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World Cup spy: Honduras accuses Aussies of clumsy espionage

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SYDNEY (AP) Jorge Luis Pinto has accused Australia of a clumsy espionage attempt after a drone hovered over his Honduras squad’s practice session ahead of the return leg of their World Cup playoff.

The first leg last Friday ended in a 0-0 draw, leaving a spot at next year’s World Cup at stake Wednesday at Sydney’s Olympic stadium.

The Australian squad flew directly home from Honduras on a charter flight brimming with rehabilitation equipment for the players and landed on Sunday, a day ahead of Pinto’s squad.

The Hondurans were upset when officials saw a drone flying over their practice session late Monday, and posted a video of the drone on the team’s Twitter account with the message: “Selection of Honduras upset by Australian espionage with a Drone.”

Pinto didn’t back away from the claims at his match-eve news conference, saying he didn’t accept the explanation from stadium staff that it was an accidental case of a father and his child playing with the drone in a nearby park.

“Let’s not be innocent. It’s espionage in football,” Pinto said. “Just like VAR (Video Assistant Referee) has made it into football, drones have made their way into espionage.

“It just takes some of the merit away from the fair play and the sporting event that will be held tomorrow.”

Pinto said it was “embarrassing for such an advanced country” and added that the Socceroos had checked “every bathroom, every box at the stadiums where they trained” in San Pedro Sula to ensure there was no spying on their own sessions.

Football Federation Australia said it had nothing to do with the drone.

Australia coach Ange Postecoglou said he wasn’t getting distracted by the claims, and was focused only on getting the Socceroos to a fourth consecutive World Cup.

“There was a fair bit of drama around the first game, but we stayed well out of it,” Postecoglou said. “Ultimately, it’s all pretty irrelevant when the game kicks off tomorrow night. It’s all about those 90 minutes and anything said beforehand is meaningless.”

It has been a long campaign for both squads. Australia went through the last round of Asian qualifying with just one loss from 10 games, yet still missed out on one of the four direct entries to Russia on goals difference.

A lack of finish in front of the goals was evident again in the Asian playoff against Syria, which the Australians won courtesy of Tim Cahill’s two goals in Sydney to reach the intercontinental playoff.

Honduras finished fourth in qualifying in North and Central America and the Caribbean, securing a spot in the playoff at the expense of the U.S.

Australia failed to convert two clear chances to score in San Pedro Sula last Friday, but Postecoglou said he was content to come back to Australia on level terms. Cahill, who didn’t play in the first game because of an ankle injury, is fit and ready for selection, and Mark Milligan and Matt Leckie are available again after being suspended for the series opener.

Postecoglou has foreshadowed changes for the return match and so has Pinto, saying there could be up to three changes for Honduras with veteran skipper Maynor Figueroa and pacy winger Alberth Elis coming back.

Pinto said Figueroa would add some field presence and composure to his team, and Elis could create space out wide.

The Honduras coach didn’t elaborate too much further on what tactics he’d use, but had a tongue-in-cheek poke at Postecoglou on the theme of surveillance.

“Without a doubt we’ll be employing long balls tomorrow,” he said. “So if the head coach of Australia is watching this press conference he has some insight into the game!”

The Sydney news conference was broadcast on TV in Honduras, and Pinto was asked if he had a message for the team’s fans.

“Just as we faced situations against Mexico and El Salvador, which were tough, we always made it through,” he said. “Tomorrow is not going to be the exception. We’ll make it through.”

Tunisian player who collapsed in Spain regains consciousness

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MADRID (AP) Spanish third-division club Toledo says a Tunisian player who collapsed from heart failure during practice 10 days ago has regained consciousness.

The club says doctors removed sedative medication and Lassad Nouioui was responding well to treatment on Monday.

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They will consider removing the 32-year-old Nouioui from the intensive care unit if his condition keeps improving. Nouioui has played for a number of clubs during his 14-year professional career, notably a four-year stay at Deportivo La Coruna and a one-year spell with Celtic.

Nouioui collapsed on April 14.

The game against Real Madrid B the following day was postponed because of the problem with Nouioui.

FIFA force pace on $25B Club World Cup, global league plan

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GENEVA (AP) FIFA is forcing the pace on talks over a $25 billion offer to revamp the Club World Cup and create a global national team competition.

FIFA says President Gianni Infantino hosted a meeting last Friday with invited officials from some top European clubs.

[ MORE: Everton gets past Newcastle behind Walcott strike ]

The European Club Association has strongly opposed FIFA’s hope for a four-yearly club tournament starting in 2021, which could rival the UEFA-organized Champions League.

UEFA has also proposed a Global Nations League. A similar project is tied to the FIFA-controlled $25 billion, 12-year offer from a consortium including investors from Saudi Arabia and China.

FIFA says it’s holding “informal ongoing discussions with different stakeholders on the topic of the future Club World Cups.”

Infantino is set to meet confederation presidents and general secretaries “in the near future,” FIFA says.

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.