Juventus v Inter key battles as Ronaldo goes up against Skriniar

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Cristiano Ronaldo

A feisty rivalry resumes at the Juventus Stadium as the Bianconeri host the Nerazzurri on Friday night. The hosts are unbeaten in the Serie A this season and have now won five games on the bounce. Inter did well to recover from a 4-1 humiliation at the hands of Atlanta and saw off Frosinone 3-0 before playing out a 2-2 stalemate against Roma.

The fact that both clubs are subject to European engagements later in the week renders this clash intriguing.

Juventus arrive to the fixture without the services of Sami Khedira and Andrea Barzagli. The visitors will be hoping that the injured Radja Nainggolan wins his race against time and gets the green light to feature against their rivals. Joao Mario is the favourite to replace the Belgian if he fails to do so.

We take a look at some of the key battles that can shape the course of the game:

Cristiano Ronaldo v Milan Skriniar

Milan Skriniar

Milan Skriniar

One of the best players of all-time, Cristiano Ronaldo does not require a second invitation to step up in a crunch fixture. After failing to score in his first three games in Serie A, the Portuguese went on to score 10 goals in the 11 games that followed and has provided five assists.

The five-time Ballon d’Or winner has been directly involved in at least one goal in the last 11 games in the league, a phenomenal feat.

The former Real Madrid man can function either as a left-winger or a number nine and in either case he will be up against Martin Skriniar, one of the finest defenders in the league.

Skriniar has dropped commendable performances in some of the toughest games Inter has played this season. The Slovakian kept Luis Suarez and co at bay in Inter’s home leg against Barcelona in the Champions League, a performance that piqued the interest of several top European clubs.

The 23-year-old might be a tough nut to crack for Ronaldo on Friday.

Mauro Icardi v Giorgio Chiellini

Mauro Icardi.

Mauro Icardi.

One of the best strikers Europe, Mauro Icardi has always been a thorn in the opponent’s foot. The Argentinian has scored eight goals in nine appearances for the Nerazzurri this season and assisted twice.

Never the one to shy away from a challenge, Icardi has scored against Barcelona, Roma, Milan and Lazio this season. The 25-year-old will be looking to add Juventus to his list of victims.

Even at the age of 34, Chiellini remains one of the best centre-backs in Europe. The Italy international just dropped a flawless performance against Fiorentina and can be a real bother for Icardi.

The Pisa born was reunited with his long-term partner in defence Leonardo Bonucci and the pair will be looking to erect an unbreachable wall in front of the Juventus goal.

The fact that there is no love lost between the players involved renders this a clash extremely significant.

Miralem Pjanic v Marcelo Brozovic

Miralem Pjanic

Miralem Pjanic

Two of the finest midfielders in the league face off in our midfield battle as Miralem Pjanic takes on Marcelo Brozovic.

Rarely the ones to stray into the final third, the pair equally share six direct involvements in goals between them this season. Pjanic’s influence on the game transcends mere stats as the Bosnian orchestrates the play, pulling strings from deep which enables quick changes in tempo. Suffocating the 28-year-old should restrict the creativity from the Juventus midfield and Brozovic will be looking to achieve this.

The Croatian will provide a shield to the Inter back-line as he attempts to keep the fearsome Juventus front-line in check. This game demands a lot from the World Cup silver medalist and he will have to out-perform his best games to hand the visitors an advantage.

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Inter Milan's bid to go second in Serie A thwarted by Aleksandar Kolarov's penalty

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Kolarov makes it 2-2 for Roma.

Aleksandar Kolarov thwarted Inter Milan‘s plans to reach second place in the Serie A table by converting a penalty to earn underperforming Roma a point from a 2-2 draw.

Had Inter, who led twice through Keita Balde and Mauro Icardi, held on for victory in Rome they would have leapfrogged Napoli and closed to within nine points of leaders Juventus.

But Cengiz Under produced a thunderbolt to draw mid-table Roma level before Kolarov punished Marcelo Brozovic for handling the ball in the box with a 72nd-minute penalty that saved the Giallorossi from suffering the ignominy of a third straight defeat.

Former Lazio forward Balde had broken the deadlock shortly before half-time by finishing off Danilo D’Ambrosio’s cross and, after Under struck his fine equaliser, Icardi headed in a Brozovic corner.

Earlier, Franck Kessie fired AC Milan to back-to-back wins and up to fourth place as his late penalty downed Parma 2-1 at the San Siro.

Icardi

The Gialloblu had taken the lead through Roberto Inglese, who nodded in Matteo Scozzarella’s pass after half-time, but Patrick Cutrone soon levelled with a fine volley.

In the 71st minute Milan were awarded a spot-kick for Alessandro Bastoni’s handball, following a VAR review, and Kessie made no mistake when sending Jacopo Sepe the wrong way.

Lazio were then thwarted in their bid to reclaim the last Champions League spot as basement boys Chievo held them to a 1-1 draw in Verona.

Sergio Pellissier’s powerful first-half opener was not in the script and it took Lazio until the 66th minute to restore parity as Ciro Immobile found the bottom corner.

Romulo’s first-half dismissal set the tone for a bad-tempered clash between Torino and Genoa at the Stadio Olimpico, where two goals in a minute secured a 2-1 comeback victory for the hosts.

Genoa lost Romulo when the Brazilian right-back picked up two yellow cards in three minutes, the second for a high foot against Soualiho Meite. Nevertheless, Christian Kouame fired the Grifone ahead.

Cristian Ansaldi equalised with a daisy-cutter on the stroke of half-time and, to Torino’s disbelief, the game was lost moments later when Andrea Belotti converted a penalty following a Sandro foul.

Cagliari held on for a point from a 1-1 draw at Frosinone despite having Antonio Barella sent off.

Francesco Cassata scuffed in relegation-threatened Frosinone’s opener but Cagliari responded through a rare goal from Diego Farias. Barella departed due to a second yellow earned for sliding in on Raman Chibsah with five minutes remaining.

Elsewhere, Sassuolo and Udinese shared the spoils from a goalless draw at the Mapei Stadium. Alfred Duncan saw his goal ruled out for offside while Rolando Mandragora went closest for Udinese.

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Inter Milan icon Hernan Crespo on his River Plate love affair and power of Club World Cup

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Hernan Crespo packed a lot into his playing career.

He had nearly all you could want from a centre forward. Expert in the air, ruthless off both feet and a selfless foil for iconic team-mates such as Ronaldo, Paolo Maldini, Christian Vieri and Kaka.

There were more than 300 goals across 19 years as a professional at boyhood club River Plate, Parma, Lazio (in world-record fashion courtesy of July 2000’s €56 million deal), both AC and Inter Milan, Chelsea and Genoa.

His 35 strikes from 65 internationals for Argentina still makes him their fourth-highest scorer. Only Manchester City poacher Sergio Aguero, iconic peer Gabriel Batistuta and the peerless Lionel Messi are ahead of him – not bad company to keep.

Even when on the wrong side of history, the now 43-year-old can count a predatory brace in 2004/05’s Champions League final. A fact that is often ignored amid emotive flashbacks of the ‘Miracle of Istanbul’ when Milan’s 3-0 half-time lead famously evaporated against Liverpool in one of football’s great clashes.

Among all this sterling achievement, however, there is one source of regret.

As a 20-year-old of rare promise, he would, decisively, score twice in June 1996’s second leg and ensure River defeated Colombia’s Junior to claim the cherished Copa Libertadores. But by the time that November’s 1-0 reversal to Juventus in the Intercontinental Cup – a precursor to the current global club tournament – came around, his triumphant European adventure was under way at Parma.

When asked by Sport360 at Wednesday’s event to promote next month’s 2018 Club World Cup in the UAE whether he still rues this gap in his CV, he replies: “Yes. I joined Parma in August 1996, so now I use this opportunity to come here [for the 2018 Club World Cup].

“In 1996, we had won the Copa Libertadores but I never reached the Intercontinental Cup. This is because I was sold to Parma and I watched on television, suffering so much.

“But, it is never too late to come into this event.”

The reason why Crespo has found himself in the Emirates is illuminating.

South America’s entrant for the CWC is still to be decided, even though it runs from December 12-22. This is after the epochal Copa showdown between eternal Buenos Aires rivals Boca Juniors and River Plate descended into infamy last weekend.

An attack on the former’s team bus by supporters of the latter caused the abortive second leg to be, repeatedly, postponed. Shameful headlines across the world followed, ahead of a Superclasico decider on neutral soil – the UAE has been tipped as one of many potential venues – on December 8 or 9.

River icon Crespo and Boca stalwart Nicolas Burdisso crossed Buenos Aires’ great divide this midweek at Al Ain’s resplendent Hazza bin Zayed Stadium. They came together to preach the unifying role that the sport can have at its best.

“I want to talk about what happened ahead of the final between River Plate and Boca Juniors,” Crespo said at a press conference. “I would like to say as players we are very disappointed with what happened.

“We know there is a history of rivalry between the two sides, but the fans have to refrain from such practices.”

He added: “Just imagine, though, if people used the emotion that they have for football in a positive way, to help shape society.”

For River to build on the 2-2 draw from the first leg, head coach Marcelo Gallardo will be central.

Nicolas Burdisso (l) and Hernan Crespo (r) in Al Ain.

Nicolas Burdisso (l) and Hernan Crespo (r) in Al Ain.

Crespo’s supply line for club and country, as a renowned playmaker, is now after a ninth title in four wildly successful years in the El Monumental-dugout.

Did he expect El Muneco (The Doll) to be such a success?

“Yes, because he was very intelligence,” Crespo answers. “As a player, he was so intelligent on the pitch and he understood everything.

“He doesn’t surprise me. He has put River Plate on another level, maybe they now have the best XI in their history.

“Everything is thanks to Gallardo. He’s a great, great manager.

“Everybody knows him in South America, because he won a lot of trophies. Maybe in Europe, not everyone knows him.

“I think it is a good opportunity to be part of this event, to get to know all the players and managers.”

Crespo first donned the hallowed red sash of River Plate as a child, prior to netting 36 times in 84 run-outs for the first team from 1993-96.

This relationship has left an indelible mark on his life.

He says: “I grew up in River Plate. I began playing there at seven-years old – it was 14 years of my life.

“It is not easy to explain. This is because it is about feelings, about sensations.

“Explaining this is very difficult. But I am always a River Plate fan.”

A scan of Crespo’s social media showcases his status as globetrotting promoter of the sport since his November 2012 retirement.

But for all the sun-kissed charity matches with the likes of Ronaldinho, Ryan Giggs and Alessandro Del Piero, a desire to return to the top end remains acute.

A spell from June 2017-January 2018 as vice-president to new majority shareholder at Parma, Jiang Lizhang, was influential in the club’s return to Serie A.

There was also a tortured first – and so far only – head-coach posting at Serie B-strugglers Modena from June 2015-March 2016.

This strained experience, however, could never diminish Crespo’s passion.

He says: “I have been a coach and I finished helping Parma as an assistant to the president, in the last two seasons to return to Serie A.

“Now, I want to come back to being a coach. This is what I really love.

“I think in a few days I can come back to the pitch and start to be a coach again.”

The 2018 CWC will bring together six continental champions – holders Real Madrid, Asia’s Kashima Antlers, Africa’s Esperance de Tunis, Central America’s Guadalajara, Oceania’s Team Wellington plus the eventual South American participant – and host team Al Ain.

Tickets are still available at www.fifa.com/clubworldcup/, including ones beginning at Dh25 for the first three matches at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.

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