Detailing FIFA’s ‘friendly reminder’ trip to check in on Brazil’s World Cup preparations

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This week FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke and his team are putting certain cities in Brazil under scrutiny to see their progress.

Needless to say, some of faring better than others.

Here is a quick recap of what Valcke has been up to and which host cities he is visiting, ahead of his trip to Florianopolis to attend a meeting with representatives of all 32 World Cup team and the local World Cup organizing committee.

With stadium construction behind schedule, the death of construction workers, ongoing unrest against the Brazilian government and several disputes between public and private groups causing FIFA plenty of headaches before the event this summer, Valcke and his staff will be extremely busy.

Some pivotal inspections and meetings lie ahead this week ahead of the 2014 World Cup kicking off in June.

Here’s what he’s been up to….

  • On Sunday Valcke visited the Northern Brazilian city of Recife, where the USA will play Germany, and criticized the host cities decision to cancel the Fan Fest. That means that fans not attending the game will no longer have the chance to watch the match on large screens for free. “Not having a Fan Fest is a mistake, to make it very clear,” Valcke said.
  • Then Valcke went to Manaus, the city deep in the Amazon rainforest that will indeed have a Fan Fest as over 35,000 fans are expected to gather to watch the games, including the USA’s match vs. Portugal. The Secretary General seemed to be impressed with what he saw, as the stadium is 97 percent complete and after some issues along the way, Valcke is loving Manaus. “Today I can say that the project is one of the nicest, it is a fantastic project.”
  • Valcke visited the nations capital Brasilia on Monday for meetings, where he stated he expects a “quiet World Cup” despite all of the recent political protests in Brazil which came to the fore during last summer’s Confederations Cup.
  •  A potential flash then awaits in Porto Alegre on Tuesday, as local officials are fighting over who will pay the $13 million needed to build temporary facilities required by FIFA outside the Beira-Rio stadium. If the host club Internacional don’t pay the fee, or the local city, then games at the venue may have to be moved
  • Then late on Tuesday will come the news everyone has been waiting for, as Valcke will decide whether Curitiba is too far behind to be a host city. The Southern city is the biggest concern cropping up, as huge delays with stadium construction may see the city taken off the list of 12 host venues. With Valcke already stating that they would run with 11 venues, and spread the games scheduled for Arena da Baixada elsewhere, Tuesday is crucial for Curitiba.

We will have more news on Tuesday as and when Valcke makes a decision on Curitba. So log back onto PST for your latest editions of “Where’s Valcke?” in the next few days…

Barcelona GM: “We’re close to signing Coutinho, Dembele”

Philippe Coutinho
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Barcelona did not post a magical comeback versus Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup second leg, instead losing 5-1 on aggregate after Wednesday’s 2-0 loss at the Bernabeu.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

But perhaps the celebrated La Liga club has worked some wizardry in the transfer market, with not one but two big targets “close” to the Camp Nou.

Barca general manager Josep “Pep” Segura was on television after the match, and noted Spanish football expert Sid Lowe relays his words: Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho and Borussia Dortmund’s Ousmane Dembele are coming to Barca, “but until it’s closed I can’t say anything.”

Well, you just said something about it, so what gives.

Now before anyone freaks out at Anfield or Westfalenstadion, this is a man speaking after a relatively embarrassing performance for one of the biggest clubs in the world. Segura could simply be treading water for new manager Ernesto Valverde after his club was simply worked over in 120 minutes versus its El Clasico rivals.

VIDEO: Asensio, Real Madrid outclass out-of-sorts Barca; PSG trolls?

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This one wasn’t even close, and is going to instantly have many Barcelona fans wondering if the loss of Neymar is going to be too much for Ernesto Valverde to handle.

Real Madrid rode a stunning Marco Asensio strike to a 2-0 first half lead at the Bernabeu on Wednesday en route to a 5-1 aggregate win over Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup.

It’s Real’s 10th Spanish Super Cup, and first since 2012.

[ MORE: Bacca to Villarreal ]

Karim Benzema also scored in the opening frame, which saw Barca looking out of sorts and rudderless.

As in the first leg in Barcelona, the Blaugranas had their moments but failed to show sharpness and class against the reigning La Liga and UEFA Champions League winners.

Lionel Messi hit the crossbar, Luis Suarez headed off the post. The second half wasn’t producing a magic comeback.

Both teams kick off their La Liga seasons on Sunday, with Barca hosting Real Betis and Real off to Deportivo de la Coruna.

Meanwhile, it seems like PSG spent the afternoon trolling Barca, first posting a shot of ex-Blaugranas stars Dani Alves and Neymar training, and then an incredulous Neymar accompanied by a laughing emoji.

Carlos Bacca joins Villarreal, Boateng leaves Las Palmas

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MADRID (AP) Colombia striker Carlos Bacca joined Spanish club Villarreal on loan from AC Milan on Wednesday.

Villarreal said the one-season loan agreement includes the option to buy the player at the end of the season.

Bacca returns to a Spanish league where the 30-year-old forward flourished in two seasons at Sevilla before joining Milan in 2015.

[ MORE: UCL Wednesday wrap ]

Bacca has made 39 appearances for Colombia, scoring 13 goals. According to Villarreal, he has scored 165 career goals in 336 matches. He scored 14 goals for Milan last season.

Elsewhere in Spain, Las Palmas announced that Kevin-Prince Boateng was leaving the club after both sides agreed to end his contract two days before its season opener.

Las Palmas said that Boateng was leaving due to “personal reasons of an irreversible nature.” The club thanked the former AC Milan standout for his “professionalism” that he displayed during his single season on the Canary Islands.

Las Palmas opens the Spanish league season on Friday at Valencia.

Man City has $23 million Evans bid shot down by WBA

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Could Jonny Evans be the latest player to cross Manchester’s red and blue divide, albeit with a stop in between?

Reports Wednesday say West Bromwich Albion has rejected a $23 million Manchester City bid for the Northern Irish center back.

[ MORE: UCL Wednesday wrap ]

$23 million? That’s like 40 percent of a Kyle Walker!

Evans, 29, is the Baggies captain and a key piece of the club’s aims to continue its long stay in the Premier League.

He joined Manchester United’s academy at age 16 and stayed at Old Trafford through 2015, taking loan opportunities at Royal Antwerp and Sunderland on the way.

At United, Evans won three Premier League titles and two League Cups, and also has a Championship win from one of his two stints at Sunderland.

The 61-times capped Belfast native would give City a key component for Premier League play along with a center back corps of Nicolas Otamendi, Vincent Kompany, and John Stones. Eliaquim Mangala completes their veteran depth, and is certainly City’s weakest position.

Would West Brom sell at any reasonable price? The Baggies are not deep at center back, either — not too many clubs are — and will be in a boatload of trouble without Evans. And given the transfer market, finding a proper replacement at under $30 million is going to be difficult (Reread that sentence. What a summer).

It’s another argument for the transfer window closing before the start of the season.