AP Photo/Francisco Seco

Barcelona cruise past Sevilla, lift historic 4th straight Copa del Rey

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MADRID (AP) Barcelona became the first team in 85 years to win four straight Copa del Rey titles after blowing away Sevilla 5-0 in the final on Saturday.

Luis Suarez scored twice, and Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, and Philippe Coutinho also made the scoresheet for Barcelona’s record-extending 30th Copa triumph, and sixth in the last decade.

Sevilla was trying to win a sixth Copa and save a season which will end without any trophies and maybe not even a place in the Europa League next season.

The final took place at Atletico Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano Stadium in the capital amid the ongoing political turmoil involving Catalonia’s bid for independence.

There were jeers by part of the Barcelona crowd when the national anthem was played, but the boos were largely subdued by the reaction of the numerous Sevilla fans in the crowd. Spain’s King Felipe VI smiled and saluted the fans after the anthem.

No other team had won four Copa titles in a row since Athletic Bilbao from 1930-33. The only other team to do it was Real Madrid from 1905-08.

Barcelona lost a chance to win the treble when it was eliminated by Roma in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, but it is three points away from winning the Spanish league.

Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay agree on 2030 World Cup bid

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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay have agreed on 12 cities where they want to host the centenary World Cup in 2030.

The Argentine Football Association said on Monday the plan would grant eight cities to Argentina and two each for Paraguay and Uruguay. The names of the cities were not disclosed.

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Bidding is not due to open for another four years but leaders of all three national bodies say they want to make a joint bid.

The South American nations are expected to face tough competition for the hosting rights of a tournament that will likely feature 48 teams.

Uruguay staged the first World Cup in 1930 and has long been expected to seek hosting rights with Argentina. Paraguay later joined the initiative.

Argentine soccer officials said they met with national captain Lionel Messi during a recent trip to Spain.

“At all times we found (Messi) willing to help us spread the word about the possibility that the three countries organize the World Cup,” Argentina’s Sport Secretary Carlos Mac Allister said. “It’s very important for us to feel that we have the support of players and that it is completely unattached from any political connotation.”

Messi and Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez have already publicly backed the plan. During a recent Argentina-Spain friendly, Messi was expected to wear a bracelet that read “2030 together,” but he was sidelined due to an injury. The bracelet was worn instead by Javier Mascherano.

So far, the co-organizers have not said how much the tournament would cost if they were to win the bid.

“Today, we can’t say what the final costs will be to each of our countries, but it cannot be measured only in the building of infrastructure,” Uruguay Sports Secretary Fernando Caceres said.

“There’s an intangible measure, which is how much a country earns in coexistence, in integration, identity, and the construction of citizenship by hosting an event of this magnitude.”

Could a Neymar return to Barcelona be in the cards?

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It sounds crazy in theory, but when you really dig down and think about it players return to their former clubs all the time.

Chalk it up to sentimental values, simply being familiar with a club or in some cases knowing that you’ll be a part of a winning team. Whichever the case may be though, an interesting turn of events has taken place in the “What’s next for Neymar?” game.

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We’re less than 12 months removed from the Brazilian’s sensational switch to Ligue 1, one that not only caused a worldwide media frenzy, but also generated the richest transfer evaluation in global soccer history.

In Neymar’s time with Paris Saint-Germain, the 26-year-old has dazzled at the Parc des Princes, racking up 28 goals in all competitions. That number would be significantly higher too, had an injury not derailed the Brazilian’s season.

However, PSG’s inability to compete in big games was again on display in the UEFA Champions League, as the Parisians crashed out of the competition behind a beatdown by champions Real Madrid in the Round of 16.

That’s where this Twitter post (below) comes in handy.

In translation, Neymar says:Β “When me and my friend #LeoMessi get together great things happen! I’ll be telling you more very soon, stay tuned!”

It’s not exactly an expression of certainty that Neymar will be coming back to Barcelona this summer, or at all for that matter, but let’s think about this logically.

Commercials could be in the works. A charity match of some sort could be in the process of being organization. Or maybe, just maybe, the Brazilian is reconsidering his current situation in the French capital.

Ligue 1 is far inferior to La Liga, and it’s really not close. As it stands, PSG holds a massive lead over Monaco at the top of the French first division, and that has to matter to Neymar.

The former Santos attacker has embraced playing in big matches his entire career, whether that be in his native country for both club and country, or at Barcelona in countless Clasicos and UCL matches.

The fact of the matter is that there have been very few “big” matches this season for PSG, and the ones that counted the most — against Real — were massive failures for the club.

Then, there’s the emotional value of Barcelona. It’s evident that Messi and many other Barca players are still close with Neymar. That includes the recently-signed Philippe Coutinho — who just so happens to a close friend and plays for the Brazil national team.

Things didn’t end well last August between Neymar and Barca, and perhaps a lot of that had to do with the money that PSG was willing to offer the player, but there’s no doubt that this star shone his brightest while in Spain.

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Again, this is a slightly crazy proposition, but if LeBron James could go back to Cleveland, why can’t Neymar go back to Barcelona?

La Liga: Messi’s hat trick; Barca tie record of 38 games unbeaten

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Lionel Messi scored a hat trick and ensured Barcelona equaled a Spanish league record of 38 matches without a loss after beating Leganes 3-1 on Saturday.

Barcelona matched Real Sociedad’s milestone set in 1979-80 by remaining undefeated through 31 rounds this season after finishing the last campaign without a loss over the final seven games. The runaway leader hasn’t lost in La Liga in a year.

Ernesto Valverde’s side can establish a new unbeaten record if it doesn’t lose to Valencia next weekend. It will then have another six rounds left in its quest to finish the entire campaign without a defeat.

“This is one of those records that goes down in history,” Valverde said. “I am excited to have matched it because of what it means, and what it meant at that time for Real (Sociedad). Over time you realize its importance.”

Reaching the mark set by Sociedad underscores the exceptional job Valverde is doing in his first year with the team. Despite having Messi and other top players, Barcelona entered the season reeling from the unwanted departure of star striker Neymar and back-to-back losses to Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup.

Eight months later and Barcelona is marching toward the recovery of the Liga title from Madrid. It opened a 12-point lead over second-place Atletico Madrid before it faces third-place Madrid in a derby on Sunday.

Messi scored from a free kick for the seventh time this season before completing his third league hat trick in 2017-18.

The Argentina forward earned a foul from Leganes defender Dimitrios Siovas a few meters outside the top of the area, to the right. It was a perfect spot for him to curl a left-footed strike high beyond the reach of diving goalkeeper Ivan Cuellar.

Messi followed up on his 27th-minute opener with a second goal five minutes later, slotting a low strike in after Coutinho met his run into the box.

Barcelona paid for its complacency in the second half when Leganes forward Nabil El Zhar stuck on a counterattack in the 68th, after his shot grazed Sergi Roberto beat goalie Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Messi flipped his third goal over Cuellar after receiving a pass from Ousmane Dembele in the 87th.

The treble took Messi’s league-leading tally to 29.

Roberto, who has already shown his versatility playing as a midfielder, right back, or forward, added to his repertoire by playing his first match at left back for Barcelona. That let Jordi Alba rest until he went on as a late substitute along with Andres Iniesta.

Sergio Busquets and Samuel Umtiti also rested ahead of Barcelona’s return-leg Champions League quarterfinal at Roma on Tuesday. Barcelona won the first leg 4-1.

La Liga: Atleti win to retain hold on 2nd; Madrid derby up next

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A roundup of all the weekend’s action in Spain’s top flight…

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Sevilla 2-2 Barcelona β€” MORE

Lionel Messi came off the bench to score an 89th-minute equalizer, a mere 54 seconds after Luis Suarez had brought Barcelona back to 2-1, and preserve Barca’s unbeaten league campaign on Saturday (WATCH HERE).

After suffering a minor hamstring injury while on international break, and with a Champions League quarterfinals clash against Roma coming up on Wednesday, Messi was dropped to the bench by Ernesto Valverde before coming into the game and making the ultimate impact.

Atletico Madrid 1-0 Deportivo La CoruΓ±a

Kevin Gameiro scored the game’s only goal, from the penalty spot in the 34th minute, as Atleti narrowly saw off 19th-place Deportivo on Sunday. After losing away to Villarreal before the international break, Atleti saw their lead on Real Madrid trimmed to just four points.

Anything short of victory on Sunday would have opened the door for Real to leapfrog Atleti for second place when the two capital rivals square off at the Santiago Bernabeu next Sunday. As things stand, Real can only move to within one point in the race for second should they triumph next weekend. First, though, it’ll be Sporting CP in the Europa League on Thursday.

Las Palmas 0-3 Real Madrid

Los Blancos put the pressure on Los Rojiblancos with a resounding 3-0 win away to 18th-place Las Palmas on Saturday.

Gareth Bale opened the scoring after 26 minutes, followed by a pair of penalties β€” from Karim Benzema in the 39th minute, and Bale in the 51st β€” to extend Zinedine Zidane’s side’s La Liga winning streak to four games.

A Champions League trip to Juventus awaits on Tuesday.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Leganes 0-1 Valencia
Malaga 1-0 Villarreal
Girona 1-1 Levante
Athletic Bilbao 1-1 Celta Vigo
Eibar 0-0 Real Sociedad
Espanyol 0-0 Alaves

Monday’s La Liga schedule

Getafe vs. Real Betis β€” 3 p.m. ET