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La Liga roundup: Barcelona earns crazy win, Atletico keeps pace

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Barcelona faced adversity against Valencia at the Nou Camp, but they fended off pesky Valencia 4-2 on a pair from Lionel Messi and one each by Luis Suarez and Andre Gomes.

The first half was wild. Eliaquim Mangala headed home a corner to put Valencia ahead inside the opening half-hour, but it wasn’t long before Suarez hit back to draw back level. It appeared to be crumbling for the visitors when Mangala picked up his second yellow card for a pull-back Suarez in the box, both earning Barcelona a penalty and seeing Valencia down a man. Messi bagged the penalty before the break for a 2-1 lead, but Valencia struck back not a minute later as Munir El Haddadi scored on the stroke of halftime to make it 2-2 at the break.

The pivotal moment came in the 52nd minute as Neymar was clean through, but Diego Alves made an incredible save to keep the game level. Moments later, Messi put Barcelona in front with his 25th La Liga goal, skirting two defenders and beating Alves to his near post. That put Barcelona 3-2 up, and they finished it off against the tiring visitors with one from Andre Gomes with two minutes to go.

Atletico Madrid scored a massive victory by beating Sevilla at home 3-1. Diego Godin, Antoine Griezmann, and Koke all scored to give the home side all three points, a huge win that closed the gap with Sevilla in third at just two points. Griezmann’s goal was especially pretty, a left-footed rocket on a free-kick just outside the box that clipped the underside of the bar and cannoned in.

The loss likely shuts the book on any outside shot Sevilla may have had at the La Liga title, now sitting eight points back of Real Madrid, who also has a game in hand.

Elsewhere, Celta Vigo had struggled to translate its solid Europa League performances into sustained league form, but they managed to this weekend with a 1-0 win over Deportivo. Iago Aspas in particular is on a roll, and he scored the lone goal in the game, his sixth goal in his last nine games across all competitions. Aspas managed to slip by three defenders unnoticed at the back post, and Claudio Beauvue met him with a cross for the 74th minute goal.

Sporting Gijon got a big win in a huge relegation matchup, winning 3-1 to move onto 18 points, just one back of their opponents. They’re still seven points off safety, but they now have some life in the fight. All three of Sporting’s goals came in a seven-minute span just past the hour mark.

Finally, Malaga continued to struggle, finishing with a scoreless draw against 17th placed Leganes. Malaga has won just one league match since November 26th.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Arsenal close in on Leno; Man City near Jorginho signing, and more

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Arsenal looks like it will have a new man between the pipes for next season.

According to a report from German publication SportBild, Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper Bernd Leno will be introduced as an Arsenal player on Tuesday, after a reported $23-29 million transfer fee. The 26-year-old was on Germany’s 35-man pre-World Cup squad, but was one of the last cuts as Joachim Low went with Manuel Neuer, Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Kevin Trapp in Russia.

Leno became the full-time starter for Leverkusen as a 20-year-old, and has held the position of the No. 1 for the last six seasons, earning plenty of Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League experience along the way.

It’s unclear what will happen to current Arsenal No. 1 Petr Cech. The 36-year-old Premier League legend experienced one of his worst seasons in net for Arsenal and he could begin the season as a backup, unless he moves to a new club. He reportedly has a contract through 2019.

Here’s some more transfer rumors from around the Premier League and Europe.

(more…)

VIDEO: Mertens scores wonderstrike for Belgium

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After a frustrating 45 minutes, it took only two minutes for Belgium to finally get on the board, even if it was a goal sprinkled with magic dust.

Off a partially cleared ball on the right side of the box, Belgium attacker Dries Mertens whalloped a shot that arced over Panama (and former LA Galaxy) goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, giving Belgium a 1-0 lead.

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Croatia’s Kalinic sent home from World Cup

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It’s only been five days, and we have our first World Cup dismissal.

According to a bombshell report out of Croatia, Croatia National Team head coach Zlatko Dalic has sent home striker Nikola Kalinic from the team’s camp, after the AC Milan player reportedly refused to be a substitute during Croatia’s 2-0 win over Nigeria.

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[Update: The Croatia FA confirmed the decision, releasing this statement from Dalic. “During the Nigeria encounter, Kalinić was warming up and was supposed to come on in the second half. However, he then stated that he wasn’t ready to come on due to a back issue. The same thing happened during the Brazil friendly in England, as well as before the practice session on Sunday. I have calmly accepted that, and since I need my players fit and ready to play, I have made this decision.”]

The report states that Kalinic refused to come on due to an injury, but Dalic had said recently that his team had no injuries that would keep players out, potentially meaning that Kalinic used the injury claim as an excuse.

Croatia’s FA is expected to confirm the news on Monday.

After a rough season at AC Milan, with just six league goals in 31 Serie A appearances, Kalinic, at 30, is likely finished with the Vatreni. He scored three goals in World Cup qualifying but hasn’t started for Croatia since a 2-0 win over Peru in March. Kalinic did score against Spain in Croatia’s shock 2-1 win exactly two years prior to Saturday’s match.

He was deemed second choice to Mario Mandzukic as the center forward up top, but was reportedly asked to spell Mandzukic during Croatia’s match against Nigeria, and Kalinic reportedly refused.

If true, Croatia will continue with 22 players for the remainder of the tournament.

VAR, Granqvist penalty lead Sweden over South Korea

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On Day 5 of the World Cup, VAR took center stage once again.

Referee Joel Aguilar of El Salvador made the trek over to the video monitor in the 63rd minute after a no-call on a South Korea challenge in its own box, eventually reversing his decision and giving Sweden a penalty kick. Sweden captain Andreas Granqvist stepped up and sent his side in front before holding on for a 1-0 victory over South Korea on Monday morning in Nizhny Novgorod.

With the win, Sweden is joint top of Group F with Mexico on three points.

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The key moment in the match took place in the 62nd minute, as Sweden’s Viktor Claesson got his foot on a loose ball first before South Korea’s Kim Min-woo went through Claesson to clear the ball away.

Aguilar initially waved the penalty claim away, but after about 20 seconds and a word from his assistant referees in his ear, Aguilar made the sign for VAR and ran over to take a second look. Around 20-30 seconds later, Aguilar reversed his decision, awarding the Swedes a penalty.

Granqvist, who plays his club football for FC Krasnodar in Russia, stepped up to the spot and with veteran poise, sent Cho Hyun-woo the wrong way for the 1-0 lead.

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Sweden had chances in the first half to get on the board. Marcus Berg was alone on goal in the 20th minute but Hyun-woo stuck out a leg and deflected it away. Another chance from Berg led to another save from Hyun-woo as he kept South Korea in the match.

Following Sweden’s goal, Sweden sat deep and allowed Heung-Min Son to find space on the wings, where South Korea set up numerous half-chances. But the final pass was just missing, and Sweden was able to clear the ball out of the box on numerous occasions, holding on to victory.

It’s a big win for Sweden, which will face an angry and pumped up Germany side coming off a loss in its first match. Meanwhile, South Korea looks to rebound against Mexico, with its spirits higher than the clouds.