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Serie A: Napoli scraps to draw, Inter tops SPAL

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Napoli failed to restore its eight-point lead over AC Milan in the Serie A table as Carlo Ancelotti’s squad required an 86th minute goal to earn a 1-1 road draw at Sassuolo.

Domenico Berardi put the home side up 52 minutes in as a cross from the right flank was blocked by a sliding Allan at the near post but the ball stayed in play and pinged around to Berardi who popped it into the back of the net from close range off the fingertips of a scrambling David Ospina. Gianluca Pegolo stopped Amadou Diawara’s long-range effort on 74 minutes, but Napoli managed to draw level in the 86th minute as Lorenzo Insigne collected a deflected cross and rifled it into the far corner.

Inter, meanwhile, popped off 15 shots on the SPAL defense, and while they only put two on target, they buried both those attempts in a 2-0 win thanks to goals from Matteo Politano and Roberto Gagliardini.

The hosts had the opener on the half-hour mark, but VAR ruled the goal out for a handball as Lautaro Martinez controlled a cross at the top of the box before rifling into the back of the net. After the break, Politano’s opener came on the 66th minute, collecting the ball thanks to a fortunate deflection off Pasquale Schiattarella before delivering a wonderful finish tucked inside the far corner. Gagliardini killed off the game with a sloppy volleyed effort from the penalty spot in the 77th minute and Inter moved six points in the final Champions League spot ahead of three teams level on points behind them.

Torino and Atalanta both kept pace with victories, moving up to 44 points to pull level with Roma and sit six back of Inter in fourth. Roma plays tomorrow, visiting Empoli.

Andrea Belotti bagged a winning brace as Torino went to Frosinone and came from behind to win 2-1, condemning the hosts to another week of relegation talk. Frosinone went ahead as Luca Paganini expertly headed home a corner into the far corner, giving the 19th-placed side hope. After the break, Belotti brought Torino level as he responded with a header of his own, meeting Iago Falque’s free-kick at the far post. His second featured an acrobatic finish, a low overhead kick that met Ola Aina’s headed cross in the 77th minute.

Lazio, meanwhile, fell behind the pace, slumping to a 1-1 draw with Fiorentina as Luis Muriel’s second-half goal cancelled out a Ciro Immobile opener. Lazio weathered 13 shots from the hosts, and while Fiorentina put just one on target, they scored with it as Kevin Mirallas did excellent work on the right flank and rifled in a cross to the middle where Murial simply redirected it into the far corner.

Robin Gosens was the one to send Atalanta through with a road win of its own, scoring the winner with a stunning 77th minute touch from an unbelievably tight angle nearly on the byline. Mario Pasalic’s cross was tipped by a diving Emil Audero, and with the goal open, Gosens redirected the ball over the goal line. His goal broke a 1-1 scoreline after Duvan Zapata and Fabio Quagliarella had cancelled each other out each with second-half goals.

Finally, Bologna pummeled Cagliari to earn a 2-0 win at home. The hosts ripped off a whopping 21 shots, putting nine on target that led to goals by Erick Pulgar and Roberto Soriano. The former scored from the spot in the 34th minute to open the scoring while Soriano finished it off with 13 minutes to go after great individual work on the ball at the doorstep.

The world’s most political game? Venezuela v. Catalonia

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MADRID (AP) There will be lots of politics to talk about when Venezuela takes on a Catalonia squad in a friendly soccer game in Spain on Monday.

Venezuela has a coach who offered his resignation over the alleged political use of his national team, while Catalonia — the region in the middle of an independence dispute with — will be missing players because some non-Catalan teams didn’t release them.

Venezuela is coming off a convincing 3-1 win over Lionel Messi’s Argentina on Friday, but what attracted most of the attention after the friendly was an announcement by Venezuela coach Rafael Dudamel. He offered his resignation because he was not happy with the politicization of a pre-game visit by a representative of Juan Guaido, the man challenging Nicolas Maduro’s claim to the presidency in Venezuela.

Dudamel and the rest of the squad had welcomed the visit but the coach apparently did not like that images were later released to the public.

“Regrettably, they politicized the visit,” Dudamel said. “The agreement was that if there was any image or video, it would have been used internally only. But they politicized the visit, and we can’t allow that to happen. It was regrettable how they used it.”

Venezuela is in the middle of a power struggle since Maduro’s re-election last year was deemed illegitimate by several governments.

Dudamel said he will remain in charge of the squad on Monday, but his future will depend on talks with Venezuelan soccer federation officials in the coming days.

Catalonia has also undergone political turmoil, peaking recently in 2017 with an independence referendum not recognized by Madrid. The issue divided Spain at the time and remains a hot topic politically.

Although the region is not independent, Catalonia has often put together squads to play in friendly matches against other nations.

Among the Catalan players expected to play on Monday are veterans Gerard Pique and Xavi Hernandez. Both have retired from the Spanish national team and are off-duty with their clubs because of the international break.

Hernandez, a 39-year-old midfielder, currently plays in Qatar. The 32-year-old Pique, still a starter with Barcelona, decided to stop playing with Spain’s national team after the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

But other players initially selected for the squad were not released by their clubs, who said their decisions were not related to politics.

Valladolid, which is fighting relegation from the top tier of the Spanish league, was the first team to keep its players from taking part in Monday’s match, and Rayo Vallecano and Huesca — also threatened by relegation — later followed suit.

“We understand the reasons why these clubs are not going to let their players play,” Catalonia coach Gerard Lopez said.

The match will be played in Girona, a Catalan city about 60 miles from Barcelona.

Redknapp claims innocence for Birmingham’s overspending, deduction

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Harry Redknapp claims that he is not at all responsible for the nine-point recently handed to Birmingham City as punishment for “breaching profitability and sustainability rules” in the EFL Championship.

[ MORE: Mourinho “preparing” for next job; expects to start “in June” ]

Despite managing the club for five months, from April to September 2017 — a period in which the Blues signed nine new players (six for transfer fees, three on free transfers) and saw the overall wage bill continue to rise — Redknapp has washed his hands of the entire situation and believes “I don’t think any of the signings were mine” — quotes from the Guardian:

“There were three lads from Brentford that came in [Jota, Harlee Dean and Maxime Colin]. They were all good players but they weren’t on my shopping list. I’d never even see any of them play, they were brought in by other people above my head.

“We brought in Isaac Vassell for $1.3 million [from Luton] and he will be worth massive money in my opinion. He was an absolute bargain, but I can’t even take credit for that because he was nothing to do with me, to be truthful. I don’t think any of the signings were mine. I was taking [John] Ruddy on a free transfer from Norwich and instead they brought in David Stockdale from Brighton. The director of football [Jeff Vetere] wasn’t brought in by me either.”

Only, with regard to the signing of Spanish midfielder Jota, Redknapp had the following to say hours before his signing was made official, per Guardian columnist Daniel Taylor:

“I’m hoping it will be done. It’s not done yet. I just identify them, then it’s up to other people to get them in.”

[thinking-face emoji slash upside down smiling emoji]

While Redknapp is hugely disingenuous in accepting zero responsibility, those in charge of the various clubs at which he has run up massive debts managed could try something entirely new: tell the man, “No.”

Juventus sets record for attendance at women’s club game

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TURIN, Italy (AP) A week after the world record for the highest attendance at a women’s soccer club match was set, a league record in Italy was also broken.

[ MORE: Mourinho “preparing” for next job; expects to start “in June” ]

Juventus’ women’s team played for the first time at the Allianz Stadium on Sunday and a total of 39,027 people turned out to see the league leaders beat second-place Fiorentina 1-0.

That annihilated the previous record attendance for a women’s club match in Italy of 14,000 spectators.

All tickets were free.

Defending champion Juventus, which normally plays its matches at the club’s training center in Vinovo, extended its advantage at the top of the Serie A table to four points ahead of Fiorentina and seven ahead of third-place AC Milan.

[ MORE: Messi injured in Argentina return; likely to recover for Man Utd clash ]

A total of 60,739 people were present at Atletico Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano Stadium last Sunday as the hosts lost 2-0 to Barcelona.

In January, Athletic Bilbao said it set a European record when 48,121 spectators attended a Spanish Cup match against Atletico Madrid at San Mames Stadium in Bilbao.

The record for any women’s match was set in 1999 when 90,185 people watched the World Cup final between the United States and China at the Rose Bowl, which the U.S. won. At the 2012 Olympic final in London, 80,203 saw the U.S. beat Japan.

LAFC beat RSL on more late-game heroics; first in MLS to 10 points

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Their 2019 campaign is only four weeks old, but Los Angele FC are making a name for themselves as MLS’s new cardiac kids — masters of late-game drama — with another stoppage-time winner.

[ MORE: Young FCD side tops Rapids | Kljestan, Orlando down Red Bulls ]

After knocking off Sporting Kansas City courtesy of Adama Diomande‘s 94th-minute goal in Week 1, Bob Bradley‘s boys were at it again against Real Salt Lake on Saturday.

Just as they did against Sporting KC, LAFC fell behind in the first half only to pull level close to halftime and break visiting hearts with 90-plus on the clock. Damir Kreilach converted from the penalty spot in the 35th minute, but the advantage lasted barely five minutes before Diego Rossi equalized in the 40th.

[ MORE: Schalke issue injury update on USMNT’s Weston McKennie ]

Then, in the 91st minute, came the stunning winner from Rossi Carlos Vela  Diomande Christian Ramirez Lee Nguyen Walker Zimmerman(?!).

Whether or not the strike took a deflection or knuckled and swerved in a way that would make the world’s greatest strikers of the ball proud — even Bradley was noncommittal either way — is largely irrelevant.

With a 3W-1D-0L record through the season’s first month, Bradley and Co., have shown their debut MLS season was no fluke. In fact, they’ve made it abundantly clear that it was actually something of a disappointment and they are intent on reaching far greater heights in 2019.