Is Everton getting skunked by Arsenal for FA Cup ticket allocations?

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When Everton travels to Emirates Stadium for the March 8th FA Cup quarter-final match with Arsenal, the club will have to make due without 3,814 supporters that would normally be in attendance.

This is because Arsenal’s Safety Advisory Group fears safety issues due to “persistent standing” and the use of smoke bombs/pyrotechnics in the upper tiers of the Emirates stadium.

Per FA Cup rules, visiting fans are typically given 15% of available seats. As the Emirates has an approximate capacity of 60,000 fans, this means 9,000 tickets should have been allocated. As a result of the Advisory Group, that number has been decreased to 5,186.

The decision has infuriated Evertonians and the club has spoke to the FA and Arsenal demanding to know why they have been denied full 15% allocation.

The outrage has now prompted Member of Parliament, Andy Burnham, to intervene in the row. Burnham has written to Greg Dyke urging the FA Chairman to “stand up for Everton” and demanding the club receive the fair number of seats in accordance with rules.

The Merseyside born Burnham, an admitted Everton fan, gave credence to the view of the Advisory Group while maintaining his belief that Arsenal is capable of managing the alleged threat.

“The views of the Ground Safety Advisory Group are important and should not be ignored, but I fail to see how a club with years of experience handling big fixtures, in a purpose built stadium, cannot devise a solution to meet the ticketing rules.”

Joining Burnham is fellow MP and die-hard Liverpool supporter, Steve Rotherham, who also sent a letter demanding evidence from the Football Association as to why it sanctioned Arsenal’s decision to reduce away supporter tickets.

“In the 21st century, with the Emirates stadium the most modern ground in the top flight having only opened in July 2006, it is somewhat perplexing that Arsenal Football Club can have such little confidence in their own stewarding structure that they feel the only course of action is to deny more than 4,000 Evertonians the chance to enjoy the FA Cup quarter final.”

The plausible explanation Arsenal is likely to put forth concerns a survey conducted in December 2013 finding that one-third of fans have been directly affected by pyrotechnics at a stadium in the past and that 86% are concerned for their safety.

The study also showed that Everton, Manchester United and Wigan Athletic are the clubs with the most incidents flares (5) in 2013-14 while Liverpool, Manchester City, Sheffield United have each had four incidents.

Such argument is weakened due to the modern nature of the Emirates stadium and the alternatives at the club’s disposal. Many believe that Arsenal’s decision actually serves as a pretext to infringe upon the support of competing Premier League clubs to gain an unfair advantage. Tottenham and Liverpool were denied the proper allocation during the third and fourth rounds of the FA Cup, while League One side Coventry City was curiously offered greater allocation.

Beyond that, the fear that Premier League fans are more likely to engage in “persistent standing” is nonsense. Are League One fans not prone to standing? Equally questionable is the concept that security at the massively conservative and overly protective Emirates stadium couldn’t control the fans. Anyone who has attended a match there knows the Yellow Jackets are as strict as they come.

If it’s deemed too dangerous for 9,000 away fans to sit together then dividing the group into two or three sections seems a plausible alternative. If seating the fans in the upper tier is a projectile threat than seating in a lower section should resolve the issue.

The alternatives are there. Whether the FA is willing to stand up in the face of Arsenal’s questionable decision making, remains to be seen.

FIFA subjects 2026 Morocco World Cup bid to fresh scrutiny

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Morocco’s World Cup bid is facing fresh scrutiny this week with the arrival of another delegation from FIFA after an initial task force found deficiencies in the proposals for the 2026 tournament.

In a downbeat conclusion to the visit by the FIFA inspectors last week, Morocco’s bid leader acknowledged it had to improve the quality of the submission made to FIFA in March because inadequacies were identified by football’s governing body.

[ MORE: UCL semifinals predictions ]

The previously unplanned second inspection of Morocco is an indication of the more rigorous process introduced by FIFA following criticism in 2010 that World Cups were awarded to the riskiest nations in 2018 (Russia) and 2022 (Qatar).

There will also be closer scrutiny of human rights of the bidders before the vote on June 13 when Morocco is currently due to be taking on a joint challenge from the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The Associated Press revealed last week Morocco did not declare its anti-LGBT law to FIFA in the human rights risk assessment included in the bid book. The documents – along with the North American submission – will now be scrutinized for any gaps by human rights experts.

“That process involves an expert third-party assessment of the robustness of the human rights content of both bids that will directly inform the administration’s own evaluation,” Rachel Davis, who sits on FIFA’s human rights advisory board, told the AP.

“We are confident that the process will result in a fair assessment of the human rights situation in all four countries involved in the bids, and a roadmap for how to deal with any deficiencies that FIFA will then require the successful bidder to commit to.”

Davis, who is managing director of the Shift human rights organization, said an evaluation of the human rights in the bidding nations will be included in a report to the FIFA Council, which will also assess the verdict of the evaluation task force. A bid with low scores can be blocked by the council from advancing to a vote of up to 207 football nations at the FIFA Congress on June 13.

While Morocco has said it needs to spend almost $16 billion on infrastructure for the 48-team World Cup, including building or renovating all 14 stadiums, North American does not require any tournament-specific building work. Morocco bid president Moulay Hafid Elalamy said at the end of the FIFA inspection that officials “made some remarks on the conditions of some of the stadiums.”

The new batch of technical staff being deployed from FIFA HQ to Morocco did not make a similar follow-up visit to North America after the task force inspected the rival bid’s facilities this month.

“Following the visit of the 2026 bid evaluation task force to Morocco last week, it was decided to have an additional working visit this week to complement the initial analysis of the task force and clarify some aspects of the bid,” FIFA told the AP.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

Watch Live: Everton v. Newcastle

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Everton host Newcastle United on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with the Toffees and Magpies both sitting pretty in midtable.

[ LIVE: Stream Everton-Newcastle ]

Sam Allardyce and Rafael Benitez have both been around the block a few times but at the moment Allardyce is under pressure and Benitez is working miracles with four wins on the spin as the newly-promoted Magpies have stayed solid defensively all season.

In team news Everton start Tosun, Walcott and Bolasie in attack with Wayne Rooney in midfield.

Newcastle make one change with Islam Slimani making his first start for the Magpies as he comes in for Dwight Gayle.

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Everton

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UEFA Champions League semifinal predictions

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With the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League to kick off over the next few days, let’s take a look at both games and predict which teams will make it to the final in Kiev on May 26.

[ MORE: Champions League scores

Liverpool or Roma? Real Madrid or Bayern Munich?

Here’s the lowdown as two eagerly anticipated games take center stage across Europe.


Liverpool vs. AS Roma
First leg: Apr. 24, 2:45 p.m. ET at Anfield
Second leg: May 2, 2:45 p.m. ET at Stadio Olimpico

This should be one heck of a tie with defending optional for both teams but both have very different ways of playing. Jurgen Klopp will unleash the fluid trio of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino on an often brittle Roma defense but the Italian giants have a giant in their own up top in the shape of Edin Dzeko. How Virgil Van Dijk and Liverpool’s defense deal with the threat of Dzeko will likely decide the outcome of this game. Liverpool will look to feed off the famous Anfield atmosphere to wrack up a big first leg lead before they head to Roma for Leg 2, and I fancy Salah to blow his old team away in the first leg. Liverpool to advance 4-2 on aggregate.

Bayern Munich vs. Real Madrid
First leg: Apr. 25, 2:45 p.m. ET at Allianz Arena
Second leg: May 1, 2:45 p.m. ET at Santiago Bernabeu

A proper heavyweight clash as Bayern and Real do battle knowing that whoever wins will be the favorites in the final. Cristiano Ronaldo is in the form of his life (again) after a slow start to this season and Zinedine Zidane’s side made hard work of it against Juventus in the last round but are on course for a third-straight UCL trophy. As for Bayern, they have been in imperious form and you feel like Robert Lewandowski can get the better of Real’s center backs. Expect this to be a tight game with extremely high quality from both teams. Real being at home in the second leg is a big advantage. Real Madrid to advance 3-2 on aggregate. 

Cologne’s Hector extends contract despite likely relegation

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COLOGNE, Germany (AP) Germany defender Jonas Hector has shunned reported interest from Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund by extending his contract with Cologne – despite the club’s almost certain relegation from the Bundesliga.

Cologne, eight points from safety with three games remaining, says its 27-year-old captain has signed a two-year extension to 2023 instead of using a release clause in his contract.

Hector, who has been at the club since 2010, says, “It wouldn’t have been a problem to switch to another club after this season but it didn’t feel right for me. I belong to Cologne and want to tackle the new season with the team and the fans behind us.”

Cologne sporting director Armin Veh says Hector’s decision is, “a great signal for the team, the club and our fans.”