Sun, Seagulls and top-flight soccer at the Amex next season?

Championship Playoff Preview: Crystal Palace at Brighton

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Okay, so it is going to take a lot to top the dramatic Championship playoff semifinal between Watford and Leicester City on Sunday.

But let’s hope Brighton and Crystal Palace give it a darn good go down on the South Coast of England this afternoon.

The two huge rivals drew 0-0 on Friday at Selhurst Park with everything on the line in their playoff semifinal second leg, to decide who will face Watford in the Championship Playoff final at Wembley stadium later this month.

Who are the favorites you ask? This is a tricky one. Remarkably, after 97 meetings over 93 years; Brighton have won 37, Crystal Palace 36 with 24 drawn. So Brighton and Hove Albion have the edge… just.

Brighton have the home advantage. They have turned the Amex Stadium into a fortress this season —  just their second campaign in the Championship after winning the League One title in 2010-11 —  losing just three times and the Seaside club must fancy their chances.

Brighton have not lost since March 12, in the ten games since they have won five and drawn five.

Manager Gus Poyet’s Uruguayan roots emanate in the Seagulls play and their gritty midfield duo Liam Bridcutt and Dean Hammond are an engine-room to be reckoned with. Forwards Leonardo Ulloa and Will Buckley provide a big threat and could help Brighton move one step closer to their dream of reaching the English Premier League.

Meanwhile Crystal Palace are looking to reignite their wonderful early season form after they stumbled into the playoffs under Ian Holloway. The Eagles saw their goals dry up late in the season and have failed to score in their last three games against their arch rivals. Can they do so today? 39-year-old striker Kevin Phillips may be their best hope after the Championship’s top scorer with 30 goals, Glenn Murray, badly injured his knee in Friday’s semifinal first leg. A huge blow for the South London side.

However they do have Wilfred Zaha on the wing. The England international will be keen to spearhead the Eagles challenge to make it back to the EPL, despite the fact that Zaha has already been signed by Manchester United and will be at Old Trafford next season.

You can catch the game on BeIN Sport from 2:30pm ET.

What they’re saying…

Brighton

Gus Poyet: “There will not be a winner by many goals so let’s see if we can use our home advantage. This tie, anywhere in the world, is 50/50 but I would always want to play in front of my fans. Everything is there. I don’t need to motivate the players and we don’t need to motivate the fans either. It will be an amazing atmosphere and we’ll do everything we can to win.”

Liam Bridcutt: “The job is not done until we win and we know it will be hard at our place as well. We just have to go into the game with the same winning mentality and see if we can score the goals, and win the game. We are looking forward to it and are ready to go again.”

Crystal Palace

Ian Holloway: “We have to go there and they will have to watch us because we aren’t bad at counter-attacking. Obviously we will have to stop them at their own ground, but this is where the pressure happens, this is where it all starts building. It only takes one thing from us and that could upset everything. It’s a fantastic opportunity for us, we have to do better than we did at their ground last time.”

Prediction: This one really is too close to call. Extra-time and maybe even penalties beckons to separate these huge rivals. As you probably gathered, the fans don’t think much of one another and the atmosphere is sure to be electric inside the 30,000 capacity Amex. This game promises to be a great advert for English soccer’s second tier. The home side have the slight advantage and, at a push, I think Brighton will be competing with Watford for a place in the EPL.

Chelsea wins the League… of Hate; Bournemouth, Leicester not hated

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 27:  Diego Costa of Chelsea celebrates his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Chelsea at St Mary's Stadium on February 27, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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A family of English newspapers conducted its annual survey of which teams are the most hated in the Premier League, and there’s a new champion.

Manchester United has dropped to second in the table to Chelsea in what the Manchester Evening News called the “League of Hate”.

[ MORE: Rooney’s England position not set ]

According to the MEN, 10,000 fans were quizzed on their love and hate:

A national survey asked fans of each top flight club which sides they hate, and which they love, and the west London club came out as the most disliked club overall.

United, who won the dubious accolade last year, have been revealed to be the next most reviled side.

It’s no surprise that the league’s more successful sides sit atop the table while newer PL clubs like Bournemouth and Burnley are not reviled. That said, Leicester’s dream story has them 19th. How much more success do they need to have before shooting up the hate table?

Here’s the Top Five, and all results:

1) Chelsea
2) Manchester United
3) Liverpool
4) Manchester City
5) Arsenal

Allardyce will use Rooney where he’s playing for Manchester United

BURTON-UPON-TRENT, ENGLAND - JULY 25:  Newly appointed England manager Sam Allardyce poses after a press conference at St. George's Park on July 25, 2016 in Burton-upon-Trent, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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England manager Sam Allardyce is going to choose the best players going, and play them where they’re playing for their club.

Joe Prince-Wright has a full write-up on Allardyce’s unveiling here, as the English boss says Wayne Rooney will play for his country in the same spot as his club.

[ MORE: Cresswell out four months ]

So it seems Jose Mourinho’s preference at Manchester United will help dictate where England’s leading scorer will line up.

From the BBC:

“I still think Wayne Rooney has a massive place to play in the England side,” said the 61-year-old.

“If Jose says he is not going to play him in centre midfield and he is playing up front and scoring goals for Manchester United then it would be pointless me bringing him into England and playing him in centre midfield.”

Those comments will have anti-Jurgen Klinsmann folks nodding their heads in approval. That said, Allardyce isn’t exactly going out on a limb, as Rooney is widely expected to play deeper for United with strikers like Anthony Martial, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcus Rashford also around.

FIFA bans council member Niersbach in World Cup bids probe

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - FEBRUARY 26:  FIFA Executive Committee member Wolfgang Niersbach looks on during the Extraordinary FIFA Congress at Hallenstadion on February 26, 2016 in Zurich, Switzerland.  (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
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FIFA council member Wolfgang Niersbach, a member of FIFA’s ruling council, was banned from soccer for one year on Monday in the first sanction from the investigation into Germany’s 2006 World Cup bid.

FIFA’s ethics committee found Niersbach guilty of failing to report findings about possible unethical conduct and conflicts of interest during the bidding process.

Niersbach, who was a vice president of the 2006 World Cup organizing committee in charge of media and marketing, described the punishment as “inappropriate and excessive.”

[ MORE: Cresswell out four months ]

Last year, Niersbach had been considered a possible successor to UEFA President Michel Platini before resigning as president of the German soccer federation when allegations against the bid first surfaced.

Niersbach retained his elected positions on the top decision-making bodies at both FIFA and UEFA. He is the first member of the rebranded FIFA Council, which replaced the discredited executive committee in May, to be sanctioned by the ethics division.

“This decision hits me hard,” Niersbach said. “I was confident after last Thursday’s hearing in Zurich that the ethics commission would not impose a ban, but that it would follow my argument that I am only to blame for a belated report on the critical payments between the 2006 World Cup organizing committee and FIFA in 2005, of which I gradually became aware in the summer of 2015, and that it would set a different punishment.

“I acknowledged my mistake and regretted it again.”

Niersbach is consulting his lawyers about whether to appeal against his ban.

[ MORE: Does Pogba match his fee? ]

Swiss federal prosecutors, and German criminal and tax investigators, also have wider ongoing criminal cases into the 2006 World Cup – a hugely successful tournament at the time which the host nation called its “Summer Fairytale.”

The probe involves irregular seven-figure payments and contracts during the bidding process and organization of the World Cup implicating senior officials.

The main FIFA ethics case focuses on former Germany great Franz Beckenbauer, who headed the World Cup organizing team and joined the FIFA executive committee in 2007; Theo Zwanziger, who replaced Beckenbauer at FIFA in 2011; Horst Schmidt, vice president of the World Cup organizing panel; and Stefan Hans, chief financial officer for the organizers.

In February, an inquiry report commissioned by the federation tried to explain a complex trail of payments of 6.7 million euros ($7 million) and 10 million Swiss francs ($10 million) that linked Beckenbauer, then-FIFA president Sepp Blatter, FIFA powerbroker Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar and Robert Louis-Dreyfus, the late former Adidas executive and part owner of Swiss marketing agency Infront.

The report, by law firm Freshfields, did not rule out, but could not prove, that votes were bought when Germany beat a Nelson Mandela-supported South Africa bid in a 12-11 vote of FIFA executive committee members in 2000.

West Ham loses ex-Hammer of the Year Cresswell for four months

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Aaron Cresswell was one of the stalwarts of the last two Premier League campaigns, a good crosser capable of lung-busting runs and the occasional brilliant shot.

So it’s a significant blow for West Ham United to be without him for the next four months.

[ MORE: Does Pogba match his fee? ]

Cresswell has played in 75 of the Hammers’ 76 PL matches since arriving from Ipswich Town in 2014, and was injured in a 50/50 play against Karlsruher SC this weekend.

He may not need surgery to repair the knee ligaments, but is out nonetheless.

From WHUFC.com:

Head of Medical and Sports Science Stijn Vandenbroucke explained that Cresswell had undergone a scan and will consult a specialist in central London early next week. The medical team will then take a decision whether or not the defender requires surgery.

“Whatever course of action we decide to take, Aaron faces a period of rest, followed by treatment and rehabilitation and he will be out for a period of between three and four months,” said Vandenbroucke.

Left back isn’t a position of strength for most teams, and West Ham doesn’t look to be an exception.

Vandenbroucke also issued an update on Manuel Lanzini, saying the club won’t know his status until the attacker returns from Argentina duty. Lanzini was injured with Argentina’s Olympic team while preparing for the Games in Rio.