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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.

Retailer removes T-shirt from sale over Hillsborough links

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LONDON (AP) A British retailer has withdrawn a T-shirt from sale in its stores and online following complaints that its design could be associated with the Hillsborough soccer disaster.

[ MORE: Liverpool, Man City drawn in UCL quarterfinals ]

Topman had on sale a red shirt with a large “96” on the back and the phrase “what goes around comes around” underneath. The word “Karma” is written on one of the sleeves.

Ninety-six people were crushed to death in the Hillsborough stadium disaster, which happened in Sheffield in April 1989 at an FA Cup semifinal match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

Topman said it “apologizes unreservedly for any offense caused by this T-shirt” and that the “garment has been removed from sale online and in stores.”

The retailer said the design was inspired by a Bob Marley track, with the number referring to the year of the re-release.

Cosmos, Miami FC petition USSF for 2018 U.S. Open Cup entry

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NASL’s decision to cancel the 2018 regular season has caused significant ramifications, with the latest forcing several clubs to be excluded from the U.S. Open Cup.

The New York Cosmos and Miami FC — both of whom participated in the 2017 U.S. Open Cup have not been named among the eligible teams for the 2018 edition following NASL’s cancellation of the league season.

Now, the two teams have petitioned to U.S. Soccer and its new president, Carlos Cordeiro, to rethink its decision and allow the clubs to play despite not belonging to a professional league.

Both clubs do boast reserve teams though — New York Cosmos B and Miami 2 — which is the lead argument from each organization as to why U.S. Soccer should grant the teams an exemption and a spot in the tournament.

Cosmos B and Miami FC 2 will both play in the NPSL once again in 2018, with both rosters largely comprised of senior team players.

As it stands, 94 teams have been placed in the 2018 Open Cup field, as announced by U.S. Soccer on Wednesday.

Both open letters from the respective clubs can be found below.

Brazil’s Luis could miss World Cup after leg fracture

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MADRID (AP) Brazilian left back Filipe Luis has a leg fracture that could stop him going to the World Cup in Russia.

[ MORE: Arsenal draws CSKA Moscow in Europa quarters ]

Atletico Madrid said Friday that Luis sustained the injury to his left leg in the second half of the Spanish team’s 5-1 rout of Lokomotiv Moscow in the Europa League round-of-16 match on Thursday.

The club did not say how long Luis will be sidelined. Similar injuries have required at least six weeks of recovery time and longer if surgery is required.

The 32-year-old Luis was called up by Brazil coach Tite for friendlies against Russia in Moscow on March 23 and against Germany in Berlin on March 27. Brazil’s first game at the World Cup is against Switzerland on June 17.

Luis was injured while trying to prevent Lokomotiv forward Eder taking a shot from inside the area in the 60th minute. He successfully cleared the ball but his leg was hit from behind.

Luis left the field on a stretcher and tests Friday in Madrid confirmed the fracture in his lower leg.

Atletico advanced 8-1 on aggregate after the victory in Russia.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage:

Casemiro: Neymar “would get along very well with Cristiano” at Real

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The speculation (transfer) train keeps chugging along as domestic seasons near their conclusion, and one rumor continues to be fueled linking one of the world’s top players to Real Madrid.

[ MORE: FA Cup preview ]

Neymar’s time at Paris Saint-Germain has been short, less than a season to be precise, but the Brazil international could be moving on from the Parc des Princes sooner rather than later after his side crashed out of the UEFA Champions League recently against Real.

Nothing concrete has been determined about Neymar’s future, but Real Madrid continues to be linked with the South American star, and one current Real player feels Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo would get along “very well.”

“[Neymar] has always been spectacular, since he was 11 years old. He does crazy things,” Real midfielder Casemiro told El Partidazo .l”I don’t think there is any chance that he will come to Real, but you have to ask [Madrid president] Florentino Perez.

“He knows that the door is always open for him in Madrid, but he is happy in Paris. He always says that he is happy there, that he is comfortable in Paris. There are many Brazilians there too, it is very quiet there, but whether it’s possible you have to ask Florentino.

“With the quality that he has, I would sign him for sure. I hope he comes this season.

“He is a great player, one of the top three in the world. He can do whatever he wants off the pitch if he continues to do what he does on it.

“He would get along very well with Cristiano, very well.”

Real is currently in the midst of a historic run in the Champions League, having won the competition three times in the last four seasons.

Casemiro isn’t the only Real player eager to bring in a talent such as Neymar though.

Defender Dani Carvajal also recently told the media that he would be ecstatic to have a teammate like the Brazilian come into the fold at the Santiago Bernabeu.