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Russia readies tough security measures for Confed Cup

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MOSCOW (AP) Terrorists, hooligans and anti-corruption protesters. Those are the main concerns for the Russian security forces ahead of the Confederations Cup.

A week which began with at least 1,750 people reported arrested in protests across the country on Monday will end with the first games of the World Cup’s main warm-up event. Russia is under pressure to showcase a safe host nation, but is facing numerous challenges.

Stadiums will have airport-style security, but there have been teething troubles. In a notable setback, a Russian league game last month was used to test Confederations Cup security, but instead stood out for the many fireworks smuggled in by fans.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has imposed a package of security measures, but faces criticism from observers who say his order could hamper ordinary Russians’ lives and stifle dissent.

The measures are based on the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, which had a single host city and sports facilities far from inhabited areas. The June 17-July 2 Confederations Cup has four host cities and next year’s World Cup will have 11.

“Sochi was easier,” argues Russian author Andrei Soldatov, an expert on the security services. “Now we’re talking about many cities. It’s an unusual and dangerous situation.”

Russian officials say the tournament is safe.

“No direct threats against participants or guests” have been uncovered, the senior Federal Security Service official in charge of tournament security, Alexei Lavrishchev, said last week. As for security measures, “law-abiding citizens have nothing to worry about.”

TERRORISM

For years, Russia’s security services focused heavily on Islamist groups from the restive North Caucasus, where Russian forces fought two wars in the 1990s and early 2000s.

A bombing on the St. Petersburg subway April 3 killed 14 and ended a three-year run for Russia without a major attack outside the North Caucasus region. The alleged attacker, however, came from Central Asia and had no apparent links to Caucasus groups. That indicates “the emergence of new players,” Soldatov says. “I’m not totally convinced that Russian law enforcement is ready to deal with this new kind of threat.”

Russia’s major train and subway stations are equipped with metal detectors as standard, but often only a few travelers are examined in detail, and sometimes the equipment is switched off altogether. Procedures have been tightened in the St. Petersburg subway following April’s bombing, and ahead of the tournament, but many Moscow subway stations seem largely unchanged.

Airport security is tight following bombings of two planes in 2004 and a Moscow airport in 2011. By law, passengers and baggage are scanned on entry to the terminal.

Racial profiling is common for Russian law enforcement in major cities, with people of Asian appearance routinely pulled over for document checks in subway stations. Foreign fans wearing team colors are less likely to be approached.

HOOLIGANISM

It’s been a year since Russian fans fought running battles with England supporters at the European Championship in France, and Russia is keen to avoid a repeat.

A repeat seems unlikely, given that few foreign fans are expected at the Confederations Cup and Russia has no rivalry with its group stage opponents New Zealand, Portugal and Mexico.

As they prepare for the World Cup, Russian authorities have compiled a blacklist of 191 fans banned from attending games. To attend a game, a ticket isn’t enough – you’ll need a “Fan ID” issued only after your personal information has been examined by Russian authorities.

There will be a heavy police presence, particularly at stadiums, and restricted alcohol sales nearby.

In a trial of security measures for the tournament, thousands of police staffed a May 17 game between Russian Premier League champion Spartak Moscow and Terek Grozny at Moscow’s Confederations Cup venue.

Police staffed security checkpoints around the stadium, examining bags, patting down fans and checking banners for offensive content. Colleagues in riot gear and on horseback, plus truncheon-wielding National Guard units, lined nearby roads.

The searches didn’t stop Spartak’s fans smuggling in dozens of banned flares and fireworks, as well as shipping flares, which can be used as weapons. At one point, there was so much smoke from pyrotechnics that the game was suspended for several minutes.

PROTESTS

Getting official permission to host a protest in Russia is never easy, and the Confederations Cup makes it even harder.

Putin’s decree means the police must approve any public gatherings in or near host cities. Holding an unapproved event puts organizers and participants at risk of arrest. Monday’s protests were a mix of officially sanctioned and unsanctioned events in different cities, and no major opposition events are planned for the upcoming weeks.

The decree also stipulates foreign visitors must register with the authorities within 24 hours on arrival in a new city, while Russians have three days. Hotels will register guests, but those using room-rental services like Airbnb face more difficulties.

“This decree needs to be seen as proclaiming a state of emergency in a certain part of the country for a period of time,” said Russian human rights activist Pavel Chikov, who filed an unsuccessful Supreme Court appeal against a similar decree at the 2014 Olympics. “The main constitutional rights don’t apply, or they apply with certain limitations.”

Still, authorities may be reluctant to apply the law to the letter to avoid bad publicity, and mass arrests are unlikely. “There will be some kind of freedom,” Chikov says.

NEXT YEAR

The Confederations Cup venues are comparatively straightforward to protect – Sochi’s Fisht stadium is in the heavily-guarded Olympic Park, far from the city center, while St. Petersburg’s stadium is on an otherwise largely-deserted island. The arenas in Moscow and Kazan are in more central locations.

The World Cup will be trickier.

Many of the 12 stadiums for next year’s tournament are in provincial locations with little experience of foreign crowds.

Those include Volgograd, targeted by three bombings in 2013. Nearby cities like Astrakhan, Grozny and Pyatigorsk have also been targeted in recent years – they won’t host World Cup games, but they will contain teams’ training bases.

UCL AT HALF: Spurs level at Real; Liverpool, Man City lead (video)

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Premier League sides are mostly enjoying their football this Tuesday in the UEFA Champions League.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

Liverpool is clobbering hosts Maribor, Man City needed little time to take lead against critical darlings Napoli, and Spurs have forced Real Madrid into an own goal at the Bernabeu.

Real Madrid 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur

Raphael Varane’s plans to mark Harry Kane were subverted by the French defender’s unwitting legs, but Serge Aurier chopped down Toni Kroos in the 42nd minute for a yellow card and penalty that Cristiano Ronaldo sent beyond the reach of Spurs backstop Hugo Lloris.

Manchester City 2-0 Napoli

Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus scored in the ninth and 13th minutes as City has been an unwelcoming host for the Neapolitan side. Ederson stopped a Dries Mertens penalty, adding insult to Napoli’s twin concessions.

Monaco 1-1 Besiktas

Radamel Falcao with the lone goal of the contest, but reported Newcastle target Cenk Tosun has answered for the Turkish powers.

Feyenoord 1-1 Shakhtar Donetsk

Ex-Watford man Steven Berghuis and Bernard have traded goals at De Kuip.

Maribor 0-4 Liverpool

Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds are sending their finishing demons off a cliff, with goals from Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho and Mohamed Salah finding the scoreboard before the match was 20 minutes old. Salah added another before the break.

Elsewhere
APOEL Nicosia 0-0 Borussia Dortmund
Spartak Moscow 1-1 Sevilla
RB Leipzig 3-2 Porto

Columbus Crew owner may move soccer team to Austin, Texas

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) The owner of the Crew SC says the team is no longer sustainable and will move to Austin, Texas, unless a new, privately-financed stadium is built in downtown Columbus.

Anthony Precourt, whose Precourt Sports Ventures has owned the Major League Soccer club since 2013, said Tuesday the Crew need more fan and financial support to compete in the growing league, and a new stadium in the urban center is the only way to make it work. The Crew currently play in 17-year-old Mapfre Stadium, about 4 miles north of downtown Columbus.

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The team will be back in Ohio’s capital city for 2018, Precourt said, but its future beyond that depends on which city steps up first.

“Despite all the efforts to move the needle beyond on-the-field success, our business is struggling to keep pace with the rising standards of major league soccer,” Precourt said in a conference call with reporters. “The club historically and presently has challenges with match-day attendance, with growing our season-ticket base, with demand for corporate sponsorship and with relevance. The stadium and site are challenges in Columbus.”

The Crew is 20th in attendance this season out of 22 MLS teams with an average of 15,439, despite making the playoffs. The capacity is 19,968.

Austin is the largest market in North America without a major league sports franchise, and the city is receptive. Precourt declined to comment about any talks that could result in a new downtown soccer-specific stadium there. He dispelled rumors that the team has an agreement to play temporarily at the University of Texas stadium in 2019 while a new stadium is built.

Precourt called Austin “the most attractive untapped market in the United States for MLS soccer.” The city already has submitted a bid for an MLS expansion team.

[ VIDEO: Top 25 moments in PL history ]

Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther said he had met with team ownership about solutions to keep the team in the city but complained that he didn’t get “full engagement.” City officials didn’t know about a potential move until the public announcement Tuesday, he said.

“We were surprised to learn of their decision in this way,” Ginther said in a statement. “Losing the Crew to another city would be a huge disappointment to their loyal and growing fan base in Columbus.”

Alex Fischer of the Columbus Partnership, a consortium of CEOs and business leaders, told The Columbus Dispatch that a group of business leaders approached Precourt with offers to buy Crew SC outright and to go into a 50-50 partnership, both of which were rejected. But Precourt said Tuesday that his discussions with potential investors in the team were all attached to a plan for a new stadium.

Precourt said he approached Columbus business leaders last year and was clear about the problems.

“We have engaged the community privately since the beginning of 2016 about our business issues, and made it clear that we would potentially start to explore strategic alternatives if the business didn’t improve,” he said.

He said three potential stadium sites have been identified in Columbus, but he declined to comment on them.

“We are not asking for public tax dollars, and we are not asking either city to build a stadium for us,” he said.

UCL, LIVE: Tottenham vs. Real Madrid; Man City, Liverpool in action

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Three Premier League teams are in UEFA Champions League action on Tuesday and they are involved in some huge matches across Europe.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

Tottenham Hotspur head to reigning European champions Real Madrid in Group H with both teams winning their opening two group games. Can Harry Kane and Co. stun the Santiago Bernabeu?

Manchester City host Napoli in Group F in what looks like a very tasty game in Group F and Liverpool head to Maribr in a must-win game in Group E after they drew their opening two matches.

Elsewhere, FC Porto’s trip to RB Leipzig looks set to be an intriguing clash in Group G.

Below is the full schedule for Tuesday’s games, which all kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET and you can follow all the action live by clicking on the link above.

[ MORE: Champions League standings


Tuesday’s UCL games

Group E
Spartak Moscow vs. Sevilla
Maribor vs. Liverpool

Group F
Man City vs. Napoli
Feyenoord vs. Shakthar Donetsk

Group G
RB Leipzig vs. FC Porto
Monaco vs. Besiktas

Group H
APOEL vs. Borussia Dortmund
Real Madrid vs. Tottenham Hotspur

Top 25 moments in Premier League history: 6-4

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To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Premier League we thought it would be great to count down our top 25 moments from a quarter of a century of action.

[ VIDEO: Top 25 moments in PL history ]

Each week we will release our best moments and you can keep track of the full list here.

Below are numbers 6-4 as we enter the top five moments in PL history.


6 – Wayne Rooney‘s score a stunning first PL goal for Everton vs. Arsenal in 2002

5 – Man United fight back from 3-0 down v Tottenham in 2001

4 – Liverpool vs. Newcastle United battles in the mid 1990s