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FIFA’s Confederations Cup has uncertain future after Russia

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GENEVA (AP) The Confederations Cup soccer tournament might have some fans around the world. If so, they should enjoy this one in Russia while they can.

FIFA’s eight-nation World Cup rehearsal for the host country, World Cup title-holder and six continental champions is not sure to survive for another edition.

“If there was no Confed Cup in 2021, I wouldn’t be unhappy,” Germany coach Joachim Loew said last month when he announced a squad for the June 17-July 2 tournament in Russia with only three of his 2014 World Cup winners. “I don’t think those involved would be unhappy either.”

The Confederations Cup has struggled to spark attention outside the competing countries since FIFA took over organizing it for the 1997 edition, which tournament founder Saudi Arabia hosted.

Now that some teams seem to care little – and sluggish ticket sales to Germany fans have lagged behind Chile’s – the tournament has a problem in an increasingly crowded calendar.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino put the Confederations Cup on notice as part of a leadership review.

“We are putting everything on the table,” Infantino said of the Confederations Cup’s future at the group-stage draw in Kazan last November. “Shall we play it in June? Shall we play it in November? Shall we think about the format?”

Momentum for change was created by moving the 2022 World Cup dates in Qatar to start in November instead of June to avoid the searing heat.

A traditional Confederations Cup as rehearsal exactly one year ahead in peak time for European leagues is not acceptable. FIFA suggested in 2015 that Qatar could stage a Club World Cup in late-2021 as an “operational test event.”

Then under Sepp Blatter’s leadership, FIFA also said a Confederations Cup in June 2021 could still be held “in another (Asian Football Confederation) country.”

China would be an obvious potential host for a four-venue event if FIFA agrees. Australia, Japan and South Korea would also be options.

FIFA already has other test event plans for the expanded, 48-team World Cup in 2026. A new six-team, four-game playoff round in November 2025 will be played in the host countries.

Infantino has also speculated about expanding the Club World Cup, which could be a candidate for the June 2025 slot.

It is unclear that the Confederations Cup earns its share of revenue.

The 2013 edition in Brazil cost FIFA $70 million in expenses, according to that year’s accounts. Yet broadcasting and sponsorship rights are bundled into World Cup deals that are the real attraction.

If FIFA does seek change in 2021, it still has contracts to provide a Confederations Cup to commercial partners whose deals run through at least the 2022 World Cup.

What about the actual football, aside from business and politics? Could it save the tournament by appealing more broadly beyond the countries taking part?

The 2013 edition was mostly a success on the field, even as tear gas wafted across nearby stadiums from a wave of street protests against unpopular tiers of Brazilian government.

Neymar’s stunning goal in the third minute of the opening game against Japan set the tone for an intriguing tournament. Italy beat Japan 4-3, Brazil beat Italy 4-2, and overmatched Tahiti lost 10-0 to Spain and 8-0 against Uruguay.

Crowd sizes averaging around 50,000 far outstripped previous editions, and 73,000 people were at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro to see Brazil beat Spain 3-0 in an incident-packed final.

In Russia, there will Cristiano Ronaldo to compensate for no Neymar – even if European champion Portugal has been less entertaining than Brazil – but the injury-hit home team lacks stars and Germany is sending a team of reserves.

Loew has some injured regulars though prefers to use the summer between a European Championship and World Cup to rest others who are also Champions League regulars.

History suggests Loew is wise. No Confederations Cup winner has ever gone on to win the next World Cup.

MLS Snapshot: NYCFC run rampant on Red Bulls, win 2-0

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The game in 100 words (or less): The only thing standing in the way of New York City FC avenging their infamous 7-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls with a lopsided demolition job of their own, on Saturday, was an otherworldly goalkeeping performance from Luis Robles. It was the Red Bulls shot-stopper, with his four saves on the afternoon (three of them coming in spectacular fashion), who kept Jesse Marsch’s side within touching distance for more than an hour. Jack Harrison was denied early on by Robles, but got the better of him not long later for the game’s opening goal. Heroics from Robles kept the score at 1-0 for another 32 minutes, before Ben Sweat’s (accidental?) header made it 2-0 in the 65th minute. The Red Bulls, on the other hand, managed their first shot on target in the 80th minute. That’s three wins in a row for NYCFC, who go seven points clear of their Hudson River rivals and keep Toronto FC in sight at the top of the league table, five points ahead.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

Three moments that mattered

18′ — Robles goes full-stretch to deny Harrison — David Villa’s vision and Rodney Wallace‘s hold-play created the chance for Harrison, but Luis Robles’ acrobatics denied the 20-year-old Englishman in spectacular fashion.

33′ — Harrison not to be denied this time — Sweat delivered the ball to Harrison near the top of the box, and the second-year man did everything right with what’s a really, really difficult chance to take — facing away from goal, first-time, ball traveling across the goalkeeper, upper-90 to the far post.

65′ — Sweat loops a header past Robles for 2-0 — Sweat probably didn’t mean it, but the ball hit the back of the net, and that’s all that matters. Not a bad time to score your first MLS goal, either.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Luis Robles

Goalscorers: Harrison (33′), Sweat (65′)

Watford signs Will Hughes from Derby County

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Watford has completed the capture of 22-year-old central midfielder Will Hughes, a fantastic transfer for one of England’s younger talents.

Hughes, despite his young age, racked up 189 appearances for Derby County (despite missing significant time in 2015 for an ACL tear) and now gets his first shot at the Premier League, and with it potentially a chance to push his way into the England fold. Hughes has been a staple for the England youth system, making 22 appearances for the country’s U-21 side but is yet to feature for the senior team.

The fee for the transfer was undisclosed but reports have tabbed the amount at around $10 million.

Hughes came close to making the Premier League with Derby County on multiple occasions, reaching the Championship playoffs in both 2014 and 2016. Now, he’ll battle the likes of Valon Behrami, Tom Cleverley, Etienne Capoue, Abdoulaye Doucoure for a spot in Watford’s midfield.

The club release confirmed that Hughes has not yet completed his medical, and will do so when he returns to the U.K. from competing in the U-21 European Championships in Poland.

New Zealand 0-4 Portugal: Ronaldo, Portugal win Group A

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New Zealand gave the 2017 Confederations Cup all they had, but they go home empty-handed as Portugal won the Group A finale 3-0 to advance to the knockout round.

Portugal held much of the possession as expected, but they found little at the end early on. The first true chance fell to Cristiano Ronaldo in the 24th minute, who latched onto a Ricardo Quaresma cross from wide right and produced a powerful header, but it was poorly directed straight to New Zealand goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic for the easy save.

[ RECAP: Mexico eliminates Russia with 2-1 comeback ]

Ronaldo had another headed chance minutes later, but he rocketed the attempt back off the post. Portugal would eventually find the opener just past the half-hour mark via the penalty spot. Danilo was clearly shoved by a pair of defenders on a set-piece, and Ronaldo easily dispatched the spot-kick for a 1-0 lead.

The favorites would double their lead just a few minutes later as Eliseu on the overlap came down the left flank and cut horizontally into the box. He fed a charging Bernardo Silva, and the in-demand Monaco attacker jumped to meet it and poked home. Silva was unable to celebrate after turning his ankle heavily on the landing, but he would come back onto the field.

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

Portugal finished things off with 10 minutes to go in the game as Andre Silva burst through the midfielder, shucked his defender, and fired past Marinovic to seal the game for good. Nani added a fourth The win means Portugal finishes level on points with Mexico at the top of Group A, winning the group on goal differential thanks to Silva’s final goal.

Mexico 2-1 Russia: Comeback seals semifinal place

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Mexico again produced a poor first half, but were saved in the final 45 minutes as Juan Carlos Osorio led the CONCACAF squad to the semifinals of the 2017 Confederations Cup.

Right off the bat, there was a controversial moment. Just five minutes into the game, Yuri Zhirkov burst into the Mexico box and went to ground under a challenge from Hector Moreno. The referee waved play on, but it appeared on replay that Moreno tripped Zhirkov. Nevertheless, no call was made and no word came from the video assistant referee.

[ RECAP: Portugal eases by New Zealand 4-0 ]

The hosts had another huge penalty shout, but the referee again waved play on as Fedor Smolov was sent flying to ground as Nestor Araujo contacted his leg from behind in the 17th minute. After about a minute of play, the VAR called for a review, but even after a look at the monitor, the referee decided there was not obvious reason to reverse the call.

With Russia applying all the pressure, they would find the breakthrough in the 25th minute. A pair of fantastic saves from Memo Ochoa went for naught as Alexandr Erokhin whiffed, but he was able to find Aleksandr Samedov who struck low past Ochoa for the opener.

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

The lead wouldn’t last long. Mexico didn’t exactly seem sparked by the deficit, but they would draw back level against the run of play just past the half-hour mark. It appeared that Nestor Araujo’s looping header was meant to set up a teammate at the far post, but it ended up chipping Igor Akinfeev and tucking inside the woodwork for the equalizer.

After halftime, Mexico scored completely out of nowhere. A bombed clearance out of the back by Hector Herrera seemed an easy collect for Akinfeev, but as the ball bounced high up into the air, Hirving Lozano charged it down and headed the ball under feeble pressure from the Russian goalkeeper. The ball bounced unchallenged into the net, and Mexico took a shock 2-1 lead.

Mexico appeared to have a third to pad the lead, but VAR took 34 seconds to correctly reverse the call as replay spotted goalscorer Hector Moreno in an offside position on the delivery. Russia was doomed to defeat when Zhirkov was given a second yellow card for a clear elbow to the face of Miguel Layun. Somehow, the hosts still had one big chance in the 72nd minute despite the disadvantage, but Igor Smolinkov somehow missed the net on what should have been a tap-in.

The win for Mexico sees them into the knockout stage, but they fail to win the group, finishing level with Portugal on 7 points but coming up short on goal differential by one. Mexico will be without Andres Guardado in the semifinals, as he was shown his second yellow card of the tournament in the first half.