Juventus hands Roma season’s first loss, moves eight clear in Serie A

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Serie A’s match of the year was anything but, even if it did leave little doubt as to the state of Juventus’s reign. With goals from Arturo Vidal, Leonardo Bonucci, and Mirko Vucinic, the two-time defending champions handed Roma their first loss of the season, eliminating what little hope onlookers had for a title race with a 3-0 result in Turin. Now on a nine-game winning streak that’s carried them eight points clear of the second place Giallorossi, Juventus seems fated to claim a third straight scudetto.

The win, however, came in a somewhat uncharacteristic way, with Antonio Conte setting up his normally ball-controlling team (57.4 percent for the year) to descend into its own half, giving Roma most of the game’s possession. Rudi Garcia’s team would end up with 59 percent of the ball, yet almost none of their four shots on goal gave Juve keeper Gianluigi Buffon any problems. Maintaining a well-organized back five in their defensive phase, Juventus were able to keep Roma at arm’s length, with only two of Roma’s eight shots coming from inside the 18-yard box.

Juventus, on the other hand, made the most of their chances, the first coming in the 17th minute through Carlos Tévez. The Argentine was able to get Daniele de Rossi on his heals in the right of the penalty area, holding the ball at 10 yards out before playing behind the line for an oncoming Vidal. The Chilean international beat Morgan de Sanctis to give the home side first blood.

Following intermission, after blunting Roma for the first period’s final half hour, Juve doubled their lead, a pristine restart from Andrea Pirlo allowing Bonucci to make it 2-0. Sixteen yards from the line along the left flank, Pirlo curved a perfectly driven restart just inside the six-yard box at the far post. Unable to get out quick enough, de Sanctis was helpless on Bonucci’s shot, a goal that seemed to eliminate any question Juventus would take full points.

source: AP
Juventus’s Antonio Conte (right) is congratulated by Roma’s Rudi Garcia after Juve’s 3-0 win. (Photo: AP.)

If that status was in doubt, it was settled over a three-minute stretch beginning with de Rossi’s 75th minute red card. After a reckless challenge that saw the Italian international slide through Giorgio Chiellini’s legs, referee Nicola Rizzoli produced a red card, momentarily leaving Roma with 10 men. When, one minute later, Leandro Castán intentionally handled a ball on the Roma line, the visitors were reduced to nine, with Mirko Vucinic’s ensuing penalty kick giving Juventus their 3-0 victory.

That the game ended with a three-goal margin may have exaggerated the teams’ gap in quality, but there was no doubt which was the superior side. Juventus gave Roma the ball and dared Garcia’s side to beat them, yet from the moment Pirlo took the ball off Fernando Totti in the opening minutes to the Roma captain’s solemn descent from the stands at the final whistle, the Giallorossi proved impotent. Silenced, the likes of Totti, Gervinho, Adem Ljajic and Miralem Pjanic were unable to reproduce Roman’s potent attack in Turin, a failure that leaves the team closer to fourth than first.

Over the course of 90 minutes, the difference between Juventus and the rest of Italy was made crystal clear. An undefeated team that came into the game averaging over two goals per game was handed a 3-0 loss, pushing them eight points back of first in the process. They’d only allowed seven goals on the season, but on Sunday, Roma’s previous exploits were rendered irrelevant. All that mattered was their inability to match up with Juve.

Barring some unpredictable change of course, Serie A’s title race is over – assuming there was ever one to being with.

Iniesta joins Japanese club Vissel Kobe

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TOKYO (AP) Former Barcelona playmaker Andres Iniesta was introduced as the newest member of Japanese club Vissel Kobe on Thursday, a poorly kept secret that’s been rumored for weeks.

Iniesta appeared before a packed news conference at a central Tokyo hotel on Thursday along with Kobe’s billionaire owner, Hiroshi Mikitani.

[READ: Earnie Stewart being considered for U.S. Soccer post]

“I’m pleased to announce,” Mikitani said, “that Andres Iniesta will be signing up play with Vissel Kobe after his historic career at Barcelona.”

Iniesta signed his contract as Mikitani watched, and then spoke through an interpreter.

Terms of the contract were not disclosed, but Japanese media are reporting he will earn $30 million annually on a three-year deal.

“For me this is a very special day,” the Spaniard said. “This is an important challenge for me. My family is excited to come to Japan and we are very pleased. There were many offers. Other clubs showed interest. But I decided to sign with Vissel Kobe because the project presented to me was impressive.”

Mikitani is also the CEO of Barcelona sponsor Rakuten, a Japanese online retailer.

Iniesta held up the team’s red shirt with his famous No. 8 on the back, and his name written across the bottom.

Iniesta previously had said he would probably retire from international soccer after Spain plays at this year’s World Cup in Russia.

The 34-year-old Iniesta scored the winning goal for Spain in the 2010 World Cup final. He also was a key part of Spain’s two European Championships in 2008 and 2012.

He announced last month he would leave Barcelona after 16 seasons. His last match for the Spanish club was on Sunday against Real Sociedad at Camp Nou.

Vissel Kobe is in sixth place after 15 games in the J-League. It signed Lukas Podolski last year, but the German striker is out until the end of June with an injured calf.

Yaya Toure talks future, wants to play with Paul Pogba

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There is very little debate: Yaya Toure is his own special case.

The longtime Manchester City midfielder does what he wants, flies his own flag, has the worst agent in the game, and is pleased or dismayed in unusual ways.

[ UCL: What would Real 3-peat mean? ]

Toure, 35, has been linked with a move to NYCFC now that he’s leaving Man City, but the Ivorian still wants to play two more seasons for a Champions League or Europa League club.

And he wants to get together with Paul Pogba. You can see where this is going… (from The Manchester Evening News):

“Pogba is the same size, power – but different in the way he wants to go. Technically as well, the ability to score goals as well. It is a player I want to play with, to be honest, just to teach him some things.”

That must mean both are going to Paris Saint-Germain because… Yaya at Manchester United? No way, right? Right? Even with last year’s reports from his — again — terrible agent that it was an option, that still seems too villainous.

“I don’t rule big teams out. The big teams are very important for me. What they want to achieve, the way they want to go, for me is very important. … I want to go somewhere I can win and achieve. It’s going to be hard one day to play against City, but I have to do that. It is part of my job.”

Toure later said he was “no good in an office,” which had us thinking, well, what if they properly celebrated your birthday, Yaya?

WATCH: Miami United midfielder unleashes Open Cup laser

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Tomas Granitto, have yourself an extra plate at the postgame buffet.

The Miami United midfielder scored a gorgeous goal in Wednesday’s 2-0 win over fellow NPSL side Jacksonville Armada in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup’s third round.

[ MORE: 3 Key Battles for UCL Final ]

Complete with aesthetically-pleasing post-ping, the former El Salvador U-20 player laid into a 25-yard shot to open the scoring in Florida.

Granitto, 24, has played for Timbers 2, Swope Park Rangers, FC Edmonton, since leaving NCAA side Florida Gulf Coast.

Rondon wanted by Atleti, Inter Milan, and West Ham

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The big boys are looking to Salomon Rondon as a bargain striker.

Yes, $22 million is a bargain in the striker market these days.

[ MORE: Napoli hires Ancelotti ]

West Brom’s Venezuelan international, 28, stands 6’2″ and has a relegation release clause that is reportedly interesting Inter Milan, Atletico Madrid, and West Ham United.

Atleti and Inter are in the Champions League next season, but Rondon played for new West Ham boss Manuel Pellegrini at Malaga, posting 25 league goals in two seasons.

He’s scored 24 goals in three Premier League seasons at West Brom, almost a quarter of the 104 produced by the Baggies.

He also picked up three assists this season as the target man for Tony Pulis, Alan Pardew, and Darren Moore (and was fouled more often than any other Baggie (Baggy?)).

Rondon and Marko Arnautovic next to each other would be a real handful for PL defenses. Then again, maybe he’ll stay loyal to West Brom and set the Championship scoring record next season.