UEFA plans stronger sanctions to combat racism

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Is UEFA finally getting tougher on racism?

Players and officials found guilty of racist behavior will face 10-match bans and clubs could have their stadiums closed if fans racially-abuse players, the general secretary of European soccer’s governing body said today.

Gianni Infantino (pictured) told the Soccerex European Forum in Manchester: “We have to have sanctions and they must have a deterrent effect and what we are proposing is if a player or official is convicted of racism they should receive a 10-match suspension at least. If supporters at a club are found guilty of racist abuse the first sanction will be a partial closure of the part of the stadium from which the racist abuse took place. For a second offence there will be the full closure and a minimum fine of 50,000 euros [about $66,000].”

That’s a longer ban than Chelsea’s John Terry (four games) and Luis Suarez of Liverpool (eight) received in England’s two highest-profile such cases in recent years.

The sanctions would likely start next season and apply to European competitions under the UEFA banner, such as the Champions League, Europa League and European Championships.

Putting aside the baffling comments of Malaga’s owner yesterday after his team was knocked out of the Champions League, it’s obvious that racism remains a serious problem in Europe – remember that A.C. Milan walked off the pitch in a January friendly when Kevin-Prince Boateng was abused by a section of the crowd.

And only today, UEFA ordered Dynamo Kiev to play their next European game behind-closed-doors because of “racist behavior by the Ukrainian club’s supporters” during games against Paris Saint-Germain and Bordeaux (Dynamo are appealing).

A genuine UEFA crackdown is long overdue and comes after plenty of media criticism at their habit of doling out weak punishments, such as tiny fines, that haven’t given the slightest impression that the organization is truly serious about combating racism.

Last April, Manchester City were fined 30,000 euros for being a minute late back on the field for the second half of a Europa League game against Sporting Lisbon. Yet Porto were ordered to pay only 20,000 Euros for their fans racially-abusing City players in the previous round.

Since high-level European soccer is awash with money, it’s not fines that will make a difference. But a 10-match ban for a player? That amounts to nearly two seasons’ worth of Champions League group games. Surely long enough to make players behave more responsibly. As for fans in countries where racism is endemic in society: it’s naive to imagine that soccer sanctions can solve problems with cultural and historical roots. But there’s no harm in trying, and it’s right to take a stand.

VIDEO: Tunisia equalizes on controversial penalty kick

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England centerback Kyle Walker put his arm up to halt the forward progress of Fakhreddine Ben Youssef. Unfortunately for Walker, Ben Youssef was in the box and Walker’s elbow caught Ben Youssef’s face.

Referee Wilmar Roldan quickly whistled for a penalty kick and despite the protests from a half-dozen of England players and a check from the VAR, the called stood. Ferjani Sassi’stepped up to the spot and found the lower-left corner, just barely beating Jordan Pickford to tie the game in the 35th minute.

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How will England respond?

VIDEO: Captain Kane puts England on the board early

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It may be the easiest goal-scoring opportunity Harry Kane‘s ever had in an international competition, and he finished it as easy as you’d like.

Kane side-footed home after Tunisia goalkeeper Mouez Hassen made a terrific save on John Stone’s header off a corner, but the save was directed right into a wide-open Kane who was standing ready inside the six yard box. The 11th minute goal will surely settle some of the Three Lions’ nerves as they open their World Cup bid in Russia.

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After slow start, Belgium takes care of business against feisty Panama

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All it took was one goal to bring Belgium to life.

Following a frustrating first 45 minutes, in which Belgium put a pair of shots into the side netting and forced saves from Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, Dries Mertens 47th minute goal opened the floodgates, as Belgium went on to defeat Panama, 3-0, Monday afternoon in Sochi.

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But Panama never made it easy for the Belgians. From the opening whistle the CONCACAF nation showed its incredible spirit, chasing down Belgium all across the field and making life incredibly difficult for Belgium attackers Romelu Lukaku, Mertens and Eden Hazard. Hazard was hacked down all over the field, and while he did earn fouls and a few yellow cards were issued to Panamanian players, it was enough to get in Hazard’s head.

Two minutes into the second half, everything changed. A wonderstrike from Mertens opened the game, and forced Panama to attack and try and tie the match, which gave Hazard, de Bruyne and Lukaku more space to operate.

In the heat and humidity of the Sochi summer, Panama’s veteran defense began to tire, allowing de Bruyne the space to deliver a terrific assist to Lukaku in the box, putting Belgium up 2-0 in the 69th minute.

 

Six minutes later, Lukaku was put through on the break, chipping over Penedo to confirm the victory.

With the win, Belgium moves to the top of Group G. Up next for Belgium is Tunisia on Saturday, while Panama takes on England on Sunday.

VIDEO: de Bruyne delivers gorgeous assist on Lukaku goal

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It took a little bit of patience, but Romelu Lukaku finally got on the scoresheet at the 2018 World Cup, thanks to a delicious assist from crosstown club rival Kevin De Bruyne.

The Manchester City playmaker delivered a spectacular outside-of-the-boot cross into the box, where Lukaku’s head met it and guided it towards the far post for Belgium’s second goal of the day.

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