Napoli head coach Carlo Ancelotti has praised Mario Balotelli's reaction to the racist abuse he received during Brescia's Serie A clash with Hellas Verona on Sunday.

Balotelli kicked the ball angrily towards Verona supporters early in the second half after hearing abuse, before threatening to walk off the pitch.

The referee brought play to a halt before following protocol, with a statement read out to the crowd in an attempt to resolve the issue.

Balotelli was persuaded to stay on and see out the game by team-mates and Verona players, before the former Manchester City and Inter striker scored a stunning late goal in Brescia's 2-1 defeat at Stadio Marcantonio Bentegodi.

Ancelotti believes Balotelli was right to highlight the abuse and suggested the stoppage shows football is making advances in its efforts to combat racism.

Speaking ahead of Napoli's Champions League clash with RB Salzburg on Tuesday, Ancelotti said: "He did the right thing, he had the right reaction.

"There have already been a couple of episodes when the match has been stopped, so we are on the right path."

Ancelotti's Napoli are top of Champions League Group E and will qualify for the knockout stages if they beat Salzburg while Genk fail to beat Liverpool in the pool's other game.

The former AC Milan coach says it would be "exceptional" if they qualified with two games to spare but the experienced boss is refusing to get carried away.

"The Champions League is a way shorter competition than Serie A," he added. "For this reason, we have to be focused and our first goal is to go through.

"If we can manage it with two matchdays to spare, it would be exceptional. Tomorrow we have this chance and all our energy will be spent on getting it done. Then we will see.

"Many things can change and usually the Champions League is decided on little details."

Brescia have sacked head coach Eugenio Corini as the club languish in the Serie A's relegation zone.

Sunday's 2-1 loss at Hellas Verona proved to be the final straw for Brescia's hierarchy, with the Italian side one point adrift of safety after 10 games.

Brescia turned to former Juventus and Napoli midfielder Corini in September last year as the club struggled in Serie B.

Corini – who emerged from Brescia's youth team in 1986 and enjoyed two spells with his boyhood club – led the squad to an unexpected promotion to Italy's top flight last season.

However, three consecutive defeats and six games without a win prompted Brescia to part with the 49-year-old.

Brescia striker Mario Balotelli says those who deny he was racially abused during Sunday's Serie A match at Hellas Verona are not "real men".

Balotelli kicked the ball angrily towards Verona supporters early in the second half after hearing abuse, before threatening to walk off the pitch.

The referee brought play to a halt before following protocol, with a statement read out to the crowd in an attempt to resolve the issue.

Balotelli was persuaded to stay on and see out the game by team-mates and Verona players, with the former Manchester City and Inter Milan striker going on to score a stunning late goal in Brescia's 2-1 defeat at Stadio Marcantonio Bentegodi.

Speaking after the game, Verona's head coach Ivan Juric and president Maurizio Setti claimed they heard no abuse directed at Balotelli, with the former stating: "I'm not afraid to say it: today, there was nothing, no racist booing."

Alongside a video showing his reaction to the abuse and his goal on Instagram, Balotelli wrote: "Thanks to all the colleagues on and off the field for the solidarity expressed toward me and all of the messages received from fans. A heartfelt thanks. You've shown yourself to be real men, not like those who deny the evidence."

Balotelli also reposted a video taken by a fan of him being abused, and the Italy international wrote: "To the 'people' in this end who made the monkey noises: shame on you. Shame on you. Shame on you in front of your children, wives, parents, relatives, friends and acquaintances…shame."

The result leaves Brescia in the relegation zone, with the club announcing after the game they had sacked head coach Eugenio Corini.

Hellas Verona president Maurizio Setti says he did not hear any racist abuse aimed towards Brescia striker Mario Balotelli during Sunday's Serie A clash.

Balotelli kicked the ball angrily towards Verona supporters early in the second half after hearing abuse, before threatening to walk off the pitch.

The referee brought play to a halt before following protocol, with a statement read out to the crowd in an attempt to resolve the issue.

Balotelli was persuaded to stay on and see out the game by team-mates and Verona players, with the former Manchester City and Inter Milan striker going on to score a stunning late goal in Brescia's 2-1 defeat at Stadio Marcantonio Bentegodi.

Setti insists he did not hear any of the abuse, and he rejects accusations that Verona supporters are racist.

"We did not hear anything," Setti told reporters. "I arrived in Verona eight years ago and immediately saw that the Verona fans are ironic, but absolutely not racist. When Balotelli made his debut here for AC Milan six years ago there were episodes of racism, and we condemned it. We have always done.

"It is wrong to generalise and speak for all 20,000 fans when a couple of people have said something. If there are two or three people who have said something, we are ready to take action against them because we condemn any episode of this type.

"But to speak of Verona as we were 30 years ago is wrong. We are a club that only has sport in our real DNA. There are many players of colour who wear the Gialloblu from the youth team to the first.

"Racism is a path that doesn't exist for us and Verona is not a correct position for generalisations. In eight years of my presidency, you could confirm this. The attitude of our fans is absolutely correct."

Verona coach Ivan Juric shares Setti's view, earlier telling Sky Sport Italia: "I'm not afraid to say it: today, there was nothing, no racist booing.

"There was a lot of booing and teasing of a great player, but there was nothing really racist today."

Hellas Verona head coach Ivan Juric insists fans did not racially abuse Brescia striker Mario Balotelli in Sunday's Serie A match.

Balotelli kicked the ball into the stands and threatened to walk off the pitch in the second half of his side's 2-1 defeat at Stadio Marcantonio Bentegodi.

The referee brought play to a halt before following protocol, with a statement read out in an attempt to resolve the issue.

After appeals from his team-mates and Verona players, Balotelli decided to stay on the pitch and see out the game.

The striker, who has had a fractious relationship with Verona fans, went on to score a stunning goal five minutes from time and there were chants of support for the player from large sections of the crowd after the initial incident.

Croatian Juric, a former Genoa player and coach who has been subjected to discriminatory chants in his time in Italy, admits there is a serious problem with racism in the country but is adamant the taunts aimed at Balotelli were not of that nature.

"I'm not afraid to say it: today, there was nothing, no racist booing," Juric said to Sky Sport Italia.

"There was a lot of booing and teasing of a great player, but there was nothing really racist today.

"I am Croatian, and I've often heard 's***** gypsy', so chants like this and racist insults make me sick. The whole of Italy is moving in this direction, but there was nothing at all today."

When asked why Balotelli reacted in such a way if he had not been racially abused, Juric replied: "You'll have to ask him. I only heard teasing, nothing else.

"I have no problem reporting allegations if there are any, even those against our own fans. This is something that can't be accepted in 2019. But, today, there was nothing at all.

"I repeat, I am the first to condemn racism, but today I only heard a lot of jeering of a great player.

"We're not talking about racism, because that's a lie. We're not creating a case where there isn't one."

In his post-match news conference, Juric added: "I think, on a human level, being racist is an absolute low. In this case, I don't think anything has happened. I spoke with the fourth official, too.

"There was only teasing of a great player. I don't want to say anything against Mario. It may have happened to him elsewhere."

Mario Balotelli almost walked off the pitch during Brescia's Serie A visit to Hellas Verona on Sunday after being subjected to racial abuse.

The 29-year-old kicked the ball into the stands and started to walk off during the second half of his side's 2-1 defeat at Stadio Marcantonio Bentegodi.

The referee brought play to a halt before following protocol, with a statement read out in an attempt to resolve the issue.

After appeals from his team-mates and Verona players, Balotelli decided to stay on the pitch and see out the game.

Chants of support for Balotelli from large parts of the crowd were heard after the incident.

The former Manchester City and AC Milan striker, who has historically had a fractious relationship with Hellas Verona supporters, went on to score in the 85th minute.

We are edging closer to the release of Football Manager 2020 on November 19, meaning new elements and features of the game are seeing the light of day.

That also means talk of those precious 'wonderkids' is starting, as managers look to get a head start on which young talents to snap up early instead of forking out massive sums for the same kids a few years down the line.

A player's potential is never a guarantee of future success. Injuries, a lack of faith from the manager or poor mentality can cause havoc with so-called 'hot prospects'.

Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo Goes, Jadon Sancho and Kai Havertz are all 'wonderkid' certainties, but only a select few clubs will ever be able to afford them.

But, with the right guidance, the following lesser-known players could prove to be similarly smart acquisitions and cost significantly less...

Dillon Hoogewerf - Manchester United

A 16-year-old forward, Hoogewerf was one of the hottest prospects in Ajax's academy before Manchester United snapped him up ahead of this season. A silky dribbler and all-round attacking threat, he promises to be a talent would-be United bosses will want to focus on the development of. On the flipside, youngsters don't always reach their potential at the biggest clubs, meaning he might prove an interesting option to smaller sides… if you're patient.

Pedrinho - Corinthians

The latest - after Vinicius and Rodrygo - in a long line of Brazilian talents to be dubbed the 'next Neymar', Pedrinho looks destined for the top. An outrageously skilful attacker who usually plays out wide for Corinthians, the 21-year-old likes to come in off the right flank and on to his left foot, as he relishes a shot after beating his man. Comparisons with Arjen Robben are understandable, but the quicker you make a move, the less you'll have to stump up.

Sandro Tonali - Brescia

Given Tonali now has a full season of professional football under his belt, he's likely to be one of the hardest to attain from this list. Nevertheless, he is still at Brescia despite links with the big Italian clubs, therefore making him a tantalising proposition if you've got a bit of a budget to play with. Dubbed the 'next Andrea Pirlo', Tonali is a deep-lying midfielder who possesses a brilliant range of passing. He will also be among the very best teenagers right at the start of the game.

Antonio Marin - Dinamo Zagreb

A favourite of many on FM19 due to his immense potential and relatively low cost, left-winger Marin should still be a hot prospect and fairly attainable. He made seven league appearances for Dinamo last season, most of them coming in the final few months of the campaign, so his fee is unlikely to have rocketed just yet. Securing the 18-year-old in a deal that sees him remain in Croatia on loan for a season could be wise for his development, particularly if Dani Olmo is sold in the first few months of the game.

Devyne Rensch - Ajax

As you might expect from an Ajax academy product, Rensch is calm and composed in possession and a fine reader of the game from centre-back. He has already signed professional terms despite being only 16, so you won't be able to poach him like United have done with Hoogewerf, but he certainly shouldn't be considered unattainable. Similarly, Perr Schuurs is another interesting option at centre-back, though at 19 and now exposed to first-team football with the Dutch champions, he could be trickier to acquire.

Julian Aude - Lanus

Although Argentinian football can truly be a treasure trove of promising talent, work permits are often an issue for many players, particularly if they're young. But with Aude you shouldn't have such problems, as the 16-year-old also has Italian citizenship. The Lanus academy product has impressed with Argentina's youth sides due to his remarkable technical wizardry for a full-back, while he's also a tenacious competitor. Obviously, his age makes Aude a gamble, but he'll be affordable for many and there's little doubt about his potential, it's just a case of nurturing him.

Bryan Gil - Sevilla

The production line that nurtured Jesus Navas, Antonio Puerta, Sergio Ramos and Jose Antonio Reyes has gone a little stagnant in recent years, but Bryan arrived on the scene last term and made 11 substitute appearances in LaLiga, making an impact on the left flank in most - if not all - of them. Unless you want him on loan, he'll be difficult to sign initially for smaller clubs, but if he does become a realistic target at any point, he will provide a strong option as an out-and-out, old-fashioned left winger.

Odin Thiago Holm - Valerenga

A technically gifted central midfielder, Holm, 16, is yet to make a splash in the Valerenga first team. However, he is very highly rated in Norway, with his ability on the ball and eye for a pass drawing comparisons – perhaps predictable, given his name – with Bayern Munich star Thiago Alcantara. Considering his relative unknown status and the fact he is not playing in one of the more fashionable leagues, Holm would likely be a cheap, low-risk purchase that could really pay dividends down the line for managers aiming for a long stay.

Fernando Ovelar - Cerro Porteno

It's still to be confirmed if Ovelar will be on the game, as he is only 15. However, he has already made nine appearances for Cerro Porteno in Paraguay and scored his first goal in November 2018 when he was just 14, making him the Paraguayan Primera Division's youngest scorer and appearance maker. Although it's still early days in his career, he's a skilful and gifted forward, and if you fancy yourself as a manager adept at bringing youth talents through to the first team, he could be a shrewd investment.

Ronaldo Camara - Benfica

Already a regular for Benfica's Under-19s despite being 16, Camara is a potential diamond. A well-rounded attacking midfielder, the Guinea-Bissau native is not your average playmaker. He has a fine range of passing and can certainly dribble, but he is also a tireless worker and loves to tackle. Benfica are famous for selling cheaply acquired talents for huge sums and Camara looks to be of the same ilk… unless you can get him early.

Juventus are not resting on their laurels.

Despite their domestic dominance, Juve are craving European glory as they eye a first Champions League crown since 1995.

So much so that they have three Premier League stars on their mind.

 

TOP STORY – JUVE WATCH SALAH, SON & ERIKSEN

Juventus scouts watched Mohamed Salah, Son Heung-min and Christian Eriksen during Liverpool's Premier League clash with Tottenham, according to Tuttosport.

Seeking a ninth successive Scudetto, Serie A champions Juve are prepared to spend heavily in pursuit of Champions League glory.

With money no obstacle as they reap the benefits of Cristiano Ronaldo's presence, Liverpool star Salah and Tottenham duo Son and Eriksen are reportedly on Juve's list.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Sun claims Jose Mourinho wants to become the first manager to win major trophies with three English clubs as the former Manchester United boss is linked to Arsenal. Gunners head coach Unai Emery is under pressure at the Emirates Stadium amid growing fan frustration.

Manchester United are hopeful of completing a deal for Lyon striker Moussa Dembele in January, reports Soccerlink. With Dembele's future uncertain, Lyon are lining up Chelsea's Olivier Giroud.

- Staying at Old Trafford and United's name has again been thrown into the mix for Brescia sensation Sandro Tonali. The 19-year-old Italy international is fast becoming one of the most sought-after players in Europe, attracting interest from Juventus, Manchester City and Inter. Now, The Suns says United are weigning up a £40million move for Tonali after sending scouts to watch him once more.

- Calciomercato claims Napoli are considering a January move for Benfica full-back Alejandro Grimaldo. The 24-year-old Spaniard has been linked to Arsenal, Tottenham and Barcelona.

Newcastle United are close to agreeing a deal to sign Strasbourg's Ibrahima Sissoko. The 21-year-old French midfielder is poised to make the switch when the transfer window opens in January.

Antonio Conte fears Inter's hectic schedule could eventually catch up with his team despite the Nerazzurri moving top of Serie A on Tuesday.

Inter leapfrogged Juventus by two points atop the summit, albeit having played a game more, after beating Brescia 2-1 thanks to goals from Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku at Stadio Rigamonti. 

However, head coach Conte – who is without the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Stefano Sensi due to injury – admitted his concerns about Inter running out of steam amid a busy domestic and European schedule. 

"It becomes difficult to talk about the game, because the same players are out there constantly. They struggled to an extraordinary degree," Conte told Sky Sport Italia.

"It was our fourth game in nine days, with the same players. Any situation or result is acceptable at that point. All we can do is thank them for the spirit they showed to hang in until the end.

"Now we're only halfway there, as we have another game with Bologna, then Borussia Dortmund and we'll have seven games in 20 days before we get to rest. It's an anomaly and I haven't seen any other side with a fixture list like that, so it seemed very strange to me.

"Some games you need to win just by suffering. They must understand that for many reasons, as for example the hosts are pushing to turn the result around, you have to soak up the pressure, hang in there and I challenge anyone to play four games in nine days while getting a victory at Brescia."

Conte added: "We're top of the table, but pushing the engine to the max and it can't go much longer."

Martinez made it seven club goals for the campaign but conceded it was a tough night for Inter, who were made to sweat following Milan Skriniar's late own goal.

"It was difficult, a very intense game against a team that moves very well," Martinez told Sky Sport Italia.

"We knew that it was going to be tough to take the three points here, but we tried to impose our football, knowing full well Brescia would clam up and defend.

"Some fatigue is natural, as we play with a great deal of intensity every three days, so that needs a lot of physical effort. We are nonetheless happy with the work we're doing for our coach.

"As always, we take it one game at a time, know we are doing very well and it's important to once again return from an away fixture with three points."

Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku were on target as Inter moved top of Serie A with a 2-1 victory at Brescia.

Martinez opened the scoring with a deflected first-half effort before Lukaku got in on the act with a stunning 63rd-minute solo goal in Tuesday's clash at Stadio Mario Rigamonti.

Milan Skriniar's own goal 14 minutes from time gave Brescia hope, yet they were left to rue missed chances by Mario Balotelli on what proved a frustrating outing for the striker against the side where he made his name.

The win sent Antonio Conte's side two points above reigning champions Juventus at the summit, although the Bianconeri can reclaim top spot when they face Genoa on Wednesday.

Inter were deservedly ahead by the 23rd minute, although there was more than a slice of luck about their goal. Martinez's long-range effort took a wicked deflection off Andrea Cistana and looped over Brescia goalkeeper Enrico Alfonso.

Brescia were much improved in the second half, with Balotelli threatening with a low strike before failing to get a decisive touch from close range following a goalmouth scramble.

The home side were made to pay in the 63rd minute when Lukaku cut in superbly from the right and fired a fine left-footed shot from 20 yards inside the far post.

Balotelli had a header kept out by Samir Handanovic and blasted the rebound over, but Brescia pulled one back when the goalkeeper blocked Dimitri Bisoli's cross but saw it rebound in off Skriniar.

However, an equaliser in the closing stages proved beyond them and Inter held on to return to winning ways after a 2-2 draw against Parma on Saturday.

Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Atletico Madrid are among a host of major clubs interested in signing Brescia midfielder Sandro Tonali, according to the club's owner and president Massimo Cellino.

Tonali, 19, is one of Italy's brightest prospects, having broken into Brescia's first-team picture at the age of 17.

A technically gifted deep-lying playmaker who is often likened to Azzurri great Andrea Pirlo, Tonali made his first appearance for Italy in the Euro 2020 qualifying win over Liechtenstein on October 15.

He played 34 league games last season as Brescia were crowned Serie B champions and earned promotion back to the top flight, with many expecting the midfielder to be snapped up by a bigger club.

Brescia have managed to hold onto him, though, with Cellino suggesting it would take an eye-watering €300million for the club to part with him.

Asked by La Gazzetta dello Sport who was interested in Tonali, Cellino said: "All the big Italian clubs. Abroad there's Atletico Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City, but in my view, he'd be better off remaining a key player with Brescia.

"His agent and his parents were telling me about this €50million evaluation. I replied that for me he is worth €300million, which means I don't want to sell.

"I have a dream. If Sandro accepts, I am ready to make a big financial sacrifice to extend his contract. It's up to him to decide. He can stay here and enjoy his football or go to a big club and risk being left on the bench."

The transfer window may be shut, but Paul Pogba's future is still making headlines.

Pogba – who is set to miss the Premier League showdown against Liverpool due to injury – reportedly eyed a Manchester United exit and a move to Real Madrid.

A switch to the Santiago Bernabeu could be on the horizon after Pogba was snapped with Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane in the United Arab Emirates.

 

TOP STORY – POGBA MEETS ZIDANE IN DUBAI

Pogba has been linked with a fresh move to Madrid after the United star was pictured with Zidane, reports The Mirror.

Pogba wanted to leave United during the previous window, with LaLiga giants Madrid and former club Juventus the two favourites to sign the Frenchman, but a move did not materialise.

However, Pogba – recovering from a foot injury – was seen with Madrid head coach Zidane during his trip to Dubai, fuelling fresh speculation over his future at Old Trafford.

 

ROUND-UP

- According to 90min, United are monitoring Paris Saint-Germain forward Edinson Cavani. The 32-year-old Uruguay international is out of contract at this season's end and has been linked to Juve, Atletico Madrid and Inter Miami.

- Inter are chasing Brescia sensation Sandro Tonali and Atalanta's Dejan Kulusevski, says Calciomercato. Both players are 19 years of age and attracting interest in Serie A.

- Calciomercato also reports Tottenham are ready to send Christian Eriksen to Juventus in exchange for Adrien Rabiot. Eriksen's contract expires at the end of the season and has been linked to the likes of Madrid and United, while Rabiot only moved to Turin from PSG at the end of 2018-19.

- Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, United, Spurs and Inter have been credited with interest in Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder Denis Zakaria, according to Bild.

- Manchester City have emerged as favourites to sign Hearts teenager Aaron Hickey, claims the Daily Star.

Napoli defender Kostas Manolas was taken off against Brescia due to muscle fatigue, the Serie A club have confirmed.

Manolas scored his side's second goal in Sunday's 2-0 win at Stadio San Paolo but had to be withdrawn 20 minutes into the second half.

However, Napoli have allayed fears of a possible lay-off for the Greece international, who has started five of their opening seven matches this term.

Defensive team-mate Nikola Maksimovic could be facing a spell on the sidelines, though, having limped off with a hamstring injury later in the match.

"Tests have revealed that Nikola Maksimovic suffered a pulled right hamstring," a statement read on Napoli's official website. 

"Kostas Manolas was also taken off during the match, but the Greek defender was just feeling some tightness."

Dries Mertens and Manolas gave Napoli a two-goal lead at half-time, but Mario Balotelli pulled one back for Brescia with a 67th-minute header - his first goal in Serie A since returning to Italy last month.

Brescia boss Eugenio Corini told reporters: "Mario is a player you all know, he arrived with great motivation. 

"His technical qualities are recognised. From him I always expect something more, an important individual performance which can help the team."

Victory for Napoli got them back on track following their surprise 1-0 home loss to Cagliari in midweek, but they were made to fight for the three points.

"Suffering is natural in these games, because if you don't kill it off with 3-0 and then concede a goal, it all opens up again," Carlo Ancelotti told DAZN.

"We played an excellent first half, the second was less impressive, but the temperature was very warm and it made the teams get more stretched out."

Napoli face Genk in the Champions League on Wednesday, before returning to Serie A action with a trip to Torino in a week's time.

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