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Most memorable soccer moments of 2018

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The 2018 soccer calendar year featured an unforgettable World Cup, another memorable Champions League run, and countless international and club moments that won titles and dazzled fans. Here is the best of the best from 2018:

14. Andros Townsend leads Crystal Palace over Manchester City

The significance of Manchester City’s dominance will be discussed at length in just a bit, but it’s hard to contextualize the first half of the 2018/19 Premier League season without mentioning Crystal Palace topping Manchester City 3-2 thanks in large part to THAT goal by Andros Townsend. Unquestionably the goal of the season so far, the victory for Palace not only gave them breathing room in the relegation battle, but also set the stage for Liverpool to take a commanding lead into the holiday season. It was a unforgettably powerful strike, and one Crystal Palace fans will remember for a long time, as will neutrals (and Liverpool fans!) as well.

13. Tata Martino rides off into the sunset with Atlanta United

In just the club’s second year of existence, they secured a Major League Soccer title, allowing manager Gerardo Martino to depart a champion, an inevitability he had announced a few weeks prior to the big game. A 2-0 victory over the Portland Timbers in the final secured Atlanta United’s place in MLS lore, and Josef Martinez picked up the league’s goalscoring record to boot (pun intended). It was a season of not just shattered records but shattered norms for Atlanta United as they set the new gold standard for the league in such a short amount of time.

12. World Cup performance leads Luka Modric to Ballon d’Or

Croatia was one of the most enjoyable and entertaining stories of the 2018 World Cup, and at the heart of their stunning run to the final was Luka Modric. The Real Madrid midfielder set the stage for his eventual Ballon d’Or win by slicing and dicing his way through the World Cup knockout stage until the tank ran out against France in the big finale. Modric’s award win marked the first non-Messi/Ronaldo victory since Kaka way back in 2007.

11. Cristiano Ronaldo leaves Real Madrid for Juventus

While it didn’t quite reach the levels of Neymar’s mega-deal with PSG, Cristiano Ronaldo captivated the world by ending a wildly successful nine-year stint at Real Madrid and moving to Turin. Juventus captured the 33-year-old Portuguese forward for a cool $133 million, but the deal is likely worth far more than that to the Italian giants who can now deploy one of the world’s most visible athletes. Ronaldo has made 23 appearances for Juventus to this date, scoring 13 goals and assisting seven others. He is set for his first true cup final with his new club as they take on AC Milan in the Supercoppa Italiana final on January 16, while the Italians drew Atletico Madrid – a familiar rival for Ronaldo – in the Champions League knockout stage.

10. Marcos Rojo goal saves Argentina at the death

The 2018 World Cup group stage was a wild ride, and one of the biggest moments of the entire event came in the 86th minute of the final round when an unlikely hero saved yet another international giant from group stage embarrassment. Germany had already been knocked out of the event in the early stages, and Argentina was fighting for its life. Marcos Rojo was on hand to volley home against Nigeria to ensure they would find the knockout round.

9. Roma comes back from 3 goals down vs. Barcelona in CL quarters

Trailing 4-1 after a first leg in Barcelona that featured two own-goals and a number of defensive mistakes by the Italians, Roma collected itself to produce one of the most stunning comebacks in Champions League history. Edin Dzeko scored just six minutes in to set the stage, Daniello de Rossi bagged a penalty after halftime, and Kostas Manolas produced the eventual winner off a corner eight minutes from the final whistle. A clean sheet sealed the improbable victory, and Dzeko’s 80th minute consolation in the first leg proved critical as well.

8. Arsene Wenger‘s wins 5-0 in final match at Arsenal

In April, Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger announced he would be stepping down from his position, ending a legendary 20-year tenure with the Gunners that enshrined the Frenchman as one of the greatest ever Premier League managers. Still, the final few years were rocky and it seemed time for a change. The Gunners gave him the perfect send-off, winning 5-0 over Burnley at home thanks to a pair from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang plus goals from Alexandre Lacazette, Sead Kolasinac, and Alex Iwobi. It was the perfect encapsulation of Wenger’s tenure in charge, as a French international and an academy product both ended up on the scoresheet.

7. Denis Cheryshev takes World Cup by storm

Heading into the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the home team was one of the consensus underdogs of the event. Russia had proved unable to find the back of the net over the past two years, and they would be lucky to make the knockout stage despite drawing a favorable group. In stepped Real Madrid reject Denis Cheryshev who set the World Cup alight with four goals in the tournament, propelling Russia to the quarterfinals where they fell on penalties to eventual finalists Croatia. His first game was the most memorable, coming off the bench as an injury substitute to score a brace over Saudi Arabia. He then grabbed another in the following match to earn a victory over Egypt, and scored the opener in the 2-2 draw with Croatia that would end in spot-kicks.

Cheryshev has since come back down to earth, with just a single goal for Valencia this season in 15 appearances across all competitions, but his performances in front of the home fans in this summer’s event was unforgettable.

6. Manchester United sacks Jose Mourinho

Jose Mourinho’s tenure as Manchester United boss was a rocky one, and it all came to a head the final few months of 2018 before he was finally let go in mid-December. Mourinho was a popular figure among fans, but also found himself criticized constantly for style of play and player deployment. While he won the 2016/17 Europa League and the League Cup that year as well, his time in charge of the Red Devils was uncharacteristically devoid of major trophies, and likely contributed to his downfall at the club. With Ole Gunnar Solskjaer placed in charge, the club won 5-1 in the first match following the change, marking the first time United had scored five goals in a match since Sir Alex Ferguson was manager, a cruel indictment of the Mourinho tenure.

5. Mohamed Salah breaks single-season PL goalscoring record

The 2017/18 Premier League season was ultimately about Manchester City’s domination from front to back, but it would be impossible to give a synopsis of the campaign without mentioning the goalscoring blitzkrieg dished out by Mohamed Salah. The Egyptian was next to unstoppable in his first full season as a Red, and he set the Premier League record for goals in a season on the final day as Liverpool stomped Brighton & Hove Albion 4-0. Salah scored 15 of his 38 Premier League goals in 2018, plus he grabbed five more in Champions League knockout play. Salah’s form has continued into 2018, and while he’s not on the record pace he was last season, it promises to be yet another fruitful one for the Liverpool winger.

4. Manchester City becomes first PL team to 100 points

Ultimately, the 2017/18 Premier League campaign was dominated from start to finish by Pep Guardiola and Manchester City, becoming the first Premier League team to record a triple-digit point tally. City took hold of the table’s top spot in late September and never relinquished, securing the league title a good two months before the end of the season. Still, there was more to achieve, and Gabriel Jesus‘s winning goal against Southampton on the final day brought City exactly to the 100-point tally. The Citizens have proved fallible this campaign, but last year saw nobody come remotely close.

3. Copa Libertadores final 2nd leg suspended

The events surrounding the 2nd leg of the 2018 Copa Libertadores captivated the world, and it all started with a moment that changed South American club soccer, likely for the foreseeable future. Boca Juniors and River Plate – two fierce Argentinian rivals – were set to meet for the second leg at El Monumental after a 2-2 first-leg draw. As the Boca team bus made its way to the venue, River fans pelted it with rocks and other projectiles, eventually causing the postponement of the fixture. A long, almost ridiculous saga ensued that ultimately led to the scheduling of the game in Madrid. River Plate would win the event in a thrilling 3-1 second-leg, but the story that led up to the game will be remembered by many.

2. Kylian Mbappe leads France to World Cup victory

Emerging as not just one of the best young players in the world, but a premier talent despite his age, Kylian Mbappe was sparkling as France chugged its way through the 2018 World Cup. Despite many criticizing Didier Deschamps throughout the tournament for France’s sup-par eye test, the team continued to grind out victories and never wavered, and Mbappe led the way with four goals in the event, including France’s fourth and final goal in the final against Croatia. While it looked like the team never truly played its best, France was no doubt the most talented team in the tournament and that shone through. Nobody will forget Benjamin Pavard’s stunning goal against Argentina that won him the Goal of the Tournament, but Mbappe is the most memorable player on a team bursting with world class talent.

1. Real Madrid tops Liverpool in Champions League final

Salah’s injury. Karius’s mistakes. Bale’s bike. This game had everything, and it was a joy to watch (for neutrals, at least). With Sergio Ramos cementing himself as one of the villains of the game, Liverpool missed Salah after his exit before the half-hour mark. Karim Benzema was on hand to put Madrid ahead – thanks in part to one of two massive mistakes by Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius – but Sadio Mane brought LIverpool right back level four minutes later. While many remember Karius’s blunders and the subsequent reports of having suffered a concussion minutes earlier, Gareth Bale‘s unbelievable winning goal makes this game truly memorable. He bagged a brace to put the game away late, and Real Madrid won its third Champions League title in three years, allowing manager Zinedine Zidane to ride off into the sunset.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-pywHioT8s

Red-hot Rebić scores again as AC Milan tops Torino

AC Milan
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MILAN (AP) Ante Rebić kept up his scoring form to lead AC Milan to a 1-0 win over struggling Torino in Serie A on Monday.

The Croatia international beat his marker to redirect a cross from the center of the area midway through the first half at the San Siro.

The score raised Rebić’s tally to six goals and an assist in eight matches since he earned his starting spot – a move that coincided with Zlatan Ibrahimović’s return to the Rossoneri.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Bouncing back from a derby loss, Milan moved up to eighth and just beyond the Europa League places. The seven-time European champion is hoping to return to continental competition after voluntary withdrawing from this season’s Europa League to pay for UEFA financial fair play breaches.

Torino, meanwhile, lost its fifth straight, with new coach Moreno Longo still unable to turn things around in his second match in charge.

Ibrahimović narrowly missed a curling shot shortly after the break.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Simeone: Liverpool intensity “makes me admire it as a rival”

UEFA Champions League
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The UEFA Champions League returns at long last on Tuesday, and two of the greatest managers in the game will match wits for the first time.

No we’re not talking about Lucien Favre and Thomas Tuchel, the meeting of the minds in Tuesday’s other kickoff between Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain in Germany.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp will go head-to-head with Atletico Madrid’s Diego Simeone in Spain, and the fiery German thinks it will be “absolutely interesting.”

From The Liverpool Echo:

“People say I emotional on the sideline,” Klopp said. “I am only on level 4, Diego is level 12. Really I am the kindergarten cop against him. He is so impressive after all these years, after so many years at the club – eight years. That is really long and having still this emotional level, still, wow. So impressive. I say, his teams are always organized world class.”

The admiration is mutual.

Simeone expects a huge challenge from a Liverpool team he regards on a historic plane.

“We are facing a magnificent team, really well-trained by a coach who is different and has different alternatives in his team,” he said, via The Independent. “We have always spoken about great teams throughout time and I have no doubt this Liverpool is going to go down in history as a great team because it is different to teams that we have admired. This team is much more intense, more adaptable, and it makes me admire it as a rival.”

The bettors say Liverpool is the heavy favorite in the first leg despite the match’s location at the Wanda Metropolitano. With football geniuses like Klopp and Simeone, however, either could have a plan to throw the other for a loop.

CONCACAF Champions League preview: Five MLS sides eye history

CONCACAF Champions League preview
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Once the Premier League and La Liga had taken their final bows of the day on Saturday, there felt was a particular absence, one soon-to-be filled by domestic soccer.

Yes, MLS is coming soon, and the CONCACAF Champions League is even closer.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Five MLS sides begin their Round of 16 ties over the next three evenings, some with easier paths than others to elusive CCL glory.

The competition may not have burned itself onto the mainstream, lagging behind continental competitions in Europe and South America, but those who’ve embraced it (hint: this guy) love the thing.

For all the progress Major League Soccer has made in its quarter-century, it’s yet to find much success in dealing with Liga MX powers in the fight to qualify for the Club World Cup.

MLS sides have not won the competition since it was rebranded the CCL. Only three MLS sides have made the CCL final this decade, with Real Salt Lake (2011), Montreal Impact (2015), and Toronto FC (2017) all coming up short at the last step.

The CCL provides everything you love and hate about World Cup qualifying, and those dicey pitches with sometimes worse lighting mean the favorites aren’t guaranteed much.

The top half of the bracket sees three MLS teams — Montreal, Seattle, and NYCFC — and just one Liga MX side, while the bottom half gives us a Liga MX v. MLS match-up straight away.

That’s Leon v. LAFC, and it begins Tuesday night in Mexico. That tie carries the added intrigue of MLS superstar Carlos Vela bringing his act back to his home country for the first time… ever.

Bracket

Saprissa (Costa Rica) v. Montreal — 8 p.m. ET Weds.
Olimpia (Honduras) v. Seattle — 10 p.m. ET Thurs.

San Carlos (Costa Rica) v. NYCFC — 8 p.m. ET Thurs.
Alianza (El Salvador) v. UANL Tigres — 8 p.m. ET Weds.

Leon v. LAFC — 10 p.m. ET Tues.
Portmore United (Jamaica) v. Cruz Azul — 8 p.m. ET Tues.

Comunicaciones (Guatemala) v. Club America — 10 p.m. ET Weds.
Montagua (Honduras) v. Atlanta United — 10 p.m. ET Tues.

The 2 Robbies podcast: VAR carnage at Stamford Bridge

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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle dissect a crazy game at Stamford Bridge that saw Chelsea on the wrong side of several VAR decisions (00:45).

The gents also recap the big moments from the weekend; Liverpool beat Norwich (18:30), Son’s late winner against Aston Villa (24:45) and Arteta‘s attackers thrash Newcastle United (30:15).

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

To listen to more lively conversations and passionate debate from Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe, subscribe to The 2 Robbies Podcast on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

And you can follow them on Twitter @The2RobbiesNBC here.

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]