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Spanish league loses court battle, won’t play match in US

MADRID (AP) — The Spanish league lost another battle against the Spanish soccer federation on Friday and won’t be allowed to take a regular-season match to the United States, at least not for now. The game between Villarreal and Atlético Madrid next month was called off after the league lost a court battle against the federation.

A Madrid commercial court denied an injunction to force the federation to approve the staging of the match abroad, which is part of the league’s strategy to expand internationally. The league hasn’t fully given up, though, and its “unfair competition” case against the federation will continue despite Friday’s ruling. It contends the federation has no right to block the match and is acting anti-competitively.

The league hopes to be able to stage a regular-season game in the U.S. beginning in February, when the full case will be heard. “Staging an official LaLiga match abroad is part of a long-term LaLiga strategy for international growth,” the league said in a statement. “We hope that from February forth LaLiga will be able to organize an official match beyond Spanish borders.”

The league has a 15-year partnership with the group Relevent to promote soccer and bring games to the United States. “Bringing clubs closer to their global fans represents a significant opportunity to connect with them and to continue working to increase LaLiga's followers around the world,” the league said. “This international growth leads to benefits for the clubs, their players, their fans, LaLiga as a whole, Spanish football and the brand of Spain.”

Last season, the league unsuccessfully tried to take a match between Girona and Barcelona to Florida, an attempt also hindered by the federation’s lack of approval. Barcelona pulled out citing a lack of agreement between those involved.

The league complained the federation opposed the games but at the same time is organizing its own matches abroad, like the four-team Spanish Super Cup that it will host in January in Saudi Arabia. The Spanish Super Cup also was played abroad last season, in Morocco.

The federation argued it was different to play a league game abroad because it would affect the other 18 clubs participating in the competition. Real Madrid and Barcelona had reportedly expressed their opposition to the game in the U.S. because it would be played in a neutral venue, thus favoring Atlético, the away team.

Instead, the game will be played as originally scheduled in Villarreal, an industrial city of 50,000 a short drive from Valencia. The dispute is the latest between league president Javier Tebas and federation president Luis Rubiales, two outspoken figures who have been at odds over a series of issues involving Spanish soccer.

The federation said in Thursday’s court hearing the league’s attempt to play abroad breached FIFA regulations and could hurt Spain’s bid with Portugal to host the 2030 World Cup. Although FIFA’s permission for the game is not mandatory, president Gianni Infantino last season expressed his concerns when the league tried to play the game between Girona and Barcelona near Miami.

Villarreal season ticket holders would have been compensated for losing out on a home game. They could have received a 40% discount on their next season ticket purchase, free entry, and travel for up to 3,000 fans to the away game at Atlético's Wanda Metropolitano Stadium or a paid-for trip to Miami for up to 600 people.

Similar compensation packages were offered to Girona fans last season, and many had already accepted them when the game was called off.

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