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Zidane anxiously awaiting goals from Ronaldo

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MADRID (AP) For Zinedine Zidane, the Madrid derby on Saturday is just what Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema need to break their scoring slump.

The Real Madrid forwards have been struggling in the Spanish league, with just two goals between them.

Ronaldo, while striking six times in the Champions League, has tallied only one in seven Liga appearances.

Benzema is having an even tougher time, with just two in 12 matches across all competitions.

“It’s true that this is not normal, but they just need to keep training and keep trying as they have been doing,” Zidane says.

“You don’t need to tell Karim and Cristiano that they should train more, it’s something they do. They will go out on the pitch and score, I am sure of it.”

Over his career, Ronaldo has thrived against Real’s crosstown rival, Atletico. He holds the record for the Spanish capital derby with 21 goals.

Benzema’s performances, however, have not been as impressive, with three goals in his last 14 league matches against Atletico.

Zidane says Ronaldo and Benzema focused on recovering their scoring form last week during the international break, when they stayed at the club instead of joining their national sides.

“We have been working on it,” he said. “What I want is that my players, my forwards, play well, and tomorrow is a good match for them to keep trying.”

Their scoring droughts have contributed to Real’s irregular season.

Real is in third place and level on points with Atletico, which is fourth after having trouble winning at its new Wanda Metropolitan Stadium.

Both sides need a victory to keep pace with leader Barcelona, which visits Leganes hours earlier.

If Barcelona wins, Madrid and Atletico will be staring at an 11-point gap by kickoff.

Report: Caleb Porter out as Timbers head coach

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) A person familiar with the decision confirmed that head coach Caleb Porter has parted ways with the Portland Timbers.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because an official announcement had not been made by the team. The surprise move was first reported Thursday night by FourFourTwo.com.

The 42-year-old Porter has been coach of the Timbers for the past five seasons, compiling a 60-50-52 record and guiding the team to the MLS Cup Championship in 2015. He was named the MLS Coach of the Year after his first season with the team in 2013.

He signed a long-term contract extension with the team in January, 2016.

Porter tied the Major League Soccer record league record for fewest losses through his first 100 games with just 25. This season he coached his 150th game in the league.

The Timbers qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League twice during his time with the team. The Timbers also reached the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup in 2013, his first season with the team

The Timbers finished this season as the top seed in the Western Conference, but fell in the conference semifinals 2-1 on aggregate to the Houston Dynamo. The Timbers were decimated by injuries in the semis, including midfielder Diego Chara, who broke a bone in his foot.

“This is one that hurts for sure. We fell short. We felt we could move on, but we didn’t,” Porter said after the game. “When the dust settles I think we will look back and realize it was a good season, but it’s also a season where you think to yourself `what if?’ `What if we were at full strength?'”

Porter came to the Timbers from the University of Akron, where he was head coach of the Zips from 2006-12. He went to the NCAA College Cup championship game twice during his tenure, winning the title in 2010.

After that loss to Houston to end the season, Porter praised his players.

“One to 25 they were all good guys and there was a great spirit in that locker room. That’s really what made us the team that we were this year. It’s the team and the locker room and the guys’ character,” he said. “So I really enjoyed spending a lot of time in the trenches with these guys. Like I said in a couple days we will realize it was a good season. We made a lot of steps forward this year. We still need to make more steps, but we had a good bounce back from last year.”

Paraguay judge approves extradition of soccer official Leoz

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ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) A judge in Paraguay approved the extradition of Nicolas Leoz, the former president of South America’s soccer confederation, on Thursday. The 89-year-old Leoz is charged in a corruption scandal being investigated by the U.S. Justice Department.

For decades, Leoz was practically untouchable despite corruption allegations. But he has been held under house arrest in the Paraguayan capital fighting the extradition order to the U.S., where he has been wanted since 2015 on charges of receiving millions of dollars in bribes from marketing companies in exchange for TV and marketing rights to soccer tournaments.

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“The court has finally resolved that the formal request for the extradition order is validated by the treaty and laws, and the extradition of Mr. Leoz has been granted so he can face trial in the United States,” Judge Humberto Otazu said about the decision, which can be appealed.

Leoz was president of CONMEBOL from 1986 to 2013, when he resigned after he acknowledged he received $130,000 in payments from a former marketing partner of FIFA. Amid the growing scandal, Leoz also quit as a member of FIFA’s executive committee, citing health reasons. FIFA reprimanded Leoz but never penalized him.

The U.S. Justice Department has indicted more than 40 soccer and marketing officials, including Leoz, on charges of bribery, racketeering, and money laundering.

Leoz lobbied Paraguay’s legislators in 1997 for a law making the headquarters of CONMEBOL exempt from legal intervention. He once bragged that only the Vatican enjoyed the same kind of “immunity and total privileges.” After the FIFA scandal broke in 2015, Paraguay signed a law repealing the immunity that CONMEBOL’s headquarters enjoyed for nearly two decades.

Once the immunity on the CONMEBOL headquarters was lifted, the building was raided by authorities, who seized thousands of documents that were sent to the U.S. Justice Department for its investigation.

Leoz has said he is innocent and plans to fight extradition.

Boosted by stadium blessing, Atletico takes on Real Madrid

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MADRID (AP) Atletico Madrid’s president and club officials looked on as its new Wanda Metropolitano Stadium was blessed in a private pitch-side ceremony this week.

Cardinal Carlos Osoro led the blessing which may have come at the right time for Atletico ahead of this weekend’s city derby against Real Madrid – with the team needing all the help it can get to overcome its struggles at the new 68,000-capacity home.

Diego Simeone’s team has only two wins in six games since the Metropolitano was inaugurated this season, losing once and drawing three straight going into Saturday’s match.

“We want to win the first ever derby at the Wanda Metropolitano,” Atletico Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann said in an interview with La Liga’s website. “It’s a very important match for the fans, for the club. It’s a match every player wants to be a part of.”

The inaugural derby at the new stadium could be decisive for the teams’ title hopes this season, as Barcelona has already opened a significant advantage at the top of the league standings.

The loser this weekend may find itself facing an 11-point deficit against the thriving Catalan club.

Barcelona plays at mid-table Leganes on Saturday. Second-place Valencia, four points behind Barcelona and four points in front of both Madrid clubs, plays at Espanyol on Sunday to try to extend its seven-game winning streak in the league.

Atletico remains unbeaten in La Liga but has won only two of its last nine matches in all competitions.

“It’s been difficult to score goals and to win matches,” Griezmann said. “We are solid on defense, we just need to turn things around on offense. We have to keep working hard to try to improve.”

Real Madrid is coming off a home victory over Las Palmas in the league, a result that helped restore order after two consecutive losses sparked a wave of criticism against Zinedine Zidane’s team.

“Focused,” was Cristiano Ronaldo’s message on Instagram this week along with a photo of him training for Saturday’s match.

Atletico got off to a good start after moving from its beloved Vicente Calderon Stadium to the modern Metropolitano on the outskirts of Madrid. It made its debut in the new venue with a 1-0 win against Malaga, and followed it with a 2-0 victory against Sevilla.

But things started going wrong when Atletico made its European debut at the stadium in a Champions League match against Chelsea. It scored first but ended losing 2-1 after conceding in the last minute of injury time.

In its next league game, Atletico was ahead of Barcelona until late in the match, but conceded an equalizer by Luis Suarez and ended with a disappointing 1-1 draw. It also was held by Villarreal to a 1-1 draw, then endured its worst setback yet – a 1-1 draw against 10-man Qarabag in a result that practically ended its hopes of advancing from the group stage of the Champions League.

And with its title chances hanging by a thread in Europe, only a home victory on Saturday may keep Atletico in contention for a significant trophy this season.

The team’s faithful haven’t given up.

“I’m sure that we will eventually have the same success at the new stadium that we used to have at the Calderon,” Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak said. “We will see how it goes this weekend, but hopefully there will be a happy ending for us.”

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

CAS rules FIFA wrong to fine Mexico for fans’ gay slur chant

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) The Court of Arbitration for Sport has ruled that FIFA was wrong to fine Mexico’s soccer federation for fans chanting gay slurs at opposition goalkeepers at World Cup qualifying games.

The court says although the chants are “insulting words,” FIFA had helped create a “wrong – but legitimate- understanding” that cases would not be punished.

At the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, FIFA’s disciplinary committee did not pursue the chants by Mexico fans at games.

However, when the 2018 World Cup qualifying program began, FIFA prosecuted what it called “homophobic chants.”

Mexico appealed against fines totaling 35,000 Swiss francs ($35,250) for the chants at games against El Salvador in November 2015 and Canada in March 2016.

CAS says it cancels those fines while upholding warnings imposed by FIFA.