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Japan’s Inui gets embassy introduction from Betis

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TOKYO (AP) Japan midfielder Takashi Inui was introduced by La Liga team Real Betis at the Spanish Embassy in Tokyo on Thursday after impressing at the World Cup.

The 30-year-old Inui, who played for Spanish club Eibar for three seasons, said he has a three-year contract with Betis.

“Betis’ football last season was very attractive for me,” Inui said. “I had a strong feeling that I wanted to be a part of the team.”

Inui scored two goals for Japan at the World Cup in Russia, and played a major role in helping his team reach the last 16.

Inui scored in Japan’s 2-2 draw with Senegal in the group stage of the World Cup. He got a second goal in his team’s 3-2 loss against Belgium in the knockout stage.

Real Betis says Inui will keep the No. 14 shirt he wore for the Japanese national team.

Video: Brilliant Messi through ball sends Suarez in on goal

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With a blockbuster UEFA Champions League clash against Chelsea right around the corner for Barcelona, the Spanish league leaders look on pace to extend their perfect La Liga record.

[ MORE: Willian dazzles for Chelsea in FA Cup win over Hull ]

Despite rumors that Lionel Messi and some of Barcelona’s biggest stars would be rested ahead of Tuesday’s match against the London side, the Argentine superstar not only started at Eibar on Saturday, but made a brilliant impact in the 17th minute.

Messi linked up with Luis Suarez after playing the Uruguayan through towards goal from a tremendous defense-splitting pass that sent the striker in for the 1-0 lead.

Barcelona has yet to lose in domestic competition this season, boasting an 18-5-0 record heading into Saturday’s meeting with Eibar. Additionally, Messi and Co. currently hold a plus-49 goal differential, which was lifted to plus-50 with Suarez’s finish.

The Blaugrana are the last team in Europe’s five major leagues to remain unbeaten in league play.

Eibar routs Betis 5-0 to snap 8-game winless streak in Spain

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MADRID (AP) Eibar routed 10-man Real Betis 5-0 in the Spanish league on Monday, ending an eight-match winless streak in all competitions.

Eibar hadn’t won since Sept. 15. It had lost six of its eight matches since then.

[ MORE: Brighton, Stoke finish level after Izquierdo’s second-half finish ]

The hosts got on the board with an own goal by Betis defender Jordi Amat just six minutes in, and midfielder Gonzalo Escalante scored with a header near halftime.

Striker Charles Dias scored twice in the second half, and Sergi Enrich closed the scoring in front of less than 5,000 fans at Ipurua Stadium.

“We deserved a victory like this to help us regain our confidence,” Enrich said.

Betis played with 10 men from the 55th as Aissa Mandi was red-carded for the foul that prompted a penalty kick converted by Dias.

“It was difficult to recover after we went a man down and they scored the third goal,” Betis midfielder Joaquin Sanchez said.

Eibar remained 17th in the 20-team standings, just outside the relegation zone.

Betis, winless in three matches, dropped to ninth place.

Barcelona leads by four points over second-place Valencia.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga

Newcastle linked with trio of players from three leagues

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Newcastle United could be on the verge of not just its first, but its second and third new names of the offseason.

That doesn’t count their purchase of Christian Atsu from Chelsea after the Ghanaian spent last season on loan at St. James Park.

So who are the names reportedly heading to Rafa Benitez in Northeast England?

[ REPORT: Whitecaps bid for Besiktas’ Hutchinson ]

  • Cameroon striker Vincent Aboubakar could make his way to England after the Magpies reportedly offered him $3 million per year in wages. Rennes was also said to be interested in the Porto striker, who spent last season on loan at Besiktas (The Express).
  • The same report says Newcastle have triggered an $11 million release clause from Eibar defender Florian Lejeune. The 26-year-old is a center back who can also handled defensive midfielder, and was by far Eibar’s best player last season according to advanced stats site Squawka.
  • Torino midfielder Afriyie Acquah has said he’s got a move to England planned to the tune of “90 percent complete.” Fans are connecting the dots after Acquah followed Newcastle United on Twitter on Monday. 2017!

Lejeune is especially interesting given he signed for Manchester City but never made an appearance for them. Aboubakar has 57 caps with 17 goals for Cameroon, and is coming off his best club season since 2013. Acquah is a bit of an unknown at club level, and has 18 caps for Ghana.

La Liga: Sampaoli drama sees Sevilla slip up in race for 3rd

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A roundup of Sunday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: Saturday’s La Liga roundup — Madrid, Barca win ahead of El Clasico ]

Valencia 0-0 Sevilla

The drama surrounding Sevilla manager Jorge Sampaoli is weighing on his team off the field, and beginning to impact results on the field. The 57-year-old Argentine has been heavily linked with the national team job back in his homeland, and tensions reached a boiling point earlier this week when the club released a statement calling it “unacceptable” that the president of the Argentine football federation said he plans to meet with Sampaoli, who may or may not honor his contract through the end of the current season.

On Sunday, Sevilla failed in their bid to keep pace with Atletico Madrid, who won on Sunday, in the race for third place in La Liga, and the automatic place in next season’s UEFA Champions League group stage that comes with it.

Real Betis 2-0 Eibar

Coming into the weekend, Eibar were unbeaten in their last five league games (three straight wins), and Europa League qualification was looking a real possibility. On Sunday, a 2-0 loss away to 14th-place Real Betis, coupled with wins by fellow fifth- and sixth-place chasers Athletic Bilbao and Espanyol, and Eibar now sit eighth and trail Villarreal (who play on Monday), Bilbao and Real Sociedad by four, three and two points, respectively.

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Real Madrid 31 23 6 2 82 33 49 12-4-0 11-2-2 75
 Barcelona 32 22 6 4 91 30 61 12-3-1 10-3-3 72
 Atlético Madrid 32 19 8 5 59 24 35 12-2-2 7-6-3 65
 Sevilla 32 18 8 6 56 39 17 11-3-1 7-5-5 62
 Villarreal 31 15 9 7 45 24 21 9-3-4 6-6-3 54
 Athletic 32 16 5 11 45 37 8 12-3-2 4-2-9 53
 Real Sociedad 32 16 4 12 48 45 3 8-4-4 8-0-8 52
 Eibar 32 14 8 10 52 44 8 9-3-4 5-5-6 50
 Espanyol 32 13 10 9 44 42 2 8-5-3 5-5-6 49

Elsewhere in La Liga

Leganes 0-1 Espanyol
Granada 0-3 Celta Vigo

Monday’s La Liga schedule

Alaves vs. Villarreal — 2:45 p.m. ET