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FIFA won’t be bound by politics over sharing Qatar World Cup

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Political tensions won’t prevent FIFA from deciding whether to place some World Cup games outside Qatar, the head of world soccer’s governing body said Thursday.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino used a summit of soccer nations in Qatar to gather support for his mission to add 16 teams to the 2022 tournament – a move that would require the tiny, energy-rich nation sharing games in the region.

[ MORE: Gerrard proud of Rangers in exit ]

That would be complicated by Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt cutting ties with Qatar in 2017 in an ongoing political dispute that prevents flights between Doha and the boycotting countries.

Qatar won a vote in 2010 to host the World Cup with 32 teams and is only building eight stadiums. A 48-team tournament is already planned for 2026 in the United States, Canada and Mexico, but Infantino wants to fast-track that expansion and add 16 more games for the first World Cup in the Middle East.

“Is it feasible to do it only in Qatar? Difficult probably,” Infantino said. “Is it feasible to have a few games being played in neighboring countries? Well, maybe this is an option, of course.

“I’m not that naive not to know not to read the news and not to know what is going on. But now we are in football, we are not in politics, and in football, sometimes the dreams come true.”

Given 32 teams compete for the World Cup and there are 211 nations in FIFA, adding more slots in 2022 is likely to be embraced by the members given they have already approved expansion of the event beginning in 2026.

Infantino used a trip to Doha in October to ask the emir of Qatar if he would consider allowing matches to be shared with nations that are part of an economic and travel boycott against his country.

“If there is something that I could do which is good for football worldwide, then we should look at it,” Infantino said at a news conference in Doha before heading to Abu Dhabi for the Club World Cup. “I have the chance and I’m lucky enough to be able to look into that without having to be bound by any political considerations, but looking at it from a purely sporting perspective.”

Infantino did use a speech to politicians at the Group of 20 summit in Argentina last month to discuss using the World Cup in 2022 to bring countries together by spreading games beyond Qatar.

The 2022 tournament is already being cramped into a 28-day window to minimize the disruption to top European leagues because it was moved from June and July to November and December due to the extreme heat.

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Premier League weekend friendlies: Man Utd-Inter, PL Asia Trophy

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This weekend in Premier League preseason friendlies sees Liverpool taking on a pair of top European foes, while four PL foes trade blows in Shanghai.

Man City and Wolves move on from significant defeats of Newcastle and West Ham, who in turn will face each other on Saturday.

You can watch Saturday’s Premier League Asia Trophy matches between Wolves and Man City, and Newcastle versus West Ham here on NBC Sports Live.

Meanwhile, Manchester United will tangle with Romelu Lukaku-chasing Inter Milan on Saturday (and, no, the Belgian striker won’t be in uniform).

There’s also a sneaky good match-up of Watford and Bayer Leverkusen in Austria on Saturday, while Sunday’s light docket has Spurs facing Matthijs de Ligt and Juventus in Singapore.

Friday
Borussia Dortmund v. Liverpool (Notre Dame, Indiana)

Saturday
Girona v. Bournemouth
Arsenal
v. Fiorentina (Charlotte)
Fulham v. Brighton and Hove Albion
Cheltenham Town v. Leicester City
Crewe Alexandra v. Burnley
Port Vale v. Burnley
Bromley v. Crystal Palace
Man City 
v. Wolves (Shanghai)
Inter Milan v. Manchester United (Singapore)
Newcastle United v. West Ham (Shanghai)
Northampton Town v. Sheffield United
Preston North End v. Southampton
Watford 
v. Bayer Leverkusen (Austria)

Sunday
Shrewsbury Town v. Aston Villa
Liverpool 
v. Sevilla (Boston)
Juventus v. Spurs (Singapore)

PL friendly wrap: Pukki leads Norwich past Schalke

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London sides went 0-2, while three other Premier League sides won ahead of Friday night’s friendly between Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund in Indiana.

[ MORE: Algeria wins AFCON ]

The wins included defeats of Schalke and Monaco, while Brighton and Hove Albion topped lower league Crawley Town.

Schalke 1-2 Norwich City

Teemu Pukki had a goal and an assist, giving hope that the Championship goal collector can bring his game to the Premier League.

Pukki’s 13th minute goal was assisted by Man City loanee Patrick Roberts, and the Finn later assisted Moritz Leitner‘s winner.

Rabbi Matondo scored Schalke’s only goal, and American midfielder Weston McKennie was neither with the starters nor the bench.

Everton 1-0 Monaco

Seamus Coleman scored and Maarten Stekelenburg stopped a penalty as the Toffees handled their Ligue 1 opposition in Switzerland.

Kawasaki Frontale 1-0 ChelseaRECAP

Leandro Damaio scored the lone goal as Chelsea had plenty of chances to win in Christian Pulisic‘s debut. The American came off the bench for the final 25 minutes in Japan.

Nottingham Forest 1-0 Crystal Palace

Albert Adomah scored the lone goal in a win for the Championship side.

Brighton and Hove Albion 1-0 Crawley Town

New signing Taylor Richards‘ late penalty kick was enough for the Seagulls to get a result at home. The Man City midfielder arrived on Thursday.

Liverpool v. Borussia Dortmund (Notre Dame, Indiana) — 8 p.m. ET

Algeria wins Africa Cup of Nations

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In the words of a Missouri-born rapper, you only get one shot. In Algeria’s case in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, that was true and it was all the Desert Foxes needed to claim their first AFCON title since 1990 with a 1-0 defeat of Senegal on Friday at Cairo International Stadium in Cairo.

Baghdad Bounedjah’s wildly-deflected second minute shot was enough to give Algeria its second AFCON crown.

Senegal out shot Algeria 11-1 on the day, but Sadio Mane and Co. couldn’t find their way over the goal line.

One-time Man City and Southampton player Djamel Belmadi has now managed an AFCON winner and a Gulf Cup of Nations champion (Qatar, 2014).

[ MORE: Ballon d’Or w/o Messi, Ronaldo? ]

Bounedjah’s wild rip after a cut-in from the left bounded into the air and looped into the far corner. Senegal goalkeeper Amigo Gomis made it look more odd with his befuddlement (Scramble, my guy!).

Referee Neant Alioum’s ruling of a penalty to Senegal after Ismaila Sarr’s rip hit the arm of Adlene Guedioura was overturned when review showed the Algeria midfielder’s arm was at his side.

We mean, was this going to be the goal that won Africa’s most important tournament? Yep.

Ajax seals El Tri’s young star Alvarez for $17M

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Ajax has developed a ton of youngsters, and now has a pair of CONCACAF starlets in the fold for 2019-20.

A day after selling Matthijs de Ligt to Juventus for a reported $84 million, the Dutch side has delivered on reports that it wanted Edson Alvarez.

That puts the 21-year-old Mexican defender/defensive midfielder in the Eredivisie side with 18-year-old Dutch-American defender Sergino Dest.

While Dest has yet to break into the full USMNT, playing in the U-20 World Cup this summer, Alvarez already has 28 caps and five goals for El Tri.

He’ll bring a relative wealth of experience from Club America, and Ajax could use him to help offset the sale of Frenkie de Jong to Barcelona. While Alvarez has played a lot of center back in Liga MX, he’s been used at defensive midfielder by Tata Martino with the national team.

The reported fee is $17 million, according to Goal.