Barcelona 3-0 Bayern Munich: Messi magic negates Neuer’s first-half heroics

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Lionel Messi, who will one day go down as the greatest player of all time, put in a stunning, dominant performance to remember on Wednesday, as the diminutive Argentine led Barcelona to a 3-0 victory over Bayern Munich and former-Barca manager Pep Guardiola in the first leg of the two sides’ UEFA Champions League semifinal tie.

[ RELATED: Champions League schedule ]

If not for a Herculean first-half performance by Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, the tie might have been well and truly over before the halftime of the first leg. The German international, widely regarded as the world’s best ‘keeper, made five saves in total, including the following three which looked to be sure goals if not for the 29-year-old’s interventions.

Luis Suarez had the game’s first golden chance after Messi’s through ball put the Uruguayan nearly 10 yards behind the Bayern defense and one on one with Neuer. Suarez raced into the 18-yard box and fired a right-footed shot toward the far post, but Neuer came up with the stunning kick save.

Neuer came up huge again in the 39th minute, this time saving a point-blank effort from Dani Alves after Andres Iniesta chipped a through ball over the top of the Bayern defense, onto the chest of Alves who quickly volleyed eight yards out.

[ WATCH IT AGAIN: Messi’s stunning second goal, embarrassment of Boateng ]

Messi’s first decent shooting opportunity didn’t arrive until the 57th minute, when Neymar put the Argentine superstar into a half-yard of space which was all Messi needed to fire a left-footed rocket straight into the chest of Neuer, who saved and held the shot after a short initial bobble.

Neuer’s one suspect moment provided Barcelona their first goal, as Messi’s left-footed strike from outside the penalty area beat Neuer inside his near post and found the back of the net in the 77th minute.

Messi doubled Barca’s lead three minutes later, but not before turning Jerome Boateng inside-out and sending the hulking German defender to the floor in a heaping pile of shame and defeat. From there, Messi raced in on Neuer, who went to ground quickly to cover both posts, forcing Messi into a delicate, right-footed chip over the outstretched arms of Neuer. The ball, as it often does off the foot of Messi, found the back of the net (WATCH HERE).

[ RELATED: Juventus 2-1 Real Madrid in Tuesday’s semifinal first leg ]

Neymar added a third for Barca three minutes into second-half stoppage time, perhaps putting the tie to bed. Messi’s through ball played the Brazilian wonder kid behind the Bayern defense, where he bore down on Neuer and slid the ball, easily, underneath the Bayern ‘keeper.

The second leg will be played next Tuesday at the Allianz Arena in Munich, with Guardiola’s side needing to erase a three-goal deficit in order to reach their second Champions League final in three seasons.

LINEUPS

Barcelona: Ter Stegen, Alves, Pique, Mascherano (Bartra 89′), Alba, Rakitic (Xavi 82′), Busquets, Iniesta (Rafinha 87′), Messi, Suarez, Neymar

Goals: Messi (77′, 80′), Neymar (90+3′)

Bayern Munich: Neuer, Rafinha, Benatia, Boateng, Lahm, Alonso, Thiago, Bernat, Schweinsteiger, Muller (Gotze 79′), Lewandowski

WATCH: Camila’s wicked swerving goal for Brazil

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The Tournament of Nations got underway earlier Thursday, with Brazil and Japan drawing 1-1 in Seattle.

While some in the crowd may’ve been waiting to see the United States women’s national team and Australia in the second game of the twin bill, they got an absolute treat from Brazil’s Camila.

[ MORE: Galaxy’s season-changing signing ]

The Orlando Pride midfielder is yet to scoop up 10 caps, but blasted this 25-yard goal home with a wicked outside bend.

The aesthetics are terrific.

LA Galaxy’s second Dos Santos signing is a season-changer

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Remember this day, MLS fans, as one that perhaps helped determine an MLS Cup Finalist.

The LA Galaxy have signed Villarreal midfielder and Mexican national teamer Jonathan Dos Santos, and he’s the sort of player who could alter the landscape of the Western Conference.

Like Nicolas Lodeiro to Seattle last season and New England’s addition of Jermaine Jones in 2014, Dos Santos’ move comes with the distinct possibility of elevating LA into the next stratosphere.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Arriola attracting transfer interest ]

Take the Galaxy’s history of winning, and toss in a midseason coaching improvement from Curt Onalfo to Sigi Schmid, as well as MVP-in-their-own-right caliber teammates Giovani Dos Santos, Romain Alessandrini, and Jelle van Damme.

Don’t sleep on the fact that Schmid might be gathering momentum from inheriting a talented and underachieving roster and a brand new game-changing midfielder, which feels a bit like karmic retribution for Seattle firing him and signing Lodeiro the next day last season. Seattle only went and won the MLS Cup.

Schmid has used any number of formations, but could deploy a 4-3-3 with Jona Dos Santos, Jermaine Jones, and Joao Pedro in the midfielder and Giovani Dos Santos, Alessandrini, and Gyasi Zardes up top (Sebastian Lletget could return at some point, too).

Now FC Dallas is very deep, Sporting KC looks powerful, and Seattle won it all last year — plus, may be adding Derlis Gonzalez?!? — but LA’s move to add Dos Santos creates a quartet of teams with proven mettle (Houston looks decent, too, but I have concerns about their first-time as a unit in the playoffs).

Joey Barton’s gambling ban lowered by almost 5 months

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Joey Barton’s 18-month ban for betting on almost 1,300 soccer-related events has been lowered to 13 months and one week.

Putting aside the hilarity of grown men and women discussing whether an extra week was necessary, the alteration means he’ll be eligible to return to football on June 1, 2018.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Arriola attracting transfer interest ]

While that still hampers the idea of the 34-year-old playing again — he’ll be 36 when the ban ends — it’s a significant change if he’s open to the idea of returning to the game.

Barton’s original ban expired in late October 2018, well into a season. From Sky Sports:

The appeal board also agreed: “It was clear that Mr Barton was not involved in any cheating, he did not influence any games and there was nothing suspicious about his bets.

“(The reduction) reflects the overall seriousness of the breaches and also the mitigation of Mr Barton’s addiction.”

Barton’s remarkably controversial career has including several suspensions and imprisonment, but he always found his way back to the field and was very good when in form. After time at Manchester City and Newcastle United, Barton fended off naysayers with stints at QPR, Marseille, Burnley, and a regrettable move to Rangers.

We may see him on the field in August 2018.

FIFA fines Qatar after players’ political support for Emir

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA has fined Qatar’s soccer federation after national team players breached rules against political statements by displaying T-shirts of the country’s Emir at a World Cup qualifier.

FIFA says its disciplinary panel imposed a 50,000 Swiss francs ($51,800) fine and reprimanded Qatar, the 2022 World Cup host.

[ MORE: Nainggolan staying at Roma ]

The incident happened in Doha on June 13, amid a dispute with regional rivals Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

Qatar’s players warmed up for a 3-2 win over South Korea wearing white T-shirts with an image of Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani to show their support for him.

FIFA says the charges related to “displaying a political image” and “political displays” by spectators.