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′)

Barkley ineligible to make Chelsea debut in FA Cup replay

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Ross Barkley was expected — and himself expected — to make his Chelsea debut on Wednesday, when the Blues host Championship side Norwich City in a third-round FA Cup replay at Stamford Bridge.

Alas, the 24-year-old English midfielder has been ruled ineligible due to a lesser-known and -applied rules surrounding transfers and player registration.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup | Wednesday preview ]

Barkley completed his move from Everton to Chelsea, for $20 million, on Jan. 5, the day before Chelsea and Norwich drew 0-0 at Carrow Road. In order to be eligible for Wednesday’s replay, Barkley is required to have completed his transfer prior to the noon cut-off the day prior to the original tie. While the time of official approval is unknown, Barkley’s move wasn’t announced by the club until after 5 p.m. in the UK.

As such, Chelsea will attempt to set up a behind-closed-doors friendly this week, in order to provide Barkley a bit of game action as he builds fitness and sharpness ahead of a potential debut against Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com). Barkley hasn’t seen a single minute of first-team action this season after suffering a serious hamstring injury in the summer.

FA Cup preview: Three more PL sides face 3rd-round replays

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Three more Premier League sides, including a top-four fighter, attempt to join a dozen of their top-flight contemporaries in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Wednesday…

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup ]

Chelsea and Swansea City host Championship opposition in the form of Norwich City and Wolverhampton Wanderers, respectively, while Bournemouth will make the 500-mile roundtrip to take on League One side Wigan Athletic.

The Blues, who now sit fourth in the PL after their disappointing 0-0 draw with Leicester City, could manage only a scoreless draw with the Canaries at Carrow Road earlier this month. They are winless in their last four games across all competitions — all draws — including their League Cup semifinal first-leg draw with Arsenal last week; the last three of those all finished without a single goal scored. Chelsea, who are tied with Liverpool with the fourth-most FA Cups in their history (7), lost out to Arsenal in last season’s final at Wembley Stadium.

Swansea are undoubtedly the side on highest Cupset alert, as Wolves are the runaway leaders and champions-elect in the Championship (10 points clear after 27 of 46 rounds played), thus able to devote more attention to the FA Cup than the typical second-division side. With the two sides separated by just a single place in the English footballing pyramid (Swansea, 20th in the PL; Wolves, 1st in the Championship), they appear destined to swap places by the end of May.

Meanwhile, Bournemouth’s punishment for conceding a pair of early goals to a side currently 32 places below them in the pyramid, is the long, midweek trip from the south coast to the DW Stadium in the northwest of England. It was the Premier Leaguers who needed a two second-half goals, including Steve Cook‘s 90th-minute equalizer, to draw level at home in the first meeting.

Tuesday’s FA Cup replay actionFULL ROUNDUP

Leicester City 2-0 Fleetwood Town
West Ham United 1-0 (AET) Shrewsbury Town
Mansfield Town 1-4 Cardiff City
Sheffield Wednesday 2-0 Carlisle United
Reading 3-0 Stevenage

Agent: 37-year-old Ronaldinho has retired

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SAO PAULO (AP) The brother and agent of 2005 Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldinho announced Tuesday that the former Brazil and Barcelona playmaker has retired from football.

Roberto Assis made the announcement to Brazilian media on behalf of the 37-year-old midfielder, who played his last professional match in 2015 for Brazil’s Fluminense.

“Ronnie’s professional career is over. He wants to be a football ambassador, do charity, and work with his friends in music from now on,” Assis told The Associated Press.

Assis hopes to schedule some farewell matches for Ronaldinho after the World Cup in Russia, which ends July 15. The initial plan is to play games in Brazil, Europe and Asia and to also get Brazil’s national team involved, Assis said.

Last July, Ronaldinho said on the sidelines of a friendly in Chechnya that was he was “too old” to return to action.

The Brazilian’s decorated career also includes one World Cup title (2002), one Champions League victory (2006) and two Spanish league titles with Barcelona, and two FIFA world player of the year awards (2004 and 2005).

Ronaldinho started his professional career at Gremio in southern Brazil in 1998. He left for Paris Saint-Germain in 2001 and was signed by Barcelona two seasons later.

At the Camp Nou, he was the engine of a team that took Barca back to the limelight. However, after a series of club trophies, Ronaldinho’s career took a downturn. He was often accused by Brazilian and Spanish media of lacking professionalism, despite his mentoring of a then youthful Lionel Messi.

In 2008, with Messi then leading Barcelona, Ronaldinho left for AC Milan. Despite being part of a team that won Serie A in 2011, he failed to reach his previous heights as a player.

When returning home became a real option, Ronaldinho frustrated Gremio’s efforts to re-sign him and joined Flamengo instead.

Disappointing performances in Rio de Janeiro took him to Atletico Mineiro, a club that then was more often fighting against relegation than for titles.

Yet a more mature Ronaldinho took Atletico to a different level.

In his last great run, Ronaldinho carried Atletico with his superb passes and dazzling dribbles to second place in the 2012 Brazilian Championship.

A year later, he was the key to his club lifting its first Copa Libertadores, South America’s most prestigious club trophy, but his hopes of playing at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil were dashed.

Ronaldinho left to play for Mexico’s Queretaro in 2014-15, but was mostly on the bench.

He played his last seven matches as a professional for Fluminense, though his performances were a far cry from his best days in Spain.

Now living in Rio, he has appeared in advertisements all over the world since leaving Fluminense.

USL granted 2018 2nd-division sanctioning by U.S. Soccer

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U.S. Soccer has officially granted the United Soccer League second-division sanctioning, behind first-division Major League Soccer, for the upcoming 2018 season, as well as first-division status for the National Women’s Soccer League.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan unveiled by Liga MX side Club Leon ]

USL, which will feature 33 teams in 2018, had been granted temporary second-division sanctioning, alongside the North American Soccer League, in 2017. As NASL’s demise continued and accelerated — the league will not begin play this spring, opting instead for a late-summer kickoff, after a number of its teams either folded or jumped ship to USL — USL, with the help of MLS, quickly pounced to capitalize — from U.S. Soccer’s statement:

Sanctioning allows NWSL and USL to operate a Division I and II league, respectively, during the 2018 season and includes a two-year pathway to full compliance with the Professional League Standards. USL has demonstrated substantial progress toward reaching full compliance since being granted provisional Division II sanctioning in 2017.

Conspiracy theorist’s take: USL supplanted NASL as the U.S.’s second-most viable professional men’s league — and more importantly, being granted official second-division status — paves the way for MLS to, at some point well down the line — say, 2030 or so — implement its own multi-tiered system of promotion and relegation, featuring anywhere between 60 and 80 teams, while still remaining a single-entity structure closed to the lower reaches of the sport in America, as the lines separating MLS and USL have only become more and more blurred in recent years.

[ MORE: Donovan ready to “win championships” after ending retirement ]

MLS realizes that public demand for promotion and relegation in the U.S. has grown significantly louder in recent years — particularly given the climate of the sport after the men’s national team failed to qualify for the World Cup, and subsequent ongoing presidential-election campaign — thus an open-but-not-really-open system which satisfies neither side will eventually be the end result.