Suleiman Kerimov

Soccer politics: Anzhi Makhachkala and the dangers of Dagestan

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Russian Premier League club Anzhi Makhachkala’s fortunes continued to deteriorate on Monday after authorities in Belarus issued a warrant for its owner’s arrest. Suleyman Kerimov, who is also the majority shareholder and co-owner of Uralkali, a Moscow-based potash company, is under investigation for corruption.

Kerimov lost a reported $375 million when Uralkali’s stock plummeted in August, prompting him to put every potentially lucrative player on the squad up for sale and decrease the team’s budget by $50 to $70 million a year. The club’s two biggest names, Samuel Eto’o and Willian, both joined fellow Russian-tycoon-turned-soccer-owner Roman Abramovich at Chelsea.

Officials in Belarus have now put Kerimov on Interpol’s most wanted list, after Uralkali CEO Vladislav Baumgertner was charged and detained in Belarus in late August. Russian news agency RT reported that Baumgertner is currently being held at a KGB jail in Minsk, the Belarusian capital, possibly in solitary confinement.

Relations between Russia and Belarus have been strained since the fall of the Soviet Union, with the Uralkali situation acting as another flash point.

As with most clubs and countries in Eastern Europe, to understand the politics of soccer, understanding the machinations of government is vital. Particularly in former Soviet spaces, the two have always been and will likely always be intertwined.

The location of Makhachkala and the region of Dagestan (in red) on a map. (Source: Google Maps)

Kerimov took over Anzhi in January 2011, investing heavily to turn it into one of Europe’s superclubs before the recent reversal. Many fans in the area saw the club as a constructed distraction from the civil war in the Dagestan region, a conflict that has hampered Anzhi’s efforts to play home matches this year.

The team lives and trains just outside Moscow and flies to home games in Makhachkala under heavy guard, and in June, UEFA banned all competitive matches in continental competitions from taking place in Dagestan during the 2013/14 season. In the 2001/02 UEFA Cup, Anzhi had to play Rangers FC of Scotland in Warsaw, Poland, because of the unstable situation in neighboring Chechnya.

Now, that situation has shifted slightly east.

The region of Dagestan hit headlines in the United States after the April 15 bombings at the Boston Marathon finish line. The two suspects in the attack lived briefly in Dagestan before coming to the U.S.

While Anzhi Makhachkala club officials have claimed that soccer can change the situation in Dagestan, many others in the region say the club’s exploits are meant to be a diversion from the widespread unemployment, corruption and sheer poverty of the area.

Some suspect that Kerimov’s heavy initial investment was nothing more than a public-relations scheme from the Kremlin to purify the area’s image ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, just 600 miles away from Makhachkala by road on the Black Sea coast. Two years ago, the BBC declared Dagestan “the most dangerous place in Europe,” citing the almost-daily bombings, shootouts and perpetual ruin.

As far as distractions go, Anzhi’s fortunes since Kerimov bought the club have proven useful. Top-five league finishes, deep runs in the Russian Cup and a Round of 16 appearance in the Europa League represented the club’s two best seasons in the top division since Anzhi’s inception in 1991.

But with Kerimov taking a public step back from the club and his recent off-field business troubles coming to light, the distraction may be over, despite a draw in the 2013/14 Europa League that includes Tottenham Hotspur.

Just as the music stops and the lights come back on at the end of a long night out, the party seems to be over in Makhachkala. And the situation outside is nothing to celebrate.

Arsenal 0-0 Middlesbrough: Gunners slip up at home

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  • Gunners unbeaten since opening day
  • Ramirez hits bar for Boro
  • Boro without a win in 7

Arsenal were held to a 0-0 draw at the Emirates Stadium against Middlesbrough on Saturday.

Arsene Wenger‘s side had won six Premier League games on the bounce going into this game but Aitor Karanka‘s Boro went close on several occasions as Arsenal had an off day.

With the point Arsenal still go top of the Premier League table on 20 points, while Boro has eight points after a resolute defensive display as they always looked dangerous on the break.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Early on Mesut Ozil went down in the box after a cutback but referee Mike Dean waved away the penalty appeals.

Middlesbrough then had a glorious chance as on the break Adama Traore saw his shot blocked by Petr Cech and then Alvaro Negredo’s follow up was saved.

From that attack Boro then won a free kick ans Gaston Ramirez struck the angle of the post and bar. Agonizingly close.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Alexis Sanchez then went close from a similar free kick as Victor Valdes pushed it out of the top corner. Traore then whipped a cross in which Negredo flicked on to Ramirez who sent his header straight at Cech.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]  

Arsenal almost went ahead as Valdes made came out and made a hash of it but Laurent Koscielny completely missed the ball.

Alexis then went close as his free kick was tipped around the post by Valdes and Arsenal continued to pour forward. Boro looked dangerous on the break as Mustafi was caught out by Ramirez as the Teeside club hung in there until the end.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Valdes stopped Sanchez late on as Arsenal poured forward but at the other end Negredo and Traore combined on the break but the former couldn’t make the most of the opportunity as Koscielny made a superb tackle.

Then, Arsenal thought they’d won the game in stoppage time but Ozil was offside as he finished. The game ended 0-0 with Arsenal missing out on the chance to go three points clear at the top of the table.

West Ham 1-0 Sunderland: Reid scores at the death

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 22: Dimitri Payet of West Ham United and Lamine Kone of Sunderland compete for the ball during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Sunderland at Olympic Stadium on October 22, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images)
(Stephen Pond / Getty Images)
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  • New Zealand defender scores late
  • Sunderland continues struggles
  • USMNT’s Gooch subs on late

West Ham United dominated visiting Sunderland but looked destined for a frustrating draw with the lowly Black Cats at Olympic Stadium on Saturday.

That’s when Winston Reid stepped in, belting a shot through traffic in what could only be described as the final ticks of stoppage time to give the Hammers a 1-0 win.

Sunderland remains dead last with two points, while the Hammers are 15th with 10 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Referee Bobby Madley denied a pair of penalty appeals in the early moments, and one — a blocking foul just outside the six — was almost certainly valid enough to give the Hammers a chance from the spot.

West Ham was simply better for the entire first half, but their finishing continued to elude the Olympic Stadium set. Simone Zaza was emblematic of their problems, very strong but without goal (just missing an acrobatic bicycle kick just before half).

How dominant were they? See below:

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[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Sunderland had the first chance of the second half, with Adrian called on to parry a hard shot from outside the 18.

Otherwise the half was almost exclusively West Ham, and Reid ripped a Dimitri Payet — who else? — pass through traffic for the win.

American midfielder Lynden Gooch came on for the final quarter hour.

Hull City 0-2 Stoke City: Shaqiri’s magical brace is enough

HULL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 22:  Xherdan Shaqiri of Stoke City and Curtis Davies of Hull City compete for the ball during the Premier League match between Hull City and Stoke City at the KCom Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Hull, England.  (Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images)
Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images
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  • Shaqiri scored first half blast
  • Adds free kick in second half
  • Potters 100th PL win
  • Tigers have lost five-straight

Xherdan Shaqiri scored a pair of wonderful goals to pull Stoke City out of the drop zone and send Hull City to 18th in a 2-0 win at the KC Stadium on Saturday.

Stoke moves 14th with 9 points, two ahead of the relegation zone. Hull have seven points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The Potters got on the board when Hull’s defense allowed plenty of room to work the ball.

Shaqiri blasted the ball inside the near post from yards beyond the 18 for a goal you’ll see on all the highlight reels.

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[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Make that four, Opta, as Shaqiri scored a very nice free kick after halftime to make it 2-0 and ensure a trip away from the drop zone.

There just wasn’t much to like for Mike Phelan’s Tigers, who were outshot and outplayed at home.

Leicester City 3-1 Crystal Palace: Foxes look the part in win

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 22:  Ahmed Musa of Leicester City (R) celebrates scoring his sides first goal with his team mate Danny Simpson of Leicester City (L) during the Premier League match between Leicester City and Crystal Palace at The King Power Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
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  • Musa, Okazaki break slumps
  • Fuchs scores gorgeous goal
  • Foxes first win in four
  • Palace winless in three

Leicester City’s Champions League form is carrying into the Premier League, as Claudio Ranieri‘s Foxes controlled proceedings in a X-X win over Crystal Palace on Saturday at King Power Stadium.

Ahmed Musa scored his first Leicester City goal, while Shinji Okazaki added his first tally in 14 PL matches to help salt it away. Unlikely goal scorer Christian Fuchs celebrated his new contract with a terrific left-footed shot in the 80th minute.

Yohan Cabaye scored for Palace.

Leicester joins 11th place Palace on 11 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The first half was certainly in Leicester City’s wheelhouse, albeit without traditional finish.

Islam Slimani in particular seemed a touch off, but the Foxes’ man played a big role in the opener.

Slimani’s lay-off found Musa, who ripped the ball through traffic and to the left of Steve Mandanda to make it 1-0.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Leicester seemed best prepared to score the next goal, and Danny Drinkwater had a shot deflected wide around the hour mark.

The goal came through Okazaki, who darted onto a blocked cross and blasted a shot by Mandanda inside the near post from 15 yards.

Cabaye was a lively player for Palace, and Kasper Schmeichel denied his point blank chance in the 74th minute. The ensuing corner saw Danny Simpson clear Christian Benteke‘s header off the line.

Fuchs then tore into a left-footed volley from just outside the 18 for a goal of the weekend contender.

Schmeichel blocked a partial Benteke breakaway in the 83rd minute, and Cabaye redirected Wilfried Zaha‘s cross to dirty Leicester’s clean sheet. That was the only goal of a furious fightback from Palace.