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What would happen if Western powers boycotted World Cup?

May 30, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) — What would happen if Sepp Blatter hosts a World Cup and most of Europe, several South American powers and the United States don’t show up?

Blatter was voted to a fifth term as FIFA president on Friday, but the governing bodies of soccer’s wealthiest region, the world’s biggest economy and several nations in soccer-crazed South America opposed him following a string of scandals.

As the 79-year-old was celebrating defeating Jordan’s Prince Ali bin al-Hussein 133-73 for another four-year term, his opposition was figuring out how to pressure him for change. The Union of European Football Associations could threaten what’s become known as soccer’s nuclear option: prominent nations breaking away and holding their own tournament, call it a Clean Cup. At FIFA’s World Cup qualifying draw on July 25 in St. Petersburg, Russia, there could be scores of empty seats in the Constantine Palace.

“Blatter’s supporters are Vladimir Putin, the invader; the Qatari government and their supposed slave employees to build the facilities; and about 80 or 90 tiny countries that he has given each one a vote and a ton of money to,” said Marc Ganis, president of Chicago-based consulting firm SportsCorp.

“He needs to be careful not to overplay his hand,” Ganis said. “He was given an opportunity to do what he said, which is reform FIFA. If he uses that opportunity to extract retribution against those who are opposed to him, he’s setting up a confrontation that if it goes all the way to the end, he can’t win. He’s never demonstrated that level of ignorance, so I don’t expect that he will do so.”

With a one-nation, one-vote system, Blatter has support of a majority of FIFA’s 209 nations. But most of the world’s best clubs, the strongest economies and the most lucrative television audiences are in countries that want Blatter out

FIFA’s $5.72 billion in revenue from 2011-14 included $4.83 billion from last year’s World Cup in Brazil — of which $2.43 billion was generated by television rights sales, $1.58 billion from marketing agreements and $527 million in tickets.

The majority of FIFA’s money came from deals in Europe and the United States, where governments — other than Russia — are pressing for reform. Visa has threatened to “reassess our sponsorship” if changes are not made. The Coca-Cola Co. expressed concern, saying the controversy “tarnished the mission and ideals” of the World Cup.

“They do have tremendous leverage, but it remains to be seen whether they have legal grounds to abrogate their deals,” said former CBS Sports President Neal Pilson, who runs a media consulting firm. UEFA President Michel Platini, the former French national team star, did not applaud Blatter after the election. He said before the vote UEFA would be “open to all options” if Blatter gained re-election, and UEFA will meet in Berlin ahead of the Champions League final on June 6.

Europe supplies 13 of the 32 teams for the World Cup (plus Russia as the host in 2018), and UEFA holds eight of the 25 voting seats on FIFA’s executive committee. Blatter said after his victory that FIFA “must have a better representation of the confederations and the number of members” on the executive committee. “We need more respect for the Oceanian confederation,” he added.

“The Solomon Islands are going to have a spot? But Germany, nah, not so much?” Ganis said. “Sepp Blatter can get 140 votes from the Trinidad and Tobagos of the world, these island nations whose FIFA representative is one of the wealthiest persons on the island in part because he’s the FIFA representative. And he’ll be able to hold onto power as long as he wants in part because of the voting process.”

FIFA could be headed toward an internal fight, much as college sports in the United States went through last year when the NCAA — the body that oversees competition — agreed to give its five biggest conferences greater autonomy.

“FIFA World Cup” is trademarked, but if UEFA boycotts the tournament or breaks away from FIFA, and it is backed by the United States and South America’s top powers, the World Cup would be about as interesting as the African Cup of Nations or the Asian Cup.

Blatter downplayed the possibility. “They need FIFA, and FIFA needs UEFA,” he said Saturday. But would television networks and sponsors pay all that money for an audience to watch 97th-ranked Malawi play No. 99 Qatar?

What if UEFA told European clubs — which have the best players from around the world — to ignore FIFA’s regulations and refuse to release players to national teams for World Cup qualifiers? “This isn’t over by any means,” England Football Association chairman Greg Dyke said.


Germany basks in 4th World Cup after 24-year wait

July 14, 2014

BERLIN (AP) — It’s been a long wait, and now Germany is basking in its fourth World Cup title.

The Die Welt newspaper celebrated Monday with a three-word headline in the national colors of black, red and gold that read simply: “It is true,” while Der Spiegel magazine’s website listed Germany’s titles: “1954. 1974. 1990. 2014!”

Midfielder Mario Goetze, who wasn’t born when Germany won its last World Cup, sealed the title with his extra-time goal. “THANK GOETZ! World champions!” screamed the mass-circulation daily Bild. “Super Mario gets the fourth star!” read the headline in Berlin tabloid Berliner Kurier.

German astronaut Alexander Gerst congratulated the team from the International Space Station on its “top performance.” He tweeted a picture of himself in a Germany jersey with an extra fourth star — “as experts on stars, we already got one.”

Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer said after the match: “All of Germany is the world champion.” The theme was picked up by a top official in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, Peter Tauber, who tweeted, “Good morning, you world champions out there!”

Merkel and President Joachim Gauck, who traveled together to the final in Rio de Janeiro, posed for pictures with the team and the trophy. And there was another selfie with a beaming chancellor for forward Lukas Podolski, weeks after Merkel dropped into the dressing room during a visit to Germany’s opening match.

It’s Germany’s first World Cup title as a reunited nation, though that fact drew barely any attention in German media. West Germany’s 1990 win came with the country just three months away from reunification; united Germany won the 1996 European Championship.

About a quarter of a million fans celebrated into the night at the packed “fan mile” in front of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, while car drivers blasted their horns into the early hours of the morning. The party resumes on Tuesday morning, when coach Joachim Loew’s team is due to land at Berlin’s Tegel airport and then celebrate its triumph at the Brandenburg Gate.

The Finance Ministry said it will issue a special “Germany World Cup champion” postage stamp. But don’t expect Germany to declare a national holiday in celebration. “There is no serious discussion of this,” government spokeswoman Christiane Wirtz said.

Germany World Cup heroes return to huge fan party

July 15, 2014

BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s World Cup-winning team returned home Tuesday to celebrate the country’s fourth title with huge crowds of fans.

The team’s plane touched down at Berlin’s Tegel Airport midmorning after circling the “fan mile” in front of the landmark Brandenburg Gate. Captain Philipp Lahm carried the trophy off the aircraft to cheers and a chorus of “Football’s Coming Home” from fans gathered on the airport’s viewing terrace.

He was followed by midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, draped in a German flag and sporting a bandage under his right eye, the result of a cut in the 1-0 win over Argentina in the final on Sunday. From the airport, the team set off for downtown Berlin in a bus painted with the years of Germany’s World Cup victories: The previous occasions were in 1954, 1974 and 1990.

They were to make the last part of the trip to the Brandenburg Gate on an open truck. The “fan mile” started filling up hours before the arrival, with some waiting overnight to get a place at the front.

“We’re all excited to see what it will be like,” Schweinsteiger told ARD television. “This time, thank God, we have the cup with us.” “It will only sink in for us in the next few days.” The team’s plane was about an hour behind schedule, its departure from Rio de Janeiro delayed after a luggage truck hit the aircraft and damage to the paintwork had to be inspected.

Germany’s World Cup party gets underway at home

July 14, 2014

BERLIN (AP) — A quarter of a million German football fans reacted with unbridled joy, mixed with shock, on Sunday when Mario Goetze struck late in extra-time for Germany to win the World Cup with a 1-0 victory over Argentina.

The supporters, packed into the “fan mile” in front of the German capital’s famous Brandenburg Gate, screamed as one when Goetze took the ball on his chest and let fly inside the far post from a narrow angle.

Fans cheered, clapped and shouted, with groups of fans hugging and jumping into the air together, making so much noise the commentary on the large screens could no longer be heard. Flares illuminated the stage and sent plumes of smoke into the sky.

“We’re going to be world champions! We’re going to be world champions!” yelled the compere of the public viewing event, even before the second period of extra-time was over in Brazil. The party was already underway in Berlin, though there were a couple of nervous moments before the revelers could really let themselves go.

Cars drivers blasted their horns, whooped and yelled, before captain Philipp Lahm had even lifted the trophy at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana Stadium. Once he did, a massive fireworks display took place around the Brandenburg Gate, where fans had begun gathering six hours before kick-off.

Not even the rain or ominous thunder rumbling overhead could put them off. Police closed a number of entrances to the fan mile at least four hours before kickoff due to the sheer volume of fans attending. With three hours to go, police said it was full.

Other public viewing venues also filled up, despite forecasts of heavy rain across the country. Showers and summer storms were due to move in from the southwest. Some 50,000 fans attended the Fan-Arena at St. Pauli’s stadium in Hamburg, while supporters brought their sofas to watch the World Cup games at Union Berlin’s Alte Foersterei stadium.

News agency dpa reported that a man was stabbed and later died from his injuries at a public viewing event in a cinema in the northern city of Bremen. Standing amid thousands of discarded plastic beer cups, the fans at the Brandenburg Gate cheered loudly before kickoff came when the clouds gave way and the sun briefly broke through.

The long wait took its toll on some overindulgent supporters, however, keeping the Red Cross busy throughout the match. There was a solitary scream, followed by stunned silence, when Gonzalo Higuain thought he’d scored for Argentina in the first half, only for wild cheering to erupt when the effort was disallowed for offside.

The fans applauded record World Cup goalscorer Miroslav Klose when he went off after possibly his last game for Germany, but otherwise there were few opportunities for fans to let loose until Goetze finally broke the deadlock.

“They made it exciting,” Leon Tober of Fuerstenwalde, east of Berlin, told The Associated Press. “It was a long wait, especially after twice coming third (in previous World Cups). It’s great for the young generation. They’re a super troupe of players. They can go on now and win even more.”

It was Germany’s fourth World Cup, but its first as a unified country. West Germany’s triumph in 1990 came several months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, which passed in front of the Brandenburg Gate where more celebrations will be held Tuesday when coach Joachim Loew’s team is scheduled to display the World Cup trophy to fans.

Not everyone had been supporting Germany. A Berlin taxi-driver with an Argentina flag flying from his window riled fans on Kastanienallee Street in Prenzlauer Berg by beeping at them as he passed. “I’ve been cursed at and spat upon,” said Cihan Goz, laughing as he relayed the story. He said he was a fan of Maradona, revered among Argentines as the world’s best ever player. Coz was still picking up passengers despite the flag.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who watched the game in Berlin with Argentina’s ambassador in Germany, said: “We dreamed of becoming world champions and that dream came true.”

Spain already eyeing Euro 2016 after World Cup

June 24, 2014

CURITIBA, Brazil (AP) — Spain will not have much time to dwell on its unexpectedly short World Cup campaign, as it targets a third-straight European championship.

Spain closed Group B with a 3-0 victory over Australia on Monday, and the team immediately put the focus on France 2016 and beyond. “We’ve got a new challenge and we need all of your support! To defend the European Championship trophy!” the team’s official Twitter feed wrote out on the same day it avoided becoming the first world champion to finish its defense with no points.

Spain’s time in Brazil may have been different if it had started with Australia rather than the Netherlands, whose 5-1 walloping not only upset the balance of world football but sent doubts surging through Spain’s squad — a sensation it hasn’t experienced since the 2006 World Cup, the last time it failed to triumph at a major international tournament. It followed up the defeat to the Dutch with a 2-0 loss against Chile, which it had never lost against since their first meeting in 1950.

How Spain deals with the fallout from what can only be termed a disastrous World Cup — when it finished third in Group B, out of contention — could determine whether it travels to France in two years as a favorite, or as a team in transition.

Coach Vicente del Bosque’s contract runs until 2016 but his handling of tactics and personalities exposed some fractions inside the team, and it may prove tough for the 63-year-old former Real Madrid coach to maintain the desire and hunger that was lacking in the squad in Brazil.

Del Bosque stuck with veterans who had won back-to-back European titles and the 2010 World Cup when there was a wealth of young talent pushing to break into the team. “Time will tell if we made a mistake or not,” goalkeeper Pepe Reina said. “I hope the team reacts positively (to Brazil) and shows personality again.”

The early exit in Brazil may offer a chance to usher in change. Thiago Alcantara was slated to play a prominent role before injury kept him out of Brazil, and the Bayern Munich midfielder should be the nucleus which Del Bosque builds around, much like former coach Luis Aragones did with Xavi Hernandez.

Isco was surprisingly left out of the preliminary squad, but it will be hard for Spain to ignore the Real Madrid playmaker again given how much the team struggled to penetrate opponent’s areas and produce goals with its possession game. Madrid also has promising young players in fullback Dani Carvajal and forward Jese Rodriguez pushing for national selection.

The inclusion of naturalized striker Diego Costa did not boost the attack, and the Atletico Madrid striker may be in fight to retain his place against the likes of Fernando Llorente and Alvaro Negredo.

Barcelona’s Gerard Deulofeu appears to have caught Del Bosque’s eye, while Athletic Bilbao midfielders Ander Herrera and Ander Iturraspe could be in the mix come September when qualifying for Euro 2016 begins.

Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea will challenge captain Iker Casillas, who is these days is the second-string goalie at Real Madrid. The depth of options suggests Spain’s era may not be over yet, and the team can absorb the exit of striker David Villa and speculation that Casillas, Xavi and Xabi Alonso could also retire from international play.

“There’s been a lot of talk, too much, about things that were not true. The only reason we were eliminated was our play,” midfielder Juan Mata said. Spain’s reign may be over, but “tiki-taka” is not dead considering what the future could bring.

“We have to take the next step with Euro qualifying now, and whoever is coach knows the future is bright,” said Del Bosque, who will make a decision about his future before qualifying begins. “We have to feel confident about the future.”

Spain salvages pride with 3-0 win over Australia

June 23, 2014

CURITIBA, Brazil (AP) — Defending champion Spain salvaged some World Cup pride on Monday with a convincing 3-0 victory over Australia in their last match at the tournament.

After losing their previous matches in Group B to the Netherlands and Chile, both teams took to Arena da Baixada in the southern Brazilian city of Curitiba knowing they could not advance to the second round.

David Villa, on his 97th and final appearance put Spain ahead in the 36th minute with his record 59th goal, guiding Juanfran Torres’ pass into the net with the inside of his right foot. Juanfran had been found by a typically incisive pass by Andres Iniesta.

“We stepped up against Australia and won this match, and I’m happy to have participated in the first goal,” said the 32-year-old Villa, who has called time on his international career. “It’s sad because we would have liked to have spent more time here, but that’s how it is.”

Iniesta was at the heart of the second goal too, providing the pass for Fernando Torres to steer the ball past Australia goalkeeper Mat Ryan in the 69th minute. Juan Mata, who replaced an emotional Villa early in the second half, added the third in the 82nd from close range, stroking the ball under Ryan after he was found in space by fellow substitute Cesc Fabregas. David Silva, who also came on late, went close in the 89th but his shot from outside the area went just wide.

Though nothing, in terms of World Cup progress, rested on the game, Spain showed some of the clever passing football that has seen it dominate the game over the past six years — winning Euro 2008, its first World Cup in South Africa in 2010 and then Euro 2012.

With that domination now at an end, the task facing Spain is to manage the transition from an aging squad that has won everything in the game to a new generation of players waiting to take center stage.

“We went out with dignity,” Del Bosque said. “These have been six years of which we have been first in the FIFA ranking, a generation of players that have taught others, and have shown themselves,” he added. “We bow out with our head high knowing the future of the Spanish team has a good base regardless of who coaches it, with good veterans.”

In the early minutes of the match, Australia took the game to the champions, but it wasn’t long before Spain asserted control and started dominating possession. “We started bright enough but you have to give credit to them, they are a quality team,” Australia coach Ange Postecoglou said. “We looked jaded, tired, and gave away the ball too easily, so it’s disappointing.”

Australia, which lacked bite up front through the suspension of Tim Cahill, finished with zero points, its worst ever performance in a World Cup. On its 1974 debut, Australia garnered a point. However, the Socceroos were in an extremely tough group and pushed the Netherlands hard during its 3-2 defeat.

For its part, Spain avoided the worst World Cup title defense in history. That label remains with the France team of 2002, which only secured one point in its goal-less campaign in the tournament co-hosted by South Korea and Japan.

“What happened is in the past now,” Spain midfielder Xabi Alonso said. “We tried to face our situation in the best manner possible. This is football, though, and we go home sad.”


Australia: Mat Ryan, Ryan McGowan, Jason Davidson, Matthew Spiranovic, Alex Wilkinson, Matt McKay, Mile Jedinak, Oliver Bozanic (Mark Bresciano, 72), Tommy Oar (James Troisi, 61), Matthew Leckie, Adam Taggart (Ben Halloran, 46).

Spain: Pepe Reina, Sergio Ramos, Raul Albiol, Jordi Alba, Juanfran Torres, Koke, Xabi Alonso (David Silva, 83), Santi Cazorla (Cesc Fabregas, 68), Andres Iniesta, Fernando Torres, David Villa (Juan Mata, 56).

Paul Logothetis contributed to this report.

US draws, Belgium advances, Algeria wins

June 23, 2014

The goals kept coming at the World Cup Sunday and — unfortunately for the U.S. — the scoring didn’t stop until the last 30 seconds of its 2-2 draw with Portugal. Both teams stayed alive, while Belgium advanced and Algeria won its first World Cup game in 32 years.

No teams were eliminated Sunday, but South Korea, Russia and Portugal are on the brink. An already successful World Cup in Brazil reached its midpoint with another thriller, players’ shirts soaked through and sticky from the humid, steamy conditions in the Amazon rainforest. The Americans were moments away from clinching advancement out of the “Group of Death,” when world player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo made an improbable cross for Varela’s diving header and equalizer.

Varela’s score capped another day of goals. One third of the games — or 11 total — have featured four of more goals. Thirty-two games down, 32 to go. “We’ve got a great chance in the ‘Group of Death,’ they say,” U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “I think we had one foot in the door. Realistically we’ve given ourselves every chance to advance. We’re optimistic.”

The U.S. plays Germany Thursday. The winner wins the group, and a draw advances both teams to the round of 16. Even the loser has a chance, depending on what happens in the Ghana-Portugal game. “Every game now is getting bigger,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “Our goal is to go into the next round.”

Algeria beat South Korea 4-2 earlier Sunday for its first World Cup win since 1982 and just the third victory by an African team in 10 World Cup games here. The Algerians became the first African team to score four goals in a World Cup match.

Russia’s hopes of moving to the knockout stages were diminished by its 1-0 loss to Belgium in Rio de Janeiro. Belgium became the sixth country to qualify for the next stage. The others so far are the Netherlands, Chile, Columbia, Costa Rica and Argentina. Cameroon, Bosnia, Australia, Spain and England are definitely out.

“It’s spectacular. Everybody has prepared unbelievably well. They are sharp and fit and giving their all,” Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal said of the quality of play. “I haven’t had that feeling had at previous World Cups. … People aren’t giving it all right up until the final minute — that’s why you get these results.”

It has certainly been a scoring festival in the land of Carnival. — The goal total for the tournament climbed to 94. In South Africa, the first 32 matches produced 67 goals, seven of them scored by Portugal in just one match against North Korea.

—The first half of the last World Cup included and 10 draws. In Brazil, there have been just six. — Crowds have been big and loud, particularly for Latin American teams, eight of which could qualify for the final 16.

Things haven’t been so great for Asian teams. South Korea teeters on the verge of elimination after the loss. Asia is at risk of having no team in the next round. Australia is already sure to be going home, regardless of whether it wins its last match against dethroned champion Spain. Iran, Japan and Korea could follow Australia out the door, even if they win their last matches.

Korea’s loss worsened Asian teams’ already dismal record to: played eight games, won none, after 11 days of competition.

AP Sports Writers John Leicester, Chris Brummitt and Michael Corder contributed to this report.

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