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FIFA: Nations must restore ties with Qatar to host World Cup games

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LONDON (AP) Persian Gulf countries would have to lift boycotts of Qatar before being eligible to join hosting of the World Cup, FIFA determined in a feasibility study recommending its ruling council endorse expansion of the 2022 tournament to 48 teams despite the logistical and political complexities.

The 81-page study seen by The Associated Press says Qatar would not be forced to share games with Bahrain, Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates unless those countries restore diplomatic and travel ties with Doha. Because of their neutrality in the situation, Kuwait and Oman are the most viable options identified by FIFA to host games in ’22. Venues in at least one more country would be required to cope with the additional 16 teams and 16 games under the expansion proposal.

The feasibility report was prepared for FIFA’s ruling council to consider ahead of a meeting in Miami on Friday, when the leadership will seek approval to press ahead with finalizing plans for adding another 16 teams.

Making the 2022 tournament the first 48-country World Cup, at this late stage, would require Qatar to accept giving up exclusivity on hosting the event more than eight years after its winning bid.

But to protect itself legally, FIFA says that any alteration to the tournament plans “shall be agreed together with Qatar as the appointed host nation, and any new proposals must be prepared jointly between FIFA and Qatar.”

With logistics already challenged by the existing plan to play 64 games in eight stadiums within a 30-mile radius in Qatar, FIFA said two to four additional venues are required in the region in “one or more” nation. The FIFA study identified stadiums in five countries, of which Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are currently unviable because they severed travel ties with Qatar in 2017 over accusations Doha supports extremism. Qatar denies the claims.

“Due to the geopolitical situation in the region and the recent blockade that Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE have imposed on Qatar, the involvement of such countries in organizing a co-hosted tournament with Qatar would require the lifting of such blockade, in particular the lifting of all restrictions relating to the movement of people and goods between these countries,” the FIFA feasibility study said. “Ideally, this should be evidenced as a precondition to the appointment of such co-hosts and should cover all aspects related to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.”

Two other potential co-hosts – Kuwait and Oman – are more feasible because they are not part of the boycott. Qatar’s national football team used the countries as stopovers to get its team to the Asian Cup in the UAE in January because direct travel is prohibited.

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

A document sent to the FIFA Council says its members will be asked if they agree with the report’s conclusion that World Cup expansion is “feasible provided that neighboring countries host some matches.” FIFA emphasizes that would still keep Qatar as the main host.

The council will also be asked to allow FIFA and Qatar to jointly submit a proposal on using “one or more additional co-host countries” and that the congress of member associations has the final say on expansion in June.

That would come almost nine years after the vote that Qatar’s unexpected vote success. That bidding process has been subject to corruption investigations which questioned Qatar’s conduct in lobbying voters but concluded there was no misconduct. Qatar has also been forced to raise standards of working conditions and improve labor rights protections after significant outside scrutiny. Any additional host nation in 2022 would have to provide guarantees on human rights requirements, the FIFA study says.

The World Cup already has been shifted from its usual June-July slot because of Qatar’s searing summer heat, despite resistance from European leagues whose season will be disrupted.

Spreading hosting beyond Qatar would also change the nature of what has been promoted as a compact World Cup that doesn’t require fans to take flights between matches.

The FIFA study found that 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 in the earlier stage to cope with the additional teams.

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 a team could only play a maximum of seven matches at the tournament – like in the 32-team format.

The study also breaks down how FIFA can earn an additional $400 million by adding more games. 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.”

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

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

Season over: Hudson-Odoi suffers suspected achillies tear

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One incident on Monday showed why some players are so desperate to change clubs when given the chance. They may never get it again.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Callum Hudson-Odoi said on his Instagram post Monday evening that he had suffered a ruptured achillies tendon. If confirmed by the club, it’s usually a nine-month recovery process, with some players needing a full year to return to full fitness. Considering the timing of this, towards the end of the season, it means that Hudson-Odoi may miss an entire season of top-flight soccer, as well as possibly miss out on a chance to move to Bayern Munich this summer.

The injury is a huge blow to the 18-year-old, who had forced his way into the Chelsea side after strong performances in the UEFA Europa League, and now he’s making regular Premier League starts at the tender age of 18. Hudson-Odoi had started four-straight Premier League games including Monday, but now he faces a long layoff.

In Hudson-Odoi’s favor is his youth. While it can be a career-ending injury, hopefully Hudson-Odoi could retain his electric pace once he recovers and can return to the starting lineup for Chelsea.

But it’s a big disappointment to the young Englishman, who surely would have played for England youth national teams this summer and could have potentially made a big-money move abroad.

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks

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Four midweek Premier League games will be pivotal in shaping the title race, top four battle, race for seventh and the relegation picture.

Tuesday and Wednesday will be a lot of fun.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ]

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Listen carefully, because this is very specific.

While you can download the NBC Sports Predictor app (below) and play the Premier League Pick ‘Em game yourself to predict the scores and win the prizes.

DOWNLOAD NBC SPORTS PREDICTOR

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the long shots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Tottenham 3-1 Brighton – (Tuesday, 2:45 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Watford 3-1 Southampton – (Tuesday, 2:45 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM


DON’T TOUCH THIS…

Man United 1-2 Man City – (Wednesday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM


“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Wolves 2-1 Arsenal – (Wednesday, 2:45 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Relevant Sports sues USSF over proposed Ecuador match in Florida

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NEW YORK (AP) A promoter has sued the U.S. Soccer Federation, asking a court to order the governing body to sanction an Ecuador league match in Florida.

Relevent Sports filed suit Monday in New York Supreme Court in Manhattan, alleging the USSF illegally refused to approve its application to have Ecuador’s Barcelona and Guayaquil clubs play on May 5 at Miami Gardens.

The lawsuit quotes USSF policy as stating the governing body’s secretary general “shall grant such sanction unless it is decided by clear and convincing evidence that holding or sponsoring the international soccer competition would be detrimental to the best interest of the sport.”

The USSF did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Relevent attempted to stage the first Spanish La Liga match in the U.S., between Barcelona and Girona at Miami Gardens on Jan. 26. That effort fell through following opposition from the governing body of Spanish soccer, the Real Federacion Espanola de Futbol, and the players’ union, the Asociacion de Futbolistas Espanoles.

Midweek Premier League TV, streaming schedule

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Four Premier League games are coming your way, and all four have huge implications in the title race, top four battle, race for seventh place and the scrap against relegation.

Bring it on.

MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ] 

The full TV schedule for the midweek games are below, plus you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com,the NBC Sports App and by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold.

Gold also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: Premier League live here ] 

You can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” for all the goals as they go in around the grounds. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App.

[ MORE: Premier League “Goal Rush” ] 

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here for the games streamed on NBCSports.com and here for the games on NBC Sports Gold.

Here’s your full TV schedule for the next few days.


FULL TV SCHEDULE

Tuesday
2:45 p.m. ET: Tottenham v. Brighton – NBCSN [STREAM]
2:45 p.m. ET: Watford v. Southampton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

Wednesday
2:45 p.m. ET: Wolves v. Arsenal – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
3 p.m. ET: Man United v. Man City – NBCSN [STREAM]