Denis Cheryshev

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Early Euro qualifiers: Belgium, Netherlands, Russia all win

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In the early slate of Sunday’s Euro 2020 qualifiers, there were little surprises as Belgium, Russia, Hungary, the Netherlands, and Scotland all found the winner’s column.

Liverpool midfielder Giorginio Wijnaldum bagged a first-half brace, including an absolute rocket, as the Netherlands held on for a 2-1 win over Belarus. BATE Borisov midfielder Stanislav Dragun grabbed one back for Belarus soon after halftime, but the visitors held on in Minsk.

[ WATCH: Wijnaldum scores ripper for Netherlands ]

Virgil Van Dijk and Matthijs de Ligt partnered in defense yet again, as they have for 17 of the last 19 Netherlands games, conceding just 17 goals in those 17 matches. Thanks in part to that stellar partnership, Jasper Cillessen had little to do, with Dragun’s headed goal the only shot on target for Belarus in the match, while the Netherlands put seven of their 21 shots on frame.

Michy Batshuayi and Thomas Meunier both found the back of the net as Belgium topped Kazakhstan 2-0 in Astana to remain perfect in qualifying action and keep pace with Russia in Group I. Batshuayi was filling in for an injured Romelu Lukaku, and he latched onto a low back-post cross from Dennis Praet for the opener 21 minutes in. Meunier’s 53rd minute poke came off an absolutely stunning long delivery from Eden Hazard to the far post placed perfectly over the head of the defender. Belgium held 66% possession throughout the match, and while they were only able to put three shots on target, they scored on two of them and held the hosts to just one. Belgium has now scored 30 goals in Euro qualification while conceding just one.

Russia also continued to surge ahead in Group I play one game back of Belgium with a 5-0 demolition of Cyprus in Nicosia. Denis Cheryshev struck nine minutes in to put Russia ahead as he pilfered the ball off the Cyprus back line. The hosts lost Standard Liege defender Konstantinos Laifis to a straight red card, and the rest was elementary. Magomed Ozdoev, Artem Dzyuba, and Aleksandr Golovin all found the back of the net before Cheryshev finished it off with his second of the game in stoppage time. Russia and Belgium have both qualified for the finals, with Russia sitting in second three points behind the perfect group leaders.

Hungary scored 10 minutes in and hung on for a 1-0 victory at home over Azerbaijan. 30-year-old Mihaly Korhut struck a long-distance ripper from well outside the box that appeared to catch goalkeeper Emil Balayev off guard, and the Hungary defense did the rest. RB Leipzig captain Willi Orban and Sporting Kansas City defender Botond Barath held Azerbaijan to just four total shots, including two on target. Meanwhile, despite splitting the possession nearly halfway, Hungary ripped off 23 shots, putting six on target.

Scotland hammered San Marino at home 6-0 behind a first-half hat-trick from Aston Villa midfielder John McGinn. In the pouring rain in Glasgow, McGinn opened the scoring 12 minutes in for his second international goal on a simple cutback and shot from Ryan Christie which clipped McGinn on its way inside the far post. He hit for a second just before the half-hour mark as he poked home a cross by Scott McTominay that was saved into no-man’s land by a diving San Marino goalkeeper Aldo Junior Simoncini. The third featured the highest degree of difficulty as a set-piece delivery into the box was headed by Stuart Findlay towards the far post and McGinn ripped it home on the doorstep under pressure. Lawrence Shankland, Findlay, and Stuart Armstrong finished off the scoreline in the second half, although Scotland has still long been eliminated from qualification in the top-heavy Group I.

Valencia strikes twice late to draw Betis in Copa semifinal

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MADRID (AP) Kevin Gameiro scored in stoppage time as Valencia salvaged a 2-2 draw against Real Betis in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals on Thursday.

Betis took a 2-0 lead with a goal scored directly from a corner kick early in the second half, but the late goals gave Valencia the slight edge going into the return match at home later this month.

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Betis is hoping to be back for the May 25 final at its Villamarin Stadium in Seville, which saw a record crowd of 57,123 on Thursday. The other semifinal is being played by four-time defending champion Barcelona and Real Madrid, who drew 1-1 in their first leg on Wednesday at Camp Nou.

Betis opened the scoring with a goal by Loren Moron just before halftime, and veteran Joaquin Sanchez added to the lead with the rare corner kick goal less than 10 minutes into the second half.

The 37-year-old midfielder curled in a mid-height shot from the left corner and Valencia goalkeeper Jaume Domenech couldn’t get back in time to make the save before the ball crossed the goal line. The officiating crew initially let play continue, but a video review quickly confirmed the goal.

Russia forward Denis Cheryshev pulled one back for Valencia with a 70th-minute header after Gameiro’s cross, and the French forward evened the match from close range after a well-placed low pass by Rodrigo two minutes into stoppage time.

Valencia is back in the semifinals for the first time since 2012. It hasn’t made it to the final since it won the last of its seven titles in 2008.

Betis hadn’t reached the last four since it won the second of its two Copa titles in 2005.

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Tadic misses penalty as Serbia draws Romania, Russia tops Turkey

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Dusan Tadic‘s awful penalty was the only real highlight of an otherwise drab 0-0 draw between Serbia and Romania at Arena Nationala in Bucuresti.

Serbia was awarded the spot-kick after Gabriel Tamas was sent off for a high boot in the box right to the face of Mijat Gacinovic. Tadic stepped up to take the penalty and after a slow, awkward run-up, he blasted his penalty well over the top-left corner, not even close to hitting the target.

Many after the match criticized Serbia for not having in-form Fulham striker Aleksandar Mitrovic take the penalty instead of Tadic. Mitrovic scored a penalty just three days ago in a 2-0 win over Montenegro. There were just six total shots on target throughout the entire match split three and three between the two teams. Serbia dominated the majority of play, holding 70% of possession and winning the corner count 11-3.

Elsewhere, Denis Cheryshev continued his hot streak for Russia as they stole a 2-0 win over Turkey in Sochi. Cheryshev has scored six goals in his last nine international appearances dating back to the World Cup. Cheryshev didn’t start the match, but came on with 19 minutes to go and Russia already a goal up on a¬†Roman Neust√§dter 20th minute strike.

Turkey, featuring a lineup that included Everton striker Cenk Tosun and Roma youngster Cengiz Ünder, held 60% possession and out-passed a Russia team that only completed 67% of its passes. Still, they struggled up front as 30-year-old Fenerbahce CB Neustadter partnered well alongside Georgi Dzhikiya. Neither defender was part of the Russian World Cup squad this past summer.

Also in Nations League play, Faroe Islands drew 1-1 with Kosovo, while Malta and Azerbaijan also finished level at 1-1 in Baku.

Russia World Cup star Cheryshev investigated for doping

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Russian winger Denis Cheryshev, who went from bench substitute to four-goal scorer at this summer’s World Cup in his home country, is under investigation by Spain’s anti-doping agency, according to multiple reports including the BBC and ESPN.

The 27-year-old is reportedly under investigation by the Spanish anti-doping agency AEPSAD for the use of human growth hormone (HGH) after his father Dimitri told a Russian media outlet that his son was taking HGH. The use of HGH without an exemption would be a violation of the anti-doping rules and could lead to a four-year ban.

Dimitri Cheryshev had initially told Russian publication¬†Sport Weekend that his son was taking HGH to treat an injury, but later attempted to clarify his remarks to say he meant vitamin “growth factor” and that his quotes were misinterpreted. Denis Cheryshev missed most of both the 2015/16 and 2016/17 seasons due to persistent injuries. A hamstring injury nagged him throughout the the 2015/16 campaign with both Real Madrid and Valencia, limiting him to just 7 La Liga appearances that year, eventually needing surgery in May which kept him out of Euro 2016. He made just 11 appearances for Villareal in 2016/17 due to constant muscle problems.

“We have opened an investigation to get more information regarding this case,” an AEPSAD spokesman said to ESPN. “We are investigating the case in collaboration with the Russian Anti-Doping Agency and we are in contact with the World Anti-Doping Agency. This case has emerged following the comments made by the player, Cheryshev, and his father. We want to know more information. We have started the process but it’s still early to draw conclusions. We don’t know how long this case will take.”

According to the Telegraph, the Russian Football Union has claimed Cheryshev received¬†platelet-rich plasma injection, which is legal. They also accused the journalist in the initial Sport Weekend story of misquoting Dimitri, and while the newspaper claimed the quote was correct, they also corroborated the father’s claim that he meant “growth factor” claiming he even referred to the treatment as such later in the interview.

Cheryshev was not expected to play a significant part in Russia’s World Cup plans, but when he came off the bench for an injured Alan Dzagoev and scored two goals in the win over Saudi Arabia and scored again in the subsequent victory over Egypt, he was undroppable, contributing heavily in Russia’s surprising run to the quarterfinals. Overall he has five international goals in 18 appearances for Russia.

Valencia to sign Russia forward Denis Cheryshev on loan

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MADRID (AP) Valencia says it has reached an agreement with Villarreal to get Russia forward Denis Cheryshev on loan.

The club says the loan is “pending” and will be valid until the end of the season.

Cheryshev scored four goals at the World Cup, helping Russia reach the quarterfinals.

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The 27-year-old player had already been with Valencia on a loan in 2016. He was previously with Real Madrid but had few opportunities with the team’s main squad.

Valencia also added forward Kevin Gameiro from Atletico Madrid and striker Michy Batshuayi from Chelsea.

Valencia finished fourth in the Spanish league last season.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga