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Blatter faces probe

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 FIFA president Sepp Blatter was placed under a criminal investigation on Friday in a dramatic escalation of the corruption scandal engulfing world football as would-be successor Michel Platini came under scrutiny for receiving a murky multi-million-dollar payment.

After months of probes following raids in Zurich which led to the indictment of more than a dozen top officials, Swiss investigators said their attention had now turned to actions carried out by Blatter and Platini.

“Swiss criminal proceedings against the President of FIFA, Mr. Joseph Blatter, have been opened on September 24, 2015 on suspicion of criminal mismanagement…and – alternatively – misappropriation,” said a statement from Switzerland’s attorney general’s office (OAG).

Blatter, 79, had already announced his decision to stand down because of corruption allegations against other top officials and Platini had been the favourite to win an election to be held in February to succeed him.

Swiss prosecutors said Blatter was being investigated over the 2005 sale of World Cup television rights to the Caribbean Football Union, then run by former ally Jack Warner, a deal which had been “unfavourable for FIFA”.

Blatter was also suspected of a “disloyal payment” of two million dollars to Platini in February 2011 allegedly made for work the Frenchman carried out for FIFA between 1999 and 2002, before he was elected as head of UEFA.

Platini later Friday issued a statement insisting the payment had been for “contractual” work he had carried out for FIFA — but offered no explanation as to why the payment had arrived almost a decade after the work was complete.

Swiss authorities said Blatter was questioned as “a suspect”.

The statement added that Platini had been questioned “as a person called upon to give information”.

– Platini blow –

Blatter’s lawyer Richard Cullen said in a statement that the FIFA boss was cooperating with Swiss authorities and that a review of the evidence would show “no mismanagement occurred”.

Platini meanwhile defended the payment issued to him in 2011, which was made three months before the Frenchman announced he would not challenge Blatter for re-election during that year’s race for the FIFA presidency.

“Concerning the payment that was made to me, I wish to state that this amount relates to work which I carried out under a contract with FIFA,” said the UEFA boss.

“I was pleased to have been able to clarify all matters relating to this with the authorities.”

However, a former FIFA insider, who requested anonymity, told AFP that Platini’s hopes of being elected to replace Blatter next year had been damaged by Friday’s revelations.

“Platini took a serious blow” by even being mentioned in the Swiss statement, the source told AFP.

Blatter “is finished now … Platini will struggle to recover from being questioned.”

Friday’s turn of events came after a press conference, that Blatter was scheduled to give, was suddenly cancelled.

Platini is a former Blatter ally who turned against the veteran Swiss sports baron over the past 18 months as FIFA’s troubles mounted.

The investigation is also into Blatter’s links with Jack Warner, a former FIFA vice-president now at the centre of a US investigation.

– ‘Unfavourable to FIFA’ –

The attorney general said Blatter was suspected of making a deal “unfavourable to FIFA” with the Caribbean Football Union, which Warner used as his power base.

A Trinidad court on Friday announced that it would rule on December 2 on whether Warner should be extradited to the United States.

Warner is one of 14 soccer officials and business executives charged by US prosecutors of involvement in more than $150 million in bribes for football broadcasting and marketing deals.

Nearly all of the suspects are from central and South America. Until recent days, FIFA’s top leadership had escaped accusations flying around the world body, which earns $5 billion from the World Cup.

Swiss officials arrested seven FIFA officials, who are among the US suspects, on May 27 in Zurich just ahead of the world body’s congress.

Blatter was re-elected to a fifth term at the congress despite the storm but then announced on June 4 that he would stand down.

Since then, FIFA has announced steps to make reforms but has been shaken by new corruption claims.

FIFA this month suspended Blatter’s right-hand man Jerome Valcke after he was accused of involvement in an accord to sell tickets for the 2014 World Cup at inflated prices.

Valcke strongly denied the allegations but FIFA handed over emails from the suspended secretary general that had been demanded by the Swiss attorney general.

© 2015, . All rights reserved.

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Everton, AC Milan look for Europa League morale boost

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Under-fire Everton will hope to kickstart their campaign when they play host to Lyon on Thursday looking for a first win in the Europa League group stage.

The Premier League side have just one point from their opening two matches in Group E, following up a comprehensive 3-0 loss to Atalanta in Italy by drawing 2-2 at home to the Cypriots Apollon Limassol last month.

Ronald Koeman’s men required a late Wayne Rooney penalty to draw at Brighton and Hove Albion on domestic duty at the weekend, and in the last two months their only wins have come against Sunderland in the League Cup and Bournemouth.

“We just need to get results and once we do that, the confidence will come back into the team and things will come a little bit easier for us,” £45 million ($58 million) summer signing Gylfi Sigurdsson told the club’s website.

“And I think if we get a couple of results back-to-back then we’ll hopefully get going. I don’t think we’re too far away.”

Lyon travel to England having also failed to win in the competition thus far, but Bruno Genesio’s side are fresh from beating Monaco 3-2 last weekend thanks to captain Nabil Fekir’s late free-kick.

Desperate to go all the way to a final that will be played in their own Groupama Stadium, Lyon are without injured former Real Madrid striker Mariano Diaz.

Everton’s Premier League rivals Arsenal have fared rather better in the competition so far, beating both Cologne and BATE Borisov in Group H.

Arsene Wenger now takes his team to Serbia to face former European Cup winners Red Star Belgrade, who would leapfrog the Gunners to the top of the section with a win.

Like in previous games, Wenger will field a second-string side with the likes of Olivier Giroud and Jack Wilshere likely to feature along with several youngsters as Arsenal seek to bounce back from their 2-1 loss at Watford at the weekend.

– Montella under pressure –

In other games, AC Milan will look to ease some of the pressure building on coach Vincenzo Montella with a win at home to AEK Athens.

Montella received the backing of club chief Marco Fassone in the wake of Sunday’s 3-2 derby defeat to Inter, Milan’s third straight defeat in Serie A.

Reports in Italy have suggested that the coach must claim wins against AEK and against Genoa and Chievo in Serie A if he is to keep his job.

However, the seven-time European champions have won both matches so far in Europa League Group D, scoring eight goals in total to see off Austria Vienna and Rijeka.

Milan are one of nine sides to maintain a perfect record heading into the third round of group games.

Among the others are Nice and Lazio, who meet each in the south of France with the French outfit looking to overcome Italian opposition — something they failed to do when they lost to Napoli in the Champions League play-offs.

The surprise package so far in the tournament has been the Swedish club Ostersund, who have already won away to Zorya Luhansk in Ukraine and at home to Hertha Berlin.

Coached by the Englishman Graham Potter, once of Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion amongst other clubs, Ostersund qualified for Europe by winning the Swedish Cup and overcame Galatasaray and PAOK in the qualifying rounds.

On Thursday his side welcome Athletic Bilbao, the 2012 Europa League runners-up, to their compact Jämtkraft Arena, more than 500 kilometres north of the Swedish capital Stockholm.

© 2017, Sunday Emmanuel. All rights reserved.

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Guardiola – Napoli, best team I faced in my career

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Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola described his side’s 2-1 victory over Napoli in the Champions League group phase as one of the proudest moments of his storied career.

City took a quick-fire 2-0 lead in Tuesday’s game through Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus, but Amadou Diawara’s penalty — after Dries Mertens had squandered an earlier spot-kick — made for a nervy finale.

Prior to the game, Guardiola had lavished praise on Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli, who are top of Serie A with eight wins from eight games, and afterwards, he made the surprising claim they were the best opponent he had ever faced.

“I think it was an extraordinary game from both sides. We faced one of the best sides I faced in my career, probably the best,” said Guardiola, who previously led Barcelona to two Champions League titles.

“It is one of the wins I am most proud of in my career.

“Today we won against an incredible team. To do that you have to do an incredible performance.”

Sterling and Jesus struck in the first 13 minutes at the Etihad Stadium, at which point Premier League leaders City looked set for a victory comparable to Saturday’s 7-2 demolition of Stoke City.

But the home side’s commitment to building play up from the back gifted Napoli opportunities that the visitors eventually exploited.

Although Mertens squandered their first penalty in the first half, drilling his spot-kick at Ederson’s legs, Diawara made no such mistake in the 73rd minute after Fernandinho was penalised for felling Faouzi Ghoulam.

However, when asked if City’s tactics had invited pressure from Napoli, Guardiola said the solution was not less passing out from the back, but more.

“We have to do it more,” said Guardiola, whose team are now three points clear of Shakhtar Donetsk at the top of Group F.

“You play long balls against that team, in two seconds they are attacking. In football, how fast the ball goes, how fast it comes back.

“You have to play better build-up, to contact with Kevin (De Bruyne) and (David) Silva. If you play long balls, (Kalidou) Koulibaly and (Raul) Albiol are stronger than our strikers. You spend 90 minutes running.

“Instead, they run after the ball. That is the point. There’s a risk, but you score goals because after that you can create chances. You have to play as much as possible.”

– ‘Huge step forward’ –
Sarri said his side’s performance compared favourably with their last trip to a European heavyweight when they lost 3-1 away to Real Madrid in the last 16 of last season’s competition.

“Even after missing a penalty, we managed to come back fighting,” said Sarri, whose side trail Shakhtar by three points.

“After this match, we must feel reassured and even more confident. I’ve seen a huge step forward compared to the match in Madrid last year.

“We were lucky enough to score first there. Here we had to come back into the game after a very difficult first 25 minutes. I think we’ve definitely taken a step forward.”

With half an eye on Saturday’s Serie A summit clash with Inter Milan, Sarri started with Allan and Jorginho on the bench.

Lorenzo Insigne hobbled off late on, but Sarri said he was hopeful about the winger’s fitness.

“For Lorenzo, I hope there’s nothing wrong with him,” Sarri said. “He had some muscular problems. It’s probably just a bit of fatigue.”

Madrid went on to win the Champions League after disposing of Napoli last season and Sarri was sufficiently impressed by City’s display to suggest Guardiola’s men could do the same.

“They’re a great team. They have everything,” he said. “They’re very quick, tactically very savvy.

“If they stay in good physical and mental shape, as they are now, I believe they could really go all the way.”

© 2017, Sunday Emmanuel. All rights reserved.

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Dortmund under pressure after Spurs-Real draw

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Borussia Dortmund coach Peter Bosz admits the Germans face an uphill Champions League battle after struggling to a draw at APOEL Nicosia while Tottenham Hotspur earned a point at Real Madrid.

Bosz said Dortmund have now got their work cut out in their next two home games — against APOEL in a fortnight and Spurs on November 21 — before facing holders Real away.

“It’s going to be difficult for us now and the result in Madrid didn’t help,” said Bosz.

“We need to try to win the home game against Nicosia (APOEL) and see how the last two games go.”

Dortmund, the 2013 Champions League finalists, are third in Group H, trailing both Real and Spurs by six points after having to come from behind in their 1-1 draw at Cyprus side APOEL on Tuesday in Nicosia.

Sokratis Papastathopoulos rescued a point after an error by Dortmund’s goalkeeper Roman Burki let Mickael Pote give the hosts a shock second-half lead.

The German side’s plight in Europe was not helped by Spurs taking a point at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Raphael Varane’s own goal for Real was cancelled out by a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty in Tuesday’s 1-1 draw, which leaves Madrid and Spurs on seven points.

Bosz refused to point the finger at Burki for failing to hold the shot that led to Pote’s goal.

“Roman has often helped the team this season. Things like this happen in football and the team won’t blame him,” said the Dutch manager.

Dortmund’s hot-shot striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang managed just two shots over the 90 minutes.

“We’re all disappointed,” said Dortmund captain Marcel Schmelzer.

“We didn’t play well in the second-half and it was all a bit wild, which shouldn’t happen in the Champions League,” he said.

“With a bit of luck, we’ll win the next game and we have to show a reaction.”

Dortmund remain top of the Bundesliga despite losing 3-2 at home to RB Leipzig last weekend.

Bosz said only hard work will get them back to winning ways against Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday in the top German league.

“I’m a positive person and in football, you can lose, which is what happened to us last week,” said Bosz.

“It will certainly happen to us again this season, but if we work hard, we will be rewarded.”

AFP

© 2017, Sunday Emmanuel. All rights reserved.

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