Fighting leukemia, Mihajlovic inspires Bologna to 2nd place

Brescia's Ales Mateju, right, and Bologna's Riccardo Orsolini vie for the ball during a Serie A soccer match between Brescia and Bologna at the Rigamonti stadium in Brescia, Italy, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019. (Simone Venezia/ANSA via AP)


AP Sports Writer

ROME (AP) Sinisa Mihajlovic's fight against leukemia continues to inspire Bologna, which has surprisingly surged into second place three rounds into Serie A.

The coach was absent from a 4-3 comeback win over 10-man Brescia on Sunday but his halftime speech via telephone from the hospital where he is undergoing chemotherapy made a resounding impact.

"We're playing like this thanks to his mentality. At the end of the first half he transmitted his anger to us," Bologna forward Rodrigo Palacio said. "In the second half we came out with the necessary desire and a great mentality."

When Bologna arrived back home hours after the match, the team bus stopped at the Sant'Orsola hospital where Mihajlovic is being treated and the players chanted their coach's name until he popped his head outside his window and waved to them.

Brescia led 3-1 at the break with a brace from Alfredo Donnarumma but Daniela Dessena was sent off after a dive early in the second half. Palacio then started the comeback, which was followed by an own-goal from Brescia's Stefano Sabelli and the winner from Riccardo Orsolini.

Mattia Bani scored Bologna's opening goal and Andrea Cistana scored Brescia's third.

It's the first time Bologna has gained seven points from its opening three matches in 17 years.

Bologna is two points behind perfect Inter Milan and ahead of eight-time defending champion Juventus on goals scored (six to five).

Torino can extend its perfect start against promoted Lecce on Monday.

In the previous round, Bologna beat Spal 1-0 with an injury-time goal from Roberto Soriano.

Mihajlovic surprised his squad by traveling with his hospital band still on to the season-opener at Hellas Verona, which ended 1-1.

Mihajlovic was rehired by Bologna in January to replace Filippo Inzaghi and engineered a complete turnaround for a team that was fighting 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.

Brescia is still without Mario Balotelli, who is serving a four-match ban from last season in the French league.

Roma earned its first win under new coach Paulo Fonseca with a four-goal outburst in the first half of a 4-2 victory over Sassuolo.

Bryan Cristante, Edin Dzeko, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Justin Kluivert each scored before halftime with a trio of assists from Lorenzo Pellegrini.

Domenico Berardi then pulled two back for Sassuolo after the break.

Mkhitaryan scored on debut after being loaned from Arsenal with his first shot on goal, an accurate angled drive.

AC Milan required a second-half penalty from Krzysztof Piatek to overcome 10-man Hellas Verona 1-0.

The Rossoneri produced only one shot on goal in the first half despite a straight red card to Verona's Mariusz Stepinski in the 21st.

Milan earned a penalty midway through the second half when Koray Gunter blocked a shot from Hakan Calhanoglu with his arm.

Earlier, Milan fullback Davide Calabria hit the post.

Piatek had a potential second goal disallowed by VAR for a foul on the goalkeeper.

Calabria was sent off for clotheslining a defender in the last minute of stoppage time, setting up a dangerous free kick from Verona but Miguel Veloso's effort hit Milan's wall and Darko Lazovic's powerful attempt at the rebound went just wide.

Atalanta warmed up for its Champions League debut with a last-ditch 2-1 win at Genoa courtesy of Duvan Zapata's strike five minutes into stoppage time. Having finished a club-record third last season, Atalanta opens the elite European competition at Dinamo Zagreb on Wednesday.

An injury-time winner from Jasmin Kurtic helped Spal to a come-from-behind 2-1 win over visiting Lazio.

Also, defender Luca Ceppitelli scored twice for Cagliari in a 3-1 victory at Parma.

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Updated September 15, 2019