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FIFA’s ‘white elephants’ warning after Morocco bid criticism

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FIFA issued its second rebuke inside a week to Morocco’s World Cup bid for questioning the fairness of the process while warning it does not want unsuitable “white elephant” stadiums built for the 2026 tournament.

The process has been designed to end the “secret and subjective decisions” of the past, FIFA said after its president, Gianni Infantino, received a letter from Morocco complaining that the governing body had imposed burdensome demands for technical criteria that the bids will be scored on.

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The protest is an indication of Morocco’s exasperation ahead of the June vote as it challenges a rival bid from North America, which already has the infrastructure to cope with the first World Cup to be held after the expansion from 32 to 48 finalists. Morocco, by contrast, has to build or renovate all 14 stadiums and up to 150 training grounds as part of a $15.8 billion project to host the nation’s biggest-ever sporting event.

Responding to Morocco’s concerns, FIFA told The Associated Press on Tuesday: “In order to avoid unsustainable bids … with the creation of `white elephants’ – something FIFA has been heavily criticized for in the past – the scoring system evaluates with objective criteria how meaningful and sustainable is the infrastructure presented in the bids.”

The role of FIFA’s bid inspectors has been strengthened in response to concerns in 2010 that FIFA’s executive committee voted for Russia and Qatar in the dual 2018 and 2022 hosting votes despite those countries being evaluated as the highest-risk contenders.

Voting this time will be expanded to the FIFA membership, with up to 207 federations eligible. The bidding nations cannot vote, including the North American trio of the United States, Mexico and Canada, who announced Tuesday that they had secured the support of Saudi Arabia.

The 2026 contest could see bids be declared ineligible before the FIFA Congress vote on June 13 if they are scored lowly by a task force. Morocco federation president Fouzi Lekjaa objected to Infantino that they only received details of the scoring system on March 14, two days before deadline to receive bid books. The rival bid, which would see the U.S. host 60 of the 80 games, said it received the details at the same time.

“As a matter of principle, the basis of the preparation of a bid should not be the scoring system for the technical evaluation but rather the requirements which FIFA has provided to the bidders in 2017 through the bidding and hosting requirements,” FIFA said, dismissing Morocco’s objections.

The technical evaluation will assess if bids meet minimum requirements over infrastructure, costs and revenue projections.

“Contrary to what the FRMF (the Moroccan federation federation) implies, the hosting requirements, which were clearly set in the bidding registration and other bidding/hosting documents provided in 2017, have not changed,” FIFA said. “The scoring system merely provides a methodology for evaluating and documenting the extent to which the bids submitted fulfil those requirements in certain key areas.”

Morocco said it will spend around $3 billion on stadiums and training grounds. The North American bid said it needs to spend $30 million-$40 million to install grass at stadiums, which don’t require any significant modification for the World Cup.

In correspondence with FIFA seen by the AP, Morocco expressed unhappiness that the population of host cities has be at least 25,000, airports must have the capacity for 60 million passengers a year and that the travel time from the airport to the city must be a maximum 90 minutes. A low score on those specific criteria would not see a bidder excluded, FIFA assured Morocco on Tuesday.

“A host city could still meet the minimum requirements for transport without meeting such an individual requirement on the location of the airport, in particular if other criteria are satisfied,” FIFA said.

In a scoring system of 0 to 5 – where 0 means is “no requirements met/very weak” and 5 is “requirements exceeded/excellent” – a bid must average a total of 2, or “minimum requirements met/sufficient,” to be approved ahead of the vote.

Bids must score at least a 2 for the individual aspects of stadiums, teams and referee facilities, plus accommodation and transport links. Failure to score 2 from the task force means a bid “has been evaluated as `high risk’ and represents a material failure” that could see the bid disqualified by FIFA.

Morocco anticipates raising $785 million from 3.5 million tickets sold, while North America forecasts generating $2.1 billion from 5.8 million tickets. FIFA would also earn $300 million more from the North American broadcasters if the 2026 World Cup is played in the region under the terms of contracts already negotiated.

 

“As explained many times, the bidding process for the 2026 FIFA World Cup has been designed to evaluate the bids against objective criteria and so avoid a return to the secret and subjective decisions of the past,” FIFA said Tuesday.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

Ligue 1: Depay’s goal streak hits 5 games; Lyon reeling in Monaco

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MONACO (AP) Lyon won at Dijon 5-2 and moved within one point of second-place Monaco in the French league on Friday.

Lyon’s sixth straight league win kept them level on points with fourth-place Marseille.

The team finishing second qualifies automatically for next season’s Champions League, while the team in third goes into the playoffs. After this weekend, there will be four rounds remaining.

Memphis Depay has scored or created 12 of Lyon’s 16 last goals.

The Netherlands forward opened the scoring in the fourth minute with a close-range volley, and set up the fourth goal for winger Bertrand Traore in the 77th.

Depay almost scored another, just failing to reach right back Rafael‘s cross in the 50th. Midfielder Houssem Aouar followed up and his strike was turned into his own net by defender Valentin Rosier.

Lyon’s other goals came from forwards Nabil Fekir in the 53rd and Maxwell Cornet in the 82nd.


MONACO (AP) — After losing the French title last weekend, Monaco is in danger of throwing away second place after losing at Guingamp 3-1 on Saturday.

The defeat leaves Monaco just one point ahead of Lyon and Marseille as the three sides chase an automatic place in the Champions League with four games left.

Monaco was thrashed by champion Paris Saint-Germain 7-1 last Sunday and the defense leaked easily again, albeit with a little help from one of its defenders.

A makeshift Monaco fell behind midway through the first half after Brazilian defender Jemerson was given a red card for stopping a shot on the line. He was sent off and veteran forward Jimmy Briand netted from the penalty spot for mid-table Guingamp.

Monaco capitulated and trailed 3-0 after 47 minutes. Defender Almamy Toure replied in vain with a consolation goal midway through the second half.


Marseille crushed Lille 5-1 to join Lyon on 69 points. Lyon, which won at Dijon 5-2 on Friday for a sixth straight win, has a better goal difference.

Marseille also has the Europa League and plays the first leg of its semifinal at home to Austrian side Salzburg next Thursday. But Lyon has only Ligue 1 to think about.

Still, Marseille is also brimming with confidence these days, especially winger Florian Thauvin.

He scored twice against Lille to extend his career-best league tally to 19. Greece striker Kostas Mitroglou also netted twice, and forward Lucas Ocampos completed the rout against 19th-place Lille.

In other matches: Amiens won against Strasbourg 3-1; struggling Toulouse beat Angers 2-0, and last-place Metz drew at home to Caen 1-1.

PSG is at Bordeaux on Sunday. Also, Nice is at home to Montpellier, and Saint-Etienne takes on Troyes.

UEFA says Europa League trophy not damaged after being stolen

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NYON, Switzerland (AP) UEFA says the Europa League trophy was not damaged after being stolen in Mexico.

The silverware was at a promotional event in the central city of Leon when it was reported by authorities to have been taken from a vehicle.

The theft came ahead of the semifinals of Europe’s second-tier club competition.

UEFA says the “Europa League trophy was in Mexico for a partner event and got briefly stolen. It was quickly recovered and has suffered no damages.”

In the semifinal first legs next week, Arsenal plays Atletico Madrid and Marseille takes on Salzburg.

Serie A: Roma prep for Liverpool by beating SPAL; Benevento win at Milan

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Man United reach FA Cup final | Premier League preview ]

SPAL 2013 0-3 Roma

A few hours after a reserves-heavy Liverpool side played last-place West Bromwich Albion to a 2-2 draw in the Premier League, Roma, the Reds’ UEFA Champions League semifinal foes beginning Tuesday, hammered 17th-place SPAL on the back of goals scored by Radja Nainggolan and Patrik Schick.

Roma shocked the world — and Barcelona — to reach the semifinals, but still have a battle on their hands to finish inside Serie A’s top-four and qualify for next season’s Champions League. Following Saturday’s victory, Eusebio Di Francesco’s side is three and four points clear of fourth- and fifth-place Lazio and Inter Milan, respectively, though both of the chasing sides play on Sunday.

AC Milan 0-1 Benevento

The 2017-18 season has treated AC Milan, who spent massively last summer, far worse than Roma. Following Sunday’s home defeat to first-year top-flight (and last-place) side Benevento, Gennaro Gattuso’s side sits sixth (final automatic Europa League place) and lead seventh-place Atalanta, who play on Sunday, by just two points.

Pietro Iemmello scored the game’s only goal in the 29th minute.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Sassuolo 1-0 Fiorentina

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Cagliari vs. Bologna — 6:30 a.m. ET
Lazio vs. Sampdoria — 9 a.m. ET
Chievo vs. Inter Milan — 9 a.m. ET
Atalanta vs. Torino — 9 a.m. ET
Udinese vs. Crotone — 9 a.m. ET
Juventus vs. Napoli — 2:45 p.m. ET

Barcelona cruise past Sevilla, lift historic 4th straight Copa del Rey

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MADRID (AP) Barcelona became the first team in 85 years to win four straight Copa del Rey titles after blowing away Sevilla 5-0 in the final on Saturday.

Luis Suarez scored twice, and Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, and Philippe Coutinho also made the scoresheet for Barcelona’s record-extending 30th Copa triumph, and sixth in the last decade.

Sevilla was trying to win a sixth Copa and save a season which will end without any trophies and maybe not even a place in the Europa League next season.

The final took place at Atletico Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano Stadium in the capital amid the ongoing political turmoil involving Catalonia’s bid for independence.

There were jeers by part of the Barcelona crowd when the national anthem was played, but the boos were largely subdued by the reaction of the numerous Sevilla fans in the crowd. Spain’s King Felipe VI smiled and saluted the fans after the anthem.

No other team had won four Copa titles in a row since Athletic Bilbao from 1930-33. The only other team to do it was Real Madrid from 1905-08.

Barcelona lost a chance to win the treble when it was eliminated by Roma in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, but it is three points away from winning the Spanish league.