda, Filipe Luis (Alderweireld, 83′); Gabi, Tiago, Koke, Raul Garcia (Sosa, 66′); Villa, Diego Costa (Adrian, 9′)

Goal: Godin, (36′)

La Liga: Sevilla win late to move even with Atletico Madrid in 3rd

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MADRID (AP) Wissam Ben Yedder scored three minutes after entering the game to give Sevilla a late 2-1 win over 10-man Celta Vigo in the Spanish league on Thursday.

The victory moved Sevilla even on points with third-place Atletico Madrid with four matches left. Third place guarantees an automatic spot in the Champions League next season, while the fourth-placed team has to go through a playoff.

Ben Yedder netted the winner from close range after a low cross by Samir Nasri in the 79th minute, beating a defender to the ball and hitting the top of the net with a right-footed shot.

“It was a complex game but the team was able to overcome the difficulties,” Sevilla coach Jorge Sampaoli said.

Joaquin Correa put the host ahead after halftime, and Iago Aspas equalized by converting a penalty kick just minutes later. Aspas did not celebrate the goal out of respect to fans of his former club.

Sevilla dominated from the start and was pressuring vigorously in search of the winner, especially after Celta went a man down when midfielder Pablo Hernandez was sent off with a second yellow card in the 56th with the game 1-1.

Sergio Escudero and Nasri each struck the crossbar a few minutes apart late in the second half, and Vicente Iborra also had hit the woodwork earlier in the game played under steady rain in Seville.

It was the third win in four matches for Sevilla after a streak of five games without a win.

Sevilla and Atletico are level on points, but the Madrid club is ahead on the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Top PL Storylines: Bye-bye, St. Totteringham’s Day? So long, Sunderland?

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Ahead of Week 34 of the 2016-17 Premier League season, we’re most looking forward to keeping an eye on the following storylines…

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Cancel St. Totteringham’s Day?

8,018 days (otherwise known as 22.9 years) have passed since Tottenham Hotspur last finished above Arsenal in the Premier League. First of all, that’s a lot of days. Secondly, the time to reset that clock is nearly upon us, as Tottenham take a 14-point lead into Sunday’s North London derby (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com) — perhaps the final one to be played at White Hart Lane. With Arsenal having only five games left to play after Sunday, a 17-point deficit would be mathematically impossible to overcome, and would guarantee Spurs’ first PL finish above Arsenal since the spring of 1995.

The fact that Spurs could end that embarrassing, heinous streak in a game against Arsenal, in perhaps their next-to-last game at White Hart Lane, and maybe even close to within a single point of Chelsea in the title race… it’s almost all too timely and too perfect to believe it could really happen… to Spurs.


Finish the job

With all due respect to Middlesbrough (home), West Bromwich Albion (away), Watford (home) and Sunderland (home), Sunday’s trip to Goodison Park, where they’ve lost on their last two visits (all competitions) and they’ll take on seventh-place Everton (Watch live, 9:05 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com), is far and away the toughest remaining fixture on Chelsea’s schedule as they chase a fifth PL-era title (fifth in all eras). Having booked their spot in the FA Cup final by beating Spurs last weekend, Antonio Conte is dreaming of — and a favorite to win — a double in his first season at Stamford.


Someone has to finish top-four

Ahead of the weekend, two points separate Liverpool (third), Manchester City (fourth) and Manchester United (fifth), with Arsenal another four back in sixth (but possessing a game in hand). Given all the points dropped by each of the aforementioned sides in recent weeks, it’s important to remember that someone has to finish third and fourth in the PL this season.

We’ve already discussed Arsenal’s titanic task, so here’s the challenges facing the other three this round: Liverpool, at Watford (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com); Man City, at Middlesbrough (Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET, on  NBCSports.com); Manchester United, vs. Swansea City (7 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com).


So long, Sunderland?

For five seasons now, Sunderland have flirted with relegation from the PL; and every previous season, they’ve pulled a rabbit out of the hat and managed to stay up. This season, though, under David Moyes, there appears to be no rabbit. With five games to go, safety is a whopping 12 points away, which means a loss to Bournemouth on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSports.com), coupled with a win or draw by 17th-place Hull City, would officially send Sunderland to the Championship next season. If the Black Cats somehow find their way out of this predicament, a northeastern knighthood awaits Mr. Moyes.

French authorities investigating 2018, 2022 World Cup bids

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PARIS (AP) French financial prosecutors are investigating the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and have heard former FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

A person with direct knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press on Thursday that France’s financial prosecutor services (PNF) opened the investigation on grounds of private corruption, criminal association, influence peddling, and benefiting from influence peddling relating to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which were awarded to Russia and Qatar respectively.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the case.

Blatter was questioned in Switzerland last week as a witness, the same person told the AP.

The office of the attorney general of Switzerland said in a statement that “at the request of and in the context of proceedings being conducted by French justice authorities, it has questioned Mr. Joseph Blatter in his capacity as a person providing information on the 20th April 2017 in Zurich.”

The PNF opened its investigation last year.

FIFA has also been targeted by investigations led by Swiss and US authorities. Last month, FIFA sent 1,300 pages of internal investigation reports into suspected bribery and corruption to Switzerland’s attorney general. The documents complete a 22-month probe by legal firm Quinn Emanuel, which FIFA retained in the fallout from United States and Swiss federal prosecutors revealing their sprawling investigations of soccer corruption in May 2015.

Blatter said last week that he met with U.S. Department of Justice investigators and insisted he was not a suspect in their bribery and corruption case linked to FIFA.

Blatter was suspended from office in September 2015 and later banned from soccer by the FIFA ethics committee.

Johannsson expected to leave Bremen this summer — is MLS next?

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Aron Johannsson’s time at Werder Bremen is all but finished, as the 26-year-old American-born, Icelandic-raised striker is expected to leave the club this summer after 22 months with Die Werderaner.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

Having failed to make much of an impact during his second season in the Bundesliga, following a few promising days early in the fall of 2015, the German press stated on Thursday, in no uncertain terms, “Aron Johannsson is leaving the northern club” — quotes from Kicker (translation courtesy of Google Translate):

In addition, Aron Johannsson is leaving the northern club. The US boy was not able to get through the hard competition in the storm, claimed more time, which can hardly be guaranteed in the next season. The fact that Baumann is already talking about finding a meaningful solution with the striker in the summer can be interpreted as follows: Johannsson will leave Werder.

Since various bits and pieces are lost in the above translation, allow us to offer a translation of the translation: the “hard competition in the storm” refers to the three or four strikers presently ahead of him in the pecking order. Johannsson fell down the depth chart due in large part to a hip injury which cost him the final seven months of last season.

Johannsson was recently quoted as saying, “It’s not my desire to leave, but at the end of the day it’s important that I play. I love football, but I need to play to be happy.”

[ MORE: John Brooks hip injury is worrying ahead of World Cup qualifiers ]

So, what’s next for Johannsson?

He can probably forget about a move to a top-division team in any of Europe’s premier leagues (England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France). A move back to Holland, where he starred at AZ Alkmaar (39 goals in 81 games) before moving to Bremen, would make sense if his goal is to stay in Europe at all costs. Another strong season (just a half, even) could earn him another shot with a first-division side roughly the size of Bremen.

Then, there’s MLS, which Johannsson’s been linked with before, and has publicly expressed a desire to join one day. As a current U.S. national team player, a move to MLS would mean a trip through the league’s allocation order for Johannsson. As of this posting, the Houston Dynamo hold the no. 1 spot in the allocation order, with Columbus Crew SC, San Jose Earthquakes, Minnesota United and Orlando City SC rounding out the next five.

[ WATCH: If you haven’t Darlington Nagbe’s latest golazo ]

Any team in MLS could land Johannsson by acquiring the top spot in the allocation order, via trade, and agreeing (what would almost certainly be) a Designated Player contract with him.

At the age of 26, Johannsson will likely feel there is still something left for him to accomplish in Europe. A strong showing in this summer’s Gold Cup (he’s a perfect candidate for Bruce Arena’s “B-team”) could open plenty of eyes — and doors. Money talks, though, just as the opportunity to be the face of the franchise and score a boatload of goals in MLS might also do.