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Ronaldo celebrates Ballon d’Or with brace in Real Madrid rout

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Cristiano Ronaldo celebrated his fifth Ballon d’Or award by leading Real Madrid to victory on Saturday, while Valencia kept the pressure on Spanish league leader Barcelona.

Ronaldo presented his trophy for the best player in football to Real Madrid’s fans then scored twice as Sevilla was routed 5-0 at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.

Ronaldo received the honor on Thursday in Paris, his fifth trophy equaling Barcelona rival Lionel Messi.

After soaking up the ovation before kickoff from his fans, Ronaldo went on to have his best performance in the league this season. His brace earned him another loud round of applause when he was substituted late.

Second-place Valencia needed a late penalty converted by Dani Parejo to see off Celta Vigo 2-1 and pull to within two points of Barcelona before the pacesetter visits Villarreal on Sunday.

Madrid moved into third place, five points behind Barcelona.

Sevilla entered the game in the Spanish capital tied on points with a Madrid side that was without first-choice defenders Sergio Ramos and Dani Carvajal and midfielder Casemiro, who were all suspended for one match, and injured center back Raphael Varane.

But with Ronaldo and company on song, Zinedine Zidane’s bunch decided the match with five goals before halftime.

Two of Madrid’s reserve players who got starts to patch up its defense, Nacho Fernandez and 19-year-old Achraf Hakimi, scored for the hosts.

“We can be pleased because it’s not easy to score five goals against Sevilla,” Zidane said. “I am happy for Cristiano and for the players who hadn’t played many minutes because they played well.”

Madrid will take a break from La Liga and travel to the United Arab Emirates to dispute the Club World Cup next week as the Champions League winner.

Sevilla’s nightmare started in the third minute when Simon Kjaer failed to clear a corner kick. Instead, the ball hit teammate Luis Muriel in the shoulder and bounced toward the goal, where Fernandez only had to direct it in.

For his first goal, Ronaldo received a silky smooth pass by Marco Asensio and shot home.

Then a handball by Jesus Navas to block Marcelo’s pass in the area sent Ronaldo to the penalty spot. Goalkeeper Sergio Rico anticipated the direction but Ronaldo’s powerful shot bounced off his gloves and body before going in.

The goals were only Ronaldo’s third and fourth through 11 league games. That low tally contrasts with his performances in the Champions League, where he became the first player to score in all six group matches.

The goals were also Ronaldo’s 26th and 27th in 18 career games against Sevilla.

After Rico saved strikes by Luka Modric and Ronaldo he could not deny Toni Kroos.

Hakimi rounded off the demolition.

Sevilla defender Gabriel Mercado apologized to the team’s supporters for what he agreed was its worst outing of the season.

“We ask our fans to forgive us,” Mercado said. “We need to be very self-critical to correct what went wrong.”

Valencia bounced back from its first loss of the season, to Getafe, by fending off a Celta side that was threatening to take points from its visit to Mestalla Stadium.

Valencia started strong; striker Simone Zaza jumped high at the near post to head in Parejo’s corner kick. Zaza’s 10th league goal made him the second leading scorer behind Messi on 13.

Iago Aspas netted his ninth goal to pull Celta level just after halftime, and Celta was in control until Pablo Hernandez fouled Nacho Gil in the area.

Parejo’s penalty slipped under goalie Ruben Blanco, who didn’t get enough hand on the ball.

“I don’t go crazy over wins or losses, I am interested in our dynamic and my team’s dynamic right now is extraordinary,” Valencia coach Marcelino Garcia Toral said.

Promoted club Getafe once again proved hard to beat as it climbed into seventh place after drawing with Eibar 0-0.

Getafe has lost only once in its last seven league matches.

Deportivo edged Leganes 1-0 at home for its first victory in five rounds, letting it move three points above the relegation zone.

Barkley ineligible to make Chelsea debut in FA Cup replay

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Ross Barkley was expected — and himself expected — to make his Chelsea debut on Wednesday, when the Blues host Championship side Norwich City in a third-round FA Cup replay at Stamford Bridge.

Alas, the 24-year-old English midfielder has been ruled ineligible due to a lesser-known and -applied rules surrounding transfers and player registration.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup | Wednesday preview ]

Barkley completed his move from Everton to Chelsea, for $20 million, on Jan. 5, the day before Chelsea and Norwich drew 0-0 at Carrow Road. In order to be eligible for Wednesday’s replay, Barkley is required to have completed his transfer prior to the noon cut-off the day prior to the original tie. While the time of official approval is unknown, Barkley’s move wasn’t announced by the club until after 5 p.m. in the UK.

As such, Chelsea will attempt to set up a behind-closed-doors friendly this week, in order to provide Barkley a bit of game action as he builds fitness and sharpness ahead of a potential debut against Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com). Barkley hasn’t seen a single minute of first-team action this season after suffering a serious hamstring injury in the summer.

FA Cup preview: Three more PL sides face 3rd-round replays

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Three more Premier League sides, including a top-four fighter, attempt to join a dozen of their top-flight contemporaries in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Wednesday…

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup ]

Chelsea and Swansea City host Championship opposition in the form of Norwich City and Wolverhampton Wanderers, respectively, while Bournemouth will make the 500-mile roundtrip to take on League One side Wigan Athletic.

The Blues, who now sit fourth in the PL after their disappointing 0-0 draw with Leicester City, could manage only a scoreless draw with the Canaries at Carrow Road earlier this month. They are winless in their last four games across all competitions — all draws — including their League Cup semifinal first-leg draw with Arsenal last week; the last three of those all finished without a single goal scored. Chelsea, who are tied with Liverpool with the fourth-most FA Cups in their history (7), lost out to Arsenal in last season’s final at Wembley Stadium.

Swansea are undoubtedly the side on highest Cupset alert, as Wolves are the runaway leaders and champions-elect in the Championship (10 points clear after 27 of 46 rounds played), thus able to devote more attention to the FA Cup than the typical second-division side. With the two sides separated by just a single place in the English footballing pyramid (Swansea, 20th in the PL; Wolves, 1st in the Championship), they appear destined to swap places by the end of May.

Meanwhile, Bournemouth’s punishment for conceding a pair of early goals to a side currently 32 places below them in the pyramid, is the long, midweek trip from the south coast to the DW Stadium in the northwest of England. It was the Premier Leaguers who needed a two second-half goals, including Steve Cook‘s 90th-minute equalizer, to draw level at home in the first meeting.

Tuesday’s FA Cup replay actionFULL ROUNDUP

Leicester City 2-0 Fleetwood Town
West Ham United 1-0 (AET) Shrewsbury Town
Mansfield Town 1-4 Cardiff City
Sheffield Wednesday 2-0 Carlisle United
Reading 3-0 Stevenage

Agent: 37-year-old Ronaldinho has retired

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SAO PAULO (AP) The brother and agent of 2005 Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldinho announced Tuesday that the former Brazil and Barcelona playmaker has retired from football.

Roberto Assis made the announcement to Brazilian media on behalf of the 37-year-old midfielder, who played his last professional match in 2015 for Brazil’s Fluminense.

“Ronnie’s professional career is over. He wants to be a football ambassador, do charity, and work with his friends in music from now on,” Assis told The Associated Press.

Assis hopes to schedule some farewell matches for Ronaldinho after the World Cup in Russia, which ends July 15. The initial plan is to play games in Brazil, Europe and Asia and to also get Brazil’s national team involved, Assis said.

Last July, Ronaldinho said on the sidelines of a friendly in Chechnya that was he was “too old” to return to action.

The Brazilian’s decorated career also includes one World Cup title (2002), one Champions League victory (2006) and two Spanish league titles with Barcelona, and two FIFA world player of the year awards (2004 and 2005).

Ronaldinho started his professional career at Gremio in southern Brazil in 1998. He left for Paris Saint-Germain in 2001 and was signed by Barcelona two seasons later.

At the Camp Nou, he was the engine of a team that took Barca back to the limelight. However, after a series of club trophies, Ronaldinho’s career took a downturn. He was often accused by Brazilian and Spanish media of lacking professionalism, despite his mentoring of a then youthful Lionel Messi.

In 2008, with Messi then leading Barcelona, Ronaldinho left for AC Milan. Despite being part of a team that won Serie A in 2011, he failed to reach his previous heights as a player.

When returning home became a real option, Ronaldinho frustrated Gremio’s efforts to re-sign him and joined Flamengo instead.

Disappointing performances in Rio de Janeiro took him to Atletico Mineiro, a club that then was more often fighting against relegation than for titles.

Yet a more mature Ronaldinho took Atletico to a different level.

In his last great run, Ronaldinho carried Atletico with his superb passes and dazzling dribbles to second place in the 2012 Brazilian Championship.

A year later, he was the key to his club lifting its first Copa Libertadores, South America’s most prestigious club trophy, but his hopes of playing at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil were dashed.

Ronaldinho left to play for Mexico’s Queretaro in 2014-15, but was mostly on the bench.

He played his last seven matches as a professional for Fluminense, though his performances were a far cry from his best days in Spain.

Now living in Rio, he has appeared in advertisements all over the world since leaving Fluminense.

USL granted 2018 2nd-division sanctioning by U.S. Soccer

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U.S. Soccer has officially granted the United Soccer League second-division sanctioning, behind first-division Major League Soccer, for the upcoming 2018 season, as well as first-division status for the National Women’s Soccer League.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan unveiled by Liga MX side Club Leon ]

USL, which will feature 33 teams in 2018, had been granted temporary second-division sanctioning, alongside the North American Soccer League, in 2017. As NASL’s demise continued and accelerated — the league will not begin play this spring, opting instead for a late-summer kickoff, after a number of its teams either folded or jumped ship to USL — USL, with the help of MLS, quickly pounced to capitalize — from U.S. Soccer’s statement:

Sanctioning allows NWSL and USL to operate a Division I and II league, respectively, during the 2018 season and includes a two-year pathway to full compliance with the Professional League Standards. USL has demonstrated substantial progress toward reaching full compliance since being granted provisional Division II sanctioning in 2017.

Conspiracy theorist’s take: USL supplanted NASL as the U.S.’s second-most viable professional men’s league — and more importantly, being granted official second-division status — paves the way for MLS to, at some point well down the line — say, 2030 or so — implement its own multi-tiered system of promotion and relegation, featuring anywhere between 60 and 80 teams, while still remaining a single-entity structure closed to the lower reaches of the sport in America, as the lines separating MLS and USL have only become more and more blurred in recent years.

[ MORE: Donovan ready to “win championships” after ending retirement ]

MLS realizes that public demand for promotion and relegation in the U.S. has grown significantly louder in recent years — particularly given the climate of the sport after the men’s national team failed to qualify for the World Cup, and subsequent ongoing presidential-election campaign — thus an open-but-not-really-open system which satisfies neither side will eventually be the end result.