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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.”

Serie A: Napoli’s stoppage-time winner; Roma’s comeback

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

[ SATURDAY: Cristiano Ronaldo scores winner in his first Turin derby ]

Cagliari 0-1 Napoli

Arkadiusz Milik scored a stoppage-time winner to hand Napoli all three points and keep them within eight points of runaway leaders and presumed champions-elect Juventus.

Roma 3-2 Genoa

There is very little doubt about who will likely almost certainly win the Serie A title this season — that honor appears reserved for Juventus, for the eighth straight year — and Napoli and Inter Milan have pretty well established themselves as the second- and third-best teams, interchangeably, which leaves anywhere from three to nine teams with dreams of finishing fourth.

As things stand, five teams are within three points of fourth place, including Roma who needed a comeback (twice) to beat Genoa on Sunday and move to within two points of AC Milan for the final UEFA Champions League place. It should be noted that fourth-place Milan and fifth-place Lazio are yet to play their round-16 fixture.

A dreadful start to the season (just one win from their first five league games) has relented very little for Eusebio Di Francesco’s side which has now won just two of its last eight league games.

Krzysztof Piatek put the visitors ahead after just 17 minutes, only for Federico Fazio to level the score just after the half-hour mark. The 1-1 scoreline was short-lived, though, as Oscar Hiljemark restored Genoa’s lead in the 33rd minute. Justin Kluivert scored just before halftime, setting the stage for Roma to assume control in the second half.

Bryan Cristante smashed home the winner from just outside the penalty area, set up by Kluivert’s cushioned header, in the 59th minute.

Elsewhere in Serie A

SPAL 0-0 Chievo
Fiorentina 3-1 Empoli
Frosinone 0-2 Sassuolo
Sampdoria 2-0 Parma

Remaining Serie A schedule

Atalanta vs. Lazio — 2:30 p.m. ET (Monday)
Bologna vs. AC Milan — 2:30 p.m. ET (Tuesday)

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

WATCH: Higuain sets up Milan’s stoppage time winner vs. Roma

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Gonzalo Higuain slipped Patrick Cutrone through for a winner at the death as AC Milan scooped up a 2-1 win over AS Roma on Friday at the San Siro.

Milan rebounded from a season-opening 3-2 loss to Napoli, moving Roma’s record to 1-1-1.

[ PL PREVIEW: Leicester vs. Liverpool ]

The hosts took a lead into halftime when Franck Kessie scored in the 40th minute, but ex-Spurs back Federico Fazio leveled the score before the hour mark.

The match looked destined for a draw when Davide Calabria picked off a terrible Steven N’Zonzi pass and found Higuain.

Look at this ball from the Argentine.

Jorge Sampaoli is this World Cup’s biggest loser so far

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The World Cup is all about moments – moments of triumph, moments of heartbreak, moments of relief and weight lifted. On Tuesday night in Saint Petersburg, as Argentina secured a knockout round spot with a thrilling win over Nigeria, one moment stood above them all.

Not Lionel Messi’s first 2018 World Cup strike, a masterpiece of movement and high-speed ball control woven by the world’s most brilliant goal craftsman. Not Marcos Rojo’s winner, a life-changing howitzer launched from the most unlikely right boot.

No, the lasting image was beleaguered Argentina manager Jorge Sampaoli heading down the tunnel alone immediately after the final whistle, leaving his players to celebrate the triumph without him on the field.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

His disappearance was beautifully symbolic of his World Cup performance leading the tournament’s most disappointing blue blood (that is, until Germany faceplanted its way to group stage elimination) considering he had hardly bothered to show up in the first place. Argentina is set to take on France in the knockout stage not because of Sampaoli, but in spite of him.

Chile’s 2015 Copa America knight errant has somehow become Argentina’s floundering jester with absurd lineup choices and tactical experiments that would make even Jurgen Klinsmann cock his head in confusion. Sampaoli has proven so clueless at the helm that a group of senior Argentine players even reportedly attempted a full-on coup, desperately pleading with FA chairman Claudio Tapia not for Sampaoli’s dismissal, but simply for control of the starting lineup. That reportedly fell short, but it proved to the world the former Sevilla boss is on an island.

Lionel Messi jumps on the back of Marcos Rojo after the defender scored a late winner against Nigeria to send Argentina through to the knockout round (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images).

The biggest and most glaring issue for Sampaoli’s squad selections have been the midfield, where he has proven utterly lost. In Argentina’s opening game against Iceland, Sampaoli started international veteran Javier Mascherano alongside fellow deep-lying midfielder Lucas Biglia in a central midfield pivot that proved redundant, leaving Lionel Messi on an island further up the field. With Manuel Lanzini injured in the buildup to the tournament, Sampaoli turned to little-known Independente playmaker Maximiliano Meza on the wing opposite perpetual international dud Angel Di Maria, leaving Messi completely isolated with the creative load on his shoulders. Meanwhile, electric Juventus striker Paulo Dybala, passing wizard Ever Banega, and midfield link Giovani Lo Celso were left to contemplate their thoughts among the substitutes. Argentina dominated Iceland in every facet of the game, but, as they have on many occasions throughout the last few years, produced no end product.

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While that result was disappointing, it provided Sampaoli with all the answers he needed to make changes for the better moving forward. 34-year-old Mascherano looked a step behind the play, and partnered with Biglia the midfield was static. Yet the boss failed to draw from the fountain, sprinting in the opposite direction completely. Instead of benching Mascherano (admittedly a bold move to make with a team leader) and introducing Lo Celso and Banega to patch the holes and give Messi some creative help, he threw common sense to the wind with the incomprehensible decision to press Croatia into oblivion.

Not only did Sampaoli’s tactics fail miserably, his team selection proved he learned nothing from the first 90 minutes. He left Mascherano in and paired him with Enzo Perez, another static midfield duo. He sat Di Maria and replaced him with an even more confusing wing pairing of Eduardo Salvio and Marcos Acuna. Instead of withdrawing Max Meza, he pushed him even higher up the pitch in a creative yet undefined role. He started a back three that included full-back Nicolas Tagliafico chosen over Roma standout and natural center-back Federico Fazio, who was ranked by Squawka as the 6th best defender in Serie A this past campaign. The result was a gloriously chaotic mess as Luka Modric carved Argentina to bits on the counter. Here’s the Sparknotes version:

(Dashboard stats from Opta via StatsZone app)

Lionel Messi was completely and utterly wasted. Arguably the world’s best player had one shot on goal, which was blocked. He completed two take-ons in the attacking third. He created two chances. Meanwhile, Croatia sliced Argentina’s midfield to pieces on the counter, as Mascherano again had a miserable showing and the rest of the players were too scattered to make a difference. Willy Caballero made another mistake in goal, and the makeshift back three was torn to shreds.

With Argentina staring down the barrel of group stage elimination, Sampaoli was given a vote of confidence from management and turned in another flop in a do-or-die scenario against Nigeria. The 58-year-old scrapped the back three and deployed Manchester United bruiser Marcos Rojo into central defense, again leaving Fazio on the bench. He organized a flat 4-3-3 with Mascherano behind two central midfielders, which admittedly was better than anything he flung onto the pitch in the previous two games. He gave Ever Banega a deserved start, but Mascherano again made a fool of himself on multiple occasions, complete with blood streaming down his face. He continued to utilize Perez, who put in a laughably useless shift on the wing with 25 of his 32 passes backward or square despite living on the same side as Messi. Di Maria came back into the team and was again invisible. Sampaoli handed perennial punchline Gonzalo Higuain the start up front in favor of the insubordinate Sergio Aguero, and he did what he’s come to do best – send one to the moon in a huge moment down the stretch. All this while Dybala, Lo Celso, and Christian Pavon rotted on the bench, while Mauro Icardi laughed himself silly on the couch at home.

Nobody has seen their stock plummet quite like Jorge Sampaoli this World Cup. In a tournament full of moments – ones on the biggest stage that shape our image of players and coaches more than any others in the game – Sampaoli has managed to dismantle his reputation from Copa America hero to World Cup goat. No, this Argentina team isn’t very good, but it certainly isn’t this grotesque.

Messi ended up on the shoulders of Rojo after the defender’s magical moment against Nigeria, and he hugged every teammate and staff member on the pitch after the final whistle. Truthfully, it should have been the other way around, because the magical maestro has willed his team to the knockout stage despite the repeated failures of his manager, and that truly is a feat worthy of recognition. Jogi Löw certainly made mistakes with Germany en route to their massive failure, but it also felt as if he still possessed a talented roster that simply didn’t gel. Argentina – unlike Germany – is still kicking this summer, but because of the boss; they’re still around in spite of him.