Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

Napoli top Roma to close gap to 2nd; AC Milan cruise, go 5th

Leave a comment

MILAN (AP) Napoli got back on track by beating nearest rival Roma 2-1, leaving Serie A leader Juventus with the biggest smile on Saturday.

Napoli remained third but closed the gap to second-placed Roma to two points.

Juventus can stretch its advantage to 10 points with a win at struggling Udinese on Sunday.

“We must be realistic, the title race was very difficult before, now it’s almost impossible,” Roma coach Luciano Spalletti said. “It will depend what Juventus do, but it’s very hard.

“When you lose these head-to-head games, your spirit also sinks.”

Napoli was all but out of the Champions League and Italian Cup after 3-1 defeats to Real Madrid and Juventus in the first legs. Alongside a home loss to Atalanta last weekend, Napoli’s season threatened to implode.

The match with Roma was billed not only as a fight for an automatic Champions League spot, but also a fight between two contenders for league top-scorer: Dries Mertens and Edin Dzeko.

Mertens came out on top with two goals.

He broke the deadlock in the first half, springing the offside trap to run onto a delightful through ball from Marek Hamsik and dink it over Roma goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.

Mertens celebrated in unusual fashion, by getting down on all fours, cocking his leg, and pretending to urinate on the corner flag.

A second score before halftime was ruled out for his push on Federico Fazio. His second came five minutes after the break, when he rushed in at the back post to tap in Lorenzo Inisgne’s cross.

His 18th league goal moved him within one of Dzeko, Torino’s Andrea Belotti, and Juventus forward – and former Napoli star – Gonzalo Higuain.

It was almost worse for Roma as Daniele de Rossi was lucky not to receive a second yellow card 20 minutes from time when he kicked Pepe Reina in the back of the leg from the ground following a collision with the Napoli goalkeeper. It was not spotted by officials but Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri was sent to the stands for dissent.

Mohamed Salah hit the left post and Roma finally scored in the 89th as Diego Perotti burst down the left and pulled back for Kevin Strootman to drive into the bottom right corner.

In five minutes of stoppage time, Roma was denied an equalizer by Reina’s incredible save of Perotti’s deflected loop, which he somehow finger-tipped onto the crossbar.

Carlos Bacca scored two goals and missed a penalty as AC Milan moved back into the European qualifying positions.

Milan moved level on points with fifth-placed Lazio, which visits Bologna on Sunday. Inter Milan can go back above its city rival with a win at Cagliari.

Chievo started the brighter but Milan took the lead against the run of play when Bacca ran on to Gerard Deulofeu‘s through ball, cut inside, and his effort was deflected in off Stefano Sorrentino’s foot.

Chievo leveled four minutes later through a contentious penalty. Mattia De Sciglio was adjudged to have pulled down Serge Gakpe.

Milan was awarded a penalty of its own in first-half stoppage time for a Bostjan Cesar handball but Bacca blazed his spot kick over the bar.

Bacca doubled his tally in the second half, and Gianluca Lapadula knocked in another penalty eight minutes from time.

Zdenek Zeman’s 1,000th match as coach was bittersweet as his Pescara team lost.

It was honors even at the break after Alberto Cerri cancelled out Bruno Fernandes’s opener for Sampdoria.

But Fabio Quagliarella restored Samp’s lead just before the hour mark and substitute Patrik Schick scored six minutes after being sent in.

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Leave a comment

LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

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

As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.

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

AP Photo/Felipe Dana
Leave a comment

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
Leave a comment

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
1 Comment

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.