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Soccer corruption trial continues as FIFA gathers in Russia

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When soccer officials gather this week in Russia for the World Cup draw, some will have a wary eye on reports from a New York courtroom.

FIFA leaders will be joined by delegations from 32 World Cup teams as guests of President Vladimir Putin on Friday evening in Moscow. They await the match schedule of soccer’s greatest event, which kicks off next June.

At the same time as a one-hour show in Putin’s presence at the State Kremlin Palace, it will be Friday morning in Brooklyn, and the third week of testimony draws to a close in a soccer corruption trial already revealing more secrets and alleged criminality of officials linked to FIFA.

The integrity of Russia’s World Cup bid has been questioned since a widely discredited FIFA executive committee voted in 2010, though its name is all-but absent so far in court. The 2022 World Cup host Qatar, however, has kept cropping up in each of the first two weeks, even though the three South American former soccer leaders on trial did not vote in FIFA’s double choice.

Here is a look at the current talking points in the trial:

ON TRIAL

The three men deny charges they took part in a 24-year scheme involving at least $200 million in bribes paid by marketing firms in exchange for lucrative broadcasting rights for prestigious tournaments. They are:

– Jose Maria Marin (Brazil): Former president of the Brazilian soccer federation arrested in a raid on a hotel in Zurich on the May 2015 day that shook FIFA.

– Juan Angel Napout (Paraguay): Arrested in a second wave at the same luxury hotel in December 2015. As the FIFA vice president for South America, Napout was portraying himself as an agent of anti-corruption reform before being indicted.

– Manuel Burga (Peru): Former Peruvian soccer federation president and below the top-tier of South Americans who had influence at FIFA. Also indicted in December 2015, and arrested in his native Peru.

PROSECUTION WITNESSES

The star witness in the first week in court was also among the first indicted people in May 2015: Alejandro Burzaco, the former head of an Argentine sports marketing company, pleaded guilty to get a reduced sentence.

In the second week, two prosecution witnesses testified in deals to avoid prosecution.

Santiago Pena worked for Argentina-based Full Play Group, which held marketing rights to South American qualifying games for the World Cup, the Copa America and Copa Libertadores tournaments. His bosses, father and son Hugo and Mariano Jinkis, were indicted in May 2015. They have avoided extradition to the U.S., and Pena said they remain in Argentina.

Jose Luis Chiriboga is a soccer agent who admitted laundering $2.8 million for his father, former Ecuador soccer federation president Luis Chiriboga. He was convicted of money laundering last year in his home country. Jose Luis Chiriboga said he forfeited a $400,000 Miami apartment in his non-prosecution deal.

2022 WORLD CUP

Pena said his Full Play bosses asked him to keep a ledger of off-the-books payments to soccer officials, including South American soccer federation presidents. Two payments Pena said were labeled “Q2022” – an apparent but unexplained reference to World Cup host Qatar.

A $750,000 payment went to Rafael Esquivel, the former Venezuelan soccer leader. Esquivel was arrested in Zurich in May 2015, and has pleaded guilty to various conspiracy charges.

Another “Q2022” payment was for $500,000 to Luis Chiriboga. Neither had a vote when FIFA picked World Cup hosts.

QATARI PERSON OF INTEREST

It is a difficult season for Qatari soccer and television executive Nasser Al-Khelaifi, even as the French club he presides over, Paris Saint-Germain, emerges as a Champions League contender.

Last week, Al-Khelaifi’s role in a Qatar-backed potential deal to buy a majority stake in Full Play was detailed. The deal was dropped in May 2015 when Full Play’s controlling partners were indicted.

In October, Swiss federal prosecutors unsealed a criminal proceeding against Al-Khelaifi for suspected bribery linked to Qatar-owned beIN Media Group’s agreement with FIFA for some 2026 and 2030 World Cup broadcast rights. He denied wrongdoing and was later questioned about allegedly providing an Italian luxury villa for a top FIFA official to use.

Pena testified that lengthy negotiations involved Al-Khelaifi and Qatar Sports Investments, the sovereign wealth fund which owns Paris Saint-Germain. It was called the “New York project,” because a 51 percent stake was valued at $212 million, the same three digits as the New York City telephone code.

QSI confirmed the talks, saying it was one of many such deals it evaluated that did not happen.

NIKE TALKS

Another potential Full Play deal lapsed in May 2015 involving Nike and rights to provide kits for Chile’s national team, Pena testified. He said the agreement would have included payments for soccer officials.

CAR BRANDS CODE

Corrupt South American soccer officials were given code names of car manufacturers in the Full Play ledge of payments, witness Pena said of his Excel spread sheets.

Napout was “Honda” and his fellow defendant Burga was “Fiat.” “VW” was the tag for Carlos Chavez of Bolivia

A former Beatle also came up in testimony. Pena testified that more than $10,000 was deducted from an amount owed to Napout in 2010 as credit for Paul McCartney concert tickets provided to him.

Status of FIFA cases: https://www.justice.gov/usao-edny/file/799016/download

More AP FIFA coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/FIFA

Liverpool – Arsenal: How to watch, updates, odds

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Liverpool – Arsenal: Two heavyweights clash at Anfield on Monday (Watch live at 3pm ET online via Peacock) as both team have a perfect record with two wins from two so far.

Heading to half time Liverpool lead 2-1 as Alexandre Lacazette’s opener was canceled out by Sadio Mane and Andy Robertson.

STREAM LIVE LIVERPOOL – ARSENAL

Reigning champions Liverpool have perhaps been more impressive as they’ve beaten upstarts Leeds United and then Chelsea, while Arsenal eased past Fulham but struggled past West Ham.

[ MORE: ProSoccerTalk unfiltered, Week 2 ]

When it comes to Jurgen Klopp and Mikel Arteta, their playing philosophy as managers could not be more different as Arsenal beat Liverpool on penalties at Wembley to win the Community Shield last month.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of a massive early-season clash as Arsenal look to put down a marker.


Team news (INJURY REPORT)

Liverpool have center back Joe Gomez back fit after he missed the win at Chelsea last weekend, while this game will come too soon for fellow defender Joel Matip and captain Jordan Henderson is also not fit to feature. Thiago Alcantara is not in the squad due to an minor injury, while new signing Diogo Jota is on the bench.

Arsenal have Kieran Tierney back fit for this game, which is a big boost. Gabriel, Bukayo Saka, Dani Ceballos and Sead Kolasinac all drop to the bench as Tierney, Mohamed Elneny, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and David Luiz start. Pablo Mari, Calum Chambers, Gabriel Martinelli and Shkodran Mustafi all remain out injured.


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Understandably Liverpool are the heavy favorites (-210) given their long unbeaten home record at Anfield. That said Arsenal (+520) do seem a high price after they beat Liverpool during ‘Project Restart’ and also in the Community Shield final. The draw at +360 is intriguing and the value perhaps lies there.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Liverpool – Arsenal prediction

Arsenal have a lot more grit under Arteta and they ware capable of bending but not breaking. This is a huge test for them, though, and Gabriel against the fluid front three of Salah, Firmino and Mane will be his biggest test yet. Arsenal have the attackers to make the most of any more slack defending from Liverpool but I expect Klopp’s side to have just too much in midfield and attack. Liverpool 2-1 Arsenal.


How to watch Liverpool – Arsenal stream and start time

Kickoff: 3pm ET Monday
TV Channel: Peacock
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Aston Villa hammer sloppy Fulham

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Fulham – Aston Villa was ridiculously one-sided as Villa won 3-0 and barely got out of second gear at Craven Cottage.

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Early goals from Jack Grealish and Connor Hourihane set Villa on their way and Tyrone Mings sealed the win early in the second half.

Fulham were woeful defensively from start to finish as they’ve now lost all three of their games back in the Premier League and have conceded 10 goals in the process. Villa have won both of their opening games without conceding.


3 things we learned: Fulham – Aston Villa

1. Fulham’s defense all over the place: Denis Odoi, Tim Ream and Michael Hector were the center backs in a three-man central defense and Fulham were all over the place. Players were all pointing at one another and nobody seemed to know what was going on. Scott Parker was distraught on the sidelines as Fulham are making the exact same defensive mistakes which saw them relegated in 2018-19. Their transfer policy has been different this time around but the way Fulham are playing is eerily similar. Obviously, they cannot keep conceding three goals a game.

2. Grealish dazzles as Watkins gives Villa new dimension: What more can we say about Grealish? After signing a new long-term contract at Villa he seems to be playing with the weight of expectation on his shoulders, just like he did at the end of last season. With Ollie Watkins (who deserved a goal and went close on multiple occasions) stretching the Fulham back line, that allowed Grealish, John McGinn and others plenty of space to operate it. They made the most of it.

3. Mitrovic will get chances: Even though Fulham looked awful at the back, they whipped in some great crosses from the flanks and Mitrovic, as always, was a handful. At some point Fulham will be better going for it in games and winning 3-2 and 4-3. They have more of a chance of staying in the Premier League if they attack compared to trying to sit back deeper and being more defensive.

Man of the Match: Jack Grealish – Scored early, involved in the second and always a threat. Odoi will be having many a nightmare about Grealish.


Aston Villa got off to the best possible start as a lovely ball over the top from John McGinn found Grealish and he dinked the ball past Areola and in.

Fulham’s defense was totally caught out as Parker seethed in his technical area and soon he was even angrier. Watkins played in Grealish down the left and he played it to McGinn who tapped the ball to Hourihane to slot home and make it 2-0.

The hosts got the ball wide on plenty of occasions and whipped crosses in for Mitrovic but Villa dealt with that threat easily and always looked dangerous when going forward. Watkins wasted a few good chances.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

At the start of the second half Villa went 3-0 up as Mings timed his run to perfection to prod home a free kick as Fulham’s defending was once again all over the place.

McGinn was denied by Areola as Villa were cutting through Fulham like a knife through hot butter time and time again.

It looked like Fulham were handed a path back into the game as Emiliano Martinez dropped a cross and Decordova Reid tapped home but VAR was used as Mitrovic pushed Ezri Konsa as the ball came in.

Grealish missed a good chance as Villa continued to create openings with Mings also going close and Joe Bryan clipped the crossbar at the other end as Martinez pulled off a good save.

Fulham – Aston Villa: How to watch, start time, team news, prediction, odds

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Fulham – Aston Villa: How early is too early to call a game “must-win” in the Premier League? Perhaps we will find out on Monday (Watch live at 12:45 pm ET, online via Peacock), when bottom-of-the-table Fulham host Aston Villa at Craven Cottage.

FULHAM – ASTON VILLA STREAM LIVE

Scott Parker’s side has had a torrid start to life back in the PL — not at all dissimilar to the way their last stint ended — and find themselves with zero points and seven goals conceded after their first two games. Losing 3-0 to Arsenal on the opening day of the season wasn’t altogether surprising, but following that defeat with four more goals conceded to Leeds United last weekend will undoubtedly have done a number on the Cottagers’ confidence.

Villa, on the other hand, have played just once and secured a 1-0 victory over Sheffield United earlier this week. A win on Monday would see Dean Smith’s side start the season with back-to-back PL victories for the first time since the 1999-2000 season.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Here is everything you need to know ahead of Fulham – Aston Villa this Monday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: Fulham – Aston Villa (INJURY REPORT)

Fulham – No injuries or suspensions

Scott Parker makes three changes as Tom Cairney, Tim Ream and Bobby Decordova-Reid start.

Aston Villa – OUT: Bjorn Engels (thigh), Tom Heaton (knee), Wesley (knee), Ahmed Elmohamady (thigh)

Villa are unchanged from the team which beat Sheffield United last time out.


What they’re saying: Fulham – Aston Villa

Scott Parker, on a “must-win” game: “I don’t see it as drastic as a must-win. We want to win. I know it’s either high or low in a drastic world, but we need to stay level and take realism of where we are in the campaign and where we are as a team. We will try everything we can to take some points and be up to the challenge. I don’t think we’re the only team at this present moment in time who have let in some goals in the first two games. It’s not ideal, of course not. Villa at home on Monday is a game we’re going to try to get three points.”

Dean Smith, on needing another signing: “We’re always looking in the market, we’re probably one short in the squad at the moment so we’ll keep looking at that. I think there’s seven days left until the window shuts internationally, another seven days domestically. Our sporting director at the moment has got his finger on the pulse, hopefully we might get one more in and maybe a couple more out.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

This one is just about a coin flip with Fulham (+185) ever so slight underdogs to Villa (+150). In a game that could go either way like this one, the draw (+225) might just be the safe middle ground.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Prediction: Fulham – Aston Villa

There’s not much to separate these two sides right now, and there likely won’t be much ground between them come the season’s final table. There should be a few goals, but that’ll be more down to poor defending than excellent attacking quality from either side. Fulham 2-2 Villa.


How to watch Fulham – Aston Villa stream and start time

Kickoff: 12:45 pm ET Monday
Online: Stream via Peacock

Transfer news: Kante to Man United; Dest to Barcelona

Kante to Manchester United
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In the latest transfer news N’Golo Kante to Manchester United is reported, while USMNT right back Sergino Dest to Barcelona is almost complete.

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Let’s take a look at some of the latest juicy rumors as we’re in the final week of the transfer window.


Kante to Manchester United couldn’t really happen… could it!?

N’Golo Kante is still among the finest holding midfielders in the world, which is why this report from the Daily Mirror seems particularly outlandish.

That said, Kante, 29, has been linked with a move away from Chelsea for most of this transfer window as the French central midfielder continues to be a man in demand. Per the report, Kante would have to take a pay-cut on his $385,000 per week wages.

Frank Lampard and Chelsea know that Kante’s value is extremely high, on and off the pitch, right now and they will also know his value may be at its peak. At times over the last 12 months he hasn’t quite been himself but he’s still been consistently excellent.

Is it time for Chelsea to cash in on Kante to help offset their incredible $300 million spending spree this summer?

Pretty much everyone who watches Chelsea knows this would be a bad idea. If you think Chelsea’s defending has been bad, think how bad it will be without Kante plugging as many gaps as he can in front of the defense. Chelsea fans everywhere are shuddering right now.

Kante to Manchester United would make sense for the Red Devils who still look badly imbalanced and need a destructive holding midfielder to get their dangerous attacking quartet of Rashford, Greenwood, Martial and Fernandes in the game more.

We would all be extremely surprised if Chelsea sell Kante to a direct rival, but stranger things have happened.

Sergino Dest to Barcelona almost complete

USMNT right back Sergino Dest to Barcelona is edging closer as the Dutch-American defender is said to have agreed personal terms with Barca.

Dest, 19, was chased by both Bayern Munich and Barcelona but his chosen the latter after Ajax agreed a $26.7 million fee with Barcelona.

Per a report from Sky Italy, Dest has agreed a five-year contract at Barcelona and will travel to Spain to complete the deal.

With Nelson Semedo sold to Wolves, Barcelona need a new right back and new head coach Ronald Koeman looks set to make Dest the first signing he has chosen. While manager of the Dutch national team Koeman wanted Dest to switch allegiances from the USMNT but he stuck with the nation he has played for throughout his youth international career despite being born in the Netherlands.

Dest will get plenty of opportunities to play at Barcelona and it will be intriguing to track his development.