EURO 2016

Russian lawmaker aims to make football hooliganism a “sport”

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MOSCOW (AP) A Russian lawmaker has proposed an unorthodox solution to the country’s problems with soccer hooliganism ahead of next year’s World Cup — legalize it and make it a spectator sport.

Organized groups of Russian fans, many with martial arts training, fought English fans on the streets of Marseille during last year’s European Championship.

That inspired Igor Lebedev, who sits in the Russian parliament, to draw up rules for what he calls “draka,” the Russian word for “fight” – 20 fighters on each side, unarmed, in an arena.

In a statement on the website of the nationalist LDPR party, Lebedev said organized brawls “could turn fans’ aggression in a peaceful direction.” He also claimed it would serve as an “example” for English fans, who he characterized as undisciplined louts and poor fighters.

“Russia would be a pioneer in a new sport,” said Lebedev, who also suggested fights between different fan groups could draw crowds of thousands. “English fans arrive, for example, and start picking fights. And they get the answer — challenge accepted. A meeting in a stadium at a set time.”

Some fan groups in Russia already hold illicit fights along similar lines, typically pre-arranged mass brawls in rural locations, away from police.

It isn’t the first time Lebedev has courted controversy with his views on hooligans. He hailed the violence in Marseille last year, telling Russian fans: “Well done, lads, keep it up!”

Besides his parliamentary duties as deputy speaker, Lebedev is also on the board of the Russian Football Union. He’s a longtime associate of fan leader Alexander Shprygin, who was deported from France last year following the Marseille violence. Two board members of an organization run by Shprygin were given prison sentences.

Despite his enthusiasm for soccer-related violence, Lebedev insisted Russian policing meant foreign fans wouldn’t be in danger at the World Cup. “We’ve taken all the safety measures, modernized legislation. Not a single tourist has any reason to fear traveling to our country in the summer of 2018.”

Euro 2016 seen by 2 billion on TV; 600M tune in for final

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GENEVA (AP) Boosted by Cristiano Ronaldo’s title run and Iceland’s feel-good story, the 2016 European Championship attracted 2 billion people to watch live on television.

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The total live audience for the expanded 24-team, 51-match tournament grew to almost 5 billion viewers, according to UEFA research published Thursday.

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The research says 600 million viewers watched some of Portugal’s 1-0 extra-time win over host France in the final.

The final attracted 284.4 million as an “average in-home global audience” – the industry-standard audit tracking viewers minute-by-minute.

The 20 extra matches created by having eight more teams added 1.1 billion viewers to the overall TV audience.

The 2 billion individual viewers was an increase of 100 million on the Euro 2012 figures, UEFA said.

Bigger audiences in Brazil and China helped raise the totals.

“The newly created (1300 GMT) match slot had the biggest impact on Asian audiences,” UEFA said, which scheduled the earliest Euro 2012 kickoffs at 1600 GMT.

Among matches kicking off in a prime 9 p.m. slot in China, the peak audience there was 17.6 million for France’s 2-1 win over Ireland in the round of 16.

Euro 2016 TV rights earned UEFA 1.05 billion euros ($1.1 billion) from 130 broadcast partners.

Ronaldo’s quest for a first national-team title helped draw viewers to the final, who mostly stayed despite his exit from injury midway through the first half.

The 284 million figure made it the second most-watched game in European Championship history. The average audience of the most-viewed match was 299 million when Spain beat Italy 4-0 in the Euro 2012 final.

In comparison, the 2014 World Cup final drew a 570.1 million average for Germany’s 1-0 extra-time win over Argentina in Rio de Janeiro.

Average audiences in Brazil for the Euro 2016 final topped 25.7 million, watching on three channels: TV Globo, Bandierantes and Sport TV.

Globo averaged more than 13 million viewers for each live match it broadcast, for a 13.2 percent increase on Euro 2012, UEFA’s research said.

In China, the final’s average audience was 8 million in China, and United States broadcaster ESPN averaged 5.3 million.

Still, no nation could match Iceland’s support for its team, which was a surprise quarterfinalist in its major tournament debut.

On the island of 330,000 people, while thousands had traveled to France to watch the team, 99.8 percent of all TV viewers during Iceland’s 2-1 win over Austria were tuned in to the team sealing its place in the knockout rounds.

Cristiano Ronaldo claims fourth Ballon d’Or

AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza

In an announcement with little drama, Cristiano Ronaldo has been named the Ballon d’Or recipient as the best player in the world for 2016.

Surely spurred by his club and country double, the Real Madrid and Portugal star has edged one award closer to rival Lionel Messi’s five.

Ronaldo won in 2008, 2013, 2014, while Messi won in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2015.

Kaka is the last different name to win the award, claiming it in 2007 in AC Milan. He’s now with Orlando City of Major League Soccer.

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France Football‘s award was the Ballon d’Or until 2010, when it merged with FIFA’s World Player of the Year Award. This year, France Football again presents the Ballon d’Or again, while FIFA will award its own offering on Jan. 9.

There will be some guffaws in the Leicester City dressing room, as 7th place Riyad Mahrez beat Jamie Vardy by one place.

Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba finished tied for 14th, a spot behind current teammate Zlatan Ibrahimovic, while Dimitri Payet of West Ham finished in a tie for 17th.

Names 2-5 were not released but Messi and Antoine Griezmann were widely tipped for 2 and 3 (in some order). Neymar and Luis Suarez would likely be the other two.

  1. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
    6. Gareth Bale (Real Madrid)
    7. Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City)
    8. Jamie Vardy (Leicester City)
    9. Gigi Buffon (Juventus), Pepe (Real Madrid)
    11. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Borussia Dortmund)
    12. Rui Patricio (Sporting CP)
    13. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Manchester United/PSG)
    14. Paul Pogba (Manchester United/Juventus), Arturo Vidal (Bayern Munich)
    16. Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)
    17. Toni Kroos (Real Madrid), Dimitri Payet (West Ham), Luka Modric (Real Madrid)

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Dier: Euros, injuries affected form early in season

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Despite starting 2016/17 with just one defeat in their first 14 Premier League matches, one of Tottenham’s key figures from a season ago has gotten off to a quiet start.

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While Spurs currently sit fifth in the PL table, Eric Dier has been a shell of himself in the early going of the campaign for Mauricio Pochettino‘s group, and the Englishman believes it’s likely because of the long summer at EURO 2016.

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The 22-year-old has been tasked with playing multiple positions thus far, as injuries forced the midfielder back into defense at times this season. However, Dier remains confident that he will pick up his play and can help Tottenham no matter which role he plays.

“It is completely up to the manager where I play. What is more important is making sure I’m feeling good mentally,” Dier said. “That is more important to me. If I get back to that, where I have a good feeling and my confidence is back, then whatever position I am playing in, I will be able to play.

“I feel that I am getting it back – last weekend and against CSKA. I am just trying to get everything back to the levels of last season.

“It has been a difficult start for me this season – it has been there for everyone to see.

“It has been tough coming back late from the Euros because I haven’t really been able to get going. Then I got injured a couple of games into the season and that halted me again. And when Toby got injured I played at the back again.

“This is football and these things happen to everyone. It has not been a ­catastrophe – it has just been a bit of a low start.

“I don’t think there has ever been a really low point. It is just about getting back to where I want to be.”

Dier notched three goals and two assists in the PL a season ago, however, the young midfielder has yet to hit the scoresheet in 2016 despite appearing in 13 matches.

Sunday’s test against Manchester United would be an ideal time for Dier to find the back of the net as Spurs look to build off of last weekend’s 5-0 thrashing of Swansea.

Henderson: EURO loss to Iceland will always stay with me, rest of England stars

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England’s loss to Iceland in the round of 16 at EURO 2016 was simply the latest disappointing end to another disappointing display at a major tournament by the Three Lions, but that doesn’t mean it stings or lingers any less, according to Jordan Henderson.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Speaking ahead of England’s 2018 World Cup qualifying clash with Malta on Saturday, Henderson was asked about the defeat — perhaps unfairly labeled “embarrassing” by the British press — as will be done the rest of his international career, and the Liverpool captain pulled no punches in explaining the emotional baggage he and others still carry from that day Nice, France — quotes from the Daily Mail:

“Iceland will stay with me. I know it is easy to say you have to learn from those experiences and use them to motivate you so that it doesn’t happen again, but it will always stay with the players.

“That is one of the worst places I have been. Even though I did not play, I felt part of the team. We’re in it together and I really believed in us.

“We let everyone down — the country, the fans, the manager. The dressing room was horrible. Really horrible. People were emotional. The manager was emotional with the talk that he gave afterwards. It wasn’t nice to see. Everyone is human.

“Some people think we are machines and they can just chuck everything and criticize. I can tell you we do care. I can understand why the fans were mad. They had every right to criticize us. It is up to us to change that.”

Everything looked to be heading in a positive direction with Sam Allardyce in charge of England, expected to provide the kind of mental toughness and tactical instruction to help the Three Lions finally realize their untapped potential. Allardyce has now gone, leaving Gareth Southgate, a man who doesn’t want the job himself, the interim boss, and the same EURO squad remains largely intact as England barrel toward another summer of disappointment in 2018.

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I’d tell you to change, England, but at this point, I’m almost 100 percent positive you’re incapable of doing so.