Aleksandar Kolarov

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Ranieri victorious in his first game back in charge of Roma

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ROME (AP) Claudio Ranieri won his first game back in charge at Roma but it was far from comfortable.

Stephan El Shaarawy and Patrik Schick scored in the first half, and relegation-threatened Empoli’s late equalizer was disallowed on video review as Roma held on to win 2-1 on Monday.

Captain Alessandro Florenzi was sent off 10 minutes from time – on his 28th birthday – following a second booking, and Empoli’s Rade Krunic almost made the advantage count before the video assistant referee determined the ball hit Dimitri Oberlin in the arm just before the goal.

“The first match is over, and the best thing is the result,” Ranieri said. “We have to work a lot, but we will always score sooner or later. We have to work instead on staying focused in order not to concede. It’s not possible that we’re letting in all these goals.

“These 90 minutes hasn’t made me feel calmer, but I’m focused and positive.”

Roma moved three points behind fourth-place Inter Milan, with the top four from Serie A qualifying for the Champions League. Empoli remained a point above the relegation zone.

Ranieri was appointed as interim coach on Friday, a day after Roma fired Eusebio Di Francesco following elimination from the Champions League and a derby defeat to Lazio. In charge of Roma from 2009-11, Ranieri was fired by Fulham of the Premier League on Feb. 28.

His second spell got off to a good start. El Shaarawy fired Roma in front in the ninth minute when he curled a stunning effort into the top right corner, but Empoli leveled in somewhat comical fashion three minutes later as Juan Jesus headed the ball into his own net under very little pressure.

Empoli almost immediately scored a second, but Manuel Pasqual’s free kick bounced off the top left corner of the goal.

Roma took the lead again in the 33rd minute as Florenzi floated in a free kick from outside the right side of the penalty area and Schick headed it into the bottom left corner.

Empoli dominated as Roma’s task was made harder by the list of players missing: Daniele De Rossi, Kostas Manolas, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Cengiz Under were all injured, and Edin Dzeko, Federico Fazio and Aleksandar Kolarov were suspended.

“It was a difficult match without many men seeing that the leaders were out – those who play 90 minutes, players who give a sense of direction to the play and the team,” Ranieri said.

“I knew it would be difficult and I have to congratulate the team, which always remained compact even when we went down to 10 men.”

Roma hammers Chievo Verona to move fourth in Serie A

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The race for the Champions League places in the Italian top flight is wild, with five teams all within five points between fourth and eighth, plus four more teams within four points below that.

Roma took an early advantage heading into the weekend, topping Chievo Verona 3-0 to move fourth in the Serie A table. They were 2-0 up just 18 minutes in behind goals from Stephan El Shaarawy and Edin Dzeko, and former Manchester City wing-back Aleksandar Kolarov added the cherry on top.

El Shaarawy’s opening goal was a beauty, beating three defenders by himself before finishing with a tight-angled dink over a charging Stefano Sorrentino off his line. It’s his third goal in the last four league matches, returning strong after missing all of December with a bicep injury. Then, nine minutes later, Dzeko also worked that left side of the Chievo defense, cutting back away from the byline and firing a low, left-footed strike.

The two then combined to build Kolarov’s second-half goal, with El Shaarawy bursting down the flank and feeding Dzeko with his back to goal, who laid off to a charging Kolarov for the finish. El Shaarawy also hit the post in the 83rd minute as Roma looked to add more.

Roma’s win was huge, jumping into fourth over Lazio who topped Empoli on Thursday. AC Milan must wait until Sunday to respond as they host Cagliari, while Atalanta is also in reach as they entertain SPAL. Sampdoria hosts Frosinone as they remain just out of striking distance, while Fiorentina and Torino have some work to do to get back in the race.

Serie A: Roma climb into 4th; anti-racism showing at Inter

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: What we learned in the Premier League, Week 23 ]

Roma 3-2 Torino

Nicolo Zaniolo announced himself as one of Europe’s most promising young talents, with the opening goal in Roma’s 3-2 victory over Torino, a game in which the 19-year-old was the best, most dangerous attacker for the whole of 90 minutes.

Zaniolo was initially denied by Salvatore Sirigu, but the young Italian managed to collect the rebound and put it home on the rebound, all while on the ground. Aleksandar Kolarov made it 2-0 not long after the half-hour mark, and Roma appeared to be on their merry way to a third straight victory.

The score was 2-2 by the 67th minute, thanks to Tomas Rincon and Cristian Asnaldo. Stephan El Shaarawy had other ideas, though, as he slammed home the winner, courtesy of a perfect through ball from Lorenzo Pellegrini, in the 73rd.

Now fully recovered from a disastrous start to the season (just five wins from their first 15 games), Roma sit fourth in the table, a point ahead of capital rivals Lazio.

Inter Milan 0-0 Sassuolo

Elsewhere in the top-four, third-place Inter Milan were held to a scoreless draw by 12th-place Sassuolo, but the game’s real story took place in the stands.

With Inter serving the second of its two-game ban on fans being allowed inside the San Siro due to racist chants, more than 10,000 local children were invited to attend as part of an initiative against discrimination. Brothers Universally United hung anti-discrimination signs around the stadium and the players word “BUU No to discrimination” on their shirt sleeves.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Udinese 1-2 Parma

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Frosinone v. Atalanta — 6:30 a.m. ET
Fiorentina v. Sampdoria — 9 a.m. ET
SPAL v. Bologna — 9 a.m. ET
Cagliari v. Empoli — 12 p.m. ET
Napoli v. Lazio — 2:30 p.m. ET

Mitrovic has eventful first half for Serbia against Montenegro

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Fulham striker Aleksandar Mitrovic has been locked down of late at the club level, but he’s still having an eventful time of things with the Serbian national team.

A regular starter for Serbia since mid-2014, Mitrovic was back up front as Serbia had the early UEFA Nations League kickoff against Montenegro in Beograd. Just two minutes after Adem Ljajic scored the opener to put Serbia ahead in the 30th minute, Mitrovic found the scoresheet with an incredible flick at the near post that oozed confidence.

A powerful cross from Aleksandar Kolarov down the left flank found Mitrovic front a very tight angle with his back to goal and facing Kolarov. The 24-year-old lifted his right leg and flicked the ball perfectly into the top-left corner, catching Montenegro goalkeeper Danijel Petkovic completely off guard.

It would get more interesting six minutes later as a penalty was awarded to Serbia in dubious fashion, as Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matic completely whiffed a shot attempt and kicked himself in the back of the ankle, going down inside the top of the box. The referee pointed to the spot believing Matic was fouled by Aleksandar Scekic, but replay showed absolutely no contact between the pair.

Mitrovic stepped up to take the penalty, and attempted a Panenka effort. He got it horribly wrong, sending the keeper Petkovic left but chipping the ball well over the bar as the ball continued to rise. A fan caught the effort from the stands at Stadion Pajko Mitic.

By halftime, Mitrovic probably should have had a hat-tric, with the penalty miss plus a pair of good chances in first-half added time, with one shot saved by Petkovic and a header missed moments later.

Altogether, Serbia picked up the win by a 2-1 score and extended its lead atop League C Group 4 to four points, all but clinching promotion to League B. For Mitrovic, his goal was the 22nd of his international career in 45 appearances, tying him with Bernard Vukas for 12th all-time for Serbia and only 16 off the all-time lead of Stjepan Bobek.

Serie A: Ronaldo sets up Juve’s comeback win over Napoli

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: What did we learn in the Premier League, Week 7? ]

Juventus 3-1 Napoli

Three games into his Juventus career, Cristiano Ronaldo had yet to find the back of the net in Italy and the whispers quickly began: perhaps the seven-time defending Serie A champions had made a mistake by splashing out $123 million for the 33-year-old this summer. This notion was, of course, preposterous.

Fast-forward just a month, to the present day, and Ronaldo has amassed three goals and four assists in seven league appearances, including a pair of helpers during Saturday’s 3-1 comeback victory to remain perfect on the still-young season — 21 points from seven games. Dries Mertens put the visitors ahead with a tap-in from close range after just 10 minutes, but Ronaldo floated a cross toward the head of Mario Mandzukic for an easy equalizer in the 26th minute.

Ronaldo nearly got on the scoresheet himself four minutes into the second half, but his shot came back off the post. Fortunately for Juve, the ball fell to an unmarked Mandzukic with a wide open net. That made it 2-1 before Ronaldo flicked on a corner kick for Leonardo Bonucci to stab home in the 76th minute to complete the scoring at 3-1.

Roma 3-1 Lazio

Roma needed — and got — a pair of late goals to come out on top in the Rome derby on Saturday. Lorenzo Pellegrini put the home side ahead in the 45th minute, but Lazio drew level through Ciro Immobile’s 67th-minute equalizer.

The scoreline didn’t last long, though, as two more goals came from the most unlikely of sources — defenders Aleksandar Kolarov and Federico Fazio — in the 71st and 86th minutes, respectively. Despite the victory, Roma remain sixth in the league table, still a point behind their capital rivals but also only four points behind second-place Napoli.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Inter Milan 2-0 Cagliari

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Bologna vs. Udinese — 6:30 a.m. ET
Fiorentina vs. Atalanta — 9 a.m. ET
Chievo vs. Torino — 9 a.m. ET
Frosinone vs. Genoa — 9 a.m. ET
Parma vs. Empoli — 12 p.m. ET
Sassuolo vs. AC Milan — 2:30 p.m. ET