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2018 World Cup venues on track but marred by costs, deaths

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MOSCOW (AP) Cost rises, worker deaths, and corruption have marred the building of Russia’s World Cup stadiums.

Unlike at the 2014 tournament in Brazil, construction is largely on time. But, like in Brazil, there are concerns about legacy.

Only five host cities have top-level clubs, and the government will need to cover the stadiums’ upkeep with subsidies after the tournament.

Ahead of the draw on Friday, here is a look at the 12 stadiums in 11 cities across Russia:


City: Moscow

Capacity: 81,006

Cost: 24 billion rubles ($410 million) for rebuild

A vast bowl built in the 1950s to showcase the sports might of the Soviet Union, Luzhniki has been transformed to host the World Cup final.

The old stands were ripped out and the athletics track from the 1980 Olympics torn up as the stadium was turned into a football-specific venue.

That increases capacity and comfort, while bringing fans closer to the action.

Luzhniki reopened on Nov. 11 when Argentina beat Russia 1-0 in a friendly. Russian fans praised the rebuild, but many were angry at how police handled the crowds afterward, forcing some supporters to spend up to 90 minutes getting to nearby public transport in near-freezing conditions.


City: Moscow

Capacity: 43,298

Cost: 14.5 billion rubles ($250 million)

The home of Russian Premier League champion Spartak Moscow, this stadium opened in 2014 and is already well tested as a venue for Champions League and Confederations Cup games.

It’s usually known as the Otkritie Arena, but FIFA rules on sponsorship mean a temporary name change for the tournament.

The towering statue of a gladiator outside is a nod to Spartak being named after Roman slave rebel Spartacus.

It’s the only World Cup stadium built without government money. Transport is relatively easy from central Moscow, though chronic traffic jams mean most fans prefer the subway.


City: St. Petersburg

Capacity: 68,134

Cost: 43 billion rubles ($735 million)

Almost everything that could go wrong with the St. Petersburg stadium did.

Severe delays and soaring costs were just the start for a project which became notorious for employing North Korean laborers, one of whom is among at least eight to die on the stadium and 17 across all World Cup construction sites, according to the trade union Building and Wood Workers’ International.

A deputy governor of St. Petersburg has admitted his role in a 50-million-ruble ($850,000) scheme to siphon off the stadium’s budget, though officials say the true picture of corruption was much larger.

The spaceship-like arena – which will host a semifinal – remains plagued by a leaking roof and a pitch which grows so poorly it’s had to be replaced repeatedly.

However, Confederations Cup games passed largely without incident and Russia says it’s working to iron out any more problems.


City: Sochi

Capacity: 47,700

Cost: 23.5 billion rubles ($400 million) for initial construction, 4 billion rubles ($68 million) to convert for football

As memories of the Sochi Olympics become dominated by Russia’s doping scandals, one part of the legacy will still be gleaming next year.

Nestled by the Black Sea, Fisht Stadium hosted the lavish opening and closing ceremonies for the 2014 Winter Olympics, and then Confederations Cup games this year.

How that Olympic legacy continues after the tournament isn’t clear; Sochi doesn’t have a football club to use the stadium.

Fans are advised to book hotels near the Olympic Park because the main city of Sochi is more than an hour away up the coast.


City: Kazan

Capacity: 44,779

Cost: 14.4 billion rubles ($250 million)

The Kazan Arena opened in 2013 as the first of Russia’s new generation of football stadiums and was used as the prototype for the other new arenas.

It’s a versatile venue which has hosted Confederations Cup football, ceremonies, and even the 2015 world swimming championships, where a temporary pool was installed.

Kazan is a largely Muslim city, but one which wears its religion lightly. Fans shouldn’t expect any restrictions on alcohol sales, for example.


City: Samara

Capacity: 44,807

Cost: 18.2 billion rubles ($310 million)

This stadium in the Volga River city of Samara has proved tricky to finish on time.

Its ambitious design – a glass dome evoking Samara’s history as a center of the Russian space program – has needed extra time to build, and local officials have feuded with the companies doing the work.

One subcontractor allegedly went bankrupt this year after doing just a fraction of work valued at nearly $50 million and had to be replaced.

The stadium is on the outskirts of the city, so fans should allow plenty of time for travel to games including a World Cup quarterfinal.


City: Nizhny Novgorod

Capacity: 45,331

Cost: 17.9 billion rubles ($307 million) – Russian media estimates

With a roof which seems to float atop white columns, the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium has one of Russia’s more impressive designs and will host a quarterfinal.

It also offers fans views of the Oka and Volga rivers which meet in Nizhny Novgorod, a historic city located around four hours east of Moscow.

Legacy could be a problem since local club Olimpiyets Nizhny Novgorod has averaged barely 1,000 fans per game in the second tier this season.


City: Rostov-on-Don

Capacity: 45,145

Cost: 19.4 billion rubles ($330 million)

Sweltering summer temperatures could be a problem for teams coming to the southern Russian steppe to play group or last-16 games in Rostov-on-Don.

The stadium sits on the bank of the Don river and is planned to become the center of a vast new housing and leisure development after the World Cup.

Some delays in construction seem to have been remedied. When the tournament is over, the stadium will become the new home of FC Rostov, which beat Bayern Munich in the Champions League group stage last season but has since slipped back into the Russian mid-table.


City: Volgograd

Capacity: 45,568

Cost: 17.3 billion rubles ($300 million)

In the city once known as Stalingrad, every spot has wartime history, and the stadium is no different.

Workers had to deal with finding unexploded munitions and soldiers’ corpses from the World War II Battle of Stalingrad during work on the stadium, which sits at the foot of Russia’s best-known war memorial.

That location meant the stadium had to be designed with a low roof-line so as not to obscure views of “The Motherland Calls” sculpture.

The regional governor is hoping the draw brings Germany to his city for a moment of reconciliation 75 years after the Battle of Stalingrad ended.


City: Yekaterinburg

Capacity: 35,696

Cost: 12.7 billion rubles ($220 million) for rebuild

Even before it opens, the stadium in the Ural mountain city of Yekaterinburg is famous for its unusual design.

In an attempt to keep costs down, the stadium has 12,000 temporary seats. So far, so normal for a World Cup.

However, those seats are on vast towers of scaffolding stretching over the walls of the main stadium, which could make being in the top row a vertigo-inducing experience.

Reducing the capacity to 23,000 after the tournament should make life easier for local club Ural Yekaterinburg, which averages crowds of just over 5,000 in the Russian Premier League.

Human Rights Watch alleged that some workers were required to work in temperatures of minus-25 degrees Celsius, and weren’t given enough breaks to stay warm.


City: Saransk

Capacity: 44,442

Cost: 17.1 billion rubles ($295 million)

With a population of just 300,000, Saransk was a surprise choice of host city for many Russians.

Located 10 hours by road south-east of Moscow, it’s by far the smallest of the 11 cities but hopes to make up for that with a warm welcome for foreigners at by far the biggest international event in the city’s history.

Many fans arriving for the World Cup won’t be staying in hotels – Saransk simply doesn’t have enough – but on campsites or in newly finished apartment blocks which will be sold after the tournament.

Large parts of the stadium are temporary, meaning it can be reduced to a 25,000-capacity venue after the tournament. Plans are afoot to set up shops and gyms in the structure.


City: Kaliningrad

Capacity: 35,212

Cost: 17.4 billion rubles ($300 million)

Kaliningrad is the capital of a sliver of Russian land cut off from the rest of the country and sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania.

Until World War II, the city was part of Germany and called Koenigsberg. Officials are hoping its location and history make Kaliningrad an attractive destination for fans from other European countries.

The stadium, which will host only group games, is a compact, modest design which has been built quickly.

Two regional government officials and an engineering company executive have been arrested on suspicion of corruption involving the stadium.

AP World Cup coverage:

Osorio: Jonathan Gonzalez has a “promising future” with El Tri

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The Jonathan Gonzalez situation still stings for many U.S. Men’s National Team supporters, and the encouragement from Mexico’s camp regarding the midfielder’s bright future isn’t making things better for Americans.

[ MORE: Where does Zlatan rank among stars to come to MLS? ]

El Tri manager Juan Carlos Osorio reaffirmed his belief that Gonzalez is one of the many promising prospects within the Mexican national team ahead of the country’s friendly against Iceland on Friday.

Gonzalez, who switched his national team allegiance to Mexico from the U.S. earlier this year, has been called up for the match after the 18-year-old made his Mexico senior team debut against Bosnia back in January.

“Jonathan, to start with, is part of a group of Mexican players that I’ve referred as having a good present and a promising future and that excites me to continue, along with Edson Alvarez, Omar Govea and others that aren’t here like Orbelin [Pineda] and Erick [Gutierrez],” Osorio said at a news conference on Thursday.

“Gonzalez is a good midfielder and can fight for a place with anyone. Like everyone, he has to improve a lot of things to win a place.

“After deciding to play for Mexico, it is our responsibility to give him a platform to develop and consolidate himself as a player.

“That’s why he’s in this call-up, and hopefully he can establish himself and show the qualities I mentioned.”

The former USMNT youth prospect has quickly become a regular for club side Monterrey, who currently sits sixth in the Liga MX table.

Gonzalez has appeared in 38 matches across all competitions for the four-time league champions and earned honors in the Liga MX Best XI following the 2017 Apertura season.

USMNT reveals new kits ahead of Paraguay friendly

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U.S. Soccer’s teams has donned some pretty sweet kits in the past, but this go around has particularly patriotic feel about it, and we like it.

[ MORE: Zlatan Ibrahimovic has joined the LA Galaxy ]

The U.S. released a video on Friday (below) with several USMNT stars, including Bobby Wood and Tyler Adams wearing the new kits ahead of Tuesday’s international friendly against Paraguay.

The home jersey features a flag design engraved on a white kit, which is representative of the American flag. Meanwhile, the away version holds a similar design, but with a blue base for the jersey.

Meanwhile, the USWNT will don their new kits on April 5 when they take on Mexico in the first two matches in the U.S. The two rivals will meet three days later for the second meeting.

What do you think of the latest U.S. Soccer kits? Let us know what you like or dislike about it in the comments section below.

UEFA Nations League gets $94 million prize fund for 55 teams

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NYON, Switzerland (AP) UEFA says it has created a 76.25 million euro ($94 million) prize fund for the inaugural Nations League.

The first champion will earn 7.5 million euros ($9.25 million).

The Nations League is replacing most international friendlies. All 55 UEFA members will play group matches in four tiers through November. The Final Four will be in June 2019.

UEFA says 12 top-ranked teams in League A will each get 1.5 million euros ($1.85 million). Group winners will get 1.5 million euros ($1.85 million) extra and advance to the final tournament, and the winner will get another 4.5 million euros ($5.55 million).

League B will pay 1 million euros ($1.23 million) per team, while in League C it’s 750,000 euros ($925,000) and in League D it’s 500,000 euros ($617,000). Group winners will double their money.

Alexis Sanchez discusses Man United struggles

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Alexis Sanchez appears to be struggling with his disappointing start to life at Manchester United.

The Chilean star, 29, became the highest-paid player in the Premier League when he arrived from Arsenal in January in a swap deal for Henrikh Mkhitaryan, but Sanchez has scored just one PL goal.

Sanchez has failed to make his mark on a consistent basis as United have also crashed out of the UEFA Champions League.

What does Sanchez put his lack of form down to?

In an Instagram post he left a caption saying that he was mentally exhausted: “I know you are tired. I know you are psychologically and emotionally exhausted. But you have to smile and continue”.

Speaking to the Chilean media ahead of their friendly against Sweden in Stockholm on Saturday, Sanchez revealed he has been struggling with the lack of impact he has had at United.

“The change of club was something that was very abrupt – it was the first time I’ve changed clubs in January – but many things have happened in my life that are difficult… As I am self-demanding, I expected something better. After my arrival at United, it was hard to change everything very quickly. I even hesitated to come here [to Sweden].”

Sanchez has looked better in a central role behind Romelu Lukaku but he hasn’t been used there often enough by Jose Mourinho.

At Arsenal he had the license to roam free in the attacking third but in Mourinho’s more defensive, rigid system he appears to be struggling to get on the ball in the right areas in and around the box. Sanchez has cut a frustrated figure out on the left wing and has given the ball away on multiple occasions as he tries to make the difficult passes and open up opposition defenses.

It appears that Sanchez is perhaps trying to hard to impress United and given his all-action displays, that is not easy to do.

United need more of him in the final third than out wide or tracking back to help out his own defense if they’re going to seal their top four spot and win the FA Cup to see out the final months of the season.

There’s no doubting Sanchez’s quality as we all know just how good he can be from his four seasons at Arsenal.

Yet, as he acknowledged himself, something at United isn’t quite right.