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Prospect of 2022 Qatar World Cup jumping to 48 teams fading

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MOSCOW (AP) — The prospect of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar growing to 48 teams faded Sunday after a discussion of the thorny issue was pulled from the agenda for FIFA’s annual congress.

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Plans for a feasibility study were put on hold after Qatar World Cup head Hassan Al-Thawadi addressed the ruling council of world football’s governing body and FIFA President Gianni Infantino said agreement from the Gulf nation is a “precondition.”

Having previously said he was keen on an adding 16 teams, Infantino is now casting doubt on the possibility of further disrupting preparations for the Qatar tournament.

The FIFA Congress, which features up to 211 football federations, will now have no say in the number of teams at the tournament in Qatar. Infantino said there would be no change in the number of finalists once qualifying begins, which is likely in early 2019.

“The final decision is that the council will decide,” Infantino said after Sunday’s council meeting in Moscow. “But obviously it cannot decide this without the agreement with the hosts of Qatar. That’s a precondition obviously.”

[ MORE: Team-by-team 2018 World Cup previews ]

Qatar is building eight stadiums to host the Middle East’s first World Cup and 12-14 venues would be required to accommodate 48 teams. That would only realistically be possible if Qatar shared hosting duties, which is problematic because its Middle East neighbors severed ties with Qatar in a diplomatic dispute last year and because it would be a significant change from the plans FIFA voters agreed to in 2010.

The Qatar World Cup schedule has already been changed, with the tournament moved from its usual June-July slot to November-December due to the fierce summer heat.

FIFA is already committed to a 48-team World Cup in 2026 and the South American confederation of 10 nations formally asked Infantino in April to fast-track the expansion. Infantino has toned down his initial enthusiasm over the concept, with little sign of support away from CONMEBOL.

“It’s really premature to discuss about any of the details about it,” Infantino said. “The FIFA administration will discuss with the hosts and then we will see. For the moment what there is, is a World Cup with 32 teams being played.”

Regardless of the number of teams playing in Qatar, the way all 211 men’s national sides are seeded in qualifying is being reconfigured.

A new formula that rewards teams for playing more games was approved Sunday, and it takes effect in July ranking after the World Cup in Russia.

The current system in place since 1993 lets teams boost their status by avoiding friendly games. Now, teams will gain or lose points from their existing points total with each result. Even more weight will be given to competitive games over friendlies.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

“The new formula (is) more intuitive and accurate, eliminating the potential for ranking manipulation,” FIFA said.

Germany is the top-ranked team when the World Cup kicks off Thursday in Moscow.

Before the tournament starts, FIFA will be deciding the host of the 2026 World Cup. The council rubber-stamped the participation of Morocco and the joint United States-Canada-Mexico bid in the ballot on Wednesday.

The North America bid has the edge after scoring 4 overall on a 0-to-5 scale in the FIFA inspection panel’s reports. Morocco scored 2.7, with three parts of the proposals labeled “high risk” — notably the lack of stadiums and hotels.

It is likely only 206 football federations will vote after Kosovo officials told FIFA they will not attend the election meeting after the sudden death of federation president Fadil Vokkri, a former Yugoslavia international, at age 57.

Ghana has kept its right to vote, despite risking a FIFA suspension for government interference in how the national football body is run.

Football in Ghana is in turmoil after a television documentary this week broadcast footage of officials taking cash payments from undercover reporters posing as businessmen.

Euro 2020 qualifying: France settles for draw with Turkey

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Euro 2020 qualifying continued on Monday and included a top-of-the-group clash in Group H.

[READ: England rout Bulgaria in game marred by racist chants]

France 1-1 Turkey

France spoiled a chance at home to put one foot in Euro 2020 after conceding late in the match and settling for a draw with Turkey.

Despite playing without a lot of starters – Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, and Hugo Lloris are all out injured – France still was strong in the first half and peppered Turkey with 12 shots. Goalkeeper Mert Gunok made an outstanding double-save in the first half and Leicester City’s Çağlar Söyüncü did his best to keep Antoine Griezmann in front of him.

In the 72nd minute, Olivier Giroud came on the field as a substitute and four minutes later, he put France in front to the delight of the home crowd at the Stade de France. What else, but a header off a corner. However, the lead didn’t last long. Off a free kick in the 82nd minute, Hakan Calhanoglu’s delivery was nodded home by Kaan Ayhan. The 1-1 draw leaves both France and Turkey tied with 19 points from eight qualifying matches. It also means that Turkey hasn’t lost to France over two games in this qualifying cycle.

Here’s a look at the rest of Monday’s scores:

Monday’s Euro 2020 qualifying scores

Group A

Bulgaria 0-6 England

Kosovo 2-0 Montenegro

Group B

Lithuania 1-2 Serbia

Ukraine 2-1 Portugal

Group H

Iceland 2-0 Andorra

Moldova 0-4 Albania

Ronaldo scores 700th goal for club and country

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Cristiano Ronaldo achieved yet another personal milestone in his star-studded career on Monday evening with a simple penalty kick goal.

With his 72nd minute strike, Ronaldo tallied his 700th goal for club and country in his career. It’s an incredible achievement, and one indicative of his incredible goal-scoring exploits and his long career.

Ronaldo was already leading all active players globally in terms of goals scored, so his 700th is only adding to the list. His former club nemesis, Lionel Messi, still sits a reported 28 goals behind him, according to Soccerway. After them, LA Galaxy striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the closest, and he has “only” 542 goals.

The Portuguese icon becomes the sixth male player to score 700 goals in his career. The others include Pele, Romaro, Josef Bican, Ferenc Puskás, and Gerd Muller.

Ronaldo made his debut for Sporting Lisbon in the 2002-2003 season as a 17-year-old and quickly was snapped up by Man United and Sir Alex Ferguson, where he transitioned from a tricky winger to a clinical striker who couldn’t stop scoring.

The 34-year-old has scored 40-or-more goals on three occasions in his career and he scored 25-or-more goals in all nine years he was at Real Madrid. For Portugal, he’s now scored an incredible 95 goals in all competitions. He had 15 goals in World Cup qualifying alone for the 2018 campaign.

Watch the video of Ronaldo’s breaking goal below. Unfortunately for him, Portugal fell, 2-1 to Ukraine.

Southgate, England players sound off on racist abuse

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England took care of business in Monday’s 6-0 thrashing of Bulgaria, but the Three Lions had to endure some horrendous racist abuse from the crowd during the game.

The match was paused on two occasions I’m the first half by the match officials after racist chanting could be heard from a section of supporters, and a large group of Bulgarian fans were ejected towards the end of the half. However, racist abuse continued during the match from small pockets of fans in the stadium.

[READ: England v. Bulgaria delayed after racist abuse from stands]

“I have to say that the officials were on to everything very quickly,” England manager Gareth Southgate told ITV after the match. “We reported everything immediately when we heard things, we had constant communication with the fourth official and the referee. I was in contact with the players, all the way through the first half in particular, and then again at halftime.

”We know it’s an unacceptable situation, and I think we’ve managed to make two statements. By winning the game, but also we’re raised the awareness of everybody to the situation. The game was stopped twice, I know for some people that won’t be enough, but we as a group were on board with that process.”

Raheem Sterling, who scored a brace in the win, also sounded off on social media, as did former England and Arsenal star Ian Wright.

Ultimately, UEFA and the match officials followed the protocol, but the sad part about this is that England and the officials had a plan for racist abuse, and it was predictable that it would happen.

In a statement after the game, the FA confirmed they would be asking UEFA to investigate what happened. However, any punishment is too little, too late for the players who endured the abuse.

Kane, Sterling star as England rout Bulgaria

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On a night where racist abuse from the stands in Bulgaria marred the overall spectacle, England’s players produced an incredible result and spectacle for the visiting fans, with all things considered.

Harry Kane scored once and assisted on three others as England rolled over Bulgaria, winning 6-0 on Monday evening in the Vasil Levski Stadium in Sofia, Bulgaria. Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley both scored a brace for the Three Lions and Marcus Rashford’s thunderbolt from a tight angle gave England the opening goal it needed.

[READ: USMNT looks to build from win v. Canada]

The blowout result was the perfect response after England had suffered its first loss in qualifying for a decade, losing on Friday, 2-1 at the Czech Republic. The six goals England put past Bulgaria was also the fourth time out of six games that England had scored at least five goals in a match. The only other time, aside from the defeat, was a 4-0 win last month at Wembley Stadium over Bulgaria.

It took just seven minutes for England to get on the board. Barkley found Rashford down the left wing, and after turning a defender with a cross-fake, Rashford cut back from goal and whipped a strike that flashed past Bulgarian goalkeeper Plaman Iliev and in for a goal.

Kane, who has earned some criticism for not scoring as much recently as in the past, showed he was more than a goal-scoring No. 9. Combining with Raheem Sterling like he did so well at the 2018 World Cup, Kane in the 20th minute played a great pass into Sterling’s feet in the box. The Manchester City winger did the rest, crossing to a wide-open Barkley at the back post for a tap-in.

Kane again played provider in the 32nd minute, floating to the right and delivering an-inch perfect cross right to the penalty spot with his left foot. Barkley was there to meet it with a glancing header to score and put the game to rest.

Despite dealing with horrendous racist abuse from the crowd and two pauses in the game, England continued to attack and were rewarded when Kane set up Sterling for another tap-in moments before the halftime break.

Kane and Sterling connected again for another goal before in the 85th minute, Kane finally got his finish to send Bulgaria packing.

Considering the events in the stadium, it’s a triumphant win for England. However, they still must win at least one more game before automatic qualification to Euro 2020 is assured, as Kosovo beat Montenegro, 2-0 on Monday as well to stay within touching distance of England and the Czech Republic.