World Cup votes sparked probes which downed Blatter, Platini

Leave a comment

LONDON (AP) After five years of tumult, the far-reaching fallout from FIFA’s decision to send the World Cup to Russia and Qatar has brought down another two voters – Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini – but not the hosts themselves.

No FIFA executive has been directly punished over how and why they voted in December 2010. And investigators have failed to unearth anything that warrants stripping Russia and Qatar of soccer’s showpiece tournaments in 2018 and 2022 respectively.

[ MORE: Pep to Chelsea?

But the vote had a big part to play in the eight-year bans handed out Monday to FIFA president Blatter and Platini, a FIFA vice president and head of European soccer’s ruling body, UEFA.

The punishments given by FIFA’s ethics committee stemmed from financial inquiries that were sparked by suspicions about the 2010 vote, when two host countries were selected concurrently for the first time.

For Blatter, Monday’s verdicts also contained a bitter irony.

Blatter himself had initiated the phase in the investigation that ultimately led to him being exiled by FIFA’s ethics judge from the organization he had run for 17 years.

[ VOTE: Should Man United make move for Mourinho? ]

Facing a fresh wave of pressure and suspicion around FIFA in November 2014, Blatter lodged a criminal complaint with Swiss authorities, authorizing them to receive the full secret World Cup bidding investigation he claims to have never seen.

“If we had anything to hide, we would hardly be taking this matter to the Office of the Attorney General … (it) shows that FIFA is not opposed to transparency,” Blatter said at the time with typical bravado.

It’s a decision Blatter will be regretting, even if he had little control over a move requested by FIFA judge Hans-Joachim Eckert.

As federal prosecutors started to trawl through some 900 pages of FIFA evidence amassed by American attorney Michael Garcia they switched their focus to bank accounts linked to the 2010 voters.

In May, on the day Zurich police arrested FIFA officials on behalf of their American counterparts investigating soccer corruption, Swiss authorities also seized data from the governing body’s headquarters across town. By that point, Swiss financial institutions had already handed over bank documents to the attorney general, who was building a case against FIFA officials.

As bank accounts were frozen, forensic software flagged up as suspicious a payment of 2 million Swiss francs ($2 million) Platini received from Blatter in early 2011.

[ MORE: Youth soccer league unexpectedly halted due to NFL’s Super Bowl ]

“How they found out? This is not a secret because Swiss banks are obliged to notify the Swiss authorities for six years now since all these financial controls through a Swiss organization called FINMA,” was Blatter’s assessment on Monday about the discovery of the payment that remained a public secret until recently.

“They are obliged if they feel a payment is something high in a personal account they have to (inform). So in 2011, Michel Platini received in his personal account by FIFA this 2 million Swiss francs and then they have given this information to the Swiss authorities.”

As an executive committee was concluding in September, prosecutors pounced on FIFA HQ and immediately questioned Blatter and Platini about the payment. Blatter was declared a suspect while Platini was considered “between a witness and an accused person.”

The seriousness of the allegations meant FIFA had to suspend two of its most powerful officials – Platini serves as a vice president, alongside his UEFA presidency – as a full ethics investigation was conducted in parallel to the criminal case.

FIFA’s ethics process concluded on Monday when Blatter and Platini received eight-year soccer bans for the payment. The judge described as “not convincing” their claim that the transaction was settling salary owed to the former France captain for work carried out as Blatter’s adviser up to 2002.

As Blatter stepped up his fight against his humiliating removal from FIFA, the 79-year-old Swiss was left to rue how differently the last five years would have unfolded had the World Cup vote go his way.

According to Blatter: No Qatar; no investigations delving into FIFA.

Blatter’s vision of delivering the 2018 World Cup to Russia for the first time was accepted by the now-tainted executive committee, but then – rather than going to a more familiar powerhouse in the United States as he wanted – the 2022 vote was astonishingly won by Qatar. Platini was among those who voted for the tiny desert nation.

“Can you imagine if this (Russia-U.S.) had worked out? We wouldn’t be here today,” Blatter said Monday as he digested being banned by the institution he helped to grow into a commercial giant. “But it didn’t work for different reasons.”

And the domino effect is not over. Being banished from soccer is the immediate humiliation, but Blatter and Platini could yet face criminal prosecutions with the attorney general in no hurry to rush the case.

Rob Harris can be followed at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

Bournemouth appoints Jason Tindall as Eddie Howe replacement

Bournemouth new manager
https://www.afcb.co.uk/
Leave a comment

There were questions as to how Bournemouth would address finding a replacement forr an institution after Eddie Howe left the club following the Cherries’ relegation from the Premier League.

Would Bournemouth go outside the box like they did with Howe the first time, hiring the 31-year-old following a stint as a player-coach and then youth coach at the club? Would they opt for a manager who’s led a club to Premier League promotion after relegation again? Or might it not be a big departure from the norm at all.

Meet the new boss. Familiar with the old boss.

[ MORE: Premier League announces VAR, subs rules ]

Bournemouth named Howe’s longtime No. 2, Alex Tindall, to lead the Cherries’ first ever bid to return to the Premier League following relegation.

Tindall is 14 days older than Howe and has assisted his former Bournemouth teammate since 2008: twice with the club and also during Howe’s year at Burnley.

:Given the success of the club over the last 12 years, with Eddie in charge and me by his side, I’m not going to come in and rip everything up and start again,” Howe said. “I would be a fool to do that. But I’m my own person with my own ideas and I will be looking to implement them as soon as we get back on the training ground.

“I know the Championship is a very tough league but my aim is to get this club back into the Premier League at the first time of asking. This is a challenge that I feel I’m ready for and one I’m looking forward to.”

This is intriguing and exciting for a club like Bournemouth, still steeping its top-level tradition after an impressive five Premier League seasons including a finish as high as ninth.

What will be most interesting is to see if Tindall can have more success arranging the defense. A former striker, Tindall takes the reins of a club which allowed 67, 67, 61, 70, and 65 goals in their five PL seasons. The club was a bit unlucky this year, scoring just 40 and underperforming expected goals scored and conceded.

Champions League, Europa League: How to watch, odds, start time, predictions

Champions League odds
Getty Images
Leave a comment

The UEFA Champions League and Europa League action has resumed and I’m going to reveal my predictions for this next round as well as the latest odds for Europe’s top two continental tournaments.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

With Manchester City still in the Champions League and Manchester United and Wolves among the favorites to win the Europa League, there is a lot on the line for Premier League clubs in the coming weeks.

Just because the Premier League season is over, that doesn’t mean the action is over. Far from it. Both Manchester clubs are the bookmakers favorites to seal their respective European glory.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

In the next few days the Europa League and Champions League quarterfinals will take place as the mini tournaments begin.

Man City beat Real Madrid 4-2 on aggregate, while Chelsea lost Bayern 7-1 on aggregate as they crashed out of the Champions League. Man United and Wolves are both in the quarterfinals and favored to go far.

Lisbon, Portugal will host the Champions League games from the quarterfinal stage onwards, while the Europa League games will be hosted around Germany.

Below is a look at my predictions, the odds for the games this week and how to watch and follow all of the fixtures in the USA.


How to watch, stream Champions League and Europa League

Dates: August 5-23
Location: Quarterfinals onwards in Lisbon/Germany
How to watch: CBS Sports
Live updates: UCL here at NBCSports.com & Europa League here at NBCSports.com


JPW’s Champions League predictions

Quarterfinals (August 12-15)
Wednesday, August 12: Atalanta 2-3 PSG
Thursday, August 13: RB Leipzig 1-2 Atletico Madrid
Friday, August 14: Barcelona 1-3 Bayern Munich
Saturday, August 15: Manchester City 3-1 Lyon


JPW’s Europa League predictions

Quarterfinals (August 10-11)
Monday, August 10: Inter Milan 2-1 Bayer Leverkusen
Monday, August 10: Manchester United 3-1 Copenhagen
Tuesday, August 11: Wolves 1-2 Sevilla
Tuesday, August 11: Shakhtar Donetsk 1-2 Basel


Champions League betting odds

Quarterfinals (August 12-15)

(+210) Atalanta v. PSG (+117). Tie: +275
(+225) RB Leipzig v. Atletico Madrid (+135). Tie: +220
(+235) Barcelona v. Bayern Munich (+115). Tie: +255
(-305) Manchester City v. Lyon (+750). Tie: +450

Outright winner
Manchester City (+220)
Bayern Munich (+325)
Paris Saint-Germain (+500)
Atletico Madrid (+800)
Barcelona (+800)
Atalanta (+1000)
RB Leipzig (+1700)
Lyon (+3500)


Europa League betting odds

Quarterfinals (August 10-11)
(+112) Inter Milan v. Bayer Leverkusen (+240). Tie: +250
(-385) Manchester United v. Copenhagen (+1000). Tie: +480
(+235) Wolves v. Sevilla (+120). Tie: +230
(-106) Shakhtar Donetsk v. Basel (+290). Tie: +255

Outright winner
Manchester United (+180)
Inter Milan (+325)
Sevilla (+500)
Bayer Leverkusen (+650)
Wolves (+700)
Shakhtar Donetsk (+1100)
Basel (+2500)
Copenhagen (+6000)

Barcelona reach 13th straight Champions League quarterfinal

Barcelona - Napoli
Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Barcelona – Napoli saw Lionel Messi and Co., book the eighth and final place in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals, by way of a 3-1 victory on the night (4-2 on aggregate) on Saturday.

[ MORE: Champions League predictions ]

It was, as it so often tends to be, Messi who shone brightest and stole the spotlight en route to Barca’s 13th straight Champions League quarterfinal appearance.

[ LIVE: Champions League schedule ]

Barca entered Saturday with the slimmest of advantages, knowing that a scoreless draw would see them through to the quarterfinals after grabbing a vital away goal in the first goal. Lyon knew that no matter what, they needed to score at least once or they would be out. That threat was reinforced, and strengthened, when Clement Lenglet headed the Blaugrana ahead in the 10th minute.

Messi slipped, Messi got back up, Messi slipped again, Messi got back up again, Messi rifled the ball inside the far post to score a(nother) fantastic solo goal and make it 2-0 (3-1) in the 23rd minute. It was only slightly more complicated than that for him (WATCH HERE). Messi put the ball in the back of the net again just a few minutes later, but the goal was taken off the board by way of a somewhat suspect handball decision upon video review.

Nonethless, that was just about that after Luis Suarez converted from the penalty spot early in first-half stoppage time. Messi won the penalty by sneaking around Kalidou Koulibaly and winning the ball in the blink of an eye, forcing the Senegalese center back to foul him on the edge of the box lest Messi walk in on goal for a virtual tap-in.

Lorenzo Insigne converted a penalty kick of his own a couple minutes later before the interval, but the threat level never peaked higher than a 2-out-of-10 for Barca.

Barca will face Bayern Munichin a sensationally mouth-watering, single-leg quarterfinal matchup next Friday.

3 things learned: Bayern Munich v. Chelsea

Bayern Munich - Chelsea
Photo by TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Bayern Munich – Chelsea, leg no. 2, looked eerily similar to leg no. 1, played back in late February, with the lone exception being the lack of fans inside the Allianz Arena for Thursday’s dead rubber.

[ MORE: Champions League predictions ]

The eight-time Bundesliga champions were simply too good — and too healthy, by comparison — for Frank Lampard and the Blues to put up a reasonable fight from 3-0 down after the first leg. It was an unceremonious end to Lampard’s first season in charge at Chelsea, but a foregone conclusion before they boarded the plane back in London.

[ LIVE: Champions League schedule ]

With their 4-1 victory on the night (7-1 on aggregate), Bayern will face Barcelona in a sensationally mouth-watering quarterfinal matchup next Friday.

Here’s a look at what we learned from the Allianz Arena, as the I’s were dotted and the T’s were crossed in Bayern Munich – Chelsea.


NO DRAMA NECESSARY, BAYERN TAKE CARE OF BUSINESS EARLY

Credit to Bayern for their ruthless efficiency and disinterest in letting the tie descend into drama and tension. Robert Lewandowski scored early (10th minute) and Ivan Perisic did the same in the 24th, bringing the aggregate score to 5-0 with 65 minutes left to play. With so many key players out injured, Chelsea had virtually zero chance of pulling off the impossible comeback prior to kickoff, and Hans-Dieter Flick’s side made sure to keep it that way from the opening whistle. Corentin Tolisso put the tie further out of reach late in the second half (76th), and Lewandowski duplicated his side’s three-goal advantage from the first leg not much later.


CHELSEA’S ISSUES STILL AT THE BACK

For all of the development of young players that Frank Lampard was able to realize this season — and for all of the big-money signings either already confirmed or heavily reported to be imminent this summer — Chelsea still have serious questions to answer with regard to their defense. The below highlight is but one small example in a season full of defensive blunders at missed assignments (you’ll find another one below in the next section). Cesar Azpilicueta remains solid, but he’ll turn 31 this month and probably only has another year or two left to function at the UCL level. Reece James and Fikayo Tomori still have some way to go in their development to be UCL-caliber players. The likes of Kurt Zouma, Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen have all proven, time and again, they’re simply not at that level and probably never will be. All of that is to say, Chelsea need to execute a full-on rebuild of their defense this summer, or it might not matter how many goals they can score every game next season.


BAYERN’S END-OF-SEASON FORM IS TERRIFYING

Pop quiz: When was the last time Bayern simply didn’t win a game, let alone lost one? The answer: Feb. 9 (19 games ago). And their last defeat? Dec. 7 (28 games). They won all nine of their Bundesliga games following the season’s restart, plus another two in the DFB-Pokal and now the second leg against Chelsea in the UCL. Of course, things will suddenly become far more tricky when 1) the likes of Barcelona and Man City factor into the equation in the quarterfinals and the semifinals, and 2) each round is decided over a single leg rather than the traditional home-and-away format of the Champions League. And still, Bayern have the look of serious Champions League contenders, if not favorites, based on their scintillating form dating back to the start of the calendar year.