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Barcelona against haste of bigger Club World Cup

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MIAMI (AP) The president of Barcelona spoke out against the haste to introduce a 24-team Club World Cup in 2021 ahead of the FIFA Council deciding Friday whether to approve the pilot of the enlarged tournament.

European clubs have publicly resisted FIFA’s bid to replace the current seven-team annual Club World Cup, which is played annually in December, with an expanded quadrennial version in June-July.

[ MORE: Analyzing the draw ]

Barcelona President Josep Bartomeu backs a revamp of the competition, just not until the entire calendar for club and national team matches is reconfigured for 2024 and beyond to cope.

“We have to take care of the footballers,” Bartomeu said in an interview with The Associated Press in Miami, where the FIFA Council is meeting. “We have to take care about the way of training and the vacation they need to recover every season that they do. If the calendar is not modified, of course we cannot agree.”

In 2021, FIFA envisages the window for international matches – which is likely to include 2022 World Cup qualifiers – running May 31-June 8. The Club World Cup would be held June 17-July 4, while the African Cup of Nations and CONCACAF Gold Cup could be played July 5-July 31. European club seasons typically start around mid-August.

FIFA believes the proposed 24-team Club World Cup would “promote and grow football for the benefit of all confederations, member associations, leagues, clubs and fans,” according to a task force report on new FIFA competitions seen by the AP.

In the first edition, South America would have six slots – one based on previous performances. Three each would go to teams from Africa, Asia and CONCACAF, which represents North and Central America. Oceania would get one representative. The confederations would decide their own qualification process, whereas now each continental champion qualifies for the Club World Cup along with the host country.

“We know the current form doesn’t work,” FIFA Vice President Victor Montagliani told the AP. “The top clubs in the world have fans all over the world. So, I think it’s a natural progression of that competition.”

The expanded tournament would start with eight groups of three, with the winners advancing to the quarterfinals. Teams would play two to five matches over a maximum of 18 days.

According to a FIFA document seen by the AP, the governing body’s council will be asked on Friday to approve a trial 24-team Club World Cup running from June 17-July 4, 2021. That is the slot previously reserved for the Confederations Cup, which serves as a test event in a host nation a year before the World Cup.

“An opportunity to keep growing the competition will always be accepted from our league and our clubs,” Enrique Bonilla, the president of the Mexican league, told the AP. “It helps to give exposure and it helps to make clubs from other parts of the world to be more competitive, and to grow, and to learn from those great players that are now playing in Europe.”

Also Friday, the FIFA Council will be asked to approve the recommendations of a feasibility study into adding another 16 teams for the Qatar World Cup in 2022.

The council will be asked to allow FIFA and Qatar to jointly submit a proposal on using “one or more additional co-host countries” in the Persian Gulf before a final decision in June on enlarging the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams.

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.”

The FIFA study seen by the AP 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 indicated to be the current possible options identified by FIFA to host games in 2022 but their stadium infrastructure is only briefly assessed in a FIFA report.

Venues in at least one more country would be required to cope with the additional 16 teams and 16 games under the expansion proposal.

“As long as it’s well studied and well thought out, I think CONCACAF would have no issues supporting that,” said Montagliani, who leads the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Football.

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

Follow Live: Jamaica hosts Honduras in first Gold Cup match in Kingston

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With Curacao v. El Salvador as the undercard, host Jamaica will make history on Monday evening ahead of its match v. Honduras in Kingston.

The evening at the National Stadium at Independence Park represents the first time that Gold Cup will be held in the Caribbean, an historic achievement as CONCACAF looks for ways to continue growing the game across the entire region.

[ LIVE: Latest Gold Cup scores ]

Although it struggled in World Cup qualifying, Jamaica seems like it has turned a new leaf and after a 2-0 win over the U.S. Men’s National Team in Washington D.C. earlier this month, the Caribbean nation is riding plenty of confidence and is looking to make yet another deep run at the Gold Cup. Standing in its way is plucky Honduras, who always seems to come up with goals when it’s least expected and manages to put together a strong defense to make things difficult for opponents.

It should be a fun opener in front of a partisan, but decidedly local crowd in Jamaica.

Report: Barcelona in negotiations with PSG to sign Neymar

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In a stunning development, Neymar could be returning to the Camp Nou as early as this summer.

Brazilian media giant Globo Esporte reported Monday afternoon that Barcelona is currently negotiating with Paris Saint-Germain over the signing of Neymar. According to the report, the deal could include a payment of around $112 million along with one or more players moving to Paris, including Ivan Rakitic, Ousmane Dembele and Samuel Umtiti.

[READ: USWNT: We have the best, and second best team]

There’s so many layers to this deal, so let’s break it down.

The news that Neymar could return to Barcelona comes on the heels of an interview by PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi and France Football, in which he called out Neymar, stating “nobody forced him to sign here,” and that Al-Khelaifi said earlier in the interview he didn’t want “to see stars anymore.”

“I want players willing to give everything to defend the honor of the jersey and to join the club project,” Al-Khelaifi told France Football. “Those who do not want, or do not understand, we see each other and we talk to each other. There are of course contracts to be respected, but the priority now is total membership of our project…nobody forced him to sign here. Nobody pushed him. He came knowingly to join a project.”

Meanwhile, Neymar has plenty of time now to think of his future. Ever since moving to PSG, it feels like he’s been stricken by the injury bug. While he’ll probably go down as a Brazil legend when he retires, he’s on the precipice of being a what if player, as in, what if he wasn’t injured for parts of the last two World Cups, and for picking up an ankle injury that’s kept him out of the 2019 Copa America.

It’s been ankle injuries as well in February of each of the last two seasons at PSG that has effectively ended his season just as it was reaching the important stages, the start of the UEFA Champions League knockout stage.

Remember, Neymar decided to force his way out of Barcelona and move to PSG in an effort to break the hegemony of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to win the Ballon d’Or and truly write his name in the history books. Instead, his time in Paris will be remembered abroad more for his antics, injuries, and of course, the incident with the fan at the Coupe de la Ligue final.

Of course, that’s not to say Neymar didn’t have success in France. He’s scored an incredible 49 goals in 55 games in all competitions, including in both Ligue 1 and the UEFA Champions League. But ultimately, Neymar wasn’t able to score goals when it mattered, like in the Champions League knockout stages or in high-pressure games.

At Barcelona, Neymar achieved some of his biggest club success and took his game to new heights after being a raw diamond needing polishing at Santos in Brazil. Perhaps Neymar has realized that it’s better to play in Messi’s shadow, and potentially win the UEFA Champions League again, than try and stake it out on his own. Neymar has a good relationship with Messi and Luis Suarez, among other South Americans on the team, and on paper he’d clearly be a big upgrade at left wing over the duo of Ousmane Dembele and Neymar’s Brazil teammate, Philippe Coutinho.

The deal makes sense for both sides, but will it get done? That’s the big question this summer, and it will remain unanswered until the second of September, the close of the Spanish transfer window.

Watch Live: Copa America — Japan v. Chile

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It may be hard to remember, since it didn’t qualify for the 2018 World Cup, but Chile is actually the twice-defending Copa America champions.

[ LIVE: Watch every single Copa America game ]

La Roja look to defend their title with the final opening game of the tournament, facing Copa America invitee Japan at the Estadio Morumbi in Sao Paulo. After both Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal announced they were leaving the national team following the failure to qualify for the last World Cup, both veterans are back and starting as Chile looks to find its 2015 and 2016 form under new manager Reinaldo Rueda, the former Colombia, Honduras and Ecuador coach.

Chile will face an interesting test in Japan, as the Samurai Blue have taken mainly an Under-23 side as it prepares for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, and potentially making a deep run. Many of the starters are making their first senior international caps for Japan, as it looks to gain crucial international experience against a strong side.

Hit the link above (or click HERE) to watch Monday’s primetime fixture (in Spanish) and check back on PST for a full roundup of the day’s action down in South America.

You can watch every single game from the tournament live online in Spanish via Telemundo Deportes and via the NBC Sports App. All you have to do is click on the links below.

How Twitter reacted to VAR decisions in France v. Nigeria

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The introduction of Video Assistant Referees to top level soccer has been criticized at times, but more often than not has been given the benefit of the doubt.

That seemed to change on Monday, as France was aided by two controversial VAR decisions, which helped the European nation defeat Nigeria, 1-0, in the final group stage game for both countries at the 2019 Women’s World Cup.

Both VAR decisions, the first to award a penalty and especially the second, to award a retake, were planned by both journalists, fans, and even former players on social media in real time.

Here’s some reaction below to the big controversy from this afternoon’s match.