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Albania club says UEFA 10-year ban on fixing is ‘prejudiced’

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) Albania’s Skenderbeu club considers as “prejudiced, unilateral and predetermined” UEFA’s 10-year ban, saying it will appeal the sanction at Switzerland’s Federal Court.

Skenderbeu’s first appeal against a 10-year exclusion from European competitions and a fine of 1 million euros ($1.13 million) issued by UEFA a year ago, was dismissed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on Friday.

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In a statement on its Facebook page on Saturday, Skenderbeu said the sanctions were based on “alleged public perception” from UEFA inspectors who used “unscrupulous methods” in a process “not based on scientific proof” and “no pure sport analysis.”

“The sport justice system, fanatically raised and defended from the international federations, is a facade and shield of a rotten and corrupt system existing within the sport governing institutions,” the statement added.

The case was a landmark for UEFA in 2016, for proceeding with a prosecution that relied so much on betting patterns as the main evidence, having cited “the lack of active cooperation shown by Albanian authorities.”

Using evidence of betting patterns, UEFA investigators found suspected fixing of two Champions League qualifying games and two Europa League group-stage games in 2015. UEFA also suspected Skenderbeu of helping to fix around 50 domestic matches since 2011.

After winning seven Albanian league titles in the past decade, Skenderbeu placed fourth in the Albanian league last season, and was barred from a place in the Europa League qualifying rounds.

AC Milan banned from European competitions

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AC Milan have agreed a one-year ban from UEFA competitions due to breaching financial fair play rules.

The Serie A side were due to compete in the group stage of the Europa League during the 2019-20 campaign but they have now been disqualified over failing to address FFP breaches over a three-year period.

Last summer Milan appealed a two-year suspended ban for breaching rules in 2015-17 successfully as they appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) that new ownership would solve the issues. However, UEFA opened up proceedings against Milan in April once again about overspending, and they have now agreed to not play in European competitions next season.

CAS released the following statement on Friday.

“AC Milan is excluded from participating in the UEFA Club Competitions of the sporting season 2019/2020 as a consequence of the breach of its FFP break-even obligations during the 2015/2016/2017 and the 2016/2017/2018 monitoring periods.”

Milan finished fifth in Serie A last season and their place in the Europa League group stage will now go to AS Roma who finished in sixth, while Torino will now play in the Europa League qualifiers after finishing seventh in Italy’s top-flight in 2018-19.

Is this news that damaging to Milan?

No, not really. A club of their size doesn’t have a problem attracting players to join them, even with their recent struggles, and losing the Thursday-Sunday grind of long trips to play in the Europa League may actually help them focus on finishing in the top four of Serie A after a five-season absence in the UEFA Champions League.

New manager Marco Giampaolo will also have more time to work with his players on the training ground each week and overall, it seems like this ban will actually be beneficial for Milan in the long run.

Having a European ban on your record isn’t a great look, but Milan’s new ownership have promised a new stadium, have Ivan Gazidis in charge and the team only narrowly missed out on reaching the Champions League last season. Despite this ban, things are moving in the right direction.

Platini released from custody after police questioning

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PARIS (AP) Former UEFA president Michel Platini was released from custody in the early hours of Wednesday after being questioned as part of a corruption investigation into the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar.

His communication team said that Platini’s detention ended at 12:30 a.m. local time.

Platini had denied any wrongdoing and French authorities did not announce any charges against the former France and Juventus player.

“It was long, but given the number of questions it could not be different,” Platini said after his release. “They asked me questions about the 2016 Euro, the World Cup in Russia, the World Cup in Qatar, the Paris Saint-Germain, FIFA.”�

Also questioned Tuesday were Sophie Dion, a sports adviser in former French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s administration, and Claude Gueant, the former secretary general of the Elysee presidential palace under Sarkozy.

Ahead of the FIFA vote, Sarkozy hosted a meeting in November 2010 that brought Platini together with Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, then the crown prince of Qatar and now its ruling emir. Al-Thani also owns the French soccer club Paris Saint-Germain, and Sarkozy frequently attends its games.

Qatar beat the long-favored United States 14 to 8 when FIFA selected the host country for the 2022 World Cup

As head of European soccer’s governing body UEFA, Platini was the continent’s top representative on the FIFA committee that picked Qatar.

French prosecutors are known to be investigating an array of winning bids for major sports events, including the 2018 World Cup, awarded to Russia, the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo and track and field world championships.

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

Turkey says national team treated badly at Iceland airport

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ANKARA, Turkey (AP) Turkish officials have condemned the treatment its national soccer team endured upon arrival in Iceland ahead of a European Championship qualifying game.

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency said the Turkey players were kept at passport control for more than two hours at Keflavik Airport on Sunday while their bags were repeatedly searched. The report said a man held a toilet cleaning brush like a microphone while team captain Emre Belezoglu spoke to Turkish journalists.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu wrote on Twitter the team’s treatment in Iceland was “unacceptable from the point of diplomatic and humane practices.”

Turkey moved to the top of its Euro 2020 qualifying group by beating World Cup champion France 2-0 at home on Saturday.

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

Inaugural Nations League surpasses most expectations

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PORTO, Portugal (AP) The Estadio do Dragao was still filled as Cristiano Ronaldo and his teammates congratulated each other and waited for the trophy presentation after Portugal won the UEFA Nations League title.

When Ronaldo lifted the trophy, the crowd erupted in cheers. Confetti and fireworks went off behind the stage set up at midfield.

Players then went around the field to thank the fans, who sang and waved Portugal flags.

About an hour later, several thousand people packed a plaza in Porto to celebrate with the squad. Ronaldo and other players addressed the crowd from a balcony.

UEFA’s newest national team competition looked far from meaningless when it ended on Sunday in Portugal.

The tournament created to give national teams more meaningful games and reduce the number of friendlies surpassed most expectations, receiving praise by those involved and giving Portugal another trophy to add to its gallery.

“Although it’s the first edition of the competition, I think it will grow very well and will end up being a competition for the entire European family,” Portugal coach Fernando Santos said. “Being the first winner is something that will go down in history. It’s a cause for joy for us, for the Portuguese people.”

Runner-up Netherlands fell short of its first title since the 1988 European Championship. But the competition was crucial to help the team restore its confidence after failing to qualify for the last two major tournaments – the 2018 World Cup and the 2016 European Championship.

The Dutch eliminated the last two World Cup champions in the competition’s group stage – France and Germany – and it got past England in the semifinals this week.

“I think it’s a great tournament,” Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman said. “If you back across the whole season of the Nations League, you see how happy Portugal were to win this prize, how focused we were to win this prize tonight. I think the intensity in the groups was really high and I think the idea to organize the Nations League was perfect. We’re looking forward to the next one.”

There was criticism a few years ago when UEFA announced it was adding yet another official competition to an already busy calendar. Clubs complained, saying it would put even more strain on players. Some coaches also didn’t like it, saying it was too much soccer. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp called it “senseless.”

But in the end the competition certainly meant a lot to Portugal, even if not as much as the European Championship the team won three year ago in France. And the title also probably would have meant a lot to the other nations that made it to the inaugural Final Four.

England had the chance of ending a drought of more than five decades without a trophy, dating to the 1966 World Cup at home, and Switzerland was just two games away from its first ever title.

“Some people were skeptical against the Nations League, especially the clubs. They didn’t think this could be an interesting competition,” Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic said. “But it’s the contrary. Every single team in every single league wanted to win. We are happy to be here, and I think in the future we will see that this competition might become even more interesting.”

The tournament produced some exciting games, especially in the final rounds of the group stage. Both England and the Netherlands needed dramatic late goals just to make it to the Final Four.

Perhaps the most lackluster game of the whole tournament came in the third-place match on Sunday, when England defeated Switzerland in a penalty shootout after a 0-0 draw.

Promotion and relegation between the four leagues added excitement to the competition. Europe’s smallest teams finally had something to play for, as the group winners in all leagues were assured of a place in the 2020 European Championship qualifying playoffs. Among the nations which are now closer to making it to Euro 2020 are Kosovo and Georgia.

UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin said last year the Nations League was “even more successful than we thought,” and the governing body recently said the competition may provide a qualifying path to the 2022 World Cup, with teams earning places in the playoffs via the new competition.

In addition to lifting the winner’s trophy on Sunday, Portugal also took home the prize of 10.5 million euros ($11.9 million).

“We are very happy to be the first winners and to go down in history,” Santos said.

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

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni