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:

[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.

Mourinho: Leicester home should be Claudio Ranieri Stadium

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24:  Claudio Ranieri, Manager of Leicester City shows his frustration as Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United looks on during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Leicester City at Old Trafford on September 24, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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Jose Mourinho cannot quite get his head around Leicester City’s firing of Claudio Ranieri.

The story is on the tips of the tongues of many in the Premier League, and Manchester United’s boss is no exception.

[ MORE: UEL draw | Who is Rostov? ]

Speaking Friday ahead of United’s EFL Cup Final against Southampton, here’s what Mourinho had to say.

From the BBC:

“He deserves the Leicester stadium to be named ‘Claudio Ranieri Stadium’. The most beautiful thing in the Premier League and one of most beautiful in football history.

“Now Leicester are in the highlights again with a decision that has everyone in football united. It’s very difficult to accept. It’s important to realize how football is and we need to react. I was sacked as a champion [by Chelsea], a giant negative as I thought – peanuts compared to Claudio.

“I don’t think he needs more. Nobody can do what he did. If some of the stories have just a little bit of truth, it is difficult to find words to justify but we have to be able to cope.”

Mourinho is giving voice to what many feel, this writer included. Ranieri is in a relegation fight, yes, but to fire him days after the Foxes stole a road goal against Sevilla that gives them reasonable odds to advance in the UEFA Champions League? It’s an odd one, and smacks a bit of, “Well, we can’t fire him if he beats Liverpool or Sevilla”.

Liverpool visits the King Power Stadium this weekend, and the Foxes will need an incredible response at home to topple the rested Reds. Sure the Premier League is win now, but add me to the chorus who thinks the new manager will have the same odds to fix Leicester as Ranieri.

Roma’s American president losing patience over stadium delay

James Pallotta, AS Roma
AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino
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ROME (AP) Roma’s American president is starting to lose patience with city officials over long-delayed plans for a new stadium.

Ahead of a meeting between municipal authorities and club officials Friday, James Pallotta issued a statement saying the team expects “a massively positive result” from the encounter.

Pallotta adds “the alternative would be catastrophic for the future of AS Roma, Italian football, the city of Rome, and quite frankly for future business in Italy.”

[ MORE: PST feature on Pallotta ]

The mostly privately financed 1.6 billion euro ($1.7 billion) project received another setback this week when cultural authorities announced plans to declare the proposed stadium site – an abandoned hippodrome – as a site of “particularly important interest.”

The project in Tor di Valle, halfway between downtown and Leonardo Da Vinci Airport, also includes three office towers.

Who is Manchester United’s UEL opponent Rostov?

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 15: Jano Ananidze (L) of FC Spartak Moscow is challenged by Alexandru Gatcan of FC Rostov during the Russian Premier League match between FC Spartak Moscow v FC Rostov at Otkrytie Arena Stadium on October 15, 2016 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Epsilon/Getty Images)
Photo by Epsilon/Getty Images
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Jose Mourinho and Manchester United have learned their fate for the UEFA Europa League’s Round of 16.

The Red Devils face Russian side FC Rostov in the next round of the tournament, four victorious ties from claiming an automatic spot in the UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: Spurs sent packing | Full UEL draw ]

So who is Rostov? Seventh in the Russian Premier League standings, Selmashi finished second last season and won the league in 1994 and 2008.

Rostov entered the Europa League after a run through the Champions League which saw the club knock out Anderlecht and Ajax, both still alive in the UEL, before finishing third behind Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich in the group stage. Rostov beat Sparta Prague in the Round of 32 of the UEL.

The club is led by former Moldova boss Ivan Daniliants. Its leading scorer is left wing Dmitri Poloz with 11 goals, and Ecuadorian national teamer Christian Noboa and Moldova veteran Alexandru Gațcan among its mainstays.

While some will make the case that a rough pitch, long trip, and stingy team makes this draw a bad one for United, Mourinho’s crew should triumph. How worse could it have been? This one won’t be easy, but consider Roma, Schalke, Borussia Monchengladbach… even a reunion with Memphis Depay and Lyon would bring more of a challenge than Rostov.

Europa League draw: Man Utd learns fate

Manchester United's Henrikh Mkhitaryan, center back to camera, celebrates scoring the opening goal with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, 2nd right, and other teammates during a Europa League round of 32 second leg soccer match between Saint Etienne and Manchester United at Geoffroy Guichard stadium in Saint Etienne, France, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)
AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani
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The travel is tricky, but Manchester United’s draw for the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 could’ve been much worse.

The Red Devils are off to Russia to face FC Rostov in the next round of the UEL competition.

[ MORE: Spurs out | Who is Rostov? ]

In another draw that leads you to question whether there’s anything random about it all, United and lone La Liga representative Celta Vigo drew winnable matches against Russian clubs, Roma has a tantalizing match against Lyon, and an all-Bundesliga match hits the docket.

Heck, we’ll even see an all-Belgian tie between Gent vs. Genk.

And in a draw which will have many glued to their sets, USMNT left-sided man Fabian Johnson will help Borussia Monchengladbach against German rivals Schalke. The first leg comes five days after the pair face off in Bundesliga play.

The Round of 16 legs will be played March 9 and 16.

UEFA Europa League Round of 16

Rostov vs. Manchester United
Celta Vigo vs. Krasnodar
Copenhagen vs. Ajax
Olympiacos vs. Besiktas
Lyon vs. Roma
Schalke vs. Borussia Monchengladbach
APOEL Nicosia vs. Anderlecht
Gent vs. Genk