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Report: FIFA president backs 48-team World Cup, 16 groups of three teams

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Gianni Infantino wants to freshen things up a bit.

The new president of FIFA has been steadfast in his desire to increase the number of teams participating at a World Cup to 48.

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After all it was a huge part of his presidential mandate which got plenty of the smaller nations of the soccer world on board to vote for him, and reports from AFP are now circulating that Infantino and key figured at FIFA have indeed backed a 48-team World Cup from 2026 onwards.

Members of the FIFA Council had previously received outlines of four proposed formats, including staying with a 32-team World Cup, but it is believed Infantino wants a 48-team World Cup and the decision could be made next month at a FIFA Council meeting.

It is also being widely reported that Infantino wants to try something new and have 16 groups with three teams in each. It is also believed the top two teams would go through from each group to a Round of 32 knockout stage and then to a Round of 16 and so on.

On the face of it, that doesn’t seem too bad an idea.

It would certainly eliminate some of the boring third group games we have endured at most World Cups recently as the two teams going through to the last 16 are usually sewn up by that point and the two other teams are left around with another game to play. However, it will be intriguing to see how the game schedule is set up in the three team group scenario.

The cynical folks out there suggest that Infantino is merely trying to ramp up more revenue from increasing the number of teams from 32 to 48 but when you look at it, the number of games would actually stay the same if there were 16 groups with three teams in each.

Think about it: more upset stories, more first-time qualifiers and more riding on each of the two group games for each team before heading straight to the knockout rounds.

Sebastian Berhalter signs Homegrown deal with Columbus Crew

Columbus Crew signs Sebastian Berhalter
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The Columbus Crew have signed Sebastian Berhalter to a Homegrown Player deal.

The 19-year-old midfielder is the son of former Crew and current USMNT manager Gregg Berhalter.

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Sebastian played 17 times for the University of North Carolina as a freshman, starting nine of those games. He went 210 minutes in twin extra time matches to close UNC’s season.

Here’s Crew general manager Tim Bezbatchenko, via a team release:

“As a longtime member of the Crew SC Academy, Sebastian is someone who understands the values and ideology of our Club. We are happy to see him join the professional ranks after a successful year at the college level and look forward to his continued development with the Crew.”

Sebastian praised the role of his parents in his development in a video interview. Gregg was a UNC star in his college days before moving to Europe to play for PEC Zwolle, Crystal Palace, and Energie Cottbus amongst others.

“My parents have been very influential on my career,” said the player. “They’ve helped me so much. They’ve always stayed positive to me, but also pushed me in a good way and I cannot thank them enough.”

Sebastian repped the U.S. at the U-16 level. Could dad and he one day join Bob and Michael Bradley as father-son USMNT combos? That’s a long way off and presumes dad turns around the national team, but would be a remarkable achievement.

Manchester United triggers Bailly contract extension

Manchester United triggers Bailly contract extension
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Manchester United has picked up a two-year option on Eric Bailly‘s contract, according to Sky Sports.

The Red Devils now have the giant 25-year-old center back under wraps through the 2021/22 season.

Bailly is nearing full fitness after his latest injury setback, knee and ankle injuries costing him dozens of matches since arriving from Villarreal in 2016. He underwent knee surgery in late July.

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There’s little reason for United not to pick up the option, as Bailly could’ve left for free in the summer and the extension allows for a possible transfer fee.

That said, Bailly has been very good with healthy and in-form, especially in an exceptional debut season at Old Trafford. He has 34 caps for the Ivory Coast, and is nearing the prime age for a center back.

United visits Liverpool at 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday, and Bailly is not expected to play.

The center back may get a chance to get to know Bruno Fernandes, who is being tipped for a $77 million transfer. He likely won’t see Ashley Young, who’s arrived in Milan ahead of a transfer to Inter.

Report: Bruno Fernandes to Manchester United after Lisbon Derby

Manchester United lands Bruno Fernandes
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Bruno Fernandes may get his move.

The 25-year-old Sporting Lisbon midfielder wants a move to Manchester United, and Sky Sports is reporting that the two clubs are close to agreeing on a fee.

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The move will cost $56 million and could escalate to $77 million with incentives, and that it could happen as soon as the end of Friday’s derby between Sporting and Benfica.

From Sky Sports:

Part of the negotiations over a deal for Fernandes included Manchester United not wanting him to play in Friday’s game but the player and Sporting insist that he was going to play in order to say a proper goodbye to the club and the supporters.

United will be crossing its fingers over Fernandes’ health during the 4:15 p.m. ET kickoff is Lisbon.

Sporting is already 12 points off the Champions League places, and 16 off Benfica’s title pace.

Fernandes has been red hot for Sporting, notching 15 goals and 13 assists in 25 appearances, including five and three in five Europa League outings.

He scored 32 times with 18 assists in 2018/19, and could take United’s Top Four push to a whole new level.

Liverpool’s Klopp rips AFCON move, says FIFA needs to step in but won’t

Liverpool's Klopp rips AFCON move
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Jurgen Klopp is furious about Cameroon moving the Africa Cup of Nations to January 2021, something that would hinder the Reds’ likely title defense.

(No, Klopp is not counting his title chickens before they hatch, even if it’s a foregone conclusion).

Cameroon moved the tournament from summer to winter due to its climate, which seems like a decision that could’ve been made ages ago. The nation had hosting rights stripped away for the 2019 tournament, but will host in 2021.

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The Reds could be without Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Naby Keita for the better part of a month should Senegal, Guinea, and Egypt all qualify for the tournament. Joel Matip could be there with hosts Cameroon if the federation is successful in convincing him to return to the international fold.

Klopp went on a lengthy and mostly understandable diatribe against the move. We write mostly because there’s something lost in translation regarding the import of the tournament.

He’s upset at how it will tax his squad and how he keeps the players happy if he needs to add players just to deal with one month of the schedule.

“Do we really want to open this book? I couldn’t respect Africa Cup of Nations more than I do, I like it, I’ve watched it a lot. Difficult circumstances a lot of times,” Klopp said, via The Liverpool Echo. “It is another tournament, there are too many of them. Other thing is it doesn’t help African players. We won’t sell Naby, Mo or Sadio because of it but if we bring someone in, it affects the decision. Normal process. We have to think about that. Players aren’t asked. … FIFA, who should [step in] doesn’t look like being involved. It’s a strange situation. If we want lesser games they will say take less money. I will say, I am ready to do so. Yes.”

He continued.

“For us it’s a catastrophe, If we say (a player) can’t go, he’s suspended. How can the club who pay his salary not decide. If he’s injured and we say he cannot play for us, we have to send him to Africa so they can have a look. We don’t have any say. We just plan the route. These are all things that should not be like this. I speak about it now and no one will listen. The moaner from Liverpool again. It’s a complete waste of time. As long as nothing changes, I will keep saying it. It’s about the players, not me.”

Manchester City (Riyad Mahrez), Arsenal (Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang), and Leicester City (Wilfried Ndidi) are among the many clubs who could lose stars for a month.