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Zidane gets it right as Real builds 3-1 lead over PSG

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The UEFA Champions League is not only the pride of Real Madrid, but the only bit of silverware still available to Zinedine Zidane’s men.

[ RECAP: Real Madrid 1-3 PSG ]

That put plenty of pressure on the club and its boss ahead of Wednesday’s first leg of the Round of 16 at the Bernabeu, with Paris Saint-Germain coming into town with an arsenal capable of submarining any team’s trophy hopes.

And the crowd was booing and whistling once Adrien Rabiot scored an away goal to put PSG ahead after 33 minutes. Cristiano Ronaldo converted a penalty to put it level into halftime, but doubt remained for the victors of three UCL titles in four seasons.

Certainly there was a bit of good fortune in the win — Sergio Ramos blocked a goal-bound shot with his arm and it went uncalled — but by the time a pair of Marco Asensio assists had put Real up 3-1, it was clear that Zidane and his men had favor back on their side.

“This club has 12 European Cups and that means a lot,” Zidane said. “This is such a prominent competition and we want to prove time and time again that this club values this. We showed it for the full 90 minutes. We coped well, both with and without the ball. We defended well, with aggression and rhythm.

“The Champions League really has a place in this club’s heart. We played 90 stunning minutes against a top rival. That’s all that we’re concerned with. We have to turn our attentions now to the return leg, that will be entirely different.”

It won’t be easy. Tactically, too, it will be interesting to see what Zidane opts to do at the Parc des Princes.  Zidane correctly urged his players to come flying out of the gates with hard pressing on Wednesday, and it would take bravery to proffer a similar plan in the second leg.

Just ask one of his best defenders.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

“Defensively we need help,” said Ramos. “We suffered because they have fast attacking players, but we answered well. We must always respect our rivals. We took an important step forward but the tie is wide open, so we need to keep plugging away.”

Zidane got it right tonight, though it’s funny to think of his being fired had the Ramos handball gone in PSG’s favor and two away goals somehow dooming Real. Just like it’s silly that Unai Emery may lose his job based on a two-goal deficit that came moments after that penalty shout went unheeded.

Transfer rumor roundup: Man United on verge of signing Shakhtar’s Fred

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Jose Mourinho is nearing a boost to his attacking midfield, with Brazilian international Fred reportedly on the verge of joining Manchester United.

The 25-year-old midfielder has starred for Shakhtar Donetsk the past five seasons, cementing his place as a starter for the Ukrainian side and impressing in UEFA Champions League matches. Fred follows the likes of Manchester City’s Fernandinho and Chelsea’s Willian as using Shakhtar as a mid-way point between Brazil and the Premier League.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

According to multiple reports in England, Manchester United is in advanced negotiations to sign Fred for a reported transfer fee of nearly $59 million. The singularly-named Fred would be the third-famous Fred to play for Man United, following Freddie Goodwin, who played for the Red Devils from 1954-60 and Fred Erentz, who played from 1892-1902.

Although he is not physically big, Fred could be an Eden Hazard-type player, a tricky midfielder who puts defenders on their heels as he skates past them with the ball.

Here are more transfer rumors and notes from around the Premier League:

(more…)

FIFA Council member Nyantakyi arrested on return to Ghana

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ACCRA, Ghana (AP) FIFA Council member and Ghana Football Association head Kwesi Nyantakyi has been arrested on his return to his home country following a complaint made against him by the Ghanaian president.

Police spokesman David Eklu confirmed to The Associated Press on Thursday that Nyantakyi, also a vice president of the Confederation of African Football, is in custody and being interrogated.

[READ: Yaya Toure talks future, playing with Paul Pogba]

Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo asked police to investigate Nyantakyi after the soccer boss allegedly was caught in an undercover documentary promising businessmen access to the president and other senior government officials in return for money.

Nyantakyi was out of the country at the time President Akufo-Addo made the complaint.

Ghana media reported that Nyantakyi, a member of the powerful FIFA Council since 2016 and an influential figure in African football, was picked up by plain-clothes police at the airport in Accra and taken straight to police headquarters.

NFL’s 49ers purchase minority stake in Leeds United

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One of England’s most famous clubs is receiving investment and strategic business connections from one of the NFL’s most famous brands.

Leeds United and the San Francisco 49ers announced Thursday that 49ers Enterprises, an investment arm of the 49ers ownership, has purchased a minority stake in the Championship club. Multiple reports state that the 49ers now own 10-15 percent of the club, but current Leeds chairman Andrea Radrizzani remains the majority owner.

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As part of the deal, 49ers President Paraag Marathe gets a seat on the Leeds United board of directors. Per Leeds, the money invested will stay with the club and be used for the first team, as Leeds looks again to make its way back to the Premier League in next season’s campaign.

An American ownership group investing in England is nothing new, but to identify and purchase a stake in a club with history and a decent chance at making it to the Premier League is impressive. In addition, the York Family, who owns the 49ers, has a net worth in the billions, which could help fund Leeds’ push back into the Premier League.

For the 49ers, this is also a savvy business decision. By investing low in a club in the Championship, they hope that they can experience the financial windfall of playing in the Premier League. This season, clubs made a combined $3.2 billion (with a capital B) thanks to revenue sharing, international and domestic TV rights, and other sponsorship deals.

With even the relegated sides taking home nine figures in revenues from the league, who wouldn’t want to invest and take a cut of that?

Now, only time will tell how long it is before the 49ers influence helps – or hinders, based on the 49ers current state of affairs in the U.S. – Leeds reach the pinnacle of English football.

Iniesta joins Japanese club Vissel Kobe

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TOKYO (AP) Former Barcelona playmaker Andres Iniesta was introduced as the newest member of Japanese club Vissel Kobe on Thursday, a poorly kept secret that’s been rumored for weeks.

Iniesta appeared before a packed news conference at a central Tokyo hotel on Thursday along with Kobe’s billionaire owner, Hiroshi Mikitani.

[READ: Earnie Stewart being considered for U.S. Soccer post]

“I’m pleased to announce,” Mikitani said, “that Andres Iniesta will be signing up play with Vissel Kobe after his historic career at Barcelona.”

Iniesta signed his contract as Mikitani watched, and then spoke through an interpreter.

Terms of the contract were not disclosed, but Japanese media are reporting he will earn $30 million annually on a three-year deal.

“For me this is a very special day,” the Spaniard said. “This is an important challenge for me. My family is excited to come to Japan and we are very pleased. There were many offers. Other clubs showed interest. But I decided to sign with Vissel Kobe because the project presented to me was impressive.”

Mikitani is also the CEO of Barcelona sponsor Rakuten, a Japanese online retailer.

Iniesta held up the team’s red shirt with his famous No. 8 on the back, and his name written across the bottom.

Iniesta previously had said he would probably retire from international soccer after Spain plays at this year’s World Cup in Russia.

The 34-year-old Iniesta scored the winning goal for Spain in the 2010 World Cup final. He also was a key part of Spain’s two European Championships in 2008 and 2012.

He announced last month he would leave Barcelona after 16 seasons. His last match for the Spanish club was on Sunday against Real Sociedad at Camp Nou.

Vissel Kobe is in sixth place after 15 games in the J-League. It signed Lukas Podolski last year, but the German striker is out until the end of June with an injured calf.