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UEFA Nations League: Italy draws at home, Cheryshev scores again

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The UEFA Nations League continued on Friday, and there was a clear competitive edge to the matches, moreso than the usual friendly contested between to nations during an otherwise meaningless international break.

Italy was forced to come from behind to earn a point at home against Poland in a 1-1 draw. Mario Balotelli earned his first competitive appearance since 2014, but young goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma was needed early to keep out Piotr Zielinski in the opening 15 minutes who broke free on goal.

Italy had a spell of attacking possession on the half-hour mark, but it came to nothing, and they were punished for it. Mateusz Klich dispossessed Chelsea midfielder Jorginho in the Italy third, and Robert Lewandowski’s cross fell to an unmarked Zielinski at the back post who finished easily for the 1-0 first-half lead. The Italians proved dangerous in the second half, and they earned an equalizer. Federico Chiesa came on in place of Lorenzo Insigne, and he was immediately effective. He earned a penalty with 14 minutes to go on a tackle by Jakub Blaszczykowski, who was lucky to stay on the field, already on a yellow from early in the match. Jorginho struck from the spot to level the score.

Russia traveled to Trabzon to take on Turkey, but it was the visitors who scored first, and a familiar name at that. Denis Cheryshev, who was massively influential in Russia’s surprising run at the World Cup over the summer, struck in the 13th minute with a powerful left-footed volley to put Russia 1-0 up. Before halftime, the hosts leveled as Galatasaray defender Serdar Aziz with a volleyed howitzer of his own. Russia retook the lead after the break through Artem Dyzuba

Romania drew Montenegro 0-0, although it wasn’t without controversy as Aleksandar Boljevic was brought down in the penalty area after just eight minutes, but no call was made. Romania had a few chances before the break, but otherwise there was little to speak of. Montenegro striker Stefan Mugosa was sent off for a second yellow with 13 minutes to go.

Aleksandr Mitrovic earned a penalty and Dusan Tadic scored from the spot as Serbia took down Lithuania on the road 1-0. Albania topped Israel 1-0 on a goal by Taulant Xhaka, the brother of Arsenal midfielder and Swiss international Granit Xhaka. The Faroe Islands topped Malta 3-1 for a big win, the country’s second win in a row and third in its last six matches.

Report: West Ham, other PL teams chasing Nice striker Plea

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According to Sky Sports reproter Kaveh Solhekol, West Ham has made a bid for Nice striker Alassane Plea and is among a number of Premier League teams interested in the prolific Frenchman.

Plea, 25 years old, broke out last season at Nice scoring 21 goals in 49 appearances over all competitions. Before last season’s 16-goal Ligue 1 haul, he had just 20 league goals in 84 appearances.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

Solhekol reports that West Ham has made a bid of $36 million, which is over Nice’s asking price, reported by Solhekol as about $35 million. According to the report, newly promoted Newcastle and Fulham are both also interested in signing Plea. Newcastle would seem to make more sense than Fulham, given the Whites’ chasing of Magpie frontman Aleksander Mitrovic who spent the second half of last season on loan at Fulham and was prolific.

The report also states another, slightly lower bid has been received by Nice, but the source of that bid was not revealed.

Plea began his career in the Olympique Lyonnais youth system, but only made 12 appearances for Lyon before moving to Nice in 2014. Last season he broke out, linking well with Mario Balotelli as the two put together a solid season to lead Nice to an 8th place finish in Ligue 1, with a solid attacking haul of 53 goals to balance out a leaky defensive performance. Plea has been involved in the French U-21 international setup in the past, but has yet to make an appearance for the senior side.

Balotelli back with Italy after four years, ready to be a leader

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TURIN, Italy (AP) — As far as Mario Balotelli is concerned, he doesn’t have to be Italy’s captain to be a role model.

“I’m here to score goals. You can also be a role model without wearing the armband,” Balotelli said at a news conference on Sunday, a day before Italy’s friendly against the Netherlands.

Earlier this week when Balotelli played for Italy for the first time in four years, a banner that read, “My captain is of Italian blood,” was draped on a pitch-side wall during a 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia in Switzerland.

With Balotelli one of the most experienced players on Italy’s squad, there had been discussion that he might be named captain.

The issue has come to the forefront amid the installation of Italy’s new populist leaders, which includes a staunchly anti-immigrant, right-wing party in its governing coalition.

Balotelli was born in Italy to Ghanaian immigrants.

“It would be a good signal for African immigrants to represent my country as someone of African origin and captain,” Balotelli said.

“Racism really hurts,” Balotelli added. “It’s time for Italy to become like many other countries — more open — and to start integrating people who come from abroad.”

Balotelli hadn’t played for Italy since the 2014 World Cup.

He said he understands why former Italy coach Antonio Conte didn’t use him — “I wasn’t in great form” — but couldn’t see why Gian Piero Ventura never called him up.

“With Ventura I have no idea. We spoke but I didn’t understand his explanations very much and I was doing well,” Balotelli said. “But he was the coach and so I respect his (decision).”

Ventura was fired in November after Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in six decades.

Balotelli played under current Italy coach Roberto Mancini at both Inter Milan and Manchester City.

Mancini announced that Balotelli would not start against the Netherlands, revealing that the attacking line would consist of Simone Verdi, Andrea Belotti and Lorenzo Insigne.

Balotelli scores, then injured in Italy friendly win over Saudi Arabia

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Mario Balotelli‘s long-awaited return to the Italian national team was punctuated with an exclamation mark, but came to an early end as the striker was forced off with an injury.

In Roberto Mancini’s first match in charge of the Italian national team, he brought back the mercurial Nice striker who has turned his club career around. He earned the start in Monday’s friendly against Saudi Arabia, and would you know it, Balotelli scored in his 14th career international goal in his 34th cap.

The 27-year-old put Italy 1-0 up in the 21st minute when he skillfully cut between three defenders and sliced a shot that threaded the needle into the lower left corner.

Unfortunately, things came to an earlier end than expected when he was forced off with a muscular issue in the early stages of the second half.

Still, Balotelli’s return will give hope to Italy fans who have seen their team disappointingly miss the World Cup this summer. Later in the second half, Andrea Belotti scored the winning goal as Italy finished the match 2-1 winners. Gianluigi Donnarumma manned the goal in place of the retired (for now) Gianluigi Buffon.

Why Pulisic could be more likely to stay at Dortmund

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Christian Pulisic isn’t short of potential suitors this summer as he ponders his future.

Without a World Cup, Pulisic has plenty of time to recover from another full season of European football, one where he fully experienced the harsh realities of soccer at the highest level – two managers in and two managers out.

[READ: Emery set to replace Wenger at Arsenal]

With Dortmund hiring another coach, it seemed there was a chance Pulisic could decide to leave Dortmund and reunite with former manager Jurgen Klopp, or head elsewhere for a more stable situation. But Tuesday’s news that Dortmund has hired Lucien Favre may change all of that.

The 60-year-old Swiss native signed a two-year contract Tuesday, and his preferred style of play fits perfectly into how Pulisic performs best on the field.

The Bundesliga recently posted a detailed look at Favre’s tactics from his time at Nice, where he led the club to finishes of third and sixth the last two years, while rejuvenating the careers of Mario Balotelli and Younes Belhanda as well as unearthing young gems in Jean Seri and Allan Saint-Maximin.

In Favre’s 4-3-3, you could easily see Pulisic lining up on the right of the forward trident, running to the byline and dishing out assists, with Marco Reus on the left, cutting inside and firing shots home with his howitzer of a right leg. Or we could see the pair switch.

One thing that is currently missing is a dynamic No. 9, but with the whole summer transfer window ahead, Dortmund could easily re-sign Michy Batshuayi or find a new powerful center forward (Balotelli, anyone?).

In short, while Pulisic may have had a reason to leave Dortmund had another Peter Stoger-type manager been hired, Pulisic now has no reason why he can’t be a wild success at Dortmund for years to come. The 19-year-old (he’s still a teenager!) American star will have plenty of chances to bend in crosses or cut in and score goals himself, as well as the opportunity to play in the UEFA Champions League.

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