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Sunday, Dec. 23, 2012

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Continental drift: Spanish club Malaga (right) has been punished for failing to pay players' wages and tax bills on time. AFP-JIJI

Malaga banned from European cups for one season


GENEVA — Champions League contender Malaga was banned from European club competitions for one upcoming season by UEFA on Friday for failing to pay players' wages and tax bills on time.

UEFA said the Qatari-owned Spanish club could be banned for a second season within the next four years if it misses a March 31 deadline to pay its debts, which are reported to include ?9 million ($11.6 million) in unpaid player wages.

Malaga immediately published a statement criticizing "disproportionate and unjustified" actions by UEFA, which wants clubs to pay debts and attempt to break even on soccer business to meet "Financial Fair Play" rules.

UEFA announced the sanctions on Friday, one day after Malaga was drawn to play FC Porto in the Champions League last-16 round. It will be barred from the first Champions League or Europa League if it qualifies for in the next four seasons.

UEFA's club finance judicial body also fined Malaga ?300,000 ($396,000).

The club can appeal the sanctions directly to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and Malaga spokesman Vicente Casado said that the club would do so when it "receives documentation from UEFA about the decision."

Casado said late on Friday that the club "did not know why" it had been banned, adding that "as of today all our players have been paid their wages for this year and previous years." He added that Malaga had paid off all its pending debts for transfers and was suffering a "campaign of harassment" from European soccer's governing body.

Malaga is set to collect around ?25 million ($33 million) from UEFA in prize money and share of television revenues from playing in this season's Champions League.

Malaga qualified for world soccer's most prestigious club competition for the first time by finishing fourth in the Spanish League last season.

The club's rise was fueled by a takeover by Qatari investor Sheik Abdullah Bin Nasser Al-Thani and a spending spree on players.

Malaga said in its statement that Sheik Abdullah Bin Nasser Al-Thani was still fully committed to the team, as shown in his "recent injection of ?7 million ($9.2 million) into the entity."

Malaga is currently fourth in the league which — before Friday's sanction — would have been enough to earn the right to play in the Champions League playoff round in August.

Malaga was set to play Real Madrid on Saturday. Madrid coach Jose Mourinho said that he hopes a solution can be found for his team's rival.

"If a team wins the right (to play in European competitions) on the pitch, it would be sad that it is sanctioned for reasons that have nothing to do with its performance," Mourinho said.

Atletico stays in touch


BARCELONA, Spain — Adrian Lopez scored a late winner to give Atletico Madrid a 1-0 victory over Celta Vigo on Friday, as Diego Simeone's side stayed in touch with leader Barcelona at the top of Spanish standings.

Atletico's ninth victory in as many home games this season trimmed the gap with the pacesetters to six points before Barcelona visits Valladolid on Saturday.

Also on Friday, Roberto Soldado scored one goal and set up another to guide Valencia to a 4-2 win over Getafe, earning new coach Ernesto Valverde his first three points at home.

Atletico started strongly at Vicente Calderon stadium with Jorge "Koke" Resurrecion hitting the upright in the 12th minute.

A regular starter last season, Adrian has seen his minutes on the pitch decrease with Radamel Falcao and Diego Costa leading Atletico's usually potent attack.

But with his team stymied by Celta's defense, Simeone sent on Adrian in the 72nd for a waning Costa. And the move paid off five minutes later when the striker let rip a left-footed shot from the edge of the box that flew into the corner of the net.

"They were clear about the kind of game they wanted to play. It's always tough to pull out a game like this one," Adrian said. "This goal gives me a boost of confidence."

PSG cruises to victory


BREST, France — Zlatan Ibrahimovic helped French League leader Paris Saint-Germain to end the year in style with a comfortable 3-0 win over 10-man Brest on Friday.

Brest was a man down for more than an hour after Abdoulwhaid Sissoko was sent off for a two-footed tackle on Ezequiel Lavezzi.

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