MADRID Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane dismissed criticism of his side's talisman Cristiano Ronaldo on Friday following a dip in form that has coincided with Real losing two consecutive games after setting a Spanish record unbeaten run of 40 games.
Ronaldo struggled to influence Real's 2-1 home defeat at by Celta Vigo in the King's Cup on Wednesday and the 2-1 reverse to Sevilla last Sunday that cut their lead at the top of La Liga to a point, although he did convert a penalty.
BARCELONA Barcelona will be without influential captain Andres Iniesta due to a calf strain for Sunday's trip to Eibar in La Liga, the Spanish champions said on Friday.
The Spain midfielder was taken off at halftime in Thursday's King's Cup quarter-final first-leg win at Real Sociedad.
Iniesta, 32, is Barcelona's most decorated player alongside Lionel Messi but injuries have limited him to only six league starts this season. Barca have dropped points in five of the 12 games he has not started.
LONDON Norway defender Omar Elabdellaoui is rejoining his former club boss Marco Silva at Premier League strugglers Hull City on loan from Olympiakos Piraeus.
The Greek side, who were managed by Silva until June last year, confirmed the move on their website on Friday.
Hull, 18th in the Premier League and level on points with 17th-placed Crystal Palace, announced earlier that midfielder Jake Livermore was joining rivals West Bromwich Albion on a four and a half year deal.
Media reports put a 10 million-pound ($12.3 million) figure on that deal.
LONDON England coach Eddie Jones has warned his players not to allow the lure of selection for the British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand to distract them from their immediate task of defending the Six Nations title.
Even the potential last-day championship Dublin showdown with Ireland is strictly off limits as Jones follows the modern management mantra of looking no further than the next game.
MELBOURNE A rampaging Roger Federer delivered a stunning reminder of his class at the Australian Open on Friday with a crushing 6-2 6-4 6-4 win over Tomas Berdych to storm into the fourth round.
Playing only his third tour match since coming back from a knee injury, Federer was expected to be tested by the hard-hitting Czech but he sent the 10th seed packing after a 90-minute masterclass at a floodlit Rod Laver Arena.