Here’s the biggest takeaway for the 2022 World Cup

If one thing became obvious during the World Cup’s month-long run in Russia, it’s that Qatar is going to need a bigger country.

More than 1 million visitors flooded Russia, packing Red Square, partying along Samara’s riverfront embankment and strolling the canals of historic St. Petersburg. But Russia is the largest country in the world. What happens when that many people show up four years from now in Qatar, which is smaller than Connecticut and has fewer people than Orange County?

“What we saw in Moscow, which has two stadiums, is that a city can be very quickly overwhelmed by big crowds,” senior Qatari official Nasser Al Khater said. “The fact you’re going to have the fans of 32 teams pretty much in a city, I think, is going to be electrifying.”

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World Cup finalists get big welcomes home

The World Cup finalists received heroes’ welcomes at home Monday, with hundreds of thousands of well-wishers clogging the Champs-Elysees in Paris to greet the victorious French team while a red-and-white checkerboard carpet was rolled out in Zagreb for runner-up Croatia.

At the French presidential palace, captain and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, brandishing the golden World Cup trophy, and coach Didier Deschamps, winner of the award as both a coach and player, were the first to greet President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte, on a red carpet in the courtyard.

“Eternal Happiness” was Monday’s headline in sports daily L’Equipe.

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Building toward World Cup victory began with France’s Euros loss

Didier Deschamps, captain of France’s first World Cup champion in 1998, coached the second one Sunday and said the title might not have been won but for the disappointment of losing the European Championship two years ago in Paris.

France entered the Euro final unbeaten but couldn’t score against Portugal, losing 1-0 in extra time. It was a crushing defeat but one Deschamps said set the foundation for the World Cup victory.

“Two years ago, it was so, so painful,” he said. “Maybe if we’d been European Champion we wouldn’t be world champions today. I learned a lot through this final.”

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Sampaoli out as Argentina coach

Argentina's coach Jorge Sampaoli awaits kick off of a friendly soccer match between Argentina and Italy on March 23.
(Oli Scarff / AFP/Getty Images)

Jorge Sampaoli is out as Argentina coach, two weeks after his team was beaten by France in the World Cup round of 16.

The Argentina soccer federation says it reached a “mutual agreement” to terminate his contract.

Sampaoli took over in May 2017 to revive Argentina’s faltering World Cup qualifying campaign. The team did advance to play in Russia but failed to beat Iceland, then slumped to a 3-0 loss against eventual runner-up Croatia.

Sampaoli’s role running the team seemed to be marginalized as senior players Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano exerted influence.


Croatian fans proud of team despite disappointment of World Cup final loss

Croatian supporters react during the 2018 Russia World Cup final against France.
(Dimitar Dilkoff / AFP/Getty Images)

Euphoria gave way to a mixture of disappointment and pride for Croatia fans after their national team lost to France in its first ever World Cup final.

The entry into the World Cup final in Russia brought the country of 4 million people to a standstill Sunday after officials and the media described the event as the biggest in Croatia’s sports history.

“Croatia has fallen as a hero!’ proclaimed the Index news portal. “Croatia’s team has managed to unite the whole country!”

Fans in the capital, Zagreb — many wearing the team’s red-and-white checked shirts or wrapped in national flags — crammed into squares and streets and were full of hope and cheers until the last moment.

As the game ended 4-2, they couldn’t hide sadness, but many said they were impressed by what Croatia achieved at the tournament.

“Of course I am sad. I could see them lift the trophy, but this is really fantastic,” Aleksandar Todorovic said. “We were great!”

Waving flags and singing songs, the fans kept up their spirits as the crowd partly dispersed from Zagreb’s main square.

Firecrackers went off as the state TV proclaimed that “we are still not aware of what we have done.” Many fans went on celebrating into the evening.

Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said the national team is “the first in the world for me.”

“People are happy as if we have won, and that’s the way it should be,” Plenkovic added. “This is a miraculous success for Croatia, and we should be very, very happy.”

The fans were particularly proud that the team captain, Luka Modric, won the Golden Ball after being voted the best player of the World Cup.

“We have achieved so much,” the 26-year-old Sofia Halinovcic said. “This is the best ever we did.”

Halinovcic contended that “we had great expectations, but we still need to process what we have done.”

Croatia is planning a huge welcome ceremony for its players on Monday that will include celebrations at the main square in Zagreb and a reception with the country’s president.


France wins second World Cup title, beating Croatia 4-2

How else should one of the most wild, unpredictable and entertaining World Cups in recent memory end, but with one of the wildest, most unpredictable and entertaining finals in recent memory.

France and Croatia followed that script perfectly in a game that included an own goal, a penalty-kick goal, video replay and a goalkeeper gaffe that led directly to the final score. When the dust had settled France was the champion, winning 4-2 in the highest-scoring World Cup final since 1966.

It was also France’s second title in 20 years.

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Pele congratulates teenage sensation Mbappe

The great Pele has acknowledged Kylian Mbappe’s remarkable tournament that culminated with the France forward becoming just the second teenager to score in a World Cup final. No guessing who is first.

Pele was 17 when he scored twice in Brazil’s 5-2 win over Sweden in the 1958 final.

Mbappe, 19, scored France’s fourth goal in the 4-2 win over Croatia in Moscow and was voted young player of the tournament.


Belgium beats England to finish third in World Cup

Belgium earned its highest World Cup finish by beating England 2-0 in the third-place match on Saturday in St. Petersburg. The goals came from Thomas Meunier and Eden Hazard, once in each half.

“These players didn’t want to rely on talent anymore, wanted to work as a team,” said Belgium coach Roberto Martinez, who has managed most of his career in England. “Their standards have been magnificent. They wanted to make the country proud.”

Meunier’s early goal matched a World Cup record with Belgium having 10 players score in a tournament, something done only twice before — by France in 1982 and Italy in 2006. Hazard added the other off a pass from Kevin De Bruyne in the 82nd minute.

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On France’s World Cup roster, soccer DNA outranks national origins

To the French national motto liberté, égalité, fraternité you can probably go ahead and add diversité, at least as far as its soccer team is concerned.

Because at a time of rising xenophobia and an anti-immigrant backlash on both sides of the Atlantic, France has made it to Sunday’s World Cup final against Croatia with one of the most diverse and multiethnic rosters of any national team in any sport.

Sixteen of the 23 players on the team come from families that recently immigrated to France from places like Zaire, Martinique, Cameroon, Morocco, Angola, Congo or Algeria. Forward Antoine Griezmann, the team’s leading scorer, is half-German and half-Portuguese. Defender Samuel Umtiti, who scored the goal that sent France to the final, was born in Cameroon. Teenage prodigy Kylian Mbappe is part Cameroonian, part Algerian.

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Soccer has been part of Croatia’s identity even before there was a Croatia

A couple of weeks before the Croatian national team left for Russia and the start of a surprising World Cup run that has carried it to Sunday’s final, fans of Dinamo Zagreb, the country’s most important club team in its largest city, gathered before a monument at Maksimir Stadium, a spot they consider hallowed ground.

It was there, at a soccer stadium, the fans say, that the country’s battle for independence kicked off.

“To all the Dinamo fans for whom the war started on May 13, 1990 and ended with them laying down their lives on the altar of the Croatian homeland,” an inscription on the monument reads.

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World Cup: How Belgium and England match up in the third-place game



Where: St. Petersburg

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Croatia’s tank far from dry after three extra-time wins

Croatia’s players should have been tired Wednesday during their World Cup semifinal with England.

They had already played two extra-time games in the tournament’s knockout stage, winning both in penalty-kick shootouts. No team had ever won three straight overtime games in a World Cup. Until now.

Croatian captain Luka Modric said his team embraced the challenge of doing things the hard way, adopting the motto “We will see who will be tired” as a rallying cry.

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Belgium has others to thank for its new-found prowess

Kevin de Bruyne said a big factor in Belgium’s recent rise to global prominence in soccer is the fact this generation was the first to send its players in great numbers to top-flight foreign leagues to play and learn.

On the 1986 Belgium team, the first to play in a World Cup semifinal, 20 of the 22 players competed for club teams in the country’s domestic league. This year’s team, by contrast, has just one player — defender Leander Dendoncker — playing at home.

“Belgium has a lot of talent but until 15 years ago, nobody was playing outside of Belgium,” said de Bruyne, who has played in the German Bundesliga and the English Premier League. “Then (Vincent) Kompany and (Marouane) Fellaini went and others thought ‘let’s sign more Belgium players.’ And that has helped.”

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Croatia advances to World Cup final with 2-1 win over England

Mario Mandzukic’s goal four minutes into the second overtime Wednesday capped a wild comeback and sent Croatia into Sunday’s World Cup final with a 2-1 win over England.

The victory makes Croatia the first country to win three consecutive extra-time games in the same World Cup; it won the first two in penalty-kick shootouts. Wednesday’s victory, which ended at nearly midnight local time, also concluded a streak that saw Croatia play six hours of World Cup soccer in 11 days.

It has another 90 minutes — at least — coming up Sunday in the World Cup final with France. England will meet Belgium in the third-place match Saturday.

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England riding high on World Cup success as Wimbledon also creates a racket

England is a nation unified and deliriously divided.

The world’s best tennis players typically own center stage during these two weeks of Wimbledon. But this year, they have stepped to the edge of the spotlight for the country’s surprising soccer team, which has advanced to the World Cup semifinals for the first time since 1990.

A spot in Sunday’s final is up for grabs Wednesday when England plays Croatia in a showdown that has this nation transfixed. As a result, Wimbledon officials are forced to relax their rigid rules of Centre Court that hold that spectators must switch off their phones and devices during play. When England is playing a World Cup game, tennis fans in those prime seats will be allowed to follow on their phones and tablets as long as they don’t disturb the people around them.

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France defeats Belgium 1-0 to advance to World Cup final

When the spotlight has shone on France in this World Cup, it has illuminated Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe, Olivier Giroud and Paul Pogba, the team’s attackers. And that made the team’s defenders as anonymous as the French Foreign Legion.

But when coach Didier Deschamps needed them the most, those anonymous defenders came up big Tuesday, shutting down Belgium in a 1-0 victory that sends France to its third World Cup final in 20 years.

The French will play the winner of Wednesday’s semifinal between England and Croatia on Sunday in Moscow.

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Jordan Pickford has saved England’s World Cup hopes in more ways than one

A year ago Jordan Pickford was a talented young goalkeeper with just one full season of first-division experience, no national team call-ups and a reputation built more on promise than proof.

On Wednesday he’ll start against Croatia in a World Cup semifinal in Moscow, with a chance to take England to a promised land it hasn’t seen since 1966. And nothing has done more to fuel England’s historic run than Pickford’s rapid rise from prodigy to polished shot-stopper.

He was the difference in England’s Round-of-16 game with Colombia, which England won in a penalty-kick shootout. And he followed that by shutting out Sweden in the quarterfinals. Almost forgotten was the fact that that game was just the eighth of Pickford’s international career.

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Croatia didn’t pay the penalty for misses this time around

For Luka Modric it was like déjà-vu all over again.

When the Real Madrid midfielder lined up for a penalty kick in extra time of a round-of-16 game with Denmark 10 days ago, he had a chance to send Croatia on to the World Cup quarterfinals. Only his weak try was gobbled up by Kasper Schmeichel, preserving the tie and sending the game to a shootout to decide who would advance.

Ten years earlier, in the first knockout round of the European Championship, Modric lived a similar nightmare, failing to convert a penalty try in a game Croatia would go on to lose to Turkey.

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How England and Croatia match up in the World Cup semifinal



Where: Moscow

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Migrant workers got World Cup started and have kept it going

Invisible to the crowds flocking to World Cup venues all over Russia are legions of migrant workers from Central Asia, who built the stadiums and keep them running, staff concession stands, and clean up after fans who revel through city streets.

They are among millions of migrants who perform menial jobs across Russia, and face routine police harassment and ethnic profiling. Yet they are a pillar of the economy and aid Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s geopolitical strategy — and without them, Russia might not have managed to host a World Cup at all.

“Migrants made up the main workforce” in the construction of stadiums and transport infrastructure for the tournament, Valery Solovei, a professor at Moscow’s MGIMO foreign policy institute and an expert on immigration and nationalism, told the Associated Press. “Without migrant workers, Russia couldn’t have built all these things so quickly.”

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How Belgium and France match up in the World Cup semifinal



Where: St. Petersburg

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Spain already has a new coach after disappointing World Cup

FC Barcelona head coach Luis Enrique during a news conference at Joan Gamper Sports Center in Barcelona, Spain, on April, 18 2017.
(Alejandro Garcia / EPA)

Spain’s football federation says former Barcelona coach Luis Enrique has been appointed to take charge of the national team.

He replaces Julen Lopetegui, who was sacked on the eve of the World Cup after accepting the job at Real Madrid, with Fernando Hierro taking temporary charge for the finals in Russia.

Enrique, 47, has signed a two-year contract.

“The decision has been unanimous,” federation President Luis Rubiales said. “I like his commitment. He has let better financial opportunities pass in order to be national team coach.

“This coach fulfills all the parameters to take charge of the team. Enrique is bringing his backroom staff, but this is a matter he will speak about next week.”

Enrique, as both player and coach, didn’t fit the typical model of the cerebral tactician steeped in the ways of Barcelona. But his fiery spirit proved to be just as successful— while it lasted.

He started out as a player for his local Sporting Gijon team on Spain’s Atlantic coast. He then won one league title while playing for Real Madrid before moving to fierce rival Barcelona in 1996, where he went on to win two more Liga crowns and became the captain before retiring in 2004.

Overall, Enrique’s achievements compare well to Pep Guardiola’s. Barcelona won nine of a possible 13 titles in his three years in charge, compared to 14 of a possible 19 trophies in four seasons under Guardiola.

At his presentation as Barcelona’s coach, Enrique said his strength was motivating players. “I don’t rely too heavily on tactical know-how, instead I focus on managing a group, managing egos,” he said.

“There is work that goes on during the week, work based on knowing each player. I try to be everything a leader is.”

Enrique achieved his greatest success at the beginning of his stint at Barcelona. The improvement was immediate. With Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez scoring lots of goals, Barcelona repeated the rare treble of Champions League-Spanish league-Copa del Rey titles first won under Guardiola.


France’s last World Cup hero using expertise to help Belgium reach final

The first time Antoine Griezmann met Thierry Henry he was 7. Henry had just helped France to its only World Cup title and Griezmann, who could barely reach the player’s waist on tippy-toes, wanted an autograph.

Had a video of the meeting not surfaced recently, the moment might have been forgotten to all but Griezmann. In it Griezmann and a pint-sized friend chase down Henry and, after bending over to sign a soccer ball, the player turns to a pair of teammates and says “they’re our successors.”

On Tuesday, Griezmann has a chance to make Henry either a prophet or a profiteer when he leads France into the World Cup semifinals against Belgium. If Griezmann wins, he will have proven a worthy successor indeed by taking France to a World Cup final for the first time since Henry retired from the national team eight years ago.

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A little Pep talk is giving England a World Cup boost

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has never coached a game at the international level, yet his influence was considered partly responsible for the success of the last two World Cup champions and could play a role in next Sunday’s final was well.

Here’s how the “Pep Effect” has worked: When Guardiola was managing Barcelona in Spain’s La Liga, six of his players started for the national team in the 2010 World Cup final, which Spain won. Four years later Guardiola was in the Bundesliga at Bayern Munich and six of his club’s stars played in the 2014 World Cup final, which Germany won.

Neither team has won a knockout game since.

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Neymar’s fall leaves World Cup without a superstar

The last Latin American team is out of the World Cup, meaning Europe will extend its hold on soccer’s biggest prize to 16 years by the time the next tournament rolls around in 2022.

Brazil’s departure means the competition in Russia will finish without a widely recognized international superstar, the kind of player who gets casual fans from Austin to Auckland to turn on their television sets and watch soccer.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who have combined to win the last 10 world player of the year awards, both went out one game into knockout stage. Brazil’s exit in the quarterfinals in a 2-1 loss to Belgium on Friday takes Neymar, the world’s most expensive player, with it.

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England reaches semifinals after beating Sweden 2-0

England achieved something David Beckham’s generation never managed: It reached the semifinals of the World Cup.

Harry Maguire and Dele Alli scored with headers in a 2-0 win over Sweden on Saturday, earning England a match against either Croatia or host-nation Russia for a place in the final.

England has advanced further than was widely expected. Not even the England side from the early 21st century, containing stars like Beckham, Steven Gerrard and a young Wayne Rooney, ever got this far at a major tournament.

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Russia’s surprising World Cup run ends in shootout loss to Croatia

Croatia defeated host Russia 4-3 in a penalty shootout Saturday night to advance to a World Cup semifinal against England.

The quarterfinal at Sochi was tied 1-1 after regulation and 2-2 after extra time, forcing both Croatia and host Russia to a shootout for the second consecutive game.

Ivan Rakitic scored the winner from the spot as Russian goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev dived the opposite direction. Akinfeev made on save during the shootout and nearly had another on Luka Modric, but the shot deflected off Akinfeev’s hand, off the post and into the net.

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Alex Ovechkin brings Stanley Cup with him to World Cup

Alex Ovechkin has brought the Stanley Cup to the World Cup.

The Washington Capitals captain took the NHL trophy to a fan zone in Moscow where World Cup games are screened. With the Russian national guard providing security, Ovechkin lifted the cup above his head in front of a crowd of fans, who were allowed to take photos with the trophy.

“The cup is with us. The cup is in Moscow, Russia,” Ovechkin said. “I am very happy for the people that can see it and touch it. I am very, very happy.”

Ovechkin said he wishes the Russian soccer team well in its quarterfinal match against Croatia in Sochi.

“The national team did a great a job for the fans. Everyone is so happy. Miracles can happen. We are not far away from the final,” he said. “We need to fight, and our players understand it. They will do everything that they can.”

Ovechkin won his first Stanley Cup championship a month ago in his 13th season in Washington.

Other Russian NHL players are also interested in soccer. Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins posted a picture on Instagram showing himself on a luxury jet with Ilya Kovalchuk of the Los Angeles Kings and Alexander Radulov of the Dallas Stars.

“Flying to Sochi” was the caption.


Belgium savors 2-1 victory over Brazil, moves on to face France in semifinals

Since taking over as coach of the Belgian national team two years ago, Roberto Martinez has kept the focus on preparing for the next win rather than celebrating the previous one.

He briefly broke from that approach Friday after beating Brazil 2-1 in a World Cup quarterfinal in Kazan, a win that lifted Belgium into the tournament’s final four for the first time in 32 years.

It was a victory, Martinez admitted, that deserved to be savored.

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European team guaranteed title

Losses by Brazil and Uruguay on Friday reduced the World Cup to a European championship with the tournament’s final six teams all calling the continent home.

Neighbors France and Belgium have already advanced to next week’s semifinals while the remaining quarterfinals Saturday will send England against Sweden and Croatia against Russia. When those games are concluded it will mark just the second time since 1982 that the final four of a World Cup have all come from the same FIFA confederation.

It also happened in 2006 when Italy, France, Germany and Portugal reached the semifinals.

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A look at Saturday’s World Cup quarterfinal games



Where: Samara

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Belgium survives late push from Brazil, 2-1, to advance to semifinals

Belgium's Axel Witsel (6) celebrates after beating Brazil in Kazan, Russia on July 6.
(Sergey Dolzhenko / EPA)

Belgium reached the World Cup semifinals for the first time in 32 years by holding off five-time champion Brazil 2-1 Friday, sending Neymar home without living up to the expectations of being soccer’s most expensive player.

Kevin De Bruyne put Belgium up 2-0 by completing a counterattack led by Romelu Lukaku in the 31st minute.

The opener came after a bit of good fortune. Fernandinho’s trailing arm inadvertently helped Belgium captain Vincent Kompany’s header land in his own net in the 13th.

As Belgium lost cohesiveness in the second half and Brazil’s changes stirred the team, substitute Renato Augusto reduced the deficit with a header in the 76th.

But it was too late for Brazil to muster an equalizer as efforts to force the game into extra time were thwarted by Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

Belgium will face France in the semifinals on Tuesday in St. Petersburg.


France advances to World Cup semis with 2-0 win over Uruguay

Antoine Griezmann set up one goal and scored another Friday as France became the first team to clinch a spot in the World Cup semifinals with a 2-0 win over Uruguay before a crowd of 43,319 at Nizhny Novgorod Stadium.

The semifinal appearance is the first for France since 2006, when it lost the World Cup final to Italy on penalty kicks. For Uruguay, which was missing leading scorer Edinson Cavani to a calf injury, the loss was its first in Russia. The South Americans were bidding for their second semifinal berth in three World Cups.

France’s semifinal opponent will be determined in Friday’s late game between Brazil and Belgium in Kazan.

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Numbers back France’s claim of being soccer’s dominant nation

Ask Didier Quillot who he is supporting in the World Cup and the chief executive of France’s first-division league pauses to work up the proper amount of disdain before answering.

“Who am I for? For France, obviously,” he eventually said Wednesday. “I am French. So I am a supporter of my country. “

The answer really isn’t that obvious, though, because Quillot’s league has 19 players spread across the rosters of six of the eight teams in the tournament quarterfinals. The leading scorers for Uruguay and France play in Ligue 1. Goalkeeper Danijel Subasic, the hero of Croatia’s victory in the round of 16, plays in France. So does Brazil’s Neymar, arguably the best player left in the tournament.

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Russia’s performance in World Cup — and the country’s history — are raising doping suspicions

During the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, the last major international sporting event held in Russia, athletes from the host country topped the medal count with 33, including 13 golds. It was a performance that seemed too good to be true.

And it was. Seven months ago, the International Olympic Committee sanctioned 43 athletes after an investigation into a state-run doping program, planned for years to ensure dominance at the Sochi Games.

Twenty-eight athletes were later reinstated, but the stain of one of the most elaborate and successful doping ploys in sports remained. That doubt now hovers over the country’s soccer team, which entered the World Cup ranked 70th yet finds itself among the final eight teams.

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World Cup quarterfinals a class conflict between soccer’s rulers and its climbers

There is a prominent square in this central Russian municipality dedicated to the revolutionary writer Maxim Gorky, for whom the city was once named.

For much of the past month World Cup visitors have been pouring through the park, taking pictures of the massive 23-foot statue of Gorky at its center and visiting the museum housed in the Art Deco mansion where he spent his last five years. And while Gorky probably wouldn’t have thought much of the tournament or the tourists, as a master of the social realism literary style he would have found inspiration in World Cup quarterfinals that have reduced to a class conflict between soccer’s bourgeois and its proletariat.

In one half of the bracket are three former champions in France, Uruguay and Brazil who have combined for eight titles; on the other side, three teams that have never lifted the trophy.

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French star Antoine Griezmann has his heart on both sides of quarterfinal match-up

When France and Uruguay face off in a World Cup quarterfinal here Friday, French star Antoine Griezmann may have trouble remembering which team he’s playing for.

Lined up against him will be Juan Maria Gimenez and Diego Godin, two of his teammates at Spain’s Atletico Madrid. In fact Griezmann and Godin are so tight, the Uruguayan captain is the godfather of Griezmann’s daughter.

Add to that Griezmann’s affection for mate, a Uruguayan drink, the fact he speaks Spanish with a Uruguayan accent and has been pictured wearing the team’s jersey and, well, things could get complicated.

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World Cup: Friday’s matchups



Where: Nizhny Novgorod

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England advances to World Cup quarterfinals by defeating Colombia in a shootout

England players celebrate after defeating Colombia on penalty kicks.
(Victor R. Caivano / Associated Press)

MOSCOW — England ended its long run of penalty misery and reached the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time in 12 years, beating Colombia 4-3 in a shootout on Tuesday.

Eric Dier scored the decisive kick after a 1-1 draw.

England will play Sweden in the quarterfinals in Samara on Saturday. It is the furthest England has progressed in any tournament since the David Beckham era, when a golden generation of players exited the 2002 and 2006 World Cups in the last eight.

England took the lead in a scrappy match when Harry Kane scored from the penalty spot in the 57th minute. Yerry Mina headed in an equalizer in the third minute of stoppage time.

England trailed 3-2 in the shootout after Jordan Henderson’s shot was saved, but Mateus Uribe hit the bar and goalkeeper Jordan Pickford then saved Carlos Bacca’s kick.


World Cup TV ratings in the U.S. are down 42% without American team

The lack of a U.S. team caused a big viewership drop for World Cup telecasts.

The 48 group stage telecasts on Fox and FS1 averaged 2.069 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. That is down 42% from the 3.54 million average on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC four years ago and down 15% from the 2.429 million average on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC eight years ago.

Excluding games involving the U.S. team in previous World Cups, the average declined 28% from the 2014 tournament in Brazil and was up 1% from the 2010 tournament in South Africa.

Most group-stage kickoff times this year were morning EDT, starting as early as 6 a.m., and the latest matches began at 2 p.m. Games in 2014 started mostly from noon to 4 p.m. EDT, while in 2010, there were many matches at 10 a.m. and some as early as 7:30 a.m.

Twenty-six group-stage matches were aired on Fox, up from six on ABC in 2014 and four on ABC in 2010.

Ratings include only television viewers and not those who viewed digital streams.


Sweden edges Switzerland to reach World Cup quarterfinals

Sweden's Emil Forsberg (10) celebrates after scoring a goal against Switzerland.
(Giuseppe Cacace / AFP / Getty Images)

Sweden has advanced to the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time since 1994 with a 1-0 win over Switzerland.

The Swedes took the lead in the 66th minute at St. Petersburg when Emil Forsberg’s right-foot shot deflected off defender Manuel Akanji and past the wrong-footed Yann Sommer.

Forsberg also cleared a corner off his own line to preserve Sweden’s lead in the 80th minute.

Referee Damir Skomina awarded Sweden a penalty in stoppage time for a foul by Michael Lang on Martin Olsson but overturned his own decision after a review showed Lang’s push was just outside the area. Lang was sent off for the challenge.

Sweden will play the winner of Tuesday’s later match between England and Colombia at Spartak Stadium in Moscow.


Belgium rallies from two-goal deficit to beat Japan 3-2

Belgium's Nacer Chadli delivers the game-winning goal against Japan.
Belgium’s Nacer Chadli delivers the game-winning goal against Japan.
(Roman Pilipey / EPA-EFE / REX / Shutterstock)

Belgium has rallied from 2-0 down to beat Japan 3-2 with a goal in the dying seconds and advance to a World Cup quarterfinal match against Brazil.

Nacer Chadli finished off a length-of-the-field movement late in stoppage time for the clincher Monday night at the Rostov Arena. It’s the first time since 1970 that a team has rallied to win a knockout game from 2-0 down at a World Cup.

Midfielders Genki Haraguchi and Takashi Inui scored in the 48th and 52nd minutes to give Japan a surprising 2-0 lead.

Jan Vertonghen started the comeback when he scored with a looping header in the 69th and another substitute, Marouane Fellaini, headed home Eden Hazard’s cross from the left in the 74th.

What was expected to be a mismatch ended up a classic match.

Belgium was one of only three teams to win all three group games and topped the tournament scoring list with nine goals in the group stage. Japan narrowly scraped through to the knockout stage in the tightest of tiebreakers against Senegal — after both teams finished level in Group G — because it had a better disciplinary record at the tournament.

Japan has now lost in the round of 16 three times and has never reached the World Cup quarterfinals.


Brazil and Neymar eliminate Mexico from World Cup with a 2-0 victory

Mexico’s World Cup is over, ending in a 2-0 loss to Brazil on a sultry evening at Cosmos Arena on Monday.

Brazil got second-half goals from Neymar and Roberto Firmino to hand Mexico a loss in the first game of the knockout round for a seventh consecutive World Cup. El Tri hasn’t made it past the Round of 16 since 1986 and has never won a World Cup elimination game outside Mexico.

For Brazil, the win extends its streak of reaching the quarterfinals to seven straight World Cups. Upsets in this tournament have already claimed the last two World Cup finalists and the last two World Cup winners.

Mexico took down one of those giants, stunning reigning champion Germany in its opener. But it couldn’t get past Brazil, a team it has never beaten — and never scored upon — in World Cup competition.

Brazil’s quarterfinal opponent will be determined in Monday’s late match between Belgium and Japan.

The game in Samara, Russia, kicked off in sweltering 92-degree temperatures, making it as much a struggle for survival as it was a soccer match. Both teams slogged through a scoreless first half in which Mexico did not put a shot on goal and Brazil tested Mexican keeper Guillermo Ochoa three times.

It was the first knockout game in this tournament not to have a goal in the first half but the 20th overall to be scoreless at the half. Only one of those previous games ended 0-0 and this one wouldn’t either after Neymar scored the game’s first goal in the 51st minute.

The Brazilian talisman started the sequence by walking the ball across the top of the 18-yard box before sliding to Willian with a back-heel pass. The Chelsea midfielder then brought the ball into the area on the left side and sent a low left-footed cross past Mexican defender Miguel Layun to the front of the goal, where a sliding Gabriel Jesus just missed getting a foot on it.

But Neymar, sliding in tandem just behind Jesus, didn’t miss, poking the ball into the gaping net with his right foot for his second goal in three games.

The goal was the 227th for Brazil in World Cup play, breaking a tie with Germany for all-time high.

Mexico, playing without a clear home-field advantage for the first time in Russia — the crowd of nearly 42,000 was evenly split — tried to come back, with Carlos Vela bending a left-footed shot toward the crossbar in the 60th minute. But Brazilian keeper Alisson lifted it over the goal for his first save of the game.

He wouldn’t be called on to make another as Brazil posted its third consecutive shutout, running its scoreless streak to 310 minutes.

That allowed Firmino, a second-half substitute who had come on just two minutes earlier, to tack on an insurance goal in the 88th minute. With Mexico pushing numbers forward, Neymar and Firmino were launched on a counterattack, and when Neymar’s right-footed shot from the left side strayed, Firmino was there to tap it in to secure the win.

Brazil's Neymar, top, celebrates with teammate Paulinho after scoring his team's first goal against Mexico in Samara, Russia, on Monday.
(Dan Mullan / Getty Images)


Croatia advances to World Cup quarterfinals by defeating Denmark on penalty kicks

Croatia's defender Domagoj Vida reacts after a teammate scored during the shootout.
(Dimitar Dilkoff / AFP / Getty Images)

Danijel Subasic saved three penalties to help Croatia reach the World Cup quarterfinals with a 3-2 shootout victory over Denmark following a 1-1 draw on Sunday.

Ivan Rakitic scored the decisive penalty after Subasic had used his feet to stop an attempt from Nicolai Jorgensen.

Croatia captain Luka Modric, who also scored in the shootout, had a chance to put his team ahead late in injury time, but his penalty was saved by Denmark goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.

Croatia will next face host Russia in the quarterfinals on Saturday in Sochi.

Denmark took the lead in the first minute when defender Mathias Jorgensen scrambled in a shot that went in off Subasic’s left hand and then the left post. It was Denmark’s fastest World Cup goal.

Croatia equalized in the fourth minute with another untidy goal at Nizhny Novgorod Stadium. Henrik Dalsgaard’s clearance hit a teammate and fell for Croatia forward Mario Mandzukic to hook the ball in.

The teams stayed even for the next 116 minutes, including the 30 minutes of extra time.


Another World Cup shocker: Russia upsets Spain in penalty-kick shootout

Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev dives to his right but was able to make a kick save to win the game.
(Mladen Antonov / AFP / Getty Images)

Russia shockingly eliminated Spain from the World Cup, surviving two hours of dominance by the 2010 champions in a 1-1 draw before winning a penalty-kick shootout 4-3.

Russia’s captain and goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev saved spot-kicks from Jorge “Koke” Resurreccion and Iago Aspas, and four of his teammates scored without a miss.

Akinfeev used his trailing left foot to kick the ball high away from the goal on Spain’s last attempt by Aspas. The veteran goalkeeper leapt up, punched the air with both hands and leapt into a belly flop dive on to the rain-soaked turf as teammates raced to him from the halfway line.

The World Cup’s lowest-ranked team now advances to a quarterfinal against Croatia or Denmark in Sochi on Sunday.

“I just feel emptied out,” Akinfeev said. “Over the whole second half and extra time we were defending our goal and managed it, we were hoping for penalties because Spain are hard to beat. Spain can’t always be lucky.”

It gave Russia its greatest win in international soccer for 10 years, since Akinfeev was in goal for an extra-time victory over the Netherlands in a European Championship quarterfinal. That run was ended days later by a Spain team beginning its era of dominance.

Spain has now failed to win a knockout game at three major tournaments since it won Euro 2012.

Defeat Sunday likely spells the end of Andres Iniesta’s career. The veteran Barcelona midfielder came off the bench and almost won the game with an 85th-minute shot well saved by Akinfeev. Iniesta also scored the first spot-kick of the shootout.

Spain was more urgent in extra time after being too passive when it dominated the ball in the 90 minutes of regular time.

Akinfeev pushed away a 109th-minute shot from substitute Rodrigo who ran hard at goal from near the halfway line. He also ensured the game needed 30 extra minutes with back-to-back diving saves in the 85th to deny substitutes Iniesta and Aspas.

Spain dominated the ball during the game — completing more than 1,000 passes — but was too passive against a well-organized Russian defense.

Spain led in the 12th minute when captain Sergio Ramos helped force Russia’s Sergei Ignashevich into an own goal when his back was turned to the play. The 38-year-old defender diverted a crossed ball into the net with his heel as he and Ramos got tangled up.

An error in Spain’s defense let Russia level in the 41st, after Gerard Pique’s raised arm blocked a header by Artyom Dzyuba at a corner. Pique’s complaints were wasted. Referees and video officials have consistently penalized handballs in the box at this World Cup.

Dzyuba’s penalty kick fooled goalkeeper David De Gea to dive the wrong way.


No team? No problem for Chinese World Cup sponsors

China does not have a team in the World Cup — it finished fifth in its six-team group in Asian qualifying — but it does have a lot of fans in Russia, where the country’s economic clout has given it a huge presence.

Nearly 43,000 World Cup tickets were sold in China, more than were purchased in 26 countries that did send a team to Russia. Chinese fans purchased less than 11,000 tickets to the last two World Cups combined.

And corporate China is even more prominent at this summer’s tournament.

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Mexico is relishing a chance to make history against Brazil

If Mexico had taken care of business in its final group-stage game with Sweden, it would be facing Switzerland in the round of 16 this week, safely tucked in the softer side of the World Cup bracket alongside Russia, Denmark and Colombia.

Instead, it will play in the elimination round Monday against Brazil, a team it hasn’t beaten in more than six years — and one it has never bettered in a World Cup.

Yet for captain Andres Guardado, it’s the ideal matchup.

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Edinson Cavani scores twice in Uruguay’s 2-1 win over Portugal

Diego Godin and Luis Suarez of Uruguay celebrate victory over Portugal in the round of 16 on June 30.
(Richard Heathcote / Getty Images)

Edinson Cavani scored twice and Cristiano Ronaldo none, giving Uruguay a 2-1 victory over Portugal on Saturday at the World Cup.

On the same day, Lionel Messi was sent home in Argentina’s loss, the other “GOAT” at this tournament that also was eliminated. It was two weeks ago that Ronaldo scored a hat trick in the same stadium against Spain, stroking his chin after the first goal to imply he was the “greatest of all time.”

Uruguay, a two-time champion that reached the semifinals at the 2010 World Cup, will next face France on Friday in Nizhny Novgorod.

There was no goal from Ronaldo this time. Everywhere he went, the Portugal great was hounded by two or three Uruguayan defenders.

It was Cavani who instead took the spotlight. He combined with Luis Suarez to compete a series of precision passes to give Uruguay the early advantage with a header in the seventh minute. And after Portugal equalized on Pepe’s header in the 55th minute, it was Cavani again finishing a perfect Uruguay counter in the 62nd with a shot from just inside the penalty area that caught Portugal goalkeeper Rui Patricio slightly out of position and curled inside the far post.


Colombia star James Rodriguez misses practice

Colombia midfielder James Rodriguez walks off the field after getting injured during a Group H match against Senegal on Thursday.
(Emmanuel Dunand / AFP/Getty Images)

James Rodriguez was the only Colombia player who didn’t take part in training Saturday, raising further doubts about whether he will be fully fit for the World Cup knockout match against England.

Rodriguez, who was the top scorer at the 2014 World Cup, has been bothered by a calf injury since the start of the tournament in Russia.

He left the field in the 31st minute of Colombia’s 1-0 victory over Senegal on Thursday night, but his injury has never been officially disclosed as the reason for the substitution.

Colombia’s national team hasn’t clarified how serious the injury is. The South Americans face England on Tuesday at Spartak Stadium in Moscow.

Before training on Saturday, midfielder Carlos Sanchez and backup goalkeeper also didn’t shed any light on Rodriguez’s recuperation.

“James is a leader, but I’m also sure that if James isn’t there, there are others who can step in and make the difference,” Sanchez said. “Each member of the team’s squad is here to play and they have the experience.”

Rodriguez missed two training sessions before Colombia’s first group match against Japan and didn’t start in the 2-1 loss. He was fit enough to play a full 90 minutes in the second match against Poland in the 3-0 win.

With Colombia facing England on Tuesday, the possibility that Rodriguez wouldn’t be fit enough to play would be a major headache for coach Jose Pekerman.

“It’s not a secret to anybody what James means for us, not only in football terms, but for the group. But I stand by what Carlos says,” Colombia goalkeeper Camilo Vargas said. “At the level of the national team, everyone has the hope of giving their best.

“Whatever happens, all 23 players have that dream.”


Here’s a look at Sunday’s World Cup games



Where: Moscow

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David Silva says Spain needs to use speed against Russia

Spain forward David Silva controls the ball during a Group B match against Iran in Kazan on June 20.
(Roman Kruchinin / AFP/Getty Images)

With Russia expected to defend in numbers, Spain’s speed and attack will be crucial in their last-16 match at the World Cup.

One of the players on which the 2010 champions will be relying to cut through the host’s back line is David Silva.

He scored for Spain in its 3-0 win over Russia in the semifinals of the European Championship in 2008, the last time the two teams played in a competitive fixture.

“Sometimes these teams ‘park the bus’ in front of us, and it’s hard to handle,” he said through an interpreter Saturday. “If we play very fast up front, we’ll have more options and generate spaces in which we can hurt them.”

After tough matches in a group also containing Portugal, Iran and Morocco, Silva and coach Fernando Hierro both called on Spain to be more meticulous and cut down on errors.

“It was a very tough group, and we need to minimize our mistakes. That’s the key,” Silva said. “If in difficult matches we start handing out goals to the opposition, things are going to be difficult for us, so we need to tighten up our defending.”

The winner of the match goes on to face either Croatia or Denmark in the quarterfinals.

Hierro never expected to be leading Spain into the knockout stages of this World Cup — at least not until his predecessor, Julen Lopetegui, was fired as coach two days before the tournament.

Despite that disruption, Hierro said Spain has been able to do detailed research on its opponents, and Russia is no different. He stressed that his team will need to counter Russia’s physical strength and their success at set pieces.

“So we need to find their weak points and where we can hurt them,” Hierro said through an interpreter.

Plans can change, and he noted that Russia has switched its style since the two teams drew 3-3 last year.

“We’re not going to lose any sleep over all these variables,” Hierro said. “I have done all the work I could, and I have a team which can adapt to any situation. That’s our strength.”


Argentina defender Javier Mascherano quits after loss to France

Argentina midfielder Javier Mascherano and forward Lionel Messi, right, react after losing a round of 16 match against France on June 30.
(Roman Kruchinin / AFP/Getty Images)

Javier Mascherano has announced he’s retiring from the national team after Argentina was eliminated from the World Cup.

“It’s time to say goodbye and for the younger players to step in,” the 34-year-old midfielder said.

Argentina had a 2-1 lead early in the second half, but France, often choosing to attack Mascherano, rallied to win 4-3 and become the first team to advance to the World Cup quarterfinals.

Mascherano, who has played at four World Cups, made his debut for Argentina in 2003 when he still hadn’t played professionally for River Plate.

He holds the record for most appearances for Argentina, with 147.

Now, the defensive midfielder says it’s time for a new generation to shine: “Hopefully, they can achieve something. Now I’m one more fan of the national team.”


Mbappe becomes second teenager to score twice in knockout stage game as France eliminates Messi and Argentina

France forward Kylian Mbappe celebrates scoring one of two goals during a Round of 16 match against Argentina on June 30.
(Sergey Dolzhenko / EPA)

Teenager Kylian Mbappe scored two goals in a five-minute span to lead France over Argentina 4-3 Saturday and into the World Cup quarterfinals.

The loss could be the end of Lionel Messi’s international career.

Mbappe, a constant threat to Argentina’s creaking defense with his speed and skill, was at the heart of France’s often-breathtaking display, particularly in the middle part of the second half.

With the score even at 2-2, the 19-year-old Mbappe got his first goal with a cool finish from a tight angle in the 64th minute, his low shot going under Argentina goalkeeper Franco Armani. Four minutes later, he slotted past Armani again after he was put through on goal by a deft pass from Oliver Giroud.

Mbappe also helped France to its first goal. Following a sustained period of early pressure, he won a penalty after a 40-meter burst of speed that ended with him being brought down by Marcos Rojo. Antoine Griezmann then scored from the spot in the 13th minute, sending Armani the wrong way.

France will next face either Portugal or Uruguay in the quarterfinals on Friday in Nizhny Novgorod.

Argentina briefly took the lead in the 48th minute at Kazan Arena, but France defender Benjamin Pavard equalized nine minutes later with a superb strike from outside the area.

Argentina got its goals from Angel Di Maria, Gabriel Mercado and Sergio Aguero. Messi set up the latter two, first sending a shot on goal that Mercado deflected into the net in the 48th.

With time winding down, the 31-year-old Messi gave Argentina a bit of hope with a cross to the left that Aguero headed into goal in stoppage time.

Di Maria’s goal was one of the best of the tournament.

Following a throw-in, he hit a hard shot from 30 yards that curled into the top right corner, beyond the dive of France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.


World Cup’s knockout phase gives teams a second chance at greatness

Roberto Martinez believes the best way to win a World Cup is to have won one before.

“To be a favorite in a World Cup you need to have the know-how of winning a World Cup or have a reference of a previous generation that won the World Cup,” the Belgian coach said. “So for me there’s only five nations that [have] that.”

That’s good news for Brazil, France, Spain and Argentina, who have all won World Cups since 1986 and have made it to the knockout phase in this summer’s tournament.

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Mexico focuses on first two wins, not loss to Sweden

Mexico is on to the final 16 for a seventh straight World Cup, and goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa says the team should be recognized for how it got there, not for the fact that it almost tripped on its way through the door.

“We are in the next round, thanks to the first two games and to the six points we got,” said Ochoa, whose team beat Germany and South Korea before getting blown out 3-0 by Sweden in the group-play finale on Wednesday, nearly ending its tournament.

“We deserve the credit. We don’t like [Wednesday’s] result, but we have a very important game next.”

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Belgium edges England 1-0 to win Group G

Belgium forward Adnan Januzaj, center, celebrates his goal against England with teammates on Thursday.
(Attila Kisbenedek / AFP/Getty Images)

In a match neither team had to win, Belgium came out on top and took first place in its World Cup group with a 1-0 victory over England on Thursday in Kaliningrad, Russia.

Adnan Januzaj scored with a curling shot in the 51st minute on a night of little tension or attacking intent.

With the victory, Belgium gets what appears to be an easier match in the next round against Japan on Monday in Rostov-on-Don. England will face Colombia on Tuesday in Moscow.

Both teams had advanced to the round of 16 before the match.

Although Belgium was the winner of the group, it might have the tougher road to the final with Brazil, Portugal, France and Argentina possible future opponents. If England gets past Colombia, it could face Spain, Russia, Croatia, Denmark, Sweden or Switzerland on its way to a possible final.

Belgium is one of only three teams to advance to the knockout round with 3-0 records from the group stage. Croatia and Uruguay are the others.

England and Belgium made a combined 17 changes to their starting lineups to rest players for the knockout round. Harry Kane, the leading scorer at the tournament with five goals, was on the bench for England. So was Romelu Lukaku, who has scored four for Belgium.

In the other Group G game, Tunisia captain Wahbi Khazri set up a second-half goal and then scored one of his own to help his side secure its first victory in a World Cup in four decades.

The striker’s hard, rising shot in the 66th minute lifted Tunisia to a 2-1 triumph over Panama on Thursday night. It came 15 minutes after Khazri’s pinpoint square pass produced Fakhreddine Ben Youssef’s equalizer.

Panama had taken the lead in the 33rd minute through an own-goal when Jose Luis Rodriguez’s hard shot deflected off of Yassine Meriah, which sent the goalkeeper the wrong way.

Tunisia hadn’t won a World Cup game since a 3-1 victory over Mexico in 1978.