Hull City back in the Premier League; playoffs set after last day of England’s Championship

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Hull City may be one of the least-impressive teams to earn automatic promotion, but they have the summer to correct those problems, because after today’s draws at the KC Stadium and Vicarage Road, the Tigers are back in the Premier League, joining league-winners Cardiff City as automatic promotees from England’s Football Championship.

But Steve Bruce’s side practically volunteered to be pulled into a playoff. Hosting the already-promoted Bluebirds on the season’s last day, Hull went down early in the second half before goals from Nick Proschwitz and Paul McShane looked to have the Tigers promoted. One point up on third-place Watford ahead of today’s 12 simultaneous kick offs, Hull knew three points would send them up.

Yet in the 93rd minute, a handball by defender Abdoulaye Faye sent Nicky Maynard to the spot, a state that brought Hull’s horrible form back into perspective. In mid-April, the Tigers looked sure bets to join Cardiff in the Premiership, but one point in three games ahead of the Bluebirds’ visit brought Watford back into play. And when Maynard beat David Stockdale in the 95th minute, the Hornets had fate in their hands.

Unfortunately, Gianfranco Zola’s team couldn’t find the late goal that would have snatched automatic promotion. While a visit from Leeds United should have meant three points, the Whites were able to take a 1-1 draw from Vicarage Road, sending Watford into a four-team playoff for the last promotion spot. The result also allowed Hull to back into the Premier League.

The Tigers’ ability to get the league’s second-most points from a 46-match season is an obvious argument to their quality, one that precludes any claim (possibly inadvertently hinted here) they’re undeserving of their spot. Yet powered by a midseason, post-Bruce-hiring run, Hull bares a vague resemblance to last year’s Reading – a team with Championship mid-table talent that found a mid-season rhythm and rode it into the Premier League. Add in a pedestrian +7 goal difference, there’s more than one reason to think this is the beginning of another Hull yo-yo, even if there’s a shade of poor taste in bringing this up moments after the club’s secured promotion.

Hull were last in the Premier League in 2009-10, the end of a two-year run that began when a sixth-placed team went through the Championship playoff and into England’s top division. They were saved on the last day in 2008-09 before finishing 19th in 2009-10.

Now they’re back, and with the cash injection provided by Premier League broadcast rights, they’ll have the same shot given to every other promoted club. If they spend wisely and manage their season well (neither of which Reading did), they can stay up, their Championship run-in be damned.

source: Getty ImagesPlayoffs set

With their home draw, Watford’s route to the Premier League now does through Wembley. They’ll face Leicester City in one half of the bracket, while Crystal Palace and Brighton & Hove Albion meet on the other.

That makes Bolton the day’s big loser. The Trotters came into the day in sixth place and needed only a win over visiting, mid-table Blackpool to secure a playoff spot. But like Hull and Watford, they left their destiny in others’ hands, giving up two early goals to spot the Seasiders a lead they never gave up. With the 2-2 draw, the turnaround Doughie Freedman engineered after Owen Coyle’s dismissal fell short. A 91st minute goal by Leicester City’s Antony Knockaertat rival Nottingham Forest allowed the Foxes to secure the league’s last playoff spot.

Brighton and Palace both got home wins against relegated sides, confirming relegation for Peterborough United and Wolverhampton Wanderers. For Wolves, it was their second successive relegation. Bistol City, 10 points adrift of 23rd place Wolverhampton, join the duo in League One.

While PSG has won the title, Areola’s playing for his future

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PARIS (AP) Although Paris Saint-Germain has easily won the French title, Alphonse Areola still has plenty to play for.

The next four games could be crucial in deciding whether PSG keeps the goalkeeper or tries to sign a big name in the transfer window, possibly Thibaut Courtois. The 25-year-old Areola is the same age as Courtois, but has nowhere near the international standing of the Chelsea keeper.

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It is hard for Areola to stand out, however, in a team noted almost singularly for its attacking prowess. While PSG has already scored more than 100 league goals, and remains on course to reach 100 points this season, Areola has rarely been talked about.

The common perception is that PSG will thrash teams in the French league, so letting in a goal or two is irrelevant.

However, Areola has been one of PSG’s most consistent players this season, and last Sunday he made a personal record of eight saves in a 1-0 win at Bordeaux.

He was also one of the few PSG players to come through the loss to Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League with any credit. Without Areola’s shot-stopping, and particularly his bravery rushing off his line, the 5-2 aggregate loss would have been bigger.

With 104 goals, PSG’s attack is the best in the league by far and has netted 25 more than deposed champion Monaco.

But PSG’s defense is also the best and Areola has conceded only 21 goals in the 31 he has played. Although PSG has dominated most of those, losing only twice all season, he has still made on average four saves per game.

Having replaced Kevin Trapp as No. 1, Areola has missed only three league games all season. It represents a reversal for both.

When Trapp was signed by former coach Laurent Blanc in 2015-16, Areola went on loan to Spanish club Villarreal. He established himself as regular in Villarreal’s side and gained further experience in the Europa League. Spanish media were largely impressed by his consistency and his agility on the goal-line.

He returned to PSG and battled with Trapp for the starting position last season. But coach Unai Emery seemed unsure who he really preferred, with Trapp starting 24 games to Areola’s 14. PSG ended up losing the title to Monaco.

But the hierarchy is much clearer now and the error-prone Trapp, once hailed by Blanc for his passing out from goal, is the one expected to leave.

Areola has further incentive to do well with the World Cup coming up. He is challenging Marseille goalkeeper Steve Mandanda to be France’s No. 2 behind Hugo Lloris in Russia. For now, Areola is a squad member but has yet to make an international appearance under coach Didier Deschamps.

But he has done well at every level for France, starting with the under-16s a decade ago. He got his first taste of international success when he helped France win the Under-20 World Cup in 2013.

While Paul Pogba was one of the stars of the tournament, Areola’s crowning moment came in the final itself. France drew 0-0 with Uruguay and he saved two shots in the penalty shootout. Prior to the shootout he had a word with France’s designated penalty takers, confidently telling them “do your job and I’ll do mine.”

With Emery almost certain to be replaced next season, it promises to be a frenetic offseason of buying and selling at the club.

But whoever replaces Emery should perhaps think twice before letting Areola leave. The Parisian-born Areola came through the youth ranks at PSG, as did center half Presnel Kimpembe and midfielder Adrien Rabiot.

Star-studded sides like PSG often import their best players and fans are happy to see them arrive, because it shows ambition. But they nevertheless identify more closely with homegrown talents such as Areola.

More AP Ligue 1 coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/Ligue1

Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire

Infantino has ‘full confidence’ in Samoura amid ethics issue

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA President Gianni Infantino says he retains “full confidence” in secretary general Fatma Samoura after an attempt to embroil her in an ethics investigation.

[ MORE: Turkey hands in bid plans to UEFA for 2024 EUROs ]

Samoura has expressed irritation at “totally ridiculous and baseless” claims she broke FIFA rules by not declaring an alleged conflict of interest in the 2026 World Cup bidding contest.

FIFA has not specified the exact nature of the complaint or the progress of any ethics investigation after it was alleged she was a relative of former Senegal player El Hadji Diouf, who is an ambassador for Morocco’s bid.

Samoura insisted on Wednesday the former Liverpool forward “is not a member of my family and therefore everything is crystal clear.”

FIFA’s top administrator received a public show of support from Infantino.

“I can confirm my full confidence in Fatma Samoura to lead the FIFA administration,” Infantino said in a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday.

The former United Nations official was hired by Infantino in 2016 months after he was elected as Sepp Blatter’s successor.

Morocco is due to take on a joint bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico in the June 13 vote for the 2026 World Cup host.

Photo: Flamengo supporter tattoos club jersey on body

MAURÍCIO DOS ANJOS VIA VICE
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A supporter in Brazil has taken fandom to a whole new level with a piece of body art that shows his devotion to the club.

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Maurício dos Anjos, a passionate Flamengo fan, has been a life-long supporter of the Rio de Janeiro-based club, and has the tattoo to prove it.

While it may look like body paint, Dos Anjos has a tattoo on the upper-half of his body depicting the Flamengo jersey, and it’s pretty awesome.

“People ask me if I don’t find it strange that I’m always wearing a Flamengo shirt. And I just don’t,” dos Anjos told VICE. “To me, it’s normal. But it doesn’t seem like anyone I talk to about it actually dislikes my tattoo.”

In total, Dos Anjos says the body work took over 90 hours and 30 sessions to complete the tattoo.

Has the perception of MLS really changed?

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When David Beckham arrived in Los Angeles back in 2007 his presence changed the complexion of Major League Soccer for all the right reasons, and the perception of the growing league changed.

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Over the years, MLS has strived to move into the upper-echelon of the global game, in an attempt to compete with the likes of the Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga, but naysayers still indicate to this day that the United States’ top flight lacks the quality of the aforementioned.

Phrases like “retirement league” and “uninspired” have been used to describe MLS in the past, particularly when it comes to the league’s willingness to spend boatloads of cash on notable players well past their prime.

Examples such as Andrea Pirlo, Steven Gerrard and Rafael Marquez have at times dampened the perception of MLS due to the lack of quality on the pitch from those players, along with several others that had previously boasted extensive resumes.

Now, we’re at a time where MLS has picked up its scouting, with clubs focused more on younger, more skilled talents from South America and Europe.

That has led to major signings over the past several years, such as Ezequiel Barco, Miguel Almiron, Diego Rossi and Jesus Medina, to name a few.

Has that changed the overall complexion of MLS though?

On Thursday, Kevin De Bruyne‘s agent, Patrick de Koster, suggested in an interview that the Belgium international would likely “finish” his career in MLS.

“For now, he’s very happy at this club,” De Koster said. “We always look what the best solution for the player, both financially and football wise. Kevin’s future? I can see him finish at Los Angeles.”

This comes on the heels of a 36-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic joining the LA Galaxy in a move that has sent shockwaves across the league and the world because of the Swede’s great presence on a global scale.

It’s not to say that players like Ibrahimovic, or previous signings like David Villa and Didier Drogba cannot help the overall growth of MLS, because they certainly bring an awareness to the matches and draw attention to their respective clubs.

However, the long-term viability of MLS has been and will continue to be sustained on youth players succeeding in the league, as well as being able to draw promising young talents into the top flight of the U.S.