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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.”

Pair of Deeney penalties lead Watford comeback win

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Troy Deeney converted two penalties as Watford surged closer to Premier League safety with a 2-1 comeback win over Newcastle United at Vicarage Road.

Down 1-0 on a Dwight Gayle goal, the Hornets scored twice in the second half to move six points clear of 18th-place Bournemouth.

STREAM WATFORD – NEWCASTLE LIVE

Newcastle remains 13th with 44 points.


Three things we learned

1. (Of course) Deeney delivers: Watford captain Deeney has had a remarkable run at Vicarage Road and this season had plenty of storylines. But it was Deeney who had to go to the penalty spot twice to (possibly) seal his beloved club’s status in the Premier League. The two goals will feel good but not as good as another season in the top flight.

2. Magpies architect of own demise: The Magpies looked very good in the first half but their defending in the second half was abject, right down to two silly penalties. Matt Ritchie put himself in a bad spot to allow Kiko Femenia to win an early second half penalty and Javi Manquillo’s takedown of Ismaila Sarr 30 minutes later was laughable. The Magpies didn’t deserve the points based on the second half chances conceded anyway.

3. Newcastle worn out: Steve Bruce rested Miguel Almiron last match and Allan Saint-Maximin is probably looking upon that with greedy eyes. Newcastle’s best players have had to go and go again, and they just look a bit off it. A visit from Spurs on Wednesday is next.

Man of the Match

There were a few candidates for the Hornets, but we’ll go with the “Deeney of the defense” in Craig Dawson. He broke up a number of Newcastle opportunities.


Watford – Newcastle recap

Miguel Almiron came close to getting a leg on Allan Saint-Maximin’s fourth-minute cross.

A corner led to another Almiron shot, this one stopped well by Ben Foster.

Watford nearly had it 1-0 in the 17th. when Danny Welbeck’s shot was pushed off the near post by Martin Dubravka and saved off the line by Jamaal Lascelles.

Newcastle kept knocking, though, and took the lead through in-form Gayle, who showed up at the back post to poke in Federico Fernandez’s redirected corner kick.

Foster denied a breaking Saint-Maximin in the 35th minute as the Magpies looked good money for another goal.

That’s not to say Watford didn’t manufacture some chances, including a few quality set piece chances in the final few minutes of the first half.

The Magpies cleared an unholy goal mouth scramble off a 42nd-minute set piece and Almiron broke up the pressure with a long dribble into the Watford half.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Kiko Femenia hit the deck under Matt Ritchie’s challenge to win a 52nd-minute penalty, Deeney dispatching it past Dubravka to make it 1-1. His seventh goal is also his 130th in a Watford shirt.

Fernandez nearly gave the game to Watford with a miserable pass, but Dubravka stopped Deeney’s wasted direct shot.

Saint-Maximin forced an own goal out of Watford but the linesman’s flag was raised in the 67th.

The Magpies conceded the inevitable second goal when Manquillo wrapped up Sarr with a dozen minutes to play.

Norwich City relegated

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Norwich City’s fifth Premier League journey is a one-and-done.

The Canaries were well-beaten 4-0 by a Michail Antonio haul for West Ham United at Carrow Road on Saturday and will head to the Championship after one season.

WATCH. NORWICH CITY – WEST HAM FULL MATCH REPLAY

Norwich’s 21 points are 10 back of 17th-place Watford with only three matches and nine points left for the Canaries.

The win conversely puts West Ham United on pretty safe footing, six points clear of the bottom three. The 16th place-Irons have a three-point edge on Watford.


Three things we learned

1. Norwich’s tortured season unredeemable: So many injuries at the back end and too many unlucky moments to count combined to make the Canaries the first and least surprising of three relegated teams. Grant Hanley and Christoph Zimmerman missed 20-plus games over two stretches including the final weeks of the season, and Timm Klose has had to play nearly every minute since returning from a long-term injury.

Founding members of the Premier League in 1992, Norwich was first relegated in 1995 before rejoining the top flight a decade later. The club went back to the Championship after one year and sunk as low as League One in 2009-10.

This season was the Canaries’ third promotion of the decade and there were wonderful moments, many authored by Teemu Pukki and the electric Emiliano Buendia. Those two will join Todd Cantwell, Max Aarons, and Ben Godfrey as hotly-tracked transfer targets this summer.

2. The defense, fittingly, is the problem: Norwich City has been so bad at the back this year, some of it not their fault due to the injuries detailed above. The Canaries allowed six “big chances” according to SofaScore and it was just in the cards this season. The win over Man City feels ages ago.

3. Noble very good in return: West Ham’s captain returned to the starting lineup and was the proverbial straw that stirs the drink. He was economical in his challenges but won almost all of them and showed an array of passes while producing a terrific “hockey assist” to Fredericks on Antonio’s fourth.

Man of the Match:

Antonio — The hat trick hero has been out-working back line almost from the moment the Premier League returned to the pitch, and his goals were well-deserved. Mark Noble might be the club’s emotional guts, but Antonio’s been its heart and motor. Four goals? Come on. Antonio now has 36 career PL goals and is one away from his single-season best.


Norwich City – West Ham United recap

Tomas Soucek was lively early and drove a pass from Michail Antonio wide in the first eight minutes.

It was Antonio who put the Irons ahead with a firm back post finish of Issa Diop’s flicked corner.

Onel Hernandez clipped a Norwich chance wide but West Ham had most of the danger and Jarrod Bowen asked a big save of Tim Krul.

The Irons put Norwich effectively in the Championship when Antonio turned Mark Noble’s free kick home.

Krul stopped Antonio’s 54th-minute charge past Godfrey but Antonio leapt to head the rebound into the open net for 3-0.

The final goal came off a nice Noble ball to spring Ryan Fredericks into the right of the box, and the defender spotted Antonio for a slick backheeled finish.

Liverpool – Burnley stream: How to watch, start time, prediction, odds

Liverpool - Burnley stream
Photo by Alex Livesey - Danehouse/Getty Images
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Premier League champions Liverpool continue their pursuit of history with a visit from Europa League-chasing Burnley at Anfield on Saturday (Watch live at 10am ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

STREAM LIVERPOOL – BURNLEY LIVE

Liverpool looks for win No. 31 in 35 tries this league season, the hosts opening the day with 92 points and a 23-point lead on second-place Man City.

Burnley is in 10th with 49 points and can go eighth with a draw or seventh with a win.

Team news

Jurgen Klopp hands starts to youngsters Neco Williams and Curtis Jones.

Chris Wood is back in the lineup for Burnley, who moves Jay Brownhill inside to face the champions.

 

How to Watch Liverpool – Burnley

Start time: 10am ET
TV Channel: NBCSN
Stream Online: NBCSports.com

Leeds United legend, World Cup winner Jack Charlton dies

Jack Charlton dies
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One of English football’s brightest stars passed away on Friday.

Longtime England and Leeds United center back Jack Charlton, 85, suffered from a “long illness,” reports Sky Sports.

[ MORE: New PL TV schedule ]

Charlton played every game of the 1966 World Cup for champions England and was a one club man with Leeds. He’s the older brother of Manchester United legend Bobby Charlton, a teammate on the World Cup-winning side.

Coming up with their academy, Charlton played 762 times for Leeds with 95 goals. He was the 1967 Football Writers Association’s Player of the Year and won both the Second and First Division with Leeds.

Charlton went on to manage Middlesbrough, Newcastle, Sheffield Wednesday, and the Republic of Ireland.

This is from a Charlton family statement, via Sky Sports:

“We cannot express how proud we are of the extraordinary life he led and the pleasure he brought to so many people in different countries and from all walks of life. He was a thoroughly honest, kind, funny and genuine man who always had time for people.”