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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.

Russian players let out on parole in brawl case

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MOSCOW (AP) Two Russian national team soccer players were let out on parole Friday after serving part of their prison sentences for a series of brawls.

Zenit St. Petersburg forward Alexander Kokorin and FC Krasnodar midfielder Pavel Mamayev were arrested last October after being accused of attacking a man in a Moscow hotel parking lot, a senior trade ministry official and a car designer in a cafe.

Kokorin was sentenced to 18 months in prison in May, while Mamayev was sentenced to 17 months, though both sentences were already reduced due to time spent in pre-trial detention.

A district court in the western Belgorod region ruled that “for the purpose of their correction, they do not need to serve the sentence in full.”

In a statement on the decision to release the pair, along with Kokorin’s brother Kirill, the court said they had behaved well behind bars.

“They did not commit any breaches of the detention regime and do not have disciplinary charges,” the statement said. “While serving their sentences, all three were employed in the prison colony’s sewing factory.”

Kokorin and Mamayev’s trial was a media sensation in Russia, where they had already played the role of public villains in 2016 after being filmed partying in Monaco following the Russian team’s early elimination from the European Championship.

The Russian prison service, often criticized over mistreatment of prisoners, used their detention for some rare positive publicity. That included Mamayev playing a soccer game in an exercise yard on Valentine’s Day while in pre-trial custody.

They will be released on Sept. 17 if there is no appeal from prosecutors. The court said prosecutors supported the parole.

Kokorin has played 48 times for Russia, while Mamayev made 15 international appearances from 2010-16. Kokorin is a free agent, though Zenit hasn’t ruled out re-signing, while Krasnodar has tried to cancel its contract with Mamayev.

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Russian club locked out of its new World Cup stadium

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MOSCOW (AP) A dispute over the World Cup’s legacy in Russia has intensified after top-flight club FC Rostov claimed it had been locked out of its new stadium.

[ MORE: FIFA unveils logo for 2022 World Cup in Qatar ]

Rostov spokesman Denis Shtanko told the state RIA Novosti news agency that club employees have been barred from the 45,000-seat Rostov Arena after a dispute with the state-owned company Sport-In, which operates seven stadiums built for last year’s World Cup.

Sport-In has said it was owed large sums by the club for hosting games last season, but that the debts have been cleared and the club can play. Sport-In hasn’t commented on Rostov’s allegation that its staff were locked out.

[ EURO 2020 qualifying preview: Germany-Netherlands showdown on deck ]

Rostov is due to play a friendly against the Syrian national team Sunday at its old stadium nearby, but it’s not clear where it will play its next Russian Premier League game on Sept. 15.

Russian referee insulted over stadium PA system

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MOSCOW (AP) Russian soccer club Akhmat Grozny is facing punishment after its stadium’s public address system was used to insult the referee during a game – not for the first time.

Shortly after referee Alexei Sukhoi sent off Akhmat striker Ablaye Mbengue in Sunday’s 3-1 defeat to Spartak Moscow, a shout came over the PA system calling the referee by a Russian expletive. Many in the crowd cheered.

Club CEO Akhmed Aidamirov told Sport Express newspaper on Monday that a stadium employee had been fired for shouting into the PA system’s microphone.

When the club played Rubin Kazan in 2013, the political leader of Russia’s Chechnya region, Ramzan Kadyrov, used the PA system to accuse the referee of corruption. The club, then named Terek, was forced to move a home game to a neutral venue over that incident.

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Russian fans clash with baton-wielding police at stadium

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MOSCOW (AP) Russian soccer fans have criticized what they consider heavy-handed policing after clashes at a league game.

Video footage posted online shows police in riot gear beating Spartak Moscow fans on the stadium concourse after a game Saturday with FC Rostov, including two who have fallen to the ground. Fans have alleged they were kept tightly packed in the corridor after the game and then attacked by police with batons.

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The Russian Football Union has told the Sport-Express newspaper that it is calling for an investigation and that “this kind of situation should not be repeated at stadiums.”

The Russian Premier League says in a statement that it is satisfied police acted correctly and accused Spartak fans of trying to free fellow supporters arrested earlier over allegations of throwing pyrotechnics.

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