Soccer World Cup: What Team I support?

What do you think, feel and do around these days those of us who don’t like soccer?

The Soccer World Cup has begun and, according to estimates, almost half of the world population, nearly 3 thousand million people will be following it in body and soul.

Among them my neighboring Ildelisa joins in. Yesterday, when I walked down her front door it was half opened, she was staring at her television as if her life depended on watching the screen.

She was so absent-minded that I knocked, pushed the door, and she only realized I was there when she heard the cracking of the armchair where I sat next to her.

- Oh, my friend!, that was her greeting accompanied with a deep sigh.

- What happened, did your team lose?

- What team?

- The soccer team dummy; the game just ended now.

- Ah, yes?

- But Ildeliza, weren’t you watching the game?

- Nooo, I was looking at the goalkeeper; that is, both of them, and I could not decide which one was hotter.

In fact, what attracts my neighbor is by far the main motive of fans or simply followers of what has been called, understandable, the sport of crowds.

Undoubtedly this is one of those unique opportunities, just like the Olympic Games that is worthwhile enjoying although no team from Cuba is on the field.

But what is sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander. And in more than a Cuban home, conflicts because of the World Cup have erupted.

The soap operas, Pánfilo and other coinciding show in schedule with the games broadcast, pit together loving couples, mothers against children, grandparents against the most loving grandsons.

It’s also worth talking about those whom soccer doesn't move them inside not even a twitch, neither for those uninterested in it about that sport - because there are some.

Those who don’t like it, these days usually feel a secret sense of guilt that makes them step aside, like keeping a low profile from the groups where people comment passionately of a given game.

If they can’t help it but joining the debate - because any other way would be drawing much attention - they do it as a mirror, repeating what louder voices have said, or, ultimately, nodding agreement over and over, like the little toy dogs that were in fashion on car dashboards in the Cuban streets for a while.

Around these days, and until July 15th with the great finale, not knowing of soccer is like having bad breath... or something worse.

And if you are a man and know nothing of goals, balls, and fans thing could get complicated. Because even a few eyebrows are raised doubting their manliness, although until he has had a manly image so far.

While the most important world competition of soccer is on - the most popular and best paid - many contradictory emotions are lived. Because there are those who would like to watch all games, all of them, without caring to get blood-shot eyes on the third day, and although they want, they can’t.

Work, family duties, must-do, planned or accidental commitments, prevent most humans from staying put in front of screens for the 31 days with their 64 matches of the World Cup, even wishing it fiercely.

It’s then that strong fans look entertained, they forget things or important data, they are there, but they are not present. As soon as they have a chance they will be updated on the match result, to complain or scream euphoric if among the contestants is his favorite team.

Nobody knows if to avoid mistakes like those described in workplaces or the streets, perhaps for when the semifinal or finale are played, in any of the 32 national teams participating in the World Cup decide to declare a free day.

Meanwhile let happiness or displeasure - according to wins or defeats - don't cloud anyone’s judgment, and that my neighboring Ildeliza, from evaluating the work of goalkeepers, forwards, defenses and midfielders, she really ends up loving soccer, that which today draws multitudes.

Cubasi Translation Staff / Amilkal Labañino Valdés

  • Published in Now

Even as Trump advocates for Russia, his administration imposes new sanctions for Moscow’s cyberattacks

Citing “malicious” cyberattacks by Russian government agents, the Trump administration on Monday imposed economic sanctions on several Russian companies and persons accused of supporting Moscow’s spy networks.

The sanctions came even as President Donald Trump suggested Russia be readmitted to the powerful G-7 group of industrialized nations, which would reverse a decision made after the country’s invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Although Trump has spoken frequently of making Russia a closer ally, his administration has nevertheless imposed numerous sanctions packages for human rights violations, meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and other acts. By a nearly unanimous vote, Congress ordered some of the sanctions, which Trump then enacted only reluctantly.

In Monday’s action, the Treasury Department said it was blacklisting five Russian companies and three Russian citizens, most of whom have supplied material to or worked with Moscow’s Federal Security Service, known as the FSB, the successor to the Soviet Union’s KGB.

All worked on development of “offensive” cyber and underwater capabilities, posing a danger to the security of the United States and its allies, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

“The United States is committed to aggressively targeting any entity or individual working at the direction of the FSB whose work threatens the United States,” Mnuchin said.

His comments stood in marked contrast to remarks that Trump made during the summit of the Group of 7 major economic powers over the weekend in Quebec, where he lashed out at traditional allies such as Canada and said Russia ought to be invited to rejoin.

“We have a world to run,” Trump said.

Mnuchin said Russia’s “malign” activities included cyber intrusion into the U.S. energy grid and other infrastructure; an internet-chewing worm called Notpetya that cost several global conglomerates millions of dollars in damages; and the tracking of and possible interference with undersea communications cables that carry most of the world’s telecommunications data.

The blacklisting means any property or assets that the targeted people and companies have in U.S. jurisdiction will be frozen, and U.S. citizens may not do business with them.

The firms included Digital Security and its subsidiaries ERPScan and Embedi; the Kvant Scientific Research Institute; and Divetechnoservices and three of its executives. The last company was working on a $1.5-million “submersible craft” for the FSB.

Putin, in China for an international conference, did not address the sanctions, but instead focused on Trump’s goodwill. He said he’d be happy to return to the G-7 and looks forward to a separate summit with the American president.

“The U.S. president has repeatedly said that it’s reasonable to hold such a meeting,” Putin said. “As soon as the U.S. side is ready, the meeting will take place, depending, of course, on my working schedule.”

In Moscow, however, other Russian politicians had more antagonistic words. Russian Sen. Konstantin Kosachev said Washington is revealing that its mechanism for punishing Russia is “out of the control of common sense” and looks “more and more unconvincing and ever more pitiful.”

The state-run Ria Novosti news agency quoted Kosachev as saying the sanctions were meaningless “except as an attempt by the radical wing of American politics to use all means to assert U.S. exclusivity in the modern world.”

It was not clear what “radical wing” he was referring to.

  • Published in World

Cuba’s Soccer Fans Ready for the World Cup

Cuba will be one of the more than a hundred countries that won’t have its national soccer team playing in the World Cup in Russia, but that won’t stop soccer fever from taking over the island’s sports enthusiasts.

Traditionally, Cuban fans mostly choose to support Argentina and Brazil, because of the Latin blood they share apparently, but over time support grows for the teams of Germany and Spain, who have done well in previous events, as well as France and Holland, although Holland didn’t qualify for the Russian competition.

Fans of the different teams form groups to come together and cheer their squad as already happens with the different teams in the other national and continental soccer leagues. When the World Cup comes along you can see special initiatives to enjoy the matches.

This weekend, official Real Madrid and Barcelona clubs in Havana played a friendly game at the Eduardo Saborit sports center, to make it clear that even though they support different teams, there’s no bitterness between them. It was also a mixed affair as each team had to sign up one woman to their team.

Anyway, getting back to the World Cup… some places in Havana have already advertised to fans to come and enjoy their favorite team’s matches there; for example, restaurants 1830 and La Chorrera, whose managers are fans of the German team are planning to gather all their fans together there. Restaurant 1830 also has the German Embassy in Havana for support and will be the kind of “official” for their fans.

Tony, a Bayern Munich and German football fan, told us that he won’t miss one of the matches. “I go to 1830 a lot to watch Bayern matches throughout the year, especially on the weekend because of work. Now, I’ll also try to go every time Germany plays, if work allows me to. A group of people that we’ve all known for some time meet up there and we really enjoy the games.”

Meanwhile, another Bavarian supporter, Alfredo, told us a little bit about his expectations. “Germany hasn’t been playing very well in the lead up friendly matches up until now, but that’s because they’ve been up against big teams and they’ve played with a lot of different line-ups. When the World Cup starts, things will be different and I predict that they’ll finish first in their group. Afterwards, in the knockout stage, everyone knows that it’s very hard to beat them, so I think they can be the champions again.”

Raulito, an Argentina fan, has a very different opinion: “This World Cup belongs to (Lionel) Messi. It’s about time that Argentina won a tournament. It was really close to winning in another World Cup and in the Copa Americas, so I think it’s time has come. Messi needs the team to keep up with him more because he can’t do it all on his own.”

“This is a never-ending story, my brother,” Alfredo tells him. “It’s time you look for another team. Those Argentinians don’t have what it takes to win. When it counts, their legs get soft and nobody scores. That (Gonzalo) Higuain needs his head checked: he misses the easiest goals when it’s the final, and the same thing happens in the Champions League, both when he was at Real Madrid and now at Juventus.”

“I believe that Argentina is considered a favorite just because of Messi,” Alejandro says. “Because the truth is that as a team they aren’t that extraordinary. They at least need to put (Paulo) Dybala on the field and put aside that foolishness that he can’t play alongside Messi, because if they don’t, Argentina won’t go anywhere.”

“Forget about Argentina,” Ulises interrupts. “This World Cup is Brazil’s and the Golden Boot award is Neymar’s (da Silva). No other team has the Brazilians’ skill and they have been unbeatable for a while now, ever since Dunga was let go as trainer because they weren’t going to go anywhere with him. Neymar definitely doesn’t get rattled when the time comes and I’m sure he’ll be a champion with this team. Plus, they’re coming back with a vengeance after they lost in 2014, so I don’t think they will lose.”

“It’s true, Brazil is good,” Julita says, “but don’t forget Spain, who are also making their mark in the friendlies and kicked Italy out in the qualifiers. This team is also very good, with star players playing nearly every position. What they need is for Diego Costa to score goals with Spain like he does when he plays for Atletico, because if he did there’s no one who could beat the Spanish.”

“Guys,” Abelito says, “don’t forget about France. If we take a look at each and every player, I think they are one of the best bets and they have also really stood out in the exhibition matches, in spite of the line-up having been changed quite a lot.”

“But, it’s the same with France like it is with Argentina,” Alejandro cuts back. “If they weren’t able to win the UEFA European Championship at home, against Portugal which isn’t a particularly great team, and they didn’t even have Cristiano Ronaldo playing that day, then do you really think they can win the World Cup?

In my opinion, that (Antoine) Griezmann is a lot like Higuain, when the game gets critical, he gets nervous and they can’t win the World Cup like that.”

This improvised group didn’t end up agreeing, like what normally happens, and they each passionately bet on their own teams, just like they used to when they discussed baseball in the old days. We will see who’s right as time goes on, or there might even be a surprise and an unexpected team makes it all the way. In this sport, you never know…

  • Published in Sports

‘Is this not democracy?’: No conditions will make Russia return Crimea to Ukraine rule – Putin

Moscow will never return Crimea to Ukraine, because the republic overwhelmingly opted to reunite with Russia in a free referendum, Vladimir Putin has told Austrian ORF broadcaster, in an exclusive interview.

“There are no such conditions and there can never be” for Russia to return Crimea to Ukraine, Putin, who is to visit Austria on Tuesday, said. Russia was forced to act in Crimea because of the “unconstitutional armed coup,” which took place in Ukraine in February 2014.

The President addressed the issue of Russian military presence on the peninsula at that time by saying that “our army was legally deployed in Crimea – under the agreement on our military base there.”

Car traffic on the Crimean Bridge's freeway section © Alexey Malgavko

And, following the regime change in Kiev, “the first thing we did was increase our contingent to guard our Armed Forces, our military facilities, because we immediately saw that they were being threatened,” he said.

The mostly Russian population of Crimea also “sensed danger, when trains started bringing aggressive nationalists there, when buses and personal vehicles were blocked, people naturally wanted to protect themselves,” Putin recalled, adding that “the first thing that occurred was to restore the rights that Ukraine itself had issued by granting Crimea autonomy.”

He pointed out that the decision to hold a referendum on secession from Ukraine “was made by the Crimean parliament, which was elected in strict accordance with the Constitution and the laws of Ukraine before any such events.”

“Crimea gained independence through the free will of the Crimeans, expressed in an open referendum, not as a result of an invasion by Russian forces,” Putin said. The Russian forces were only in Crimea to ensure a free and independent plebiscite, he added.

READ MORE: Russia investigates Ukrainian judges suspected of violating Crimeans’ right to self-determination

The March 2014 referendum showed 96.77 percent of voters supported joining Russia, with an 83.1 percent voter turnout. “Is this not democracy? What is it then? And what is democracy?” Putin wondered.

But with ORF journalist Armin Wolf continuing to call Russia’s reunion with Crimea an “annexation,” Putin referred him to the example of Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008 with broad Western backing. “Why do you not say Kosovo was annexed after the invasion of NATO troops? You do not say that. You are talking about the Kosovars’ right to self-determination," he said, adding that “the Kosovars did this by a parliamentary decision alone, while the Crimeans did it in a referendum.”

  • Published in World

IOC and Russian Olympic Committee to sign four-year anti-doping agreement

A four-year anti-doping agreement is set to be signed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), it has been announced.

New ROC President Stanislav Pozdnyakov, elected to succeed Alexander Zhukov last week, said the deal would feature "international cooperation measures, including measures against anti-doping rules violations".

Pozdnyakov was quoted as saying by Russia's official state news agency TASS that the agreement would be signed by Olympic Solidarity Commission chairman Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah on behalf of the IOC.

insidethegames understands the action plan due to be signed by the IOC and the ROC is standard practice for the Olympic Solidarity Commission, who usually sign anti-doping agreements with the larger National Olympic Committees.

Olympic Solidarity Commission chairman Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah is reportedly set to sign the agreement with the ROC on behalf of the IOC ©Getty Images
Olympic Solidarity Commission chairman Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah is reportedly set to sign the agreement with the ROC on behalf of the IOC ©Getty Images

But this partnership takes on added significance after the IOC suspended the ROC and forced Russian athletes to compete as neutrals at the 2018 Winter OIympic Games in Pyeongchang as punishment for the "systematic manipulation" of the anti-doping system carried out by the country at Sochi 2014.

The IOC quickly reinstated the ROC just days after the conclusion of Pyeongchang 2018 despite two of the Olympic Athletes from Russia delegation failing drugs tests during the event.

"I am heading for Lausanne next Tuesday and we have an agreement, which will be signed later," said Pozdnyakov, according to TASS.

Pozdnyakov was elected ROC President after defeating challenger Alexander Popov at the election last Tuesday (May 29).

The 44-year-old is a four-time Olympic and 10-time world champion in fencing.

He had always been heavily favoured against an opponent who won four Olympic gold medals in sprint freestyle swimming.

Pozdnyakov replaces Alexander Zhukov, who led the ROC throughout the country's doping scandal and automatically ceased to be an IOC member after the Presidential election.

  • Published in Sports

ISIS-linked militants show up in Syrian refugee camp under US control – Lavrov

Militants linked with the terrorist group Islamic State are feeling increasingly comfortable in a refugee camp located near a US military base in southern Syria, the Russian foreign minister said.

“We have plenty of reports about strange things happening in the Al-Tanf area,” Sergey Lavrov said on Monday. “This area has no particular military value in terms of fighting terrorism. And in practical terms, we see a rise of presence in the region of militant groups, including those we believe to be connected with Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) in this or that way, including in the Rukban refugee camp.”

Located on Syria’s border with Jordan, Al-Tanf was captured last year by the US, which declared it under its protection and attacked pro-government forces showing up there. Russia has repeatedly expressed concern about the presence of US troops in the area and their refusal to allow access to it, including for humanitarian convoys to the Rukban camp.

READ MORE: Militants get R&R in US-guarded part of southern Syria – Lavrov

Asked by a journalist during a media conference if Russia was aware of US plans to withdraw from Al-Tanf, Lavrov said he has not seen any reports indicating such an intention, but would welcome such a move.

“This zone was created under manufactured justification with no military necessity,” he said. “If [the Americans] are arriving at the same conclusions, I expect this to translate into a practical implementation.”

The US put troops on the ground in Syria, stating that their goal was to defeat IS. The military intervention was carried out with no mandate from the UN Security Council, and against the objection of the Syrian government. The threat of IS has since been greatly diminished, but the US shows no intention of withdrawing from Syria. Instead, it is using its foothold in the north of the country to prop up the predominantly-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia.

Russia says the continued presence of US troops is a sign that Washington may still be seeking to topple of the Syrian government or at least aiming to partition Syria.

  • Published in World

Returning to Russia is the ‘long-term’ goal: Yulia Skripal gives first interview

In her first interview since surviving an alleged nerve agent attack, Yulia Skripal said she eventually wants to return to Russia. She has not shed any light on what happened in March in Salisbury.

"I came to the UK on the 3rd of March to visit my father, something I have done regularly in the past. After 20 days in a coma, I woke to the news that we had both been poisoned,” Skripal said in a video that was recorded by Reuters. She reiterated her words in a handwritten statement.

Yulia Skripal gives first media interview since Salisbury Poisoning

She and her father, Sergei Skripal, a former Russian double-agent, were found unconscious on a public bench in the British city of Salisbury on March 4. The UK government immediately accused Russia of being behind their poisoning, but it has yet to provide evidence for the claim. Skripal did not comment on who she thought was to blame for her poisoning.

"I still find it difficult to come to terms with the fact that both of us were attacked. We are so lucky to have both survived this attempted assassination. Our recovery has been slow and extremely painful,” she said. "The fact that a nerve agent was used to do this is shocking. I don't want to describe the details but the clinical treatment was invasive, painful and depressing.”

She also said that she was “grateful” for the offers of assistance from the Russian Embassy, “but at the moment I do not wish to avail myself of their services.” Skripal reiterated what she had said in an earlier written statement released by British police: “no one speaks for me, or for my father, but ourselves."

Following the release of the interview, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman addressed Yulia Skripal in a comment to RT.

“We’d like Yulia Skripal to know that not a single day passed without the Foreign Ministry, Russia’s Embassy in London trying to reach her with the main purpose to make sure she was not held against her will, she was not impersonated by somebody else, to get the first-hand information about her and her father’s condition,” Maria Zakharova said.

© Andrew Parsons

Russia’s Embassy in the UK welcomed the release of the interview, stating: “we are glad to have seen Yulia Skripal alive and well.” The video itself and the wording of the written statements, however, raised concerns with Russian diplomats, who urged London once again to allow consular access to Yulia “in order to make sure that she is not held against her own will and is not speaking under pressure.”

Skripal said that the ordeal had turned her life “upside down,” both “physically and emotionally.” She added that she was now focused on helping her father to make a full recovery, and that “in the long term I hope to return home to my country.”

London was quick to point the finger at Moscow over the incident, arguing that the alleged nerve agent used in the attack, A-230 or ‘Novichok,’ was only manufactured in Russia. However, UK officials have so far failed to provide evidence linking Moscow to attack, and the claim that the nerve agent could have only been made in Russia has been disputed by London’s own European allies.

In May, Czech President Milos Zeman acknowledged that his country had previously produced a nerve agent similar to the one that Britain claims was deployed against the Skripals. The admission was followed by an explosive story in the German media, which claimed that a sample of Novichok was obtained by German intelligence back in the 1990s and that Western countries, including the US and the UK, have long been aware of the chemical make-up of the nerve agent.

Russia has asked NATO to provide a full list of the member states that have conducted research on Novichok.

The Russian government has expressed serious doubts about whether a “military-grade” nerve agent was even used in the attack. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently noted that if Novichok had been used, the Skripals would have died almost instantly.

  • Published in World

China, Russia Call for Respecting Venezuela Elections, Condemn US Intervention

President Nicolas Maduro won the Venezuelan presidential elections Sunday, gaining a second presidential term for six years with more than 5.8 million votes.

A day after the Venezuelan general elections, China and Russia called Monday for respecting the country's democratic process and rejected attempts of interfence by the United States and other regional powers. 

RELATED: Cuba: Diaz-Canel, Raul Castro Congratulate Maduro

"The parties involved must respect the decision of the Venezuelan people," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang at a press conference in Beijing, as he encouraged resolving any dispute through legal channels, EFE reported. 

Kang affirmed China's policy of not interfering in internal affairs of other countries and was convinced that the Venezuelan government and citizens will be able to resolve the issues.  "China will address the relevant issues in accordance with diplomatic practice," the spokesman added. 

President Nicolas Maduro won the Venezuelan presidential elections Sunday, gaining a second presidential term for six years with more than 5.8 million votes, the country's National Electoral Council (CNE) reported.  

The opposition candidate, former governor, Henri Falcón came second after Maduro - and the evangelical expiator Javier Bertucci have made accusations of irregularities. 

Maduro's win comes at a time when the United States and its right-wing regional allies as well as several European governments have made several attempts to intervene in Venezuela's presidential elections through sanctions and boycott calls against the Venezuelan election saying they won't recognize the results, policies that were rejected by the Russian Foreign Ministry Monday.  

"We regrettably have to note that in these elections, in addition to the two traditional participants, that is, the Venezuelan people, the electors, on the one hand, and on the other the candidates who presented their programs ... there was a third participant, the governments who openly called for a boycott of the vote," said Alexánder Schetinin, director of the Latin American Department of the Foreign Ministry.  

Schetinin also added that Russia is often accused of meddling in other countries' elections but in Venezuela's case, some countries have meddled indiscriminately.

He added that some countries put obstacles "among others to hinder the voting in their territories of Venezuelans who are abroad." 

"And even worse when a whole series of governments, including the one you are appointing (United States), a priori declared that they would not recognize the results," he said during a press conference, the Interfax news agency reported. 

"The elections have been held and their results have an irreversible character: two-thirds of the votes went to the current president of the country, Nicolás Maduro," he concluded. 

While Many countries in Latin America have recognized the Venezuelan elections and congratulated President Maduro, such as Cuba, Bolivia and El Salvador, right-wing governments in the region have dismissed the vote as "illegtimate" echoing statements by the U.S. and Canada and some Western countries who had dismissed the vote and teh results before the election had even taken place.

The so-called Lima Group plus Canada issued a statement Monday saying it did not recognize the legitimacy of Venezuela's presidential election. The statement said the countries would call their ambassadors back from Caracas for consultations and hold a meeting to coordinate a regional response to what they call "crisis" in Venezuela. They also said they would seek a new resolution on "the situation" in the South American country.

Such attempts of interference into Venezuela's internal affairs have repeatedly been rejected over the past few months by the government in Caracas as well as left-wing governments in the region.

The Lima Group includes Peru, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Santa Lucia, Canada, Colombia, Honduras, Costa Rica and Guatemala.

  • Published in World
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