Infantino says biennial WCups can bring youth back to soccer

FIFA’s President Gianni Infantino speaking next to FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura during a Council meeting of the World’s football governing body at the Home of FIFA in Zurich. (AFP)
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Updated 20 October 2021

Infantino says biennial WCups can bring youth back to soccer

  • Infantino said biennial World Cups were needed to keep youngsters interested in the sport at a time when they are increasingly “running after” other activities
  • UEFA member associations also voiced a stream of opposition to his plans to double the frequency of World Cups

DUBAI: FIFA President Gianni Infantino told European football leaders that his governing body was not the “enemy of football.”
He also said biennial World Cups were needed to keep youngsters interested in the sport at a time when they are increasingly “running after” other activities.
The Associated Press obtained a recording of Infantino speaking Tuesday during a meeting that was closed to the media, where UEFA member associations also voiced a stream of opposition to his plans to double the frequency of World Cups.
Infantino was challenged by presidents of national federations on the damage that would be caused to not only club competitions but also national teams if FIFA radically overhauls the international game despite European opposition.
But Infantino pitched the reshaping of world football as being necessary to safeguard the future of the sport.
“I believe as well that the enemy of football is not the World Cup or is not FIFA but it is other activities that young boys and young girls are running after today,” Infantino said in closing remarks to the meeting that lasted more than an hour. “And we need to see how jointly and together we can bring them back to be interested in football. And we want to, as far as I’m concerned, do this all together as we have always been doing in the last few years.”
Infantino did not specify what those “other activities” were. He did not respond to a phone call from the AP seeking comment and FIFA had no immediate comment expanding on the remarks ahead of a council meeting on Wednesday.
Keeping younger viewers interested in watching 90-minute matches has increasingly become a challenge, especially given the rise of gaming. Infantino’s comments come amid a dispute with EA Sports, the maker of the FIFA video game, over the future of the product but FIFA itself still embraces e-sports.
The International Olympic Committee also at the weekend denounced FIFA’s attempt to remodel the calendar which could result in having a men’s or women’s World Cup every year. The IOC has started to embrace sports seen as more appealing to youngsters, with skateboarding debuting at the recent Tokyo Olympics and the 2024 Paris Games introducing the break dance sport.
FIFA’s plans could have a significant impact on the Olympics where the women’s football competition features no age restrictions unlike the men’s event.
“I believe we can still find ways to develop football further,” Infantino told the meeting with UEFA. “The World Cup is huge. It’s a big, big competition that everyone benefits from the World Cup and that we need to be very careful on what we do with the World Cup.”
The Associated Press reported on Tuesday that more than a dozen European nations told UEFA they would consider quitting FIFA over biennial World Cups.
“I’m seriously asking you and FIFA not to push for a vote because that could have terrible consequences for football,” UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin told Infantino on the call.
“I don’t think it would be wise to go for a vote on a matter like that. Not just because there will be severe consequences that we will have to take but also because the stakeholders like clubs and leagues don’t have a voting right and this idea is detrimental to their existence.”
Leaders from the Finnish, Italian, Germany, Portuguese, Romanian, Scottish, Spanish and Swiss federations told Infantino they want to continue having the World Cup every four years.
They cited the impact on player welfare of having more frequent tournaments, the pitfalls of having only one block of qualifiers across October and November, and the potential damage caused to the growing profile of the women’s game by having more men’s competitions.
“We will not go ahead as far as I’m concerned with any proposal if anyone was to be harmed,” Infantino told the virtual meeting with UEFA.
But Infantino also said it wasn’t only the views of UEFA, which features 55 member associations, that counted. Infantino has been pushing to secure approval in December for holding World Cups every two years.
“We cannot just shape new proposals based on feedback from Europe,” he said. “We have to respect the opinions of everyone.”
Tiago Craveiro, the general secretary of the Portuguese federation, proposed that FIFA explores the possibility of not allowing teams to compete in consecutive editions if it pushed ahead with biennial World Cups.
“I welcome as well the idea of Thiago to say, well, we need more participation and maybe there is a way of doing that by having two World Cups, but not with the same teams participating,” Infantino said. “I don’t know. This is something that the technical people will study, but this is certainly something that we have to look into.”
At one point Ceferin pushed Infantino to answer specific questions directed at him.
No country spoke in favor of the plans during the call with Infantino, who was general secretary of UEFA before being elected FIFA president in 2016 in the fallout from the scandals that led to Sepp Blatter and his expected successor Michel Platini being banned from the sport.
“We trusted you to create an organization that transcends the divisions and brings unity,” Răzvan Burleanu, a Romanian member of the FIFA Council, said to Infantino.


Watford hires Hodgson as manager in bid to avoid relegation

Updated 8 sec ago

Watford hires Hodgson as manager in bid to avoid relegation

  • The former England coach, Roy Hodgson, was hired by Watford on Tuesday
  • He will be tasked with keeping the team in the top division following their descent into the relegation zone

WATFORD, England: Roy Hodgson is back in the Premier League at the age of 74.
The former England coach was hired by Watford on Tuesday and will be tasked with keeping the team in the top division following its descent into the relegation zone.
Claudio Ranieri, a 70-year-old Italian, was fired on Monday after 3 1/2 months in charge, just days after Watford slipped into the bottom three for the first time this season.
Watford’s board has turned to Hodgson, another of world soccer’s most experienced managers. He has been out of work since leaving Crystal Palace at the end of last season, when he said it was time to step away from “the rigors of top-flight Premier League football” after 45 years of coaching and to spend time with his family.
Turns out the league’s oldest-ever manager just couldn’t stay away.
Watford is in next-to-last place, two points from safety but with two games in hand over the team in fourth-to-last place, Norwich, which handed Ranieri’s team a 3-0 beating on Friday that proved to be the end for the Italian.
Watford is in its first season back in the Premier League after a year in the second-tier Championship.
Hodgson is Watford’s third manager of the season, continuing the revolving-door policy at the club under its owner, Italian businessman Gino Pozzo. Ranieri had been Watford’s 15th permanent manager in the last 10 years.
Hodgson has experience in staving off relegation. When he took charge of Palace in September 2017, the team was in last place in the Premier League after losing its opening four games. Palace ended the season in 11th place and never finished lower than 14th under Hodgson.


African football boss blames closed gate for Cup of Nations tragedy

Updated 25 January 2022

African football boss blames closed gate for Cup of Nations tragedy

  • "That gate was supposed to be open because if it was open they would have walked through, and for inexplicable reasons it was closed" CAF president said
  • The tragedy happened at gates where final ticket checks are supposed to take place

YAOUNDE: African football supremo Patrice Motsepe says an “inexplicable” decision to keep an entry gate closed was responsible for the deadly crush which killed eight people before an Africa Cup of Nations match in Cameroonian capital Yaounde on Monday.
“That gate was supposed to be open because if it was open they would have walked through, and for inexplicable reasons it was closed” the Confederation of African Football (CAF) president said at a press conference on Tuesday.
“If that gate was open as it was supposed to, we wouldn’t have had this problem we have now, this loss of life. Who closed that gate? Who is responsible for that gate?“
Eight people died and 38 were injured as fans attempted to enter the Olembe Stadium where the hosts Cameroon were playing the Comoros, according to figures released by the country’s health ministry.
“Eight deaths were recorded, two women in their 30s, four men in their 30s, one child, one body taken away by the family,” said a preliminary health ministry report obtained by AFP.
A baby was reportedly one of those trampled by the crowd and was in a “medically stable” condition, the health ministry added.
Communications Minister Rene Emmanuel Sadi said that of 38 people injured, seven were seriously hurt.
Motsepe called for a probe after Cameroon’s President Paul Biya earlier ordered an investigation “so that all light is shed on this tragic incident,” according to Sadi.
The tragedy happened at gates where final ticket checks are supposed to take place.
“It was when the police opened the gates that people fell and others trampled on top of them,” said Professor Andre Omgbwa Eballe, director of the Olembe district hospital who attended the match.
“I saw the bravery of the Cameroonian people. People were resuscitating others, doing mouth to mouth, otherwise there would have been more deaths,” he told AFP TV.
One man in his 30s who was caught in the crush told AFP that it was “complete chaos” at the entrance to the stadium as supporters without tickets tried to force their way in.
“I arrived a quarter of an hour before kick-off. I had my ticket, but all of a sudden a group of people without tickets arrived and tried to force their way through and we found ourselves pushed up against the fences,” said the supporter, who gave his name as Stephane.
“I was crushed up against a woman who said she couldn’t breathe. Eventually the gate gave in and I was able to get through, but it was complete chaos.”
Motsepe said the Cup of Nations quarter-final due to be played at the Olembe Stadium on Sunday will be switched to the Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium, also in Yaounde.
He added that CAF had not considered canceling the rest of the tournament but had contemplated the idea of postponing the last-16 ties scheduled for Tuesday.
Instead the tie between Senegal and Cape Verde and Morocco’s game against Malawi were both given the green light, with a minute’s silence observed before each match.
Although crowds at the 60,000-seat Olembe Stadium had been limited to 60 percent of capacity for the tournament because of the pandemic, the cap is raised to 80 percent when Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions play.
Mohamed Salah, the Liverpool star at the Cup of Nations with Egypt preparing for their quarter-final against the Ivory Coast in Douala on Wednesday, said his team’s thoughts were with the victims.
“We are sorry about what happened yesterday, and hopefully the injured people will come back home safe,” Salah said.
Cameroon was initially meant to host the Cup of Nations in 2019, but the event was moved to Egypt over concerns the country’s stadiums were not ready, as well as question marks over security.
Overcrowding at football matches around the world has resulted in scores of deaths.
Thousands of fans in the Egyptian capital Cairo in 2015 attempted to enter a stadium to watch a game, triggering panic as police fired tear gas and birdshot, resulting in 19 dead.
In April 2001, 43 people in a stampede at Johannesburg’s Ellis Park stadium during a game between Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs.
In chaotic scenes at last year’s European Championship final between England and Italy in London, some 2,000 ticketless fans gained access to Wembley, with an independent review finding that a tragedy was only narrowly averted.


Anthony Martial close to sealing move away from Man United

Updated 25 January 2022

Anthony Martial close to sealing move away from Man United

  • Martial is set to be loaned to Spanish team Sevilla until the end of the season

MANCHESTER: Anthony Martial is close to securing a move away from Manchester United.
The France forward is set to be loaned to Spanish team Sevilla until the end of the season. There will be no fee involved or option to buy.
United manager Ralf Rangnick said last month that the 26-year-old Martial wanted to leave after falling down the list of forward at the club, behind Cristiano Ronaldo, Marcus Rashford, Edinson Cavani, Jadon Sancho and Mason Greenwood.
Martial became the world’s most expensive teenage player when United signed him from Monaco in September 2015 for 36 million pounds (then $55.1 million) that could potentially rise to 58 million pounds ($78 million).


Rafael Nadal moves into Australian Open semifinals

Updated 25 January 2022

Rafael Nadal moves into Australian Open semifinals

  • Nadal is tied for most major singles titles by a male player with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic

MELBOURNE: Rafael Nadal has stayed on track for a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam singles title with a topsy-turvy 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3 win over Denis Shapovalov in the quarterfinals at Melbourne Park.
Nadal had several medical timeouts in the 4-hour match, appearing related to stomach issues.
Nadal is tied for most major singles titles by a male player with Roger Federer, who is not playing here due to continuing recovery from right knee surgery, and Novak Djokovic, who was deported before the tournament began over visa issues concerning his decision not to be vaccinated for COVID-19.
Nadal will play the winner of Tuesday’s later quarterfinal between Gael Monfils and Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini. The men’s semifinals are set for Friday, so both winners on Tuesday will have an extra day to recover and prepare for their final-four showdown.
The men’s final is Sunday night.


AFCON hosts Cameroon labor to beat Comoros side deprived of goalkeeper

Updated 25 January 2022

AFCON hosts Cameroon labor to beat Comoros side deprived of goalkeeper

  • Comoros had to play left-back Chaker Alhadhur between the posts in Yaounde
  • To add to their woes, they had captain Nadjim Abdou sent off after just seven minutes

YAOUNDÉ: Hosts Cameroon are through to the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations but only after laboring to a 2-1 win over a Comoros side who were forced to start an outfield player in goal and played most of the game with 10 men.
The Comoros started with left-back Chaker Alhadhur between the posts in Yaounde after two of their three goalkeepers were ruled out due to Covid-19 while the other was missing due to injury.
They then had captain Nadjim Abdou sent off after just seven minutes, and Karl Toko-Ekambi put Cameroon in front before skipper Vincent Aboubakar netted his sixth goal of the tournament.
Despite that it was a heroic performance from the Comoros, who kept the tie alive until the end thanks to Youssouf M’Changama’s stunning late free-kick.
The Indomitable Lions keep their dream of winning the Cup of Nations on home soil alive as they advance to a last-eight tie against Gambia on Saturday, yet this was the Comoros’ night, despite the outcome.
The tiny Indian Ocean island nation qualified for the last 16 in their first ever appearance at the Cup of Nations after finishing as one of the best third-placed teams in the group stage.
However, their dream turned to a nightmare as a total of 12 players and staff tested positive for Covid-19 two days before the tie, including goalkeepers Ali Ahamada and Moyadh Ousseini.
Their other goalkeeper, Salim Ben Boina, was injured but they had hoped Ahamada would be able to start after he tested negative on the day of the game.
The 30-year-old Ahamada flew from Garoua, where he had been isolating, to Yaounde on Monday afternoon in the hope of being able to play, only for the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to decide otherwise as his positive result had come just two days earlier.
Alhadhur, a reserve left-back for French Ligue 2 side Ajaccio, wore the gloves, with tape used to mark out his number three on the back of his goalkeeper’s jersey.
It was a farcical scene, and the Comoros’ plight worsened when Abdou was shown a straight red card for a foul on Moumi Ngamaleu after the Ethiopian referee went to review images of his challenge.
Rather than give up, the Comoros kept going and they only fell behind in the 29th minute when Aboubakar teed up Toko-Ekambi to slot home.
The islanders, whose coach Amir Abdou was among those missing after testing positive, almost equalized shortly after as Ahmed Mogni forced Cameroon goalkeeper Andre Onana into a fine save.
Aboubakar had a second-half effort disallowed for offside before making it 2-0 with 20 minutes left, finishing excellently after being picked out by Martin Hongla.
Yet there was no collapse from the Comoros, who pulled one back courtesy of M’Changama’s piledriver from 35 meters and go out with their heads held high.