Southampton FC

Southampton sign rising star Sofiane Boufal for club-record fee

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Southampton have made a huge statement by signing Sofiane Boufal from Ligue 1 side Lille.

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After the deal was all but secured last week Saints announced the acquisition on Monday and it is believed Boufal initially cost over $21 million, a club-record transfer fee.

The Moroccan international attacking midfielder, 22, has signed a five-year deal with the club as Claude Puel has added an exciting, dynamic player to his ranks.

In the past Boufal had been linked with many of Europe’s top clubs but speaking to Southampton’s website after signing, Boufal revealed why he chose to move to St Mary’s.

“I’m very, very happy to sign for Southampton and I am really excited to play in St Mary’s Stadium in front of the fans,” Boufal said. “Southampton showed big interest in signing me, and I can see that this club is the best place for me to continue my progression as a footballer. I hope I can achieve many great things with Southampton. It is a very good club, with excellent facilities, and I feel it is the perfect environment to continue my development.”

This is a huge signing for Saints and one that should breath new life into their attacking unit, although Boufal may not be ready until a few weeks from now as he continues his recovery from a knee injury suffered at the end of last season.

Puel’s men have scored just two goals in their opening three games of the season and although they’ve looked confident in possession, they’ve run out of ideas in the final third. Boufal’s trickery, pace and direct running will help out with that.

After selling Sadio Mane and Graziano Pelle this summer, Saints lost their top two goalscorers from last season. With Shane Long energetic but hardly prolific and both Jay Rodriguez and Charlie Austin injury prone in recent years, Puel’s options up top needed boosting. Boufal can operate centrally or on either flank and alongside Dusan Tadic and Nathan Redmond he will provide plenty of competition in the attacking areas.

At Lille he showed plenty of productivity last season with 12 goals in all competitions after making the step up from second-tier Angers in January 2015. Many in France have compared him to Leicester City’s Riyad Mahrez.

It may have taken Saints a while to get this deal over the line but just like in previous windows they’ve sealed a gem close to the transfer deadline day. In the past two seasons they’ve picked up Mane and Virgil Van Dijk in the latter stages of the summer window and both of those buys turned out to be great players, and business, for the south coast club.

Boufal is expected to make a major impact in the PL and Europa League for Saints. Turns out that they aren’t just a selling club after all…

FIFA inviting some non-champions to enlarged Club World Cup

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Based on qualification procedures seen by The Associated Press, teams can qualify for FIFA’s expanded Club World Cup without having to win a regional competition – even at the expense of some champions.

The FIFA Council on Thursday is set to approve China as host of the inaugural edition of the 24-team club competition in 2021 and review the qualification procedures, people with knowledge of the decision making told AP.

They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss FIFA’s plans ahead of the meeting in Shanghai.

[ MORE: Genk 1-4 Liverpool | Ajax 0-1 Chelsea ]

A document sent to council members seen by the AP shows the outcome of the initial talks between the FIFA administration and the six regional confederations to determine the criteria for securing one of the slots.

The revamped Club World Cup is due to be staged every four years, replacing the current annual format that features the six champions of continental competitions and the host nation’s domestic title winner.

But caps on the number of representatives from a single country in the new format raises the prospect of even winners of continental competitions missing out.

EUROPE

With eight slots, Europe will be the best represented continent at the Club World Cup even after rejecting four additional places, helping FIFA drive ticket sales and broadcast revenue.

All the Champions League and Europa League winners from 2018 to 2021 are set to qualify – although that could be dependent on UEFA determining the maximum number of slots per country. Clubs from England and Spain have dominated those competitions in recent years.

Should a team enjoy multiple wins across the competitions, the free slot is due to go to the most recent Champions League runner-up.

Real Madrid won the Champions League in 2018 when Atletico Madrid triumphed in the Europa League. English clubs swept last season’s trophies, with Liverpool victorious in the Champions League and Chelsea in the second-tier competition.

SOUTH AMERICA

While South America will get six slots, only the process for distributing four of them has been settled. They will go to the 2019 and 2020 winners of CONEMBOL’s two competitions: The Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana.

The document shows no plan for determining the route to securing the remaining two berths or the limits on national representation.

ASIA

The three Asian places will to go the winners of the 2019 and 2020 Asian Champions League and the runners-up will have a playoff for the third entry into the Club World Cup group stage.

Saudi Arabian side Al-Hilal will play Urawa Red Diamonds of Japan in this season’s final next month.

If the title is defended in 2020, the runners-up from both years will complete Asia’s FIFA lineup.

But Asia only wants a maximum of two teams from one country. So, if the winners and runners-up in 2019 and 2020 are all from the same country, the two losing Asian Champions League semifinalists in 2020 would contest a playoff for a route into the global tournament.

NORTH AND CENTRAL AMERICA

The 2021 CONCACAF Champions League finalists will qualify but a process for deciding the third slot was left hanging in the FIFA Council document.

Mexican teams have won all 11 titles since the regional competition was rebooted as the Champions League. Only three of the finals have not been an all-Mexican lineup.

But a cap of two teams per country from this region will exist at the Club World Cup.

[ MORE: Talking CBA, MLS with Chris Wondolowski ]

AFRICA

The simplest qualification will be from Africa, with the places going to the 2021 Champions League finalists and the winner of a playoff between the two semifinalists.

The plan is complicated by a cap on two teams per country.

OCEANIA

Oceania is the only one of FIFA’s six confederations not guaranteed a place at the Club World Cup. To make one of the eight groups of three, the Oceania Champions League winner will face a playoff against the Chinese champions.

TOURNAMENTS DATES

A previous FIFA plan seen by the AP in March proposed the Club World Cup running from June 17 through July 4 in 2021, taking the slot originally set aside for the Confederations Cup competition that is no longer due to be contested.

For some players from Africa and the CONCACAF region it could be a busy summer, with their regional national competitions proposed to start on July 9.

The final two editions of the seven-team annual Club World Cup are being staged in Qatar this December and in December 2020.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Europa League preview: Man Utd, Wolves travel to stadium burdened by racial abuse

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Manchester United hopes to build off Monday momentum when it visits Partizan Belgrade in the Europa League, though the hosts have some off-field aims following a pair of closed-door matches due to racist behavior.

Partizan boss Savo Milosevic, a former Aston Villa striker, has vowed that the match will be void of racism and a “celebration of football.”

United players Harry Maguire and Marcus Rashford were part of an ugly atmosphere in Bulgaria while on England duty — something Maguire called “sickening” — but believe things will be better in Belgrade.

[ MORE: Genk 1-4 Liverpool | Ajax 0-1 Chelsea ]

Maguire is set for a new experience in the tie should he start, sort of. Maguire played a UEL qualifying round match with Hull City in 2014, but this is his first start in a European tournament proper. From ManUtd.com:

“Playing in Europe is another challenge,” he said. “It’s something I’m looking forward to, something I’m relishing. I want to play in the biggest games with the biggest pressure and that’s why I signed for a club like Man United, one of the biggest in the world. I’m looking forward to challenging myself under the lights in European football.”

United kicks off at 12:55 p.m. ET as one of two early starts for Premier League teams.

Wolves begin back-to-back matches against Slovan Bratislava in Slovakia, another situation where the hosts are dealing with recent racial problems.

Thursday’s match was supposed to be behind closed doors, but UEFA have allowed ticket giveaways to youth players and school kids. Wolves aren’t exactly impressed at the lessened punishment.

Here’s Matt Doherty, who says his Wolves will gladly leave the pitch if there’s a problem of any kind. From The Birmingham Mail:

“If it comes to it when players feel uncomfortable then I wouldn’t have a problem with it,” Doherty adds. “I would hate to be in a position where you have to choose. I would hate that, so hopefully it doesn’t happen. I would be more in the mind of trying to beat them on the pitch.”

Wolves have a win and a loss, leaving them a point behind their Thursday opponents and Braga.

The lone PL club kicking off at 3 p.m. is Arsenal, the Gunners having played very well in the Europa League but fairly substandard in the league.

Arsenal is one of five 2-0 teams in the UEL, and can essentially cement their place in the next round by dealing with Vitoria at the Emirates Stadium.

Europa League full slate

12:55 pm. ET
Besiktas v. Braga
Roma v. Borussia Monchengladbach
CSKA Moscow v. Ferencvaros
Partizan Belgrade v. Manchester United
Qarabag v. APOEL Nicosia
Ludogorets Razgrad v. Espanyol
Slovan Bratislava v. Wolves
Porto v. Rangers
Saint-Etienne v. Oleksandriya
Gent v. Wolfsburg
Istanbul Basaksehir v. Wolfsberg
Young Boys v. Feyenoord
AZ Alkmaar v. Astana

3 p.m. ET
Celtic v. Lazio
Sevilla v. Dudelange
Arsenal v. Vitoria
Eintracht Frankfurt v. Standard Liege
Rennes v. CFR Cluj
Sporting Lisbon v. Rosenborg
Getafe v. Basel
Dynamo Kyiv v. Copenhagen
Malmo v. Lugano
PSV Eindhoven v. LASK
Trabzonspor v. Krasnodar

LIVE MLS Cup Playoffs — NYCFC hosts Toronto, Seattle-RSL

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Citi Field is the scene for New York City FC’s debut as the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed in the MLS Cup Playoffs.

Dome Torrent’s men have experienced opposition in Greg Vanney’s Toronto FC, who’ve been to two finals in three years but will have to advance another round without Jozy Altidore.

[ MORE: Live scores, box scores, stats ]

USMNT prospect Keaton Parks returns from injury for City and will partner with captain Alexander Ring beneath a dangerous quartet of attack-minded players.

Toronto hasn’t lost since Aug. 3 (5W-6D) and is well-equipped to deal NYCFC’s possession system on a postage stamp pitch.

The night-cap sees a 10 p.m. ET kickoff between Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake, the visitors bringing a stingy record; RSL has allowed the second fewest goals in the Eastern Conference.

The Sounders only lost two home matches this season, and have not lost a home playoff match under Brian Schmetzer.

Champions League wrap: Barcelona, Napoli hold group leads

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Antonio Conte‘s Inter Milan got a necessary win, while several other notable teams had a lot of work on their hands on the way to three points in the UEFA Champions League.

Lionel Messi set another record, Jesse Marsch’s Red Bull Salzburg put another scare into a big name, and both Lille and RB Leipzig puts difference-making wonder strikes on the board.


[ MORE: Genk 1-4 Liverpool | Ajax 0-1 Chelsea ]


Slavia Prague 1-2 Barcelona

Lionel Messi’s third minute goal didn’t send the Czech hosts running for cover, and Slavia Prague got a leveling goal through Jan Boril. It was deserved, too, with the hosts taking double the shots as their visitors when they made it 1-1. An own goal finished off the scoring in Prague.

Messi’s goal made him the first player to score in 15 Champions League tournaments. He’s good.

Red Bull Salzburg 2-3 Napoli

Jesse Marsch’s men know a bit about comebacks after last month’s memorable match in Liverpool, and Erling Braut Haland scored to make it 1-1 after Dries Mertens gave the favored visitors a lead. Haland answered another Mertens goal but the magic ran out for the hosts after Lorenzo Insigne provided the winner.

Lille 1-1 Valencia

Russian winger Denis Cheryshev looked like he’d see his goal stand up as a winner despite a late Valencia red card, but my goodness this equalizer from Jonathan Ikone:

Inter Milan 2-0 Borussia Dortmund

Make it six goals for Lautaro Martinez in 11 appearances for Inter Milan, who looked well-drilled at home under Antonio Conte. Roman Burki was sensational to keep the score 1-0, saving a penalty amongst several other timely interventions, but BVB couldn’t muster a goal. Antonio Candreva added the consolation marker.

Benfica 2-1 Lyon

Rafa Silva was in the right place to deposit a fourth minute goal, and Benfica rode the lead until Memphis Depay leveled in the 70th minute. Enter Pizzi, who scored with five minutes left to give Benfica a needed win. Last place Benfica is three points back of leaders RB Leipzig.

RB Leipzig 2-1 Zenit Saint-Petersburg

Yaroslav Rakitskiy gave the visitors a halftime lead against the run of play but Konrad Laimer leveled the score line and then — clear the deck — Marcel Sabitzer did this: