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Soccer corruption trial continues as FIFA gathers in Russia

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When soccer officials gather this week in Russia for the World Cup draw, some will have a wary eye on reports from a New York courtroom.

FIFA leaders will be joined by delegations from 32 World Cup teams as guests of President Vladimir Putin on Friday evening in Moscow. They await the match schedule of soccer’s greatest event, which kicks off next June.

At the same time as a one-hour show in Putin’s presence at the State Kremlin Palace, it will be Friday morning in Brooklyn, and the third week of testimony draws to a close in a soccer corruption trial already revealing more secrets and alleged criminality of officials linked to FIFA.

The integrity of Russia’s World Cup bid has been questioned since a widely discredited FIFA executive committee voted in 2010, though its name is all-but absent so far in court. The 2022 World Cup host Qatar, however, has kept cropping up in each of the first two weeks, even though the three South American former soccer leaders on trial did not vote in FIFA’s double choice.

Here is a look at the current talking points in the trial:

ON TRIAL

The three men deny charges they took part in a 24-year scheme involving at least $200 million in bribes paid by marketing firms in exchange for lucrative broadcasting rights for prestigious tournaments. They are:

– Jose Maria Marin (Brazil): Former president of the Brazilian soccer federation arrested in a raid on a hotel in Zurich on the May 2015 day that shook FIFA.

– Juan Angel Napout (Paraguay): Arrested in a second wave at the same luxury hotel in December 2015. As the FIFA vice president for South America, Napout was portraying himself as an agent of anti-corruption reform before being indicted.

– Manuel Burga (Peru): Former Peruvian soccer federation president and below the top-tier of South Americans who had influence at FIFA. Also indicted in December 2015, and arrested in his native Peru.

PROSECUTION WITNESSES

The star witness in the first week in court was also among the first indicted people in May 2015: Alejandro Burzaco, the former head of an Argentine sports marketing company, pleaded guilty to get a reduced sentence.

In the second week, two prosecution witnesses testified in deals to avoid prosecution.

Santiago Pena worked for Argentina-based Full Play Group, which held marketing rights to South American qualifying games for the World Cup, the Copa America and Copa Libertadores tournaments. His bosses, father and son Hugo and Mariano Jinkis, were indicted in May 2015. They have avoided extradition to the U.S., and Pena said they remain in Argentina.

Jose Luis Chiriboga is a soccer agent who admitted laundering $2.8 million for his father, former Ecuador soccer federation president Luis Chiriboga. He was convicted of money laundering last year in his home country. Jose Luis Chiriboga said he forfeited a $400,000 Miami apartment in his non-prosecution deal.

2022 WORLD CUP

Pena said his Full Play bosses asked him to keep a ledger of off-the-books payments to soccer officials, including South American soccer federation presidents. Two payments Pena said were labeled “Q2022” – an apparent but unexplained reference to World Cup host Qatar.

A $750,000 payment went to Rafael Esquivel, the former Venezuelan soccer leader. Esquivel was arrested in Zurich in May 2015, and has pleaded guilty to various conspiracy charges.

Another “Q2022” payment was for $500,000 to Luis Chiriboga. Neither had a vote when FIFA picked World Cup hosts.

QATARI PERSON OF INTEREST

It is a difficult season for Qatari soccer and television executive Nasser Al-Khelaifi, even as the French club he presides over, Paris Saint-Germain, emerges as a Champions League contender.

Last week, Al-Khelaifi’s role in a Qatar-backed potential deal to buy a majority stake in Full Play was detailed. The deal was dropped in May 2015 when Full Play’s controlling partners were indicted.

In October, Swiss federal prosecutors unsealed a criminal proceeding against Al-Khelaifi for suspected bribery linked to Qatar-owned beIN Media Group’s agreement with FIFA for some 2026 and 2030 World Cup broadcast rights. He denied wrongdoing and was later questioned about allegedly providing an Italian luxury villa for a top FIFA official to use.

Pena testified that lengthy negotiations involved Al-Khelaifi and Qatar Sports Investments, the sovereign wealth fund which owns Paris Saint-Germain. It was called the “New York project,” because a 51 percent stake was valued at $212 million, the same three digits as the New York City telephone code.

QSI confirmed the talks, saying it was one of many such deals it evaluated that did not happen.

NIKE TALKS

Another potential Full Play deal lapsed in May 2015 involving Nike and rights to provide kits for Chile’s national team, Pena testified. He said the agreement would have included payments for soccer officials.

CAR BRANDS CODE

Corrupt South American soccer officials were given code names of car manufacturers in the Full Play ledge of payments, witness Pena said of his Excel spread sheets.

Napout was “Honda” and his fellow defendant Burga was “Fiat.” “VW” was the tag for Carlos Chavez of Bolivia

A former Beatle also came up in testimony. Pena testified that more than $10,000 was deducted from an amount owed to Napout in 2010 as credit for Paul McCartney concert tickets provided to him.

Status of FIFA cases: https://www.justice.gov/usao-edny/file/799016/download

More AP FIFA coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/FIFA

Time for new chapter in Liverpool, Chelsea rivalry

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Liverpool host Chelsea at Anfield on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) with the Premier League rivals aiming to hunt down runaway leaders Manchester City.

Expect a raucous, fiery atmosphere as these foes lock horns with a changing dynamic to their growing rivalry.

[ VIDEO: PL score predictions, previews ]

Since Rafael Benitez and Jose Mourinho both landed at English soccer at Liverpool and Chelsea respectively in 2004-05, there’s been an extra edge to games between Liverpool and Chelsea as they often battled for the Premier League and Champions League titles.

Yet in recent years this rivalry has subsided a little, with both clubs enduring roller-coaster seasons with title challenges mixed in with disappointing campaigns and managerial changes.

Now, both teams are challenging in the Champions League (Chelsea are in the last 16, while Liverpool will certainly join them in 10 days time) and both are in a very similar position in the chasing pack behind Man City. With young, exciting squads the future is now looking bright for both teams.

Both also have talented, passionate managers in Jurgen Klopp and Antonio Conte who are in their second full seasons in the Premier League and both still have similar targets each season: to win major trophies. Heading into Saturday’s clash Chelsea sit in third place with 25 points, while Liverpool are in fifth and three points behind.

The main reason this rivalry has lost some oomph in recent years is because Chelsea have continued to add silverware to their trophy cabinet (the Champions League in 2011-12, plus the Premier League title in 2014-15 and 2016-17) and Liverpool haven’t won anything since the League Cup in 2011-12, while the Champions League triumph under Benitez in 2005 particularly got under Mourinho’s skin after the “ghost goal” from Luis Garcia.

Yet it now feels like both clubs are ready to challenge consistently for the PL title and they’ve moved on from glorious playing eras as legendary figures such as Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, John Terry, Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard.

Will this rivalry reach the heights of Mourinho and Benitez clashing on the sidelines during Champions League semifinals at Anfield, or the former then riling home fans during his second stint at Chelsea as his under-strength side ruined Liverpool’s title hopes back in 2014?

That day on April 27, 2014 (Liverpool fans do not need reminding) reignited this rivalry as a disheveled, unshaven Mourinho — he had been feeling unwell in the lead up to the game and was focusing on a UCL semifinal v Atletico Madrid — ran down the sideline to celebrate the victory, pounding the Chelsea badge on his chest like a madman in his tracksuit. He quickly retreated to the dressing room as vitriol arrived from home supporters who had seen their legendary captain, Gerrard, slip to gift Chelsea a soft goal and deal a hammer blow to Liverpool’s hopes of winning a first league title since 1990.

Getting the train from London to Liverpool, and back, that day, I remember scuffles breaking out between rival fans at Liverpool train station as police intervened. The atmosphere was toxic as this rivalry once again gathered steam. It wasn’t quite the heyday of Benitez vs. Mourinho, but it was getting there. The divide between the London clubs and those in the North West of England in the PL have always had an extra edge with geography and inter-city pride, plus the North-South divide in England, playing a big part.

But since Mourinho left Chelsea (for the second time) this rivalry now has a different feel to it. Last season it was Liverpool trying to play the spoiler for Chelsea’s title bid as they drew at Anfield in January with a wild Diego Costa winning, then failing with a late penalty kick which would’ve grabbed victory for the Blues. The flickers of a fiery rivalry are still very much there.

Sadio Mane vs. Eden Hazard. Mohamed Salah vs. Alvaro Morata. Philippe Coutinho vs. N'Golo Kante. Those are the new heavyweight rivalries in a clash which was one of the main events in the Premier League just over a decade ago. It’s importance is building once again under Klopp and Conte who have so far kept things respectful in their exchanges.

It feels like it is time for a new chapter to be written in this rivalry and Saturday evening under the floodlights at a packed out Anfield seems like the perfect place to do that.


Team news

Liverpool have Joel Matip back in training and he could be available to return in central defense but Emre Can is a major doubt in midfield.

Chelsea’s Victor Moses continues his recovery from a hamstring issue and could be on the bench but Michy Batshuayi will likely remain sidelined.


What they’re saying

Jurgen Klopp on Chelsea: “If we can create a special atmosphere that would help us. Our job is to stay really consistent. Chelsea, what a team, champions of last year, it will be a really tough job. They lost decisive players with Matic and Costa. With Chelsea last year, everything worked. They didn’t need many chances to win a game. It’s difficult to play the same season again, especially when you lose players.”

Antonio Conte on Chelsea not having enough rest before the Liverpool game after playing at Qarabag: “It was a problem to land. I think to get to your house at six o’clock in the morning is not simple to then rest and recover. We’ve only had one day to prepare for a big game and I think this is not right, I must be honest. But we have to do this and today we’ve had a good training session and we’ve tried to prepare for the game against Liverpool very well. I think to only have one day to prepare for a big game, especially to only have one day to rest is not right for all the teams, not only for Chelsea.”


Prediction

I’m expecting big things from this game, and the atmosphere, at Anfield. Both teams are in fine goalscoring form heading and the vast array of attacking talents on display has everything set up for an enthralling battle. With Hazard, Morata and Willian purring for Chelsea, plus Salah, Roberto Firmino and Mane on fire for Liverpool, you can expect one thing: goals. I’m going for a 2-2 draw.

Premier League Power Rankings

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Which clubs are surging? Which are struggling?

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With the international break here, it is time to take stock of the story so far in the 2017-18 Premier League season.

Below you will find the latest batch of club Power Rankings as we rank PL clubs in terms of where they’re at right now with their form.


#1 – Manchester City: Best-ever start to a PL season. Unbeaten. 10 wins from 11. 52 goals in all comps. Do you need me to continue?
#2 – Burnley: Their best-ever start to a PL season and in 7th place under Sean Dyche. Miracles being worked at Turf Moor.
#3 – Huddersfield Town: Talking about miracles, David Wagner has fostered incredible togetherness and the Terriers are in 10th place in their first-ever PL season.
#4 – Tottenham Hotspur: Defeats to Chelsea and Man United have been disappointing but Spurs have excelled in the UCL. Underrated start with Kane majestic.
#5 – Chelsea: Antonio Conte‘s boys have been up and down but there shouldn’t be a panic. Top four and UCL run beckons.
#6 – Brighton & Hove Albion: Chris Hughton‘s Seagulls have found their feet in the PL impressively. Tough to break down and dogged. Fantastic start.
#7 – Manchester United: Jose Mourinho can moan about injuries all he wants but a defensive style has seen them slip. Red-hot start has been extinguished.
#8 – Newcastle United: Rafael Benitez’s side aren’t sure what they are yet but they’ve ground out impressive wins. Solid and steady return to the PL.
#9 – Watford: Marco Silva‘s Hornets have hit a bit of a sticky patch with three-straight defeats but they enjoyed a superb start. Top 10 possible.
#10 – Liverpool: Up and down start but there are signs the Reds are settling down after some high-profile and heavy defeats. Goals galore going forward. Shaky in defense.

#11 – Stoke: The Potters have had a very strange season. They beat Arsenal and drew with Man United but the jury is still out. Defensive issues problematic.
#12 – Arsenal: Same old, same old for the Gunners. Arsene Wenger‘s men look fragile and weak on the road and haven’t addressed defensive deficiencies.
#13 – Leicester City: New manager Puel has taken over at a good time for the Foxes who have recovered from a poor start which saw Shakespeare sacked.
#14 – Bournemouth: Eddie Howe‘s Cherries are struggling for goals but did snatch a win before the break. They’re getting back to their best.
#15 – Crystal Palace: Despite being bottom of the table, things have improved drastically since Roy Hodgson took charge. Hope for the Eagles, especially with Zaha.
#16 – Southampton: Worrying start for Saints who have a horrendous schedule between now and January. Mauricio Pellegrino‘s side just can’t score.
#17 – West Brom: Two wins to start the season and none since. Tony Pulis is panicking and two wins in their last 20 PL games tells the story. Baggies in freefall.
#18 – Swansea City: Five defeats in six for the Swans and the decisions to let Llorente and Sigurdsson go this summer look very costly. Where will the goals come from?
#19 – West Ham: Moyes has taken over from Bilic and the Hammers look destined for a relegation scrap. Not the season they expected with all of their big name signings.
#20 – Everton: No permanent manager, out of Europe and despite a win vs. Watford, things aren’t looking good for a side meant to challenge for the top four. Massive disappointment.

Watch Live: Burnley host Newcastle United

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Burnley and Newcastle United clash at Turf Moor on Monday (Watch live, 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with a place in the top seven on the line.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

That’s right. After strong starts to the season for both Burnley and Newcastle, their fans are dreaming of an unlikely push for Europa League qualification.

First things first, it’s all about survival for Sean Dyche and Rafael Benitez who have both been linked with the vacant position at Everton. Dyche is celebrating five years in charge at Burnley on Monday and his side have yet to make Turf Moor a fortress this season as they have in years gone by.

Expect a tight, tense encounter between two defensively sound teams.

In team news Burnley bring in Barnes and Gudmundsson to the starting lineup with Chris Wood out injured, while Mikel Merino misses out for Newcastle with a back injury as Mohamed Diame starts in central midfield.

LINEUPS

Burnley: Pope; Ward, Tarkowksi, Mee, Lowton; Brady, Hendrick, Cork, Defour, Gudmundsson; Barnes. Subs: Lindegaard, Bardsley, Vokes, Long, Westwood, Wells, Arfield

Newcastle United: Elliot; Yedlin, Lejuene, Lascelles, Manquillo; Ritchie, Shelvey, Diame, Atsu; Perez, Joselu. Subs: Darlow, Clark, Gamez, Hayden, Saivet, Murphy, Gayle

Premier League preview: Burnley v. Newcastle

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Burnley host Newcastle United at 4 p.m. ET on Monday with the Clarets aiming to get back to winning ways at Turf Moor.

On his fifth anniversary in charge, will this be Sean Dyche‘s final game in charge of Burnley as reports continue to link him with a move to Everton?

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

Back on the pitch Burnley’s superb away form this season has masked the fact that they’ve only won once at fortress Turf Moor and that was against struggling Crystal Palace.

As for Newcastle, Rafael Benitez’s men are adapting very well to life back in the Premier League and if they win they will rise to sixth place in the table.

In team news Chris Wood could be out for Burnley but Sam Vokes is likely to return but Jonathan Walters and Dean Marney remain out. Newcastle have Dwight Gayle back fit and available, while Paul Dummett is their only absentee.

What they’re saying…

Dyche on Everton speculation: “It’s the yin and the yang. You get praise, but you lose three games and then you’re getting slaughtered. I don’t mean that in a precious way, it’s just a fact, that’s how quickly the shift occurs. You have managers out there who may have a tough streak, it doesn’t make them a bad manager. They’re just going through a tough spell. That can happen. So I don’t read much in the media, I know what I’ve said so I don’t keep checking up on things. There have been some nice things said recently, some nice links, but the fact is I’m still here and still working hard.”

Benitez on Newcastle’s aims for this season: “Our players will have more confidence now because we’re doing well. But we aren’t saying: ‘Ooh, we have 14 points and we’re fine.’ No way. We know we still have to do things to stay in the Premier League. I won’t say that’s the target because then I’d be criticized for a lack of ambition and I want to be as high as possible but we know that sometimes you can play a couple of games and suddenly everything changes. We have to be prepared for that and make sure the team are ready for difficult moments, ready for losing three games in a row.”

Prediction

Newcastle are becoming one of the most stubborn defensive unit in the PL and Benitez’s men will grind out an away win. 1-0.