Italian football emerges from virus crisis with cup semis in balance

Juventus’ home clash with AC Milan on Friday was supposed be the first competitive match played in Italy since the country became Europe’s COVID-19 epicenter. (AP)
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Updated 11 June 2020

Italian football emerges from virus crisis with cup semis in balance

ROME: This week’s Italian Cup semifinal, second leg matches were set to bring football back to a nation emerging from the coronavirus crisis, but with two days until the scheduled kick-off the two matches are still awaiting government approval.
Juventus’ home clash with AC Milan on Friday was supposed be the first competitive match played in Italy since the country became Europe’s COVID-19 epicenter, and the start of what the football authorities hope will be a return to normality.
More than 34,000 people on the peninsula have died because of the virus since the start of the crisis, with the vast majority in northern regions like Piedmont and Lombardy which host Juve and Milan.
However, although the virus still persists, Italy began to gradually emerge from a stringent lockdown last month and has been slowly moving back toward regular life since, with the return of football pitched as the latest sign that the worst should be over.
Public broadcaster RAI has already announced its coverage of the two last four encounters, with Napoli v Inter Milan scheduled for Saturday.
However. while Health Minister Roberto Speranza on Wednesday confirmed the dates for the semis and the June 17 final in Rome, he only said that the government was “leaning toward authorizing” the last three matches of the competition.
Speranza’s comments at the Italian Senate come just as it appeared that weeks of squabbling between Italy’s football authorities and the government had been left behind, with what will likely be a large, sport-starved TV audience ready for the two matches behind closed doors.
Should, as expected, Friday’s match take place fans will see a tie delicately poised at 1-1 following February’s entertaining first leg at the San Siro, which saw the ‘Rossoneri’ leading until Cristiano Ronaldo scored a stoppage time penalty to take a draw and an away goal back to Turin.

Milan will be without injured Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who had sparked the seven-time European champions into life after returning in December, as they attempt to beat Juve in Turin for the first time since 2011.
Forward Samu Castillejo, who said he was robbed at gunpoint in Milan on Tuesday, and defender Theo Hernandez are suspended.
Milan coach Stefano Pioli will likely point to Ante Rebic, who had scored seven goals in nine games before football succumbed to the virus, as the goal threat.
They will be helped by Wednesday’s ruling which eliminates extra-time in the event of deadlock after 90 minutes for both last-four second legs and next week’s final.
The cup is more of a priority for fallen giants Milan, whose last major honor came nine years ago, than for Juventus, who later this month resume a tight Serie A title tussle with Lazio.
However Juve coach Maurizio Sarri told Sky on Wednesday that Juve were “lucky” to have the cup, Serie A and Champions League seasons played at separate intervals as they chase European glory to go with their domestic dominance.
“We can focus on our targets one at a time, and this could be an advantage for us,” he said.
“But we’ll only know once we’re out on the pitch because this is a very odd situation. After such a long break we’ve not even been able to play proper matches in training.”
Sarri is reportedly wary of risking players who are not 100 percent fit, and will leave out Gonzalo Higuain for his starting line-up.
However with Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala and Douglas Costa likely to start, goals should not be a problem.
Whoever comes out on top will face either Antonio Conte’s Inter Milan or Napoli, who hold a 1-0 lead ahead of Saturday’s second leg in Naples.
The cup is Napoli’s best chance of European football next season following a tumultuous campaign that has featured dressing room disputes and the sacking of Carlo Ancelotti.
Inter are off the pace in the title race and in search of their first trophy since winning the cup in 2011.

Fixtures (pending government approval) (All times GMT)
Semi-final, second legs

Friday
Juventus v AC Milan (2000) (first leg 1-1)

Saturday
Napoli v Inter Milan (2000) (first leg 1-0)

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ALLIANZ
Lazio
COACH
JUVENTUS FOOTBALL CLUB


Rays rally with walkoff stunner to level World Series against Dodgers

Updated 26 October 2020

Rays rally with walkoff stunner to level World Series against Dodgers

ARLINGTON, United States: Brett Phillips’s single scored two runs and the Tampa Bay Rays walked off with a stunning 8-7 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers Saturday that knotted the World Series at two games apiece.
The Rays became the first team in post-season history to homer in four straight innings, but they trailed 7-6 heading into the bottom of the ninth.
With two out and two on, Phillips — who entered the game in the eighth as a pinch runner — was down to his last strike in the ninth when he singled to right center field off Dodgers closing pitcher Kenley Jansen and Kevin Kiermaier scored from second base.
Randy Arozarena racing from first, rounded third after the ball bounced off the glove of Dodgers outfielder Chris Taylor.
Arozarena tripped between third and home and looked done for, but Dodgers catcher Will Smith bobbled the throw to the plate and Arozarena was able to scramble forward and throw himself headfirst across the plate in time.
“Golly, what a special moment,” said Phillips, who last got a hit in the Rays’ 58th game of the regular season on September 25.
“I am having a hard time putting my emotions into words,” Phillips said. “Baseball is fun.”
Kiermaier called the ending — which sent the Rays into a frenzy of celebration on Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, “truly incredible.”
Arozarena notched a record-breaking ninth home run of the post-season. Kiermaier, Hunter Renfroe and Brandon Lowe also homered for the Rays, who are seeking the first World Series title in franchise history.
The Dodgers, back in the World Series for a third time in four years after disappointments in 2017 and 2018, are seeking their seventh title — but a first since 1988.
“This is certainly a tough one,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “They were the best team all year in the American League.
“They are not going to give anything away. We’ve got to regroup and get ready for tomorrow.”
The spectacular ending, capped a tense back-and-forth battle with a World Series record eight straight half-innings with a run scored.
Justin Turner and Corey Seager homered for the Dodgers. Seager’s was his eighth of the playoffs, temporarily tying the single post-season record until Arozarena notched his ninth in the fourth frame.
For the second game in a row Turner got things rolling with a solo homer in the first inning.
Seager added a solo shot in the top of the third that put the Dodgers up 2-0, but Arozarena pulled back a run in the bottom of the fourth with a lead-off blast to right centerfield off a 95 mph fastball from Julio Urias.
Los Angeles stretched the lead to 3-1 in the fifth when Seager singled off Rays relief pitcher Pete Fairbanks and reached second on a wild pitch. With two outs in the inning Max Muncy reached first on a sharp line drive to right field that scored Seager.
The Rays responded with a home run from Renfroe to cut the margin to one run in the bottom of the fifth.
The Dodgers pushed the lead back to two in the top of the sixth when Enrique Hernandez fired a double down the left field line that scored two.
But Lowe — the two-homer hero of the Rays’ game-two victory — put the Rays in front for the first time with a three-run blast off Dodgers reliever Pedro Baez in the bottom of the sixth.
In the seventh, Dodgers pinch-hitter Joc Pederson came up with the bases loaded and two out and delivered a two-run single that put Los Angeles back in front.
All seven Dodgers runs came with two outs — continuing a trend for them this series.
The Rays however, wouldn’t be denied, Kiermaier’s homer off Baez knotting the score at 6-6.
“We have no quit,” Kiermaier said. “We have been doing that all year. We’ve been the comeback kids. To do it on the big stage makes it that much sweeter.”