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Israeli sports minister asks Italy to rein in soccer racism

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JERUSALEM (AP) Israel’s sports minister has asked her Italian counterpart to crack down on racism in soccer after Lazio supporters littered a stadium with images of Holocaust victim and diarist Anne Frank wearing a jersey of city rival Roma.

Miri Regev’s office says a letter dispatched to Luca Lotti called the display “despicable” and accused thousands of Lazio fans of openly identifying with neo-Nazi symbols. She wrote that calling Roma players “Jews” inferred they were a “scourge to be avoided.”

The Italian soccer federation has said a passage from Frank’s diary will be read aloud at all soccer matches in Italy this week. It said it would also be combined with a minute’s silence before Serie A, B and C matches to promote Holocaust remembrance.

USMNT drops four spots in FIFA Rankings, Brazil up to second

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It’s no surprise that the United States has fallen in the latest FIFA rankings.

After losses to Mexico and Costa Rica in World Cup qualifiers, the USMNT is now 28th in the world.

The Yanks are down to 33rd in the ELO ratings, just seven ahead of a fourth CONCACAF foe in Panama.

[ MORE: Bale set for extended absence ]

Also dropping significantly was Australia — down eight spots to 48th — as well as Ghana, Scotland, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Brazil has climbed above Germany to No. 2 in the world, a spot back of Argentina. Chile is fourth.

The Republic of Ireland (23rd), Egypt (36th), and Burkina Faso (50th) are the high risers in the Top 50. Burkina Faso rose 17 spots to its highest slot since 2010, when it was 41st.

Israel rose a remarkable 25 spots, to 54th.

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Kosovo police say terror attack on Israeli team prevented

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PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) Kosovo police say they prevented an extremist attack against the Israeli national soccer team that played a World Cup qualifier in neighboring Albania.

Following reports that an alleged terror group arrested in Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia had planned an attack, the venue of last weekend’s qualifier was changed for “security reasons” from the northern city of Shkoder, near the border with Montenegro, to Elbasan, much nearer to the capital Tirana.

Police said in a statement Thursday that 18 people were arrested in Kosovo, and six more in Albania or Macedonia. It said police had proof that the suspects had planned “a terror act” against the Israeli team and the fans.

Albanian religious leader welcomes Israel ahead of WCup game

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) The religious leader of Albania’s Muslim community has welcomed the Israel soccer team to Albania for a World Cup qualifier later Saturday.

Grand Mufti Skender Brucaj used his Facebook page on Saturday to wish “sportsmen and guests from Israel a calm and peaceful stay in the Albanian land!”

Some 2,000 police have surrounded the stadium, with extensive checks on supporters going to the Group G match.

Albanian police say they have taken extreme steps to secure the qualifier.

The venue was changed for “security reasons” from the northern city of Shkoder, near the border with Montenegro, to Elbasan, much nearer to the capital Tirana.

The decision followed media reports that an alleged terror group of 15 persons, arrested in Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia, planned an attack during the match.

Albania police using extreme security for Israeli qualifier

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) Albanian police say they have taken extreme steps to secure the World Cup qualifier between Albania and Israel on Saturday.

[ MORE: Friday’s UEFA WCQ preview ]

The venue was changed for “security reasons” from the northern city of Shkoder, near the border with Montenegro, to Elbasan, nearer to Tirana.

The Elbasan Arena was 55 kilometers (30 miles) south of Tirana.

The decision followed media reports that an alleged terror group of 15 persons, arrested in Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia, planned an attack during the match.

A statement on Friday said 2,000 police, many more than in other matches, would be involved around the match from Friday.

Fans will be thoroughly checked at the stadium, and drivers were advised to use another route between the capital and Elbasan because traffic will be limited.