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Inter-Ludogorets to be played in empty stadium due to coronavirus

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MILAN — Inter Milan announced on Monday that its Europa League match against Ludogorets will be played behind closed doors as authorities try to contain a spreading virus that has made northern Italy the focal point of the outbreak in Europe.

The Italian government is moving toward having other soccer matches played without fans in attendance in affected areas but Thursday’s match was the first to be confirmed as going ahead in an empty stadium.

“Inter announces that, in accordance with the requirements of the health authorities in the Region of Lombardy and the Municipality of Milan and with the agreement of UEFA, the second-leg clash between Inter and Ludogorets at the round of 32 stage of the Europa League will take place at 21:00 CET on Thursday 27 February behind closed doors at San Siro,” Inter said in a statement on Monday evening.

[ MORE: Europa League schedule

The decision was widely expected and Ludogorets had announced shortly before that Inter had sent it a letter stating that the city’s health authorities have allowed the match to go ahead behind closed doors.

Ludogorets added that UEFA has said it is monitoring the situation and will react immediately if anything changes.

Inter leads 2-0 from the first leg of the round of 32 clash.

Civil protection officials said at least 229 people have tested positive for the virus in Italy. State television on Monday night reported the seventh death of an infected person – that of a 62-year-old man who already had serious health problems. The other six victims, also with pre-existing medical conditions, were elderly.

The majority of those known to be infected with COVID-19 hail from two main clusters – some 10 towns in Lombardy and another area in the neighboring region of Veneto. Italy has the highest number of cases outside Asia.

Four Serie A match scheduled for last Sunday were postponed, including Inter’s home match against Sampdoria.

Inter’s key match at Juventus next Sunday will likely also be played behind closed doors, as well as several other matches in northern Italy.

Ludogorets 2-2 Liverpool: Late equalizer spells more misery for Reds, but there’s hope

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Liverpool’s season took another turn for the worst on Wednesday, as the struggling Premier League outfit drew with Bulgarian minnows Ludogorets 2-2 in Group B after giving up a late equalizer. The Reds have now gone five games without a win in all competitions.

[ RELATED: Liverpool’s season still intact

After falling behind early on to Dani Abalo’s strike, Liverpool fought back valiantly as goals from Rickie Lambert and Jordan Henderson out them ahead. However Brendan Rodgers’ side couldn’t hold on to their advantage late on as Georgi Terziev headed home from a set piece after slack marking from the Reds.

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With their point and Basel’s defeat to Real Madrid, Liverpool must now beat Basel at home in their final UCL group game on Dec. 9 to seal their spot in the last 16. Despite their valiant effort, Ludogorets crashed out of the Champions League but can hold their head high after their first-ever campaign among Europe’s elite. 

Liverpool went 1-0 down after just three minutes as Abalo pounced on Simon Mignolet’s spilled shot after a long-range effort from Marelinho skipped up off the surface. In truth Mignolet should have done better and the Reds got off to the worst possible start in Sofia.

However the Reds were level just six minutes as Lambert headed home following some hesitant defending from the home side for his second goal in as many games. With less than 10 minutes gone it was 1-1, as Liverpool were handed a lifeline.

[RELATED: Champions League schedule]

After that frantic start the game settled down a little and Liverpool possessed the ball well but looked vulnerable to Ludogorets’ pace on the counter attack and Kolo Toure almost put into his own net as the Bulgarians pushed to go back in front. Liverpool went ahead before half time as Lambert played in Raheem Sterling and the speedy winger raced clear down the left and found Henderson at the back post who tucked the ball home. 2-1 to the Reds at half time.

In the second half Liverpool were unlucky to not go 3-1 up as Lambert saw his header brilliantly blocked and then Henderson somehow smashed the rebound over from six-yards out.

That missed came back to bite them after sustained pressure from the hosts who knew anything but a win would see them exit the Champions League. Late in the game Ludogorets threw the kitchen sink at Liverpool and the Reds’ defense couldn’t hold on to secure what would have been a crucial win as Terziev’s header sealed a point for the hosts in Sofia.

LINEUPS

Ludogorets: Stoyanov, Minev, Moti, Terziev, Caicara, Alexandrov (Wanderson, 72′), Espinho (Younes, 81′), Abalo (Azevedo Junior, 69′), Dyakov, Marcelinho, Misidjan

Goals: Abalo (3′), Terziev (88′)

Liverpool: Mignolet, Manquillo, Skrtel, Toure, Johnson, Lucas, Allen, Henderson, Gerrard, Sterling (Moreno, 82′), Lambert

Goals: Lambert (8′), Henderson (37′)

Liverpool 2-1 Ludogorets: Gerrard grabs last-gasp winner after scare

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Captain Steven Gerrard scored a winning penalty kick in injury time as Liverpool won 2-1 against Ludogorets Razgard on Tuesday, but the Bulgarian minnows gave the Premier League giants one heck of a shock.

Mario Balotelli gave a laboring Liverpool side the lead in the 82nd minute (his first goal for the Reds) but then disaster struck as Ablo Paulos equalized in the 90th minute as Anfield was stunned. However, in the 92nd minute Ludogorets ‘keepers Borjan brought down Javier Manquillo in the box and Gerrard stepped up to make it 2-1 as Liverpool won their first UEFA Champions League game since 2010.

A win is a win, but Liverpool left it late in a dramatic finale at Anfield.

[RELATED: Latest Champions League news]

Liverpool had all the possession early on and came close to taking the lead in the 21st minute when Mario Balotelli turned beautifully on the edge of the box and forced a block. The ball then fell to Adam Lallana whose shot was saved and then Balotelli was caught offside with the rebound.

The famous Anfield roar was then heard as Balotelli sparked the crowd into life. A surging break down the left saw Philippe Coutinho playi n Jordan Henderson who teed up Lallana but the England man couldn’t get the ball out of his feet and the chance was gone. From the resulting corner Dejan Lovren headed over as Liverpool pressed for the opener but Ludogorets hung on until half time with the score locked at 0-0.

[ANALYSIS: Should Liverpool’s fans be worried?]

After the break Henderson played in Manquillo but the Spaniard lobbed the ball over the net when a deft touch was all that was needed. Moments later Ludogorets forced Simon Mignolet into a fine save as the Bulgarian minnows threatened.

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Balotelli scored his first goal for Liverpool.

In the final 30 minutes Liverpool cranked things up several notches and bombarded the Ludogorets goal with Lallana, Sterling and Balotelli at times getting in each others way.

[RELATED: Real Madrid score 1000th European goal]

Ludogorets were still a threat on the break as Bezjak fired an effort just over the crossbar after reacting first to a quick throw-in. Brendan Rodgers then made two subs to try and change the home sides fortune as Fabio Borini and Lucas Leiva came on for the final 20 minutes. Borini almost scored with his first touch as Manquillo crossed from the right and the Italian attacker headed towards goal but Borjan (who joined Ludogorets on an emergency loan for this game) tipped it over.

Disaster almost struck for the home side in the 72nd minute as Ludogoets were close to going ahead. Slovenian striker Bezjak was set clean through and hit the post then the rebound fell to Minev but he hammered the ball wide. A real let off for Liverpool. Henderson then went close for Liverpool as Alberto Moreno clipped a great ball into the new vice-captain but the midfielder glanced his header just wide of the far post.

Balotelli then volleyed home to give Liverpool the lead in the 82nd minute but as the clock ticked to 90 minutes, Ludogorets sub Paulos latched onto a through ball and rounded Migolet to slot home the equalizer. However, there was to be another late twist in the tale as Manquillo was scythed down by Borjan for the penalty kick and Gerrard slotted the PK home to seal victory for the five-time UCL champions.

LINEUPS

Liverpool: Mignolet, Manquillo, Moreno, Lovren, Sakho, Gerrard, Henderson, Coutinho (Lucas, 67′), Sterling, Lallana (Borini, 67′), Balotelli.

Goals: Balotelli (82′), Gerrard (90+2′)

Ludogorets: Borjan, Junior Caicara, Moti, Aleksandar Aleksandrov, Minev, Mihail Aleksandrov, Dyakov (Fonseca, 85′), Abel, Misidjan (Paulos, 73′), Marcelinho, Bezjak (Hamza, 86′)

Goal: Paulos (90′)