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SERIE A 2017-18: Guide to promoted teams in Italy’s top tier

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MILAN (AP) A look at Spal, Hellas Verona and Benevento as the promoted teams prepare for the start of the Italian league season this weekend.

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SPAL

Few outside of Italy will have heard about Societa Polisportiva Ars et Labor, to give Spal its full name.

The northeastern club has spent a total of 21 seasons in Serie A and launched the career of Fabio Capello. Before going on to win titles as a player and coach with AC Milan, Juventus and Roma, Capello played in Spal’s penultimate Serie A campaign in 1966-67.

It’s been a long way back to the top flight for the first time since 1968.

Spal has also gone through bankruptcy and been refounded twice – in 2005 and 2012. But it managed to recover from that latest setback to climb back to Serie A in just five years thanks in part to back-to-back promotions.

In 2016, Spal reached Serie B for the first time since 1993. Then it surprisingly beat Hellas Verona to the title to gain promotion while boasting the most prolific attack and the third-best defense last season.

Coach Leonardo Semplici has been the mastermind behind Spal’s climb up the leagues, after the former Fiorentina youth team coach took charge at the end of 2014.

Spal prided itself on having an all-Italian side. That is no more after Greek defender Marios Oikonomou and Brazilian center back Felipe joined in the offseason.

Italian forward Alberto Paloschi has also joined and he will be hoping to revive his career after disappointing spells at Swansea and Atalanta.

Semplici’s team has a good mix of experience and youth, including 20-year-old goalkeeper Alex Meret, who was called up to the Italy squad last season.

HELLAS VERONA

Hellas Verona has bounced straight back up to Serie A, a year after being relegated from the top flight.

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It will be a debut in the top division for coach Fabio Pecchia, however, who earned promotion in his first season in charge after stints as Rafa Benitez‘s assistant at Napoli, Real Madrid and Newcastle.

The 43-year-old Pecchia will look for advice to Alessio Cerci and Giampaolo Pazzini, who both have something to prove.

Cerci is looking to reboot his career after a dramatic loss of form following his departure from Torino three years ago, while Pazzini is hoping he can take his goal scoring exploits back to Serie A.

Pazzini has only scored 12 goals in his past three seasons in the top flight – including six in 30 appearances the season Verona was relegated – but the former AC Milan and Italy forward was given the captain’s armband last season and responded with 23 league goals, making him top scorer in Serie B.

Pre-season preparations were overshadowed by the Antonio Cassano saga.

Cassano, who had not played football for more than a year joined Verona at the beginning of July but eight days later he informed the club he was retiring for family reasons before announcing he had changed his mind later that day. However, less than a week later he quit the club for a second time.

BENEVENTO

Benevento is the latest Italian side to enjoy a fairytale first-ever promotion to Serie A.

It will be hoping to avoid the fate of Carpi and Frosinone, who went straight back down two seasons ago, and instead emulate Crotone which pulled off the great escape last season.

It has been an incredible rise for Benevento which went bankrupt in 2005 and restarted in Italy’s fourth division in 2007.

[ MORE:  Klopp reacts to Champions League win ]

The southern club was in the third division as recent as 2015/16 but back-to-back promotions have lifted it into Serie A for the first time in its 88-year history.

Under Marco Baroni, Benevento also became the first club to win immediate promotion to the top flight in its first ever season in Serie B.

It did so by finishing fifth in the regular season and beating Carpi in a playoff final.

George Puscas scored the winning goal in that final and his loan from Inter Milan has been extended. Benevento will be relying on the Romanian striker for goals as well as Fabio Ceravolo, who netted 20 goals last season.

It has also brought in Colombian striker Alexis Zapata on loan from Udinese and midfielder Danilo Cataldi also on loan from Lazio.

Benevento is a town of less than 60,000 inhabitants to the north-east of Naples.

More AP Serie A coverage https://apnews.com/tag/SerieA

Report: Orlando’s Justin Meram could be traded back to Columbus

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A former Columbus Crew midfielder could be on his way back to the Eastern Conference side.

[ MORE: Whitecaps teen Davies on brink of Bayern move ]

Several reports have suggested that Orlando City’s Justin Meram could be on his way back to Columbus, as the Lions look to trade the midfielder back to the club that drafted the 29-year-old.

The veteran attacker joined the Lions back in January in a trade after spending seven seasons with the Crew.

Reliable Twitter account MLS Transfers first reported the story on Sunday, also naming the Portland Timbers, Vancouver Whitecaps and FC Cincinnati as potential landing spots for Meram.

Meram was traded to Orlando back in January after requesting a move away from Columbus due to ongoing talks of the club being relocated out of Ohio.

The Iraq international has struggled in his first season with Orlando, scoring just one goal in 17 appearances for the club — who currently sit in ninth place and six points outside of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Three Eastern Conference sides on record-setting pace

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2017 saw Toronto FC dominate the MLS regular season before going on to hoist the club’s first MLS Cup in club history.

[ MORE: Whitecaps teen Alphonso Davies nearing Bayern Munich move ]

Fast forward to this season, and three more Eastern Conference sides are poised to break barriers as they continue a near record-setting pace.

Atlanta United, New York City FC and the New York Red Bulls have created a sizable gap over the rest of the East with nearly one-third of the season remaining.

Toronto’s 69-point regular season total a year ago looked like a record that wouldn’t be touched for some time, however, the current trio of dominating forces in the East are all on pace to finish 2018 with 68 points.

Atlanta, NYCFC and the Red Bulls are all averaging two points per game, while Toronto averaged slightly above that total (2.03 ppg) during their MLS Cup-winning run.

The Red Bulls and NYCFC, in particular, could be in line to follow in the footsteps of last season’s Toronto FC.

Manager Chris Armas and the Red Bulls play 10 of their final games against teams outside the current playoff lines in their respective conferences, while Atlanta and NYCFC face five and four playoff teams, respectively.


Here’s a look at how the three teams will finish up the 2018 regular season:

Atlanta United (12 matches)

Montreal Impact, Toronto FC, Columbus Crew, Orlando City, D.C. United, Colorado Rapids, San Jose Earthquakes, Real Salt Lake, New York Red Bulls, New England Revolution, Chicago Fire, Toronto FC

New York City FC (14 matches)

Orlando City, Seattle Sounders, Vancouver Whitecaps, Toronto FC, Philadelphia Union, New York Red Bulls, Columbus Crew, New England Revolution, D.C. United, Montreal Impact, Chicago Fire, Minnesota United, D.C. United, Philadelphia Union

New York Red Bulls (15 matches)

D.C. United, Columbus Crew, Los Angeles FC, Chicago Fire, Vancouver Whitecaps, New York City FC, D.C. United, Houston Dynamo, Montreal Impact, D.C. United, Toronto FC, Atlanta United, San Jose Earthquakes, Philadelphia Union, Orlando City

Mesut Ozil discusses critique of Turkish background

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Germany’s dismissal from the World Cup came as a shock to many, but one of its players received heavier scrutiny for off-the-field actions.

[ MORE: Whitecaps teen Alphonso Davies nearing move to Bayern ]

Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil appeared in two of the three group stage matches for the Germans in Russia, however, his play was overshadowed by his meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan prior to the start of the tournament.

The meeting between the two caused several German media outlets to criticize Ozil due to the heated relations between the two European nations.

Additionally, Ozil says his brand was affected as well, with various sponsors pulling their support due to the meeting with Erdogan.

The 29-year-old is of Turkish and German descent, which would have made him eligible to represent either country.

Ozil took to Twitter on Sunday to discuss how the ordeal has affected how the media and sponsorship has affected him over the last month.

Barcelona, Sevilla to play Spanish Super Cup in Morocco

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La Liga champions Barcelona will meet Sevilla in the 2018 Spanish Super Cup in Tangier, Morocco on August 12.

[ MORE: Klopp talks Pulisic, Liverpool spending ]

The Real Federación Española de Fútbol (RFEF) announced the decision on Sunday, as Barca looks to kick off the 2018 season against last year’s Copa Del Rey runners’ up.

Lionel Messi and Co. defeated Sevilla, 5-0, in the 2017/18 Copa Del Rey final, giving the Blaugrana a domestic double for the first time since the 2015/16 campaign.

La Liga play opens up in Spain on August 19, however, the full fixture list will be revealed on Tuesday.