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Few positives for Italy after missing out on World Cup

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MILAN (AP) Over 180 minutes of soccer, Italy showed exactly why it is not going to the World Cup.

The national team was poor during a 2-0 loss to Argentina on Friday and needed a late penalty – awarded on video review – to salvage a 1-1 draw against England on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Is Chelsea or Spurs set up better for long-term success? ]

Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1958, and changes in the team were expected. But although interim coach Luigi Di Biagio handed debuts to 20-year-old players Federico Chiesa and Patrick Cutrone, much of the lineup for his first match in charge consisted of veterans held over from the qualifying campaign.

Chiesa was one of the few bright spots for Italy, which barely avoided going scoreless for a fourth straight match for the first time in the national team’s 108-year history.

The Fiorentina winger was brought on 10 minutes into the second half and impressed on the left flank, running at defenders. He was also the player who was fouled late, leading to Lorenzo Insigne’s equalizing penalty.

“We deserved the draw,” Chiesa said, “and it’s important for our morale and the atmosphere in the Italy camp.”

Chiesa, who turned 20 in October, and teenage goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma were the youngest Italy players on the field, and the duo could form the spine of the Azzurri for many years to come.

“I’m very happy because after making my debut I managed to play another match with the national team,” Chiesa said. “I always dreamed about making my debut for Italy but also to continue playing in the next matches.

Another positive for Italy was that the players seemed to have found their team spirit – which was sorely lacking in both World Cup playoff matches against Sweden and in several of the final matches of former coach Gian Piero Ventura’s tenure.

“I am happy because we showed no fear in front of 80,000 people, in an important stadium such as Wembley,” Di Biagio said. “Independent of the result, which is a positive one, I would have been satisfied with the performance anyway.

“What’s most important is the growth of these guys. These players have character, I can guarantee you that … even when we were losing they never stopped chasing the draw and then they tried to win. We certainly took a step forward.”

Despite the positive injection of youth, others who have performed well for their clubs continued to struggle in the national shirt.

Ciro Immobile has scored eight goals in his past nine matches for Lazio, but only once in his past 11 matches for Italy. On Tuesday, the 28-year-old forward missed a number of chances, including two in the opening three minutes against England at Wembley Stadium.

Insigne was also guilty of wasting opportunities before converting from the spot near the end.

The 26-year-old Napoli forward, who surprisingly was hardly used in the playoffs against Sweden, looked lost for most of the match against England. But then, somewhat out of nowhere, he almost scored in the 80th minute after linking up with Napoli teammate Jorginho.

Italy’s next two matches will be against France on June 1 and the Netherlands three days later, when the Azzurri should have a permanent coach. An announcement is slated for May 20.

Carlo Ancelotti, Antonio Conte and Roberto Mancini are the leading candidates, while Di Biagio could also be given the job fulltime.

“This has been a fantastic experience which has really given me a lot,” Di Biagio said. “These guys aren’t so mediocre as everyone wants to make out. They are Italy, they have to understand what they represent. We’ll see if it will be me or not, but that’s not a problem.”

MLS at Week 8: Galaxy host Atlanta, NYCFC aims to stay unbeaten out west

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A full weekend of MLS action kicks off on Friday night with two of the Western Conference’s elite, while Saturday and Sunday feature a number of quality matchups.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the LA Galaxy have been quite the attraction since the Swede made his move to MLS a few weeks ago, but Sigi Schmid’s side will be in for another early-season test on Saturday when they take on a red-hot Atlanta United.

[ MORE: Sweden not keen on Zlatan’s World Cup return ]

Both sides currently sit in second place in their respective conferences, while Atlanta boasts the second-highest goalscoring total in the league to this point, with 15 goals in six games.

Western Conference leaders Sporting KC have gone unbeaten in their last six matches since their opening day defeat to New York City FC, and Matt Besler and Co. will have another opportunity to put their stamp on the conference with a crucial match against the Vancouver Whitecaps, who sit third in the West.

NYCFC and FC Dallas remain on the only two unbeaten clubs left in 2018, although the latter has been far less convincing in its first five matches.

Patrick Vieira and NYCFC are coming off of a hard-fought 2-2 draw against Atlanta last weekend, and now head west to take on the Portland Timbers.

Meanwhile, Dallas plays host to the Philadelphia Union, who have taken just one win out of their first five games.

Here’s a look at the full slate of matches around MLS in Week 8.

Friday

Sporting KC vs. Vancouver Whitecaps — 9 p.m. ET

Saturday

Montreal Impact vs. Los Angeles FC — 1 p.m. ET
Houston Dynamo vs. Toronto FC — 3 p.m. ET
New York Red Bulls vs. Chicago Fire — 3:30 p.m. ET
Columbus Crew vs. New England Revolution — 7:30 p.m. ET
Orlando City vs. San Jose Earthquakes — 7:30 p.m. ET
FC Dallas vs. Philadelphia Union — 8 p.m. ET
Real Salt Lake vs. Colorado Rapids — 9 p.m. ET
LA Galaxy vs. Atlanta United — 10:30 p.m. ET

Sunday

Seattle Sounders vs. Minnesota United — 4 p.m. ET
Portland Timbers vs. New York City FC — 6 p.m. ET

Atletico defeat leaves Barcelona 1 win from title

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MADRID (AP) Atletico Madrid lost 3-0 at Real Sociedad on Thursday, leaving Barcelona one victory away from clinching the Spanish league title.

Barcelona, which drew 2-2 at Celta Vigo on Tuesday without most of its regular starters, can secure its 25th crown at Deportivo La Coruna on April 29.

[ MORE: Chelsea tops Burnley, trails Spurs by five points in UCL race ]

The Catalan club faces Sevilla in the Copa del Rey final on Saturday.

Barcelona has a 12-point lead over Atletico, with five matches left, and is 15 in front of third-place Real Madrid, which needed a late goal by Cristiano Ronaldo to draw 1-1 with Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday.

Another loss for Atletico on Sunday against Real Betis would leave Diego Simeone’s team out of contention for the title because Barcelona holds the head-to-head advantage between the clubs.

Willian Jose shot Sociedad ahead in the 27th minute at the Anoeta Stadium. Juanmi Jimenez made it 2-0 in the 80th after a perfect backheel from Jose before Jimenez scored again with an injury-time header.

It was a third straight win for Sociedad, which stayed 11th in the standings. Atletico hadn’t lost in three consecutive league matches.

GIRONA WINS

Girona ended a four-match winless streak with a 2-1 victory at Alaves, staying in contention for a Europa League spot next season.

Aleix Garcia opened the scoring for Girona in the 59th minute and Cristhian Stuani added a penalty in the 86th, moving the team within one point of seventh-place Sevilla.

Tomas Pina struck in the 90th minute for Alaves, which is 15th.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

Leicester 0-0 Southampton: Saints lose chance to gain relegation ground

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Leicester City and Southampton finished scoreless at the King Power Stadium on Thursday, as the latter failed to pick up three critical points in a heated Premier League relegation race.

The best opportunity on the day likely came in the second half when Marc Albrighton‘s brilliant volley was deflected over the crossbar by Saints keeper Alex McCarthy.

[ MORE: Chelsea tops Burnley with Moses’ second-half strike ]

Southampton boasted many of its regulars as they prepare to stave off being dropped down to the Championship next season, although Mark Hughes‘ side features in a big FA Cup semifinals clash over the weekend against Chelsea.

Chances were at a minimum in the opening stanza, with Leicester the more dominant of the two sides in attack, although it didn’t amount to much on their various counterattacking opportunities.

Kelechi Iheanacho threatened early on for the Foxes, coming close in the 15th minute with a strike that narrowly missed the far corner. This came briefly after he followed up on his own blocked attempt moments prior.

The Saints now sit four points behind 17th place Swansea City, while Leicester remains in eighth place — trailing Arsenal and the top six by 10 points.

Burnley 1-2 Chelsea: Moses rescues Blues all three points

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With four matches remaining in the Premier League season, Antonio Conte‘s side has everything to play for in the final weeks of the campaign.

[ MORE: Leicester, Southampton finish scoreless at King Power Stadium ]

Chelsea picked up a come-from-behind 2-1 win against Burnley on Thursday afternoon at the Turf Moor behind Victor Moses‘ second-half finish.

Moses was active throughout the match for Chelsea, playing a hand in both goals.

Ashley Barnes pulled a goal back for the Clarets in the 64th minute, but it wasn’t enough for the seventh place side to steal points off the Blues for the second time in 2017/18.

Alvaro Morata’s struggles continued on the day, as the Spanish international had a quality breakaway chance to seal the game early in the second half, but put his right-footed attempt wide of the goal.

The Blues went in front in the 20th minute after Burnley defender Kevin Long put the ball into his own net off of a dangerous cross from Victor Moses on the righthand side of the box.

Olivier Giroud made heavy claims for a penalty in the eighth minute, when the striker went to ground after having been contacted by Long.

The Frenchman started the match paired with Alvaro Morata up front as Antonio Conte looked to rest Eden Hazard and Willian ahead of this weekend’s FA Cup semifinal against Southampton.

The victory for the Blues puts Conte and Co. within five points of Spurs with four matches remaining in the PL campaign. Tottenham currently occupies the fourth Champions League position in England’s top flight.