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Inter in crisis ahead of match against title rival Lazio

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Two weeks ago Inter Milan was on top of Serie A and hadn’t lost a match all season. Now it is seemingly in freefall and has lost three straight matches in all competitions.

Inter’s latest defeat came in the Italian Cup at struggling city rival AC Milan on Wednesday and it will need to swiftly pick itself up if it is to get a result against title rival Lazio on Saturday.

“It is a painful defeat, and also maybe unexpected, because we cared a lot about this Italian Cup,” Inter midfielder Antonio Candreva said after the 1-0 loss. “We were coming from two successive defeats and we must start again with confidence.”

Inter moved top of Serie A with a credible 0-0 draw at Juventus on Dec. 9. However, that was mainly down to the performance of goalkeeper Samir Handanovic, and its struggles in front of goal have continued.

Three days later, Inter needed penalties to get past third-division Pordenone after a goalless draw. That was followed by league losses to Udinese (3-1) and Sassuolo (1-0) before the Cup defeat to Milan, which played with third-choice goalkeeper Antonio Donnarumma.

Inter forward Ivan Perisic has not scored since netting a hat trick in the 5-0 victory over Chievo at the beginning of the month, while captain Mauro Icardi – who remains the league’s leading goal scorer – has only found the back of the net once since that match.

“You have to blame everyone when you don’t win, it’s everyone’s fault even if maybe we need to be more clinical up front,” Candreva said. Inter was outplayed in “a half against Udinese, while against Sassuolo we were punished due to certain episodes. It is a shame for us and the fans also.”

Inter has slipped to third in Serie A, five points behind leader Napoli and four behind Juventus. The two teams immediately below it, Roma and Lazio, have played one less match.

Lazio would move a point behind Inter with victory at San Siro.

“It’s a moment in which we have lost confidence, we have less courage and we are less convinced of our qualities,” Inter coach Luciano Spalletti said. “The players are doing well from a physical point of view and we are not lacking in quality. But we shouldn’t wait for our problems to be resolved by someone else. We have to resolve things by ourselves.”

HOPEFUL MILAN

In contrast to Inter, Milan is hoping the cup victory is a sign its crisis is coming to an end. The win came right after two league defeats and will give the players renewed confidence.

The standout player in the match was surprisingly Antonio Donnarumma, the older brother of first-choice ‘keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, who was already sidelined. Antonio Donnarumma only found out he was about to make his debut shortly before kickoff, when second-choice Marco Storari pulled out of the warmup with injury.

Antonio Donnarumma had been harshly labeled a “parasitic brother” by Milan fans, who felt he was only signed by the club so his younger brother would sign a new, long-term contract.

Antonio Donnarumma was a part of Milan’s youth team but has made only one Serie A appearance – for Genoa in 2013 – and spent last season in Greece with Asteras Tripolis.

“I’ve always trained well, in silence, and hard work pays off,” the 27-year-old said. “I couldn’t have had a better debut.

“Parasite? Gigio and I felt hurt, but we kept working in silence. So many stupid things did the rounds, Gigio never said `I’ll only sign if Antonio comes’, on the contrary he told me to go somewhere and play. We have an extraordinary relationship, we’ve also suffered and only we know how much.”

Peru’s World Cup foes lobby to overturn Guerrero’s ban

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Following last week’s decision handed down by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, Peru captain and talisman Paolo Guerrero has been banned from the 2018 World Cup — at the age of 34, almost certainly his last opportunity to star on the world’s biggest stage.

[ PREVIEW: USMNT hosts Bolivia in shadows of World Cup hype ]

However, in the days since that decision, a number of Guerrero’s fellow professionals and World Cup stars — France and Denmark captains Hugo Lloris and Simon Kjaer, and Australia’s Mile Jedinak — have written to FIFA, on behalf of FIFPro, the world player union, in hopes of rendering Guerrero eligible to pay at next month’s tournament in Russia.

“We respectfully ask the Fifa Council to show compassion,” the trio wrote. “In our view it would be plainly wrong to exclude him from what should be a pinnacle of his career.”

[ MORE: Ronaldo hints at Real Madrid exit | Bale does the same ]

That Lloris, Kjaer and Jedinak are the players lobbying in favor of Guerrero is particularly notable given the fact that Peru will face France, Denmark and Australia in Group C.

Guerrero tested positive for cocaine late last year, after a tea he drank was tainted and triggered a fail drug test.

SKC, Crew SC play to 0-0 draw; VAR steals the show (again)

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KANSAS CITY, KAN. — The game in 100 words (or less): Nothing ruins a good game of soccer more than controversies involving the referee — and now that VAR is active within MLS, yet another failure of the video-review system to correct the most “clear and obvious” of wrong decisions. There is no longer any rhyme or reason in deciding whether or not to utilize what could be a very helpful tool. Check the third video further down this page to comprehend the absurdity of VAR in Sporting Kansas City’s 0-0 draw with Columbus Crew SC on Sunday. As for the actual soccer which was played, Tim Melia made one save to deny Gyasi Zardes with a point-blank header early in the first half, and a second to deny Zardes rom the penalty spot just before halftime. Despite being a back-and-forth affair between the league’s second- and third-place teams with a chance to take the lead in the Supporters’ Shield race, there were just six shots on target in total and genuine scoring chances were few and far between.

[ PREVIEW: USMNT hosts Bolivia in shadows of World Cup hype ]

Three moments that mattered

43′ — Zardes wins a PK, but Melia makes the save — Melia was responsible for giving away the penalty kick, and he more than made up for it by denying Zardes moments later.

45+6′ — Higuain puts studs into Espinoza, sees red — Originally not called a foul, changed to a red card following video review. On the softer side of red cards (just an opinion).

59′ — Martinez takes a swing at Sinovic, but no video review — At this point, it’s just time to disband the entire VAR experiment. It’s turned MLS into a clown show and an embarrassment. Signed, someone who was initially in favor of VAR, assuming MLS would utilize it properly.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Tim Melia

Goalscorers: None

Rayo Vallecano win promotion back to La Liga

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MADRID (AP) Rayo Vallecano earned promotion to Spain’s top division after beating Lugo 1-0 in a second-tier league game on Sunday.

Alex Moreno’s goal for the hosts in the 40th minute sealed Rayo’s return to La Liga after two seasons away.

Huesca had already secured promotion last weekend with a 2-0 victory at Lugo.

The third team to move up will be the winner of a two-round playoff between the four teams that finish the season from third to sixth.

Malaga, Las Palmas and Deportivo La Coruna were all relegated from the top flight this season.

FOLLOW LIVE: West leaders SKC host East’s 2nd-best Crew SC

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KANSAS CITY, KAN. — Western Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City host Columbus Crew SC, the Eastern Conference’s second-place side, at Children’s Mercy Park on Sunday with both sides capable of overtaking Atlanta United for top spot in the Supporters’ Shield race.

[ FOLLOW: SKC vs. Crew SC in top-of-the-table clash ]

Sporting KC, who are unbeaten in three straight and have lost just once since opening day (11 games), lead expansion side Los Angeles FC in the West. Meanwhile, Crew SC enter Sunday’s top-of-the-table clash unbeaten in their last six games (four wins) and trail the league leaders from Atlanta by a single point.

Hit the link above to follow along throughout the afternoon, and check back with PST for coverage after the final whistle.