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World Cup notebook

Nigeria avoids two-year suspension

Associated Press / July 6, 2010

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Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan dropped his threat to suspend the national soccer team from playing for two years because of its poor World Cup showing and corruption allegations.

In a statement, Jonathan’s office said the decision came after a meeting yesterday with the Nigeria Football Federation. The federation’s executive committee fired the group’s president and vice president Sunday in an effort to appease the government.

The federation “assured the president of their commitment’’ to building a national soccer program “that will bring glory, rather than consistent embarrassment to Nigeria on the world stage,’’ the statement read.

FIFA had set a deadline of last night for the Nigerian government to drop its suspension plans or face even harsher international sanctions than those Jonathan threatened to impose. In a statement, FIFA acknowledged that the government had backed off and “therefore, the Nigerian Football Federation remains vested with all its statutory rights.’’

FIFA regulations forbid governments from interfering in national soccer federations, and it has suspended countries for breaking the rules — a ban that extends to club teams, referees, and officials.

A presidential spokesman announced last Wednesday that Jonathan wanted the Super Eagles suspended for two years to allow Nigerian soccer to be restructured after it left the World Cup with just one point over three matches.

Earlier yesterday, FIFA president Sepp Blatter said that his organization has taken “all adequate steps’’ to resolve the dispute.

“We do hope that everything comes back to normal,’’ Blatter said.

Torres to bench?
Spain forward Fernando Torres may not start against Germany tomorrow. He acknowledged yesterday that he still is “not at his physical best,’’ and has struggled since returning from knee surgery. Coach Vicente del Bosque backed Torres to play in the semifinal, but also said the Liverpool striker was not guaranteed to start . . . Ravshan Irmatov of Uzbekistan will be the referee for today’s Netherlands-Uruguay semifinal, his fifth match of the tournament. Viktor Kassai of Hungary will officiate Germany-Spain, his fourth assignment.

Support for Maradona
One of Diego Maradona’s assistant coaches with Argentina wants him to stay with the team in the wake of its devastating 4-0 loss to Germany in the quarterfinals. Alejandro Mancuso offered his support to Maradona in a radio interview, saying the national team’s staff wanted him to return. “Knowing Diego, it is difficult for me to think he wants to step down after failing in his objective to win the Cup,’’ Mancuso said. “We can’t throw away all the good work we’ve done.’’ Maradona has not made his plans clear, but his contract has a clause that triggers an automatic extension through to the Copa America, which Argentina hosts next year . . . Coach Gerardo Martino is leaving the Paraguay national team, his four-year contract having expired . . . Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon had surgery for a back injury sustained at the World Cup and is expected to be sidelined for about three months . . . Soccer’s two most prestigious awards, Europe’s Ballon d’Or and FIFA’s world player of the year, will be combined beginning next year. The new award will be called the Ballon d’Or, or Golden Ball.

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