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Preview: Fourth Clasico of season highlight as La Liga goes into international break

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MADRID, March 16 (Xinhua) — El Clasico between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid will again take pride of place in La Liga this weekend, although the last round of matches before the international break is vital at both ends of the league’s table.

Barca and Real Madrid have already faced each other three times this season, with Real Madrid winning 3-1 in their first La Liga meeting. Barca beat Madrid by the same score in the Spanish Supercup and won 1-0 in the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium at the start of March in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinal.

That game saw Xavi Hernandez’s side produce an untypically ultra-defensive display without several key players through injury.

Robert Lewandowski and Pedri will be back on Sunday, giving Xavi more options than a fortnight ago, although Ousmane Dembele is still sidelined with his muscle problem.

Real Madrid travel to Barcelona after qualifying for the quarterfinals of the Champions League with an intense display over Liverpool, but they also travel nine points behind their rivals, knowing that anything other than a win would leave Barca with one hand on the league title.

There is no hiding the fact that the game is played under the cloud of the ongoing ‘Negreira case’, which has seen criminal investigations opened into the club over payments made to the former vice-president of Spain’s referees technical committee. With Real Madrid announcing it has also joined the case against Barcelona and a lot at stake on the pitch, it is not going to be an easy match to officiate.

The weekend kicks off with Valladolid at home to Athletic Club Bilbao, who need to end a run of a draw and three defeats from their last four games.

Rayo Vallecano also look to be running out of steam after five games without a win and they entertain a solid Girona in what should be an open match.

Joselu is the threat for Espanyol in their battle to avoid relegation with a home match against an improving Celta Vigo, who have Iago Aspas and Gabri Veiga as their players to watch.

Valencia have dragged themselves out of the bottom three under new coach Ruben Baraja, but they have a difficult trip to play Atletico Madrid. Atletico are benefiting from not playing midweek football, and have six wins and two draws from their last eight league matches, with Antoine Griezmann playing some of the best football of his life.

Sunday sees Betis, Real Sociedad, Sevilla and Villarreal all in action after their European commitments on Thursday.

Betis are at home to Mallorca in what should be a tight game against a rival that has only conceded 26 goals all season.

Fourth-placed Real Sociedad entertain bottom side Elche, which should give the Basque side a chance to improve their recent record of just seven points from seven games, while Sevilla have a tense visit to Getafe.

Getafe are third from bottom, but after a run of just one defeat from five games, they are just two points behind Sevilla, with strikers Enes Unal and Borja Mayoral in good form.

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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