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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.

Premier League TV, streaming schedule

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More midweek action is coming up in the Premier League. Let the festive fun continue.

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The full TV schedule for this weekend is below, plus you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com,the NBC Sports App and by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold.

Gold also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: Premier League live here ] 

You can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” at for all the goals as they go in. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App.

[ MORE: Premier League “Goal Rush” ] 

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here for the games streamed on NBCSports.com and here for the games on NBC Sports Gold.

Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days. Enjoy.


FULL TV SCHEDULE

Tuesday
2:45 p.m. ET: Burnley vs. Stoke City – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
2:45 p.m. ET: Crystal Palace vs. Watford – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
3 p.m. ET: Huddersfield Town vs. Chelsea – NBCSN [STREAM

Wednesday
2:45 p.m. ET: Swansea City vs. Manchester City – NBCSN [STREAM]
2:45.m. ET: Southampton vs. Leicester City – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
2:45 p.m. ET: Newcastle United vs. Everton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
3 p.m. ET: West Ham United vs. Arsenal – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
3 p.m. ET: Liverpool vs. West Brom – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
3 p.m. ET: Manchester United vs. Bournemouth – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
3 p.m. ET: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Brighton & Hove Albion – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

Premier League notes: Wanyama, Bolasie return after long layoffs, Sakho injured

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Two Premier League clubs saw a pair of players return to the field after long spells on the sidelines.

Tottenham revealed that Victor Wanyama took part in training on Monday for the first time since suffering a knee injury in late August, which has kept him off the field since then. Wanyama started in both of Tottenham’s first two fixtures of the season before the injury.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

At the same time in the northwest of England, Yannick Bolasie returned to the field for Everton’s reserves for the first time since suffering a torn ACL last December against Manchester United. Everton manager Sam Allardyce hinted recently that Bolasie could even make the first team subs bench before the end of the calendar year as he continues his rehab.

(more…)

Report: Sporting KC on verge of signing French midfielder Croizet

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Sporting Kansas City could be adding some European flair to its midfield this offseason.

According to multiple reports, the MLS club is in negotiations to sign French midfielder Yohan Croizet, who currently plays for Belgian first division side KV Mechelen. Croizet, who reportedly cost Mechelen a transfer fee worth more than $1 million, has started all 15 games he’s played for his side this season but has been substituted off on seven occasions and Mechelen are currently struggling in the league, sitting in 13th place with 18 points from 18 games.

Croizet hasn’t played since November 17, and appears on his way out.

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Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes, a Hungarian-American, is no stranger to the European market and has brought over plenty of diamonds in the rough from Europe to star with Sporting KC. Some previous examples, though in different positions from Croizet, include current winger Gerso, Krisztián Németh, Uri Rosell, and Aurelien Collin.

It will be interesting to see where Croizet plays in the Sporting KC side should it sign him, and how he works with Benny Feilhaber, who is turning 33-years old in January.

Arsenal lands Ostersunds in Europa League draw

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Arsenal will face a team with an English connection in the UEFA Europa League Round of 32.

The Gunners were paired with Swedish side Ostersunds in the Europa League knockout stage draw Monday, with matches set to be played on February 15 and February 22. Ostersund are managed by Englishman Graham Potter, who played in the Championship and lower in England before starting his managerial career with Ostersunds in 2010 in the fourth tier of Swedish soccer.

[READ: UCL draw+analysis]

Ostersunds surprised many earlier this year winning the Swedish Cup to qualify for the Europa League, and then advanced out of a group that included Hertha Berlin and Athletic Bilbao.

It represents an interesting draw for Arsenal, which will have to balance the squad during a tough February. The weekend prior to the first-leg match is the second leg of the North London derby against Tottenham, and following the second match with Ostersunds is a showdown with Manchester City.

Here’s a look at how the rest of the draw shook out: