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Sunday, 21 December 2014 00:00 Published in Sports
CREDIBILITY ON THE LINE
The International Football Federation (Fifa) will release an "appropriate" version of a report into alleged corruption surrounding the 2018 and 2022 World Cups but president Sepp Blatter on Friday ruled out moving the tournaments from Russia and Qatar.
The wealthy Gulf state of Qatar has faced a storm of controversy over its successful bid for the 2022 tournament.
But Blatter said: "It would really need an earthquake, extremely important new elements to go back on this World Cup in Qatar."
The president of football's ruling body sought to silence a growing number of critics after the Fifa executive unanimously voted to release an edited version of a report drawn up by top US lawyer Michael Garcia.
Garcia resigned on Wednesday as Fifa’s top corruption investigator in protest at the body's handling of his report.
A Fifa summary released last month said no corruption had been found. Garcia has strongly attacked the summary prepared by Fifa's most senior judge and said he had found "serious and wide-ranging issues" in the bidding for the two World Cups.
Blatter acknowledged the critics when he said Garcia's report will be released once proceedings against individuals named in the document are completed.
The published report will probably have the names of witnesses who gave evidence to Garcia taken out.
Blatter said the Fifa executive agreed unanimously at a meeting in Marrakech, Morocco, "to publish the report in an appropriate form once the ongoing procedures against individuals are concluded. I am pleased they have agreed."
The names of officials facing action have not been released but European media have named them as Angel Villar Llona of Spain, Michel D'Hooghe of Belgium and Worawi Makudi of Thailand.
"It has been a long process to arrive at this point and I understand the views of those who have been critical," Blatter said.
"The publication of this report has become a barrier to rebuilding public confidence and trust in Fifa," he added.
The FIFA leader said that cases against individuals were being reviewed by Fifa's adjudicatory chamber.
He added that information on the cases and Garcia's report had been sent to the Swiss prosecutor's office but there was no question of changing the hosts of the next two World Cups.
"We will not revisit the 2018 and 2022 vote," he insisted, adding that a report by independent, external legal experts "supports the view that there are no legal grounds to revoke the executive committee's decision on the award of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups."
He said changes were being made to the Fifa bidding system "so that everyone can be confident that the 2026 bidding process will be fair, ethical and open."
Fifa voted to award the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 event to Qatar at a meeting in December 2010 that sparked protests as soon as it was finished.
British media reports have said a Qatari football official handed over millions of dollars to federation chiefs in Africa and Asia to get support. The Gulf state has strongly denied any wrongdoing.
Qatar also faces controversy over the timing of the event because of the searing temperatures in the region in the northern hemisphere summer months traditionally used for the World Cup. Blatter is battling with powerful European club leaders over which winter or spring months to choose for the event.
The corruption storm and battle over the World Cup dates have become major challenges for Blatter ahead of a vote in May 2015 on whether he stays as Fifa's president.
At the moment, the 78-year-old president is favorite to secure a fifth term, but he still faces formidable opposition.
Michel Platini, president of the European confederation UEFA, has called on Blatter to keep an earlier promise to stand down in May. He called Garcia's angry resignation a "new failure" for the Fifa leadership.
"We have come through a crisis but with the executive committee decision it is behind us. We have shown unity and that is the way that we want to take," Blatter told a press conference. AFP
"If God gives me health and luck, then yes I vow to re-establish the reputation of FIFA. But for that I need all the football family," he said.
Meanwhile, Platini described FIFA's decision to publish the Garcia report as "a step in the right direction".
"It was important that the FIFA Executive Committee decided today to publish the Garcia report. I have always battled for transparency and this is a step in the right direction," Platini said in a statement released by UEFA.
"Let us hope that the report can now be published as quickly as possible. The credibility of FIFA depends on it."
Real Madrid can cap off a magnificent year by winning the Club World Cup on Saturday, with the European champions facing San Lorenzo of Argentina in the final in Marrakech.
There will be a sell-out crowd in the 45,000-capacity Grand Stade in the Moroccan city for the game, and judging by the fanatical reception given to Madrid when they beat Cruz Azul at the same ground in the semifinals on Tuesday, they will have the full backing of the locals.
Regardless of that, Carlo Ancelotti's side are overwhelming favorites to succeed Bayern Munich as winners of the annual Fifa competition.
The Spanish giants have already won the Champions League, Copa del Rey and European Super Cup in 2014 and will end the year on top of La Liga too.
The 4-0 win against Mexico's Cruz Azul, featuring goals by Sergio Ramos, Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Isco, was their 21st consecutive win in all competitions, and they now have in their sights the mark of 26 straight wins achieved by Johan Cruyff's Ajax side in 1971-72.
"I didn't imagine we could achieve so much. I think this team deserves the world title to finish off this fantastic year," said Ancelotti, who led AC Milan to the 2007 Club World Cup.
He can welcome James Rodriguez back after the Colombian missed his side's last three games with a calf injury but admitted that Ramos, who came off early against Cruz Azul feeling his hamstring, is a doubt.
"I think they are two different situations. James has no risk. He has been training well since Wednesday. He has completely recovered," said Ancelotti.
"The situation with Ramos is different. He has a problem which is not serious (but) we need to evaluate it in training and see how he feels."
Meanwhile, Ancelotti has tipped Ronaldo to get back among the goals after drawing a rare blank in the semi-finals.
"Ronaldo is always important for the team, even when he doesn't score. Maybe he was saving a goal for the final," he said.
That could be ominous for San Lorenzo, who will be feeling rather less fresh than Madrid after needing extra time to beat Auckland City 2-1 in the second semi-final on Wednesday.
The Buenos Aires club, one of Argentina's traditional “Big Five” and the winners of this year's Copa Libertadores, may be able to boast the support of the Pope, but they know they are rank outsiders.
"For us it is an honor to be able to play this final. We would have liked another 24 hours rest but it was not possible," said San Lorenzo coach Edgardo Bauza, who led LDU Quito of Ecuador against Manchester United in the 2008 final.
"It is so easy to motivate the players for this match. It was very difficult to get here. Tomorrow will be our 65th match of 2014."
There has been some controversy over Fifa's decision to change the referee for the match on San Lorenzo's request, with Walter Lopez of Guatemala replacing Portugal's Pedro Proenca.
However, competition rules clearly state that the referee cannot come from the same member association as either of the clubs involved.
Meanwhile, some in Madrid are concerned that San Lorenzo will try to make up for the undoubted gulf between the sides by adopting an aggressive approach.
"Our football is different to European football but we don't have any intention to make it a dirty game," retorted veteran Colombian defender Mario Yepes, 38, formerly of Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan amongst others.
Bauza said his team will be the same as that which started against Auckland, with Paraguayan midfielder Nestor Ortigoza set to start despite struggling with a knock.
Earlier, Cruz Azul and Auckland will play-off for third place in the same stadium. AFP
LIKE A FINE WINE
The NBA's defining moment in 2014 was supposed to be the San Antonio Spurs return to championship glory, but that was before the Donald Sterling saga took on a life of its own.
With the perfect blend of youth and veteran experience, the Spurs dismantled the Miami Heat in one of the most lopsided finals in league history, showing the two-time defending champions that the secret to long-term success is strong leadership and developing young talent.
Future hall of famers Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili teamed up to lead the Spurs past the Heat in five games.
For France's Parker and Argentina's Ginobili it was their fourth ring with the Spurs. For the Virgin Islands-born Duncan and coach Gregg Popovich it marked five rings together.
Duncan said number five means the most.
"It is sweeter than any other," he said. "Whether it be because of the timeframe or because I am coming to the end of my career or because I can have these two (Ginobili and Parker) here. I can really remember it and enjoy the experience."
The Spurs dismantling of the Heat in the finals exposed the strengths of one team and the glaring weakness of another.
San Antonio's future is in good hands with 23-year-old Kawhi Leonard who was named finals MVP in June. The Spurs had better teamwork and more depth, while the Heat put their faith in superstar James.
Miami's Big Three fizzled in the finals as knee injuries and age appeared to finally catch up with guard Dwyane Wade. Chris Bosh showed just flashes of the brilliance he displayed in the Heat's two previous championship seasons.
"It was a battle between one-on-one basketball and team basketball," said Spurs' Boris Diaw.
Miami made a big splash in 2010 with the signing of James and he led them to two championships and two runner-up finishes in his four seasons there. But it all came to a screeching halt after the 2014 finals.
As if the loss to the Spurs wasn't enough, the Heat suffered another knockout blow a month later when James jumped ship for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
James was lauded for trying to make amends with his hometown faithful who burned his jersey in public when he left the Cavaliers after seven seasons in Cleveland.
The glow of the Spurs' finals victory didn't last long as the Sterling controversy and scandal engulfed the league.
The Los Angeles Clippers owner was banned from the NBA for life and fined $2.5 million by the league after recordings of him making racist comments to his girlfriend were made public. Sterling was the league's longest tenured owner at the time.
San Antonio's success wasn't the only on-court surprise in the 2013-2014 season. The Phoenix Suns won 48 games, after many picked them to finish in last place. Eventual season MVP Kevin Durant led Oklahoma City to 59 wins despite losing Russell Westbrook for big chunks of the season to injuries.
The Portland Trail Blazers improved by 21 wins and returned to the postseason thanks to strong performances from Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge.
In the East, the Toronto Raptors won the Atlantic Division title behind Kyle Lowry and all-star DeMar DeRozan, while Washington made the playoffs thanks to John Wall's superb play. AFP
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