Cristiano Ronaldo

Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Zidane lavishes praise on Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo

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YOKOHAMA, Japan (AP) Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane wouldn’t be surprised if Cristiano Ronaldo keeps winning awards.

Ronaldo earned his fourth Ballon d’Or prize on Monday, and is now targeting a third title at the Club World Cup.

“It is very rare that one player wins so many awards,” Zidane said Wednesday. “His fourth Ballon d’Or is a great achievement. It is not something you can easily achieve. Maybe he deserves a fifth Ballon d’Or.”

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Another trophy would move Ronaldo level with Lionel Messi.

Madrid is in Japan to face Mexican side Club America in the Club World Cup semifinals on Thursday. The team, currently in first place in the Spanish league, is favored to win yet another title.

MADRID, SPAIN - DECEMBER 10: Sergio Ramos of Real Madrid celebrates after Real beat RC Deportivo La Coruna 3-2 in the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and RC Deportivo La Coruna at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on December 10, 2016 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Ramos will not play against Club America (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images).

Madrid captain Sergio Ramos will miss the match, but Zidane is hopeful he will be fit to return if Madrid makes the final.

“He is not in a serious condition but he is a little bit tired after a long journey and I don’t want to put him under any physical pressure,” Zidane said.

Club America came from a goal down to beat South Korean side Jeonbuk Hyundai 2-1 in Sunday’s quarterfinals. The Mexican side is marking its centenary this year, and Zidane is sure they are highly motivated.

“Some clubs only have one chance in a lifetime to play against Real Madrid and I think it is a very good opportunity for them,” the former France great said.

Madrid hasn’t lost in any competition since April 6, a run which has stretched to a club record 35 games.

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Zidane, however, doesn’t feel that adds any extra pressure to him or his players.

“Real Madrid is always under pressure because we must win, people expect us to win,” Zidane said. “Winning 50 or 40 games, there is not much difference.”

The winner of Thursday’s match will face either Atletico Nacional or Kashima Antlers in Sunday’s final in Yokohama.

Madrid still has a chance to claim an unprecedented quadruple. It leads the Spanish league by six points and is also into the last 16 of the Champions League and Copa del Rey.

European sides have dominated the Club World Cup in recent years, winning eight of the past nine editions.

Ex-Barcelona chief: We turned down Cristiano Ronaldo

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Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi together?

It nearly happened, or became a possibility, according to former Barcelona president Joan Laporta.

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Barca apparently had an offer to land the Portuguese superstar before Manchester United snapped him up from Sporting Lisbon in 2003.

Almost 500 club goals later…

From the BBC:

“We had already signed Ronaldinho, Rafael Marquez and Ricardo Quaresma so we weren’t able to spend that much,” Laporta explains.

“He had a deal with United for 19m euros but we were offered him for 17m.”

The Catalan man was speaking one day after reports surfaced that Inter Milan nearly landed Messi, apparently inspiring a series of “What if?” revelations like the subject of this post.

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Cristiano Ronaldo says Ashley Cole is the toughest player he faced

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Cristiano Ronaldo has faced the best defenders in the world during his time with Manchester United, Real Madrid and the Portuguese national team.

He has also caused fits for most of those defenders with goal after goal for club and country. But, there have been some players who have at least made it difficult for the all-time leading goal scorer in Real Madrid and Champions League history.

According to Ronaldo, former Chelsea and Arsenal defender Ashley Cole was the toughest player he has faced in his career.

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“Over the years I had some great battles with Ashley Cole, he does not give you a second to breathe,” Ronaldo told Coach Mag. “He was such a tenacious player when he was at his peak, quick, tough in the tackle. You knew it would never be an easy game.”

During his time with Manchester United, Ronaldo faced Cole on numerous occasions while Cole was with Arsenal and Chelsea. The two have also faced off in international competition between Ronaldo’s Portugal and Cole’s England.

It’s certainly high praise for Cole, who now plays in MLS for the LA Galaxy. At the age of 35, Cole has started 25 matches for the Galaxy this season, scoring one goal.

AT HALF: Leicester leads, Spurs level, BVB-Real square at 1 (video)

Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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The UEFA Champions League’s group stage hits its second round of matches Tuesday, with two Premier League teams in play and a bevy of big names from outside England.

[ MORE: Dempsey out for 2016 ]

Leicester City 1-0 Porto

The chemistry between Algeria and now Leicester City teammates Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani is very real.

The former fed the latter for an opening goal on Tuesday in UEFA Champions League play at King Power Stadium, as the Foxes have opened up a 1-0 lead on Porto.

You can imagine the visitors aren’t too pleased with having to meet up with Slimani, who they just managed to see out of their league only to watch him arrive in their UCL group.

And how about the mad dabbing kid shown just after Slimani’s celebration? Wild nights in Leicester.

CSKA Moscow 0-0 Tottenham Hotspur

Spurs are controlling the play, but have yet to find a goal in Russia.

Dinamo Zagreb 0-2 Juventus

Gonzalo Higuain and Miralem Pjanic have the goals for The Old Lady.

Borussia Dortmund 1-1 Real Madrid

Cristiano Ronaldo got on the scoresheet, though the hosts have been by far the more dangerous side. USMNT teenager Christian Pulisic is on the bench for BVB.

Thomas Tuchel’s side threatened to score through a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang rocketed a shot just over the frame, and the Gabonese man made it 1-1 soon after when Keylor Navas punched Raphael Guerriero’s free kick off Raphael Varane. Aubameyang touched it over the line for an academic marker.

Here’s Ronaldo’s goal:

Elsewhere

Sevilla 0-0 Lyon
Monaco 0-0 Bayer Leverkusen
Copenhagen 0-0 Club Brugge
Sporting CP 2-0 Legia Warsaw

Champions League roundup: Foxes, Man City cruise, Spurs fall, Pulisic starts

AP Photo/Dave Thompson
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Tuesday’s lightning storm made for three Premier League teams in action during Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League group stage games.

Two of the three squads will be happy with their days, while a third will lament a slow start at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Dempsey returns from heartbeat ailment ]

Elsewhere, Sporting Lisbon sent a wake-up call to Real Madrid, USMNT teenager Christian Pulisic became the youngest player to start a UCL game in Borussia Dortmund history, and four other matches played out around Europe.

Club Brugge 0-3 Leicester City

Marc Albrighton was in the right place at the right time to capitalize on a goalkeeping error in the fifth minute, but Leicester’s second goal was nothing short of brilliant. Riyad Mahrez swept in a free kick in the 29th minute to double the lead, and converted a second half penalty to shore up the lead.

Legia Warsaw 0-6 Borussia Dortmund

Christian Pulisic went all 90 minutes for Dortmund, assisting on the game’s final goal, as the young USMNT star became the youngest BVB player to start a UCL match.

BVB scored the three fastest away goals to start a match in UCL history. Mario Gotze netted in the 7th minute before Sokratis Papastathopoulos made it 2-0 eight minutes later and Marc Bartra notched a goal in the 17th. Raphael Guerreiro added a second-half goal for BVB, while substitute Gonzalo Castro scored off Pulisic’s assist and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang finished the score line.

Dortmund's Mario Goetze, center, celebrates with Christian Pulisic, right, after scoring the first goal of his team during the Champions League Group F soccer match between Legia Warsaw and Dortmund at Stadion Wojska Polskiego in Warsaw, Poland, Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)
(AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)

Manchester City 4-0 Borussia Monchengladbach

Sergio Aguero marked his return to the City lineup in style, scoring in the ninth minute before adding a 28th minute penalty to give the hosts a 2-0 lead at the break.

The Argentine completed his hat trick in the final quarter-hour, taking a pass from Raheem Sterling and dancing around ‘Gladbach keeper Yann Sommer to make it 3-0. Kelechi Iheanacho scored late to seal the score.

Juventus 0-0 Sevilla

The Old Lady was decidedly more dangerous, but Juve could not find a way past Sevilla backstop Sergio Rico.

Bayer Leverkusen 2-2 CSKA Moscow

Admir Mehmedi and Hakan Calhanoglu boosted the Bundesliga mainstays to a 2-0 lead after 15 minutes, but the Russians did not shrink away. Alan Dzagoev and Roman Eremenko scored two minutes apart to make it level at halftime.

Lyon 3-0 Dinamo Zagreb

Corentin Tolisso, 22, scored the first goal of the game in the 13th minute, and Jordan Ferri tacked on an insurance goal in the second half. Ivorian-born French striker Maxwel Cornet completed the scoring in the 57th minute.

Tottenham Hotspur 1-2 AS Monaco

Bernardo Silva and Thomas Lemar rained on Spurs parade, building a 2-0 lead at Wembley Stadium before Toby Alderweireld headed Erik Lamela‘s corner home just before halftime.

Real Madrid 2-1 Sporting Lisbon

After Real looked disinterested in the first half, Sporting went ahead with a shock goal at the start of the second half. Bruno Cesar curled a left-footed shot around a diving Keylor Navas in the 47th minute, and Lisbon was up 1-0.

Cristiano Ronaldo should’ve tied things with his former club when, with 8 minutes to play, he nailed his close range shot right at the left post. The 89th minute however, found him in his comfort zone. Ronaldo buried a free kick from 25-plus yards to tie things at 1.

But Alvaro Morata headed James Rodriguez’s cross past Rui Patricio for a winner in the fifth minute of stoppage time, and Real claimed all three points in Spain.

Here’s Ronaldo’s finish.

Porto 1-1 Copenhagen

Otavio’s 13th minute goal for the hosts was set level when ex-Cardiff City “bust” Andreas Cornelius scored in the 52nd minute.