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Coutinho debuts, Messi, Suarez score as Barcelona advances in Copa

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MADRID (AP) Goals from Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez guided Barcelona to a 2-0 victory over city rival Espanyol on Thursday and a place in the Copa del Rey semifinals.

[ MORE: MLS teen signs for Barca ]

Barcelona had lost the first leg 1-0 last week, but quickly evened the series when Suarez headed home less than 10 minutes into the match at Camp Nou. Messi scored the goal that secured a 2-1 win on aggregate midway through the first half.

The match marked the debut of new Barcelona signing Philippe Coutinho, who came off the bench in the second half to replace Andres Iniesta.

Coutinho arrived from Liverpool at the beginning of the month but had been sidelined by a right leg muscle injury. The Brazilian playmaker was signed in a transfer worth up to 160 million euros (then $192 million), making him Barcelona’s most expensive player ever.

It’s the eighth straight season that Barcelona has made it to the Copa semifinals, having won the title for the last three years.


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Barcelona allocates just 447 tickets to Atletico fans for title decider

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A ridiculously low amount of away tickets have been set aside by Barcelona for visiting Atletico Madrid fans for tomorrow’s match, which will decide the La Liga title.

According to the Daily Mail, the Nou Camp has allocated just 447 away tickets, which amounts to 0.4% of the Nou Camp’s near-100,000 person capacity.

Atletico Madrid need just a point to secure their first La Liga title in 18 years, while Barcelona can steal the championship with a win, putting them tied on points with a vastly superior goal differential.

It’s surprising that Barcelona even have a shot at the title, considering the turmoil the club has faced this year.  Manager Gerardo Martino is a lame duck win or lose, and there will plenty of personnel changes this offseason both on and off the pitch.

However, it seems nobody wants to win the title in Spain, with Real Madrid choking away an envious position atop the league just a month ago, and Atletico never truly staking claim to control of the table.

With the Champions League final on the horizon, there are possibly bigger things yet to come this season for Atleti, but the first step is securing the domestic title. Unfortunately, it appears very few fans will be able to witness their potential victory.

No New, just Nou: Barcelona decides to upgrade stadium to 105,000

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It’s going to cost 495 million Euros to upgrade Camp Nou to one of the largest stadiums in the world, as the club’s directors voted against moving to a new venue. Instead, they’ve opted to expand their hallowed home.

Camp Nou’s already pretty huge — we’re talking Top 12 stadiums by capacity in the world — but the expansion will push it into the Top Five. The resolution still needs to be passed by the club’s 160,000+ owning members, but would take the capacity to around 105,000.

For comparison’s sake, Mexico’s giant Estadio Azteca is 105,000. Only four sports buildings in the world are larger: North Korea’s Rungnado May Day Stadium (150,000), India’s Salt Lake Stadium (120,000) and the homes for American college football’s Penn State and Michigan.

Camp Nou opened in 1957 and the new stadium simply would cost too much money for the board to deem it responsible spending. Adding to the positives of growing the building is that Barcelona won’t need a temporary home; Matches will be played during construction, which would take through 2021.

It would also add roofing to cover all spectators, but not the pitch.

Barcelona set to remodel or knock down the Nou Camp stadium

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Is it time to do away with the Nou Camp?

That’s a subject under heavy debate at Barcelona at the moment.

Come early next year the club’s socios will vote whether the biggest stadium in Europe should be expanded or torn down.

If they decide to build a new home for the Blaugrana it’s expected to cost in the region of $412 million, with the sale of naming rights expected to cover a significant portion of the cost.

The new stadium would be built on property belonging to the University of Barcelona, which is adjacent to the city’s Avenue Diagonal.

Board spokesman Toni Freixa explained on the club’s official website it had two choices: “The construction of a new stadium on the land on Diagonal, property which belongs to the University of Barcelona, or a profound remodelling project that would constitute a new stadium keeping the current structure of the Camp Nou.

“Both would have a capacity of 105,000 spectators, the stadium would be covered, there will be a construction of a new Palau with a capacity of 12,000 spectators, an adjacent court with a capacity of 2,000 spectators, 6,000 new parking spots and access to the Ciutat Esportiva of the Miniestadi.”

The current Nou Camp was completed in 1957 and currently holds 99,354 spectators. If a remodelling is decided a temporary home would not be required for the matches to house Lionel Messi & Company.

“The work inside the stadium could be done in summer, while exterior work could be done in winter,” said Javier Faus, Barcelona FC’s vice-president for economic matters.

The total time for construction would take three years and the the vote to move forward could take place as early as February 2014.

So, should Barca opt for the remodel or the new stadium?

For anyone who’s been to the current Nou Camp it’s hard not to feel like destroying such a structure would be a shame. Too often modern footballing stadiums seem to lack the character and atmosphere of older grounds. And while the current building gets its fair share of international visitors, the structure can still rock when packed for a big game.

Further, a remodel would be a more economically feasible measure, especially given the club’s current debt mark of $455 million. That being said, a modern stadium in the city of Barcelona is projected to generate $41-48 million of extra annual income, making the long-run potential a very attractive measure. Of course, that would come at a cost of selling the soul naming rights to the stadium.

Decisions, decisions.

Messi, Neymar help Barcelona extend Real Sociedad’s winless run

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In this fixture last year, Barcelona won 5-1, so today’s 4-1 loss by Real Sociedad may not be as bad as it seems. But that game took place on Aug. 19 – over a year ago. Since then La Real has posted five-month unbeaten run (Jan. 6-May 6), a fourth place finish in Spain, and a Champions League playoff win over Lyon – a win that put them back in Europe’s premier club competition for the first time in 10 years. Perhaps only a year has passed since their last trip to Camp Nou, but it was a defining year, one that cast today’s lopsided loss in a different light.

Sociedad was terrible for the first 23 minutes, enough time to dig a three-goal deficit. Poor defending against Alexis Sanchez and the inability to deal with the Chilean’s cross allowed Neymar to score his first La Liga goal on five minutes. Shortly afterward, the Brazilian’s far post lob from the left found a diving Lionel Messi for the Argentine’s seventh goal of the season. And 15 minutes later, poor decision-making on a ball coming out of the Real area allowed Sergio Busquets to blast home Barcelona’s third. After the teams traded second half goals (Alberto De La Bella, Marc Bartra), Real Sociedad had their worst loss of the season, the latest disappointment in what’s become a five-match winless run.

[MORE: Neymar scores his first La Liga goal (Video)]

Highlights:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iU0QxK1Z_Ao]

It may be too early to truly worry about La Real, though, as their fixture list plays a huge part in their recent downturn. This five-match slide started with a 2-1 loss at home to a still perfect Atlético Madrid. They then drew on the road at Levante (0-0), lost in Champions League to Shakhtar Donetsk (0-2), and were drawn at San Sebastian this weekend my Málaga (0-0). Barcelona’s win was more lopsided, but Jagoba Arasante’s team isn’t the first to be on the wrong side of Nou Camp shellacking. When Sevilla visit this Saturday, Real Sociedad should see their winless run end.

That doesn’t mean there are no reasons for concern. De La Bella’s 64th minute goal ended a 355 minute scoreless run, with the absence of their first choice number nine (Imanol Agirretze) continuing to limit their attack. And at the other end, goalkeeper Claudio Bravo gave a disappointing Tuesday performance behind a defense that offered little resistance wide of goal (each Barça goal was built wide before playing in). Even by Barcelona standards, Tuesday’s win was easy for the hosts.

La Real started the year unbeaten in four, their two wins over Lyon putting them in Champions League for the first time in 10 years. Perhaps this drive is just their course self-correcting. But after going five months without a loss under Philipp Montanier, it may be time to consider the implications of the former boss’s move to Stade Rennes. Will Sociedad be left to rue their inability to sign Montainer to a new deal?

The team’s next six league matches should answer that question. Sevilla, Rayo Vallecano, and Valencia all present challenges, some of which Arasante should be expected to overcome. After that, matches against Almería, Real Valladolid, and Osasuna give the team a chance to build momentum ahead of their trip to the Santiago Bernabéu.

By then, Sociedad’s course should be corrected. And if it’s not, we’ll have a better idea of how much Montanier’s departure’s meant to La Real.