Inter Milan game among three postponed over coronavirus in Italy

Emmeline MOORE
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Cristiano Ronaldo scored for a record-equalling 11th Serie A game

Title-chasing Inter Milan's clash against Sampdoria on Sunday was one of three Serie A football matches postponed over coronavirus fears in northern Italy.

Atalanta against Sassuolo and Hellas Verona versus Cagliari in the top flight were also pushed back to avoid the spread of the virus with 79 confirmed cases in an outbreak that has claimed two lives in Italy.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced late on Saturday evening that all sporting events in two northern regions would be suspended on Sunday.

"Minister of Sport Vincenzo Spadafora intends to suspend all sporting events planned for Sunday in the Veneto and Lombardy regions," said Conte.

"I am sorry for fans of football and other sports who were planning to go to the matches scheduled tomorrow but citizens need to be responsible."

"The Club can confirm that Inter vs. Sampdoria, which was due to take place at 20:45 CET on Sunday 23 February, has been postponed to a later date," Inter tweeted.

Third-placed Inter, who lie six points behind Serie A champions Juventus, have a home Europa League match scheduled for Thursday.

Saturday saw more than 40 amateur and youth matches in the regions called off because of virus fears.

The Serie B game between Ascoli and Cremonese was also postponed.

- Ronaldo landmark -

On the pitch, Cristiano Ronaldo scored for a record-equalling 11th consecutive Serie A game in his 1,000th professional match as Juventus extended their lead at the top of the table to four points with a 2-1 win at SPAL.

The 35-year-old tapped in six minutes before the break to equal the mark held by Gabriel Batistuta and Fabio Quagliarella.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner has scored 25 goals in all competitions this season for Juventus -- including 16 in his last 11 appearances -- and 21 in Serie A, five behind leading scorer Ciro Immobile.

Aaron Ramsey added a second after an hour before Andrea Petagna pulled a controversial goal back from the spot for SPAL, after a penalty was awarded by VAR officials because the pitchside monitor not working.

"Today we had goals scored using VAR when VAR wasn't working," said Juventus manager Maurizio Sarri.

"It seems to me a great injustice -- if the monitor does not work, the referee must decide," he added.

"I understand that the regulation allows this and (referee Federico) La Penna explained it to me, but I don't agree with it."

Ronaldo came close to a second when his free-kick hit the crossbar as Sarri's side earned a valuable three points against an outfit they had failed to beat away from home in the previous two seasons.

It got Juventus back on track on their travels after consecutive defeats at Napoli and at Hellas Verona, and ahead of next week's first-leg, last-16 Champions League trip to Lyon.

Juventus captain Giorgio Chiellini made his first start since being sidelined with a cruciate ligament knee injury last August, playing for 55 minutes in Ferrara.

- Milan held -

Second-placed Lazio can close to the gap to one point with a win at Genoa on Sunday.

But AC Milan missed the chance to move ahead of sixth-placed Napoli into the Europa League places with a 1-1 draw at 10-man Fiorentina.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic had a goal ruled out in the first half for a handball with Milan also losing goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma to a foot injury seven minutes after the break allowing Asmir Begovic to come on for his debut.

Ante Rebic scored his sixth goal in as many league games in the 56th minute to give Milan the lead.

Fiorentina's Dalbert was sent off for a foul on Ibrahimovic, leaving the hosts a man down for the final half an hour.

But Erick Pulgar grabbed a point for 13th-placed Fiorentina from the spot with five minutes to go.