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Australia’s A-League to expand to 12 clubs

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SYDNEY (AP) The A-League will expand to 12 clubs over the next two seasons after Football Federation Australia decided to award licenses to new teams based in western Melbourne and southwest Sydney.

FFA on Thursday said the Western Melbourne Group will enter the league in October – in time for the 2019-2020 season – with the Macarthur South West Sydney bid, based in Campbelltown, entering the national top-flight competition for the 2020-21 season.

FFA chief executive David Gallop said one of the key strengths of the Western Melbourne Group was the proposal to build Australia’s first major soccer-owned and soccer-specific stadium. It will be ready in 2022, with the team playing out of Geelong’s Kardinia Park in the interim.

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FIFA supports case of detained Bahraini soccer player

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA says it wants a soccer player who has refugee status in Australia to return to the country “at the earliest possible moment” rather than be extradited from Thailand to Bahrain.

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Former Bahrain international Hakeem Al-Araibi was detained at Bangkok airport last week. An Interpol warrant for his arrest was issued in apparent violation of rules protecting refugees.

World soccer’s ruling body FIFA says it now expects his case “to be solved in accordance with well-established international standards,” and has asked Australian soccer officials to urgently “take the matter up with their government.”

Australian authorities said last week that embassy officials in Bangkok were working on the case.

Rights activists say Al-Araibi was tortured after being arrested in 2012. He fled to Australia which gave him political asylum.

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A-League, MLS, BuLi aiming to bring clarity to VAR decisions

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ADELAIDE, Australia (AP) The head of Australia’s A-League is hoping international soccer authorities will allow video-assisted referee (VAR) decisions to be shown on television broadcasts and on stadium video boards so that the often contentious calls don’t seem like a “silent movie.”

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Greg O’Rourke says the A-League is working with Germany’s Bundesliga and Major League Soccer in the U.S. to push for communication of the VAR process in stadiums.

“American sport and Australian sport have been used to, for many years, the referees being able to talk in-stadia,” O’Rourke said Wednesday. He said existing protocols don’t “don’t allow currently the VAR to talk in-stadia or even to the commentators, it’s a bit of a silent movie. Then what happens … is the fan is left to try and interpret why – they’re just left to their own devices.”

FIFA is the sport’s world governing body, and the International Football Association Board, which includes four FIFA members, formulates the laws and protocols, including future developments of the VAR.

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O’Rourke said the National Rugby League in Australia has a good system for its video review decisions.

“The NRL have the bunker talking live to the crowd and stepping through their decision-making,” he said. Fans “don’t have to agree with what the bunker guy is saying but at least they can understand his decision-making.”

The VAR was criticized twice on the opening weekend in the A-League, both when reviews resulted in penalties being awarded.

Melbourne Victory lost 2-1 to Melbourne City when Bruno Fornaroli’s seemingly innocuous tumble earned a VAR-awarded penalty for City.

It was a similar situation in Wellington, New Zealand, where the Phoenix benefited from a late penalty after Mitch Nichols was taken down well off the ball. The subsequent spot kick sealed his team’s 2-1 win over the Newcastle Jets.

Agent says Usain Bolt has contract offer

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Usain Bolt’s agent claims that his client has received an A-League contract offer from Central Coast Mariners after spending more than two months on trial with the Australian club.

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The eight-time Olympic goal medalist, who’s 32 years old after retiring from track and field last year, scored twice in a Mariners exhibition last week. Now, his agent says he’s been offered an official contract — quotes from the AP:

“In response to the media stories, yes, Usain has been offered a contract. I do not want to make any further comment at this stage.”

Mike Mulvey, the Mariners manager, not only claims to be unaware of any such offer, but sounds rather dubious and unenthusiastic about the prospects of Bolt being a first-team player.

“You have a look at our front line today and you wonder whether he could get into any of those positions, wouldn’t you? I do appreciate how important this story is for the rest of the world.

“You’re just talking about speculation, I don’t know anything about what you’re talking about and that’s the honest truth.”

“We’re going to go back, have some dinner, have a little look at the game that’s on … then get on a plane tomorrow, go home and start preparing for Melbourne City next week. That’s the plan.”

Usain Bolt scores two goals in first A-League trial start

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SYDNEY (AP) Usain Bolt scored twice in his first start for the Central Coast Mariners in an A-League trial match on Friday before being substituted with about 15 minutes remaining.

The retired eight-time Olympic gold medalist sprinter is trying to secure a place with the Mariners for this season, which begins for the Mariners on Oct. 21 against the Brisbane Roar.

“My first start and scoring two goals, it’s a good feeling,” Bolt told Fox Sports television. “I’m happy I could come here and show the world I’m improving. I’m keen to be a Mariner, and get into the team.”

Bolt said he hoped to sit down with the Central Coast coaching staff next week to discuss his future with the team.

Bolt was in the starting lineup against a second-tier National Premier League combined team representing Sydney’s southwest region.

Playing in a central striking role, Bolt struggled for touch early in the match but flourished after halftime.

He showed good strength to hold off a defender and race onto a through-ball before beating the goalkeeper at the near post with a strong left-foot shot in the 55th minute. In celebration, he gave his trademark Lightning Bolt to the crowd.

Just over 10 minutes later, he capitalized on a defensive mix-up to pick up a loose ball and tap in from a few meters out. Bolt had six shots overall before being substituted.

He left the game with the Mariners leading 4-0, which was the final score, and spent the remaining time on the sideline signing autographs for hundreds of fans at Campbelltown Stadium in western Sydney.

Bolt wore No. 95 on his jersey, in reference to his 100-meter world record of 9.58 seconds he set in Berlin in at the 2009 world championships.

The 32-year-old Bolt, who holds the 100- and 200-meter world records, saw his first action for the Mariners on Aug. 31, playing 20 minutes against a Central Coast invitational side.

He played the entire second half against the North Shore Mariners on Sept. 19, when he alternated between left wing and forward.

It’s Bolt’s first serious foray into football since retiring from athletics last year. He has trained with teams in Norway, South Africa and Jamaica, and had a much-publicized training stint with Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund in March.