Copa del Rey: Benzema gives Real Madrid one-goal lead after leg one at Espanyol

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For the second time in 10 days, Real Madrid is leaving Estadi Cornellà-El Prat with a  1-0 win, but whereas their victory on Jan. 10 left questions doubt about the team’s new setup, a controlling performance on the back of a five-goal league win carries a different connotation. Instead of feeding doubts, today’s first leg win in the Copa del Rey quarterfinals augurs well for next week’s reverse, the Merengues having taken a confident step toward the competition’s final four.

That confidence was evident in the 15th minute when Gareth Bale’s flick of an Álvaro Arbeloa cross found Karim Benzema at the far post, the French international giving the visitors a 1-0 lead. It was also apparent in the second half when lax play gave Javier Aguierre’s side two chances to craft late equalizers. For most of the night, however, that confidence manifest in a tacit control of play, with El Real out-passing Espanyol 588-420 while maintaining 58 percent of possession.

It also led to seven shots on target, though Kiko Casilla didn’t have to give a remarkable effort to keep six of them out. Seemingly content with their one-goal lead, Real Madrid took the foot off the gas in the second half (if they ever had it on), recording only eight of their 22 shots after intermission. Over the final half hour, particularly after Xabi Alonso replaced Ángel Di María, los Blancos appeared intent on preserving a 1-0 lead for next week’s second leg.

In that way, today’s match had a slightly different feel from the one two Sundays ago. Then, as Carlo Ancelotti switched his side to a 4-3-3, the team had yet to prove their tweaks would lead to a more dominant product on the field. Failing to put more than one goal past Espanyol, Real Madrid looked like the decent but still lacking product they’d been throughout the fall.

By Tuesday, coming off a 5-0 win at Real Betis on Saturday, some of those questions have been answered. With five different goal scorers in Seville, Real Madrid showed the potential for a more diverse, potentially more potent attack. Being able to consistently produce such performances remains a doubt, but in controlling today’s match in Catalonia, Real Madrid showed their new approach may yet plug some of their holes.

In the context of a two-leg tie, a measured, controlling performance at Espanyol could be seen as an extension of this weekend’s dominance, even if the scoreboard shows a more modest result.

El Tri star Lozano staying focusing amid Barcelona rumors

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Hirving “Chucky” Lozano was a player everyone needed to pay attention to heading into the 2018 World Cup, and through two matches, the El Tri star has been every bit the price of admission for his country.

[ MORE: Group scenarios heading into the final group stage matches ]

Mexico sits atop Group F with six points at the moment, and much of the team’s success can be attributed to Lozano’s endless motor and creative attacking vision when he finds space down the wing.

The PSV Eindhoven attacker has been linked with various big clubs, including La Liga giants Barcelona, but that hasn’t halted Lozano’s pursuit of guiding Mexico to an unprecedented run at the World Cup.

“The important thing is to focus on the next [Mexico] game, do as well as possible and go step by step,” Lozano said.

Despite winning their first two games, El Tri needs at least a point in its final Group F match to ensure qualification without any complications.

Mexico will take on Sweden on Wednesday, as Juan Carlos Osorio’s side aims to remain perfect in the group stage.

Meanwhile, Andres Guardado — who has been a mainstay of the Mexican national team for years — only confirmed the work ethic of his teammate and hopes that a dream move becomes a reality for Lozano in the near future.

“It makes me very proud to say he is a kid that is very centered, despite everything he is going through,” said Guardado after Saturday’s 2-1 win over South Korea. “He is conscious that he has to continue like he’s not achieved anything.”

“He’s the same kid I met the first time he came with us,” continued Guardado. “Hopefully he stays like that and the rumors about a possible transfer to a big team become reality. It would be marvelous, he’s a great teammate.”

Video: Salah lob has Egypt off and running in first half

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Egypt’s run at the World Cup didn’t go according to plan, but the Pharaohs are looking in control on Monday.

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Mohamed Salah‘s second goal of the tournament has given the Egyptians a 1-0 lead over Saudi Arabia in their Group A finale.

After a Saudi giveaway in the attacking half of the field, Salah latched onto a beautiful long ball from Abdallah Said, before lofting a shot over goalkeeper Yasser Al Mosailem.

Video: Suarez gives Uruguay early lead over hosts Russia

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It only took Uruguay 10 minutes to break through, and the South American side could be on its way to capturing a third consecutive victory at the 2018 World Cup.

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Barcelona star Luis Suarez scored his second goal of the tournament on Monday, as the veteran striker gave Uruguay the lead early on against hosts Russia.

Suarez stepped up for a free kick just outside the penalty area, and slotted the ball brilliantly past the Russia goalkeeper at his near post.

Both teams have already advanced out of Group A after winning their first two matches, however, Monday’s victor (if there is one) will likely decide who tops the group.

Argentine players likely selecting lineup for Nigeria match

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The Albiceleste entered Russia among the favorites to win the World Cup, but now Argentina is on the brink of disaster and possibly crashing out of the group stage.

Through two Group D matches, Argentina sits on one point, and needs a victory over Nigeria to have a shot at advancing to the knockout phase.

Drastic changes appear to be coming for the CONMEBOL nation, after relations with manager Jorge Sampaoli have soured significantly over the last week-and-a-half.

Rumors have suggested that Lionel Messi and the elder players in the squad will select the starting XI for Argentina’s do-or-die fixture on Tuesday, with Sampaoli simply staying on as manager to avoid further embarrassment to the federation.

Sampaoli is expected to still be on the sidelines for the match, though.

Meanwhile, Argentine television outlet TNT Sports LA revealed a potential lineup ahead of Tuesday’s Group D finale against Nigeria.

The starting XI, if true, would feature four changes from the Albiceleste’s 3-0 defeat to Croatia last Thursday, including the introduction of River Plate goalkeeper Franco Armani for Chelsea’s Willy Caballero.