Hamsik sights Maradona record, Zeman conjures magic at Pescara

Napoli's Marek Hamsik scores during a Serie A soccer match between Chievo Verona and Napoli at the Bentegodi stadium in Verona, Italy, Sunday. (AP)
Updated 19 February 2017

Hamsik sights Maradona record, Zeman conjures magic at Pescara

MILAN: Marek Hamsik moved to within three goals of Diego Maradona’s Napoli record in a 3-1 win at Chievo as veteran Zdenek Zeman steered Pescara to a first win since August in a 5-0 rout of Genoa on Sunday.
Slovakia midfielder Hamsik took his tally to 112 on Sunday with an easy tap-in seven minutes before half-time, and is now just three short of Maradona’s 115-goal club record.
The new goal came after the 30-year-old attacking midfielder scored his maiden Serie A hat-trick in a 7-1 rout at Bologna two weeks ago.
Lorenzo Insigne, fresh from scoring against Real Madrid in a 3-1 Champions League defeat to the Spanish giants, broke the deadlock on 31 minutes with a superb curling strike.
Piotr Zielinskini had Napoli 3-0 to the good before the hour and although Riccardo Meggiorini beat Pepe Reina with a stunner for a 72nd-minute consolation, it proved too little too late.
Napoli’s 16th win moved Maurizio Sarri’s men up to second place, one point above Roma before they host Torino later Sunday.
But the club’s media blackout — ordered by president Aurelio De Laurentiis following a spat with Sarri in the wake of defeat to Real — was confirmed post-game.
Chievo remain in 11th spot, 31 points behind Juventus but well clear of a relegation zone from which Pescara will now harbor hopes of escaping.
Zeman, however, said the task will be difficult and the players he inherited are unfit.
“I’m happy for the lads, we have to keep thinking that we can stay up although it will be difficult,” said Zeman.
A legendary figure in Serie A who has coached Roma, Lazio, Napoli and Cagliari, he also famously led Foggia into Serie A and to the brink of UEFA Cup qualification in three successive seasons.
Zeman felt compelled to return to Pescara, where he once coached Marco Verratti, Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne, because he quit the club to begin the first of two spells at Roma.
Massimo Oddo was sacked in midweek, and the players are now set for punishing sessions of running up stairs in a bid to get fit.
“I’ve only laid some basic foundations, but from tomorrow (Monday) we start working seriously, also with the stairs. They’re not in great condition,” said the chain-smoking Czech.
Pescara were on fire from kick-off, Alberto Cerri forcing Lucas Orban into an own goal in the fifth minute after a great effort down the left.
Pescara’s only previous win this season was a shock 3-0 away defeat of Sassuolo last August, but Zeman’s men were 3-0 in front by half-time thanks to goals by Gianluca Caprari and Ahmad Benali.
Caprari secured his brace in the 81st minute and Cerri finally got on the scoresheet six minutes later.
Pecara remain rooted to the bottom on 12 points, 49 behind Juventus and 10 adrift of fourth-from-bottom Empoli while Genoa dropped to 16th.
Elsewhere, Seko Fofana hit a superb long-distance volley after coolly flicking Duvan Zapata’s pass into the air in the seventh minute to give hosts Udinese a seventh-minute lead.
But hopes of dominating a mid-table battle with Sassuolo were tempered by Frenchman Gregoire Defrel, who came off the bench to hit a second-half brace in the space of nine minutes.
Hosts Sampdoria conceded a sixth-minute opener when Chilean Mauricio Isla hit a superb angled drive at the Luigi Ferraris stadium.
Sampdoria got back on level terms soon after, Fabio Quagliarella staying on his feet to connect with Luis Muriel’s deflected punt from deep on the left to beat Gabriel on the volley to secure a share of the spoils.
Earlier Sunday, 20-year-old Brazil international Gabriel ‘Gabigol’ Barbosa came off the bench to hit his maiden Serie A goal for Inter Milan to secure a 1-0 win at Bologna that has boosted their Europa League qualifying hopes.
“I’m really happy, for my first goal and for this important win,” said Barbosa. “I hope it’s the start of something special.”
Inter sit fourth, 15 points behind Juventus and five points behind Roma.


Italy arrests leaders of Juventus hard-line ultra fans

Updated 32 min 55 sec ago

Italy arrests leaders of Juventus hard-line ultra fans

  • Arrests were the culmination of a year-long probe centered on the alleged blackmail of ticketing officials

ROME: Italian police on Monday arrested 12 leading Juventus hard-line fans as part of a major investigation into violence and extortion linked to match ticket sales.
The suspects are accused of criminal association, aggravated extortion, money laundering and violence, police said.
The arrests were the culmination of a year-long probe centered on the alleged blackmail of ticketing officials by the “ultras,” who wanted cut-price blocks of tickets they could sell to fellow fans.
They reportedly began threatening to sing racist chants during matches — which would lead to the club being hit with fines and possibly having points deducted — after Juventus stopped distributing blocks of tickets for resale in 2017, Italian media said.
Police said the hardcore groups had set up a “widespread criminal strategy to ‘restore’ lost favors.”
Those arrested included the heads of the Drughi, Tradizione-Antichi Valori, Viking, Nucleo 1985 and Quelli ... di via Filadelfia groups, police said in a statement.
Officers were carrying out 39 search warrants targeting those arrested and other suspects, with the help of police from cities across northern and central Italy, from Alessandria to Bergamo, Florence, Genoa and Milan.