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Paulo Di Canio brings his fire to Sunderland

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Former Swindon Town boss Paolo Di Canio has been appointed head coach of Sunderland. The 44-year-old agreed to a two-and-a-half-year deal with the Black Cats to succeed Martin O’Neill, who was sacked by chairman Ellis Short following Saturday’s 1-0 loss to Manchester United.

Di Canio enters the fold with seven matches remaining and one clear objective – keep Sunderland in the Premier League. At just one point above the relegation zone and with a challenging remaining schedule (Chelsea, Newcastle, Everton, Aston Villa, Stoke, Southampton and Spurs), the job won’t be easy. But Di Canio, who has no-top flight managerial experience, is well-known for a firey passion that Short believes is the key ingredient for his club’s success.

“Paolo is hugely enthused by the challenge that lies ahead of him. He is passionate, driven and raring to get started,” Short said. “The sole focus of everyone for the next seven games will be to ensure we gain enough points to maintain our top-flight status. I think that the chances of that are greatly increased with Paolo joining us.”

Former Sunderland defender Michael Gray echoed Short’s words, admitting he is pleased to see the animated 44-year-old bring his zeal to the Stadium of Light. “He is bonkers but great for the Premier League and I hope he gets it right,” Gray said. “It’s going to be entertaining if nothing else and if he can get a win in the Tyne-Wear derby it could be like Jose Mourinho running down the touchline.”

After a stunning 23 year playing career, Di Canio was hired at Swindon in 2011 and spent 21 months at the club. Last season he secured promotion out of League Two and when he stepped down in February 2013 (citing off-the-field issues) he left the club in a League One play-off position.

Following his stint at Swindon, Di Canio proclaimed himself ready for the next level. “I believe I am at a stage now where I am a Premier League or Championship manager,” the Italian said. “I have already proven my ability in League Two and League One, where there are many arrogant and average players and I was able to turn [around] their mentality and help them become better footballers.”

The turn around will have to come quick if Sunderland are to avoid the drop. The Black Cats have gone eight matches without a win and recently suffered a huge blow when captain Lee Catermole and leading-scorer Steven Fletcher were ruled out for the season. Confidence, rather than arrogance, appears to be Sunderland’s biggest problem.

Di Canio’s hiring did not arrive without controversy as Sunderland’s vice-chairman and non-executive director, David Milibrand, immediately resigned from his post stating, “In the light of the new manager’s past political statements, I think it right to step down.” The political statements Milibrand refers to arise out of a 2005 interview that Di Canio gave to Italian news agency ANSA where he admitted to having fascist leanings. “I am a fascist, not a racist,” Di Canio explained.

Whether those two positions are mutually exclusive is debatable. But one thing’s for sure, things just got a lot more interesting at Sunderland.

WATCH: Carrasco levels Champions League final, finds partner for long kiss

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 28:  Yannick Carrasco of Atletico Madrid celebrates afte scorig the equalizing goal during the UEFA Champions League Final match between Real Madrid and Club Atletico de Madrid at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 28, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Milan on a starry night sounds romantic. Add in a massive match-tying goal, and it was all too much for Yannick Carrasco.

The 22-year-old Belgian attacker got on the end of Juanfran‘s cross and beat Keylor Navas at the near post.

[ MORE: Griezmann’s PK miss ]

In celebration, Carrasco raced toward a pitch side suite and into the arms and lips of what we presume is his partner for a gift that must count as much as a few dozen roses (but probably smelled much worse).

WATCH: Griezmann misses Torres-won PK in huge Champions League moment

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 28: Antoine Griezmann of Atletico Madrid speaks to head coach Diego Simeone during the UEFA Champions League Final match between Real Madrid and Club Atletico de Madrid at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 28, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
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Frankly, Antoine Griezmann embodied the Atletico Madrid attack in the first half, so it was no surprise when he stepped up to the penalty spot early in the second half.

Fernando Torres had won a penalty kick from Pepe after the Portuguese back stamped on his ankle in the 46th minute, and Greizmann got Real goalkeeper Keylor Navas going the wrong direction before cranking the ball off the bar.

[ MORE: Hull City snares last PL spot for 2016-17 ]

The miss looms large.

Argentine star Messi leaves Honduras match with back injury

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 08:  (L-R) Jose Juan Vazquez #23 of Mexico and Lionel Messi #10 of Argentina during a international friendly at AT&T Stadium on September 8, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) Argentine soccer superstar Lionel Messi left the field with a back injury in the second half of a 1-0 victory over Honduras in a friendly Friday night.

The Argentine team captain and Barcelona star was hit on an apparently inconsequential play and immediately went to the locker room. He was replaced at the 62-minute mark by Sevilla midfielder Ever Banega and never returned to the field.

“Messi suffered a trauma to the left side of his lower back and rib cage,” the Argentine Football (Soccer) Association said in a statement, adding that doctors were looking at the injury.

[ MORE: Hull City snares last PL spot for 2016-17 ]

Messi is not a player who leaves the field with minor injuries like he did Friday at San Juan’s Bicentenario stadium.

“I would not dare to venture a diagnosis,” said a concerned Argentine manager, Gerardo Martino.

Gonzalo Higuain, who scored for Argentina, said it “was an important win and here’s hoping that what happened to Leo is nothing.”

Messi was scheduled to fly to Spain to resolve a tax issue and then rejoin the team in Santa Clara, California.

Hull City secures PL position next season

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 28: Ross Wallace of Sheffield Wednesday make a break during Sky Bet Championship Play Off Final match between Hull City and Sheffield Wednesday at Wembley Stadium on May 28, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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Mohamed Diame was the hero on the day for Hull City, as the Tigers gain promotion to the Premier League next season.

The Senegalese attacker sent Sheffield Wednesday packing on Saturday afternoon at Wembley Stadium after hitting a scorching long-distance effort past goalkeeper Kieren Westwood in the second half.

After an initial back-and-forth spell of chances over the opening half hour-plus, Sheffield was drastically taken out of the match as Hull began to gain their composure on the ball.

Hull City will join Championship winners Burnley and Middlesbrough in the Premier League in 2016-17 after being promoted. Relegated clubs Newcastle, Norwich City and Aston Villa will take their place in England’s second flight.

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