Mali Women's Basketball Player Punches Teammate After World Cup Loss ... Apologizes

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10:28 AM PT -- The two players involved in the scuffle have issued an apology ... saying the altercation all started because they were frustrated over the loss -- and they regret their actions.

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SORRY 'BOUT THAT
FIBA
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"We're here to apologize to the world of basketball, FIBA, World Cup -- and we're here to apologize," Kourouma told a room of reporters Tuesday. "We are sorry for the image."

If you can't beat 'em ... beat up your teammate?!?

That's what one Mali women's basketball player apparently tried to do following a FIBA World Cup loss this week ... throwing several punches after walking off the court -- and the video is nuts!!

The incident went down after Mali's 81-68 defeat at the hands of Serbia ... which marked the country's fourth L in four appearances.

The loss was seemingly 23-year-old forward Salimatou Kourouma's breaking point ... because she decided to let her hands fly and go after her own teammate, 17-year-old Kamite Elisabeth Dabou.

In the video, you can see the players' teammates jumping in to break it up ... but Kourouma tried like hell to get more punches off.

It's unclear if something in the game sparked the incident.

The altercation got FIBA's attention ... and an investigation is now underway.

Mali didn't have much luck in its final match of the Cup, either ... losing 88-65 to Canada on Tuesday. Both players suited up for the contest ... as Kourouma netted 9 points and 6 rebounds, and Dabou added 6 points.

Originally Published -- 6:52 AM PT

Alexi Lalas America vs. England During World Cup ... Most Watched Soccer Match In U.S. History?!

ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN
TMZSports.com

The United States and England are facing off in the 2022 World Cup ... a match American soccer legend Alexi Lalas tells TMZ Sports could be the most popular match in USA history.

"There's going to be a U.S. England game in the group stage and that has the possibility to be the most watched soccer game in American television history," 52-year-old Lalas told Babcock when he joined the "TMZ Sports" TV show (airs weeknights on FS1) on Friday.

August 12th isn't any arbitrary day -- it means we are exactly 100 days out from the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar -- a tournament America hasn't played in 8 years ... after failing to make the cut leading up to the 2018 WC in Russia.

Lalas says it was a real make-or-break moment for USA Soccer.

"It's almost like we took a step back in order to go two steps forward. It was a real come to Jesus type of moment for the United States soccer community and in particular the U.S. Men's National team."

Alexi, who played in the 1994 World Cup, continued ... "They came and they've come back stronger. Like I said, this is a team that has a chip on their shoulder to a certain extent. This is a team that I think has a beautiful arrogance and yeah, this is a team with some swagger with some young players. I think that's gonna excite the American public."

There's much more. The U.S. squad has swagger, but can they make a deep run in the tournament? Alexia says we probably aren't winning the World Cup just yet, but it's not an impossibility.

"I'm not putting my money on the U.S. Men's National team winning the World Cup I'll put your money. Look, it is still a long shot but anything can happen."

In order to advance, the team has to perform well in the group stage ... and that includes the matchup with England, scheduled to go down November 25 from Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar.

Qatar vs. Ecuador ... just 100 days and counting!!

FIFA World Cup Coming To 11 U.S. Cities in 2026 ... Including LA, NY & ATL!!!

FIFA just made official the 11 U.S. cities that will host World Cup games in 2026 ... dropping a list including Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, and even Kansas City.

The soccer association made the announcement on Thursday ... unveiling the 16 areas the tournament will be played in for their first-ever 48-team bracket (it was previously 32 teams).

60 of the games -- quarterfinals and semifinals -- will be played in the U.S. throughout 11 cities.

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Of course, the two largest cities in the U.S. -- Los Angeles and New York -- made the cut ... with Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Miami, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Seattle also getting picked.

KC Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes was hyped the World Cup chose his city ... saying, "Let's show them why Arrowhead is the loudest stadium in the world!"

The event will also hit Canada and Mexico -- each hosting 10 games -- and they will be played in Toronto, Vancouver, Guadalajara, Mexico City, and Monterrey.

This will be the first time in FIFA history that three different countries will host the matches ... and the first time in the U.S. since 1994.

Summer 2026 is "For the Game. For the World."

U.S. Women's Soccer Lands Historic Equal Pay Deal

Megan Rapinoe and the U.S. Women's National Team got what they've been wanting for so long -- U.S. Soccer just announced both the men's and women's national teams will receive equal pay.

The org. just announced the groundbreaking deal on Wednesday ... saying World Cup earnings for both teams will be split equally between players on both teams.

"This is a truly historic moment," U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone said of the deal. "In becoming the first federation in the world to solve the massive and vexing challenge of equalizing FIFA World Cup prize money, U.S. Soccer and our players have changed the game forever here at home, with the hopes of inspiring change around the world."

On top of the WC money, the teams will also receive the same appearance fees and game bonuses ... and share commercial revenue.

As we previously reported, the USWNT has been fighting for this since winning the World Cup in 2019 ... chanting for equal pay as they celebrated the win.

All 28 players on the USWNT filed a lawsuit against the USSF shortly after ... accusing it of engaging in "institutionalized gender discrimination" against the team.

3/24/21
THE TIME IS NOW

Rapinoe also gave a passionate speech about equal pay at the White House in 2021.

The lawsuit resulted in a $24 million settlement ... which was contingent on the new deal.

The historic collective bargaining agreement will run through 2028.

FIFA Punishes Senegal Over Shining Lasers ... At Egypt's Mo Salah

FIFA just hit Senegal with a $180,000 fine (175,000 Swiss Francs) ... after fans of the soccer federation shined lasers at Egypt's Mohamed Salah during a World Cup qualifying game last month.

It all went down when Egypt was taking on Senegal in a crucially important game in April. The game, tied after regulation, went to penalty kicks to determine who would advance.

Salah, one of Egypt's star players, as well other members of the club, had green lasers repeatedly and intentionally shined in their eyes/face as the team attempted their penalty kicks.

As a result, Salah and his teammates missed their penalty kicks, and Senegal won the match, 1-0 (3-1 PK), advancing to the next round.

Of course, spectators can't bring lasers to soccer matches, as they pose a danger to the public safety of the fans and athletes on the field.

However, that didn't deter fans -- seeking a competitive advantage for their respective soccer club. Now, FIFA officials have lowered the financial boom as a result of the fans' actions.

"As stated in the FIFA Stadium Safety and Security Regulations, laser pointers are considered prohibited items by FIFA and confiscated when the spectators are checked at the outer stadium perimeter," FIFA said after the incident.

"When incidents happen within the applicable scope of FIFA’s Disciplinary Code, disciplinary measures may be taken based on article 16, paragraph 2,” which says teams are liable for inappropriate behavior from their fans."

As for how FIFA came up with the punishment for Senegal, the governing body said its disciplinary panel compared it to other cases from WC qualifying games where similar incidents happened.

Senegal must also play a future game in a stadium with no fans.

Despite the large fine ... unfortunately for Mo Saleh and Egypt, they're out of luck 'cause the results of the game still stand.

Alexi Lalas USMNT Is 'Worth Your Belief!!!' ... Praises Team After World Cup Qualifying

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TMZSports.com

The U.S. Men's National Soccer Team just got a stamp of approval from Alexi Lalas ... who tells TMZ Sports he's so pumped for the squad after it qualified for the World Cup this week, he's imploring Americans to take note.

"This is definitely a team that is worth your time," the U.S. soccer legend said, "and worth your belief!"

After missing out on the 2018 World Cup ... the USMNT qualified for the 2022 event despite a 2-0 loss to Costa Rica on Wednesday.

And, the result has Lalas fired up for soccer's future in America ... telling us outside of LAX this week, "It's a fun team to watch and it's only going to get better as the years go by."

The World Cup is slated to begin in November ... and it was announced the Americans will have a pretty good shot at getting out of the initial stage as they got a relatively favorable draw when the tourney's groups were announced Friday.

Lalas tells us he thinks there are certainly other countries who will be listed as the favorites to win the championship -- but he ain't counting out the U.S. just yet.

"Stranger things have happened!" he said.

World Cup Qualifier Fans Shine Lasers In Mo Salah's Face Misses PK, Egypt Out Of WC

Egypt National Football Team fans are rightfully pissed their team failed to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar ... after multiple fans shined lasers in the face of star player Mohamed Salah (and other Egyptian players) as they fought to make the World Cup.

The controversial finish went down Tuesday in Cairo ... as Egypt -- playing Senegal -- was on the verge of qualifying for the world's biggest sports tournament.

But, after regulation, the game was tied and went into penalty kicks.

Unfortunately for Salah and the other Egyptian players who took PKs, fans in the crowd were aiming green lasers into the eyes of the players while they attempted to kick.

Salah and 3 other players ultimately missed their penalty kicks ... and Senegal ended up winning the match, 1-0 (3-1 PK).

In the clip you see Salah collecting himself as he gets ready to launch the kick. But, the distraction appeared to work, as the ball sailed over the crossbar, costing his team a chance at victory, and the World Cup.

FYI, spectators cannot bring lasers to soccer matches, but they're not impossible to get past stadium security.

FIFA, soccer's international governing body commented on the matter ... saying, "As stated in the FIFA Stadium Safety and Security Regulations, laser pointers are considered prohibited items by FIFA and confiscated when the spectators are checked at the outer stadium perimeter."

"When incidents happen within the applicable scope of FIFA’s Disciplinary Code, disciplinary measures may be taken based on article 16, paragraph 2,” which says teams are liable for inappropriate behavior from their fans.

Supporters of Egypt were left devastated and understandably frustrated with the loss ... and they clearly believe officials should've done more.

Fans sneaking lasers into soccer matches and using them to distract opposing players is not uncommon in international soccer.

Not to mention, lasers can be damaging to the eyes -- so it's not just against the rules, it's dangerous.

Soccer federations usually receive fines if their fans use laser pointers during a competition.

Egypt, who qualified for the World Cup in 2018, is out after losing 1-0 to Senegal ... and it's unclear if FIFA will dole out any disciplinary action.

Either way, no amount of punishment will eliminate the disappointment Salah, his teammates, and their fans felt as the players left the field.

Soccer Legend Alexi Lalas U.S. Must Advance Past Group Stage To Consider '22 FIFA World Cup A Success

FUTURE IS BRIGHT
TMZSports.com

The 2022 FIFA World Cup is exactly one year away ... and unlike 2018 when the United States failed to even qualify for the tourney, soccer legend Alexi Lalas tells TMZ Sports Team USA can make a deep run this time around.

We talked to Lalas -- a FOX Sports broadcaster who will be covering the World Cup for the network -- and asked him how far the USA needs to advance (should they qualify for the WC, as expected) in order to make the tournament a success.

"What's success? Obviously getting out of the group. I don't care if it's the group of death or it looks like the easiest group on paper. Ultimately, it's a World Cup, there's a reason why these teams are there," Alexi says.

"But, at this point, in 2022, in November 2022 in Qatar, you're the U.S. Men's National Team, you should expect them to be successful, to absolutely get out of the group and to go on and hopefully do good things."

FYI, Lalas -- considered one of the greatest American soccer players ever -- played for the U.S. National team from 1991 to 1998. He was one of the best players in the 1994 World Cup.

Botton line ... the soccer legend says we've never seen a team like this.

"This U.S. Men's National Team, I'm hard-pressed to find a point where we have been more optimistic about this group."

Remember, the U.S. lost to Trinidad and Tobago during the last qualifying match leading up to the 2018 World Cup ... and was considered a low point for American soccer.

But, the current U.S. squad is different. In fact, they're the top-ranked team in Concacaf (standing for Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football), and the #12 ranked team in the world.

What's even more exciting for soccer fans in the States is the team's prospects in 2026, Alexi says, when North America will host the World Cup.

WHERE LEGENDS ARE MADE
FOX Sports

First things first ... the 2022 World Cup kicks off in just 365 days!!

Saudi Arabia Wants World Cup Tourney Every 2 Years ... FIFA to Decide

You down for a World Cup tournament every 2 years instead of 4?!

That's how Saudi Arabia wants to get down ... with officials formally proposing FIFA change the WC schedule -- for both the men's and women's tourney -- ASAP.

Don't get too excited ... even if the proposal is well-received Friday at FIFA's giant meeting of its 211 member federations, it could take YEARS to implement.

In fact, Saudi Arabia is first requesting FIFA launch a "feasible study" to see how shifting the World Cup to every 2 years would affect players, countries, and major soccer organizations around the globe.

The most compelling argument, it seems, is the money -- with the AP reporting the men's World Cup brings in around $6 BILLION in broadcasting and commercial deals.

Not too shabby!

Look, it's not the first time the 2-year plan has been pitched -- former FIFA president Sepp Blatter brought it up back 1999 ... and FIFA vice president Alejandro Dominguez brought it up again in 2018.

But, money talks ... and FIFA has been open to making significant changes lately.

Remember, FIFA agreed to expand the 2026 World Cup to 48 teams ... a big change from the usual 32.

Stay tuned ... and get your vuvuzelas ready!

Belize Soccer Team Held Up By Heavily Armed Insurgents In Haiti .. In Terrifying Video

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UPDATE

10:30 AM PT -- The team is rebounding well from Monday's terrifying incident ... players and coaches got in an outdoor workout Tuesday, stretching, jogging and getting some cardio in.

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You can see the guys look to be in good spirits ... with some even rockin' smiles on their faces!

The Belize men's national soccer team was stopped by gunmen in Haiti just minutes after it had arrived in the country for a World Cup qualifier -- and video from the scene is beyond troubling.

The Belize national team officials said in a statement Monday they were making their way from the airport to their hotel 3 days prior to their big soccer match ... when a band of armed insurgents on motorcycles pulled them over at gunpoint.

You can hear the soccer players in the bus describing the demands the insurgents were making -- "They said, 'Pull over or else!'"

The footage shot from inside the team bus shows dozens of men -- some armed with large firearms -- order the driver to pull to the side of the road, despite the team having a 4-man police escort.

Belize officials said cops were forced to "negotiate" with the men in order to leave unharmed -- and, thankfully, they were allowed to move forward with no one getting hurt in the confrontation.

No word on what the team had to give the men in order to leave.

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"The situation is one that the team should have never faced," team officials said after the incident, "but we are pleased to report that our Jaguars, although shaken by the terrible experience, are safely at their hotel."

The team added it's "currently in contact with respective authorities from FIFA and Concacaf and are doing everything possible to get them to safer grounds."

"It is unfortunate that our Jaguars faced such a traumatic experience."

Belize is slated to play Haiti in Port-Au-Prince on March 25 -- a key game for Belize as it attempts to qualify for the World Cup (set for 2022 in Qatar) for the first time ever.

Originally Published-- 7:25 AM PT

Russia Banned from 2020 Olympics, World Cup ... Over Doping Scandal

The Russians are OUT at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo AND the 2022 World Cup -- at least for now -- because they're HORRIBLE cheaters, according to the World Anti-Doping Agency.

WADA has voted unanimously to hit Russia with a 4-year ban from all major international sporting events ... including the Tokyo Olympics and the 2022 World Cup.

Here's why ... WADA officials say Russian authorities TAMPERED with a laboratory database in an effort to cover up HUNDREDS of potential doping cases involving Russian athletes.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said last month the investigation revealed "flagrant manipulation" of the lab data.

Now, The Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) has 21 days to appeal the ban -- and Russian officials have strongly suggested they will fight the punishment.

WADA President Sir Craig Reedie is digging in his heels -- saying in a statement, "For too long, Russian doping has detracted from clean sport.

"The blatant breach by the Russian authorities of RUSADA's reinstatement conditions, approved by the ExCo in September 2018, demanded a robust response. That is exactly what has been delivered today."

It's not the first time Russia has been accused of cheating and banned from the Olympics -- they were blocked from the 2018 Winter Games after a similar doping scandal.

North Korea Plays South Korea In Empty Stadium ... For World Cup Qualifier

North Korea faced off with South Korea in a historic soccer World Cup qualifier ... but nobody saw it -- 'cause North Korea didn't allow fans in the stadium OR a TV broadcast.

The meeting between the two teams on Monday -- which ended in a 0-0 tie -- was surreal ... it was reportedly the first match between the two national squads in Pyongyang EVER.

But ... North Korean officials reportedly put massive restrictions on who could view the game -- with no TV coverage, no fans in the stands and no journalists allowed.

Check out the pics ... it's straight-up eerie.

Of course, North Korea and South Korea have a tense relationship ... the two countries are technically still at war -- and reports say everything surrounding the match was strained.

According to international reports ... the South Koreans were forced to leave their cell phones at the South Korean Embassy -- and communication to and from the game was nearly impossible.

As for fans who wanted to follow the match ... their only option to watch it live consisted of brief posts about the match on FIFA and Asian Football Confederation websites.

But, North Korea will reportedly hand over a DVD of the game to South Korea this week so it can broadcast the match to its fans on tape delay at a later date.

Backlash over the blacked-out match has been strong in South Korea ... with many fans upset over the lack of coverage.

As for soccer ... unclear how the tie will impact each team's chances at a spot in the 2022 FIFA World Cup -- but the squads will reportedly have to rematch in an away location next June.

U.S. Soccer Prez The Women Make More Than The Men ... But Bring In Way Less!!!

The President of the U.S. Soccer Federation is responding to the pay gap lawsuit filed by the U.S. Women's National Team ... saying he has proof the women actually make MORE than the men despite bringing in WAYYY less money.

Remember, the USWNT sued the Federation back in March for gender discrimination -- claiming,  "The female players have been consistently paid less money than their male counterparts."

Now, U.S. Soccer Federation president Carlos Cordeiro is responding in an open letter ... essentially saying he hears what the women are saying -- but the numbers don't back up their claim.

"U.S. Soccer has, over the past decade, paid our Women’s National Team more than our Men’s National Team in salaries and game bonuses, and we continue to make unprecedented investments in our women’s program," Cordeiro wrote.

Cordeiro included a "fact sheet" that spells out his case and explains ...

"From 2010 through 2018, U.S. Soccer paid our women $34.1 million in salaries and game bonuses and we paid our men $26.4 million -- not counting the significant additional value of various benefits that our women’s players receive but which our men do not."

Cordeiro says the Men and Women have different pay structures based on how they negotiated their Collective Bargaining Agreements ... including more guaranteed pay salary for the women and different ("more robust") benefits packages.

The men CAN earn larger bonuses ... but they're guaranteed nothing, according to Cordeiro.

Corderio also says when you break down the revenue generated by each team, the men come out on top ... by far.

"From 2009 through 2019 -- a timeframe that includes two Women’s World Cup championships -- the Women’s National Team has earned gross revenue of $101.3 million over 238 games, for an average of $425,446 per game, and the Men’s National Team has earned gross revenue of $185.7 million over 191 games, for an average of $972,147 per game."

"More specifically, WNT games have generated a net profit (ticket revenues minus event expenses) in only two years (2016 and 2017). Across the entire 11-year period, WNT games generated a net loss of $27.5 million."

Still, Cordeiro says, "U.S. Soccer does not view these as losses, but rather as an important investment in our Women’s National Team and in the long-term growth of women’s soccer."

Molly Levinson -- a spokesperson for the U.S. Women's National Team -- is responding to the letter ... essentially saying it's a crock of BS.

"The numbers USSF uses are utterly false which, among other things, inappropriately include the NWSL salaries of the players to inflate the women’s players compensation."

She adds, "Any apples to apples comparison shows that the men earn far more than the women. The fact is the women’s team requested the same compensation structure as the men have, so they would be paid equally for equal performance."

"The USSF fact sheet is not a 'clarification.' It is a ruse."

"Here is what they cannot deny. For every game a man plays on the MNT he makes a higher base salary payment than a woman on the WNT. For every comparable win or tie, his bonus is higher. That is the very definition of gender discrimination. For the USSF to believe otherwise, is disheartening but it only increases our determination to obtain true equal pay."

"If the USSF cannot agree to this at the upcoming mediation, we will see them in the court of law and the court of public opinion"

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