Serie A preview: Talking through Italy’s new season – Part II

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In Part I of their Serie A preview, Kirsten Schlewitz and Richard Farley talked about Juventus, Fiorentina, and Napoli’s changes at Italy’s crown. With the new season starting tomorrow, here’s their look at Milan, Inter, Roma, Lazio, and the pack:

Kirsten Schlewitz: Milan may have a hope, but they have the same defensive issues as Napoli. They’re still playing Philippe Mexes, for goodness sake. I guess when you have Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy up front, you don’t worry too much about the back. It also helps that Nigel De Jong is fit again, and can help relieve some of the pressure from the back four.

Richard Farley: I’d love to go on and on about an attack that will sometimes feature all of Balotelli, El Shaarawy, and M’Baye Niang, but can we pause for a moment and stand in awe of the fact that Max Allegri survived? My God, that was close. The man’s only had three straight top three finishes while having his team sold (and let go) out from under him. He’s not perfect, but yeesh. What’s a man go to do to keep his … oh, wait. Forgot we were talking about Italy.

Same building, different team. How much difference will Walter Mazzari make at Inter? Clearly, he’s not going to do worse than Andrea Stramaccioni did last season.

KS: Allegri’s secret is the fact that he casts a spell over his side while yelling “DAI! DAI! DAI!” again and again. That and the arrival of Mario, of course.

I’m a big cynic about Mazzarri, having to had to watch him closely over the past few seasons. Yeah, he did well to get Napoli where they are, but he also had great players. I’m not sure Inter have great players. His insistence on using the same players, week in and week out, in the same shape, makes it easy for other sides to exploit their weaknesses. And his refusal to give young players a chance often harms his sides.

But will he do better than Strama? Yes. A … searching for a food metaphor here … an eggplant would be better than Stramaccioni.

Yes, an eggplant. I couldn’t think of anything better.

RF: I know I should transition into another team here, but I’m already debating whether to keep that reference in the edit. Seriously: No more food metaphors. Don’t you know all cool sports writing references pop culture. Which member of One Direction would Mazzarri be?

KS: Who? I’m hungry and we’re talking about Italy. Food metaphors are necessary. Although to be fair, I didn’t invent the Ljajic one.

RF: Fair enough. We still have the two teams from Rome … who it feels like we’re just referencing because they’re big clubs. Should we just say “Michael Bradley” and “Hernanes” and get out of here? I think our audience wants to hear a little about how Bradley’s going to do (especially with Roma having changed … everything, ever, again), and Hernanes – well, I just picked Lazio’s best player. What can these teams do?

KS: We can talk about Bradley, but he’s not the reason to watch Roma. He’s certainly improved at the club, but his role may diminish with the arrival of Kevin Strootman.

Roma have had an … interesting … transfer market, …

RF: You don’t say.

source: Getty ImagesKS: As of right now, they still have Erik Lamela, they still have Miralem Pjanic, and of course, they still have Francesco Totti (right). Those players are all reasons to believe Roma can make a solid showing, but anyone saying they can do more than finish in the top five is simply dreaming.

What else …

RF: My love of Totti is well documented. But … Lazio.

KS: Oh, Lazio. Lazio kind of fell off the deep end at the end of last season and have done little to rectify the situation since. They held on to Hernanes and they still have Miroslav Klose, but, well, he’s old. At some point, he’s going to stop scoring. That point may have been in the Supercoppa match last weekend. Vladmir Petkovic is a solid coach, but not spectacular. I just don’t think there’s a lot to fear from Lazio this season.

RF: Give the readers one team we haven’t detailed who could surprise and, say, claim a European spot.

KS: I assume you mean besides Udinese, who always manage to slip in and get a Europa League spot against all odds?

RF: No, I didn’t mean besides them, but that’s my fault. I always forget they’re in Europe, given how much they always seem to want out. But … yes, let’s pick somebody besides Udinese.

KS: Well, Catania were the surprise last year, but with the losses of Alejandro Gomez and Francesco Lodi, I have trouble believing they’ll finish in the top half. So I’d say . . . Parma? They’re at least interesting, they’ve kept much of their squad and made decent reinforcements. If Roberto Donadoni wises up and learns how to use his players, such as Nicola Sansone, they could certainly be the thorn in the side of the big clubs.

RF: And of source you bring up one of the players I want to dote on (Sansone) as we need to move on. Our contracts with the International Blogger Council require us to make picks, but let’s keep it simple. Who wins the league?

KS: Juve.

RF: Took my answer. Second and third? I’ll go Napoli and … OMG … am I really saying this? I think Max gets them (Milan) into top three again. Same order as last year.

KS: Hmmmm.

RF: Look, I’m no Serie A expert. I just play one on the internet, where I’m allowed to say dumb stuff (as long as the domain name is twitter.com).  You, however, need to be right.

KS: Well, by “Max” you mean “Mario,” right? Nevermind. Predictions are dumb and I always end up alienating fan bases. No more. I quit.

RF: Fair enough, but I’m not the one who’ll have to answer to the council.


The halted World Cup flip-throw heard around the world (video)

AP Photo/Sergei Grits
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Milad Mohammadi knew the time was right for something special, but special isn’t always good.

And good is a subjective term. Cause to us this is very good, Milad.

The Iranian national team defender failed with a flip-throw bid in the final moments of a 1-0 loss to Spain on Wednesday at the World Cup in Russia.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

And this wasn’t like he illegally flipped or broke some other rule. No, like a kid trying an audacious jump into the deep end, Akhmat Grozny star Mohammadi just bailed and climbed in from the side (so to speak).

The kiss, the look skyward, the headbutt… all integral parts of a wonderful World Cup moment.

Renard, Morocco “very proud” of its unlucky national team

AP Photo/Antonio Calanni
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If you would’ve told Morocco fans or their manager, Herve Renard, that they’d outshoot and outpossess both Iran and Portugal at World Cup, their next question would probably be, “So do we need to do against Spain to win Group B?”

Alas, Morocco lost a pair of 1-0 decisions to become the first team knocked out of the 2018 World Cup.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The Lions of Atlas fell to Iran in their opener on a stoppage time own goal after carrying 64 percent possession and a 13-8 advantage in shot attempts, then lost to a Cristiano Ronaldo fourth minute goal on Wednesday despite a 16-10 shot advantage and 53 percent of the ball.

“I’m very proud of the performance and I am very proud of my players, I’m very proud of this country,” Renard said.

With no hope of advancing to the next round, the manager is finding the experience bittersweet. From RTE:

“What I am sure of at this moment is that the entire Moroccan people is proud of this team. Of course it’s easier to play with a player who has one chance and he puts it away. But we are in Morocco.

“We have quality players. Despite the ups and downs of the game, we should have been more effective. Because, like in the first game, we had plenty of chances. I won’t blame anyone. That’s football. It’s always those who know how to be present in the box, the most gifted players, who make the difference. We took a lot of risks and we didn’t get our reward.”

It’s unlikely Morocco will hold either of those statistical advantages against Spain, especially a Spanish side yet to qualify, but there is plenty to like from the tournament aside from poor finishing quality.

But the performances of 19-year-olds Amine Harit (Schalke) and Achraf Hakimi (Real Madrid) — not to mention Hakim Ziyech (25, Ajax) — seem to hint at a promise for 2022. And Renard’s men can still play spoiler for Spain, which is no small shockwave.

Queiroz: Iran has one “match point” left in World Cup group stage

AP Photo/Sergei Grits
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Iran manager Carlos Queiroz isn’t going to let his tournament be defined by one win or one loss, especially with a massive moment on the horizon.

Iran fell 1-0 to Spain on Wednesday, days after defeating Morocco in its World Cup opener. Team Melli was denied its equalizer despite VAR review thanks to an offside, and failed in several other bids to level the score.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Now Queiroz and his men need a win over Portugal to qualify for the first knockout stage in its five World Cup history.

“We showed that we were ready to suffer and ready to compete. I felt we deserved a better result. There’s no doubt Spain play wonderful, stylish football but I thought we deserved more for the way we played.

“But congratulations to Fernando Hierro and Spain. We will learn a lot from this game. If you think of it like tennis, we had one match point today and we will have another against Portugal. Everything is still open. We are still alive and still dreaming.”

What chance do you give Iran of getting over on Portugal, who only topped a dominant Morocco side via a terrific designed play executed to perfection by Cristiano Ronaldo?

The odds are in Portugal’s favor, if only for its experience in tight games on massive stages. Well, perhaps the better “if only” would be to say if only for Ronaldo. Either way…

Spain gets win after Iran sees equalizer ruled out

AP Photo/Frank Augstein
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  • Spain goal: Costa (54′)
  • Iranian goal disallowed
  • Next: Spain-Morocco, Portugal-Iran

Iran had an equalizer taken away via Video Assistant Referee and Spain picked up its first win of the 2018 World Cup with a 1-0 win in Kazan on Wednesday.

Diego Costa scored Spain’s goal, as La Furia Roja joined Portugal atop Group B on four points. Iran has three, while eliminated Morocco has yet to get a result.

Team Melli lost their chance to sit atop the group when Saeid Ezatolahi rebound was ruled to have come after an offside touch from a teammate.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Spain certainly had its chances in the first half hour, capped off by an attempted overhead kick from David Silva.

Man City’s 32-year-old attacker had a great deal of chances in the contest, and would see a deflected rip bound wide of the goal during three minutes of first half stoppag time.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

After Gerard Pique missed an in-tight chance to start the second half, Iranian goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand made an outstanding punch save on Isco before punching away the rebound bid.

Iran found its first true chance of the match in the 53rd minute, with Karim Ansarifard lashing into a shot from 15 yards that tore into the outside of the goal.

It was moments later that Spain went ahead, Costa getting a goal when a clearance bounding off his shin and into the net.

Mehdi Taremi flicked a header wide of the goal, and Iran thought it had an equalizer through Saeid Ezatolahi only for VAR to step in and call offside on the previous Iranian to touch the ball.

It was off, but only just.

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Beiranvand was again on the scene for a 70th minute goal mouth scramble following a drawn-up corner kick by Spain.

Taremi pounded a header over the goal after a Vahid Amiri nutmeg of Pique led to a back post cross.