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Pjanic’s penalty seals Juve’s spot in Italian Cup final

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ROME (AP) Miralem Pjanic scored a controversial penalty as Juventus beat visiting Atalanta 1-0 Wednesday to reach the Italian Cup final.

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It appeared that Juventus midfielder Blaise Matuidi was only slightly touched from behind by Gianluca Mancini while attempting to meet a cross in the 74th.

But the referee’s decision was confirmed by the VAR and Pjanic converted into the center of the net as goalkeeper Etrit Berisha leaped to his right.

Juventus advanced 2-0 on aggregate following Gonzalo Higuain’s goal in the first leg.

Higuain sat out the second leg due to a minor injury.

In the May 9 final, Juventus will face either Lazio or AC Milan, who were playing later in Rome following a 0-0 first leg.

Juventus has won the Italian Cup a record 12 times, including the last three years.

After a first half in which Juventus seemed content to protect its first-leg advantage and Atalanta produced little, the match came to life midway through the second half when both sides hit the goalframe.

A long lob from Atalanta’s Alejandro “Papu” Gomez hit the post following a defensive error by Medhi Benatia.

Gomez then blasted another dangerous effort over the crossbar before Juve’s Douglas Costa curled a long shot off the bar just minutes later.

Juventus was also slated to host Atalanta in Serie A on Sunday but that match was snowed out and will be made up March 14.

Snow also fell during Wednesday’s game but it did not stick to the pitch.

More AP Serie A coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/SerieA

Batshuayi racially abused by Atalanta fans

AP Photo/Martin Meissner
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Borussia Dortmund striker Michy Batshuayi says he was subject to racist chants from Atalanta fans during a Europa League game in Italy.

The Belgium international, on loan from Chelsea, tweeted:

Dortmund advanced to the round of 16 by drawing 1-1 to beat Atalanta 4-3 on aggregate on Thursday.

The game was played at Mapei Stadium in Reggio Emilia because Atalanta’s home stadium is unsuitable for UEFA games.

There have been several incidents of racism at Serie A matches this season.

Europa League preview: Arsenal joined by Champions League outcasts

Robert Henriksson/TT News Agency via AP
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Arsenal’s path to the UEFA Champions League is looking more and more like it will require a Europa League triumph, and that trek continues in Sweden on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Ronaldo, Real top PSG 3-1 ]

There are plenty of other big names left in the Europa League, with Borussia Dortmund, Napoli, and Atletico Madrid also beginning Round of 32 ties on Thursday.

Ostersund vs. Arsenal

Arsene Wenger‘s men will tangle with an Ostersund side which has some impressive European wins under its belt.

Drawing Galatasaray in the second qualifying round, Ostersund won 3-1 on aggregate before beating Luxembourg’s Fola Esch by the same score in the third qualifying round and getting by PAOK on away goals in the playoff.

Ostersund was also a surprise second place team in a group with Hertha Berlin, Zorya Luhansk, and group-winning Athletic Bilbao, and did not lose at home. This won’t be easy for the Gunners, who will hope to pile up away goals.

Midfielder Ken Sema is the player to watch for the Allsvenskan side. Arsenal will not have ineligible Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, as well as injured Jack Wilshere, Laurent Koscielny, and Petr Cech.

Borussia Dortmund vs. Atalanta

Christian Pulisic and Michy Batshuayi‘s fast friendship gets a Europa League test from Serie A visitors Atalanta, which has dropped to eighth in Serie A this season after selling Franck Kessie in the offseason. 22-year-old Italian striker Bryan Cristante is the club’s leading scorer, and longtime Fiorentina man Josip Ilic isn’t far behind the youngster.

Full schedule
Red Star Belgrade 0-0 CSKA Moscow — Tuesday

11 a.m. ET
Astana vs. Sporting Lisbon

1 p.m. ET
Ostersund vs. Arsenal
Borussia Dortmund vs. Atalanta
Real Sociedad vs. Red Bull Salzburg
Spartak Moscow vs. Athletic Bilbao
Marseille vs. Braga
Nice vs. Lokomotiv Moscow
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. AC Milan

3:05 p.m. ET
Napoli vs. RB Leipzig
Lyon vs. Villarreal
Celtic vs. Zenit Saint Petersburg
Partizan Belgrade vs. Viktoria Plzen
Copenhagen vs. Atletico Madrid
AEK Athens vs. Dynamo Kyiv
Steaua Bucuresti vs. Lazio

Malta captain mutes goal celebration after journalist slain

AP Photo/Elisabetta Baracchi
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Malta captain Andre Schembri says the car bomb slaying of a Maltese investigative journalist prompted him not to exult after scoring an historic goal.

Schembri’s temporary equalizer for Cypriot club Apollon in a 3-1 loss to Italian side Atalanta in the Europa League on Thursday made him the first Maltese player to score in proper European competition – excluding qualifying.

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But instead of pumping his fist or leaping in joy over the achievement, Schembri hung his head as teammates mobbed him.

Schembri wrote on Facebook on Friday, “Celebrating my goal didn’t feel right after what happened in Malta this week.”

Malta has been stunned since Monday by the slaying of Daphne Caruana Galizia, an anti-corruption reporter whose targets included Malta’s leading politicians.

“When they killed Daphne I wasn’t able to sleep for three nights,” Schembri told the ANSA news agency. “Malta is Europe, it’s not the third world. We need to be united when faced with grief like this, to say that we’re better than all of this.

“I love my country and with that goal it came naturally to me to think about a reporter’s freedom and the life of a mother of three children.”

AC Milan signs Ivory Coast midfielder Kessie from Atalanta

Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images
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MILAN (AP) AC Milan has acquired Ivory Coast midfielder Franck Kessie on a two-year loan from Atalanta, as the Rossoneri attempt to make a big impact in the transfer market.

The deal requires Milan to purchase Kessie’s full rights after the loan period ends.

Financial details were not released.

[ MORE: Everton to snag bargain Sandro? ]

The 20-year-old Kessie helped Atalanta to a club-record fourth-place finish in Serie A last weekend, scoring six goals in 29 appearances in his first season in the top division.

Kessie is Milan’s second signing of the transfer period after center back Mateo Musacchio joined from Villarreal on Tuesday.

The Gazzetta dello Sport has also reported that Milan is hoping to sign striker Alvaro Morata from Real Madrid for 60 million euros (nearly $70 million).