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Morocco bid to stay in 2026 World Cup contest vs Americans

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FIFA struggles to move on from the most tainted chapter in its history, even as it attempts to award another World Cup.

With less than three months to go until the host of the 2026 World Cup is decided, FIFA is still assessing allegations of skullduggery around the voting more than seven years ago for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments.

Can the expedited contest between North America and Morocco really be bulletproof, free of scandal, as soccer’s governing body promises?

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There’s intrigue around a process that could see FIFA disqualify a bid before the June vote if it can’t meet the requirements for the first World Cup after the leap from 32 to 48 competing teams.

Morocco’s stadiums require significant upgrades to get close to matching the infrastructure boasted by the North Americans, whose bid includes 16 NFL venues awash in the luxury seating required by FIFA.

But if Morocco is not struck off by a FIFA task force lacking true independence, the vote could be closer than anticipated in part due to new procedures intended to signal a break from the secrecy of the past.

Not only is the decision open to every soccer nation, rather than just the ruling executive that had chosen the World Cup sites from 1986-2022, but each vote is set to be published. That exposes officials to potential intimidation.

The voting regulations will be finalized by the FIFA Council on Friday, just as the bid books are submitted.

Bid bureaucrats will hand over the host city contracts, financial estimates and stadium proposals – rather than star footballers- reflecting a campaign shorn of the razzmatazz witnessed in the buildup to the 2010 votes won by Russia and Qatar.

THE CAMPAIGN

The United States-led bid, which includes Canada and Mexico as minority partners, hoped to be awarded the hosting rights to one of the biggest events in sports without facing a challenge.

The FIFA Council had other ideas at a meeting last May, giving Morocco a chance to prevent a coronation.

But while the Americans opened their official campaign in April, the Moroccans did not launch theirs in public until January.

Morocco’s bid has been cloaked in secrecy: the international communications team declined to send The Associated Press a copy of the media pack being distributed domestically.

It contained no specific details on the construction requirements and mis-states that 17 people were wounded, rather than killed, in a 2011 Marrakesh bombing in a section seeking to offer assurances on safety.

While the U.S. hosted the World Cup in 1994 before failing to land 2022, Morocco has been unsuccessful four times.

Moroccan officials express irritation when pressed on bribery allegations surrounding its 2010 World Cup campaign that form part of ongoing criminal proceedings in the United States.

Morocco will be hoping the American investigations into FIFA deter voters from taking the World Cup to a country so determined to expose wrongdoing within soccer. Inflammatory comments by U.S. President Donald Trump that have offended parts of the world could also work in Morocco’s favor.

FIFA has faced criticism from the home city of the U.S. Soccer Federation. Chicago refused to sign up to the bid because it believed the tax and legal provisions required pose a risk to the city and shareholders.

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THE PROPOSITION

The bids offer distinctive proposals. Is FIFA in the mood for another gamble?

Morocco poses more logistical challenges and risks for FIFA, which will be coming off a complex tournament in Qatar in 2022.

There’s significant building work required to upgrade stadiums. The largest venue, in Casablanca, has a capacity of 67,000, whereas FIFA will want a venue with at least 80,000 seats for the opening game and final. Only five other stadiums have a capacity in excess of 40,000.

North America is the easy option. The U.S. would host 60 games in venues requiring only minor construction work, such as hospitality and media facilities, and is touting three stadiums with more than 87,000 seats.

Canada and Mexico, which has the 87,523-capacity Azteca Stadium, will settle for 10 matches each up to the round of 16.

North America will be hoping voters are dazzled by its financial proposition. It’s certainly more favorable for FIFA, which is trying to return to profitability after being hit by the cost of corruption scandals, and the governing body could secure more funds to redistribute to member nations.

FIFA would earn $300 million more from the North American broadcasters if the 2026 World Cup is played in the region under the terms of contracts negotiated to stave off legal action for shifting the dates of the 2022 tournament in Qatar to November, where it overlaps the NFL and college football seasons.

FIFA’S TAKE

As chief commercial officer at FIFA, Philippe Le Floc’h is responsible for replenishing coffers. That largely requires squeezing cash out of corporate sponsors and maximizing television revenue.

With 48 teams and 80 games to accommodate for the first time, Le Floc’h pointed out “the size and the magnitude” of North America’s proposition helps.

“It would have some commercial attraction,” Le Floc’h said. “It has got infrastructure. They have got massive stadiums because they are used for American Football. So on the pure hospitality point, potentially, we might have more revenues.”

Remaining publicly impartial, Le Floc’h highlighted how Morocco is in “the perfect time zone for Europe and Asia” television audiences.

“There are other ways to generate revenues,” he said, “and the time zone in Morocco could help us.”

TASK FORCE

In 2010, the now-discredited FIFA executive committee all but ignored the FIFA-produced technical reports that identified Russia and Qatar as the highest-risk bids among nine candidates.

Now a restyled five-man task force, dominated by European officials, will make inspection visits, then grade and score the bids.

Those marks could play a key role in the contest.

Since the panel includes FIFA’s deputy general secretaries – Zvonimir Boban of Croatia and Marco Villiger of Switzerland – it could prove highly contentious if a bid is disqualified. FIFA’s Council must approve the verdict of the task force before the Congress votes.

SCORING THE BIDS

Infrastructure, of which half relates to stadiums, accounts for 70 percent of the panel’s mark. The remaining 30 percent is based on projected costs and revenues.

“The scores have a bearing on whether or not a bid qualifies for the next stage of the bidding process, with bids shortlisted by the FIFA Council,” according to FIFA.

In a scoring system of 0 to 5 – where 0 means is “no requirements met/very weak” and 5 is “requirements exceeded/excellent” – a bid must average a total of 2, or “minimum requirements met/sufficient,” to be approved ahead of the vote.

In addition, bids must score at least 2 for the individual aspects of stadiums, teams and referee facilities, plus accommodation and transport links.

Failure to score 2 from the task force means a bid “has been evaluated as `high risk’ and represents a material failure,” a FIFA bid regulations document states, whereupon “FIFA shall terminate this Bidding Registration.”

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VOTING

Up to 207 of the 211 member federations will vote on June 13 in Moscow, with the four bidding members excluded.

In aiming for transparency, FIFA’s pledge to publish the choice of each member could affect the voting. The secret ballot in presidential elections allows members to vote freely and defy orders from regional or continental leaders.

Sepp Blatter was president when FIFA last voted on men’s World Cup hosts. While championing Morocco, Blatter questions whether it can count on all 53 votes from Africa.

“Africa is not always united,” Blatter said. But he believes the Americans are “afraid … and give the impression that they are not any longer very sure that they will win.”

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

Watch Live: Six Premier League games at 10am

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Six Premier League games are live at 10 a.m. ET with Arsenal and Man City in action, and you can watch every single game live online as some huge clashes are set up across the table.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ] 

Southampton host Wolves, Aston Villa travel to Brighton, Man City host Crystal Palace, Bournemouth and Norwich square off in a relegation six-pointer, West Ham host Everton and Sheffield United travel to Arsenal.

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You can access additional games by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold which also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: “Goal Rush” here ]

For those of you familiar with the Premier League Breakaway Show during busy days (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Championship Sunday etc.) in the PL, this will follow that model of being similar to the NFL RedZone with action shown from all of the games in the 10 a.m. ET window. More info is available here.

The schedule for the six games at 10 a.m. ET is below and you can stream each game live by clicking on the links.


10 a.m. ET: Arsenal v. Sheffield United – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Brighton v. Aston Villa – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Man City v. Crystal Palace – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Norwich v. Bournemouth – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Southampton v. Wolves – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: West Ham v. Everton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

Watford, Tottenham in stalemate

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Watford and Tottenham Hotspur drew 0-0 at Vicarage Road on Saturday as Paulo Gazzaniga saved Troy Deeney‘s penalty kick.

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Both teams had big chances to win it in a scrappy, feisty game but Nigel Pearson and Jose Mourinho both seemed fairly happy with a point at the final whistle.

With the point Watford move two points clear of the relegation zone on 23 points, while Spurs are eight points off the top four.


3 things we learned

1. Spurs not able without Kane: Tottenham didn’t muster a shot on target in the second half and they lacked cutting edge in attack. There were plenty of nice touches from Lamela, Dele Alli and Son but you didn’t feel like a goal was inevitable when they attacked. That is because Harry Kane is out injured and Spurs have now gone three Premier League games without a goal and Kane has missed two and a bit of those. That is no coincidence. Mourinho will now be knocking on Daniel Levy’s door to bring in a new striker in January to bolster his lackluster attack.

2. Watford steady but miss big chance: They are unbeaten in their last six games in the Premier League, the first time they’ve ever done that, but Pearson and Watford will be feeling a little miffed they didn’t make it four wins on the trot. Deeney’s missed penalty kick was the big moment but Watford hung in there, battled hard and although they didn’t create too many clear cut chances, they looked solid and steady. Watford play Villa, Everton and Brighton in their next three ahead of a really tough run of games so they need to get points on the board as quick as they can while they’re in this good form.

3. Tottenham’s defense still shaky: Don’t let the clean sheet fool you. Tottenham were still all over the place at the back. Vertonghen gave away a penalty kick, Alderweireld was bullied by Deeney and their full backs had a tough time locking down Ismaila Sarr and Gerard Deulofeu. With Kane out and goals hard to come by Mourinho will need to rely on his defense to keep plenty of clean sheets if they’re going to have any chance of finishing in the top four or going deep in the Champions League. He won’t be holding his breath.

Man of the Match: Ismaila Sarr – Could be a big blow for for Watford as he seemed to pull his hamstring late on, as the Senegal winger gave Tanganga a torrid outing. His pace, power and clever passing and crosses caused Tottenham problems.


Early on Lucas Moura called for a penalty kick for a handball on Craig Cathcart but played continued and Gerard Deulofeu broke free but his shot was just wide.

Spurs started brightly and looked dangerous through Son but Watford were also a threat on the counter once they got going as Ismaila Sarr blazed over from a good position.

Son’s deflected shot was well saved by Foster and the game turned into an edgy, disjointed affair with plenty of yellow cards dished out.

Dele Alli then did brilliant to play in Moura but Foster saved well as Tottenham’s front four were looking bright and interchanging well as Son smashed a shot over.

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Both teams had big chances after the break as Doucoure was played in by Sarr but couldn’t convert, then Dele Alli nodded Son’s superb cross over the bar. Troy Deeney’s shot was deflected wide as the game turned into an open encounter.

Given the touchy nature of the game it was inevitable a melee would break out at one point as Doucoure and Winks were both booked for their part in a large scuffle between both sets of players.

Son then raced clear but smashed over the bar from a tight angle but Watford then passed up a glorious chance to go ahead. Jan Vertonghen was booked for a handball when blocking Gerard Deulofeu’s shot and after a VAR check confirmed the penalty kick, Gazzaniga saved Deeney’s spot kick to keep the scores level.

Sarr pulled up injured which will be a big worry for Watford but Ignacio Pussetto came on to make his Premier League debut and made a big contribution.

Late on Spurs created a couple of half chances as Lamela couldn’t bundle the ball over the line twice, with Pussetto the hero as he cleared, as Watford held on for a point.

Klopp hits out at Man United’s style of play

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Liverpool host Manchester United this Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as the Premier League leaders welcome their bitter rivals to Anfield.

This will be feisty, on and off the pitch, as United hope to put a spanner in the works of Liverpool’s procession towards the 2019-20 Premier League title.

These comments from Jurgen Klopp about Man United’s counter-attacking style of play could spice things up in the dugout too.

“It’s strange when you play against a high, high quality team as United still are, and they play the way they play,” Klopp said. “It makes life really difficult. We had it with Tottenham. That’s not normal, how can you expect that? On the other side the counter attacks are of the highest level in the world.

“I don’t say they only counter attack but it’s a main thing they do. People may want to see that as criticism, it’s not, but it’s just a description of the situation that makes life for us more difficult.”

With Liverpool 14 points clear at the top of the Premier League table, now is a good time for Klopp to tell other teams how they should be playing. That is what he is doing here.

Liverpool’s style is absorbing and easy on the eye. Their high-pressing and speedy attack sees them swarm over teams and totally involve their fans and it is fun to watch. Man United this weekend, and Spurs last weekend, know they can’t match Liverpool’s well-oiled, blood and thunder machine so they sit back and counter. And that can be almost as exciting when it’s right.

Can you blame opposing teams for playing this way against Liverpool? No. But what Klopp is trying to do here is suggest that the quality of players United and Spurs possess means they should be more ambitious and on the front foot rather than playing on the counter. What a rascal.

Klopp isn’t quite stirring things up but from a position of strength he is lending his view on the tactics of other teams and what he would do if he was in charge of them.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer won’t change his plan against Liverpool. Everybody wants to play like Liverpool but Man United have a different style and that worked well to nullify Liverpool’s threat in their 1-1 draw at Old Trafford earlier this season. With Marcus Rashford a major doubt that will be tough to replicate on Sunday but as Klopp’s Liverpool go all out for the win, United will happy to sit back and counter.

Watch Live: Watford v. Tottenham

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Watford host Tottenham Hotspur at Vicarage Road on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as the Hornet aim to stay red hot and out of the relegation zone.

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New manager Nigel Pearson has won four of his first six games in charge of Watford, including the last three on the trot, and they have dragged themselves out of the bottom three for the first time this season.

As for Spurs and Jose Mourinho, he’d love form like that as they continue to struggled without the injured Harry Kane and have gone three games without a win in the Premier League. Tottenham are nine points off the top four heading into this game.

In team news Watford are unchanged from the win at Bournemouth.

Spurs start Erik Lamela, Giovani Lo Celso and Heung-Min Son in support of Lucas Moura, while Japhet Tanganga starts once again. New signing Gedson Fernandes is on the bench.

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