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Ailing Mihajlovic coaches Bologna during leukemia treatment

By ANDREW DAMPFAugust 26, 2019
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Bologna coach Sinisa Mihajlovic salutes prior to the Italian Serie A soccer match between Verona and Bologna at the Marcantonio Bentegodi stadium in Verona, Italy, Sunday, Aug. 25. 2019. (Filippo Venezia/ANSA via AP)
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Bologna coach Sinisa Mihajlovic salutes prior to the Italian Serie A soccer match between Verona and Bologna at the Marcantonio Bentegodi stadium in Verona, Italy, Sunday, Aug. 25. 2019. (Filippo Venezia/ANSA via AP)

ROME (AP) — A hospital band was on his right wrist and a bandage was visible on the left side of his neck.

Sinisa Mihajlovic was visibly thinner and his face was drawn, too.

The once robust Bologna coach’s determination remains, though, and that was clearly apparent when Mihajlovic surprised his team by showing up for the squad’s Serie A opener Sunday in his first public appearance following a month of chemotherapy after being diagnosed with leukemia.

“He had promised us he would be here but when we saw him in the hotel, we couldn’t believe it,” Bologna midfielder Andrea Poli said after the 1-1 draw at Hellas Verona.

There was speculation that Mihajlovic would coach the team from a special box in the tribune but he spent nearly the entire game on the touchline, leaving a minute before the end to be shuttled back to the hospital.

“He spoke to us via video conference during the week and said he wasn’t 100 percent. He told us a month ago that he wanted to be here for this game, but we didn’t think he really would be,” Bologna winger Riccardo Orsolini said.

“It was a big boost. We’re just sorry that we didn’t give him the victory,” Orsolini added. “He’s lost a bit of weight, but the grit, determination and passion were the same as always.”

Mihajlovic yelled at his players as usual and gestured with his hands in protest to the officials.

“Sinisa wasn’t very happy at the end,” Bologna sporting director Riccardo Bigon said. “Actually he was angry (over the result).”

The 50-year-old Mihajlovic was a standout player for Sampdoria and Lazio — he still shares the Serie A record for free-kick goals at 28 with Andrea Pirlo — before beginning his coaching career a decade ago in his first stint at Bologna.

Mihajlovic was rehired by Bologna in January to replace Filippo Inzaghi and engineered a complete turnaround for a team that was battling off relegation, leading the club to a 10th place finish.

When Mihajlovic announced in July that he had an acute form of leukemia, the club said it would still keep him in charge.

Up next for Bologna is its home opener against Spal on Friday and it remains to be seen if Mihajlovic will appear at that match.

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PENALTY ERROR

Referees director Nicola Rizzoli has acknowledged that Napoli should not have been awarded a penalty in its wild 4-3 win at Fiorentina on Saturday.

The penalty was awarded after Napoli forward Dries Mertens theatrically dragged his leg as he jumped over a defender who was already on the ground.

Lorenzo Insigne converted the ensuing penalty to put Napoli up 2-1.

“Something didn’t work in the collaboration between the referee and the VAR,” Rizzoli said Monday. “Clearly everyone has seen the error.”

Rizzoli added that he would review whether the referee and VAR official involved would sit out next weekend.

“A coach uses the players who are in the best form and the moves that we make will go toward putting them in the best condition to officiate,” Rizzoli said. “We’ll evaluate their psycho-physical conditions.”

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NO FEMALE REFS

While French referee Stéphanie Frappart recently directed the UEFA Super Cup in the highest-profile men’s game for a female referee, don’t expect to see any women on the pitch in Serie A soon.

“I hope it happens in two or three years,” Italian referees association president Marcello Nicchi said last week when he presented the 21 referees — all male — for this season.

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RODRIGO TO RODRIGO

Rodrigo Becão’s first profession goal was all Udinese needed for a 1-0 win over AC Milan.

The tall defender headed in following a corner from fellow Brazilian Rodrigo De Paul, whose assist came on his first touch of the season — 25 seconds after coming off the bench.

Milan had no shots on goal and lost its opener for the fifth time in the last eight seasons.

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More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AndrewDampf

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