Italy roundup: Roma refuses to go away; Immobile continues to make Azzurri case

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Italy not only doesn’t have a title race, nor does it have a race for second. Or third. Or fourth. At least five points separates each spot from its nearest competition, challenging our imaginations to see anything but inevitability from the season’s final five rounds. Juventus seems destined for a third straight title, Roma and Napoli are on track to secure places in Champions League, while Fiorentina will head to Europa.

To its stubborn, belligerent credit, however, Roma continues to trick us into thinking it may challenge for Juve’s scudetto. In fact, it you look at the standings, below, we see a mere five points separating the Giallorossi from the holders, and forget Juventus has yet to play its round 33 match, you could be tricked into thinking there’s life in this race. With Juventus having fallen to Napoli two weeks ago, is there a chance the Old Lady could come back to the pack?

To do so, games like Monday’s in Udine will need to become unexpected banana skins. In the meantime, Roma is doing its best to be in position to pounce, with this weekend’s 3-1 win against visiting Atalanta giving Rudi Garcia’s team seven wins in a row.

Saturday’s performance would be vintage Roma if this team had been together long enough to have a vintage, yet with a three-goal lead, an array of different scorers, and 65 percent of the match’s possession, the hallmarks of this year’s team were all there. Eight different players have scored at least five goals this season, with Gervinho’s eighth of the season giving the Ivorian a chance at a 10-goal, 10-assist campaign (he’s already hit the latter mark). It was dominant, well-rounded, and convince – vintage 2013-14 Roma.

With upcoming matches against Fiorentina and a suddenly awakened Milan, the Giallorossi will be hard pressed to maintain its faint challenge, but with performances like Saturday’s, they’re giving us something to watch. In a season where the top of the table is sorted by mid-April, Roma is ready should Juve’s opponents shake things up.

source:  Immobile: Scoring himself into Azzurri contention

At this point, Ciro Immobile, capped only once by the Italian national team, has a strong claim to be in the Azzurri’s squad for Brazil 2014, but just in case there’s any doubt in Cesare Prandelli’s mind, the former Juventus prospect continues piling on goals. On Sunday, Immobile’s league-leading 19th goal of the season pulled Torino even with Genoa in the 92nd minute, a tie Alessio Cerci broke a minute later to give i Granata full points, 2-1.

The dramatics may go a long way toward securing a Europa League spot for Giampiero Ventura’s men, who sit seventh after Sunday’s result. In the bigger picture, though, the story continues to be Immobile, who may be playing his way into more than a mere World Cup spot.

With Giuseppe Rossi still returning from January’s knee injury, forward depth is a concern for the Azzurri. Should Rossi fail to recover his form before mid-June, Prandelli will be looking for another forward to step into his place, with the likes of Pablo Osvaldo and Mattia Destro competing to be among Italy’s non-Mario Balotelli options.

With only 21 minutes of international experience, Immobile still needs to impress Prandelli, but claiming Italy’s capocannoniere would help. Having nearly quadrupled his Serie A career goal total, Immobile has put together an irresistible season.

Elsewhere

  • Sassuolo 1, Cagliari 1 – Agim Ibraimi conversion after Luca Antei’s early second half penalty allowed Cagliari to equalize Simone Zaza’s first half opener, leaving the Neroverdi mired in the drop.
  • Bologna 1, Parma 1 – Raffaele Palladino’s 79th minute goal brought Parma even, but unable to take advantage of one of the league’s relegation-threatened squads, Roberto Donadoni’s team failed to build on last week’s upset of Napoli, leaving them two points behind Inter.
  • Livorno 2, Chievo 4 – Alberto Paloschi’s 11th, 12th and 13th goals of the season had Chievo up 4-2 before the hour, breaking open a shootout that left the sides tied at two after 34 minutes.
  • Verona 3, Fiorentina 5 – Five different goalscorers delivered full points for Vincenzo Montello, who saw his team concede twice late despite playing 11-on-10.
  • Sampdoria 0, Inter 4 – Éder’s 20th minute dismissal saw the Nerazzurri to blow the game open, with three second half goals allowing the Milanese to reclaim sole possession of fifth place.
  • Napoli 4, Lazio 2 – Lorik Cana’s 48th minute dismissal cleared the way for the weekend’ second hat trick, with Gonzalo Higuaín running his season total to 17 after a trio of second half scores.
  • AC Milan 1, Catania 0 – An early Riccardo Montolivo goal held up for a Rossoneri team that had a difficult time with last place Catania, a struggle rewarded with a spot in Italy’s top half. Milan has now won four in a row.

Others

Roma 3, Atalanta 1
Torino 2, Genoa 1

Monday

Udinese vs. Juventus

Standings

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Juventus 32 27 3 2 69 22 47 16-0-0 11-3-2 84
Roma 33 24 7 2 68 19 49 14-3-0 10-4-2 79
Napoli 33 20 7 6 63 35 28 11-4-2 9-3-4 67
Fiorentina 33 17 7 9 56 37 19 9-3-4 8-4-5 58
Inter Milan 33 13 14 6 55 35 20 7-8-2 6-6-4 53
Parma 33 13 12 8 53 42 11 7-7-2 6-5-6 51
Torino 33 13 9 11 49 42 7 8-5-4 5-4-7 48
AC Milan 33 13 9 11 50 44 6 8-4-4 5-5-7 48
Lazio 33 13 9 11 44 44 0 9-4-3 4-5-8 48
Atalanta 33 14 4 15 38 44 -6 10-2-4 4-2-11 46
Verona 33 14 4 15 50 57 -7 9-2-6 5-2-9 46
Sampdoria 33 11 8 14 40 49 -9 6-5-6 5-3-8 41
Genoa 33 10 9 14 36 43 -7 7-4-5 3-5-9 39
Udinese 32 11 5 16 35 44 -9 8-2-5 3-3-11 38
Cagliari 33 7 12 14 31 45 -14 7-4-6 0-8-8 33
Chievo 33 8 6 19 30 49 -19 5-2-9 3-4-10 30
Bologna 33 5 13 15 27 51 -24 3-8-6 2-5-9 28
Livorno 33 6 7 20 36 64 -28 4-5-8 2-2-12 25
Sassuolo 33 6 7 20 32 62 -30 4-2-11 2-5-9 25
Catania 33 4 8 21 24 58 -34 4-6-6 0-2-15 20

German health officials block soccer clubs’ plans for fans

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BERLIN (AP) Bundesliga fans in the stands in September? Not yet.

[ MORE: Bundesliga schedule  ]

German health officials have blocked professional soccer clubs’ plans to allow fans at Bundesliga games when the new season begins in September.

“Thousands of fans in the stadiums – that doesn’t fit with the current situation with infections. Now it’s about not taking any unnecessary risks,” national health minister Jens Spahn said on Twitter of the coronavirus pandemic on Monday.

The 36 clubs in Germany’s top two divisions had been planning on having limited numbers of socially distanced and seated supporters at games, and had produced a proposal last week that included prohibiting away fans, restrictions in standing areas of stadiums, and a ban on sales of alcohol. They mooted personalized tickets to help with contact tracing, though those plans have been criticized by fans.

“The league’s concept is good in theory,” Spahn said. “But what’s decisive is what happens every day in practice.”

In a follow-up tweet, Spahn added, “We feel that we have to stay alert. Having spectators in the stands would be the wrong signal in the current situation.”

Germany’s 16 state health ministers met on Monday and agreed that having fans in stadiums for league games was not a priority.

Germany has registered 217,835 coronavirus infections, and a relatively low number of deaths at 9,203 compared to neighboring France, Spain and Italy, but there has been some concern over a recent increase in the daily rate of new infections.

Last week, Germany recorded its highest daily tally of new infections in three months. The national disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute, said 1,045 cases were recorded last Wednesday – the first time since May 7 that it has counted more than 1,000 cases in a day.

Berlin health senator Dilek Kalayci said on Monday the ministers came to a unanimous position that stadiums should remain closed to Bundesliga fans based on the current pandemic situation.

“In terms of health policy, we are currently not in favor of opening the stadiums until Oct. 31, at least. Then you can discuss the situation again,” Kalayci said.

Bavarian governor Markus Soder had been one of those most vocally in favor of the Bundesliga resuming without fans after its two-month break last season, but he said allowing fans to attend games when the new season begins on Sept. 18 would send the wrong signal.

“It would send a devastating signal to the public, both in terms of what it means for medical capacities and in relation to cultural events,” Soder said.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Ciaran Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP

Celtic, Aberdeen games called off after coronavirus breaches

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Celtic and Aberdeen have been slammed by the Scottish government and their games in the next week will not go ahead after coronavirus breaches from players.

[ MORE: UCL, Europa picks ]

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon addressed the situation regarding the two Scottish Premiership clubs and said fans should “not expect to see Aberdeen or Celtic play over the course of the coming week.”

It has emerged that Celtic player Boli Bolingoli had traveled to Spain and failed to quarantine on return before Celtic’s game against Kilmarnock on Aug. 9, breaking Scottish law, as the club released a statement saying the Belgian wide-man will be disciplined and slammed the ‘stupidity’ of his actions.

That came after eight Aberdeen players apologized after they broke guidelines by going out to a bar following a loss to Rangers on Aug. 1.

Here is more information on the situation in Scotland regarding Boli Bolingoli and the Aberdeen players from our partners at Sky Sports:


“What I regret is that some football players seem incapable of living up to their responsibilities. I very much regret that. When I stood here on Friday I think my frustration with the Aberdeen football situation was pretty palpable,” Sturgeon said.

“I don’t want the season to be in jeopardy. I don’t want people who are not responsible for this to pay the price but we have to be very clear that this situation is not acceptable. We’ll set out the conclusion of the talks later today but as a minimum, you should not expect to see Aberdeen or Celtic play over the course of the coming week.”

It comes just days after Aberdeen’s trip to St Johnstone was called off due to two of their players testing positive for coronavirus.


Quite simply, these players should know better.

The Scottish government went on to acknowledge that the vast majority of people with Scottish football are following the guidelines but the actions of a small minority are putting everyone at risk.

After ending the 2019-20 season early due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020-21 Scottish Premiership season has just kicked off and already these issues are cropping up.

Celtic were due to play St Mirren on Aug. 12 then, ironically, Aberdeen on Aug. 15. Aberdeen were due to play Hamilton Academical on Aug. 12.

Solskjaer warns “could have been one of those nights” for Manchester United

Manchester United Solskjaer
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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was clearly relieved after his dominant but wasteful Manchester United finally beat goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson and Copenhagen in extra time of their Europa League quarterfinal in Cologne.

“I think it was just one of those nights,” he said after the win. “I think we deserved to win, that’s clear, but they made it very hard for us.”

Johnsson made 13 saves as United out-attempted the minusM-1000 underdogs from Denmark by a 26-9 margin. The Red Devils blocked several Copenhagen chances in tight, making the Danes’ total of zero shots on target a bit deceiving.

[ RECAP: Manchester United 1-0 Copenhagen ]

“Their keeper was unbelievable and we hit the post a few times,” Solskjaer said. “It could have been one of those nights that you end up with a shootout. We had to block, defend well and they made it hard for us.”

But United was clearly the better team on the day, as expected. Juan Mata entered late in the game and was an influential sub in extra time.

He says the Red Devils were a bit beat up on a hot night in Germany.

“The team is quite tired physically,” Mata said. “At this stage of this season it is important to win games like today and we go through. We stay in Germany for quite some time and hopefully we can win.

“Both teams got a little tired and there were more spaces and more chances. They played some good football and credit to them. We could have scored more goals in extra time but we are through.”

United will meet either Sevilla or Wolves in a dynamite semifinal in one week.

Manchester United breaks through Copenhagen in extra time

Manchester United - Copenhagen
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Manchester United – Copenhagen: The Europa League’s biggest underdogs of the quarterfinals took the tournament favorites to extra time before succumbing 1-0 in Cologne.

Bruno Fernandes highlighted his Man of the Match performance by converting an Anthony Martial-won penalty in the 95th minute for Manchester United, the only way past Copenhagen’s terrific goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson.

But Fernandes gave United a scare, needing care for his hamstring at the final whistle.

[ MORE: Liverpool announces new left back ]

Johnsson made 13 saves, seven from inside the box, to keep Copenhagen within a sucker punch of eliminating the Red Devils over 90 minutes.

Manchester United heads to Dusseldorf for an Aug. 17 semifinal against the winner of Tuesday’s tilt between Wolves and Sevilla.


Three things we learned

1. Copenhagen plays prime tournament soccer: The heaviest underdogs in the quarterfinals, Copenhagen executed a traditional 4-4-2 in a less-traditional low block for much of the match. The low block wasn’t the surprise, but instead of two banks of five, the rows of four with two men hassling up front challenged United for time and helped spring a number of dangerous counters. The Danes opened up in extra time after going behind, but taking it to extra time was more than many expected out of them.

2. VAR denies the Red Devils: A rout would’ve been on if this match was staged a year ago without VAR, as the assistant referee twice allowed United goals to go to video. Harry Maguire was offside before assisting the first would-be Red Devils goal, while Mason Greenwood was off before ripping a rocket off the far post and into the goal.

3. Bruno is a beast: Fernandes was everywhere, cueing up his teammates for chances when he wasn’t smashing them off the frame in a bid to win it himself. The Portuguese playmaker registered three key passes, put three of his five shots on target, and won the majority of his duels on top of scoring the game’s lone goal (SofaScore). Now United must hope his late leg injury was just a product of 120 minutes and nothing major.

Man of the Match

Fernandes, and yes we had him here before he smashed his penalty home. Fernandes is now the Europa League’s leading scorer with seven goals between Sporting Lisbon and United.


Manchester United – Copenhagen recap

United has plenty of the ball in the first 10 minutes but Copenhagen provided legitimate danger that Eric Bailly managed in his own six.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka blocked a cross with his face and needed treatment, looking quite dazed before returning to the game.

Another Copenhagen chance was blocked in the six by Bailly (again), who proved a wise choice over Victor Lindelof.

VAR had a look at an early United goal and rightly chalked Harry Maguire offside in the build-up. And it took Mason Greenwood’s hammer off the far post off the board for offside early in stoppage time.

Copenhagen was in it at the break. Would United pay?

[ MORE: Lukaku leads Inter past Bayer Leverkusen ]

The early stages of the second half remained with the Red Devils, Copenhagen parking all its men behind the ball at times.

Rashford flubbed a chance to shoot or pass to Paul Pogba when Bruno Fernandes spotted him at the back post just after the hour mark.

Fernandes tried his luck from distance in the 63rd, ripping a shot off the far post.

Ex-Everton man Bryan Oviedo nearly put Copenhagen ahead in the 66th only to see Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Bailly clog his shooting lane after Rasmus Falk dazzled to get into the box.

Karl-Johan Johnsson made a flying save on Anthony Martial to force an 84th-minute corner that came to nothing for United.

Johnsson denied Martial again in-tight at the start of stoppage time, but the high was short-lived as the Frenchman was dropped in the box moments later.

Fernandes stepped to the spot and used a stuttering run-up before blasting his penalty home.

Martial nearly had it 2-0 after the restart when he dribbled through the Copenhagen 18 but took it himself instead of laying off to Juan Mata in what would’ve been a fairly straight-forward chance for the Spaniard.

Johnsson denied Fernandes at the end of the first 15 minutes of extra time, United unfortunate to not score on the ensuing corner when Mata’s shot was blocked to Lindelof, who fired off the outside of the post.

Lindelof made a fine intervention to block a close-range equalizer bid in the 116th.