Barca, Real labor to wins
Barcelona and Real Madrid labored to victories over Real Betis Balompie and Levante respectively on Saturday as they warmed-up for their Champions League semi-finals in midweek. Barca’s 1-0 win moved them to within two victories of mathematically sealing the title, but without the injured Lionel Messi, they struggled to break down a resolute Levante UD until Cesc Fabregas stroked home the winner eight minutes from time. Eric Abidal started for the hosts for the first time in 14 months following his liver transplant as Tito Vilanova rested a number of key players with tomorrow’s clash with Bayern Munich in mind. Madrid’s 3-1 victory over Betis earlier in the day was slightly more routine, but came at a cost as Marcelo and Luka Modric limped off with muscular injuries and are now serious doubts for the first-leg of their Champions League semi-final with Borussia Dortmund. Valencia boosted their chances of clinching the fourth Champions League by beating Malaga 5-1 at the Mestalla. Real Valladolid and Granada drew 1-1.
Udinese down Lazio
A superb first-half volley from veteran Udinese striker Antonio Di Natale secured a precious 1-0 win over SS Lazio and dented the Biancocelesti’s hopes of European soccer next season. With only three points separating the sides and a place in Europe within sight, there was plenty of incentive for Udinese, especially against a Lazio side who won only twice in their past 12 league games. Lazio lined up with German striker Miroslav Klose. However, he made little impact as a better organized Udinese side went about claiming their third consecutive league victory at home against the visitors — the first time they have won three consecutive league matches this season. Earlier on Saturday Genoa spurned the chance to move out of the relegation zone when they could only manage to draw 1-1 draw against Atalanta BC.
Bulls charge to victory
A couple of late tries gave Northern Bulls a bonus-point 34-0 victory over Southern Kings on Saturday in a lively all-South Africa Super 15 clash. The extra point was secured when Akona Ndungane dotted down after the hooter and lifted the Pretoria side eight places to third on the southern hemisphere championship standings and top place in the South African conference. Earlier, a late interception try by Willie le Roux ensured the Cheetahs beat the Sharks 12-6 in lashing rain on a sodden Kings Park pitch. Wing Le Roux pounced in the 78th minute to seal the Cheetahs’ victory with their second try, sending the Sharks to a second straight defeat and strengthening the Cheetahs’ playoff hopes with a sixth win in nine games.
All Black Savea charged
All Black Julian Savea has been charged with assault following a domestic incident and will appear in court in Wellington today, the New Zealand Rugby Union said. The 22-year-old winger, who appeared on posters last year in support of a government-led campaign against family violence, tearfully apologized at a media conference in Wellington yesterday. “Whilst I can’t go into the details because it is now before the courts, I understand that the details will come out in due course,” he said in a prepared statement. “But I will say that my partner and I did have an argument, I did some things that are wrong and that I shouldn’t have done and I apologize for that. To my partner and her family I just want to say that I’m sorry to hurt someone that you love and care so much for.”