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Italy, Portugal drawn in same bracket for World Cup qualifying playoffs – CBC.ca

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The World Cup in Qatar is sure to be without either Italy or Cristiano Ronaldo.

Italy and Portugal, the current and previous European champions, were drawn into the same qualifying playoff bracket Friday, meaning at least one will fail to qualify for next year’s tournament.

Italy will first face North Macedonia at home in a playoff semifinal next March, and the winner will play away at either Portugal or Turkey for a spot at the World Cup.

Four-time champion Italy failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, missing the tournament for the first time since 1958 after losing in the playoffs to Sweden. Now, after winning Euro 2020 in July, it may have to beat Euro 2016 champion Portugal to avoid a second straight failure.

“It’s not a great draw and it could have gone better,” Italy coach Roberto Mancini acknowledged. “Just like we wanted to avoid Portugal, they would have wanted to avoid Italy.”

Ronaldo has led Portugal to every World Cup since 2006 and this could be his last attempt at winning international soccer’s biggest trophy. He will turn 37 before next year’s tournament starts.

Ronaldo helped Portugal get through the playoffs for the 2014 World Cup, scoring a hat trick in a 3-2 win over Sweden that featured an epic duel between superstars, with Zlatan Ibrahimović netting twice for the Swedes.

“It’s not worth thinking about (Italy),” Portugal coach Fernando Santos said. “It’s important that we concentrate on beating Turkey.”

Italy’s forward Federico Chiesa (L) challenges Switzerland’s defender Ricardo Rodriguez during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualification Group C football match between Italy and Switzerland on November 12, 2021 at the Olympic stadium in Rome. (Akberto Pizzoli/AFP via Getty Images)

Other matchups

Also in the 12-team draw, Scotland will face Ukraine at home, and the winner will play at Wales or Austria in the final of their bracket.

Russia will host Poland for the right to face Sweden or the Czech Republic in their bracket final. Russia or Poland will host the final.

Scotland looks to end a 24-year wait to play at the World Cup while Wales’ only appearance was in 1958.

“At the moment, the way the team is playing, the confidence the boys have got, we would be happy to play anyone, anywhere,” said Scotland coach Steve Clarke, whose team has won six straight since September.

However, Ukraine won at Hampden Park in June, in the Euro 2020 round of 16 against Sweden, and went unbeaten through a World Cup qualifying group won by France.

Scotland players celebrate as they leave the pitch after the FIFA World Cup 2022 Group F qualification football match between Scotland and Denmark at Hampden Park in Glasgow on November 15, 2021. (Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images)

Sweden will not have Ibrahimović for its semifinal against the Czechs. The 40-year-old forward has a one-game ban for getting yellow cards in the qualifying group.

“We already did it last time (in 2018) and we of course (know) that we can do it again,” said Sweden coach Janne Andersson.

The six playoff semifinals will be played as single-leg games March 24. The three finals are played five days later.

The three winners will complete Europe’s entry of 13 nations in the 32-team lineup in Qatar.

FIFA will make the tournament draw on April 1 in Doha.

The European playoffs feature the 10 teams who finished second in their qualifying groups along with two teams — Austria and the Czechs — who won Nations League groups last year.

Also, FIFA said Qatar will host the intercontinental playoff in June that will decide the last two qualifiers for the tournament.

Intercontinental draw

The intercontinental draw paired the team from Asia against the team from South America, and a team from North American region CONCACAF against Oceania’s representative.

Those qualifying campaigns are still being played.

The winners of the two single-leg games on June 13-14 will complete the 32-team World Cup lineup.

The intercontinental playoff was originally scheduled for March 2022 as two-leg, home and away series. The games were pushed back as the global qualifying program stalled during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Novak Djokovic sponsor Lacoste to review Australian events 'as soon as possible' – National Post

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Lacoste, owned by Swiss group MF Brands, signed a multiyear deal with Djokovic as sponsor in 2017

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Leading Novak Djokovic sponsor Lacoste has said it plans to “review” the events that led to the tennis star’s deportation from Australia, highlighting the potential fallout for athletes who remain unvaccinated against COVID-19.

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“As soon as possible, we will be in touch with Novak Djokovic to review the events that have accompanied his presence in Australia,” Lacoste said on Monday.

Lacoste, owned by Swiss group MF Brands, signed a multiyear deal with Djokovic as sponsor in 2017. According to Forbes, the men’s world number one earns $30 million a year from sponsorship tie-ups.

The review comes after Djokovic, who has declined to be vaccinated against COVID-19, said he was “extremely disappointed” that the Australian courts had decided to uphold a government decision to cancel his visa. The ruling means he is unable to compete in this month’s Australian Open tournament.

Djokovic had entered Australia with a medical exemption from a vaccine requirement but had his initial visa cancelled. He had sought to stay in the country to compete for a record 21st grand slam title but his legal challenge was unsuccessful. He has now been deported and returned to Serbia.

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Djokovic’s opposition to mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations highlights the dilemma facing sports sponsors, which must weigh up their approach when athletes raise objections to widely recommended public health measures such as vaccination.

His participation in the French Open, the next grand slam on the tennis calendar, is also in doubt after Roxana Maracineanu, sports minister for France, said that spectators, staff and players would need to show proof of vaccination to enter sports stadiums and other public places. The tournament in Paris is due to start in May.

Other sponsors of Djokovic include carmaker Peugeot, luxury watch brand Hublot and Austrian lender Raiffeisen Bank International.

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Raiffeisen, which agreed a tie-up with Djokovic in April last year, said his “high reputation in central and eastern Europe” was its motivation for the multiyear deal and pointed to “his social commitment”.

But it added that the partnership had been agreed “long before the current reporting on Novak Djokovic and his COVID-19 vaccination status, or his participation in the Australian Open”.

Hublot previously told the Financial Times: “Novak Djokovic is his own person. We cannot comment on any of his personal decisions.”

Lacoste, founded by two tennis players in 1933, thanked the organizers of the Australian Open for “all their efforts to ensure that the tournament is held in good conditions for players, staff and spectators”.

Djokovic first voiced opposition to mandatory COVID-19 vaccination in 2020.

© 2022 The Financial Times Ltd

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Athletics Canada CEO David Bedford facing complaints over Twitter posts – CBC Sports

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The CEO of Athletics Canada is apologizing for a series of sexually suggestive Twitter exchanges made over a number of months and posted to his personal account.

Dave Bedford posted the tweets as replies to nearly a dozen different Twitter accounts. The tweets have since been deleted.

“It’s my personal account. It’s not like I was sending out photos or tweets myself,” Bedford told CBC Sports. “In this day and age with all we have been going through, I found some of these things funny so I commented. It’s apparent others didn’t feel the same way so I removed them.”

In his personal Twitter bio, Bedford identifies himself as the CEO of Athletics Canada and provides a link to the publicly funded organization’s website, which — as the national governing body of athletics — represents thousands of elite and amateur athletes across the country.

After receiving a number of internal complaints over the weekend, Athletics Canada’s board chair Helen Manning spoke to Bedford who then deleted the offensive tweets and locked his account.

Emergency board meeting

Athletics Canada will hold an emergency board meeting Monday night to decide next steps. Board chair Helen Manning said confidence in Bedford’s ongoing ability to lead will be a central point of discussion and didn’t rule out asking for Bedford’s resignation.

“There are certainly concerns that have been expressed by some of our membership,” Manning said. “Those types of comments are not something that is in keeping with the policy of how we see our people in the public domain.”

Manning said the organization has done a lot of work with Safe Sport, which aims to eliminate sexual harassment as well as physical and mental harassment among athletic organizations.

“We have spent a great deal of time and effort focused on trying to ensure the safest and most welcoming environment for our athletes and all of our members,” Manning said.

Audrey Giles, a professor at the University of Ottawa and a member of Athletics Canada’s Safe Sport Committee, said Bedford’s behaviour brings his judgment into question.

‘Raises questions’

“If he felt that that sort of public behaviour was acceptable, it raises questions about if he is the right person to be leading an organization through this era of safe sport,” Giles said. “I think it’s just like the hypocrisy of talking about having to hold coaches to a higher account, having to make spaces that are safe for athletes. Yet being somebody who engages in this, frankly, creepy online behaviour with women?

“I recognize that people can have a very diverse and exciting sexual lives. But when you are a leader of an organization, I think that the standards are higher.”

Bedford was hired by Athletics Canada in 2019 and has worked in a variety of leadership roles across Canadian sport, including the Canadian Olympic Committee and the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League.

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Soccer-Lewandowski and Putellas win FIFA Best awards

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Bayern Munich’s Polish striker Robert Lewandowski won the FIFA Best Men’s Player award for 2021 with Barcelona’s Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas winning the FIFA Best Women’s Player prize at Monday’s ceremony.

The prolific Lewandowski won the award for the second straight year after a season in which he beat Gerd Mueller’s 49-year old record of 40 goals in a single Bundesliga campaign.

“Robert is someone special. He is the greatest footballer in the history of our country. The best Polish ambassador and a role model for young people, not only those playing football,” said Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Facebook.

The 27-year-old Putellas was at the heart of the Barcelona women’s team which won the Spanish league and the UEFA Champions League.

Chelsea won both the awards for best coach, with Thomas Tuchel winning the men’s award and Emma Hayes named the best women’s coach.

Tuchel had guided Chelsea to the Champions League title after taking over the club in January while Hayes won the Women’s Super League, FA Cup and League Cup treble in England.

The West London club enjoyed further recognition with their Senegal international Edouard Mendy winning the Best Men’s Goalkeeper award.

Chile and Olympique Lyonnais’ Christiane Endler was named The Best Women’s Goalkeeper.

The Puskas Award for best goal of the year was won by Argentine Erik Lamela, now with Spanish club Sevilla, for his goal for Tottenham Hotspur against Arsenal.

The Denmark national team and their medical staff won the Fair Play award for their swift response after Christian Eriksen collapsed on the field during the Euro 2020 game with Finland.

(Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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