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Birthday news: Salah fit for Egypt’s next World Cup match

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ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — Mohamed Salah celebrated his 26th birthday with a Chechen cake and the news that he will play in Egypt’s next World Cup match.

A statement from the Egyptian soccer association gave no details about his fitness except that the Liverpool striker participated fully in training Saturday in Grozny, the team’s base in Russia’s Chechnya region.

Salah injured his left shoulder in the Champions League final last month, putting his World Cup in doubt. He was an unused substitute in Egypt’s 1-0 loss to Uruguay on Friday — his birthday.

“(His) condition is so much better,” Egypt executive director Ihab Leheta said Saturday. “He was very upset after the Uruguay game. He thought he could have played and made a contribution.”

Fans and Chechnya’s leadership tried to cheer him up, presenting Salah with a giant birthday cake.

Salah smiled as he sang “Happy Birthday” with his teammates, team officials and hotel staff, but the brief celebration was visibly subdued and not everyone joined in.

“We could have celebrated more,” Leheta said, alluding to the loss to Uruguay.

The brief celebration took place upon the team’s arrival back in their Grozny hotel after the flight from Yekaterinburg, where they played their opening match.

A video clip showed a cake coated in the colors of the Egyptian and Chechnya flags sitting on a table in the team’s hotel lobby.

Perched atop the cake was what appeared to be a replica of the golden boot won by Salah as the Premier League’s top scorer this season.

Egypt faces host Russia in St. Petersburg on Tuesday, and then takes on Saudi Arabia on June 25.

Russian hopes, fears tied up in Putin’s showcase World Cup

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MOSCOW (AP) Russian President Vladimir Putin claims soccer and politics have nothing to do with each other, yet the World Cup he kicked off Thursday is about much more than sports.

It’s about proving to the world that Russia is a global power broker and not an outcast, that it’s an open, confident and generous nation – and not an isolated, repressive place hobbled by sanctions.

And the beleaguered Russian team’s stunning 5-0 victory in the tournament opener Thursday against Saudi Arabia was just what Putin needed to make the point that Russia is ascendant again. He promptly called the much-criticized coach personally to congratulate him on the unexpected win.

Sidestepping deep divisions between his strongman worldview and that of many Western countries, Putin welcomed fans to his “hospitable” nation by inviting them to “make new friends with people who share the same values.”

But critics fear the World Cup will legitimize Putin’s autocratic policies at home and Russia’s actions abroad, from alleged meddling in the U.S. presidential election to annexing the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine and a suspected nerve agent attack in Britain. Moscow vehemently denies any interference in the American vote or involvement in the attack against a former Russian spy in Salisbury.

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Racism, homophobia, conflicts over Syria and Ukraine – “all these rebukes have no relation to the World Cup,” his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday. “Today the soccer dimension is the most important one.”

The monthlong World Cup is also about Putin proving to his compatriots that he’s both their best global envoy and a man of the people, who brought the world’s most-watched sporting event to ordinary soccer fans in 11 cities across Russia’s expanse.

That’s especially important for a country that prides itself on athletic prowess but whose last massive sporting event – the 2014 Sochi Olympics – was indelibly stained by revelations of doping so widespread that Russia was banned from this year’s Winter Games.

“It’s important for Russia to have this (tournament), we can show that we are a global football power,” said Moscow fan Dmitry Finapetov, his face streaked with white-blue-red paint, as he nearly spilled his beer in excitement at his team’s strong showing at Luzhniki Stadium.

“When I used to travel abroad I would think, `why can’t it be like this at home?”‘ he said. “But now I travel and I think things are better at home. … Now foreigners can see that too.”

Geopolitics were front and center for Thursday’s opener, with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as Putin’s star guest. The two leaders have forged an alliance that has pushed up the global oil price and reshaped the balance of power in the Middle East.

Putin welcomed a “friendly global family” of soccer fans to celebrate the World Cup, but the Kremlin’s guest list showed where Russia’s allegiances lie: the head of the North Korean upper house of parliament, Lebanon’s prime minister and the presidents of Rwanda, Paraguay, Bolivia, Panama and leaders of eight friendly former Soviet republics. Britain’s royal family and top politicians are among those who pointedly stayed away.

Electrical engineer Sergei Tabachnikov, who came to Moscow all the way from the Pacific island of Sakhalin for the opening match, welcomed the international scrutiny that comes with hosting an event of this scale and hoped Russia learns something from it.

“Criticism is necessary. It helps us improve,” he said.

Russian authorities walked a careful line Thursday between hard-line security measures and a veneer of tolerance.

A British gay rights activist was arrested for a protest action near Red Square, but quickly released. Later a Russian fan displayed a rainbow flag during Putin’s speech, despite a broadly enforced law that bans “propaganda” of homosexuality to children. Security forces shrugged it off.

Minutes before the opening match, riot police hauled an unauthorized flag vendor into a police van just outside Luzhniki Stadium as he shouted “Help me! Help me!” and fans filmed on their phones. An officer then turned to the crowd, speaking in English and saying in a calming voice, “Nothing to worry about, go enjoy the game.”

British pop singer Robbie Williams also played it safe in the opening concert. He revved up the crowd but diplomatically avoided singing his hit song “Party Like A Russian” – which is rife with stereotypes about Russian extravagance and includes a dig at an unnamed Russian leader who “alleviates” the population of its wealth.

“Football and love” was the theme of Thursday’s opening show, as a debate raged among Russian lawmakers about whether Russian women should hook up with visiting fans.

Mostly the mood was exuberant, with Saudi fans taking selfies with Russians in the stadium’s corridors despite their rivalry.

Alexander Klimov, who came from the southern Russian city of Stavropol, summed it up by blowing kisses and saying, “Thank you everybody for coming in our country. Welcome to Russia, we love you guys!”

Associated Press writer James Ellingworth contributed to this report.

More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

Uruguay stun Egypt with late winner

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Uruguay scored in the 89th minute to beat Egypt 1-0 in Ekaterinburg on Friday in their Group A opener.

La Celeste left it late but Jose Gimenez’s header in stoppage time broke Egypt’s hearts after a solid display from the Pharaohs without their superstar Mohamed Salah who was only fit enough to sit on the bench.

Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez missed a host of chances for Uruguay but their 2018 World Cup campaign is off and running with a win as they sit second in Group A behind hosts Russia.

Next up for Uruguay is a clash with Saudi Arabia on June 20 in Rostov-on-Don, while Egypt play hosts Russia in Saint Petersburg on June 19.

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Both Cavani and Suarez went close to opening the scoring for Uruguay, while at the other end Trezeguet didn’t quite get hold of a decent opportunity.

A huge chance was then missed by Suarez as the ball found him at the back post from a corner and he somehow scuffed his shot into the ground and wrapped it up in the side-netting.

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Early in the second half Cavani fed Suarez but El-Shenawy denied the latter as Uruguay looked to take the game to Egypt.

The game came to life in the latter stages as Egypt’s captain Ahmed Fathy drilled a shot from distance on goal which Fernando Muslera saved well. Then at the other end Cavani played in Suarez but as he rounded the goalkeeper Egypt’s El-Shenawy grabbed the ball.

Mohamed Elneny chipped over as the game opened up and Suarez then nodded the ball down to Cavani but his thunderous volley was palmed away by El-Shenawy.

Cavani then hit the post from a free kick as Egypt were desperately hanging on but eventually they cracked as a free kick from the right was headed home powerfully by Gimenez to secure the win for Uruguay in dramatic fashion.

Most popular World Cup jerseys in each state

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This is a pretty cool way to think about which players will be the most popular across the United States of America during the 2018 World Cup.

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A map has been released by soccer kit supplied Soccer.com on the eve of the tournament and, with no USMNT this time around, the focus is on the players who are heading to Russia.

With that in mind, which jerseys have soccer fans in the USA been snapping up?

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Below is a look at the most popular players by each U.S. state according to Soccer.com’s sales with Lionel Messi, Hirving Lozano, Neymar, Mesut Ozil, Andres Iniesta, Paul Pogba and Mohamed Salah dominating, plus a sprinkling of Antoine Griezmann and Javier Hernandez. Only Kansas and Ohio went with Ronaldo, which is surprising.

Other key takeaways: Harry Kane is big in Alaska and Nebraska and it’s a case of “Aloha, Sergio Ramos…”


Egypt expect Salah to be fit for Uruguay game

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It appears that Mohamed Salah‘s remarkable recovery from injury is complete.

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With Egypt facing Uruguay in their Group A opener on Friday, Salah’s status was unknown until this point as he’d trained on his own and had recovery sessions in Spain after injuring his left shoulder in the UEFA Champions League final on May 26.

He was initially given a 3-4 week timeline to get back to full fitness but the Liverpool star appears set to play for Egypt in their first World Cup game since 1990. Whether that means he will come on as a sub or start the game remains to be seen but Salah has been taking a small part in training sessions in recent days.

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Egypt’s manager Hector Cuper spoke to the media ahead of the game and had the following to say.

“Salah is doing very well indeed, he’s recovered very quickly. We’ll see how it goes today,” Cuper said. “We can say almost 100% he will play, barring any unforeseen factors at the last moment.”

Great news for Egypt. And great news for the World Cup.

Salah is coming off the back of a record-breaking season in the Premier League as he scored 32 goals and led Liverpool to a top four finish as well as reaching the UEFA Champions League final.

His 44 goals in all competitions in his first season at Liverpool took everyone by surprise but he’s now a hero in his homeland and he has rushed back to lead the Pharaohs.