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Fiorentina wins emotional first match since captain Astori’s death

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MILAN (AP) Fiorentina played its first match since the death of captain Davide Astori, beating last-place Benevento 1-0 on an emotional Sunday at the Stadio Artemio Franchi.

The 31-year-old Astori was found dead in his hotel room last Sunday after a suspected cardiac arrest before his team was due to play an Italian league match at Udinese.

“Davide was, and will always remain, our light,” said new Fiorentina captain Milan Badelj. “No one will ever forget this match, it will be difficult … Florence has shown us its soul, we are all united after a tragedy like this.”

The Fiorentina players and staff all came out for the warmup wearing Astori No. 13 shirts and lined up next to a giant poster of his shirt and the words “captain forever.” They also held up a banner with “Ciao Davide” before kickoff.

There were plenty more No. 13 shirts and banners in the stands, including in the visitors’ section, with one huge banner reading: “There are men who never die. There are stories that are passed on through eternity. Bon voyage, Captain.”

Purple and white balloons were released after an impeccably observed minute’s silence as part of a series of deeply moving scenes, which had many in tears.

The players also stopped to remember Astori after 13 minutes of the game and there was special choreography in the stands, with the fans turning one end purple with “Davide 13” while everyone chanted Astori’s name — as they did for most of the match.

Vitor Hugo, the player who replaced Astori in the starting lineup, scored the only goal of the match in the 25th minute, leaping high to head in Riccardo Saponara’s corner for midtable Fiorentina.

Hugo celebrated by running to the bench with a T-shirt bearing Astori’s face, giving it to a member of staff and saluting it.

Both teams hit the post in the final minutes, through Massimo Coda and Badelj.

Many of the players collapsed to the ground after the final whistle, with tears streaming down their faces.

“I hope that, from above, Davide is proud of us, I am convinced he gave a hand to Vitor Hugo to jump so high, he is always on the pitch with us,” said Fiorentina midfielder Marco Benassi.

“It has been a difficult day, like the whole week, we have felt a great emptiness.”

Salah returns to Egypt starting lineup

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A familiar name returned to the starting lineup for Egypt on Tuesday afternoon.

Egypt named star Mohamed Salah in its starting XI, after resting Salah in Egypt’s 1-0 defeat to Uguruay on June 15. Salah has been recovering from an injured shoulder that he suffered during the UEFA Champions League final in late May.

Salah makes his World Cup debut now against the host nation, Russia, at 2:00 p.m.

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Senegal hold off late charge, defeat Poland on controversial goal

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Two matches, two upsets.

For the second time on Tuesday, an underdog took down a favorite as Senegal defeated Poland, 2-1, with the game-winning goal decided in controversial fashion.

In the 60th minute, M’baye Niang was waved onto the field by the referee while the ball was still in play in the middle of the field, and Niang raced on to the end of a Gregorz Krychowiak backpass that stunned the Poland defense. Niang arrived at the pass a second quicker than goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, allowing the Senegal winger to score into an empty net.

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The VAR checked the goal but it was allowed, as it was a subjective decision of the referee to allow Niang back on the field following an injury, and not a clear and obvious error.

Senegal took the lead in the first half on the counter attack. With Poland slow in transition, Sadio Mane found Idrissa Gueye in space at the top of the box. After two touches, Gueye fired a strike to the far post in the 37th minute that took a wicked deflection off Poland defender Thiago Cionek and left Szczesny helpless.

Poland struggled all game against the pace and physicality of Senegal and the Lions of Teranga were very smart in controlling possession and switching the field, forcing the Poland squad to tire quickly.

Krychowiak did breathe some life into the game with a header goal off a free kick in the 86th minute, but despite some poor clock management from Senegal, its defense was able to hold off Poland’s last-ditch chance to tie the game, going level with Japan on three points at the top of Group H.

Report: Blatter to attend Portugal vs. Morocco as guest of Putin

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Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter is still in the middle of an eight-year ban from the organization he once ran.

But that doesn’t mean he’s going to miss out on some of the World Cup action, live in Russia.

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BBC journalist Richard Conway reported early Tuesday that Blatter is set to watch Portugal vs. Morocco in Moscow as a guest of Russian president Vladimir Putin. The 82-year-old would normally not be able to sit in the presidential box due to his FIFA ban, though he likely could attend matches with a regular ticket like the vast majority of soccer fans.

Just four years ago, Blatter was president during the 2014 World Cup, one that was marred by corruption scandals in addition to the corruption scandals surrounding the World Cup bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments.

His reign of power at FIFA finally came to an end on June 2, 2015, when he resigned following an embarrassing month for FIFA in which many of its members were arrested in a joint-raid between the Swiss authorities and the FBI.

Blatter was eventually handed an eight-year ban from FIFA’s ethics committee for an “unauthorized payment” of $2 million from Blatter to Michel Platini, the former France star and FIFA vice president who was also handed an eight-year suspension.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Fekir negotiations back on; Chelsea waiting on transfer targets; and more

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Could Liverpool get its star attacking midfield target after all?

That’s what seems to be the case, as the agent for Lyon and France midfielder Nabil Fekir told French TV channel LCI Monday evening that negotiations aren’t over between Liverpool and Lyon.

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“He didn’t sign because um… it is not over! This is not the end of the story,” Fekir’s agent, Jean-Pierre Bernes reportedly said.

It was just two weeks ago when Lyon president Jean-Michael Aulas stated that Fekir, Lyon’s captain, would remain with the club for the upcoming season, after negotiations with Liverpool fell through. According to the Liverpool Echo, the Reds wanted a second opinion on a previous knee injury, and had balked at the $70 million price tag.

But now it appears Liverpool and Aulas could still be in conversations to try and find a mutually accepted fee.

At the same time, stirring up transfer drama is in Bernes interest, as it could drive other teams into the race to sign Fekir and raise his transfer fee, meaning more money to him, Fekir (if he gets a cut) and Lyon. Watch this space for more to come during and after the World Cup.

Here’s some more transfer rumors from across the Premier League and Europe:

(more…)