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UEFA president Ceferin re-elected, won’t be FIFA ‘yes man’

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ROME (AP) Promising European soccer leaders that he won’t be a “yes man” for FIFA’s expansion plans, Aleksander Ceferin was re-elected as president of UEFA for four more years on Thursday.

Ceferin’s keynote speech ahead of his win by acclamation sent clear messages to FIFA President Gianni Infantino, who was sitting in the front row watching his toughest opponent in soccer politics. Ceferin has been blocking FIFA from making a $25 billion deal to create and revamp international competitions.

“It is often the `yes men’ who lure leaders to their demise,” said Ceferin, who has faced down Infantino in testy FIFA Council meetings in the past year. “And conversely, it is often those who disagree in a measured, reasonable and constructive way, even if they sometimes do so in a direct, uncompromising fashion, who do them the greatest service.”

Infantino has promoted the secretive offer from private investors, widely reported to be fronted by Japan’s SoftBank, to revamp the Club World Cup and create a global Nations League tournament.

Ceferin said disagreeing with friends “when we think in all humility that they are wrong” helps stop them from making mistakes.

In his acceptance speech, Caferin said he wanted UEFA to be a “source of constructive ideas to FIFA instead of one of opposition.”

Other key targets through 2023 outlined by Ceferin were a European bidder winning the 2030 World Cup hosting rights and updating the financial fair play rules which monitor club finances.

The two-day UEFA gathering in Rome has been a rare meeting of Ceferin and Infantino ahead of a FIFA Council session next month in Miami, where FIFA’s aim to approve the new competitions deal seems unlikely.

While long-standing UEFA-FIFA tensions have continued with two leaders, both first elected in 2016, Ceferin spoke warmly of another ally. Juventus president Andrea Agnelli has helped stave off the Club World Cup plan and is key to protecting the Champions League as UEFA’s prize asset.

Ceferin said while he leads UEFA and Agnelli heads the influential European Club Association “there will be no Super League. It is a fact.”

Breakaway threats by elite clubs have often arisen ahead of periodic talks to change the Champions League’s entry list, format and prize money distribution.

“The only thing great about you would be your past,” Ceferin cautioned clubs, saying teams following through on breakaway threats in 2016 “would have lost their status as great clubs in the hearts of the people.”

FIFA has tried to woo storied clubs with the promise of tens of millions of dollars in Club World Cup prize money. European soccer officials fear that would devalue the Champions League and widen a wealth gap which can unbalance domestic leagues.

In his own eight-minute speech, Infantino spoke of FIFA wanting to innovate and debate ideas. Still, he gave no update or detail on the $25 billion offer which is going through a FIFA-appointed task force and meetings of member federations worldwide.

Ceferin acknowledged being relatively unknown when he was elected to replace Michel Platini, the France great who was banned by the FIFA ethics committee for financial irregularities. The lawyer from Slovenia said he had moments of doubt and made mistakes since taking office in September 2016.

“A leader without doubts,” Ceferin said, “is a delusional and dangerous leader.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Funes Mori scores crazy long-distance goal for Monterrey (video)

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Rogelio Funes Mori is healthy again for Monterrey, and that’s a big reason why they lead the Clausura standings.

The 27-year-old Argentinian striker is in great form this Clausura after missing a significant portion of the Apertura with injuries. He had five goals in six Clausura matches coming into Friday night’s match with 16th-placed Monarcas Morelia.

He now has six goals, and his last one was an absolute stunner.

Funes Mori stole the ball off Aldo Rocha’s sloppy touch, looked up, and noticed Monarcas goalkeeper Sebastian Sosa just a hair out of his net. That was all the space he needed, letting loose from at least 35 yards out and producing an absolutely stunning finish that Sosa barely even had time to back up and give a stretch. Just like that, Monterrey went ahead.

Unfortunately for Monterrey, they gave up an equalizer less than a minute later as the left flank of the Monterrey defense saw their controller batteries die, allowing Edison Flores to snag a loose ball behind the lollygagging defenders and fire a low shot past Marcelo Barovero to level the score. The game ended 3-2 to Monterrey as Funes Mori would score a 78th minute equalizer and then the visitors won in stoppage time.

Still, win, lose, or draw, that strike by Funes Mori is something to behold. On the same day that a French top flight player unleashed from nearly halfway, Liga MX has a goal of the same caliber.

Lyon exec claims club working on Fekir extension

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Olympique Lyonnais’ outspoken club president Jean-Michel Aulas has gone on record to claim the club has “made some advances” with regards to a contract extension for attacker Nabil Fekir.

The 25-year-old has been a favorite of Premier League transfer rumors for a good two years now, but Aulas says they are working hard to keep the Lyon captain at his hometown club.

“We have made some advances in Fekir’s contract extension,” Aulas said according to The Mirror . “We are discussing it and soon I’ll have to see Nabil, we aren’t in the final stages but in any case we have advanced.”

Fekir scored 18 goals last season in Ligue 1 play, prompting heavy rumors of a move to England, with Liverpool the most widely reported destination. Things are never easy with Aulas, however, and a deal was never completed. Fekir started this season slowly, prompting many fans to claim he was a one-hit-wonder, but he has picked up the goalscoring pace of late, with six goals in his last nine matches, including the winner in Friday’s 2-1 victory over Guingamp.

He also has three goals in five Champions League appearances this season, and a big test upcoming as Lyon matches up with Barcelona in the Round of 16 next week. A surprise win in that two-legged affair would boost Lyon’s chances of retaining Fekir tremendously as it could convince him the club is on its way up. They currently sit third with PSG still dominating the league by a mile.

Still, it’s also highly possible that Aulas is exaggerating the club’s efforts to re-sign Fekir to put pressure on others who may look to pry him away this summer. A possible extension in the works could force clubs to pony up extra cash in the hopes of persuading him to turn Lyon down. Chelsea has been linked to Fekir this offseason with rumors of Eden Hazard‘s exit, and Liverpool’s chase last summer will likely attach them to his name this coming window as well.

Burnley fan running to every Premier League away match

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One inspired Burnley supporter is turning away days into something much more special, and strenuous.

Scott Cunliffe, who struggles with post traumatic stress disorder and depression from his time working for charities in poverty and violence stricken Southeast Asia, is running from Turf Moor to every single Burnley away game this season. Cunliffe’s endeavor gained serious traction this past weekend when he documented his longest trip yet, the 277-mile trek to Brighton’s Amex Stadium.

The BBC shared his experience through a video that Cunliffe shot on his journey, and it shows him struggling with fears of crowded places, loneliness, and mental fatigue during that time. Cunliffe discusses his route to Brighton, saying he takes more scenic routes to avoid busier sections of roads that have caused him struggles in the past. He also goes on to discuss how he tackles mental fatigue, saying he breaks up the day into minute sections to “micro manage” his journey and keep his mind focused.

Cunliffe’s page on the charity website JustGiving says that he will give all proceeds to Burnley’s official charity Burnley FC in the Community, and that the funds will then be distributed equally to local Burnley charities and other charities around the cities he has journeyed to over the course of the season.

In the video of his trip to Brighton, Cunliffe says that he has been out jogging approximately 77 days over the course of the season so far, and that he has completed somewhere in the vicinity of 87 marathons in that time. He says that he began running to help with therapy for his PTSD and depression and it has grown into a full-on passion.

Cunliffe’s trip to Brighton finished in joy as Burnley won 3-1, a massive result in the relegation battle as they jump to 15th in the Premier League table. The Clarets are home next time out as they host Tottenham, but the club’s next road trip heads in the opposite direction, a trip north to Newcastle at the end of the month.

Bayern suddenly walking wounded prior to Liverpool match

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With Liverpool set to host Bayern Munich on Tuesday in midweek Champions League action, the German giants are suddenly looking at a number of forced changes when they take on the Reds.

The latest injury came in the dying minutes of Bayern’s 3-2 win over Augsburg in Bundesliga play on Friday, as brace-man Kingsley Coman was forced off after Bayern had used all its substitutes. Coman had to be helped off the pitch, and the fear is that he could miss significant time.

The 22-year-old French international is electric when at full strength, but has been troubled by injuries during his time at Allianz Arena. He was plagued by knee problems in his first seasons there, and his left ankle is now the main culprit. Coman saw his season come to an early close right about this time a year ago thanks to ligament trouble in his left ankle, forcing him to miss the rest of the season and the first three months of this season before returning in early December. Now, it seems the troubles are cropping up again in the same spot.

Bayern boss Niko Kovac said after the match that, “It does not look good,” adding, “we’ll have to investigate it tomorrow to find out more.” Should Coman be forced out for any length of time, he would add to the growing list of important players missing for Bayern on Tuesday.

Thomas Muller is suspended after earning a straight red card for a high boot in the final group stage match against Ajax, a damaging loss that saw Muller handed a two-match suspension to keep him out of both legs against Liverpool. Arjen Robben is also out, having been out since early December – oddly enough the same match that saw Coman return – thanks to thigh trouble. While Robben is close to a comeback, he is not fit and has been ruled out of the first leg. Finally, midfielder Corentin Tolisso has been out with an ACL tear since the second league match of the season, and while that’s been in the cards for months, it bears repeating once the depth starts to wear away.

Manuel Neuer has also just returned from a thumb injury, and while he made it through the Augsburg match unscathed and will be ready to suit up against Liverpool, the whole of the Bayern defense looked shaky at times on the counter. Augsburg picked its spots perfectly, scoring 15 seconds into the match and then again before the half-hour mark. The hosts completed an outstanding nine of 10 individual take-ons in the match, finding openings on the break. The Bayern back line was solid in the air, which should give them something to savor from the league victory.

That win was the team’s ninth victory in its last 10 Bundesliga matches, a blistering run that followed a very poor first three months to the campaign.

Without Muller, Coman, and Robben on Tuesday, James Rodriguez and Franck Ribery could see time, as could former Arsenal winger Serge Gnabry who has been a contributing squad player of late while he navigates his own thigh and groin problems.