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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?

[ MORE: MLS Weekend Preview ]

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

Willian confirms exit, thanks Chelsea fans ahead of rumored Arsenal move

Willian leaves Chelsea
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Willian’s new home may be less than eight miles from his old one; The Brazilian mega talent may not even need a new flat, but he’s definitely leaving Chelsea.

Arsenal is reportedly on the verge of seal the deal to bring Willian to the Emirates Stadium and the player announced his departure on his 32nd birthday.

The announcement comes one day after Chelsea’s confirmed exit from the UEFA Champions League, the Blues unable to overcome a mega deficit to Bayern Munich.

[ MORE: Premier League announces VAR, subs rules ]

“I am really grateful to the Chelsea fans for the affectionate way they welcomed me at Stamford Bridge and their support throughout my time at the club,” he wrote. “There was also criticism, which is normal, what is important though is that both the affection and criticism drove me to always give my all in every training session, every game, to be constantly improving until my very last minute in a Chelsea shirt!”

Twice-named Chelsea’s Players’ Player of the Year, Willian leaves West London with two Premier League titles, two FA Cups, a Europa League triumph, and a League Cup.

Willian has nine goals in 69 caps for Brazil, where the 32-year-old has become more of a super sub for the FIFA’s No. 3 ranked Selecao.

Arsenal’s young talent will learn plenty from Willian should the elderstatesman arrive to tutor the likes of Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli, Eddie Nketiah, and — to a certain extent — raw-but-real talent Nicolas Pepe, who is 25.

As for Chelsea, the club is content with Christian Pulisic, Hakim Ziyech, Mason Mount, and Callum Hudson-Odoi on the wings. Even if 2-3 of them underperform, the Blues have Timo Werner as a capable winger despite his status as a monster in the middle of a trident.

Frank Lampard’s going to enjoy his 2020-21, even though he’d clearly have enjoyed another year or two with Willian.

Bournemouth appoints Jason Tindall as Eddie Howe replacement

Bournemouth new manager
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There were questions as to how Bournemouth would address finding a replacement forr an institution after Eddie Howe left the club following the Cherries’ relegation from the Premier League.

Would Bournemouth go outside the box like they did with Howe the first time, hiring the 31-year-old following a stint as a player-coach and then youth coach at the club? Would they opt for a manager who’s led a club to Premier League promotion after relegation again? Or might it not be a big departure from the norm at all.

Meet the new boss. Familiar with the old boss.

[ MORE: Premier League announces VAR, subs rules ]

Bournemouth named Howe’s longtime No. 2, Alex Tindall, to lead the Cherries’ first ever bid to return to the Premier League following relegation.

Tindall is 14 days older than Howe and has assisted his former Bournemouth teammate since 2008: twice with the club and also during Howe’s year at Burnley.

:Given the success of the club over the last 12 years, with Eddie in charge and me by his side, I’m not going to come in and rip everything up and start again,” Howe said. “I would be a fool to do that. But I’m my own person with my own ideas and I will be looking to implement them as soon as we get back on the training ground.

“I know the Championship is a very tough league but my aim is to get this club back into the Premier League at the first time of asking. This is a challenge that I feel I’m ready for and one I’m looking forward to.”

This is intriguing and exciting for a club like Bournemouth, still steeping its top-level tradition after an impressive five Premier League seasons including a finish as high as ninth.

What will be most interesting is to see if Tindall can have more success arranging the defense. A former striker, Tindall takes the reins of a club which allowed 67, 67, 61, 70, and 65 goals in their five PL seasons. The club was a bit unlucky this year, scoring just 40 and underperforming expected goals scored and conceded.

Champions League, Europa League: How to watch, odds, start time, predictions

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The UEFA Champions League and Europa League action has resumed and I’m going to reveal my predictions for this next round as well as the latest odds for Europe’s top two continental tournaments.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

With Manchester City still in the Champions League and Manchester United and Wolves among the favorites to win the Europa League, there is a lot on the line for Premier League clubs in the coming weeks.

Just because the Premier League season is over, that doesn’t mean the action is over. Far from it. Both Manchester clubs are the bookmakers favorites to seal their respective European glory.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

In the next few days the Europa League and Champions League quarterfinals will take place as the mini tournaments begin.

Man City beat Real Madrid 4-2 on aggregate, while Chelsea lost Bayern 7-1 on aggregate as they crashed out of the Champions League. Man United and Wolves are both in the quarterfinals and favored to go far.

Lisbon, Portugal will host the Champions League games from the quarterfinal stage onwards, while the Europa League games will be hosted around Germany.

Below is a look at my predictions, the odds for the games this week and how to watch and follow all of the fixtures in the USA.


How to watch, stream Champions League and Europa League

Dates: August 5-23
Location: Quarterfinals onwards in Lisbon/Germany
How to watch: CBS Sports
Live updates: UCL here at NBCSports.com & Europa League here at NBCSports.com


JPW’s Champions League predictions

Quarterfinals (August 12-15)
Wednesday, August 12: Atalanta 2-3 PSG
Thursday, August 13: RB Leipzig 1-2 Atletico Madrid
Friday, August 14: Barcelona 1-3 Bayern Munich
Saturday, August 15: Manchester City 3-1 Lyon


JPW’s Europa League predictions

Quarterfinals (August 10-11)
Monday, August 10: Inter Milan 2-1 Bayer Leverkusen
Monday, August 10: Manchester United 3-1 Copenhagen
Tuesday, August 11: Wolves 1-2 Sevilla
Tuesday, August 11: Shakhtar Donetsk 1-2 Basel


Champions League betting odds

Quarterfinals (August 12-15)

(+210) Atalanta v. PSG (+117). Tie: +275
(+225) RB Leipzig v. Atletico Madrid (+135). Tie: +220
(+235) Barcelona v. Bayern Munich (+115). Tie: +255
(-305) Manchester City v. Lyon (+750). Tie: +450

Outright winner
Manchester City (+220)
Bayern Munich (+325)
Paris Saint-Germain (+500)
Atletico Madrid (+800)
Barcelona (+800)
Atalanta (+1000)
RB Leipzig (+1700)
Lyon (+3500)


Europa League betting odds

Quarterfinals (August 10-11)
(+112) Inter Milan v. Bayer Leverkusen (+240). Tie: +250
(-385) Manchester United v. Copenhagen (+1000). Tie: +480
(+235) Wolves v. Sevilla (+120). Tie: +230
(-106) Shakhtar Donetsk v. Basel (+290). Tie: +255

Outright winner
Manchester United (+180)
Inter Milan (+325)
Sevilla (+500)
Bayer Leverkusen (+650)
Wolves (+700)
Shakhtar Donetsk (+1100)
Basel (+2500)
Copenhagen (+6000)

Barcelona reach 13th straight Champions League quarterfinal

Barcelona - Napoli
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Barcelona – Napoli saw Lionel Messi and Co., book the eighth and final place in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals, by way of a 3-1 victory on the night (4-2 on aggregate) on Saturday.

[ MORE: Champions League predictions ]

It was, as it so often tends to be, Messi who shone brightest and stole the spotlight en route to Barca’s 13th straight Champions League quarterfinal appearance.

[ LIVE: Champions League schedule ]

Barca entered Saturday with the slimmest of advantages, knowing that a scoreless draw would see them through to the quarterfinals after grabbing a vital away goal in the first goal. Lyon knew that no matter what, they needed to score at least once or they would be out. That threat was reinforced, and strengthened, when Clement Lenglet headed the Blaugrana ahead in the 10th minute.

Messi slipped, Messi got back up, Messi slipped again, Messi got back up again, Messi rifled the ball inside the far post to score a(nother) fantastic solo goal and make it 2-0 (3-1) in the 23rd minute. It was only slightly more complicated than that for him (WATCH HERE). Messi put the ball in the back of the net again just a few minutes later, but the goal was taken off the board by way of a somewhat suspect handball decision upon video review.

Nonethless, that was just about that after Luis Suarez converted from the penalty spot early in first-half stoppage time. Messi won the penalty by sneaking around Kalidou Koulibaly and winning the ball in the blink of an eye, forcing the Senegalese center back to foul him on the edge of the box lest Messi walk in on goal for a virtual tap-in.

Lorenzo Insigne converted a penalty kick of his own a couple minutes later before the interval, but the threat level never peaked higher than a 2-out-of-10 for Barca.

Barca will face Bayern Munichin a sensationally mouth-watering, single-leg quarterfinal matchup next Friday.