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Stalingrad history a constant presence for World Cup workers

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VOLGOGRAD, Russia (AP) Sergei Kamin knows exactly what to do if his workers find a bomb from the Battle of Stalingrad.

“The first procedure is surprise. The second procedure is fear,” he jokes. Step three is to call in the specialists.

Kamin is directing construction of a stadium for next year’s World Cup in the city of Volgograd – known as Stalingrad during World War II. Four World Cup matches are set to be staged in the new stadium.

For locals, 2018 brings the World Cup but also the 75th anniversary of the end of one of the bloodiest battles in history, which left the city devastated.

The stadium’s riverbank location was a key site in one of the war’s pivotal battles, where German forces were first stopped from crossing the Volga, then gradually surrounded and beaten. The battle lasted more than five months, with more than a million casualties on the Soviet side alone, as Germany was forced onto the defensive in the East.

When the battle finally ended, the wrecked city of Stalingrad held a football match, marking the first hopes of a return to normal life.

Local team Dynamo Stalingrad beat Spartak Moscow 1-0 on May 2, 1943, in front of some of the city’s few surviving inhabitants. The Soviet state hailed the match as a symbol of its people’s resilience and grit.

“It’s a historic match. And today we have huge traditions of football here in Volgograd,” governor Andrei Bocharov says.

The effects of the war can still be felt. During construction, Kamin’s workers have found more than 200 shells and other armaments, as well as the bodies of two still-unidentified Soviet soldiers. The site was home to a Soviet command post during the battle of Stalingrad.

When munitions were found during excavation, police sealed off the area to allow specialists to work, causing a few headaches for construction bosses. Thankfully none of the shells turned out to be live, Kamin said. It’s not a problem isolated to Volgograd, either. German aerial bombs have reportedly been uncovered during work on other World Cup stadiums in Moscow and Rostov-on-Don.

Fans coming to Volgograd for the World Cup will see reminders of the city’s violent past everywhere they go. The city is packed with memorials to the dead of World War II and also the Russian Civil War, where Volgograd – then called Tsaritsyn after the Russian emperors – was a battleground between 1918 and 1920.

Towering behind the stadium is the Mamayev hill, a complex of monuments topped by an 85-meter sculpture of a woman – representing the Russian Motherland – wielding a sword.

The Volgograd stadium was designed to be partly below ground, to ensure it didn’t block views of the memorial. “It really fits in,” Kamin says.

Governor Bocharov, a former soldier who was decorated in the First Chechen War of the 1990s, says Volgograd should be a symbol of peace.

“Every millimeter of ground here has been watered with blood,” Bocharov says. “We know the price of victory and it is very high.”

A World Cup game there between Germany and Russia would be the perfect symbol, Bocharov added, though it’s all up to the draw.

Burnley 1-0 Stoke City: Barnes’ late strike guides Clarets into top four

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Don’t look now, but the Clarets have climbed into the Premier League top four.

Burnley found a way Stoke City late on Tuesday, picking up a 1-0 win at the Turf Moor behind Ashley Barnes‘ late finish.

[ MORE: Gremio reaches Club World Cup final, awaits Real Madrid or Al Jazira ]

The Clarets, who have now secured 31 points over their first 17 matches this season, leapfrogged Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham with the victory. However, all three sides will be in action on Wednesday.

Steven Defour nearly put Burnley ahead on 69 minutes, when the front man tested Stoke keeper Jack Butland — who had to make a sprawling save to his right.

While Stoke mustered up several quality chances, it was Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s blast in the first half that nearly found the top left corner.

Next up for Burnley will be a date against Brighton on Saturday, while Stoke travels to Huddersfield the same day.

Club World Cup wrap: Gremio reaches final, Urawa takes fifth place

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One half of this year’s FIFA Club World Cup final was decided on Tuesday as Brazilian side Gremio topped Liga MX champions Pachuca.

Second-half substitute Everton proved to be the difference for the Brazilians, with the attacker scoring in extra time to lift Gremio.

[ MORE: LA FC selects Urena, four others in MLS Expansion Draft ]

Pachuca’s chances of completing a comeback were extinguished with 10 minutes remaining in extra time, as Víctor Guzman was sent off upon picking up his second yellow card of the semifinal.

Meanwhile, Japanese side Urawa Red Diamonds captured fifth place in the tournament after narrowly topping Wydad Casablanca, 3-2.

Despite going behind early, Urawa responded almost immediately in the first half, before building its lead to 3-1 at the hour mark.

A late penalty kick from Reda Hajhouj gave Casablanca a glimmer of hope in the dying moments, however, the Moroccan-based club couldn’t find a way to equalize.

Gremio will await either La Liga giants Real Madrid or Al Jazira in the Club World Cup final, which will be played on Saturday. The loser of that match will take on Pachuca in the third-place game.

Below are the scores from Tuesday’s FIFA Club World Cup matches.

Gremio 1-0 Pachuca (after extra time)

Wydad Casablanca 2-3 Urawa Red Diamonds — Fifth-place match

LAFC selects Urena, 4 others in MLS Expansion Draft

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Los Angeles FC selected five players in the MLS Expansion Draft, including Costa Rican national team star Marco Urena.

Whether they’ll make their way to the City of Angels is another story.

The first pick from general manager John Thorrington was goalkeeper Tyler Miller from Seattle Sounders.

[ MORE: Benitez on NUFC struggles ]

Going next was Latif Blessing from Sporting KC, an electric attacker who netted thrice with an assist last season.

Next was Urena from San Jose and the Costa Rican national team, a huge addition, and then Columbus left back Jukka Raitala before closing up the draft with Raheem Edwards from Toronto FC.

LAFC has already announced the signings or acquisitions of Carlos Vela, Walker Zimmerman, Carlos Alvarez, Monday Etim, and Guillermo Vizcarra.

The club will also loan Omar Gaber from Basel and Rodrigo Pacheco from Lanus.

WATCH LIVE: Three Premier League matches

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Chelsea visits the John Smith’s Stadium to face Huddersfield Town in one of three Premier League fixtures this chilly Tuesday in December (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The Blues are now 14 points back of Manchester City, and three points clear of fifth place.

Meanwhile there are a pair of matches on NBC Sports Gold: Burnley looks to keep pace with its Top Four ambitions when it hosts struggling Stoke City, while in-form Crystal Palace seeks a home win that would move it out of the drop zone. In its way? Dangerous, attack-minded Watford.

Burnley vs. Stoke City — 2:45 p.m. ET [ STREAM ]

Huddersfield Town vs. Chelsea — 3 p.m. ET [ STREAM ]

Crystal Palace vs. Watford — 3 p.m. ET [ STREAM ]