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Serie A: Ronaldo scores twice as VAR helps Juventus

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ROME (AP) Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice as runaway leader Juventus escaped with a 2-1 win over Sampdoria in Serie A on Saturday with help from the VAR.

Ronaldo’s second goal, a penalty, was awarded by the VAR for a questionable handball. Then Sampdoria had a stoppage-time goal chalked off by the Video Assistant Referee.

Sampdoria thought it had become the first visiting Serie A club to score more than one goal at the Allianz Stadium in more than a year when Riccardo Saponara’s shot went in off the underside of the crossbar, but replays showed the play was offside.

“I like (the VAR) a lot because it reduces the number of mistakes,” Ronaldo said. “It’s not easy for the match officials to analyze everything that goes on. We just have to let them get on with their jobs.”

Ronaldo had put Juventus ahead two minutes in with a bouncing shot and Fabio Quagliarella equalized with a penalty before the break to become the first player to score in nine consecutive Serie A matches since David Trezeguet accomplished the feat with Juventus in 2005.

Ronaldo’s decisive penalty came in the 65th after the VAR decided that Alex Ferrari had used his arm, even though it appeared as if the defender kept his arm next to his body and didn’t move it toward the ball.

The double gave Ronaldo 14 goals in 19 matches this season to move one ahead of Genoa’s Krzysztof Piatek atop the league scoring chart.

Aiming for a record-extending eighth straight league title, Juventus set a record of 53 points at the season’s halfway mark with 17 wins, two draws and no defeats. The Bianconeri remained nine points ahead of second-placed Napoli, which beat Bologna 3-2, and 14 points ahead of third-placed Inter Milan, which won 1-0 at Empoli.

“The first half of the season has gone really well,” Ronaldo said. “We’ve won nearly all our games and we’re a solid side but there’s still a long way to go. We must stay focused and keep working away if we want to achieve great things.”

Napoli fans and players showed their support for defender Kalidou Koulibaly during the win over Bologna after the Senegal international was subjected to racist chants this week.

With Koulibaly suspended, Napoli fullback Faouzi Ghoulam warmed up wearing the Senegal international’s No. 26 shirt.

Fans held up photos of Koulibaly and anti-racism banners with the hashtag label (hash)SiamotuttiKalidou, which translates as “We’re all Kalidou.”

Koulibaly had monkey noises directed at him throughout a match against Inter Milan on Wednesday at the San Siro Stadium.

Against Bologna, Dries Mertens scored the winner two minutes from time with a shot from beyond the area after the hosts had twice given up the lead.

Arkadiusz Milik scored twice for Napoli but Federico Santander replied to his first and Danilo equalized after his second.

The victory meant Napoli coach Carlo Ancelotti got the better of Bologna counterpart Filippo Inzaghi, his former striker at AC Milan.

USWNT’s 28-game run snapped in hammering by France

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Kadidiatou Diani scored twice and France ended the U.S. national team’s 28-game unbeaten streak with a 3-1 victory Saturday in Le Havre, France.

The top-ranked United States had not lost since falling 1-0 to Australia in 2017, The Americans were 25-0-3 over the span.

Marie-Antoinette Katoto also scored for third-ranked France. It has won eight straight matches.

It was the first of 10 matches the United States will play before the World Cup. The Americans are the defending champions and could meet France again in the tournament’s quarterfinals.

France went up in the ninth minute on Diani’s goal off a cross from Delphine Cascarino. Diani scored again in the 57th minute to make it 2-0. The 23-year old plays for Paris Saint-Germain.

Katoto, Diani’s PSG teammate, added a goal in the 78th minute.

Mallory Pugh scored for the United States in the final moments.

U.S. coach Jill Ellis had to tinker with her starting lineup and rested stars Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath and Julie Ertz as a precaution because of minor injuries. Also held out was Kelley O’Hara, still recovering from ankle surgery.

Defender Tierna Davidson came in for Emily Fox in the 53rd minute, marking her first appearance since she fractured her left ankle in a match for Stanford in September.

Davidson decided to leave the Cardinal with a year of eligibility remaining to focus on making the World Cup team. She was the first overall pick in last week’s National Women’s Soccer League draft by the Chicago Red Stars.

The match at La Stade Oceane was sold out with over 25,000 in attendance. The stadium is one of the nine venues that will host World Cup games. The Americans’ next visit to the stadium will be for the final match of the World Cup group stage against Sweden.

“I’m not worried,” Ellis said following the loss. “We know who we are and what we can do.”

Next up for the United States is a match against Spain on Tuesday at Estadio Joss Rico Perez in Alicante. The U.S. women trained in Portugal ahead of the two-match European trip.

Serie A: Roma climb into 4th; anti-racism showing at Inter

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: What we learned in the Premier League, Week 23 ]

Roma 3-2 Torino

Nicolo Zaniolo announced himself as one of Europe’s most promising young talents, with the opening goal in Roma’s 3-2 victory over Torino, a game in which the 19-year-old was the best, most dangerous attacker for the whole of 90 minutes.

Zaniolo was initially denied by Salvatore Sirigu, but the young Italian managed to collect the rebound and put it home on the rebound, all while on the ground. Aleksandar Kolarov made it 2-0 not long after the half-hour mark, and Roma appeared to be on their merry way to a third straight victory.

The score was 2-2 by the 67th minute, thanks to Tomas Rincon and Cristian Asnaldo. Stephan El Shaarawy had other ideas, though, as he slammed home the winner, courtesy of a perfect through ball from Lorenzo Pellegrini, in the 73rd.

Now fully recovered from a disastrous start to the season (just five wins from their first 15 games), Roma sit fourth in the table, a point ahead of capital rivals Lazio.

Inter Milan 0-0 Sassuolo

Elsewhere in the top-four, third-place Inter Milan were held to a scoreless draw by 12th-place Sassuolo, but the game’s real story took place in the stands.

With Inter serving the second of its two-game ban on fans being allowed inside the San Siro due to racist chants, more than 10,000 local children were invited to attend as part of an initiative against discrimination. Brothers Universally United hung anti-discrimination signs around the stadium and the players word “BUU No to discrimination” on their shirt sleeves.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Udinese 1-2 Parma

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Frosinone v. Atalanta — 6:30 a.m. ET
Fiorentina v. Sampdoria — 9 a.m. ET
SPAL v. Bologna — 9 a.m. ET
Cagliari v. Empoli — 12 p.m. ET
Napoli v. Lazio — 2:30 p.m. ET

La Liga: Atleti cut into Barcelona’s lead; Real Madrid move into 3rd

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: What we learned in the Premier League, Week 23 ]

Huesca 0-3 Atletico Madrid

Atletico Madrid cut Barcelona’s lead in the title race to two points with a resounding victory away to 20th-place Huesca. Barcelona will host 15th-place Leganes on Sunday.

Lucas Hernandez opened the scoring in the 31st minute, and while his finish inside a heavy fog would ultimately be enough for Diego Simeone’s side, Santiago Arias (52nd) and Koke (71st) tacked on insurance goals in the second half.

Real Madrid 2-0 Sevilla

In a battle of two sides level on points in a battle for third place, Real Madrid turned in one of their better performances on the season en route to a 2-0 victory over Sevilla.

Sure, Los Blancos didn’t break the scoreless deadlock until Casemiro unleashed his long-range blast in the 78th minute — thus the result was in doubt for much of the game — but Madrid were in complete control despite the goal coming late on. Sevilla managed just four shots over 90 minutes and held just 31 percent of possession.

Even still, the score remained tight at 1-0 until stoppage time, when Luka Modric 2018 Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modric put the game to bed.

Now in sole possession of third place — three points clear of Sevilla, but still seven back of Barcelona — Santiago Solari’s side appears to have righted the ship enough that they’ll cruise to a top-four finish.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Celta Vigo 1-2 Valencia

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Real Betis v. Girona — 6 a.m. ET
Villarreal v. Athletic Bilbao — 10:15 a.m. ET
Rayo Vallecano v. Real Sociedad — 12:30 p.m. ET
Levante v. Real Valladolid — 12:30 p.m. ET
Barcelona v. Leganes — 2:45 p.m. ET

USMNT youngster joins NYCFC on loan from Benfica

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NEW YORK (AP) U.S. national player Keaton Parks has been acquired by New York City FC on loan from the Portuguese club Benfica for the 2019 season.

The 21-year-old Texan is a versatile central midfielder. He joined Varzim of Portugal in 2015 when he turned 18 and then signed with Benfica in 2017.

He made his national team debut in May, entering in the 62nd minute of a 3-0 victory over Bolivia in Philadelphia.

New York sporting director Claudio Reyna said Saturday that Parks “comes to us highly motivated” and can “make a strong impact” in midfield.