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SERIE A 2017-18: Guide to promoted teams in Italy’s top tier

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MILAN (AP) A look at Spal, Hellas Verona and Benevento as the promoted teams prepare for the start of the Italian league season this weekend.

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SPAL

Few outside of Italy will have heard about Societa Polisportiva Ars et Labor, to give Spal its full name.

The northeastern club has spent a total of 21 seasons in Serie A and launched the career of Fabio Capello. Before going on to win titles as a player and coach with AC Milan, Juventus and Roma, Capello played in Spal’s penultimate Serie A campaign in 1966-67.

It’s been a long way back to the top flight for the first time since 1968.

Spal has also gone through bankruptcy and been refounded twice – in 2005 and 2012. But it managed to recover from that latest setback to climb back to Serie A in just five years thanks in part to back-to-back promotions.

In 2016, Spal reached Serie B for the first time since 1993. Then it surprisingly beat Hellas Verona to the title to gain promotion while boasting the most prolific attack and the third-best defense last season.

Coach Leonardo Semplici has been the mastermind behind Spal’s climb up the leagues, after the former Fiorentina youth team coach took charge at the end of 2014.

Spal prided itself on having an all-Italian side. That is no more after Greek defender Marios Oikonomou and Brazilian center back Felipe joined in the offseason.

Italian forward Alberto Paloschi has also joined and he will be hoping to revive his career after disappointing spells at Swansea and Atalanta.

Semplici’s team has a good mix of experience and youth, including 20-year-old goalkeeper Alex Meret, who was called up to the Italy squad last season.

HELLAS VERONA

Hellas Verona has bounced straight back up to Serie A, a year after being relegated from the top flight.

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It will be a debut in the top division for coach Fabio Pecchia, however, who earned promotion in his first season in charge after stints as Rafa Benitez‘s assistant at Napoli, Real Madrid and Newcastle.

The 43-year-old Pecchia will look for advice to Alessio Cerci and Giampaolo Pazzini, who both have something to prove.

Cerci is looking to reboot his career after a dramatic loss of form following his departure from Torino three years ago, while Pazzini is hoping he can take his goal scoring exploits back to Serie A.

Pazzini has only scored 12 goals in his past three seasons in the top flight – including six in 30 appearances the season Verona was relegated – but the former AC Milan and Italy forward was given the captain’s armband last season and responded with 23 league goals, making him top scorer in Serie B.

Pre-season preparations were overshadowed by the Antonio Cassano saga.

Cassano, who had not played football for more than a year joined Verona at the beginning of July but eight days later he informed the club he was retiring for family reasons before announcing he had changed his mind later that day. However, less than a week later he quit the club for a second time.

BENEVENTO

Benevento is the latest Italian side to enjoy a fairytale first-ever promotion to Serie A.

It will be hoping to avoid the fate of Carpi and Frosinone, who went straight back down two seasons ago, and instead emulate Crotone which pulled off the great escape last season.

It has been an incredible rise for Benevento which went bankrupt in 2005 and restarted in Italy’s fourth division in 2007.

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The southern club was in the third division as recent as 2015/16 but back-to-back promotions have lifted it into Serie A for the first time in its 88-year history.

Under Marco Baroni, Benevento also became the first club to win immediate promotion to the top flight in its first ever season in Serie B.

It did so by finishing fifth in the regular season and beating Carpi in a playoff final.

George Puscas scored the winning goal in that final and his loan from Inter Milan has been extended. Benevento will be relying on the Romanian striker for goals as well as Fabio Ceravolo, who netted 20 goals last season.

It has also brought in Colombian striker Alexis Zapata on loan from Udinese and midfielder Danilo Cataldi also on loan from Lazio.

Benevento is a town of less than 60,000 inhabitants to the north-east of Naples.

More AP Serie A coverage https://apnews.com/tag/SerieA

Barry Bennell jailed 30 years for abusing young players

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LIVERPOOL, England (AP) A former English youth soccer coach was jailed Monday for 30 years for abusing 12 young footballers after the judge called him the “devil incarnate.”

Barry Bennell, a former coach at Crewe and scout for Manchester City, was convicted at Liverpool Crown Court of 50 child sexual offenses committed between 1979 and 1991.

“Your behavior towards these boys in grooming and seducing them before subjecting them to, in some cases, the most most serious, degrading and humiliating abuse was sheer evil,” Judge Clement Goldstone told the 64-year-old Bennell.

Bennell looked at the floor and nodded as the judge sentenced him. Some members of the public began to applaud as he was sent down, but were stopped by the judge.

Goldstone said Bennell had appeared to his victims as a God.

“In reality, you were the devil incarnate,” the judge added. “You stole their childhoods and their innocence to satisfy your own perversion.”

Goldstone said Bennell’s abuse had destroyed the enthusiasm his victims had for playing football and had led to them suffering problems including suicidal thoughts, alcoholism and depression.

Bennell has already served three jail terms, totaling 15 years, for similar offenses involving 16 other victims in England and the United States.

LIVE, FA Cup: Wigan host Manchester City

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All conquering Manchester City head to third-tier Wigan Athletic on Monday (Kick off, 2:55 p.m. ET) to keep their quest of a legendary quadruple alive.

[ LIVE: Follow Wigan v Man City here

Pep Guardiola‘s men are 16 points clear atop the Premier League summit, while they are virtually through to the last eight of the UEFA Champions League and are in the League Cup final against Arsenal at Wembley on Sunday.

Can anyone stop them?

Wigan stand in their way with the Latics promotion favorites from the third tier who have already beaten Premier League teams Bournemouth and West Ham United to reach the last 16.

The winner will host Southampton in the quarterfinal for a place in the semifinal at Wembley Stadium, and City’s fan will be feeling a little nervous heading into this game.

Why? They played Wigan in the FA Cup final in 2013 and lost 1-0 after a last-gasp header from Ben Watson sealed one of the greatest upsets of all time to hand the Latics their first-ever major trophy. Wigan also beat City in the FA Cup quarterfinals in 2015, the last time they met in this competition.

Surely Guardiola’s boys won’t be on the end of another upset this time, especially with this starting lineup…

Click on the link above to follow the action live, while we will have analysis and reaction from the final FA Cup fifth round clash right here at Pro Soccer Talk.

Italy VAR chief: Incidents to be shown on stadium screens

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Decisions which have been changed on video review could soon be shown on the giant screens in Italian stadiums, offering soccer fans more clarity.

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The video assistant referee system was introduced in Italy at the start of the season and has been criticized for leaving supporters in the stadiums blind sometimes as to what is happening on the pitch or why a decision has been changed.

The head of the project in Italy, Roberto Rosetti, told Radio Anch’io Sport on Monday: “Probably in a few months’ time we’ll be able to see on big screens in the stadiums images of the decisions that have been changed and why they have been changed.”

Rosetti admits they need to “improve on the uniformity of both interpretation and intervention” but says the positive effect of the VAR can clearly be seen by “the drastic reduction in bookings for protests and anti-sporting behavior.”

Spurs “have the capacity” to win the Champions League

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We know. They just drew 2-2 away at Rochdale in the fifth round of the FA Cup. We know.

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But Tottenham Hotspur’s last 2-2 draw was much more impressive as they went to Juventus and outplayed the reigning Italian champions in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie.

Heading into the second leg at Wembley on Mar. 7, it appears that new signing Lucas Moura, who scored their opening goal against Rochdale on Sunday, is a fan of what he’s seen in his short time at Tottenham.

Speaking to reporters after his first goal for Spurs on his full debut, Moura has high hopes for his time in North London.

“I am 25 years old but I think I gained a lot of experience with PSG and I think I can help Tottenham. I think we have a lot of quality and a great structure and can arrive at the end of the season with a trophy. The Champions League is the most difficult cup but I think we have the capacity to win it if we always think in positives and always work hard,” Moura said, via the Guardian.

“We did a big game against Juventus away. It was a good result in Italy and I am sure we can do a good game with our fans and continue. It’s always important to win. Every player wants to win trophies, to make history and I am here to make history with my new friends, my new team-mates. I believe that because we have a lot of quality, a great structure – I am really impressed – and I think we can dream with the Champions League.”

Does Moura have a point? Aside from a weakened side struggling away at Rochdale on a freshly laid pitch, they’ve been superb in recent months.

And given the current form of Harry Kane and the entire Spurs team there won’t be a single club who says “you know what, let’s take Spurs” if they make it through to the last eight of the UCL.

The high-pressing style of Mauricio Pochettino saw them bully Juve away from home and all of a sudden it seems like the rest of Europe has woken up and realized just how good they are.

If injuries are kind to Spurs and Moura continues to show flashes of brilliance since his arrival from PSG in January, the Brazilian could well be on to something. Tottenham are by no means favorites to win the Champions League, but their recent results against Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool prove they are a force to be reckoned with.