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Conte’s Inter avoids UCL upset in stoppage time

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The Champions League nearly began with an upset, as Slavia Prague led Inter Milan 1-0 into stoppage time at the San Siro on Tuesday.

But a pair of Inter loanees produced a play to tie the score in the second minute of stoppage, as Stefano Sensi (Sassuolo) curled a free kick off the bar and Nicolo Barella (Cagliari) first timed the rebound through traffic and inside the far post.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

Peter Olayinka started and finished the play for Slavia Prague’s second half opener. The scorer took the ball to the end line and cut back for Lukas Provod, whose shot was saved by Samir Handanovic.

But Olayinka followed the play and took advantage of the marker who slid to block his initial pass. On the doorstep at the back post, the Nigerian smashed the ball into the top of the goal.

The goal was deserved, and the score line represented the tightness of the contest. Inter barely out shot the Czech visitors and had just a little bit more of the ball.

Romelu Lukaku nearly thumped home a header in the sixth minute of stoppage, but Slavia keeper Ondrej Kolar made a fine save.

Here’s the equalizer:

Inter’s Conte fumes over media’s fixation on formations

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ROME (AP) Only three rounds into his Serie A return, new Inter Milan coach Antonio Conte is already fed up with the local media’s obsession with tactics and the “modulo” – Italian for formation.

Known for his three-man defense, Conte was asked if he would change to a more traditional four-man backline.

“Only in Italy are we fixated on formations,” Conte snapped at a reporter’s question over the “modulo.” “I’ve coached in England and they’re not the least bit interested in that there. I want to see courage and intensity, which we’re trying to express. The rest is all crap.”

When Conte guided Juventus to three straight Serie A titles from 2012-14, his “BBC” defense of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini was the backbone of the club’s success.

When he took over Chelsea in 2016, he used a 4-1-4-1 formation during dispiriting early-season losses to Arsenal and Liverpool before quickly changing to a 3-4-2-1 with David Luiz, Cesar Azpilicueta and Gary Cahill going on to anchor the defense in a campaign that ended with the Premier League title.

At Inter, Conte is using Diego Godin, Stefan de Vrij and Milan Skriniar to anchor a 3-5-2 and Inter has started with three wins from three matches to open up a two-point lead over Bologna and eight-time defending champion Juventus.

It’s the first time Juventus has not been atop the standings since March 2018.

Inter’s early success will be tested against struggling AC Milan in the city derby on Saturday.

“Modern football evolves and you have to keep up with the times,” Conte said. “Enthusiasm isn’t tied to results but rather what we’re trying to do. Rome was not built in a day.”

MANDZUKIC TO QATAR?

Mario Mandzukic could be on his way to Qatar after being left off Juventus’ squad for the Champions League group stage.

“There are market opportunities that present themselves. Mario has been a very important player for us over the years, he proved himself at every level, there is a possibility and in agreement with him, the coach and his agent, we decided it was best he didn’t come on this trip,” Juventus sporting director Fabio Paratici said before Juve’s scoreless draw at Fiorentina on Saturday, confirming that there was an offer from Qatar for the striker.

Mandzukic scored goals in the double figures across all competitions for Juventus each of the past four seasons but new coach Maurizio Sarri has preferred to use Gonzalo Higuain in support of Cristiano Ronaldo this season.

Midfielder Emre Can was also left off the Champions League squad, and had to apologize to the club after saying he was “furious” over the decision.

WOMEN’S SERIE A

Italy’s run to the quarterfinals of the Women’s World Cup has put more of a spotlight on the women’s Serie A.

The 12-team league opened its season over the weekend with the three favorites, two-time defending champion Juventus, AC Milan and Fiorentina the only teams to post victories.

Juventus’ 2-1 win over Empoli and Milan’s 3-0 shutout of Roma were shown live on Italy’s Sky satellite TV service Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

Fiorentina’s 4-2 derby victory at Florentia San Gimignano was broadcast live via the club’s Twitter feed .

The Gazzetta dello Sport had a full page of coverage Sunday and Monday.

Inter Milan, making its debut in the top division, drew 2-2 with Verona.

Among the national team players to score were Cristiana Girelli for Juventus and Milan captain Valentina Giacinti, who led the league with 21 goals in 21 matches last season.

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Kessie and Lukaku subjected to more racism in Italy

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MILAN (AP) AC Milan midfielder Franck Kessie and Inter Milan striker Romelu Lukaku reportedly have been subjected to more racism in Italy.

The Gazzetta dello Sport reports that Hellas Verona supporters aimed offensive chants at Kessie during the first half of a 1-0 loss to Milan on Sunday night.

The Italian sports newspaper adds that the chants continued during halftime.

Kessie, an Ivory Coast international who is black, was also subjected to racist chants by Inter Milan and Lazio fans last season.

Also Sunday, a commentator on Italian TV, Luciano Passirani, was immediately suspended for a racist comment directed at Lukaku.

Speaking on the “Qui Studio a Voi Stadio” show, Passirani started off by saying, “I don’t see any other player in Italy now like Lukaku. … I really like him,” before adding, “the only way to stop him is to say, `Here are 10 bananas that you can eat.”‘

Lukaku, who is also black, was targeted with monkey chants by Cagliari fans this month. The league judge has not decided yet whether or not Cagliari should be punished.

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Serie A roundup: Inter edge 10-man Udinese

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Napoli and Inter Milan walked away winners in Saturday’s Serie A action.

Inter Milan 1-0 Udinese

After three games, Antonio Conte‘s spell at Inter Milan remains in immaculate shape.

According to the table, there is no better team than I Nerazzurri, who have won their first three league matches – notching seven goals and conceding only one along the way. In other words, the Italian’s astute coaching style remains effective.

Despite, Inter’s convincing play throughout the 90 minutes, only a goal would separate them from visiting Udinese, who played a with 10 players from the 35th minute on, following Rodrigo De Pual’s slap to the back of Antonio Candreva’s head.

In the 44th minute, Stefano Sensi – one of the smallest players on the field – headed the ball into the back of the net. Late in the game, Alexis Sanchez nearly scored in his Inter debut.

In the end, Udinese were no match for Antonio Conte and Co., who find themselves in prime form heading into their Champions League return midweek.

Up next for Inter in league play: Derby della Madonnina. Udinese, on the hand, host Brescia.

Napoli 2-0 Sampdoria

Dries Mertens is the gift that keeps on giving for Napoli.

To be exact, the Belgian gifted his team two goals on Saturday. 13 minutes in, following a perfectly-placed cross from Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Mertens’ first-time strike was unstoppable for Emil Audero.
Emiliano Rigoni had Sampdoria’s best chance of the night in a one-on-one opportunity with Alex Meret. The Argentine, however, wasted one of the visiting side’s two chances all night.
Then in the 67th minute – with some luck on his corner -Mertens completed his brace off a deflected shot, giving his team their second win of the season.

Quick turnaround for Napoli as they host Liverpool midweek before traveling to take on Lecce in league play, while Sampdoria take on Torino next.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Fiorentina 0-0 Juventus

Inter chairman Zhang defends fans amid racism debate

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GENEVA (AP) Inter Milan chairman Steven Zhang says the principle of non-discrimination is “embedded in the DNA” of the club, after a widely criticized response from ultras fans to striker Romelu Lukaku being racially abused at a game.

Lukaku, who is black, was targeted with monkey chants by Cagliari fans this month after the Belgium forward scored a penalty kick.

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A group of Inter fans later suggested such apparent abuse is not racist in Italy, and was a tactic they also used to unsettle opposing players.

Inter’s Chinese chairman says the club’s inclusive history makes him believe that “a lot of fans, when they did it, the intention was not bad.”

Zhang says soccer is “not for violence, it’s not for racism” and can be a force to educate people around the world.

The 28-year-old official spoke with reporters at a European Club Association meeting after he was elected to the 246-member group’s executive board.

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