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Kosovo elected as UEFA member in 28-24 vote

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BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) Kosovo was given UEFA membership Tuesday, and could now be fast-tracked into FIFA and the 2018 World Cup qualifying program.

UEFA’s member federations voted 28-24 to accept the former province of Serbia, which led the opposition. Two votes were declared invalid.

The UEFA congress also elected Florence Hardouin, the French soccer federation’s marketing director, as a member of its executive committee.

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UEFA met without its president, Michel Platini, who should get a verdict next Monday from CAS in his appeal against a six-year ban by FIFA. Platini and former FIFA president Sepp Blatter were sanctioned over a $2 million payment the former France great received in 2011 as uncontracted and backdated salary.

Whatever the CAS decision on Platini’s fate, France ensured itself of a spot on UEFA’s executive committee with Hardouin’s election. By defeating Karen Espelund of Norway 33-21, Hardouin becomes the first elected female member of the panel and will serve a three-year mandate until executive elections in 2019.

Kosovo has sought international recognition through sports since declaring independence from Serbia in 2008.

Fadil Vokrri, president of the Football Federation of Kosovo, said the result was a “historic moment.”

“We will be able to bring people together through football on the pitch and around the pitch,” Vokrri said. “This is our vision for the future as the 55th member association of UEFA.”

Before the vote, Serbian soccer federation president Tomislav Karadzic said the decision on Kosovo was a “political vote, not a footballing proposal.”

With Kosovo’s UEFA membership, “politics would abuse football in the harshest possible way,” Karadzic said.

UEFA supported Kosovo’s case after resisting previous efforts by FIFA in 2012 to let its national and clubs teams play opponents from other countries.

A breakthrough came in January 2014 when FIFA ruled that teams from Kosovo could play international matches, except against teams from other parts of the former Yugoslavia.

Kosovo needs to be accepted as a FIFA member before it can enter a World Cup qualifying group, which kicks off in September.

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FIFA’s ruling council will meet in Mexico City on Monday, and can send Kosovo’s application for a decision by the FIFA congress four days later.

Earlier at the congress, FIFA President Gianni Infantino urged European soccer leaders to give money to poorer federations from the increased funds they get from Zurich.

“Give it to other federations around the world if you don’t need the money,” Infantino told the 54 UEFA member federations at their annual congress.

All FIFA members should get big increases in their annual grant to fulfil a key election promise by Infantino.

The FIFA president was elected in February after promising to give each member federation $5 million every four years from World Cup revenues. That pledge would more than double the $2.05 million that each FIFA member received in the four-year cycle tied to the 2014 World Cup.

European federations earn much more than other countries as UEFA, the richest of the six continental confederations, pays even more to its members than they get from FIFA.

“You in Europe, we can show together, we can make a difference in the world,” said Infantino, who served UEFA members as general secretary for seven years. “With very little we can achieve a lot.”

Infantino noted that FIFA could add two European federations to its membership at its own congress in Mexico City next week. The admission of Kosovo and Gibraltar would likely be added to the world soccer body’s agenda, Infantino said.

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On Monday, the Court of Arbitration for Sport ordered FIFA to stop blocking Gibraltar’s application for membership and allow it “without delay.”

Gibraltar, a British territory whose sovereignty is disputed by neighboring Spain, has been a UEFA member since 2013 and played in the qualifying program for the 2016 European Championship.

Like Kosovo, Gibraltar could be fast-tracked by FIFA into 2018 World Cup qualifying groups.

Regarding Platini’s situation, UEFA has called an emergency meeting of its executive committee in two weeks to weigh options after the Platini verdict, UEFA and FIFA vice president Angel Maria Villar told the congress.

The meeting will be in Basel, Switzerland, on the sidelines of the Europa League final on May 18.

If a presidential election is needed to replace Platini, the most likely date is mid-September in Athens, Greece, at an already-scheduled meeting of European soccer leaders.

AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar reported from Geneva.

Preview: Brazil v. Mexico in U-17 World Cup final

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There will be plenty of 2005 U-17 World Cup final shades at Estadio Bezerrão on Sunday.

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On that clear night in Lima, Peru, the likes of Carlos Vela and Giovani dos Santos wrote history for Mexico, as they powered El Tri to its first-ever World Cup title over a favorite Brazilian side, who was composed of Marcelo, Renato Augusto, and Anderson, in a 3-0 win.

14 years and some change later, both youth powerhouses meet again in the same tournament, for the same silverware, and with the same pressure looming over them from entire nations who expect nothing but excellence from their respective teams.

But of course, to the Brazilians, there is a sense of added pressure given the fact that they’re on home soil.

“We’re familiar with Mexico’s quality,” Brazilian forward, Veron, said ahead of the final. We know they are a great team. But we’re Brazil, and we have five stars on our chest. We intend to play our best match and get the result that makes history.”

As it stands, Mexico is the clear-cut underdog, having barely crept into the knockout stages and being composed of players with far less notoriety to its Brazilian counterpart, who boast three players with three goals or more in the tournament.

That said, Mexico pose as a balanced, reliable, and pragmatic team under coach Marco “Chima” Ruiz. Throughout the six games this tournament, El Tri have found the back of the net 14 times and have conceded a mere three goals (two of which came against Italy). With four goals and two assists in only 344 minutes, Los Angeles Galaxy’s Efrain Alvarez has proven to be the team’s most productive player going forward.

Asked who he would rather take between France or Brazil in the final, the Mexican American answered with the same confidence that has made him one of the most exciting players in the tournament.

“It doesn’t matter which of the two it is, we’ll beat them,” he said.

It’s 90 minutes for either team to make history, again. A win for Brazil will raise the number of U-17 stars to four, while Mexico can claim its third with another historic performance. Will Brazil’s high-flying attack crack Mexico’s solid defense? If Alvarez starts, will he rise to the occasion and guide Mexico to another U-17 title?

That has yet to be seen; the second final between two, routine winners awaits the first whistle.

Report: Man City considering Kingsley Coman as Leroy Sane replacement

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Pep Guardiola and Manchester City are considering Bayern Munich’s Kinglsey Coman as a replacement for injured Leroy Sane if he were to leave for the defending German champions over the summer, according to a report from Sky Sports.

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Sane, who is projected to be out until February or March with an ACL injury, was the subject of a $176 million move to Bayern Munich over the summer, but a move never came to fruition, largely due to the aforementioned injury. If negotiations between Sane’s camp and the defending Bundesliga champions pick up again this summer, City have a replacement in mind: 23-year-old Coman.

Coman, who has played in 10 league games for the Bavarian club this season, was managed by Guardiola during his time with the club and flourished during the title-winning 2015-2016 season. In 2017, the Frenchman revealed that the Spaniard’s departure was tough on him, saying, “I found life easier at Bayern Munich under Pep Guardiola.”

As expected, Coman is not the only option City are exploring.

Real Sociedad’s Mikel Oyarzabal, who has a reported $82 million release clause, is also on the Premier League giant’s shortlist. Txiki Begiristain, City’s director of football, has strong ties to La Reala that goes back to his first day in the sport.

At the Etihad, the general feeling from Guardiola’s players is that the German winger is one foot out of England, and is instead focused on a move to Bayern and a return back home. With his contract in the final 12 months this summer, it is expected that the release clause for Sane will not be as lucrative as before. 

In 134 appearances for City, Sane has scored 39 goals, while Coman has scored on 28 different occasions in 139 appearances.

Abidal: Barcelona, Messi negotiating a new deal

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Lionel Messi and his representatives are in talks with Barcelona over a new contract, the defending champion’s sporting director Eric Abidal confirmed  to Mundo Deportivo in an exclusive interview.

“They are already talking,” Abidal, the former Barcelona defender, said. “I do not know if we will have news soon because the decision will depend on the player, but for us as a club I hope it is sorted as soon as possible.”

Messi – a five-time Ballon d’Or winner and Barcelona’s all-time leading goalscorer – joined the club’s well-known academy, La Masia, at the age of 13 and is under contract until 2021 but was recently questioned about his future after Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu revealed that the Argentine can leave Camp Nou on a free transfer due to a clause in his contract.

Asked when he expects an announcement to be made on a new and improved contract, Abidal made it clear he’s unsure but hopes it happens: “It will be known when it is known, but I am positive.”

Throughout seven games in La Liga this season, Messi has scored eight goals and assisted in four occasions. In his latest appearance for the Catalonian side – a 4-1 win over Celta Vigo – the No. 10 scored a first-half hat-trick.

Abidal also confirmed that Barcelona are in talks with breakout teenage starlet Ansu Fati and his camp on a new deal.

“We are also talking to him,” Abidal said. “He is a young player that we have to protect. We have to talk to his family and representatives.”

Earlier this year, the 17-year-old became the youngest player in the league’s history to score and assist in the same game.

EURO qualifying wrap: Germany, Austria, Croatia join Netherlands in qualifying

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Like the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, and Croatia qualified for EURO 2020 after wins on Saturday.

[ READ: Netherlands qualify to first EURO since 2012 ]


Germany 4-0 Belarus

With goals from Matthias Ginter, Leon Goretska, and a second-half brace from Real Madrid’s Toni Kroos, Germany routed an uncompetitive Belarus side 4-0 at Borussia-Park. The scoreline, however, should have been more lopsided, as the home side easily won the possession battle and outshot the visitor’s with a total of 31 shots (10 on target). Leaders of Group C, Germany is an early favorite for next summer’s tournament. Not hard to believe that, right? 

Austria 2-1 North Macedonia

Qualifying for Europe’s main tournament is becoming a norm for Austria.

Bayern Munich’s David Alaba scored early while Stefan Lainer added his own three minutes into the second half, as Austria edged North Macedonia 2-1 at Ernst Happel Stadion. Das Team, who stand second in Group G with 19 points after nine games, have now clinched a berth for the EURO on back-to-back occasions.

Croatia 3-1 Slovakia

When all was said and done, Croatia was too much for a 10-man Slovakia, who, initially, broke the deadlock in the 32nd minute.

Bayern Munich’s Ivan Perisic scored the home side’s third and final goal of the match, which punched Croatia’s ticket in next summer’s tournament. Nikola Vlasic and Bruno Petkovic also contributed goals in the second half for Croatia.

Elsewhere

Russia 1-4 Belgium

Azerbaijan 0-2 Wales

Cyprus 1-2 Scotland

Israel 1-2 Poland

Armenia 0-1 Greec