Serie A: Juventus rolls, Milan back into 4th

Associated Press
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After much movement, much speculation, and lots of ups and downs, the top of the Serie A table changed little from the positioning entering the weekend.

Juventus topped Sassuolo 3-0 to restore its 11-point lead at the top of the table, while AC Milan took care of Cagliari 3-0 to move back into fourth place after falling as far as seventh due to other results.

The Old Lady maintained its iron grip over Serie A with a dominant win, grabbing goals from Sami Khedira, Emre Can, and of course Cristiano Ronaldo. While Sassuolo managed to grab 50% possession in the match, they could only muster two shots on target, including none in the final hour of the game.

Ronaldo created the opener 23 minutes in as he worked space near the penalty spot and unleashed a ripper, and while that was saved well by Sassuolo goalkeeper Andrea Consigli, Khedira was there to tap in the rebound at the far post. Ronaldo got his goal on a powerful header in the 70th minute to put the game away, and Can added the cherry on top with four minutes remaining, finding the far post with a low effort from a tight angle. Ronaldo also failed to get through the 90 minutes without a blooper, as he inexplicably rifled a powerful rip straight into Khedira’s face at the top of the box despite his teammate standing almost right next to him.

Milan, meanwhile, picked up a critical result in a match marred by protests. Cagliari struggled to leave its training ground earlier in the weekend as local farmers protested plunging dairy prices, hoping to stop Cagliari from making the trip to the San Siro, wanting the club to use their high profile to make a statement. The team eventually traveled, but ran into a buzzsaw.

Suso was responsible for creating the opener, as his left-footed curler was saved by Alessio Cragno, only for the rebound to ping directly off Cagliari defender Luca Ceppitelli and into the back of the net. 21-year-old Lucas Paqueta doubled the Milan lead in the 22nd minute on a cross from Davide Calabria that found Pacqueta charging to meet at the back post, scoring his first Serie A goal after joining in early January. Krzysztof Piatek made it 3-0 with 20 minutes to go on a scrappy goal that he poked through the legs of Nicoló Barella with Cragno way out of net.

While it appears the top two places in the table have been all but locked up with Juventus on 63 points and Napoli on 52, the final two Champions League spots in the Serie A table are being fought for tooth and nail. Inter, who beat Parma 1-0 on Saturday, sits third with 43 points, while AC Milan moves back into the final position with 39.

Below Milan sits Atalanta, Roma, and Lazio all on 38 points, with Torino at 34, Sampdoria at 33, and Fiorentina at 32.

Elsewhere on Sunday, Atalanta also picked up a 2-1 win over SPAL on a 79th goal from white-hot Duvan Zapata, who grabbed his 15th goal in his last 10 Serie A games. He picked up the winner on the break, with Hans Hateboer providing the fast-break delivery from the right after being sprung through by a wonderful chip from Marten De Roon.

Torino defeated Udinese 1-0 at home to stay in the hunt, with the lone strike coming from former Chelsea youth product Ola Aina just past the half-hour mark on a header, finishing a cross from Cristian Ansaldi after spectacular one-on-one work on the left flank. Torino shot-stopper Salvatore Sirigu also saved his fifth-straight penalty, off the foot of Rodrigo de Paul.

Bologna and Genoa drew 1-1 on a pair of first-half goals by Mattia Destro and Lukas Lerager that cancelled out. The teams combined for 25 shots, including eight on target, but the second half was a dud as Bologna pulled out of the relegation zone but only on goal differential.

Three key questions for USMNT in March

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The United States men’s national team returns to competitive action with an interim coach at the wheel and a spot in the CONCACAF Nations League finals still uncertain.

The Yanks clobbered Grenada at home in their first CNL group match but could only manage a 1-1 draw with El Salvador thanks in no small part to a sloppy pitch and a red card. The USMNT was also down several first-choice players including Christian Pulisic and Giovanni Reyna.

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The U.S. will be favored to advance and will hope to be in the catbird seat following Friday’s match with Grenada at Kirani James Athletic Stadium in St. George’s.

Grenada lost 3-1 to El Salvador away but drew Los Cuscatlecos at home and need to beat the visiting U.S. to qualify for Gold Cup.

But the USMNT’s aforementioned 1-1 draw with El Salvador looms large: Even if the Yanks were to falter in Grenada, they’ll be the Group D winner by beating Los Cuscatlecos on March 27 in Orlando.

Three key questions for USMNT in March

1. Center forwards still needed, but is there anyone ready for the task? The Nos. 1, 2, and 3 non-Reyna-related question for Gregg Berhalter when the World Cup ended was why he chose his center forwards, how he used them, and why they didn’t score goals. Haji Wright was the only CF to score at the World Cup and that was the first center forward goal in six USMNT matches. Jesus Ferreira scored four the previous game, but that was against Grenada and the FC Dallas star has three more goals in his 15 other caps. And Timothy Weah, a danger up top when called upon but often a wide man, is injured and will miss the international break.

So where will interim coach Anthony Hudson turn against Grenada and El Salvador?

World Cup cut Ricardo Pepi is back and so is Daryl Dike.

Meet the candidates and their forms:

  • Pepi, 20, is on loan at Dutch side Groningen from Augsburg. He started off hot with Groningen and has nine goals, though he’s scoreless in his last three matches.
  • Dike, 22, is fit and firing for West Bromwich Albion, where he’s scored four times in his last five Championship appearances, all starts.

This is one of those “prove it” camps, with Christian Pulisic and Giovanni Reyna among those helping to cue up chances for their center forwards. If you’re not gonna get the job done against Grenada and El Salvador, you’re missing the boat.

2. Who steps into the Tyler Adams role? Tyler Adams has unflinchingly been Leeds’ most consistent and steady player in a year of tumult, and he’s proven the same time and again in a USMNT shirt.

But he’s not here!

So there will be no “MMA” midfield of Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah, and Adams. The first two pieces are here from Leeds and Valencia, but it’ll be a third piece to complete the trio. Luca de la Torre of Celta Vigo and Alan Sonora of Juarez have been called into camp and Johnny Cardoso is the most defense-minded of the bunch if the team is to go “like-for-like.” Cardoso, 21, is starting for Internacional in Brazil, who trails only Gremio on the Gaucho table.

3. What’s the state of mind? Look, the “youth soccer” and “extremely childish” incident has made for plenty of discussion online, but the U.S. group seemed plenty bonded after Giovanni Reyna’s World Cup camp incidents had happened but were yet to be exposed by Gregg Berhalter at a “private” speech.

So, in theory, Reyna will arrive back into a USMNT camp in need of consistent effort and good attitude but as a member of the fold. The problem may be that the fold thought it left the World Cup with Berhalter either returning as head coach or with a search being conducted for a new coach.

It turns out, it’s only mostly the latter; Berhalter remains a candidate for the U.S. job and has been in Europe to see his “former” players. His assistant, Anthony Hudson, remains in charge of the first team on an interim basis and who can really know how much input Berhalter may currently have on the group.

All of that said, the USMNT is better than both of its opponents, regardless of venues, and should look superior to them even without Adams and Weah. Should is still pretty conditional, so let’s see what statement comes out of these two games in the favorites role, because it’s going to be quite a while before the Yanks are a clear underdog again.

The Anfield Wrap on Liverpool ahead of U.S. tour: ‘They are in a new phase’

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Liverpool are still in the hunt for a top four finish but Jurgen Klopp is now in charge of a big rebuilding process as the Reds are in ‘a new phase’ as they transition from the German’s first seven years in charge.

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That is the view of Neil Atkinson from The Anfield Wrap (TAW) and it will be intriguing to see how Klopp reshapes his playing philosophy, adds to his squad and how it all slots together over the next few years.

TAW are bringing their show to North America with their ‘TAW Live’ tour taking place from Wednesday, Mar. 22 to Monday, Mar. 27, with shows in Toronto, Detroit, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington D.C.

TAW host Neil Atkinson joined Brad Thomas and Drew Dinsick on NBC Sports’ Soccer Pub to discuss what he thinks of topsy-turvy Liverpool this season and what their identity could become in the future.

Klopp has ‘never had to do this’ before

“I think this is the key question for the next phase of Jurgen Klopp,” Atkinson said. “He has never had to do this before. He’s done seven years at Mainz, seven years at Dortmund and he’s now done seven years at Liverpool. Jurgen has signed his new deal and is staying until 2026 and now what he’s got to do is transition this football team in a way he hasn’t had to do in the past.

“I think that is an interesting challenge. Sides get used to the way you play and players themselves can become a little bit stale and there is also you yourself and how you see the game and how you’re going to interact with the game as a manager. I don’t think he’s had to do this in any of his other jobs. He’s done unbelievable jobs everywhere he has been, including Liverpool, but this is a new phase.”

Transition has arrived for the Reds. But what will it look like?

“The key question for Liverpool is Liverpool are clearly in transition, that is clear and apparent. That happens to a lot of sides and some sides manage to change and stay at the top, Liverpool haven’t managed to succeed in that. Last season they were beginning that process and last season you saw a bit of transition from Liverpool but not as much as you’ve seen now and they haven’t managed to stay at the top and the Champions League this campaign.

“What is it moving to? Is it simply different players? Or is he looking to change his approach a little bit? Is he looking to add creativity to the side? What does that come at the expense of? I think that is a key question. On the whole I feel like talk of Liverpool’s overall demise is vastly overstated. I think it is a side that will right itself. There have been injury issues this year, I don’t think a number of the players and coaching staff have had their best season by any stretch of the imagination, but I think they will come back strong.”

Top four finish essential this season

“I’m of the view that as long as they can find a way to a top four finish then I feel they will summer strongly and they will be able to come out of the other side and we will really be able to see what the next phase of Jurgen Klopp’s blueprint is. I am absolutely certain he has a blueprint and has a way he wants this team to play and knows which players he wants to keep and move on. I think we will see that again in the summer and Liverpool come again. But it is important for Liverpool to come top four.”

EURO 2024 qualification schedule: EURO qualifiers results, standings

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EURO 2024 qualifying is here, and you’re in the right spot for groups, fixtures, and results.

Italy outlasted England in penalty kicks to win EURO 2020 and is bidding to become the first repeat winner since Spain in 2008 and 2012.

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England is still seeking its first European Championship and will be favored to emerge from Group C with aforementioned Italy as well as Ukraine, North Macedonia, and Malta.

Netherlands and France are also in a spicy group that has dark horse Republic of Ireland and former champions Greece, as well as Gibraltar.

A number of nations have guaranteed themselves no worse than a playoff spot due to their performances in the UEFA Nations League: Netherlands, Greece, Italy, Spain, Scotland, Georgia, Croatia, Turkey, Serbia, Kazakhstan.



EURO 2024 qualifying schedule

Thursday, March 23

Kazakhstan vs Slovenia — 11am ET
Slovakia vs Luxembourg — 3:45pm ET
Italy vs England — 3:45pm ET
Denmark vs Finland — 3:45pm ET
Portugal vs Liechtenstein — 3:45pm ET
San Marino vs Northern Ireland — 3:45pm ET
North Macedonia vs Malta — 3:45pm ET
Bosnia and Herzegovina vs Iceland — 3:45pm ET

Friday, March 24

Bulgaria vs Montenegro — 1pm ET
Gibraltar vs Greece — 3:45pm ET
Moldova vs Faroe Islands — 3:45pm ET
Serbia vs Lithuania — 3:45pm ET
Austria vs Azerbaijan — 3:45pm ET
Sweden vs Belgium– 3:45pm ET
Czech Republic vs Poland — 3:45pm ET
France vs Netherlands — 3:45pm ET

Saturday, March 25

Scotland vs Cyprus — 10am ET
Israel vs Kosovo  — 1pm ET
Armenia vs Turkey — 1pm ET
Belarus vs Switzerland  — 1pm ET
Spain vs Norway — 3:45pm ET
Croatia vs Wales — 3:45pm ET
Andorra vs Romania — 3:45pm ET

Sunday, March 26

Kazakhstan vs Denmark — 9am ET
England vs Ukraine — Noon ET
Liechtenstein vs Iceland — Noon ET
Slovenia vs San Marino — Noon ET
Slovakia vs Bosnia and Herzegovina — 2:45pm ET
Northern Ireland vs Finland — 2:45pm ET
Luxembourg vs Portugal — 2:45pm ET
Malta vs Italy — 2:45pm ET

Monday, March 27

Montenegro vs Serbia — 2:45pm ET
Netherlands vs Gibraltar — 2:45pm ET
Poland vs Albania — 2:45pm ET
Austria vs Estonia — 2:45pm ET
Sweden vs Azerbaijan — 2:45pm ET
Moldova vs Czech Republic — 2:45pm ET
Hungary vs Bulgaria — 2:45pm ET
Republic of Ireland vs France — 2:45pm ET

Tuesday, March 28

Georgia vs Norway — Noon ET
Wales vs Latvia — 2:45pm ET
Romania vs Belarus — 2:45pm ET
Switzerland vs Israel — 2:45pm ET
Kosovo vs Andorra — 2:45pm ET
Turkey vs Croatia — 2:45pm ET
Scotland vs Spain — 2:45pm ET


EURO 2024 qualifying standings

Group A

Spain
Scotland
Norway
Georgia
Cyprus

Group B

Netherlands
France
Republic of Ireland
Greece
Gibraltar

Group C

Italy
England
Ukraine
North Macedonia
Malta

Group D

Croatia
Wales
Armenia
Turkey
Latvia

Group E

Poland
Czech Republic
Albania
Faroe Islands
Moldova

Group F

Belgium
Austria
Sweden
Azerbaijan
Estonia

Group G

Hungary
Serbia
Montenegro
Bulgaria
Lithuania

Group H

Denmark
Finland
Slovenia
Kazakhstan
Northern Ireland
San Marino

Group I

Switzerland
Israel
Romania
Kosovo
Belarus
Andorra

Group J

Portugal
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Iceland
Luxembourg
Slovakia
Liechtenstein

Mesut Ozil retires at 34; World Cup winner won four FA Cups with Arsenal

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Enigmatic and undeniably gifted, World Cup winner Mesut Ozil has called time on his playing career at age 34.

Ozil joined Istanbul Basaksehir last summer but appeared just seven times for the first team, totallling 142 minutes due to continued back troubles.

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The 92-times capped German international is best known for his time at Arsenal and Real Madrid but came through the youth ranks at Schalke before breaking onto the international stage with Werder Bremen.

Ozil registered 54 assists across three La Liga seasons with Real Madrid, and came within one assist of Thierry Henry’s Premier League record when he set up 19 goals in the 2015-16 season.

He finished his Arsenal career with 44 goals and 79 assists in 254 appearances.

Here’s part of his announcement, from Instagram:

“I’ve had the privilege to be a professional football player for almost 17 years now and I feel incredibly thankful for the opportunity but in recent weeks and months, having also suffered some injuries, it’s become more and more clear that it’s time to leave the big stage of football.”

Ozil won the 2014 World Cup with Germany and scored in the 2010 and 2014 editions of football’s top international showcase. He claimed four FA Cups with Arsenal, the German Cup with Werder Bremen, and Copa del Rey and La Liga honors with Real.

Outspoken on social issues, Ozil was the subject of some controversy over statements denouncing Chinese internment camps and the treatment of Uyghurs in the country.

 

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