World Cup

Costa Rica v United Staes: Final - 2014 CONCACAF Women's Championship
Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Report: USWNT star Holiday has brain tumor removed

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World Cup champion Lauren Holiday has had a brain tumor removed, one month after giving birth.

Holiday’s husband, Jrue Holiday of the New Orleans Pelicans, announced that his pregnant wife was diagnosed with an operable tumor in September, and Lauren Holiday has publicly thanked fans for support while requesting prayers.

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The Holidays welcomed their first child earlier this month, and Jrue left the Pelicans preseason to help his wife.

The BBC added this tidbit:

Unbelievably as a three-year-old, she had open-heart surgery to repair a defect and went on to become one of the world’s most respected football players.

Get well soon, Lauren.

Infantino: FIFA to decide in January on expanded World Cup

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - OCTOBER 13: FIFA President Gianni Infantino looks on during a press conference after part I of the FIFA Council Meeting 2016 at the FIFA headquarters on October 13, 2016 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Photo by Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images)
Photo by Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images

ZURICH (AP) FIFA wants to decide in January if the 2026 World Cup will expand from its 32-team format, with 40 or 48 teams the favored options.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino said on Thursday he expects a decision when the ruling council meets for the first time next year. The January session is likely to be in Zurich.

“The general feeling is rather positive,” toward expansion, Infantino said at a briefing after FIFA’s ruling council met. “The level of quality of football is increasing all over the world.”

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The 2026 World Cup – which many expect to be hosted across North America – could also be run centrally by FIFA from Zurich instead of by the hosts’ own local organizing committee.

Infantino outlined plans for FIFA to take “full control of all money flows,” and how it spends hundreds of millions of dollars on each tournament, before the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

It follows FIFA paying $453 million to Brazil’s 2014 World Cup committee, and budgeting to spend $700 million on Russian operations running the 2018 tournament.

The World Cup is FIFA’s prize asset earning around 85 percent of its revenue, and shapes as a defining issue for Infantino before his term ends in less than three years.

The promise of extra World Cup slots is likely to appeal to the 211 member federations who vote, and FIFA would expect more matches to drive up the price of broadcasting and sponsor deals to fund Infantino’s campaign promises of increased grants to members.

Infantino was elected in February having pledged during his campaign to add eight teams to the tournament.

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In a recent speech in Colombia, Infantino suggested a 48-team tournament with an opening playoff round of 16 matches. The 16 winners would advance to join 16 seeded teams in a balanced 32-team group stage before the knockout rounds.

The 40-team format is problematic. The typical format of four-team groups would likely mean four of the 10 runners-up do not advance to a round of 16.

Groups of five teams would unbalance the fixture schedule and create integrity issues, by leaving some teams idle for the final round of games. It would also add an extra fixture to create an eight-game program for the finalists, which would be unpopular with clubs releasing their players to national team duty.

Expanding the World Cup also revives a difficult debate on how to spread the extra places by continent.

UEFA, where Infantino was the CEO-like general secretary for six years until February, has long been under pressure from other regions to relax its quota of 13 of the 31 qualifying slots.

Infantino said discussion on allocating the extra places must take place between FIFA’s six continental confederations.

If FIFA insists on expanding the World Cup, here is a better way to 48

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JULY 13:  Philipp Lahm of Germany lifts the World Cup trophy with teammates after defeating Argentina 1-0 in extra time during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Final match between Germany and Argentina at Maracana on July 13, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images
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Plenty of criticism has been fired at Gianni Infantino’s suggestion of a 48-team World Cup, and rightly so.

While an increased field wouldn’t dramatically hurt the the tournament — several decent sides missed the last outing in Brazil — a poorly-implemented and high-volume expansion would hurt the dramatics of the world’s best tournament.

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Look no further than EURO 2016 for this, as many of the group stage games lacked flair thanks to teams knowing points here or there could be enough for one of four third-place berths (Northern Ireland advanced with a win and two losses, while tournament-winning Portugal went to the knockout rounds with three draws).

Infantino’s suggestion would be to have 16 seeded teams advance to the group stages, and have the remaining 32 teams battle to avoid a potential “one and done” tournament via a pre-group stage knockout round.

We see a way to expand the field without dealing in such a dramatic end for 16 teams’ World Cup dreams: knockout round byes for the top eight group winners.

This would allow an even more jam-packed World Cup schedule — *cough* broadcast revenues *cough* —  and also avoid most of the pesky final matches with no ramifications for an already-advanced team by offering a bye to the second round of the knockout rounds for the top eight sides.

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The four remaining group winners get the four worst second-place finishers, while the other eight second-place sides draw each other for a second-round berth. This adds one more round of games.

How would this affect a field? Take the 2014 tournament.

AFC (4): Australia, Iran, Japan, South Korea

CONCACAF (4): Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, USA

CAF (5): Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria

OFC (0): New Zealand lost playoff to Mexico

CONMEBOL (6): Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Uruguay

UEFA (13): Belgium, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, England, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Switzerland

There are 211 associations in FIFA. They break down as such:

Africa: 54
Europe: 55
OFC: 11
AFC: 46

The easy additions would be throw in playoff losers New Zealand and Jordan. That’s 34 teams, and guarantees a slot for OFC.

Now Europe’s four playoff losers: Sweden, Ukraine, Romania, Iceland. That’s 38.

Africa’s five playoff losers: Senegal, Egypt, Tunisia, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso. That’s 43.

CONCACAF’s remaining Hex teams: Panama and Jamaica. That’s 45.

Another CONMEBOL side: Venezuela (46), a second OFC side (New Caledonia 47), and sixth Asian side (Uzbekistan 48).

That would mean the final breakdown would be:

Africa: 10 of 54
Europe: 17 of 55
CONMEBOL: 6 of 10
CONCACAF: 6 of 35
OFC: 2 of 11
AFC: 6 of 46

There is also the option of an off-year tournament run at the same time or near the Confederations Cup that would take the next-best two sides from each confederation and put them in group play for the final slots. In 2014, that would’ve arguably been Uruguay, Venezuela, Romania, Iceland, Panama, Mexico, New Zealand, New Caledonia, Jordan, Uzbekistan, Ethiopia, and Burkina Faso.

Again, the system is not broken, but if FIFA demands an expansion as high as 48 teams — which is still less than a quarter of its members — there’s a better way than so many one-and-dones on the world’s biggest stage.

UEFA World Cup qualifying: Spain, Italy meet in massive group stage tilt

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 27:  Eder of Italy (L) and  Sergio Ramos of Spain compete for the ball during the UEFA Euro 2016 Round of 16 match between Italy and Spain at Stade de France on June 27, 2016 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images
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Something about Spain and Italy being drawn in the same World Cup qualifying group doesn’t feel right.

Yet if there’s a bonus to the UEFA draw, it’s knowing that two world superpowers will stage a pair of critical WCQ matches with the intensity of a final.

While two nations from each group remain alive after group play, only one gets an automatic berth in Russia 2018. The other faces the “anything goes” nature of a home-and-home tie with another second-place finisher for the right to go to the 2018 World Cup.

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Thursday brings us the first of those, as the Italians host Spain at Juventus Stadium in Turin. Their rivalry is splendid, and we can easily recall the 2-0 win by Italy in the EURO Round of 16 in June.

The Italians may had a start to uncapped AC Milan center back Alessio Romagnoli, the 21-year-old who may be the future of the team’s defense but would be deputizing for Giorgio Chiellini next to, theoretically, Leonardo Bonucci.

That could mean bodying up on Diego Costa or sticking with Alvaro Morata, though the Italians have more experience with the latter thanks to the Real Madrid man’s loan to Juventus last season.

The return leg is not until Sept. 2, 2017, so a loser could be staring at the result for almost a full year. And if finishing second feels like little risk to you, just talk to Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Cristiano Ronaldo. Those two world stars squared off in a second-place playoff knowing one of the world’s most dynamic talents wouldn’t get to go to a World Cup.

Thursday’s UEFA World Cup qualifiers
All matches at 2:45 p.m. ET

Austria vs. Wales
Moldova vs. Serbia
Ireland vs. Georgia
Italy vs. Spain
Liechtenstein vs. Albania
Macedonia vs. Israel
Iceland vs. Finland
Kosovo vs. Croatia
Turkey vs. Ukraine

Germany’s Low skeptical about 48-team World Cup proposal

MARSEILLE, FRANCE - JULY 07:  Joachim Loew, head coach of Germany  looks on prior to the UEFA EURO 2016 semi final match between Germany and France at Stade Velodrome on July 7, 2016 in Marseille, France.  (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)
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HAMBURG, Germany (AP) Germany coach Joachim Low appears to be skeptical about FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s suggestion that the World Cup could be expanded to as many as 48 teams.

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On Monday, Infantino outlined the idea that would see 16 teams go home after playing one game in a new opening playoff round.

According to news agency dpa, Low says he isn’t familiar with the “concrete plans,” but the current level of 32 teams in the tournament is “excellent and ideal.”

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Low, who led Germany to the 2014 title, says “the best teams should be at the World Cup and the European Championship. If you keep on raising (numbers), there is a watering-down of quality.”