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Russia says it thwarted drone attacks at World Cup

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MOSCOW (AP) Russia says it thwarted attempted drone attacks at this year’s World Cup.

Alexander Bortnikov, the head of Russia’s Federal Security Service, says his officers “took measures to detect and foil attempts by terrorists to use drones during the preparation and hosting of various major political and sports events, most of all during the soccer World Cup.”

Bortnikov gave no further details in comments reported by the Tass state news agency.

Russia used thousands of police and cutting-edge surveillance technology to guard the World Cup. However, four Pussy Riot protesters managed to run onto the field during the final.

In April, Russia said “extremists” and nationalist soccer hooligans had planned to attack World Cup events in the city of Samara but were foiled.

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

Infantino: FIFA ‘discussing’ expedited WC expansion for 2022

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Expansion of the World Cup field, from 32 to 48 teams, is inevitable as FIFA has been exploring and not-so-subtly hinting at the idea for a number of years.

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From the outset, the 2026 tournament — which we now know will be hosted in the United States, Mexico and Canada — has been earmarked as the target date for increasing the field of teams by 50 percent. It was confirmed by a vote in January 2017, more than nine years before the tournament kicks off.

Now, according to FIFA president Gianni Infantino, that timetable might just get moved up by four years for the 2022 tournament in Qatar. I mean, why not, right? In fact, that’s actually Infantino’s take on the matter: why not? — quotes from the BBC:

“If it is possible, why not?”

“We have to see if it is possible, if it is feasible. We are discussing with our Qatari friends, we are discussing with our many other friends in the region and we hope that this can happen.

“And, if not, we will have tried. We will have tried because we always have to try to do things in a better way.”

The change would require Qatar to share hosting duties with other countries in the region. Given that the tournament is scheduled to begin in just over four years (Nov. 21, 2022), such an alteration to plans would appear to be unwise and ill-advised.

On the other hand, it would almost certainly be an obscenely lucrative move for FIFA. Thus, it can’t be ruled out.

Infantino draws line in sand, won’t approve La Liga game in U.S.

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Gianni Infantino seems dead set against La Liga bringing its league product overseas.

During a press conference after the FIFA Council met in Kigali, Rwanda on Friday morning, Infantino reiterated that FIFA would not approve La Liga’s request to move Barcelona vs. Girona to Miami in January.

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“I’m strongly opposed to this and I deny any permit to play the Girona-Barça game in Miami”. Infantino reportedly said. “Official games of a league must be played inside the country.”

Infantino’s comments mirror the statement on FIFA’s website after the FIFA Council discussed the proposed idea. “Following a request for guidance from the Spanish FA, US Soccer and CONCACAF, the FIFA Council discussed La Liga’s proposal to host an official 2018/19 regular season league match outside Spain (in Miami). Consistent with the opinion expressed by the Football Stakeholders Committee, the Council emphasized the sporting principle that official league matches must be played within the territory of the respective member association.”

It’s now clear that La Liga and Relevant Sports’ 15-year marketing right deal announcement was made before any behind the scenes discussions were done with all the parties necessary to bring La Liga matches abroad, including FIFA, U.S. Soccer and even the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF). La Liga president Javier Tebas has threatened legal action, but with the match scheduled for January 26 fast approaching, there is little time to conduct important negotiations, especially if FIFA will deny the project all together.

Ultimately, though, there may be a loophole that Tebas and La Liga could try to sneak through. The statement says that the FIFA Council emphasizes official league matches should be played within a member association’s territory, but there are examples where teams play across international borders for league matches. Think the Canadian clubs in MLS, Cardiff City and Swansea City in the Premier League (playing in Great Britain but outside of their local federation) and even Monaco FC plays in Ligue Un. San Marino has teams playing in Italy’s professional pyramid and there are further examples of teams playing outside of their borders.

However, the La Liga move is clearly more than playing a match in Gibraltar or Portugal, where it’s just across the border, as opposed to crossing the Atlantic Ocean or flying halfway across the world for a match.

In other news from the FIFA Council meeting, the organization approved CONMEBOL’s request to move the Copa America to even years, meaning there will be a pair of Copa Americas again in the next two years before the Copa America returns to a normal, four-year cycle beginning in 2024. It’s unclear where a Copa America in 2020 would be hosted on such short notice, but you can bet that the organization will see if it can bring it to the U.S. again.

In addition, FIFA will now be contributing $50 million towards teams participating in the Women’s World Cup, a 100 percent increase from 2015 but still a far cry from the money awarded to men’s World Cup teams.

Decision on new FIFA events stalled by planned taskforce

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KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) A FIFA decision on a $25 billion overhaul of competitions was expected to be delayed again on Friday after opposition from European soccer leaders and clubs intensified.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino had hoped to secure an agreement from his council on the concept of revamping the Club World Cup and establishing a Global Nations League.

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Instead, a taskforce is set to be created to explore in more detail the merits of the new formats, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the conversations ahead of the council meeting were private.

By backing down in the face of UEFA opposition, Infantino was likely to avoid the prospect of European representatives carrying out a threat to walk out of the meeting when the new competitions were discussed.

Infantino has been trying to gain approval from the FIFA Council since March to accept an offer from a global financial consortium, including Japanese conglomerate SoftBank, to make the biggest change to soccer competitions in years.

“I really think we have to think out of the box to think about new models to preserve football and the relevance of football and the structure of football,” Infantino said in an interview with The Associated Press and New York Times on Thursday.

UEFA sees a potential annual Club World Cup that is expanded from the current seven-team format as a threat to the Champions League. There are also concerns in Europe about the increased demands on players, the lack of consultation by FIFA and, within leagues, the potential for the big clubs to get even richer.

In briefing documents for the meeting, FIFA assured council members that government-issued funds won’t be allowed to be part of any joint-venture consortium involved in the new tournaments.

“There were several discussions with several other potential investors, not state funds or anything similar but private global companies,” Infantino said. “We will see what, if anything will be decided on Friday, and then if something will be decided we will see what kind of offers we can get after that.”

Two options for a new Club World Cup from 2021 were floated to council members.

The first would see a tournament staged every four years over a maximum of 18 days in the June slot currently used by the Confederations Cup, which serves as the warm-up event a year before the World Cup. FIFA earlier this year proposed 24 teams but is now leaving that competition field open.

The second proposal would keep an annual Club World Cup but shift it from December to the July-August window currently used by European teams for often-lucrative preseason friendlies in the United States and Asia.

The Nations League was first conceived by UEFA when Infantino was general secretary of European soccer’s governing body before being elected president of FIFA in 2016. It debuted in Europe last month. Infantino wants the format to involve all six confederations with eight-team finals serving as mini World Cups in every odd-numbered year.

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

Chaos and ‘absurdity’ rule in Italy’s lower divisions

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ROME (AP) FIFA president Gianni Infantino labeled the chaos in Italy’s lower divisions an “absurdity.”

And it’s hard to argue with him.

Two months into the season, several clubs still don’t know which division they will be playing in and some teams have hardly played at all.

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The disorder is highlighting the failure of Italy’s complicated sports justice system.

On Wednesday, a regional appeals court overturned an Italian soccer federation decision from August that had reduced Serie B from 22 to 19 clubs.

The earlier decision by the federation’s emergency commissioner Roberto Fabbricini was made following the bankruptcies of Avellino, Bari and Cesena.

Virtus Entella, Novara, Pro Vercelli and Ternana – the four clubs relegated at the end of last season – plus Catania and Siena – which each lost in the Serie C playoffs – are all arguing for a place in the second division.

But it remains unclear which clubs might now be promoted or re-instated, or if the appealing teams might accept financial payoffs instead.

Eight rounds of Serie B have already been played among the existing 19 clubs, with one team sitting idle each weekend.

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Meanwhile, Entella has played only one game in Serie C, which is also known as the Lega Pro, while it awaits the outcome of its appeal.

Novara, Pro Vercelli, Ternana and Catania have also played fewer matches than the norm in the third division.

“It’s not tolerable that some squads still don’t know what league they will play in,” Infantino said at Monday’s election of Gabriele Gravina as president of the Italian federation. “It seems to me a real absurdity.

“Why does Italian football need outside help to resolve problems that can be resolved internally?” Infantino added, referring to the appeal to an ordinary (non-sports) court.

Fabbricini had been running the federation since February, after a failed vote to find a successor for Carlo Tavecchio, who resigned following Italy’s failure to qualify for the World Cup nearly a year ago.

There were also emergency commissioners of the federation following the 2006 Italian match-fixing and refereeing scandal known as “calciopoli.”

“Four and a half years of emergency commissioners in the last 20 years seems like an absurdity to me,” Infantino said. “There needs to be a strong federation now.”

The decision on how to resolve the situation will now likely be made by Gravina, who was previously the Serie C president.

The matter was taken to a regional appeals court after the clubs’ cases were rejected by multiple sports justice outlets.

The appeals court in Rome ruled that Fabbricini did not have the power to alter the number of squads in Serie B.

“The government didn’t have any desire to and no interests in intervening in sports justice,” government undersecretary and sports delegate Giancarlo Giorgetti told the Gazzetta dello Sport. “We were forced to take an initiative because nobody was meeting the interests of the clubs.”

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

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