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Russia praised for Confed Cup hosting, but doping casts shadow

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ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) Russia won praise on Saturday for a successful World Cup warm-up tournament, though it has faced new questions about past doping issues.

Germany captain Julian Draxler joined FIFA President Gianni Infantino in thanking Russia ahead of the Confederations Cup final on Sunday when the 2014 World Cup winner plays South American champion Chile.

“Thank you for your brilliant organization, for the many helping hands along the way, and for always making us feel safe,” Draxler said in a statement published Saturday by the Germany team.

Infantino said later at a news conference in St. Petersburg stadium that “everything ran perfectly” in Russia.

“We were hearing about violence, about incidents, about hooligans, about racism – but we had nothing,” Infantino said, referring to pre-tournament questions that have dogged football in the host nation.

Still, the doping shadow cast on Russian sports by a series of World Anti-Doping Agency investigation reports since 2015 also re-emerged during the two-week World Cup dress rehearsal.

FIFA is aware of 155 potentially suspect samples given by players in Russia that need to be tested, WADA-appointed investigator Richard McLaren has told German broadcaster ARD.

Infantino, who was flanked by Russian deputy prime minister Vitaly Mutko, said Saturday he could not set a timetable for Russian cases that the FIFA disciplinary committee must handle arising from McLaren reports.

However, key judgments on the Canadian law professor’s allegations against Russia are looming and could be announced within weeks.

An International Olympic Committee panel is preparing to announce its first verdicts involving Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Games who are suspected of benefiting from a state-backed doping conspiracy operating at the Olympic laboratory in Sochi.

“We are waiting as well for these reports,” Infantino acknowledged Saturday.

Though the IOC panel will look only at Sochi Olympic cases, its rulings will help define the integrity of McLaren’s evidence and witnesses that Russian officials have repeatedly sought to discredit.

“If something comes out about (football player) samples having been tampered or whatever then there will be sanctions obviously,” Infantino said.

Mutko, who chairs the 2018 World Cup organizing committee and was linked in McLaren evidence to covering up one football doping case, again dismissed claims of a government-run program.

“If I perform a Russian dance here in front of you, will you stop asking these questions or not?” he said through a translator.

“We will never let down this respectable and powerful organization,” Mutko said earlier, praising FIFA.

Watch Live: Everton vs. Arsenal

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Arsene Wenger celebrates his 68th birthday with a trip to Merseyside, as Arsenal visits Everton at Goodison Park on Sunday (Watch live at 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez both start underneath Alexandre Lacazette for Wenger.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin starts up top for Everton and under fire manager Ronald Koeman, while Jonjoe Kenny starts at right back.

LINEUPS

Everton: Pickford, Kenny, Baines, Williams, Jagielka (c), Keane, Gana Gueye, Vlasic, Sigurdsson, Rooney, Calvert-Lewin. SubsJoel, Mirallas, Martina, Niasse, Klaassen, Davies, Lookman.

Arsenal: Cech, Monreal, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Kolasinac, Xhaka, Ramsey, Bellerin, Sanchez, Ozil, Lacazette. Subs: Macey, Holding, Coquelin, Wilshere, Iwobi, Walcott, Giroud.

Klopp: Liverpool “not 500 miles away” from Man City’s standard

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Jurgen Klopp remains bullish on his Liverpool’s credentials as one of the Premier League’s top-four sides title challengers this season.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup | Sunday preview — Spurs vs. Liverpool ]

While everyone else might be writing off the Reds due to their propensity for defensive disasters on an every-game basis, Klopp refuses to concede that a gap of “500 miles” exists between his side and Manchester City, the early-days runaway leaders of the 2017-18 season — quotes from the Guardian:

“I don’t compare City with us, but I think everyone can see we are not 500 miles away. But they fly. It was a very decisive day when we lost 5-0. Dealing with a 5-0 defeat is not the easiest thing. We didn’t lose confidence but we were not that fluent afterwards and it was not like we could close our eyes and finish [thinking about it]. They did exactly the opposite. I saw the Stoke goals, you see the shot from Fernandinho and you think, ‘If it works, it works even like this.’ They are a fantastic team and we don’t have to compare, but it starts so early again with us having to apologize for the season so far because one team is flying.”

“Their way of football I would say is not something we are too far away from but to be as clinical as they have been so far? We weren’t.

“That’s the thing. We are still in the race, not with City in the moment because they have I don’t how many points, and I don’t say already that we should only fight for a top-four place. Performance-wise we are a team that should be there but now we have to get the results.”

[ TACTICS SESSION: Inside the brilliant mind of Kevin De Bruyne ]

All due respect to Klopp and Liverpool, the league table says City currently have 25 points (having played one game more), while Liverpool have 13. That’s not a difference of 500 points, but taking into account not only results but performances, it might as well be.

Ligue 1: Falcao, Balde score to keep Monaco close to PSG

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PARIS (AP) French champion Monaco got back to winning ways with a 2-0 home win against Caen on Saturday.

Monaco lost three and drew one of its previous four games in all competitions. But coach Leonardo Jardim’s side was largely in control against a Caen side that started brightly and faded after Keita Balde’s opening goal and first for Monaco.

“It was important to win, to get a bit of confidence back,” Jardim said. “We’ve been working hard and the players were very serious today.”

Captain Radamel Falcao scored his league-leading 13th from the penalty spot in the 59th, confidently sending goalkeeper Remy Vercoutre the wrong way.

The win moved second-place Monaco within three points of Paris Saint-Germain, having played one game more. Unbeaten PSG is away at bitter rival Marseille on Sunday.

Falcao’s partnership with teen star Kylian Mbappe was crucial to Monaco’s charge to the league title and the Champions League semifinals last season. Mbappe left to join PSG in a high-profile move — as did several other key players — but Falcao’s new partnership with the unselfish Balde looks a promising one.

“We’ve lost a few players and we need a bit of time, it’s been a bit difficult for us,” Monaco goalkeeper Danijel Subasic said. “I hope we can stay at the top of the table and that the young players can shine. We have a lot of quality here.”

Balde has been sharp in his handful of appearances since joining from Lazio in the offseason, but mainly as a link player and a provider.

This time, the Senegal forward finished off the move as he ran onto Thomas Lemar’s perfectly weighted pass into his path, cut across a defender on the edge of the penalty area and slotted the ball into the bottom left corner.

Lemar almost created another goal when his corner was headed against the crossbar by Brazilian defender Jemerson late in the first half.

Falcao put the game beyond doubt from the spot after Slovenian midfielder Jan Repas fouled attacking midfielder Rony Lopes.


After a tricky start to his tenure at Nantes, Italian coach Claudio Ranieri has turned things around.

Nantes beat Guingamp 2-1 at home to move up to third place, extending Ranieri’s unbeaten run to eight matches after losing the first two.

Nantes, which scored through defender Chidozie Awaziem and midfielder Abdoulaye Toure, is just two points behind Monaco.

The 2 Robbies: Terriers Triumph And Chelsea Leave It Late

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe start today’s show off by discussing Huddersfield Town’s surprising win against Manchester United (00:20), Jose Mourinho’s measured post-match interview (03:50), praise Manchester City again (10:30), discuss Sean Dyche’s next move (16:10), analyze that exciting match between Chelsea and Watford (18:30) and finally, weigh in on Slaven Bilic’s future at West Ham United (27:30).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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