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:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FgpOG0PCrnw]

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.

Juventus president Agnelli’s 1-year ban lifted on appeal

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ROME (AP) Juventus president Andrea Agnelli had his one-year ban for selling tickets to ultras lifted on Monday, but the Serie A club’s fine was doubled and it will have to play a match with one of its main sections closed.

[ MORE: Making sense of PL table in Man City’s world ]

Agnelli was banned for one year by the Italian soccer federation in September for his role in selling tickets to hardcore “ultra” fans that encouraged scalping. He was also fined 20,000 euros ($24,000).

The FIGC’s appeals court said it has changed Agnelli’s sanction “into a fine of 100,000 euros ($118,000) and a ban until today’s date.”

Juventus, however, was fined 600,000 euros ($708,000) and will have its Curva Sud closed for the home match against Genoa on Jan. 22.

The federation’s prosecutor, Giuseppe Pecoraro, had requested a 2 1/2-year suspension for Agnelli and also appealed the original decision.

Agnelli allegedly authorized the sale of season passes and other tickets. He acknowledged meeting with Rocco Dominello, an ultra fan linked to the Calabrian `ndrangheta crime mob who has since been sentenced to nearly eight years in prison for scalping.

But Agnelli said the meetings came only with large numbers of other fans at celebratory occasions, and that the club never intended to engage in illegal activity.

The 42-year-old Agnelli has led Juventus, the club his family has owned for nearly a century, since 2010.

Anti-mafia prosecutors said the `ndrangheta was involved in scalping among Juventus ultra fans for at least 15 years, guaranteeing order in the stadium in exchange for open ticket access.

Juventus denied any wrongdoing.

Juventus security director Alessandro D’Angelo and ticketing director Stefano Merulla have had their suspensions and fines canceled. D’Angelo was originally banned for 15 months, while Merulla had been handed a one-year suspension.

However, former marketing director Francesco Calvo had his appeal rejected and will be banned for one year and will have to pay a 20,000 euro ($24,000) fine.

WATCH LIVE: Everton vs. Swansea City

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Everton looks to continue its upswing while reversing the hoodoo of Swansea City when it hosts the Welsh side at Goodison Park on Monday (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Swans have not lost to Everton in three seasons, but sit bottom of the Premier League table.

Sam Allardyce started Gylfi Sigurdsson and Ashley Williams against the former side, while Paul Clement will hope to get an upset with Wilfried Bony up top.

LINEUPS

Everton: Pickford, Kenny, Martina, Holgate, Williams, Schneiderlin, Gana Gueye, Lennon, Rooney, Sigurdsson, Calvert-Lewin. Subs: Robles, Keane, Jagielka, Ramirez, Davies, Vlasic, Lookman.

Swansea City: Fabianski, Naughton, Fernandez, Mawson, Olsson, Roque Mesa, Fer, Carroll, Dyer, Narsingh, Bony. Subs: Nordfeldt, van der Hoorn, Rangel, Clucas, Sanches, Ayew, Abraham.

Timbers make it official: Savarese is the new boss

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The Portland Timbers have made it official, announcing the hiring of New York Cosmos architect Giovanni Savarese as the successor to Caleb Porter.

Savarese, 46, led the Cosmos to three NASL Championship Games in his first run as a manager, following a playing career that included stops at Millwall, NY/NJ MetroStars, and Swansea City. He attended Long Island University, and was capped 30 times with 10 goals for Venezuela.

[ BLANC: I turned down USMNT talks ]

He’s an intriguing hire for Portland, who won an MLS Cup but suffered from inconsistency under the highly-regarded Porter (twice missing the playoffs but twice earning the West’s No. 1 seed). While the Cosmos regularly spent well, Savarese navigated the uncertain waters of a nascent league with regular success.

From Timbers.com:

“I am both excited and proud to become the head coach of the Portland Timbers, and this is an ideal fit and outstanding opportunity for me as I take the next step in my coaching career,” Savarese said. “The passion, ambition and support surrounding this club is truly inspiring, and I am sincerely honored and grateful for this opportunity to lead it on the pitch and to build on the club’s history of success for the community and the incredible supporters of the Portland Timbers.”

The hiring has been rumored for some time. Though Savarese was loyal to the Cosmos, the NASL’s future has been hung in the hands of the legal system for some time due to a bold lawsuit against U.S. Soccer Federation. The NASL contends that the relationships between the USSF, Soccer United Marketing, United Soccer League, and Major League Soccer have conspired to stop the NASL from competing with MLS as a D-1 league.

LVG would only return to club football to get at Man Utd

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Leave it to The Daily Mirror to find that last bit of juice when it comes to Manchester United and former manager Louis Van Gaal.

Well, probably the last bit.

The Dutch manager said he does not expect to return to club football, unless one of the big boys in the Premier League offered him the chance to take a run at United. The Red Devils, of course, fired him shortly after an FA Cup title in order to hire Jose Mourinho.

[ MORE: WBA 1-2 Man Utd | Bournemouth 0-4 Liverpool ]

From The Mirror, quoting LVG at a Sunday night function in Rotterdam.

“I will probably not manage a club anymore,” Van Gaal said. “I would make one exception: If a big English club comes for me, than I would do it. Because then I can get the chance to get one over on Manchester United.’’

Could you see him getting a run at any of the Top Four contenders, even on a caretaker basis? Could Liverpool come calling if they tired of Jurgen Klopp one season, or might Arsenal or even Everton need a stopgap (should the Toffees spending come good)?