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Serie A: Higuain scores twice to send Juve 9 points clear again

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MILAN (AP) Gonzalo Higuain is coming back into form at just the right time for Juventus.

Higuain hadn’t scored for five matches before netting two against former club Napoli midweek as Juventus progressed to the Italian Cup final. And the forward netted another double to fire the Bianconeri past Chievo Verona 2-0 in Serie A on Saturday.

Juventus moved nine points clear of second-placed Roma, which visits Bologna on Sunday.

Massimiliano Allegri will be hoping Higuain can make it three out of three when Juventus hosts Barcelona in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals on Tuesday.

“It will be a very difficult match in the Champions League, we’re facing a really great team, but we have to remain calm and get to it in top condition,” Higuain said. “As we respect them, they respect us, too.”

He broke the deadlock in the 23rd minute, thanks to a fantastic assist from Paulo Dybala, who skipped down the right flank before pulling back for his teammate to fire into the far bottom corner.

Higuain nearly doubled his tally on the hour mark with a swiveling effort which flew just past the right corner.

He had other chances to score before he finally got his second, six minutes from time, after more good work from Dybala in picking out Stephan Lichtsteiner, who crossed for Higuain to control and curl into the bottom right corner.

It was Juventus captain Gianluigi Buffon’s 616th Serie A appearance, moving him to second on the all-time list behind Paolo Maldini, who retired after 647.

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Juventus 31 25 2 4 62 20 42 16-0-0 9-2-4 77
 Roma 30 22 2 6 66 26 40 14-0-1 8-2-5 68
 Napoli 30 19 7 4 69 33 36 10-4-2 9-3-2 64
 Lazio 30 18 6 6 52 31 21 10-2-3 8-4-3 60
 Atalanta 31 18 5 8 52 34 18 10-2-3 8-3-5 59
 Inter Milan 30 17 4 9 56 33 23 10-2-3 7-2-6 55
 AC Milan 30 16 6 8 43 33 10 10-2-3 6-4-5 54
 Fiorentina 30 14 9 7 47 37 10 8-7-0 6-2-7 51

Atalanta’s hopes of sneaking into the Champions League diminished as it was held by Sassuolo, leaving it a point behind fourth-placed Lazio and five behind Napoli, which occupies the last Champions League spot.

Bryan Cristante cancelled out Lorenzo Pellegrini’s opener for Sassuolo but the hosts couldn’t snatch a winner.

Lazio hosts Napoli on Sunday.

“Other teams would have collapsed after going behind in such matches,” Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini said. “We can have a bit of regret that we didn’t take our chances in the second half, but the result still allows us to fight for Europe until the end of the season.”

Sassuolo took a surprising lead in the first half when Mattia Caldara made a rare mistake and the Atalanta defender was robbed of the ball by Pellegrini, who sprinted forward, rounded goalkeeper Etrit Berisha, and slotted home.

Alejandro Gomez scored a hat trick in Atalanta’s 5-0 win over Genoa last weekend and he was instrumental in the equalizer in the 73rd, floating in a free kick for Cristante to head into the back of the net.

Gomez, who hit the post early, put in another great cross moments after the equalizer but Sassuolo goalkeeper Andrea Consigli pulled off a good save to deny Alberto Grassi.

Caldara almost went from villain to hero but Consigli finger-tipped his effort away.

Empoli was not safe from relegation after being held by bottom club Pescara.

Empoli was 17th, six points above Crotone, which hosts Inter Milan on Sunday.

Pescara remained nine points behind Empoli. Palermo was the other team in the bottom three.

USMNT: Brooks out with hip strain; World Cup qualifiers loom

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John Brooks is out of Hertha Berlin’s lineup “for the time being” after scans revealed a hip strain suffered in this weekend’s win over Wolfsburg.

That’s all Hertha has said, and that makes it hard to imagine whether American fans should be a little concerned or very concerned ahead of the USMNT’s World Cup qualifiers against Mexico, and Trinidad and Tobago in early June.

Brooks was unavailable for two weeks with an adductor strain in September, missing a month before returning to the starting lineup.

The U.S. center back pool isn’t teeming after Brooks and Geoff Cameron. Matt Besler, Tim Ream, Omar Gonzalez, and Walker Zimmerman were called up for the last World Cup qualifiers, and Gonzalez struggled but is a Bruce Arena favorite from their time in L.A.

WATCH: Snazzy Sargent goal leads U.S. U-17s past Mexico

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Josh Sargent scored a pretty goal as the United States Soccer program had another banner day against Mexico.

Nearly two months to the day after the U.S. U-20 side beat Mexico for the first time in 31 years, the U.S. U-17 topped El Tri for the first time ever. That win snapped Mexico’s 25-match unbeaten streak.

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The goal is the first of Sargent’s two goals, as the 16-year-old latched onto a long diagonal ball and used his right foot and head to move the ball into position for a strong shot.

The U.S. clinches a spot in the next round of U-17 World Cup qualifying with one match remaining in group play.

Sargent is from St. Louis and plays with Scott Gallagher-Missouri. Former Philadelphia Union coach John Hackworth coaches the U.S. U-17s.

Heads of South American soccer sent $128M in bank transfers

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SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) The leaders of South America’s soccer confederation transferred $128.6 million between 2000 and 2015 to personal accounts, suspicious accounts, or unauthorized third-party accounts, according to an audit released Wednesday by Ernst & Young.

According to the audit presented to the annual CONMEBOL congress in the Chilean capital, the confederation’s former president Nicolas Leoz transferred $26.9 million to his personal accounts. Leoz was the president for 27 years until resigning in 2013 for what he said were health reasons.

The audit also found $58 million in payments “to third parties without adequate documentation,” payments of $33.3 million to “unidentified accounts,” and $10.4 million to “suspicious third-parties.”

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“We had said that we would have four pillars, and the first two pillars were clear accounts and accountability,” said Alejandro Dominguez, the president of CONMEBOL who commissioned the audit last year. “Today we are accountable to the leaders and the whole world of football.”

Leoz, 88, is one of three ex-presidents of CONMEBOL accused on corruption charges by the United States Department of Justice. He is in Paraguay fighting extradition to the United States.

The South American body has been plagued by corruption, which was exposed two years ago during the FIFA scandal. Leoz’s two successors, Eugenio Figueredo and Juan Angel Napout, were both arrested on corruption charges.

“I’m here, I’m the manager” – Moyes will not quit Sunderland

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This has been one horrible stretch for David Moyes.

The Sunderland manager probably thought he’d been through the worst once he left Real Sociedad, where he went 12-15-15.

But he’s managed just seven wins and seven draws in 38 matches in charge of the Black Cats — an 18 percent win mark. He’s also been charged for threatening to slap a female journalist.

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And after Wednesday, Moyes has lost both of his derby matches against Middlesbrough.

Sunderland is 12 points back of safety with five matches left. The odds the Black Cats are headed for the Championship are somewhere north of 99 percent, and fans are calling for his job.

Well, he isn’t quitting. From the BBC:

“No, I’m here, I’m the manager, you take it on the chin. … I’m a football supporter, I know what it’s like. You don’t like seeing your team lose.

“There is nobody who wants to win more than me. I am used to winning, I’m not used to losing and I don’t want to get used to it either.”