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Al-Khelaifi’s role on UEFA ruling body defended by Agnelli

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GENEVA (AP) Under investigation in French and Swiss criminal investigations, the president of Paris Saint-Germain has been praised as a “tremendous professional” by UEFA executive committee colleague Andrea Agnelli.

Nasser Al-Khelaifi and Agnelli, the European Club Association chairman, have four-year terms to represent clubs on the European soccer body’s ruling panel.

Speaking after the first ECA meeting since both were renewed last month, Agnelli described Al-Khelaifi as “knowledgeable, competent, a professional.”

Agnelli said: “Why not him? We live in a world (where) we are innocent unless proven guilty.”

Swiss federal prosecutors opened a criminal proceeding against Al-Khelaifi in 2017 for suspected bribery of a FIFA official before Qatar-based beIN Sports got renewed World Cup broadcast rights for the 2026 and 2030 tournaments.

Since Al-Khelaifi joined UEFA’s decision-making body in February, French prosecutors filed a preliminary charge of “active corruption” regarding payments linked to Qatar’s bids to host the 2017 and 2019 track world championships.

The Qatari executive has not been charged and denies wrongdoing. He continues to run French champion PSG.

Agnelli said other ECA officials were eligible for the UEFA seat “but we collectively as a board converged on the name of Nasser. He’s a tremendous professional.”

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

European leagues detail post-2024 ideas for Champions League

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LISBON, Portugal (AP) Europe’s top soccer leagues have announced a Champions League vision that rejects radical changes wanted by elite clubs.

The 29-nation European Leagues group says its principles include no new promotion or relegation between the Champions League and Europa League from 2024, and limiting teams to six group games.

The proposal detailed at a soccer conference rejects the European Club Association’s plan for locking in 24 of 32 Champions League. The ECA also prefers eight-team groups giving clubs 14 games each that would squeeze available dates for national leagues and cups.

European Leagues says Champions League entries “must be based on qualification from the domestic competitions,” except for the winner retaining its place.

Though mostly supporting the status quo, the leagues say they are “in favor of innovations (that) contribute to the growth of professional football as a whole and not just for a very few.”

UEFA’s consultation on potential changes to take effect in 2024 has stalled while clubs and leagues are far apart in their proposals.

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

UEFA announces cap on away ticket prices for UCL, UEL

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UEFA has announced a cap on tickets for away fans in both the Champions League and Europa League.

An emergency panel says that traveling supporters can not be charged any higher than approximately $50 for UEL fixtures and $79 for UCL matches.

[ MORE: UEL group stage draw ]

The prices represent “the level of the lowest category ticket price of the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League finals respectively.”

The move comes after a public plea from the supporters’ trusts of Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, and Liverpool, who had loads of problems getting tickets at last year’s finals.

UEFA president Aleksandr Ceferin said:

“Fans are the lifeblood of the game and those who follow their teams to away matches must have access to tickets at a reasonable price, bearing in mind the cost they have already had to incur for their trip.”

UEL Rewind: Wolves advance to group stage

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For the first time in nearly 40 years, Wolverhampton Wanderers will be playing in the main stage of a European competition.

Wolves defeated Torino, 2-1, at the Molineux Stadium on Thursday night, advancing to the UEFA Europa League group stage with a 5-3 aggregate victory. Raul Jimenez and Leander Dendoncker both scored for Wolves, with Andrea Belotti scoring for Torino as the Serie A club was knocked out.

[READ: JPW’s Premier League Picks]

Jimenez gave Wolves the lead in the 30th minute with a sublime first-time finish. In the 57th minute, Andrea Belotti briefly tied the game with a near-post header, but one minute later, Dendoncker struck back with a side-footed shot that went off the post.

The draw for the Europa League group stages is on Friday.

Here’s a look at the rest of Thursday’s Europa League second-leg scores.

Qarabag 2 – 1 Linfield
Riga 1 – 0 Copenhagen
AIK 1 – 4 Celtic
PAOK 3 – 2 Slovan Bratislava
BATE 2 – 0 Astana
Apollon 0 – 4 PSV
Zorya 2 – 2 Espanyol
Molde 1 – 1 Partizan
Bnei Yehuda 0 – 1 Malmö FF
Spartak Moscow 1 – 2 Sporting Braga
Trabzonspor 0 – 2 AEK Athens
Hapoel Be’er Sheva 0 – 3 Feyenoord
Antwerp 1 – 4 E AZ (After Extra Time)
Ferencvaros 4 – 2 Sūduva
F91 Dudelange 2 – 1 Ararat-Armenia (on penalties)
Rijeka 1 – 1 Gent
Maribor 2 – 2 Ludogorets
Eintracht Frankfurt 3 – 0 Strasbourg
Wolverhampton Wanderers 2 – 1 Torino
Rangers 1 – 0 Legia Warszawa
Vitoria Guimaraes 1 – 0 FCSB

UEL Recap: Wolves earn huge road victory, and more

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Wolverhampton Wanderers has one proverbial foot back in a European competition, potentially breaking a 40-year drought for the club.

Wolves defeated Torino on the road, 3-2, in the first leg match between the two sides on Thursday at the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino. Mexican international Raul Jimenez continued his red-hot form with another goal, while Diogo Jota scored as well for Wolves.

The Premier League side took the lead late in the first half thanks to an own goal, as Gleison Bremer headed in a Wolves free kick expertly into the side netting. Jota then added the second for Wolves in the 59th minute after an individual moment of brilliance from Adama Traore down the right side of the box, completely bamboozling his defender.

Torino’s Lorenzo di Silvestre answered just two minutes later off a late run into the box and a powerful header, but Jimenez then gave Wolves another two-goal advantage, as well as another crucial away goal. Jimenez ran with the ball from midfield and with Nicolas N’Koulou retreating, Jimenez took the space and scored.

Torino striker Andrea Belotti gave the Italians some late hope with a penalty kick goal in the 89th minute, but it wasn’t enough to complete the comeback. Anything but a defeat by more than two goals for Wolves will be enough for the club to make it to the Europa League group stage.

Here’s more results from around the Europa League on Thursday afternoon:

Celtic top AIK at home

The Scottish champions appear to have brushed off the disappointment of exiting the UEFA Champions League with a solid 2-0 win at Celtic Park against AIK Solna on Thursday evening.

James Forrest scored the opener for Celtic, taking advantage of a ricochet on the edge of the box to unleash a strike that AIK goalkeeper Oscar Linner couldn’t parry away. Odsonne Edouard then put the icing on the cake with a tremendous free kick from 30-yards out to give Celtic it’s 2-0 lead.

Neil Lennon’s side then held off AIK late to secure the shutout.

Thursday’s Europa League Playoff Round first leg qualifying matches:

Astana 3-0 BATE
Ararat Armenia 2-1 F91 Dudelange
Malmo FF 3-0 Bnei Yehudah Tel Aviv
Suduva 0-0 Ferencvaros
Feyenoord 3-0 Hapoel Be’er Sheva
Ludogorets 0-0 Maribor
FC Copenhagen 2-1 Riga
AEK Athens 1-3 Trabzonspor
Legia Warsaw 0-0 Rangers