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European clubs push back at FIFA expansion plans

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ROME (AP) Europe’s soccer clubs are pushing back at the grand expansion plans of the sport’s governing bodies, calling for fewer matches, mandatory rest periods and alignment of confederation tournaments.

Presenting a streamlined agenda aimed at protecting players at its general assembly Tuesday, the European Club Association (ECA) wouldn’t even discuss FIFA’s proposal for an expanded Club World Cup in June 2021.

[ MORE: Pogba stars for France ]

“It is not about adding competition in this moment,” ECA president Andrea Agnelli said. “To us the priorities are addressing the calendar post-2024.”

Agnelli said the players, which he described as “the main actors,” must be respected.

“It’s ensuring that throughout the calendar players have the time to rest and/or train,” said Agnelli, who is also the president of six-time defending Italian champion Juventus.

“They’re playing week in, week out, two or three games a week, be it at club level or a national team level,” Agnelli added. “So when we think about the calendar going forward we must also take into consideration weeks when players can actually rest and/or train. So reducing the overall number of games.”

The Club World Cup is currently an annual competition held each December featuring seven teams. FIFA president Gianni Infantino would like to expand the competition to include 24 clubs and move it to June as a quadrennial event similar to the World Cup.

But June is when players’ and coaches’ contracts expire and generally a transitional period for clubs.

“There are many things around that but mainly we almost don’t know anything about it,” UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin told The Associated Press. “The stakeholders are not informed properly yet so it’s much too early to say anything.”

Ceferin added that he “doubts” the tournament could come together for 2021.

But Infantino isn’t giving up.

“The Club World Cup is a great competition already and we are discussing whether we can make it even greater,” Infantino said.

Among other topics discussed at the ECA assembly, which was attended by 163 clubs from across the continent:

VAR:

Already approved for this year’s World Cup in Russia, the video assistant referee (VAR) won’t be used in the Champions League until next season – at the earliest.

“It’s too soon for the Champions League to start this season. We are not ready, referees are not ready, fans are not ready,” Ceferin said. “It’s not the competition to have a trial.

“We will start training the referees and educating the fans and if everything goes fine it might happen next season,” the UEFA president added.

Agnelli, however, suggested that the VAR might not be included in the Champions League until the 2019-20 season.

Infantino, meanwhile, promoted the VAR amid controversies in domestic competitions where it has already been introduced.

“For the World Cup the referees will be trained, the VARs will be trained,” Infantino said. “We are looking very much forward to a World Cup which, thanks to the VAR, will be a little bit more transparent and just or fair.”

During this season’s trials in other cup competitions, a number of wrong decisions, delays and a lack of communication have left many critics wondering whether the VAR is worth it.

But Infantino said that testing has shown the VAR increases the accuracy of referees’ decisions from 93 to 99 percent.

“It’s not 100 percent so there is still work for all those who want to complain and maybe before if it was the fault of the referee it will (now) be the fault of the VAR,” he added.

2026 WORLD CUP

A day after bid dossiers were released from the North American and Morocco candidates, UEFA’s Ceferin reserved judgment on whether Morocco can spend $15.8 billion for construction work on new stadiums and training grounds.

“I don’t think that this task force group has finished their work yet,” Ceferin said, referring to FIFA’s April 17-19 visit to the North African nation.

Stadium infrastructure accounts for 35 percent of the evaluation score from the task force.

By contrast, the bid book for the joint candidacy by the United States, Mexico and Canada says it is the low-risk proposition since no infrastructure will be built for the first World Cup after the jump from 32 to 48 finalists.

While the dossiers were submitted to FIFA two weeks ago, Infantino claimed he hasn’t read them yet.

“I was here so I didn’t have the chance to look at them,” he said.

FINANCIAL FAIR PLAY 2.0

The ECA and UEFA have agreed on an update to the financial fair play rules beginning next season – subject to final approval by UEFA’s executive committee.

The new rules aim to expedite the investigation process by putting in place two new indicators: “a sustainable debt ratio” based on a club’s net debt and earnings and a maximum net transfer spending of 100 million euros ($124 million).

If one of the two indicators is breached, UEFA will immediately begin a preliminary investigation – which could drastically reduce the current process, which sometimes lasts up to 22 months.

The clubs rejected UEFA’s proposal of a luxury tax but promoted publishing the amounts paid to player agents.

AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Geneva contributed.

More AP soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Soccer

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf

MLS at Week 8: Galaxy host Atlanta, NYCFC aims to stay unbeaten out west

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A full weekend of MLS action kicks off on Friday night with two of the Western Conference’s elite, while Saturday and Sunday feature a number of quality matchups.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the LA Galaxy have been quite the attraction since the Swede made his move to MLS a few weeks ago, but Sigi Schmid’s side will be in for another early-season test on Saturday when they take on a red-hot Atlanta United.

[ MORE: Sweden not keen on Zlatan’s World Cup return ]

Both sides currently sit in second place in their respective conferences, while Atlanta boasts the second-highest goalscoring total in the league to this point, with 15 goals in six games.

Western Conference leaders Sporting KC have gone unbeaten in their last six matches since their opening day defeat to New York City FC, and Matt Besler and Co. will have another opportunity to put their stamp on the conference with a crucial match against the Vancouver Whitecaps, who sit third in the West.

NYCFC and FC Dallas remain on the only two unbeaten clubs left in 2018, although the latter has been far less convincing in its first five matches.

Patrick Vieira and NYCFC are coming off of a hard-fought 2-2 draw against Atlanta last weekend, and now head west to take on the Portland Timbers.

Meanwhile, Dallas plays host to the Philadelphia Union, who have taken just one win out of their first five games.

Here’s a look at the full slate of matches around MLS in Week 8.

Friday

Sporting KC vs. Vancouver Whitecaps — 9 p.m. ET

Saturday

Montreal Impact vs. Los Angeles FC — 1 p.m. ET
Houston Dynamo vs. Toronto FC — 3 p.m. ET
New York Red Bulls vs. Chicago Fire — 3:30 p.m. ET
Columbus Crew vs. New England Revolution — 7:30 p.m. ET
Orlando City vs. San Jose Earthquakes — 7:30 p.m. ET
FC Dallas vs. Philadelphia Union — 8 p.m. ET
Real Salt Lake vs. Colorado Rapids — 9 p.m. ET
LA Galaxy vs. Atlanta United — 10:30 p.m. ET

Sunday

Seattle Sounders vs. Minnesota United — 4 p.m. ET
Portland Timbers vs. New York City FC — 6 p.m. ET

Atletico defeat leaves Barcelona 1 win from title

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MADRID (AP) Atletico Madrid lost 3-0 at Real Sociedad on Thursday, leaving Barcelona one victory away from clinching the Spanish league title.

Barcelona, which drew 2-2 at Celta Vigo on Tuesday without most of its regular starters, can secure its 25th crown at Deportivo La Coruna on April 29.

[ MORE: Chelsea tops Burnley, trails Spurs by five points in UCL race ]

The Catalan club faces Sevilla in the Copa del Rey final on Saturday.

Barcelona has a 12-point lead over Atletico, with five matches left, and is 15 in front of third-place Real Madrid, which needed a late goal by Cristiano Ronaldo to draw 1-1 with Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday.

Another loss for Atletico on Sunday against Real Betis would leave Diego Simeone’s team out of contention for the title because Barcelona holds the head-to-head advantage between the clubs.

Willian Jose shot Sociedad ahead in the 27th minute at the Anoeta Stadium. Juanmi Jimenez made it 2-0 in the 80th after a perfect backheel from Jose before Jimenez scored again with an injury-time header.

It was a third straight win for Sociedad, which stayed 11th in the standings. Atletico hadn’t lost in three consecutive league matches.

GIRONA WINS

Girona ended a four-match winless streak with a 2-1 victory at Alaves, staying in contention for a Europa League spot next season.

Aleix Garcia opened the scoring for Girona in the 59th minute and Cristhian Stuani added a penalty in the 86th, moving the team within one point of seventh-place Sevilla.

Tomas Pina struck in the 90th minute for Alaves, which is 15th.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

Leicester 0-0 Southampton: Saints lose chance to gain relegation ground

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Leicester City and Southampton finished scoreless at the King Power Stadium on Thursday, as the latter failed to pick up three critical points in a heated Premier League relegation race.

The best opportunity on the day likely came in the second half when Marc Albrighton‘s brilliant volley was deflected over the crossbar by Saints keeper Alex McCarthy.

[ MORE: Chelsea tops Burnley with Moses’ second-half strike ]

Southampton boasted many of its regulars as they prepare to stave off being dropped down to the Championship next season, although Mark Hughes‘ side features in a big FA Cup semifinals clash over the weekend against Chelsea.

Chances were at a minimum in the opening stanza, with Leicester the more dominant of the two sides in attack, although it didn’t amount to much on their various counterattacking opportunities.

Kelechi Iheanacho threatened early on for the Foxes, coming close in the 15th minute with a strike that narrowly missed the far corner. This came briefly after he followed up on his own blocked attempt moments prior.

The Saints now sit four points behind 17th place Swansea City, while Leicester remains in eighth place — trailing Arsenal and the top six by 10 points.

Burnley 1-2 Chelsea: Moses rescues Blues all three points

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With four matches remaining in the Premier League season, Antonio Conte‘s side has everything to play for in the final weeks of the campaign.

[ MORE: Leicester, Southampton finish scoreless at King Power Stadium ]

Chelsea picked up a come-from-behind 2-1 win against Burnley on Thursday afternoon at the Turf Moor behind Victor Moses‘ second-half finish.

Moses was active throughout the match for Chelsea, playing a hand in both goals.

Ashley Barnes pulled a goal back for the Clarets in the 64th minute, but it wasn’t enough for the seventh place side to steal points off the Blues for the second time in 2017/18.

Alvaro Morata’s struggles continued on the day, as the Spanish international had a quality breakaway chance to seal the game early in the second half, but put his right-footed attempt wide of the goal.

The Blues went in front in the 20th minute after Burnley defender Kevin Long put the ball into his own net off of a dangerous cross from Victor Moses on the righthand side of the box.

Olivier Giroud made heavy claims for a penalty in the eighth minute, when the striker went to ground after having been contacted by Long.

The Frenchman started the match paired with Alvaro Morata up front as Antonio Conte looked to rest Eden Hazard and Willian ahead of this weekend’s FA Cup semifinal against Southampton.

The victory for the Blues puts Conte and Co. within five points of Spurs with four matches remaining in the PL campaign. Tottenham currently occupies the fourth Champions League position in England’s top flight.