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Inter defender Acerbi sent home from Italy camp. Denies racially abusing Napoli’s Juan Jesus


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Inter Milan defender Francesco Acerbi was sent home from Italy’s training camp on Monday, a day after an allegation he racially abused Napoli’s Juan Jesus in a Serie A match.

Acerbi vehemently denied he used the offensive word, upon arriving back in Milan.

The incident happened during the second half of Sunday’s match and Juan Jesus, who is Black, was visibly upset when he walked up to the referee, who then called over Acerbi.

In close-up television images, Juan Jesus seemed to be telling the referee that Acerbi used a racist slur. Juan Jesus also pointed at his shirt sleeve which had a ‘Keep Racism Out’ badge — as part of the league’s anti-racism campaign.

“I never said any racist expression, I am very calm,” Acerbi told journalists at Milan’s train station, in quotes reported by Gazzetta dello Sport. “I have been a professional for 20 years and I know what I say, no word of that type came out of my mouth, it was him that misunderstood.

“I’m disappointed to have left the national team.”

Juan Jesus said after the match that Acerbi immediately apologized to him for using that term.

“He understood wrongly,” Acerbi said. “A lot of things happen on the field, it’s normal. You play soccer, you say certain things, but at the end of the match you shake hands and everything is as it was.”

Acerbi joined the Italy squad in Rome before the Azzurri fly to the United States on Tuesday for friendly matches against Venezuela and Ecuador but he has been replaced by Roma defender Gianluca Mancini.

The Italian soccer federation said in a statement that in accordance with the Azzurri’s internal policy, Acerbi spoke to Italy coach Luciano Spalletti and the players and explained his own version of “the presumed racist expression” he allegedly used.

“From the Inter defender’s account, pending that what happened is reconstructed with full respect to the autonomy of the sporting justice system, it emerged that there was no defamatory, denigrating or racist intent on his part,” the FIGC said.

“It was nevertheless agreed to leave Acerbi out of the squad for the next two friendly matches in the United States, to guarantee the necessary serenity to the national team and to the player himself, who will return to his club today.”

Inter issued a brief statement after Acerbi was dropped from the Italy squad and said it “will meet with the player as soon as possible to shed light on the exact details of what happened last night.”

Juan Jesus would not confirm after the match what happened.

“What happens on the field, stays on the field,” the Brazilian told DAZN. “Acerbi apologized, he went a bit over the top with his words. He is a good guy.

“Moreover, obviously we’re adults, we can sort it out on the field. He apologized, we moved on and when the referee blows his whistle everything ends there. It’s fine.”

Acerbi and Juan Jesus also embraced at the end of the match, which finished 1-1. Juan Jesus scored a late equalizer against his former team.

“I hope it doesn’t happen again because he’s an intelligent guy,” the 32-year-old Juan Jesus added.

The 36-year-old Acerbi wasn’t disciplined by the referee.

If the Italian federation opens an investigation, Acerbi could face a ban of at least 10 matches. Much could depend on what has been written in the referee’s report, which has been sent to the Italian league’s sporting judge.

It is the latest race-related incident to blight Italian soccer. AC Milan forward Rafael Leão was targeted on social media last month. He and his Rossoneri teammates walked off the field in January after goalkeeper Mike Maignan was racially abused at Udinese.

There have been numerous racist incidents in Italian and European soccer for years, with victims in Italy including Kevin-Prince Boateng, Mario Balotelli and Romelu Lukaku.


AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/Soccer

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