Italy Roundup: Milan look set to sneak into Europe

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Italy still being the good Catholic nation that it is, on Easter weekend, all Serie A matches take place on Saturday. That means we here at Pro Soccer Talk have an early round-up of how clubs on the peninsula fared:

Saturday’s Results

AC Milan 3-0 Livorno
Quite possibly the biggest result in Serie A this weekend. Mario Balotelli, Adel Taarabt and Giampaolo Pazzini all scored to give the hosts all three points. Milan’s win, combined with results from Lazio, Torino and Parma, puts the rossoneri close to Clarence Seedorf’s dream of edging into Europa League. As for Livorno, well, they remain second from bottom, three points from safety. That’s what happens when you pick up just one point from six matches.

Atalanta 1-2 Verona
Verona, after experiencing a dramatic dip in form in the second half of the season, are suddenly back in the race for Italy’s final European place. Much of that’s due to Luca Toni, with the veteran scoring Verona’s second today, bringing his season total to 18 goals. Massimo Donati scored the visitors’ first, but thanks to Toni’s second, the late goal from Germán Denis was nothing more than a consolation for Atalanta.

Catania 2-1 Sampdoria
Ever since Siniša Mihajlović got himself thrown out in Sampdoria’s draw with Fiorentina, his side have been doomed to failure. Today they even lost to bottom side Catania. Sebastián Leto put in the first for the hosts, but Samp were able to equalize by the 61st minute through a goal from Stefano Okaka. The elefanti, however, were determined to get one last chance at staying in Serie A. Gonzalo Bergessio put in the winner just two minutes later, grabbing all three points for Catania…and keeping them five points back of safety.

Chievo 0-1 Sassuolo
This game had a much greater effect on the battle for safety. While many tables might currently show Sassuolo still in the bottom three, in Serie A, the tie-breaker is based on head-to-head record – and Sassuolo have taken four points off Bologna, with whom they’re even on points. Domenico Berardi, who hadn’t scored since putting four past Milan back in December, may have just saved his side from slipping right back down to Serie B. Which, actually, is where Chievo might wind up, as they’re just two points over the line.

Genoa 1-2 Cagliari
Cagliari were likely never going to be relegated, but with this win giving them an eight-point cushion, new head coach Ivo Pulga is likely to sleep better at night. It was actually the hosts that took the early lead, with Sebastien De Maio putting Genoa up inside five minutes. But the defender was at fault for the equalizer, falling asleep to allow an unmarked Marco Sau inside the area to grab the equalizer. Victor Ibarbo sealed the first isolani road win with his 82nd minute goal – and handed Genoa their fourth straight defeat.

Juventus 1-0 Bologna
It looked like Bologna were going to be able to hold on for a point, thus keeping the tiniest bit of distance between themselves and Sassuolo in the final relegation spot. But the rossoblu just weren’t up to the challenge of keeping out Serie A’s top side. Paul Pogba got on the end of a ball from Mauricio Isla, burying his shot in the 64th minute – and that’s all Juventus needed.

Lazio 3-3 Torino
Lazio and Torino combined well to make sure to blaze a clear path for Milan’s Europa League adventure. With both sides aiming for the three points that could’ve meant finishing the weekend in fifth, this match featured plenty of drama. Stefano Mauri opened the scoring late in the second half, but Jasmin Kurtić restored equality early in the second. A Lazio penalty, converted by Antonio Candreva, put the hosts back in front, but Panagiotis Tachtsidis equalized for Torino once more. It looked like the granata would come out on top after Diego Novaretti was sent off with ten minutes remaining – and, sure enough, Ciro Immobile put the visitors ahead in the last minute of normal time. But, amazingly, Candreva found yet another equalizer in the 93rd minute, leaving both sides with a lone point.

Parma 0-2 Internazionale
Parma’s quest for European football took a sad turn against Inter on Saturday. It all started when Antonio Cassano failed to convert a penalty against his former side. Thus, the two teams went into the break scoreless, but when Gabriel Paletta was sent off with a second yellow just after the restart, a nerazzurri win seemed inevitable. Sure enough, it took less than five minutes for Rolando’s header to put the visitors ahead, and Fredy Guarín’s late strike turned out to be unnecessary insurance.

Udinese 1-1 Napoli
Pepe Reina may have found himself out of a job thanks to this one, with the Napoli goalkeeper’s miserable pass allowing Giampiero Pinzi the chance to steal the ball, threading it through to Bruno Fernandes. The Portuguese had no trouble scoring, canceling out José Callejón’s first-half opener.

Still to come…

Fiorentina vs. Roma
This should be the most exciting game of the weekend – key word, “should.” Both sides love to attack, and both have plenty to fight for. Yes, Juventus have almost surely won the scudetto, but Roma still want to keep things tight and make things interesting. But Fiorentina will be well aware of the fact that Napoli dropped points at Udinese, and know that they could close the gap on third place – and the final Champions League spot – to just eight points if they manage to get a win at the Artemio Franchi.

Sweden players, coaches left fuming after last-minute loss

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — A last-minute goal. A non-called penalty. A disrespectful celebration.

Sweden had a lot to be upset about when the final whistle blew on Saturday.

[ MORE: Low: Germany survived “a thriller full of emotion” ]

The Swedes were within seconds of holding defending champion Germany to a draw, and moving into good position to advance to the round of 16 at the World Cup, when Toni Kroos scored deep into stoppage time to give Germany a 2-1 come-from-behind victory.

“I’m sorry that we didn’t get at least one point,” Sweden coach Janne Andersson said. “But I’m not blaming anyone tactically or analyzing too much right now, there are so many emotions going around. This is probably the heaviest conclusion that I’ve experienced in my career.”

Kroos’ goal from a set piece came in the fifth and final minute of injury time. The draw would have kept Sweden ahead of Germany in Group F and needing only a draw against Mexico in the last match.

[ MORE: Germany snatches late win over Sweden to avoid elimination ]

“It was just bad luck,” Sweden forward John Guidetti said. “Now we need to try to find a way to win the last match. In a few days we play again and we have to win it. It’s simple.”

Germany, which is tied with Sweden on points and goal difference, will play against South Korea in the final round.

“We still have an excellent opportunity to qualify,” Andersson said. “Now we have to clean up, tidy up after this game. We’re going to do that.”

The Swedes were leading Germany at halftime thanks to Ola Toivonen’s goal in the 32nd minute at Fisht Stadium. They felt they could have been ahead even earlier if the referee had called a penalty when Marcus Berg appeared to be fouled inside the area with a clear chance to score. There was no formal video review called for.

“If we have the (VAR) system, it’s very unfortunate that he (the referee) can feel so secure in the moment that he doesn’t go and have a look at the situation,” Andersson said.

He and the Swedish players said they also couldn’t understand why Germany decided to celebrate near their bench.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

“You shouldn’t celebrate in front of our bench the way they did, that’s disrespectful,” Guidetti said. “You can celebrate with your own fans. Don’t celebrate in front of our bench like that. That’s why they apologized, because they knew they did something wrong.”

Andersson said he was “very annoyed” by seeing the Germany team “running in our direction and rubbing it in our faces by making gestures.”

“We fought hard for 95 minutes,” he said. “And when the final whistle blows, you shake hands.”

WATCH: World Cup, Day 11 — England, Colombia back in action

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Day 11 of the 2018 World Cup is up next, on Sunday, with England back in action and in need of three points — and a resounding win — to keep pace with Belgium in Group G.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Following Belgium’s 5-2 thrashing of Tunisia — the same side that England beat in stoppage time earlier in the week — on Saturday, the Red Devils have positioned themselves perfectly to win the group with a draw against the Three Lions on Thursday. England need a five-goal victory at 6-1 or higher to the finish top of the group following a draw on the final day.

Then, it’s a pair of Group H fixtures, kicked off with Japan (1st) versus Senegal (2nd) — both of whom won their first game — followed by Poland (3rd) versus Colombia (4th).

Below is Sunday’s schedule in full.

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


2018 World Cup schedule – Sunday, June 24

Group G
England vs. Panama: Nizhny Novgorod, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group H
Japan vs. Senegal: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Poland vs. Colombia: Kazan, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

FIFA opens case against Xhaka, Shaqiri for celebrations

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FIFA’s disciplinary committee opened disciplinary proceedings against Swiss players Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri for politically charged goal celebrations during their 2-1 World Cup win over Serbia in Kaliningrad.

[ MORE: The meaning behind Xhaka, Shaqiri’s eagle celebration ]

FIFA also said Saturday it has opened disciplinary proceedings against the Serbian Football Association for crowd disturbance and the display of political and offensive messages by Serbian fans. FIFA also is reviewing statements that Serbia coach Mladen Krstajic made after the match.

Xhaka and Shaqiri celebrated their goals by making a nationalist symbol of their ethnic Albanian heritage. Both of their families come from Kosovo, the former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008. Serbia doesn’t recognize Kosovo’s independence and relations between the two countries remain tense.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

The Polish Football Association was fined $10,100 and given a warning by FIFA’s disciplinary committee for a banner that the governing body deemed political and offensive. The banner was displayed during Senegal’s 2-1 win over Poland on Tuesday in Moscow.

The committee also opened disciplinary proceedings against the federations of Argentina and Croatia for crowd disturbances during Croatia’s 3-0 win Thursday at Nizhny Novgorod.

Low: Germany survived “a thriller full of emotion”

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At 1-0 down, they were headed for elimination in the group stage (with a game still to play); once level at 1-1, they faced yet a steep hill to climb on the final day of the group stage; after Toni Kroos scored his stunning 94th-minute winner, Joachim Low could finally exhale and imagine himself managing the German national team for another day.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Sweden at the 2018 World Cup was, for most intents and purposes, a worrying performance for the defending world champions. Fortunately for Low and Co., the one place in which their comeback dramatic victory was a raging success is the only one that matters: the Group F table, where Die Mannschaft currently (somehow) sit second and control their own destiny — quotes from the BBC:

“This was a thriller, full of emotion, right up until the final whistle. Brandt hit the goal post just three minutes before the end too. We took out a defensive player and brought on an attacking player because we knew had to bring on everything we had to turn it round.

“We had a couple of great chances — Mario Gomez’s header being one of them. The last couple of minutes were full of drama but those matches exist in football. We’ve had these situations in other tournaments as well. For the viewers that’s part of the attractiveness of football.”

“Something I did appreciate today was that we didn’t lose our nerve, we didn’t panic after going a goal down. We kept a level head and said we needed to make quick passes and tire the Swedes out to open up spaces.

“We didn’t score a couple of good chances but we never lost hope we could win the match and I think the goal scored in stoppage time had a bit of luck involved but it did show the belief we had in ourselves.”

There’s still plenty of work to do for one of the most popular pre-tournament favorites — there’s a little matter of needing to beat, or at the very least, match Sweden’s result against Mexico — but that can wait until tomorrow, because Saturday unexpectedly became all about survival.