Monterrey’s stunning comeback makes it three straight CCL titles

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When Santos Laguna went up 2-0 after 50 minutes the CONCACAF Champions League title looked to be heading the way of Herculez Gomez and company. But in the final 30 minutes Monterrey exploded for four goals to snatch victory from the hands of their Mexican neighbor.

It was a display for the ages for the Rayados, whose spectacular comeback showed why they came into the match as the tournament’s two-time defending champions. Victor Manuel Vucetich’s side began the game very much in control but Darwin Quintero’s 37th minute goal from five yards out handed the Guerreros a 1-0 lead. Five minutes after the break Santos doubled its tally through Panamanian defender Felipe Baloy, who headed Osmar Mares’ corner into the side netting.

While Santos were dreaming of champagne celebrations, Monterrey had other ideas and their sustained pressure finally paid off in the 59th minute. Jesus Corona collected the ball on the right side and took his space with pleasure, driving down the field and crossing into the path of Aldo de Nigris, who cracked a one-time left-footed shot into the bottom corner.

With Guadalajara’s Estadio Tecnológico shaking under a vociferous crowd the Rayados found their equalizer in the 84th minute. Humberto Suazo’s corner kick was skimmed out to the top of the box where an unmarked Neri Cardozo hit a low burner that Oswaldo Sanchez was late getting down on. It was a decent shot but one where the defense and goalkeeper should have done better.

The leveler gave Monterrey plenty of momentum but still left Vucetich’s side down on away goals, forcing them to press on. Three minutes later the do-it-all Suazo dropped back to take a set piece play from 45 yards out and served a perfect ball into the box and onto the head of de Nigris, who re-directed it into the bottom corner for his brace.

Down 3-2, Santos barreled forward in search of the goal that would’ve brought the score level but it wasn’t to be as Pedro Caixinha’s side were caught stretched in stoppage time. Jesus Zavala collected the ball just inside midfield and tore into the Santos box, slipping a delightful pass under the onrushing Sanchez for Suazo to thump home. It was justice served for the Chilean striker, who had been heavily involved in the Monterrey attack throughout the entire 90 minutes.

For Santos, it was a crushing blow but one that on the balance of play, seemed a fair result. With the victory, the Rayados will represent the CONCACAF region at the FIFA Club World Cup in Morocco in December.

For U.S. international Herculez Gomez, it was a night of missed touches and, arguably, missed calls. Despite playing a vital role in Santos’ run to the finals, he was omitted from his side’s Starting XI and had to wait until the 63rd minute to enter the match. Inserted as a left midfielder, Gomez’ role was primarily defensive as Santos tried to preserve its lead. The 31 year old was his typical hard-working self, lacing two shots off target while earning a caution for some feisty play. Gomez almost earned his club a breakthrough in the 90th minute as he laid claim for a penalty but referee Marco Rodriguez wasn’t interested.

In the end it was disappointment for the American, who has recently been linked to a transfer back to MLS where he could star for either Toronto FC or Seattle, possible in a Designated Player role.

Chinese clubs to pay 100% tax on foreign transfers

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The days of Chinese Super League sides spending eye-popping figures on a handful of international superstars are over — either that, or those figures are about to double — for now, at least.

[ MORE: Oscar given 8-game ban for petulant display in China ]

China’s Football Association announced Thursday that, effective immediately, any foreign player signed for a fee exceeding $6.63 million would be subject to a 100-percent tax on top of the fee paid to acquire the player. The tax will remain in effect until the end of China’s ongoing transfer window, July 14. The tax will also apply to Chinese players signed for a fee exceeding $3 million.

It’s Chinese authorities’ latest attempt to prevent big spending by CSL clubs, which has in every instance been detrimental to the development of young Chinese players making their way through the academy system. The taxed money will then be reinvested in “youth training, construction of public sporting facilities and scientific progress in football development,” according to a statement by the CFA.

Just last week, China was eliminated from contention to qualify for next summer’s World Cup in Russia. The only time China has ever qualified for the World Cup was in 2002.

Young Englishman Oxford goes abroad, to Gladbach, on loan

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MOENCHENGLADBACH, Germany (AP) Borussia Moenchengladbach has signed English central defender Reece Oxford on loan for the season from Premier League club West Ham.

Gladbach sporting director Max Eberl says “Oxford has gone through all the England youth teams and is one of the biggest defensive talents in Britain.”

The 18-year-old Oxford, who spent the second half of last season on loan at second-division club Reading, is Gladbach’s fifth arrival of the off-season.

Qatar stadium safety concerns again raised by death investigation

Photo by Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy/Qatar 2022 via Getty Images
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An investigation into why a British man fell to his death on a building site for the 2022 Qatar soccer World Cup has raised concerns about stadium roof safety.

World Cup organizers on Thursday released partial findings of an assessment of the accident at the Khalifa International Stadium, but said the full report cannot be released while local authorities continue their own investigation. It is one of two work-related deaths detailed in Qatar’s latest welfare report on preparations for the 2022 soccer tournament, which currently involves 12,367 workers on eight construction sites.

The 40-year-old British man fell 39 meters in January after one end of the roof catwalk he was installing dropped and a safety rope snapped.

“During the course of the investigation, the team had raised concerns with the method of installation of the raised catwalk system,” the welfare report from Qatar’s World Cup organizers stated. “This required further investigation regarding the method itself and the supervision skills of the specialist contractor staff.”

It has led to “corrective and preventative actions” being implemented by the contractor, a joint venture between Belgian and Qatari firms, along with safety checks across all stadium sites, the report said.

“These included a review of all working-at-height activities across all SC projects, an enhanced process when reviewing specialist activities within construction sites, and a detailed review of all roof and gantry designs,” the Supreme Committee overseeing stadium projects added.

The British man is the only European working on Qatar stadiums to have died in a country relying on a low-paid migrant workforce from south Asia to prepare for the first World Cup in the Middle East. Six non-work related deaths have been announced by organizers, with most suffering from heart or breathing problems.

Hassan Al Thawadi, the supreme committee’s secretary general, said medical staff are trying to raise awareness of the “importance of healthy lifestyles” by evaluating diets and identifying health issues, including hypertension and diabetes. Cooling helmets have also been developed in an attempt to make it safer for workers on outdoor sites during the searing summer heat.

World Cup preparations have been dogged by concerns about the welfare of workers since the natural gas-rich Gulf nation won the FIFA vote in 2010. Mounting international pressure led to Qatar raising living standards and worker rights. Inspections led to three contractors being blacklisted and 14 entities “demobilized” from projects for failing to tackle welfare issues, the World Cup report reveals.

“There is still work to be done to ensure our workers’ welfare standards continue to have a tangible impact on the ground and we are comprehensive in our attempts to tackle the myriad of issues facing migrant workers across the SC program,” Khalid Al-Kubaisi, who oversees worker welfare at the Supreme Committee, said in a statement.

The report has been released as Qatar is gripped by a diplomatic crisis that has seen it isolated in the region. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar earlier this month and blocked air, sea and land traffic over its support for Islamist groups and ties with Iran. Qatar denies the charges and says the allegations are politically motivated.

Official (finally): Salah completes move from Roma to Liverpool

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It was the summer’s first transfer rumor-turned-real-story-turned-never-ending-saga that seemed to refuse to cross the finish line, but it’s finally come to pass: Mohamed Salah is a Liverpool player.

Salah’s move from Roma to Liverpool took so long to complete that the club’s poor social-media manager probably never wants to read the words “Announce Salah” for the rest of his/her life.

The deal will cost Liverpool something in the neighborhood of $50 million — a new Liverpool club record — and completes the utterly terrifying attacking quartet Jurgen Klopp can’t wait to unleash on the Premier League come August — Salah on one side, Sadio Mane opposite, Philippe Coutinho in the middle, and Roberto Firmino at striker. Salah, by the way, will take over Firmino’s no. 11 shirt, with the Brazilian switching to no. 9.