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.