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Ronaldo has sights on Champions League after drought breaker

September 17, 2018
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Juventus' Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring during a Serie A soccer match between Juventus and Sassuolo, at the Allianz Stadium in Turin, Italy, Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018. (Alessandro Di Marco/ANSA via AP)

MILAN (AP) — After finally getting off the mark for Juventus in the league, Cristiano Ronaldo has his sights set on his favorite competition: the Champions League.

Ronaldo was under pressure after three games without scoring for Juventus since his move from Real Madrid, but he broke his mini-drought with two goals in Sunday’s 2-1 win over Sassuolo in Serie A.

Next up for Juventus and Ronaldo is a trip to Valencia on Wednesday as the Champions League kicks off this week.

“I feel like that’s my home. It’s the competition that I love the most,” Ronaldo said. “Let’s hope we have some luck, it will be a difficult group but I can’t wait.”

Juventus has won the Serie A title for the last seven seasons — and the league and Italian Cup double for the past four — but has struggled to transfer that domestic supremacy to the European stage.

Juventus hasn’t won Europe’s premier club competition since 1996, although it has reached the final twice in the past four editions. Splashing out a Serie A record 112 million euro (then $131.5 million) for Ronaldo, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner, sent out a message of its intent to go one step further this time around.

Ronaldo certainly revels in the Champions League. Not only has he won the trophy four times in the past five seasons, but he is also the competition’s leading scorer with 120 goals.

And he appears to be getting into his stride at Juventus at just the right time.

His first goal was a simple tap-in but that appeared to unburden Ronaldo, who had played nearly 320 minutes of competitive football for Juventus without scoring, and he doubled his tally 15 minutes later.

That second goal showed the understanding that is developing between Ronaldo and his new teammates. Douglas Costa sparked a swift counterattack and picked out Emre Can, who spotted Ronaldo’s run and set up the Portugal forward for a diagonal shot.

Valencia knows what a scoring threat Ronaldo can be: he scored 15 goals in 18 appearances against them for Real Madrid.

Also in Group H are Swiss team Young Boys and Manchester United — the club with which Ronaldo won his first Champions League title in 2008.

GOALLESS

While Ronaldo may have found his scoring touch, two Serie A clubs have yet to find the back of the net.

Bologna and Frosinone have not scored in four matches and each club has one point, having played out a 0-0 draw last month.

Yet those clubs aren’t last in the Serie A standings as they each have two more points than Chievo Verona, which was deducted three points for false accounting.

COSTA’S UGLY EPISODE

Juventus looked brighter when Douglas Costa was introduced shortly after the hour mark and he started the move which led to the Bianconeri’s second goal.

However, the Brazil international faces at least a three-match ban after being sent off in stoppages after video review spotted he spat at Sassuolo midfielder Federico Di Francesco.

Shortly before the spitting incident Costa had also raised an elbow at the same player and attempted a head-butt.

“I was ugly, I am aware of that and I apologize to everyone for that,” Costa said in an apology posted on Instagram. He notably did not mention Di Francesco in his message.

VAR PROBLEMS

More than a year after its inception in the Italian league, video technology is still causing issues.

Torino was furious when it had an early goal incorrectly disallowed during Sunday’s 1-1 draw at Udinese.

Television replays showed Alex Berenguer was onside when he headed in but as the whistle had already been blown, VAR could not be used.

“Last year we were punished in so many matches and we didn’t do anything because they told us that we need to wait for the system to grow,” Torino director Gianluca Petrachi said. “But now? This year I expected something different.

“The referee blew the whistle right when the ball was going into the goal without even waiting for the action to be completed. We had 400 meetings in which it was always told to us that you can’t blow the whistle while the ball is going into the goal ... I’m for VAR in every sense but if we have it and we don’t use it, making shoddy errors, I don’t know what to think.”

Inter Milan was also upset during a 1-0 loss to Parma when opposing defender Federico Dimarco appeared to handle the ball when clearing off the line against Ivan Perisic.

Referee Gianluca Manganiello communicated with the VAR official but opted not to view the footage and waved play on.

Dimarco — who could have been sent off — went on to score the winner.

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