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‘I don’t care’: Aussie coach tetchy ahead of Confed opener

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) Being cranky and prickly is a badge of honor for Australia coach Ange Postecoglou.

No need to lighten up just because you’re at a FIFA tournament.

“Maybe that’s just my demeanor,” Postecoglou said after a series of abrasive responses to questions ahead of Australia’s Confederations Cup opener against Germany on Monday.

Postecoglou was on guard throughout Sunday’s media conference, fearing reporters were trying to trip him up or somehow undermining his team in Sochi.

Asked why he brought a full-strength squad, unlike the Germans, Postecoglou let out a sigh, paused and then ventured a reply.

“Because we want to continue to evolve as a team and we want to do well here,” he said. “I’m not really sure if that’s a trick question or something. But I usually pick my best team.”

That team is out of the automatic qualification places to return to Russia for the World Cup next year with two matches remaining in the group stage.

So could the next three months define his four-year reign as Australia coach?

“No,” Postecoglou responded bluntly. “I think my tenure has already been defined. So I don’t care about it.”

After being comprehensively beaten 4-0 by Brazil in a friendly on Tuesday, Australia has arrived at the eight-team Confederations Cup on a low.

“People forget this was an award for something we achieved,” Postecoglou snapped back. “It wasn’t given to us.”

The Socceroos qualified for the World Cup warm-up tournament by winning the Asian Cup in 2015 to be crowned Asian champions.

“So if people are easily dismissing that, they’ll dismiss everything else,” Postecoglou continued. “So I don’t really care.”

What Postecoglou does care about is not being given credit for bringing young players into the squad. Inevitably the focus on Germany has centered on its callow squad, containing only three world champions from 2014 while many of the established stars have been given a break.

In the Sochi news conference, a Brazilian journalist enquired in English what the advantages and disadvantages were of playing against such a youthful opponent.

“Let’s dispel one myth,” he said. “When the teams walk out tomorrow, if I had to have a guess, I reckon we will be younger. If people actually want to do some research, have a look tomorrow who the younger team is.

“From that point of view, I don’t buy into any of that stuff … it’s a great game for us, we’re playing against the world champions.”

Pressing home the point, Postecoglou concluded: “Do the maths … I could be wrong.”

Few would want to be the one to tell him he was wrong.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP Confederations Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/ConfederationsCup

Russian authorities fine hotels for World Cup price-gouging

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MOSCOW (AP) Russian authorities in two cities say they have issued hundreds of fines after finding many hotels were illegally hiking prices for the World Cup.

The Rospotrebnadzor consumer regulator says one Moscow hotel raised prices up to 570 percent above what is allowed by a government decree designed to prevent excessive profiteering during the tournament.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

The regulator’s Moscow branch says it issued fines totaling 5.95 million rubles ($105,000) to 198 legal entities and 181 people.

In the Ural mountain city of Yekaterinburg, where Mexico and France will each play a group game, the regulator said it fined seven hotels, some of which were charging almost three times the allowed rate for rooms.

Russian authorities have taken a hands-on approach to regulating hotel and travel costs during the tournament to prevent the negative publicity of visiting fans being charged large sums.

Spanish police dismantle match-fixing scheme in 3rd, 4th tiers

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MADRID (AP) Spanish police have dismantled a match-fixing scheme involving players and clubs in the country’s lower divisions.

Authorities said more than 20 people have been detained as part of the police operation launched on Monday, including players, although no names were immediately disclosed.

The matches under suspicion were in the third and fourth divisions this season and last season.

The match-fixing scheme reportedly involved Chinese betting sites.

The Spanish league said the operation was based on information collected by its analysts about suspicious activities.

UCL preview: Chelsea host Barcelona; Bayern vs. Besiktas

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  • Chelsea vs. Barcelona, at Stamford Bridge
  • Bayern Munich vs. Besiktas, at Allianz Arena
  • Champions League round of 16 resumes on Tuesday

[ UCL: Spurs fight back to draw Juventus | Liverpool thrash Porto in leg 1 ]

Chelsea, mired in some of their worst form since the disastrous 2015-16 season, welcome a Barcelona side enjoying one of the best six-month runs of results in the famed club’s entire history. The Blues have won just four of their last 12 games across all competitions, while the Blaugrana have lost once in 38 games.

On the plus side, Chelsea enter Tuesday’s colossal clash as winners of their last two games — back-to-back wins for the first time in 2018 — having outscored the likes of West Bromwich Albion and Hull City by a combined 7-0. Star striker Alvaro Morata returned to action against Hull after five weeks out with a back injury, thus Antonio Conte has something of a selection dilemma on his hands with the Spaniard perhaps only partially fit, and Olivier Giroud racking up a goal and three assists in the last two games, his first starts for the club.

Barcelona, meanwhile, have conceded just two goals in their last nine games (all competitions) and even managed to overturn their lone defeat, to Espanyol, and advance to the Copa del Rey semifinals (and eventually final). Despite losing Neymar in the summer, Barca mostly cruised through their Champions League group, only dropping points in draws away to Juventus and Olympiacos. Lionel Messi has, strangely, never scored a goal in his eight career appearances against Chelsea, a record which has been spoken about at length in the build-up to Tuesday — similarly to the goal-less record which plagued him against Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, whom he finally bested back in September.

[ MORE: Man City win big away to Basel | Real Madrid 3-1 PSG ]

In the other round-of-16 first-leg matchup on Tuesday, five-time (soon-to-be six) defending Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich host surprise winners of Group G, Besiktas, ahead of the likes of Monaco, RB Leipzig and Porto.

Since taking over on an interim basis (through the end of the season), Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes has won 21 of 22 games of which he’s been in charge, including four of six games during the group stage en route to finish second behind Paris Saint-Germain, while also racing out to a 19-point lead back home in Germany.

Aguero involved in clash with Wigan fan after FA Cupset

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Sergio Aguero was involved in a confrontation with a Wigan fan as ugly scenes marred the end of the third-division side’s shock FA Cup win over Manchester City on Monday.

[ MORE: Wigan shock Man City, the world and themselves ]

Fans spilled on to the pitch at DW Stadium as the host celebrated its 1-0 fifth-round win against the runaway English Premier League leader.

Supporters from both clubs were involved in disturbances, while television pictures appeared to show a home supporter and striker Aguero involved in a physical exchange.

Aguero appeared to hit the supporter after the fan said something to the player, and Aguero had to be held back by his City teammates.

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Advertising hoardings were also ripped out and thrown as a pitch invasion by Wigan fans got out of hand while the defeated City players were being escorted off the pitch.

Footage also appeared to show objects, including an advertising board, being thrown at police officers by fans in the City end.