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Detailing the day Leicester City (pretty much) won the title

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LEICESTER — The City of Leicester is home to the British National Space Center, it is where King Richard III is buried and soon it could be home to the Premier League champions.

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A city of just over 330,000 (think Pittsburgh, PA in size) in the Midlands, Leicester has a rich sporting heritage with the rugby, cricket and basketball teams in the city all winning major titles over the last few decades.

The Foxes were the odd ones out. Until this season.

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It has been well documented that Leicester were odds of 5,000-1 to win the Premier League at the start of the 2015-16 season. They were among the favorites for relegation after battling the drop successfully at the end of last season but then replacing popular manager Nigel Pearson with Claudio Ranieri over the summer.

Led by the creativity of Riyad Marez and the sublime finishing of Jamie Vardy, Leicester is now six games away from immortality. They lead the Premier League by seven points after clinching a fourth-straight 1-0 win, this time against Southampton on Sunday, as they made the most of Tottenham drawing on Saturday.

Only five teams have won the Premier League during its 23-year existence. Manchester United. Blackburn Rovers. Arsenal. Chelsea. Manchester City. Leicester look set to soon add their name to that list.

In a city which holds one of the biggest celebration of Diwali outside of India they are readying themselves for a party which could eclipse that annual celebration. A “Vardy Party” if you will…

Walking from the train station to the stadium in Leicester, even on a Sunday morning, the excitement was palpable among fans.

As soon as I stepped out of the train station this greeted me.

That’s right, a man selling scarves proclaiming Leicester as “Premier League Champions” despite their being seven games to go before kick off today. Of course, he was looking to make a quick buck, but I get the feeling he will be ordering, and selling, plenty more of those scarves in the coming days.

In pubs, cafes and at bus stops everyone was talking about the same thing: “We have a Championship team basically” said one fan. “It is just unbelievable,” said another.

Chatting to Southampton fans on the street outside the stadium, they told me they’d love Leicester to win the title and that view is echoed by pretty much every other PL club.

“It gives us all hope, really,” headteacher Kelvin Geary, a Saints fans, told me. “It gives us hope that if you’re a little club then you can go on to achieve great things. That is what is so exciting about it.”

Leicester’s fans are pinching themselves with many walking around with a huge smile on their face and the fans I spoke to were almost in a state of shock.

“Loving every minute of it,” said Martin Inwood, a project manager who is lifelong Leicester fan, before the game. “The last few weeks have been very nerve-wracking because as we get closer to it, most Leicester fans who have been supporting us for years know that we have a habit of throwing things away and making it difficult for ourselves.”

The King Power Stadium was primed and ready — free doughnuts and beer for every home fan courtesy of the Thai owners to celebrate the birthday of the chairman, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, certainly helped generate even more of a party atmosphere — on a brilliantly sunny spring day in England’s East Midlands.

I spoke to former players in the stadium, who shared their disbelief. A choir outside added in “Go Vardy!” and “Come on Leicester!” to their songs and the KP was bouncing pregame as they knew a win would be the biggest step yet towards winning the title. Before the first kick the song of choice was: “We’re going to win the league!” and the fans, unlike in previous weeks, really believed it.

The game itself was a nerve-shredding encounter for Leicester’s fans.

They started brightly but faded as Southampton should’ve had a penalty kick and went close on three occasions but then captain Wes Morgan rose highest to power home a header in the 38th minute. Relief was the overriding emotion in the King Power as the place erupted. Morgan, 32, has been with Leicester for five years and the fact that the journeyman captain — who has played year-round due to his involvement in both the Copa America and Gold Cup last summer with Jamaica — headed home the winner summed it all up.

Leicester were denied insurance goals by the brilliant Fraser Forster in the second half, but Saints played their part as they piled on the pressure but couldn’t break through.

At the final whistle cries of “We’re going to win the league!” returned and now, on this day, Sunday April 3, 2016, it seems more likely than ever that the Foxes will seal one of the greatest Cinderella stories in sporting history.

“We saw the [Tottenham] game yesterday was a draw and wanted to make the most of our opportunity,” match-winner Morgan said. “We really wanted it today.”

The entire City of Leicester wants this, as huge cheers of delight could be heard in and around the KP long after the crowds had disappeared.

“The fans understood our difficulties and they pushed a lot,” manager Claudio Ranieri told me afterwards. “They were not nervous, they understood our momentum and they are pushing with us. It is a fantastic link. It is unbelievable. They are very, very close with us. They understand when we need support or when I asked for support… but I didn’t even ask today. They started early to help us.”

When we look back at this season, we will likely look back on today as the defining moment in Leicester’s title win. If they’d lost, they would’ve been just four points clear of Spurs with six games left. Now it’s seven and the whole of Leicester is in heaven.

Fans of the Foxes can smell the Premier League title and their season-long party is going to have a fitting finale.

Americans Abroad: Johnson, Yedlin register starts; Miazga injured in FA Cup bout

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After last weekend served as the year’s best weekend yet for Americans abroad, positive activity was scarce this time around.

Fabian Johnson and DeAndre Yedlin returned to their respective team’s starting lineups, but neither them or any other American abroad managed to put the ball in the back of the net.

To make matters worse, Matt Miazga left Reading’s match on Saturday with an apparent ankle injury.

Here is a list of several other USMNT affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) abroad this weekend.

FA Cup

DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle — Yedlin was back on Steve Bruce‘s starting lineup on Saturday. The fullback played all 90 minutes in Newcastle’s draw with Oxford United.

Duane Holmes, Derby County — Holmes remianed on the bench in Derby’s 0-0 draw with Northampton Town on Friday.

Matt Miazga, Reading (loan from Chelsea) — The 24-year-old captain started and played 66 minutes before exiting the field with an apparent ankle injury against Cardiff City on Saturday.

Eric Lichaj, Hull City — The Tigers’ defender started and played 90 minutes in Hull’s 2-1 loss to Chelsea.

Geoff Cameron, QPR — The 34-year-old defender stayed on the bench in QPR’s 2-1 loss to Sheffield Wednesday on Friday.

Tim Ream, Fulham — Ream played the final six minutes in Fulham’s 4-0 loss to Manchester City on Sunday.

Ligue 1

Timothy Weah, Lille — Weah didn’t feature on the field or on Lille’s bench this weekend.

Theoson Jordan-Siebatcheu, Rennes — Jordon-Siebatcheu watched Rennes draw 1-1 with Nice from the bench.

Eredivisie

Haji Wright, VVV-Venlo — Wright remained on the bench in Venlo’s 2-1 win over RKC Waalwijk on Sunday.

Sergino Dest, Ajax — Dest started and played 90 minutes in Ajax’s 2-1 defeat to Groningen.

Desevio Payne, FC Emmen — The U-23 MNT fullback didn’t dress for FC Emmen on Sunday.

Bundesliga

Timmy Chandler, Eintracht Frankfurt — The fullback played 89 minutes in Frankfurt’s 2-0 win over RB Leipzig on Saturday.

Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig — Adams started and played 71 minutes for Leipzig.

Weston McKennie, Schalke — McKennie is back and running, playing 10 minutes for Schalke in their 5-0 loss to Bayern Munich.

Zack Steffen, Fortuna Dusseldorf — Steffen is inactive with an injury.

Alfredo Morales, Fortuna Dusseldorf — Morales started and played 90 minutes in Fortuna’s 3-0 loss to Bayer Leverkusen.

Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen  The 19-year-old started and played 66 minutes in Werder Bremen’s 3-0 loss to Hoffenheim.

Fabian Johnson, Borussia Mönchengladbach — Johnson made his way back into Mönchengladbach’s starting cast, playing 87 minutes on Sunday.

Honorable Mentions

Alex Mendez, Jong Ajax — Mendez played all 90 minutes and registered an assist in Jong Ajax’s 3-3 draw with  NEC Nijmegen.

Mexicans Abroad: Vela starts preseason with a bang; Davila continues to shine in A-League

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It took Carlos Vela 10 minutes to prove that he didn’t lose a step over Major League Soccer’s lengthy offseason.

Vela, 30, started his third preseason in grandiose fashion, scoring a trademark left-footed curler against Uruguayan giants Peñarol. The Mexican winger, who scored a league-record 34 goals in 31 matches, inspired LAFC’s 2-0 win at the Banc of California Stadium.

Thousands of miles away, an old friend of Vela, Ulises Davila, delivered the good for his club once again. The Chivas academy product scored a goal and provided an assist in Wellington Phoenix’s 2-1 win over Newcastle Jets.

Here is a list of several other Mexico national team affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) outside of Mexico this weekend.


Premier League

Raul Jimenez, Wolverhampton Wanderers —  Jimenez and Wolves did not feature this weekend, but they did on Thursday, and the Mexican shined then. Jimenez scored his 11th goal of the season in Wolves’ 2-1 loss to leaders Liverpool, equalling Harry Kane‘s and Sadio Mane’s count. Thhe goal, itself, was a masterpiece:

La Liga

Hector Herrera, Atletico Madrid — Herrera took the field in the 62nd minute for Angel Correa and completed 25 passes in Atletico’s 0-0 draw with Leganes.

Andres Guardado, Real Betis —  Guardado started but left the field 34 minutes in after picking up an injury. Betis dropped three points after losing to Getafe 1-0.

Diego Lainez, Real Betis — The 19-year-old was not called up to Betis’ bench on Sunday. 

Nestor Araujo, Celta Vigo — Araujo started and played 90 minutes in Celta’s draw with Eibar on Sunday.

Serie A

Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, Napoli —  With reports linking the frenetic winger to Everton, Lozano continues lack playing minutes with Napoli. The 24-year-old was on Genaro Gattuso’s bench on Sunday, but was not substituted on in Napoli’s 2-1 win over Juventus.

Primeira Liga

Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, FC Porto — Tecatito started and played all 90 minutes in Porto’s 1-0 loss to Braga in the Taca da Liga final. It was reported that the 27-year-old’s home in Portugal was burglarized during the match.

Eredivisie

Erick Gutierrez, PSV Eindhoven —  Gutierrez earned his first minutes of competitive playing time of the year on Sunday. The midfielder played the final eight minutes of PSV’s draw with FC Twente on Sunday.

Edson Alvarez, Ajax — Alvarez dressed but remained on the bench for Ajax on Sunday.

Major League Soccer

Carlos Vela, LAFC – Vela kickstarted LAFC’s 2020 preseason in spectacular fashion. Take a look for yourself:

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Omar Govea, Zulte Waregem — Govea and Zulte were inactive this weekend.

Elsewhere around the globe:

Ulises Davila, Wellington Phoenix – On Thursday, Davila played a tremendous role in Phoenix’s 2-1 win, scoring a goal and adding an assist against Newcastle Jets. Davila is the A-League’s fourth highest scoring this season with 10 goals.

Serie A roundup: Struggling Napoli stun leaders Juventus (video)

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Napoli’s much-needed win against leaders Juventus highlights Sunday’s busy Serie A action.

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Napoli 2-1 Juventus

Second-half goals from Piotr Zielinski and Lorenzo Insigne earned Napoli a hard-earned 2-1 win over leaders Juventus in San Paolo. 

Gli Azzurri’s win marks their first in three Serie A bouts and ended the Old lady’s five-game winning streak.

Cristiano Ronaldo managed to extend his goalscoring streak to eight games in the final minutes of the match, but Juventus failed to go six point clear of second best Inter Milan, who drew on Sunday.

Following the game, the visitor’s boss, Maurizio Sarri, was delighted for Napoli, who he managed from 2015 to 2018.

“I am happy for the lads, as I will always be fond of them,” he told Sky Sport Italia. “If you have to lose, I guess I’d rather it be here to help Napoli get out of their current problems. I’d rather they started winning next week, of course.”

“Clearly, the game takes over and you have to detach yourself from everything around that,” he added. “Napoli represented a special moment in my life and it’s always pleasing and emotional to be back here.”

As for Napoli, the home league victory – their first since October – takes loads of pressure from their back. The club, under the guidance of Gennaro Gattuso, had been struggling.

The club stands 10th with 27 points after 21 games, but has a long ways to go, according to Gattuso.

“We beat two good teams now, fine, but we are still in trouble, still a long way back and need to keep pushing,” he said. “I congratulate the lads for the work they’ve done over the last seven days, but we have to keep going like this now, do not let up, focus on Napoli 24 hours a day.”

Up next for Napoli is Sampdoria, while Juventus host Fiorentina.

Elsewhere in Serie A 

Inter Milan 1-1 Cagliari

Parma 2-0 Udinese

Sampdoria 0-0 Sassuolo 

Verona 3-0 Lecce

Roma 1-1 Lazio

La Liga roundup: Nacho header powers Real Madrid to top of table (video)

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Real Madrid’s close win at the Estadio Jose Zorilla to go atop of Spain’s top-flight highlights La Liga’s Sunday action.

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Real Valladolid 0-1 Real Madrid

Real Madrid is three points clear at the top of La Liga after Nacho Fernandez’s header in the 78th minute against Real Valladolid on Sunday.

With defending champions Barcelona dropping three, crucial points against Valencia on Saturday, Zinedine Zidane and company take a giant leap in the tight title race. Los Blancos’ 46 points are the most within La Liga with less than a half a season to go.

But even then, the French manager was reluctant to accept that his team did enough against Valladolid to claim league triumph.

“For us, nothing changes,” Zidane said. “We are happy with the victory, the work done having fought until the end, but nothing changes. There are 17 games left and we will continue fighting until the end.

“I don’t want to talk about being champions because there is still a lot left to play. It changes nothing to be leaders, they are three important points but nothing more.

“There are a lot of league games left and it will be difficult for all teams, including us.”

Madrid’s defense shined all 90 minutes, denying the hosts from registering a shot on target and producing the match-winning goal via Nacho.

“Defensively, what we are doing, we are doing well. It is our strength,” Zidane also told reporters. “We defend all and when we lose the ball we recover it very high, and if we keep it we have a good chance of scoring.”

“Nacho scored and that is part of football. We know that we can improve in this aspect,” he added. “Nacho is a professional. When he has to compete he does well. I’m glad for his goal; he doesn’t usually score them but from time-to-time we can also create chances for defenders.”

Debuting for Madrid in 2011, Nacho has made 133 appearances and scored seven goals. His goal on Sunday perhaps the most important, earning his team what is arguably their most crucial league win this season.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Atletico Madrid 0-0 Leganes

Celta Vigo 0-0 Eibar

Getafe 1-0 Real Betis

Real Sociedad 3-0 Mallorca