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U.S. gets Russia’s World Cup vote as logic trumps politics

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MOSCOW (AP) The United States was able to celebrate a World Cup victory in Russia after all. Thanks to assistance from the host nation at a FIFA Congress addressed by President Vladimir Putin.

For all the geopolitical tensions between the superpowers, Russia had no qualms about pressing the electronic keypads to select the joint bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico over Morocco in the 2026 World Cup hosting vote in Moscow on Wednesday.

“Football is separate from politics,” said Alexander Alayev, acting president of the Russian football federation. “Morocco prepared a very strong and interesting bid, but the unified bid was much stronger in all aspects.”

Maybe, finally, some sports officials made decisions based on existing merits and what is best for the game, rather than following political agendas.

“This should not be about geopolitics,” U.S. Soccer Federation President Carlos Cordeiro said. “This was not a vote in the United Nations.”

The U.S. may have hoped for a vote from North Korea after the rapprochement between the nations during an extraordinary summit between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. North Korea instead opted for the Moroccan proposals that were dismissed by FIFA inspectors as high-risk in three areas and overwhelmingly rejected by the football world.

Morocco wasn’t even able to harness unanimous support from Africa, with 11 federations voting against their continental counterpart.

Despite his country voting for Morocco, Cameroon federation official Kevin Njomo accepted the World Cup would be “more profitable in America.”

Morocco also didn’t get full support from other Muslim-majority nations, with Afghanistan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia among the 134 backers of the North American bid.

Has there really been an outbreak of common sense at a governing body where the specter of wrongdoing has hung over decisions in recent years? The 69 majority for North America meant FIFA avoids a fifth consecutive risky, tricky World Cup after South Africa, Brazil, Russia, which opens on Thursday without a U.S. team, and Qatar in 2022.

Where Morocco needed to spend billions of dollars building or renovating all 14 proposed stadiums, North America could host the World Cup almost immediately if needed.

Ultimately, Morocco’s record on human rights and lack of protections for the LGBT community, which were criticized by FIFA, might have helped to swing the decision.

Unlike the contentious dual votes in 2010 for Russia and Qatar, this time the inspection reports of each bid were a guide for voters from FIFA’s full membership.

In an unexpected late intervention after presentations on Wednesday, FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura gave the North American bid one final push before the ballot when she summarized the review task force’s verdict that saw Morocco fare so poorly.

Not only did she remind delegates about Morocco’s lack of infrastructure but highlighted the North American bid’s ability to deliver double the revenue at $14 billion.

Obviously, money talks.

“We tried to make the case of what’s best for FIFA,” Cordeiro said. That means swelling the coffers from FIFA’s signature tournament to allow President Gianni Infantino to distribute cash to the around the world to member federations.

The only real stumbling block on the campaign for the North Americans was concern about the impact of Trump’s push for immigration restrictions and a leaked White House outburst about African nations.

The bid team believed it wasn’t insurmountable.

“The politics of today may not be the politics of next year or five years or eight years down the road,” Canada’s federation president Steven Reed said.

Indeed, the U.S. passed this global test of popularity, aided by the inclusion of Canada and Mexico on the ticket.

“The unity of the three nations came together to offer what no one nation including my own can provide today,” Cordeiro said. “I think that was a powerful message. That is something we repeated and repeated over again. I think it made the difference at the end.”

No wonder Infantino described himself as a “happy man.” FIFA, it appears, got just what it wanted.

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

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

Report: Borussia Dortmund enters race to sign Hudson-Odoi

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In what could look like a nightmare to Premier League sides, Borussia Dortmund could potentially play next season with two of England’s top young wingers.

[READ: Pogba “happy” at Man United]

After multiple failed attempts to sign Chelsea’s Callum Hudson-Odoi on a transfer last summer and in the January transfer window, Bayern Munich now has competition for Hudson-Odoi from Dortmund, according to a report in the Telegraph. With Christian Pulisic heading the opposite direction to Chelsea this summer, Hudson-Odoi could look at Dortmund and feel that his chances for first team minutes are better than at Stamford Bridge.

The 18-year-old, who has been called-up to the current England squad, is yet to start a Premier League match this season. Of course, Hudson-Odoi is behind the likes of Eden Hazard and Willian, who would start ahead of most players. But surely Hudson-Odoi will see how his England teammate Jadon Sancho has made 35 appearances, including starts in the Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League.

Sancho has also been subject to huge transfer speculation, especially from Manchester United, which could look to make a big splash this summer under new (or current) management. If he leaves on a $100 million-plus deal, Hudson-Odoi could be Sancho’s replacement as well.

Ultimately, should Hudson-Odoi leave the Premier League, it’s a lost opportunity for both Chelsea and the league to not only develop young players but provide them with playing time, assuming they’re deserving of it from practice.

Watch: A-League referee mic’d up during match

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Soccer around the globe is pretty transparent. We can see with our own eyes goals, fouls and red cards, as well as frame-by-frame slo-mo replays again and again. But the one aspect most people never get to see is about the referee. We never hear what the referee is saying to players, what’s in their mind as they’re consulting with the video assistant referee, or why they decided to make a certain decision. Until now.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

In his final A-League match before moving to England to be in the League Championship pool of referees, Jarred Gillett agreed to be mic’d up by local broadcasters so that fans could hear the game through his senses. The result is an incredible display of communication, knowledge, confidence and refereeing expertise that gives the viewers a new-found respect for referees.

It may not be great in every circumstance, but getting to hear what referees are saying to players or coaches could certainly help endear them to fans and the media, instead of the standard bashing treatment most referees are afforded.

Watch the video below.

Beasley to miss 4-6 weeks with knee injury

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One of Major League Soccer’s elder statesman could have used this injury as a sign it’s time to hang up the boots. Instead, it will just be a brief spell on the sidelines.

DaMarcus Beasley posted a post-operation photo after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery, according to the Houston Dynamo. Beasley said “I’ll be back in a flash” in his Instagram post after the surgery. The Dynamo did not specify when Beasley suffered this injury, but the 36-year-old has not played for the club in its first three league matches this season.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

If Beasley returns within the next four to six weeks, it would put his return around the middle to end of April. The Dynamo have a pair of home games at the end of April into May, against the Columbus Crew and FC Dallas, which may be a good time to bring Beasley back.

Sane, Low play down injury fears after horror tackle for Germany

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Leroy Sane suffered a tackle so graphic on video that in most cases would have ended up with a broken leg. Thankfully, Sane says he’s just fine.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Late in Germany’s 1-1 friendly draw with Serbia on Wednesday evening, Serbia’s Milan Pavkov went over the ball and hit Sane’s leg directly with the studs of his cleats. Pavkov was shown a straight red card and Sane limped off the pitch. However, after the match, Sane assured fans that he’s doing all right.

“The foul looked worse than it was, everything is fine with my ankle,” Sane said after the match. “I’m very happy, we had a few good moves. We had good phases where the final pass was lacking, but I think that will come with time. Everyone could see that we got better and better.”

With the start of Euro 2020 qualifiers ahead and the announcement last month that Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, and Thomas Muller would no longer be with the national team, Joachim Low has started pushing a youth movement in the German National Team. Timo Werner started up top with Sane, 19-year-old Kai Havertz, and 22-year-old Julian Brandt in the three attacking midfield positions.

“It was a vicious foul,” Low said after the match, via Sky Sports. “Sane was lucky and got away with not getting hurt but such fouls can break bones.”

The news about Sane is a huge boost to Manchester City, which is still in the run for the quadruple in England and Europe. Sane will certainly play a big role with Pep Guardiola‘s side down the stretch.