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Italian players’ rep calls out establishment’s racism tolerance

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ROME (AP) It was the day after Christmas and the festive atmosphere was quickly ruined when a soccer fan died in clashes outside of the venerated San Siro stadium in Milan.

Inside the arena, the situation grew worse when Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly, who is black, was targeted with racist monkey noises by Inter Milan supporters for the full 90 minutes.

After Napoli coach Carlo Ancelotti pleaded with the referee to no avail for the match to be suspended, Koulibaly sarcastically applauded the official and was sent off with his second yellow card.

Days later, an emergency summit of Italian soccer and government leaders called to address the problems of fan violence and racism resulted in little more than opposing opinions.

“The feeling I took home was that we don’t all view the problem in the same manner and we don’t all want to confront it the same way,” Damiano Tommasi, the president of the Italian players’ association, said in an interview this week with The Associated Press. “Not everyone was convinced that this is unacceptable.”

No surprise then that, nine months later, fan racism remains a serious problem for Serie A and there has been a complete lack of punishment after three cases of discriminatory chants during the opening five rounds of the Italian league.

Inter Milan’s Romelu Lukaku, AC Milan’s Franck Kessie, and Fiorentina’s Dalbert Henrique — who are all black — have been targeted by racist chants but no sanctions have been handed out by the Italian league, federation or police.

“There’s always someone who says, `Yes, but. Yes, but that’s not racism. Yes, but it’s only one person. Yes, but it’s not a racist insult. Yes, but we can’t prevent someone from saying these things inside a stadium. Too many `Yes, buts,'” Tommasi said. “That results in a level of tolerance that doesn’t come into line with other countries.”

With coaches like Ancelotti and Antonio Conte at Inter having recently returned home after experiences abroad, plus the arrival of more high-profile foreigners in the Italian league like Cristiano Ronaldo at Juventus and Lukaku, who recently transferred from Manchester United, the racism in Serie A has taken on a new dimension.

“They notice the difference much more than other players and coaches. And they’re personalities who are known internationally. Their voices gain more attention,” Tommasi said.

As Conte said recently, “I’m back in Italy after three years and I’ve discovered that the situation has really worsened. In England whoever offends someone pays for it because they put them in jail right away and throw away the key. That’s why so many families go to the stadiums there.”

The racism isn’t just against black players. Juventus midfielder Miralem Pjanic was recently insulted as “a Gypsy.”

Then there are degrading territorial chants constantly aimed at Napoli in which supporters of other clubs associate Napoli with cholera or sing that the southern city should fall victim to an eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

During Napoli’s opening match of the season at Fiorentina, Ancelotti uncharacteristically lost his cool at the final whistle and confronted opposing fans behind his bench.

“After 90 minutes of insults, I turned to the crowd and suggested that they just go home,” Ancelotti said. “It’s certainly not pleasant to hear non-stop insults.”

Fiorentina fans, meanwhile, have been known to celebrate the Heysel Stadium disaster, when 39 people – mostly Juventus fans – were killed in a stampede at the start of the 1985 European Cup final.

“Insults have become an accepted part of the fan culture,” Tommasi said.

An extra complication was revealed by a recent police crackdown on Juventus “ultra” fans linked to alleged infiltration by the Calabrian `Ndrangheta crime mob: Militant-like supporters allegedly blackmailed their own team by threatening racist chants which would result in a costly stadium closure if the club did not provide them with extra tickets for resale.

Solutions for fighting racism and other offensive behavior have been established in the English and French leagues, where high-tech cameras and listening devices inside stadiums can help authorities identify offenders, who then face harsh punishments.

Gerardo Mastrandrea, the Italian league judge charged with deciding disciplinary measures, has few tools to work with besides the official referees’ report from each match. If the referee does not report racist chants, Mastandrea can’t rely on fan videos circulating on social media to hand out punishment.

There was progress, however, when Atalanta’s 2-2 draw with Fiorentina last weekend was suspended briefly during the first half due to chants aimed at Dalbert, following FIFA’s “three-step process” for handling racism inside stadiums.

The FIFA process requires the referee to briefly pause a match at the first hint of discriminatory chants and request an announcement asking fans to stop. If the chanting persists, the referee can suspend the match and order the teams into the locker rooms until it stops. If that doesn’t work, the referee can stop the match definitively.

“The rules are there, they just need to be applied,” Tommasi said. “We could sit here and talk about solutions for months. But in terms of the regulations there are only a few moves to be made, we just need to have the courage, strength and – above all – the desire to say these people can’t be inside the stadiums.”

After last season’s racism summit, then-Interior Minister Matteo Salvini announced that he opposes suspending matches because racist chants are too difficult to identify.

Salvini lost his office in a political gamble this month but remains popular for his hard-line stance against migrants.

“Unfortunately,” Tommasi said, “athletes and sports in general have little to learn from society in general these days in terms of integration and inclusion.”

UK government postpones plan to reintroduce fans

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Premier League fans may have to wait a while longer to get back into stadiums: Amid a steep rise in COVID-19 cases across the United Kingdom the government have halted plans for fans to return to stadiums from October 1.

The UK chief medical officer yesterday said cases could climb to 50,000 a day if the current trajectory isn’t stopped.

Speaking to the BBC, UK government official Michael Gove was asked about the reintroduction of a small number of fans at sporting venues and here was his answer.

“We were looking at a staged programme of more people returning – it wasn’t going to be the case that we were going to have stadiums thronged with fans,” Gove said. “We’re looking at how we can, for the moment, pause that programme, but what we do want to do is to make sure that, as and when circumstances allow, get more people back.

“The virus is less likely to spread outdoors than indoors but again it’s in the nature of major sporting events that there’s a lot of mingling.”

This was expected given the huge rise in cases in the UK and the expected trajectory of the spread of the virus in the coming weeks and months. Premier League fans haven’t been allowed in stadiums since play was suspended in March, but test events in the Championship, League One and League Two have been held in recent weeks with 1,000 fans in attendance.

The fact that the UK will postpone fan reintroduction will hit the Premier League financially but it will hit the lower leagues harder. Clubs in the third and fourth tiers rely heavily on fans paying for tickets and they will now need big help from the football and government authorities in the UK to try and stay afloat in the coming months.

For now, Premier League fans will be waiting for the next update.

Serie A wrap: ‘Benjamin Button’ Zlatan nabs 2; McKennie debuts for Juve

Serie A results
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Catch up on all you missed from the opening week of calcio with the Serie A wrap.

[ MORE: Serie A schedule ]

Fourteen of the league’s 20 teams debuted this weekend, as European combatants Atalanta and Inter Milan will start the season late along with Serie B playoff winners Spezia.

That leaves opponents Lazio, Benevento, and Udinese also waiting to start their 2020-21 seasons.


Benjamin Button’s brace leaves Milan

Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored twice as AC Milan started the Serie A season with a 2-0 defeat of Bologna on Monday.

The humble Swede said that if he were 18 years younger he would’ve scored two more.

“I am not old, I am like Benjamin Button, I start old and die young,” Ibrahimovic said after the win. “Kidding aside, the team worked well, we are not at 100 percent and therefore made some mistakes we usually avoid, but it bodes well.”

Ibrahimovic is 38 years old and demanding he not be held to any less of a standard than his prime, which is incredible considering his prime is better than 99 percent of top soccer careers.

“I don’t want people to talk about my age, I want to be treated at the same level as everyone else,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if I am 38, I want to be treated like someone aged 20 and do the same work.”

Milan is coming off seven-straight seasons outside of the top four, six of those coming behind their city rivals Inter Milan.

But Ibrahimovic’s 2019-20 half-season in Italy showed he can still bring the goods, with 14 goals and five assists in 20 appearances

Now he’s scored thrice in two competitive fixtures after opening his campaign with a goal against Shamrock Rovers in Europa League qualifying.

Milan is aiming high and is tied for the fifth-best odds to win the scudetto this season due to a talented squad that features Ibrahimovic, Alessio Romagnoli, Gianlugi Donnarumma, and Theo Hernandez.

“This year, we have to take it one game at a time, play with confidence and treat every match like a Cup Final.”

Serie A results
MILAN, ITALY – SEPTEMBER 21: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Photo by Mattia Ozbot/Soccrates/Getty Images)

McKennie impresses as Juve rolls again

Playing under Andrea Pirlo has started well for USMNT midfielder Weston McKennie.

The 22-year-old Texan went 90 minutes in central midfield with Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot as Juventus beat Sampdoria 3-0 in Turin.

McKennie had 94 touches and completed 88 percent of his passes, with one key pass and four-of-five crosses in that mix.

[ MORE: Americans abroad in Bundesliga, Week 1 ]

He took two shots and converted his lone dribble attempt, the busy midfielderwinning six of 12 duels while registering four tackles, three interceptions, and two clearances. SofaScore did hit him with a “big chance missed” on debut.

McKennie kept some very good players on the bench in the forms of Arthur and Rodrigo Betancur. It’s going to be a battle to keep his place in the Starting XI but it’s clearly one he’s prepared to fight.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Leonoard Bonucci, and Dejan Kulusevski all scored for The Old Lady, who is bidding to win its 10th-straight title. That would double Inter’s second-best five-consecutive title run earlier this century.


Week 1 scoreboard

Fiorentina 1-0 Torino
Hellas Verona 0-0 AS Roma
Parma 0-2 Napoli
Genoa 4-1 Crotone
Sassuolo 1-1 Cagliari
Juventus 3-0 Sampdoria
AC Milan 2-0 Bologna


Week 2 fixtures

Torino v Atalanta — 9 am ET Saturday
Cagliari v Lazio — Noon ET Saturday
Sampdoria v Benevento — Noon ET Saturday
Inter Milan v Fiorentina — 2:45 pm ET Saturday
Spezia v Sassuolo — 6:30 am ET Sunday
Verona v Udinese — 9 am ET Sunday
Napoli v Genoa — 9 am ET Sunday
Crotone v AC Milan — Noon ET Sunday
AS Roma v Juventus — 2:45 pm ET Sunday
Bologna v Parma — 2:45 pm ET Monday


Standings

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Genoa 1 1 0 0 4 1 3 1-0-0 0-0-0 3
 Juventus 1 1 0 0 3 0 3 1-0-0 0-0-0 3
 Milan 1 1 0 0 2 0 2 1-0-0 0-0-0 3
 Napoli 1 1 0 0 2 0 2 0-0-0 1-0-0 3
 Fiorentina 1 1 0 0 1 0 1 1-0-0 0-0-0 3
 Cagliari 1 0 1 0 1 1 0 0-0-0 0-1-0 1
 Sassuolo 1 0 1 0 1 1 0 0-1-0 0-0-0 1
 Hellas Verona 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0-1-0 0-0-0 1
 Roma 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0-0-0 0-1-0 1
 Atalanta 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0-0-0 0-0-0 0
 Benevento 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0-0-0 0-0-0 0
 Inter Milan 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0-0-0 0-0-0 0
 Lazio 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0-0-0 0-0-0 0
 Spezia 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0-0-0 0-0-0 0
 Udinese 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0-0-0 0-0-0 0
 Torino 1 0 0 1 0 1 -1 0-0-0 0-0-1 0
 Bologna 1 0 0 1 0 2 -2 0-0-0 0-0-1 0
 Parma 1 0 0 1 0 2 -2 0-0-1 0-0-0 0
 Crotone 1 0 0 1 1 4 -3 0-0-0 0-0-1 0
 Sampdoria 1 0 0 1 0 3 -3 0-0-0 0-0-1 0

Champions League qualifying: How to watch, start times, odds

UEFA Champions League qualifying
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The 12 clubs remaining in the race for the final UEFA Champions League group stage slots will be pared down to six in the next eight days.

There are American connections to two of the six ties.

Former USMNT midfielder Jesse Marsch manages Austria’s Red Bull Salzburg toward the next round, while Molde right back Henry Wingo came up with the Seattle Sounders.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Salzburg are significant favorites to advance over two legs, odds accentuated by Maccabi Tel-Aviv’s seven players absent due to positive COVID-19 tests.

Marsch had previously said he did not want to go to Israel due to COVID-19 concerns, calling it “dangerous,” but has accepted the task at hand.

From Austrian publication Kronen Zeitung:

“The moment UEFA said we were going to play in Tel Aviv, it wasn’t a problem for me. Maccabi has a great team. We are not naive. We understand that we have to fight tomorrow.”

At 3:10 in some sportsbooks, Marsch’s men are the only club favored to win the first leg away. Salzburg is led by Dominik Szoboszlai and Patson Daka, who’ve helped the team thrive despite the sales of several stars including Erling Haaland and Takumi Minamino.

Molde has a much tougher test with Hungarian side Ferencvaros, who knocked off Celtic. That tie could go either way, while Slavia Prague and Olympiakos are respectively noticeable favorites to beat Midtjylland and Omonia Nicosia.

Dynamo Kiev will be expected to outlast Gent over two legs, while it would be a minor upset if PAOK takes down Krasnodar.


UEFA Champions League playoff round matches

All 12 legs will kickoff at 3 pm ET between Tuesday and Sept. 30.

Tuesday

Maccabi Tel-Aviv v. Red Bull Salzburg
Slavia Prague v Midtjylland
Krasnodar v PAOK

Wednesday

Gent v Dynamo Kiev
Molde v Ferencvaros
Olympiakos v Omonia

Sept. 29

Ferencvaros v Molde
Dynamo Kiev v Gent
Omonia v Olympiakos

Sept. 30

Midtjylland v Slavia Prague
PAOK v Krasnodar
Red Bull Salzburg v Maccabi Tel-Aviv

Bundesliga: Takeaways from Week 1

Bundesliga Week 1
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With all due (and perhaps a bit) biased respect to Giovanni Reyna and Borussia Dortmund’s decisive beating of fellow title hopeful Borussia Monchengladbach, the Bundesliga’s top story came Friday with the champions.

[ MORE: Bundesliga season preview ]

Bayern Munich thumped Schalke 8-0, running its win streak in all competitions to 22. That’s just two behind the world record set by Brazil’s Coritiba in 2011.

It’s not just about the extension of the streak, but about the pure domination from the champs.

Hat trick hero Serge Gnabry and midfield prototype Joshua Kimmich continued to play as well as any midfielder in the world. New pal Leroy Sane played a role in three goals while Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Muller, and Leon Goretzka all scored before German-English teenager Jamal Musiala scored to make it eight.

As a domestic bonus, American defender Chris Richards played the final 17 minutes and completed 95 percent of his passes while making an interception.

[ MORE: Bundesliga odds 2020-21 ]

As for the record, Bayern will have to work for it. The Bavarians need to beat Sevilla in Thursday’s UEFA Super Cup before visiting a decent Hoffenheim side.

If they win both, Bayern will have a chance to set a Guinness Book record by beating… Borussia Dortmund in the German Super Cup on Sept. 30.

Now let’s talk about Schalke. While sold midfielder Weston McKennie was starring for Juventus, the remaining players had little to like about their day.

A team that failed to win its final 16 league matches of the 2019-20 season, losing 10, was again oh-so-poor.

If manager David Wagner wanted to get some heat off his back after holding onto his position, this wouldn’t have helped things.


Americans Abroad

— Tyler Adams went the distance at midfield in RB Leipzig’s 3-1 win over Mainz. He was typically tidy at 78-of-82 passing including a perfect 4-for-4 on long balls. Adams had four tackles and won 4-of-9 duels.

— Werder Bremen’s Josh Sargent was deployed as more of a left-sided attacking midfielder in a lopsided loss to Hertha, making one key pass and putting a matching shot on target in an uneven performance.

— John Brooks helped Wolfsburg keep a clean sheet and posted three clearances, three interceptions, and a tackle at center back. He wasn’t as clean passing as usual, but connected on 7-of-13 long balls.

— There were just a few minutes for 88th-minute Eintracht Frankfurt sub Timothy Chandler. He won his only duel and completed his only dribble in the waning moments of a 1-1 draw with Arminia Bielefeld.

— Reyna scored his first Bundesliga goal and won a penalty in 78 strong minutes that featured a perfect 29-for-29 in passes.

— Bayern’s Richards, 20, went 17 minutes and completed 19-of-20 passes while making an interception.

— Stuttgart manager Pellegrino Matarazzo, a New Jersey-born Columbia University product, saw his promoted side lose at home to Freiburg.

— U.S. eligible Norwegian youth international Julian Ryerson was an unused sub for Union Berlin.

Bundesliga Week 1
John Anthony Brooks (Photo by Peter Niedung/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Player of the Week

Serge Gnabry was absolutely marvelous. Even considering the lack of, well, everything from Schalke, Bayern’s hat trick man had as many key passes as goals.

Gnabry hit 30-of-35 passes in doing all of his damage on 57 touches over 72 minutes.

The German made three tackles and two interceptions to edge opposite wing Leroy Sane’s 1-goal, 2-assist, 5-key pass day and the hat trick produced by Hoffenheim’s Andrei Kramaric in giving his team three leads and the win.


Team of the Week

Casteels (Wolfsburg)

Framberger (Augsburg) — Lacroix (Wolfsburg) — Pieper (Bielefeld)

Kimmich (Bayern)

Kramaric (Hoffenheim) — Reyna (Dortmund) — Cunha (Hertha)

Sane (Bayern) — Haaland (Dortmund) — Gnabry (Bayern)

  • All three of Koen Casteels’ saves in Wolfsburg’s 0-0 draw with Bayer Leverkusen came inside the box, while Lacroix put together a gaudy stat line in front of him: 10 clearances, four interceptions, three tackles.
  • No one completed more dribbles than Matheus Cunha’s five. The Brazilian also scored as Hertha hung four on Werder Bremen.
Bundesliga results
Bremen’s Josh Sargent and Maximilian Eggestein couldn’t stop Hertha’s Matheus Cunha (Photo by PATRIK STOLLARZ/AFP via Getty Images)

Week 1 results

Bayern Munich 8-0 Schalke
Union Berlin 1-3 Augsburg
Stuttgart 2-3 Freiburg
Eintracht Frankfurt 1-1 Arminia Bielefeld
Werder Bremen 1-4 Hertha Berlin
Koln 2-3 Hoffenheim
Borussia Dortmund 3-0 Borussia Monchengladbach
RB Leipzig 3-1 Mainz
Wolfsburg 0-0 Bayer Leverkusen


 

Week 2 fixtures

Hertha Berlin v Eintracht Frankfurt — 2:30 pm ET Sept. 25
Bayer Leverkusen v RB Leipzig — 9:30 am ET Sept. 26
Augsburg v Borussia Dortmund — 9:30 am ET Sept. 26
Borussia Monchengladbach v Union Berlin — 9:30 am ET Sept. 26
Arminia v Koln — 9:30 am ET Sept. 26
Mainz v Stuttgart — 9:30 am ET Sept. 26
Schalke v Werder Bremen — 12:30 pm ET Sept. 26
Hoffenheim v Bayern Munich — 9:30 am ET Sept. 27
Freiburg v Wolfsburg — Noon ET Sept. 27


Standings

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 1 1 0 0 8 0 8 1-0-0 0-0-0 3
 Hertha BSC 1 1 0 0 4 1 3 0-0-0 1-0-0 3
 Borussia Dortmund 1 1 0 0 3 0 3 1-0-0 0-0-0 3
 Augsburg 1 1 0 0 3 1 2 0-0-0 1-0-0 3
 RB Leipzig 1 1 0 0 3 1 2 1-0-0 0-0-0 3
 Freiburg 1 1 0 0 3 2 1 0-0-0 1-0-0 3
 Hoffenheim 1 1 0 0 3 2 1 0-0-0 1-0-0 3
 Arminia Bielefeld 1 0 1 0 1 1 0 0-0-0 0-1-0 1
 Eintracht Frankfurt 1 0 1 0 1 1 0 0-1-0 0-0-0 1
 Bayer Leverkusen 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0-0-0 0-1-0 1
 Wolfsburg 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0-1-0 0-0-0 1
 1. FC Köln 1 0 0 1 2 3 -1 0-0-1 0-0-0 0
 Stuttgart 1 0 0 1 2 3 -1 0-0-1 0-0-0 0
 Mainz 05 1 0 0 1 1 3 -2 0-0-0 0-0-1 0
 Union Berlin 1 0 0 1 1 3 -2 0-0-1 0-0-0 0
 Werder Bremen 1 0 0 1 1 4 -3 0-0-1 0-0-0 0
 Mönchengladbach 1 0 0 1 0 3 -3 0-0-0 0-0-1 0
 Schalke 04 1 0 0 1 0 8 -8 0-0-0 0-0-1 0