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Asian FIFA executive pleads guilty to bribery charges

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A guilty plea was entered early Friday by senior Asian Federation (AFC) official Richard Lai to bribery charges, leading FIFA to suspend the 55-year-old indefinitely.

Lai has served as the head of the Guam FA since 2001, and is a member of the FIFA audit and compliance committee. He was also formerly a member of the AFC executive committee, and currently sits on the AFC marketing committee. Lai is a United States citizen.

The guilty plea confirms more than $1 million in bribes accepted by Lai, including those from Kuwaiti officials looking to increase their influence over FIFA voters in the confederation. Two unnamed AFC executives, including one Kuwaiti, were also named as co-conspirators.

“One of the functions the defendant Richard Lai performed for Co-Conspirator #2 and Co-Conspirator #3 in exchange for the funds they sent him was to advise them on who was supporting which candidates in AFC and FIFA matters, including elections, and who Co-Conspirator #2 and Co-Conspirator #3 should recruit to support their chosen candidates,” a Department of Justice document published on Friday said.

That wording seems to indirectly implicate Qatari executive Mohamed bin Hammam, who was banned for life by FIFA in 2011 for bribery.

“I would like to thank the American authorities for their continued efforts to stamp out corruption from football,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino said in a statement following the plea. “I am happy to confirm once again, that FIFA will provide whatever assistance is needed by the U.S. and any other authorities around the world.”

Lai has also been provisionally suspended by the AFC.

Atletico Madrid at CAS to fight FIFA transfer ban

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) Atletico Madrid officials are at sport’s highest court to appeal against a FIFA transfer ban that will prevent the club from signing youth players from overseas during the coming offseason.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport is hearing the appeal Monday, but says a verdict is not expected immediately.

Atletico and FIFA previously agreed to seek a CAS verdict by June, before the summer trading period opens.

[ MORE: Griezmann’s advisor speaks on future ]

FIFA imposed a one-year ban on registering new players as punishment for Atletico breaking rules introduced to prevent child trafficking and luring youngsters from their home country.

Atletico denies wrongdoing, though it agreed not to sign players in January while its appeal went ahead.

Spain’s soccer federation has been criticized for its role in player registrations, with Barcelona and Real Madrid also having served FIFA transfer bans.

Serie A: Fiorentina, Inter Milan thrill in 9-goal instant classic

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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan lost at Fiorentina 5-4 in one of the most incredible Serie A matches of the season on Saturday and left its European hopes hanging by a thread.

Inter led 2-1 at halftime, Fiorentina led 5-2 after 79 minutes, Inter scored its fourth in stoppage time and watched its equalizer attempt cleared off the goal-line.

Just over a month ago, Inter was hoping to sneak into the Champions League after a 7-1 victory over Atalanta but two points from five matches has seen it slip to seventh, two points behind AC Milan, which occupies the last qualifying position for the Europa League.

Milan hosts Empoli on Sunday.

“We have to understand why what happened happened,” Inter coach Stefano Pioli said. “What we saw in the second half can’t be my team … we played for only 45 minutes. Then there was an inexplicable blackout.

“Since the Atalanta match we haven’t had the right mental attitude. We are Inter and we can’t play like this. We’ve reached the bottom. … We can’t throw away matches like we did in the second half today. Unfortunately this month we’ve thrown away everything we built.”

Fiorentina, which also missed a penalty, moved to within one point of Inter, which hosts third-placed Napoli next weekend.

Matias Vecino broke the deadlock for Fiorentina early but Inter appeared to swiftly turn the match around with two goals in five minutes.

First, Ivan Perisic slotted home Antonio Candreva’s low cross, then Mauro Icardi fired Joao Mario’s through ball across into the bottom left corner.

Fiorentina should have equalized after halftime when it was awarded a soft penalty after Danilo D’Ambrosio was adjudged to have pulled back Khouma Babacar, but Federico Bernardeschi’s weak spot kick saved by Samir Handanovic.

Davide Astori headed in the equalizer shortly after the hour mark, and Vecino again gave Fiorentina the lead two minutes later with his second of the match.

Babacar appeared to seal matters for Fiorentina with two strikes into the bottom right corner in the 70th and 79th minutes to make it 5-2.

But Inter wasn’t finished.

Icardi controlled Perisic’s pass in the area and fired in off the post two minutes from time, and headed in a corner in stoppage time to complete a hat trick.

Inter threw everyone forward and almost leveled from another corner which came out to Marcelo Brozovic, whose effort was cleared off the line by Astori.

Hull City, Swansea bosses react to wild day in relegation race

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Marco Silva and Paul Clement both felt their hearts skip beats before pure elation on Saturday, as it’s increasingly clear the race to avoid the final relegation place is between their clubs.

Hull City boss Silva saw his side go down a man on a controversial red card to Oumar Niasse, but the 10-men Tigers won anyway.

For Clement and Swansea, their bid to keep pace with Hull was threatened when Federico Fernandez gave away a second-half penalty. But Marko Arnautovic missed his attempt and Tom Carroll scored at the other end to insure a win.

[ RECAPS: Swans 2-0 Stoke | Hull 2-0 Watford ]

It was, to say the least, emotional for both men. Here’s Clement:

“I knew at half-time it was 0-0 at Hull and they were down to 10 men. It is a terrific result for them. I did feel it would be a game they would win. We have to concentrate on our jobs. We have massive game next week at Old Trafford.

“I thought we needed three wins and a draw. Hull are in the driving seat but we will chase them down until the last moment.”

So how about the man in the driving seat? Silva on the red card and the effort:

“I don’t want to talk about this situation and I respect the referee and officials, but this is not the first time that something like this has happened. Today we have achieved what we needed, but it was very hard.

“I’m really happy but we still have four games to fight. Maybe in January no one would believe in our club to survive. I don’t know what the future is.”

Neither man is committing to anything but confidence in his players and their willingness to fight. Hull leads Swans by two points, and Swans have a two-goal advantage in differential.

It should be a fun run to the end, with the teams home and away on the same weekends for each of the final four weeks. Swans will know Hull’s result once, and the flip is true once.

It should come down to the final week, and Hull will have a much stiffer test than their relegation opponents.

The run-in

Southampton vs. Hull City – April 29
Manchester United vs. Swansea City – April 30
Hull City vs. Sunderland – May 6
Swansea City vs. Everton – May 6
Sunderland vs. Swansea City – May 13
Crystal Palace vs. Hull City – May 14
Hull City vs. Tottenham Hotspur – May 21
Swansea City vs. West Bromwich Albion – May 21

La Liga: Sampaoli drama sees Sevilla slip up in race for 3rd

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A roundup of Sunday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: Saturday’s La Liga roundup — Madrid, Barca win ahead of El Clasico ]

Valencia 0-0 Sevilla

The drama surrounding Sevilla manager Jorge Sampaoli is weighing on his team off the field, and beginning to impact results on the field. The 57-year-old Argentine has been heavily linked with the national team job back in his homeland, and tensions reached a boiling point earlier this week when the club released a statement calling it “unacceptable” that the president of the Argentine football federation said he plans to meet with Sampaoli, who may or may not honor his contract through the end of the current season.

On Sunday, Sevilla failed in their bid to keep pace with Atletico Madrid, who won on Sunday, in the race for third place in La Liga, and the automatic place in next season’s UEFA Champions League group stage that comes with it.

Real Betis 2-0 Eibar

Coming into the weekend, Eibar were unbeaten in their last five league games (three straight wins), and Europa League qualification was looking a real possibility. On Sunday, a 2-0 loss away to 14th-place Real Betis, coupled with wins by fellow fifth- and sixth-place chasers Athletic Bilbao and Espanyol, and Eibar now sit eighth and trail Villarreal (who play on Monday), Bilbao and Real Sociedad by four, three and two points, respectively.

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Real Madrid 31 23 6 2 82 33 49 12-4-0 11-2-2 75
 Barcelona 32 22 6 4 91 30 61 12-3-1 10-3-3 72
 Atlético Madrid 32 19 8 5 59 24 35 12-2-2 7-6-3 65
 Sevilla 32 18 8 6 56 39 17 11-3-1 7-5-5 62
 Villarreal 31 15 9 7 45 24 21 9-3-4 6-6-3 54
 Athletic 32 16 5 11 45 37 8 12-3-2 4-2-9 53
 Real Sociedad 32 16 4 12 48 45 3 8-4-4 8-0-8 52
 Eibar 32 14 8 10 52 44 8 9-3-4 5-5-6 50
 Espanyol 32 13 10 9 44 42 2 8-5-3 5-5-6 49

Elsewhere in La Liga

Leganes 0-1 Espanyol
Granada 0-3 Celta Vigo

Monday’s La Liga schedule

Alaves vs. Villarreal — 2:45 p.m. ET