Ezequiel Garay

Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Valencia hands Madrid its first loss since Zidane’s return

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MADRID (AP) Valencia beat Real Madrid 2-1 in the Spanish league on Wednesday, handing Zinedine Zidane his first loss since returning as coach.

Goncalo Guedes and Ezequiel Garay scored in each half for Valencia at Mestalla Stadium, before Karim Benzema pulled one back for Madrid in second-half injury time.

[ MORE: Tottenham stadium a game changer ]

The result extended Valencia’s unbeaten streak to 12 league matches and moved the team to fifth place in the standings, one point behind Getafe in the final Champions League spot.

Valencia had a dismal start to the season but hasn’t lost in 17 consecutive matches in all competitions.

Madrid, now five points behind second-place Atletico Madrid, had beaten Celta Vigo and Huesca in its first two matches since re-hiring Zidane, who quit nine months ago after leading the club to three straight Champions League titles.

Atletico defeated Girona 2-0 at home on Tuesday to move within eight points of leader Barcelona, which scored a couple of late goals in a 4-4 draw at Villarreal. Barcelona hosts Atletico on Saturday.

Madrid controlled possession from the start but it was Valencia that threatened the most on counterattacks.

Guedes opened the scoring with a right-foot shot from inside the area in the 35th minute and Garay sealed the victory with a header in the 83rd for his second goal of the season, with the other coming in the team’s 1-1 home draw against Barcelona.

LATE TRIUMPH

Athletic Bilbao relinquished a two-goal lead but salvaged a 3-2 home victory with a penalty kick converted by Iker Muniain three minutes into injury time.

Levante evened the match with two second-half goals, including one in the 89th minute, but the hosts recovered after Muniain was fouled inside the area and scored from the spot.

It was the third win in a row for Athletic, which is eighth in the standings.

Levante, winless in six matches, stayed 15th.

OTHER RESULTS

Celta Vigo also relinquished a two-goal lead in its match at last-place Huesca, allowing the hosts to rally and take a 3-2 lead before netting an 81st-minute equalizer to salvage a point. A victory would have been enough to move Celta out of the relegation zone, but it ended one point from safety.

Second-to-last Rayo Vallecano, five points behind Celta and one point in front of Huesca, lost 2-1 at midtable Eibar.

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

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

Carlos Tevez returns to Argentinian squad after three-year gap

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Carlos Tevez has been recalled into the Argentina national team for the first time in over three years with friendlies against Croatia and Portugal coming up.

It’s been a long wait for the 30-year-old striker. He last appeared for his country in a loss to Uruguay in the 2011 Copa America semifinals when he came off the bench and missed the deciding penalty.

The match against Portugal will be at Old Trafford, meaning Tevez will return to the place he spent two seasons.

Tevez joins Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, and Sergio Aguero as strikers, with Javier Pastore, Erik Lamela, and Angel Di Maria also in the side to complete a vicious attacking lineup.

If the Juventus man plays, he would earn his 63rd cap with his country. The gap in his appearances largely coincided with the reign of Alejandro Sabella, who refused to select Tevez even once during his time in charge. Now, with former Barcelona manager Gerardo Martino at the helm, he has given respite to Tevez.

Full Argentina squad:

Goalkeepers: Sergio Romero (Sampdoria), Willy Caballero (Manchester City), Nahuel Guzman (Tigres)

Defenders: Nicolas Otamendi (Valencia), Cristian Ansaldi (Atletico Madrid), Facundo Roncaglia (Fiorentina), Marcos Rojo (Manchester United), Martin Demichelis (Manchester City), Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City), Federico Fazio (Tottenham), Federico Fernandez (Swansea), Ezequiel Garay (Zenit)

Midfielders: Javier Mascherano (Barcelona), Roberto Pereyra (Juventus), Lucas Biglia (Lazio), Angel Di Maria (Manchester United), Erik Lamela (Tottenham), Javier Pastore (PSG), Enzo Perez (Benfica), Nicolas Gaitan (Benfica)

Attackers: Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Carlos Tevez (Juventus), Gonzalo Higuain (Napoli), Sergio Aguero (Manchester City).

Report: Manchester United, Liverpool battle it out for Christoph Kramer

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Reports in Germany suggest that midfielder Christoph Kramer is being chased by some of Europe’s biggest clubs.

German international Christoph Kramer, 23, has been linked with a move to Manchester United, Real Madrid, Liverpool and Juventus as the holding midfielder continues to turn heads.

[RELATED: Kramer suffers head injury in WC final]

Currently playing for Borussia Monchengladbach, on loan from Bayer Leverkusen, Kramer has excelled in the Bundesliga and featured for Germany during their World Cup winning campaign in Brazil this summer. If you remember, Kramer was the last-minute replacement for Sami Khedira in the World Cup final but he himself was forced off the pitch due to injury in the first half following a nasty shoulder to the head from Argentina’s Ezequiel Garay.

Reports from German publication Bild claim that United, Liverpool, Real and Juve are all readying bids for the lanky midfielder, as they aim to add some steel to their midfield.

Kramer only has one season in the German top-flight under his belt after previously being loaned out to VFL Bochum in the 2. Bundesliga but he has shown in his performances for the national team and Monchengladbach that he is able to break play up and excel in the destroyer role in the engine room.

His transfer fee isn’t mentioned in the report from Bild but you have to think a World Cup winner, despite his slender minutes in the tournament, could gather anywhere in the region of $20-30 million. Kramer is still just 23 and is set to become a fixture in Joachim Low’s German side. His deal with Leverkusen runs out in 2017 but he will spend this season on loan to Borussia Monchengladbach for the second straight campaign, following two previous seasons on loan with Bochum.

Kramer has never made a first team appearance for Leverkusen in the league, but he could be about to make them a ton of money.

Top 10 defenders from the 2014 World Cup

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With forwards and midfielders already done, we move on the defenders, making an attempt to have representation across the back line. Continuing our World Cup review, here is PST’s top 10 defenders from Brazil 2014, in alphabetical order:

[ MORE from our 2014 World Cup review ]

Daley Blind, Netherlands – Ostensibly a left wing back, Blind also saw time at left center back and in midfield, all the while building on an opening match performance that helped the underdog Dutch rout reigning champion Spain. Only 24, Blind has yet to play outside the Netherlands, possibly explaining why we heard two different pronunciations of his last name, but after a standout World Cup, it may not be long before the Ajax defender has a chance to make that name abroad.

Stefan de Vrij, Netherlands – Another young player brought into the team by Louis van Gaal, de Vrij excelled on the right side of the Netherlands’ three-man central defense, a group that only conceded four goals in seven games. The 22-year-old led his team in tackles, interceptions, and tied Ron Vlaar for most aerial duels won. Scoring in the opener against Spain, de Vrij also tallied his first international goal, part of the Feyenoord man’s standout World Cup debut.

Vincent Kompany, Belgium – Coming off an erratic season with Manchester City, Kompany was back to his commanding self in Brazil, a tournament where he struggled through the knockout stage with a leg injury. Despite that ailment, Kompany showed why he’s considered one of the world’s best central defenders, with his athleticism proving vital next to the steady if more stoic Daniel Van Buyten.

Philipp Lahm, Germany – Though he started the tournament in central midfield, a switch back to his natural spot saw Lahm remind the world of the unmatched precision he brings to the right back position. That move proved particularly vital against Brazil, where his runs behind Selecao left back Marcelo helped blow open the teams’ semifinal.

Ezequiel Garay, Argentina – Before the final, Alejandro Sabella’s team had one of the highest possession rates in the tournament, making it all the more remarkable Garay led the competition in clearances per game (10, among those that make at least four appearances). While part of that had to do with the performance of those around him, the number speaks to the aerial presence the 27-year-old had in one of the tournament’s best defenses. Though the partner to his right changed half-way through the tournament, Garay remained a rock in the middle for Argentina.

Mats Hummels, Germany – After illness forced Hummels to miss Germany’s Round of 16 match against Algeria, Hummels gave a Man of the Match-caliber performance against France in the quarterfinal, with his work going forward helping Germany blow out Brazil in the next round. Though he was picked out by ESPN analyst Steve McManaman in the final for his lack of pace, the problem was only an issue against Lionel Messi-level players. The rest (read: vast majority) of the time, Hummels justified his reputation as one of the best central defenders in the game.

Gary Medel, Chile – The Bulldog’s contributions will be forgotten amid Chile’s Round of 16 exit, but strong in the air, tenacious on the ground, and incisive in the middle, Medel provided little hint that he’s actually a natural midfielder. Despite being only 5’7″, Medel led his team in aerial duels won, helping an aggressive Chile team hold its opponents to less than one goal per 90 minutes in Brazil.

Jan Vertonghen, Belgium – After the Red Devils’ opener against Algeria, Vertonghen was dropped in favor of Thomas Vermaelen, a move that lasted less then a half. Once back in the team, the Tottenham defender established himself as one of the best left backs in the tournament, scoring the game-winning goal against South Korea before providing a constant threat against the United States.

Ron Vlaar, Netherlands – Premier League fans will know Vlaar as the steady presence in the middle of Aston Villa’s often besieged defense. In Brazil, the veteran center back went from steady to standout, with his physical presence anchoring the middle of the Dutch’s three-man central defense. With young players on his left and right, Vlaar needed to be as decisive as he was reliable. Averaging nine clearances per game, the Villa rearguard anchored his team to a third place finish.

Pablo Zabaleta, Argentina – The Argentine veteran was steady, impactful in all phases of the game, but the fact that he makes this list is as much a testament to a lack of depth at right back as it is Zabaleta’s talent. Without a doubt, Zabaleta is one of the best right backs in the world, but players like Serge Aurier and Mathieu Debuchy looked better at times in Brazil. But as part of a team that played seven games, made it to the final, and had one of the best defenses in the tournament, it was difficult to overlook Zabaleta’s part. While he wasn’t always his normal, dynamic self, he was still one of the best right backs at the World Cup, a fact that speaks to the lofty standards he maintains at club-level.

Head games: Remember the final’s first half? Christoph Kramer doesn’t

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Those who actively watched some of the World Cup final’s first half likely remember more than a man who was on the field for a half-hour of it.

Christoph Kramer was facing the thrill of the lifetime when he was called on to replace Sami Khedira in the starting lineup of Germany’s tournament title tilt against Argentina.

But a 14th minute elbow from Ezequiel Garay sent Kramer to the turf, and to the sidelines. He walked in two different directions on the way off the field before reentering. And after the 32nd minute, Kramer was off for good.

So what were his feelings when he was taken off the field in such a massive game?

Beats him.

From The Independent:

“I can’t really remember much of the game,” he told German newspaper Die Welt after seeing his team-mates beat Argentina 1-0.

“I don’t know anything at all about the first half. I thought later that I left the game immediately after the tackle. I have no idea how I got to the changing rooms. I don’t know anything else. In my head, the game starts from the second half.”

The fact that Kramer was allowed back onto the pitch is frightening and incredibly dangerous. Treatment and diagnosis of head injuries may be an always-developing thing, but anyone with two eyes and TV screen could see that Kramer was not right following the collision.

Surely his instincts took over and laid out his desires to come back into the game. Judging by his memory, we have no business trusting the minds of a men or women whose brains have bounced against their skulls (Put that way, it makes sense, no?).

Let’s just be glad Kramer came off before we saw something absolutely horrific; Athletes who have played on after suffering a concussion have experienced many awful repercussions, including the ultimate one: death. Read up on the work done by the Sports Legacy Institute and you’ll understand a bit more.

It’s suggested that the human brain needs at least two weeks to recover from a concussion… not two minutes.