Inter Milan’s Serie A Title Hopes All But Gone After Bologna Defeat

bologna-inter-milan
Bologna’s Gambian forward Musa Barrow (under) celebrates with teammates after scoring the second goal of his team during the Italian Serie A football match between Inter Milan and Bologna played behind closed doors on July 5, 2020 at the Giuseppe-Meazza San Siro stadium in Milan. MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP

 

Inter Milan blew a goal and a man advantage to lose 2-1 at home to Bologna on Sunday and saw their Serie A title challenge all but ended in dramatic fashion.

Antonio Conte’s men needed a win to move back to within eight points of leaders Juventus, and one of second-placed Lazio, but despite leading through Romelu Lukaku’s 20th league goal of the campaign and playing against 10 men, contrived to collapse to defeat.

Juventus sit seven points clear at the top after beating Torino in the Turin derby on Saturday, when second-placed Lazio were thumped by AC Milan.

Inter are now 11 points off the pace with only eight matches of the season remaining.

The third-placed hosts forged ahead midway through the first half as Lautaro Martinez headed Ashley Young’s left-wing cross against the post, but Lukaku was on hand to tap in.

It was the Belgian’s 20th league goal since joining Inter from Manchester United last year and his 26th in all competitions.

Mid-table Bologna always carried a threat, though, and Riccardo Orsolini twice went close to equalising before half-time.

But Inter were gifted a golden opportunity to take total control 12 minutes into the second half when Bologna midfielder Roberto Soriano was sent off for dissent.

A crucial three points appeared almost certain when Martinez stepped up to take a 61st-minute penalty, but the Argentinian striker saw his effort saved by visiting goalkeeper Lukasz Skorupski.

That was the cue for Inter, chasing a first league title since winning the treble under Jose Mourinho in 2010, to collapse in the closing stages.

Musa Juwara, on as a substitute, fired home a 74th-minute leveller through the weak attempted save by Inter stopper Samir Handanovic, before the home side also saw their numerical advantage disappear shortly afterwards as Alessandro Bastoni was dismissed for a second yellow card.

The comeback was completed with 10 minutes left, as Gambian striker Musa Barrow finished off a sweeping Bologna counter-attack with a fine left-footed shot past Handanovic.

Inter piled on the pressure during six minutes of injury time, but failed to rescue even a point, with Alexis Sanchez denied by Skorupski.

Bologna moved up to ninth, five points off the Europa League places.

 

Buffon Breaks Serie A Appearances Record As Juve Move Seven Points Clear

Torino's Italian forward Andrea Belotti (L) scores a penalty past Juventus' Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon during the Italian Serie A football match Juventus vs Torino played behind closed doors on July 4, 2020 at the Juventus stadium in Turin, as the country eases its lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 infection, caused by the novel coronavirus. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)
Torino’s Italian forward Andrea Belotti (L) scores a penalty past Juventus’ Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon during the Italian Serie A football match Juventus vs Torino played behind closed doors on July 4, 2020 at the Juventus stadium in Turin, as the country eases its lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 infection, caused by the novel coronavirus. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)

 

 

Gianluigi Buffon set a new Serie A appearances record on Saturday as Juventus beat Torino 4-1 in the Turin derby to move seven points clear at the top of the table.

The 42-year-old goalkeeper passed the previous record of 647 appearances he jointly held with AC Milan great Paolo Maldini as he started the game at the Allianz Stadium.

“Maybe… He definitely won’t beat the record for scoring goals, though,” coach Maurizio Sarri told Sky Sport Italia when asked if Buffon could still play the 35 games he needs to equal Alessandro Del Piero’s overall record total of Juventus appearances.

Cristiano Ronaldo was among the scorers, becoming the first Juve player to score 25 Serie A goals in a season in 59 years, as Sarri’s men moved further clear of second-placed Lazio, who host in-form AC Milan later on Saturday.

“We were a bit chaotic at the start of the second half, but when fatigue set in, that’s when our quality emerged,” added Sarri.

Buffon, who spent last season at French club Paris Saint-Germain before rejoining Juve this term, signed a one-year contract extension earlier this week.

It was the eighth Serie A appearance this campaign for Buffon, with Polish international Wojciech Szczesny usually the defending champions’ number one.

The record comes 25 years after Buffon made his Serie A debut for Parma and 19 years after he first signed for Juventus.

 Ronaldo breaks free-kick duck

The hosts wasted little time in taking the lead as Paulo Dybala put them ahead in the third minute with an excellent individual goal, collecting Juan Cuadrado’s pass before jinking past two defenders and firing a left-footed shot into the roof of the net.

The advantage was doubled just before the half-hour mark as Ronaldo charged forward before laying the ball off for Cuadrado to drill a low drive into the bottom corner.

Torino gave themselves hope when Andrea Belotti scored a penalty past Buffon in the sixth minute of first-half injury-time.

Simone Verdi was denied an equaliser early in the second half by the linesman’s flag, but Ronaldo put the game to bed in the 61st minute with a brilliant free-kick.

It was the first time the five-time Ballon d’Or winner had scored a free-kick in Serie A and it was his 25th league goal of the campaign, making the Portuguese the first Juventus player to achieve that feat since Omar Sivori in the 1960-61 season.

“I really needed that free-kick goal so I could get some confidence back,” Ronaldo told Sky Sport Italia, after scoring his first direct free-kick at the 43rd attempt for Juve.

“We knew it would be a difficult game, but we worked hard, won and are now putting pressure on Lazio. We achieved the objective today.”

Juve were not done there and made it four with three minutes remaining as Torino defender Koffi Djidji put through his own net.

Torino remain 15th in the table, six points above the relegation zone with eight matches to play.

Free-scoring Sassuolo moved up to ninth with a 4-2 victory over relegation-threatened Lecce, who stayed 18th and one point adrift of safety after a sixth straight league defeat.

Lecce have conceded 25 goals in those six losses, while Sassuolo have netted 14 times in five matches since Serie A’s return following the coronavirus lockdown.

 

 

-AFP

Ronaldo Scores As Juventus Thrash Lecce

Juventus' Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo shoots to score a penalty during the Italian Serie A football match Juventus vs Lecce played on June 26, 2020 behind closed doors at the Juventus stadium in Turin, as the country eases its lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 infection, caused by the novel coronavirus. Miguel MEDINA / AFP
Juventus’ Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo shoots to score a penalty during the Italian Serie A football match Juventus vs Lecce played on June 26, 2020 behind closed doors at the Juventus stadium in Turin, as the country eases its lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 infection, caused by the novel coronavirus. Miguel MEDINA / AFP

 

Juventus moved seven points clear at the top of Serie A on Friday after hammering struggling Lecce 4-0 in Turin and piling the pressure on title rivals Lazio.

A superb Paulo Dybala strike and Cristiano Ronaldo’s penalty just after the hour mark made sure of the result at the Allianz Stadium before two late strikes from Gonzalo Higuain and Matthijs de Ligt completed the rout against a Lecce team who had to play for an hour with 10 men.

The away side meanwhile stay third-from-bottom, level on 25 points with Genoa a place above them and a point behind Sampdoria in 16th.

Juve started the match off the pace and while Adrien Rabiot forced a good save and Ronaldo flashed a powerful shot wide, Lecce comfortably kept the hosts at bay right until Fabio Lucioni got himself sent off.

The 32-year-old got tangled up on the ball under no pressure on the half way line and then clumsily bundled over Rodrigo Bentancur.

Maurizio Sarri’s team were still below their best but should have been at least a goal up at half-time after Ronaldo and Federico Bernardeschi both blazed over from point-blank range just before the break.

Juve pressed ahead after the restart, with Leonardo Bonucci’s header forcing a smart stop from Lecce keeper Gabriel and Dybala whipping a curling effort just wide.

Argentine Dybala was not to be denied however, when he picked the ball up on the edge of the area in the 53rd minute and crashed a high shot home to break brave Lecce’s resistance.

Ronaldo then bagged his goal from the spot in the 62nd minute after being tripped by Luca Rossettini.

However the Portuguese will be kicking himself that he didn’t come away from this game with more goals after missing several presentable chances.

By that time Lecce were playing for damage limitation but two quickfire goals made the scoreline a more accurate representation of the balance of play.

Higuain, who had already gone close just seconds after being brought on as a 77th-minute substitute, pounced on Ronaldo’s deflected backheel with seven minutes left before sweeping a fine left-footed finish high over Gabriel.

Dutchman de Ligt then bundled home the fourth two minutes later, stooping low to head in Douglas Costa’s whipped cross from the right to leave Lazio having to win their home clash with Fiorentina on Saturday evening to cut the gap back to four points.

 

AFP

Italian Serie A Clubs Plan To Restart Championship On June 13

Juventus' French midfielder Blaise Matuidi (R) kicks the ball past Inter Milan's Italian forward Antonio Candreva during the Italian Serie A football match Juventus vs Inter Milan, at the Juventus stadium in Turin on March 8, 2020. Vincenzo PINTO / AFP
File: Juventus’ French midfielder Blaise Matuidi (R) kicks the ball past Inter Milan’s Italian forward Antonio Candreva during the Italian Serie A football match Juventus vs Inter Milan, at the Juventus stadium in Turin on March 8, 2020. Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

 

Italian Serie A clubs want to restart the championship on June 13 after the league’s general assembly met on Wednesday via videoconference.

The general assembly approved the date for resumption “in accordance with government decisions and medical protocols”.

In early May, clubs in the Serie A restarted training with players only training individually.

READ ALSO: Premier League Players Face Strict New Training Protocols

The Italian Serie A was suspended on March 9 with 12 rounds of games and four outstanding fixtures yet to be played.

Juventus are gunning for their ninth straight Serie A crown and are top of the log, just a point ahead of Lazio.

On Monday, Serie A teams will be able to train collectively in one of the countries worst hit by coronavirus.

A number of players have been infected in Italy with three Fiorentina players and three members of the club’s support staff testing positive for coronavirus,

Also, a Torino player also tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Serie A Should Resume In Late May – Italian FA

Inter Milan’s Belgian forward Romelu Lukaku (2ndR) scores a goal during the Italian Serie A football match Bologna vs InterMilan on November 2, 2019 at the Renato Dall’ Ara stadium in Bologna. Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

 

The Italian football federation (FIGC) said on Friday that club matches should resume “in late May, early June”, saying those advocating cancellation of the season “do not like football, or Italians”.  

The president of the FIGC, Gabriele Gravina, said it would take three weeks to prepare after the end of the coronavirus lockdown in the country, currently scheduled for May 4.

“So at the end of May, early June, we can start,” he told Italian radio on Friday.

“Those who talk today about cancelling the season do not like football or Italians, because they take away hope for the future and for recovery,” Gravina said.

“There will be a monitoring period to guarantee the that all those taking part are free of the virus. If they are all negative, there is no problem of distancing or contagion,” said Gravina.

“I hope that everyone will be able to play in their own stadium, if that is not possible we will find other solutions,” he added.

“It’s a complex moment for our country, for the economy and for football, which is one of the most important industries,” he said, adding that he was confident “we will find the right way”.

According to the Italian press, Brescia and Torino are the last two clubs to openly oppose the resumption of the league.

The city of Brescia is one of the hardest hit by the pandemic which has killed nearly 23,000 people in Italy.

 

AFP

Dybala, Maldini Test Positive For Coronavirus

Juventus’ Argentinian forward Paulo Dybala’s teammates Daniele Rugani and Blaise Matuidi had earlier tested positive for the virus.   Photo: MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP

 

Argentina striker Paulo Dybala said Saturday that he has become the third Juventus player to test positive for coronavirus while former AC Milan defender Paolo Maldini revealed that he and his son have also been infected.

“Hi everyone. I just wanted to let you know that we have received the Covid-19 test results and that Oriana (Sabatini, his girlfriend) and I are positive,” the 26-year-old Dybala tweeted.

“Fortunately, we are perfectly fine. Thank you for your messages.”

Italian champions Juventus said that Dybala had been self-isolating since Wednesday.

“He will continue to be monitored. He is well and is asymptomatic,” said the club in a statement.

Later Saturday, the club said Maldini, now the technical director at Milan, and his 18-year-old son Daniel, a youth team player, were also battling the disease.

“Paolo and Daniel are both well and have already completed two weeks at home without contact with others,” said a statement from AC Milan.

“They will now remain in quarantine until clinically recovered, as per the medical protocols outlined by the health authorities.”

Maldini, 51, is considered one of the greatest defenders of all time.

He won five Champions Leagues with Milan and appeared in 647 matches.

Juventus teammates Daniele Rugani and Blaise Matuidi have also tested positive for the disease which has claimed almost 800 lives in Italy.

 

AFP

Coronavirus Forces Serie A To Postpone Four Games

A medical worker wearing protective gear takes a rest as he waits for ambulances carrying patients infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus at an entrance of a hospital in Daegu on February 23, 2020.  YONHAP / AFP

 

The surge in the number of new coronavirus cases in Italy has hit sporting events as four Serie A football matches were postponed on Sunday, with Inter Milan’s Europa League game next week also in doubt.

The match between Torino and Parma in the northern city of Turin was called off Sunday following earlier postponements of top-flight games between title-chasing Inter against Sampdoria, Atalanta versus Sassuolo and Hellas Verona against Cagliari.

Strong measures are being taken in Italy with over 132 confirmed cases in an outbreak that has claimed two lives in the country.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte had announced late on Saturday evening that all sporting events in two northern regions would be suspended on Sunday.

“Now more than ever we have a duty to be prudent and responsible,” Minister for Sport Vincenzo Spadafora said on Facebook.

“It is necessary to act seriously and determinedly, while maintaining calm and not taking any unnecessary risks.

“For this reason, we have suspended sports competitions in areas where there may be even the possibility of spreading the virus.”

Inter’s home Europa League match scheduled for Thursday against Bulgarian club Ludogorets is now also in doubt.

Chinese-owned Inter have a congested sporting calendar between league matches, Italian Cup and Europa League, giving football chiefs a scheduling headache as the end of the season cannot exceed May 24 because of the start of Euro 2020.

According to media reports in Italy, Inter’s European game could not be played behind closed doors or at a neutral venue.

AC Milan also announced on Sunday the postponement of their women’s team’s match against Fiorentina, while five Serie C games programmed for next Wednesday have been postponed.

Italian football federation president Gabriele Gravina has set up a medical taskforce to analyse the coronavirus emergency situation, with a meeting scheduled for Monday.

The women’s Six Nations clash between Italy and Scotland was also delayed.

The match had been scheduled to take place in Legnano, north of Milan in the Lombardy region, which has been the epicentre of the outbreak of COVID-19, as the disease is known, in Italy.

Saturday saw more than 40 amateur and youth matches in the regions called off because of virus fears.

The Serie B game between Ascoli and Cremonese was also postponed.

In tennis, the final of the second-tier Challenger event in Bergamo between Ukraine’s Illya Marchenko and France’s Enzo Couacaud scheduled for Sunday has also been postponed, along with volleyball, golf, basketball and swimming competitions.

The first meeting of the board of directors of the Milan-Cortina 2026 Winter Olympics, scheduled for Monday in Milan, will now take place using video.

AFP

Ronaldo Marks 1,000th Game With Serie A Record

Juventus' Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo shoots a free-kick next to Juventus' Argentine forward Paulo Dybala during the Italian Serie A football match SPAL vs Juventus on February 22, 2020 at the Paolo-Mazza stadium in Ferrara. Isabella BONOTTO / AFP
Juventus’ Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo shoots a free-kick next to Juventus’ Argentine forward Paulo Dybala during the Italian Serie A football match SPAL vs Juventus on February 22, 2020 at the Paolo-Mazza stadium in Ferrara. Isabella BONOTTO / AFP

 

Cristiano Ronaldo scored for a record-equalling 11th consecutive Serie A game in his 1,000th professional match as Juventus extended their league lead on Saturday with a 2-1 win over basement club SPAL.

The 35-year-old tapped in six minutes before the break to equal the mark held by Gabriel Batistuta and Fabio Quagliarella.

The five-time Ballon d’Or winner has scored 25 goals in all competitions this season for Juventus, including 16 in his current run of 11 matches.

Aaron Ramsey added a second after an hour, before Andrea Petagna pulled one back from the spot for SPAL, amid controversy as the penalty was awarded following a VAR review despite the pitchside monitor not working.

It got Juventus back to winning ways away from home after consecutive defeats against Napoli and Hellas Verona, and ahead of next week’s trip to French club Lyon in the Champions League last 16, first leg.

Maurizio Sarri’s side opened up a four-point lead on second-placed Lazio who travel to Genoa on Sunday.

Inter Milan are six points behind the champions before their game at home against Sampdoria.

“These were very difficult matches and in the last few years we had never won here,” said Sarri.

“The test was to collect the three points, then from tomorrow morning we will study Lyon thoroughly.

“The goal is the championship. The Champions League is a dream, even if in life it is always nice to achieve dreams.”

Ronaldo had an early goal ruled offside but made no mistake when running onto Juan Cuadrado’s low cross after Ramsey’s ball forward.

The Portuguese forward drew level with Sampdoria forward Quagliarella, who in January 2019 equalled the mark previously achieved by Batistuta in 1994-1995 for Fiorentina.

Both Italian Quagliarella and Argentine Batistuta went on to finish the seasons as the Serie A top scorer after their feat, with both scoring 26 goals in total.

Ronaldo has 21 goals in Serie A this season, five behind leading scorer Ciro Immobile.

Milan held in Tuscany

Ramsey doubled Juve’s lead on the hour mark, latching onto Paulo Dybala’s pass to produce a scooped lob over SPAL goalkeeper Etrit Berisha for his second league goal of the season.

Petagna pulled one back with a penalty awarded for a Daniele Rugani foul on Simone Missiroli after 68 minutes, a decision made by VAR officials with referee unable to check the faulty monitor.

“Today we had goals scored using VAR when VAR wasn’t working,” said Sarri.

“It seems to me a great injustice — if the monitor does not work, the referee must decide.

“I understand that the regulation allows this and (referee Federico) La Penna explained it to me, but I don’t agree with it.”

Ronaldo missed a chace for a second when his free-kick hit the crossbar, but Sarri’s side earned a valuable three points against an outfit they had failed to beat away from home in the previous two seasons.

Juventus captain Giorgio Chiellini made his first start since being sidelined with a cruciate ligament knee injury last August, playing for 55 minutes in Ferrara.

“We’re taking it slowly, seeing how he reacts,” added Sarri.

“He can’t play three games in six days that’s for sure.”

AC Milan missed the chance to move ahead of sixth-placed Napoli into the Europa League places with a 1-1 draw at 10-man Fiorentina, to stay behind the southerners on goal difference.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic had a goal ruled out in the first half for a handball with Milan also losing goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma to a foot injury seven minutes after the break with Asmir Begovic making his debut.

Ante Rebic scored his sixth goal in as many league games in the 56th minute to give Milan the lead.

Fiorentina’s Dalbert was sent off for a foul on Ibrahimovic, leaving the hosts a man down for the final half an hour.

But Erick Pulgar grabbed a point for 13th-placed Fiorentina from the spot with five minutes to go for an Alessio Romagnoli foul on Patrick Cutrone.

 

AFP

Rebic Helps AC Milan Secure Late Win Over Udinese

AC Milan’s Croatian forward Ante Rebic (Front L), AC Milan’s Portuguese forward Rafael Leao (Top L) and teammates celebrate after Rebic scored a last-second winning goal during the Italian Serie A football match AC Milan vs Udinese on January 19, 2020 at the San Siro stadium in Milan.
Marco Bertorello / AFP

 

Ante Rebic hit a brace to snatch a late 3-2 win as troubled AC Milan took back-to-back Serie A wins on Sunday against Udinese and close in on the Europa League berths.

Star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic got his first start in the San Siro after scoring last weekend against Cagliari.

The 38-year-old Swede did not get to celebrate in front of the home crowd but he has provided a confidence-boost for the northern giants who have taken seven points in three matches since his return.

However, Stefano Pioli’s side needed to fight back after conceding a goal after just seven minutes to Udinese who were coming off a run of three consecutive wins.

Goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma left his line allowing Jens Stryger Larsen to finish off into an empty net.

But the hosts upped the pace in the second half with former Eintracht Franckfurt player Rebic coming on after the break to equalise three minutes later.

Theo Hernandez put Milan ahead with a powerful volley on 72 minutes, to take his tally to five league goals this season.

Kevin Lasagna got Udinese back level five minutes from time but Rebic had the final word three minutes into injury time to lift Milan to eighth, one point off the Europa League berths.

Udinese are in the 13th position.

Serie A leaders Juventus host later on Sunday with second-placed Inter Milan travelling south to Lecce to keep the pressure on the champions.

AFP

Man United To Receive $1.6m As Young Joins Inter

Manchester United’s English midfielder Ashley Young attends a team training session at the club’s training complex near Carrington, west of Manchester in north-west England on March 12, 2018.
Oli SCARFF / AFP

 

Manchester United defender Ashley Young has agreed on a move to Serie A club Inter Milan, according to reports on Thursday.

The 34-year-old will arrive in Italy on Friday for a medical before signing an 18-month contract, Gazzetta Dello Sport reported.

United will receive 1.5 million euros ($1.6 million) plus bonuses for Young who has spent the past eight-and-a-half seasons at Old Trafford since arriving from Aston Villa in 2011.

Young, who has played 39 times for England, has made 261 appearances for the Premier League club and scored 19 goals. He was club captain this season but only started 10 league games.

He won the 2013 Premier League title, the FA Cup in 2016 and both the League Cup and Europa League in 2017.

Young leaves the Premier League with United in fifth, 27 points behind leaders Liverpool, who they play at Anfield on Sunday.

Inter signed Romelu Lukaku from United last summer and also have Alexis Sanchez on loan from the club.

Antonio Conte’s side are second in Serie A, two points behind champions Juventus.

AFP

Lazio Fined €20,000 For Balotelli Racist Abuse

 

Lazio were fined 20,000 euros on Wednesday for the racist abuse some of their fans aimed at Mario Balotelli during their 2-1 Serie A win at Brescia at the weekend.

In its decision, the disciplinary committee of the Italian football federation (FIGC) referred to “racially discriminatory” chants in the 21st and 29th minutes, and “insulting chants” on three occasions, all aimed at Balotelli.

The disciplinary committee also requested further investigation saying it wanted, among other things, proof of Lazio’s “effective collaboration in identifying the individuals involved.”

Lazio, who after the game issued a statement condemning the behaviour of a “tiny minority” of fans, subsequently promised to “prosecute” those responsible.

Balotelli gave Brescia the lead after 18 minutes of the match on Sunday and shortly afterwards complained to the referee about the abuse.

“It’s already the second time,” Balotelli told referee Gianluca Manganiello after half an hour, with the latter replying: “Now I’ll take care of it”.

The referee briefly interrupted the match, and while an announcement was read over the stadium speakers reminding spectators that play would be suspended and their club penalised if they continued, Lazio coach Simone Inzaghi gestured in front of the visiting fans to stop the chanting.

“Lazio fans that were today at the stadium SHAME ON YOU! #saynotoracism”, Balotelli posted on Instagram after the game.

Racist incidents have been a recurrent problem in Italian stadiums in recent seasons.

In addition to Balotelli, Inter Milan stroker Romelu Lukaku, AC Milan midfielder Franck Kessie, Fiorentina’s Brazilian Dalbert and Ronaldo Vieira of Sampdoria have already been victims this campaign.

AFP

Ronaldo Scores First Serie A Hat-Trick As Ibrahimovic Returns To Italy

A photo combination of Juventus’ Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo and AC Milan’s Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic. AFP

 

Cristiano Ronaldo scored his first Serie A hat-trick to lift Juventus top of the table with a 4-0 win over Cagliari on Monday, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic made an “emotional” return for AC Milan in a goalless draw against Sampdoria.

Ronaldo struck for the fifth consecutive league game as the champions bounced back from their Italian Super Cup defeat by Lazio to move ahead of Inter Milan who play Napoli later Monday.

“I’m happy with this first (league) hat-trick. But the important thing is the team, which played very well,” said Ronaldo, who brought his league tally to 13 goals in 15 games this season.

“We had to win today and put pressure on Inter.”

READ ALSO: Nadal On Fire As Spain Crush Uruguay At ATP Cup

Cagliari held off Maurizio Sarri’s Juve early on, but the second half was all one-way traffic with 34-year-old Ronaldo breaking the deadlock just after the interval.

The Portuguese striker added a second from the penalty spot on 67 minutes then set up Gonzalo Higuain who came off the bench to strike a third nine minutes from time, before completing his hat-trick a minute later.

Juve are three points ahead of Inter in the table with Antonio Conte’s side travelling to eighth-placed Napoli looking to keep pace with the eight-time defending champions.

‘Like A God’

Ronaldo’s heroics overshadowed Swedish star Ibrahimovic’s return for Milan as he came off the bench in the 55th minute against Sampdoria.

The 38-year-old had not played since leaving MLS side LA Galaxy in October.

He came on for Poland striker Krzysztof Piatek to deafening applause from the San Siro crowd after rejoining the club last week.

But there was little else to cheer for the hosts who extended their winless run to three games and remain 12th in the table.

“I felt a lot of adrenaline, emotion, it brought me back nine or 10 years,” said Ibrahimovic, who was top scorer in Serie A with Milan in the 2011-12 campaign before leaving for Paris Saint-Germain.

“I wanted to get on the pitch, score a goal and then celebrate like a God in front of the Curva! But it will happen next time.”

The seven-time European champions are 13 points off Champions League qualification, a competition they have not played since the 2013-14 season.

“You can see that the team is lacking confidence and aggression in scoring goals,” said the Swede.

“I will try everything possible to get Milan going again. There is a lack of faith here.”

Five-Star Atalanta

Milan coach Stefano Pioli said the team were still reeling from their 5-0 defeat by Atalanta last time out.

“The disastrous defeat in Bergamo has remained within us,” said Pioli. “It is a shame not to have won. Ibra’s impact was absolutely positive.

“He immediately gave support, but the team is not yet used to his presence, we could look to him more.

“His physical prowess gives us some more solutions, but we lacked quality from everyone.”

Atalanta continued their fine form, closing to within a point of fourth-placed Roma, who lost 2-0 to Torino on Sunday, with another 5-0 rout, this time of seventh-placed Parma.

Atalanta were already three goals up before the break thanks to Papu Gomez, Remo Freuler and Robin Gosens, with Josip Ilicic adding a second-half double.

New Fiorentina coach Giuseppe Iachini had to settle for a 1-1 draw against Bologna in his first game after taking over from Vincenzo Montella.

The Tuscany side had led for most of the game after Marco Benassi volleyed in on 27 minutes but Riccardo Orsolini grabbed a point for Bologna deep into injury time.

Udinese secured back-to-back wins for the first time this season thanks to a late Rodrigo De Paul winner at Lecce.

AFP