World Cup

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - OCTOBER 14: FIFA President Gianni Infantino poses for a photo after part II of the FIFA Council Meeting 2016 at the FIFA headquarters on October 14, 2016 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Photo by Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images)
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Report: FIFA president backs 48-team World Cup, 16 groups of three teams

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Gianni Infantino wants to freshen things up a bit.

The new president of FIFA has been steadfast in his desire to increase the number of teams participating at a World Cup to 48.

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After all it was a huge part of his presidential mandate which got plenty of the smaller nations of the soccer world on board to vote for him, and reports from AFP are now circulating that Infantino and key figured at FIFA have indeed backed a 48-team World Cup from 2026 onwards.

Members of the FIFA Council had previously received outlines of four proposed formats, including staying with a 32-team World Cup, but it is believed Infantino wants a 48-team World Cup and the decision could be made next month at a FIFA Council meeting.

It is also being widely reported that Infantino wants to try something new and have 16 groups with three teams in each. It is also believed the top two teams would go through from each group to a Round of 32 knockout stage and then to a Round of 16 and so on.

On the face of it, that doesn’t seem too bad an idea.

It would certainly eliminate some of the boring third group games we have endured at most World Cups recently as the two teams going through to the last 16 are usually sewn up by that point and the two other teams are left around with another game to play. However, it will be intriguing to see how the game schedule is set up in the three team group scenario.

The cynical folks out there suggest that Infantino is merely trying to ramp up more revenue from increasing the number of teams from 32 to 48 but when you look at it, the number of games would actually stay the same if there were 16 groups with three teams in each.

Think about it: more upset stories, more first-time qualifiers and more riding on each of the two group games for each team before heading straight to the knockout rounds.

Revisiting the USMNT’s Bruce Arena era

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It seems the majority of American soccer fans would endorse the potential firing of USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann, or at least a majority would understand why US Soccer would cut ties with the German football hero.

But we wonder how those same people would feel if his successor was former USMNT coach Bruce Arena, the LA Galaxy’s coach and an American soccer legend in his own right. Reports following Tuesday’s loss to Costa Rica claim US Soccer has Arena lined up should it fire Klinsmann.

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Arena oversaw the stingiest U.S. tenure (.76 goals per game) in program history, and boasts the best winning percentage in American history. He also has managed the most games (130) and won the most (71).

Away from US Soccer, Arena has five MLS Cups and five national championships as a college coach. So, yeah, he’s about as good as it gets resume-wise, and would reportedly relish another shot at the U.S. gig.

But circling back on Arena’s time with the USMNT, I wonder whether Sunil Gulati’s comments upon his departure won’t be ringing in Klinsmann’s ears.

“It comes down primarily to eight years being a long period,” Gulati said. “I’m not going to say we felt the need to change directions. The direction Bruce has set is very, very positive. We didn’t get the results we wanted in the World Cup, but Bruce didn’t become a bad coach in three games with a few bad bounces of the ball.”

That was after a World Cup in which Arena failed to get the U.S. out of the group stage. The Americans were throttled by the Czech Republic, drew Italy despite playing 52 minutes with one less man than Gli Azzurri, and fell to Ghana 2-1.

Arena oversaw the Americans’ longest run in World Cup history in 2002, when the Yanks beat Portugal, drew hosts South Korea and were blown out by Poland before winning one of the most memorable games in USMNT history: the 2-0 Round of 16 win over Mexico. The Yanks then hung tough against Germany before bowing out 1-0.

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Outside of World Cup play, Arena had good moments and bad. He won two Gold Cups and was eliminated from a third by Brazil (no shame there).

He led the Yanks on a 16-match unbeaten run between March 2004 and March 2005, a streak which had modest competition but also a Gold Cup and wins over Poland, Mexico, and Colombia. Bob Bradley‘s longest unbeaten run was 11 (10 wins!), while Klinsmann boasts a 12-match win streak.

But for Arena, there was also a three-match Hex losing streak in 2001 — Mexico away, Honduras home, Costa Rica away — and a Confederations Cup in which the Yanks only managed a single point in losing to Turkey and Brazil while drawing Cameroon.

Then there’s that whole “foreign-born players shouldn’t be on the national team” thing. He later evolved on the position, though not in a manner that moved the meter for me.

Both of those final bits of ignominy would’ve been unforgivable if done under Klinsmann, which goes to show how far the German has fallen and how much past victories can gloss over the poor moments in our memories.

So ask yourself, is Arena’s glittering resume enough to give him the nod over another manager? I’ll admit that I’d prefer to see another name, mainly on account of Arena’s previous critical comments at foreign-born USMNT players, but the man is a legend.

Union to inspect Qatar’s World Cup sites, wants details on deaths

Sepp Blatter, FIFA president
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LONDON (AP) Qatar’s World Cup sites will be inspected from next year by an international trade union which wants the deaths of all workers assessed by external coroners and for the causes to be published.

Qatar has come under fierce criticism over living and working conditions for workers since being awarded the 2022 World Cup in a contentious vote six years ago.

Qatar says only four stadium workers have died, with just one fatality the result of a work-related accident after a Nepali was hit by a water truck last month. The Building and Wood Workers’ International, which will conduct labor and accommodation inspections with tournament organizers from January, wants more information published about deaths in the low-paid, migrant workforce.

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“We have to know the cause, the actual medical legal cause,” BWI general secretary Ambet Yuson told The Associated Press after signing the partnership with Qatar on Tuesday.

Yuson wants non-Qatari coroners to examine the bodies of workers and for death certificates to be published.

“We will propose this in the working group,” Yuson said. “We really want to know what happened. We want to verify and investigate. They are committed to be open to us.”

World Cup workers are covered by regulations that are more rigorous than the national laws, detailing how contractors must ethically recruit, promptly pay, and decently house them. But the BWI is concerned that the regulations only cover workers directly employed by the companies handed World Cup contracts, overlooking subcontractors who could be forced to live in cramped conditions.

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“We have to look through the whole supply chain, through the subcontracting system,” Yuson said. “There have already been reports that the big multinational construction companies have good facilities.

“Now we are interested in looking at the subcontractors. There is a possibility that many subcontractors are not complying. This is what we want to look at seriously – that the standards are applying not just to the main contractors but to all the level of subcontractors.”

World Cup organizers said Tuesday that 36,000 people will be employed on its projects in the next year as eight stadiums are built.

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“Our inspection and auditing processes will need to be bolstered to ensure we continue to deliver sustainable and meaningful progress for our workers,” organizing committee secretary general Hassan Al Thawadi said in a statement. “While we have made a number of improvements in the last two years, from health and safety to accommodation standards, we recognize there is still work to be done.”

World Cup trophy designer Silvio Gazzaniga dies at 95

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JULY 13: Matthias Ginter celebrates with the trophy 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)
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MILAN (AP) Silvio Gazzaniga, the sculptor who designed the World Cup trophy, has died. He was 95.

Gazzaniga’s son, Giorgio, said his father passed away in his sleep at home in Milan.

“He just didn’t wake up this morning. It was a peaceful death,” Giorgio Gazzaniga told The Associated Press on Monday, adding that his father had been in the hospital recently for a series of minor ailments.

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Silvio Gazzaniga designed and created the World Cup trophy in 1971 after Brazil retained the right to keep the Jules Rimet trophy by winning its third World Cup in 1970.

“The World Cup is a mythic object for the players and for all football lovers,” FIFA President Gianni Infantino said. “We will be eternally grateful. I express my condolences by joining the pain of the family.”

The 18-carat solid gold trophy weighs approximately six kilograms (13 pounds). It depicts a moment of joy: two players celebrating with their arms outstretched and a globe resting on the backs of their shoulders.

“The lines spring out from the base, rising in spirals, stretching out to receive the world,” Silvio Gazzaniga once said, according to FIFA’s website. “From the remarkable dynamic tensions of the compact body of the sculpture rise the figures of two athletes at the stirring moment of victory.”

FIFA received 53 proposals from seven different countries for a new trophy, before opting for Gazzaniga’s design.

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“I designed it to reward heroism,” Silvio Gazzaniga said in a 2002 interview with The Associated Press. “But not superhuman heroism. It’s not a conventional cup.”

Giorgio Gazzaniga said that his father knew his design couldn’t be understood on paper, so he brought a plaster model to show FIFA.

“The jury understood right away that it was a very photogenic cup,” Giorgio Gazzaniga said. “It’s easy to lift and beautiful when raised. He created a universal trophy.”

The FIFA contest stipulated that the winner would not hold the rights to his work and so Silvio Gazzaniga never profited directly from images of the World Cup trophy.

“But as compensation he gained more work on other cups,” his son said. “He became Mr. Cups.”

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Silvio Gazzaniga also designed the UEFA Cup, European Super Cup and many other international trophies.

But he’ll be remembered above all for the World Cup.

Cafu, who captained Brazil to the 2002 World Cup title, tweeted, “Today I think for Silvio Gazzaniga, this man designed the trophy which gave my proudest moment in sport. RIP.”

Silvio Gazzaniga leaves behind two children, along with grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf

Report: USWNT star Holiday has brain tumor removed

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