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FIFA pres. Infantino defends video replays at Club World Cup

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YOKOHAMA, Japan (AP) FIFA President Gianni Infantino has defended the use of video replays despite a shaky debut for the new system at the Club World Cup.

The replay system allows referees to halt play to review footage of “game-changing decisions”, but its introduction has had a mixed reaction from players and coaches at the tournament, including Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Chelsea go 9 points clear; Man Utd streaking ]

“The results are extremely positive,” Infantino said. “Of course there are learnings, of course there are a few topics that we have to look into and discuss in more detail, but the result is extremely positive. Why? Because the referee has been able to take the right decision and justice and transparency have been brought to the game.”

Following Thursday’s match between Real Madrid and Club America, several players were skeptical about the system.

The system was used for the first time on Wednesday when Kashima Antlers were awarded a penalty kick that led to the first goal in a 3-0 win over Atletico Nacional.

Kashima midfielder Gaku Shibasaki sent in a free kick in the 31st minute, and teammate Daigo Nishi was then fouled inside the box by Atletico Nacional forward Orlando Berrio.

After receiving information about a missed incident from video assistant referee Danny Makkelie, Hungarian referee Viktor Kassai drew an imaginary square with his hands to indicate that he would conduct a review of the footage via a monitor on the sidelines. Kassai then pointed to the penalty spot, ruling from the replay that Nishi was tripped inside the penalty area by Berrio.

[ MORE: La Liga — Atleti end poor run of results; Sevilla go 2nd (for now) ]

Shoma Doi took the penalty and scored Kashima’s first goal but there was some confusion as Nishi appeared to be offside.

“In the first game with Kashima, the referee didn’t see the situation and the video assistant referee saw a clear tackle so he interfered,” said Marco van Basten, the former Dutch international who is FIFA’s chief officer of technical development. “The referee watched the television and said `OK, you are right and I give a penalty.’ So in the end it took a few seconds too much but it was the right decision.”

In Thursday’s semifinal, Ronaldo scored an injury-time goal to help Madrid beat Club America 2-0 and earn a spot in the final.

But after Ronaldo scored, referee Enrique Caceres appeared to ask for confirmation from his video assistant referee that there was no offside. The Paraguayan official then decided that the goal stood without appearing to view a video himself.

“The television doesn’t work, huh?” Ronaldo was overheard saying with a laugh as he left the field.

[ MORE: Serie A — Juventus beat 2nd-place Roma, go 7 points clear ]

FIFA officials attributed the confusion on the Ronaldo goal to a problem of communication between the officials.

“When Ronaldo scored the second goal it was a clear situation and there was no offside,” Van Basten said. “So in the end it was good and the right decision was made. Only the communication between the video assistant referee and the referee was not optimum.”

FIFA says the aim is to achieve `minimum interference, maximum benefit’, with the technology only being used for defined match-changing situations and any serious missed incidents. In these cases, the question a VAR will consider is not `was the decision correct?’ but `was the decision clearly wrong?’

Referees still retain the authority to make the final judgment. Managers and players will not be allowed to appeal to referees to review an incident.

Andorra’s 11-year, 58-game losing streak is over

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Rarely has a scoreless stalemate in front of the home fans tasted so sweet.

But 11 years of nothing but losing will do that to a team.

Andorra’s 0-0 draw with fellow minnow Faroe Islands in World Cup qualifying on Saturday ended its run of 58 competitive defeats.

It was the first point in qualifying for the Pyrenees mountain principality, population 80,000, since a scoreless draw with Finland in 2005.

Faroe Islands finished with 10 men after Joan Edmundsson was booked a second time with 15 minutes to play.

World Cup qualifiers: Dutch disaster persists; Greece hold Belgium

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s World Cup qualifying fixtures, as Groups A, B and H hit the halfway point in Europe…

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Bulgaria 2-0 Netherlands

Spas Delev scored both Bulgarian goals (5th and 20th minutes) to secure all three points and send Danny Blind’s Netherlands side (7 points) into fourth place in Group A, six points back of leaders France and three back of second-place (qualifying playoffs) Sweden.

17-year-old Matthijs de Ligt was handed his international debut for the Dutch; he was ultimately at fault for both of Delev’s goals; he was subbed off at halftime (as was Georginio Wijnaldum).

Luxembourg 1-3 France

Olivier Giroud scored twice (28th and 77th minutes) for France, and Antoine Griezmann added the other (37th minute – penalty kick), as Les Bleus maintained their three-point lead in Group A. Kylian Mbappe, Monaco’s 18-year-old rising star, made his international debut in the 78th minute, when he replaced Dimitri Payet.

Portugal 3-0 Hungary

Cristiano Ronaldo bagged the 69th and 70th goals of his international career (36th and 65th minutes), as Portugal (12 points) kept pace with an unbeaten Switzerland side (15 points) which managed a 1-0 victory over Latvia to keep their 100-percent record intact. Andre Silva scored the opener (32nd minute) for Portugal, the 21-year-old Porto striker’s fifth goal in six international appearances.

Belgium 1-1 Greece

Romelu Lukaku‘s 89th-minute rescued a point for Group H leaders Belgium (13 points), but it did little to mask an otherwise uninspiring performance from Roberto Martinez’s side. Kostas Mitroglu put Greece ahead in the first minute of the second half, but Panagiotis Tachtsidis saw his second yellow of the game in the 65th minute, and that was the start of Greece’s unraveling. The draw was just enough to keep Greece (11 points) in second, ahead of Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose 5-0 thrashing of Gibraltar moved them to 10 points with a superior goal differential.

Elsewhere in UEFA’s World Cup qualifying

Group A

Sweden 4-0 Belarus

Group B

Switzerland 1-0 Latvia
Andorra 0-0 Faroe Islands

Group H

Bosnia-Herzegovina 5-0 Gibraltar
Cyprus 0-0 Estonia

MLS (afternoon) roundup: Historically awful MNUFC spanked again

Photo credit: New England Revolution / Twitter: @NERevolution
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The fourth (partial — playing during international breaks should be banned) MLS Saturday of 2017 is two-thirds of the way complete. A quick roundup of the day’s early games…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

New England Revolution 5-2 Minnesota United

What else needs to be said about Minnesota at this point? What else can be said? The number of goals they’ve conceded in their first four MLS games: 5, 6, 2, and 5. While (we think) a bit of luck will eventually go their way, and they’ll curtail the goals they’re conceding (we can’t be sure anymore), Adrian Heath’s side is on pace to conceded 153 goals this season.

Anyway, New England picked up their first win of the season. The quality (and ease) of goals scored will tell you everything you need to know about Minnesota’s defending.

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

New York Red Bulls 0-0 Real Salt Lake

Five days after firing head coach Jeff Cassar, RSL returned to their inept, toothless ways in a scoreless draw away to New York. Through four games, the Claret and Cobalt have scored all of one goal, and genuinely look the league’s most lifeless side; Minnesota have at least shown signs of quality in the attacking half.

On Saturday, New York created the majority of the game’s best chances — a pair of shots from distance, masterfully saved by deputy goalkeeper Matt VanOekel — but the chance that will live in the memories of RSL fans for a lifetime came and went in agonizing fashion.

Albanian federation denounces “extremist acts” of their fans in Italy

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) Albania’s soccer federation has strongly denounced the incident that halted the World Cup Group G qualifier with Italy for nearly nine minutes on Friday.

During the match, which was won by Italy, 2-0, a group calling itself Illyrian Elite threw flares onto the pitch.

“Such totally extremist actions from the grouping Illyrian Elite have nothing to do with the excellent Albanian fans” who were distinguished in the EURO 2016 finals in France for their friendship and camaraderie in their festivities, the statement added.

The federation said an coach Gianni De Biasi also was “upset by the flares,” adding that during five years he has been in charge “I’ve seen something that’s never happened before.”