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Analysis: Four things we learned in Spain’s Matchday 19

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MADRID, Jan. 30 (Xinhua) — La Liga has reached the midway point of the season with leader FC Barcelona five points clear of Real Madrid and a tight battle at the bottom of the table. Here are the four things we learned this weekend in Spain.

BARCA STILL NEED LEWANDOWSKI BACK

FC Barcelona won 1-0 away to Girona on Saturday and extended their lead to five points over Real Madrid at the top of the table, but it was another disappointing display from Xavi Hernandez’s side.

The win comes after they scraped past Real Sociedad 1-0 in the Copa del Rey and only beat Getafe 1-0 in La Liga. Although Robert Lewandowski played in the cup game, he missed the league match against Getafe and a 1-0 win against Atletico Madrid earlier this month.

With Lewandowski suspended, Ousmane Dembele has carried the weight of Barcelona’s attacking football, but the muscle injury he suffered in Girona will sideline the Frenchman for around a month. It’s good that Lewandowski will return next week for a difficult game against Betis.

REAL SOCIEDAD MAKE THEIR CASE IN MADRID

Although Alex Remiro was the busier of the two keepers on Sunday night, Real Sociedad’s 0-0 draw away to Real Madrid is another reason to see the side from San Sebastian as title outsiders.

They played for over 45 minutes in the Copa del Rey with 10 men against Barca in midweek and still pushed Barca all the way, while Sunday saw them contribute to a vastly entertaining match.

While Barca and Madrid still have a packed calendar, Real Sociedad have slightly more recovery time and Mikel Merino and David Silva will soon return from injury, so they have to be seen as candidates.

NO INAKI, NO PARTY FOR BILBAO

Athletic Club Bilbao sit eighth in the table after slipping to a 1-0 defeat away to Celta Vigo on Sunday, following a poor display in which they created few chances (especially in the second half).

The Basque side was without striker Inaki Williams, who was suffering from a knee injury, with coach Ernesto Valverde preferring not to take any risks with his player.

That decision ended a run of 251 consecutive league appearances for Williams – a record that stretches back over six years without either injury or suspension, which unlikely to be bettered any time soon, if ever.

Williams has been criticized for his erratic finishing, but sometimes you don’t appreciate a player until they don’t play, and that was certainly the case on Sunday.

DE PAUL FINALLY IMPRESSES

Atletico Madrid midfielder Rodrigo de Paul was one of the pillars of Argentina’s success in the World Cup in Qatar, but the 28-year-old’s season and a half with Atletico have so far been underwhelming, to such an extent that he has been booed on occasion by fans in Atletico’s Metropolitano Stadium.

Sunday’s 1-0 win away to Osasuna showed what De Paul is capable of, as he produced an intense display in midfield and gave the pass that allowed Saul Niguez (another player who could be on their way out) to score the winning goal.

In theory, De Paul should be an ideal player for Diego Simeone’s style of play, but the question is: can he do it on a regular basis?

Source(s); Xinhua

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Costa Rica holds Brazil in Copa America opener

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LOS ANGELES, June 24 (Xinhua) — Five-time World Cup winner Brazil was held to a goalless draw by Costa Rica in its opening Copa America Group D match here on Monday.

Marquinhos appeared to hand Brazil the lead in the 29th minute at SoFi Stadium when he tapped in at the far post after Raphinha’s free-kick from the left wing.

But the goal was overturned after a review by the video assistant referee found the Paris Saint-Germain defender was in an offside position.

Brazil dominated possession but was unable to break down a Costa Rica defense that often included 11 players behind the ball.

Lucas Paqueta went closest to breaking the deadlock in the second half when his long-range effort rebounded off the right post. Bruno Guimaraes and substitute Savinho were also left to rue missed chances in the final minutes.

“They sat back and it was very hard to find space, especially on such a small pitch,” Marquinhos said after the match.

“We did our best to win but we weren’t good enough. We have to be sincere with ourselves and look at what we can do better in our next game.”

Earlier, Daniel Munoz and Jefferson Lerma scored two first-half goals as Colombia clinched a 2-1 victory over Paraguay at NRG Stadium in Houston.

Source(s): Xinhua

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Euro 2024: Italy stuns Croatia, Spain advances with perfect record

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BERLIN, June 24 (Xinhua) — Mattias Zaccagni’s last-grasp 1-1 equalizer against Croatia sent reigning champion Italy through the Euro 2024 group stage while Spain capped a perfect Group B run with 1-0 win over Albania in the last round of group play on Monday.

Croatia started offensively minded knowing that only a win would see it progress into the round of the last 16.

Luka Sucic created the first clearcut chance with five minutes gone after unleashing a hammer from 20 meters, forcing Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma to tip the ball around the post.

Italy needed some time to gain a foothold and came close in the 20th minute when Mateo Retegui headed Ricaardo Calafiori’s cross goalwards.

Luciano Spalletti’s men should have taken the lead before halftime but neither Alessandro Bastoni nor Lorenzo Pellegrini was able to overcome Croatia custodian Dominik Livakovic, who was equal to both promising efforts.

After the restart, Croatia grabbed the lead as Donnarumma initially defused Luka Modric’s penalty attempt, but the Squadra Azzurra couldn’t clear the ball from the area, allowing Modric to tap home another parry from Donnaruma from very close range.

Italy started an onslaught on Croatia’s goal area as Spalletti’s men needed a share of spoils to book their berth for the next round.

Bastoni came close with a header, but Croatia well positioned defence was able to keep Italy at bay. It looked like Croatia would go through with a narrow win, but Calafiori initiated a last attack before teeing up for Zaccagni, who curled the ball from the edge of the box into the top right corner to flabbergast Croatia.

In the other Group B encounter, front runner Spain extended its winning run to three games after eliminating Albania 1-0 with the sole goal from Ferran Torres.

With the results, Spain rounded off a perfect group stage with 9 points followed by Italy (4 points), Croatia (2 points) and Alabania (1 point).

The top two of each of the six groups and the best four third finishers will enter the round-of-16 knockout stage.

Source(s): Xinhua

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Copa America: Pulisic helps U.S. breeze past Bolivia

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ARLINGTON, United States, June 23 (Xinhua) — Christian Pulisic scored one goal and set up another as the United States began their Copa America campaign with a 2-0 victory over Bolivia here on Sunday.

Pulisic put his side ahead in the third minute at AT&T stadium when he played a one-two with Tim Weah from a corner before curling a shot into the far corner while running away from goal.

The 25-year-old AC Milan attacker then set up Folarin Balogun to drive home a low finish just before halftime.

The tournament hosts were in cruise control in the second half and were rarely threatened by their South American rivals, who had just three shots on target for the match.

“We came out flying with a lot of intensity,” Pulisic said after the match. “Obviously an early goal helped us a lot, but all around it was a pretty dominant performance.

“We could have scored a few more to put it away, but all in all it was a really good start to the tournament. We should build some confidence from this; the games are going to get harder from here so we’ve got to be ready.”

The United States will play Panama in Atlanta in their next match on Thursday while Bolivia will meet Uruguay in New Jersey the same day.

Source(s): Xinhua

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