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How video review could operate at the World Cup

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ZURICH (AP) Video review is going to help referees at the World Cup, bringing soccer’s biggest event into line with U.S. pro sports.

FIFA’s rule-making panel voted on Saturday to update the game’s 155-year-old laws and allow for video assistant referees (VAR).

It clears FIFA to adopt VAR for the World Cup in Russia at a meeting of its ruling council on March 16.

Trials in competitions worldwide, including top European leagues in Germany and Italy, have provoked controversies.

Reviews have been slower than promised – sometimes lasting minutes – and communication inside stadiums is often confusing.

Still, FIFA President Gianni Infantino believes soccer cannot ignore a chance to make more accurate decisions.

Here are some things to know about soccer’s embrace of high-tech help for referees:

WHEN CAN IT BE USED?

To correct “clear and obvious errors” and “serious missed incidents.”

This means incidents involving goals scored, the award of penalty kicks, red cards, and cases of referees showing cards to the wrong player.

FIFA focused on these four potential game-changing situations before live trials began in 2016.

The rules panel, known as IFAB, clarified the phrase “serious missed incidents” introduced on Saturday typically refers to violent off-the-ball clashes that were always open to review.

HOW DOES A REVIEW HAPPEN?

There is two-way communication between the referee on the field and the VAR, who is also a qualified referee and watches play in real-time and replays on a bank of television screens.

Referees can discreetly ask for an opinion, and a VAR can offer advice. Players, coaches and fans need not know an incident is being checked.

If an incident is formally reviewed, the referee should signal it on the field making the sign of a TV screen with his hands.

FIFA wants referees to let a phase of play continue before stopping the action for review.

If an offside is suspected, referee assistants are advised to delay raising their flag and let play unfold. A goal that stems from an offside position can be overruled, but a promising attack is lost if it was wrongly halted too soon.

The natural breaks in play after a goal is scored, a penalty kick is awarded, or a red card is shown, all allow VAR time to review the action.

WHO DECIDES?

FIFA and IFAB insist the referee on the field has ultimate authority which should not be compromised.

Therefore, the referee must have access to a TV screen near the touchline to personally review an incident.

This way, players will respect the referee for controlling his decision, FIFA refereeing chairman Pierluigi Collina said on Saturday.

MORE ACCURACY

FIFA says research from around 1,000 games in live trials shows that accuracy of decisions improved – from around 93 percent to 98.8 percent.

VAR has not entirely eliminated clear errors. However, FIFA-appointed researchers say they happen once in every 19 games instead of in every third game.

COMMUNICATING DECISIONS

Infantino acknowledged VAR “is not perfect” yet and a final protocol detailing how it should operate has not been published.

Communication between referees and teams, and to fans in stadiums, has been a problem in trials. Fans have often not known why reviews are called for, nor why they take so long.

Frustration has built because the flow of soccer also does not lend itself to review stoppages, nor can referees broadcast their decision.

FIFA knows it must give World Cup teams, fans and broadcasters more information.

However, it does not mean replaying incidents on stadium big screens during a review.

Instead, FIFA is working to publish messages quickly on the screens, technology innovations director Johannes Holzmueller said.

Only after the referee takes a final decision will a selected replay be broadcast in the stadium.

TECHNOLOGY SUPPLIERS

FIFA expects to sign contracts by mid-May with technology providers equipping the overall VAR system.

A control center for specialist VAR teams needs to be fitted out with hardware in Moscow, at the same base where international broadcasters will run their World Cup operations.

Holzmueller said a back-up room needs to be equipped at each of the 12 stadiums across Russia.

Around 15 companies have worked with FIFA in trials. A strong contender is the Hawk-Eye system from Britain widely used in tennis’ and soccer’s goal-line technology.

A separate contract will oversee communications directly linking referees to VARs. Software deals could focus on a specific detail such as on-screen graphics to calibrating the offside line.

AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

Valverde under pressure after dismal end to Barcelona’s season

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MADRID (AP) A couple of weeks ago, few questioned Ernesto Valverde as Barcelona coach.

The team had just won a second straight Spanish league title under his command and was close to making it to the Champions League final after beating Liverpool 3-0 in the first leg of the semifinals.

The team was also through to the Copa del Rey final, where it would try to win an unprecedented fifth straight title in the competition.

Valverde seemed to be comfortably in control as the club moved closer to winning the treble.

Things quickly took a turn for the worse, though, and Valverde woke up on Sunday under added pressure and facing increased criticism.

Barcelona lost 2-1 to Valencia in the Copa del Rey final on Saturday, a result that followed the disastrous elimination against Liverpool in the Champions League and added to the team’s woeful end to what had been a great season.

“A month ago we were celebrating the league title. Fifteen days ago we were thinking we had a chance at a treble,” Valverde said. “And we came up short in the decisive moments in both the Champions League and the Copa del Rey.”

The disappointing ending brought out a wave of criticism of Valverde, who last year also finished the season under a cloud after another humiliating Champions League elimination – that time it squandered a big first-leg lead against Roma in the tournament’s quarterfinals.

The criticism seems more pronounced this time, with some fans and local media calling for a change at the helm.

It didn’t take long after Barcelona’s loss to Valencia in Seville for club President Josep Bartomeu to come out and defend the coach.

“Ernesto has a contract and he remains the team’s coach,” Bartomeu said. “This loss was not the coach’s fault. The team created a lot of scoring chances but the ball didn’t go in, and what counts is how many times you score.”

Bartomeu had already defended Valverde after the demoralizing 4-0 loss to Liverpool in the Champions League, saying the club was not considering a change in command for next season.

Valverde said he was not worried and felt supported by the club despite the disappointing ending.

“It’s a bad feeling, we won’t deny it, but we have to stay strong,” he said. “What we want as coaches is to have a chance to come back. It’s tough to lose, it means something went wrong. We have to take the responsibility for it.”

Even if Valverde stays as expected, it doesn’t mean there won’t be changes for Barcelona.

Several players played below expectations this season, especially former Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho, who was regularly jeered by fans and whose place with the club remains uncertain.

Bartomeu will likely have to go shopping in the offseason to try to improve the supporting cast for Lionel Messi, who had a fantastic year but wasn’t able to save the season by himself. When Messi looked ordinary, no one was able to take over his role as protagonist, and it proved costly in the decisive moments.

Young midfielder Frenkie de Jong is joining from Ajax and he should significantly boost the midfield, but Barcelona will definitely need to add to its attack, as Luis Suarez was the only true striker who performed consistently well. He couldn’t play in the Copa final after undergoing knee surgery and his absence was felt as the team struggled to capitalize on its scoring chances.

Veteran Gerard Pique is set to return for another season in defense, but there are still doubts about the fitness of Samuel Umtiti, who missed several matches this season because of injuries.

“We’ve been thinking about next season for a while, but it’s not the time to discuss the future,” Bartomeu said. “We ended with the Spanish league title, it was important. We couldn’t win the Copa, but we’ll just move on.”

Suarez defends surgery decision after Barca lose Copa del Rey final

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Luis Suarez has defended himself from criticism for undergoing knee surgery that prevented him from playing for Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final.

The Uruguayan released a statement Sunday saying he had no option despite the timing of the final, which Barcelona lost 2-1 to Valencia on Saturday.

Suarez said he had to undergo surgery “against my will” after rupturing his meniscus against Liverpool in the Champions League semifinals.

He said the surgery earlier this month had nothing to do with a cartilage issue that he had been nursing since the beginning of the season.

Barcelona won the Spanish league but finished the season on a low after being eliminated by Liverpool in the Champions League and losing the Copa final to Valencia.

Suarez scored 25 goals in 49 matches this season, second only to Lionel Messi on the scoring charts for Barcelona.

U-20 WC roundup: Mexico hammered by Japan; Italy top Ecuador

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action at the U-20 World Cup in Poland…

[ MORE: USWNT wins final match before World Cup (video) ]

Mexico 0-3 Japan

Mexico’s heavy defeat at the hands of Japan means El Tri‘s stars of tomorrow, who have zero points from their first two games, cannot finish top-two in Group B and can only advance to the knockout rounds as one of four third-place teams.

Taisei Miyashiro (21st and 77th minutes) and Kyosuke Tagawa (52nd) bagged the goals on Sunday, as Japan picked up its first victory and set up an all-important finale with Italy to decide who finishes top of the group on Wednesday.

Ecuador 0-1 Italy

Andrea Pinamonti scored the only goal in Italy’s 1-0 victory over 10-man Ecuador to reach the six-point mark and guarantee themselves a top-two finish and a place in the round of 16.

Elsewhere in the U-20 World Cup

Senegal 2-0 Colombia [ HIGHLIGHTS ]
Poland 5-0 Tahiti [ HIGHLIGHTS ]

Monday’s U-20 World Cup schedule

Honduras v. Uruguay — 12 p.m. ET
Qatar v. Ukraine — 12 p.m. ET
USA v. Nigeria — 2:30 p.m. ET
Norway v. New Zealand — 2:30 p.m. ET

Serie A: Atalanta, Inter snatch UCL places on wild final day

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s final-day action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Chelsea, Real Madrid remain $38 million apart on Eden Hazard deal ]

Sampdoria (9th) 2-0 Juventus (1st)

With their eighth straight scudetto long since clinched, Juve slumped their way to the season’s finish line without a win in their final five games (three draws), including Sunday’s 2-0 loss away to Sampdoria. It was 0-0 for 83 minute, until Gregoire Defrel (84th) and Gianluca Caprari (91st) bagged late goals for the victory.

Atalanta (3rd) 3-1 Sassuolo (11th)

Atalanta completed their fairytale season and finished third in a hugely dramatic, chaotic way befitting their rapid rise to Champions League relevance. They finished 17th and avoided relegation by three points in 2015.

First, they fell behind when Domenico Berardi scored in the 19th minute. They were level by the 35 minute, thanks to Duvan Zapata’s equalizer. Then, things got weird.

Berardi was sent off during a massive skirmish between the two sides while leaving the field for halftime. With the score 1-1, and both Inter Milan and AC Milan ahead after 51 minutes, Atalanta were headed for a fifth-place finish.

Alejandro Gomez put Atalanta ahead three minutes later, though, and Mario Pasalic doubled the advantage in the 65th.

Inter Milan (4th) 2-1 Empoli (18th – relegated)

At that 51-minute mark, Keita Balde’s opening goal put Inter ahead of Empoli, but the visitors equalized in the 76th, briefly dropping them to fifth.

That lasted all of five minutes, as Radja Nainggolan put Luciano Spaletti’s side back in front, where they would finish the season. The top-four finished the day exactly as it began — Atalanta in 3rd and Inter Milan in 4th, each on 69 points.

SPAL (13th) 2-3 AC Milan (5th)

For those five glorious minutes, AC Milan were headed back to the Champions League for the first time since 2014, and were set to do so at the expense of their local rivals.

Finishing fourth, but behind Inter, would have been fine, but finishing fourth and ahead of Inter would have been a dreamland outcome. Alas, it’s a fifth-place finish on 68 points and another season in the Europa League for the Rossoneri.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Bologna (10th) 3-2 Napoli (2nd – Saturday)
Frosinone (19th – relegated) 0-0 Chievo (20th – relegated – Saturday)
Roma (6th) 2-1 Parma (14th)
Torino (7th) 3-1 Lazio (8th)
Cagliari (15th) 1-2 Udinese (12th)
Fiorentina (16th) 0-0 Genoa (17th)