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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

German health officials block soccer clubs’ plans for fans

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BERLIN (AP) Bundesliga fans in the stands in September? Not yet.

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German health officials have blocked professional soccer clubs’ plans to allow fans at Bundesliga games when the new season begins in September.

“Thousands of fans in the stadiums – that doesn’t fit with the current situation with infections. Now it’s about not taking any unnecessary risks,” national health minister Jens Spahn said on Twitter of the coronavirus pandemic on Monday.

The 36 clubs in Germany’s top two divisions had been planning on having limited numbers of socially distanced and seated supporters at games, and had produced a proposal last week that included prohibiting away fans, restrictions in standing areas of stadiums, and a ban on sales of alcohol. They mooted personalized tickets to help with contact tracing, though those plans have been criticized by fans.

“The league’s concept is good in theory,” Spahn said. “But what’s decisive is what happens every day in practice.”

In a follow-up tweet, Spahn added, “We feel that we have to stay alert. Having spectators in the stands would be the wrong signal in the current situation.”

Germany’s 16 state health ministers met on Monday and agreed that having fans in stadiums for league games was not a priority.

Germany has registered 217,835 coronavirus infections, and a relatively low number of deaths at 9,203 compared to neighboring France, Spain and Italy, but there has been some concern over a recent increase in the daily rate of new infections.

Last week, Germany recorded its highest daily tally of new infections in three months. The national disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute, said 1,045 cases were recorded last Wednesday – the first time since May 7 that it has counted more than 1,000 cases in a day.

Berlin health senator Dilek Kalayci said on Monday the ministers came to a unanimous position that stadiums should remain closed to Bundesliga fans based on the current pandemic situation.

“In terms of health policy, we are currently not in favor of opening the stadiums until Oct. 31, at least. Then you can discuss the situation again,” Kalayci said.

Bavarian governor Markus Soder had been one of those most vocally in favor of the Bundesliga resuming without fans after its two-month break last season, but he said allowing fans to attend games when the new season begins on Sept. 18 would send the wrong signal.

“It would send a devastating signal to the public, both in terms of what it means for medical capacities and in relation to cultural events,” Soder said.

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

Ciaran Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP

Celtic, Aberdeen games called off after coronavirus breaches

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Celtic and Aberdeen have been slammed by the Scottish government and their games in the next week will not go ahead after coronavirus breaches from players.

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Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon addressed the situation regarding the two Scottish Premiership clubs and said fans should “not expect to see Aberdeen or Celtic play over the course of the coming week.”

It has emerged that Celtic player Boli Bolingoli had traveled to Spain and failed to quarantine on return before Celtic’s game against Kilmarnock on Aug. 9, breaking Scottish law, as the club released a statement saying the Belgian wide-man will be disciplined and slammed the ‘stupidity’ of his actions.

That came after eight Aberdeen players apologized after they broke guidelines by going out to a bar following a loss to Rangers on Aug. 1.

Here is more information on the situation in Scotland regarding Boli Bolingoli and the Aberdeen players from our partners at Sky Sports:


“What I regret is that some football players seem incapable of living up to their responsibilities. I very much regret that. When I stood here on Friday I think my frustration with the Aberdeen football situation was pretty palpable,” Sturgeon said.

“I don’t want the season to be in jeopardy. I don’t want people who are not responsible for this to pay the price but we have to be very clear that this situation is not acceptable. We’ll set out the conclusion of the talks later today but as a minimum, you should not expect to see Aberdeen or Celtic play over the course of the coming week.”

It comes just days after Aberdeen’s trip to St Johnstone was called off due to two of their players testing positive for coronavirus.


Quite simply, these players should know better.

The Scottish government went on to acknowledge that the vast majority of people with Scottish football are following the guidelines but the actions of a small minority are putting everyone at risk.

After ending the 2019-20 season early due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020-21 Scottish Premiership season has just kicked off and already these issues are cropping up.

Celtic were due to play St Mirren on Aug. 12 then, ironically, Aberdeen on Aug. 15. Aberdeen were due to play Hamilton Academical on Aug. 12.

Solskjaer warns “could have been one of those nights” for Manchester United

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was clearly relieved after his dominant but wasteful Manchester United finally beat goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson and Copenhagen in extra time of their Europa League quarterfinal in Cologne.

“I think it was just one of those nights,” he said after the win. “I think we deserved to win, that’s clear, but they made it very hard for us.”

Johnsson made 13 saves as United out-attempted the minusM-1000 underdogs from Denmark by a 26-9 margin. The Red Devils blocked several Copenhagen chances in tight, making the Danes’ total of zero shots on target a bit deceiving.

[ RECAP: Manchester United 1-0 Copenhagen ]

“Their keeper was unbelievable and we hit the post a few times,” Solskjaer said. “It could have been one of those nights that you end up with a shootout. We had to block, defend well and they made it hard for us.”

But United was clearly the better team on the day, as expected. Juan Mata entered late in the game and was an influential sub in extra time.

He says the Red Devils were a bit beat up on a hot night in Germany.

“The team is quite tired physically,” Mata said. “At this stage of this season it is important to win games like today and we go through. We stay in Germany for quite some time and hopefully we can win.

“Both teams got a little tired and there were more spaces and more chances. They played some good football and credit to them. We could have scored more goals in extra time but we are through.”

United will meet either Sevilla or Wolves in a dynamite semifinal in one week.

Manchester United breaks through Copenhagen in extra time

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Manchester United – Copenhagen: The Europa League’s biggest underdogs of the quarterfinals took the tournament favorites to extra time before succumbing 1-0 in Cologne.

Bruno Fernandes highlighted his Man of the Match performance by converting an Anthony Martial-won penalty in the 95th minute for Manchester United, the only way past Copenhagen’s terrific goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson.

But Fernandes gave United a scare, needing care for his hamstring at the final whistle.

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Johnsson made 13 saves, seven from inside the box, to keep Copenhagen within a sucker punch of eliminating the Red Devils over 90 minutes.

Manchester United heads to Dusseldorf for an Aug. 17 semifinal against the winner of Tuesday’s tilt between Wolves and Sevilla.


Three things we learned

1. Copenhagen plays prime tournament soccer: The heaviest underdogs in the quarterfinals, Copenhagen executed a traditional 4-4-2 in a less-traditional low block for much of the match. The low block wasn’t the surprise, but instead of two banks of five, the rows of four with two men hassling up front challenged United for time and helped spring a number of dangerous counters. The Danes opened up in extra time after going behind, but taking it to extra time was more than many expected out of them.

2. VAR denies the Red Devils: A rout would’ve been on if this match was staged a year ago without VAR, as the assistant referee twice allowed United goals to go to video. Harry Maguire was offside before assisting the first would-be Red Devils goal, while Mason Greenwood was off before ripping a rocket off the far post and into the goal.

3. Bruno is a beast: Fernandes was everywhere, cueing up his teammates for chances when he wasn’t smashing them off the frame in a bid to win it himself. The Portuguese playmaker registered three key passes, put three of his five shots on target, and won the majority of his duels on top of scoring the game’s lone goal (SofaScore). Now United must hope his late leg injury was just a product of 120 minutes and nothing major.

Man of the Match

Fernandes, and yes we had him here before he smashed his penalty home. Fernandes is now the Europa League’s leading scorer with seven goals between Sporting Lisbon and United.


Manchester United – Copenhagen recap

United has plenty of the ball in the first 10 minutes but Copenhagen provided legitimate danger that Eric Bailly managed in his own six.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka blocked a cross with his face and needed treatment, looking quite dazed before returning to the game.

Another Copenhagen chance was blocked in the six by Bailly (again), who proved a wise choice over Victor Lindelof.

VAR had a look at an early United goal and rightly chalked Harry Maguire offside in the build-up. And it took Mason Greenwood’s hammer off the far post off the board for offside early in stoppage time.

Copenhagen was in it at the break. Would United pay?

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The early stages of the second half remained with the Red Devils, Copenhagen parking all its men behind the ball at times.

Rashford flubbed a chance to shoot or pass to Paul Pogba when Bruno Fernandes spotted him at the back post just after the hour mark.

Fernandes tried his luck from distance in the 63rd, ripping a shot off the far post.

Ex-Everton man Bryan Oviedo nearly put Copenhagen ahead in the 66th only to see Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Bailly clog his shooting lane after Rasmus Falk dazzled to get into the box.

Karl-Johan Johnsson made a flying save on Anthony Martial to force an 84th-minute corner that came to nothing for United.

Johnsson denied Martial again in-tight at the start of stoppage time, but the high was short-lived as the Frenchman was dropped in the box moments later.

Fernandes stepped to the spot and used a stuttering run-up before blasting his penalty home.

Martial nearly had it 2-0 after the restart when he dribbled through the Copenhagen 18 but took it himself instead of laying off to Juan Mata in what would’ve been a fairly straight-forward chance for the Spaniard.

Johnsson denied Fernandes at the end of the first 15 minutes of extra time, United unfortunate to not score on the ensuing corner when Mata’s shot was blocked to Lindelof, who fired off the outside of the post.

Lindelof made a fine intervention to block a close-range equalizer bid in the 116th.