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Bayern’s history meets upstart Leipzig in German Cup final

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BERLIN (AP) Their histories, and lists of achievements, couldn’t be more different.

Bayern Munich has won 54 major titles, while Leipzig has none. Bayern has been around for 119 years, Leipzig 10.

Luckily for Leipzig, though, those numbers won’t mean much when the two teams meet in the German Cup final on Saturday.

Bayern won its 29th German league title last Saturday and is bidding for a record-extending 19th German Cup win. But Leipzig will head into the match knowing it’s no pushover.

Leipzig held Bayern to a 0-0 draw in the Bundesliga’s penultimate round – delaying the Bavarian club’s title celebrations by another week – while Bayern needed penalties to get past Leipzig in their only previous German Cup meeting in October 2017.

Bayern coach Niko Kovac, who won the title with Eintracht Frankfurt against his future club last year, is preparing for his third straight final. Kovac, however, is under pressure after his debut season at Bayern and would boost his case to remain with a win.

Leipzig coach Ralf Rangnick, who is really the club’s sporting director, is leading the opposing team on an interim basis this season before Julian Nagelsmann arrives from Hoffenheim to take over.

Leipzig’s mere existence is a source of ire for rival fans who object to its fast rise, which was made possible by energy drink manufacturer Red Bull and its co-founder Dietrich Mateschitz. The 75-year-old Austrian billionaire bought a local fifth-tier team, SSV Markranstadt, rebranded it with his company’s name and financed its steady promotion through the lower leagues to the Bundesliga.

Few at the club could have imagined that it would be so successful, so quickly. Leipzig finished second and qualified for the Champions League in its debut Bundesliga season, dropped to sixth because of the added burden of European games in its next, and comfortably finished third after another solid campaign this season.

It would not have been possible without Red Bull, which already had the New York Red Bulls, Red Bull Salzburg, Red Bull Brasil and Red Bull Ghana in its portfolio of soccer clubs.

Leipzig chairman Oliver Mintzlaff defended receiving a loan of 134.2 million euros ($150 million) from the energy drink behemoth, saying Friday that it was necessary for the establishment of what has become a highly successful club.

“That we had to take a loan as a start-up company, to invest in bricks and legs, is right,” Mintzlaff told the Frankfurter Rundschau daily newspaper. “But if we were to sell everything that was achieved here, purely theoretically, the club would have made a very, very big plus. There would be big double-digit, maybe even a triple-digit million figure remaining.”

Leipzig’s turnover is 250 million euros ($279 million), compared to Bayern’s 657.4 ($734 million) for 2017-18.

Mintzlaff said the club was among the “most transparent soccer clubs,” in contrast to the likes of Volkswagen-backed Wolfsburg.

“We don’t hide anything. We wouldn’t get a license if we didn’t pay our debts,” Mintzlaff said. “Other clubs that get money from other backers do it, too. Borussia Dortmund is a stock cooperation, Hertha Berlin has got an investor on board, Schalke has (food industry billionaire) Clemens Tonnies.”

Bayern is backed by sportswear giant Adidas, carmaker Audi and financial services company Allianz, with each holding an 8.33% stake in the club, which has further lucrative sponsorship deals with Deutsche Telekom, DHL, Siemens, Goodyear, SAP, Paulaner beer and Qatar Airways. The latter is the subject of protest from some Bayern fans.

More AP German soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/Bundesliga and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

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

USSF, Relevant Sports clash in court over international matches

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NEW YORK (AP) A lawyer for a promoter asked a judge to order the U.S. Soccer Federation to sanction international league matches in the United States.

The USSF last month denied an application by Relevent Sports, a company partly owned by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, to have Ecuador’s Barcelona and Guayaquil clubs play on May 5 at Miami Gardens, Florida. The USSF cited an Oct. 26 announcement by FIFA that its ruling council “emphasized the sporting principle that official league matches must be played within the territory of the respective member association.”

During a half-hour hearing Thursday before New York Supreme Court Justice W. Franc Perry, a lawyer for the USSF argued the court should not hear the dispute and it should be sent to arbitration.

Blair G. Connelly, the lawyer representing the USSF, said because Relevent’s application included its executive chairman, Charlie Stillitano, as the FIFA-licensed match agent requesting approval to stage the game, Relevent was bound by a provision in FIFA’s match agent regulations requiring any dispute with a national association be submitted to arbitration. FIFA’s rules specify such a case be heard by its player status committee, whose decision could be appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland.

“What they’re trying to do is outsource the court’s authority … to two bodies in Switzerland that don’t follow New York law and have nothing to do with it,” said Marc Litt, a lawyer for Relevent.

Connelly said the USSF’s decision could be overruled only if the court found it to be irrational. He also cited a 2007 decision by U.S. District Judge Harry D. Leinenweber in Illinois, who ordered a suit against the USSF by ChampionsWorld, a previous Stillitano-affiliated company, be stayed pending FIFA’s arbitration procedure.

“They are bound by the contracts their agent enters into on their behalf,” Connelly said.

Litt said FIFA never issued a formal regulation against international club matches in different countries and the USSF cited only a news release.

“Was U.S. Soccer irrational when it concluded that something that FIFA itself called a decision by its decision-making body was in fact a decision? We’re we crazy to think that? Was U.S. Soccer just in outer space?” Connelly said.

Litt claimed the USSF made its decision to protect Soccer United Marketing, an affiliate of the USSF and Major League Soccer.

“We believe that the only reason that they don’t want professional league matches that count in the United States is because that would damage Major League Soccer,” Litt said.

Relevent also 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.

Perry did not announce any decision.

Saudis, Bahrain, UAE join to bid for FIFA’s U-20 World Cup

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GENEVA (AP) Middle East neighbors Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are jointly bidding to host the Under-20 World Cup in 2021.

FIFA says the Gulf plan is among five to express interest in bidding, including Brazil.

Indonesia, Peru and a Myanmar-Thailand joint bid are the others.

FIFA announced the contenders Thursday, one day after dropping a proposal for Qatar to share hosting duties for the 2022 World Cup with regional neighbors.

The 2021 U20 contenders must submit a formal bid by Aug. 30. FIFA’s ruling Council will pick the winner, likely in October.

The 2019 edition kicks off Thursday in Poland.

Putin awards medal to FIFA president Infantino

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MOSCOW (AP) Vladimir Putin has given FIFA president Gianni Infantino a medal.

The Russian president awarded Infantino the Order of Friendship at the Kremlin on Thursday.

Infantino has often said last year’s World Cup in Russia, where the host nation surprisingly reached the quarterfinals, was the best of the 21 editions of the tournament.

Putin thanked the FIFA leader for “your glowing assessment of our efforts.”

Infantino says of Russia’s “bonds of friendship” with soccer “is not the end, it is only the beginning of our fruitful cooperation and interaction.”

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

Montero on target as Whitecaps grab point at Red Bulls

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HARRISON, N.J. (AP) Fredy Montero tied it for Vancouver with a penalty kick in the 61st minute and the Whitecaps held on for a 2-2 draw with the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday night.

Referee Victor Rivas awarded the Whitecaps (3-6-5) the kick after using video review to determine Sean Nealis handled the ball inside the penalty area.

Vancouver took a 1-0 lead in the 29th minute when Scott Sutter finished a counterattack with a narrow-angle finish into the upper corner.

Brian White pulled the Red Bulls (5-5-3) level in the 37th minute with a header flick of Amro Tarek’s header.

White’s pass across the 6-yard box was redirected by Vancouver’s Andy Rose into the Whitecaps own goal to give the Red Bulls a 2-1 lead in the 55th minute.

New York goalkeeper Luis Robles preserved the draw making a diving save on a breakaway attempt by Lucas Venuto in the final minute of stoppage time.