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Hazard makes league debut as Real Madrid beat Levante

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MADRID (AP) The wait was finally over for Eden Hazard, who made his Spanish league debut with Real Madrid in a 3-2 win over Levante on Saturday.

Karim Benzema scored twice and Casemiro added another goal as Madrid picked up its first win after two consecutive draws in the league, including against Valladolid in its first match of the season at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.

Hazard, Madrid’s top signing since it lost Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus, had missed the first three games because of a thigh injury sustained the day before the opener. The Belgium star came off the bench in the second half, with Madrid 3-1 ahead.

The victory moved Madrid within a point of league leader Atletico Madrid, the only team with three wins after three matches. Atletico visits Real Sociedad later Saturday.

“We couldn’t lose points here again,” said Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who made a crucial save in stoppage time to preserve the win. “We played well in the first half but couldn’t maintain the same dynamic in the second.”

Levante was coming off two consecutive wins – against Villarreal and Valladolid – after opening with a loss at Alaves.

With Hazard still not up to full speed and Gareth Bale suspended because of a red card, Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane started with Vinicius Junior and Lucas Vazquez flanking Benzema in the attack. Zidane also couldn’t count on Luka Modric, Marco Asensio and Francisco “Isco” Alarcon because of injuries.

Hazard hadn’t played a competitive game since joining from Chelsea in the summer. Madrid acquired the 28-year-old playmaker for a reported fee of nearly 100 million euros (now $111 million) plus add-ons, making him the Spanish club’s most expensive signing ever.

Hazard was loudly cheered by home fans when he entered the match in the 60th, and a few minutes later he nearly scored with a shot that forced a difficult save by Levante goalkeeper Aitor Fernandez.

“Eden already showed what he can do,” Courtois said. “He has the quality to create problems to opponents in the attack.”

Benzema created most of the chances for Madrid early on, and finally opened the scoring with a close-range header in the 25th minute after a well-placed cross by Dani Carvajal. The French striker added to the lead six minutes later with a shot from inside the area after a nice through ball by James Rodriguez.

Casemiro closed the first-half scoring by completing a pass from Vinicius Junior in the 40th.

Levante was able to rally in the second half, with striker Borja Mayoral scoring less than five minutes after halftime and Gonzalo Melero pulling the visitors closer with a header in the 75th. Courtois had to make a difficult save off another header in stoppage time to keep Levante from equalizing.

“Madrid came out giving everything it had, but in the second half we played better and almost scored the equalizer in the end,” said Mayoral, who is playing on loan from Real Madrid and did not celebrate his goal at the Bernabeu.

Benzema almost completed his hat trick when he hit the post in the 57th. Lucas Vazquez had also hit the post in the first half.

Vinicius Junior had a goal disallowed for offside in the 62nd. The Brazilian also missed a clear chance from close range in the 70th.

Madrid visits Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League on Wednesday, then plays at Sevilla in the Spanish league next Sunday.

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Spanish league president says player revealed match-fixing

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MADRID (AP) Spanish league president Javier Tebas testified in a match-fixing trial on Thursday, saying it was a former player who told him a result had been fixed.

The case involves a top-tier game between Levante and Zaragoza at the end of the 2010-11 season. Prosecutors say there is evidence 965,000 euros (nearly $1 million) was paid to Levante’s players to lose the match in the final round of the season. Zaragoza won 2-1 to secure its spot in the first division, with Deportivo La Coruna being demoted.

[ MORE: La Liga scores, schedule ]

Tebas did not reveal which player made the allegation but said he played for Zaragoza and didn’t want to be linked to the investigation out of fear of retaliation from other players. Tebas also said the unidentified player was a client of his law firm at the time.

Tebas, who became the league’s president in 2013, said he warned then-Levante president Quico Catalan, who later also testified and said he did not recall receiving a call from Tebas about the alleged match-fixing attempt.

Last week, lawyers for Zaragoza and some players unsuccessfully called for a mistrial claiming Tebas broke lawyer-client privilege when the league brought the allegation to authorities.

More than 40 people have been accused and have appeared before a judge in Valencia, including dozens of players and former Mexico coach Javier Aguirre, who managed Zaragoza at the time.

They could face two years in prison and a six-year ban from soccer if found guilty. They have all denied any wrongdoing.

Among the 36 players accused are Ander Herrera, now with Paris Saint-Germain; former Leicester midfielder Vicente Iborra; former Atletico Madrid captain Gabi Fernandez; River Plate midfielder Leonardo Ponzio; Serbian defender Ivan Obradovic; Lazio forward Felipe Caicedo; Itailan defender Maurizio Lanzaro; and Uruguay striker Cristhian Stuani.

Prosecutors said players on both teams were aware of the match-fixing. They said they found evidence the money was transferred to Levante players after analyzing tax reports and banking transactions at the time.

A lower court had shelved the case but it was reopened last year after an appeal by prosecutors in Valencia, where Levante is based and where the match was played.

Even if found guilty, it’s unlikely that those being accused would face actual prison time because sentences of two years or less for first-time offenders are often suspended in Spain.

Zaragoza returned to the second division in 2014. Levante is currently in Spain’s top league.

La Liga roundup: Atletico Madrid win first opener in four years

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Spain’s top flight is two days into a new season, and here’s a roundup of all of Sunday’s action.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Atletico Madrid 1-0 Getafe

It wasn’t done in aesthetically pleasing fashion, but Atletico Madrid won their first opening season game in four years.

In fact, the first half was rough with both Atletico and Getafe loosing players to straight red cards. Getafe’s Jorge Molina saw red for a studs-up challenge in the 38th minute, while Renan Lodi was asked to leave the field in his debut for Los Colchoneros. 

Summer signing Alvaro Morata proved to be the difference for Atletico, however. Assisted by former Tottenham fullback Kieran Trippier, the team’s academy product scored early on in the 23rd minute – the goal made Atletico one of eight clubs to start the season with three points.

$140 million signing Joao Felix also made his La Liga debut, and impressed the home crowd with a dazzling run in the second half that ended drawing a penalty for Atletico. Morata missed.

Not the smoothest of games for Diego Simeone’s side, but like Real Madrid, they already have an edge on Barcelona.

Espanyol 0-2 Sevilla 

Julen Lopetegui can finally breathe (and coach) in peace.

Following a series of unfortunate events with the Spanish national team and Real Madrid, Lopetegui and Sevilla started their new era in a winning way.

Sergio Reguilon got things started for the visiting side with a tap in inside the six-yard box. And in the final minutes, no stranger to stepping up for Sevilla, Nolito slotted one past Diego Lopez.

With only two shots on frame to speak for them, Espanyol was one, two steps behind Los Hispalenses, who look for another top-six finish in Spain’s top-flight league.

Sevilla’s young quest for that continues as they travel to Granada. Meanwhile, Espanyol have no time to waist with a Europa League play-off bout against Ukrainian side Zorya lined up midweek.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Real Betis 1-2 Real Valladolid

Alaves 1-0 Levante

Sevilla routs Levante to end winless streak in Spain

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MADRID (AP) Sevilla routed Levante 5-0 on Saturday with a spectacular second half to end a four-match winless streak in the Spanish league.

Wissam Ben Yedder, Andre Silva, Franco Vazquez, Pablo Sarabia and Quincy Promes all scored after the interval to move Sevilla back to third in the league standings.

The home win put Sevilla on 36 points, the same as fourth-placed Real Madrid, which plays at Espanyol on Sunday. Sevilla is ahead on goal difference.

Sevilla and Madrid are five points behind second-placed Atletico Madrid, and trail leader Barcelona by 10 points. Atletico hosts Getafe later Saturday, while Barcelona visits Girona on Sunday.

Sevilla hadn’t won in the league since December. It was coming off a 2-0 loss at Real Madrid in a result that dropped the team from the top three for the first time since October.

Last year, Sevilla routed Levante 6-2 in Valencia.

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

US investors take over Spanish 2nd-division club Reus

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MADRID (AP) American investors are taking over Spanish second-division club Reus, keeping it from being dissolved and dropped from the league.

The club says real estate investment bankers Russell Platt and Clifton Onolfo have purchased 99.7 percent of Reus’ shares.

[ MORE: Barca signs Prince-Boateng ]

Financial details were not immediately released, but local media say the club’s debt has reached 5 million euros ($5.7 million).

The statement by Reus on Monday says the new group plans to build an 18,000-capacity stadium and an entertainment complex.

The club says Platt was a founder of Morgan Stanley Real Estate, while Onolfo was a former owner of the Connecticut Wolves, a team which used to play in the United Soccer League.

The takeover will allow Reus to keep playing in the second division and avoid the immediate risk of extinction. Last month, players demanded out of their contracts because they hadn’t been paid in months.

The new owners will have to show the club from near Barcelona is in compliance with rules by the Spanish league and other stakeholders.

Reus’ match against Las Palmas on Saturday was suspended because of the team’s situation.

The Catalan club is 20th in the 22-team second-division standings.

Among the players affected by Reus’ situation was young United States defender Shaq Moore, who was playing on a loan from Levante. He returned to Levante this month.

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