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Zidane lavishes praise on Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo

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YOKOHAMA, Japan (AP) Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane wouldn’t be surprised if Cristiano Ronaldo keeps winning awards.

Ronaldo earned his fourth Ballon d’Or prize on Monday, and is now targeting a third title at the Club World Cup.

“It is very rare that one player wins so many awards,” Zidane said Wednesday. “His fourth Ballon d’Or is a great achievement. It is not something you can easily achieve. Maybe he deserves a fifth Ballon d’Or.”

[ MORE: Bradley vows title for Toronto ]

Another trophy would move Ronaldo level with Lionel Messi.

Madrid is in Japan to face Mexican side Club America in the Club World Cup semifinals on Thursday. The team, currently in first place in the Spanish league, is favored to win yet another title.

MADRID, SPAIN - DECEMBER 10: Sergio Ramos of Real Madrid celebrates after Real beat RC Deportivo La Coruna 3-2 in the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and RC Deportivo La Coruna at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on December 10, 2016 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Ramos will not play against Club America (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images).

Madrid captain Sergio Ramos will miss the match, but Zidane is hopeful he will be fit to return if Madrid makes the final.

“He is not in a serious condition but he is a little bit tired after a long journey and I don’t want to put him under any physical pressure,” Zidane said.

Club America came from a goal down to beat South Korean side Jeonbuk Hyundai 2-1 in Sunday’s quarterfinals. The Mexican side is marking its centenary this year, and Zidane is sure they are highly motivated.

“Some clubs only have one chance in a lifetime to play against Real Madrid and I think it is a very good opportunity for them,” the former France great said.

Madrid hasn’t lost in any competition since April 6, a run which has stretched to a club record 35 games.

[ MORE: USMNT learns first post-Klinsmann opponent ]

Zidane, however, doesn’t feel that adds any extra pressure to him or his players.

“Real Madrid is always under pressure because we must win, people expect us to win,” Zidane said. “Winning 50 or 40 games, there is not much difference.”

The winner of Thursday’s match will face either Atletico Nacional or Kashima Antlers in Sunday’s final in Yokohama.

Madrid still has a chance to claim an unprecedented quadruple. It leads the Spanish league by six points and is also into the last 16 of the Champions League and Copa del Rey.

European sides have dominated the Club World Cup in recent years, winning eight of the past nine editions.

Andorra’s 11-year, 58-game losing streak is over

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Rarely has a scoreless stalemate in front of the home fans tasted so sweet.

But 11 years of nothing but losing will do that to a team.

Andorra’s 0-0 draw with fellow minnow Faroe Islands in World Cup qualifying on Saturday ended its run of 58 competitive defeats.

It was the first point in qualifying for the Pyrenees mountain principality, population 80,000, since a scoreless draw with Finland in 2005.

Faroe Islands finished with 10 men after Joan Edmundsson was booked a second time with 15 minutes to play.

World Cup qualifiers: Dutch disaster persists; Greece hold Belgium

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s World Cup qualifying fixtures, as Groups A, B and H hit the halfway point in Europe…

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Bulgaria 2-0 Netherlands

Spas Delev scored both Bulgarian goals (5th and 20th minutes) to secure all three points and send Danny Blind’s Netherlands side (7 points) into fourth place in Group A, six points back of leaders France and three back of second-place (qualifying playoffs) Sweden.

17-year-old Matthijs de Ligt was handed his international debut for the Dutch; he was ultimately at fault for both of Delev’s goals; he was subbed off at halftime (as was Georginio Wijnaldum).

Luxembourg 1-3 France

Olivier Giroud scored twice (28th and 77th minutes) for France, and Antoine Griezmann added the other (37th minute – penalty kick), as Les Bleus maintained their three-point lead in Group A. Kylian Mbappe, Monaco’s 18-year-old rising star, made his international debut in the 78th minute, when he replaced Dimitri Payet.

Portugal 3-0 Hungary

Cristiano Ronaldo bagged the 69th and 70th goals of his international career (36th and 65th minutes), as Portugal (12 points) kept pace with an unbeaten Switzerland side (15 points) which managed a 1-0 victory over Latvia to keep their 100-percent record intact. Andre Silva scored the opener (32nd minute) for Portugal, the 21-year-old Porto striker’s fifth goal in six international appearances.

Belgium 1-1 Greece

Romelu Lukaku‘s 89th-minute rescued a point for Group H leaders Belgium (13 points), but it did little to mask an otherwise uninspiring performance from Roberto Martinez’s side. Kostas Mitroglu put Greece ahead in the first minute of the second half, but Panagiotis Tachtsidis saw his second yellow of the game in the 65th minute, and that was the start of Greece’s unraveling. The draw was just enough to keep Greece (11 points) in second, ahead of Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose 5-0 thrashing of Gibraltar moved them to 10 points with a superior goal differential.

Elsewhere in UEFA’s World Cup qualifying

Group A

Sweden 4-0 Belarus

Group B

Switzerland 1-0 Latvia
Andorra 0-0 Faroe Islands

Group H

Bosnia-Herzegovina 5-0 Gibraltar
Cyprus 0-0 Estonia

MLS (afternoon) roundup: Historically awful MNUFC spanked again

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The fourth (partial — playing during international breaks should be banned) MLS Saturday of 2017 is two-thirds of the way complete. A quick roundup of the day’s early games…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

New England Revolution 5-2 Minnesota United

What else needs to be said about Minnesota at this point? What else can be said? The number of goals they’ve conceded in their first four MLS games: 5, 6, 2, and 5. While (we think) a bit of luck will eventually go their way, and they’ll curtail the goals they’re conceding (we can’t be sure anymore), Adrian Heath’s side is on pace to conceded 153 goals this season.

Anyway, New England picked up their first win of the season. The quality (and ease) of goals scored will tell you everything you need to know about Minnesota’s defending.

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

New York Red Bulls 0-0 Real Salt Lake

Five days after firing head coach Jeff Cassar, RSL returned to their inept, toothless ways in a scoreless draw away to New York. Through four games, the Claret and Cobalt have scored all of one goal, and genuinely look the league’s most lifeless side; Minnesota have at least shown signs of quality in the attacking half.

On Saturday, New York created the majority of the game’s best chances — a pair of shots from distance, masterfully saved by deputy goalkeeper Matt VanOekel — but the chance that will live in the memories of RSL fans for a lifetime came and went in agonizing fashion.

Albanian federation denounces “extremist acts” of their fans in Italy

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) Albania’s soccer federation has strongly denounced the incident that halted the World Cup Group G qualifier with Italy for nearly nine minutes on Friday.

During the match, which was won by Italy, 2-0, a group calling itself Illyrian Elite threw flares onto the pitch.

“Such totally extremist actions from the grouping Illyrian Elite have nothing to do with the excellent Albanian fans” who were distinguished in the EURO 2016 finals in France for their friendship and camaraderie in their festivities, the statement added.

The federation said an coach Gianni De Biasi also was “upset by the flares,” adding that during five years he has been in charge “I’ve seen something that’s never happened before.”