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September 19, 2020

Real Madrid look to confirm dynasty status with Juventus standing in the way

first_imgDYNASTIES are cyclical. Right up until the 1990s Real Madrid prided themselves on having won more European Cups (six) than any other club. While it is true, their rivals could always snort and cruelly point out that all of that happened “in black and white” – meaning it was a long time ago, belonging to the age of sepia-tone newsreels.Indeed, 32 years passed between 1966 and 1998 when the club appeared in just one final (1981), which they lost.But Real Madrid won it three times in the five years between 1998 and 2002. On Saturday, they can make it three in four years, becoming the first back-to-back European champions since Arrigo Sacchi’s legendary Milan side in 1990.It would be their sixth European crown in the past 19 years, definitely burying those “won it in black and white” jibes. It would mean they will have won it as many times as the clubs who rank second (Milan with seven) and third (take your pick of Bayern, Barcelona and Liverpool each of whom have five) combined.This won’t just be confirmation of their dynasty; it will be vindication of a certain style of doing business. It’s a combination of massive spending power (three of the six most expensive players of all-time are in the Real Madrid squad) and a crystal-clear brand identity that gets maximised and monetised in every market on the planet.They’re not the only super club playing the global commercial juggernaut game, they just do it better than most.Standing in their way is a Juventus side who, when it comes to European competition, are playing catch-up, certainly relative to their domestic dominance, which was reaffirmed again last month when they won their sixth straight Serie A title. This will be Juventus’ ninth European Cup final (only Real Madrid, Milan and Bayern Munich have played more) yet they’ve won just two.One came on one of football’s darkest days, following the 1985 Heysel tragedy that saw 39 supporters die, while the other happened on penalties. Just as Real Madrid have won more finals than anyone, Juventus have lost more than anyone.It’s not hard to see why a clean, convincing win would mean so much to Italy’s most pedigreed and patrician club.On the pitch, at first glance, there’s a clear and convenient theme of attack vs. defence, punctuated by the fact that each has its own version of the ‘BBC’. (Leo) Bonucci, (Andrea) Barzagli and (Giorgio) Chiellini head up a Juve defence that conceded just three goals in the tournament this year. And (Gareth) Bale, (Karim) Benzema and Cristiano (Ronaldo) lead a Real Madrid attack that scored 32 times in 12 games thus far.That’s one narrative and it feeds in to the old trope of the expansive, intoxicating Spanish side against the safety-first, conservative Italian team. But, in fact, there is much more here than meets the eye. Real Madrid can beat you many different ways, but they are particularly devastating on set-pieces and on the counterattack, two tools typical of humbler sides.In Casemiro, who became a fixture after manager Zinedine Zidane took over 18 months ago, they have a genuine no-frills midfield enforcer.Meanwhile, Juventus went to another level when coach Max Allegri introduced his ‘5-star’ scheme in mid-season, essentially squeezing all his more gifted attacking players into the lineup at the same time.Critics said it would unbalance the team, but Allegri believed Juventus needed an additional dimension when pitted against Europe’s elite.In fact, one of the common threads for both Real and Juventus is humility. Neither team could get away with such attacking firepower if not for the self-sacrifice of stars donning their hardhats and turning distinctly blue-collar.Thus Real Madrid’s Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, two of the finest attacking midfielders in the world, scramble and graft when not in possession, while a centre-forward like Benzema runs himself in to the ground to create space.The parallels don’t end there. Both managers were attacking midfielders who were greeted by skepticism when they were appointed. Both have confounded the critics.There’s the delicious thicket of subplots too. Zidane himself spent five seasons at Juventus as a player before leaving for Madrid in a world-record deal that stood for eight years, an eternity in football. His fitness coach, Antonio Pintus, Turin-born and bred, was at Juve for six years in the 1990s.Both were there in Amsterdam on May 20, 1998 when Juventus were defeated in the Champions League final by none other than Real Madrid, when they won their first European Cup ‘in color’.Dani Alves, long Real Madrid’s nemesis and a three-time Champions League winner at Barcelona, is now driving the flank at Juventus. Where, incidentally, he’ll come up against his Brazil teammate and, in some ways, photo-negative, Madrid’s left-back Marcelo.All of this will play out in Wales, land of dragons and Celtic lore, and specifically at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff, some three miles away from where Bale was born.It won’t be a fairytale; in this increasingly polarised and globalised sport, it’s all about the blue-bloods and the mega-rich, but it will likely be epic as giants square off for their place in history.Perhaps a place in Welsh mythology too.last_img read more

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September 16, 2020

USC powers through Colorado to clinch Pac-12 South

first_imgRonald Jones II started to run to the right.Then, seeing the mass of Colorado defenders in front of him, he paused — almost to a full stop — shifted directions to the left, eluded one would-be tackler and sprinted into the end zone.“They all went to the right, so I went left,” Jones said.Ronald Jones II makes a cut against Colorado – Ollie Jung | Daily TrojanWith that 22-yard touchdown run, USC went ahead by three scores midway through the fourth quarter, wrapping up the Pac-12 South division and clinching its spot in the Pac-12 Championship on Dec. 1.“November is crunch time,” redshirt junior cornerback Ajene Harris said. “We’ve got to get to the championship, so we’re going to do everything we can to get there.”The 11th-ranked football team followed a scoreless first quarter with a 20-point second quarter while shutting out Colorado in the first half en route to a 38-24 victory in Boulder.“We weren’t in this position last year,” head coach Clay Helton said, “and now we are.”Though, USC had to work in the second half to make good on the division clincher. The Trojans gifted the Buffaloes with 14 points early in the second half, first leaving Colorado receiver Juwann Winfree wide open on a 79-yard touchdown, and then allowing a punt in USC territory to be blocked and returned to the one-yard line.From there, Phillip Lindsay punched in the score to cut USC’s lead to 27-14.But redshirt sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold and USC’s offense put up enough points to stave off a Colorado offense that came alive too late, redshirt junior cornerback Ajene Harris recorded an interception with the Trojans in front 38-24 and redshirt sophomore linebacker John Houston Jr. sacked Colorado quarterback Steven Montez on fourth-and-1 with under two minutes to play to help conclude matters.On defense, USC pitched a shutout until midway through the third quarter, when blown coverage led to Winfree waltzing in for a 79-yard catch-and-run touchdown. The Trojans bent but did not break on several Colorado drives. They also blocked two field goals in addition to Harris’ pick-six, the first time USC has blocked two field goals in a game since 2011 against Colorado.“Defensively, our guys had an unbelievable first half,” Helton said, “and when plays needed to be made at the end, [Harris] did an unbelievable job. I told them [in the locker room] that it’s a player’s game and they won it.”The Trojans celebrate after Michael Pittman Jr. catches a touchdown – Ollie Jung | Daily TrojanThe Trojans grabbed the lead early in the second quarter when Darnold threw a jump ball for sophomore wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr., who hauled it in over the defender for his first career touchdown grab.Then, after a three-and-out by Colorado, Darnold marched the Trojans right back down the field, throwing consecutive back-shoulder fades to redshirt freshman wide receiver Tyler Vaughns that set up an 18-yard strike to junior wide receiver Deontay Burnett for the touchdown.Up 14-0, USC put a stranglehold on its lead before halftime when Harris telegraphed a pass on the right sideline, intercepting it and running it back for a 34-yard pick six.The Trojans took a 20-0 lead into halftime, and then tacked on right off the bat in the third quarter, when Darnold hit Burnett on a deep ball and then ran it in himself on a 24-yard scamper with a wide-open lane to the end zone.It was probably Darnold’s best game of the season. The quarterback completed 21-of-34 passes for 329 yards and two touchdowns. And, most importantly, it was his first game all season with no turnovers.“It means a lot,” Darnold said. “Whenever I can play a really clean game, it’s always nice. It was good to sustain some drives and not turn the ball over.”Sam Darnold runs for a gain against Colorado – Ollie Jung | Daily TrojanHe spread the ball out to a variety of receivers, with Burnett, freshman Tyler Vaughns, sophomore Michael Pittman and redshirt receiver Steven Mitchell Jr. all catching at least four passes.“I’m finally starting to get a good groove and a good rhythm with my receivers, and it’s really comforting,” Darnold said.It was also a testament to the receivers getting open and gaining confidence as the regular season reaches its final weeks.“They had the mentality that, ‘If I touch it, I catch it,’” Helton said.The coach added that he expected Colorado to zero in on the run, considering USC had racked up 300 yards on the grounds the past few weeks.“You’re going to get your one-on-one shots,” Helton said to the wide receivers during the game. “You’ve got to make the plays.”Regardless, USC still rushed for 193 yards on the ground, with Jones accounting for 146 of them. He carried the ball 25 times and passed Mike Garrett and Reggie Bush to step into sixth place on USC’s career rushing list.Jones was explosive, breaking off first down runs on nearly every drive, at times carrying defenders with him.“The game called for it,” Jones said on his performance. “Looking at how the game flowed, the offensive line establishing their dominance once again — that’s where we win games: in the trenches.”After the game, outside the locker room with rap music blaring, players remained optimistic that they still had a chance at sneaking into the College Football Playoff. They acknowledged that they would need a number of teams to lose. But, playing their best football of the season — and with a rivalry game against UCLA next week — the Trojans are, in Harris’ words, “hungry.”“We want it all,” he said. “We want the Pac-12 championship, the playoffs. We want the college football championship as well.”USC’s opponent in the Pac-12 Championship Game is still in the air, though it will face either Washington, Washington State or Stanford.last_img read more

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November 18, 2019

Barcelona Focuses On Champions League With Treble Possible

first_imgMADRID — For Barcelona, three straight quarterfinal exits from the Champions League is quite a slump.The Catalan club has been plenty dominant at home, winning seven Spanish league titles in the last 10 years and claiming four straight Copa del Rey trophies. But the team has somewhat struggled in the top European competition after winning four times in a decade from 2006-15.Up next in the competition will be a trip to Old Trafford to face Manchester United in the first leg of the quarterfinals on Wednesday. Barcelona will also play in the Copa del Rey final against Valencia in May, and it’s nearing another league title after beating second-place Atletico Madrid on Saturday to open an 11-point lead with seven matches remaining.“We need to try to win all of our matches until the end of the season, but right now the focus is on the Champions League,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said. “We have a very important game in front of us.”The last time Barcelona advanced past the Champions League quarterfinals was in 2015, when it eventually won its fifth European title and completed the treble for the last time.United, which has been revitalized since the arrival of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as manager, has only the Champions League to play for in terms of trophies. But the English team is also looking for a top-four finish in the Premier League to ensure Champions League participation next season.“It’s a powerhouse, and it’s going through a good moment, that gives them motivation,” Valverde said of United, which eliminated Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16. “I don’t think Barcelona has ever won at Old Trafford, so we will try to change that.”The second leg will be on April 16 at the Camp Nou.Last season, Barcelona had advanced to the Copa del Rey final and held a comfortable lead in the Spanish league before it lost to Roma in the Champions League quarterfinals.But Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu said the team is right where it wanted to be at this point of the season.“We would have taken this if it was offered to us in the beginning of the season,” Bartomeu said. “It will be a difficult series against United. In the league we know we can lose a match or two. We will keep focused on the three competitions, going day by day.”By: Tales Azzoni, AP Sports WriterTweetPinShare0 Shareslast_img read more

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