Jordi Alba

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Alba saves Barcelona in 1-1 draw with Valencia

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Jordi Alba’s late goal helped Barcelona salvage a 1-1 draw with second-place Valencia, but frustration is the overriding feeling at the final whistle as the La Liga leaders were held to a point at Mestalla Stadium.

Lionel Messi had a clear goal not given in the first half that would have given Barcelona the lead, but Neto scooped the ball out and the referee did not signal the goal. It left Barcelona with nothing to show for a dominant first half, and Valencia made the appropriate adjustments.

Right on the hour mark, the home side took the lead through Rodrigo who tapped in a cross by José Gayá. The 22-year-old winger took a feed from Goncalo Guedes that beat Nelson Semedo, and Gaya cut into the box along the end line before feeding Rodrigo right on the crowded doorstep.

With Barcelona suddenly finding itself on the wrong end of the 1-0 scoreline, Messi was there to help save the day in the 84th minute. The Barcelona star chipped a fabulous ball over the defense to Alba bursting towards the left post, and he volleyed the ball into the back of the net with blistering pace.

The draw leaves Barcelona four points above Valencia at the top of the table, with Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid both eight points behind in third and fourth.

Spain 5-0 Costa Rica: Silva, Morata star in thrashing of Ticos

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After disastrous showings at back-to-back major tournaments — group-stage elimination at the 2014 World Cup, followed by a round-of-16 exit at EURO 2016 (disastrous by their lofty standards) — Spain appear in perfect position to make a deep run at the 2018 World Cup.

[ MORE: Shaqiri promises “nice party” in Switzerland “when we qualify” ]

Having qualified directly into next summer’s tournament in Russia on the back of nine wins (and a draw) during their 10-game qualifying campaign, Saturday saw La Furia Roja take on another already-qualified side, rising CONCACAF power Costa Rica, and reiterate to everyone the gulf in class between Europe’s giants and hopefuls from elsewhere.

The final score — 5-0 to the home side — extended Spain’s current unbeaten run to 15 games (their last defeat came at EURO 2016), and was still perhaps flattering for Los Ticos, as it could have easily been 7-0, or 8-0, or worse.

[ MORE: WCQ — Ireland, Denmark all square ahead of decisive second leg ]

1. Jordi Alba smashes a left-footed shot past backup goalkeeper Dany Carvajal (Real Madrid’s Keylor Navas wasn’t called into this camp), the 7th international goal of his career.

2. Alvaro Morata pounces after Carvajal spills the ball inside his own six-yard box — his 13th goal for Spain.

3. David Silva slams home his first of two goals after one Costa Rican defender clears the ball off another.

4. Silva goes it alone this time — he wins the ball back, races into the penalty area and fires past Carvajal.

5. Andres Iniesta carries the ball, unimpeded, 40 yards through the heart of midfield. He fires from nearly 25 yards out and makes it 5-0.

The following is anything but solely based upon Saturday’s result: It’s officially safe to put Spain into the conversation of favorites — alongside the likes of Germany, Brazil and France — ahead of next summer.

VIDEO: Messi’s brilliant passes set up both goals as Barcelona win Copa del Rey

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Has any club in the history of soccer ever been disappointed to see their season conclude with a domestic double, winning both that season’s league title and national cup competition?

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

The answer is, probably not, but that’s the unfortunate reality for the 2015-16 edition of Barcelona, who on Sunday knocked off Sevilla in the Copa del Rey final to go along with this season’s La Liga title. Unfortunately for Luis Enrique’s side, they’re the odd Spanish club out in next Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, and that’ll remain the overriding shortcoming for so many this season.

Barca fans will have to settle for seeing their side rewrite a bit of 63-year-old history, instead…

[ MORE: All-Spanish, all-Madrid Champions League final ]

Naturally, Lionel Messi — the alien that he is — left his fingerprints all over Saturday’s victory in the capital city (below video). First, there was his long ball over the top for Jordi Alba, who scored what turned out to the be the game-winning goal in the first half of extra time, followed by a simple, yet clever through ball to Neymar for the exclamation point in extra-time stoppage time.

Final season stats (all competitions) — Messi: 41 goals, 23 assist | Luis Suarez: 59 goals, 22 assists | Neymar: 30 goals, 20 assists. For the non-math majors among us, that’s 130 goals and 75 assists between what will go down as arguably the greatest attacking trio of all time.

If only we could all “fail” so successfully as Barcelona have done…

Jeremy Mathieu in jeopardy of missing Euros after meniscus tear

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Coming off of a convincing 4-2 victory over Russia on Tuesday, France did receive some bad news from the match.

[ MORE: Frenchman Dimitri Payet scores beautiful long-range free kick ]

Barcelona defender Jeremy Mathieu, who entered the game in the second half, lasted only eight minutes, after sustaining a knee injury.

[ MORE: Gary Neville sacked by Valencia after poor run of form ]

The Blaugrana have confirmed that the 32-year-old’s injury is a torn meniscus and that he will undergo an operation on Thursday.

France has already lost one defender this year due to injury in Chelsea’s Kurt Zouma, so another extended injury could really hurt the team’s backline ahead of this summer’s 2016 European Championship.

This season, Mathieu has started 12 matches for the league leaders. The loss of the Frenchman could be critical in Barcelona’s run at a treble, given their lack of options at left back. While Jordi Alba has been ruled fit enough to play in this weekend’s El Clasico vs. Real Madrid, the Catalan side lacks depth behind Alba and Mathieu.

Thomas Vermaelen could see an increased role down the stretch depending on the length of Mathieu’s absence. The former Arsenal defender has primarily played as a central defender throughout his career, however, he is versatile enough to fill in on the wings if necessary.

Follow @MattReedFutbol

Jordi Alba on Neymar’s Copa America skirmish: “I would have exploded before him”

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Neymar has recently been under scrutiny for a tussle with Colombian forward Carlos Bacca in a 1-0 loss to Los Cafeteros.

The 23-year-old was suspended four games in the wake of the incident because after the match ended, he appeared to headbutt Jeison Murillo and verbally assault head official Enrique Osses in the tunnel.

For the rest of the Copa America tournament, Neymar will not be available to Brazil, Dunga’s team advancing to the quarterfinal earlier today with a triumph over Venezuela.

[RELATED: Peru, Colombia draw in Copa America tilt]

Following Bacca’s mother saying she would have hit Neymar with her high heel, someone close to Neymar, Barcelona defender Jordi Alba, has provided an alternate view point and backed the young Brazilian.

Per Sport-English.com:

“I think that it is unfair, but those in charge are those in charge. It is clear that he’s a player that’s targeted. I would have exploded before him, for sure. Neymar has a lot of patience.” 

Alba added: “I don’t think he’s being persecuted, but he is an important player for Brazil and for Barça and for that reason people do go after him. He has a style of play that everyone would love to have, but not everyone can do it. I’m the first in that regard.”

In the end, Neymar can be “targeted” time and time again, but it’s his responsibility as a prominent figure to deal with commotion properly. If Bacca had hypothetically been harassing Neymar for the entire game, the former Santos man would have to speak up to the referee and make this clear.

But in reality, the frustration of losing seemed to irk Neymar’s patience and thus cause the outburst, which type of occasion we have seen happen with other big names in sports. Hopefully he will learn to control his emotions in the long run.