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Brazil’s Ronaldinho confirms retirement and plans farewell

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SAO PAULO (AP) World Cup and 2005 Ballon D’Or winner Ronaldinho confirmed on Wednesday his retirement from football. The 37-year-old’s last professional football match was in 2015 for Brazil’s Fluminense.

The Brazilian’s brother and agent announced the player’s decision on Tuesday. Ronaldinho confirmed the decision one day later in an Instagram post.

“After almost three decades dedicated to football, I say goodbye to my biggest dream. A fulfilled dream,” the playmaker said. “I did what I love the most as a professional for 20 years and another 10 years in the academy. I lived this child’s dream intensely.”

Obrigado Sr. meu Deus, por esta vida que me deste, família, amigos e minha primeira profissão!!! Após quase três décadas dedicadas ao futebol, me despeço do meu maior sonho, sonho realizado!!! Fiz o que mais amei profissionalmente por 20 anos, e 10 como formação de base. Vivi intensamente este sonho de criança, cada instante, viagens, vitórias, derrotas, a resenha, hino nacional, a caminhada no túnel, vestiário, entrada em campo, as chuteiras que usei, as bolas boas e ruins, homenagens que ganhei, os craques que joguei, os que admirei e joguei e os que só joguei no play, mas admiro até hoje! Enfim tudo foi incrível!!! Meu pai e minha família me apoiaram muito pra chegar até aqui, foi um trabalho em equipe. Chegamos ao fim da primeira etapa com uma história bonita pra contar… Vocês me conhecem, e sabem bem que sou tímido e não tenho o costume de falar muito, mas tenho que dizer a vocês muito obrigado, de coração, de alma lavada, pois fiz o que amo com a ajuda de todos, treinadores, preparadores, comissões inteiras, dirigentes, torcida a favor e contra, o motorista do ônibus, o roupeiro, o gandula, o árbitro e a imprensa. Obrigado, construímos juntos esta história, sem vocês nada seria possível… No mês de março faremos um anúncio de como será esta despedida e os próximos passos. Por enquanto, aqui vai meu muito obrigado ⚽. Aquela frase famosa “gracias vieja” por ser a minha fonte de inspiração por tanto tempo e companheiros de muitas vitórias!!! Obrigado a todos pelas mensagens e carinho!!! Um abraço forte, fui muito feliz fazendo deste esporte a minha vida e profissão.

A post shared by Ronaldo de Assis Moreira (@ronaldinho) on

Ronaldinho, who had his best club moments at Barcelona, thanked teammates, coaches and fans for his career. He also praised the football with a reference to Real Madrid’s legendary player Alfredo di Stefano (1926-2014).

“Thanks, old woman, for being my biggest source of inspiration for so long,” Ronaldinho said.

“You know me and you know that I am shy, I am not used to speaking much. But thank you all from the bottom of my heart.”

Ronaldinho said he will announce details of the farewell in March.

On Tuesday his agent Roberto Assis told the Associated Press that Ronaldinho’s plans include being a football ambassador for Barcelona, doing charity and working with music.

Ronaldinho’s decorated career also includes one Champions League victory with Barcelona in 2006 and two FIFA player of the year Awards in 2004 and 2005.

He played 101 matches and scored 35 goals for Brazil from 1997 to 2013. At the Camp Nou, Ronaldinho was an integral member of a squad that took Barca back to the limelight. The Brazilian played 207 games for the Catalans and gave 94 goals and 61 assists to the team.

Ronaldinho’s club career also includes Gremio, Flamengo and Atletico Mineiro in Brazil, Paris Saint-Germain in France, AC Milan in Italy and Queretaro in Mexico.

Several clubs and players around the world are still praising Ronaldinho for his football legacy, including his former teammate and protegee Lionel Messi.

“I learned a lot by your side. I’ll forever be grateful to you for making everything so easy when I joined the first team,” Messi said in his social media channels.

“I was lucky enough to share many things with you and I’m really happy about that because, as well as being a star out on the pitch, you’re an excellent person and that’s the most important thing. Although you’ve decided to retire, football will never forget your smile,” the Argentine said.

Three-time World Cup winner Pele also gave praise to the retiree.

“You brought a smile to everyone’s face, Ronaldinho. I hope you glide through life, like you glided through tackles,” Pele said.

Long-term absentee Santi Cazorla will leave Arsenal

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Santi Cazorla hasn’t played a match for the Gunners since suffering a gruesome Achilles injury back in October 2016.

[ MORE: No World Cup for Spanish Chelsea trio ]

And unfortunately for the Spaniard, Cazorla won’t feature for Arsenal again after six years at the Emirates Stadium.

Arsenal released a statement on Monday revealing the veteran midfielder won’t return to the club in 2018/19, which isn’t unexpected given the extent of his injury.

In his time with the Gunners, Cazorla made 180 appearances in all competitions for the club, and helped Arsenal win two FA Cups.

Cazorla was also a member of the Spanish national team squads that won back-to-back UEFA EURO competitions in 2008 and 2012.

Wolfsburg keeps Bundesliga spot with playoff win

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Wolfsburg managed a 1-0 win (4-1 on aggregate) over Holstein Kiel on Monday in the second leg of its German promotion playoff as the Bundesliga side kept its place in the top flight.

Robin Knoche scored the game-winner in the second leg, which ensured Wolfsburg’s stay in the Bundesliga ahead of the 2017/18 season.

The hosts boasted a number of quality chances in the first half, including David Kinsombi’s close-range shot that tested Wolfsburg keeper Koen Casteels with a save, however, Holstein couldn’t break through.

U.S. Men’s National Team defender John Brooks went the full 90 minutes for Wolfsburg, after the 25-year-old made nine starts this season for the German side in league play.

Injuries aren’t halting Red Bulls from proving to be MLS’ top club

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It would have been understandable if the New York Red Bulls dropped their heads in agony last month after the club’s disappointing CONCACAF Champions League defeat to eventual tournament winners Chivas de Guadalajara.

[ MORE: NYCFC’s Vieira close to signing contract with Nice ]

That wasn’t the case though, and for manager Jesse Marsch and Co., the club has been rewarded in the biggest of ways for its perseverance.

Sunday night’s 3-1 win over Atlanta United proved once again in 2018 that this season’s Red Bulls are the class of MLS for a number of reasons.

The team’s 7-3-0 start is its best in modern Red Bulls history, which dates back nine seasons to when Red Bull Arena was first opened in 2010.

Marsch and his group currently ride a four-match win streak, which includes away wins over LA Galaxy, Colorado Rapids and Atlanta, with a 4-0 beatdown of rivals New York City FC bunched in the middle of the road trip.

It’s easy to look at wins and losses to determine which teams are serious MLS Cup contenders and others that will struggle throughout the season, but when diving deeper into this Red Bulls team, there are a lot of special qualities that make them different than previous years.

Heading into 2018, questions surrounded the team following Sacha Kljestan’s departure for Orlando City, as well as the club’s ability to defend with a back line that didn’t appear to have much depth.

The Kljestan question has not only been answered, but turned into Alejandro “Kaku” Gamarra becoming a household MLS name and legitimate MVP and Newcomer of the Year candidate.

The Argentine (possibly turning Paraguayan) leads MLS in assists (9) through the Red Bulls first 10 matches, after Kljestan posted 17 for the club during the 2017 campaign.

Kaku is a spark plug that manages to find himself in the right positions on the field at any given moment, and his work rate perfectly matches what Marsch his instilled in the squad since the moment he first arrived.

Defensively, the Red Bulls have far exceeded expectations, conceding the fourth-fewest goals (12) in MLS, despite a host of injuries.

Jamaica international Kemar Lawrence went down with a scary injury on Sunday, leaving his immediate availability with the club unknown, while Homegrown player Kyle Duncan will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL.

Tyler Adams also went down with an injury against Atlanta, however, it isn’t believed to be serious.

That’s not including outside back Connor Lade, who has battled an ankle injury early in the 2018 campaign as well.

While the addition of Kaku has paid dividends in the biggest of ways in the attack though, it was the Red Bulls ability to bring in center back Tim Parker from the Vancouver Whitecaps that has really changed the team’s outlook at the back.

Parker has formed a strong bond with fellow central defensive partner Aaron Long, and the two are easily the best center back pairing in MLS through the opening two-plus months.

The bigger test for the club in the long-term will be if Lawrence does miss significant playing time, though.

That would force Marsch to rely more on Lade, who only returned from injury on Sunday to replace Lawrence, or young outside back Ethan Kutler, unless the Red Bulls manager opts to switch to a three-back system (as he has done in the past).

The Red Bulls will have to also battle through the concerns that come with the World Cup this summer, which will likely force defenders Michael Murillo and Fidel Escobar to leave the squad for their Panama national team duties.

Nainggolan ends Belgium career after World Cup snub

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As World Cup squads fill out their rosters ahead of next month’s great tournament in Russia, a number of high-profile names won’t feature at the World Cup.

[ MORE: No World Cup for Spanish Chelsea trio ]

Belgium named its 28-man provisional squad on Monday, which includes Premier League stars Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard, however, one notable midfielder was left out of Roberto Martinez’s squad.

Radja Nainggolan won’t be on the plane to Russia next month for the Red Devils, who take on England, Panama and Tunisia in the group stage.

That decision by Martinez has prompted the AS Roma midfielder to end his international career, which Nainggolan revealed in a social media post following the announcement.

Martinez commented on the Roma player’s omission from the roster.

“Radja is a top player,” Martinez said. “The reason is tactical. In the last two years the team has worked in a specific manner. Other players had those roles.

“We know that he has a very important role in his club and we cannot give him that role in our squad.”