Rodriguez caps perfect year for Zidane’s Real Madrid

Real Madrid's Raphael Varane, right, celebrates with James Rodriguez after scoring during the Spanish Copa del Rey (King's Cup) round of 16 first leg football match at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on Wednesday night. (AFP)
Updated 05 January 2017
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Rodriguez caps perfect year for Zidane’s Real Madrid

MADRID: Zinedine Zidane celebrated a spectacular first year in charge of Real Madrid as James Rodriguez scored twice to set the European champions firmly on course for the Copa del Rey quarterfinals with a 3-0 last 16, first leg win over Sevilla.
Not even the absence of the rested Cristiano Ronaldo could halt Real’s now 38-game unbeaten run as Rodriguez took full advantage of a rare start by blasting home the opener from outside the box after just 10 minutes.
Raphael Varane headed home a second and Rodriguez added Real’s third from the penalty spot before half time.
“The first 45 minutes were physically and technically almost perfect,” said Zidane.
The margin of Real’s win will be of particular comfort to Zidane with next week’s second leg (Jan. 12) now appearing a formality amidst a hectic schedule that could see Real play 21 times in 11 weeks.
Madrid started a second consecutive home game without any of their first-choice front three as Karim Benzema was left on the bench, Ronaldo rested altogether and Gareth Bale still sidelined by a long-term ankle injury.
However, having enjoyed a rare 17-day break since their last outing in winning the Club World Cup against Japanese champions Kashima Antlers, Real started brightly.
“We have a great squad and the players are happy when they see their teammates who have played less getting the chance to play,” added Zidane.
“We are still missing players through injury. That is something we can’t change, but when someone else comes in and plays well the coach is always happy.”
Rodriguez claimed after being overlooked once more during the Club World Cup that he would consider his future in January, but made the most of a rare start with a spectacular opener after just 10 minutes.
Casemiro thundered into a challenge to dispossess Steven N’Zonzi midway inside the Sevilla half and Rodriguez dispatched the loose ball off the inside of the post from outside the area.
Luka Modric then nearly capped a brilliant team move for a second moments later when his overhead kick flew inches wide from Dani Carvajal’s cut-back.
Real were relentless before the break and another Carvajal cross was caught flush on the volley from Marcelo to sting the palms of Sergio Rico.
However, from the resulting corner, Varane was left completely unmarked to power home Toni Kroos’s delivery.
Alvaro Morata then shot straight at Rico with another glaring opportunity.
Yet, Sevilla should have gotten themselves firmly back in the tie 11 minutes before half-time when Joaquin Correa was played clean through on goal and after his initial effort was saved by Kiko Casilla, Vicente Iborra sliced wide with the goal gaping.
Instead, Sevilla found themselves 3-0 down at the break as Mariano was adjudged to have pushed Modric inside the area and Rodriguez stepped up to convert from the spot.
“We were overrun in the first-half, which is something that hasn’t happened to us in a long time,” said Sevilla boss Jorge Sampaoli.
“We have to rediscover the characteristics with which we ended 2016 as soon as possible.”
There was far fewer goalmouth action at either end after the break.
Morata fluffed lines from Marcelo’s pinpoint cross with Rodriguez waiting to apply the finish touch for his hat trick, but Real were happy to settle on their lead, whilst Sevilla appeared to accept that the tie is already now beyond them.
Earlier, Real Sociedad also took a huge step toward the last eight as Willian Jose, Carlos Vela and Mikel Oyarzabal were on target in a 3-1 win over Villarreal.
Second division Alcorcon and Cordoba drew 0-0 in the night’s other tie.
Barcelona continues their defense of the Cup on Thursday when they travel to Athletic Bilbao for the first leg of their last-16 clash.


Pakistan's Azhar Ali signs for Somerset

Pakistan's Azhar Ali celebrates reaching his century during a match between England and Pakistant on August 4, 2016. (Reuters file)
Updated 16 July 2018
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Pakistan's Azhar Ali signs for Somerset

  • Azhar is set to make his Somerset debut against Worcestershire later this month

LONDON: Pakistan batsman Azhar Ali has joined Somerset for the remainder of their first-class English County Championship fixtures this season, the southwest club said Monday.

The 33-year-old replaces Australia opener Matt Renshaw, who made three hundreds at 51.30 in the opening rounds of the Championship before breaking a finger against Surrey at Guildford last month.

Azhar is set to make his Somerset debut against Worcestershire later this month.

"The standard of first-class cricket in England is very high and I hope that I can make a contribution to Somerset winning matches," Azhar told his new county's website.

"I have heard good things about Somerset and I was impressed by what I saw at Taunton in 2016 (when Pakistan opened their tour of England that year against the county).

"I am looking forward to joining my new team mates and meeting the Somerset supporters soon."

Azhar struggled during Pakistan's three Tests against Ireland and England earlier this season, making 73 runs in six innings although his lone fifty did come during Pakistan's impressive victory over England at Lord's.

"Finding the right fit at short notice can be challenging, however we are delighted to have secured a player of Azhar Ali's character, pedigree and class for the remaining seven Specsavers County Championship matches," said Somerset's director of cricket, Andy Hurry.

"His experience at the top of the order will prove to be hugely valuable at the business end of the season.

"I have spoken to him several times over the last few weeks and he is very keen to share his knowledge of the game with our aspirational players, so the influence he can have within the changing room will also be vital for us as a club."