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La Liga: Ronaldo turns playmaker to lead Real Madrid past Bilbao

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Cristiano Ronaldo turned into Real Madrid’s playmaker by setting up two goals to beat Athletic Bilbao 2-1 on Saturday and keep on track to reclaim the Spanish league title.

Ronaldo passed for Karim Benzema to open the scoring at San Mames Stadium.

Bilbao equalized through Aritz Aduriz’s header in the 65th, but three minutes later Ronaldo flicked on a corner kick for Casemiro to finish off.

“We won at a very difficult ground. We had to dig in but we played with real character,” Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said.

Madrid, which hasn’t won the league since 2012, leads second-placed Barcelona by five points. Barcelona hosts Valencia on Sunday. Madrid has a game in hand.

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Real Madrid 27 20 5 2 71 28 43 11-3-0 9-2-2 65
 Barcelona 27 18 6 3 77 23 54 9-3-1 9-3-2 60
 Sevilla 27 17 6 4 51 31 20 10-2-1 7-4-3 57
 Atlético Madrid 27 15 7 5 49 22 27 9-2-2 6-5-3 52
 Villarreal 28 13 9 6 39 20 19 8-3-3 5-6-3 48
 Real Sociedad 28 15 3 10 42 39 3 7-3-4 8-0-6 48
 Athletic 28 13 5 10 35 32 3 10-3-2 3-2-8 44

The loss ended Bilbao’s unbeaten home streak at 13 games in the league, one short of the club record in 1992.

Madrid spent long stretches in its half absorbing Bilbao’s pressure brought by wingers Inaki Williams and Inigo Leque.

But Madrid’s efficiency proved the difference. As Bilbao coach Ernesto Valverde put it: “They beat us with two moments of brilliance.”

Midfielder Casemiro played a part in Benzema’s goal when he spotted Ronaldo breaking down the left. Ronaldo received his long pass and squared the ball for Benzema to slot in.

Benzema moved into the top-10 La Liga scorers in Madrid’s history, with 119 goals in 237 matches. Ronaldo had the club record of 280.

Madrid had little trouble repelling Bilbao’s crosses until Williams forced Keylor Navas to make a difficult save early in the second half.

Shortly after, Williams sped past Marcelo and crossed for Raul Garcia to head the ball back to the center of the six-yard box where Aduriz nodded it home.

Bilbao’s push was deflated by Ronaldo, however, when he headed on a corner kick for Casemiro to control and tap in uncontested.

“I know what my duties in the team are and that’s not scoring goals because there are more gifted players than me playing further forward,” Casemiro said. “Having said that, if I can score, then all the better.”

Deyverson’s goal just before halftime secured Alaves a win over regional Basque Country rival Real Sociedad.

Sociedad was left with 10 men from the 67th after Esteban Granero picked up his second yellow card.

With a second consecutive loss, Sociedad missed the chance to move into fifth place and lost ground on the top four spots that earn Champions League berths.

Enrique Garcia headed in Pedro Leon’s cross for Eibar in the 20th, and Espanyol midfielder Jose Jurado equalized shortly after halftime.

The splitting of the points did little to help both sides’ hopes of qualifying for the Europa League.

Bottom-side Osasuna is staring at relegation after its winless streak reached 20 rounds.

Betis eased to victory from Rafa Navarro’s first career goal in the league followed by Ruben Castro’s strike.

Chivas Guadalajara wins 12th Liga MX title

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A nail-biting finish saw Chivas Guadalajara lift the 2016/17 Liga MX title, beating Apertura champions Tigres to earn the club’s 12th Liga MX title.

The title makes Guadalajara the joint-most successful club in Mexican top flight history, even with Club America on titles.

With the aggregate score at 2-2 coming into the second leg at Chivas Stadium, the home side took the lead on an 18th minute expert finish by former Tigres youth product Alan Pulido. Oswaldo Alanís delivered a brilliant deep, looping ball to the far post, and under one-on-one pressure with a defender, Pulido struck it first-time and buried the ball into the far corner.

The game waited until midway through the second half for the next strike, as the eventual winner would fall to Jose Vazquez. The 29-year-old charged down a bounding ball that Tigres failed to clear, and his effort on net took a sizeable deflection off the midsection of a visiting defender, leaving the ball to trickle in uncontested.

Despite a 4-2 aggregate lead, it was by no means comfortable down the stretch for Chivas. Tigres pulled one back in the 88th minute on a fabulous strike by Ismael Sosa from just outside the top of the box. The visitors pressed for a stunning late equalizer, but it wasn’t to be.

The title is sweet for Chivas, who has endured a decade of struggles since winning its last championship, even coming close to relegation at times. In addition, the starting lineup for the second leg was fully domestic from top to bottom, with all 11 players from Mexico. On that same note, Pulido outdueled expensive Tigres striker Andre-Pierre Gignac, putting in on of the most impressive shifts of the match.

MLS Snapshot: FC Dallas 0-0 Houston Dynamo

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The game in 100 words (or less): The goalkeepers starred as the first Texas derby of the season ended goalless in Frisco, leaving both teams winless for at least three matches. A relatively slow start to the match gave way to an electric pace before halftime, as both goalkeepers made incredible saves, and FC Dallas had a goal correctly ruled out for offside. The second half saw two more fantastic stops, and each team had little else to offer the game.

Three moments that mattered

27′ – A pair of incredible saves, one on each end. In a game that had slogged through the opening half-hour and just seen FC Dallas defender Walker Zimmerman off injured, the match sprung to life. First, Kellyn Acosta delivered a beautiful free-kick from just off-center to the right. Tyler Deric was there, acrobatically reaching the top-right corner with his fingertips to deny the USMNT youngster. The save was so good, Acosta appeared to be prematurely celebrating a goal before he was forced to pull up after seeing the stop.

Then, immediately down the other end, Alberth Elis charged down a loose ball and ripped a shot on net, but Jesse Gonzalez produced an equally stunning save to keep the game scoreless.

66′ – FC Dallas dominated the opening stages of the second half, but they’d need their goalkeeper again to keep the score level. Alex delivered a dangerous cross from the left flank, and while it went over the head of Cubo Torres, it fell to Mauro Manoutas sliding in at the back post who met it on the slide. Unfortunately for Houston, Gonzalez was in the right place to make an admittedly awkward save.

80′ – In a 0-0 game, with no goals to speak of, the loudest cheer of the night was for Mauro Diaz. The 26-year-old made his return from an Achillies tear, subbing on with 10 minutes remaining for the first time since early August. He received a standing ovation from the FC Dallas home crowd.

Honorable mention – Kellyn Acosta delivered this eye-popping through-ball just before halftime. Feast your eyes.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Jesse Gonzalez

Goalscorers: None

Championship Playoff Final preview: Huddersfield Town vs. Reading

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These two teams weren’t supposed to be here, at Wembley on Monday at 10:00 a.m. ET playing for a spot in the Premier League.

Everyone talked about how beautiful Fulham played. Everyone talked about how Sheffield kept on winning. Everyone kept talking about the favorites. Everyone wrote off the other guys.

Yet here we are. Reading, owner of a +4 goal differential. Huddersfield Town, owner of a -2 goal differential. Reading, winners over Fulham thanks to a bogus handball. Huddersfield, on to Wembley after a penalty shootout in the rain.

Here we are. The game that will catapult one team to the riches of the Premier League, the game that will send another team back to the depths of the Championship, consigned to progress with the heartbreak of knowing they were so close.

[ MORE: USMNT roster announced for upcoming World Cup qualifiers ]

The Championship playoff final is one of the biggest enigmas in the European soccer landscape. Teams like Reading looking to return to familiar lands of plentiful bounty, others like Huddersfield looking for glory never experienced before.

Huddersfield has not seen top flight action since 1972, and former American international David Wagner has them on the precipice. “There were a lot of statements before the semi-finals about momentum and about form,” Wagner said. “It is another example where we have proven that experience and what has happened in the past is irrelevant. After the 120 minutes against Sheffield Wednesday there were a lot of tired legs, but now after a training camp in Portugal and training on the grass here, everybody is ready to go.”

As far as form goes, Town is struggling. They drew both legs of the Sheffield Wednesday playoff semifinal 0-0, and finished the regular season on a three-match losing streak. They haven’t won a match since April 14th.

Reading, meanwhile, finished the year with wins in seven of their final nine regular season games, and they downed an attacking Fulham side 1-0 at home in the second leg of their semifinal. They’ve been stellar at winning close games all year, winning 18 regular season games by just a single goal, and losing just four, with seven draws. If Jaap Stam can lead his side back to the Premier League, it would mark just a four-year turnaround from their previous relegation from the top flight.

Riches await the winner. The sides couldn’t be more different, and yet on Monday, they both face the same brick wall.

Epic fake injury mars Hungarian league title match

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Sometimes it works out perfectly. Two teams, a title on the line, one match to decide it.

The top two teams in the Hungarian top flight, also known as the NB I, were set to play each other on the final day of the season to decide the title winner.

Budapest Honved hosted Videoton, with the winner set to win the league title. A draw would have given Videoton the victory on goal differential.

With the match 0-0 at halftime, it progressed tensely through the second half. So tense, in fact, that the teams felt they needed to do everything in their power to earn an edge. Even fake injuries. Terribly.

34-year-old Videoton striker Danko Lazovic, a veteran who has been around Europe with Zenit St. Petersburg, Bayer Leverkusen, and a host of Eredivisie teams,  looked to earn a foul in the attacking half. He put so much effort into selling the foul that, well, he went a little overboard. And by a little overboard, we mean he went berserk on the field, rolling around and flailing on his back.

There are many factors that make this an absolutely epic moment. First, his team had already earned a foul without the dive. The referee had blown the whistle for a shove moments before Lazovic went down. Second, his teammate looks to come over and help him sell the foul a little more realistically, and instead of accept his teammate’s assistance, he shrugs off the help and continues to flail. Third, as karma would have it, Honved would score the title-winning goal six minutes later as they would go on to win 1-0.

Kids, don’t try this at home. It’s not a good look.