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Serie A: Milan derby entertains again; Juventus go 8 points clear

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MILAN (AP) Cristian Zapata’s stoppage-time equalizer prevented the new era at AC Milan from getting off to a losing start on Saturday as the Rossoneri fought back from two goals down to draw 2-2 at city rival Inter Milan.

Antonio Candreva and Mauro Icardi scored in the first half but Alessio Romagnoli reduced the deficit in the 83rd minute before Zapata’s leveler in the seventh minute of stoppage time.

Milan remained sixth in Serie A, two points above Inter in the race for the final qualifying position for the Europa League.

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This was the first match since the $800 million takeover of Milan was completed on Thursday by Chinese-led Rossoneri Sport Luxembourg, ending Silvio Berlusconi’s 31-year reign.

Inter, which is also owned by a Chinese group, was taken over last year by Suning.

“It was an advert for the East, it was a hard-fought match, which gave the fans emotions – both positive and negative,” Milan coach Vincenzo Montella said. “I think Milan and Inter offered up a great spectacle.

“This team gave the last victory to Berlusconi, against Palermo, and also the last trophy and that’s a privilege. A win would have been better today but a draw which arrived in this way and for how the team played is a good start.”

New Milan President Yonghong Li was in the stands for the match, which kicked off at 12:30 p.m. local time – perfect for prime time Chinese television audiences seven hours ahead.

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Milan fans unveiled a banner at halftime, mocking that decision as it depicted a man eating cash with chopsticks and the words, “All you can eat … have a nice meal Italian league.”

The Rossoneri supporters also displayed another banner at the start of the first half, with the words: “We hope to see seriousness, commitment and presence. We give our welcome to the new management.”

Milan attacked from the start and almost took the lead in the second minute but Carlos Bacca fired over from close range after Samir Handanovic denied Gerard Deulofeu and a series of shots was charged down.

Deulofeu went close again in the 14th but his effort went off the base of the right post from a tight angle.

Milan looked to be the more dangerous side but Inter broke the deadlock in the 36th on its first real chance. Roberto Gagliardini sent a long ball over the top to Candreva, who shrugged off Mattia De Sciglio to chip it over the onrushing Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Inter doubled its lead a minute from halftime as Ivan Perisic won the ball in midfield, played a one-two with Icardi and then raced down the left flank before pulling back from the byline for the Argentine to tap in at the near post.

It was Icardi’s first goal against Milan in nine matches.

Milan got back in the match in the 66th minute when Romagnoli volleyed in Suso’s cross from close range, giving Milan new belief.

Everyone, including Donnarumma, went up for a corner, which Bacca headed on and Zapata managed to turn into the net off the underside of the bar. Goal-line technology proved the ball had gone over.

It was revenge after the first meeting between the two sides this season had also ended 2-2, following Perisic’s last-minute equalizer.

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Juventus 32 26 2 4 64 20 44 16-0-0 10-2-4 80
 Roma 32 23 3 6 70 27 43 14-1-1 9-2-5 72
 Napoli 32 21 7 4 75 33 42 11-4-2 10-3-2 70
 Lazio 32 18 7 7 54 36 18 10-2-4 8-5-3 61
 Atalanta 32 18 6 8 53 35 18 10-2-3 8-4-5 60
 AC Milan 32 17 7 8 49 35 14 11-2-3 6-5-5 58
 Inter Milan 32 17 5 10 59 37 22 10-3-3 7-2-7 56
 Fiorentina 32 14 10 8 50 41 9 8-7-1 6-3-7 52

Roma’s faint hopes of beating Juventus to the Serie A title are all but over, while it is at risk of losing out on second spot to Napoli.

Roma slipped eight points behind Juventus with just six matches remaining. Third-placed Napoli closed the gap on Roma to just two points after a 3-0 victory over Udinese, thanks to goals from Dries Mertens, Allan and Jose Callejon.

Atalanta remained fifth, two points ahead of AC Milan.

Jasmin Kurtic fired Atalanta in front in the 22nd after good work from Andrea Conti, who went past Antonio Rudiger on the left.

Roma leveled five minutes after the break, when Mohamed Salah knocked down Mario Rui’s cross for Edin Dzeko to tap in and score his 25th league goal of the season, keeping him level with Torino’s Andrea Belotti at the top of the goalscoring charts.

Daniele De Rossi almost scored a spectacular goal but his overhead kick from the edge of the area crashed off the post. Roma hit the woodwork again when Radja Nainggolan’s effort came off the underside of the crossbar.

Gonzalo Higuain scored two first-half goals as Juventus won 2-0 at relegation-threatened Pescara.

[ MORE: La Liga roundup — Madrid, Barca win final games before El Clasico ]

However, Juventus forward Paulo Dybala limped off in the 54th with an ankle injury, which will be a worry for the Bianconeri ahead of the second leg of their Champions League quarterfinal on Wednesday, where they lead Barcelona 3-0.

Lazio’s hopes of sneaking into the Champions League were also dented as it was held 2-2 at Genoa, while Fiorentina lost 2-1 against Empoli after conceding a stoppage-time penalty.

Elsewhere, Sassuolo beat Sampdoria 2-1, Cagliari thrashed Chievo Verona 4-0, Torino drew 1-1 against Crotone and Bologna’s match at Palermo ended 0-0.

Vidal rips Ronaldo ahead of Confederations Cup semifinal

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Chile hopes to make a statement on Wednesday when it faces EURO 2016 champions Portugal and Ballon d’Or champion Cristiano Ronaldo.

The 2015 and 2016 Copa America champions can lay claim to another inter-confederation title with two more wins in the 2017 Confederations Cup, beginning with the semifinal in Kazan.

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Chile finished behind Germany in Group B but didn’t lose a match and only allowed two goals. That’ll be tested by Portugal and its seven goals in three matches.

Two of those goals came from Ronaldo, but don’t tell that to Arturo Vidal. Chile’s hard-edged midfielder doesn’t like him much.

From Goal.com:

“Cristiano is a smart ass,” he told reporters. “For me he does not exist.

“I have already told my Bayern Munich team-mate Joshua Kimmich that we will meet again in the final.”

Germany will have to take care of Mexico to make that happen, though we have a feeling a certain smart ass will have a thing or two to say before it’s all said and done.

Vidal has spoken loudly of his desire to get Chilean teammate Alexis Sanchez, a former Barcelona man, at his club Bayern Munich. If Ronaldo is on the market, this isn’t a great recruiting tool. Ah, jokes.

Trio of Crew players in Ghana roster to face USMNT, Mexico

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Ghana’s team to face the United States men’s national team on Saturday in East Hartford will look somewhat familiar to fans of Major League Soccer.

Columbus Crew players Harrison Afful, Mohammed Abu and Jonathan Mensah join David Accam of the Chicago Fire, and Gershon Koffie of the New England Revolution on a unit with Kwadwo Poku of the NASL’s Kwadwo Poku.

John Boye, Asamoah Gyan, and Mensah are the only three players from the loss to the USMNT in the 2014 World Cup.

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Like the U.S., this is a less than full-strength squad. Missing are a number of Black Stars standouts, with Andre Ayew, Jordan Ayew, Afriyie Acquah, Daniel Amartey, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Christian Atsu, Jeff Schlupp, and Baba Rahman not with the team.

Saturday’s match is the last USMNT outing before the Gold Cup begins on July 8 in Nashville against Panama.

Goalkeepers: Addo Joseph (Aduana Stars), Richard Ofori (Wa All Stars)

Defenders: Lumor Agbenyenu (Munich 1860), Harrison Afful (Columbus Crew),  Nicholas Opoku (Berekum Chelsea), Jerry Akaminko (Eskiserhispor),  John Boye (Sivasspor), Rashid Sumalia (Al Gharafa), Jonathan Mensah (Columbus Crew), Samuel Sarfo (Liberty)

Midfielders: Mohammed Abu (Columbus Crew, Isaac Sackey (Alanyaspor), Ofori Ebenezer (Stuttgart), Kwadwo Poku (FC Miami), Winful Kwaku Cobbinah (Hearts of Oak), Frank Acheampong (Anderlecht), Thomas Agyepong (NAC Breda), Gershon Koffie (New England Revolution)

Strikers: Asamoah Gyan (Al Alhi), Raphael Dwamena (FC Zurich), Majeed Abdul Waris (Lorient FC), David Accam (Chicago Fire)

Timo Werner abused in Germany but key to World Cup defense

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) The abuse has followed Timo Werner for months, gathering pace as rapidly as the striker has amassed goals.

No German player was more prolific in the Bundesliga last season. No player was as ostracized.

But Werner is now a full-blown Germany international, scoring his first goals at the Confederations Cup on Sunday, and he could hold the key to the World Cup defense next year.

[ MORE: USMNT’s 23-man roster questions ]

That could require Germany supporters to forgive a player they jeered at during his first competitive game for Joachim Loew’s team earlier this month.

“Kobe Bryant has also been booed everywhere and he always been the best,” Werner reflected ahead of Germany’s Confederations Cup semifinal against Mexico on Thursday, seeing a kindred spirit in the basketball great. “I do not want to say that I am the best like him, but (the abuse) is a bit of an incentive.”

If playing for the ascendant but deeply unpopular Leipzig wasn’t bad enough, a dive in December by Werner provided a focal point for the animosity – jealousy, perhaps – toward the Red Bull-funded team.

The insults have even been hurled far from Germany, far from soccer stadiums. The dive won a penalty against Schalke, and provided Werner with one of the 21 goals that helped to propel Leipzig into second place and a Champions League debut next season.

“There was a dive, he made a mistake and he admitted it,” Loew said, “but he is very, very young player.”

And a potentially very important one for Loew at the World Cup in Russia next year. Germany’s striking options are being assessed at the eight-team Confederations Cup as Loew still seeks a long-term successor to Miroslav Klose as target man for the world champions.

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Werner opened his account for Germany on his fourth appearance, scoring twice in a 3-1 victory over Cameroon on Sunday in Sochi.

“Werner put in a lot of legwork,” Loew said. “He showed how dangerous he is and that he’s got a great nose for goal. Both of his efforts were very well taken.”

Werner’s rivals for a place in the squad next year include fellow squad newcomers Lars Stindl and Sandro Wagner. They are both close to 30, while the 21-year-old Werner has youth, strength and speed on his side. Even Wagner said he has “never seen such a good striker at that age.”

That’s a result of Werner fusing his pace with intelligence on the ball, mastering dribbling at high speed first with Stuttgart and then at Leipzig.

“There’s no recipe for it,” Werner said. “The quickest players just know how to do it automatically. I like to knock the ball three or four meters ahead of me when I’m on the counter or have space in front of me, that way I can increase the distance between a defender and myself.”

Such proficiency should help Werner win over fans beyond Leipzig. Time, he hopes, will heal the fractures, and there’s certainly support from his new international teammates.

“I wish him well because of the issues he has had to endure,” captain Julian Draxler told Germany’s ARD television.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP Confederations Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/ConfederationsCup

USMNT Gold Cup 23-man roster leaves some questions

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We have Bruce Arena’s 23-man United States men’s national roster for the Gold Cup, and there are more than a few surprises left out of the bunch.

Often a chance to experiment, those who thought this year’s Gold Cup roster would be one aimed at reclaiming glory with authority may be surprised to see the status quo.

Jurgen Klinsmann brought most of his big guns to the 2015 party — which didn’t go well for Brad Guzan and Co. — but Arena will roll into this summer’s tournament without most of his big names. There’s no Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, Michael Bradley, Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey, nor Jozy Altidore.

Those aren’t huge surprises, though who Arena neglected from his original 40-man short list is a bit of a shock to the system (Players can be called into the mix after the group stage, which is a fairly simple affair for the USMNT to navigate versus Panama, Martinique, and Nicagarua).

Arena is going with Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson, and Bill Hamid in a trio that fails to impress. Hamid does have a big crowd of fans who’d like to see him get a chance to assert himself as the future, and hopefully either Johnson or Hamid finds time between the sticks against a serious opponent like Panama. No surprise that Tim Howard and Joe Bendik didn’t leap into the trio (EDIT: This post initially questioned the omission of Jesse Gonzalez, but his one-time switch from Mexico to the USMNT has yet to go through).

We’ll ignore the omission of Danny Williams for the most part considering he was absent from the 40-man list, but he must have said something seriously awful to Arena or someone at U.S. soccer.

The group of forwards leaves little to complain about, as Juan Agudelo and Dom Dwyer very much deserve their chances to compete for playing time with Sounders star Jordan Morris, but the midfield provides some head-scratching. Gyasi Zardes may be a longtime Arena favorite, but the Galaxy man has been ice cold in MLS. The 25-year-old has a single assist in almost 1000 minutes of play this season, and that came back on April 8. Tommy McNamara has not lighting the league on fire and Chris Pontius and his six assists are 30 years old, so much of the grief should be directed at the 40-man again, but Zardes has to embrace this opportunity. And maybe it’s a way to help the Galaxy and Zardes get a little mojo.

As an aside, Wil Trapp is among leaders in several MLS passing stats, which leads me to believe Arena is going to play Dax McCarty and Kellyn Acosta a ton and doesn’t see much of a need for Trapp in this tournament, not ever.

Defenders Steve Birnbaum and Jonathan Spector were not rewarded with looks, though Graham Zusi was included in what must be an arm reaching out for USMNT experience. Birnbaum is leading MLS in aerials won per game and Spector is by far Orlando’s top rated player since returning from England. Yes, Spector is 31 but this is about still qualifying for next summer’s World Cup, not the 2022 cycle. Spare a thought for Matt Polster, who has been decent since returning from a knee strain. This is nothing against Zusi, a consummate professional who won’t kill the team by any means and will be an tremendous asset in leadership.

What about you? Any other gripes? Or do you love the bunch?