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Real Madrid draw Villarreal; Bale makes case to start UCL final

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Real Madrid showed Liverpool its strengths and weaknesses a week before their Champions League final.

Madrid squandered first-half goals by Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale in drawing at Villarreal 2-2 on Saturday in its last match before attempting to win Europe’s most coveted trophy for a third year in a row.

Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane aligned what could be his starting 11 for the final against Liverpool, except for giving 20-year-old son Luca Zidane his competitive debut in goal.

Zidane left striker Karim Benzema on his bench in favor of starting Ronaldo and Bale alone up front and playing Francisco “Isco” Alarcon along with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos as playmakers in front of holding midfielder Casemiro.

Madrid showed the same dominant form that has taken it to another Champions League final in the first half at Villarreal.

But after Ronaldo and Modric were replaced by Benzema and Lucas Vazquez with half an hour remaining, Zidane’s bunch displayed the same complacency and faulty defending that scuttled its Liga title defense months ago.

The draw in the final round meant Madrid finished the Spanish league in third place behind Atletico Madrid and champion Barcelona.

Bale opened the scoring with a solo effort in the 11th minute, and Ronaldo headed in a superb cross by Marcelo just after the half-hour mark.

Fifth-place Villarreal outplayed the visitors in the second half and leveled through goals by substitutes Roger Martinez in the 70th and Samuel Castillejo in the 85th.

“We played a very, very good first half, with determination, scoring goals, but the second half was the exact opposite,” Zidane said. “The important thing is that we didn’t have any injuries and can now rest well for next weekend. We are only thinking about winning the final.”

Bale, who struggled for most of the season to make Zidane’s first-choice 11, has finished the season strong and appears to have earned a spot in the Champions League final.

His opener against Villarreal, created when he let Modric’s pass run through as he spun around his marker, was his 14th goal in the last 10 rounds.

“Gareth has never given up,” Zidane said. “He has trained well. Nothing has changed. The only difference is that now he is scoring.”

Ronaldo’s goal was his 26th in the league. Barcelona’s Lionel Messi leads the competition with 34.

Castillejo snatched the draw after he raced behind Marcelo to receive a lobbed pass from Rodrigo Hernandez. Luca Zidane, who normally plays for Madrid’s reserve team in the third divison, stopped his initial chipped shot but Castillejo slotted the rebound into the open net.

Saudi Arabia midfielder Salem Al Dawsari made his Liga debut as a second-half substitute for Villarreal.

Portugal heads to Russia with 13 players from Euro 2016 win

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LISBON, Portugal (AP) Portugal is going to the World Cup in Russia next month with Cristiano Ronaldo and 12 other players who led the nation to the European Championship title two years ago.

Coach Fernando Santos announced a 23-man squad on Thursday, including nine players who started the final against France at Euro 2016.

[ MORE: West Ham talks manager plans ]

The only two starters from the final who will not make it are Nani and Renato Sanches.

Among the other European champions not going to the World Cup are Ricardo Carvalho, Andre Gomes and Eder, who scored the title-winning goal against the hosts in extra time.

“It hurts not to be able to include all the players who were with us in the European Championship,” Santos said. “All of them helped us write a brilliant page in the history of Portuguese football.”

Andre Gomes’ Barcelona teammate Nelson Semedo was also left out. Real Madrid’s Fabio Coentrao, who has been on loan with Sporting Lisbon, was omitted after saying he wasn’t in the best condition to play for the national team.

“I have to make my decisions taking into consideration the players I believe will best fit the puzzle,” Santos said. “I trust these players the same way I trusted the players who played at Euro 2016.”

Portugal will begin World Cup preparations without Ronaldo, who will play the Champions League final for Madrid against Liverpool on May 26.

Portugal play warm-up matches against Tunisia on May 28, Belgium on June 2 and Algeria on June 7.

Santos’ men will start their World Cup campaign against Spain on June 15 in Sochi.

The other Group B teams are Iran and Morocco.

Portugal:

Goalkeepers: Anthony Lopes (Lyon), Beto (Goztepe), Rui Patricio (Sporting Lisbon).

Defenders: Bruno Alves (Rangers), Cedric Soares (Southampton), Jose Fonte (Dalian Yifang), Mario Rui (Napoli), Pepe (Besiktas), Raphael Guerreiro (Borussia Dortmund), Ricardo Pereira (Porto), Ruben Dias (Benfica).

Midfielders: Adrien Silva (Leicester), Bruno Fernandes (Sporting Lisbon), Joao Mario (West Ham), Joao Moutinho (Monaco), Manuel Fernandes (Lokomotiv), William Carvalho (Sporting Lisbon).

Forwards: Andre Silva (AC Milan), Bernardo Silva (Manchester City), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Gelson Martins (Sporting Lisbon), Goncalo Guedes (Valencia), Ricardo Quaresma (Besiktas).

Cristiano Ronaldo on track to be fit for UCL final

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Cristiano Ronaldo’s ankle injury against Barcelona gave Real Madrid a greatly unwanted threat in the club’s hopes of winning yet another UEFA Champions League title, however, their Portuguese superstar appears to be ready to take on Liverpool.

[ MORE: Robben, Rafinha commit to Bayern for another season ]

Real will go for its third consecutive UCL crown (fourth in five years) on May 26 in Kiev, Ukraine as Zinedine Zidane and Co. ready themselves for the Premier League side.

Ronaldo took to social media early Saturday morning, captioning his picture on Twitter with “Back on track” as the 33-year-old gets ready for the remainder of the La Liga campaign, as well as the UCL finale.

The Portugal international suffered the ankle injury during Madrid’s Clasico fixture against Barcelona last weekend, where Ronaldo was forced out of the match at halftime.

It’s expected that Ronaldo will be unavailable for Saturday’s La Liga match against Celta Vigo, and could possibly be held out next weekend for Real’s league finale against Villareal as well.

This season, Ronaldo has been nothing short of brilliant once again, scoring 43 goals in all competitions, including 15 in the UCL — which leads all scorers in the competition.

Ronaldo to produce drama series on US high school team

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Cristiano Ronaldo is used to producing the goods on a weekly basis for Real Madrid, but the five-time World Player of the Year is now turning his attention to another type of production…

The Real and Portugal legend, 33, will produce a drama series for Facebook Watch which focuses on a girls high school soccer team in Upstate New York.

Alongside Liz Garcia and Josh Harto, the creators of TNT’s Memphis Beat, Ronaldo will help produce the series which is yet to be given a name but will appear on Facebook Watch.

Ronaldo had the following to say about his role as the executive producer.

“In my free time, one of the things I like to do is to watch good television,” Ronaldo said. “To be the executive producer of this series is going to be an amazing experience, especially given the talent of the people who are working very hard to bring it to life. The story of my life has many similarities with the highs and lows the girls varsity soccer team will face in the series. While the series is set against the background of soccer, it goes much deeper than just the beautiful game. It’s about values, challenges, friendship, difficult times, hard work, solidarity, tensions, and harmony. In a word – it’s about life.”

With his many ventures across the globe, few people would have had Ronaldo down for donning a beret and shouting from a megaphone from a directors chair. But it’s happening. At least that’s how it looks when I imagine him as a producer.

Below is an excerpt from on what to expect from the series.

The series follows a high school girls soccer team in upstate New York as the team’s melting pot line-up and winning streak invites the community to overcome deep divisions along racial, ethnic and class lines by rallying around the universal language of the beautiful game. The show also explores the ups and downs of teenage life, as players maneuver love, friendships and family.

Zidane plays down Ronaldo injury in El Clascio

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Cristiano Ronaldo was substituted because of a leg injury at halftime in Real Madrid’s 2-2 draw at Barcelona on Sunday.

But Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane is confident that Ronaldo will play against Liverpool in the Champions League final on May 26.

“He doesn’t feel good now, but I don’t think it is anything serious,” Zidane said. “We will have him ready (to play).”

Ronaldo’s right ankle was hurt when Gerard Pique stepped on it while unsuccessfully trying to stop him from scoring an equalizer in the 15th minute.

Ronaldo was briefly attended by team doctors on the pitch and then continued to play for the rest of the first half.

The Portugal forward, however, was replaced by Marco Asensio at halftime.

Ronaldo will then join Portugal at the World Cup next month.