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US, Mexico could team up and meet FIFA’s World Cup need

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ZURICH (AP) The United States and Mexico could team up and meet FIFA’s need for the biggest-ever World Cup in 2026 being staged by the most host nations.

Canada has also joined the North American neighbors for informal talks about a three-way bid in a contest that FIFA will complete during American President-elect Donald Trump’s first term, according to persons familiar with the talks. They spoke on grounds of anonymity because the talks are confidential.

FIFA’s decision Tuesday to expand the 2026 tournament – to 48 teams from 32, playing 80 games instead of 64 – increased the chances of co-hosting to share the load.

[ MORE: What would a 48-team draw look like? ]

“In some regions not only does it make more sense, it’s the only sense,” said FIFA vice president Victor Montagliani, who leads the Canadian soccer federation. “I think when more countries share (hosting) it’s an opportunity to grow the game.”

Asked specifically about a potential three-way bid with the U.S. and Mexico, Montagliani said: “It’s definitely a possibility because the rules now allow for it.

“I also respect the fact that each country has the possibility to put on the World Cup (alone) and I think the discussions will happen quite soon as to what is our region is going to look like at this World Cup as I think it is an opportunity for CONCACAF.”

U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati also took part in a unanimous FIFA Council decision.

Though Mexico soccer leader Decio de Maria does not sit on FIFA’s strategy-setting panel, he was also in Zurich with a top-level delegation from the regional soccer body, known as CONCACAF.

[ MORE: World Cup’s 48-team format ]

The region was already favored to get its first World Cup since the U.S.-hosted 1994 edition, even before Tuesday’s expansion decision. It now demands more high-quality training camps, hotels and transport for 48 teams, plus FIFA officials and hundreds of thousands of visiting fans.

“It means the number of countries that can host it without building major infrastructure and stadiums is limited,” said Gulati, adding his board has a “fundamental decision” whether to bid. The U.S. could go alone, or bid with one or both neighbors.

Uniting the U.S. and Mexico could win support from more than 20 Spanish-speaking federations among 211 FIFA members that now choose the World Cup hosts.

It should also appeal to FIFA’s sense of soccer having a role in society, amid tense cross-border relations caused by Trump’s outspoken comments on Mexico.

“Listen, I’m a football guy, I’m not a politician,” said Montagliani, who like Gulati speaks fluent Spanish. “The only thing I know from afar about Trump is that he’s a big sports guy and he’s proven that in the past … so you would hope that football will trump politics. No pun intended.”

FIFA typically looks for strong government support, and has it in the next two World Cup host nations Russia and Qatar. Russian deputy prime minister Vitaly Mutko is a FIFA Council member and attended Tuesday’s meeting.

FIFA has allowed co-costing at just one of 22 World Cups from 1930 through 2022, which included Mexico hosting alone in 1970 and ’86. FIFA’s former leaders later pledged not to repeat their “two of everything” experience of 2002 in Japan and South Korea.

Still, Infantino campaigned for the presidency last year promising an open mind about pan-regional hosting.

FIFA’s target is May 2020 to choose the 2026 host, though that could change during meetings being held in Bahrain in May.

Asked if bidding could be accelerated if only three candidates emerged, and who all wanted to work together, Infantino said: “It is premature to discuss about it now.”

Referee leaders want on-field official to see video replays

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LONDON (AP) Antoine Griezmann headed the ball into the net and was in full celebration mode with his France teammates when referee Felix Swayer pinned a finger into his left ear to block out the stadium noise.

[ VIDEO: VAR system used correctly

An assistant in front of a bank of monitors was assessing replays and had some bad news for Griezmann. Swayer was told through his earpiece that a player was offside in the buildup.

The goal was then ruled out, without Swayer seeing a replay. But that won’t necessarily be the case by the time video replays are fully approved to be rolled out across soccer.

For now, the experimental phase is still in full flow but if refereeing leaders get their way officials should always have access to the footage themselves around the field.

“The subjective decisions should be made by the on-field referee because they have got the feel for the game,” Mike Riley, general manager of English refereeing organization, told The Associated Press. “They can put it in the context of everything else. So as part of the process we have got to work out how we can do that as effectively as possible … without interrupting the flow of the game.”

The International Football Association Board, the game’s lawmaking body, is in its second year of trials with various versions of video assistant referees (VAR). Some games, like the France-Spain friendly, do not allow the referee to evaluate incidents and instead by rely on the VAR.

But VAR could end up only ruling on what Riley describes as “decisions of fact,” such as whether a ball was inside or outside the penalty area.

Ultimately, if you are appointing one of the top referees to preside over a major game, that person is seen as ideal for making the big calls, according to IFAB.

“Fundamentally we are told very much by players and coaches they want the referee to be making the most important decisions,” IFAB technical director David Elleray said, referencing England’s top referee. “They don’t know who is in a van out in the car park or 300 miles away in a match center.”

Soccer’s lawmakers only envisage video replays being used to correct game-changing decisions involving four situations: penalties being awarded, red cards, cases of mistaken identity and goals being scored.

That situation arose twice in the Stade de France on Tuesday as France lost 2-0 to Spain. After Griezmann’s goal was disallowed, video replays worked against France again but in Spain’s favor when an incorrect offside call against Gerard Deulofeu was overturned and his goal stood.

Swayer again relied on the information from a colleague benefiting from replays.

“Nicola Rizzoli was appointed to referee the last World Cup final because he is the best referee,” Elleray said. “But if actually the two most important decisions in the match are made by somebody watching a TV screen … the most important person is the man you put behind the TV screen not the man on the field.”

The challenges are how referees are able to view replays without lengthening the delay. For now the technology isn’t satisfactory for officials to use wearable devices and receive footage in real time. That means going to the side of the field to watch incidents with the eyes of thousands of fans in the stands on them. The screens are likely to be on the opposite side to the technical area to avoid coaches being able to surround and harangue the referee.

“Some of our stadiums don’t lend themselves to monitors by the side of the pitch because they are really tight,” said Riley, a former Premier League referee who is now in charge of appointments for games in the world’s richest soccer competition. “Is it right for referees to have to run 30 yards to go and look? Can you get the footage to the referee on the field somehow? All these things have to be explored through the experiment and come out with a solution that works for football.”

Live experiments are taking place in about 20 competitions this year, including the Confederations Cup in Russia in June and July that will serves as a World Cup test event.

Once IFAB adds video replays to the laws of the game, any competition meeting the requirements will be able to use them.

For Riley, permitting replays is “the most significant change in refereeing in the game for generations,” far more significant than the 2012 decision to allow technology that simply determines whether the ball crossed the goal line.

“If you are making such a significant change,” Riley said, “you need to really explore and understand all the potential implications.”

Rob Harris can be followed at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

Amid fanfare, Bastian Schweinsteiger arrives in Chicago

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Arriving at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, it is clear Bastian Schweinsteiger is kind of a big deal…

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Posing for photos with fans as he stepped off the flight with his wife, former Serbian tennis star Ana Ivanovic, the former Bayern Munich midfielder was mobbed by Chicago Fire fans who are delighted he has arrived in Major League Soccer as the newest Designated Player.

The German legend has completed his move from Manchester United to the Fire and will be officially unveiled to the media on Wednesday after signing a one-year deal.

[ MORE: Latest MLS news ]

Schweinsteiger, 32, has already had a training session in the books and the World Cup winner is expected to make his debut in Chicago’s home clash with the Montreal Impact on Saturday at Toyota Park.

Below is a video of Schweinsteiger’s arrival in Chicago, his first training session and a collection of photos he took with ecstatic Fire fans.


Liverpool’s Emre Can scores stunning goal in training

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Emre Can, take a bow.

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Alongside Sadio Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum, the German international stole the show as BT Sport rocked up for an episode of “Goals Recreated” at Melwood.

The premise is simple: can current day PL players recreate sensational goals of the past?

On this occasion each player had four attempts to mirror Papiss Cisse‘s stunning goal for Newcastle United against Chelsea, and although Mane came close Can was the man of the moment.

Click play on the video below to see the stunning effort.


Barcelona defends Messi over “unfair” suspension

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says Lionel Messi’s four-match international suspension for insulting a linesman was “unfair and totally disproportionate.”

[ MORE: Messi handed ban by FIFA ]

Barcelona released a statement Wednesday expressing “its surprise and indignation” with FIFA’s decision to sideline the playmaker for so long following the incident in Argentina’s win over Chile in World Cup qualifying last week.

The punishment was announced before Argentina lost at Bolivia 2-0 Tuesday, a result that left the two-time champions at risk of not qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Russia.

Barcelona says it “wishes to reiterate its support for Leo Messi, an exemplary player in terms of conduct both on and off the field.”

Pending an appeal, Messi will only be available to play in Argentina’s final qualifier, on Oct. 10 against Ecuador.