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Report: FIFA documents support 48-team World Cup in 2022

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LONDON (AP) A FIFA feasibility study concluded the 2022 World Cup can expand to 48 teams by using at least one of Qatar’s neighbors as an additional host, and found there is a low legal risk to changing the format and an additional $400 million in revenue could be generated.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of the 81-page report on Monday that assesses the political, logistical and legal issues surrounding adding 16 teams – a significant change to the format more than eight years after Qatar won the hosting rights. The report was prepared by the governing body so its FIFA Council can agree in principle on expanding the tournament at a meeting in Miami on Friday. A final decision would come in June.

The study identified stadiums in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman , Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that could be used but said Qatar would have to approve who it partnered with.

Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE severed economic, diplomatic and travel ties with Qatar in 2017, which prevents flights between the countries. The study says FIFA accepts that the ongoing political spat prevents their involvement in the tournament.

“As it currently stands, the nature of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s relations with Qatar is such that it would be challenging to organize a co-hosted tournament between Qatar and one or more of these countries,” the feasibility study states.

“Candidate co-hosts would need to be regarded as sufficiently cooperative,” the study adds. “Such co-hosts would not sanction or boycott economically or otherwise any other potential co-host country, including the main host, Qatar.”

With logistics already challenged by the existing plan to play 64 games in eight stadiums spread over a 30-mile radius in Qatar, FIFA said two to four additional venues are required in the region “with one or more” nation.

FIFA stipulates that any additional hosts would have to supply government assurances, including on its human rights requirements.

“The involvement of additional neighboring host countries would require certain conditions to be met, in particular the consent of the relevant authorities in the main host country, Qatar,” the FIFA report states. “Therefore, FIFA cannot conclusively stipulate which host countries would be part of a co-hosting arrangement with FIFA and Qatar at this moment.”

The study highlights that venues with at least 40,000 seats – for games up to the quarterfinals – were demanded of 2026 World Cup bidders but doesn’t come to a conclusion on minimum capacities for 2022. While eight potential additional stadiums are identified in the region in the FIFA study, only two in the UAE, one in Saudi Arabia and one in Kuwait meet the 2026 requirements.

“Whilst a 10-stadium tournament could be considered in the event that up to six matches are played per day during the group stage and matches are held in the same venue on consecutive days, 12 stadiums would still be preferable,” the study says.

Since the vote in 2010, FIFA has already had to change the schedule, taking the 2022 tournament away from its usual June-July slot because of Qatar’s searing summer heat. But the FIFA study found that, despite adding 16 games, the enlarged tournament could still be played in a 28-day window from Nov. 21-Dec. 18.

FIFA said there would be “no major concessions to the sporting quality of the tournament” with expansion. While there were a maximum of four matches per day in the closing stages of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, FIFA said the 2022 tournament could feature six separate kickoff slots early in the tournament to cope with the additional teams.

“Implementing this format under the reduced tournament duration of 28 days would require some adjustments to aspects of the match schedule, such as the number of rest days for teams and venues,” the FIFA study states. “However, these adjustments are consistent with the principles observed at confederation competitions or in the top leagues around the world. Furthermore, based on its analysis, FIFA believes that the challenges can be sufficiently mitigated, including by increasing the number of venues and matches per day.”

The FIFA Congress has already agreed to expand to a 48-team tournament from the 2026 World Cup in the United States, Mexico and Canada. The same format is proposed, starting with a group stage consisting of 16 groups of three teams, followed by a round of 32. That would ensure, despite adding 16 matches overall, a team would only play a maximum of seven matches like in the 32-team format.

But changing the hosting guidelines would alter the decision of the FIFA executive committee in December 2010, when Qatar surprisingly won the right to stage the Middle East’s first World Cup by beating opposition from the United States, South Korea, Japan and Australia.

FIFA said while it cannot rule out legal action from losing bidders by changing the format, the study said it “concluded that the risk was low.”

“With regard to the previously administered bidding process, the process did not exclude joint bids and the possibility of co-hosting was an option for all bidders from the outset,” the study states. “Therefore, there is little risk arising from bidders (or even other member associations) claiming that they could have bid for the hosting rights had they known that FIFA would contemplate co-hosting scenarios.

“Moreover, based on FIFA’s analysis and previous legal analysis, there is little risk of claims by bidders due to the change in format.”

The study also breaks down how FIFA can earn an additional $400.1 million by adding more games.

It says $121.8 million could be generated from broadcasters, based on the unsold rights for the tournaments. It also forecasts an additional $158.4 million from sponsors, $89.9 million more from ticket sales, $20 million from hospitality packages and $10 million from licensing agreements.

FIFA wants its council to agree to the conclusion of the report that “expanding the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 to 48 teams is feasible provided that neighboring countries host some games.”

FIFA and Qatar would then submit a final proposal to the FIFA Council and FIFA Congress in June to make a final decision on expansion, stressing that Qatar is the “main host country.”

In April, FIFA President Gianni Infantino first said he was keen on fast-tracking World Cup expansion for the 2022 showpiece. Infantino, who succeeded Sepp Blatter as president in 2016, has held talks in the region, including with the emir of Qatar , about using additional countries.

Dyche, Mourinho meet on the streets of London

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Two Premier League managers walk into each other while shopping: It’s not the start of a joke, even if it sounds like one.

Spurs boss Jose Mourinho was out shopping earlier this week when he heard a familiar voice call his name.

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It was Burnley manager Sean Dyche, who was out shopping with his family one day after losing 5-0 to Spurs at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Dyche relayed the story Thursday while his club gets ready for a home match versus Newcastle United on Saturday, saying the pair spoke for a few minutes.

“I’ll tell you a little life story,” Dyche began at his prematch press conference.

From the Lancashire Telegraph:

“His face was actually more shocked than mine, because he was plodding along and I saw him with his hat on, and he shot his head up and said a bad word, and then said sorry, your wife and children are there!

“But he was very pleasant – as he would be after smashing us the day before. We had six or seven minutes chatting about how he’s settling, life in general, that sort of stuff. He was very pleasant.”

As Dyche points out, it’s odd that two of just 20 Premier League managers would run into each other on the streets of one of the biggest cities on Earth, especially since Burnley is quite a drive from London. Many PL personalities do live far from their adopted homes, though, and Dyche played for Millwall and played for and managed Watford.

Anyway, just a neat story for your Thursday evening.

Martinez’s impressive form could cost Inter Milan

Lautaro Martinez Inter
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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan might just lose out to Barcelona again.

The Italian club was eliminated from the Champions League following a 2-1 loss to Barcelona on Tuesday, and the Spanish club was reportedly so impressed by Lautaro Martinez’s performance that it is ready to activate the Inter forward’s 111 million euro ($123 million) release clause.

Martinez ran the Barcelona defense ragged, set up Romelu Lukaku‘s equalizer and also had two goals ruled out for offside. He also scored when the two clubs faced each other in October.

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“We are Inter Milan, with an important history – like Barcelona – and we don’t have to necessarily sell anybody,” Inter CEO Guiseppe Marotta said. “We want to grow, so we want to concentrate on our youngsters like Lautaro Martinez or Lukaku, they are interesting and young and we want to grow with them.

“But as you know, the future of a player is in their heads. If Lautaro wants to stay with us, we are happy with that, if he will be attracted by the ideas of other clubs we will evaluate the situation. At the moment he is very tied to Inter and we are proud.”

Martinez signed a contract until 2023 when he joined Inter from Racing Club last year and there is already talk of improving that deal to keep him at the club.

The Argentina forward scored nine goals for Inter last season but has exploded this campaign and has already found the back of the net 13 times in a formidable partnership with Lukaku under coach Antonio Conte.

[ MORE: Premier League storylines for the weekend ahead ]

“There is the right chemistry between them,” Marotta said. “Antonio Conte, a proven winner, knows how to get the best out of them.”

That partnership could prove crucial to keeping Martinez at the club.

“Inter is my home. I spend most of my life here and that for me matters a lot,” Martinez said. “Everyone has shown me affection from the very first day and that is fundamental for a player and a man.”

Martinez and Lukaku’s partnership has been key to Inter reaching the top of the Serie A standings. The club is two points above eight-time defending champion Juventus.

Inter visits Fiorentina on Sunday and hosts Genoa in its final match of the year.

“We can’t make the mistake of dwelling on this defeat too much,” Inter defender Cristiano Biraghi said. “It’s part of the game. We’re professionals. Sunday will be a good test of our maturity as a side.

“Florence is a difficult place to go, the atmosphere is always intense when big teams play there and the home team feed off that. They’re not on the best form and because of that they’ll want to give even more.”

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

Premier League storylines: Matchweek 17

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The Premier League Fan Fest hits Miami this weekend for what will certainly be a terrific weekend of fixtures in England’s top tier.

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We’ve got two Top Seven fixtures and a pair of resurgent sides meeting in a match-up as old as most, plus a derby down south and more.

Defense-optional at the Emirates? [STREAM]

  • Arsenal v. Manchester City, Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN)

It’s been 13 matches since Arsenal blanked Bournemouth at the Emirates Stadium to record its second clean sheet of the Premier League season, and the Gunners still seek their third. Their visitors have conceded in 10-straight matches to dip 14 points back of league leading Arsenal. If that sounds like a recipe for an ironic 0-0, well, we wouldn’t bet on it.

Soured Cherries hope to test weary Chelsea [STREAM]

  • Chelsea v. Bournemouth, Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN)

Bournemouth upset Manchester United to pull into sixth place on Nov. 2 and have not claimed a point in the ensuing five matches. Eddie Howe‘s Cherries have found every way to lose, including losses with and against 10 men. The United defeat is their only win since a New South Coast Derby defeat of Bournemouth on Sept. 20.

The good news is that Chelsea’s red-hot form has cooled to the touch, and the Blues had to pour plenty into a 2-1 defeat of Lille in Champions League play on Tuesday. Can Bournemouth surprise the Blues at Stamford Bridge?

Mourinho’s Spurs meet rabid Wolves in top end clash [STREAM]

  • Wolves v. Tottenham Hotspur, Wednesday (Watch live, 9 a.m. ET on NBCSN)

Two sides fancying a Top Four run stand in each other’s way at the Molineux. Spurs rested more of their top players on Wednesday at Bayern Munich, and have one more day’s rest than Wolves. But Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men were home Thursday in a Europa League pounding of Besiktas, and are now unbeaten in nine matches across all competitions. They haven’t lost a league match since Sept. 14 versus Chelsea, an 11 match run with five wins and six draws.

Flying Red Devils tangle with wounded, ready Everton [STREAM]

  • Manchester United v. Everton, Sunday (Watch live, 9 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold)

Marco Silva is gone, and Duncan Ferguson’s Toffees will be feeling like their 3-1 defeat of Chelsea is the real Everton come clean in the wash. This weekend’s test is just as tough given United’s stylish form in defeats of AZ Alkmaar, Man City, and Spurs. You’re gonna need two screens at 9 a.m. ET Sunday.

M23 Derby promises plenty [STREAM]

  • Crystal Palace v. Brighton and Hove Albion, Monday (Watch live, 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

The Premier League weekend ends with a beauty, two rivals three points apart and sensing blood in the water on this congested table. Roy Hodgson‘s Palace is three points clear of Graham Potter‘s Seagulls, the league’s oldest managerial blood against the promise of a new era. A win keeps Palace in the thick of the Top Seven mix, while a loss puts Brighton right back in it.

Chelsea signs Tomori to new 5-year deal

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Chelsea center back Fikayo Tomori has a new five-year contract with the club.

The 21-year-old has a goal and an assist in 16 matches across all competitions, though he’s spent the past two Premier League outings on the bench.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Tomori joined Chelsea at age 7. He made his Premier League debut 11 years later in the 2016 season finale versus Leicester City.

The Canadian-born back averages 2.3 tackles per game, with 1.7 interceptions, and 2.6 clearances in Premier League action this season.

From ChelseaFC.com:

“The club has been so good to me, looking after and developing me during that time into the player and the person I am today. It’s a dream come true to sign a new five-year contract. I’m really happy the club have shown this faith in me and I’m just excited to carry on.”

Tomori is a full England international after loan stints with Brighton and Hove Albion, Hull City, and Derby County. The latter stop found him under Frank Lampard, and certainly didn’t hurt his opportunity to shine when both arrived at Chelsea this season.

Chelsea has four strong, young center backs in Tomori, Kurt Zouma (25), Andreas Christensen (23), and Antonio Rudiger (26). Christensen and Rudiger are signed through the 2021/22 season, while Zouma’s deal goes one season longer than the duo.