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.


England avenge World Cup Croatia defeat to reach Nations League final four

Updated 18 November 2018
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England avenge World Cup Croatia defeat to reach Nations League final four

  • Kane’s first goal in eight games for England sparked a wild celebration from manager Southgate
  • England were on the brink of relegation to the second tier of the competition after Andrej Kramaric gave Croatia the lead

LONDON: Harry Kane fired England into the Nations League semifinals as Gareth Southgate’s side scored twice in the last 12 minutes to seal a dramatic 2-1 victory over Croatia on Sunday.
England were on the brink of relegation to the second tier of the competition after Andrej Kramaric gave Croatia the lead against the run of play in the second half at Wembley.
But Southgate’s vibrant young side pulled off a stirring escape act in the closing stages to gain a measure of revenge for their World Cup semifinal defeat against Croatia earlier this year.
Jesse Lingard came off the bench to poach England’s equalizer and captain Kane was on hand to turn in the winner with five minutes left.
England’s fightback took them to the top of Group A4, above Spain and relegated Croatia, and they can look forward to playing in the last four in June next year.
It was a cathartic moment for England, who have made a habit of suffering painful defeats against Croatia, with this year’s World Cup woe following the 2007 loss that cost them a place at Euro 2008.
More importantly, the performance provided further tangible proof that Southgate is building a team capable of challenging for the major prizes after years of under-achievement.
England’s appearance in the semifinals of the Nations League, which are set to be held in Portugal next June, offers another chance to reach their first major final since 1966.
Following the 3-2 Nations League win over Spain in Seville last month, this tournament has been a serious statement of intent from Southgate’s team and they will go into 2019 with great expectations.
From start to finish, England were the dominant force, although they were fortunate to escape when Ante Rebic shot over after Jordan Pickford fumbled Fabian Delph’s backpass.
Kane slipped a perfectly-weighted pass through to Raheem Sterling and the Manchester City winger’s blistering pace sent him clear of the Croatia defense.
With only Lovre Kalinic to beat, Sterling let Croatia off the hook as he directed a hesitant shot straight at the keeper.
England kept probing intelligently, with the speed of Sterling and Marcus Rashford providing their main threat.
Delph’s pass sparked a frantic sequence, forcing Kalinic to dash out of his area to head away from Sterling.
When Kalinic’s clearance fell to Kane, the England captain’s effort was headed off the line by Tin Jedvaj.
The rebound fell to Kane, but Kalinic, by now back in his goal, used his legs to foil the Tottenham striker with a last-ditch save.
It was more of the same at the start of the second half, but once again England couldn’t find the killer touch.
That profligacy looked as though it would prove fatal when Croatia snatched the lead after 56 minutes.
Kramaric was allowed time and space to turn in the area and the Hoffenheim forward took full advantage, clipping a shot that deflected off Eric Dier and looped over Pickford’s despairing dive.
Southgate responded by sending on Lingard and the change reaped an instant reward as England equalized in the 78th minute.
Joe Gomez’s long throw was flicked on by John Stones and Kane prodded past Kalinic, leaving Lingard with the simple task of tapping in from virtually on the goal-line.
England’s deserved winner arrived in the 85th minute.
Ben Chilwell curled over a teasing low free-kick and Kane timed his run to perfection, guiding his shot past Kalinic from close-range.
Kane’s first goal in eight games for England sparked a wild celebration from Southgate, who leapt into the air as he punched the air on the touchline.
Kane had joked with his fiancee this week that he would cry if England ever win a trophy, but he couldn’t guarantee he would weep when they get married.
Thanks to their thrilling comeback, England could bring a tear to Kane’s eyes in the Finals next year.