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UEFA to boost Women’s Champions League with new group stage

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NYON, Switzerland (AP) In a move to raise the quality, profile and value of women’s soccer, UEFA is changing the Champions League format to include a group stage.

The 2021-22 edition will have a 16-team group stage with increased revenue from the sale of centralized broadcast and sponsor deals, the European soccer body’s executive committee decided Wednesday.

Top European leagues will likely have more entries – three instead of two – joining at an earlier stage, with at least 10 different countries to be represented in the groups.

“We expect the Women’s Champions League to take off more than it has today,” UEFA deputy general secretary Giorgio Marchetti said. “Certainly there is also more interest from the market.”

Currently, the Women’s Champions League is a 32-team knockout tournament with few games shown by national broadcasters. French club Lyon has won the past four titles.

This season’s winner will earn 460,000 euros ($510,000) in prize money – about 0.5% of what the men’s Champions League winner will get.

UEFA also confirmed its preferred qualifying path for Europe’s quota of 13 places at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, which FIFA must approve. The winners of 10 qualifying groups will advance directly to the final tournament. Three will advance through playoffs.

The playoffs in March 2022 will include the 10 group runners-up and the two best remaining teams from the next Nations League standings. The 12 playoff nations will be drawn into three four-team knockout brackets playing single-game semifinals and a final.

The 2020 Nations League groups will be drawn on March 3, on the sidelines of UEFA’s annual congress in Amsterdam.

Amid uncertainty across Europe about how video review, and the interpretation of offside and handball, are affecting referees’ decisions, UEFA will ask soccer’s law-making panel for clearer guidance.

The video assistant system, introduced by FIFA for the 2018 World Cup, will stay, UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin said, but “it is far from clear.”

“We have to make it (the technology) clearer. We have to make it faster. We have to make it less invasive,” he said.

UEFA plans to make a detailed proposal to the rule-making panel, known as IFAB, before its annual meeting on Feb. 29 in Northern Ireland.

Ceferin said the tight offside lines drawn by video officials were not giving the same clear, accurate decisions as goal-line technology succeeded in doing.

“Goal-line technology, it works perfectly but offside cannot work that way,” Ceferin said. “I still think that football needs uncertainty. The referees on the pitch have to take responsibility and not some people hidden somewhere in a van or in a building 500 kilometers from the venue.”

Ceferin declined comment when asked if Russia’s hosting of the 2021 Champions League final in St. Petersburg could be threatened by an expected decision next Monday by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

WADA’s executive committee has been advised by an expert panel to recommend banning Russia from hosting major sports events for four years as punishment for state authorities corrupting data and documents from the long-disgraced Moscow testing laboratory.

UEFA is not a formal signatory of the World Anti-Doping Code – FIFA is – and is technically not bound by any WADA decision.

“As a lawyer and the UEFA president,” Ceferin said, “I cannot comment on something that hasn’t been decided.”

Pots for EURO 2020 revealed

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The 2020 European Championships take place next summer across Europe, as the 60th anniversary of the tournament will be celebrated by hosting games all across the continent.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live

With 20 of the 24 teams confirmed (the playoffs to secure the final four teams take place in March) we now know that England, Germany, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands will all host their group games in their own country

The big boys have qualified but they aren’t necessarily

Below are the four pots in full, as the draw takes place in Bucharest, Romania on Nov. 30.

Where are the “Groups of Death” here? Belgium, France, Portugal and Wales would be nuts, while none of Pot 1 would like to be put in the same group as France, Croatia or the Netherlands.


Pot 1
Belgium
Italy
England
Germany
Spain
Ukraine

Pot 2
France
Poland
Switzerland
Croatia
Netherlands
Russia

Pot 3
Portugal
Turkey
Denmark
Austria
Sweden
Czech Republic

Pot 4
Wales
Finland
Playoff Path A
Playoff Path B
Playoff Path C
Playoff Path D

UEFA investigates player’s claim of racial abuse in Romania

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NYON, Switzerland — UEFA has called for further investigations into allegations by a Sweden player he was racially abused by Romania fans at a European Championship qualifying game.

After Alexander Isak reported his claim to the match referee last Friday, play in Sweden’s 2-0 win was briefly stopped to broadcast a warning to fans in Bucharest. The stadium will host four Euro 2020 games in June.

[READ: How the USMNT found and kept Sergino Dest]

UEFA says it opened a disciplinary investigation, and also charged Romania’s soccer federation for separate incidents of an alleged “illicit banner” and “illicit chants.” Those charges will be judged on Dec. 12.

Romania faces more severe UEFA action because it was already under one year’s probation for previous incidents of offensive fan behavior.

Only accompanied children were allowed to attend Romania’s home qualifier against Norway last month.

The next UEFA punishment could affect Romania’s next game in the Euro 2020 playoffs round in March.

Man City’s attempt to block UEFA investigation denied in court

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MONTREUX, Switzerland (AP) Manchester City lost its attempt Friday to block an investigation into allegations it deceived UEFA while violating rules that monitor soccer club finances.

[ MORE: Berhalter: No “like-for-like” replacement for Pulisic ]

The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that City’s appeal against UEFA’s handling of the investigation was inadmissible. The two-time defending Premier League champions tried to stop UEFA’s club finance panel from handling a referral by investigators to impose a punishment.

“At CAS we can only hear appeals against final decisions,” said Matthieu Reeb, the court’s secretary general.

UEFA investigators had called for a severe penalty — that City be excluded from the Champions League for one season.

The file will now proceed to UEFA’s club finance judges. Any sanction they impose can also be challenged at CAS.

The latest UEFA investigation started after leaks of City’s internal correspondence and documents to German news outlet Der Spiegel last year.

The leaks implied City deceived UEFA for several years, including by hiding information that revenue from potentially overvalued commercial deals came from the club’s owners in Abu Dhabi to curb losses.

[ MORE: Report: LA Galaxy want Cavani to replace Zlatan ]

City has never disputed the authenticity of the documents.

“There was absolutely no examination of the merits,” Reeb said of the three-judge panel’s ruling. “We cannot say whether the decision of the alleged breach of financial fair play rules are real or not.”

Friday’s ruling extends a long-standing conflict between City and UEFA in the era of “Financial Fair Play” rules which began in 2009 after consultation with clubs. The project was intended to protect clubs from reckless overspending.

UEFA rules limit cash injections from wealthy owners, which critics say penalize emerging clubs with big ambitions. Commercial deals such as shirt sponsorships that are suspected of being inflated are also assessed for the fair market rate.

City was deducted $22 million of Champions League prize money by UEFA in 2014 in the first round of FFP judgments.

Top teams in good shape as EURO 2020 qualifying reaches climax

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With the Netherlands missing out on Euro 2016 and Italy absent from the World Cup in 2018, some of Europe’s traditional soccer powers have surprisingly failed to advance to recent major international tournaments.

Don’t expect any big shocks when qualification for next year’s European Championship wraps up over the coming days.

Six teams – Belgium, Spain, Italy, Poland, Russia and Ukraine – have already booked their places in the tournament and the remaining 14 automatic qualifiers will be determined after the final group games.

World champion France, European champion Portugal, and heavyweights such as Germany, England and the Netherlands are in good shape to finish in the top two in their respective groups, ensuring spots in the Europe-wide finals taking place in June and July.

There are big opportunities for Europe’s so-called lesser soccer nations, too. Finland, for example, needs only to beat Liechtenstein to qualify for its first major tournament.

France, the World Cup winner last year, is tied on points with Turkey in Group H and will secure a top-two finish by beating Moldova on Thursday. In case of an upset in that game in Paris, the French have another shot at qualification at Albania on Sunday.

Portugal, led by Cristiano Ronaldo, is guaranteed to advance in the defense of its title with wins over Lithuania at home and Luxembourg away – the bottom two teams in Group B.

England needs one win from its final two games – at home to Montenegro on Thursday and away to Kosovo on Sunday – to top Group A.

Editor’s note: Need tickets for the England game? Click here

And in Group C, Germany and the Netherlands are tied on points and need a maximum of four points from their final two qualifiers. Both have to play Northern Ireland, which is three points behind in third place.

The last four qualifying spots for the 24-team Euros will be decided in the playoffs in March.

RONALDO’S CHALLENGE

Could Cristiano Ronaldo fail to qualify for a major tournament?

UEFA would hate to see the Portugal star miss out, but his team has lacked a spark in qualifying and is eight points off Group B leader Ukraine.

Portugal is favored to beat Lithuania on Thursday and Luxembourg on Sunday to secure second place.

Still, there’s little margin for error. Dropped points could allow Serbia to overtake, forcing Portugal into the playoffs.

ENGLAND LANDMARK

England will be playing its 1,000th men’s international in the match against Montenegro and the occasion will be marked in a number of ways, including recognizing the notable contributions of former players and managers. Players will wear individual “legacy numbers” on their jerseys.

England manager Gareth Southgate is hoping a line can be drawn following scenes last month when his players were racially abused by some Bulgaria fans during England’s 6-0 win in Sofia. The game was stopped on two occasions by the referee. England’s match away to Montenegro in March was also marred by racist chanting toward England’s black players, notably Raheem Sterling.

“The players will want to move on, really,” Southgate said. “I think, for all of them, they dealt with it brilliantly and it would be wrong not to discuss it at all but I know that they want to get on with the football.”

Kosovo, which was accepted as a member of UEFA and FIFA only in 2016, is third in the group and could secure automatic qualification with a win at the Czech Republic on Thursday and a draw against England.

FINALLY FINLAND?

Finland is the only Nordic team never to have qualified for a World Cup or a European Championship. That could all change this week.

The Finns are second in Group J, five points clear of both Armenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, and will join Italy in advancing to the finals with a win at home against last-placed Liechtenstein on Friday or if Bosnia fails to beat the Italians. Finland’s second chance, if needed, comes against Greece on Monday.

Finland is coached by a primary school teacher, Markku Kanerva, who led the country to a first ever European Under-21 Championship in 2009 and is impressing with the senior team a decade on.

Teemu Pukki has seven goals in qualifying as the team looks to go further than it ever did with past greats such as Sami Hyypia and Jari Litmanen.

CROATIA AT RISK

Croatia is finding European qualifying harder than last year’s World Cup.

The Croatians lead the evenly matched Group E but if they lose to Slovakia on Saturday the World Cup finalists could end up relying on other results to go their way.

Another team in a fight to qualify is Switzerland, which is third in Group D behind Ireland and Denmark, but is a big favorite against Gibraltar.

PLAYOFF SHOOTOUT

The playoffs offer a last chance for unsuccessful teams, but it’s a complex process.

Sixteen teams who didn’t qualify automatically will be ranked according to their divisions from the 2018 Nations League and put into four single-elimination brackets.

At the bottom end, there’s the League D playoff, which is guaranteed to hand one team its debut at a major championship. Georgia and Belarus have secured a place in that playoff mini-tournament and will likely be joined by Kosovo and North Macedonia.

The highest division almost certainly won’t have enough unqualified teams to make a four-team bracket, so will recruit extras from lower tiers. That could hand League A’s Iceland a fortunate draw with League C teams such as Bulgaria and Israel.

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

AP Sports Writer James Ellingworth in Dusseldorf, Germany, contributed to this story