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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Real Madrid edges Rovers

DUBLIN (AP) Cristiano Ronaldo struggled in his first match for Real Madrid, missing two free kicks in a preseason friendly against Shamrock Rovers before a late strike from Karim Benzema gave the visitors a 1-0 win.

The Dublin club of part-time players held Real Madrid's starters at bay through the first half Monday and came close to embarrassing the star-studded team in front of a sellout crowd of 10,800 at Tallaght Stadium. The facility erected temporary stands that tripled capacity for the occasion.

Ronaldo, the world's most expensive player after his $134 million transfer from Manchester United, struck one free kick wide right and the other straight into a wall of Rovers players. He also hit a shot wide before being substituted at halftime.

Instead it was Benzema who finally subdued the Dubliners. The former Lyon striker, who also made his debut after being bought for $42.5 million, hit the post in the 56th minute before finally scoring the winner in the 87th.

Until then, a Rovers defense led by elevator repairman Darragh Maguire repelled attack after attack from Madrid. Defender Greg Sives was yellow-carded after a hard sliding tackle on Ronaldo in the 18th.

"We played against a good team, and I enjoyed to play today," the 24-year-old Ronaldo said, adding he still needs to get back into peak fitness. "I'm not 100 percent, but I hope to be 100 percent when we start the season."

Rovers arguably had the better second-half chances as striker Dessie Baker found himself twice with only goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek to beat. But Baker — who stood out by wearing one orange boot and one green — struck one first-touch effort high over the crossbar and lost control of his second chance before he could take a shot.

As Madrid pressed for a winner, defender Salgado was yellow-carded for an obvious penalty-box dive in the 75th minute.

Rovers coach Michael O'Neill said he couldn't believe how well his team played, considering none of them are full-time athletes. He didn't even play his full starting squad because Rovers are in the thick of the League of Ireland title race and face leader Bohemians this weekend.

"The reality is that the lads were disappointed to lose the game and to lose it so late in the game, but they can take immense credit for what they achieved tonight," O'Neill said.

Kaka, Madrid's other massive offseason signing from AC Milan, didn't travel to Ireland for the past week's training camp at a five-star resort near Dublin.

Owen scores in win

KUALA LUMPUR (AP) Michael Owen scored for the second time in two matches to help give Manchester United a 2-0 win Monday over a Malaysian XI on its preseason tour.

The Premier League champions narrowly edged the Malaysian team 3-2 Saturday, but delivered a more commanding performance in the rematch in front of 30,000 fans in Kuala Lumpur.

With Owen and Ryan Giggs in the starting lineup and Wayne Rooney on the bench, there seemed to be more urgency to United's game as it kept using the flanks to prize open the Malaysian defense.

United took an early lead in the 10th minute when winger Darren Fletcher played the ball back to the waiting Federico Macheda, who easily slotted into the net.

Just two minutes later, Owen capitalized on a hesitant Malaysian defense for his second goal of the tour.

Owen came close to scoring again in the 60th, but his effort came off the post.

Blatter changes tune

BRUSSELS (AP) A joint World Cup bid by Belgium and the Netherlands to host either the 2018 or 2022 tournament will be considered by FIFA after all.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter said Monday that Belgian and Dutch officials assured him that their cohosting candidacy would be run via a single organizing committee, not like the 2002 Japan-South Korea tournament, which posed a headache for soccer's governing body.

Blatter's comments appeared to reverse skeptical statements he made earlier this year, when he said joint bids will lose out in favor of a strong proposal from a solo host.

"After the World Cup 2002, the executive committee took a decision: never again a double candidature because it was absolutely wrong," Blatter said.

He said the way that tournament was run, with two organizing committees, different languages and budgets, made it too complex and cumbersome. But he said the Dutch-Belgian bid "is totally different," adding the bid was also a "sympathetic" one.

"The candidature like the Netherlands and Belgium shall be accepted because we have the evidence that there is only one organizing committee," Blatter said.

The two countries previously cohosted for the 2000 European Championship, which was considered a success.

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