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

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Real Madrid lifted their tenth UEFA Champions League title on Saturday, as they beat Atletico Madrid 4-1 at the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon.

Diego Godin’s header looked to be the difference for so long, as Iker Casillas misjudged a ball into the box in the first half and handed Atleti the lead. However Sergio Ramos equalized deep into second half stoppage time to send the game into extra time, and that is when Real’s star power shone through.

RECAP: Real Madrid win tenth Champions League title after rousing comeback

Carlo Ancelotti delivered the Champions League title at the first time of asking as the Italian manager saw his side get the better of their bitter crosstown rivals.

We learned many things from a tense final in Lisbon, here are three.

The big bucks makes the difference

Heading into extra time, there was only going to be one winner in Lisbon. Real pinned Atletico back just seconds before they were about to celebrate becoming European champions and Atleti’s illustrious neighbors grabbed their second chance with both hands. Their star power made a huge difference late on as the impressive midfield duo of Luke Modric and Angel Di Maria were tireless and ran themselves into the ground for the cause. Those two were terrific and then it was time for Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo to both get themselves on the scoresheet. It was a case of “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” for both of the global superstars as after several misses Bale popped up to head home and make it 2-1, then Ronaldo scored his 17th and final UCL goal of the season to finish things off in style from the PK spot and hand Real the trophy. If you splash out over $240 million on two players, eventually they will make the difference.

Xabi Alonso’s absence, Khedira’s rustiness

In the 58th minute Sami Khedira was replaced by Isco and the German midfielder was put out of his misery after a UCL final to forget. Khedira has been out for over six months with a serious injury and has only played in two games at the end of the season. It showed. Booked in the first half for a lazy tackle, Khedira was not at his combative best and was poor in possession. He gave the ball away and dwelt on it on multiple occasions and Xabi Alonso’s presence in the center of midfield was badly missed, after he picked up a second yellow card in the semifinal win vs. Bayern Munich which ruled him out of the final. Alonso keeps Real ticking over with short passes in the middle and is their heartbeat. Khedira didn’t do well enough to step in for the Spanish international and the likes of Tiago, Koke and Raul Garcia took full advantage of that. The reason why it was such a struggle for Real to clinch the UCL crown was because Atletico dominated the midfield for large swathes of the final.

Set pieces prove pivotal

Atletico sent in an aerial bombardment that Real couldn’t deal with. The winning goal came from Godin’s header after a corner was half cleared and Khedira failed to jump higher than Godin, then Casillas was caught in no man’s land to see the ball loop over his head and over the line. Atleti had nine corners during the match and every time they looked to test Real with vicious deliveries and men crashing in on Casillas at every opportunity. Then Real got back into the game via set piece, as Modric whipped in a cross from the right which found Sergio Ramos to flick home his header into the far post and crush the dreams of Atletico’s fans, players and coaching staff. In a game where both teams matched up man for man across the pitch, set pieces situations proved pivotal in the outcome as the scores finished level through regulation. Real’s extra class from open play then shone through in the extra 30 minutes and that is why they are champions of Europe.

AFCON wrap: Tunisia joins Senegal in knockout rounds (video)

Tunisia's Wahbi Khazri smiles during a press conference in Libreville, Gabon, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, ahead of their African Cup of Nations Group B soccer match against Zimbabwe. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
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Half of the field is set for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations knockout rounds, as Group B completed his final day of group play on Monday in Gabon.

[ FIFA: World Cup draw date at Kremlin ]

Senegal will move onto play Cameroon on Saturday, while Tunisia will take on Burkina Faso.

Senegal 2-2 Algeria

Leicester City’s Islam Slimani scored twice, but it wasn’t enough to get Algeria into the knockout rounds of AFCON.

Papakouly Diop and Moussa Sow answered Slimani’s goals, and Senegal enforced its hold on the group it had already clinched after two matches.

Algeria needed a win and help, and looked to get it when Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani carried over their chemistry from the Foxes of England to the Fennecs of Algeria.

Zimbabwe 2-4 Tunisia

Sunderland’s Wahbi Khazri scored of the fourth of Tunisia’s first half goals as the Eagles of Carthage emphatically clinched their knockout round spot. Tunisia lost in the quarterfinals in 2015.

Lille’s Naïm Sliti was also among the goal scorers for Tunisia, with Youssef Msakni (Lekhwiya) and Taha Yassine Khenissi (Esperance de Tunis) also netting markers.

Tendai Ndoro (Orlando Pirates) and Knowledge Musona (Oostende) scored for Zimbabwe.

Three USMNT players leave camp, two with injuries

Kekuta Manneh chases the ball during practice of the U.S. men's national soccer team Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017, in Carson, Calif. Manneh has become a U.S. citizen, moving the Vancouver Whitecaps forward closer to eligibility for the men's national team. U.S. Soccer announced Manneh received his citizenship Wednesday, after the opening practice of January training camp under new coach Bruce Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
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Less than a week from Bruce Arena’s second debut as USMNT boss, we know three players who won’t be in the Starting XI.

Injuries have felled FC Dallas duo Kellyn Acosta and Matt Hedges, while Vancouver attacker Kekuta Manneh is leaving the squad to join his ‘Caps teammates for preseason in Wales.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League Playback ]

Acosta has a mild left ankle sprain and Hedges has a mild right knee sprain.

While Manneh may have been a long shot to see significant playing time on Sunday against Serbia or Feb. 4 versus Jamaica, Hedges had a chance to start at center back and Acosta has been capped before as well.

FIFA going to Kremlin for World Cup draw in December

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JULY 25:  Vladimir Putin, President of Russia speaks as FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter looks on during the Preliminary Draw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia at The Konstantin Palace on July 25, 2015 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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ZURICH (AP) FIFA says it will stage the 2018 World Cup draw on Dec. 1 at a Kremlin concert hall in Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been allowing FIFA to use high-profile venues for World Cup ceremonies.

In July 2015, the qualifying program draw was made on the grounds of one of Putin’s official residences, Konstantin Palace near St. Petersburg. The summer was home built at the direction of Peter the Great.

The World Cup in Russia kicks off on June 14 at Luzhniki Stadium in the Russian capital, and returns there for the final on July 15.

Jurgen Klopp discusses Liverpool’s title chances

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21: Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool reacts during the Premier League match between Liverpool and Swansea City at Anfield on January 21, 2017 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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It was a disappointing weekend for Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp.

[ MORE: New odds for title contenders ]

The German coach watched on as his side lost 3-2 to Swansea City on Saturday in the Premier League and the Reds fell 10 points behind leaders Chelsea with 16 games to go.

Klopp’s men have only won once in six outings in all competitions in January, and ahead of their EFL Cup semifinal second leg against Southampton at Anfield (they trail 1-0 from the first leg) he was asked if they still have hope of overhauling Chelsea and winning the Premier League.

Speaking to the media, Klopp revealed that his team are good enough to at least be in the top four battle.

“We fight in each game, that’s maybe the most important thing. Then we have to see what happens around,” Klopp said. “Of course, in cup competitions the target is to win the competition. In the Premier League, it’s probably the same but it’s not that easy to plan or whatever. In this case, if Chelsea win all their games – which they pretty much do – there is no chance for any other team. For us, it’s still absolutely important to finish the season as well as possible – whatever that means. We’ll see after the season.

“You can imagine we have the quality to fight for the Champions League, that’s what we should do. If we do this and we are then close enough in the decisive moment of the season, you can still fight for a little bit more. But in this moment, it’s nothing we have to think about or we should think about. We now have two games and then we play Chelsea, so that’s when I’ll think about Chelsea but not how we can get them or whatever. We fight for everything we are able to, that’s all.”

He’s right. Liverpool finishing in the top four this season would be a great achievement at this stage of his project.

Perhaps more worrying for Klopp is that his side may now capitulate and finish outside of the top four for a second-straight season.

There’s no doubting that Liverpool have exceeded the expectations of most people so far in 2016-17 but Klopp’s men faded badly last season to finish in eighth place and with no wins in their last three games in the Premier League the pressure is on.

Without leading scorer Sadio Mane, who is away at the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal, they’ve struggled to break opponents down and their defensive issues came to the fore against Swansea with sloppy mistakes costing them dear.

No team in the top seven has conceded more than Liverpool and with the Reds in fourth place and just four points ahead of sixth-place Manchester United and two points ahead of Manchester City who sit in fifth, all of a sudden they are looking over their shoulders instead of up at Chelsea.

Liverpool has lost momentum.

Boy do they need a big win in the EFL Cup against Southampton on Wednesday to regain some confidence and take that into their next PL clash, which just so happens to be against Chelsea at Anfield on Jan. 31.

Whatever he says publicly, Klopp must know that Liverpool cannot afford to lose to Chelsea. If they do and fall 13 points behind the Blues, the Kop can kiss goodbye to their title hopes for another season.