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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.

Everton 1-0 Newcastle: Walcott blast has Toffees up to eighth

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Everton earned a 1-0 win against Newcastle on Monday behind Theo Walcott‘s second-half strike at Goodison Park.

The victory puts the Toffees into eighth place, leaping over Leicester City for the time being — as the Foxes have an extra game in hand.

[ MORE: Sweden coach says Ibra must reach out to have shot at World Cup ]

The former Arsenal man broke the deadlock six minutes into the second half when Walcott blasted the ball into the roof of the net following a lofted cross from Yannick Bolasie.

For Walcott, it’s his third goal since joining Everton in 2017/18 from the Gunners.

The visitors had their fair share of opportunities on the day, particularly through Ayoze Pérez, who was active all throughout the match.

Perez nearly broke the deadlock after the half hour mark when he tested goalkeeper Jordan Pickford in the 31st minute with a diving save in the bottom left corner.

Phil Jagielka came close four minutes later when his close-range attempt narrowly missed the top left corner after Michael Keane‘s flicked header off a corner kick.

The Spanish forward was at it again in the second stanza, and nearly found the back of the net when his header was saved in the center of the goal off of a cross from Kenedy.

Newcastle pushed hard for an equalizer in the dying moments, and even played up a man for a few minutes when Leighton Baines was tended to for a head injury, but the Magpies couldn’t even the score.

Sweden coach: Ibrahimovic must call in order to have chance at World Cup

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic recently raised the stakes when he said, “I am going to the World Cup, yes!” despite having previously declared his retirement from international soccer.

Although the LA Galaxy forward’s comments on Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night show may not be a clear indication of his involvement in this summer’s World Cup in Russia, Ibrahimovic certainly has an interest in representing his native Sweden once again.

[ MORE: FIFA subjects Morocco 2026 bid to scrutiny ]

Now, all the veteran goalscorer has to do is pick up the phone and call Sweden coach Janne Andersson, according to the manager.

“He can do it,” Andersson told kicker. “But If he changes his opinion, contacts me and tells me ‘yes, I want to be part of it,’ then we’ll sit down and discuss what that would mean, how we play these days and so on. But that’s all speculation.

“I don’t know [if he’d still fit into the team]. But I also don’t think about it. I take the things as they come if they come. If you want to be part of it, you must call me. Easy as that.”

The 36-year-old retired from the international game following Sweden’s involvement in EURO 2016, and Andersson says that he had no intention of calling up Ibrahimovic prior to the media-driven questions surrounding the striker.

Ibrahimovic ranks first all-time for his homeland in goals scored (62) since debuting for Sweden back in 2001.

“Not him, or anyone else who retired. But there’s this media noise,” he said. “I have no problem with those questions [about a possible return]. Not with what he says or what is written in media.”

Several of Sweden’s current players, including goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson recently stated that bringing Ibrahimovic back into the fold may disrupt the rhythm created within the squad — who handled Italy in their World Cup qualifying playoff to reach the final tournament in June.

FIFA subjects 2026 Morocco World Cup bid to fresh scrutiny

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Morocco’s World Cup bid is facing fresh scrutiny this week with the arrival of another delegation from FIFA after an initial task force found deficiencies in the proposals for the 2026 tournament.

In a downbeat conclusion to the visit by the FIFA inspectors last week, Morocco’s bid leader acknowledged it had to improve the quality of the submission made to FIFA in March because inadequacies were identified by football’s governing body.

[ MORE: UCL semifinals predictions ]

The previously unplanned second inspection of Morocco is an indication of the more rigorous process introduced by FIFA following criticism in 2010 that World Cups were awarded to the riskiest nations in 2018 (Russia) and 2022 (Qatar).

There will also be closer scrutiny of human rights of the bidders before the vote on June 13 when Morocco is currently due to be taking on a joint challenge from the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The Associated Press revealed last week Morocco did not declare its anti-LGBT law to FIFA in the human rights risk assessment included in the bid book. The documents – along with the North American submission – will now be scrutinized for any gaps by human rights experts.

“That process involves an expert third-party assessment of the robustness of the human rights content of both bids that will directly inform the administration’s own evaluation,” Rachel Davis, who sits on FIFA’s human rights advisory board, told the AP.

“We are confident that the process will result in a fair assessment of the human rights situation in all four countries involved in the bids, and a roadmap for how to deal with any deficiencies that FIFA will then require the successful bidder to commit to.”

Davis, who is managing director of the Shift human rights organization, said an evaluation of the human rights in the bidding nations will be included in a report to the FIFA Council, which will also assess the verdict of the evaluation task force. A bid with low scores can be blocked by the council from advancing to a vote of up to 207 football nations at the FIFA Congress on June 13.

While Morocco has said it needs to spend almost $16 billion on infrastructure for the 48-team World Cup, including building or renovating all 14 stadiums, North American does not require any tournament-specific building work. Morocco bid president Moulay Hafid Elalamy said at the end of the FIFA inspection that officials “made some remarks on the conditions of some of the stadiums.”

The new batch of technical staff being deployed from FIFA HQ to Morocco did not make a similar follow-up visit to North America after the task force inspected the rival bid’s facilities this month.

“Following the visit of the 2026 bid evaluation task force to Morocco last week, it was decided to have an additional working visit this week to complement the initial analysis of the task force and clarify some aspects of the bid,” FIFA told the AP.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

Watch Live: Everton v. Newcastle

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Everton host Newcastle United on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with the Toffees and Magpies both sitting pretty in midtable.

[ LIVE: Stream Everton-Newcastle ]

Sam Allardyce and Rafael Benitez have both been around the block a few times but at the moment Allardyce is under pressure and Benitez is working miracles with four wins on the spin as the newly-promoted Magpies have stayed solid defensively all season.

In team news Everton start Tosun, Walcott and Bolasie in attack with Wayne Rooney in midfield.

Newcastle make one change with Islam Slimani making his first start for the Magpies as he comes in for Dwight Gayle.

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