CONCACAF

Getty Images

Secret recordings emerge as key evidence at FIFA bribe trial

Leave a comment

NEW YORK (AP) A turning point in the investigation of soccer’s governing body came with a 6 a.m. wake-up call by the FBI to the five-star Miami hotel room of a Brazilian sports marketing executive named Jose Hawilla.

A startled Hawilla, after learning he was a target of the probe, eventually decided to cooperate by wearing a wire – a coup for U.S. prosecutors at the ongoing U.S. trial of three former South American soccer officials charged in the corruption scandal that’s embroiled FIFA.

[READ: Key battles in the Manchester Derby]

The prosecutors have used the hours of the secretly recorded audio evidence to help bring charges against dozens of other soccer officials and marketing executives accused of paying them a fortune in bribes in exchange for their influence in awarding lucrative commercial rights to big tournaments. Several defendants have pleaded guilty since the case was announced in 2015.

U.S. authorities “know everything,” Hawilla said in one taped conversation with a colleague he was trying to protect, according to transcripts made public for the first time. “They have so much information that lying is the worst thing you can do.”

Jurors have heard Hawilla’s recordings and testimony at the trial of former national soccer federation presidents Jose Maria Marin, of Brazil, Manuel Burga, of Peru, and Juan Angel Napout, of Paraguay. All pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and other charges, with their lawyers arguing they were framed by untrustworthy cooperators like Hawilla seeking a break in their own cases.

The trial, which continued on Wednesday, is in its fourth week in federal court in Brooklyn.

Hawilla, a 74-year-old grandfather originally from Sao Paulo, testified that he became head of the Traffic Group marketing firm after several years as a sports journalist. He testified he learned from the start that to win contracts for commercial rights for major soccer tournaments, soccer officials expected to be paid off in a systematic way, a necessary evil some in the business accepted but he found “revolting.”

He said to get rights to the CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament in the early 1990s he paid bribes to two of the biggest names in the scandal, former FIFA officials Jack Warner, of Trinidad and Tobago, and Chuck Blazer, of the United States. Warner remains overseas fighting extradition, while Blazer became a cooperator before dying earlier this year.

A partner of Hawilla explained to him “we had to pay a bribe to Jack Warner and that, for sure, Chuck Blazer was going to find out about it and we would have to pay a bribe to him as well,” Hawilla testified in Portuguese through an interpreter.

He added: “I did not agree with the practice, but, unfortunately, you are practically forced to do that.”

Hawilla told the jury that he and other marketing executives he worked with paid tens of millions of dollars over the years to other top soccer officials in bribes papered over by falsified contracts. He named another soccer official from the Cayman Islands who’s pleaded guilty, Jeffrey Webb, as someone who took a $10 million bribe in March 2013.

The FBI arrested Hawilla about two months after the Webb bribe. By 2014, prosecutors contend, he was a full-blown informant, luring Marin into an April 2014 conversation in which the defendant negotiated a bribe by saying, “It’s about time to have it coming my way. True or not?”

Hawilla responded: “Of course. That money had to be given to you.”

In another tape, Hawilla appeared to upset two business partners by telling them he wanted to pull out of the scheme so he could clean up his business and sell it. One cautioned that anyone who bought it would have to understand that, “There will always be payoffs. There will be payoffs forever.”

The same person is overheard saying, “I want to co-exist with and make all the presidents rich,” even if it meant less money for him.

Asked in court why someone would think that way, Hawilla boiled it down to one word: “Demagoguery.”

Report: Sunil Gulati may not run for U.S. Soccer presidency

Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for the New York Cosmos
2 Comments

We could have a real shakeup in the U.S. Soccer presidential election, with the leading candidate in the race reportedly on the brink of stepping down.

[ MORE: AC Milan boss Gattuso likens Benevento draw to being “stabbed” ]

Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl is reporting that current U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati is “strongly considering not running for re-election.”

Gulati, 58, has overseen U.S. Soccer at his current capacity since 2006, when Robert Contiguglia stepped down from his position that same year.

As things stand, Gulati is one of eight candidates officially in the mix to run for the presidency in 2018, including former NBC Sports soccer analyst Kyle Martino and ex-USMNT players Eric Wynalda and Paul Caligiuri.

Wahl also notes in his Twitter post that if Gulati doesn’t run for re-election that he could potentially endorse Kathy Carter — president of Soccer United Marketing.

SUM has come into question recently as corruption allegations continue to surface pertaining to payments made to the multi-billion dollar organization. Meanwhile, NASL’s ongoing lawsuit against the USSF also directly involves SUM because of its ties to both U.S. Soccer and Major League Soccer.

CONCACAF announces League of Nations, replacing friendlies

Getty Images
1 Comment

We may be seeing a lot more of the U.S. Men’s National Team vs. Mexico and less of the USMNT vs. Portugal in the coming years.

CONCACAF on Thursday announced the creation of a “League of Nations,” taking a page from UEFA’s idea to replace friendlies with matches against similar-ranked opponents, with promotion and relegation across three separate divisions. Matches are expected to begin in September 2018, with the schedule released in early 2018.

[ MORE: MLS stats ]

The League of Nations was an idea championed by new CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani, declaring a focus back on soccer after too much focus on making money in the past.

“This is a watershed moment for CONCACAF.  By focusing on football to provide all our teams with year-round, quality competition, the League of Nations platform means everyone wins,” Montagliani said.  “This new tournament is highly beneficial to all our Member Associations and fans everywhere, since it provides significant opportunities to play important competitive matches with increased regularity throughout the year.”

While this looks like it will have a great effect for smaller CONCACAF nations like Aruba, the Bahamas and the U.S. Virgin Islands, giving them more regular games to grow their national teams, it could hurt the USMNT, Mexico and Costa Rica in the long run, with no international dates available to face European or South American sides that could provide great challenges and tests to up and coming players.

Perhaps with the UEFA League of Nations snapping up any of the European nation’s available friendly dates, CONCACAF figured they may as well ensure that the big nations play each other more often, but it could hurt the overall growth of the national teams.

Jurgen Klinsmann once said he’d rather play Belgium one time than El Salvador 100 times, and he’s probably right if U.S. fans want to see their players test themselves against some of the best in the world.

WATCH LIVE — Honduras, Australia duel in WC playoff first leg

Bob Levey/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Only one country will advance, and Friday’s matchup in San Pedro Sula will likely dictate a large say in which team that is.

[ WATCH LIVE: Honduras vs. Australia on Telemundo ]

Honduras will host Australia from the Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano on Friday at 5 p.m. ET, as the CONCACAF and AFC nations vie for a spot in Russia next summer.

The Aussies reach this stage of qualifying after narrowly knocking out Syria, 3-2 on aggregate, in an AFC playoff last month, while Honduras finished fourth-place in CONCACAF to guarantee themselves this opportunity at qualification.

Previously, Australia has qualified for four World Cups, including the past three editions of the tournament.

Meanwhile, Honduras is seeking its fourth trip to FIFA’s greatest competition. Los Catrachos have never won a match at the World Cup, though, and scored just three goals in their previous three appearances.

Score predictions for 2018 World Cup playoffs

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Just nine places are up for grabs ahead of the 2018 World Cup and six of those spots will be decided by the winners of two-legged playoffs.

The other three spots will be sewn up in the final round of games in the African (CAF) qualifying region.

Four playoffs take place around the UEFA region this week, while Honduras do battle with Australia and Peru square off with New Zealand for a place in the tournament in Russia next summer.

Below is a look at the six playoffs over the new few days with a score prediction and winner selected for each series.


UEFA

Denmark vs. Republic of Ireland (First leg, Nov. 11; Second leg, Nov. 14)
Ireland are the slight favorites here, especially given the fact that they have vast experience in these playoff situations and also that they play the second leg at home in Dublin. That said, Denmark must not be underestimated with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings and Kasper Schmeichel organizing the defense. Ireland’s ability to grind out results is impressive and I think they’ll just get the job done to qualify for their first World Cup since 2002. 2-1 on aggregate to the Republic of Ireland.


Northern Ireland vs. Switzerland (First leg, Nov. 9; Second leg, Nov. 12)
The first leg is so key in this game. Northern Ireland’s supporters create one of the best atmosphere’s in world soccer on the international stage and Windsor Park will be rocking in Belfast. Scoring goals could be an issue for Michael O’Neill’s side but they have a solid defensive core and the experience of Jonny Evans and Steven Davis is key. That said, the Swiss won nine of their 10 qualifying games but lost out on automatic qualification on goal difference to Portugal. Xherdan Shaqiri, Breel Embolo and Haris Seferovic will be the danger men and Switzerland may have just too much firepower for Northern Ireland. 3-1 on aggregate to Switzerland.


Croatia vs. Greece (First leg, Nov. 9; Second leg, Nov. 12)
A huge clash as regional rivals do battle. Given the quality of their squad, Croatia should ease past Greece. But given their stubborn displays in recent major tournaments, we all know how tough this Greek side can be to break down. Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic will be the key men for Croatia and they’ll look to end Greece’s hopes in Zagreb in the first leg. Kostas Mitroglou is Greece’s main man up top and he will give Dejan Lovren a tough time over two games. 4-1 to Croatia on aggregate.


Sweden vs. Italy (First leg, Nov.10; Second leg, Nov. 13)
This will be a tight, tense series between two teams who love to defend. The first leg in Stockholm will be all about Italy defending and trying to hit the Swedes on the break with the likes of Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne. Marcus Berg and Ola Toivonen aren’t the most prolific of strikers on the international stage (any chance of a comeback, Zlatan!?) but Sweden finished above the Netherlands in qualifying for a good reason and impressed in their recent home win against France. This is not a vintage Italy side and Gianluigi Buffon will be a little concerned that his international career may finish on a low. The upset is on. 2-1 to Sweden on aggregate. 


ASIA-CONCACAF

Honduras vs. Australia (First leg, Nov.10; Second leg, Nov. 15)
The first leg in San Pedro Sula will be an eye-opener for the Socceroos who edged past Syria in extra time over two legs to set up this clash with CONCACAF’s fourth-place team, Honduras. Tim Cahill is struggling with an injury for Australia with Aaron Mooy and Mile Jedinak set to play in central midfield and scrap it out ahead of the second leg in Sydney. Honduras will be hoping to take a lead to Australia with them for the second leg and with the vast experience of Maynor Figueroa and Boniek Garcia, they will stay calm and look to feed off the incredible home crowd. 3-2 to Honduras on aggregate.


CONMEBOL-OCEANIA

New Zealand vs. Peru (First leg, Nov.11; Second leg, Nov. 15)
There’s no doubt that Peru are the heavy favorites for this game but the All Whites, led by a talented young coach in Anthony Hudson, will look to keep it tight and play direct to Burnley’s Chris Wood up top. Winston Reid will skipper New Zealand and lead the defense by example in Wellington during the first leg. As for Peru, well, they impressed mightily in CONMEBOL qualifying and came agonizingly close to sealing World Cup qualification (for this first time since 1982, no less) automatically. Jefferson Farfan and Andre Carrillo will be the danger men in attack as Ricardo Gareca’s men will relish taking New Zealand back to Lima for the second leg. 3-1 to Peru on aggregate.