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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.

Neymar limps out of Brazil training

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Having drawn against Switzerland in its opener, Brazil now faces renewed concerns over the health of its megastar forward.

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Neymar’s right foot was “still not 100 percent” when he took the field for the 1-1 draw on Sunday, and the 26-year-old left practice early two days later.

He missed nearly three months after fracturing his foot for PSG under pressure by Marseille’s Dimitri Payet, but returned to score for Brazil in friendly defeats of Croatia and Austria. Neymar has 55 goals in 85 caps.

Neymar was favoring his right foot as he limped off the pitch, two days after being fouled 10 times against Switzerland. Fox reports that Neymar will be fine to practice on Wednesday, but the situation bears close observation.

Neymar was injured in the 2014 World Cup quarterfinals when Juan Zuniga kneed him in the back.

Salah returns to Egypt starting lineup

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A familiar name returned to the starting lineup for Egypt on Tuesday afternoon.

Egypt named star Mohamed Salah in its starting XI, after resting Salah in Egypt’s 1-0 defeat to Uguruay on June 15. Salah has been recovering from an injured shoulder that he suffered during the UEFA Champions League final in late May.

Salah makes his World Cup debut now against the host nation, Russia, at 2:00 p.m.

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Senegal hold off late charge, defeat Poland on controversial goal

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Two matches, two upsets.

For the second time on Tuesday, an underdog took down a favorite as Senegal defeated Poland, 2-1, with the game-winning goal decided in controversial fashion.

In the 60th minute, M’baye Niang was waved onto the field by the referee while the ball was still in play in the middle of the field, and Niang raced on to the end of a Gregorz Krychowiak backpass that stunned the Poland defense. Niang arrived at the pass a second quicker than goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, allowing the Senegal winger to score into an empty net.

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The VAR checked the goal but it was allowed, as it was a subjective decision of the referee to allow Niang back on the field following an injury, and not a clear and obvious error.

Senegal took the lead in the first half on the counter attack. With Poland slow in transition, Sadio Mane found Idrissa Gueye in space at the top of the box. After two touches, Gueye fired a strike to the far post in the 37th minute that took a wicked deflection off Poland defender Thiago Cionek and left Szczesny helpless.

Poland struggled all game against the pace and physicality of Senegal and the Lions of Teranga were very smart in controlling possession and switching the field, forcing the Poland squad to tire quickly.

Krychowiak did breathe some life into the game with a header goal off a free kick in the 86th minute, but despite some poor clock management from Senegal, its defense was able to hold off Poland’s last-ditch chance to tie the game, going level with Japan on three points at the top of Group H.

Report: Blatter to attend Portugal vs. Morocco as guest of Putin

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Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter is still in the middle of an eight-year ban from the organization he once ran.

But that doesn’t mean he’s going to miss out on some of the World Cup action, live in Russia.

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BBC journalist Richard Conway reported early Tuesday that Blatter is set to watch Portugal vs. Morocco in Moscow as a guest of Russian president Vladimir Putin. The 82-year-old would normally not be able to sit in the presidential box due to his FIFA ban, though he likely could attend matches with a regular ticket like the vast majority of soccer fans.

Just four years ago, Blatter was president during the 2014 World Cup, one that was marred by corruption scandals in addition to the corruption scandals surrounding the World Cup bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments.

His reign of power at FIFA finally came to an end on June 2, 2015, when he resigned following an embarrassing month for FIFA in which many of its members were arrested in a joint-raid between the Swiss authorities and the FBI.

Blatter was eventually handed an eight-year ban from FIFA’s ethics committee for an “unauthorized payment” of $2 million from Blatter to Michel Platini, the former France star and FIFA vice president who was also handed an eight-year suspension.