Nacho Fernandez

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La Liga roundup: Nacho header powers Real Madrid to top of table (video)

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Real Madrid’s close win at the Estadio Jose Zorilla to go atop of Spain’s top-flight highlights La Liga’s Sunday action.

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Real Valladolid 0-1 Real Madrid

Real Madrid is three points clear at the top of La Liga after Nacho Fernandez’s header in the 78th minute against Real Valladolid on Sunday.

With defending champions Barcelona dropping three, crucial points against Valencia on Saturday, Zinedine Zidane and company take a giant leap in the tight title race. Los Blancos’ 46 points are the most within La Liga with less than a half a season to go.

But even then, the French manager was reluctant to accept that his team did enough against Valladolid to claim league triumph.

“For us, nothing changes,” Zidane said. “We are happy with the victory, the work done having fought until the end, but nothing changes. There are 17 games left and we will continue fighting until the end.

“I don’t want to talk about being champions because there is still a lot left to play. It changes nothing to be leaders, they are three important points but nothing more.

“There are a lot of league games left and it will be difficult for all teams, including us.”

Madrid’s defense shined all 90 minutes, denying the hosts from registering a shot on target and producing the match-winning goal via Nacho.

“Defensively, what we are doing, we are doing well. It is our strength,” Zidane also told reporters. “We defend all and when we lose the ball we recover it very high, and if we keep it we have a good chance of scoring.”

“Nacho scored and that is part of football. We know that we can improve in this aspect,” he added. “Nacho is a professional. When he has to compete he does well. I’m glad for his goal; he doesn’t usually score them but from time-to-time we can also create chances for defenders.”

Debuting for Madrid in 2011, Nacho has made 133 appearances and scored seven goals. His goal on Sunday perhaps the most important, earning his team what is arguably their most crucial league win this season.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Atletico Madrid 0-0 Leganes

Celta Vigo 0-0 Eibar

Getafe 1-0 Real Betis

Real Sociedad 3-0 Mallorca

River Plate takes 1st leg advantage over Boca Juniors

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The Superclasico serving as Copa Libertadores semifinal got off to a pro-River Plate start, as Los Millonarios beat Boca Juniors 2-0 in the semifinal first leg on Tuesday.

Rafael Santos Borre converted a 7th minute penalty, and Ignacio “Nacho” Fernandez scored in the 70th minute as River takes a two-goal advantage back across Buenos Aires.

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Fernandez’s goal was the 29-year-old’s first in nine career matches against Boca (He had posted two assists). He had been linked with a move to LA Galaxy earlier this year.

The second leg is Oct. 22 at Boca. The other semifinal kicks off Wednesday, with Gremio hosts Flamengo in an all-Brazil affair.

10-man Real Madrid comes back to draw 10-man Arsenal

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Maybe Zinedine Zidane ought to rethink his stance on Gareth Bale?

Of course it’s just preseason, but the on-the-market Real Match forward subbed into Tuesday’s match in Maryland on Tuesday and spearheaded a comeback 2-2 draw against Arsenal.

Real won in penalties, as all International Champions Cup matches must have a winner.

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Real was down a man after 10 minutes when Nacho Fernandez handled a ball on the goal line, and Arsenal also went down a man when Sokratis Papastathopoulos saw his second yellow of the contest in the 40th minute.

Alexandre Lacazette converted a penalty, then set-up Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for a goal 14 minutes later as the Gunners handled their business early.

The chemistry between two remains very real.

Real started new boys Eden Hazard, Ferland Mendy, and Luka Jovic in addition to Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Karim Benzema, and Sergio Ramos.

Bale came in for Hazard at halftime and poked a 57th minute rebound home and Marcelo set up Marco Asensio two minutes later to complete the comeback.

Asensio, sadly, would only last a few more minutes, needing to be stretchered off with injury.

Pain, devastation, expletives: Real Madrid deals with Champions League failure

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Real Madrid didn’t expect this, which is probably why they will not become the four-time defending champions of the UEFA Champions League.

Real led 2-1 after the first leg in Holland, the two away goals enough that captain Sergio Ramos purposely took a yellow card to serve his suspension in the second leg instead of risking an absence later in the tournament.

[ MORE: Match recap | Ajax reacts ]

Instead, Dusan Tadic and Ajax tore Real apart at the Bernabeu, using a 4-1 second leg win to send the Madrid side out of the competition.

Real is not sure how to react to such a loss. Dani Carvajal said it’s all about of an “(expletive (rhymes with Gritty) season.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever had this feeling of pain,” Carvajal said. “I don’t know how to explain it. It’s never easy to bounce back from two defeats against Barcelona and two errors put us 2-0 down, however 3-0 killed us.”

The vicious Real Madrid media will come the players and staff with knives out, and the men under the microscope are clearly preparing for it with some opening salvos in the opposite direction.

Here’s Nacho, via the BBC:

“We’re devastated. It’s very complicated. We’re not used to being at this stage of a season with practically no title left to play for. … La Liga’s practically impossible, we’re out of the Copa and the Champions League. It’s tough.”

As for interim boss Santiago Solari, who was credited with a new manager bump — and deservedly so — when he took over for Julen Lopetegui, he’s looking for answers as well.

Solari even admitted that Real missed Ramos, though he’s keeping perspective. After all, Ramos was there for all 180 minutes when Barcelona beat Real twice in four days.

And maybe, just maybe, Solari being a part of Real’s legacy of winning makes him the man to do the job moving forward (though we doubt Florentino Perez is going to have the patience for that with Jose Mourinho on the market).

“The season is difficult, but we are here to show our heart and character in difficult moments,” added Solari. “Easy moments are easy for everyone, you can climb up and surf them, but difficult moments you have to show bravery. … Madrid is bigger than any of us. It always returns, and returns even stronger.”

Hat trick hero Ronaldo drags Portugal to draw with Spain

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  • Spain goals: Costa (24′, 55′), Nacho (58′)
  • Portugal goals: Ronaldo (4′, 44′, 88′)
  • Next: Spain-Iran, Portugal-Morocco

Cristiano Ronaldo’s amazing 88th minute free kick finished his hat trick and answered Nacho Fernandez’s magical second-half goal in a 3-3 draw between Spain and Portugal on Friday.

It was a match befitting the hype as the World Cup began for both sides in Sochi, with Ronaldo’s first two goals canceled out by the same from Diego Costa.

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Portugal earned a penalty inside the first three minutes when Ronaldo dragged his leg to catch Nacho Fernandez inside the 18, and the megastar’s picture perfect PK got David De Gea going the wrong way for a 1-0 lead.

A counter attack gave Portugal a prime chance for 2-0, with Bernardo Silva carving a ball around the Spanish defense and Ronaldo playing one touch for Goncalo Guedes, only to see the youngster take a superfluous touch.

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Costa made it 1-1, bodying off Pepe and then cooking his mark wth a pair of cuts before belting a low shot beyond the reach of Rui Patricio.

Andres Iniesta dragged a low shot just beyond the far post, the ball crawling by the mark.

Ronaldo grabbed his second in the 44th minute, this one a howler from David De Gea.

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After Costa made it 2-2, Fernandez somehow combined power and touch with an otherworldly strike to give Spain its first lead.

I mean, really man…

Few words needed for what happened next: