Inter Milan's path to the Champions League final against Manchester City

MILAN (AP) — Inter Milan will play in its fifth Champions League final when it faces Manchester City in Istanbul on Saturday.

The three-time champion will be bidding for its first title since it won the treble of the Serie A, the Italian Cup and the Champions League under José Mourinho in 2010.

For current coach Simone Inzaghi it is a first Champions League final, as is the case for all of his players.

Few would have imagined the Nerazzurri would be in this position when the draw was made back in August.

But Inter progressed from a tough group containing European giants Bayern Munich and Barcelona, and it went on to eliminate Porto, Benfica and city rival AC Milan en route to the final.

Here's a look:


As soon as the draw was made, Inter’s group was dubbed the group of death. Bayern, Barcelona and Inter had 14 titles between them. Czech team Viktoria Plze? completed the quartet. Inter’s Champions League future looked bleak when it lost 2-0 at home to Bayern in the opener. It was also the manner of that defeat that made progression seem unlikely as there was a clear gulf between the two teams. Inter would have lost by a more hefty scoreline had it not been for goalkeeper Andre Onana. Inter also lost by the same score in Germany, but by then it had already secured a spot in the last 16. A controversial victory at home over Barcelona had given it the advantage in what had been billed as the contest for second spot — as Bayern ran away with the group — and the Nerazzurri consolidated that with a 3-3 draw in Spain.


Inter beat Porto 1-0 on aggregate to reach the quarterfinals for the first time since going out at that stage in 2011 as defending champion. A late Romelu Lukaku goal in the first leg — and some fortune in the second — was enough to see Inter advance and perhaps save Inzaghi’s job. By the time Inter travelled to Porto in March it was already out of the Serie A title race as it had dropped 18 points behind leader and eventual champion Napoli. The pressure was on Inzaghi. Inter defended solidly in Portugal but Porto should have taken the match to extra time after a dramatic finale. Deep in stoppages, Porto had a shot cleared off the line and also hit the woodwork twice — all in the space of a minute.


Inzaghi and Inter were under even more pressure ahead of their second Portuguese test. Inter was without a win in more than a month when it travelled to Benfica. But it ended that six-match winless run with a 2-0 victory, thanks to a header from Nicolò Barella and a Lukaku penalty. Inter drew further criticism as it then lost at home to Monza in the Italian league, but it drew 3-3 against Benfica at San Siro to advance 5-3 on aggregate. The second leg was also more comfortable than the score suggests as Inter relinquished a two-goal lead late. Inter had been criticized for not being clinical enough in front of goal and failing to convert numerous chances but Barella netted early and Lautaro Martínez and Joaquín Correa scored in the second half to all but seal their team’s spot in the last four.


Everything seemed to go right for Inter in the buildup to the semifinal against city rival AC Milan. Players returned from injuries, while others who had been putting in sub-par performances started hitting form — notably Lukaku. Inter beat Milan 2-0 in the first leg of the so-called “Euroderby,” with goals from Edin Džeko and Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the opening 11 minutes. Martínez scored the only goal in a 1-0 win in the return match, where Inter was nominally the home team at the stadium both Milan teams share. Those victories came in the midst of an impressive run that saw Inter end the season with 11 wins in its final 12 matches — ahead of its last and most important match of the season on Saturday.


Man City's path to the Champions League final against Inter Milan

ISTANBUL (AP) — Manchester City will be playing in its second Champions League final in three years when the English team meets Inter Milan in Istanbul on Saturday.

Here's look at City's path to the final:


City was handed a rather benign group containing Borussia Dortmund, a Sevilla team that had a poor start to the season, and Danish outsider FC Copenhagen. City coasted through it, winning its first three games — 4-0 at Sevilla, 2-1 at home to Dortmund and 5-0 at home to Copenhagen — before a 0-0 draw in Denmark secured a place in the round of 16 with two games to spare. That marked the first time City failed to score in a match this season, though the team did play more than an hour with 10 men after Sergio Gomez's red card and saw Riyad Mahrez have a penalty saved. City finished with a 0-0 draw at Dortmund and beat Sevilla 3-1 at home. The highlight of the group stage for City was Erling Haaland's flying volley for the winner against Dortmund, his former club.


The second leg against Leipzig was Haaland's most prolific match in a City shirt. The striker scored five goals before the hour mark in a 7-0 win to complete an 8-1 aggregate victory. Only two players — Argentina great Lionel Messi and Brazilian forward Luiz Adriano — had previously scored five goals in a single Champions League game. It was Leipzig's heaviest European loss and a shock given the way the German team troubled City at times in their 1-1 draw in the first leg, when Mahrez scored the opener. Leipzig was far too open in the return match, playing right into City's hands, with Ilkay Gundogan and Kevin De Bruyne also scoring.


City's 4-1 aggregate win over Bayern Munich wasn't as convincing as the score suggests — as manager Pep Guardiola later said. City was clinical in a 3-0 victory in the first leg at Etihad Stadium, with Rodri's left-foot curler from outside the area breaking the deadlock in a high-quality first half before goals from Bernardo Silva and Haaland pressed home City's advantage in the final 20 minutes. City was wobbling early in the second leg but held on and managed to take the lead through Haaland following a length-of-the-field counterattack led by De Bruyne. By then, Haaland had already skied a penalty over the crossbar and Joshua Kimmich grabbed a late consolation for Bayern, also from the spot.


City avenged last season's painful semifinal exit at the hands of Real Madrid, drawing 1-1 in the Spanish capital before producing arguably its best display under Guardiola to win the second leg 4-0 at home. De Bruyne's long-range second-half equalizer at the Santiago Bernabeu canceled out Vinicius Junior's equally sublime opener and gave City the platform to overpower Madrid a week later. Silva scored two first-half goals and there were more after halftime for Manuel Akanji and Julian Alvarez in a City performance brimming with power and confidence. “We feel unstoppable,” City winger Jack Grealish said.


MLS hopes Messi will boost attendance, TV viewers and market share

NEW YORK (AP) — After two decades competing against Real Madrid, Manchester United and Brazil, Lionel Messi will be going against the NFL, Major League Baseball and the NBA.

Major League Soccer is hoping for a breakout boost to its television audience and market share after Messi joins Inter Miami next month. Following Pelé's signing with the New York Cosmos in 1975 and David Beckham joining the LA Galaxy in 2007, Messi is expected to become the third supreme soccer evangelist in a nation where the sport has been playing catch-up for more than a century.

“Lionel Messi coming to MLS is an event that can't be replicated in any other way,” former U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati said. “You’ve got one of the best players of all time, if not the best player of all time, coming on the heels of a World Cup win and worldwide popularity joining an American soccer league. That’s just a fantastic, fantastic opportunity for the sport in the United States.”

Messi will join MLS at age 36 while Pelé was 34 and Beckham 32. Messi remains a regular with Argentina's national team and could play in next year's Copa América and perhaps the 2026 World Cup, both in the U.S.

The Cosmos of the old North American Soccer League averaged 3,578 fans in 1974, the season before Pelé, and played in Downing Stadium along the Triborough Bridge. By his final year, 1977, they averaged more than 34,000 at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Clive Toye, the Cosmos general manager who signed Pelé, remembered being met with hostility.

“Oh, Americans will never play that soccer. Oh, what a ridiculous game." he recalled being told. ”Messi is coming to a country which has millions of soccer players, where its national team draws packed crowds, its women’s national team draws packed crowds, its professional teams are at all kinds of levels — there are minor league teams tucked into villages and goodness where across the country, and kids playing soccer everywhere every day."

The NASL folded after the 1984 season and was replaced in 1996 by MLS, launched two years after the U.S. hosted the World Cup for the first time. Begun with 10 teams, MLS has grown to 29 this year and San Diego is to start play in 2025.

Attendance has increased from 2.8 million and an average of 17,400 in 1996 to 10 million and an average of 21,033 last year. Total attendance is up 28% this year and the average 7%.

Roughly 22 teams are in new or substantially rebuilt soccer-specific stadiums and just six play on artificial turf.

“When you think about stadiums, infrastructure and soccer-specific stadiums, the training grounds, all of that makes it a great league,” said Gregg Berhalter, the U.S. coach at last year's World Cup. “And when you’re comparing it to other leagues that he can potentially go to when he’s doing that checklist, MLS comes out on top in a lot of categories.”

Still, soccer lags other U.S. sports. The 272 NFL regular-season games averaged 16.7 million viewers across television and digital platforms last season and the league drew 18.8 million to stadiums, an average of 69,442. MLB drew 64.6 million, an average of 26,843.

ABC and ESPN televised 34 MLS games last year that averaged 343,300 viewers, while the league averaged 443,000 on Fox, 138,000 on FS1 plus 254,000 for Spanish-language broadcasts on Univision and UniMás.

In its first year of a 10-year agreement with AppleTV+, MLS did not provide television audience figures for its games this season.

Messi, a World Cup and South American champion and a four-time Champions League winner, brings a wide appeal. He has 469 million Instagram followers, dwarfing the 22 million of the LA Galaxy's Javier Hernández, MLS's most-followed player.

But he also speaks limited English — until recent years, he was reticent to speak to media even in Spanish, but appeared far more comfortable during last year's World Cup.

Inter Miami has added 3.8 million Instagram followers to nearly 6 million. With the addition of Messi, the team could consider raising ticket prices or perhaps moving matches from 18,000-capacity DRV PNK Stadium to 65,000-seat Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, home of the NFL's Dolphins and a venue for the 2026 World Cup. Some road games could be shifted to larger venues.

Beckham joined MLS for a $32.5 million, five-year contract that included the right to purchase an expansion team at a discounted price of $25 million — which became the Miami team that launched in 2020.

MLS owners, executives and U.S. soccer fans hope Messi’s impact will be many times more.

“I don’t think anybody would doubt that he has overdelivered on every one of those measures,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said of Beckham. “There’s arguably not a soccer fan on this planet that doesn’t know the LA Galaxy and Major League Soccer, and David played a significant role in helping us make that happen.”


AP sports: https://apnews.com/hub/sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports


Italy to face Uruguay in Under-20 World Cup final

LA PLATA, Argentina (AP) — Italy and Uruguay will each be bidding for a first Under-20 World Cup title when the countries meet in the final on Sunday.

Italy knocked out South Korea with a 2-1 win in the semifinals Thursday after Uruguay beat Israel 1-0. Both matches took place Único Diego Armando Maradona Stadium at La Plata, which will also host the final and the playoff for third place.

Uruguay reached tournament final in 1997 and 2013, losing the championship matches to Argentina and France on those occasions, Italy will play the decider for the first time.

The evening encounter between Italy and South Korea offered more than 20,000 spectators one of the best matches of the tournament, with goalkeepers Sebastiano Desplanches and Kim Joon-hong working hard from start to finish.

Italy opened the scoring in the 14th minute via the player of the tournament so far. Cesare Casadei shot from the edge of the box despite being crowded by three South Koreans to put the ball in the back of the net for the seventh time in the U-20 World Cup.

South Korea equalized with Lee Seung-won's shot from the spot in the 23rd after a video reviewed decision.

Both teams squandered opportunities to get ahead, including one for Italy that required goal line review. The deadlock was broken in the 86th, when substitute Simone Pafundi scored from a free kick.

The Italian lineup has been resurgent in the knockout rounds with wins over England and Colombia after placing third in its group.

Target man Anderson Duarte scored Uruguay's only goal of the first semifinal in the 61st minute from close range, one of the few opportunities either team had during the match.

Israel goalkeeper Tomer Zarfati deflected a shot by Alan Matturro and it hit his left post, but Duarte was quicker than the Israeli defenders to put the ball in the back of the net.

To reach the final, Uruguay finished its group in second place, and eliminated Gambia and the United States.

Israel will play South Korea in the third place Sunday, almost going the distance after an eventual first trip to the Under-20 World Cup.

Protests in Muslim-majority Indonesia against hosting the Israel team forced FIFA into a very late switch of venues.

Argentina stepped in late to host the tournament.


Messi mural to cover student dormitory in Tirana, make Albanians happy

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — One side of a dormitory for medical students in downtown Tirana has been covered by a mural of Lionel Messi.

Argentine painter Maximiliano Bagnasco is taking part in the Tirana MuralFest 2023 and decided to go with the soccer great, his idol.

The 25x10-meter mural of a bearded and smiling Messi, wearing Argentina’s white-and-blue national team jersey with the No. 10, will cover part of a building at a crossroad near the capital city's main hospitals.

“It is a source of pride for me … that my work has become known for painting them, our idols,” the 41-year-old Bagnasco told The Associated Press.

Bagnasco has also painted a mural of Diego Maradona in Naples, as well as in Miami and other places. Maradona also won a World Cup with Argentina wearing the No. 10 shirt. He then led Napoli to its first two Italian league titles in 1987 and 1990 before the team won a third this season.

Two days after Argentina won the World Cup in Qatar last year, Bagnasco painted a mural in Buenos Aires of Messi lifting the trophy.

“Messi is the best player in the world at the moment,” Bagnasco said of the player who has decided to move to Inter Miami in Major League Soccer. “Today the world is a fan of Argentina because of Messi.”

Helidon Haliti, a painter who is the main organizer of the MuralFest, said Bagnasco offered other works for the competition. When asked who his hero was, which was the main theme of the MuralFest 2023, he immediately responded “Messi.”

“That mural will mark a very interesting moment because he (Messi) was World Cup winner last year and this time he will make us a winner,” Haliti said. “I am sure of that.”

Tirana is the European City of Sports 2023 and has been holding and has planned many continental sporting activities.

Albanians have known Messi very well.

“Messi deserves it as a player and we, Albanians, too, to enjoy that world-class personality,” 61-year-old Arben Stafa said.

Bashkim Tufa, a 71-year-old sports analyst, was happy to be proved right when he predicted in 2005 that the world had a new star in Messi when first playing for Barcelona. Messi has continuously been a part of his writings since.

Wining the World Cup last year was “the icing on the cake,” according to Tufa, adding that years ago a sports newspaper's copies were devoured by Albanians reading that Messi could come to the country.

“Now they have the possibility to see him every day, to meet him everyday, and that is a special pleasure for Albanians who are so passionate for soccer beauty and Messi is its personification,” Tufa said.

Besides painting on top of a crane and often angry at rainy days, Bagnasco has enjoyed meeting and talking to local Albanians wearing or showing Messi’s jersey and hailing him.

"(Argentines) are lucky to have had Maradona and Messi on the same land,” Bagnasco said, showing a No. 10 tattoo on his left forearm. “Right now, there is a new generation and a lot of people who are getting to know Messi and it’s Messi’s moment.”


Lloyd a Fox studio analyst for Women's World Cup, Dellacamera lead broadcaster

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Two-time FIFA Player of the Year Carli Lloyd will work as a studio analyst for Fox's Women's World Cup coverage and JP Dellacamera will be lead play-by-play commentator for the third straight tournament.

Dellacamera will be paired with former U.S. national team midfielder Aly Wagner for the second straight Women’s World Cup, Fox said Thursday. They are among three crews on site in Australia and New Zealand for the tournament, which runs from July 20 to Aug. 20.

Rob Stone will be the studio host for Fox’s third straight Women’s World Cup along with two men’s World Cups. The set will have the Sydney Opera House as a backdrop.

Fox is broadcasting its third straight Women’s World Cup under a deal with FIFA through the 2026 men’s World Cup in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Three on-site crews in Australia and New Zealand is up from two at the 2019 women’s tournament in France. At last year’s men’s World Cup in Qatar, all five crews called matches from stadiums.

Dellacamera will be working his seventh Women’s World Cup along with 10 men’s World Cups.

John Strong, Fox’s lead play-by-play broadcaster for the last two men’s World Cups, will be paired with Kyndra de St. Aubin, who worked the previous two women’s tournaments with Jenn Hildreth.

Jacqui Oatley, a Sky Sports broadcaster who in November became the first woman to call play-by-play for a U.S. network at a men’s World Cup, will work with former American midfielder Lori Lindsey.

Hildreth will be among two crews broadcasting from Fox’s Los Angeles studio, paired with Warren Barton. The other LA-based crew is Kate Scott and Danielle Slaton.

Alexi Lalas again is the lead studio analyst and will be joined by Stuart Holden, the former American midfielder who partners with Strong on Fox’s lead men’s broadcast team. Holden and Strong are Fox’s lead broadcast team for the men’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, to be played in the U.S., from June 24 to July 16.

Lloyd, co-captain of the 2019 U.S. team, will be joined as an analyst by Karina LeBlanc, Kate Gill, Heather O’Reilly and Ariane Hingst.

Jenny Taft will be based with the U.S. team, Tom Rinaldi will be features correspondent and Mark Clattenburg and Joe Machnik will be rules analysts. Chris Fallica, formerly of ESPN, is the new role of wagering expert.

Fox will broadcast 29 of 64 games on its main network, up from 22 of 52 matches in 2019. Thirty-five games will be on the FS1 cable network.

U.S. Spanish-language television rights are held by Telemundo, part of Comcast Corp.’s NBCUniversal.


AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

German soccer league finds 2 more men to replace 2 men who replaced female CEO


The German soccer league will appoint two more men to take over as chief executive officers from the two men who took over from a woman last year.

Marc Lenz and Steffen Merkel are to assume duties as co-CEOs on July 1, taking over from Axel Hellmann and Oliver Leki, the league, known as the DFL, said in a statement on Thursday.

Hellmann and Leki took over on an interim basis from Donata Hopfen last December when she stepped down from the role as head of Germany’s top two soccer divisions after less than a year in charge.

Hopfen became the DFL’s first female CEO when she took over from Christian Seifert on a three-year contract from January 2022, but she struggled to impose her vision to resolve longstanding questions on issues such as the league’s 50-plus-1 rule limiting the role of outside investors, marketing at home and abroad, and the sale of media rights.

She suggested in a social media post she did not receive the support she needed from league members to make required changes to longstanding structures.

Lenz and Merkel were already members of the DFL’s management board. The 37-year-old Lenz previously worked for UEFA and McKinsey & Company, while the 37-year-old Merkel previously worked for the Boston Consulting Group.

“Both enjoy the highest respect within the organization and at the clubs,” league supervisory board chairman Hans-Joachim Watzke said. “They are familiar with all matters and future projects of the DFL Group, were already part of the management group, and have excellent networks.”


Canada coach Bev Priestman names roster for camp ahead of FIFA Women's World Cup

The fight for places on the Canadian women's World Cup team is going to go down to the wire in some cases.

Canada coach Bev Priestman has chosen 25 players for a camp in Australia before next month's tournament, including several players who have been racing to get fit.

The camp starts June 28 on the Gold Coast, with the sixth-ranked Canadians playing a final tune-up game against No. 4 England on July 14 behind closed doors. 

The two teams could meet again in the round of 16 at the tournament.

Priestman will announce her final 23-player roster on July 9, one day before the FIFA deadline. Sixth-ranked Canada opens Group B play July 21 against No. 42 Nigeria in Melbourne before facing No. 22 Ireland on July 26 in Perth and No. 10 Australia on July 31 back in Melbourne.

"Listen, at this point if I could name 23, I definitely would have," Priestman told a virtual media availability Thursday, saying the "more clutter" that can be shed before getting on the plane, the better.

But there are question-marks over midfielder Desiree Scott and forward Nichelle Prince, both of whom have been invited to camp. Prince has been recovering from an Achilles injury, while Scott picked up an injury at the end of the 2022 season that required surgery.

Priestman says the two "are the tightest to the timelines that we're talking about here." Scott, a hard-nosed defensive midfielder, has won 186 caps for Canada while Prince, a speedy attacker, has 90.

There is better news on forward Deanne Rose, who saw brief action recently with England's Reading after a lengthy absence due to an Achilles injury.

"Fingers crossed, touch wood, that Deanne should and could and is able to push through," said Priestman.

Midfielder Quinn, who goes by one name, is also back from a leg issue while veteran centre back Shelina Zadorsky has recovered from illness that kept her out of the last camp.

Priestman said barring injuries or positional needs, her roster will come from those at the camp. There is a standby list of players, if needed.

She has already had tough conversations with Gabby Carle and Bianca St-Georges, both of whom didn't make the camp roster. The 24-year-old Carle, who was part of the Canadian gold medal team at the Tokyo Olympics, has won 24 caps.

Priestman said Jade Rose's versatility, plus the return of Zadorsky and Kadeisha Buchanan, played a big part in her decision.

Midfielder Marie-Yasmine Alidou-D’Anjou, who has one cap, is part of the pre-tournament camp.

"I just see huge potential in what (she) can bring. She's athletic, she's technical," said Priestman. "You could say she has a little bit of Desiree Scott in her." 

The pre-tournament roster contains a wealth of experience, led by Christine Sinclair. The team's talismanic captain, who turns 40 on Monday, is preparing for her sixth World Cup.

The world's leading international goal-scorer with 190, Sinclair has made 323 appearances for Canada.

Other veterans include Buchanan (131 caps), Allysha Chapman (96), Jessie Fleming (115), Ashley Lawrence (117), Adriana Leon (96) and Sophie Schmidt (221).

Priestman hopes to use the camp to develop on-field relationships, something that has been hard to do recently because of the rash of injuries. She acknowledged that she has not been able to field a consistent 11 ahead of the tournament.

"Ultimately what I do know is the 23 players, whoever they are, can go on and do great things for this team and will give it our best shot," she said. "But I think part of this preparation camp is going to be about partnerships and flow that we've lacked because we've wanted to see players and (we've) had injuries. We need to get that flow."

Priestman also has to meld a squad with players in different parts of their season. Some European-based players are out of season while those in North America are still playing regularly.

The Canadian women last played April 11, when they lost 2-1 to No. 5 France in Le Mans.

Janine Beckie will miss the World Cup after undergoing knee surgery. The influential and versatile forward, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee in March in a Portland Thorns pre-season game, has 36 goals in 101 appearances for Canada.

The pre-tournament roster, which includes eight players yet to take part in a World Cup, has an average age of 27.

Priestman says mental health will be a priority at the World Cup, given the stress of the tournament and how long the team could be away from home. The staff includes mental performance coach Mariah Bullock, a sport psychologist and former Stanford soccer player.

The pressure won't end with the tournament. Canada is scheduled to play a home-and-away Olympic qualifier with Jamaica in September.

Forwards Clarissa Larisey and Evelyne Viens are both included on the camp roster although Canada Soccer says they won't be released by their Swedish clubs until the July 10 start of the official FIFA international window.

Priestman said that means she will have to choose her final roster before the two can join the team. 

"Essentially whether they get on the plane or not will depend on the selection on that date," she said.

Priestman welcomed news that FIFA, delivering on a promise made in March, is increasing the payout to participants. More than half of FIFA’s total prize money fund of US$110 million will go to the players.

Every player at the tournament will be paid at least $30,000 by FIFA, with those on the champion team each getting $270,000.

"I think it's outstanding. I think it's exactly what these players deserve," said Priestman. "For some players this can be life-changing. When you work your whole career to get to a World Cup and then you go and do really well at it, I think you should be rewarded for it."

Priestman's team is also getting a helping hand from GE Appliances Canada, a Canada Soccer sponsor that has finalized an agreement to provide C$100,000 to help the team's World Cup preparations.

The World Cup features 32 countries playing 64 matches across nine host cities in Australia and New Zealand.


Canada Pre-Tournament Camp Roster

Goalkeepers: Sabrina D’Angelo, Arsenal (England); Lysianne Proulx, SCU Torreense?(Portugal); Kailen Sheridan, San Diego Wave FC (NWSL).

Defenders: Kadeisha Buchanan, Chelsea (England); Allysha Chapman, Houston Dash (NWSL); Vanessa Gilles, Olympique Lyonnais?(France); Ashley Lawrence, Paris Saint-Germain (France); Jayde Riviere, Manchester United (England); Jade Rose, Harvard University (NCAA); Shelina Zadorsky, Tottenham (England).

Midfielders: Quinn, OL Reign (NWSL); Marie-Yasmine Alidou D’Anjou, Famalicão (Portugal); Simi Awujo, USC (NCAA); Jessie Fleming, Chelsea (England); Julia Grosso, Juventus (Italy); Sophie Schmidt, Houston Dash?(NWSL); Desiree Scott, Kansas City Current (NWSL).

Forwards: Jordyn Huitema, OL Reign (NWSL); Cloe Lacasse, SL Benfica (Portugal); Clarissa Larisey, BK Hacken FF (Sweden); Adriana Leon, Portland Thorns (NWSL); Christine Sinclair, Portland Thorns (NWSL); Nichelle Prince, Houston Dash (NWSL); Deanne Rose, Reading (England); Evelyne Viens, Kristianstads DFF? (Sweden).


Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2023.

Man City, Inter Milan meet in Champions League final of contrasting club history

ISTANBUL (AP) — Manchester City will enter the Champions League final on Saturday as a modern soccer and financial heavyweight compared to Inter Milan.

That is a new twist in the European history of two clubs who have rarely operated at the same level and whose respective status, on and off the field, flipped about 12 years ago.

Inter had the aristocratic, storied tradition and trophies while City was an English third-tier team when crosstown rival Manchester United lifted the iconic European Cup trophy in 1999.

“One is a kind of old nobility,” European soccer consultant Olivier Jarosz told The Associated Press about Inter, “and one comes from a working-class family that has made a nice marriage with money.”

Yet both City and Inter were teammates on the failed Super League project in 2021, albeit for different reasons. Loss-making Inter was seeking to avoid being left behind by English Premier League dominance; financial juggernaut City, backed by Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth, didn't want to be left out.

Abu Dhabi’s petrodollars have been spent wisely so debt-free City goes to Istanbul for its second Champions League final in three years and fresh from sealing a seventh Premier League title in 12 seasons.

In the same era, Inter went through three owners, racked up record losses, won Serie A just once and did not advance through any Champions League knockout round until this season. Inter failed even to qualify for six straight years.

City’s sustained success now sees it with the highest overall and sponsorship revenue of any club in world soccer last year, and the most expensive squad costing about $1.3 billion in total.

Inter earned less than half of City’s income of about 730 million euros ($784 million) in 2022 and ran up a loss of 140 million euros, according to UEFA's latest industry analysis.

The entire Inter lineup that started the second leg of its semifinal game against AC Milan cost less in total transfer fees than just one City player — 117.5 million euros ($126 million) record signing Jack Grealish — in the team that dismantled Real Madrid one night later.

“(Inter) are in the Champions League final despite the ownership, and Manchester City are in the final because of the ownership,” Kieran Maguire, author of “The Price of Football,” told the AP on Thursday.

It was very different for most of the 68-year history of what started as the European Cup and became the Champions League.

When Inter last won in 2010, the Nerazzurri had been European champion more often than City had played total games in the competition: three titles for Inter, two games for City.

Inter won back-to-back titles in 1964 and 1965 and reached two more finals in 1967 and 1972. Three UEFA Cup titles also were won in the 1990s when Serie A was still the best, richest and most fashionable league in Europe.

Owned for most of this era by the Moratti family, billionaires in the oil industry, Inter also broke the world record transfer fee four times, including when it signed Brazilian striker Ronaldo from Barcelona.

City’s only European Cup adventure lasted two weeks and ended in Istanbul in October 1968, eliminated by Fenerbahce in the first round. The European Cup Winners’ Cup title was won the next season, but the club had no serious European status for decades.

A sliding doors season was 2011-12 — a first Champions League campaign in Manchester came three years after the takeover by Abu Dhabi, and was the last in the blue half of Milan for six years.

By 2018, when both were again in the Champions League groups, much had changed. City had just regained the Premier League title, a first coached by Pep Guardiola who was reunited with former executives from Barcelona and built a dominant team in the world’s richest domestic league.

“The quality of (City’s) decision-making is extremely high,” said Maguire, who described Inter as “a classic case of random, unstructured ownership.”

Inter was sold first by Massimo Moratti into the control of Erick Thohir, a former owner in the NBA, and then in 2018 to the Chinese corporation Suning, which installed 26-year-old family scion Steven Zhang as chairman.

Suning is subject to global financial pressures and in 2021 shut down its Chinese club, Jiangsu, months after winning a first domestic league title.

This season, Inter Milan’s stretched finances led UEFA to deduct 4 million euros ($4.3 million) from its prize money. The club also paid 6 million euros ($6.5 million) in 2015 for breaking “financial fair play” rules.

City also has two FFP punishments from UEFA — totaling 30 million euros ($32 million) — though evaded Champions League bans in cases related to having too much income, not too little. The club is currently fighting more than 100 charges from the Premier League related to alleged breaches of financial rules.

“For me, they are siblings,” Jarosz, an executive with the LTT Sports consultancy, said of the two finalists. “You really have a very small pool of clubs who have the same financial capacities.”

Saturday’s game is the third Champions League final since April 2021 and all those finalists since — Man City, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Liverpool, Inter Milan — were Super League members.

For a club to reach the Champions League final from outside the elite budgets of hundreds of millions “does not look possible,” Jarosz suggested. “It’s more than luck, it would be a statistical error.”


Budweiser brewer renews with FIFA to 2026 despite World Cup stadium beer ban in Qatar

GENEVA (AP) — Budweiser will still be the official World Cup beer through the 2026 tournament in the United States, after brewer AB InBev renewed with FIFA on Thursday despite a troubled time with men’s 2022 World Cup host Qatar.

Two days before the tournament began in Qatar, World Cup organizers withdrew a longstanding promise to let fans at stadiums buy beer with alcohol.

The move blindsided the brewer whose Budweiser brand has been the World Cup beer since the 1986 tournament.

FIFA seemed unable to protect AB InBev under pressure from Qatar in a dispute which seemed a potential breach of contract issue for soccer’s world body. The conservative Muslim nation signed up to honor FIFA's commercial partners when it started bidding to be host in 2009.

Though sales of Budweiser dropped in stadiums, the global publicity over the dispute arguably boosted the brewer and left little doubt which brand was tied to the World Cup.

A renewal for the 2026 World Cup seemed a done deal even during the dispute in Doha. FIFA president Gianni Infantino said then that relations with AB InBev were good and handshakes had been exchanged before arriving in Qatar.

There was no mention of past problems Thursday in a FIFA statement confirming AB InBev would sponsor the Women’s World Cup that kicks off next month in Australia and New Zealand, and the men’s 2026 tournament which will be co-hosted by the U.S., Canada and Mexico and will increase to 104 games from 64.

“FIFA World Cup tournaments are the most popular sporting events in the world” AB InBev chief marketing officer Marcel Marcondes said. “We are deeply connected to the fans and to football all over the world, which is why we’re excited about extending the relationship with FIFA.”

The value of the renewal was not stated. The sponsorship was reported to be about $75 million for the previous World Cup.


Big clubs in Germany's second division taking attention away from Bundesliga

BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s second division threatens to take attention away from the Bundesliga next season with several heavyweights competing at the lower level.

Hertha Berlin and Schalke were relegated from the top flight, joining the likes of Hamburger SV, Nuremberg, Kaiserslautern, Hannover and Fortuna Düsseldorf — all teams playing in stadiums with a capacity of at least 50,000.

Only five of 18 teams in the Bundesliga next season can boast such numbers. Promoted Heidenheim will play its first season in Germany’s top flight at the 15,000-capacity Albstadion. Union Berlin plays at the 22,000-capacity Stadion An der Alten Försterei and may have to move for Champions League games after clinching a spot in Europe’s top club competition.

When Hertha hosts Hamburg in its 75,000-capacity Olympiastadion, or Schalke hosts Kaiserslautern in front of 62,000 fans in Gelsenkirchen, the games will draw more attention than many first-division matches.

Here's a closer look at some of the clubs that will be competing in the second division next season:

HAMBURG (57,000 capacity)

Hamburg missed out on promotion after losing the playoff for the second successive season. Its fans were celebrating on the final day when they thought their team had finally returned to the Bundesliga after beating Sandhausen SV, but Heidenheim scored two goals in injury time to clinch promotion at Hamburg’s expense. Hamburg, a six-time German champion, was known as “der Dino” because it was the only remaining team to have played every season in the Bundesliga since the league’s formation in 1963. It’s been trying to get back since it was relegated in 2019.


Four-time German champion Kaiserslautern sensationally won the Bundesliga as a promoted team in 1998, when Otto Rehhagel was coach. It had been an ever-present in the top division since its formation in 1963 until its first demotion in 1996. Rehhagel led the “Red Devils” to promotion as second division champion the following season and the memorable Bundesliga triumph the year after that. Kaiserslautern was relegated again in 2006, promoted in 2010, relegated in 2012, and demoted to the third division in 2009. Kaiserslautern returned to the second division last season.

NUREMBERG (50,000)

Nuremberg, another founding member of the Bundesliga, is a nine-time German champion and was Bayern Munich’s biggest local rival despite its relegation troubles. Nuremberg has been demoted nine times from the top division – a record. It won its first Bundesliga title in 1968 and was relegated for the first time the following season. Nuremberg narrowly avoided demotion to the third division in 2020 by scoring in injury time to win its playoff against Ingolstadt on away goals. Last season it only secured second division survival on the final day.


Düsseldorf came up with a novel way to fill its stadium last April when it announced its “Fortuna for all” scheme to give free tickets to fans for some games starting next season. After a fourth-place finish last season, the club hopes the extra support can help propel it back to the Bundesliga, from which it was demoted in 2020 after two seasons. The club won its solitary German championship title with a win over Schalke in 1933.

SCHALKE (62,000)

Seven-time German champion Schalke was relegated again last month after just one season back in the Bundesliga. It was relegated in 2021 after 30 years in the top division, then bounced back as second division champion. However, the financial implications of that initial drop, the end of its sponsorship with Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom, and the coronavirus pandemic all took their toll. Former chairman Clemens Tönnies, who had cultivated the Gazprom link, resigned from Schalke in 2020 after a coronavirus outbreak at one of his meat processing plants. He was previously under fire for making racist comments. Forced to cut costs, Schalke is still adapting to a smaller budget despite huge support in Gelsenkirchen. It will be bidding to bounce back to the Bundesliga at the first attempt again.


Hertha’s troubles arguably started in 2019 when investor Lars Windhorst started backing the club with hopes of becoming one of Europe’s best. Years of turmoil on and off the field followed with relegation always a worry until it was finally confirmed last season. Hertha’s financial predicament is even worse than Schalke’s. The Charlottenburg-based club still faces an anxious wait to see its place in the second division is approved after submitting documents to the German soccer league on Wednesday that the club hopes show its financial viability. Hertha, one of the founding members of the German Soccer Federation in 1900, won two German championships in 1930 and 1931.


Taking the former heavyweights’ places in the Bundesliga are teams like promoted Heidenheim and Darmstadt, while former East German club Union Berlin was only promoted for the first time in 2019.

Leipzig was founded by an energy drinks manufacturer in 2009 before enjoying rapid success with regular Champions League qualification and back-to-back German Cup titles. Hoffenheim was similarly bankrolled to success by billionaire software engineer Dietmar Hopp.

Augsburg has been playing in the Bundesliga since its first promotion in 2011. Bochum enjoyed a long spell in the Bundesliga in the 1970s and 80s, but has spent more time in the second division since then. It was promoted back to the Bundesliga as second division champion in 2021.

Freiburg is another club that is arguably overachieving in the top division.

None of these teams has ever won a German championship.


Declan Rice set to leave West Ham after winning European trophy, club chairman says

LONDON (AP) — England midfielder Declan Rice looks to have played his final match for West Ham.

Rice, who captained West Ham in its victory over Fiorentina in the Europa Conference League final on Wednesday, has been promised he can leave the club and wants to go, chairman David Sullivan said.

“You can’t keep a player who doesn’t want to be there,” Sullivan told British radio station Talksport on Thursday.

Rice has been linked with some of Europe’s top teams, including Arsenal and Bayern Munich.

“It’s not something we want to happen,” Sullivan said. “We offered him 200,000 pounds ($250,000) a week 18 months ago. He turned it down."

The 24-year-old Rice has played for West Ham since 2017. He said after Wednesday’s final that “it’s not a goodbye yet.”

“Obviously there’s loads of speculation but nothing’s happened,” Rice said. “I’m a West Ham player, I’ve got two years left on my contract. I love every minute of it.”

Sullivan said West Ham has yet to receive an offer.

“But I think the offers will start to come today,” Sullivan said. “There are three or four clubs who have shown interest, but out of respect to West Ham, while we’re still playing, you don’t make offers for players.”


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