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2018 World Cup team preview: Russia

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Getting to know Russia: The Russian national team have never got out of the group stage of a World Cup and have one won two of their previous nine games at the 1994, 2002 and 2014 World Cups.

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When they competed as the Soviet Union they had better success, with a golden era from 1958-70 which saw them reach the quarterfinals three times and they finished fourth in 1966. In recent times they reached the semifinals of the 2008 European championships as they likes of Andrey Arshavin starred. For more history on Russia, click here.

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What group are they in? Russia are in Group A alongside Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Uruguay. The hosts have been handed a pretty manageable group as they aim to make the Round of 16. Uruguay are the favorites but with Saudi Arabia the underdogs and Egypt relying heavily on Mohamed Salah rushing back to fitness, the hosts will fancy their chances, especially if they win against Saudi Arabia in the tournament opener. 


Game schedule – Group A – Full 2018 World Cup schedule, here 

Thursday, June 14: Russia v Saudi Arabia, Moscow (Luzhniki) 11am ET
Tuesday, June 19: Russia v Egypt, St Petersburg 2pm ET
Monday, June 25: Uruguay v Russia, Samara 10am ET


Projected lineup (4-5-1) – Check out the 23-man squad list in full

—– Akinfeev —–

— Fernandes — Ignashevich — Granat — Kudryashov —-

—- Samedov —-Kuzyaev—- Golovin —- Zobnin —- Zhirkov —-

—– Smolov —–


Star player: Aleksandr Golovin – The central midfielder is a star for CSKA Moscow at the age of 22 and he is Russia’s greatest hope. A silky playmaker who loves to get on the ball and dictate Russia’s tempo of play, Golokin has scored twice in 18 appearances for his country but is coming off his best goalscoring season for CSKA as he struck seven times (including a memorable free kick at Arsenal in the UEFA Europa League) in 2017/18. Golokin is the posterboy of Russian soccer and plenty of pressure will be on his shoulders.

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Manager: Stanislav Cherchesov – An experienced manager who played for Russia at both the 1994 and 2002 World Cups, as well as Euro 1996, Cherchesov is a cautious coach. He has won five of his 19 games in charge of Russia after he signed a contract in 2016 through the World Cup. He believes in a team-first approach and has largely kept the same group of players together over the past two years. Cherchesov is a lively character who will try to inspire his squad to feed off the home support and seize the moment. He knows they have no real superstars but will be hoping a strong defensive unit will see them out of the group.


Secret weapon: Russia have something nobody else at the tournament will have: home support. Yes, it’s a cliche, but we all now how big of an impact the home fans can have at a tournament. Look at South Korea making it all the way to the semifinals in 2002, Italy making the final in 1990, England winning it all in 1966 and France also winning the trophy on home soil in 1998. Russia aren’t going to win this World Cup but their fans can carry them into the knockout rounds if they can grab four points in their games against Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Then, who knows? 


Prediction: Russia will try and keep things tight and have some clinical finishers in Dyzuba and Smolov, while Golovin will be their main hope in midfield. The hosts are up against it to make it out of the group but the biggest hope they can have is that Egypt’s superstar Mohamed Salah isn’t fit enough to make a huge impact and Russia can then sneak through behind Uruguay to make the last 16. Facing either Portugal or Russia in the last 16 means they will likely exit in the first knockout round, but getting out of the group stage would be a huge success for a team ranked 66th in the latest FIFA rankings.  

Premier League hire new Chief Executive

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The Premier League has appointed a new Chief Executive.

Susanna Dinnage will take over from Richard Scudamore who has led the PL for the last 19 years and is stepping down in December.

Dinnage was previously by media outlet Discovery, where she was most recently the global president of the Animal Planet channel. She previously worked for Channel Five and MTV before being with Discovery over the past 10 years.

The PL confirmed that Dinnage will begin her new role in early 2019 after being chosen by the Premier League nominations committee, which is led by Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck.

Speaking about her new position, Dinnage is excited to led England’s top-flight into a new era.

“I am excited at the prospect of taking on this fantastic role. The Premier League means so much to so many people. It represents the pinnacle of professional sport and the opportunity to lead such a dynamic and inspirational organisation is a great privilege,” Dinnage said. “With the support of clubs and the team, I look forward to extending the success of the League for many years to come.”

Dinnage becomes just the third person to lead the PL since its first season in 1992-93, after Scudamore took over from Rick Parry in 1999.

In its announcement upon hiring Dinnage, the PL also revealed it is now looking for a non-executive Chair as it prepares for Scudamore’s departure by filling two roles.

“The Premier League clubs have already agreed to split his (Scudamore’s) role, with Dinnage becoming Chief Executive, and the search for a non-executive Chair will now commence. The Premier League Nominations Committee comprises: Bruce Buck (Chair), Susan Whelan (Leicester City), Mike Garlick (Burnley), Claudia Arney and Kevin Beeston (both Non-Executive Directors of the Premier League). The Committee is grateful for the assistance provided by Jonathan Smith and colleagues at executive search and leadership advisory firm Spencer Stuart.”

Egypt’s retired star Aboutrika sentenced to prison

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CAIRO (AP) An Egyptian court sentenced Mohamed Aboutrika, one of the country’s greatest all-time soccer players, to a year in prison for tax evasion while also giving him the option to pay a fine of 20,000 Egyptian pounds, or $1,115, to have the sentence suspended.

The verdict, handed down on Monday by the Cairo misdemeanor court, was delivered in absentia.

Aboutrika, who has lived since his 2013 soccer retirement in exile in Qatar, where he works as a sports analyst for the beIN sports network, could not be reached for comment.

Under the law, the verdict can be appealed and if Aboutrika returns to Egypt, he would have to stand a new trial.

The court said Aboutrika failed to pay 710,000 Egyptian pounds – about $39,500 – in taxes on income from advertising deals with carbonated drink and telecommunications companies in 2008 and 2009.

Egypt froze Aboutrika’s assets in 2015 and placed him on a no-fly list in 2017 over allegations of links to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, which authorities have labelled a terrorist organization.

The Brotherhood emerged as the country’s dominant political force after Egypt’s 2011 Arab Spring uprising but was later purged in 2013, when the army, led by general-turned-president Abdel Fattah el-Sissi overthrew Mohammed Morsi, the country’s first freely elected but divisive president.

Aboutrika played for Cairo’s Al-Ahly club and was central to two of Egypt’s three straight African Cup of Nations titles in 2006, 2008 and 2010. Those triumphs made Egypt Africa’s most successful team with a record seven titles.

Aboutrika was dubbed “Prince of Hearts” and “The Magician” by his soccer fans.

But he also openly sympathized with the Brotherhood and publicly endorsed Morsi in his successful presidential run in 2012, a year after the overthrow of longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Egyptian pro-government media now refer to Aboutrika as a traitor but he still enjoys huge support from his soccer fans in the country.

Aboutrika has repeatedly denied ever funding the Islamists, who have been the main target of a fierce government crackdown on dissent led by current President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

How will USMNT line up against England?

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With the U.S. men’s national team currently training in London and the squad for friendly games against England and Italy already having some ins and outs, there are plenty of question marks about who will start at Wembley on Thursday.

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The Stars and Stripes face the no.5 ranked team in the world, with England riding the crest of a wave after their run to the World Cup semifinals in the summer. Gareth Southgate will rotate his team ahead of their crucial UEFA Nations League clash with Croatia on Sunday, and while we know Wayne Rooney will play some part in his final game for England, the likes of Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Jordan Pickford are set to be rested.

But what about the USMNT? Interim head coach Dave Sarachan largely has his young squad fully together for this game (at last!) with the likes of Josh Sargent, Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams and Tim Weah all available in midfield and attack.

Below is a look at a few options for the starting lineup for the USMNT against England.


JPW’s preferred USMNT XI v England (3-4-3)

—- Guzan —-

— Carter-Vickers — Miazga — Brooks —

— Yedlin — Adams — McKennie — Robinson —

— Pulisic — Wood — Weah —


Possible USMNT XI v England (4-2-3-1) 

—- Guzan —-

— Yedlin — Miazga — Brooks — Robinson —

 — Adams — Trapp — 

— Pulisic —McKennie — Weah —

—– Wood —–


Evaluation

If I was Sarachan I’d go with a 3-4-3 formation and match up with England, who struggle defensively down the flanks as Croatia proved at the World Cup. Having Yedlin and Robinson bombing on as wing backs would cause the Three Lions plenty of problems. In goal, Brad Guzan is now the obvious choice as Zack Steffen left the squad due to injury but Evan Horvath has impressed for Club Brugge in recent months. Defensively, the U.S. has looked more solid with a three-man central defense and that suits CCV, Miazga and Brooks well, but that said, would Sarachan really want those three going man-to-man on England’s attackers? Probably not. That is why I think we will see a back four from the USMNT, with Miazga and Brooks probably getting the nod. Having Adams, Trapp and McKennie in midfield gives the U.S. a more solid feel, while Weah and Pulisic could then support Wood and provide flair as well as digging in and doing their defensive work.

Wayne Rooney hails “special” England farewell v USA

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Wayne Rooney‘s one-off return for the English national team has caused plenty of uproar but the Three Lions legend is focused on one thing: saying thanks.

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Rooney, 33, will make his 120th and final appearance for England against the U.S. men’s national team at Wembley on Thursday, in a fixture renamed the “Wayne Rooney Foundation International” as he is expected to come on as a second half sub.

A year after announcing his retirement from the international game (as England’s all-time leading goalscorer with 53 goals), Rooney has been granted an opportunity to say thanks to the England fans by current boss Gareth Southgate and the FA.

Speaking to reporters from England’s St. George’s Park training base on Tuesday, the current D.C. United striker believes this will be the perfect chance for him to say goodbye and he will wear the captains armband with pride if the opportunity arrives.

“I only knew it was going to happen a couple of weeks ago. Whether or not I would take part it was not confirmed but once we spoke with Gareth Southgate and the FA we felt it was the right game to do it and it’ll be a special moment,” Rooney said. “We both came to an understanding and we both felt the best thing was to take part. It will be my last game. My form has been good in the States and if I got called up because of that then it would be a different situation, but this will be my last game. If Harry Kane handed over the captain’s armband then great but the important thing is not wearing the armband, wearing number 10 or playing 90 minutes, it is to pull the shirt on again and that will be a special moment.”

Whatever your stance on Rooney’s return to action for England and whether or not it diminishes the value of a cap or this friendly altogether, you can’t argue that he doesn’t deserve a special sendoff. Many suggest he’s blocking the pathway for young talent, while others believe it is a nice gesture from the FA to honor his legendary 13-year England career.

“Everyone’s entitled to their opinion. The most important thing is, speaking to the FA, we thought it was right, and the players I’ve spoken to think it’s right,” Rooney said. “As a country we haven’t done anything like this before but I hope that in 10-15 years’ time we’re doing it for someone like Harry Kane, who could go on to get the goalscoring record.”

With his retirement coming over 12 months ago, Rooney explained that the FA have been talking to him about some sort of farewell for a while but a viable solution wasn’t found ahead of the 2018 World Cup.

“We were speaking with the FA. We had stayed in contact, we have had the idea for 12 months. We were going to do a game before the World Cup but it was not the right timing,” Rooney said. “The players were preparing for the biggest tournament in football. Personally I didn’t think it was right to get in the way of that. We both felt it was right now though.”

Reports suggest an extra 20,000 tickets have been sold for the match against the USMNT since Rooney’s return was confirmed, but it does feel like having him on the pitch to collect some sort of trophy and then maybe going on a lap of honor before the game would have been more fitting.

The fact he still plays at a high level and was in the Premier League and in England squads last season, plus had great success in his first few months at D.C. United, makes this situation a little different and a little more complex.

Yet due to England not taking this friendly with the USMNT that seriously — they play Croatia in a crucial UEFA Nations League game on Sunday — this opportunity for Rooney to say farewell has presented itself.

Rooney has shown this season, his debut campaign in Major League Soccer, that he can still score goals and impact games and who would bet against him jumping off the bench and scoring one more time for England? The odds on him to score at any time against the country where he currently plays his club soccer stand at around 21/20 with the UK bookmakers.

There is one more opportunity for Rooney to make a name for himself on home soil, but he claims he isn’t interested in scoring one last time.

“It’s not important,” Rooney said. “It’d be nice, but the main thing is to run out at Wembley one last time and have the opportunity to thank the fans for the years they’ve supported me.”