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FIFA’s ‘white elephants’ warning after Morocco bid criticism

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FIFA issued its second rebuke inside a week to Morocco’s World Cup bid for questioning the fairness of the process while warning it does not want unsuitable “white elephant” stadiums built for the 2026 tournament.

The process has been designed to end the “secret and subjective decisions” of the past, FIFA said after its president, Gianni Infantino, received a letter from Morocco complaining that the governing body had imposed burdensome demands for technical criteria that the bids will be scored on.

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The protest is an indication of Morocco’s exasperation ahead of the June vote as it challenges a rival bid from North America, which already has the infrastructure to cope with the first World Cup to be held after the expansion from 32 to 48 finalists. Morocco, by contrast, has to build or renovate all 14 stadiums and up to 150 training grounds as part of a $15.8 billion project to host the nation’s biggest-ever sporting event.

Responding to Morocco’s concerns, FIFA told The Associated Press on Tuesday: “In order to avoid unsustainable bids … with the creation of `white elephants’ – something FIFA has been heavily criticized for in the past – the scoring system evaluates with objective criteria how meaningful and sustainable is the infrastructure presented in the bids.”

The role of FIFA’s bid inspectors has been strengthened in response to concerns in 2010 that FIFA’s executive committee voted for Russia and Qatar in the dual 2018 and 2022 hosting votes despite those countries being evaluated as the highest-risk contenders.

Voting this time will be expanded to the FIFA membership, with up to 207 federations eligible. The bidding nations cannot vote, including the North American trio of the United States, Mexico and Canada, who announced Tuesday that they had secured the support of Saudi Arabia.

The 2026 contest could see bids be declared ineligible before the FIFA Congress vote on June 13 if they are scored lowly by a task force. Morocco federation president Fouzi Lekjaa objected to Infantino that they only received details of the scoring system on March 14, two days before deadline to receive bid books. The rival bid, which would see the U.S. host 60 of the 80 games, said it received the details at the same time.

“As a matter of principle, the basis of the preparation of a bid should not be the scoring system for the technical evaluation but rather the requirements which FIFA has provided to the bidders in 2017 through the bidding and hosting requirements,” FIFA said, dismissing Morocco’s objections.

The technical evaluation will assess if bids meet minimum requirements over infrastructure, costs and revenue projections.

“Contrary to what the FRMF (the Moroccan federation federation) implies, the hosting requirements, which were clearly set in the bidding registration and other bidding/hosting documents provided in 2017, have not changed,” FIFA said. “The scoring system merely provides a methodology for evaluating and documenting the extent to which the bids submitted fulfil those requirements in certain key areas.”

Morocco said it will spend around $3 billion on stadiums and training grounds. The North American bid said it needs to spend $30 million-$40 million to install grass at stadiums, which don’t require any significant modification for the World Cup.

In correspondence with FIFA seen by the AP, Morocco expressed unhappiness that the population of host cities has be at least 25,000, airports must have the capacity for 60 million passengers a year and that the travel time from the airport to the city must be a maximum 90 minutes. A low score on those specific criteria would not see a bidder excluded, FIFA assured Morocco on Tuesday.

“A host city could still meet the minimum requirements for transport without meeting such an individual requirement on the location of the airport, in particular if other criteria are satisfied,” FIFA said.

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.

Bids must score at least a 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” that could see the bid disqualified by FIFA.

Morocco anticipates raising $785 million from 3.5 million tickets sold, while North America forecasts generating $2.1 billion from 5.8 million tickets. FIFA would also earn $300 million more from the North American broadcasters if the 2026 World Cup is played in the region under the terms of contracts already negotiated.

 

“As explained many times, the bidding process for the 2026 FIFA World Cup has been designed to evaluate the bids against objective criteria and so avoid a return to the secret and subjective decisions of the past,” FIFA said Tuesday.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

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

VIDEO: France stars projected onto Arc de Triomphe

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If France’s players had any doubt about the level of import their World Cup title had back home, it was erased when their photos were projected onto one of the most celebrated monuments in the world.

The photos of Hugo Lloris, Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann, and company made their way onto the Arc de Triomphe on Sunday, hours after France defeated Croatia 4-2 in the World Cup Final.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

The Arc de Triomphe honors those who died in the French Revolution and early 19th century wars, and sits above France’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.

How humbling must it be for those players to grace such a heavy monument (both in weight and substance).

Dalic: In one day, Croatia went from lucky to unlucky

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Ante Cacic’s Croatia was on pace to miss out on the World Cup.

Zlatko Dalic’s Croatia rallied the troops to second place in their qualifying group, a playoff defeat of Greece, and a run to the World Cup Final.

Pretty decent stuff.

[ MORE: FIFA awards Golden Ball, Golden Glove ]

And surely the 51-year-old will reflect on that, probably even this evening, but he’s more focused on a letdown after Sunday’s 4-2 loss to highly-favored France.

Key to the match was a penalty awarded to France when a partially-obscured Mario Mandzukic handled a ball inside the 18, leading to Antoine Griezmann’s pivotal goal.

The PK was awarded via VAR, and France went up 2-1 en route to a three-goal lead. From the AFP:

“I never comment on referees but in a World Cup final you do not give such a penalty,” said Dalic.

“It in no way diminishes France’s win. We were a bit unlucky. Maybe in the first six games we were favored by luck and today we weren’t.

“I have to congratulate my players. Maybe today we played our best game at these championships. Against such a strong side as France you must not make mistakes. We are a bit sad but we must also be proud of what we’ve done.”

Croatia had two-thirds of the ball and doubled France’s shot attempts, and Dalic isn’t the least bit controversial in wondering whether the match is much different if that penalty goes unawarded by referee Nestor Pitana.

Atlanta comes back to draw 10-man Seattle (video)

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A scrappy if not downright venomous affair between the lowly Seattle Sounders and high-flying Atlanta United ended in a 1-1 draw in Georgia on Sunday.

The Sounders went ahead through a Nicolas Lodeiro penalty kick, awarded via VAR a la this morning’s World Cup Final, but Atlanta leveled the score with a highlight which show every bit of the game story.

[ MORE: FIFA awards Golden Ball, Golden Glove ]

Just check Josef Martinez’s barking at Stefan Frei, who made an uncharacteristic error on the play, after his 19th goal of the season (Nice cross, Julian Gressel).

Martinez needs nine more goals to break the MLS single season record, and he has 13 games to score them.

Jordan McCrary was sent off for Seattle in the 63rd minute for a second yellow, but Seattle navigated the final half hour or so to scoop up an unlikely point.

Atlanta still sits first with its earned point but opens the door for New York City FC to reach the top of the table when it plays its match-in-hand, while Seattle is now 11 points back of the West’s final playoff spot.

Anderson arrives: Can Pellegrini unlock West Ham’s potential?

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West Ham United has sealed another impressive deal, adding $48 million winger Felipe Anderson from Lazio.

It’s a club record deal from the Irons, whose ambitions have been short-circuited in recent seasons by stop-start play under Slaven Bilic and David Moyes.

[ MORE: FIFA awards Golden Ball, Golden Glove ]

Now Manuel Pellegrini is in charge, and has made a series of purchases including Anderson, Andriy Yarmolenko, Issa Diop, and Jack Wilshere amongst others.

Anderson was fantastic for Lazio last season, though he was part of a loaded attack with Ciro Immobile, Luis Alberto, and Sergej Malinkovic-Savic.

Now the challenge is gelling quickly inside a short window. As we’ve seen in the past with markedly changed mid-table sides — see: Everton’s 2017-18 season — hitting the ground running is key.

Players have been convinced of West Ham’s ambition. Here’s the latest, Anderson, from WHUFC.com:

“West Ham is a club with a lot of tradition, lots of great players have played here, like Bobby Moore, Carlos Tevez and Di Canio. They were great players and idols here, and I’m aiming big, who knows, maybe I could hit their heights and be a legend here too.”

But turning that into on-field success and in-room culture has been a challenge. The move to London Stadium didn’t help, and managerial instability has been anything but a boon to the Irons. There have been plenty of self-inflicted wounds, too.

West Ham’s lineup could be frightening, even in the face of injuries to Andy Carroll (surprise!) and Winston Reid. But managing egos new and old is a challenge, which is why the Pellegrini hire could be a masterstroke.

Consider this possible XI from Pellegrini, who largely operated his Manchester City with a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-2 with two holding/defensive/deep-lying center midfielders (There have been rumors West Ham could sell Cheikhou Kouyate).

There are a lot of options for Pellegrini’s front four. Anderson and Yarmolenko both prefer right wing, while Arnautovic likes the left but has proven adept as a center forward if Pellegrini becomes the latest manager to eschew the idea of Javier Hernandez up top. Manuel Lanzini‘s injury does seem to put Wilshere in the No. 10 role.

Fabianski

Fredericks — Diop — Balbuena — Masuaku

Obiang — Kouyate

Anderson — Wilshere — Yarmolenko

Arnautovic

So the ingredients are there, with Aaron Cresswell, Pablo Zabaleta, and Jordan Hugill joining Chicharito in keeping training competitive.

But Pellegrini will have to navigate a culture that saw a seedy finish to the season, with protests and ugly incidents amongst supporters and players on the field in London.

And he does seem the man for the job. But if he can’t do it… well, stay tuned.