Manchester City v Sunderland - Barclays Asia Trophy Final

Di Canio blasts ref after Altidore goal controversially disallowed

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SUNDERLAND — There was a huge turning point in Sunderland’s 3-1 defeat to Arsenal at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.

One of those ‘game-changing’ moments that is the difference between grabbing a point or losing.

In the 70th minute U.S. international Jozy Altidore wriggled free of Arsenal defender Bacary Sagna before being hauled back on the edge of the box by Sagna.

But Altidore then carried on and slotted the ball into the goal and ran off to celebrate what he thought was his first Premier League goal for the Black Cats. Not so fast, Jozy.

(MORE: Sunderland 1-3 Arsenal; Ramsey double sends Gunners top)

Referee Martin Atkinson, much to the dismay of the packed Sunderland crowd, had whistled for a foul on the USMNT striker just prior to Altidore putting the ball into the back of the net, which would have made it 2-2. Despite Sunderland having a clear advantage and still in possession of the ball heading towards goal, the referee believed calling the foul was the correct decisions.

The majority of fans in the Stadium of Light strongly disagreed. So did Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio.

“It is a mistake,” Di Canio said. “The referee has the power to wait and finish the dynamics and finish this moment and then come back and make his decision. He made a mistake. You can see Altidore is much more powerful than Sagna. He shield the ball well, it was clear that he was going to win the challenge.”

And postgame as he fastened his Sunderland club tie tightly around his neck, Di Canio was under no illusion that Mr. Atkinson had cost his side at least a point from the game.

“That was a key moment,” Di Canio said. “It was obvious that we wouldn’t have many more chances to score, so that decided the outcome of the game. It can happen, he’s a man. He made a mistake, there is no opinion. I think it is clear.”

(MORE: Arsene Wenger lauds Giroud and Ramsey after Arsenal win)

If Altidore’s goal would have stood the Mackems would have equalized just moments after going 2-1 down. It would have been a really momentum changing moment that could have grabbed Sunderland a point.

Instead they have now lost three from the first four games and sit bottom of the table.

Frustration from that situation boiled over late in the game as Di Canio protested Olivier Giroud’s slow removal from the pitch as he was substituted in injury-time. Sunderland’s fiery Italian manager believed the French striker was time wasting and as he tried to tell the referee to hurry things along, Di Canio was sent away from the dugout after his over-zealous remonstration.

“I invited the referee, I tried to persuade the referee to push him quick out,” Di Canio said. “Because four minutes added time, I’m sure that if you lose two minutes and half I don’t think they’re going to add it on. That was my protest. ‘You have to tell them to go out quick.'”

Referee Atkinson told Di Canio that he would send him to the stand if he continued… this time the Italian pushed his luck too far.

“The problem is he told me, ‘If you keep going with your manner, I send you off. I send you up to the stand,'”, Di Canio said. “My mistake was that I invited him and say that if you want to complete the perfect job today, you have to send me off and then he said ‘go off.'”

But despite his side still searching for their first league win of the season and languishing at the bottom of the Premier League table with one point, Di Canio was surprisingly upbeat.

“In the second half for half hour we dominated,” Di Canio said. “I hope that my team can play how we did in the second half and play this football with this determination, desire, quality. We just have to stay on top. Even in the first half, we have to be honest, Arsenal completely dominated the game. They had many chances, with Arsenal that can happen.”

The early season struggle for Di Canio and Sunderland goes on.

“In the end I am obviously not happy with the result,” Di Canio said. “But I have to look at the best from this game which is a fantastic first half hour in the second half.”

UEFA: Top four leagues guaranteed four teams in UCL from 2018

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 27:  UEFA  Champions League trophy is seen ahead of the UEFA Champions League semi final first leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen at Vincente Calderon on April 27, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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The UEFA Champions League will see a big change for three seasons from the 2018-19 campaign.

[ MORE: UCL group stage draw ]

On Friday it was announced by UEFA that several changes, most notably the way teams qualify for the UCL, had been approved and will take place in the next competition cycle.

The biggest change and the one everyone is talking about is that from 2018 the teams who finish in the top four of the four highest ranked UEFA nations will automatically qualify for the UCL group stage.

[ MORE: Analyzing UCL draw for PL teams ]

That means no more UCL play-off for teams who finish fourth in the Premier League.

In a statement on their website, UEFA’s General Secretary ad interim Theodore Theodoridis revealed everyone is happy with the changes.

“The amendments made will continue to ensure qualification based on sporting merit, and the right of all associations and their clubs to compete in Europe’s elite club competitions. We are happy that European football remains united behind the concepts of solidarity, fair competition, fair distribution and good governance.”

Some argue that having 16 places guaranteed to teams from the top four nations in Europe — currently Spain, Germany, England and Italy — is a monopoly and limits the chances of smaller clubs from smaller nations from qualifying.

UEFA also revealed a new coefficient system with clubs no longer having a country share tacked on to their coefficient under most circumstances, plus historical success will be weighted in the coefficient rankings to take into account past UCL and Europa League titles won.

For example, Liverpool’s coefficient will likely increase despite not playing in Europe this season as instead of the coefficient being solely made up of how they and other English teams have performed in Europe over the past few years, now their five previous UCL titles will be weighted and their coefficient will improve due to past success.

Blatter says he will accept verdict as CAS appeal begins

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JULY 25:  FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter speaks during the Preliminary Draw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia at The Konstantin Palace on July 25, 2015 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.  (Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images)
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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter arrived for his appeal hearing against a six-year ban from football on Thursday, pledging to accept the verdict of the Court of Arbitration for Sport

“I do hope it will be positive for me,” Blatter, sporting a light gray beard, told reporters at around 8 a.m. (0600 GMT) ahead of a hearing expected to last several hours.

The court’s verdict is expected within several weeks, and could be challenged in a further appeal to Switzerland’s supreme court.

The 80-year-old Blatter denies wrongdoing in authorizing a $2 million payment to former FIFA vice president Michel Platini in 2011. They claimed it was for backdated and uncontracted salary for work Platini did in advising Blatter from 1999 to 2002.

[ MORE: Ranking Champions League groups ]

The so-called “disloyal payment” led Blatter to be put under investigation for criminal mismanagement by Swiss federal prosecutors last September. That investigation is ongoing.

FIFA’s ethics committee judged the $2 million deal was a conflict of interest and initially banned Blatter and Platini for eight years last December. FIFA’s appeal committee cut both bans to six years.

Platini’s appeal to CAS was already judged in May, when Blatter appeared in person as a witness. Platini promised a further appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunal after his ban was only cut from six to four years.

Platini arrived at the hearing around midday local time to be a witness. Both men have denied any wrongdoing.

Blatter’s comments Thursday suggest he would not pursue a federal case. Federal judges can intervene only if legal process is abused.

“We are football players, we learned to win but also we learned to lose and it will not be the end of the world,” Blatter said outside CAS.

The three-member panel for Blatter’s case is expected to respect the verdict of a separate panel which judged Platini.

A failure to overturn the ban for Blatter would likely end his hope to one day be named FIFA honorary president by its 211 member federations.

[ MORE: Ranking Champions League groups ]

The case already ended Platini’s chance to replace Blatter as FIFA president, and also forced him out of European governing body UEFA.

On Sept. 14, UEFA members will elect a successor to replace Platini who had a mandate through March 2019. By imposing a four-year ban, the CAS panel ensured UEFA had to replace Platini, rather than wait for him to return.

The “disloyal payment” emerged last year when Platini was strongly favored to win the election to replace Blatter, who had announced his departure plans after 17 years as president amid pressure from American and Swiss federal investigations of corruption implicating senior FIFA officials.

[ MORE: Bundesliga season primer ]

Both men were questioned at FIFA headquarters last September by Swiss investigators who were waiting for them outside an executive committee meeting.

During the turmoil in world football, Platini’s right-hand man at UEFA, Gianni Infantino, submitted an election candidacy on the entry deadline day and won the vote in February.

Arriving at the hearing with his Zurich-based lawyer Lorenz Erni, Blatter said he hoped the CAS panel “will understand that the payment made to Platini was really a debt that we had against him.”

“This is a principle, if you have debts you pay them,” Blatter said.

NASL weekend preview: Miami, Minnesota meet playoff fortunes head on

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There are still two full months of soccer to go in the NASL’s Fall Season, but this weekend could be a major day for the title fortunes of one squad in particular.

Miami FC and Minnesota United are level on points with 15 heading into Saturday’s match at FIU Stadium.

[ MORE: MLS Weekend Preview ]

If you’re unfamiliar, the NASL Playoffs involve four teams: the Spring champion (Indy Eleven), the Fall champion, and two other teams with the best combined record between seasons.

Miami’s played one fewer game, and both it and Minnesota — fresh off the news it’s headed to MLS in 2017 — are seven points shy of first-place FC Edmonton.

But Minnesota is on pace to make the playoffs through combined schedule, while Miami had a poor first half and would be better served to win the Fall Season if it wants a shot at the NASL Soccer Bowl Trophy.

Saturday
Carolina Railhawks at New York Cosmos
Rayo OKC at Tampa Bay Rowdies
Minnesota United at Miami FC

Sunday
Indy Eleven at Ottawa Fury
Puerto Rico at FC Edmonton

Arsenal reportedly set for $69 million double Friday buy

MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 14:  Lucas Perez of RC Deportivo la Coruna reacts during the La Liga match between Rayo Vallecano and RC Deportivo La Coruna at Estadio Teresa Rivero on September 14, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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Arsene Wenger‘s much-maligned transfer business is about to take the “much” off the verb.

Lucas Perez of Deportiva de la Coruna is reportedly going to be joining Arsenal on Friday, and the Gunners are also close to finally landing Valencia center back Shkodran Mustafi.

[ MORE: Bundesliga season primer ]

Perez, 27, broke out for a career-best 17 goals last season, and scored on debut last weekend. He’s set to cost $22.5 million, while Mustafi makes up the other $46.5 million.

The 12-times capped German center back stands 6-foot, and would bring stability to a Gunners unit which has (again) been beset by injuries.

From the BBC:

Spaniard Lucas, 27, scored 17 goals in 37 games last season and Arsenal will meet a 20m euro (£17.1m) buyout clause.

Germany international Mustafi, 24, is set to join for a fee in excess of £35m.

Is this, coupled with the Granit Xhaka buy, enough to help Wenger right the ship? Mustafi, especially, would be a key piece. Perez is a bit of a lesser-known quality.