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Teen Zaniolo could make Italy debut after stunning season

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FLORENCE, Italy (AP) Nicolo Zaniolo had not played a match in Italy’s top flight less than a year ago but could make his first appearance for Italy this week.

Zaniolo, 19, has had a breakthrough season and has emerged as one of Serie A’s most promising talents since his move to Roma from Inter Milan last summer.

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He scored his first Champions League goals last month as he led Roma to a 2-1 win at home against Porto in the first leg of the round of 16.

Although Zaniolo received an Italy call-up in September, he did not make an appearance. He could make his debut in the upcoming European Championship qualifiers against Finland and Liechtenstein.

“It’s credit to (former Roma coach Eusebio) Di Francesco, who gave him the possibility of playing almost all the time, in the Champions League and in Serie A, giving him enormous confidence,” Italy coach Roberto Mancini said on Monday.

“He is a young lad. He has always done well. It’s clear that when you’re young, you can have moments that are more difficult, but he has talent and now he has the chance to make his international debut and that’s the same for everyone who is here.”

Zaniolo is one of two teenagers in the Italy squad. Juventus forward Moise Kean turned 19 last month.

There are also five players under 22 on the 29-man list.

“What’s interesting in the league is that, compared to four or five months ago, the youngsters are playing more and so they have improved,” Mancini said. “This is a positive thing for them, for Italian football, for the Italy team and the under-21 team.

“I called up a few more players so I can evaluate them and because I don’t know the conditions of all the lads. I also had to leave some out with great sadness.”

One of those players left out was Mario Balotelli.

Balotelli was included in Mancini’s first two squads and played his first matches for Italy since the 2014 World Cup. This is the third consecutive time he has been omitted despite scoring five goals in eight matches for Marseille.

“Mario is still not in optimal condition for the national team,” Mancini said. “He has improved on a physical level. He has a good scoring average and can improve more. We expect a lot from him.”

Also called up was veteran Fabio Quagliarella, who could make his first Italy appearance in nearly 10 years.

Quagliarella, 36, leads Serie A in scoring. The Sampdoria forward has 21 goals, two more than Juventus’ Cristiano Ronaldo and Milan’s Krzysztof Piatek.

Italy kicks off its qualifying campaign on Saturday against Finland in Udine before hosting Liechtenstein in Parma three days later.

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

Serie A: Moise Kean scores twice; Juve go 19 points clear

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Ladies and gentleman, allow us to be the very first ones to say it: the Serie A title race is over.

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Juventus beat Udinese 4-1 on Friday to extend their narrow healthy 16-point advantage over Napoli to 19 points. With just 11 games left to play, the Bianconeri could have their eighth straight scudetto mathematically sealed before April begins.

19-year-old phenom Moise Kean scored twice in the first half for Massimiliano Allegri’s side, before Emre Can tacked on a third from the penalty spot in the 67th minute, and Blaise Matuidi completed Juve’s scoring with a fourth in the 71st. Kean won the penalty for Juve’s third goal, but the future Italy star wasn’t afforded the opportunity to complete his hat trick.

It was an overwhelming onslaught from the very beginning, just as their latest title defense has been from the season’s opening day.

[ MORE: Premier League investigating UEFA’s FFP allegations against Man City ]

The day’s only blemish came in the 81st minute, when Kevin Lasagna pulled a goal back for the visitors.

To further demonstrate Juve’s dominance of the entirety of Serie A, Cristiano Ronaldo was left on the bench as an unused substitute for the first time this season, and the 4-1 scoreline was hardly more than a light workout for his eight-time champions-elect teammates.

Pro Piacenza kicked out of Serie C after 20-0 loss

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FLORENCE, Italy (AP) A third-tier Italian soccer team has been kicked out of the league after losing a match 20-0 on Sunday.

[ FA CUP: Paul Pogba scores, assists as Man Utd bounce Chelsea (video) ]

Lega Pro, the governing body of Serie C, announced the exclusion of Pro Piacenza on Monday.

Pro Piacenza, which has financial problems and hadn’t paid its players or staff, needed to present a team for the match or would have been thrown out of the division after having already forfeited three matches.

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The team turned up at Cuneo with just seven players, the minimum number required. They were all between 16 and 19 years old, with captain Nicola Cirigliano listed as the coach, and one of the players forgot his identity card, so the masseur was forced to play.

Cuneo led 16-0 at halftime of the match, which Italian football federation president Gabriele Gravina said would be “the last farce.”

Pro Piacenza lose 20-0 in Italy’s third-tier

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The headline is not a typo. This actually happened in Italy on Sunday.

AS Pro Piacenza 1919 lost 20-0 to Cuneo in Serie C, as they were 16-0 down at half time.

[ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule

Going into the final minute they were 19-0 down and had the scoreline stayed that way, you could argue it would have been somewhat fitting…

Anyway, how on earth did this happen, I hear you cry?

Pro Piacenza are in dire financial problems and had to field a team of at least seven players to not forfeit the game and therefore not lose their place in Italy’s third-tier.

Their president Maurizio Pannella has overseen the demise, with players leaving the club in recent months after not being paid.

Rules stated that if Piacenza had forfeited a a fourth game this season (they had forfeited each of their last three games) then they would have lost their place in Serie C.

Therefore, a few teenagers played against Cuneo on Sunday and according to reporters one of the 19-year-old players was also managing the team. Before this game Cuneo had scored 18 goals all season long, so at least their players got a huge confidence boost from this sorry saga.

More details are sure to filter through about this situation, as Pro Piacenza are in the headlines across the world for all of the wrong reasons.

Serie A: Napoli draw means Juventus can go 11 points clear Sunday

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MILAN (AP) Napoli received a warmer welcome at the San Siro Stadium than it did during its previous visit which was marked by fan violence and racism.

[ FA CUPSETS: West Ham bounced by third-tier Wimbledon | Millwall oust Everton ]

Still, the southern club was subjected to territorial chants by AC Milan supporters during a 0-0 draw on Saturday in Serie A.

Napoli hardly seemed to notice the insulting chants, which emanated from the southern curve where Milan’s hard-core “ultra” fans sit.

“It was a completely different atmosphere,” Napoli coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “All the fans at the San Siro deserve to be applauded.”

Ancelotti was sent off in the closing minutes for protests after Napoli’s Fabian Ruiz was shown a questionable second yellow card.

[ Transfer rumor roundup: Perisic to Arsenal; Gomez to West Ham ]

Both sides had chances and the possession was perfectly split between Napoli and Milan, who meet again on Tuesday in the same stadium for the Italian Cup quarterfinals.

An Inter Milan supporter died following fan clashes when Napoli last visited Milan in December — a match that was also marred by racist chants directed at Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly.

Napoli remained second, eight points behind Juventus, and Milan stayed fourth.