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Juventus look like they're falling out of the race for European places, and it could have been much, much worse. After going up 2-0, Juventus conceded twice in one minute to let Chievo Verona pull level. However, each team should have scored many more times, and that score doesn't even begin to tell the story.
The opening goal was scored in the first half by Alessandro Del Piero, who converted a penalty after Simone Pepe was fouled. Juve came out of the gates guns blazing in the second half, and they doubled their lead after 55 minutes though Alessandro Matri, who had been largely ineffective before scoring.
Chievo would get one back in the 68th minute, thanks to a Fernando Uribe goal, punched in after a scramble following a set piece. That was hardly stunning, but the shock came less than a minute later when the Juventus defense fell asleep and Gennaro Sardo scored a rebound goal after Sergio Pellissier hit the post. Then, things got really crazy.
Juventus looked like they were going to go ahead in the 82nd minute, but Matri hit the upright with his header inside of the box. Not long after dodging that bullet, Chievo got out onto the counter and created a great opportunity, as Pellissier won a race with Gigi Buffon, who was drawn 40 yards out of his box, then passed to Uribe. It appeared that Uribe had an easy goal with Buffon nowhere to be found, but he hit an extremely weak effort that was easily blocked by defender. It was a sitter worthy of the funniest football blooper reels in the world.
Ultimately, the game finished in a 2-2 draw, and that will feel as good as a win for the Chievo fans, despite Uribe's terrible miss. With this draw, they have guaranteed their Serie A status for another season.
It hasn't been the greatest half of football from Juventus, but all that matters is the scoreboard, and Juventus lead Chievo Verona 1-0 after 45 minutes of football, despite not playing their best. Alessandro Del Piero is the man who has the goal, scored on a penalty drawn by Simone Pepe.
In the 12th minute, Pepe was hauled down in the box by Marco Andreolli, who tugged on his shirt. Hilariously, Pepe did not quit on the play or attempt to embellish contact, but instead tried to execute a bicycle kick since his feet were about to fly up in the air anyway. He missed, but the referee granted a penalty, which Del Piero converted.
Chievo actually have a few more shots than Juventus, but they have not been high quality shots. Still, the Flying Donkeys look a little more threatening than Juve fans would like. It wouldn't be terribly stunning to see Chievo find an equalizer, as Juve's defense looks a little shaky. However, their midfield has been far superior.
Juventus are still fighting to get into European places in the Serie A, and they're not yet mathematically out of the race for the final UEFA Champions League spot. If they want to be playing European football of any kind next season, a win today over Chievo Verona would go a long way towards helping them do that. They're currently four points behind their rivals for Europa League with one game, this game, in hand. Chievo look like they're safe for another year in Serie A, and a draw in this game would mathematically take them out of relegation contention. Here are the lineups.
Juventus lineup (4-4-2): Buffon; Grosso, Chiellini, Barzagli, Motta; Pepe, Marchisio, Aquilani, Krasic; Del Piero, Matri
Substitutes: Salihamidzic, Toni, Storari, Bonucci, Traore, Giandonato, Sorensen
Chievo lineup (5-3-2): Sorrentino; Jokic, Andreolli, Mantovani, Cesar, Sardo; Rigoni, Fernandez, Constant; Pellissier, Thereau
Substitutes: Squizzi, Guana, Mandelli, Marcolini, Frey, Uribe, Bogliacino
This game can be seen in the United States on ESPN3.com
They think it's all over ... but it's not. Although ten-man Udinese held on for a 2-1 victory over fellow Champions League hopefuls Lazio, they've still only got two points on them, with AS Roma two back as well. The Champions League qualification spot is not secure, no matter how many clothes captain Antonio Di Natale strips off at the end of the match (just so you're clear, he was down to his tighty whities and no, it wasn't pretty).
But Toto deserved his chance to celebrate. It was his brace that put Udinese ahead in the first half, with the first goal coming from a chipped shot over the head of Nando Muslera, and the second an easy finish to put away a cross by Mauricio Isla. Lazio were repeatedly sliced apart by the reunion of Di Natale and Alexis Sanchez, the tiny wonderduo springing the offside trap again and again.
Lazio came out fighting in the second half, however, determined to keep that coveted fourth spot. The zebrette defense stood firm, however -- at least until Tommaso Rocchi came on to replace Sergio Floccari. Within seconds, the captain drew a foul, Gabriele Angella shown the straight red for tripping Rocchi in the penalty area. Lazio failed to take advantage, however, and Samir Handanovic easily saved the resulting kick, making six out of eight saves in Serie A this season. Mauro Zárate could have made it a little more difficult for the Slovenian, however, rather than sending a mild shot straight down the middle.
After Udinese went down to ten men, it seemed only a matter of time before Lazio would score, so delighted were they in this strange turn of events that saw them take a man advantage. It was again a substitute that worked magic for the visitors, Libor Kozák getting his foot on the end of a Zárate cross to slot it into the net. The substitute then sent a ball off the post, while André Dias, surprisingly not a substitute, headed just over the bar.
For all the effort, though, Lazio couldn't find the second goal. Perhaps it was the atmosphere of the Stadio Friuli, the supporters being encouraged by Toto jumping up and down on the side lines, demanding them to make noise. Di Natale also took this opportunity to shout instructions at the players on the pitch, possibly causing Francesco Guidolin to fear for his job.
With Udinese down to ten men, Lazio may have a chance to rescue at least a point out of this match, if not all three. The visitors are putting constant pressure on Udinese, and now that Alexis Sanchez and Antonio Di Natale have left the field, there's nothing that Udinese will be able to do if Lazio manage to find a second goal. The Biancocelesti have found the first goal already, with Mauro Zárate whipping the cross in to the crowded penalty area. Libor Kozák, in for Hernanes, got his boot on the end of it to send it into the back of the net.
Kozák is playing like a man with a point to prove. Minutes after his goal, he'd hit the post, determined to find an equalizer for Lazio. André Dias then put a header over the bar. Are Udinese going to regret going defensive so early on after going down to ten men?
Lazio have missed their chance to get back in the match as Mauro Zárate attempts a penalty that can only be described as "horrible." Granted, Samir Handanovic is the best goalkeeper in Serie A at saving penalties-- according to Opta, the Slovenian has saved his 6 penalties (out of 8 faced) this season, at least three more than any other GK--but that doesn't explain why Zárate shot the ball directly at the keeper.
Although Lazio lost their chance to grab one back, they remain in a strange position for the final twenty minutes of the match: this time, it's the Biancocelesti who have the man advantage. Gabriele Angella was sent off for tripping Tommaso Rocchi approximately 60 seconds after he set foot on the pitch, replacing Sergio Floccari. In response, Udinese have pulled both Alexis Sanchez and Antonio Di Natale, replacing them with Bernardo Corradi and Joel Ekstrand, prepared to hunker down and defend their 2-0 lead.
Either no one has ever taken the time to properly explain the offside trap to Lazio, or they're just really, really bad at executing it. With the pace of Antonio Di Natale and Alexis Sanchez, the decision to attempt to hold back Udinese with the offside trap was always going to be a risky one, but now it's just foolish. Captain Toto scored twice within seven minutes, leaving Lazio looking confused and befuddled. After all, they went into this match a point above the home side. Should it really be that easy for Udinese to cut them to shreds?
But cut they did. After a great first goal by Di Natale, who chipped it over Nando Muslera's head, watching it hit the top of the net and bounce behind the keeper, the forward followed it up with an easy second. The Lazio defense allowed Mauricio Isla to get into the exact same position as Di Natale had taken for the first goal, but instead of shooting, Isla spotted Toto and sent in the cross. With no Lazio defenders around, and Muslera's back turned, it was but an easy finish for Di Natale, who now sits on 28 goals for the Serie A season.
There was never any doubt that, should Udinese score, it would be through the combination of Alexis Sanchez and Antonio Di Natale, playing together for the first time in a month. Unsurprisingly, in that month Udinese have won just once, against Napoli, and slipped down into fifth place in Serie A.
But for a few minutes at least, Udinese have re-secured fourth position and the chance for Champions League football. Sanchez sent a perfect ball over the heads of those wearing moss-colored kits (ugly ones, by the way) which Di Natale grabbed on the volley before controlling with an easy touch. Lazio goalkeeper Nando Muslera, renowned for his impressive scuffs and slips, decided this time to stand firm, figuring his foot-high advantage might scare little Toto. Nothing doing, though, as Di Natale chipped the ball over the Uruguayan's head and into the back of the net.
That's the 27th goal of the season for the Udinese captain. With Napoli's Edinson Cavani having gone quiet over the last few matches, Di Natale might be winning Italy's Golden Boot.
Yes yes it's a Champions League six pointer today at the Stadio Friuli, with Udinese hosting Lazio while simultaneously crossing all their fingers and toes to wish back their good run of form. While the zebrette hold out hope that the return of Alexis Sanchez and Antonio Di Natale will bolster them back into winning ways, Lazio are praying to all the saints and angels that they can just keep eleven men on the pitch.
A point would do for both sides, of course, but nothing less than all three will really provide any comfort. Particularly with Roma sitting even with Lazio right now -- the Biancocelesti have something to prove, so that could make it interesting, right? One can hope, anyway.
Udinese Starting XI: 1 Handanovic; 17 Benatia, 2 Zapata, 45 Angella; 3 Isla, 19 Badu, 66 Pinzi, 20 Asamoah, 27 Armero; 7 Sanchez, 10 Di Natale
Lazio Starting XI: 86 Muslera; 2 Lichtsteiner, 20 Biava, 3 Dias, 14 Garrido; 32 Brocchi, 11 Matuzalem; 15 Gonzalez, 8 Hernanes, 22 Floccari; 10 Zarate
AC Milan have won the Serie A title with a goalless draw against AS Roma, but the champagne won't taste any less sweet simply because rossoneri didn't manage to grab a win. This is the 18th scudetto for Milan and their first since 2004. During the interval, they've seen their rivals Inter Milan win the trophy four times. Stealing the title from Inter will make the scudetto even shinier for Milan, particularly since the Nerazzuri are currently in second place.
While Milan managed to act as though they actually wanted to win the match in the second half, nothing ended up in the back of the net. Robinho hit the post, a Kevin-Prince Boateng kick went just wide, and Roma keeper Doni managed a double save against Zlatan Ibrahimović and Clarence Seedorf to keep a clean sheet.
Milan are set to celebrate all night, but Roma are left wondering whether they still have a chance at the fourth Champions League spot. The draw puts them even with Lazio and Udinese, but with the two teams meeting on Sunday, fifth place is inevitable.
A spell of pressure from AC Milan has lead to nothing, thanks to both a scuff by Kevin-Prince Boateng and a couple great saves by AS Roma keeper Doni. Milan came out fired up after the break, looking like they might actually want to celebrate the scudetto with a win rather than simply a draw. Robinho hit the post, and shortly after, Massimo Ambrosini, subbed in for Rino Gattuso, got in a shot, but Nicolás Burdisso did well to send the ball out.
Zlatan Ibrahimović then earned a wonderful opportunity, a free kick from about 25 yards out -- perfect Ibra territory. The striker sent a shot so hard that Doni fell over when blocking the ball, but managed to get up quickly enough to again save the immediate response from Clarence Seedorf.
With twenty minutes left to play, it sure looks as though Milan can find the winner. Then again, Roma have scored in added time in ten matches this season, so the rossoneri probably shouldn't let their guard down just yet.
AC Milan are playing like a team that just needs a draw against AS Roma -- because, in fact, that's all the rossoneri do need. One point will clinch the scudetto and as such, the visitors don't look anxious to score. Roma do, however, knowing that a win combined with a draw between Udinese and Lazio will lift them into the fourth Champions League position. Anything else and they might just be looking at Europa for next season.
Unfortunately for Roma, they'll need to get past Christian Abbiati first. The Milan goalkeeper has been flawless thus far, producing excellent saves to deny Mirko Vučinić and Fábio Simplício. Roma are certainly able to provide the pressure, but absent a spectacular Francesco Totti free kick, or a penalty award, it seems unlikely that they'll be able to beat Abbiati.
Roma could also see their fortunes changed by a sending off, which seemed to inspire them last week against Bari. Odds are on el capitano this time, who doesn't seem to like the company of Mark van Bommel all that much. Just before the break, Totti sent an elbow at the midfielder, with the Milan player responding by hitting the grass instantly. Oh, the drama.
Not even twenty minutes have been played in the match in Rome, but AC Milan have already caused problems: a challenge by Rino Gattuso sent Matteo Brighi rolling on the pitch. The AS Roma midfielder attempted to shake it off, but was caught again within a minute, staying down once again. Vincenzo Montella had no choice but to use one of his subs early on, bringing in last week's darling, Aleandro Rosi.
While Milan had hoped to already be popping the champagne in celebration by this point in the match, instead they've had just one decent attempt on goal, a Kevin-Prince Boateng shot that sought to curl into the top corner but instead went just wide of the Roma goal. Instead it was Roma that had the best chance of the game, with a Marco Cassetti cross finding Mirko Vučinić in front of goal. Christian Abbiati pulled off a fantastic save to deny Roma the opening goal.
Milan had the champagne chilled and waiting last weekend after their staid win against Bologna, but then Giampaolo Pazzini had to go and spoil the celebration by scoring twice against Cesena to give Inter Milan the win. This week, though, not even the nerazzurri can spoil the party: a Milan win means a rossoneri title.
Roma, however, put in a fairly dramatic performance of their own last weekend, with Aleandro Rosi scoring in the last minute to give the lupi a win over Bari. Those three points put Roma within just a point of their city rivals Lazio, who currently sit in the final Champions League position after a loss to Juventus last week.
Milan welcome back Zlatan Ibrahimović from suspension, but leave Pato, still recovering from injury, on the bench, where he'll chill with Antonio Cassano. Roma, of course, are missing Daniele De Rossi and Simone Perrotta after both players were handed straight reds against Bari.
AS Roma Starting XI: Doni, Cassetti, Burdisso, Juan, Riise, Pizarro, Brighi, Taddei, Simplicio, Vucinic, Totti
AC Milan Starting XI:Abbiati, Abate, Nesta, Silva, Zambrotta, Gattuso, Van Bommel, Seedorf, Boateng, Ibrahimovic, Robinho
Week 36 in Serie A is about one thing and one thing only. Forget the relegation struggles, forget the battle for fourth place -- all eyes are watching AC Milan on Saturday, waiting for them to clinch the title. Whooohooo bring out the booze.
18:00 CET, 12:00 PM ET
Bari might be relegated, but they certainly gave it the old college try last week, very nearly beating Roma before Aleandro Rosi stole the show and all three points. Palermo lost 3-1 to Parma last weekend and have no chance of finishing anywhere but midtable. This match starts off the week because if it had any competition, no one would have a reason to watch.
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And this is the match everyone is waiting for -- by the end of Saturday, Milan could be holding the scudetto. Roma are without Daniele De Rossi and Simone Perrotta due to their, shall we say, utter stupidity in picking up straight reds last weekend at Bari. Milan, meanwhile, welcome back Zlatan Ibrahimović, at least until he mouths off again and gets sent off in the 53rd minute. Fortunately they've got Alexandre Pato back, too, which is a relief as it's been about two weeks since anyone's made a duck joke. Chill the champagne, everyone.
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When I wasn't looking, Parma vaulted themselves into safety, their three straight wins coming mostly through January loan signing Amauri. Not sure what's weirder: Parma being above Bologna in the standings or Amauri looking like a footballer rather than a useless lump. Anyway, safety to both, moving along.
Brescia aren't quite relegated yet, but need at least seven points from their last three matches to save themselves. While Catania might be an annoying thorn in many teams' sides, at least they're slightly more interesting to watch than boring, boring Brescia, so let's just put that nail in the coffin this weekend.
Come on, Seahorses! No reason other than that is needed.
Out of seemingly nowhere, Fiorentina pulled a fast one on Udinese last week, scoring five goals against the suddenly struggling side. Can the Viola repeat that feat against Inter? Probably not -- remember, Leonardo has a plan. And that plan involves forcing Giampaolo Pazzini to lull the opposition into a false sense of security, heading wide multiple times before stoppage time kicks in and he's allowed to put the ball into the net. Keep an eye on that master tactician, Fiorentina.
Lecce are third from bottom. Napoli should be able to easily pull off a win and maintain third place. In other words, Napoli will freak out, forget how to pass, lose the ball in midfield, and help Lecce stay out of Serie B.
Is there a such thing as a Champions League six-pointer? Lazio and Udinese are separated by just a point, but with the way things are going for both sides, it may be Roma that slips in to take the fourth spot. If Lazio hadn't seen Cristian Ledesma sent off against Juventus, they likely would have found at least a point last week. Trouble is, Lazio have seen a man sent off in nearly every match in 2011, it seems. Fortunately for the Roman side, they won't have to deal with Alexis Sanchez, who seemingly invites teams to earn red cards as he dances around defenders. Still, this one will likely end as a draw.
20:45 CET, 2:45 PM ET
Hey, a derby! Let's show this last on Sunday because it's a derby and those are always thrilling! Mocking aside, Sampdoria have found a run of decent form in their last two matches...against Bari and Brescia. Ok, mock away. Genoa have nothing to play for except the thrill of beating their local rivals. Could Samp really be heading down?
18:00 CET, 12:00 PM ET
I'm sure there's some sort of reason behind Juventus playing on Monday two weeks in a row. But I don't know what that reason is, and I refuse to do research into it. Watch this match because there's nothing else on, but set your expectations low, because Gigi Delneri certainly has.
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