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Jury acquits Peruvian defendant in FIFA bribery case

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NEW YORK (AP) A former South American soccer official was acquitted in the FIFA bribery scandal on Tuesday and walked out of the courtroom saying he’s finished with the world’s most popular sport.

The verdict clearing Manuel Burga, former president of Peru’s soccer federation, of a single racketeering conspiracy charge came days after prosecutors won guilty verdicts on multiple charges against two other former soccer officials.

“God bless America. That’s all I can say,” the 60-year-old Burga said with eyes still wet from tears minutes after the verdict was delivered in Brooklyn federal court.

Burga was the first person to be acquitted among over 40 people and entities in the world of global soccer charged in the U.S. with a scheme to extract hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks. Of those, 24 pleaded guilty.

The case against Burga was always thin. He faced a single count while two co-defendants — Juan Napout, of Paraguay, and Jose Maria Marin, of Brazil — were convicted of heftier charges Friday in a prosecution that exposed a culture of greed and corruption in soccer’s executive suites.

Burga called the result a miracle and noted he prayed the rosary twice daily before the acquittal.

Burga said he would go home to Peru and resume a career as a lawyer after 15 years as a soccer executive.

“My history in soccer is finished,” he said. “I’ll go back to the law.”

The judge had jailed Marin, 85, and Napout, 59, after their convictions Friday. The two also were acquitted on some lesser charges.

Burga’s attorney, Bruce Udolf, said he was sure Burga was innocent but believed he would be convicted Tuesday based on a question from jurors Friday.

“I figured I’d be looking at him a jail cell,” Udolf said. “I’m so happy. … I want to go outside and do a couple of cartwheels.”

Marin, Burga and Napout had been arrested in 2015. Prosecutors accused them of agreeing to take millions of dollars in bribes from businessmen seeking to lock up lucrative media rights or to influence hosting rights for the World Cup and other major FIFA-controlled tournaments.

World soccer’s governing body had said last week it would seek compensation and a share of the cash.

During the trial, Udolf insisted his client never took a bribe.

“I would submit to you that never has more been made of less evidence,” he told jurors.

On Tuesday, Udolf credited Burga for insisting on a trial and saying he never agreed to anything.

“He’ll go to his grave saying that,” said the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, lawyer who headed the public integrity unit of the Miami federal prosecutor’s office for five years in the 1990s.

Udolf said Burga would return to his childhood home, where he now lives modestly with his wife and two children.

Burga was held for a year in Peru on the U.S. charges before his transfer to the United States, where he was freed on bail to await trial. He’d been living with relatives in Washington.

Burga said he’d spend a month reunited with family before helping others through an administrative law practice.

“We have to look forward, not backward,” he said.

Serie A: Juve keep winning to remain 1 point back of Napoli

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TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus closed the gap on Serie A leader Napoli back to just one point as the six-time defending champion eased past Genoa 1-0 on Monday.

Douglas Costa scored in the 16th minute, the first conceded by Genoa in five league matches. It was a less than convincing performance from Juventus but it was never really troubled, as goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny – standing in for the still-injured Gianluigi Buffon – was little more than a spectator.

“What was important was to win,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “At the end there was a bit of nervousness because we were lacking in energy a bit.

“We could have finished off the match in the first half, and again with a couple of occasions after the break. We didn’t manage to so compliments to Genoa.”

The battle for the Serie A title is shaping into a two-horse race. Juventus moved 10 points clear of third-placed Lazio, although the capital side has a match in hand.

“The season is still long and all those who are behind us can still get back into the race,” Allegri said. “It was important to stay in Napoli’s slipstream.”

Juventus needed to win after Napoli beat Atalanta 1-0 on Sunday.

Allegri’s side started brightly and had an early chance to take the lead but Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin did well to keep out a free kick from specialist Miralem Panic.

However, it did not take much longer to strike. Douglas Costa passed out left to Mario Mandzukic, who played a delightful return ball for the Brazil midfielder to slot into the bottom left corner.

League Cup semi: Man City take 2-1 lead into 2nd leg vs. Bristol

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Manchester City can move one step closer on Tuesday to claiming their first of four potential trophies this season, when Pep Guardiola‘s men take on Bristol City in the second leg of the League Cup semifinal.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday ]

After coming back to beat the Robins in the first leg at home, Man City must now go on the road and take care of business to reach the Feb. 25 final at Wembley Stadium. As he has done so many times — and so famously — in the sky blue of City, Sergio Aguero grabbed the late winner (91st minute — WATCH HERE) 14 days ago.

For a few not-so-insignificant periods of the game, Bristol were very much the aggressors and appeared more likely to make the score 2-0 than for City to get back to 1-1. Bobby Reid converted from the penalty spot in the 44th minute after her was brought down under John Stones‘ wild, sliding tackle. Kevin De Bruyne leveled things up 10 minutes into the second half, setting the stage for Aguero’s late heroics.

[ MORE: Alexis-for-Mkhi swap complete | De Bruyne’s new contract ]

Since the first leg on Jan. 9, City have failed in their bid to finish the PL season with an unbeaten record before bouncing back to beat Newcastle United on the weekend, courtesy of a hat trick from Aguero — Guardiola quotes, from Sport24:

“I said many times it was going to happen, we can lose, so (it is) important the reaction we have. Still we have 42 points to play (for). It is 14 games. It is a lot of games to play and difficult games like Saturday and like Liverpool. It is important to show the team is still there but I don’t have the feeling we give up.

“We want to go through to the final in the (League) Cup and the FA Cup, so (we have) a lot of games but I think the people have the desire to keep going, to keep going, to keep going.”

[ MORE: One dream January signing for each top-six side ]

Bristol, meanwhile, have fallen on hard times: it’s been nearly a month (Boxing Day, to be specific — five losses, one draw) since Lee Johnson’s side last won a game in any competition, and they’ve fallen from second to fifth in the Championship table — Johnson quotes, from the Guardian:

“We don’t want to be brave losers, we want to compete to win. It’s up to the players to be focused and tactically aware, and who knows what will happen if we can show the same quality as we have shown in the previous rounds?

“We have to make sure we’re really bold. If you’re going to deliver a corner, do it like you mean it. I’d rather fail bold than fail timid. We know we have to score. I hope Pep picks his absolute best team and we can give them a right go. I’m not sure you could go and play an under-23 side against us at the moment and I think he’ll know that.”

The winner of Arsenal versus Chelsea (0-0 after the first leg) awaits in the final.

The 2 Robbies: Alexis-Mkhitaryan Swap Becomes Reality

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe react to the Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap deal between Arsenal and Manchester United finally becoming reality (0:20), Swansea’s stunning 1-0 victory over Liverpool (9:20), Southampton’s much-needed draw with Spurs (22:30) and Watford’s decision to part ways with Marco Silva (36:20). The gents end the show sharing their memories of the late English striker, Cyrille Regis (39:45).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

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Inter Milan sign Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan

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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan completed the signing of Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan until the end of the season, with a view to a permanent move.

Inter can sign the Brazil international permanently for $43 million plus $3.7 million in bonuses, and said on Monday that option “must be taken up before the end of the season.”

Rafinha, who was born in Sao Paulo, had been at Barcelona since 2006, when he joined its youth team. He spent the 2013-14 season on loan at Celta Vigo.

After nine months out after surgery on his right knee, he made his first appearance of the season last week as a late substitute in Barcelona’s Copa del Rey defeat at Espanyol.

“It’s an important stage in my life,” he said, “and I had a lot of desire to approach this new phase in my career.”

Inter has slipped to fourth in Serie A, 11 points behind leader Napoli.

It could slip out of the Champions League places if Roma wins its match in hand on Wednesday.

“I hope to play in as many matches as possible and help the team to reach our objective which is Champions League qualification,” Rafinha said.