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La Liga: Asensio shines like a star, but Real Madrid draw Valencia

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MADRID (AP) Marco Asensio was impressive again, but his two remarkable goals were enough only to salvage a 2-2 draw against Valencia in Real Madrid’s home opener in the Spanish league on Sunday.

Asensio scored the second of his two goals from a free kick in the 83rd minute at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.

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The disappointing result left the defending champions two points behind Real Sociedad, Barcelona and Leganes — the three teams which have won each of their first two matches.

“We deserved more, but you can’t always win,” Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said. “We had several clear chances to score but couldn’t do it. I’m not happy with the result but I’m proud of the game we played.”

Asensio scored Madrid’s opener in the 10th with a neat run through the middle after a defensive blunder by Valencia. Asensio calmly finished with a well-placed left-foot shot into the left corner.

His second goal came only six minutes after Valencia had taken a 2-1 lead. He struck a low free kick that went around the wall and was too much for Valencia goalkeeper Neto.

“We let two points escape,” Madrid right back Dani Carvajal said.

[ MORE: Torino’s Andrea Belotti scores the goal of the weekend ]

Valencia, coming off a 1-0 win against Las Palmas in the opener, equalized a few minutes after Asensio’s first goal with a close-range shot by Carlos Soler. The visitors went ahead in the second half with a low strike from inside the area by French midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia.

“Both teams could have ended with the victory,” Valencia coach Marcelino said. “But the draw turned out to be a good result for us and I’m proud of my players.”

Madrid struggled offensively without the suspended Cristiano Ronaldo. Karim Benzema wasted opportunities in front of the goal, including from close-range in the 88th. His injury-time header struck the post after being tipped by the goalkeeper.

Neto had already made a great save against Luka Modric’s strike from just outside the area midway through the second half.

[ MORE: Dembele faces impossible task at Barcelona — being Neymar ]

A few minutes later, it was Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas who brilliantly stopped a free kick shot by Valencia midfielder Dani Parejo.

Before the game, Madrid was officially handed the La Liga trophy it won last season.

Madrid, which had opened with a 3-0 win at Deportivo La Coruna, was without suspended defender Sergio Ramos.

On Saturday, Barcelona won 2-0 at Alaves with a pair of goals by Lionel Messi. Atletico Madrid earned its first league victory with a 5-1 rout at Las Palmas.

Paulo Henrique Ganso scored with a brilliant touch in the 83rd minute to give Sevilla a 1-0 win at Getafe.

The Brazilian midfielder neatly redirected the ball into the net after a low cross from the right, securing Sevilla its first league victory.

Sevilla was coming off a disappointing 1-1 home draw against Espanyol.

Getafe had opened with a 0-0 draw at Athletic Bilbao.

Leganes defeated Espanyol 1-0 Sunday to continue its perfect start in the Spanish league.

Argentine defender Martin Mantovani scored in the first half to give Leganes the away victory.

It was the second straight win for Leganes, which made its first-division debut last season.

“It’s the type of game that is worth more than three points, it’s an incredible result,” Mantovani said. “We are off to a very good start. We worked very hard in the offseason for this. We can’t get too excited, but it gives us motivation to keep working.”

Mantovani said he forgot to honor his pregnant wife during the goal celebration, having promised her to put the ball under his shirt if he scored.

“She is going to kill me,” he said, smiling.

Athletic Bilbao improved from its opening draw at home by defeating Eibar 1-0 with a first-half goal by Aritz Aduriz.

The veteran striker scored with a close-range header at Eibar’s Ipurua Stadium.

Eibar opened with a 1-0 win at Malaga.

Japan upsets ten-man Colombia in Group H opener

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On paper, the 61st-ranked team in the world beating the 16th-ranked team in the world is a massive upset. But considering the circumstances within the game, perhaps this wasn’t an upset after all.

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Two set pieces were the difference as Japan defeated ten-man Colombia, 2-1 on Tuesday morning in Saransk. Colombia played with ten men for nearly the entire match, after Carlos Sanchez was sent off for a handball in the box and a denial of a goal scoring opportunity.

The game took a massive turn in the third minute, as Colombia centerback Davinson Sanchez failed to control a pass and Yuya Osako found himself free on goal. His shot was parried away by Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina but Kagawa’s rebound shot was clearly blocked by Sanchez’s right arm. The referee, Damir Skomina immediately pointed to the penalty spot and went to the back pocket, sending Sanchez to the showers.

Kagawa stepped up and cooly sent Ospina the wrong way to put Japan on top.

Late in the first half, after both teams had chances on target, Colombia came back and evened the scoreline.

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Juan Fernando Quintero, starting in place of the recovering James Rodriguez, smartly took a free kick and fired it low, under the wall as it jumped. Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima reacted late and although he arrived as the ball was crossing the line, he couldn’t keep it from going over, tying the game in the 39th minute.

Ultimately, despite its efforts, Colombia began to tire and on a corner kick, the Blue Samurai took back the lead and control of their destiny in Group H. A corner kick from Keisuke Honda was re-directed past Ospina by Osako, who jumped well over Santiago Arias, to give Japan a 2-1 lead in the 75th minute.

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Rodriguez was introduced in the 57th minute but try as he did, Colombia was unable to find the final pass in the box, and Japan held on for the unexpected victory.

With the win, Japan top Group H ahead of a meeting with Senegal, while Colombia will have to regroup to face Poland.

In a World Cup full of unexpected results, Tuesday brought yet another memorable win for an underdog.

New Zealand women footballers rebel against national coach

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Wellington, New Zealand (AP) Only weeks after New Zealand Football made headlines by signing a revolutionary equal pay deal with its female players, the organization is facing a mutiny by members of its women’s team against the national coach.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

New Zealand Football confirmed on Tuesday it had received a letter signed by a number of New Zealand players complaining about the methods and tactics employed by Austria-born coach Andreas Heraf.

The complaints follow the New Zealand team’s recent 3-1 loss at home to Japan. Heraf angered his players, and fans of the Football Ferns national team, by taking an entirely defensive game plan into the rare home international.

Heraf then further angered his players with comments defending his approach.

He said there was “a big difference in quality” between the New Zealand and Japanese players and that New Zealand “will never have that quality” to compete with top teams like Japan. He said the scoreline might have been 8-0 if New Zealand had not adopted a defensive approach.

One of New Zealand’s leading players, United States-based Abby Erceg, retired after playing 132 matches for New Zealand, citing Heraf’s approach in previous international matches.

She later told New Zealand media: “I couldn’t stand to wear that (national symbol) on my chest any more when his vision was to cower in a corner and not get beat by too much.”

New Zealand Football defended Heraf against the media and public criticism but admitted his comments were “strange” and “wrong” and did not accurately reflect his views. Heraf later apologized and said he had not expressed himself clearly.

But efforts to dampen the controversy have failed. New Zealand Football said in a statement it had “received a letter from the NZ Professional Footballers Association (NZPFA) last night with a number of complaints from the players of the Football Ferns.”

The mutiny comes only weeks after New Zealand gained international headlines for a deal which gives female pay parity with their male counterparts.

New Zealand Football signed the deal which provided female players with equal match payments, travel arrangements and prize money.

At the time, New Zealand women’s captain Ali Riley said the deal meant New Zealand would “be able to compete against the top teams, to be able to do well at a World Cup and the Olympics – this is what we needed.”

VIDEO: Colombia sees red, Japan takes early lead

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The first red card of the World Cup came just moments after fans took their seats in Saransk.

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After David Ospina blocked a breakaway opportunity from Yuya Osako in the third minute of the match, Japan star and former Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa fired the rebound on goal. But his shot was blocked by the arm of Colombia midfielder Carlos Sanchez, which earned him a straight red card from referee Damir Skomina and an early trip to the locker room.

Kagawa then stepped up to the spot and calmly sent Ospina the wrong way to give Japan the shock early lead.

Colombia will play the rest of the match with ten men and no James Rodriguez, who was named to the bench for this match as he recovers from a reported calf injury.

Rodriguez out of Colombia starting XI

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Taking a page out of Egypt’s book, Colombia will be without its talismanic playmaker for its first match, Tuesday morning against Japan.

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Juan Fernando Quintero replaced James Rodriguez in Colombia’s starting Xi to take on Japan in Saransk as Colombia coach Jose Pekerman clearly hopes a few extra days of recovery for the injured Rodriguez will help him return to 100 percent fitness. Rodriguez is battling a reported calf injury.

Rodriguez scored six goals and had two assists in five games at the last World Cup in Brazil, helping guide Los Cafeteros to their first World Cup quarterfinals appearance.