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Atletico Madrid president labels Diego Simeone “untouchable”

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Atletico Madrid sits fourth in the La Liga table, winless in the Champions League, and in peril in the Copa del Rey, yet none of that troubles the club president.

Critics have come in droves in a difficult season for Atleti and manager Diego Simeone, and while the public might point fingers, Madrid president Enrique Cerezo is fully backing the boss. “I want to say this in a loud voice,” he told Spanish publication Marca. “Simeone is untouchable at Atletico Madrid, for the players, for the directors and for the supporters.”

Cerezo followed up by saying criticism of the head man “is not allowed here.”

Simeone has been wildly successful at Atletico Madrid, taking the club to new heights and turning his back on offers from more traditionally giant clubs. Yet this season has proven tumultuous. Despite what Cerezo referred to as the club’s best-ever squad, he also shrugged his shoulders as to why the season has proven difficult.

“I keep saying so. We are playing a game, and games are the way they are. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.”

Madrid sits fourth in La Liga, level with Real Madrid on points but behind on goal differential. They are eight points back of leaders Barcelona after just 11 matches.

The Champions League has proven even more baffling, with Madrid in a distant third in Group C after a trio of draws, including two against Azerbaijani minnows Qarabak FK despite holding a man advantage at various times in both matches. With remaining games against Chelsea and Roma and a four-point deficit, it’s increasingly unlikely that Madrid will be destined for the drop to the Europa League, or worse.

Even in the Copa del Rey 2nd round, Madrid suffered a 1-1 draw in the first leg at third-tier side Elche and now come home needing a win or 0-0 draw to advance.

The club has suffered just a single defeat in any competition this season through 16 total matches, but they continue to settle for the minimum, owning just six wins in comparison with nine draws.

Nevertheless, the club president remains true to the course. “We could have scored four against Roma and then we had 14,000 chances against Qarabag,” he said. “It’s not just a problem specific to Atletico that players can be more or less clinical, but it’s a problem for a lot of elite clubs.

“I keep saying we have a fantastic squad, a wonderful coach and a phenomenal fanbase. That’s enough for me.”

One must admire his steadfastness and ability not to panic, appreciative of what the club has despite a modern environment where team management is often reactive and quick to act.

Tunisian player who collapsed in Spain regains consciousness

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MADRID (AP) Spanish third-division club Toledo says a Tunisian player who collapsed from heart failure during practice 10 days ago has regained consciousness.

The club says doctors removed sedative medication and Lassad Nouioui was responding well to treatment on Monday.

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They will consider removing the 32-year-old Nouioui from the intensive care unit if his condition keeps improving. Nouioui has played for a number of clubs during his 14-year professional career, notably a four-year stay at Deportivo La Coruna and a one-year spell with Celtic.

Nouioui collapsed on April 14.

The game against Real Madrid B the following day was postponed because of the problem with Nouioui.

FIFA force pace on $25B Club World Cup, global league plan

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GENEVA (AP) FIFA is forcing the pace on talks over a $25 billion offer to revamp the Club World Cup and create a global national team competition.

FIFA says President Gianni Infantino hosted a meeting last Friday with invited officials from some top European clubs.

[ MORE: Everton gets past Newcastle behind Walcott strike ]

The European Club Association has strongly opposed FIFA’s hope for a four-yearly club tournament starting in 2021, which could rival the UEFA-organized Champions League.

UEFA has also proposed a Global Nations League. A similar project is tied to the FIFA-controlled $25 billion, 12-year offer from a consortium including investors from Saudi Arabia and China.

FIFA says it’s holding “informal ongoing discussions with different stakeholders on the topic of the future Club World Cups.”

Infantino is set to meet confederation presidents and general secretaries “in the near future,” FIFA says.

Video: De Rossi, Roma make classy visit to Hillsborough memorial

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On many occasions there are instances where teams and individuals exemplify the fact that real-life occurrences are more meaningful than sports.

Ahead of Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League meeting, Italian giants AS Roma visited Anfield –where they will face Liverpool in the competition’s semifinals.

After walking around the venue where the two sides will compete in less than 24 hours, Roma captain Daniele de Rossi and the rest of the Roma squad visited the Hillsborough memorial at Anfield to pay tribute to the 96 victims lost in the 1989 event that rocked the entire country.

De Rossi was seen laying a floral arrangement on the site, along with a note from the club that read, “In memoria delle vittime di Hillsborough AS Rome.”

Liverpool, Roma ride major emotions into the UCL semifinals

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Four clubs remain in this season’s UEFA Champions League competition, and while two of the teams have been considered heavy dogs in the fight all year long the other two sides look to continue on their storybook run.

Liverpool, Roma, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid have found themselves in the semifinals of this season’s UCL, creating a strong mix of storylines as the tournament heads towards its most critical point.

[ MORE: Everton gets past Newcastle behind Theo Walcott’s strike ]

Anfield will be the site for Tuesday’s first leg between Liverpool and Roma, with both sides still riding major highs from their victories in the last round.

The Reds enter the final four after having disposed of fellow Premier League side Manchester City in relatively dominating fashion. Meanwhile, Roma completed a seemingly impossible comeback against Barcelona to progress in the competition.

Liverpool is led by three of the year’s top goalscorers, including Mohamed Salah — who has scored eight goals in the UCL and 41 across all competitions.

For Roma, much of the side’s success has been predicated on finding defensive strength at the right moments throughout the tournament.

Despite falling behind 4-1 in their first leg defeat to Barca in the previous round, Edin Dzeko and Co. rallied for a 3-0 win at the Stade Olimpico to stun the Catalan club by holding Lionel Messi and his side in check.

Manager Eusebio Di Francesco will have to find creative ways to halt the Liverpool attack though over the course of two legs, with the Reds boasting the top attack in this year’s UCL.

Liverpool has scored 33 goals in 10 UCL matches, while only conceding seven in the process.