Prosecutor calls for suspended sentence for Blatter, Platini

Prosecutor calls for suspended sentence for Blatter, Platini
The Swiss prosecutor’s office requested on Wednesday a 20-month suspended prison sentence against Michel Platini and former FIFA president Sepp Blatter, accusing them of defrauding the soccer governing body. (AFP)
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Updated 15 June 2022

Prosecutor calls for suspended sentence for Blatter, Platini

Prosecutor calls for suspended sentence for Blatter, Platini
  • Blatter and Platini are being tried over a two-million-Swiss-franc ($2 million) payment in 2011
  • The prosecutor's demand is more lenient than he could have asked for -- a maximum of five years in prison if found guilty

BELLINZONA, Switzerland: The Swiss prosecutor’s office on Wednesday demanded a 20-month suspended jail sentence for Michel Platini and ex-president of FIFA Sepp Blatter, accusing them of defrauding football’s governing body.
Blatter and Platini are being tried over a two-million-Swiss-franc ($2 million) payment in 2011 to the former France captain, who by that time was in charge of European football’s governing body UEFA.
The prosecutor’s demand is more lenient than he could have asked for — a maximum of five years in prison if found guilty.
“Only their behavior with regard to criminal law counts,” said prosecutor Thomas Hildbrand, leaving out any link to football politics.
The prosecution accuses Blatter of having signed off an invoice for two million Swiss francs presented to FIFA by Platini in 2011, almost nine years after the end of his work as Blatter’s adviser.
Giving evidence at the start of the trial last week, Blatter said he had struck a “gentleman’s agreement” with Platini to pay him the money.
Platini was employed as an adviser to Blatter between 1998 and 2002. They signed a contract in 1999 for an annual remuneration of 300,000 Swiss francs, which was paid in full by FIFA.
But they claimed that they had agreed to pay an additional 700,000 annual francs when the finances of the organization would allow it.
Hence Platini presented an invoice for two million Swiss francs at the beginning of 2011, signed by Sepp Blatter and presented to FIFA as an outstanding part of the salary.
Hildbrand said on Wednesday in his four-and-a-half hour discourse that agreeing on such a sum without a written record, without witnesses and without provisioning it in the accounts was “contrary to commercial practices” as well as the habits of FIFA.
He also dismissed the claim the signed invoice was for back pay arguing that FIFA’s finances were healthy enough in 1999 — it “would have had more than 21 million francs in reserves” and which had ballooned to 327 million in 2002.
Hildbrand said there was no reason for the delay, adding that Blatter “had perfect knowledge” of FIFA’s solvency.
“When a chameleon feels threatened, it changes color: Blatter does the same thing,” said Hildbrand.
The trial follows an investigation that began in 2015 and lasted six years.
The case is due to run until June 22 with both FIFA — a civil party in the trial — and the defense both due to lay out their closing arguments.
The Federal Criminal Court of Bellinzona will deliver its decision on July 8.
Platini, 66, is regarded among world football’s greatest-ever players. He won the Ballon d’Or, considered the most prestigious individual award, three times in the mid-1980s.
Blatter, now 86, joined FIFA in 1975 and became the president of world football’s governing body in 1998.


’No small teams anymore’, FIFA chief hails best group stage

’No small teams anymore’, FIFA chief hails best group stage
FIFA President Gianni Infantino gives thumbs-up during Qatar 2022 World Cup Group G match between Brazil and Switzerland. AFP
Updated 9 sec ago

’No small teams anymore’, FIFA chief hails best group stage

’No small teams anymore’, FIFA chief hails best group stage
  • “Fantastic atmosphere, great goals, incredible excitement, surprises, small teams beating big teams,” he said in comments released by FIFA on Wednesday

DOHA: FIFA President Gianni Infantino has hailed the group stage of the Qatar World Cup as the “best ever” and said the number of upsets and geographic breadth of the teams progressing indicated that football was becoming ever more global.
Former champions Argentina, Spain, Germany and Brazil all suffered shock group-stage losses and Africa, Asia and North America were represented in the last 16 along with traditional powerhouses South America and Europe.
Infantino said the matches — “played in beautiful stadiums” — had already attracted a TV audience in excess of two billion viewers.
“Fantastic atmosphere, great goals, incredible excitement, surprises, small teams beating big teams,” he said in comments released by FIFA on Wednesday.
“Well, there are no more small teams and no more big teams. The level is very, very equal.
“For the first time as well, national teams from all continents going to the knock-out phase, for the first time in history. This shows that football is really becoming truly global.”
Infantino has pushed through the expansion of the World Cup from 32 teams to 48 for the next edition, which will be held across 16 cities in the United States, Canada and Mexico in 2026.
Infantino on Wednesday said he had been delighted with the number of fans crowding into the stadiums and fanzones in the country and thought the final TV viewership figures would exceed five billion.
“At the end [of the day], we simply want to give some joy and some smiles to people all over the world,” he added.
“That’s what football is about, that’s what the World Cup is about, and that’s what should also happen from now until the end.
“We have already seen some great action on the field, which, (ultimately), is the most important part of what you do.”


Belgium star Hazard quits international football

Belgium star Hazard quits international football
Belgium's national football team forward Eden Hazard gives a press conference ahead of the upcoming Fifa World Cup. AFP
Updated 07 December 2022

Belgium star Hazard quits international football

Belgium star Hazard quits international football
  • The Real Madrid forward, 31, made the announcement on social media, saying “a page turns today"

DOHA: Belgium star Eden Hazard announced his retirement from international football on Wednesday, days after the team crashed out of the World Cup in the group stage.
The Real Madrid forward, 31, made the announcement on social media, saying “a page turns today.”
“Thank you for your unparalleled support,” he posted on Instagram. “Thank you for all this happiness shared since 2008. I have decided to put an end to my international career. The succession is ready. I will miss you.”
The Belgium team tweeted: “All the best, captain.”
Hazard, who played as an attacking midfielder or winger, made his Belgium debut in 2008 as a teenager and collected a total of 126 caps, scoring 33 goals.
He was the standard-bearer of Belgium’s much-vaunted “golden generation,” which reached the semifinals at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
The team are still ranked second in the world by FIFA but many of their players are in their 30s and they finished third in Group F behind Morocco and Croatia.
Hazard, who was the team’s skipper, made a surprise admission during the tournament in Qatar, saying the team’s best chance to win the World Cup had come and gone.
The forward moved from French club Lille to Chelsea in 2012 and became one of the standout stars in the Premier League, winning the trophy twice.
He sealed a big-money move to Real Madrid in 2019 but, hampered by injury, has struggled to repeat the form he showed in England.
Belgium were stalked by rumors of in-fighting in Qatar and a number of the country’s other stars including Kevin De Bruyne and Thibaut Courtois have likely played their final World Cup matches.
In the aftermath of their exit, Belgium coach Roberto Martinez announced he was leaving his job.


Morocco fans in London celebrate World Cup win over Spain

Morocco fans in London celebrate World Cup win over Spain
Updated 07 December 2022

Morocco fans in London celebrate World Cup win over Spain

Morocco fans in London celebrate World Cup win over Spain
  • North African country is first Arab nation to reach World Cup quarterfinals
  • London’s Edgware Road erupts in celebration after victory

LONDON: Jubilant Morocco fans poured onto the streets of central London on Tuesday night to celebrate their team’s historic win over Spain in the last 16 of the World Cup.

Becoming the first Arab nation to reach the quarterfinals of a World Cup, Morocco beat the 2010 champions in a penalty shoot-out in which keeper Yassine Bounou saved all three of Spain’s shots before Paris Saint-Germain defender Achraf Hakimi slotted home.

Footage on social media showed elated crowds of people around Oxford Street, Piccadilly Circus and Edgware Road dancing and waving Moroccan flags after the result.

Describing the scenes on Edgware Road, 21-year-old student Jahmell-Hasan Rhys Campbell told The Guardian: “It was incredible. There were lots of flags everywhere. Not just Moroccan flags but flags of almost every African nation.

“The cars were beeping every second, people were dancing in the street and hanging out of their car windows. It was such a surreal experience. (There were) easily around 300 people.”

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI issued a statement sending his “heartfelt congratulations” to the team, noting that the players had given “their all and blazed a trail throughout this great sporting event.”

He added that they represent the “hopes and dreams of Moroccans in Morocco, Qatar, and all over the world,” as they ready themselves for a last-eight meeting with Portugal on Saturday.


Ronaldo a bystander as Portugal find magic touch at World Cup

Ronaldo a bystander as Portugal find magic touch at World Cup
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo watches from the bench during the Qatar 2022 World Cup round of 16 match against Switzerland. AFP
Updated 07 December 2022

Ronaldo a bystander as Portugal find magic touch at World Cup

Ronaldo a bystander as Portugal find magic touch at World Cup
  • The superstar forward was largely a spectator as the side he has captained for so long threw off the shackles and romped to a 6-1 victory over Switzerland in the World Cup last-16 on Tuesday

DOHA: Cristiano Ronaldo first found himself unloved and unwanted by Manchester United. Now the unthinkable has happened — he has been dumped by Portugal.
The superstar forward was largely a spectator as the side he has captained for so long threw off the shackles and romped to a 6-1 victory over Switzerland in the World Cup last-16 on Tuesday.
Young striker Goncalo Ramos, brought in for Ronaldo, scored a stunning hat-trick and at least competed with his illustrious teammate for the headlines.
Ronaldo came to the World Cup seeking respite after his troubled spell at Old Trafford this season, where he had become a peripheral figure under new manager Erik ten Hag.
Those frustrations boiled over last month in an explosive TV interview in which he lashed out at the club and the coach, leading to an inevitable parting of the ways.
The 37-year-old landed in Qatar to the usual fanfare, once again the focus of fawning attention from the world’s media.
Things even went to script in Portugal’s first game, when he scored the opener from the penalty spot in a 3-2 win against Ghana, becoming the first man to score goals at five World Cups.
But things went downhill from there. He huffed and puffed through games against Uruguay and South Korea but failed to find the net and Portugal were less than the sum of their considerable parts.
Portugal coach Fernando Santos, who masterminded the side’s triumph at Euro 2016, finally took the decision to leave his star man out against the Swiss and was vindicated in spectacular fashion.
Portugal turned on the style, with Benfica’s Ramos, 21, netting three times in a free-flowing attacking performance.

- Ronaldo chants -

With the match long since won, chants of “Ronaldo” echoed around the cavernous Lusail Stadium in Doha and he was cheered as he warmed up on the sidelines.
Santos gave the crowd what they wanted with about 15 minutes of normal time to go.
Ronaldo smashed a free-kick into the wall moments after coming on and minutes later had the ball in the net after a fine finish, but was well offside.
He even had to cede the limelight to fellow substitute Rafael Leao, who scored a stunning goal in stoppage time to complete the rout — another glimpse of the enviable riches at Santos’s disposal.
The coach, who has been in charge since 2014, insisted he had complete faith in all his forward in the afterglow of the win, which sets up a quarter-final against Morocco.
“Andre (Silva) is a great player who plays further forward, Cristiano is more fixed — he stays in a more determined area toward the box,” he said. “Goncalo (Ramos) has different characteristics.
“He is very dynamic and that is what he ended up showing us. It is nothing new — he already came on in two matches but Andre also played in the last match. 
“I have three players I fully trust. For each match I will use which player I see best for my strategy.”
Santos even suggested five-time Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo could still be a starter in Qatar.
But for all of his coach’s placatory words, Ronaldo — who has a record 118 goals in men’s international football — will surely once again be left out of the line-up for Saturday’s quarter-final.
He will also be painfully aware that he is clubless, as rumors swirl over a lucrative move to Saudi side Al-Nassr.
If, as expected, he is kicking his heels on the bench during the Morocco match, he will have plenty of time to brood over his situation and remember he was the future once.


Saudi football fans in Doha join Morocco World Cup celebrations

Saudi football fans in Doha join Morocco World Cup celebrations
Part of the celebrations at the Saudi House in Doha. SPA
Updated 07 December 2022

Saudi football fans in Doha join Morocco World Cup celebrations

Saudi football fans in Doha join Morocco World Cup celebrations
  • “We, the Moroccans, are proud of the Saudi public’s support for us in the final qualifiers for the Qatar World Cup," Moroccan fan said

DOHA: Saudis on Tuesday joined Moroccan football fans celebrating in Doha the north Africans becoming the first Arab team to reach the World Cup quarterfinals.

Visitors to the Saudi House area, located on the Qatari capital’s corniche, watched on a giant screen Morocco’s dramatic 3-0 penalty shootout win over Spain in the round of 16 match.

The Saudi House pavilion, set up for the duration of the tournament to showcase the Kingdom’s rich culture and footballing history, was a sea of Saudi and Moroccan flags as fans from around the world witnessed the Atlas Lions’ victory.

Saudi fan, Mohammed Al-Hamid, described the result as marking an historic day in sport for Arabs in general and Moroccans in particular.

He added that many Saudis had backed Arab teams competing in the World Cup either by attending matches or watching games on giant screens.

Moroccan fan Nader bin Saeed, said: “We, the Moroccans, are proud of the Saudi public’s support for us in the final qualifiers for the Qatar World Cup.

“Here, in the Saudi House, we feel that we are one people united by many customs and traditions, and we have many citizens who work in Saudi Arabia, as well as our Moroccan professionals who play in the Saudi league.”