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Injuries leave host Russia limping ahead of World Cup

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MOSCOW (AP) With less than three months to go until the World Cup in Russia, the host nation’s players are dropping like flies.

A spate of knee injuries this year has left the Russians hurrying to find cover at the back and trying to replace a key attacking threat.

[ MORE: Zlatan leaves Man Utd ]

First, center back Georgy Dzhikiya tore his knee ligaments during a friendly in January. The same happened to Viktor Vasin a month later. Russia’s defense was already thin, so those injuries prompted calls for the 35-year-old Berezutsky twins, Alexei and Vasily, to return from international retirement. They refused to do so.

Now coach Stanislav Cherchesov must also seek a replacement for Zenit St. Petersburg forward Alexander Kokorin, who tore his knee ligaments in the Europa League last week. That puts more responsibility on the shoulders of Fyodor Smolov, now likely to be Russia’s undisputed first-choice striker for the World Cup.

“We’re not complaining about anything,” Cherchesov said Thursday. “Fate is often testing us in various ways but we always try to be ready.”

The injuries mean Cherchesov will be forced to experiment during Friday’s friendly against Brazil and Tuesday’s game against France, both at home. Short-term medical issues have ruled three more fringe players out of those games.

Here’s a closer look at the issues facing Russia ahead of the World Cup:

FORWARDS

If you had to pick one Russian striker for the World Cup, it might as well be Fyodor Smolov.

On track to be the Russian league’s top scorer for the third season in a row, Smolov has been working on his English skills as he eyes a move to the Premier League.

Smolov was linked with West Ham during the January transfer window but opted to stay with FC Krasnodar, saying he didn’t want to abandon his team as it battles for a spot in the Champions League next season.

With Kokorin almost certainly out of the picture for the World Cup, Russia’s backup options include Anton Zabolotny, who is still settling in at Zenit after a recent move from newly promoted FC Tosno. The 22-year-old Alexei Miranchuk can play as a forward, but is better in a deeper role.

MIDFIELD

Russian players tend to stay in their domestic league, but there’s one big exception in midfield – Denis Cheryshev.

The winger came through the Real Madrid youth system when his father was coaching there and is now at Villarreal, but frequent injuries have dented hopes he can add some spice to the national team.

Now he’s fit again and in the squad to face Brazil and France.

Elsewhere in the midfield, there are the promising and creative youngsters Roman Zobnin and Alexander Golovin, but Russia doesn’t currently have a dominant defensive midfielder.

ABSENTEES

Cherchesov has a reputation as a difficult coach to get along with, and Russian media have regularly reported fallings-out with various players.

One of those outside the squad is Igor Denisov, who last played for Russia in 2016. He has been playing well in a defensive midfield role this season for Lokomotiv Moscow, the team at the top of the Russian league standings. Denisov and Cherchesov clashed during the latter’s time as Dynamo Moscow coach.

Also absent from the squad is forward Artyom Dzyuba. A talented striker who has scored 11 goals in 22 games for Russia but has a reputation for being hot-headed, Dzyuba was deemed surplus to requirements at Zenit and sent on loan to Arsenal Tula. In three games there, he has scored three goals and set up two more to put himself back in the World Cup contention.

DOPING

Russia’s soccer team hasn’t escaped the country’s doping scandals.

Defensive midfielder Ruslan Kambolov is under investigation by FIFA for a possible doping case revealed by Moscow laboratory documents, but hasn’t been suspended.

The team’s schedule was disrupted Wednesday by drug-testing, which took more than five hours and delayed training. On Thursday, the team said five more doping control officers turned up to take samples from the team.

Ronaldo’s Juventus debut ends with goalkeeper in hospital

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MILAN (AP) Cristiano Ronaldo’s Serie A debut was marked not by a goal but by accidentally putting the opposing team’s goalkeeper in hospital.

With the score locked at 2-2 late on in Juventus’ match at Chievo Verona, Ronaldo collided with Stefano Sorrentino in a chaotic penalty area.

[ MORE: Juventus win on Ronaldo’s goal-less debut; Napoli chasing again ]

Sorrentino was knocked out cold briefly and there were an anxious few minutes as he received immediate treatment before being substituted.

The 39-year-old goalkeeper was immediately taken to the hospital and released on Sunday morning with a fractured nose, bruising to his left shoulder and whiplash.

Sorrentino was able to joke about the incident, posting a photo on Twitter with the caption: “Thanks for your messages of support, affection and esteem. We are a fantastic group and yesterday we almost achieved the feat: while CR7 got me in full!”

He also later revealed on the social media site that Ronaldo had been in touch: “I received a message of support and wishing me a speedy recovery from Cristiano Ronaldo. Thanks legend!”

[ MORE: Edin Dzeko starts Roma off right with stunning winner ]

Sorrentino pulled off several fine saves to deny Ronaldo and his Juventus teammates – although Chievo went on to lose the match 3-2 following Federico Bernardeschi’s stoppage-time winner.

“Before coming onto the pitch I told myself I would have to try to stop him in every way possible,” Sorrentino said on Italian television. “I did that in the real sense of the word.”

During the commotion Juventus was awarded a goal using goal-line technology, then it was disallowed a few minutes later on video review.

[ MORE: Lazio ultras want to ban women from “sacred space” in stadium ]

Paulo Dybala and Giorgio Chiellini celebrated when the goal was given, causing widespread outrage as Sorrentino was still receiving urgent treatment.

“Paulo wrote to me, apologizing because he hadn’t realized the seriousness of the situation and he was celebrating for a goal that I didn’t even know I had conceded,” Sorrentino said.

DCU win again, look like genuine playoff contenders

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The game in 200 words (or less): No individual — other than Ben Olsen, perhaps — has benefitted from the arrival of Wayne Rooney at D.C. United more so than Luciano Acosta. Through his first 82 games in MLS, Acosta managed to rack up nine goals and 23 assists — a healthy enough haul considering the lack of quality around him since day one in 2016. Still, the frustration and unhappiness were plain to see, every time the Argentine playmaker’s teammates weren’t able to link up or finish one of his brilliant through balls. In United’s last five games (Acosta has played 438 of 450 minutes), including Sunday’s 2-0 win over the 10-man New England Revolution: four goals and three assists. Of course, United, as a whole, have benefitted greatly, too. Their record in Rooney’s eight games: 5W-1D-2L (prior to his debut, the Black and Red won just two of 14 games). Olsen and Co., have risen from last place in the Eastern Conference and reach the dizzying heights of eighth place, where they are now just six points back of fifth and sixth place — a de facto impossibility just a month ago, when they had just 10 points to their name and were 13 off the pace of sixth.

[ MORE: Josef Martinez ties MLS record with 27th goal in 2018 ]

Three moments that mattered

13′ — Acosta finishes with aplomb at the back post — The three Revs defenders, who let the ball run across the face of goal without making any attempt to play or clear it, could have done just about anything else and it would have been preferable to what they did.

73′ — Caldwell gets a second yellow, Revs down to 10 — Scott Caldwell didn’t need to run into Junior Moreno a full second or two after the ball was away, but he did so anyway. No advantage to gain from the “challenge,” and Caldwell’s teammates had to finish the game a man short.

89′ — Stieber gets in behind, makes it 2-0 — Rooney had skied a nearly identical chance just seconds earlier, leaving it up to Zoltan Stieber to put the game to bed.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Luciano Acosta

Goalscorers: Acosta (13′), Stieber (89′)

Lazio ultras want to ban women from “sacred space” in stadium

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ROME (AP) Lazio’s “ultra” fans have caused outrage by telling women to avoid their “sacred space” in the club’s Stadio Olimpico.

The die-hard supporters distributed flyers ahead of their team’s Serie A opener at home to Napoli.

[ MORE: Juventus win on Ronaldo’s goal-less debut; Napoli chasing again ]

“The Curva Nord represents for us a sacred space, an environment with an unwritten code to be respected,” read the flyer. “The first few rows, as always, have been experienced like the trenches. In the trenches, we do not allow women, wives and girlfriends, so we invite them to position themselves from the 10th row back.

“Those who choose the stadium as an alternative to a carefree and romantic day in (Rome’s) Villa Borghese (gardens), should go to other sections.”

Lazio spokesman Arturo Diaconale told Italian news agency Ansa on Sunday that “it is not the position of the club, we are against any discrimination.”

He added: “Moreover, there is an enormous number of Lazio fans, this instead is an initiative from a few fans. We can’t always intervene to avoid politically incorrect displays like this.”

[ MORE: Edin Dzeko starts Roma off right with stunning winner ]

Some Lazio fans caused outrage last season when they littered the Stadio Olimpico in Rome with images of Anne Frank — the young diarist who died in the Holocaust — wearing a jersey of city rival Roma. Lazio was fined $63,000 by the Italian soccer federation because of the anti-Semitism displayed by the team’s fans.

It was the latest in a series of racist and anti-Semitic incidents, with Lazio previously having its stadium fully or partly closed for European and domestic matches as punishment.

Bale powers Real Madrid in first win of post-Ronaldo era

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MADRID (AP) Gareth Bale is doing his part to help Real Madrid get over Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure.

Bale scored in Madrid’s Spanish league opener and set up the other goal in a 2-0 win over Getafe on Sunday.

Dani Carvajal also scored for Madrid, which for the first time in nearly a decade started its league campaign without Ronaldo, the club’s greatest goal-scorer.

Bale, who hadn’t played much while Ronaldo was still on the team before he moved to Juventus in the offseason, scored in the 51st minute with a shot from inside the area after a well-placed cross by Marco Asensio.

Bale had already struck the crossbar with a 16th-minute header, and a few minutes later he provided the cross that led to Carvajal’s goal after Getafe goalkeeper David Soria failed to fully clear the ball.

Bale didn’t have many chances as a starter under coach Zinedine Zidane, but is likely to gain a bigger role as new manager Julen Lopetegui deals with Ronaldo’s absence and the lack of major signings by the club.

Bale received a loud ovation by the crowd at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium when he was substituted by Lucas Vazquez in the 77th minute.

Madrid started its season with a loss to city rival Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup final. It was only third in the league last season, behind Atletico and champion Barcelona.