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Champions League final in Cardiff delivers on every level

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CARDIFF —  Wales’ capital city deserved a great final.

It got one.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

This game is always the most-watched annual TV event around the globe and with two heavyweights colliding under the roof at the Principality Stadium the anticipation for Saturday’s final was intense. It did not disappoint.

Real Madrid beat Juventus 4-1 with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring twice, plus a wonder-goal from Mario Mandzukic pulling Juventus level at half time. Then Real pulled away to seal back-to-back UCL trophies, their third in the last four seasons and Zinedine Zidane’s side became the first team in 27 years to defend the European Cup. There was plenty to celebrate for Real and their fans at the final whistle.

The Champions League final festivities have been going on all week in Cardiff and started early all around the UK on Saturday.

Packed onto trains from London’s Paddington Station early in the morning, fans of Juventus and Real Madrid were filled with nervous excitement as the belted out chants and sipped on beer with flags of their respective nations wrapped around their waists.

Fans flew from Madrid and Turin that morning and got straight to Paddington, still with their Gazzetta dello Sport and Marca newspapers under their aim, and jumped on the train.

Huge crowds were traveling from London to Cardiff, but many more awaited in Wales’ capital city after three days of events in and around the host city.

Before the game Real Madrid’s coach Zinedine Zidane spoke about wanting to see a “great final” between two attacking teams.

The former Juve star spoke for everyone and this game, and the occasion, lived up to the expectations.

“It’s the same for Juventus. We’re going to try to play our game; we know we’re going to play against a great team. What everyone who likes football wants to see is to see a great final,” Zidane explained.

His captain, Sergio Ramos, spoke about an “appointment with history” and Real delivered, extending their own record as 12-time champions of Europe.

Before the game, though, the subplots swirled.

Would Real become the first team in over 26 years to win back-to-back European Cups? Would Gareth Bale, the hometown hero, play for Real after his injury? Could legendary goalkeeper Gianliugi Buffon, 39, win his first-ever Champions League trophy? Would Cristiano Ronaldo equal Lionel Messi’s record of four Champions League titles? Could Juve become just the second Italian team to complete a famous treble?

All of that excitement, plus the fact that both teams were stacked with bonafide studs, meant that expectancy was in the air. Real had scored 32 goals throughout the competition this season, while Juve hadn’t lost any of their 12 games heading into the final.

With the sun beating down on the Welsh capital, the streets in and around the Millennium Stadium were packed hours before kick off.

Cardiff Castle was draped in Champions League banners with a dragon guarding the trophy, and the locals were dancing in the streets with fans of both clubs singing “Wales! Wales! Wales!”

There was a proper party atmosphere and the perfect way to bring down the curtain on the 2017-18 domestic season in Europe.

Locals drank beer and wore purple and white Real Madrid shirts, with Juve fans taking over one end of town and Real’s at the other.

Cardiff is the perfect place for an “away day” final with bars all long the cobbled streets leading down to the stadium as you get off the train. Just like it did during Wembley’s refurbishment as it hosted the FA Cup final, Cardiff did it right. Everyone wanted to be there as hotels were booked months in advanced and fans stayed in Bristol, Swansea and Newport nearby, plus many traveled from London on the day.

On the pitch before the game the Black Eyed Peas performed with Pyrotechnics in the background under the closed roof due to security concerns.

Even if the pregame show was a little too much for some purists, the game itself lived up to the hype.

Ronaldo got the ball rolling and Manduzkic’s fine goal, which made it 1-1, will go down in history.

But just when it ebbed and flowed in the second half, Real put its foot on the accelerator and kicked on.

Casemiro made it 2-1. Ronaldo made it 3-1 and Marco Asensio finished things off late on to make it 4-1. That was it. The game was done and dusted.

Cardiff’s ability to host and stage fine finals will never be over.

It is a city made for occasions like this and both sets of fans, the locals and, most importantly, the players, delivered.

Forget the cagey occasions of the past. This was what a UEFA Champions League final is meant to be like.

As Real’s players hoisted the UCL trophy into the air fireworks again filled the stadium to end what had truly been a memorable day for everyone involved.

Facebook, Amazon Prime could bid for Premier League streaming rights

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One day in the not-too-distant future, we could be watching Premier League games on Facebook or Amazon’s streaming services.

That’s according to Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, who confirmed that both Facebook and Amazon are expected to to bid for the Premier League’s broadcast rights when they open again in 2022.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

“Absolutely I think they’ll enter the mix,” Woodward said. “Anecdotally there was strong interest in the last cycle, and we’re hearing that around the Premier League table, but we’re also hearing that from a European perspective as well in terms of interest in the Champions League and Europa League rights.

“In the wider picture you have to look at what’s happening elsewhere at the moment.There isn’t any clear European sale to these kind of partners at the moment. But looking at the interest Facebook and Amazon had in the Indian Premier League rights, anecdotally it sounded like very big numbers.

“So I do think we are going to see an increase in engagement from these and we would welcome the interest. I think it’s going to be increasingly important to digitally engage with fans, and we think we can be complementary to partners like this coming in.”

According to reports, Facebook bid $600 million to stream India’s cricket league aptly named the Indian Premier League but lost out to 21st Century Fox’s Star India, which bid for the television and streaming rights together.

Currently, NBC owns the Premier League rights in the U.S., including streaming rights, but perhaps in the future we could see separate deals for television and streaming sites.

However, more than likely, pressure from Facebook and Amazon Prime could drive the cost of the rights up, ensuring an even bigger payout for all 20 Premier League clubs.

On This Day: The Battle of Old Trafford

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Fourteen years ago today, Arsenal headed north to Manchester for a famous matchup with Manchester United.

Taking the field at Old Trafford, Arsenal were unbeaten to start the season, having won its first four Premier League matches before drawing a week prior at home against Portsmouth. Manchester United meanwhile had four wins and one loss in that span.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

By way of Arsenal’s FA Cup title and Man United’s Premier League title the year before, the two teams met for the annual Community Shield a month earlier, and the game descended into a physical battle. Five yellow cards were shown, Arsenal substitute Francis Jeffers was shown a red card and defender Sol Campbell was later banned for kicking at an opponent, and Man United – backed by a young Tim Howard in goal – won 4-3 on penalty kicks after the score was tied at 1-1 after extra time.

With numerous physical encounters over the years, the September 21 encounter was shaping up to be another monumental showdown, and in terms of physicality, it didn’t disappoint.

Each team were shown four yellow cards and there was a combined 31 fouls. The match took a turn when Patrick Vieira was shown a second yellow card and subsequent red card for kicking out at Man United’s Ruud Van Nistelrooy after Van Nistelrooy had fouled Vieira going for a header. The decision set off a scrum in the middle of the field.

Despite being down to ten men, Arsenal held on until the final minutes, when Martin Keown was whistled for a foul in the box on Diego Forlan, giving Man United a penalty kick. But whether it was karma or lady luck, Van Nistelrooy’s penalty clanged off the crossbar and away to safety. Arsenal held on for a goalless draw, which helped boost the team’s belief in itself.

The Gunners went on to finish the 2013-2014 season undefeated, the only team to finish a Premier League season without a defeat. Man United wound up taking the FA Cup crown, settling for third place in the Premier League.

Watch some highlights from the match below.

Former Sunderland forward Scocco scores five goals for River Plate

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Veteran forward Ignacio “Nacho” Scocco is quickly endearing himself to the River Plate faithful.

Nearly three months since joining River, Scocco scored an incredible five goals in the second leg of his team’s Copa Libertadores quarterfinal matchup with Bolivian side Jorge Wilstermann. Scocco scored a first half hat-trick and added two more in the second half as River turned around a 3-0 deficit heading into the second leg.

Scocco had a mostly frustrating spell in 2014 ahead of the World Cup with Sunderland, joining the club as they staved off relegation by one point. Scocco failed to score for Sunderland in eight appearances, all off the bench.

However, since then, he returned to his native Argentina and starred for his hometown club Newell’s Old Boys before moving this summer to River as a replacement for Sebastián Driussi, who completed a transfer to Zenit St. Petersburg.

Here’s a look at all of Scocco’s goals Thursday evening.

Tammy Abraham denies switching national teams

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Fans of the England National Team may still have a chance to see Tammy Abraham don the Three Lions crest one day.

Abraham refuted reports from earlier Thursday that he was in the process of switching his national team to Nigeria from England. The 19-year-old Swansea City forward on-loan from Chelsea has played as high as the England Under-21 Men’s National Team but because of his Nigerian father, he’s eligible for the African nation.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Abraham confirmed that he had met with Nigeria Football Federation chief Amaju Pinnick after Swansea’s last game, but denied that he was looking to play for the Super Eagles.

“I have informed The FA that I remain available for selection for England,” Abraham said, via the BBC. “Contrary to reports in the media I would like to clarify that I have not agreed to switch my national team allegiance. I can confirm I met the President of the NFF after our last game against Tottenham at Wembley on Saturday given he is a friend of my father. However, any suggestion that I have made a decision to change my international representation is incorrect and wide of the mark.”

Earlier in the day, reports emerged that Pinnick said the process was underway for Abraham to switch his international allegiance.

Abraham’s apparently decision to remain with the England set-up is good news for his club Swansea City, who will get to keep him closer to Wales on a regular basis, but Abraham may be missing a chance to play senior national team soccer at a young age.