Clasico: Late Varane goal keeps Real Madrid even with Barcelona

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Over the past two seasons it may have seemed like the myriad of Clasicos transcended the soccer world, today’s predictably cagey first 90 minutes of Real Madrid and Barcelona’s two-legged Copa del Rey semifinal destroyed truly detached itself from the context of the season. A Real Madrid team that trails Barcelona by 15 points in league and was without their goalkeeping captain and their two best center backs managed to go toe-to-toe with a Blaugrana side that’s only tasted defeat twice this season. If you didn’t know better, you’d swear today’s 1-1 result was from last year, when Real Madrid was taking Spain from their rivals.

But since these clubs are never out of the news, you already knew how much Real Madrid has struggled. And you probably know that their locker room is in turmoil (which Iker Casillas’s journalist girlfriend confirmed to Mexican television yesterday). And you probably know there’s almost no way José Mourinho will be back at the Bernabeu and Crisitiano Ronaldo’s holding off on signing a contract extension with the club.

Yet there we were near 3:50 p.m. Eastern time, tied 0-0 at halftime of a match that we’ve repeatedly seen some version of over the last two years. Real Madrid was frantically and physically pressing through the midfield, disrupting Xavi Hernández whenever the Barcelona quarterback would drop for the ball. Play goes wide, comes back in as it approaches the final third, and Barcelona can rarely craft a ball to beat the Real back line. Barça ends up dominating possession, but with swift counterattacks that eschew prudence for speed, Real’s able to create as many chances.

Come full-time at the Bernabeu, the story had finished playing out. Barcelona held 61 percent of the game’s possession, but they’d only put one more shot toward goal (9-8). Their early second half goal from Cesc Fábregas (made possible when a defender was dragged uncommonly deep behind the line, keeping Fábrages onside in the right of the box) was equalized late by 19-year-old Raphael Varane, the French prospect playing because of the absences of Pepé and Sergio Ramos.

Though Real was at home and may have wanted to build a first leg lead, they know a result on the road is within their powers. They got a result in Barcelona last October. Barça may convince themselves they have a leg up on their rivals, but given the familiarity these sides have with each other and their respective grounds, it’s more likely nothing’s changed but the clock. Instead of 180 minutes to decide one Cup finalist, the rivals are down to 90.

And just was today’s game predictably transcended the teams’ extra-Clasico form, you can expect Feb. 26th’s meeting to be the same game we’ve come to expect, fear, and revere. Can Barcelona handle Real Madrid’s pressure? Will El Real convert the breaks they receive? Will either side make the debilitating mistake that might define this two-legged Clasico? Who’s going to get red carded?

Real Madrid has stumbled all year, but for one day, they were back to being one of the two best clubs in the world. Expect the same next month.

FIFA transfer reforms target $400M for lower-tier clubs

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
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ZURICH (AP) — FIFA believes it can direct up to $400 million each year toward clubs worldwide entitled to a share of transfer fees paid for their former players.

FIFA says a key part of intended transfer market reforms will “ensure clubs are adequately rewarded for training players.”

[ MORE: Lingard, Martial injured ]

Since current transfer rules were updated in 2001, clubs have been due training compensation and solidarity payments from transfers paid in the careers of players they helped nurture.

FIFA acknowledges the “overly complicated and burdensome” system of calculating payments is understood by too few clubs.

A clearing house will aim to process transfer payments more efficiently.

FIFA research suggests tens of millions of dollars were paid to clubs last year instead of their entitlement of at least $350 million.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Brighton outlasts Derby despite Ashley Cole goal (video)

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Despite a late scare, dominant Brighton and Hove Albion put an end to Frank Lampard‘s run in the FA Cup with a 2-1 defeat of Derby County at the Amex Stadium on Saturday.

Anthony Knockaert and Jurgen Locadia scored in the final dozen minutes of the first half for the Seagulls, who will learn their quarterfinal foe on Monday.

[ MORE: Lingard, Martial injured ]

Substitute Ashley Cole scored in the 80th minute for the Rams, who were heavily outshot in the match.

It was Cole’s first goal in England since 2012, when he bagged a Premier League marker for Chelsea against Stoke City.

Locadia was injured just before the Seagulls conceded, and looked to be in considerable pain with an ankle injury.

American attacker Duane Holmes started up top for Derby but was subbed after 45 minutes. The 24-year-old Columbus-born man has become a regular starter under Lampard.

Sir Alex Ferguson to manage Man Utd in anniversary match

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The 20th Anniversary of Manchester United’s treble, to the day, will see Sir Alex Ferguson managing the club.

This, of course, is for a single night only, as the Red Devils celebrate their 1999 treble with a testimonial of sorts against Bayern Munich, who it beat 2-1 to win the Champions League on May 26, 1999.

[ MORE: Lingard, Martial injured ]

“I’m really looking forward to what will be a special day at Old Trafford. It will be great to catch up with some familiar faces and a great opportunity to support the work of Manchester United Foundation,” Ferguson said.

Players for the game are not confirmed but imagine the possibilities: Peter Schmeichel was across the field from Oliver Kahn. Lothar Matthaus had to deal with Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole. David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, and the Neville brothers started or were in the 18.

Keep in mind that Solskjaer scored the winner for Ferguson’s United that day at the Camp Nou, as the Red Devils scored twice in stoppage time for a remarkable comeback win.

FA Cup, LIVE – Man City, Brighton in action

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A pair of Premier League team attempt to dodge upset bids with varying degrees of likelihood, while one of the guaranteed lower league quarterfinal berths will also be clinched during Saturday’s FA Cup action

Brighton and Hove Albion opens the day hoping to outlast Frank Lampard-led Derby County at the Amex Stadium.

[ LIVE: Follow all the FA Cup scores here ]

The other Premier League side, Man City, visits League Two side Newport County. Pep Guardiola is wary of the side’s physicality, but an upset is the longest of long shots.

Sandwiched in the middle is Millwall’s visit to AFC Wimbledon, the League One hosts hoping to continue the magic that helped them knock off the visitors’ rivals: West Ham United of the Premier League.

FA Cup Saturday
Brighton and Hove Albion v. Derby County — 7:30 am. ET
AFC Wimbledon v. Millwall — 10 a.m. ET
Newport County v. Man City — 12:30 p.m. ET