‘The best World Cup in history proved Russia to be truly a football country’ – FIFA President

Russia has hosted “the best” World Cup in history, which has changed the perception of the country around the world and proved it to be “truly” a football nation, FIFA President Gianni Infantino said, ahead of Sunday’s final.

“This World Cup has proved that Russia is a truly football country. Thank you, Russia, for hosting the best World Cup in history,” Infantino said, at a gala concert at Moscow's Bolshoi Theater, Sputnik reports.

Thanking the host country multiple times in Russian, Infantino noted that the tournament changed public perceptions of the country throughout the world. Speaking at the podium in front of honored guests, FIFA’s chief tried to imbue the famous concert hall with a Luzhniki stadium atmosphere, by leading the audience in the cheer “Rossiya, Rossiya, Rossiya!”

Addressing the audience at the opening of the gala concert in honor of the tournament, Russian President Vladimir Putin noted that all anti-Russia myths, disseminated by critics, have collapsed following the 2018 FIFA World Cup success.

 
Stressing that Russia’s efforts were praised alike by athletes, by media representatives, and by fans, Putin noted that the entire country is “thankful for the millions of kind words that the World Cup guests said about Russia and our people.”

“We’re glad that they liked our hospitality and openness, nature, culture, traditions of our big country,” the president continued. “We are glad that our guests saw everything with their own eyes, that myths and prejudices have collapsed.”

Putin also promised to look into creating a “comfortable visa regime” for fans, who “have fallen in love with Russia,” and want to return with their families.

READ MORE: Football fans smashed stereotypes about Russia through social media – Putin

The month-long tournament concludes at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium on Sunday, where Croatia will clash with France for the title of World Champion.

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Russia 4-3 Spain (pens) - Heroic hosts snatch improbable shootout victory to stun Spain in Moscow

Russia pulled off a spectacular and improbable victory to stun Spain after extra time and penalties at Luzhniki Stadium to keep their home World Cup hopes alive and send one of the pre-tournament favorites packing.

In the end, it was a dramatic 4-3 penalty shootout that decided the game, scoring the winner after a Sergei Ignashevich goal and Artem Dzyuba penalty in normal time meant the two sides could not be separated after 120 minutes of football.

With the result, Russia booked a quarterfinal date in Sochi on July 7 against either Croatia or Denmark in the day’s other last 16 tie.

Much of the talk before the game was about the importance of Russia’s ‘12th man’ in their raucous Luzhniki Stadium supporters. The sound of the national anthem bellowing from the 78,000 supporters in the stands ensured that man was the first to make itself counted.

When the action got underway, Spain showed some of the football they are famous for, although their ‘tiki taka’ passing tactics were receive with boos from the crowd. Spain captain and talisman Sergio Ramos is perhaps the most vilified and sometimes reviled man in football, but every play and attack was built from the Spanish captain in defense.

One of those attacks resulted in Yuri Zhirkov bringing down Nacho on the right flank. The resulting free kick found a dueling Ramos and veteran Russian counterpart Sergei Ignashevich. As the two tussled and tumbled to the floor, the ball came off the heel of Ignashevich and curled into the net past a rooted Akinfeev.

After the goal Russia did have their moments, from a set piece and balls into the area for Dzyuba to nod down, whose 6ft 4in frame is always going to cause panic for opposition defenders.

Golovin went close with 10 minutes of the first half remaining, beginning the attack for Dzyuba to head down. The ball found its way to Zobnin, who brought it forward and laid it off for Golovin to curl a shot on his weaker right foot just past the far post of David De Gea’s goal.

Russia did get their breakthrough when one of their attacks forward resulted in a corner. A Dzyuba header hit the arm of Pique, Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers belatedly pointed to the spot without confronting VAR and booked the Spain defender.

Dzyuba the stepped up to fire the ball into the right hand side and send De Gea the wrong way to net his third in four World Cup games. The 12th man reacted with seismic cheers; the nation was level again and it was now all to play for in the Russian capital.

Golovin battling hard in midfield, Russia still with their tactics of long ball up to Dzyuba.

Diego Costa laid off to Isco, who went desperately close in an effort that was sure to have the collective heart in the mouths of every Russian fan inside the stadium.

Russia’s tactics changed when Fedor Smolov, the forgotten golden boy of Russian football, came on to replace Dzyuba, who stopped and said a few words to Cherchesov, neither of the two men looked too pleased and have a difficult history together.

Russia continued to press, and had a half-hearted penalty appeal when Golovin went down under a challenge of Ramos. Kuipers gave nothing as replays showed Ramos simply got himself in-between the onrushing midfielder and the ball.

For the Spaniards, the introduction of iconic midfielder Andres Iniesta meant that Spain reverted to their more famously fluid football, formulating attacks with a string of passes, but none could find their way through up until the 80th minute. 

In the final 10 minutes, Iniesta uncharacteristically miskicked from a corner but Russia managed to get it away, Koke’s dangerous ball into the area moments later was headed away by Mario Fernandes.

With a little over five minutes of normal time left, Iniesta made his first meaningful contribution to the game when he brought a save low down to Akinfeev’s right from 20 yards, the ball cannoned out to Aspas, but his effort was turned away with cat-like reflexes by the veteran stopper.

A hat-trick of corners in the final couple of minutes all resulted in nothing, the final of those seeing Ramos head over. Fernandes headed the ball clear from yet another Spain ball into the area with the last real attack of the 90 minutes and with that extra time was needed to separate the two sides.

The first half of extra time saw the action go much the way of the last 20 minutes of normal time, with Russia hemmed in under wave after wave of Spanish attack. Marco Asensio forced a save from Akinfeev from 20 yards, Ignashevich also showed enough defensive nous to keep a livewire Aspas at bay.

Aleksandr Golovin gave away a free-kick, replays showed he won the ball cleanly, but the free-kick only brought a tame goalward header from Gerard Pique that was comfortably caught by Akinfeev, the last action of the first half of extra time.

Tired legs traipsed off the pitch but Spain looked spritely as they began the second half, but they could still find no way past the Russia defense. Hearts reached mouths again when substitute Rodrigo wrong-footed substitute Vladimir Granat and powered into the area with a strong run, his cross-shot was equalled by Akinfeev and Dani Carvajal’s follow-up was blocked, the Russian defense proving water-tight once again.

Ignashevich gave away a silly foul halfway up his own half, the resulting inswinging free kick found its way past every player in the area but when Pique went down under a challenge from Ignashevich, the entire Spanish bench flew up and protested. Although it was enough to bring a VAR consultation no penalty was eventually given as there was no clear foul.

Russia won a corner, Golovin to take it but when the ball broke clear from a wayward header, Smolov could do nothing. The two sides battles out the remaining minutes of the match at Luzhniki as the rain fell on Russia’s sporting epicenter. A Rodrigo shot saved by Akinfeev restored some hope and as the last attack of the 120 minutes. Penalties ensued.

Ramos won the toss and elected to shoot towards the goal behind which Spanish fans had gathered, much to their delight at that end. Iniesta was first to take and score, sending Akinfeev the wrong way. An unsure Smolov alleviated fears by smashing cooly past De Gea. Pique stepped up and rifled in off the post, Ignashevich made a stuttering run-up and showed no nerves as he slotted in to make it 2-2.

Then the real drama came as Koke had his shot blocked by Akinfeev, straight at the keeper diving to his right. Golovin shot home to have Russia take the lead 3-2 on penalties, almost firing through De Gea in the goal.

Ramos, so often the villain, was the hero from the spot, calmly slotting away to level up again. Cheryshev netted his spot kick to make it four from four straight down the center of the goal. Aspas then missed his spot kick to send a rapturous Russia into the next round and keep the home dream alive.

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We may have seen Ronaldo & Messi at the World Cup for the last time – Schmeichel

Russia 2018 may be the World Cup swansong for Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, according to Peter Schmeichel, after both players exited on the same day at the last 16 stage.

Ronaldo and Messi are the two players who have defined their generation, breaking record after record and vying for the title of the world’s best player year after year.

However, the pair have again failed to add an elusive World Cup to their trophy-laden cabinets, after Messi’s Argentina were defeated 4-3 by France in the last 16 in Russia on Saturday, followed shortly after by Ronaldo’s Portugal, who suffered a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Uruguay.

Goalkeeping great Peter Schmeichel, who is an RT World Cup guest host, says both players looked jaded judging by their performances in the last 16 – and raised doubts over whether fans would ever see the pair on football’s biggest stage again.

“We’re now speculating, was this the last time we saw Ronaldo and Messi at the World Cup?” Schmeichel asked.

“By the look of their performances today, they looked tired. Ronaldo’s looked OK [at the World Cup], but I don’t think Messi has.”

Ronaldo is 33, and while he says he feels like a 23-year-old, even his obsessive desire to succeed and meticulous approach to staying in shape will not dispel doubts as to whether he appears at Qatar in four years’ time. Messi is two years younger than his great rival, having turned 31 during this World Cup, but doubts will be even more fervent over his international future after such a bitterly disappointing campaign in which he scored a solitary goal and cut such a peripheral figure in Argentina’s defeat to France.

Ronaldo’s World Cup exit is down in large part to the talents of Uruguayan strike duo Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani – the latter of whom scored a stunning double in Sochi.

READ MORE: France 4-3 Argentina: Mbappe fires Les Blues into World Cup quarter-finals as Messi crashes out

Schmeichel was full of praise for an attacking duo he had warned about before the game.

“Cavani was brilliant, he got injured which is a bit of a worry, but he didn’t look to be in too much discomfort, but it’s a worry.”

“He’s very important to Uruguay… There’s no doubt about the quality of Suarez, but for me Cavani is the big star for the team.”

The attacking pair linked up perfectly for Uruguay’s open, which saw Cavani send a sweeping cross-field ball to Suarez, before sprinting half the length of the pitch to turn the return ball home.   

 
“This is a perfect ball in, to a striker who’s very good in the heading department, and he doesn’t miss from there,” said Schmeichel.

Portugal showed more urgency after going behind, equalizing through Pepe in the second half, although Schmeichel said the game saw the best and worst of the former Real Madrid defender.

“Pepe slipped in with a really good header,” Schmeichel said of the defender’s 55th-minute goal, before finding fault with the 35-year-old for the goal which saw Uruguay re-take the lead.

“But when you have someone like Pepe in the team, he pops up and scores goals, but he also makes stupid decisions in the game.

“For the second goal he made stupid decision to try and win a header, when he should have stayed back, but he left so much space for Cavani.”

Cavani used that space well, curling home from the edge of the box for what proved the winner.

Former Denmark and Manchester United ‘keeper Schmeichel said experienced Portuguese stopper Rui Patricio could have done better.  

“It is a great finish, but when you are facing a situation like that as a goalkeeper, you need to be a little bit further out of the goal. Rui Patricio was on the line, and also he got a bit carried away, he was a bit too far to the right.

“It’s nearly in the center of the goal… it’s a quality finish from a great striker… but you always have to question these players, he could have done a bit better.”

READ MORE: Ronaldo flashes legs, internet goes into meme frenzy

Uruguay closed out the game for the win, with the closing stages to what could be Ronaldo’s World Cup swansong not showing the best from a man who has scored four goals at Russia 2018 – including  a stunning hat-trick in Sochi in the opening game against Spain.

“After that there was nothing in Portugal… Ronaldo huffed and puffed, but there was nothing really in that,” Schmeichel said of the closing stages against Uruguay.

With that, Ronaldo’s World Cup in Russia was over as he departed football’s greatest stage along with his greatest rival.

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Russia World Cup: the West Have Failed

Moscow (PL) The tacit plan wished by the West to prevent the celebration of the Soccer World Cup in Russia was a failure as soon as the first chords of the inaugural ceremony in Luzhniki Stadium -where 32 teams of the world had an appointment- started to sound.

To make matters worse, the national team showed in the inaugural game a soccer match never seen in this country for high-level competitions, at least after the formation of the Russian Federation: five goals against Saudi Arabia.

Although the Saudis were not the best team in the tournament, there were much optimism during the organization of the World Cup, but predictions about the local team's potential were really pessimist.

One of the main slogans of the press and even some high-ranking politicians said: we already won by hosting the World Cup, but we can also win... experience.

The truth is that the first eight goals scored by the host squad, led by Stanislav Cherkesov, to ensure its exit from the qualifying round, became a historic achievement, dreamed by few in this nation.

No matter how far the Russian team can go, this will undoubtedly strength the success of this country against the struggle started by the West through at least three intentional maneuvers to spoil the competitive event.

The first was the case of the alleged poisoning of Serguei Skripal and his daughter Julia.

During more than three months of unfounded accusations, diplomatic actions and sanctions against Russia, London was unable to prove the presumed chemical attack against the former Russian military intelligence agent.

In fact, the last thing London wants to talk about now is precisely the Skripal case. Some media came to speculate that as soon as the World Cup ends, the whereabouts of the former Russian agent will be completely uncertain.

At the time and in the heat of the anti-Russian euphoria in the United Kingdom's parliament, the Foreign Minister of that country, Boris Jhonson, came to threaten the suspension of England's attendance at the World Cup.

Finally, he chose to allow English squad to participate, but the Foreign Office -like its colleagues in France, Poland, Denmark and other European nations- spent its time inventing another Russia, to which no one should travel.

Precisely, the fans from the mentioned countries were responsible for denying or rather denouncing the calumnies they heard about Russia when they were about to travel.

A second maneuver was to intensify the attacks of the western coalition led by the United States in Syria, including a greater support to the terrorist groups to create a new atmosphere of war tension in the south of the Levantine country.

The third action was an attempt at provocation to create a large-scale conflict in Donbass coal region. In fact, Kiev's authorities publicly declared that they intended to 'spoil' the sports tournament.

But the self-defense formations of Donetsk and Lugansk Republics launched several counter-offensives in late May and June that cooled off Kiev's ambitious military plans for a major offensive.

It is worth noting that Donbass is adjacent to the Russian region of Rostov-on-Don, whose capital is one of the 11 cities hosting the World Cup since June 14.

DIFFERENT OPINION

If the Western campaign's failure were measured in terms of the convening power achieved by Russia, we should refer to the fact that only Mexico brought to this country about 50,000 fans who move like a real green tide through Russian cities.

Many of the almost three million fans, not counting the tourists who simply come to enjoy the World Cup's atmosphere, were from Latin America, whose region brought teams from eight countries to compete for the round of 16.

Therefore, in the streets of Moscow, in St. Petersburg, in the southern spa of Sochi, in the beautiful Kazan, in the Republic of Tatarstan and in other regions, Spanish was heard more than any other language.

The fans from Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Colombia and Panama became so popular among the Russians that many locals came to propose offers to acquire Mexican hats or other Latin American clothes.

We were told that the police could confiscate the mobiles, that we were coming to a concentration camp, to a country with dirty streets, with rough and rude people, but it has been the opposite. That would be several foreigners' opinion.

In fact, the West is scared by the evidence that Russia is establishing a record of organization, cleanliness, hospitality, attention of volunteers, preparation of cities to meet foreigners and safety conditions.

The uncovered defamatory campaign lead some politicians like Jhonson to change their rhetoric. What option do they have? Thousands of Englishmen who dared to travel to Russia can deny all those lies.

The head of British diplomacy published an article in The Sun, where he said that his country reinforced the work of its consulates in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg, as well as organized mobile groups of diplomats for other cities.

In addition to the mentioned cities, the World Cup is also held in Kaliningrad, Samara, Saransk, Volgograd, Rostov-on-Don and Nizhny Novgorod.

Apart from the economic and political dividends that the celebration of the event will give Russia, the World Cup's success will reduce the Western countries' arguments to continue with their anti-Russian policy and sanctions against this nation.

Could a country with a population so hospitable and ready to attend and share with dozens of countries that came here to enjoy the world's best soccer threaten or wish an attack on other nations?

  • Published in World

FIFA World Cup Round of 16 draw revealed

After an enthralling opening two weeks, the World Cup lifts the stakes with only 16 teams left to battle for football's greatest prize.

There are no more second chances with all remaining matches sudden death.

There are some scintillating match-ups on offer in the Round of 16 with the powerhouse nations France and Argentina going head to head.

Cristiano Ronaldo's push for for footballing immortality continues as Portugal take on Group A winners Uruguay on Monday morning.

The rest of the knockout games include Brazil taking on surprise packets Mexico, Croatia going up against hosts Russia, Sweden and Switzerland facing off and Croatia to clash with Denmark while Belgium will play Japan.

The knockout round will conclude on Wednesday morning (AEST) with England's match against Colombia.

All matches will be broadcast live, free and in HD on SBS.

FIFA World Cup Round of 16

Saturday 30th June

France v Argentina - Live on SBS from 11pm (replay 6.3oam Sunday)

Sunday 1st July

Uruguay v Portugal - Live on SBS from 3am

Spain v Russia - Live on SBS from 11pm (replay 6.30am Monday)

Monday 2nd July

Croatia v Denmark - Live on SBS from 3am

Brazil v Mexico - Live on SBS from 11pm (replay 6.30am Tuesday)

Tuesday 3rd July

Belgium v Japan - Live on SBS from 3am

Sweden v Switzerland - Live on SBS from 11pm

Wednesday 4th July

Colombia v England - Live on SBS from 3am (replay 6.30 am)

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Donald Trump's Joke On Cristiano Ronaldo Falls Flat

Washington: US President Donald Trump cracked a joke about Portuguese soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo running for president against incumbent Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, who responded by saying that Portugal "is nothing like the US".

What started off as a casual conversation on Wednesday about the World Cup between Donald Trump and Rebelo de Sousa, who is on an official visit in Washington, revealed the stark contrast between their political cultures, Efe news reported.

In his first bilateral meeting with President Trump, Rebelo de Sousa bantered that when Trump would talk World Cup in his upcoming summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he should not forget to mention that "Portugal is still there and hopes to win..."

"Don't forget that Portugal has the best player in the world who is called Cristiano Ronaldo," Rebelo de Sousa told Trump in the White House.

President Trump recognised that Portugal indeed was "doing very well" and asked his counterpart "how good a player" Ronaldo was.

When Rebelo de Sousa said Ronaldo was "the best player in the world", Trump asked "so will Cristiano ever run for President against you?"

As his Portuguese counterpart pondered on a response, Trump assured him that "Cristiano wouldn't win, you know he won't".

At this Rebelo de Sousa turned and said "President, you know -- you know something -- I must tell you, Portugal is not like the US. It's a little different."

  • Published in World

Welcome to the club! Cavani joins Suarez in Uruguayan goalscorer record

Edison Cavani has joined teammate Luis Suarez in scoring in three consecutive World Cups with his strike in a 3-0 win against Russia. The strike duo are the only Uruguayans in history to achieve the feat.

Cavani grabbed the third and final goal of Uruguay's 3-0 thrashing of hosts Russia in Samara as the team recorded three wins from three group games, and advanced to the knockout stage in first place. They will now play in Sochi against the runners-up of Group B in the last 16. 

Russia, who had already qualified from the group stage for the first time in their history, will return to Moscow and their home Luzhniki Stadium, for the knockout stage against the Group B winners.

It was Suarez who opened the scoring at Samara Arena with a free-kick within 10 minutes with a low strike that benefited from some questionable defending from veteran center back Sergei Ignashevich. 

Denis Cheryshev then scored an unfortunate own goal when a shot cannoned off his outstretched leg and into the net, giving Igor Akinfeev, who had already set his feet to dive for the ball, no chance.

READ MORE: Egypt star Salah signs off with goal but Saudis snatch late 2-1 win

Russia's misery was compounded when Cavani bundled home a late third to join Suarez as the only La Celeste players to score in three consecutive World Cups.

With their win over Russia, two-time World Cup winners Uruguay became the first team to win all three consecutive games since Argentina at France '98.

  • Published in Sports

FIFA WORLD CUP: Fickle Technology

It came up to avoid these sorts of injustice, but the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) has not been applied as it should. The VAR has caused tongues to wag in every single game of this FIFA World Cup. Most of the time, critics have been aired in a negative way.

Of course, it is not my goal to go against technology. My critic targets those in charge of using it in a room with big TVs, and referees on the pitch.

In theory, the head referee in charge of VAR must call the referee on the pitch whenever there are controversial plays —within FIFA rules—. However, the referee on the field is not bound to follow the suggestion. Thus, we do not know when it is certainly his responsibility or not if a debatable play is not reviewed.

The game France-Australia was just perfect. A penalty was awarded thanks to the VAR and then, a goal was called when it was determined that the ball surpassed the goal line.

Nonetheless, Argentina was wronged. A possible penalty was not signaled in a game play. It did not occur in the game Mexico-Germany, or Brazil-Switzerland, or Serbia-Costa Rica. Technology could have changed the game in two of those games.

I do not know if FIFA executives punished the VAR referees in the France-Australia game, which would have been totally unfair. Technology is there to solve these kinds of stuffs. The most important thing is justice no matter how or who are responsible for getting it done.

That is why justice can’t be parented. In other words, justice cannot be a responsibility of only one man. I believe that referees on the pitch must have the final word. But he should also listen to those referees inside a room whenever they advise to review a game play. Therefore, the best referee is not the one who makes the final call, but the one who makes the right call.

Translated by Sergio A. Paneque Diaz / CubaSi Translation Staff

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