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Infantino slams “fake news” about FIFA

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MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) Gianni Infantino waged a strident defense of his FIFA leadership by lashing out at “fake news” and “alternative facts” promulgated about a governing body he insists has recovered its reputation and can be trusted.

Addressing his second congress of soccer nations as FIFA president, Infantino invoked the rhetoric favored by U.S. President Donald Trump while taking on his critics on Thursday.

Infantino took charge of world soccer in February 2016 after Sepp Blatter was forced out for financial wrongdoing, a branch of a wider scandal that saw FIFA executives indicted by American authorities.

“We are rebuilding the credibility of FIFA. The new FIFA is a democracy it is not a dictatorship,” Infantino said. “New FIFA, it is a transparent organization, not an organization that is fiddling around with facts and figures. It is a deeply honest organization, not an organization that looks to spend money without purpose.”

But Infantino blamed media for distorting coverage of his attempts to rebuild the scandal-battered organization.

“Sadly, the truth is not what is necessarily true but what people believe is true.

“There is a lot of fake news and alternative facts about FIFA circulating. FIFA bashing has become a national sport in some countries.”

Infantino did not cite any specific reports but it comes in the week ethics judge Hans-Joachim Eckert and FIFA prosecutor Cornel Borbely denounced the decision to remove them from their posts.

Infantino made no mention of Eckert and Borbely, who said the president was jeopardizing the post-Blatter reform process by ousting them at the end of their terms. FIFA first embarked on a reform mission in 2011 after election bribery allegations, but a deeper financial scandal exploded four years later with raids in Zurich and the arrest of soccer officials.

“Where were all these self-proclaimed good governance and compliance gurus who were supposed to control FIFA when all this was happening?” asked Infantino, whose former bosses at UEFA were often cited by reform advisers as a barrier to progress. “They all miserably failed. It’s not me saying it. It’s the facts saying it.

“We will not accept any good governance lesson from any of these individuals who have miserably failed in protecting football, protecting FIFA, and in protecting football from FIFA.”

Expanding on the reform supervisors, Infantino said: “What did they do? They simply rubber-stamped a sick and wrong system. It is not me saying it, it is the criminal courts saying it all over the world.”

FIFA has spent tens of millions of dollars on experts to protect its victim status in criminal investigations and reclaim cash from corrupt officials. Infantino issued a plea to officials still hoping to profit through bribery, embezzlement, and fraud.

“If there’s anyone in this room or outside of this room who still thinks he can enrich himself, that he can abuse football, I have one clear and strong message to tell him: Leave football and leave football now. We don’t want you.”

There was applause, and no sign of anyone leaving the room.

FIFA officials remain under criminal investigation in Switzerland and the United States. FIFA audit committee member Richard Lai, an American citizen from Guam, recently pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy charges related to taking around $1 million in bribes including at least $850,000 from Kuwaiti officials. The case implicated Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah, who quit the contest this week to seek re-election to the FIFA Council as a consequence of the allegations.

“A big thanks goes from my side and FIFA’s side to all the authorities who prosecute those who are involved in corruption in football,” Infantino said. “Thank you.”

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

Video: De Rossi, Roma make classy visit to Hillsborough memorial

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On many occasions there are instances where teams and individuals exemplify the fact that real-life occurrences are more meaningful than sports.

Ahead of Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League meeting, Italian giants AS Roma visited Anfield –where they will face Liverpool in the competition’s semifinals.

After walking around the venue where the two sides will compete in less than 24 hours, Roma captain Daniele de Rossi and the rest of the Roma squad visited the Hillsborough memorial at Anfield to pay tribute to the 96 victims lost in the 1989 event that rocked the entire country.

De Rossi was seen laying a floral arrangement on the site, along with a note from the club that read, “In memoria delle vittime di Hillsborough AS Rome.”

Liverpool, Roma ride major emotions into the UCL semifinals

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Four clubs remain in this season’s UEFA Champions League competition, and while two of the teams have been considered heavy dogs in the fight all year long the other two sides look to continue on their storybook run.

Liverpool, Roma, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid have found themselves in the semifinals of this season’s UCL, creating a strong mix of storylines as the tournament heads towards its most critical point.

[ MORE: Everton gets past Newcastle behind Theo Walcott’s strike ]

Anfield will be the site for Tuesday’s first leg between Liverpool and Roma, with both sides still riding major highs from their victories in the last round.

The Reds enter the final four after having disposed of fellow Premier League side Manchester City in relatively dominating fashion. Meanwhile, Roma completed a seemingly impossible comeback against Barcelona to progress in the competition.

Liverpool is led by three of the year’s top goalscorers, including Mohamed Salah — who has scored eight goals in the UCL and 41 across all competitions.

For Roma, much of the side’s success has been predicated on finding defensive strength at the right moments throughout the tournament.

Despite falling behind 4-1 in their first leg defeat to Barca in the previous round, Edin Dzeko and Co. rallied for a 3-0 win at the Stade Olimpico to stun the Catalan club by holding Lionel Messi and his side in check.

Manager Eusebio Di Francesco will have to find creative ways to halt the Liverpool attack though over the course of two legs, with the Reds boasting the top attack in this year’s UCL.

Liverpool has scored 33 goals in 10 UCL matches, while only conceding seven in the process.

Keeper Ederson hopeful he can score this season for Man City

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The prospects for a goalkeeper scoring during a match are usually uncommon, but that hasn’t halted Manchester City’s number one choice from aiming to break the trend this season.

Ederson — who has moved into the starting role at the Etihad Stadium with relative ease in 2017/18 — has dreamt of scoring a goal of his own for the Premier League champions in waiting.

“I heard the fans chanting my name, asking me to take the penalty but Gabriel went there,” Ederson said. “Unfortunately he missed it and Bernardo happily scored. But if the manager have asked me to go there, definitely I’d score.

“I’m not sure if I would be able to do set-pieces, but I’m good at penalties, either using power or technique on shooting it. But City have [their] regular penalty-takers and we are well-served.

Citizen supporters chanted for the goalkeeper to take a penalty kick over the weekend in the team’s 5-0 win over Swansea City.

However, Gabriel Jesus was the man selected for the opportunity, but had his attempt saved by Lukasz Fabianski before Bernardo Silva was in the right spot to score the game’s fifth goal.

“If Pep asks me to take it, I’m there,” Ederson said of the penalty kick. “Hopefully it will happen [before the end of the season], I’d like to score.”

This isn’t the first time Ederson has discussed exploring opportunities outside of the net, though.

The Brazilian shot-stopper has long been a fan of former Brazil international goalkeeper Rogero Ceni — who scored 65 goals for club side Sao Paolo.

Earlier this season, the 24-year-old joked around with the media, saying that he’d be more than happy to fill a role in the midfield when City was experiencing some injury issues within the squad.

Everton 1-0 Newcastle: Walcott blast has Toffees up to eighth

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Everton earned a 1-0 win against Newcastle on Monday behind Theo Walcott‘s second-half strike at Goodison Park.

The victory puts the Toffees into eighth place, leaping over Leicester City for the time being — as the Foxes have an extra game in hand.

[ MORE: Sweden coach says Ibra must reach out to have shot at World Cup ]

The former Arsenal man broke the deadlock six minutes into the second half when Walcott blasted the ball into the roof of the net following a lofted cross from Yannick Bolasie.

For Walcott, it’s his third goal since joining Everton in 2017/18 from the Gunners.

The visitors had their fair share of opportunities on the day, particularly through Ayoze Pérez, who was active all throughout the match.

Perez nearly broke the deadlock after the half hour mark when he tested goalkeeper Jordan Pickford in the 31st minute with a diving save in the bottom left corner.

Phil Jagielka came close four minutes later when his close-range attempt narrowly missed the top left corner after Michael Keane‘s flicked header off a corner kick.

The Spanish forward was at it again in the second stanza, and nearly found the back of the net when his header was saved in the center of the goal off of a cross from Kenedy.

Newcastle pushed hard for an equalizer in the dying moments, and even played up a man for a few minutes when Leighton Baines was tended to for a head injury, but the Magpies couldn’t even the score.