By JUSTIN FERGUSON
It may have been a day with plenty of draws, but Wednesday was not short of excitement in the world of soccer.
In the biggest match of the day, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid reignited their rivalry with an entertaining 1-1 draw in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals. Barcelona’s Cesc Fabregas gave his club an important away goal in the 50th minute after receiving a perfectly-placed pass from Lionel Messi.
The visitors would get several more chances to add to their lead in the second half, but they were unable to beat new Real goalkeeper Diego Lopez.
The hosts would make their rivals pay in the 81st minute when 19-year-old central defender Raphael Varane capped off a Man of the Match performance by heading in an equalizer off of a Mesut Ozil cross. Lopez turned away a potential Jordi Alba winner in stoppage time to preserve the draw.
The second leg of the semifinal will be played on February 27 at Camp Nou in Barcelona. The winners will face the winner of the Atletico Madrid-Sevilla semifinal, which kicks off on Thursday.
Here are some more stories to wrap up your Wednesday:
EPL: LIVERPOOL, CHELSEA SURRENDER TWO-GOAL LEADS
Liverpool and Arsenal shared honors in a 2-2 draw at the Emirates on Wednesday. The visiting Reds jumped out to an early lead on a fifth-minute Luis Suarez goal. They would double their lead at the hour mark thanks to a great effort from Jordan Henderson, but Arsenal answered right back. Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott combined for two goals in three minutes for the Gunners. Both Pepe Reina and Wojciech Szczesny denied possible winners from their opponents in the dying minutes of the match.
Chelsea also jumped out to a 2-0 lead in their match, on goals from Juan Mata and Frank Lampard. But hosts Reading were able to get two late goals from substitute Adam Le Fondre, handing the Blues their second frustrating draw this week. Le Fondre’s equalizing volley came in the 95th and final minute of the match.
In other EPL action, Manchester United won 2-1 at home against a very determined Southampton squad. Wayne Rooney’s first-half brace was not enough to sink the visiting Saints, who had United on their heels until the final whistle. The win stretched United’s league lead over Manchester City, who drew with QPR on Tuesday, back to seven points.
AFRICA NATIONS CUP: IVORY COAST, TOGO ROUND OUT FINAL EIGHT
Togo is heading to the knockout stage of the Africa Nations Cup for the first time in its history following their 1-1 draw with Tunisia. Tunisia, who finished behind Togo on point differential, was awarded two questionable penalty kicks in the match. Khaled Mouelhi converted the first, but put his second one off the post, costing his country a spot in the quarterfinals.
Also in today’s Group D action, Ivory Coast rallied from two down to draw 2-2 with already-eliminated Algeria. Didier Drogba, who sat out Ivory Coast’s last match, started the comeback with a 77th minute goal. Wilfried Bony equalized for Les Éléphants three minutes later, sealing their Group D win.
The quarterfinals of the Africa Nations Cup start Saturday with Ghana vs. Cape Verde Islands and South Africa vs. Mali. Ivory Coast will face Nigeria and Burkina Faso will face Togo on Sunday.
Dutch club Den Bosch said that the fans who racially abused Jozy Altidore during Tuesday’s 5-0 cup loss to AZ Alkmaar “will face the toughest possible sanctions.” (REPORT)
UEFA has fined Lazio $190K and warned the Italian club that it may be forced to play an empty stadium Europa League match for its fans racist behavior against Tottenham and Slovenian club Maribor. (REPORT)
Shanghai Shenhua has challenged Didier Drogba’s move to Galatasaray, claiming that the veteran striker is still under contract with the Chinese club. (REPORT)
Former Blackburn defender Christopher Samba may be on his way back to England, as reports indicate that QPR has triggered his £10m release clause from Russia’s Anzhi Makhachkala. (REPORT)
What do you think of these reports? Who do you think will take the second leg of the Real/Barcelona semifinal? What are your thoughts on Chelsea’s second disappointing draw? Which team is your pick to take the Africa Nations Cup now that the quarterfinals are set?
Share your thoughts below.