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AC Milan boss Gattuso insists fifth “not a failure”

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For a solid four months, it appeared AC Milan was on track for a return to the Champions League for the first time in six years. Then, it all fell apart.

Still, manager Gennaro Gattuso is insisting their season is not a failure, adamant that a fifth-placed finish would not be considered a disappointment for the club. His reasoning will not be exactly endearing to fans.

“Fifth place absolutely wouldn’t be a failure, not because I want credit myself, plus what would Roma and Lazio say?” Gattuso said during his pre-match press conference ahead of Sunday’s game against Frosinone. “There’s regret because for two months we’ve had our fate in our hands and we dropped so many points, but it’s not a failure.”

Milan was as high as third place in the Serie A table in mid-March and seemed close to wrapping up a return to Champions League play, but a stretch of one win in seven league matches saw them tumble down into the crowded battle below, with Atalanta, Roma, Torino, and Lazio all in a pack. AC Milan now sits sixth, and while they still remain in the mix for the fourth position, they would need to make up a three-point deficit in just two matches. Fifth-placed Roma drew today, so they can jump to fifth with a win against Frosinone.

Milan was a European powerhouse for decades until the club declined following its 2007 Champions League victory, ultimately falling out of the running for Europe’s top competition, with just a few Europa League appearances since 2014. Gattuso’s comparison to Lazio and Roma, two strong Italian clubs without Milan’s history, is bound to infuriate fans, along with his acceptance of the club’s shortcomings.

The late-season collapse has called Gattuso’s job security into question, but he said that will wait until the end of the season. “Both the club and I have put aside our small talk to reach our objective,” Gattuso said during the presser. “There will be time to talk about the future.”

“There are two games left and we’re still playing for our objective.”

Serie A: AC Milan beat Fiorentina to keep 4th-place race tight

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

[ MORE: Top Premier League storylines for Championship Sunday ]

Fiorentina 0-1 AC Milan

The race for fourth — and Champions League qualification — is heading toward a final-day finish with AC Milan (62 points) suddenly catching fire and closing in on Inter Milan (63) in the season’s final weeks. Roma remains in the mix as well, though their fixture assignment this weekend is far less kind.

Following AC Milan’s narrow victory over Fiorentina on Saturday, the two Milan sides are now separated by just one point in the table (Inter are yet to play this weekend and could restore their four-point advantage by beating Chievo on Monday).

Hakan Calhanoglu scored the game’s only goal, in the 35th minute, to give Gennaro Gattuso’s side back-to-back league victories for the first time in two months. Calhanoglu’s glancing header turned home a delightful ball into the box from Suso.

Roma will host champions-elect Juventus at the Olympic Stadium on Sunday.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Atalanta 2-1 Genoa [ MORE ]
Cagliari 1-2 Lazio

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Torino v. Sassuolo — 6:30 a.m. ET
Frosinone v. Udinese — 9 a.m. ET
Sampdoria v. Empoli — 9 a.m. ET
SPAL v. Napoli — 12 p.m. ET
Roma v. Juventus — 2:30 p.m. ET

Milan defender Calabria to miss rest of season with injury

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MILAN (AP) AC Milan defender Davide Calabria will miss the rest of the season because of a fractured bone in his left leg.

Calabria had to be substituted shortly before halftime in Wednesday’s 1-0 loss to Lazio in the Italian Cup semifinals.

[READ: Top Premier League Storylines]

Milan says tests “have revealed a compound fracture of the left fibula.” The club adds that “a new scan is scheduled to take place in about a month.”

Milan has five matches left this season.

Calabria is also likely to miss the European under-21 championship, which takes place from June 16-30. He has made 15 appearances for Italy’s under-21 team.

Italian league, Lazio condemn fans’ racist chanting in cup semi

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MILAN (AP) The Italian league’s governing body has vowed to do “everything in our power” to wipe out racism in soccer after another incident.

Lazio’s Italian Cup semifinal victory at AC Milan was overshadowed by continued racist abuse directed at Milan players Tiemoue Bakayoko and Franck Kessie — who are black — before and during the match on Wednesday. Inflatable bananas were also visible in the away section.

The Lega Serie A said in a statement on Thursday it “firmly condemns the racist episodes which have happened these past few days. The sport should bring out respect, inclusion and being together in harmony: Values that are at the base of the social initiatives that have always been promoted by the Lega Serie A.

“It is not acceptable that we have to hear verbal, intolerant abuse in our stadiums and, as we have done before … we will do everything in our power to oppose similar incidents. We also hope for the maximum collaboration from the police to help identify and punish those responsible who with their actions tarnish the image of our world.”

The latest incident came less than a month after Juventus teenager Moise Kean was racially abused at Cagliari — and partially blamed by an own teammate.

Lazio also condemned what happened on Wednesday.

“Lazio clearly distances itself from behavior and displays that do not in any way correspond to the values of sport that this club has promoted and supported for 119 years,” the club said. “And it rejects and contests the simplistic tendency of some parts of the media to consider the entire Lazio fanbase responsible for the actions of a few isolated elements, for motivation that has nothing to do with passion for sport.

“The club has always fought for the respect of the law and for decency in behavior.”

There were two announcements over the speaker system at San Siro warning the fans to stop or the match would be suspended.

Lazio won 1-0 to progress to the final against Atalanta or Fiorentina. The first leg ended 0-0.

Earlier in the day, around 50 Lazio fans unfurled a banner reading “honor to Benito Mussolini” near Piazzale Loreto, where the fascist dictator was killed at the end of World War II.

Report: Lazio fans racially abuse Bakayoko prior to Coppa Italia semifinal

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According to reports from Milan, visiting Lazio fans have begun racially abusing AC Milan midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko prior to kickoff of the Coppa Italia semifinal second leg at the San Siro, according to a report by Football Italia. Midfielder Franck Kessie was also reportedly a target, with the same fans filmed outside the stadium chanting racial abuse aimed at the player.

Lazio fans have taken particular aim at Bakayoko and Kessie after the pair was forced to apologize for mocking Lazio defender Francesco Acerbi by holding his jersey around during postmatch celebrations of a 1-0 AC Milan win over Lazio in Serie A play. Bakayoko and Acerbi had gone back and forth in the media during the buildup to the match.

“Harboring hatred is not sport but a sign of weakness,” Acerbi said after the match when he learned of the postmatch display by the two AC Milan players.

According to Football Italia, rules in the Italian top flight do not allow a referee to stop or postpone a match for racial abuse. That falls to the duties of the official in charge of public safety and security, not the match official.

In addition to the racial abuse, a group of around 50 Lazio ultras from the “Irriducibili” group traveled to nearby Piazzale Loreto to unveil a banner that read “Honour to Benito Mussolini” and make Nazi salutes.

There is political pretext for the group to make these displays. Piazzale Loreto is the location where Mussolini’s body was hung up in the final moments of World War 2, while Thursday marks the Festival of Liberation in Italy to celebrate the defeat of the fascist rule in Italy.

The stunt forced Deputy Prime Minister of Italy Matteo Salvini – also an outspoken AC Milan supporter – to release a statement on social media.“No tolerance for any form of violence, whether physical or verbal. I thank the police force who are carefully monitoring the situation. Football must be an occasion to celebrate and meet up, not of brawls and clashes.”