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Ailing Mihajlovic coaches Bologna during leukemia treatment

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ROME (AP) A hospital band was on his right wrist and a bandage was visible on the left side of his neck.

Sinisa Mihajlovic was visibly thinner and his face was drawn, too.

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The once robust Bologna coach’s determination remains, though, and that was clearly apparent when Mihajlovic surprised his team by showing up for the squad’s Serie A opener Sunday in his first public appearance following a month of chemotherapy after being diagnosed with leukemia.

“He had promised us he would be here but when we saw him in the hotel, we couldn’t believe it,” Bologna midfielder Andrea Poli said after the 1-1 draw at Hellas Verona.

There was speculation that Mihajlovic would coach the team from a special box in the tribune but he spent nearly the entire game on the touchline, leaving a minute before the end to be shuttled back to the hospital.

“He spoke to us via video conference during the week and said he wasn’t 100 percent. He told us a month ago that he wanted to be here for this game, but we didn’t think he really would be,” Bologna winger Riccardo Orsolini said.

“It was a big boost. We’re just sorry that we didn’t give him the victory,” Orsolini added. “He’s lost a bit of weight, but the grit, determination and passion were the same as always.”

Mihajlovic yelled at his players as usual and gestured with his hands in protest to the officials.

“Sinisa wasn’t very happy at the end,” Bologna sporting director Riccardo Bigon said. “Actually he was angry (over the result).”

The 50-year-old Mihajlovic was a standout player for Sampdoria and Lazio – he still shares the Serie A record for free-kick goals at 28 with Andrea Pirlo – before beginning his coaching career a decade ago in his first stint at Bologna.

Mihajlovic was rehired by Bologna in January to replace Filippo Inzaghi and engineered a complete turnaround for a team that was battling off relegation, leading the club to a 10th place finish.

When Mihajlovic announced in July that he had an acute form of leukemia, the club said it would still keep him in charge.

Up next for Bologna is its home opener against Spal on Friday and it remains to be seen if Mihajlovic will appear at that match.

PENALTY ERROR

Referees director Nicola Rizzoli has acknowledged that Napoli should not have been awarded a penalty in its wild 4-3 win at Fiorentina on Saturday.

The penalty was awarded after Napoli forward Dries Mertens theatrically dragged his leg as he jumped over a defender who was already on the ground.

Lorenzo Insigne converted the ensuing penalty to put Napoli up 2-1.

“Something didn’t work in the collaboration between the referee and the VAR,” Rizzoli said Monday. “Clearly everyone has seen the error.”

Rizzoli added that he would review whether the referee and VAR official involved would sit out next weekend.

“A coach uses the players who are in the best form and the moves that we make will go toward putting them in the best condition to officiate,” Rizzoli said. “We’ll evaluate their psycho-physical conditions.”

NO FEMALE REFS

While French referee Stephanie Frappart recently directed the UEFA Super Cup in the highest-profile men’s game for a female referee, don’t expect to see any women on the pitch in Serie A soon.

“I hope it happens in two or three years,” Italian referees association president Marcello Nicchi said last week when he presented the 21 referees – all male – for this season.

Rodrigo TO RODRIGO

Rodrigo Becao’s first profession goal was all Udinese needed for a 1-0 win over AC Milan.

The tall defender headed in following a corner from fellow Brazilian Rodrigo De Paul, whose assist came on his first touch of the season – 25 seconds after coming off the bench.

Milan had no shots on goal and lost its opener for the fifth time in the last eight seasons.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/AndrewDampf

Bologna manager Mihajlovic announces he has leukemia

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BOLOGNA, Italy (AP) Bologna coach Sinisa Mihajlovic says he has leukemia and will continue working while undergoing treatment.

The 50-year-old Mihajlovic announced the news at a press conference on Saturday.

An emotional Mihajlovic said: “When they told me, it was a huge shock. I spent two days in my room crying … they are not tears of fear, I know I will win.”

Mihajlovic said that he has regular tests as his father died of cancer. The leukemia was discovered shortly before pre-season training.

He added: “It’s a treatable form, you can recover. And I will beat it.”

Bologna team doctor Gianni Nanni said Mihajlovic has “acute leukemia” and that the Serbian coach will start treatment on Tuesday.

Mihajlovic replaced Filippo Inzaghi as Bologna coach in January and steered it from the Serie A relegation zone to a 10th-place finish.

Mihajlovic, who had a previous spell in charge at Bologna in 2008-09 for his managerial debut in Serie A, has also coached Catania, Fiorentina, Serbia’s national team, Sampdoria, AC Milan and Torino.

Messages of support have been flooding in from other soccer clubs and players on social media.

Bologna draws 3-3 at Lazio to secure Serie A safety

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ROME (AP) Bologna secured Serie A football for another season after drawing at Lazio 3-3 in a thriller on Monday.

Bologna moved four points clear of the relegation zone with one match remaining.

Lazio was still celebrating winning the Italian Cup midweek and Joaquin Correa fired the capital side in front in the 13th minute.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

However, two goals in the space of a minute from Andrea Poli and Mattia Destro saw Bologna take the lead early in the second half.

Bastos curled in a stunning effort to level for Lazio in the 59th but Riccardo Orsolini restored Bologna’s lead shortly after.

Substitute Sergej Milinkovic-Savic secured a draw for Lazio with a sensational free kick 10 minutes from time.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Galaxy land World Cup veteran Gonzalez for back line

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Off to a flying start and boasting one of the best strikers in the history of the game, the LA Galaxy are reinforcing their back end in style.

LA has allowed five goals in six matches, although its schedule has been rather forgiving.

[ MORE: Aubameyang, Arsenal on racism ]

Now Guillermo Barros Schelotto has added a force to his back line in the form of Costa Rican national team center back Giancarlo Gonzalez.

They almost worked together when Schelotto was hired by Palermo but could not get the appropriate paper work to land the gig full-time. From MLSSoccer.com:

“I was with [Schelotto and his staff, all now with LA] a couple of months, so that, of course, also had a play in my decision to come here,” Gonzalez said. “I know their work and I know they’re going to provide me a good environment to grow.”

Gonzalez left Columbus following an outstanding World Cup in 2014, and has spent time at Palermo and Bologna in Serie A. The 76-times capped Costa Rican has appeared in two World Cups in addition to making 12 league appearances this season.

Montreal hopes Nigerian striker is next Bologna boom

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The Montreal Impact may have just swapped presidents, with owner Joey Saputo handing the reins over to Kevin Gilmore, but the MLS club’s owner is still the chairman of Bologna and the clubs will again be sharing resources.

And if the latest move goes as well as some of the previous ones, well, look out.

Orji Okwonkwo is joining the Impact on loan, reunited with teammate Saphir Taidir. The Algerian was one of the stars of a Montreal season like Blerim Dzemaili and Marco Di Vaio before him.

Okwonkwo, 21, won the U-17 World Cup with Nigeria in 2015, scoring in the semifinal win over Mexico.

He’d sign for Bologna, and was seemingly on the brink of stardom after scoring three Serie A goals in 10 appearances last season.

Remi Garde famously handed loads of responsibilities to youngsters while leading Lyon, including a Maxime Gonalons and a very young Alexandre Lacazette. He’d later hand increased duty to Samuel Umtiti.

While few would put Okwonkwo in that camp, his chances of growing quickly in MLS are a bit better than Serie A. Point is: Garde is willing to trust kids.

Expecting him to thrive at Taidir or Dzemaili levels is a tall ask, admittedly, and there have been a number of Bologna players who haven’t been stars in MLS (Deian Boldor, Daniele Paponi, and Andrea Pisanu, though the final two contributed more than the first).