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European clubs push back at FIFA expansion plans

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ROME (AP) Europe’s soccer clubs are pushing back at the grand expansion plans of the sport’s governing bodies, calling for fewer matches, mandatory rest periods and alignment of confederation tournaments.

Presenting a streamlined agenda aimed at protecting players at its general assembly Tuesday, the European Club Association (ECA) wouldn’t even discuss FIFA’s proposal for an expanded Club World Cup in June 2021.

[ MORE: Pogba stars for France ]

“It is not about adding competition in this moment,” ECA president Andrea Agnelli said. “To us the priorities are addressing the calendar post-2024.”

Agnelli said the players, which he described as “the main actors,” must be respected.

“It’s ensuring that throughout the calendar players have the time to rest and/or train,” said Agnelli, who is also the president of six-time defending Italian champion Juventus.

“They’re playing week in, week out, two or three games a week, be it at club level or a national team level,” Agnelli added. “So when we think about the calendar going forward we must also take into consideration weeks when players can actually rest and/or train. So reducing the overall number of games.”

The Club World Cup is currently an annual competition held each December featuring seven teams. FIFA president Gianni Infantino would like to expand the competition to include 24 clubs and move it to June as a quadrennial event similar to the World Cup.

But June is when players’ and coaches’ contracts expire and generally a transitional period for clubs.

“There are many things around that but mainly we almost don’t know anything about it,” UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin told The Associated Press. “The stakeholders are not informed properly yet so it’s much too early to say anything.”

Ceferin added that he “doubts” the tournament could come together for 2021.

But Infantino isn’t giving up.

“The Club World Cup is a great competition already and we are discussing whether we can make it even greater,” Infantino said.

Among other topics discussed at the ECA assembly, which was attended by 163 clubs from across the continent:

VAR:

Already approved for this year’s World Cup in Russia, the video assistant referee (VAR) won’t be used in the Champions League until next season – at the earliest.

“It’s too soon for the Champions League to start this season. We are not ready, referees are not ready, fans are not ready,” Ceferin said. “It’s not the competition to have a trial.

“We will start training the referees and educating the fans and if everything goes fine it might happen next season,” the UEFA president added.

Agnelli, however, suggested that the VAR might not be included in the Champions League until the 2019-20 season.

Infantino, meanwhile, promoted the VAR amid controversies in domestic competitions where it has already been introduced.

“For the World Cup the referees will be trained, the VARs will be trained,” Infantino said. “We are looking very much forward to a World Cup which, thanks to the VAR, will be a little bit more transparent and just or fair.”

During this season’s trials in other cup competitions, a number of wrong decisions, delays and a lack of communication have left many critics wondering whether the VAR is worth it.

But Infantino said that testing has shown the VAR increases the accuracy of referees’ decisions from 93 to 99 percent.

“It’s not 100 percent so there is still work for all those who want to complain and maybe before if it was the fault of the referee it will (now) be the fault of the VAR,” he added.

2026 WORLD CUP

A day after bid dossiers were released from the North American and Morocco candidates, UEFA’s Ceferin reserved judgment on whether Morocco can spend $15.8 billion for construction work on new stadiums and training grounds.

“I don’t think that this task force group has finished their work yet,” Ceferin said, referring to FIFA’s April 17-19 visit to the North African nation.

Stadium infrastructure accounts for 35 percent of the evaluation score from the task force.

By contrast, the bid book for the joint candidacy by the United States, Mexico and Canada says it is the low-risk proposition since no infrastructure will be built for the first World Cup after the jump from 32 to 48 finalists.

While the dossiers were submitted to FIFA two weeks ago, Infantino claimed he hasn’t read them yet.

“I was here so I didn’t have the chance to look at them,” he said.

FINANCIAL FAIR PLAY 2.0

The ECA and UEFA have agreed on an update to the financial fair play rules beginning next season – subject to final approval by UEFA’s executive committee.

The new rules aim to expedite the investigation process by putting in place two new indicators: “a sustainable debt ratio” based on a club’s net debt and earnings and a maximum net transfer spending of 100 million euros ($124 million).

If one of the two indicators is breached, UEFA will immediately begin a preliminary investigation – which could drastically reduce the current process, which sometimes lasts up to 22 months.

The clubs rejected UEFA’s proposal of a luxury tax but promoted publishing the amounts paid to player agents.

AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Geneva contributed.

More AP soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Soccer

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf

6 clubs fined, risk FIFA transfer bans for debts to players

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ZURICH (AP) Clubs from Russia and Qatar are among six fined by FIFA and warned they risk one-year transfer bans for failing to settle debts to players.

[ MORE: Steffen to England? ]

FIFA says the clubs also face deductions of six league points if they fail to pay the debts in 30 to 90 days.

The clubs are: Kuban of Russia; Al Arabi and Al Kharaitiyat of Qatar; Zamalek of Egypt; Al Jazira of the United Arab Emirates; and Mersin Idman Yurdu of Turkey.

FIFA says all failed to comply with rulings by FIFA or the Court of Arbitration for Sport “to pay significant overdue amounts of money to players.”

They were fined between 15,000 and 30,000 Swiss francs ($15,000 and $30,000).

FIFA says national soccer federations face disciplinary cases if they fail to enforce the verdicts.

Premier League friendlies: Liverpool meets BVB; Everton in Portugal

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The Premier League is three weeks and one day from opening its 2018-19 slate, when Leicester City will visit Old Trafford for a Friday afternoon match with Manchester United.

The end of the World Cup has eyeballs trained on friendlies, with 19 Premier League teams doing work over the weekend.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

The International Champions Cup has a pair of matches on the docket.

Friday sees Pep Guardiola and Manchester City, sans many of their World Cup stars, mixing it up with Christian Pulisic and Borussia Dortmund in Chicago.

Then Sunday will see Borussia Dortmund switching gears and time zones, tangling with Liverpool in North Carolina as Pulisic renews acquaintances with old pal Jurgen Klopp.

Manchester United takes on San Jose on Sunday, two days after facing Club America.

Other marquee friendlies of the weekend include Bournemouth facing American back Shaq Moore and Levante on Friday, with Fulham hosting Lyon on Saturday, and Everton meeting Lille and Porto on consecutive Portuguese days Saturday and Sunday.

Friday

Bournemouth vs. Levante
Burnley vs. Macclesfield Town
Burnley vs. Curzon Ashton
Cardiff City vs Torquay
Manchester City vs. Borussia Dortmund (in Chicago)

Saturday

Brighton and Hove Albion vs. AFC Wimbledon
Crystal Palace vs. Oxford United
Everton vs. Lille
Fulham vs. Lyon
Huddersfield Town vs. Real Betis
Huddersfield Town vs. Roy-Weiss Essen or Werder Bremen
Leicester City vs. Notts County
Southampton vs. Derby County
Watford vs. Fortuna Dusseldorf
West Ham United vs. Preston North End

Sunday

Everton vs. Porto
Huddersfield Town vs. Darmstadt
Liverpool vs. Borussia Dortmund (in North Carolina)
Manchester United vs. San Jose Earthquakes (in Santa Clara)
Wolverhampton vs. TBD

Transfer rumor roundup: Japan, South Africa strikers to Premier League

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Percy Tau’s name isn’t yet widely known outside of South Africa, what with Bafana Bafana absent from the World Cup.

But the 24-year-old Mamelodi Sundowns winger may soon get to test his skills on a much bigger stage.

[ USMNT: More accolades for Pulisic ]

Tau, who has five goals in 12 caps, will reportedly join Brighton and Hove Albion in the Premier League if a medical goes well, with Sky Sports saying it’ll will be the biggest transfer fee yet for a South African Premier League player.


Yoshinori Muto could be bringing his 25 caps to the Premier League.

The 26-year-old striker made just one appearance at the World Cup, but has had a nice run with Mainz since joining from FC Tokyo. He’s bagged 23 goals in 71 appearances.

Bild report says there have been no formal offers for Muto, but that Newcastle United and West Ham are interested in the striker. Newcastle badly needs a striker, but West Ham has been spending money and Magpies owner Mike Ashley hasn’t green lit much in recent seasons.

Open Cup draw postponed as Portland protests LAFC win

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The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup draw is not going as planned, as the Portland Timbers protest the roster of victorious LAFC.

[ RECAP: Four USOC semifinalists minted ]

Philadelphia, Chicago, and Houston were the other sides to get a place in the final four teams.

LAFC’s victory had already been marred by Adama Diomande‘s claims of a racial slur hurled his way, and now their victory may be in question altogether as U.S. Soccer issued a press release saying Thursday’s scheduled draw was postponed.

From a U.S. Soccer press release:

The decision comes as a result of a protest filed by the Portland Timbers in relation to the number of foreign players fielded by Los Angeles Football Club during Wednesday night’s Quarterfinal at Banc of America Stadium in Los Angeles, Calif.

The rule says a maximum five players without green cards can be in the 18. Portland started only two Americans, Jeff Attinella and Zarek Valentin, but have green cards for many others and rules are rules.

Will the Timbers take a semifinal berth via protest?