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Michael Oliver branded “total chaos” by Juve president; Buffon seethes

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Juventus manager Max Allegri says referees, yes plural, decided the UEFA Champions League quarterfinal between his club and Real Madrid.

The Serie A powers clawed their way back from a 3-0 first leg deficit and seemed destined for extra time after two goals from Mario Mandzukic and an equalizer from Blaise Matuidi.

[ RECAP: Real 1-3 (4-3 agg.) Juve ]

But Mehdi Benatia knocked down Lucas Vasquez before the latter could head home a stoppage time winner, and Cristiano Ronaldo converted the penalty awarded by Michael Oliver.

That added to Allegri’s frustration from a first leg, stoppage time penalty not given to Juve in Turin.

“I feel bad for the lads who did well in Turin for 60 minutes and didn’t score the goals they did tonight,” Allegri said via Football Italia. “The penalty tonight was basically the reverse of what happened on Juan Cuadrado in the first leg… I said even at the time that incident would decide qualification.”

[ MORE: Cristiano Ronaldo reacts ]

Allegri also said he was saving a pair of what he believed to be game-changing substitutions for extra time, and said the ref decided the tie.

Gianluigi Buffon, who was sent off for his protest of Oliver’s decision, was less reserved, saying Oliver wanted to play a major role in the match (from Football Italia):

“Clearly you cannot have a heart in your chest, but a garbage bin. On top of that, if you don’t have the character to walk on a pitch like this in a stadium like this, you can sit in the stands with your wife, your kids, drinking your Sprite and eating crisps.

“You cannot ruin the dreams of a team. I could’ve told the referee anything at that moment, but he had to understand the degree of the disaster he was creating. If you can’t handle the pressure and have the courage to make a decision, then you should just sit in the stands and eat your crisps.”

Juventus president Andrea Agnelli was also quite angry, calling for VAR after the game.

“The referee tonight was in total chaos,” Agnelli said. “It’s a pity, the performance of the boys remains, we confirmed – as did PSG last season and Roma last night – proved you can come back from 3-0 down to turn things around.”

The penalty is one of those calls that is only controversial because of when it took place, as most wouldn’t begrudge the award were it not stoppage time of a UEFA Champions League decider.

European clubs push back at FIFA expansion plans

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ROME (AP) Europe’s soccer clubs are pushing back at the grand expansion plans of the sport’s governing bodies, calling for fewer matches, mandatory rest periods and alignment of confederation tournaments.

Presenting a streamlined agenda aimed at protecting players at its general assembly Tuesday, the European Club Association (ECA) wouldn’t even discuss FIFA’s proposal for an expanded Club World Cup in June 2021.

[ MORE: Pogba stars for France ]

“It is not about adding competition in this moment,” ECA president Andrea Agnelli said. “To us the priorities are addressing the calendar post-2024.”

Agnelli said the players, which he described as “the main actors,” must be respected.

“It’s ensuring that throughout the calendar players have the time to rest and/or train,” said Agnelli, who is also the president of six-time defending Italian champion Juventus.

“They’re playing week in, week out, two or three games a week, be it at club level or a national team level,” Agnelli added. “So when we think about the calendar going forward we must also take into consideration weeks when players can actually rest and/or train. So reducing the overall number of games.”

The Club World Cup is currently an annual competition held each December featuring seven teams. FIFA president Gianni Infantino would like to expand the competition to include 24 clubs and move it to June as a quadrennial event similar to the World Cup.

But June is when players’ and coaches’ contracts expire and generally a transitional period for clubs.

“There are many things around that but mainly we almost don’t know anything about it,” UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin told The Associated Press. “The stakeholders are not informed properly yet so it’s much too early to say anything.”

Ceferin added that he “doubts” the tournament could come together for 2021.

But Infantino isn’t giving up.

“The Club World Cup is a great competition already and we are discussing whether we can make it even greater,” Infantino said.

Among other topics discussed at the ECA assembly, which was attended by 163 clubs from across the continent:

VAR:

Already approved for this year’s World Cup in Russia, the video assistant referee (VAR) won’t be used in the Champions League until next season – at the earliest.

“It’s too soon for the Champions League to start this season. We are not ready, referees are not ready, fans are not ready,” Ceferin said. “It’s not the competition to have a trial.

“We will start training the referees and educating the fans and if everything goes fine it might happen next season,” the UEFA president added.

Agnelli, however, suggested that the VAR might not be included in the Champions League until the 2019-20 season.

Infantino, meanwhile, promoted the VAR amid controversies in domestic competitions where it has already been introduced.

“For the World Cup the referees will be trained, the VARs will be trained,” Infantino said. “We are looking very much forward to a World Cup which, thanks to the VAR, will be a little bit more transparent and just or fair.”

During this season’s trials in other cup competitions, a number of wrong decisions, delays and a lack of communication have left many critics wondering whether the VAR is worth it.

But Infantino said that testing has shown the VAR increases the accuracy of referees’ decisions from 93 to 99 percent.

“It’s not 100 percent so there is still work for all those who want to complain and maybe before if it was the fault of the referee it will (now) be the fault of the VAR,” he added.

2026 WORLD CUP

A day after bid dossiers were released from the North American and Morocco candidates, UEFA’s Ceferin reserved judgment on whether Morocco can spend $15.8 billion for construction work on new stadiums and training grounds.

“I don’t think that this task force group has finished their work yet,” Ceferin said, referring to FIFA’s April 17-19 visit to the North African nation.

Stadium infrastructure accounts for 35 percent of the evaluation score from the task force.

By contrast, the bid book for the joint candidacy by the United States, Mexico and Canada says it is the low-risk proposition since no infrastructure will be built for the first World Cup after the jump from 32 to 48 finalists.

While the dossiers were submitted to FIFA two weeks ago, Infantino claimed he hasn’t read them yet.

“I was here so I didn’t have the chance to look at them,” he said.

FINANCIAL FAIR PLAY 2.0

The ECA and UEFA have agreed on an update to the financial fair play rules beginning next season – subject to final approval by UEFA’s executive committee.

The new rules aim to expedite the investigation process by putting in place two new indicators: “a sustainable debt ratio” based on a club’s net debt and earnings and a maximum net transfer spending of 100 million euros ($124 million).

If one of the two indicators is breached, UEFA will immediately begin a preliminary investigation – which could drastically reduce the current process, which sometimes lasts up to 22 months.

The clubs rejected UEFA’s proposal of a luxury tax but promoted publishing the amounts paid to player agents.

AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Geneva contributed.

More AP soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Soccer

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf

Juventus president Agnelli’s 1-year ban lifted on appeal

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ROME (AP) Juventus president Andrea Agnelli had his one-year ban for selling tickets to ultras lifted on Monday, but the Serie A club’s fine was doubled and it will have to play a match with one of its main sections closed.

[ MORE: Making sense of PL table in Man City’s world ]

Agnelli was banned for one year by the Italian soccer federation in September for his role in selling tickets to hardcore “ultra” fans that encouraged scalping. He was also fined 20,000 euros ($24,000).

The FIGC’s appeals court said it has changed Agnelli’s sanction “into a fine of 100,000 euros ($118,000) and a ban until today’s date.”

Juventus, however, was fined 600,000 euros ($708,000) and will have its Curva Sud closed for the home match against Genoa on Jan. 22.

The federation’s prosecutor, Giuseppe Pecoraro, had requested a 2 1/2-year suspension for Agnelli and also appealed the original decision.

Agnelli allegedly authorized the sale of season passes and other tickets. He acknowledged meeting with Rocco Dominello, an ultra fan linked to the Calabrian `ndrangheta crime mob who has since been sentenced to nearly eight years in prison for scalping.

But Agnelli said the meetings came only with large numbers of other fans at celebratory occasions, and that the club never intended to engage in illegal activity.

The 42-year-old Agnelli has led Juventus, the club his family has owned for nearly a century, since 2010.

Anti-mafia prosecutors said the `ndrangheta was involved in scalping among Juventus ultra fans for at least 15 years, guaranteeing order in the stadium in exchange for open ticket access.

Juventus denied any wrongdoing.

Juventus security director Alessandro D’Angelo and ticketing director Stefano Merulla have had their suspensions and fines canceled. D’Angelo was originally banned for 15 months, while Merulla had been handed a one-year suspension.

However, former marketing director Francesco Calvo had his appeal rejected and will be banned for one year and will have to pay a 20,000 euro ($24,000) fine.

Juventus president Andrea Agnelli banned for 1 year

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Juventus president Andrea Agnelli was banned for one year by the Italian soccer federation on Monday for his role in selling tickets to hardcore “ultra” fans that encouraged scalping.

[ MORE: Mourinho escapes ban after sending off ]

The court also fined Juventus 300,000 euros ($350,000).

The ban comes less than three weeks after Agnelli was elected to chair the 220-member European Club Association.

“Having taken note of today’s decision by the FIGC’s National Tribunal, Juventus preannounces its appeal to the FIGC Court of Appeal in the full conviction of its own good arguments, which have still not found adequate recognition,” the Serie A club said in a statement.

“The club expresses its own satisfaction because today’s sentence, even though it inflicted heavy bans on the president and other people involved, has “after extensive evaluation of the evidentiary material” (page 11 of the sentence) excluded all alleged links with representatives of organized crime.”

Federation prosecutor Giuseppe Pecoraro also said he would appeal for a harsher sentence. Pecoraro requested a 2 1/2-year suspension, a fine and an order to force Juventus to play two home matches behind closed doors.

“I am partially satisfied because we managed to prove everyone’s guilt but the facts are so serious that I think they should be punished more,” Pecoraro told Italian news agency Ansa. “The judgment of another court would be useful, taking into account that the resources coming from the ticket scalping went to a criminal organization, and that is very serious.”

The ban means Agnelli remains Juventus president but cannot represent the club in any official matter governed by the FIGC. He cannot, for example, go into the dressing room during matches or have transfer dealings with players’ agents.

However, the ban has not been extended to UEFA and FIFA – and there is no chance of that happening until all the appeals have been heard. Agnelli’s position as head of the ECA is not at risk for now.

Agnelli allegedly authorized the sale of season passes and other tickets. He has acknowledged meeting with Rocco Dominello, an “ultra” fan linked to the Calabrian `ndrangheta crime mob who has since been sentenced to nearly eight years in prison for scalping.

But Agnelli said the meetings came only with large numbers of other fans at celebratory occasions and that the club never intended to engage in illegal activity.

Juventus security director Alessandro D’Angelo has been banned for 15 months while ticketing director Stefano Merulla and former marketing director Francesco Calvo have also been handed one-year suspensions.

Each of the four has also been fined 20,000 euros ($24,000) for violating sporting integrity and illicit relations with fans.

The 41-year-old Agnelli has led Juventus, the club his family has owned for nearly a century, since 2010. Agnelli has also been a non-voting member of the UEFA executive committee since 2015. He received full voting rights last week at a UEFA meeting in Geneva.

[ MORE: Villareal sacks manager Escriba after one year in charge ]

Dominello’s father, Saverio Dominello, was sentenced to 12 years in prison by a court in Turin in June for his role in the scalping case.

Anti-mafia prosecutors said the `ndrangheta was involved in scalping among Juventus ultra fans for at least 15 years, guaranteeing order in the stadium in exchange for open ticket access.

Juventus has denied any wrongdoing.

Abandoning the Champions League? Galatasaray chairman claims new competition will arise involving top teams

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So long, parity. So long, little club. So long, Cinderella story.

According to Galatasaray chairman Unal Aysal, a “European Super League” could exist as soon as 5 years from now involving the top teams from across Europe.

“I think it is the future of football” Aysal said at the Leaders Sport Summit in west London Thursday. “It has to be created, not after 10 years but as soon as possible.”

The completely radical idea would essentially replace the Champions League, and would appear – as Aysal describes it – as another league-based system, complete with relegation.

“I think it could be 20 big teams, for example, in Europe, with the last three, four or five teams can change every year. I think it can be operated in a proper way in order to make it effective and useful to European football and also to bring new horizons in football.”

Would clubs like Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona, PSG, or Juventus go for such a change?

“Football is a big industry, a growing industry” argues Aysal, “and a European super league will bring a lot of support and also energize football in general. It’s not yet totally elaborated and prepared and put on the paper. But it is a concept that is under discussion for a few years. It is not a new concept, but we favor it.

“The first 15-20 big clubs of Europe all agree with this – nobody will say no. Manchester United, Paris St Germain, Real Madrid. There may be one or two exceptions for local reasons, political reasons, and I will understand, but as the future for European clubs and the future of football, nobody can say no to this. Every reality starts with a dream. At the moment, it looks like a dream, a vision. I am sure, sooner or later, in a maximum of five years’ time, it will be a reality.”

That’s a very, very bold statement by the Turkish club. It’s also a statement that has already been disputed by Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli.  “I do not think the time has come,” Agnelli said. “We are part of a system that works, and we are proud of being part of that system.”

So will the top clubs support it like Aysal claims? That’s something worth watching, but also something that would appear doubtful at this moment.