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If FIFA insists on expanding the World Cup, here is a better way to 48

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Plenty of criticism has been fired at Gianni Infantino’s suggestion of a 48-team World Cup, and rightly so.

While an increased field wouldn’t dramatically hurt the the tournament — several decent sides missed the last outing in Brazil — a poorly-implemented and high-volume expansion would hurt the dramatics of the world’s best tournament.

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Look no further than EURO 2016 for this, as many of the group stage games lacked flair thanks to teams knowing points here or there could be enough for one of four third-place berths (Northern Ireland advanced with a win and two losses, while tournament-winning Portugal went to the knockout rounds with three draws).

Infantino’s suggestion would be to have 16 seeded teams advance to the group stages, and have the remaining 32 teams battle to avoid a potential “one and done” tournament via a pre-group stage knockout round.

We see a way to expand the field without dealing in such a dramatic end for 16 teams’ World Cup dreams: knockout round byes for the top eight group winners.

This would allow an even more jam-packed World Cup schedule — *cough* broadcast revenues *cough* —  and also avoid most of the pesky final matches with no ramifications for an already-advanced team by offering a bye to the second round of the knockout rounds for the top eight sides.

[ MORE: World Cup qualifying roundup ]

The four remaining group winners get the four worst second-place finishers, while the other eight second-place sides draw each other for a second-round berth. This adds one more round of games.

How would this affect a field? Take the 2014 tournament.

AFC (4): Australia, Iran, Japan, South Korea

CONCACAF (4): Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, USA

CAF (5): Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria

OFC (0): New Zealand lost playoff to Mexico

CONMEBOL (6): Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Uruguay

UEFA (13): Belgium, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, England, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Switzerland

There are 211 associations in FIFA. They break down as such:

Africa: 54
Europe: 55
CONMEBOL: 10
CONCACAF: 35
OFC: 11
AFC: 46

The easy additions would be throw in playoff losers New Zealand and Jordan. That’s 34 teams, and guarantees a slot for OFC.

Now Europe’s four playoff losers: Sweden, Ukraine, Romania, Iceland. That’s 38.

Africa’s five playoff losers: Senegal, Egypt, Tunisia, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso. That’s 43.

CONCACAF’s remaining Hex teams: Panama and Jamaica. That’s 45.

Another CONMEBOL side: Venezuela (46), a second OFC side (New Caledonia 47), and sixth Asian side (Uzbekistan 48).

That would mean the final breakdown would be:

Africa: 10 of 54
Europe: 17 of 55
CONMEBOL: 6 of 10
CONCACAF: 6 of 35
OFC: 2 of 11
AFC: 6 of 46

There is also the option of an off-year tournament run at the same time or near the Confederations Cup that would take the next-best two sides from each confederation and put them in group play for the final slots. In 2014, that would’ve arguably been Uruguay, Venezuela, Romania, Iceland, Panama, Mexico, New Zealand, New Caledonia, Jordan, Uzbekistan, Ethiopia, and Burkina Faso.

Again, the system is not broken, but if FIFA demands an expansion as high as 48 teams — which is still less than a quarter of its members — there’s a better way than so many one-and-dones on the world’s biggest stage.

FIFA scraps 48-team expansion for 2022 World Cup

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FIFA has confirmed the 2022 World Cup in Qatar will remain a 32-team tournament, abandoning plans to expand the event to 48 teams.

The world football governing body made certain to cite that Qatar’s implausibility to host such an expanded tournament as the sole reason for the decision, essentially confirming that the 2026 World Cup – joint hosted throughout North America – will remain expanded as confirmed back in January of 2017.

FIFA and Qatar have jointly explored all possibilities to increase the number of participant teams from 32 to 48 teams by involving neighboring countries at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022,” FIFA said in a statement. “Following a thorough and comprehensive consultation process with the involvement of all the relevant stakeholders, it was concluded that under the current circumstances such a proposal could not be made now.”

Qatar has been criticized for its lack of infrastructure and relative inability to host a tournament of the World Cup’s magnitude, and the FIFA statement hinted that nearby options in the Persian Gulf were severely limited. Along with the country’s own limitations, there is political strife between Qatar and many of its immediate neighbors such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, making a joint expanded effort nearly impossible.

“A joint analysis, in this respect, concluded that due to the advanced stage of preparations and the need for a detailed assessment of the potential logistical impact on the host country, more time would be required and a decision could not be taken before the deadline of June,” FIFA said. “It was therefore decided not to further pursue this option. The FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 will therefore remain as originally planned with 32 teams and no proposal will be submitted at the next FIFA Congress on 5 June.”

FIFA clearly made certain to cite Qatar’s inability to handle such an expansion as the sole reason for the status quo, not a blanket desire to keep the tournament at 32 teams permanently. FIFA has come under fire after announcing the expansion of the 2026 games, with widespread critics claiming the move would water down not only the tournament itself but also qualification, lessening the amount of high-leverage games both at the event itself and between tournaments in qualifying. The governing body had looked to speed up expansion for 2022, but today’s news ended that idea.

16-year MLS veteran Chad Marshall retires

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Stalwart defender Chad Marshall, who spent his entire 16-year career in Major League Soccer, retired on Wednesday at 34 years old. The announcement confirmed that Marshall’s decision was made largely due to a knee injury that has kept him out of action for most of the last month.

Marshall split his career between just two MLS teams, drafted second overall out of Stanford by Columbus and playing 10 years for the Crew before being traded to Seattle in 2013. He spent five full seasons with Seattle and began the current campaign as a significant part of the squad, but made it just two months in before the injury took over.

“After more than 15 years of living my childhood dream, the time has come for me to hang up the boots,” Marshall said in the official team release. “I’d like to thank everyone that has played a part in my career. To my teammates, support staff and coaches: you’ve been my second family. The locker room is what I’ll miss the most.”

Marshall was named MLS Defender of the Year three times throughout his career, winning it in his first professional season, again in 2008 just one year removed from concussion problems, and most recently with Seattle in 2014. He won the Supporters’ Shield four times – three with Columbus – and also racked up two MLS Cups and one US Open Cup. Overall he made 458 professional club appearances, 272 of which came for the Crew.

“Thank you to the fans of Seattle and Columbus for supporting me throughout the years, as well as the Sounders FC and Columbus Crew SC organizations for giving me a chance to represent them on the field,” Marshall said. “Most importantly, I’d like to thank my family. I’m forever indebted to them for the sacrifices they’ve made in allowing me to pursue this dream. From heartbreaking losses to MLS Cup wins, own goals to cartwheels, it’s been a blast.”

While Marshall was a rock at the back of the Columbus and Seattle defensive units, he was also an imposing force in the air, scoring 26 goals in his career. Marshall also earned 12 caps for the U.S. Men’s National Team, debuting in 2005 with a goal against Colombia and playing in the 2009 Gold Cup, and he was called back into the squad for a 0-0 friendly draw with Serbia in 2017 after a seven-year absence.

Why Aston Villa deserve Premier League promotion

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With the Championship playoff final at Wembley Stadium on May 27, the richest game in soccer will see one of Aston Villa or Derby County promoted to the Premier League.

[ MORE: Latest Championship news ]

Which club deserves a spot in the English top-flight more? You can use metrics such as fanbase, stadiums, players, historical success and quality of coaches to try and sort this out, but the fact of the matter is, the playoffs are always a complete, and utterly brilliant, lottery.

The path Villa and Derby took to get to the final this season proves that.

Here’s a look at why Villa deserve to return to the PL after a three-year absence, while tomorrow we will focus on Derby…


Everything about Villa is a Premier League club.

Their incredible home at Villa Park is among the most historic and boisterous in England when it gets going and the Holte End is the jewel in its crown.

European champions in 1982, Villa are the biggest club from England’s second-city, Birmingham, and their fanbase is loyal, if not overly pessimistic as most Brummies are. The fact that there are no PL teams from Birmingham is astonishing. It is like having no top level sports teams in LA.

For three years they’ve now fought to get back into the top-flight after several seasons of struggle as former American owner Randy Lerner cut costs wherever he could. Under manager Dean Smith, a lifelong Villa fan, they now play wonderfully attractive soccer and have youngsters like Jack Grealish, Andre Green and Tammy Abraham leading the way.

Villa would be fun to watch if they were promoted to the Premier League. That much is sure. They’ll concede a lot of goals, but they would score a ton too.

There is also the potential for Villa to emulate Wolverhampton Wanderers. Seriously.

Their ownership group has strengthened in recent months with Chinese businessman Tony Xi selling 55 percent of his stake in the club to Egyptian billionaire Nassef Sawiris and American billionaire Wes Edens.

If Villa come up the financial fair play shackles which restricted them in the Championship in recent years will come off. The potential for them to spend big is there, but they have a team full of players on loan from PL clubs who have formed a bond and could likely be kept together and bought permanently this summer.

Quite simply, Villa are a top 10 team in the Premier League. They have suffered due to Lerner’s decision to pull out his investment but they have now rebuilt themselves with a strong core of young talent and have a manager in place who is progressive and ambitious both with his style of play and where Villa can get to in the PL.

Under Steve Bruce, Villa lost to Fulham in the playoff final last season at Wembley. But with local lad Grealish leading their charge there is a sense that failure last year was a blessing in disguise. This Villa side are young and hungry and they are exciting to watch.

That is why Villa deserve to be promoted to the Premier League for the 2019-20 season.

Sevilla: Caparros won’t stay as coach for next season

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MADRID (AP) Sevilla says Joaquin Caparros will not be the team’s coach next season.

The Spanish club says Caparros will stay linked to the team but in a different position that will be announced in the future.

The former sports director has coached Sevilla since replacing the fired Pablo Machin in March, leading the club to a sixth-place finish in the Spanish league and a spot in the Europa League.

Caparros was also in charge of Sevilla for the final stretch of last season after Italian coach Vincenzo Montella was fired.

The 63-year-old Caparros last month announced he was fighting chronic leukemia but could keep working normally at the club.

He coached Sevilla in 241 matches in total, more than any other coach.

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