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La Liga: Barcelona draws nearer to title, Celta Vigo runs from relegation

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Barcelona remained nine points clear at the top of the La Liga table with five matches remaining thanks to a 2-1 home win over Real Sociedad.

Clement Lenglet beat his mark Mikel Merino in the air, scoring a header off a corner just before halftime to put Barcelona up, and after Real Sociedad leveled things up just after the hour mark, Jordi Alba was on hand to restore the lead with a right-footed blast low past Geronimo Rulli who reacted late on the shot through traffic.

Down the other end of the table, Celta Vigo earned a critical win in the relegation battle, knocking off Girona 2-1 on a 69th minute winner by former Southampton attacker Sofiane Boufal. The Moroccan international worked a tiny bit of space before delivering a fabulous curler that tucked in the far corner. That proved the difference after Iago Aspas and Portu had cancelled each other out on either side of the break. The win allowed Celta to rise up to 14th, three points above the drop with a crowded group below them.

Atletico Madrid extended its lead in second place with a 1-0 win over Eibar, needing an 85th minute breakaway goal by Thomas Lemar to seal the deal. That pushed them seven points ahead of Real Madrid, with Los Blancos still set to play on Sunday. It also saw Atletico keep pace with Barcelona, although it would take a massive collapse down the stretch by the leaders for Atletico to have a shot at the title.

Finally, Rayo Vallecano drew nearer to relegation with a 0-0 draw against Huesca at home, leaving them four points back of 18th placed Real Valladolid and five shy of safety. Rayo could only muster three shots on target of the 16 efforts they ripped off, failing to create many truly big chances.

Sterling leads England to 3-2 Nations League win over Spain

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Raheem Sterling has heard the criticism that he can’t finish chances, and he has responded. On the field, that is.

Behind a double from Sterling, England toppled Spain 3-2 with a vicious counter-attack that juxtaposed Spain’s sleepy, wasteful attack on Monday in Sevilla. The match marked the first time that Spain has ever conceded three or more goals in a competitive home match.

The Manchester City winger was the first on the scoresheet just 18 minutes in as England flowed forward on a counter-attack and with the two-on-three break, Marcus Rashford delivered a beautiful feed to Sterling who blasted his effort past a statue-like David De Gea. The break was actually started way back with Jordan Pickford, who touched past a charging defender and delivered an absolute bullet of a pass to Harry Kane just before the midfield stripe.

Spain dominated possession throughout the match, but they suffered from similar ills as this summer’s World Cup, unable to produce enough dangerous moments and embarrassing failures at the back. England, on the other hand, was happy to sit back and pick its spots on the break, and they were clinical when given the chance.

Marco Asensio skied a shot over the bar in the 18th minute, and Spain would rue its wastefulness as England would double its lead on the half-hour mark. Rashford was the one to finish it off on the counter this time, taking a pinpoint feed from Kane and volleying the bouncing ball into the back of the net after leaking behind the defense and beating Jonny to the spot.

Sterling would grab England’s third before halftime as England would display a bit of venomous half-court play. Kieran Trippier did the heavy lifting with a brilliant chip over the Spanish back line, finding Kane who had snuck behind Sergio Ramos and slid to meet the ball, tapping in front of net for Sterling who finished from the doorstep with ease.

Spain held a whopping 77% of the possession in the first half, but could only muster two shots on target out of 10 total efforts. In the second half, the pressure would finally pay off as the white-hot Paco Alcacer picked up a consolation on a corner in the 58th minute, heading in the goal on his first touch after coming off the bench to replace Iago Aspas. Alcacer has become an ultimate super-sub this season, scoring 10 goals for club and country in just 277 total minutes.

The home fans were livid when a penalty was not given as Jordan Pickford grappled with Rodrigo before completing a tackle in the 63rd minute, but only a corner was given. Spain pushed harder as the second half wore on, and Alcacer came close to a second with five minutes left as he struck a shot against his own man.

Spain bagged a second in the 97th minute with literally the final kick of the match, as Marco Asencio crashed a shot against the bar, and while Nathan Chalobah on his England debut cleared momentarily, it was sent back in by Dani Ceballos to the head of a diving Sergio Ramos. There was no more time for an equalizer, however, as the referee brought the game to an end even before the ensuing kickoff.

The competitive home loss is the first for Spain in 15 years, and it means England moves ahead of Spain to the top of Nations League League A Group 4 by a one-point margin.

La Liga: One half of Madrid is happy, the other is not

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: Serie A: Cristiano Ronaldo still scoreless, but Juventus still perfect ]

Real Madrid 4-1 Leganes

Julen Lopetegui’s Real Madrid improved to a perfect 3-for-3 record on the season with a mostly comfortable victory over Leganes at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Gareth Bale scored his third goal in as many games to put Los Blancos ahead after just 17 minutes before Guido Carillo converted from the penalty spot to pull the visitors back to level terms in the 24th. The score would remain 1-1 until halftime, but not much longer than that.

Karim Benzema bagged a 13-minute brace — heading home the first in the 48th minute, and finishing off a clever one-two with Luka Modric in the 61st — that would prove to be the difference on the day. Sergio Ramos added the fourth, from the penalty spot, in the 66th minute.

Video review was required to confirm Benzema’s first goal, and while it’s a bit of a buzzkill with regard to post-goal celebrations, Ramos feels it’s a necessary sacrifice for the good of the game.

“It is true that the goal celebration is somewhat muted (after the wait), but I have always said that I am in favor of , because it was a goal that had been disallowed,” he said after the game. “I am sure that one day it will be our turn to be on the other end of things, but it is positive.”

Celta Vigo 2-0 Atletico Madrid

Saturday wasn’t so joyous for the other half of Madrid, as 10-man Atleti suffered a 2-0 defeat away to Celta. The game was well and truly in hand before Stefan Savic’s 70th-minute red card, though, as Maxi Gomez and Iago Aspas hit Los Rojiblancos for a goal each during the first seven minutes of the second half.

Atleti boss Diego Simeone doesn’t see the result as a reason to panic, but more of a wake-up call so early in the season. He also shoulders the blame for his side’s poor start to the second half.

“It is a good wake-up call. Above all for me,” he said after the game. “I am responsible for our start to the second half because the second half depends a lot on what the manager says at halftime.”

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Levante vs. Valencia — 6 a.m. ET
Alaves vs. Espanyol — 10:15 a.m. ET
Barcelona vs. Huesca — 12:30 p.m. ET
Real Betis vs. Sevilla — 2:45 p.m. ET

Akinfeev: Russia ‘not trying to hide’ playing for PKs

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Igor Akinfeev’s nine-save performance over 120 minutes took the next step in penalty kicks.

[ RECAP: Spain 1-1 (3-4 PKs) Russia ]

The Russian goalkeeper 32 stopped Isco’s third attempt and then made a terrific leg save on Iago Aspas‘ final effort as Russia knocked Spain out of the World Cup.

Here’s what he said on FOX’s broadcast, through an interpreter:

“I’m exhausted because you saw that practically for the whole second half and 30 extra minutes, we just defended and tried to get them away from our goal. We weren’t trying to hide it.”

Akinfeev, Russia knock Spain out of World Cup

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Igor Akinfeev made an unbelievable stop on Iago Aspas to end a riveting round of penalty kicks as Russia eliminated Spain from the World Cup on Sunday.

A Russian own goal was equalized when Artem Dzyuba scored a 42nd minute penalty, but Spain could not break down Russia over 120 minutes.

Akinfeev, who struggled in the 2014 World Cup, made nine saves in regulation and stopped penalties from Isco and Aspas as David De Gea couldn’t get to any of Russia’s four finishes.

Russia will face the winner of Denmark or Croatia in the quarterfinal.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

Spain went ahead on the own goal, as a Nacho-won free kick from the right bounded off the back of Sergei Ignashevich’s right calf during a tussle with Sergio Ramos in the 12th minute.

La Furia Roja wasn’t scared off by the slow start, and Aleksandr Golovin kept up a fine World Cup with a give-and-go that ended with a curling shot just wide of the far post.

Russia would get its chance to make it 1-1 when Dzyuba headed a corner back across goal and off the raised hand of Gerard Pique. He finished his chance.

The Russian crowd continued to get behind its men, who closed up shop in a bus-parking that would make Tony Pulis crowd. Andres Iniesta broke through the lines, but his pass was turned wide of the goal.

Not much shame in that, but the hosts could not find the clinical finishing required to get a goal in regulation.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

Spain continued its possession and control in the first period of stoppage time, with Marco Asensio forcing Igor Akinfeev into a save.

Akinfeev has had a redemptive tournament after a rough 2014 World Cup saw him spill a South Korean goal into his net, and he made several stops as the match moved toward penalty kicks.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

Akinfeev stopped Isco on Spain’s third chance and made an unreal stop on Iago Aspas’ bid to force Russia to a fifth kick.