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Lazio takes Serie A lead with Juve left idle due to virus

ROME (AP) — Juventus lost its grip on first place in Serie A to Lazio on Saturday and the eight-time defending champion will have to wait more than a week — possibly even longer — to try and get it back.

That’s because five Italian league games scheduled for this weekend — including Juventus’ highly awaited match against third-place Inter Milan — were postponed in an attempt to contain the spread of a virus outbreak.

The fixtures were originally due to be played without fans but the decision to call them off was taken Saturday by the league as part of “urgent measures for the containment and management” of the COVID-19 disease.

However, with the coronavirus outbreak worst in northern Italy, Lazio was permitted to play its match against Bologna in Rome and won 2-0 with its fans in attendance. Lazio moved two points ahead of idle Juventus and eight ahead of Inter, which also had a game postponed last weekend.

Juventus’ next game is at Bologna on March 8 — and there are concerns that this match and other games next weekend could be postponed, too, if the government decides to extend emergency anti-virus measures for another week.

At the Stadio Olimpico, many fans wore masks over their faces as Lazio extended its unbeaten run to 21 games. Luis Alberto scored one goal and set up another while playing through an apparent injury that left him limping.

Bologna had two goals disallowed following VAR checks. With European champion Liverpool having lost on Saturday to end its 44-game unbeaten streak in the Premier League, Lazio now has the longest unbeaten run in Europe’s top five leagues.

“I would never have imagined to be first after 26 rounds,” Lazio coach Simone Inzaghi said. “But we’ve won the Italian Cup and Super Cup over the last three years and we’ve generally been in the region of the top four. … So we’re not complete surprises.”

Lazio also beat Juventus twice in December, once in Serie A and once to win the Italian Super Cup. Inzaghi played on the Lazio side when it last won Serie A in 2000. “I see a similar atmosphere,” he said. “I see guys who care for each other, a coach that has to make dozens of difficult decisions every day that are accepted. I remember at the time, we all listened to what Sven-Göran Eriksson said and accepted his decisions.”

Alberto put Lazio ahead 18 minutes in with a shot from the edge of the area after taking a pass from Ciro Immobile, and then provided the pass for Joaquín Correa to score with a deflected effort three minutes later.

Only two matches will be played Sunday: Lecce-Atalanta and Cagliari-Roma. The Sampdoria-Hellas Verona match on Monday could also be postponed. SURGING NAPOLI Napoli’s 2-1 win over Torino was its fifth victory in its last six league matches.

Napoli center back Kostas Manolas scored with a header in the 19th and Giovanni Di Lorenzo made it 2-0 in the 82nd following a setup from substitute Dries Mertens. Simone Edera pulled one back for Torino in added time.

Napoli, which was in the bottom half of the standings only recently, moved within three points of fifth-place Roma. Torino lost its sixth straight. A banner held by Napoli fans read, “During tragedies there are no rivalries: United against COVID-19.”

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