Italy: Napoli, Roma stay perfect as top five pulls clear

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Rafa Benítez’s hot start to his Serie A return had failed to draw huge trumpets through three rounds, mostly because an easy slate of opening fixtures gave the new Napoli boss little chance to impress. This week, however, that changed drastically, with a Champions League visit from Borussia Dortmund and a trip to AC Milan guaranteed to test one of Italy’s last two perfect sides. If Napoli won both those games, there’d be no denying their place amongst the best clubs in Europe, right?

As it turns out, not all wins are created equal, and while the Neopolitans deserve credit for posting successive 2-1 wins, each require some more context. On Wednesday, a first half red card left visiting Dortmund with 10 for the second half, and while Napoli were already up by the time Roman Weidenfeller handled outside his area, the sending off amounted to a huge what if. What if last year’s Champions League finalists had got to halftime at full strength? Would some of the push we saw at match’s end have been better-rewarded?

Sunday’s caveats were different, but there were still caveats. Napoli went up early on a set piece through Miguel Britos, controlled much of the first half, and saw a Gonzalo Higuaín blast through Christian Abbiati give them a two-goal lead early in the second half. But somewhere along the way, Milan had gained control, with Mario Balotelli becoming game’s focal point. Stressing a defense that was thought to be Napoli’s weak spot before the season, the Milan attacker slowly made the game into a question of whether (and how often) he’d break through.

But a penalty stop by Pepe Reina, the first miss in 22 career tries by Balotelli, hinted there’d be no breakthrough. Another blast off the woodwork midway through the second provided confirmation, as did a penalty appeal denied by Luca Banti. Despite 12 shots on goal and a late consolation tally (a nice finish by the Italian international), Balotelli was unable to dent Napoli’s perfect start, eventually earning a second yellow card for a post-whistle altercation with Valon Behrami.

Milan would end up with big advantages in all the main indicators — shots (22-9), shots on goal (8-3), and possession (56-44) — but most of that was due to Napoli’s early lead. On the road against one of Italy’s most talented (if injury-riddled) sides, the partenopei’s win was a strong one, even if Batoletti seemed determined to take it from them. On another day — if the penalty goes in, if Balotelli’s a little more precise earlier in the match, if Abbiati doesn’t concede a soft one to Higuaín — Napoli’s willingness to give Milan so many cracks many have bitten them. On Sunday, it served as confirmation their defense could hold out.

In that sense, it wasn’t the most resounding of victories, but it was still a good one. And with Rafa Benítez on the sidelines, Napoli fans are going to have to get used to this type of game management. But given the team’s won five in a row and sit near the top of the league, it’s hard to nit-pick too much. If Rafa’s style continues to produce these results, we’ll soon hear those trumpets


source: Getty Images
Francesco Totti, who signed a contract extension through 2017 mid-week, assisted on Sunday’s first goal as Roma win this year’s first Rome Derby. (Photo: Getty Images.)


If you do want to nit-pick, Napoli’s not actually at the top of the league. At best they’re joint top, but if one team were to be singled out, that honor would belong to Roma, whose 2-0 victory over rival Lazio moves them first on goal difference. Along with Napoli, Barcelona, and Atlético Madrid, they are one of four perfect teams remaining in Europe’s top five leagues.

Like Napoli, part of their climb has been fueled by a kind fixture list, one that should have become decidedly more difficult with today’s Rome Derby. Yet to a Roma defense that had only allowed one goal all year, the Aquile offense never presented a problem. Morgan De Sanctis went untested in the Giallorossi goal, leaving the match to be decided by Rudi Garcia’s attack.

For one half, Roma were no more effective than their rivals, but when Francisco Totti set up Federico Balzaretti’s left-footed volley just past the hour, the game was all but decided.


Between their decisive round two loss to Juventus and today’s underwhelming derby performance, Lazio looks like they’ve taken a step back from the team that won last year’s Coppa Italia. It may be too early to write them off, but it’s not too early to note something’s wrong. Through four rounds they’ve collected six points, but they were a combined -5 against Juve and Roma.

The Giallorossi, on the other hand, have claimed 12 and are part of a quintet that look poised to pull away from the league. In a season they were expected to compete for Europe and little more, Rudi Garcia may be slotting his team along side Inter as surprise competition for the league’s three favorites. A controlling win over their fiercest rivals hints Roma may be destined for greater things.


After this weekend’s action, that quintet of Roma, Napoli, Inter Milan, Fiorentina and Juventus have pulled a full game clear of Livorno and Torino (sixth, seventh place). Inter did so with a 7-1 demolition of newly promoted Sassulo, giving them 13 goals through four games (with only one allowed). Fiorentina got another goal from Giuseppe Rossi in their 2-0 win at Atalanta, while Juventus had to come back from one down to take full points from Verona in Turin. Each team is 3-0-1, two points behind Roma and Napoli.


Manolo Gabbiadini scored twice late at Calgiari, both equalizers sandwiched around Daniele Conti’s goal, as Sampdoria got a 2-2 result on the road … Serio Pellissier and Luca Rigoni had turned around a first-minute deficit by halftime as Chievo defeated visiting Udinese, 2-1 … Catania and Parma played to a 0-0 … A late first half red card to Bologna’s Cesare Natali proved decisive as Alessio Cerci’s penalty gave Torino the 2-1 lead they’d keep through full-time.

PST’s writers predict the USA vs. Mexico score

United States v Mexico - International Friendly
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This is it. Don’t get scared now.

On Saturday the U.S. national team take on Mexico in the CONCACAF Cup at the Pasadena Rose Bowl, as the bitter rivals square off to decide who will be going to the 2017 Confederations Cup.

[ FULL PREVIEW: USA vs. Mexico ]

The time for talking is over. Whoever wins the one-off game in California will be heading to Russia a year before the 2018 World Cup to represent the CONCACAF region.

Click on the link above for a comprehensive preview of everything you need to know heading into Saturday’s massive game, while below all five of our writers predict the score and how the game will pan out.

[ MORE: Bedoya out for USA ]

Do you agree? Let us know in the comments below.

Joe Prince-Wright

USA 2-2 Mexico (USA win on penalty kicks)

For some reason, I think this is going to PKs. Expect a fast, frenetic opening and if the U.S. can keep things level at the break then I think they have a great chance. I see a dramatic evening playing out in this dramatic rivalry. U.S. win. just.

Nicholas Mendola

USA 3-2 Mexico

After the game, one in which Fabian Johnson serves the game winner to Clint Dempsey, Klinsmann runs shirtless across the field with “Benny who?” painted on his chest. On the back, he’s painted, “I’m kidding, America. Benny is a wonderful midfielder and a blessing to our shores.”

Kyle Bonn

USA 0-2 Mexico

The U.S. limped its way through the Gold Cup and still doesn’t have any idea what its best 11 is. Mexico takes this one despite turmoil at the top. (Also the team I pick usually doesn’t win, so I’m all in with the reverse jinx)

Andy Edwards

USA 1-2 Mexico

Too much possession conceded to Mexico, too much pressure on the USMNT defense… just like the Gold Cup, except against even better opposition.

Kyle Lynch

USA 1-2 Mexico

The United States takes an early lead, but Mexico fights back and wins it all in Jurgen Klinsmann’s final game as USMNT manager.

Blatter, Platini both officially appeal FIFA suspension

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JULY 25:  FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter and UEFA President Michel Platini look on during the Team Seminar ahead of the Preliminary Draw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup at the Corinthia Hotel on July 25, 2015 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Suspended FIFA executives Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini have both officially appealed their 90-day bans through various means in attempts to clear their names.

The pair have been forced to temporarily vacate their office due to an investigation by Swiss authorities into corruption charges based on a “disloyal payment” of around $2 million from Blatter to Platini in 2011.

Blatter’s appeal was lodged within FIFA on Friday, with the president’s lawyer confirming he has “requested additional proceedings before the Adjudicatory Chamber of the Ethics Committee and filed an appeal with the Appeal Committee.”

Blatter’s American lawyer Richard Cullen said he is “very hopeful” the suspension will be lifted on appeal, while his lawyer team back on Thursday argued in a statement that the FIFA Ethics Committee “based its decision [to suspend Blatter] on a misunderstanding of the actions of the attorney general in Switzerland, which has opened an investigation but brought no charge against the president.”

The New York Times obtained a copy of the appeal, in which Blatter’s lawyers demand to see the case file which the Ethics Committee reviewed upon its decision to suspend the 79-year-old. It also asks that he receive a full opportunity to argue his innocence in front of the committee; previously, he was only afforded a short interview with Swiss investigators.

Meanwhile, Platini’s appeal came through Saturday morning and is filed with the Court of Arbitration for Sport. His case has received official, legal backing from the French FA as his home nominating association for the upcoming presidential election. Using the French FA’s support, Platini can bypass the FIFA appeals system which he individually must exhaust before moving to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

CONMEBOL has also publicly supported Platini, issuing a statement that says it “does not agree” with the decision to suspend him, calling it “untimely and disproportionate” while stating, “The presumption of innocence is a fundamental right that has to be considered. Mr. Platini has not been found guilty of any charge, therefore the provisional ban jeopardizes the integrity of the electoral process to the FIFA presidency, of which Mr. Platini is a candidate.”

Platini has not been replaced at his UEFA presidential post, with no interim leader named. “This is because the UEFA executive committee is aware that the UEFA president will immediately take all necessary steps to appeal the decision of the FIFA ethics committee to clear his name,” UEFA said in a statement. They confirmed he will not continue his duties while under punishment.

The FIFA Executive Committee has announced it will hold an emergency meeting on October 20 to discuss the situation. Among the topics that will be considered will be a decision on whether to postpone the February 26 presidential election.