Hellas Verona FC v AC Milan - Serie A

Milan fall to Verona before Juventus beat Sampdoria

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The start of the Serie A season has finally arrived, much to the delight of fans of Italian soccer, who’ve been forced to make do with the likes of the Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga over the past couple weeks. While the majority of the matches take place tomorrow, Saturday saw two interesting games played out on the peninsula.

Hellas Verona 2-1 AC Milan

To the casual observer, this match looked predictable. Milan ended last season in third place, clinching a spot in the Champions League qualifying round. The winners of Serie B last summer, Hellas Verona are back in the top flight after an eleven year absence. With the rossoneri fielding Stephan El Shaarawy and Mario Balotelli up front, and Verona relying on 36 year old Luca Toni, it would seem — on paper, at least — that a Milan win could be the only ending to this match up.

“That’s why we play the games” may be a cliche, but it’s one for a reason, and it exists because there is no better way to describe a match such as this one. Sure, Serie A fans know that no trip to the cauldron that is the Stadio Bentegodi will be easy (caveat: at least, not when Verona are playing; Chievo don’t count), but even most supporters felt that, at most, the home side would come away with a point.

But they didn’t count on Luca Toni having a point to prove. Turns out that the veteran didn’t appreciate being written off as a has-been, and emphatically hushed the doubters with a come-from-behind brace to give Verona an opening day victory. Surprisingly, it was neither El Shaarawy nor Balotelli that scored Milan’s goal, but rather newcomer Andrea Poli. Balotelli got in a few words at the end, however, when he was carded for insulting the referee after failing to win a penalty.

Sampdoria 0-1 Juventus

The second of the day’s Serie A matches followed a much more predictable script, with only the torrential rains in Genoa deviating from the norm (and even that wasn’t all that unusual). The pounding water and slick surface combined to create less than ideal conditions, and most likely helped Sampdoria keep the scoreline looking respectable.

The game’s only goal came in the 58th minute, via summer signing Carlos Tevez. Juve’s new striker had already scored his debut goal for the side during the 4-0 Supercoppa rout over Lazio, but giving the bianconeri the goal that secures the first win of the season will certainly endear him further to the fans. Credit must be given to Mirko Vucinic as well. The two forwards combined excellently throughout the match — whenever the rain didn’t send them slipping and sliding — and put plenty of pressure on the Sampdoria defense.

That defense finally splintered in the dying minutes of the game. Paolo Castellini, on the pitch just six minutes, was shown a straight red card for a poor tackle on Stephan Lichtsteiner. There were four additional minutes left to play, but Samp’s back, already bent, was truly broken.

Report: Agent in China, Rooney could leave Man Utd this month

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 13:  Wayne Rooney of Manchester United poses with the Premier League trophy at the start of the Premier League trophy winners parade on May 13, 2013 in Manchester, England  (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
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Could Wayne Rooney‘s days at Manchester United be over as soon as the end of the month?

The BBC reports that Rooney’s agent is in China in the hopes of negotiating a contract with a Chinese Super League team.

[ MORE: Leicester grabs away goal ]

The 31-year-old is said to be wanted by Jiangsu Suning and Tianjin Quanjian. The former club has ex-Chelsea standout Ramires, while the latter is coached by Fabio Cannavaro and boasts Axel Witsel and Alexandre Pato.

From the BBC:

There are no guarantees of success and it is thought a deal remains highly unlikely before the Chinese transfer window closes on 28 February.

And if he does not leave this month it seems certain he will go in the summer.

Rooney is the all-time leading scorer for both Manchester United and England. While his legacy is secure at the former and the latter, will a move to the CSL end his time under Gareth Southgate at England before another World Cup?

So many questions to unpack as one of the Premier League’s all-timers looks set to leave the country in the next six months.

Real Madrid adds intrigue to La Liga race with rare loss (video)

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo, right, and Real Madrid's Lucas Vazquez, left, react after failing to score against Valencia during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Valencia and Real Madrid at the Mestalla stadium in Valencia, Spain, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Alberto Saiz)
AP Photo/Alberto Saiz
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The lone Wednesday match on La Liga’s docket injected some drama back into the chase for Spain’s crown.

Real Madrid fell 2-1 at Valencia, unable to overcome conceding twice in the first 10 minutes.

The match was one of two matches-in-hand Real held on its rivals for La Liga’s title. Now Real’s one-point lead over Barcelona and three-point advantage over Sevilla seem a bit more manageable.

[ MORE: Man Utd onto Europa Rd of 16 ]

Simone Zaza and Fabian Orellana netted for Los Che, but Cristiano Ronaldo’s 44th minute goal was the only answer the leaders could muster before full time.

Zaza’s goal was a stunner:

Real could rebuild its lead over the weekend, with Barcelona off to Atletico Madrid on Sunday and Sevilla traveling to Betis on the heels of its UCL win over Leicester City.

But for now, life’s a bit more exciting in Spain. Real hosts Barcelona on April 23, and hosts Sevilla on the penultimate weekend of the season.

Standings

 

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Real Madrid 22 16 4 2 57 20 37 10-2-0 6-2-2 52
 Barcelona 23 15 6 2 63 19 44 7-3-1 8-3-1 51
 Sevilla 23 15 4 4 46 28 18 9-1-1 6-3-3 49
 Atlético Madrid 23 13 6 4 43 19 24 8-2-1 5-4-3 45
 Real Sociedad 23 13 2 8 36 32 4 7-2-3 6-0-5 41
 Villarreal 23 10 9 4 30 15 15 7-3-2 3-6-2 39

WATCH: Giovinco nets rain-soaked preseason beauty

TORONTO, ON - MAY 07:  Sebastian Giovinco #10 of Toronto FC is presented with the MLS Audi Golden Boot Award as leading scorer for the 2015 season prior to an MLS soccer game against FC Dallas at BMO Field on May 7, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images
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We still can’t get over Sebastian Giovinco’s omission from the list of finalists for the 2016 MLS MVP Award, and the Toronto FC magician gave us another reminder of his greatness on Wednesday.

Playing a preseason match against Minnesota United on a rain-soaked pitch, Giovinco scored a brace. One of those goals came off an ankle-breaking dribble and finished with rain splashing off the net.

[ MORE: Man Utd onto Europa Rd of 16 ]

Yeah, he’s still good.

Giovinco turned 30 last month but still looks good money to dance up the statistical leaderboard this season. The Reds open at Real Salt Lake on March 4.

Leicester after one leg vs. Sevilla: “We knew they are better than us”

Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri catches the ball during the Champions League round of 16 soccer match between Sevilla and Leicester City at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan stadium in Seville, Spain, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Miguel Morenatti)
AP Photo/Miguel Morenatti
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Sevilla probably should’ve put Leicester City to bed.

Thanks to Kasper Schmeichel, the Spanish powers couldn’t do that. Now stubborn Leicester is a 1-0 win away from progressing to the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals.

[ MORE: UCL wrap-up ]

Credit to Jamie Vardy, too, who put away a rare Leicester chance to give the Foxes a road goal from its trip West, but Schmeichel was magnificent.

And Leicester certainly knows how to defend and hit teams on the break.

“We knew they are better than us, they have high quality in possession. We suffered. They showed their quality but we showed our heart. We showed belief and never game up. That makes me satisfied.

“At the end, if we are a little more calm on the counter-attack, we could have done more. It was very important to match them and every result is still open.”

It certainly wasn’t easy to get to the final whistle. Here’s Vardy.

“Everyone has given 110 percent and everyone has come off absolutely blowing. We knew we had to be patient and take our chances but we knew we could hurt them on the press and that’s what Danny (Drinkwater) did. He got it over to me and I slipped it in.”

Again, we wouldn’t sleep on Leicester despite Sevilla’s dominance at home. King Power Stadium will be riled up come March 14, and one moment of magic could be enough for another miraculous moment for Leicester lore.