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Hooligans an asset, liability for Russian government

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MARSEILLE, France (AP) The Russian soccer hooligans who have fought with rival supporters at the European Championship in France have at various times been both an asset and a liability to the Russian authorities.

While the often-nationalist hardcore fans provide a reserve of support for adventurous foreign policy moves and a bulwark against domestic protests, they can also threaten public order at home and embarrass Russia abroad as it seeks global prestige by hosting the 2018 World Cup.

When Russian hooligans fought with English fans in the city of Marseille on Saturday and then attacked them inside the stadium, the response in Russia was mixed. While Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said Sunday that those involved in disorder had “disgraced the country,” state media pushed the view that they had been provoked into violence, with one broadcaster portraying street battles in Marseille’s Old Port as a heroic Russian victory over English attackers.

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“Most people (in Russia) think the Russians were right” in Saturday’s fighting, said Evgeny Dzichkovsky, a columnist for Russia’s Sovetsky Sport newspaper. “A minority thinks they were just fighters who went there to start a conflict.”

The Russian state’s complex relationship with hardcore fans was defined in 2010, when thousands of fans angered by the death of a Spartak Moscow supporter in a fight with migrants from Russia’s North Caucasus occupied Manezh square near the Kremlin in a protest which turned into a race riot, with non-Slavic passers-by beaten and stabbed.

Despite the disorder being some of the most serious in Russia in recent years, police took a comparatively restrained approach, avoiding mass arrests. In a sign of conciliation, then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin laid flowers at the grave of the dead Spartak Moscow supporter.

“It was a typical populist gesture, and you have to say that the fans took it as a sign of support from those in power,” said Natalia Yudina, whose Moscow-based Sova Center monitors racism in Russian society, including at sports events.

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Alexander Baunov, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, says that while many nationalist fans in 2010 were critical of the government, they have since rallied to the Kremlin after “the Russian state exceeded their expectations” with the annexation of Crimea in 2014. In the event of future demonstrations, they could take to the streets as “groups of pro-Kremlin fighters,” Baunov argues.

An example of the intersection between fans and politics is the All-Russian Fans’ Union, which holds semi-official status with Russian football’s governing body and is led by Alexander Shprygin, a former assistant to Igor Lebedev, a lawmaker and soccer official who publicly backed Russian hooligans involved in Saturday’s violence. In turn, Lebedev is the son of Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the LDPR party in the Russian parliament, a group which is stridently nationalist but rarely makes serious criticism of the government.

Shprygin is also a former leader of a hardcore Dynamo Moscow fan group and has been accused of involvement with far-right and racist groups by Yudina’s Sova Center and Fare, an anti-discrimination group affiliated with UEFA.

When the AP visited his offices last year, a T-Shirt was on display bearing the face of a former Torpedo Moscow player who was convicted of killing a man from Kyrgyzstan during a fight. Shprygin admitted he had repeatedly posted images of far-right symbols on social media, but insisted they were meant “not as propaganda,” but as illustrations of how the Russian fan scene used to be.

When French authorities arrested Shprygin and dozens of other Russian fans Tuesday in an investigation following Saturday’s violence, the Russian Foreign Ministry summoned the French ambassador for an official protest, warning that France was stoking “anti-Russian” feeling.

Hardcore fan groups, which include some hooligans, can benefit from “unofficial support and approval” from the authorities, says Dzichkovsky. In recent years, that has included some groups gaining the rights to distribute discounted tickets to games, or free charter flights for Shprygin’s group on the majority-state-owned airline Aeroflot.

Many hardcore fans hold nationalist views and are strong supporters of Russia’s foreign policy in the Ukraine crisis. The same views can also lead to racist incidents at games. Banners brought a charge of racist behavior by fans from European Championship organizer UEFA after Saturday’s game in Marseille.

Hooligan groups in Russia are well organized forces with many members boasting martial arts training. From the 2010 riots to numerous smaller battles with police in and around stadiums across Russia, they have proved a challenge for Russian law enforcement.

Many on the hooligan scene served in the military thanks to Russia’s system of conscription, and some appear to have fought with Russian-backed separatists during the conflict in eastern Ukraine, to judge by postings on internet forums favored by hardcore fans.

“It’s not surprising because the radical section of the Russian nationalists went to war,” Yudina said. “I think they all came back at some stage, which is also not very good because they’ve come back with combat experience and a tendency for violence.”

Tottenham – Newcastle United: How to watch, start time, prediction, odds

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Tottenham – Newcastle United: Can Newcastle United score an upset against travel-weary Tottenham Hotspur in North London on Sunday (Watch live at 9 am ET Sunday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com)?

Spurs have gone from London to Bulgaria to Southampton to Macedonia and are now back in London for Sunday’s match-up with a Newcastle team that surprised them at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium a little over a year ago.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Spurs bent Shkendija in Europa League play on Thursday, with Heung-min Son posting a goal and two assists over 90 minutes. Harry Kane and Giovani Lo Celso came off the bench in what could be a sign of Jose Mourinho’s intent for Sunday.

Newcastle has been off since Wednesday’s 7-0 demolition of 10-man League Two side Morecambe in the League Cup. Steve Bruce did the trick without fitness-question Allan Saint-Maximin as well as rested Jonjo Shelvey and Callum Wilson.

STREAM TOTTENHAM – NEWCASTLE UNITED LIVE

Here is everything you need to know ahead of Tottenham – Newcastle United this Sunday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: Tottenham – Newcastle United (INJURY REPORT)

Tottenham Hotspur – QUESTIONABLE: Sergio Reguilon (ankle) | OUT: Gareth Bale (knee), Japhet Tanganga (thigh)

Newcastle United – QUESTIONABLE: Allan Saint-Maximin (ankle), Jamal Lewis (eye) | OUT: Matty Longstaff (thigh), Martin Dubravka (ankle), Fabian Schar (shoulder), Paul Dummett (thigh), Dwight Gayle (knee)


What they’re saying: Tottenham – Newcastle United

Spurs boss Jose Mourinho on Tanguy Ndombele’s 90 minutes versus Shkendija: “He played very well. Of course in a game where I can imagine our percentage of ball possession was very, very high and our percentage is high he feels obviously much more comfortable. However, even without the ball he had recovery, he had duels, he had defensive transition. It was a really positive game from Tanguy, really happy.

Newcastle’s Steve Bruce on meeting Spurs: “We can’t think we can go and play against the top teams and match them just in a game of football. We have to do something different, tactically. We did it well against the top teams last year. Let’s hope we can do the same again this year.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Newcastle United is not expected to get anything out of this, +600 to win and +360 to take a point compared to Tottenham’s -225 to win.

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Prediction: Tottenham – Newcastle United

The Magpies can take some hope from Palace’s consecutive wins away to Manchester United, but Spurs should deliver the goods. Questions about Saint-Maximin’s fitness even if he does play ask even more, as does the fact that Steve Bruce has been keeping Miguel Almiron on the bench to start matches. Throw in Bruce versus Mourinho and it’s safe to expect Spurs to overcome their travel-weary legs and post a 3-1 win.


How to watch Tottenham – Newcastle United stream and start time

Kickoff: 9 am ET Sunday
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Serie A: Inter win 7-goal thriller with 87th, 89th-minute goals (video)

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s results in Serie A, where Inter Milan scored twice in the final five minutes of regular time to beat Fiorentina 4-3…

[ MORE: Transfer news: Rice in, Jorginho out at Chelsea; Skriniar to Spurs ]

Inter Milan 4-3 Fiorentina

This is your weekly reminder that Serie A remains the most underrated, insane top-flight league in the world — particularly in the last-game-of-the-day time slot, at 2:45 pm ET. Seven-goal thrillers capped off by a late goal, or two, are more of the rule than an exception.

Anyway, Inter Milan’s title dreams looked set to begin with a home defeat to last season’s 10th-place finishers until Romelu Lukaku and Danilo D’Ambrosio scored an 87th-minute equalizer and an 89th-minute winner, respectively.

Inter started in a hole, down 1-0 after just three minutes. Lautaro Martinez pulled Antonio Conte’s side level in first-half stoppage time, but it was hardly an ideal start to the season. Federico Ceccherini put the ball into his own net in the 52nd minute to put Inter ahead.

The lead lasted just five minutes and just as quickly turned into a deficit, as Gaetano Castrovilli and Federico Chiesa bagged goals in the 57th and 63rd minutes. That, of course, only served to set the stage for the end-of-game heroics.

Torino 2-4 Atalanta

Saturday’s other thriller only featured six goals, though it still proved to be highly entertaining as well.

Andrea Belotti fired Torino ahead after 11 minutes, but Atalanta were level through Alejandro Gomez just two minutes later. Eight minutes after that, Luis Muriel put them 2-1 ahead. It was 3-1 in the 42nd minute, but Belotti scored again to make it 3-2 just a minute later. Marten de Roon restored a bit of breathing room and made it 4-2 with the game’s final goal in the 54th.

After finishing third, four points behind Inter and five behind champions Juventus, it’s a strong start for Gian Piero Gasperini’s side in 2020-21.

Other Serie A results

Sampdoria 2-3 Benevento
Cagliari 0-2 Lazio

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Spezia v Sassuolo — 6:30 am ET
Hellas Verona v Udinese — 9 am ET
Crotone v AC Milan — 12 pm ET
Napoli v Genoa — 12 pm ET
Roma v Juventus — 2:45 pm ET

La Liga: Real Madrid steal late win against 10-man Betis

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s results in La Liga, where Real Madrid were quite fortunate to come out with three points…

[ MORE: Transfer news: Rice in, Jorginho out at Chelsea; Skriniar to Spurs ]

Real Betis 2-3 Real Madrid

Opposition own goal? Check. Opposition red card? Check. Late-game penalty kick? Also check. The defending La Liga champions needed all of that in a span of 35 minutes, and a bit more, to escape their trip to Betis with three points.

Things started off well for Zinedine Zidane’s side Federico Valverde put Los Blancos ahead after 14 minutes, with a little help from Karim Benzema. The 1-0 scoreline didn’t survive until halftime, though, and neither did the 1-1. Aissa Mandi and William Carvalho each scored two minutes apart for Betis just before the break.

Real Madrid got back to level terms three minutes after the restart, thanks to an own goal from Emerson. 20 minutes later, Emerson was shown a straight red card for denial of a goal-scoring opportunity. Things went from bad to worse for Betis in the 82nd minute, when Marc Bartra was deemed to have handled the ball inside the box following video review. Sergio Ramos stepped up and sealed the win with a delicate chip down the middle.

Full-blown crisis averted, for now, after drawing with Real Sociedad on the opening day of the season.

Valencia 1-1 Huesca

This season looks set to be a hugely difficult one for Valencia as the club endures untold financial hardship and looks to sell off as much of the first-team squad as possible in an attempt to balance the books.

Saturday’s draw with newly promoted Huesca was simply the latest chapter, of which there will be many, of struggle for Javi Gracia’s side.

Other La Liga results

Alaves 0-0 Getafe
Elche 0-3 Real Sociedad

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Osasuna v Levante — 6 am ET
Eibar v Athletic Bilbao — 8 am ET
Atletico Madrid v Granada – 10 am ET
Cadiz v Sevilla — 12:30 pm ET
Real Valladolid v Celta Vigo — 12:30 pm ET
Barcelona v Villarreal — 3 pm ET

Fulham – Aston Villa: How to watch, start time, team news, prediction, odds

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Fulham – Aston Villa: How early is too early to call a game “must-win” in the Premier League? Perhaps we will find out on Monday (Watch live at 12:45 pm ET, online via Peacock), when bottom-of-the-table Fulham host Aston Villa at Craven Cottage.

FULHAM – ASTON VILLA STREAM LIVE

Scott Parker’s side has had a torrid start to life back in the PL — not at all dissimilar to the way their last stint ended — and find themselves with zero points and seven goals conceded after their first two games. Losing 3-0 to Arsenal on the opening day of the season wasn’t altogether surprising, but following that defeat with four more goals conceded to Leeds United last weekend will undoubtedly have done a number on the Cottagers’ confidence.

Villa, on the other hand, have played just once and secured a 1-0 victory over Sheffield United earlier this week. A win on Monday would see Dean Smith’s side start the season with back-to-back PL victories for the first time since the 1999-2000 season.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Here is everything you need to know ahead of Fulham – Aston Villa this Monday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: Fulham – Aston Villa (INJURY REPORT)

Fulham – No injuries or suspensions

Aston Villa – OUT: Bjorn Engels (thigh), Tom Heaton (knee), Wesley (knee), Ahmed Elmohamady (thigh)


What they’re saying: Fulham – Aston Villa

Scott Parker, on a “must-win” game: “I don’t see it as drastic as a must-win. We want to win. I know it’s either high or low in a drastic world, but we need to stay level and take realism of where we are in the campaign and where we are as a team. We will try everything we can to take some points and be up to the challenge. I don’t think we’re the only team at this present moment in time who have let in some goals in the first two games. It’s not ideal, of course not. Villa at home on Monday is a game we’re going to try to get three points.”

Dean Smith, on needing another signing: “We’re always looking in the market, we’re probably one short in the squad at the moment so we’ll keep looking at that. I think there’s seven days left until the window shuts internationally, another seven days domestically. Our sporting director at the moment has got his finger on the pulse, hopefully we might get one more in and maybe a couple more out.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

This one is just about a coin flip with Fulham (+185) ever so slight underdogs to Villa (+150). In a game that could go either way like this one, the draw (+225) might just be the safe middle ground.

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Prediction: Fulham – Aston Villa

There’s not much to separate these two sides right now, and there likely won’t be much ground between them come the season’s final table. There should be a few goals, but that’ll be more down to poor defending than excellent attacking quality from either side. Fulham 2-2 Villa.


How to watch Fulham – Aston Villa stream and start time

Kickoff: 12:45 pm ET Monday
Online: Stream via Peacock