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Serie A: Higuain scores twice to send Juve 9 points clear again

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MILAN (AP) Gonzalo Higuain is coming back into form at just the right time for Juventus.

Higuain hadn’t scored for five matches before netting two against former club Napoli midweek as Juventus progressed to the Italian Cup final. And the forward netted another double to fire the Bianconeri past Chievo Verona 2-0 in Serie A on Saturday.

Juventus moved nine points clear of second-placed Roma, which visits Bologna on Sunday.

Massimiliano Allegri will be hoping Higuain can make it three out of three when Juventus hosts Barcelona in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals on Tuesday.

“It will be a very difficult match in the Champions League, we’re facing a really great team, but we have to remain calm and get to it in top condition,” Higuain said. “As we respect them, they respect us, too.”

He broke the deadlock in the 23rd minute, thanks to a fantastic assist from Paulo Dybala, who skipped down the right flank before pulling back for his teammate to fire into the far bottom corner.

Higuain nearly doubled his tally on the hour mark with a swiveling effort which flew just past the right corner.

He had other chances to score before he finally got his second, six minutes from time, after more good work from Dybala in picking out Stephan Lichtsteiner, who crossed for Higuain to control and curl into the bottom right corner.

It was Juventus captain Gianluigi Buffon’s 616th Serie A appearance, moving him to second on the all-time list behind Paolo Maldini, who retired after 647.

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Juventus 31 25 2 4 62 20 42 16-0-0 9-2-4 77
 Roma 30 22 2 6 66 26 40 14-0-1 8-2-5 68
 Napoli 30 19 7 4 69 33 36 10-4-2 9-3-2 64
 Lazio 30 18 6 6 52 31 21 10-2-3 8-4-3 60
 Atalanta 31 18 5 8 52 34 18 10-2-3 8-3-5 59
 Inter Milan 30 17 4 9 56 33 23 10-2-3 7-2-6 55
 AC Milan 30 16 6 8 43 33 10 10-2-3 6-4-5 54
 Fiorentina 30 14 9 7 47 37 10 8-7-0 6-2-7 51

Atalanta’s hopes of sneaking into the Champions League diminished as it was held by Sassuolo, leaving it a point behind fourth-placed Lazio and five behind Napoli, which occupies the last Champions League spot.

Bryan Cristante cancelled out Lorenzo Pellegrini’s opener for Sassuolo but the hosts couldn’t snatch a winner.

Lazio hosts Napoli on Sunday.

“Other teams would have collapsed after going behind in such matches,” Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini said. “We can have a bit of regret that we didn’t take our chances in the second half, but the result still allows us to fight for Europe until the end of the season.”

Sassuolo took a surprising lead in the first half when Mattia Caldara made a rare mistake and the Atalanta defender was robbed of the ball by Pellegrini, who sprinted forward, rounded goalkeeper Etrit Berisha, and slotted home.

Alejandro Gomez scored a hat trick in Atalanta’s 5-0 win over Genoa last weekend and he was instrumental in the equalizer in the 73rd, floating in a free kick for Cristante to head into the back of the net.

Gomez, who hit the post early, put in another great cross moments after the equalizer but Sassuolo goalkeeper Andrea Consigli pulled off a good save to deny Alberto Grassi.

Caldara almost went from villain to hero but Consigli finger-tipped his effort away.

Empoli was not safe from relegation after being held by bottom club Pescara.

Empoli was 17th, six points above Crotone, which hosts Inter Milan on Sunday.

Pescara remained nine points behind Empoli. Palermo was the other team in the bottom three.

Ronaldo explains his new chin hair at World Cup

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Now that Cristiano Ronaldo has taken to sporting a reasonable hairstyle atop his head, people are talking about the foliage on his face.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

Ronaldo, 33, drew speculation when he stroked his chin following a goal in his hat trick performance against Spain in the World Cup opener. Some said he was demonstrating defiance against Lionel Messi posing with a goat (Greatest Of All Time) in a recent photograph.

Ronaldo scored again on Wednesday, and there was seemingly little doubt his goatee was a wink to the speculators. But what did it mean, CR7? From ESPN:

“This goatee? It’s a joke I had with [Ricardo] Quaresma. “We were in the sauna [before Friday’s match against Spain] and I started to shave and I left the goatee. I said if I score tomorrow, I would leave it for the rest of the tournament. And it gave me luck.

“I scored in that game, I scored in this one, so it stays.”

Personally, I like to imagine Ronaldo starting to get as wild with his facial hair as he did his head hair.

Perhaps a beatnik style, or something like Serj Tankian from System of a Down. Get nuts, C-Ron.

Report: Southampton could sell Tadic to Ajax for $20m

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Could Southampton be selling one of its most creative forces?

Dusan Tadic, 29, is in the middle of a World Cup run with dark horse Serbia, but the Saints star is also being talked about as a purchase item for Ajax.

[ MORE: Serbia tops Costa Rica ]

The celebrated Eredivisie has traditionally been a selling club for the Premier League, but could be a $20 million buy for Ajax.

The report says director of players Marc Overmars and financial director Jeroen Slop have flown to Southampton to work out a deal.

Tadic starred for Dutch sides Groningen and Twente between 2010-14 before moving to St. Mary’s for a reported $12 million.

He’s scored 24 goals with 35 assists in 162 appearances for Saints, 21 and 30 of which came in the Premier League.

Toronto locks down USMNT backstop Bono with extension

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Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono is going to stay Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The newly-capped USMNT backstop, 24, has been attracting interest from abroad since breaking past Clint Irwin to win the TFC job and guiding the club to multiple MLS Cup Finals.

Now general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has locked down his young goalkeeper to an undisclosed contract extension. From TorontoFC.com:

“Alex was a big part of our success last season. He set club records for wins and clean sheets and was a critical piece of our championship team,” said Toronto FC Sr. Vice-President, Soccer Operations & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko. “Since joining the club as a first round pick in 2015, Alex’s ability to make key saves in big moments has been critical to our success.”

The Syracuse-born product of Syracuse University has made 64 appearances for the Reds.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 8 — Argentina on the edge; France aims for berth

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France, Denmark, and Croatia can clinch knockout round berths on Thursday in Russia, the last nation also holding the opportunity to help deprive the World Cup of an extended Lionel Messi run.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Messi’s Argentina drew Iceland in its opener, the megastar infamously missing a penalty, and will look to beat a Croatian side that looked quite good in dispatching Nigeria.

That’s the final match of the day, which begins with Denmark facing Australia and continues with a tasty match-up between France and Peru.

Below is Thursday’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 – Wednesday, June 20

Group C
Denmark vs. Australia: Samara, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
France vs. Peru: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group D
Argentina vs. Croatia: Nizhny Novgorod, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE