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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

Everton announce lifetime ban for fan involved in altercation with Lyon player

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On a night when UEFA unveiled a new campaign for respect, there wasn’t enough of it shown both on and off the field.

Everton has followed up on UEFA opening up disciplinary proceedings against them by banning a fan from Everton matches after the fan was seen to punch at an Olympique Lyon player in the second half of Lyon’s 2-1 win at Goodison Park.

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“Club Officials have reviewed the footage of an incident that occurred in the 64th minute of the game against Olympique Lyonnais where supporters towards the front of the lower Gwladys Street End became involved in a confrontation between players,” Everton said in a statement. “We have identified one individual whom action will now be taken against. This will include a ban from attending future Everton fixtures and the Club registering a formal complaint with Merseyside Police.”

The video below shows a fan – amazingly, holding onto a small boy in one arm – throwing some punches at Lyon players after a fracas on the field.

The punch and ban is yet another dark moment for Everton, which has just one point from its first three Europa League matches and sits in 16th place in the Premier League with eight points from eight games.

Russia glad to welcome Blatter, Platini as World Cup guests

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MOSCOW (AP) President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov says Russia “would be glad” to see banned former soccer leaders Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini in Russia next year at the World Cup.

Though banned from soccer duty for six and four years, respectively, Blatter and Platini were the presidents of FIFA and UEFA when Russia won the 2018 hosting contest seven years ago.

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FIFA ethics rules allow Blatter and Platini to attend games but not engage in official soccer business.

Blatter publicly accepted Putin’s World Cup invitation in March 2016, before his ban for financial wrongdoing with Platini was upheld on appeal.

Peskov says Friday, “Putin has a long and, you may say, friendly relationship with Blatter. He knows Platini well, too.”

Rapinoe, Morgan, Ertz lift US past South Korea, 3-1

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) Alex Morgan scored in a fourth straight game, Julie Ertz scored for the fourth time in five games, and the United States women beat South Korea 3-1 on Thursday night.

Megan Rapinoe added her 34th international goal and her 42nd assist.

Having assisted on Ertz’s diving header in the first half, Rapinoe scored on a penalty kick she drew in the 49th minute when pounced on a loose ball about 12 yards in front of the goal and was tripped by Ji Sohyun.

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Han Chaerin scored her first international goal in her South Korea debut to make it 2-1 just before the end of the first half.

U.S. forward Mallory Pugh had to leave the game late in the first half with a right hamstring injury. There was no immediate word on the severity of her injury after she was helped off the field by trainers.

Meanwhile, Carli Lloyd returned from a nine-week absence because of ankle injury, entering the game as a substitute in the 77th minute.

Midfielder Andi Sullivan started for the U.S. about 11 months after having reconstructive knee surgery. Her third minute shot narrowly missed the far post from about 18 yards. She was substituted out, as planned, at halftime.

South Korea began the game in a defensive posture and the U.S. maintained a decisive edge in possession, forcing Kang Gaae to make several sprawling saves before breaking though on Ertz goal in the 24th minute

Ertz dove in front of two defenders to redirect Rapinoe’s hard, low corner kick between the legs of Kang as the goal keeper tried to respond at the near post.

Morgan scored in the 40th minute, using her right foot to settle Kelley O’Hara’s bouncing pass from the end line, then pivoting and whipping her left foot through the ball from point-blank range. The goal was the 28-year-old Morgan’s 78th for the national squad.

Han scored against the run of play with a hard shot from about 25 yards that sailed beyond U.S. goal keeper Alyssa Naher’s reach before dipping under the cross bar.

Lloyd’s introduction drew an enthusiastic response from nearly 10,000 spectators in the Superdome. The two-time FIFA World Player of the Year missed a pair of U.S. exhibition wins over New Zealand last month because of an Aug. 13 ankle sprain in a National Women’s Soccer League match.

Forward Tobin Heath, who has an ankle injury, and defender Taylor Smith, who has an injured shoulder, were not in the lineup and are not expected to play in a second friendly scheduled between South Korea and the U.S. on Sunday in Cary, North Carolina.

Both women were hurt in the NWSL championship match.

UEFA charge Roma after racist chanting witnessed

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AS Roma and its fans could face severe penalties after alleged racist chants were hurled in the direction of Chelsea’s Antonio Rudiger.

It appears via broadcast footage from Chelsea’s 3-3 UEFA Champions League draw with Roma at Stamford Bridge this week that after shepherding a ball out of play, Rudiger was subjected to monkey noises and other racist abuse from the away end where the AS Roma fans were congregated.

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In the past, UEFA has ordered either partial or full closures of stadiums and announced fines to the clubs, though it doesn’t seem to have stamped out the problem of racist chanting in Europe.

Hopefully, UEFA will investigate this fully and ban the individuals who allegedly committed the chants.

Rudiger signed for Chelsea this past summer for a reported $44.8 million.