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Italy coach Mancini leaves door open for Gianluigi Buffon

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FLORENCE, Italy (AP) Italy coach Roberto Mancini says former captain Gianluigi Buffon will still be considered if he wants to return to the national team.

Buffon retired from international soccer in November after Italy lost a World Cup playoff to Sweden, but he recently returned for friendlies.

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Mancini says “(Buffon) wants to continue playing football … Everyone who will play and will be among the best can be considered for the national team.”

Buffon is expected to bid the national team goodbye for good in another friendly on June 4 against the Netherlands at Allianz Stadium. However, at a news conference last week to announce his departure from Juventus, Buffon insisted he had made the last of his 176 appearances for his country.

Mario Balotelli earns first Italy call up since 2014 World Cup

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Mario Balotelli‘s career has been anything but routine, however, the veteran striker has regained his confidence in Ligue 1 and revitalized a career that once looked like it was headed for absolute stardom.

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The 27-year-old was recalled to Italy’s national team squad on Saturday for the first time since the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, courtesy of new Azzurri manager Roberto Mancini.

Mancini and Balotelli has a long-standing relationship, after the two first connected at Inter Milan and then Manchester City.

The Nice striker has re-captured his form in France over the past two seasons, scoring 43 goals in all competitions during that span.

With Italy not qualified for this summer’s World Cup, Mancini and Co. have the opportunity to explore new players, and in Balotelli’s case, revisit old ones.

The Azzurri will take on Saudi Arabia on May 28, before meeting France and the Netherlands on June 1 and June 4, respectively.

VIDEO: Gigi Buffon’s tearful goodbye after 17 years at Juve

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TURIN, Italy (AP) It was a day of celebration but also of tears as Juventus captain Gianluigi Buffon played his last match for the Bianconeri after 17 years at the club.

Juventus beat already relegated Hellas Verona 2-1 in the final round of the season on Saturday but the result mattered little as the club bid an emotional farewell to Buffon, while it also received a record-extending seventh successive Serie A trophy.

Buffon, widely regarded as one of the best goalkeepers ever, announced Thursday that he was leaving Juventus although the 40-year-old World Cup winner has put off retirement to consider offers to play overseas.

Buffon ran out for the warmup first as defender Andrea Barzagli held back his teammates for a few seconds to let the ‘keeper enjoy the reception on his own.

The former Italy captain also spent several minutes under one of the stands behind the goal and had tears in his eyes as he hugged many fans.

A huge banner of Buffon was unveiled before kickoff, while there were continuous chants and songs about him during the match.

Buffon, who could be seen at times wiping away tears, had hardly a save to make.

His opposite number, Nicolas, was far busier and saved a late penalty from Stephan Lichtsteiner, who was also playing his farewell match for the club.

Paulo Dybala almost gave Juventus the lead shortly before the break but his chipped effort came off the crossbar.

Juventus broke the deadlock four minutes after the interval when a corner was played short and Douglas Costa dribbled into the area. His effort was saved by Nicolas but Daniele Rugani tapped in the rebound.

Miralem Pjanic doubled Juve’s lead three minutes later with a trademark free kick.

Buffon was substituted in the 63rd to an emotional standing ovation. He was hugged by all his teammates and staff as he struggled to hold back the tears.

Alessio Cerci scored for Verona in the 76th to end Juve’s bid to set a new Serie A record of 23 clean sheets in a season.

Buffon moved to Juventus in 2001 and has made 656 appearances for the club.

He won his ninth Serie A title with Juventus this season, leading the Bianconeri to a fourth successive league and cup double.

Two other league titles were stripped from the club due to the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal. Also as punishment, Juventus was relegated to Serie B but Buffon stayed and helped it win the second division and bounce straight back up.

Among Buffon’s records for club and country is the longest time in Serie A without conceding a goal when he was unbeaten for 974 consecutive minutes in the 2015-16 season.

Juventus win record-extending 7th straight Serie A title

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MILAN (AP) — Juventus won a record-extending seventh straight Serie A title on Sunday after its 0-0 draw against 10-man Roma was enough to secure the trophy with a match to spare.

Second-place Napoli won 2-0 at Sampdoria but Juventus got the point it needed at the Stadio Olimpico to win its 34th Serie A title. It has a four-point lead over Napoli with one round left.

The result also completed a fourth successive league and cup double for Juventus, which had beaten AC Milan 4-0 in the Italian Cup in the same stadium on Wednesday.

“I’m happy for the lads who have sealed the title, we have a week more of holiday,” said coach Massimiliano Allegri, who has won all four of those doubles in as many years at Juventus. “We have to congratulate Napoli, which kept pace with a great Juventus. It’s hard to see these four years being repeated.

“I congratulate everyone who works for Juventus and the fans but the most credit goes to the players. With a team like this, with these men and these players, it’s easier to achieve your targets but winning is never simple.”

The end of the season has seen several twists.

Juventus was six points clear a month ago but saw its advantage slashed to a solitary point in the space of a week which culminated in Napoli beating the Bianconeri 1-0. That left many — including Allegri — naming Maurizio Sarri’s side as favorite for the title.

“The greatest merit of the (Juventus) team was that they were always able to keep their calm because in football things can change in a second,” Allegri added. “You need to take it one step at a time without getting overwhelmed by enthusiasm when things are going well and you need to never stop working in the difficult moments. You need to work well on a mental level because if you have too many surges and dips of mood, you’re not going to win.”

Mancini in talks with federation to become new Italy boss

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ROME (AP) The Italian football federation says it is in talks with Roberto Mancini about taking over the Azzurri’s vacant coaching job.

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Federation commissioner Roberto Fabbricini tells the ANSA news agency that after a meeting Monday, Mancini said he was “open to leaving his job with Zenit St. Petersburg to become head coach of the national team.”

Fabbricini adds that “nothing is decided” but that the two sides agreed to meet again May 13, once the Russian season has ended, “to discuss figures and details.”

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Under-21 coach Luigi Di Biagio guided Italy on an interim basis in friendlies last month but the team has not had a full-time coach since November when Gian Piero Ventura was fired after the Azzurri failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in six decades.

Mancini, a former Italy player, has coached Fiorentina, Lazio, Inter Milan, Manchester City, and Galatasaray to titles.