Juventus' goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon reacts during the Serie A soccer match against AC Milan in Milan

Handball controversy sends Juventus to second loss in four games

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Beginning May 22, 2011, Juventus went over a year without losing in league. After today’s visit to the San Siro in Milan, they’ve lost two in four, with Robinho’s 31st spot kick giving AC Milan a 1-0 win over the suddenly “vincible” Juve.

Unlike Nov. 3, when Inter Milan became the first team to win a competitive match at Juventus Stadium, Sunday’s defeat was anything but clear-cut. The match’s only goal came off a penalty call Rossoneri boss Max Allegri would later concede as erroneous.

“From the touchline it really did seem like a spot kick, but watching the replays it should not have been given,” Allegri told Sky Sports Italia after the match.

The play saw a Milan cross from the right find an airborne Antonio Nocerino near the spot. The Milan midfielder headed the ball down and into the right ribcage of Isla who, with his right arm extended, gave the vague impression the ball may have gone off his upper arm before hitting his body.

I say vague impression because after review, this looks like an instance of referee Nicola Rizzoli asserting he saw something that never happened. Take a look:

This isn’t the case of ball-to-hand or defender making himself bigger. This is just a missed call, one that’s particularly frustrating because the foul never happened.

It’s understandable for a layperson to make the mistake of thinking the ball hit Isla’s arm, but it’s hard to swallow when it’s a professional referee – somebody whose instincts should be trained to be more skeptical of unconscious conclusions. When an arm is extended like that, our minds tend to recall memorable instances of that behavior, almost all of which end in hand balls (that’s part of what makes them memorable). It’s natural to be biased toward seeing the foul, but professional referees should be training to work through that bias.

Robinho took the result spot kick and slid it past a diving Gianluigi Buffon for the match’s only score, and while Milan did prove the slightly more dangerous squad over the match’s last hour, the game played out as one more likely to end in a draw than a victory. The penalty call proved decisive.

That’s not to say we should make a big deal of this call. Or, it shouldn’t be any more significant that the number of errors that happen in this imperfect sport. For all the calls of instant replay, we’ve come to accept these things happen. Coaches, players, teams know these things are possible when they step on the field. Teams are expected to overcome them, if not outright prepare for the possibility something might go against them.

But the call does help highlight how remarkable Juventus’s previous run was. Forty-nine league games without a loss is hard to do without a lot of skill and a little bit of luck. At any time during that streak, a call like today’s could have ended Juve’s run.

After the loss, the Old Lady’s still four points clear at the top of Seria A, but with Internazionale visiting Parma on Monday, that lead could be reduced to one by the end the matchday.

With the win, Milan’s clawed their way into Italy’s top half, sitting ninth their fifth win of the season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.

Statement from suspended UEFA president Michel Platini

Michel Platini, UEFA & FIFA
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Statement from suspended UEFA President Michel Platini:

Early this afternoon, I was informed of the FIFA ethics committee’s decision to impose on me a provisional 90-day suspension with immediate effect. That decision, which I will of course contest in the appropriate manner at the appropriate time, had already been the subject of a deliberate leak, and I gave my opinion on that earlier in the day.

I reject all of the allegations that have been made against me, which are based on mere semblances and are astonishingly vague. Indeed, the wording of those allegations merely states that a breach of the FIFA Code of Ethics “seems to have been committed” and that a decision on the substance of the matter cannot be taken immediately.

Despite the farcical nature of these events, I refuse to believe that this is a political decision taken in haste in order to taint a lifelong devotee of the game or crush my candidacy for the FIFA presidency.

I want everyone to know my state of mind: more than a sense of injustice or a desire for revenge, I am driven by a profound feeling of staunch defiance. I am more determined than ever to defend myself before the relevant judicial bodies.

I want to reiterate in the strongest possible terms that I will devote myself to ensuring that my good faith prevails. I have received numerous messages of support today from UEFA’s member associations and the other confederations encouraging me to continue my work serving football’s interests. Nothing will make me give up on that commitment.