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Why Cristiano Ronaldo’s greatness continues to surprise

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Cristiano Ronaldo breaks so many records on a weekly basis it’s tough to know where to start.

[ MORE: Real batter Atletico in UCL ]

Let’s begin with his latest exploits, a second-straight UEFA Champions League hat trick as he led Real Madrid to a 3-0 win in their UCL semifinal first leg against crosstown rivals Atletico Madrid.

Real have scored nine goals in their last three UCL games. Ronaldo has eight of them and his penchant for delivering at the pivotal moments of the biggest matches continues.

Ronaldo’s three goals took his tally to 103 in the UCL, the most all-time and he’s now ahead of Lionel Messi by nine goals. He also has the most goals in UCL semifinals ever, with 13, plus he is the first player to reach 50 goals (52, to be exact) in UCL knockout rounds and he has equaled Messi’s record of most hat tricks in the UCL (7) and is also the first to score 10 or more UCL goals in in six consecutive seasons.

We will leave the whole “Messi or Ronaldo?” debate for most of the next five decades another day, but Ronaldo is heading towards his fourth UCL crown (third with Real) which equals Messi’s total at Barcelona and the Portuguese national team captain looks nailed on to win a second-straight Ballon d’Or to equal Messi’s current record of five.

Despite all of these incredible stats, it sometimes feels like Ronaldo’s goals, performances and general beast-mode abilities aren’t appreciated as much as they should be. Maybe the stats doing the rounds from his most-recent hat trick will help change that. But probably not. He is revered in Portugal for leading them to their first major title at EURO 2016 last summer and the accolades and awards pour in, but when we reflect on his career will he really join the immortals Pele, Maradona and Messi?

Think about it.

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There’s a sense of “huh, he’s still doing it, isn’t he?” out there among fans of rival clubs, neutrals and even some of Real’s own supporters who still boo him. That’s right. Booing the man who is the all-time leading scorer at Real with 399 goals in 389 appearances. That’s 76 more goals than Real legend Raul who sits in second place all-time and he took 741 games to reach that mark…

Ronaldo is now 32 years old and he shows no signs of slowing down but it is perhaps his constant posturing which puts off many compared to the more relaxed, unassuming demeanor of Messi. Maybe Ronaldo is just too “in your face” to be mentioned in the same breath of soccer’s greatest-ever players. But if you were that good, wouldn’t you too be pretty proud of it?

While many make fun of his washboard abs he often shows off, his impeccable tan and his wild gesticulations towards officials, what you can’t deny is his supreme professionalism on and off the pitch.

He’s been in the game since the age of 17 at Sporting Lisbon and then Manchester United, but did anyone at either club really believe he would go on to achieve what he has at Real over the past eight seasons? Maybe Ronaldo himself may not have believed it (he probably did, let’s be honest) but he’s doing it. Of course he’s played with some sensational players but since joining Real in 2008 his goals have been the main reason they’ve challenged, and won, major trophies.

Given his incredible physical fitness and a real lack of severe injuries over the years, why can’t he go on doing it for the next decade?

Look at Francesco Totti, a totally different type of player (Messi-esque, if you will) who never relied on pace and power. At the age of 40 he is set to retire, almost begrudgingly, so even father time has caught up with him. It will happen to Messi too but like Totti, his game doesn’t hinge quite as much on sheer fitness and power as Ronaldo’s does.

Messi may get more plaudits than Ronaldo simply because his play on the ball is more aesthetically pleasing as he glides over the grass and bamboozles defenders. Ronaldo’s game is about combining pace and power with technical ability. He often bulldozes opponents to smash home volleys and bullet headers into the top corner. Ronaldo may not be able to go on as long as Messi, but he’s already reinvented himself in many ways, drifting into a central role rather than playing out wide as an out-and-out winger like he did in his early days.

His template to follow should be Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Yes, he’s currently recovering from a serious knee injury at the age of 35, but did Zlatan look out of place in the pace of the Premier League this season? Nope. Ronaldo’s soccer brain is clever enough to reinvent himself once more and remain at the top level in Europe for another four or five seasons.

Imagine how many more records he will break when his career is finally up. That’s if that moment ever actually comes…

Day Four: All the action from the U20 World Cup

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South Korea and Venezuela clinched berths in the knockout rounds of the U-20 World Cup on Tuesday, while Germany and Argentina have surprising work to do after two matches in South Korea.

[ MORE: Allardyce steps down at Palace ]

South Korea 2-1 Argentina

Barcelona B man Lee Seung-woo helped South Korea take a 2-0 lead, then hold on for the win and group lead over England.

England 1-1 Guinea

Chelsea youngster Fikayo Tomori scored a wild long range own goal to cost England the three points, but the Blues are still well-positioned to advance out of the group stage. Bournemouth midfielder Lewis Cook scored for England, and it was a beaut.

Venezuela 7-0 Vanuatu

Seven different Venezuelans have scored through a pair of shutout wins, with Caracas’ Sergio Cordova the only one to bag a pair.

Mexico 0-0 Germany

Germany has just one point through two matches, thanks largely to Pachuca’s Abraham Romero’s seven saves. Mexico was outshot 12-6.

Porto, Watford, Hull? Marco Silva in demand

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Marco Silva is one of the hottest properties in management, months after eliciting cries of “Who?” following his appointment at Hull City.

While those cries may have been a tiny bit myopic given his time at Sporting CP and Olympiacos, the 39-year-old is now visible to the world despite Hull’s relegation.

[ MORE: Real Madrid nabs $50m teen ]

Silva will be back in England to meet with Hull on Wednesday, but a clause in his contract that said he could leave if the club was relegated gives the Tigers very little hope.

Rumors have him wanted at Watford, and he’s also been linked with a number of other jobs including Southampton (should the club part ways with Claude Puel).

However, the former right back is also reportedly a target of one of the biggest clubs in his home country: Champions League side Porto.

UEFA Europa League Final preview: Manchester United vs. Ajax

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Jose Mourinho’s big European gamble takes center stage on Wednesday in Sweden, when Manchester United attempts to topple young Ajax in the UEFA Europa League Final.

United’s chances for UEFA Champions League qualification, a magnificent opportunity, are overshadowed by the pall cast over Manchester by sinister terrorist attacks at a pop concert that killed and injured many on Monday night.

Alas, there’s soccer to be played, and Mourinho is looking to make it a trio of shiny items in his first year on the job. United beat Leicester City for the Community Shield, then topped Southampton in the EFL Cup Final en route to Sweden.

United’s well-documented dearth of healthy defenders will march out one more time on Wednesday, with Chris Smalling and Phil Jones tasked with manning the center of the back line. Expect Antonio Valencia and Matteo Darmian out wide.

[ MORE: Full 2016-17 season reviews

Despite the injury to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Mourinho’s attack is going to give Ajax fits. Marcus Rashford has been next level for most of the second half of the season, and United will also likely feature Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba atop Ander Herrera.

If someone is going to break United down, it could be midfield wizards Davy Klaassen and Lasse Schone. The creative middle men have a variety of options to find with the ball, including on-loan Chelsea man Bertrand Traore and Danish teenager Kasper Dolberg.

But how will they deal with United’s attack? Sure Ajax has stopped Lyon, Schalke, Copenhagen, and Legia Warsaw, but United and Mourinho? That’s another challenge for Peter Bosz and his men.

Ajax won the 1992 UEFA Cup, and this is United’s first ever trip to this particular final. The Red Devils are heavy favorites, and we expect United to prevail. Don’t sleep on Juan Mata heroics. Call it 3-1.

Allardyce resigns, opening up intriguing vacancy at Palace

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Sam Allardyce is walking away on top outside the relegation zone.

The veteran Premier League manager, 62, resigned his post as Crystal Palace on Tuesday, weeks after leading another team to safety.

The move ends a tumultuous eight months for Allardyce, who was fired as England manager after an undercover sting exposed unethical dealings with agents.

[ MORE: Full 2016-17 season reviews

It also comes about an hour after somebody wrote that Crystal Palace should move on from Allardyce. What a jerk, that somebody.

Rarely at a loss for words, here’s Big Sam from cpfc.co.uk:

I want to be able to savour life while I’m still relatively young and when I’m still relatively healthy enough to do all the things I want to do, like travel, spend more time with my family and grandchildren without the huge pressure that comes with being a football manager.

This is the right time for me. I have no ambitions to take another job, I simply want to be able to enjoy all the things you cannot really enjoy with the 24/7 demands of managing any football club, let alone one in the Premier League.”

All kidding aside — and I’m far from a Big Sam fan — congrats to the man on walking away to enjoy the finer things in life. He had a heck of a run, and we’ll see how long he can resist being away from the fray. Cheers, Sam.