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FIFA Isn’t on Same Page With Clubs Over Calendar

The battle lines have been drawn, and the fight promises to be a long and bloody one.

On Friday, FIFA’s executive committee voted to introduce a harmonized international calendar in time for the 2004 season, despite widespread opposition to the plan from Europe’s leading clubs.

Under the proposal, there would be a worldwide season running from February to November, with eight weeks set aside in December and January for vacations and preseason play, and another block of six weeks reserved in mid-summer for international competition such as the World Cup, the Olympic Games and continental championships.

The remaining 38 weeks each year would be left free for clubs to play their various league and cup schedules.

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“The national associations are absolutely free to start their seasons when they want and finish when they want, as long as they respect the international dates,” FIFA President Sepp Blatter said. “It’s as easy as that.”

Not quite as easy is imagining how Major League Soccer will react to having an enforced six-week gap in the middle of its season.

NO GOLD FOR NIGERIA

Nigeria, which won the gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, will not be defending its title in Sydney this year.

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The Nigerian team needed a five-goal victory over Zimbabwe in its final qualifying game at home in Lagos Saturday to reach the 2000 Games, but managed only a 4-0 result, two of the goals coming in the 89th and 90th minutes when it already was clear that Coach Jo Bonfrere’s side would not achieve its ambitious target.

EUROPEAN CHAMPIONS CUP

Defending champion Manchester United of England will play seven-time champion Real Madrid of Spain in next month’s quarterfinals of the European Champions Cup.

The three other quarterfinals will pit England’s Chelsea against Spain’s Barcelona, Spain’s Valencia against Italy’s Lazio, and Portugal’s FC Porto against three-time winner and 1999 runner-up Bayern Munich of Germany.

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JAPAN-SOUTH KOREA 2002

Fans planning to attend the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea had better start saving now. Reports indicate the price of an average ticket will be almost double what it was for the France ’98 World Cup.

Japan’s Yomiuri newspaper, quoting unidentified sources, said the average ticket would cost $160.

Meanwhile, the Japan Organizing Committee for the 2002 World Cup (JAWOC) denied reports that tickets for the June 30 final at Yokohama International Stadium would cost as much as $750. JAWOC said no pricing decisions have been made.

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WOMEN’S WORLD CUP

Bowing to strenuous objections from the United States, FIFA’s committee on women’s play has decided not to move the next Women’s World Cup from 2001 to 2002.

According to a FIFA statement, the committee “felt that the men’s World Cup [in Japan and South Korea that year] was likely to overshadow all other competitions and that it would therefore be better to avoid such an accumulation of events.”

ARENA ONLINE

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Does he mean it or is it all an exercise in public relations?

Bruce Arena, the U.S. men’s national team coach, supposedly is writing a bimonthly column for Goalnetwork.com.

Judging by the quote attributed to Arena but not sounding at all Arena-like, the whole thing is going to be ghost-written and bland.

“The Internet continues to become an increasingly popular medium for soccer fans,” Arena supposedly said. “I look forward to communicating my thoughts and perspectives on the U.S. national team and the state of the game, as well as interacting with the fans who have made this the world’s game.”

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Those who seek biting commentary and controversy likely should look elsewhere. After all, who can Arena afford to alienate? His own players? The media? The fans?

NAMES IN THE NEWS

Steve Negoesco, 74, will retire as coach of the University of San Francisco after the 2000 season, his 39th at the school. Negoesco, who has an NCAA Division I-record 536 victories and an overall mark of 536-172-65, led the Dons to NCAA titles in 1966, ’75, ’76, ’78 and ’80. Associate coach Erik Visser will succeed him.

Hugo Sanchez, Mexico’s most celebrated striker, was named coach of UNAM, the Mexico City club where he began his playing career a quarter-century ago.

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George Best, 53, former European player of the year and one-time Los Angeles Aztec standout, has been hospitalized for two weeks in London, where he is receiving treatment for alcohol-related liver problems.

Milton Nunez, the forward from Honduras who made a huge impact in the recent CONCACAF Gold Cup, was signed by Sunderland of England’s Premier League from the Greek club PAOK Salonika for $2.53 million, with an additional $1 million going to his former club, Nacional of Uruguay.

Carlos Alberto, the captain of Brazil’s 1970 World Cup-winning team and later a star defender for the New York Cosmos and California Surf, was named coach of Oman’s national team.


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