COVID-19 spread hits Italian sport as four Serie A games postponed

COVID-19 spread hits Italian sport as four Serie A games postponed

FILE PHOTO: Serie A - Lazio v Inter Milan
Inter Milan coach Antonio Conte. (Photo: REUTERS/Alberto Lingria)

ROME: 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 (Feb 23), 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 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.

READ: Italy PM announces halt to entry and exit from COVID-19 hotspots

RONALDO LANDMARK

On the pitch, Cristiano Ronaldo scored for a record-equalling 11th consecutive Serie A game in his 1,000th professional match as Juventus extended their lead at the top of the table to four points with a 2-1 win at 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 last 11 appearances - and 21 in Serie A, five behind leading scorer Ciro Immobile.

READ: Fear, isolation cloaks town at centre of Italy's COVID-19 outbreak

Aaron Ramsey added a second after an hour before Andrea Petagna pulled a controversial goal back from the spot for SPAL, after a penalty was awarded by VAR officials because the pitchside monitor not working.

"Today we had goals scored using VAR when VAR wasn't working," said Juventus manager Maurizio Sarri.

"It seems to me a great injustice - if the monitor does not work, the referee must decide," he added.

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

Ronaldo came close to a second when his free-kick hit the crossbar as Sarri's side earned a valuable three points against an outfit they had failed to beat away from home in the previous two seasons.

It got Juventus back on track on their travels after consecutive defeats at Napoli and at Hellas Verona, and ahead of next week's first-leg, last-16 Champions League trip to Lyon.

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.

MILAN HELD

Second-placed Lazio can close to the gap to one point with a win at Genoa on Sunday.

But 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.

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 allowing Asmir Begovic to come on for 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.

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Source: AFP/nh

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