Zinedine Zidane credits Real Madrid for 'perfect game' against PSG

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane hailed a "perfect game" from his side as they won 2-1 at Paris Saint-Germain in Tuesday's Champions League round-of-16 second leg to ease through to the quarterfinals 5-2 on aggregate.

After a goalless first half, Cristiano Ronaldo headed Madrid in front soon after half-time, with the Portuguese matching former Manchester United teammate Ruud Van Nistelrooy's record of scoring in nine consecutive UCL matches.

Marco Verratti left PSG with 10 men after picking up a second yellow card for dissent, before Edinson Cavani got one back for the French side during a goalmouth scramble. But Casemiro's deflected 20 yarder ended any doubt over who was progressing, with Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez also hitting the woodwork as the Ligue 1 side ended the game well beaten.

Zidane told the postgame news conference that his team's plan for how the game had gone just as he hoped, while maintaining that his players deserved most of the praise.

"It went well for us, we played a very good game, serious from the start, pressing them high." Zidane said. "We played a perfect game. I am very happy, as you can see that whoever starts, and the substitutes, they all played a good game.

"This is a not an easy place to play a good game, but we did it. So I can only be happy. Tactically we played the game we expected. But in the end it is the players convinced in what we [coaches] do, that is the most important."

Zidane denied that the expensively-assembled PSG side, who have still not made it past the UCL quarterfinals despite over €1 billion invested by their Qatari owners, had been weaker than expected opponents.

"I don't believe PSG have been weak or easy to beat," he said. "They played very well in the first leg, maybe not as good tonight, but also because we played very well. It started 50-50 and was until the end. Maybe the sending off changed things, and then when we scored the second it was more difficult for them."

Madrid's XI had included Vazquez and Asensio as wingers in a 4-4-2, with the higher-profile Gareth Bale and Isco left on the bench.

"Playing Lucas and Marco, today it was important to have two lines of four," Zidane explained. "To defend well against their wide players. We did that very well. Lucas is in very good form, Marco too. So they played, and did very well. I must choose an XI every three days, and today the plan was to start these players."

Bale was again a substitute, but Zidane denied the Wales international had lost any status at the Bernabeu.

"For sure Bale would prefer to play more," he said. "But we have many games, we will keep going as we have all been doing. All the players are important here, which is what I look at. Gareth is one of them, he did not start the home or away [against PSG], but he will play games. He is an important player for us."

Madrid had come through some difficult moments this season, said Zidane, but their immediate focus should now be on trying to improve their third place position in La Liga.

"We have had difficult moments, La Liga a bit, and the Copa [del Rey elimination]," he said. "But that is part of football. We finished my two years here winning a lot, and before that too. It is difficult to always maintain that level every three days.

"You must accept difficult moments during a season, and keep working. Because you cannot always win everything. Now we must think about our next La Liga game on Saturday at Eibar, and try and put in the same performance there."

  • Published in Sports

Cuba: Soccer Fans and Where to Find Them

Let’s imagine for a moment, only for a moment that the city is a jungle that there are trees instead of buildings and for the chirping of birds we have the honking of old American cars.

This jungle, of course, has its own animal species: beautiful, exotic, colorful and dangerous. But out of the entire urban biosphere there’s a particular specimen, a new one that little by little has earned its place among the noisiest beasts in the environment. In Cuba, where globalization seems to have sunk in like a roof leak, there are already these extraordinary beings who live match after match and feed of goals. Soccer addicts are undeniable part of our social fauna and, although in the world they are called "fans", "hooligans" and "ultra", those here prefer to call themselves fanatics.

Sub-species

Soccer fans in Cuba are not on the brink of extinction at all; they are rather in their peak, although they are far from being a plague yet. Just like there are different species of cats or spiders there are also different classes of soccer fanatics, which usually divide in Barcelona Fans, Real Madrid Fans, followers of the Bayern Múnich and those who support a team from the Premier League or the Italian Calcio. Nevertheless, it’s the Barcelona Fans and Real Madrid Fans who proliferate around these days.

The unstoppable growing number of fans of both teams is a limitless phenomenon. In the last years, specialists worldwide have noticed a huge growth in the ranks of these two packs in detriment of others. For many, the origin of this overpopulation is due to the majestic presence of two male alphas: Christian Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. In the jungle, as everyone should know, the male alphas usually impose by the "survival of the strongest". But as soccer must not be of violence (unless the faults committed in the field), we could assure that this law is translated for these born leaders in talent, skill, elegance and omnipresence in the media.

Natural Habitat

At least in Cuba, soccer fanatics are easily identifiable. Their natural habitat is usually corners, parks or any field, may that be grass or pavement, as long as the ball can roll without problems. Certainly there is nothing more appealing for them than a television broadcasting a soccer match.

To better understand these fanatics you must study them in full action, in their ideal ecosystem, where they express their wildest nature. If we talk about an important match, one that defines a tournament or that pits historical rivals. Previous the television broadcast, the Cuban soccer animal bet all kinds of things, review shortly the times his team has won over the other one and, lastly, he uses his premonitory skills to predict the result of the match. During the game they just jump off their chairs to scream, and fruitlessly speak to the TV screen. Once the whistle indicates the end of the match, if he wins, his main duty is humiliating the opposing fanatic. In the event of losing, then there will be the warning of a sure revenge.

Physical characteristics

The physical characteristics of this species are quite variable, to the point that they can sometimes be mistaken with the rest of the human kind. However, there is a small detail that gives them away: the outfit. The fanatics walk around wearing their soccer T-shirt and the crest of the team on their chests. But T-shirt are expensive and, wear out in the end. A few lucky ones ask their relatives or friends to bring them a t-shirt from abroad. Other more radical decide to turn their colors permanent and tattoo their skin. The crest is something sacred for them which they respect and love, as if it were a religious symbol. They pray to it in search of goals and, when the goal is scored, it’s mandatory to kiss it feverishly, to thank it, to tighten the muscles and raise his arms to the sky.

Wild Behavior

Warning! in the event of facing a soccer fanatic you should know, first of all he doesn't have a “favorite team”. No. The beast in question has "a team", or better, HIS TEAM. In his head he believes that the club (or national team) is his property and he will refer to it as HIS. This behavior leads him to assume an entire bunch of responsibilities: to defend against detractors and enemies, to suffer the defeats, to sing the victories and tell them among friends like epic battles that for their historical accuracy and detail would rival Homer himself.

There are few things in this world compared to a goal, or at least that believes a soccer fanatic. In his mind the goal is like an orgasm, a spasm with heart arrhythmia included, the glorious culmination of comings and goings of fulfilled expectations and disappointments. He celebrates it as if he had scored and with the burning desire of being in the skin of players. So don't be scared if you see some rapture of ecstasy in some specimen, because that could be his less harmless behavior. Of course, if his team scores.

Predators and Preys

Some specialists affirm that soccer fanatics is a specie introduced that has altered the domestic ecosystem, becoming natural predators of baseball followers. However, the Cuban sport biosphere has not suffered any change, or at least none associated to the boost of “soccer”. Baseball is and will always be the national sport, the very existence of hot corners, the homelike ritual that brings the family together in front of the television. The recent National Baseball Series has proven that, where soccer fanatics either those of Barcelona or Real Madrid have worn the Industriales, Las Tunas or Granma T-shirt. The scientific community should not be based on groundless fears, since baseball is the Cuban fiber that gives certain qualities to the soccer animal.

Evolution  

Soccer fanatics in Cuba which as every being is victim of evolution would gladly mutate his wild nature of television spectator and neighborhood player for that of the regional "fan". He would not hesitate to wear over his T-shirt of European clubs that of the provincial team and cheer from the bleachers with greater enthusiasm than at home. But reality conspires against the Darwinian designs, because both the stadiums and the national tournaments alike are missing the minimal conditions to start a proper competition. Only a few improvements to those forgotten fields and turned into amazonic jungles, and maybe something promotion, to attract that mass of curious characters among which, with pride, I include myself.

  • Published in Specials

Why British fans will not be able to watch live coverage of El Clasico

La Liga's decision to broadcast the first El Clasico of the season at 3:15 UK time means that fans in Britain will be unable to watch the game live on television.

Barcelona and Real Madrid will meet for the first time in the league at the Nou Camp on December 3, but a long-standing British broadcasting rule means the game will not be shown live on British television.

Barcelona Real Madrid
Barcelona beat Real Madrid home and away last season  Credit: AP 

FA rules prohibit any football being shown on television between 2:45pm and 5:15pm.

As in previous years, the game will be shown, in full, on a delay from 5:15pm on Sky Sports. 

La Liga president Javier Tebas defended the time-slot insisting the decision was made to maximise the match's worldwide audience. 

"The Barcelona and Real Madrid game will be played on Saturday at 4:15 p.m. The game will not be aired in England because of the TV embargo that is placed at that time," Tebas told Spanish radio station, Cadena Ser.

 Lionel Messi 
Barcelona beat Real Madrid 4-0 at the Nou Camp last season  Credit: AP 

The kick-off time means the game will be available to watch in over 100 countries, including the growing audience in America.

"We had three windows we had considered, at 1pm, 4:15 pm and 6:30pm. We analysed those with our audiovisual team and to play at 6 pm is too late in Asia while to play at 1pm is too early for the American market."

"I look at other leagues when setting the timetable," Tebas said. 

Real Madrid 
Real Madrid are level points at the top of La Liga with Atletico Madrid  Credit: Reuters 

"The timetable is a strategy we have been working on in recent years and the results are there. Our international sales have tripled because of that and the quality of the players we have in our league.

"We are continuously looking at ways that we can improve our product. For example, we have installed aerial cameras in seven venues and by the end of the season, we will have that in three more stadiums.

Defending champions Barcelona are currently fourth in La Liga, two points adrift from rivals Real Madrid who are level on points at the top of the table with Atletico Madrid.

  • Published in Sports

Real Madrid leave it late to win Champions League opener

Real Madrid made a dramatic late comeback to open their Uefa Champions League campaign with a 2-1 win over Sporting Lisbon of Portugal.

The 11 time Champions League winners were trailing until the 89th minute thanks to a 46th minute goal from Sporting’s Bruno Cesar. But Cristiano Ronaldo, making his 350th appearance for the club, scored from a free kick in the 89th minute to level the game.

Madrid won it 5 minutes later when Alvaro Morata headed home from James Rodriguez’ cross, deep into injury time, to give Zinedine Zidane’s men all three points.

Real Madrid will feel lucky to have come away with all three points, as Sporting were lively throughout the game, and came very close to an unlikely victory. However, three points is all that matters for the Champions League holders, especially with tough fixtures against Borussia Dortmund still to come.

Ronaldo, playing his 350th game in a Real Madrid shirt, scored his 94th goal in the Champions League. He also continued his record of scoring on each occasion he has played his former clubs. Ronaldo scored home and away against Sporting Lisbon in 2007 for Manchester United. He also scored in both games against Manchester United for Real Madrid in 2013.

Borussia Dortmund run riot

Real Madrid’s next opponents in the Champions League, Borussia Dortmund got their campaign off to a perfect start with a 6-0 win over Polish side Legia Warsaw. Dortmund’s six different goalscorers helped them equal the record for the most different goalscorers in single Champions League match.

The match was overshadowed by crowd trouble inside Legia Warsaw’s stadium, as the home fans tried to break into the away section in an attempt to get at the visiting fans. They also used pepper spray on security guards who tried to quell them. Legia Warsaw could be in for a fine from Uefa for their actions

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Guardiola takes Bayern to Barça, Madrid get Juve

Josep Guardiola will face FC Barcelona for the first time as a coach after his FC Bayern München team were drawn against his former club in the UEFA Champions League semi-finals, with holders Real Madrid CF paired with Juventus in the other last-four tie.

Guardiola led Barcelona to UEFA Champions League victories in 2009 and 2011, two of the 14 trophies his side won during his four years in charge at the Camp Nou. Real Madrid and Juventus, meanwhile, have a rich European history of their own; the semi-final will be their 17th and 18th meetings in UEFA competition, the most famous the 1998 UEFA Champions League final.

UEFA Champions League semi-final draw
FC Barcelona v FC Bayern München 6 & 12 May
Juventus v Real Madrid CF 5 & 13 May

UEFA Champions League final draw
Winners of semi-final 2 v Winners of semi-final 1 6 June

Draw highlights
• Barcelona and Bayern have met in eight previous European ties, all since 1996. Their most recent encounter came in the 2012/13 semi-finals, when Bayern triumphed 4-0 in Munich and 3-0 at the Camp Nou – the biggest aggregate victory in a UEFA Champions League semi-final.

• Bayern also got the better of Barcelona in the 1995/96 UEFA Cup semi-finals, following up a 2-2 first-leg draw in Munich with a 2-1 success at the Camp Nou.

• Indeed, Bayern have won on three of their four visits to Barcelona, posting a 2-1 victory in the 1998/99 group stage. However, their other trip produced a 4-0 first-leg defeat in the 2008/09 UEFA Champions League quarter-finals; Barça went on to lift the trophy.


• Juventus are in the UEFA Champions League semi-finals for the first time in 12 years; in 2002/03 their last-four opponents were also Real Madrid. Then, the Serie A side went down 2-1 in Madrid but won 3-1 in Turin to set up an all-Italian final against AC Milan, which they lost on penalties at Old Trafford, Manchester.

• Juve and Madrid share a European history going back to 1962, when the Spaniards won their European Champion Clubs' Cup quarter-final 3-1 in a replay after each team had prevailed 1-0 away. Their overall record could scarcely be closer, with eight Madrid victories to Juve's seven.

• Their most recent tussle, in last term's group stage, ended in a 2-2 draw – the first stalemate between the sides – at the Juventus Stadium, with Madrid having edged it 2-1 at the Santiago Bernabéu through Cristiano Ronaldo's double.

• The clubs' most famous head-to-head was the 1998 UEFA Champions League final in Amsterdam, Predreg Mijatović scoring the only goal in the 66th minute to give Madrid their seventh European title.

Road to Berlin
• The 2014/15 UEFA Champions League final will be held on Saturday 6 June at the Olympiastadion, Berlin.

  • Published in Sports

Messi scores 400th Barcelona goal to preserve two-point lead

Lionel Messi scored the 400th goal of his Barcelona career as the Catalans beat Champions League-chasing Valencia 2-0 at the Camp Nou on Saturday.

Luis Suarez got Barca off to a flying start as he slotted home the opener after just 54 seconds from Messi’s through ball to give the league leaders an early lead.

However, Valencia then went on to enjoy the majority of the chances but were left to rue Dani Parejo’s missed penalty in the first half when the Argentine skipper scored a late second to seal the game.

Messi made sure of all three points with the final kick of the game after Diego Alves had saved his initial effort to reach the remarkable 400-goal mark.

“400 goals with Barcelona. Hopefully I can score many more,” Messi posted on his official Facebook page. “But the most important thing was that we won three points in a very difficult match.”

Defeat, meanwhile, leaves Valencia four points adrift of third-placed Atletico Madrid, who beat Deportivo la Coruna 2-1 thanks to a double from Antoine Griezmann.

“We played very well in the first-half and had a lot of good chances,” lamented Valencia boss Nuno Espirito Santo. “We go away hurt, sad and angry because we wanted to win. In the first-half we had too many chances to end up with this result.”

Malaga win comes at a price for Real

Real Madrid remain just two points behind Barca at the top of the table as goals from Sergio Ramos, James Rodriguez and Cristiano Ronaldo secured a 3-1 win over Malaga despite a rare missed penalty from Ronaldo.

However, victory came at a cost for the European champions as Gareth Bale and Luka Modric hobbled off with injuries just days before their decisive Champions League quarter-final clash with Atletico Madrid.

“Modric has a problem in his knee, Bale in his calf,” said Real boss Carlo Ancelotti. “Right now we can’t say anything. We will evaluate them in the coming days. They are not completely ruled out.”

  • Published in Sports
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