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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

USMNT’s Brooks scores equalizer for Wolfsburg

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John Brooks is enjoying a career year for Wolfsburg, and he just added another highlight to his strong season.

Brooks, running up in the attack in a rare foray forward, tapped home into an empty net to save Wolfsburg a point at home in its 1-1 draw with Eintracht Frankfurt. It was Brooks’ third goal of the season and second in the last two months.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The U.S. Men’s National Team centerback has played and started 29 times this season for Wolfsburg, the most games he’s ever played in a single season in Germany’s top tier. Brooks started alongside Aaron Long in the USMNT’s 1-0 win over Ecuador in Orlando in late March, and could play a key role for the USMNT this summer at the Gold Cup, unless coach Gregg Berhalter decides to let him rest this summer.

Season over: Hudson-Odoi suffers suspected Achilles 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 Achilles 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.