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Balotelli brings fight against racism directly to fans

NEWS
News
04 Nov 2019, 01:01 IST
AP Image

ROME (AP) — Mario Balotelli's most important kick on Sunday had nothing to do with the curling shot that he whipped into the top corner of the goal from beyond the box.

Rather, it was the drop-kick the Brescia striker made moments earlier when he booted a ball high into the stands to express his frustration at racist chants from Hellas Verona fans.

Balotelli then attempted to leave the field in the most high-profile incident yet in a Serie A season that has been marred by constant episodes of discrimination.

It was the second time this weekend that a Serie A game was suspended for offensive chants, after Roma supporters aimed anti-territorial chants at Napoli on Saturday.

Offensive chants have also been aimed at Romelu Lukaku, Dalbert Henrique, Miralem Pjanic, Ronaldo Vieira and Kalidou Koulibaly in Serie A this season. There was also a case of racist chants aimed by Verona fans at AC Milan midfielder Franck Kessie in September.

Visibly upset as he fought for the ball near the corner flag at the end of the stadium where the monkey chants were emanating from, Balotelli had heard enough. He interrupted the action, picked up the ball with his hands and drop-kicked it into the crowd.

Brescia teammates and Verona players went over to embrace Balotelli and persuaded him to stay as the referee ordered a warning to be read out over the stadium's public address system.

Verona coach Ivan Juric said he didn't hear any racist chants.

"There was absolutely nothing," Juric said. "There were a lot of whistles every time he had the ball but not racism. I didn't hear a single (chant)."

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Brescia coach Eugenio Corini also said he didn't hear the offensive chants but added, "If the referee decided to suspend the match and ask for that announcement to be made something must have happened.

"Honestly, I was far away and I didn't hear anything," Corini said.

The match at the Bentegodi stadium was suspended for several minutes with Verona leading 1-0 at the time before it resumed.

Balotelli, who is black, was born in Italy to Ghanaian immigrants and has represented Italy's national team. He recently returned to Serie A after several seasons in France.

The 29-year-old Balotelli also experienced racism at the beginning of his career in Italy, when he rose to prominence with Inter Milan.

Verona went ahead 2-0 before Balotelli scored for Brescia and the game ended 2-1.

Balotelli, who did not celebrate his goal, also hit the post in the first half of one of his best performances since joining Brescia — his hometown club — in August.

Verona president Maurizio Setti also said the club didn't observe any racist chants but added that he talked to Balotelli afterward.

"I apologized to him if someone might have said something," Setti said.

Balotelli did not speak with reporters after the match.

SOARING SARDINIANS

Quietly putting together a season that could be one to remember, Cagliari moved into contention for the Champions League spots with a 2-0 win at 10-man Atalanta.

An own-goal from Mario Pasalic and a goal from Christian Oliva moved Cagliari level on points with fourth-place Atalanta.

Cagliari has not qualified for European competition in a quarter century since reaching the semifinals of the 1994 UEFA Cup — the competition which has since been renamed the Europa League.

The top four finishers in Serie A qualify for the Champions League, while the fifth- and sixth-place teams enter the Europa League.

After opening the season with two losses, Cagliari is now on a nine-match unbeaten run.

It's Cagliari's best start since winning its only Serie A title in 1970.

What's more, it was the first time this season that Atalanta — which still leads the league with 30 goals scored — failed to score.

Cagliari coach Rolando Maran called it his club's best performance of the season.

"We decided the best way of approaching it was to force them to defend," Maran said. "We want to go beyond our limits and see what we can do.

Also this season, Cagliari won away at Napoli and drew at Roma.

The Sardinian club went ahead after the hour mark when a Cagliari free kick deflected off two Atalanta players before going in.

Alejandro "Papu" Gomez had Atalanta's best chance when he blasted a shot off the crossbar in the 38th. The ball ricocheted into the back of goalkeeper Robin Olsen's neck but then bounced back over the bar.

A few minutes later, Atalanta forward Josip Ilicic was sent off for kicking Charalambos Lykogiannis in the back of the leg after the pair wrestled near the sideline.

Just before the hour mark, Oliva doubled Cagliari's advantage by finishing off a swift counterattack.

OTHER RESULTS

Udinese won 3-1 at Genoa under interim coach Luca Gatti, who took over when Igor Tudor was fired Friday after the northeastern club conceded 11 goals in its previous two games.

Also, Fiorentina drew 1-1 with Parma, and Lecce and Sassuolo finished 2-2.

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