Real Madrid continues Clasico control, downs Barcelona

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Real Madrid made seven changes from the Copa del Rey team that won Tuesday at the Nou Camp, yet they still knocked off Barcelona 2-1 today at the Bernabeu. They are now undefeated in their last five Clasicos with Barça having beaten the Merengues only once in the team’s last eight meetings.

As lopsided as this rivalry was in Jan 2012 when Barcelona had only lost once in 13 derbies, Real Madrid has flipped the script. The Blaugrana may be the best team in Spain, but their the worst team in this rivalry.

Karim Benzema, one of José Mourinho’s seven changes, opened the scoring in the eighth minute, though Lionel Messi responded 12 minutes later.  Over the next hour, Barcelona controlled the ball while Real Madrid dominated the chances. Barcelona’s 72 percent possession created only two shots on goal. Real Madrid, however, put five shots on Victor Valdés and outshot Barcelona 14-5.

When Sergio Ramos rose above Gerard Piqué to head home a late Luka Modric corner, El Real had the win they deserved.

(MORE: Clasico not free of controversy)

Ahead of Tuesday’s game at Manchester United, Real has slowly become a team that can match their reputation. As they proved on Tuesday, Real are capable of going on the road and regaining any advantages lost at home. Whereas once it looked like Manchester United was a good bet to move into the Champions League quarters, now Real Madrid seem like the better, more talented, and hotter team going into Old Trafford. Two straight wins over Barcelona testify to that.

As for Barça, today’s result, their Champions League stumble, and their Copa exit mean the team’s lost three of their last four. They’ve given up the first goal in five straight matches and haven’t kept a clean sheet since Jan. 10.

Whereas once it seemed the improved health of Carles Puyol and Piqué would solidify their defense, Barcelona hasregressed. Worse, they seem to have no answers for teams like Real and Milan – sides willing to side deep, let Barça play their ideologically-driven games, and wait to pounce. With Pep Guardiola gone and Tito Vilanova out, it’s unclear they have guidance to lead them out of this rut.

This is as wayward as we’ve seen Barcelona since the days of Frank Rijkaard. And unfortunately, they don’t have the kind of diversity in their squad they’ll need to shake things up.

Even if they play better, it’s unclear they’ll get more out of this season than Spain’s title. For almost every team in the world, that’s a huge season, but for a Barça side that’s known for months they’ll win La Liga, this season looks set to end in disappointment.

Reina faces hearing over links with trio connected to mafia

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ROME (AP) Outgoing Napoli goalkeeper Pepe Reina has been summoned to a hearing at the Italian football federation over his association with people with links to the mafia.

Reina, along with Paolo Cannavaro and Salvatore Aronica, is to face the FIGC’s disciplinary committee after an investigation by Naples’ anti-mafia department.

It is reportedly one of the reasons why Napoli decided not to renew Reina’s contract, with the former Liverpool goalkeeper set to move to AC Milan on a free transfer.

The FIGC says Reina “has had and continues to have inopportune association and friendship with Gabriele Esposito, Francesco Esposito and Giuseppe Esposito.” It adds that that includes holidays and “an exchange of favors.”

Cannavaro, who had two spells with Napoli, retired at Sassuolo last year. Aronica also spent several years at the southern club before joining Palermo in 2013.

Iran names initial squad for World Cup

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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) Jalal Hosseini and Vouria Ghaffouri have both been left off Iran’s provisional 24-man squad for the World Cup.

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz did not say why Hosseini, a Persepolis defender, and Ghaffouri were not included.

There was space for midfielders Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Hajsafi, however. Both played with Greek club Panionios against Maccabi Tel Aviv in August 2017. Iran does not recognize Israel and its supreme leader has threatened the country in the past. Both Shojaei and Hajsafi missed matches with the national team after the game.

Alireza Jahanbakhsh, a 24-year-old forward who plays in the Netherlands with AZ Alkmaar, is also in the squad, which was announced Sunday.

In the midfield, Queiroz chose Saeid Ezatolahi, although the Amkar Perm player will miss the team’s first World Cup match because he was given a red card in a game against South Korea in qualifying.

Nottingham Forest midfielder Ashkan Dejagah was also chosen.

Goalkeeper Amir Abedzadeh of Portuguese club Maritimo made the squad. His father, Ahmadreza Abedzadeh, was Iran captain and goalkeeper at the 1998 World Cup in France.

Iran will play in Group B at the World Cup with Portugal, Spain and Morocco. The team will play warm-up matches in Turkey and Greece before heading to Russia.

Goalkeepers: Alireza Beiranvand (Persepolis), Rashid Mazaheri (Zob Ahan), Amir Abedzadeh (Maritimo)

Defenders: Ramin Rezaeian (KV Oostende), Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh (Padideh), Morteza Pouraliganji (Al Saad), Pejman Montazeri (Esteghlal), Seyed Majid Hosseini (Esteghlal), Milad Mohammadi (Akhmat Grozny), Roozbeh Cheshmi (Esteghlal)

Midfielders: Saeid Ezatolahi (Amkar Perm), Masoud Shojaei (AEK Athens), Mehdi Torabi (Saipa), Ashkan Dejagah (Nottingham Forest), Omid Ebrahimi (Esteghlal), Ehsan Hajsafi (Olympiakos), Vahid Amiri (Persepolis), Saman Ghoddos (Ostersunds FK), Ali Gholizadeh (Saipa)

Forwards: Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar), Karim Ansarifard (Olympiakos), Mahdi Taremi (Al-Gharafa Sports Club), Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan), Reza Ghoochannejhad (SC Heerenveen)

Six Premier Leaguers named to Argentina, but no Icardi

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Argentina’s World Cup roster features a number of the usual suspects, particularly up front, but Serie A’s top goalscorer has been surprisingly left off the list of 23.

[ MORE: Belgium goes to World Cup without Nainggolan ]

Manager Jorge Sampaoli’s squad was made official on Monday, which includes the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain.

The Albiceleste won’t be taking Inter Milan striker Mauro Icardi though, which has raised some questions about the decision.

Icardi led all scorers in Italy’s top flight this season, scoring 29 goals in 34 Serie A matches, while Paulo Dybala edged out the final striker spot in the Argentina squad.

Dybala is teammates with Higuain at Italian giants Juventus.

Meanwhile, six Premier League players were named into the South American nation’s squad, including goalkeepers Sergio Romero (Man United) and Willy Caballero (Chelsea), as well as Nicolas Otamendi (Man City), Marcos Rojo (Man United) and Manuel Lanzini (West Ham).

Men in Blazers POD: FA Cup recap, UCL final preview and more

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Rog and Davo recap a spite-fueled, snear-filled, peak Phil Jones FA Cup Final, preview this weekend’s Champions League tilt between Liverpool and Real Madrid and eulogize Big Sam… gone the opposite of too soon. Plus, World Cup rosters and MLS.

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