UEFA picks Budapest to host 2026 Champions League final, delays 2027 decision on San Siro

An external view of Puskas Arena in Budapest on May 22, 2024, after the Executive Committee of UEFA decided this soccer stadium will host the final match of men’s soccer Champions League in 2026. (AP)
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Updated 22 May 2024
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UEFA picks Budapest to host 2026 Champions League final, delays 2027 decision on San Siro

  • The Puskás Arena and San Siro were the only two candidates for the two finals scheduled to be awarded
  • The next final on June 1 is at Wembley Stadium in London and Bayern Munich’s home will host next year

DUBLIN: UEFA picked Budapest on Wednesday to host the men’s Champions League final in 2026 and delayed giving the 2027 game to Milan amid uncertainty over the future of San Siro.
The Puskás Arena and San Siro were the only two candidates for the two finals scheduled to be awarded. The next final on June 1 is at Wembley Stadium in London and Bayern Munich’s home will host next year.
The iconic San Siro, formally known as Stadio Giuseppe Meazza and owned by the city of Milan, has been under long-term threat of demolition. Its shared tenants AC Milan and Inter Milan have looked for new homes they can own.
UEFA put off a decision until a September meeting of its executive committee subject to the Italian soccer federation “submitting information on refurbishment plans” for San Siro.
Earlier Wednesday, uncertainly increased in Milan as ownership of Inter switched from Chinese corporation Suning to United States investors Oaktree because of failure to repay debts.
The 75,000-seat San Siro still could host the European Cup or Champions League final for the fifth time, one year after staging the opening ceremony of the 2026 Winter Olympics.
The 70,000-seat Puskás Arena opened five years ago and has been a go-to venue for UEFA, hosting a Europa League final last year and replacement games during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is a big fan of soccer and billionaire banker Sándor Csányi is a FIFA vice president representing UEFA.
UEFA’s executive committee also sent the Women’s Champions League final in 2026 to Oslo, Norway.
Istanbul will host the 2026 Europa League final in the downtown stadium of Besiktas and the 2027 game is going to Eintracht Frankfurt’s home. The 2025 Europa final is in Athletic Bilbao’s stadium, which also hosts the Women’s Champions League final next week.
The third-tier Conference League final in 2026 will also go to Germany, in Leipzig, and in 2027 to Istanbul, potentially also at the Besiktas stadium though that could change.
The Turkish soccer federation said it hopes the 2027 final can move to the new stadium being built in the capital Ankara ahead of the country co-hosting the men’s European Championship with Italy in 2032.
Turkiye gets to host European finals in back-to-back years while the Romanian national stadium in Bucharest, which last hosted a Europa League final in 2012, lost in votes to bring that title match back.
The Israeli soccer federation had originally entered the Conference League bidding contest last year proposing Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem.
In other UEFA executive committee business ahead of the Europa League final, trials of safe standing areas for fans at European club competition games was extended next season to Austria, Belgium, Netherlands, Portugal and Scotland.
The UEFA-recognized Football Supporters Europe group has run a “Europe Wants to Stand” campaign and welcomed the new additions to consent for trials over the last two seasons in England, France and Germany. Also on the permitted list are Italy and Spain.
“Standing at matches positively contributes to the atmosphere of games enormously, is a significant element of fan culture across the continent, and helps to lower the pricing for these games generally,” FSE executive director Ronan Evain said in a statement.


CONMEBOL open probe into violent clashes at end of Copa semifinal

Updated 12 July 2024
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CONMEBOL open probe into violent clashes at end of Copa semifinal

MIAMI: Copa America organizers CONMEBOL have opened a disciplinary investigation into the “acts of violence” at the end of Wednesday’s semifinal between Uruguay and Colombia in Charlotte.

Uruguay’s Liverpool striker Darwin Nunez was among the players who waded into the stands at the Bank of America Stadium and exchanged punches with fans during what CONMEBOL called “unacceptable” scenes.

Uruguay central defender Jose Maria Gimenez said players had leapt into the melee out of concern for the safety of family members and loved ones watching the game in that section of the ground.

Uruguay are scheduled to face Canada, at the same stadium, in the third place game on Saturday and it remains to be seen if any of their players are suspended for that game.

“In light of the acts of violence that occurred at the end of the match between the national teams of Uruguay and Colombia, the Disciplinary Unit of CONMEBOL has decided to open an investigation to clarify the sequence of events and the responsibilities of those involved,” the South American confederation said.

CONMEBOL said they would not accept any repeat of the incidents, which saw fighting between the two sets of supporters, for Sunday’s final between Argentina and Colombia at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.

“On the eve of our Copa America final, we want to reaffirm and warn that no action that tarnishes a global football celebration will be tolerated, involving both the protagonists and the fans present in the stadium for a final viewed by hundreds of millions of spectators worldwide.

“It is unacceptable that an incident like this turns passion into violence. Therefore, no behavior that violates the spirit of the sport and the world’s most beautiful spectacle, which belongs to the whole family, will be tolerated,” they added.

Gimenez said that the players had got involved to protect their family members and was critical of the local police in the venue.

“Our family was in danger. We had to go to the stands to take out our loved ones, with tiny newborn babies,” the Atletico Madrid player said.

“There was not a single police officer... I hope those who are organizing this are a little more careful with the families,” he said.

As well as the incidents in the stands, there were also clashes on the field at the final whistle involving players from both teams.


SPL outlines priorities for player acquisitions, club development before new season

Updated 11 July 2024
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SPL outlines priorities for player acquisitions, club development before new season

  • League remains committed to providing a supportive, centralized approach to transfers
  • Clubs continue to attract top-tier talents to their administrative ranks

RIYADH: The Saudi Pro League, in collaboration with all 18 clubs, announced on Thursday its comprehensive preparations and key priorities for the upcoming summer transfer window and the 2024-25 season.
As part of the Player Acquisition Center of Excellence program, which was launched in 2023, the SPL held meetings with all top-flight clubs in the final months of last season to understand more fully their targets and requirements. The program was launched as one of seven in the SPL’s transformation strategy.
The SPL remains committed to providing a supportive and centralized approach to transfers. This includes assisting clubs with squad mapping and player care by offering expertise, governance, and sustainability measures.
The SPL’s priorities for the season and transfer window include supporting existing contracts by prioritizing current deals to ensure the success of players by providing the necessary resources.
Other aims include strategic acquisitions to address clubs’ technical gaps and secure top talent.
Another priority is its sustainability policy, which is to ensure players are signed for technical needs, supported for success, and fairly valued.
Off the pitch, the SPL clubs continue to attract top-tier talents to their administrative ranks.
Al-Shabab recently appointed Domenico Teti as sporting director, while Al-Nassr appointed Fernando Hierro. Both sporting directors join Esteve Calzada, Al-Hilal’s CEO; Ron Gourlay, Al-Ahli’s CEO; Lee Congerton, Al-Ahli’s sporting director; Ramon Planes, Al-Ittihad’s sporting director; and James Bisgrove, Al-Qadsiah’s CEO, as new appointments ahead of the new season.
In addition, the SPL has conducted a series of workshops with partner leagues in Europe and Asia to further develop areas of cooperation and mutual benefit. Discussions have covered topics such as mutual promotion, broadcast development, and alignment on transfer window dates.
The Player Acquisition Center of Excellence program, according to the SPL, serves as a collaborative tool with clubs to enhance their acquisition capabilities.
The program has so far recruited 97 players and reviewed over 200 contracts, significantly reducing contract termination costs and lowering the average age of signed players from 29 to 27.5 years. The ultimate aim is to focus on signing players under the age of 21.


One year after failed bid, Bayern Munich finally sign Portugal midfielder Palhinha

Updated 11 July 2024
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One year after failed bid, Bayern Munich finally sign Portugal midfielder Palhinha

  • Palhinha joins Bayern from English Premier League club Fulham for a reported fee of nearly $54.2 million
  • Bayern board sporting director Max Eberl said: "João really wanted to come to Bayern, and we need players like that"

MUNICH: A year after a high-profile failure to sign Portugal midfielder João Palhinha, Bayern Munich finally made the deal happen on Thursday.
Palhinha joins Bayern from English Premier League club Fulham for a reported fee of nearly 50 million euros ($54.2 million) on a contract through June 2028, the Bavarian club announced.
Palhinha, who helped Portugal to the quarterfinals at the European Championship, is the latest signing in a Bayern rebuild after the club's first season without a trophy since 2012.
“Palhinha was highly sought after by FC Bayern even last summer, and rightly so. It was important that we never lost touch,” Bayern board sporting director Max Eberl said." João really wanted to come to Bayern, and we need players like that. He’s an important building block for our future."
Bayern seemed sure to sign the player last year and the midfielder even traveled to Munich for a medical but the deal — reportedly worth 65 million euros ($70 million) at the time — collapsed just before the end of the transfer window.
Thomas Tuchel, Bayern coach at the time, was keen to sign a more defensive-minded midfielder like Palhinha in a squad packed with midfielders like Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka who liked to make attacking runs into the opponent's box.
Two weeks after that, Palhinha signed a new contract at Fulham through the 2027-28 season.
Palhinha is the third new signing to be confirmed at Bayern since Vincent Kompany was hired as coach in May, after Stuttgart defender Hiroki Ito and Crystal Palace forward Michael Olise. Bayern have yet to sell any of their current first-team players in this transfer window.


French referee François Letexier picked to handle Spain-England final of Euro 2024

Updated 11 July 2024
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French referee François Letexier picked to handle Spain-England final of Euro 2024

  • Letexier has refereed three games at Euro 2024 including Spain’s 4-1 win over Georgia in the round of 16
  • There was no video review controversy in any of Letexier’s games, including the 2-2 draw between Albania and Croatia

BERLIN: French referee François Letexier was picked by UEFA to handle the European Championship final between Spain and England.
At 35, he’s one of the youngest referees to take charge of a major final. The game is on Sunday at the Olympiastadion in Berlin.
The referees for the past three men’s Euros finals were 48, 41 and 41 at the time.
Letexier has refereed three games at Euro 2024 including Spain’s 4-1 win over Georgia in the round of 16.
In those games, he did not award a penalty kick and did not send off any player. He showed just 10 yellow cards, including one for Serbia forward Aleksandar Mitrovic, who was judged to have dived in the penalty area in a 0-0 draw against Denmark.
There was no video review controversy in any of Letexier’s games, including the 2-2 draw between Albania and Croatia.
The VAR specialist for the final is also French, Jérôme Brisard.
Letexier rarely shows red cards, with just one in the nine games he handled in the Champions League or Europa League last season from the group stage onward. That was to Bayern Munich’s French defender Dayot Upamecano.
His previous highest profile games for UEFA this season include Real Madrid and Manchester City drawing 3-3 in the Champions League quarterfinals, Bayer Leverkusen winning at Roma 2-0 in the Europa League semifinals, and the season-opening Super Cup last August between Man City and Sevilla.
Letexier joined the FIFA list of referees for international games seven years ago.
The fourth official for the final will be Szymon Marciniak of Poland, the referee at the 2022 World Cup final and 2023 Champions League final who had a controversial season.
Marciniak and his match officials team made consequential stoppage-time decisions in Champions League games between Bayern and Real Madrid in the semifinals and Paris Saint-Germain and Newcastle in the group stage.


Nunez, Uruguay players brawl in stands with fans after Copa loss

Updated 11 July 2024
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Nunez, Uruguay players brawl in stands with fans after Copa loss

CHARLOTTE: Liverpool star Darwin Nunez was involved in violent brawling in the stands after Uruguay’s 1-0 Copa America semifinal defeat to Colombia on Wednesday.

After Colombia won 1-0 in front of over 70,000 fans at the Bank of America Stadium, scuffles brokes out in the stands between fans of the rival teams.

The overwhelming majority of the spectators in the crowd were supporting Colombia but there was no segregation between them and their Uruguayan counterparts and the violence erupted at the final whistle.

While punches were thrown several Uruguay players climbed into the crowd, seemingly to protect them, with Nunez prominent among them.

The fighting continued for several minutes until police finally intervened.

A group of around 80-100 Uruguayan fans remained in the stadium, on the field, long after the rest of the fans had left.

Ugly scenes also broke out on the field after the final whistle, with players and staff from both teams involved in a mass melee in the center-circle following Colombia’s victory.