FA Cup preview: Wembley trips on the line as Man United, Arsenal, Liverpool shoot for semis

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Once you reach the quarterfinal round of any cup competition — particularly a competition which began with 736 teams — the dream of lifting the Cup becomes more reality than fairy tale, no matter the size of the club. As one of the final eight contestants, anything can happen.

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All of eight of the 2014-15 FA Cup’s quarterfinalists will feel this way, all the way from Premier League giants Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool, down to League 1 side Bradford, as they battle this weekend for a place in the semifinals at Wembley Stadium.

Arsenal’s trip to Old Trafford in unquestionably the tie of the round, and because of its grandeur, we’re forced to wait until Monday (3:45 pm ET) to watch the Premier League giants, combined winners of 22 FA Cups, face off.

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When they do, Arsenal will once again be without Jack Wilshere, Mathieu Flamini, Mathieu Debuchy, Mikel Arteta and recent injuree Gabriel Paulista, while Louis van Gaal is expected to have a full-strength squad available, with the exception of Robin van Persie, who could be out until April.

Elsewhere, Liverpool host Championship side Blackburn Rovers at Anfield on Sunday (12 pm ET) as Brendan Rodgers chases his first Liverpool trophy, the club’s first FA Cup since 2006. Rodgers could see as many as seven first-team players unavailable on Sunday, as Steven Gerrard, Lucas Leiva, Glen Johnson, Brad Jones, Jon Flanagan, Jordon Ibe and Mamadou Sakho all have varying degrees of injury concerns.

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Aston Villa topped Midlands rivals West Bromwich Albion in late, dramatic fashion on Tuesday to give Tim Sherwood his first league victory since moving to Villa Park. Fast forward four days and the Villans get another crack at West Brom with a trip to Wembley on the line. Sherwood has an injury crisis on his hands as six first-team defenders are either out or facing late fitness tests ahead of Saturday (12:30 pm ET).

After knocking off Chelsea in the fourth round, followed by Sunderland in the round of 16, Bradford have claimed darling status of this year’s FA Cup. With a home date against Championship side Reading (Saturday, 7:45 am ET), many are backing the smallest remaining side to book a semifinals place against one of the Premier League giants. It would be Bradford’s second Cup semifinals in three years after advancing all the way to the 2012-13 League Cup with victories over Arsenal and Villa along the way.

Atletico Madrid temporarily cuts player salaries by 70 percent

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Atletico Madrid says it has reached an agreement with its players and coaching staff to reduce their salaries by 70 percent while competitions are stopped during the coronavirus pandemic.

[ MORE: FIFA extends men’s age limit for Tokyo Olympics due to virus ]

Atletico announced the agreement on Thursday and said it is temporarily suspending the jobs of club employees.

Atletico had previously said it would need to take such a drastic step but had yet to reveal the details.

A job suspension under Spanish law allows a company to greatly reduce its labor costs by having workers stay at home while guaranteeing they will go back to their positions when conditions improve.

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The Spanish club added that some of the money saved by the players’ salary cuts will be given to its other employees who will be furloughed.

Barcelona recently announced it had come to a similar agreement with its players.

Both clubs said that such cost-saving measures were necessary to ensure their financial stability due to the loss in revenue during the stoppage of competitions.

CONCACAF postpones Nations League finals, Gold Cup qualification

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CONCACAF announced on Friday that the 2019-20 Nations League finals and the opening rounds of 2021 Gold Cup qualification have been postponed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

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The Nations League finals — featuring the U.S. men’s national team, Mexico, Costa Rica and Honduras — were previously scheduled to take place in Houston and Dallas in early June. CONCACAF says the semifinals and final will be rescheduled for a later date.

The seconds round of Gold Cup qualifying was previously scheduled to be made up in June — following their postponement in March, with four two-leg ties featuring largely Caribbean and Central American nations. Those, too, will be rescheduled for a later date.

Given the ongoing public health situation, and following consultation with FIFA regarding the international football calendar, we have made the decision to suspend the CONCACAF Nations League finals, which was scheduled for June 4-7, 2020 in the Houston and Dallas areas.

The event, which includes the Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico and USA men’s national teams, will be rescheduled to take place at a later date in venues to be determined. This will be confirmed following further discussions with FIFA regarding the remaining international windows in the football calendar, and will obviously be subject to public health authorities deeming it safe for professional sports events to resume.

FIFA extends men’s age limit for Tokyo Olympics due to virus

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GENEVA — FIFA has extended the age limit for the men’s soccer tournament at the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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The amended Olympic rule on Friday retains the “players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997” standard for the Tokyo Games following a one-year postponement agreed last week by the International Olympic Committee and Japanese authorities.

It means players eligible for the intended under-23 tournament in 2020 can still play in Japan at age 24 next year. Men’s soccer kicks off ahead of the July 23, 2021 opening ceremony in Tokyo.

FIFA also postponed two women’s age-group World Cups due this year in Central America and India, and confirmed no international games for men and women will be played in the early June dates protected for national team call-ups.

Soccer’s world body said “health must always be the first priority and the main criteria in any decision-making process, especially in these challenging times.”

The Olympic decision was made by a FIFA panel of soccer officials worldwide, created to address the soccer shutdown during the health crisis.

The 16 men’s teams at the Tokyo Olympics next year can also select three over-age players in their rosters. A stellar lineup includes Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany and Spain.

Two women’s World Cup tournaments — the Under-20s hosted by Panama and Costa Rica in August and September, and the Under-17s in India in November — are postponed. No new dates were announced.

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Until the COVID-19 outbreak, national team games scheduled in June included the 2020 European Championship, World Cup qualifying games in South America and Asia, and qualifiers for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations.

After Euro 2020 was postponed for one year, UEFA hoped to schedule playoff games in June to confirm the last four places in a 24-nation lineup. Those playoffs were postponed indefinitely this week.

World Cup qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar now face uncertain scheduling in a congested calendar in Europe, South America and Asia.

FIFA said on Friday it would “organize bilateral discussions” with continental governing bodies “to finalize a revised match schedule pending health and safety developments.”

FIFA plans to direct hundreds of millions of dollars from its cash reserves to support a global emergency fund, and has agreed to appoint one official from each of the six soccer continents to coordinate the work.

Arsenal want season completed ‘to maintain integrity’ of PL

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Arsenal remain in support of finishing the 2019-20 season in order to “to maintain the integrity” of the competition, despite Friday’s unanimous vote that the Premier League cannot resume at the start of May as previously hoped due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

[ MORE: UEFA threatens Belgian league with European expulsion ]

The Gunners, who currently sit ninth in the PL table with 10 games left to play (one more than the majority of clubs around them), were five points back of fifth-place Manchester United for qualification to next season’s UEFA Champions League thanks to Manchester City’s two-year European ban.

In a statement released on Friday, Arsenal reiterated their stance that the current season should be played to completion rather than called to completion at things stand or abandoned altogether.

We are in full support of the objective for all remaining domestic league and cup matches from the 2019-20 season to be played, in order to maintain the integrity of each competition.

We also fully agree with the principle that any return to action will only be with the full backing of government and when medical guidance allows.

The restart date is under constant review as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic develops and we continue to work together with all stakeholders through this very challenging time