England fans attacked, hospitalized ahead of game in Ukraine

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Last night in Kiev violent scenes marred the build up to a crunch Group H World Cup qualifier between England and Ukraine on Tuesday.

Police in the Ukrainian capital are investigating the incident as reports suggest 50 Ukrainian men wearing balaclavas ambushed a group of England supporters in a coffee shop, leaving three England fans hospitalized.

England national team manager Roy Hodgson has slammed the attack ahead of the game.

“Of course we deplore that, everyone deplores that,” Hodgson said. “I am certain all the people in Kiev deplore it as well. I don’t know the exact circumstances of the attack. But unfortunately these things can happen when football fans get together.”

Hodgson then went onto mention the great reception England received in Kiev during the European Championships in 2012.

“It was remarkable last year, the atmosphere,” Hodgson said. “And nothing of that nature occurred. Sadly it has occurred this time but I can only hope that our fans are not going to be put off by that and that the fans who did get injured aren’t that badly injured so they can attend the game.”

As England’s manager mentioned, the violent outburst took everyone by surprise after Englishman were greeted warmly in the Eastern European country during the summer of 2012 as the Three Lions twice played in Kiev at Euro 2012.

However the warm hospitality traveling English fans felt just over a year ago wasn’t present on Sunday evening. And during his pre-match press conference today, Ukraine’s head coach Mykhaylo Fomenko publicly apologized for the violence against England’s fans.

On Monday as more details begin to emerge from Kiev, it has been revealed that England fans were targeted specifically and tactically by a local gang. With flags and banners hanging outside the cafe, some local men grabbed the flags and ran around the corner. Some of the gathered England fans then ran after these men but were met with a group of 30-50 locals brandishing bottles, knives and wearing balaclavas.

Tonight in Kiev there is a huge police presence to try and stop any retaliation from the growing number of England fans arriving ahead of tomorrow’s massive clash. Just under 2,000 England supporters are expected to be in Kiev, as Roy Hodgson’s England side can take a huge leap towards World Cup qualification with a victory against Ukraine.

But with all the focus on these unsavory scenes in the streets of Kiev affecting the build up to the game, fans are wary of similar scenes breaking out inside the 70,000 capacity Olympic Stadium. Much will be done between now and kick off tomorrow to stop that from happening.

However one thing is for certain, a heated battle will take place on the pitch as both teams know three points will be a massive boost towards their hopes of qualifying for Brazil 2014. Let’s just hope that battling spirit doesn’t spill over into the crowd.

Toronto locks down USMNT backstop Bono with extension

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Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono is going to stay Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The newly-capped USMNT backstop, 24, has been attracting interest from abroad since breaking past Clint Irwin to win the TFC job and guiding the club to multiple MLS Cup Finals.

Now general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has locked down his young goalkeeper to an undisclosed contract extension. From TorontoFC.com:

“Alex was a big part of our success last season. He set club records for wins and clean sheets and was a critical piece of our championship team,” said Toronto FC Sr. Vice-President, Soccer Operations & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko. “Since joining the club as a first round pick in 2015, Alex’s ability to make key saves in big moments has been critical to our success.”

The Syracuse-born product of Syracuse University has made 64 appearances for the Reds.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 8 — Argentina on the edge; France aims for berth

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France, Denmark, and Croatia can clinch knockout round berths on Thursday in Russia, the last nation also holding the opportunity to help deprive the World Cup of an extended Lionel Messi run.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Messi’s Argentina drew Iceland in its opener, the megastar infamously missing a penalty, and will look to beat a Croatian side that looked quite good in dispatching Nigeria.

That’s the final match of the day, which begins with Denmark facing Australia and continues with a tasty match-up between France and Peru.

Below is Thursday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20

Group C
Denmark vs. Australia: Samara, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
France vs. Peru: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group D
Argentina vs. Croatia: Nizhny Novgorod, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Halted World Cup flip-throw heard around the world

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Milad Mohammadi knew the time was right for something special, but special isn’t always good.

And good is a subjective term. Cause to us this is very good, Milad.

The Iranian national team defender failed with a flip-throw bid in the final moments of a 1-0 loss to Spain on Wednesday at the World Cup in Russia.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

And this wasn’t like he illegally flipped or broke some other rule. No, like a kid trying an audacious jump into the deep end, Akhmat Grozny star Mohammadi just bailed and climbed in from the side (so to speak).

The kiss, the look skyward, the headbutt… all integral parts of a wonderful World Cup moment.

Renard, Morocco ‘very proud’ of unlucky national team

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If you would’ve told Morocco fans or their manager, Herve Renard, that they’d outshoot and outpossess both Iran and Portugal at World Cup, their next question would probably be, “So do we need to do against Spain to win Group B?”

Alas, Morocco lost a pair of 1-0 decisions to become the first team knocked out of the 2018 World Cup.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The Lions of Atlas fell to Iran in their opener on a stoppage time own goal after carrying 64 percent possession and a 13-8 advantage in shot attempts, then lost to a Cristiano Ronaldo fourth minute goal on Wednesday despite a 16-10 shot advantage and 53 percent of the ball.

“I’m very proud of the performance and I am very proud of my players, I’m very proud of this country,” Renard said.

With no hope of advancing to the next round, the manager is finding the experience bittersweet. From RTE:

“What I am sure of at this moment is that the entire Moroccan people is proud of this team. Of course it’s easier to play with a player who has one chance and he puts it away. But we are in Morocco.

“We have quality players. Despite the ups and downs of the game, we should have been more effective. Because, like in the first game, we had plenty of chances. I won’t blame anyone. That’s football. It’s always those who know how to be present in the box, the most gifted players, who make the difference. We took a lot of risks and we didn’t get our reward.”

It’s unlikely Morocco will hold either of those statistical advantages against Spain, especially a Spanish side yet to qualify, but there is plenty to like from the tournament aside from poor finishing quality.

But the performances of 19-year-olds Amine Harit (Schalke) and Achraf Hakimi (Real Madrid) — not to mention Hakim Ziyech (25, Ajax) — seem to hint at a promise for 2022. And Renard’s men can still play spoiler for Spain, which is no small shockwave.