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Two Russian soccer players investigated for attacking official

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MOSCOW (AP) Russian police are investigating two soccer players accused of beating an official at a Moscow cafe.

Officials say that Zenit St. Petersburg striker Alexander Kokorin and Krasnodar midfielder Pavel Mamayev are accused of beating a department head from the Russian Ministry for Industry and Trade who rebuked them for behaving improperly.

[ PL ROUNDTABLE: The story so far ]

A video taken by a surveillance camera and broadcast by Russian TV stations on Tuesday showed the two players hitting the man with a chair over his head and slapping him in the face. A probe is under way, and the players could face up to two years in prison if found guilty.

The Russian Premier League strongly condemned the “hooliganism.” Krasnodar said it may terminate Mamayev’s contract, while Zenit said it would take disciplinary measures against Kokorin.

Spartak and Zenit fined in latest Russia fan racism cases

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MOSCOW (AP) Spartak Moscow and Zenit St. Petersburg have both been fined for racist chants by their fans, the latest such incident in World Cup host nation Russia.

Spartak’s fans were accused of aiming monkey chants at FC Tosno player Nuno Rocha, who is black, while some Zenit supporters allegedly chanted a Nazi slogan during a league game.

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The clubs must each pay a 100,000-ruble ($1,600) fine, and Spartak has been hit with a partial stadium closure for its next cup game, state news agency RIA Novosti quotes Russian Football Union disciplinary committee head Artur Grigoryants as saying.

The verdict comes after FIFA charged Russia with racist abuse of France players during last month’s friendly.

Zenit has also faced two racism charges from UEFA this season.

Zenit face racism charge after banner honors war criminal

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NYON, Switzerland (AP) Russian club Zenit St. Petersburg is facing a UEFA racism charge after its fans displayed a large banner honoring convicted war criminal Ratko Mladic.

Two Serbian clubs, Red Star Belgrade and Partizan Belgrade, were also charged for similar offenses of supporting Mladic at Europa League games on Thursday.

UEFA said Friday that all three clubs faced charges of “racist behavior.” No dates were set for disciplinary hearings.

Zenit fans unfurled the banner, about 10 yards in length, during Thursday’s 2-1 Europa League group-stage win over Macedonian club Vardar Skopje.

The game took place the day after former Bosnian Serb military chief Mladic was convicted by a United Nations tribunal of genocide and other crimes in the wars following the collapse of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.

Mladic and other Serb leaders have broad support from Russian nationalist groups, which often see them as allies.

Red Star fans drew 0-0 at BATE Borisov in Belarus, while Partizan beat Swiss club Young Boys in their Europa League games.

Partizan also faces a range of charges for incidents in Belgrade including “field invasions” and “improper conduct” by fans.

5,442 miles for a league game. The longest away day ever?

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When the new Russian Premier League season kicks off this Sunday, there will be one heck of a journey for Zenit St. Petersburg and their new manager Roberto Mancini.

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They are heading east.

Zenit will play newly-promoted FC-SKA Khabarovsk (who have never played in the Russian Premier League before) and the new boys hail from the eastern Russian city of Khabarovsk, which is nestled close to the border with China and both Seoul, South Korea and Tokyo, Japan are just a quick flight away.

Zenit, based in the far west of Russia, will take a seven-and-a-half hour flight to Khabarovsk for the game, but if any fans wanted a true away day experience then it would take 111 hours to drive the 5,442 miles journey, while a train ride would take five days and 17 hours according to Google.

Of course, Zenit won’t be the only team to have this journey this season as the train ride from Moscow to Khabarovsk (it’s on the Trans-Siberian Railway line, which is handy…) is 5,296 miles, and 10 of the Russian Premier League’s 16 teams are located in the east of the country, so there will be plenty of trips out to the far east of Russia this season.

Now, we all know Seattle to New York or LA to Boston is a long trip for Major League Soccer teams, but Seattle to NYC is a mere (!) six-hour flight and just 2,838 mile drive. MLS fans, what have you been complaining about when it comes to following your team across the country…

With my tongue now firmly out of my cheek, Zenit to FC-SKA Khabarovsk, and vice versa, must be the longest journey for a league game in soccer history.

Axel Witsel confirms he will join Juventus, either in January or next summer

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Veteran midfielder Axel Witsel nearly joined Juventus this past summer, but the deal fell through when his current club Zenit St. Petersburg yanked the deal at the last moment.

Now, the Belgian confirmed he will indeed make the move, although he is unsure whether a January switch will materialize, or if he will be forced to wait until the summer.

When asked if he will be joining Juventus, Witsel answered affirmatively, saying, “This will be the case now, but I do not know when.”

“It’s always nice to hear that a club like Juventus is interested in me,” Witsel told Belgian radio network RTBF. “Now I do not wonder whether this will be in January or June. I play my games and then we’ll see what will happen to me.”

A Standard Liege youth product, Witsel moved to Benfica in 2011 before finally settling at Zenit the next summer. The 27-year-old has made 174 appearances for the Russian club across all competitions, including 24 Champions League appearances where he’s bagged two goals and an assist.

This season, Witsel has been a workhorse for Zenit, making an appearance in all 13 league matches thus far, staying the full 90 for 10 of them. The club suffered its first loss of the Russian Premier League season on Sunday, falling 2-1 on the road at Terek Grozny. However, despite this solid record, a host of draws leaves them in second place in the table, three points adrift of Spartak Moscow.

For Juventus, with Sami Khedira often injured and Claudio Marchisio now over the 30 mark, it makes sense for them to chase a seasoned international midfielder such as Witsel. The Old Lady sits in first place in the Serie A table, four points above Roma.