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Spain tipped to win 2018 World Cup by CIES

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There could be parties in the streets of Madrid and Barcelona this summer if the CIES Football Observatory’s analysis comes to fruition.

In the Football Observatory’s latest weekly issue, it claims that Spain is most likely to win the 2018 World Cup in Russia based on a combination of two criteria. The percentage of matches played by the most-played 23 players on each national team at a domestic, league level, and the average sporting level of the clubs those players play for.

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The Football Observatory found that the Spanish National Team has played in 81 percent of the available domestic league matches, and with so many playing for giants Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United and Manchester City, the overall sporting level of the team was listed at a jaw-dropping 1.37. These criteria have Spain as the overwhelming favorite to win the World Cup.

Brazil (89), France (84) and Germany (82) each had a power index of over 80, though the Les Bleus squad has played the fewest domestic league matches of the top four (69 percent). England, with a power index of 74, rounds out the top five.

Panama, set to make its World Cup debut, sits at the bottom of the list with a power index of just 12, as many of their top players either have been injured or are sitting on the bench at bigger clubs.

Of course, while it’s good for players to play regularly at a high level, we’ve seen in recent World Cups that end-of-season burnout is a real problem, and teams with players who are fresher in June and July have been able to run to the title. Both Spain and Germany, the last two World Cup winners, have winter breaks in their domestic calendar, while England of course, does not.

FIFA picks 13 referees as World Cup video review specialists

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA has picked 13 referees who will be video review assistants at the World Cup in Russia.

FIFA says they will act “solely as Video Assistant Referees (VARs)” in four-man teams reviewing potential game-changing incidents at each of the 64 matches.

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The 13 selected include several who refereed recent Champions League knockout games. They include three from Italy and two from Germany, which have the highest profile national leagues to use video review this season.

No referee was selected from England, where trials in cup games have been criticized for slow and confused decision-making.

FIFA says some of the 36 referees and 63 assistants previously picked for World Cup duty will also work in VAR teams.

Neymar to miss three months, says Brazil National Team doctor

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Neymar could miss the rest of the league campaign with PSG, according to the Brazilian National Team doctor.

The Brazilian star suffered a sprained ankle and broken metatarsal in his right foot and will undergo surgery in Brazil this weekend. But after it was initially thought he could be fit to face Real Madrid next week or miss just six to eight weeks, the timetable has been lengthened to three months, which would put Neymar’s return to competitive action just two weeks before the start of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

For the first time, Dr. Rodrigo Lasmar spoke publicly about Neymar’s surgery and used stronger terms and narrower deadlines for the World Cup,” Henrique Fernandes’s tweet says, translated. “The doctor said “fracture” and not “fissure” on the toe, used the term “important injury” and estimated within three months the recovery.”

Brazil will surely be hoping that his recovery from the injury is shorter than three months so Neymar can get a few games under his belt and be match fit before Brazil’s opening game against Switzerland on June 17.

But it’s a massive blow to PSG, which could be knocked out in the Round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League by Real Madrid despite spending big last summer exactly to avoid this scenario, and the French club will likely be without Neymar the rest of the season.

Russian authorities fine hotels for World Cup price-gouging

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MOSCOW (AP) Russian authorities in two cities say they have issued hundreds of fines after finding many hotels were illegally hiking prices for the World Cup.

The Rospotrebnadzor consumer regulator says one Moscow hotel raised prices up to 570 percent above what is allowed by a government decree designed to prevent excessive profiteering during the tournament.

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The regulator’s Moscow branch says it issued fines totaling 5.95 million rubles ($105,000) to 198 legal entities and 181 people.

In the Ural mountain city of Yekaterinburg, where Mexico and France will each play a group game, the regulator said it fined seven hotels, some of which were charging almost three times the allowed rate for rooms.

Russian authorities have taken a hands-on approach to regulating hotel and travel costs during the tournament to prevent the negative publicity of visiting fans being charged large sums.

Russia warns of locusts destroying World Cup fields

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MOSCOW (AP) A plague of locusts could destroy the fields in World Cup stadiums this year, the Russian government said Wednesday.

Locusts often feast on crops in southern Russia and the person who oversees plant protection at the agriculture ministry said they could descend on stadiums, too.

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“We have more or less learned how to deal with locusts, but this year I’m afraid we could end up in an international locust scandal,” Pyotr Chekmaryov said in comments reported by state news agencies. “Soccer fields are green. Locusts like places where there is a lot of green. What if they fly to the places where football is played?”

Chekmaryov pointed out the Volgograd region as a particular concern.

Group games in Volgograd will include England’s match against Tunisia and a game between Poland and Japan.

Addressing a conference of agricultural experts, Chekmaryov said it was “our responsibility” to ensure that Russians do not “disgrace ourselves in front of global society, especially where we will have guests from all over the world.”