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Gianni Infantino scolds World Cup critics in extraordinary diatribe

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DOHA, Qatar — Gianni Infantino said he feels gay. That he feels like a woman. That he feels like a migrant worker. He lectured Europeans for criticizing Qatar’s human rights record and defended the host country’s last-minute decision to ban beer from World Cup stadiums.

The FIFA president delivered a one-hour tirade on the eve of the World Cup’s opening match, and then spent about 45 minutes answering questions from media about the Qatari government’s actions and a wide range of other topics.

“Today I feel Qatari,” Infantino said Saturday at the start of his first news conference of the World Cup. “Today I feel Arab. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel a migrant worker.”

Infantino later shot back at one reporter who noticed he left women out of his unusual declaration.

“I feel like a woman,” the FIFA president responded.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]

Qatar has faced a litany of criticism since 2010, when it was chosen by FIFA to host the biggest soccer tournament in the world.

Migrant laborers who built Qatar’s World Cup stadiums often worked long hours under harsh conditions and were subjected to discrimination, wage theft and other abuses as their employers evaded accountability, London-based rights group Equidem said in a 75-page report released this month.

Infantino defended the country’s immigration policy, and praised the government for bringing in migrants to work.

“We in Europe, we close our borders and we don’t allow practically any worker from those countries, who earn obviously very low income, to work legally in our countries,” Infantino said. “If Europe would really care about the destiny of these people, these young people, then Europe could also do as Qatar did.

“But give them some work. Give them some future. Give them some hope. But this moral-lesson giving, one-sided, it is just hypocrisy.”

Qatar is governed by a hereditary emir who has absolute say over all governmental decisions and follows an ultraconservative form of Islam known as Wahhabism. In recent years, Qatar has been transformed following a natural gas boom in the 1990s, but it has faced pressure from within to stay true to its Islamic heritage and Bedouin roots.

Under heavy international scrutiny, Qatar has enacted a number of labor reforms in recent years that have been praised by Equidem and other rights groups. But advocates say abuses are still widespread and that workers have few avenues for redress.

[ LIVE: Watch World Cup en Espanol en Peacock ]

Infantino, however, continued to hit the Qatari government’s talking points of turning criticism back onto the West.

“What we Europeans have been doing for the past 3,000 years we should be apologizing for the next 3,000 years before we start giving moral lessons to people,” said Infantino, who moved last year from Switzerland to live in Doha ahead of the World Cup.

In response to his comments, human rights group Amnesty International said Infantino was “brushing aside legitimate human rights criticisms” by dismissing the price paid by migrant workers to make the tournament possible and FIFA’s responsibility for it.

“Demands for equality, dignity and compensation cannot be treated as some sort of culture war – they are universal human rights that FIFA has committed to respect in its own statutes,” said Steve Cockburn, Amnesty’s head of economic and social justice.

Qatar’s Pushback

A televised speech by Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, on Oct. 25 marked a turning point in the country’s approach to any criticism, claiming it had been “subjected to an unprecedented campaign that no host country has ever faced.”

Since then, government ministers and senior World Cup organizing staff have dismissed some European criticism as racism, and calls to create a compensation fund for the families of migrant workers as a publicity stunt.

What about Europe?

Qatar has often been criticized for laws that criminalize homosexuality, limit some freedoms for women and do not offer citizenship to migrants.

“How many gay people were prosecuted in Europe?” Infantino said, repeating previous comments that European countries had similar laws until recent generations. “Sorry, it was a process. We seem to forget.”

He reminded that in one region of Switzerland, women got the right to vote only in the 1990s.

He also chided European and North American countries who he said did not open their borders to welcome soccer-playing girls and women that FIFA and Qatar worked to help leave Afghanistan last year.

Albania was the only country that stepped up, he said.

“One Love”

Seven of Europe’s 13 teams at the World Cup said their captains will wear an anti-discrimination armband in games in defiance of a FIFA rule, taking part in a Dutch campaign called “One Love.”

FIFA has declined to publicly comment significantly on that issue, or on the urging of European soccer federations for FIFA to support a compensation fund for the families of migrant workers.

The ripostes came Saturday.

FIFA now has its own armband designs, with more generic slogans, in partnership with various U.N. agencies. Armbands for the group games say: “FootballUnitesTheWorld,” “SaveThePlanet,” “ProtectChildren,” and “ShareTheMeal.”

At quarterfinal games, “NoDiscrimination” will be used.

Not good enough, the German soccer federation said a couple hours later, deciding to stay with the heart-shaped, multi-colored “One Love” armband logo.

FIFA also wants to create a legacy fund from its revenues tied to this year’s World Cup – and will let its critics, or anyone who wants, to contribute.

“And those who invest a certain amount will be part of a board that can decide where the money goes,” Infantino said.

Legacy funds from previous World Cups went directly to soccer in the host nation – $100 million from FIFA to South Africa in 2010 and Brazil in 2014. Some money was spent on new vehicles for officials and even more opaque projects.

Two priorities this time for global projects are education and a “labor excellence hub” in partnership with the United Nations-backed International Labor Organization.

Media Jibes

British media reports this week noted fans wearing England shirts and cheering outside the team hotel were people from India who lived and worked in Qatar.

It followed reports of Qatar’s project to pay expenses for about 1,500 fans from the 31 visiting teams to travel to the World Cup, sing in the opening ceremony on Sunday and stay to post positive social media content about the host country.

It fed a long-standing narrative that Qatar pays people to be sports fans.

“You know what this is? This is racism. This is pure racism,” Infantino said of the criticism about the England cheer squad. “Everyone in the world had a right to cheer for whom he wants.”

Infantino spoke while knowing he will be unopposed for re-election as FIFA president in March.

“Unfortunately for some of you,” he said to reporters Saturday, “it looks like I will be here for another four years.”

NWSL MVP Sophia Smith scores, Portland Thorns top KC for title (video)

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WASHINGTON (AP) __ Sophia Smith and the Portland Thorns overcame challenges off the field this season with a championship on it.

Smith, the season’s Most Valuable Player, scored early and the Thorns won their third National Women’s Soccer League title Saturday night with a 2-0 victory over the Kansas City Current.

The Thorns also won NWSL championships in 2013, the league’s inaugural season, and again in 2017. The three titles are the most for any team in the league.

[ ON HER TURF: Analysis of NWSL title game ]

A recent report that revealed misconduct across the league impacted the Thorns directly, but the players said it brought them together.

“We’ve put in so much work this whole season. We’ve gone through a lot of stuff that isn’t in the job description,” Smith said. “So it just felt really rewarding. I felt so proud of our team because we’ve just gone through so much – and to be able to bring this back to our fans who have stuck with us through everything this year, it means so much to us.”

The Current had a costly turnover before Smith went down the field, maneuvered around goalkeeper Adrianna Franch and deftly scored in the fourth minute.

[ ON HER TURF FEATURES: Sam Coffey | Alex Loera | Lo’eau LaBonta ]

Smith nearly had another goal in the 27th minute, but her shot went just wide. Smith is the second MVP recipient to score in the championship game, joining Lynn Williams for North Carolina in 2016. At 22, she’s also the youngest player to score in a league final.

Smith was honored as MVP earlier this week after scoring a club-record 14 goals during the regular season. She was also chosen the championship game MVP.

[ MORE: Marsch’s Leeds stun Liverpool late ]

An own goal off Kansas City’s Addisyn Merrick doubled Portland’s lead in the 56th minute. Moments later, Morgan Weaver had a shot from distance but Franch got a hand on it before it hit the crossbar and caromed away.

“This one hurts,” Current coach Matt Potter said. “It’s just a moment, to put it into the bigger picture. Then obviously, we have a lot of reasons to celebrate right now and this year that we can all look back on, maybe tomorrow or the next day, and be very proud of it. I think we’ve talked all along that our best days are ahead of us, not behind us.”

Audi Field was nearly sold out for the game, which was broadcast in primetime on CBS network television for the first time.

The NWSL was rocked this month by an investigation that showed systemic abuse and misconduct, spanning multiple teams, coaches and victims.

The investigation led by former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates was launched last year after two former players came forward with allegations of harassment and sexual coercion dating back a decade against former North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley.

Riley, who was fired, denied the allegations. He was one of five coaches in the league who were dismissed or stepped down last year amid claims of misconduct.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]

The Yates report detailed how the Thorns mishandled complaints about Riley when he coached the team in 2014-15. In the wake of the report, the Thorns fired two team executives. But some fans have called on owner Merritt Paulson to sell both the Thorns and the Portland Timbers of Major League Soccer.

Some fans at Audi Field held a sign that read: “Support The Players.”

“We are a very close team off the field and we knew that these things would potentially derail us, so a lot of conversations were to stay process-based,” Portland goalkeeper Bella Bixby said. “We know that some days are going to be hard for some people, so when we can just come together and bear that burden with them, we’re able to balance it out.”

The Thorns advanced to the championship game with a 2-1 victory over the San Diego Wave last Sunday. Crystal Dunn scored in stoppage time for the win.

The Current earned their berth with a 2-0 victory over the top-seeded OL Reign, surprising the winners of this season’s Supporters Shield.

The Current began play in 2021 as an expansion team, with many of its players coming over from the defunct Utah Royals. Last season they finished in last place in the league.

The Washington Spirit won last year’s NWSL championship.

Gaga Slonina, Jordan Morris in USMNT pre-World Cup training camp

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CHICAGO (AP) Chelsea-bound goalkeeper Gaga Slonina is among nine players from eliminated teams in Major League Soccer invited to fitness training by the U.S. Soccer Federation ahead of the national team’s World Cup roster announcement on Nov. 9.

Defenders Aaron Long, Shaq Moore, DeAndre Yedlin and Walker Zimmerman also were invited to the training camp that started Tuesday in Frisco, Texas, along with midfielder Cristian Roldan and forwards Paul Arriola, Jesus Ferreira and Jordan Morris

The players’ inclusion does not indicate they have earned spots on coach Gregg Berhalter’s 26-man roster. The majority of the roster is expected to be from European clubs, which have matches through Nov. 13.

 MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]

Slonina has never played for the national team. Matt Turner of Arsenal, Zack Steffen of Middlesbrough, Ethan Horvath of Luton and Sean Johnson of New York City have been the top four goalkeepers in the U.S. player pool. Johnson and Los Angeles midfielder Kellyn Acosta are on teams that have reached this Sunday’s MLS conference finals and hope to be in the championship game on Nov. 5.

Cincinnati forward Brandon Vazquez was not included.

Slonina, 18, debuted for the Chicago Fire in August 2021 and agreed this past August to a contract with Chelsea under which he was loaned to the Fire for the rest of the 2022 MLS season. Slonina missed Chicago’s last two MLS games because of a head injury and has not played a competitive match since Sept. 17.

Morris and Roldan last played on Oct. 9, Long, Moore and Zimmerman on Oct. 15, Yedlin on Oct. 17 and Arriola and Ferreira on Sunday.

Back in the World Cup after missing the 2018 tournament, the U.S. opens against Wales on Nov. 21, plays England in a Black Friday matchup four days later and closes group play on Nov. 29 against Iran.

VIDEO: PL highlights ]

The training camp roster:

Goalkeepers: Gaga Slonina (Chicago)

Defenders: Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls), Shaq Moore (Nashville), DeAndre Yedlin (Miami), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville)

Midfielder: Cristian Roldan (Seattle)

Forwards: Paul Arriola (Dallas), Jesus Ferreira (Dallas), Jordan Morris (Seattle)

Neymar appears in court in trial over Barcelona transfer

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BARCELONA, Spain — A few hours after scoring the winning goal in Paris Saint-Germain’s victory over Marseille in the French league, Neymar arrived in court in Spain on Monday to face a trial for alleged irregularities involving his transfer to Barcelona in 2013.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA  

Neymar’s parents, former Barcelona president Sandro Rosell and representatives for both the Spanish club and Brazilian team Santos also appeared in court after a complaint brought by Brazilian investment group DIS regarding the amount of the player’s transfer.

The Brazil forward arrived at the court in Barcelona wearing sunglasses and a black suit and tie. Neymar’s mother and father, who also is his agent, were among those arriving alongside the player.

What is the latest?

The defendants, who have denied wrongdoing, sat near each other to hear the opening arguments in the trial that comes nearly a month before the World Cup opens on Nov. 20 in Qatar, and is expected to last until the end of the month.

Neymar and the rest of the defendants have to be in court for the first day of the trial, but the player is only expected to testify on Friday.

On Sunday night, Neymar scored his ninth French league goal of the season in first-half stoppage time to lead PSG to a 1-0 win over Marseille in French soccer’s biggest game.

What are the charges?

Neymar and his father face corruption charges. Prosecutors have asked for a prison sentence of up to two years, although any jail time would likely be suspended. DIS asked for a five-year prison sentence for the 30-year-old Neymar and his father, and for compensation of 34 million euros ($32.1 million) and a fine of 195 million euros ($190 million) that would be paid to the Spanish state.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Prosecutors seek a fine of 10 million euros ($9.7 million) for Neymar and his father. They also seek five years in prison for Rosell for fraud and corruption charges, plus a fine of 10 million euros ($9.7 million).

Neymar’s representatives have argued that the crime of corruption between individuals was not punishable in Brazil, which is where they say the transactions originally took place. They said that according to Spanish law, a crime can’t be punished in Spain if it didn’t happen in both territories.

The financial details

DIS was entitled to 40% of Neymar’s transfer but said it received a smaller compensation because part of the transfer fee was concealed. Prosecutors said those involved tried to hide the real amount of the transfer in order to pay a lower commission to the investment group.

The lawyers for the plaintiffs argue that DIS only received its due percentage from the 17 million euros ($16.6 million) that Barcelona and Santos initially announced as the transfer fee between the clubs, while the real cost was about 82 million euros ($79.9 million). An investigative judge in Spain has already said that the real cost was at least 83.3 million euros ($81.2 million).

Neymar and his father previously appeared in court in Madrid a few years ago because of the accusations.

Neymar made his highly anticipated move to Spain at age 21. He helped Barcelona win the club’s last Champions League title in 2015, and eventually became involved in a soap-opera like transfer to PSG in 2017.

Neymar’s move from Santos also got Barcelona in trouble with Spain’s tax office. In 2016, the Catalan club paid a fine of 5.5 million euros ($5.3 million now) to settle a separate case brought by authorities. In that settlement, the club acknowledged it had made “an error in the fiscal planning of the player’s transfer.”

USMNT’s Malik Tillman dribbles from midfield for Rangers goal (video)

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Malik Tillman’s on the board again for Glasgow Rangers, scoring Sunday against Motherwell.

Tillman took a short pass from James Tavernier just short of the halfway stripe and sprinted forward with a half-dozen touches.

He outran Stuart McKinstry and Ross Tierney, cut between Sean Goss and Ricki Lamie, and from 6 yards slid a right-foot shot past sliding goalkeeper Liam Kelly.

[ MORE: Liverpool vs Man City player ratings ]

It was the third goal of the season for the 20-year-old, who scored against Belgium’s Union Saint-Gilloise in Champions League qualifying on Aug. 9 and against St Johnstone in the SPL four days later.

Tillman was loaned from Bayern Munich to Rangers for the season last July.

Tillman was born in Germany to a father in the U.S military and a German mother. He played for the U.S. under-15 team in 2016 and for Germany at several youth levels, then switched to the U.S. and made his national team debut on June 1.

He has made four international appearances and is bidding for a spot on the World Cup roster.