- Associated Press - Thursday, April 5, 2018

ROME (AP) - Spain 7, Italy 1.

The combined scores of the Champions League matches against Spanish opposition amounted to another debacle for Italian football this week.

Five months after the national team’s failure to qualify for the World Cup, Italy’s clubs proved no match for squads led by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

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Ronaldo scored twice as Real Madrid beat Juventus 3-0 on Tuesday in the first leg of their quarterfinal.

A day later, Roma made the already daunting task of beating Messi’s team that much harder by scoring two own goals as Barcelona won 4-1.

The results are expected to render next week’s second legs inconsequential and highlight a growing divide between the games of the southern Mediterranean neighbors.

A divide that has been in place at least since the 2012 European Championship final where Spain manhandled Italy 4-0.

While Italy eliminated Spain from the 2016 European Championship and Juventus eliminated Barcelona from last season’s Champions League, those results proved only temporary.

Juventus went on to lose last season’s final to Madrid 4-1.

Then Spain’s dominance resurfaced in a 3-0 win over Italy in September that relegated the Azzurri to a World Cup playoff which they lost to Sweden.

In Turin on Tuesday, Juventus fans stood up to applaud Ronaldo’s second goal, an overhead kick.

“In sport and in life there are people who show they are better than you,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri tweeted. “You applaud them and you keep working to become like they are.”

In Barcelona, a pair of own goals by Daniele De Rossi and Kostas Manolas - plus the referee’s decision not to award a potential penalty when a defender made contact from behind with Edin Dzeko - put the hosts in control.

“They’re good enough already. They don’t need any help,” Roma coach Eusebio Di Francesco said. “Tonight they were helped by both the referee and by us.”

Added Dzeko, who scored Roma’s only goal 10 minutes from time, “We need the VAR in the Champions League, too. If the referee had awarded us that penalty it would have drastically changed the match.

“The referee should have had the courage to whistle a penalty against Barcelona. We’re two squads that have reached the quarterfinals deservedly and you’ve got to call the match fairly for everyone.”

On the bright side for Roma is that it reached the quarterfinals for the first time in a decade.

Juventus, meanwhile, is on course for a record seventh straight Serie A title.

Napoli, the other Italian club in the Champions League, was eliminated in the group stage then effectively opted out of the Europa League by playing reserves against Leipzig in the round of 32 and losing 3-1.

Napoli’s strategy was to put its entire focus on winning Serie A for the first time in nearly three decades. But with only one win in its last four matches, Napoli has fallen four points behind Juventus with eight rounds remaining.

Roma is third in Serie A entering Saturday’s match against visiting Fiorentina, which has won five straight since captain Davide Astori died of a suspected cardiac arrest.

With Juventus and Napoli far ahead, Roma, Inter Milan and Lazio are separated by only three points in the race for the final two Champions League berths.

“We’ve got to focus right away on beating the Viola if we want to play in the Champions League next season,” Dzeko said. “Only afterward can we start thinking about the second leg with Barcelona.”

For Roma and Juventus, next week’s second legs may be more about containing the damage.


More AP soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Soccer


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

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