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.
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.
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.”
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.
Serie A club Roma on Monday confirmed negotiations with US billionaire Dan Friedkin to buy the Italian club.
“The Friedkin Group are in negotiations related to a potential transaction involving NEEP Roma Holding Spa and its subsidiaries – including AS Roma,” the club said in a statement early Monday.
It follows reports that the 54-year-old Texas-based businessman will imminently take over as majority shareholder from fellow American James Pallotta in a deal worth up to 780 million euros ($872 million).
“AS Roma informs that no definitive agreements concerning a transfer … have been formalised to date and that any potential transaction with The Friedkin Group remains subject to a successful completion of a legal due diligence upon the AS Roma Group,” the statement continued.
According to several media reports, a preliminary agreement has been reached with Friedkin to take over from a US consortium led by Pallotta, who bought two-thirds of Roma’s shares in 2012.
Since then Pallotta, 61, has been pushing for the construction of a new stadium in Rome, but it remains at a planning stage.
US-based Pallotta remains unpopular among club fans for his rare appearances in Italy and his handling of club legends Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi who were both pushed out of the club.
Friedkin is the chief executive of Friedkin Group, the owner of Gulf States Toyota, an independent vehicle distributor in the US. Passionate about cinema, he has also produced several films.
Friedkin’s son Ryan could move to the Italian capital to manage the club, according to Italian news agency AGI.
Pallotta, chairman of Boston-based hedge fund Raptor Capital Management, may keep a minority stake in the club, according to reports.
Three-time Italian league champions Roma, who have not won Serie A since 2001, are currently fourth in the Italian league, just behind city rivals Lazio.
Their last silverware was the Italian Cup in 2008.
They reached the Champions League semi-finals in 2018, but did not qualify for the European competition this season.
Sebastiano Esposito became Inter Milan’s youngest scorer in more than 60 years on Saturday when he hit the target in a 4-0 romp against Genoa, helping his side return to the top of Serie A.
The 17-year-old put away a second-half penalty which made him the youngest Inter scorer since Mario Corso in 1958.
Romelu Lukaku scored twice with Roberto Gagliardini adding another as Inter moved level with champions Juventus at the top on 42 points.
Juve had taken top spot on Wednesday with a 2-1 win over Sampdoria before heading to Saudi Arabia where they face Lazio in the Italian Super Cup on Sunday.
However, Inter are now in pole position courtesy of goal difference.
“I just saw my mum in the stands and the goal is for her,” a tearful Esposito, who is 17 years and 172 days old, told Sky Sport Italia.
“I didn’t sleep at all last night (after he was told he would start the game). I spent the whole night thinking about what would happen today.”
The teenager also hailed Lukaku who gave him the ball to take the penalty even though he could have finished the game with a hat-trick.
“Romelu is a fantastic person as well as being an extraordinary player. He told me, just go out there, make a decision and hit the ball.”
The defeat left Genoa, now without a Serie A win at Inter since 1994, second from bottom in the table, four points from safety after a 10th defeat this season.
Lukaku opened the scoring after 31 minutes, heading in a cross from Antonio Candreva.
Within a minute it was 2-0 when Lukaku teed-up Gagliardini whose shot was deflected off Cristian Romero and into the goal.
Esposito added his name to the scoresheet from the spot in the 64th minute when Kevin Agudelo fouled Gagliardini.
Lukaku’s gesture to his teenage teammate was rewarded when he hit a long-range drive which went in off the underside of the crossbar for his second of the night and his team’s fourth seven minutes later.
“I saw him in pre-season training and he just looked like a little child, even his face seems so young,” said Inter coach Antonio Conte of Esposito.
“He has really grown in the last couple of months and he has a great future ahead of him.”
Cagliari suffered their first away defeat of the season, losing 2-1 at Udinese as their Champions League hopes suffered a blow.
Rolando Maran’s side have now won just once in their last five games, claiming only a single point in their three most recent outings.
Argentine Rodrigo de Paul gave Udinese a first-half lead before Joao Pedro levelled for Cagliari in the 84th minute.
However, Ivory Coast international Seko Fofana restored Udinese’s advantage just a minute later to wrap up the three points.
Earlier on Saturday, Fiorentina fired coach Vincenzo Montella with the club struggling in 15th in Serie A.
Montella, a 45-year-old former Italy winger, managed Fiorentina from 2012-15 leading the club to two fourth-place finishes in Serie A before he was fired.
After spells in charge at Sampdoria, AC Milan and Sevilla, he returned to Florence in April.
However, Fiorentina lost 4-1 at home to Roma on Friday and have taken just two points from their last seven games.
Fiorentina announced on Saturday that they had fired coach Vincenzo Montella with the club struggling in 14th in Serie A.
“Vincenzo Montella has been relieved of his duties as head coach of the first team,” the club announced on its web site. “The decision was taken following a long and detailed analysis of the team’s performances and results.”
“Given the need to rediscover the necessary grit and determination on the pitch and produce an immediate turnaround, the owners and management decided that a change of coach was the best option,” the club continued.
Fiorentina promised a new coach would be announced “in the next few days”.
Montella, a 45-year-old former Italy winger, managed Fiorentina from 2012-15 leading the club to two fourth-place finishes in Serie A before he was fired. After spells in charge at Sampdoria, AC Milan and Sevilla, he returned to Florence in April.
Fiorentina lost 4-1 at home to Roma on Friday and have taken just two points from their last seven games.
Buoyed at the start of the season by the arrival of Franck Ribery, the team has been struggling since the Frenchman suffered a serious ankle injury that will keep him out until February.
Fiorentina have started their winter break and do not play again in Serie A until January 6.
Romelu Lukaku and Chris Smalling on Thursday slammed a renowned Italian sports daily as “dumb” and “insensitive” after it used “Black Friday” in a front page headline about them meeting for the first time in Serie A.
Former Manchester United teammates Smalling and Lukaku face off at the San Siro on Friday as Inter Milan look to maintain top spot in Serie A, prompting the Rome-based Corriere dello Sport to publish a headline that has attracted widespread condemnation.
“Instead of focusing on a battle between two teams.. Corriere dello Sport comes with the dumbest of headlines I have ever seen in my career,” Lukaku said in a message on Twitter.
“You guys keep fuelling the negativity and the racism issue.”
Lukaku and Smalling have both taken Serie A by storm since arriving in the summer, with the Belgian striker bagging 10 goals in 14 appearances for title hopefuls Inter and England international Smalling becoming an instant fan favourite in the Italian capital.
“It is important that I acknowledge that what occurred this morning was wrong and highly insensitive,” wrote Smalling on Twitter.
“I hope the editors involved in running this headline take responsibility and understand the power they possess through words, and the impact those words have.”
Both Roma and AC Milan announced on Thursday evening that they would be banning the Corriere dello Sport until the end of 2019 over the headline.
“Our players will not carry out any media activities with the newspaper during this period,” the two clubs said in a joint statement.
They added that the ban was short because “the actual newspaper article associated with the ‘Black Friday’ headline did portray an anti-racist message”.
The article praised the two players for taking “strong positions against racism and are the symbols of the two clubs”, but Roma tweeted “not a single soul” would think the headline a good idea.
“The intention of the newspaper article was actually positive but this headline has totally overshadowed the anti-racist message contained within the story,” Roma’s chief strategy officer Paul Rogers told AFP.
“Unfortunately, as we’ve seen on social media, more people will see that ill-judged headline on the front page than read the actual article and it creates new issues at a time when we are all trying to tackle the issue of racism in Italian football.”
The headline cause uproar in a country where a number of black players have been targeted with racist abuse.
Mario Balotelli was racially abused by Hellas Verona fans last month, while AC Milan midfielder Franck Kessie was also targeted by Verona supporters and Lukaku was himself abused at Cagliari, also serial offenders.
Lukaku’s club Inter Milan said earlier: “football is passion, culture and brotherhood. We are and will always be against all forms of discrimination.”
The Corriere dello Sport was unrepentant, saying the headline was “only the praise of difference, the pride of difference, the magnificent wealth of difference”.
“White, black, yellow. Denying difference is the typical macroscopic stumbling block of anti-racism racism,” it said in an editorial.
“An innocent headline… is transformed into poison by those who have poison inside.”
Sweden footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic has fuelled speculation that he is set to return to Italy, where he has played for AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus, by saying in an interview: “see you soon in Italy”.
The 38-year-old striker confirmed his departure from Los Angeles Galaxy last month following the club’s elimination from the Major League Soccer playoffs.
“I’ll join a club which must get back to winning, which must renew its history and is in search of a battle against everyone and everything,” Ibrahimovic told GQ Italia.
“That is the only way I’ll be able to find the necessary motivation to surprise you again.
“It’s not just about choosing a team, as there are other factors that need to line up, including in the interests of my family.
“I’ll see you in Italy soon.”
According to reports in Italy, Ibrahimovic has been offered a six-month deal to come to the aid of struggling former giants AC Milan, who are 11th in the Serie A table.
Napoli are also a possible destination as last season’s runners-up sit seventh, after a run of six league games without a win.
“I love to make the difference,” he added. “I don’t just want to do one or two things well, I want to do all of it.”
Ibrahimovic played for two seasons between 2010 and 2012 with AC Milan, helping them to their last Serie A title, and scoring 42 goals in 61 league appearances.
He also won three league titles with Inter Milan, and two with Juventus, which were both revoked following the ‘Calciopoli’ match-fixing scandal.
Argentinian Martinez put Inter ahead on 16 minutes at the San Siro, and then headed in Antonio Candreva’s cross to score his eighth league goal this season.
Mattia Valoti pulled a goal back, but second-from-bottom SPAL fell to their ninth defeat of the campaign.
Conte has guided Chinese-owned Inter to 12 victories in 14 league games for the first time, and they reclaimed the top spot which they had previously held until their 2-1 defeat by Juventus on October 6.
“When a team like Juventus drops points, you need to make sure that you make the most of that,” said former Juve coach Conte.
In Turin, Leonardo Bonucci struck early for the eight-time reigning champions but Ivorian Jeremie Boga and Francesco Caputo hit back for Sassuolo before Ronaldo’s intervention.
Sassuolo, in 12th, claimed their first ever point at Juventus, and held Sarri’s unbeaten champions to their third draw this season.
“We got into trouble on our own, we didn’t use our heads in the first half, as the goals conceded show,” said Sarri.
“But we were coming off two games in which we used up a lot of energy against Atalanta and Atletico Madrid. We woke up after going behind.”
Veteran Gianluigi Buffon endured a nightmare in the Juventus goal.
The 41-year-old was making just his fifth start this season, putting him two short of Paolo Maldini’s record of 647 Serie A appearances.
Boga dinked the first Sassuolo goal on 22 minutes over the onrushing Buffon, who then fumbled in Caputo’s second after the break following a mix-up between Juan Cuadrado and Matthijs de Ligt.
Napoli crisis intensifies
By contrast, 18-year-old Stefano Turati made an impressive debut in the Sassuolo goal, and pulled off a string of fine saves, denying a Ronaldo free-kick, Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala late on.
Ronaldo’s penalty pulled the hosts level in the 68th minute after Filippo Romagna fouled substitute Dybala.
It was the Portuguese star’s fifth Serie A goal this season, with the five-time Ballon d’Or winner also having an effort ruled out for offside.
“Ronaldo has regained stamina, the next step will be to recover brilliance, but the road is right,” insisted Sarri.
Lazio consolidated third place — seven points behind Inter — with a 3-0 win over Udinese thanks to a double from Serie A top scorer Ciro Immobile, including one from the spot, to bring his tally to 17 goals this season, and a Luis Alberto penalty.
Roma moved up to fourth, two points behind their city rivals, after a 3-1 win at midtable Verona, ahead of Cagliari, who host Sampdoria on Monday.
Justin Kluivert score after 17 minutes in Verona with Diego Perotti converting a penalty just before the break, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan adding a third in injury time.
But Napoli’s winless run stretched to eight games in all competitions with a 2-1 defeat at home by Bologna, leaving last season’s runners-up in seventh.
Bologna got their first win since October 27 with coach Sinisa Mihajlovic back on the bench following a bone marrow transplant as he fights leukaemia.
Despite taking a point in their Champions League game at Liverpool in midweek Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli are five points off the top four.
“It’s a very delicate time for us,” said Ancelotti.
Fernando Llorente put Napoli ahead four minutes before half-time, but Dane Andreas Skov Olsen volleyed in an equaliser just before the hour with Nicola Sansone scoring the winner 10 minutes from time.
Llorente thought he had scored a 95th-minute leveller, but it was ruled offside by VAR.
AC Milan, struggling in 11th, got their first win in a month, 1-0 at Parma.
Gonzalo Higuain grabbed a second-half brace with Paulo Dybala adding a late third as Juventus rescued a 3-1 comeback win over Atalanta in the final quarter of an hour to stay top of Serie A on Saturday.
Robin Gosens had nodded Atalanta ahead after 56 minutes as the Bergamo side chased their first Serie A win over Juventus since February 2001.
Higuain hit back with two goals in an eight-minute spell while Dybala marked his 200th Serie A appearance with the final goal two minutes into injury time.
Maurizio Sarri’s side open up a four-point lead on second-placed Inter Milan, who travel to Torino later on Saturday, as Atalanta drop to sixth place after their fourth league game without a win.
Cristiano Ronaldo missed the trip to Bergamo despite his four-goal spree for Portugal because of a slight knee problem ahead of Juventus’s Champions League game against Atletico Madrid on Tuesday.
In the absence of the five-time Ballon d’Or winner, Argentine strike duo Dybala and Higuain ensured the eight-time reigning champions maintained their unbeaten run this season despite several controversial refereeing decisions.
Higuain had pulled Juventus level after 74 minutes with a ball that took a deflection off Rafael Toloi to beat Pierluigi Gollini in the Atalanta goal.
The Argentine completed his double when he picked up a cross from Juan Cuadrado on 82 where the Colombian put his hand on the ball during a sliding tackle at the start of the action.
Then Dybala broke through the Atalanta defence to finish off for his fourth Serie A goal this season.
Atalanta had their chances with Musa Barrow missing an early penalty.
The 21-year-old Gambian rattled the crossbar after 17 minutes following a penalty awarded for a Sami Khedira handball.
Inter will be looking to make it a perfect seven league games on the road this season as they travel to Torino.
Serie A runners-up Napoli, in seventh, desperately need a result at 14th-placed AC Milan, who are themselves floundering.