Coppa Italia: Roma up one after Napoli snares two away goals

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A late Gervinho winner gave Roma a 3-2 win over Napoli today at the Stadio Olimpico, but within the context of today’s Coppa Italia semifinal in Rome, it’s unclear which team has the advantage. The easy answer is Roma, who carry a one-goal lead into next week’s second leg at the San Paolo, but it’s possible Rafa Benítez would decline a chance to switch places with Rudi Garcia. The Napoli boss may prefer going home with two away goals rather than try to defend a one-goal lead, on the road, when the tiebreaker rests with the other team.

That’s the position Garcia’s Giallorossi find themselves in after 90 minutes of the clubs’ semifinal, a match Roma had under control after 45 minutes. With Kevin Strootman’s 32nd minutes blast doubling the lead earned by Gervinho’s 13th minute opener, Serie A’s second place team were ready to cruise to a comfortable first leg lead. But when Dries Martins’ 70th minute equalizer built on Morgan De Sanctis’s own goal just after halftime, the Neopolitans had gained the edge. Though the score was even at 2-2, the Partenopei’s pair of road goals gave them the edge in the tie.

Just minutes before the final whistle, a through ball for Gervinho allowed the Ivorian to restore Roma’s lead. Yet having seen Napoli claw their way being into the tie, the goal was more of a reprieve than triumph. Even in the first half, as Roma built their two-goal lead, close calls from Gonzalo Higuaín and Lorenzo Insigne could have provided an early spark for Napoli. Instead, the visitors needed to regroup at intermission to put Roma on their heals, with only the late substitution of Valon Behrami for Higuaín hinting Napoli were content to sit on they two goals.

Until that point, Napoli had played with a Roma team that’s been able to enforce their will on Serie A. Even mighty Juventus, a team running away with a third straight league title, demurred to Roma in the team’s January meeting, eventually countering the Giallorossi into their first loss of the season. Benítez, to his credit, didn’t let a Garcia’s team dictate terms, holding 51 percent possession against a team that league Serie A by average 59.3 percent per game.

With the teams resuming their tie next Wednesday, momentum’s on Napoli’s side. Not only were they able to snare two goals on the road, but they did so against a team rested after their weekend league match was rained out. And they did so on their own terms. Next Wednesday, the Giallorossi will be coming off a Rome Derby, while Napoli can afford to rest some players at home against Milan.

Chinese clubs to pay 100% tax on foreign transfers

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The days of Chinese Super League sides spending eye-popping figures on a handful of international superstars are over — either that, or those figures are about to double — for now, at least.

[ MORE: Oscar given 8-game ban for petulant display in China ]

China’s Football Association announced Thursday that, effective immediately, any foreign player signed for a fee exceeding $6.63 million would be subject to a 100-percent tax on top of the fee paid to acquire the player. The tax will remain in effect until the end of China’s ongoing transfer window, July 14. The tax will also apply to Chinese players signed for a fee exceeding $3 million.

It’s Chinese authorities’ latest attempt to prevent big spending by CSL clubs, which has in every instance been detrimental to the development of young Chinese players making their way through the academy system. The taxed money will then be reinvested in “youth training, construction of public sporting facilities and scientific progress in football development,” according to a statement by the CFA.

Just last week, China was eliminated from contention to qualify for next summer’s World Cup in Russia. The only time China has ever qualified for the World Cup was in 2002.

Young Englishman Oxford goes abroad, to Gladbach, on loan

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MOENCHENGLADBACH, Germany (AP) Borussia Moenchengladbach has signed English central defender Reece Oxford on loan for the season from Premier League club West Ham.

Gladbach sporting director Max Eberl says “Oxford has gone through all the England youth teams and is one of the biggest defensive talents in Britain.”

The 18-year-old Oxford, who spent the second half of last season on loan at second-division club Reading, is Gladbach’s fifth arrival of the off-season.

Qatar stadium safety concerns again raised by death investigation

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An investigation into why a British man fell to his death on a building site for the 2022 Qatar soccer World Cup has raised concerns about stadium roof safety.

World Cup organizers on Thursday released partial findings of an assessment of the accident at the Khalifa International Stadium, but said the full report cannot be released while local authorities continue their own investigation. It is one of two work-related deaths detailed in Qatar’s latest welfare report on preparations for the 2022 soccer tournament, which currently involves 12,367 workers on eight construction sites.

The 40-year-old British man fell 39 meters in January after one end of the roof catwalk he was installing dropped and a safety rope snapped.

“During the course of the investigation, the team had raised concerns with the method of installation of the raised catwalk system,” the welfare report from Qatar’s World Cup organizers stated. “This required further investigation regarding the method itself and the supervision skills of the specialist contractor staff.”

It has led to “corrective and preventative actions” being implemented by the contractor, a joint venture between Belgian and Qatari firms, along with safety checks across all stadium sites, the report said.

“These included a review of all working-at-height activities across all SC projects, an enhanced process when reviewing specialist activities within construction sites, and a detailed review of all roof and gantry designs,” the Supreme Committee overseeing stadium projects added.

The British man is the only European working on Qatar stadiums to have died in a country relying on a low-paid migrant workforce from south Asia to prepare for the first World Cup in the Middle East. Six non-work related deaths have been announced by organizers, with most suffering from heart or breathing problems.

Hassan Al Thawadi, the supreme committee’s secretary general, said medical staff are trying to raise awareness of the “importance of healthy lifestyles” by evaluating diets and identifying health issues, including hypertension and diabetes. Cooling helmets have also been developed in an attempt to make it safer for workers on outdoor sites during the searing summer heat.

World Cup preparations have been dogged by concerns about the welfare of workers since the natural gas-rich Gulf nation won the FIFA vote in 2010. Mounting international pressure led to Qatar raising living standards and worker rights. Inspections led to three contractors being blacklisted and 14 entities “demobilized” from projects for failing to tackle welfare issues, the World Cup report reveals.

“There is still work to be done to ensure our workers’ welfare standards continue to have a tangible impact on the ground and we are comprehensive in our attempts to tackle the myriad of issues facing migrant workers across the SC program,” Khalid Al-Kubaisi, who oversees worker welfare at the Supreme Committee, said in a statement.

The report has been released as Qatar is gripped by a diplomatic crisis that has seen it isolated in the region. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar earlier this month and blocked air, sea and land traffic over its support for Islamist groups and ties with Iran. Qatar denies the charges and says the allegations are politically motivated.

Official (finally): Salah completes move from Roma to Liverpool

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It was the summer’s first transfer rumor-turned-real-story-turned-never-ending-saga that seemed to refuse to cross the finish line, but it’s finally come to pass: Mohamed Salah is a Liverpool player.

Salah’s move from Roma to Liverpool took so long to complete that the club’s poor social-media manager probably never wants to read the words “Announce Salah” for the rest of his/her life.

The deal will cost Liverpool something in the neighborhood of $50 million — a new Liverpool club record — and completes the utterly terrifying attacking quartet Jurgen Klopp can’t wait to unleash on the Premier League come August — Salah on one side, Sadio Mane opposite, Philippe Coutinho in the middle, and Roberto Firmino at striker. Salah, by the way, will take over Firmino’s no. 11 shirt, with the Brazilian switching to no. 9.