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KALININGRAD, June 25, 2018 (News Wires) - Morocco will play their final World Cup match with a big chip on their shoulders, with their coach taking a few early parting shots at referees and officials Sunday ahead of the team's Group B clash with Spain.

A still-fuming Morocco coach Herve Renard seemed to be more focused on the 1-0 loss to Portugal last Wednesday than their match on Monday against Spain and the chance of heading home with a big scalp.

The heart-breaking defeat to the European champions meant that Morocco would become the first team out of the World Cup and stung even more by what Renard viewed as questionable officiating.

“For us it is unjust we are already out before these third matches, but we have to accept reality and concentrate on this third game and to save our honour since this is all that is left to us,” said Renard.

“The most difficult thing is to play this kind of match knowing we will have to pack and go home and leave the competition.

“We have to force ourselves to find something to fight for.

“I hope we will be galvanised by what has been inflicted against us, and this is what I will try to tell my players.”

A battling Morocco have played with energy and purpose, but a lack of finishing left the North African side with nothing more to show for their effort than a pair of 1-0 losses to Portugal and Iran.

Renard was still particularly upset at what he felt was a foul by Portugal's Pepe on Khalid Boutaib that opened the way for Ronaldo's fourth minute goal.

“It is highly unfair,” said Renard. “There was a huge foul committed by Pepe on the first post, it was not seen. Why wasn't it seen?

“And there was Pepe's hand (ball) just as happened in Australia against Denmark for which there was a penalty. It may have been an unintentional hand, but why do we get different results in two games?

“And then Boutaib is tackled violently in the box and the referees don't say a word, so the whole thing is totally unfair.”

While Morocco will be playing for honour, Spain will be seeking something much more tangible.

Spain enter their final group match on four points, equal with Portugal but with top spot up for grabs.

“As far as we are concerned we will play the same way we played against Portugal and Iran and so the best we can,” said Moroccan goalkeeper Munir Mohamedi.

“We haven't been fortunate with respect to the final results, but I do think we do deserve this reward and give some joy to the squad and all the people who supported us.”

 

SAMARA, Russia, June 25, 2018 (News Wires) - With Russia set to play Uruguay in a heat wave, authorities in Samara say they'll be distributing free drinking water at the stadium.

The local government is warning temperatures could hit 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) at the Samara Arena around the time of the game Monday.

Some fans must walk nearly a mile (1.6 kilometers) to the stadium after arriving on public transportation, and medical staff with water will be deployed along the route and by the stadium entrances.

Both Russia and Uruguay have qualified for the knockout stages before the game, which will determine who finishes first in Group A.

If there's a draw, host nation Russia would claim top spot due to a superior goal difference.

MOSCOW, June 24, 2018 (MENA) - Syria has not possessed chemical weapons since 2013 and any accusations that the Syrian army is using them are a pretext for an intervention by other countries, Syrian President Bashar Assad said in an interview with Russian channel NTV on Sunday.

According to the Syrian leader, these fairy tales about chemical weapons are invented when the terrorists controlled by the West are defeated in some Syrian areas.

"These provocations have nothing to do with reality. This is the result of their own imagination, and that of the media, and something what is invented by their mass media is further disseminated across the world through the Internet and other media. That’s why it is impossible to prevent this provocation. Americans constantly lie and attack immediately," the Syrian president said.

"When there is no respect for international rules, when there are no efficient UN bodies, you may not speak about preventing provocations and the world lives upon the jungle law," he noted.


AMMAN, June 24, 2018 (Reuters) - Russian jets struck an opposition held town in southwest Syria on Sunday, opposition sources said, in the first air cover provided by Moscow to an expanding Syrian army offensive to recapture the strategic area bordering Jordan and the Israeli occupied Golan Heights.

Two tracking centers that monitor military aircraft movements recorded at least twenty strikes on Busra al Harir, northeast of Deraa, a city in Syria, two sources told Reuters.

“We have tracked a sortie of 5 Russian jets that performed 25 raids,” said one source saying the war jets had set off from Russia’s Hmeimim air base in the western coastal province of Latakia in Syria.

Syrian government forces had so far made heavy use of artillery and rockets in the current assault, and Russian warplanes that were critical to the recovery of other rebel-held areas had not been deployed until now.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has sworn to recapture the sensitive strategic area and the army began ramping up its assault there last week, threatening a “de-escalation” zone agreed by the United States and Russia last year.

Throwing in Russia’s full military weight in the campaign to regain southern Syria will weaken the ability of mainstream Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel groups to withstand relentless bombing on civilian areas that forced their compatriots in other areas to submit to surrender deals.

Opposition hopes had been raised after Washington warned Assad and his Russian allies that violations of the zone would have “serious repercussions” and pledged “firm and appropriate measures”.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said earlier on Friday that the Syrian military escalation “unambiguously violates” the de-escalation arrangement.

“Russia will ultimately bear responsibility for any further escalations in ‎Syria,” Haley said in a statement.

Rebels in southern Syria have received support, including arms from Assad’s foreign foes during the seven-year-long war .

But analysts believe the aid has dropped after U.S. President Donald Trump decided last year to shut down a military aid program run by the Central Intelligence Agency.

Unless an agreement is reached between Moscow and Washington over the fate of southern Syria, a big offensive risks an escalation that could draw the United States deeper into the war.

Southwest Syria is of strategic concern to U.S.-allied Israel, which this year has stepped up attacks on Iran-backed militia allied to Assad.

U.S ally Jordan which had long said the zone had brought relative calm on its northern border announced it was engaged in intensive diplomacy with Washington and Moscow to preserve the zone and prevent a wider confrontation.

“We stress the importance of respecting the agreement and we are working to prevent the explosion of the situation,” Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said in a tweet on Friday.

MOSCOW, June 24, 2018 (News Wires) - World Cup hosts Russia are surfing a wave of national euphoria as they head into Monday’s encounter against two-time champions Uruguay after delighting their fans with a scintillating start to the tournament.

Written off as no-hopers before the World Cup, Russia head to the Volga River city of Samara for a game which will see the winner secure top spot in Group A following the elimination of Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

A draw would also be good enough to give Russia first place, thanks to the eight goals from two matches that have made believers out of fans used to decades of World Cup futility.

Both teams then face the likely prospect of going up against either Spain or Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal in the last 16 - although underdogs Iran are still in the running in a tight Group B.

Uruguay however are likely to provide the type of stern test Russia will need to overcome if they are launch an extended run in the knockout rounds.

Yet the hosts are brimming with confidence having made it past the group stage of a World Cup for the first time since the Soviet Union lost to Belgium in the last 16 in 1986.

Russia had won just two of nine World Cup matches before kicking off the most watched event on the planet with a 5-0 rout of the Saudis.

Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko - the former sports minister who still oversees football in an unofficial capacity - said the squad had no right to relax.

“Our mission has still not been accomplished,” Mutko said after watching a team training session on the outskirts of a muggy Moscow.

"We would like to get into the knockout stage from first place.”

Russia defeated Egypt 3-1 last Tuesday in Saint Petersburg.

Ignashevich turns 39 on the eve of the final on July 15 that Russia retain improbable dreams of playing in. Few believe they will.

A poll conducted in the wake of their win over Egypt showed just 14 per cent think Russia can lift the trophy.

It was 11 per cent when coach Stanislav Cherchesov’s charges were plodding their wave through a seven-match winless streak that saw their ranking slip to a tournament-worst 70th.

But Cherchesov always thought Russia were underrated and a triumph over Uruguay’s Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani would do more to prove the mustachioed manager right.

It would also see Russia looking more confidently at the permutations of whom they might encounter in the quarter-finals.

The possibilities there range from France and Argentina to an impressive looking Croatia.

Midfielder Denis Cheryshev has been one of the World Cup’s big discoveries and a natural leader on a team without stars.

“We have to be very happy with our wins,” said the 27-year-old. “But but this is just the start.”

 

ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia, June 22, 2018 (News Wires) - Saudi Arabia are looking towards the Asian Cup with hope after they showed signs of progress in their 1-0 defeat to Uruguay as they exited the World Cup Wednesday.

The Saudis were crushed 5-0 by hosts Russia in the opening game of Group A before a goalkeeping blunder from Mohammed Al-Owais handed Uruguay their place in the last 16 and eliminated the Green Falcons.

Saudi Arabia, however, were competitive throughout, playing neat football and enjoying most of the possession at the Rostov Arena.

"We played at a much better level than in the Russia game, and that is more our style of play, but we just did not have the right tools to break Uruguay down," said Saudi Arabia coach Juan Antonio Pizzi.

Despite occasions of clever passing, the Saudis rarely threatened and managed only three shots on target in their two matches in Russia.

"We had a lot of ball possession and were able to impose our style of play and distribution," said Pizzi.

"We conceded a goal from a random play and didn't have the weapons or tools to try to equalize. We kept the ball well and weren't really troubled defensively, but lacked that ability to score."

"This is our weakness. We have good ball possession, but no effectiveness. We lack the depth and skill required to win these games," he added.

"We have that deficiency and have looked for solutions, but we haven't quite come up with one yet. But that is one of the reasons great forwards are in high demand and are the elite players in world football."

Efficiency is something Saudi Arabia will have to massively improve on for the 2019 Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates but at least, in one game against Uruguay, they showed pride.

"The difference between this display and the first game was massive, the change was obvious, it gives us tranquillity for the future for the months ahead," Pizzi concluded.

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