Thursday Kickoff: Barcelona takes first leg, Spector solid in upset win, and more

Thursday Kickoff: Barcelona takes first leg, Spector solid in upset win, and more

European Soccer

Thursday Kickoff: Barcelona takes first leg, Spector solid in upset win, and more

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In a game filled with attacking superstars, it was a pair of gritty defenders that decided the latest edition of El Clasico.

Carles Puyol and Eric Abidal turned around a 1-0 halftime deficit as Barcelona defeated eternal rivals Real Madrid, 2-1, at the Estadio Bernabeu in the first leg of the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey Wednesday. Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring for Los Blancos, only for Barcelona's waves of pressure to wear down the Madrid defense over the course of the match.

The game played out in eerily similar fashion to the two teams' last meeting, on December 10 in league play. In that match, Karim Benzema put Madrid up a goal in the opening minute, only for his team to welt under pressure en route to a 3-1 win for Barcelona.

The result gives the Blaugranes a massive advantage heading into next week's second leg at Camp Nou, where even a draw will do for the hosts. Los Blancos will need to defeat Barcelona in their own stadium for the first time since 2007 if they hope to advance.

With the win, Barcelona drew level with Madrid in all-time head-to-head victories in competitive matches. Each team has now defeated the other 86 times, with 45 draws.

Here are some other stories to get your day started:

SPECTOR IMPRESSIVE IN FA CUP UPSET

American defender Jonathan Spector went the full 90 minutes and contributed to a clean sheet as Birmingham shocked Premier League side Wolverhampton in an FA Cup third round replay on Wednesday.

Spector almost put visiting Birmingham up at the end of the first half but his long-range shot went just wide of the post. His team eventually got on the board in the 74th minte through Wade Elliot, and they managed to hold on to reach the round of 32.

Spector played at right back throughout the match, a position he has much experience with on the U.S. national team. He has been deployed throughout the backline during his time at Birmingham, who he joined last year.

KAKA DENIES PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN LINK

On the same day that he watched his team fall 2-1 to Barcelona from the substitute's bench, Real Madrid playmaker Kaka was linked by Italian press to French team PSG. Late Wednesday, he denied those reports and expressed his committment to Real Madrid.

PSG has been extremely active in the transfer market over the last calendar year, and with new coach Carlo Ancelotti leading the way, a move for Kaka seemed logical. Kaka flourished under Ancelotti during their time at AC Milan, leading them to a league title in 2004 and a Champions League trophy in 2007. The Brazilian has struggled mightily to retain that form since joining Madrid in 2009.

DE JONG TO BE SOLD AFTER SEASON

Despite being offered a massive raise, Manchester City midfielder Nigel de Jong apparently isn't satisfied and City have decided to unload him at the end of this season.

De Jong was reportedly offered around $150,000 per week to remain at City, or roughly $8 million a year. That's compared to his current salary of $6 million per year, but de Jong wants more. He refused the contract extension on Wednesday, leading City to decide to sell him.

The Dutch midfielder, known for his rash tackles and a memorable kung-fu kick on Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso in the 2010 World Cup final, has lost his place in the City starting lineup, as coach Roberto Mancini has favored Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure in midfield instead.

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What did you think of Barcelona's come-from-behind win in the Copa del Rey? Did you catch Spector's FA Cup performance? Do you see Kaka getting sold this January? Is De Jong worth as much as he thinks he is?

Share your thoughts below.

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