Italy: Roma unable to close gap after Juventus draw

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Two Derby della Capitali and Lazio couldn’t muster a single shot on goal, but look carefully at the differences between Saturday’s 0-0 draw at the Stadio Olimpico and Roma’s 2-0 win in September and you’ll see a microcosm of Giallorossi’s regression – small changes that have seen the team lose track of Juventus at the top of the table.

In early fall, Roma established a pattern of dominating first halves before breaking through in the second. Against Lazio, those goals from Federico Balzaretti and Adem Ljajic, Lazio conceding the second from the spot just before full-time. Hogging 64 percent of the ball, Roma held their chief rivals to eight shots, none of which tested Morgan De Sanctis. Claiming the fourth of what would become 10 straight wins to start the season, Rudi Garcia’s team provided the first major warning that they could be Champions League contenders.

On Saturday, there was no second half breakthrough. There were no fullbacks stepping up to get unexpected goals. There were no red cards, late penalties, or any of the other breaks that helped Roma to their one hundred percent start. Instead, the constant pressure that used to wilt opponents never found a way to beat Lazio goalkeeper Etrit Berisha. Despite only three shots and 34 percent of the ball (both worse than the season’s first Derby), Lazio held on for a 0-0 draw.

It’s not that Roma’s any worse. For the most part they’re not. It’s that they’re no longer getting the kind of breaks every team needs to claim 30 of 30 points. They’re no longer the surprise team, the unknown commodity. Unwilling to bet Roma will revert to last year’s Giallorossi, opponents are paying them the honor of conceding as few openings as possible.

As Gervinho had a goal waved off, Miralem Pjanic pushed for an opener, and newly arrived Michel Bastos tried to steal the match late, Lazio lived off the counter. Having lost their leader (Hernanes) to Inter just over a week ago, Edy Reja’s side did well to keep their rivals of the board.

Ultimately, they never got a shot on De Sanctis. They didn’t have a real chance at three points, but by accepting the underdogs’ mantle, Lazio played a game they exemplified why Roma’s come back to earth. With luck evening out and opponents discarding their naiveté, Roma sit nine back of Juventus, unable to take advantage of a rare Bianconeri misstep.

[MORE: Juventus drop points at the death in draw with Verona]

The race for third

source:  The title race may be over, but with Fiorentina on third place Napoli’s heals, Serie A has a race that appears destined to last through May. On Saturday, both teams responded to Round 22 losses with multi-goal wins, giving the faint impression  Roma can still be pulled into a battle for the league’s last two Champions League spots.

Fiorentina’s meeting with visiting Atalanta was one of two matches to kick off the weekend, allowing Josip Ilicic to become the round’s first goalscorer when his curling free kick from 26 yards out put La Viola up in the 20th minute. Still without Mario Gomez, still without Giuseppe Rossi, Vincenzo Montella’s side were given a man advantage in the 81st minute when Luca Cigarini saw a second yellow card. With his team up a man, substitute Rafal Wolski secured the 2-0 win that temporarily pulled Fiorentina even with the Neopolitans.

Coming off last weekend’s 3-0 loss to Atalanta, the Partenopei were looking to rebound against visiting Milan, an outcome that was cast in doubt when Adel Taarabt scored eight minutes into his Rossoneri loan. Napoli’s response was quick, however, getting an 11th minute goal from Gohkan Inler’s deflected shot. A second half brace from Gonzalo Higuaín capped what ultimately became a one-sided game, with Christian Abbiati forced to into 11 saves to limit Milan to a 3-1 loss.

[MORE: Taarabt scores eight minutes into his Serie A debut]

If there were any doubts about Napoli after last week’s disappointment, a convincing performance against Milan assuaged them. The Rossoneri still aren’t clicking under Clarence Seedorf, but they still possess enough talent to challenge. That Napoli was able to absorb Taarabt’s early blow and still claim a comfortable win speaks to their staying power.

But whether they can hold off Fiorentina may depend as much on health as form. Gomez has resumed training. Rossi will come back this spring. If a limited Fiorentina can stay without three while their scorers recover, a full strength team may be able to bridge the gap over the seasons’ final months.

Elsewhere

  • Udinese 3, Chievo 0 – The Flying Donkeys took il Derby Del Nordest to halftime scoreless before Toto Di Natale, Bruno Fernandes, and Emmanuel Badu helped claim Udinese’s second straight win.
  • Torino 1, Bologna 2 – Three huge points pull the Rossoblu four clear of relegation, with Jonathan Cristaldo’s first half double overcoming Ciro Immobile’s 12th goal of the season.
  • Sampdoria 1,  Cagliari 0 – Daniele Gastaldello’s 11th minute goal proved all the home side would need, with Cagliari falling to their fourth loss in five.
  • Parma 0, Catania 0 – After seeing last week’s game in Roma rained out, Parma has their four-match winning streak snapped with Sunday’s scoreless draw. Roberto Donadoni’s team still hasn’t lost in league since Nov. 2.
  • Livorno 0, Genoa 1 – Luca Antonelli’s 10th minute goal held up despite Livorno outshooting their guests 19-6. Genoa jumps into the table’s top half.
  • Verona 2, Juventus 2 – Carlos Tévez’s double wasn’t enough as second half goals from Luca Toni and Juan Gomez Taleb allowed Hellas steal a point in stoppage time.
  • Inter 1, Sassuolo 0 – Bouncing back from last weekend’s Derby loss to Juve, Inter got an early second half goal from veteran Walter Samuel to push Sassuolo into 19th.

Others
Lazio 0, Roma 0
Fiorentina 2, Atalanta 0
Napoli 3, Milan 1

Standings

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Juventus 23 19 3 1 56 18 38 11-0-0 8-3-1 60
Roma 22 15 6 1 45 11 34 9-2-0 6-4-1 51
Napoli 23 14 5 4 47 27 20 8-3-1 6-2-3 47
Fiorentina 23 13 5 5 42 24 18 7-3-1 6-2-4 44
Inter Milan 23 9 9 5 40 27 13 6-5-1 3-4-4 36
Verona 23 11 3 9 39 37 2 8-1-3 3-2-6 36
Torino 23 8 9 6 36 30 6 5-5-2 3-4-4 33
Parma 22 8 9 5 32 27 5 5-5-2 3-4-3 33
Lazio 23 8 8 7 29 29 0 6-3-2 2-5-5 32
Genoa 23 8 6 9 24 28 -4 5-3-3 3-3-6 30
AC Milan 23 7 8 8 36 35 1 5-4-2 2-4-6 29
Sampdoria 23 7 7 9 27 32 -5 4-4-4 3-3-5 28
Atalanta 23 8 3 12 24 32 -8 7-2-2 1-1-10 27
Udinese 23 8 2 13 25 32 -7 5-1-5 3-1-8 26
Cagliari 23 5 9 9 21 32 -11 5-4-3 0-5-6 24
Bologna 23 4 9 10 22 39 -17 2-6-4 2-3-6 21
Chievo 23 4 6 13 16 32 -16 2-2-7 2-4-6 18
Livorno 23 4 5 14 22 41 -19 3-3-6 1-2-8 17
Sassuolo 23 4 5 14 23 49 -26 3-1-7 1-4-7 17
Catania 23 3 7 13 16 40 -24 3-5-3 0-2-10 16

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

AP Photo/Felipe Dana
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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

AP Photo/Frank Augstein
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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.

Report: Guardiola close to adding $43m Benfica goalkeeper

@edersonmoraes93
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Year Two of the Pep Guardiola era at Manchester City could feature another big goalkeeper purchase.

Claudio Bravo hasn’t panned out in sky blue, and Joe Hart doesn’t look likely to be coming back. Wily Caballero is getting the lion’s share of the minutes right now, playing every minute aside from a trio of FA Cup matches since February.

[ MORE: Podolski scores screamer in German finale ]

$43 million is the fee noted by Abola when it comes to the latest target for Guardiola, a neck-tattooed Brazilian by the name of Ederson.

The Benfica backstop, 23, has 20 clean sheets in 32 appearances this season. He signed a new six-year deal in late January, but money may talk here.