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PRAIA GRANDE, July 22, 2018 (News Wires) - Brazil superstar Neymar admits that after his nation's quarter-final defeat to Belgium at the World Cup he couldn't look at a ball and didn't want to see any of the remaining matches.

“I wouldn't go as far as to say I didn't want to play again but, I didn't want to see a ball, or to see any more football played,” 26-year-old Neymar told AFP in an exclusive interview.

The Paris Saint Germain forward was talking at his Neymar Praia Grande institute where the Red Bull Neymar Jr 5's (five-a-side-football) tournament was being played.

Dressed in a sleeveless T-shirt, with his six-year-old son Davi Lucca sat upon his knee, the striker was however in a relaxed mood as he explained his post-World Cup blues.

“I was in mourning, I was really sad about it, but sadness passes, I have my son, my family, my friends and they don't want to see me moping around. I've got more reason to be happy than sad,” said Neymar, reflecting on his team's 2-1 quarter-final defeat to Belgium.

Asked about reports in Spain linking him with a transfer to Real Madrid the forward said “that's all speculation from the press.”

“The guys who come up with these stories seem to know more about my life than I do. I won't respond to this type of question because nothing happened,” he scoffed.

The Brazilian superstar, who moved to PSG for a world record €222 million last year, insists that the burden of expectation on his shoulders — whether with his club or country — does not weigh heavily.

“No, all the great players feel pressure,” he said.

“It's true that when it comes to me, there are double standards. I have been aware of this responsibility, not only for Brazil, but also in club fotball, since I was 17, 18 years old.

“I have prepared myself to handle this pressure and I know that when the results are not what they should be then that pressure increases.”

Neymar has been hit by a barrage of criticism for theatrical rolling around after being fouled at the World Cup, but says he should have been better protected.

“People were faster to criticise the one being fouled than the one doing the fouling,” he insisted.

“I went to the World Cup to play, to beat the opposition, not to get kicked. The criticism of me was exaggerated, but I'm a big boy, I'm used to dealing with this kind of thing

“And I can't be the referee and play at the same time, but there are times I wish I could,” he said.

Earlier this week, Neymar took a swipe at his critics with a tongue-in-cheek video in which he teaches children how to fall to the ground.

“One, two, three, go!” shouts Neymar on the Instagram video as around a dozen youngsters fall to the ground of a parking lot.

“That's a free-kick!” screams the Brazilian breaking into fits of laughter.

The video was released with a hashtag #ChallengeDAFALTA, the free-kick challenge in Portuguese.

During the recent World Cup, the player's antics sparked the “Neymar Challenge” where he was widely mocked.

In Mexico, a football club even rganised a competition in which contestants attempted to roll the entire length of the pitch.

Meanwhile, Neymar described PSG's new coach Thomas Tuchel as a great addition to the club. “He's a great coach and we're hoping for a great season,” he said.

“I'm really looking forward to it,” Neymar said of his second season in Paris.

“We have signed a football legend (Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon) who will bring with him all his experience and that will be a great help for this coming season.”

 

RABAT, July 21, 2018 (News Wires) - African football will conduct a soul-searching session at a two-day symposium in Morocco after all five of the continent's sides failed to get over the first hurdle at the World Cup.

Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Nigeria and Senegal were all eliminated in the group phase in Russia, leaving Africa without a representative in the knockout rounds for the first time since the 1982 finals in Spain.

Coaches and officials of the five countries will discuss the disappointing results at a debrief in Rabat organised by the Confederation of African Football and the Moroccan Football Federation on Sunday and Monday.

"It was a disappointment for the African teams and the African continent," said former Nigeria international Emmanuel Amunike, who was part of FIFA's technical study group analysing the World Cup and will be at the symposium.

"A lot of people were expecting African teams to progress beyond what they have done previously, but unfortunately it didn't materialise.

"The truth is that we all are aware that football has developed a lot and will continue to change, and we in Africa, if we don't embrace the responsibility and see how we can develop our youth, will continue to live on dreams.

“I can tell you that there is a lot of raw talent but raw talent, without polishing them, will not give you a result," he said.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino said last week that Africa’s failure to get a team past the first round had been discussed by the game’s top officials and was a concern.

“You need a little luck to get past the first round at a tournament like the World Cup. Senegal, Morocco and Nigeria all played very good football. But this is a concern and we have been talking about it with the president of CAF and we will intervene,” he told reporters in Moscow.

“To have success on the pitch, you have to do well off it and it is essential to work with the African federations to ensure everything is doing well with their organisation.”

Egypt were the first African country to play at a World Cup in 1934 and since 1970 there has been a consistent African presence at the tournament, rising to six teams in 2010 when South Africa hosted the finals.

But none have reached the final four and only three African sides have got as far as the quarter-finals: Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010.

PARIS, July 17, 2018 (News Wires) - The World Cup-winning French team returned home to a heroes' welcome, parading down the Champs-Elysees as hundreds of thousands of cheering fans gave a raucous welcome to the country's newest idols.

After overcoming a determined Croatia to win 4-2 in Sunday's final in Russia, the team came back to euphoric crowds in Paris hoping to catch a glimpse of the players that have captured the country's imagination.

They did not disappoint, passing the golden World Cup trophy from player to player as they jumped and danced on an open-air bus with “World Champions” emblazoned on its side.

“Wow, it was completely crazy! They are too beautiful, France is beautiful!” said Julia Cohen, 28, after seeing players pass by on the Champs-Elysees, the gathering point for all national celebrations.

The parade was under heavy police guard, with some of the 2,000 officers deployed in the capital to ensure the safety of the estimated 300,000 people who turned up.

Above the partying crowds, nine jets from the Patrouille de France, the air force's acrobatic unit, did an honorary flyover trailing blue, white and red smoke.

After leaving the Champs-Elysees, the players changed into custom-made blue suits before being welcomed at the Elysee Palace by President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte, who were also decked out in blue for the occasion.

Macron has already promised the Legion of Honour for the victors' “exceptional services” to the country, an award given to the legendary team that won France's first World Cup title in 1998.

The first couple then posed with the team as they sang the Marseillaise national anthem and waved scarves for a joyous group photo, before heading inside for a private meeting.

“Thanks to you all!” Macron told the team after gathering again outside. “This team is beautiful because you are united!”

Midfielder Paul Pogba, despite his voice nearly failing him, then proved himself a showman off the pitch as well as on by leading the guests in an impromptu celebratory rap punctuated by “Allez les Bleus!”

“It's true, we went on the pitch, and we said, We're going to crush them all!” he said.

Nearly 3,000 guests were received in the Elysee gardens, including around 1,000 youths from local football clubs such as Bondy, the gritty Paris suburb whose towering housing blocks produced rising star forward Kylian Mbappe.

Some of the kids even got to touch the famed trophy, which captain Hugo Lloris handed around.

The guests were also treated to the beats of DJ Snake, who has worked with pop stars including Lady Gaga and is part of the Pardon My French collective of French DJs.

Mbappe, who applied the coup de grace in the final to cement his place as a new global superstar at just 19, said he achieved what he had set out to do ― win the World Cup.

“We are proud to make the French happy,” he told French channel TF1.

Striker Antoine Griezmann said: “Frankly, personally, it's not real yet. This cup weighs a lot.”

“We are trying to give a good image for France, for French players. I hope that lots of young people will have seen this match and do the same,” he added.

Macron had already celebrated with the team on Sunday ― even doing “dab” dance moves with players in a video that has gone viral ― after attending the final in Moscow.

Some analysts believe the 40-year-old centrist will benefit from the feelgood factor sweeping France, with Macron able to show a common touch after months of criticism from his opponents that he is distant and elitist.

Commentators have also focused on the outpouring of patriotism and sense of national unity created by the multi-ethnic French team, many of whose stars including Pogba and Mbappe hail from deprived and often overlooked suburbs of Paris.

 

ZAGREB, July 17, 2018 (News Wires) - Hundreds of thousands of Croats in red and white chequered soccer shirts and scarves poured onto the streets of the capital Zagreb to welcome home the national team and celebrate their run to the World Cup final in Russia.

Croatia achieved their best-ever result in the tournament in losing Sunday's match to France, surpassing the third place finish of 1998. “They lost the final, but won the world,” was how daily newspaper Jutarnji List summed up the mood.

The celebration was broadcast live from the moment the team's plane ― escorted by two fighter jets once inside Croatian air space ― neared Zagreb airport.

Water cannons created a glistening arch that the plane taxied through, and a red carpet was rolled out for the players.

The team rode an open-topped bus towards the city centre through streets swamped with cheering crowds.

After an almost six-hour ride the bus reached Zagreb's central square, where more than 100,000 people had gathered under a sea of welcome banners and national flags.

“Marry me, Rebic”, read one, a supersized proposal to striker Ante Rebic.

Cheering erupted as he and his team-mates went up the makeshift stage one by one and addressed the crowd.

“Thanks for recognising that we played our hearts in Russia,” Croatia full-back Sime Vrsaljko said.

“The guys wore the Croatian jerseys with pride and you were the best supporters in the world,” added coach Zlatko Dalic.

In all, around half a million people took to the streets to welcome the team, state news agency Hina said ― better that one in ten of the small Balkan nation's 4 million population.

“We must use this opportunity to build, improve our soccer infrastructure and try to be even better,” said Robert Prosinecki, the midfield star of the 1998 team.

MOSCOW, July 16, 2018 (News Wires) - President Vladimir Putin said Russia could be “proud” of its hosting of the football World Cup, judging it a success “in every respect” after Sunday night’s final. “We can surely be proud of how we organised this tournament,” Putin said in televised comments after France’s victory against Croatia.

“We have made this grand event a success in every respect,” he added.

“We have done it for our supporters, for Russians who are passionate about sport and for all those who love sport across the world.”

Putin thanked the foreign fans who came to Russia for the tournament. Before it started a month ago, there had been concerns due to the memory of violence between Russian and English fans during the Euro 2016 tournament in France.

Fans at this World Cup however “showed that sport and football can manage not to divide people and not lead to fights and disputes, but unite people on the basis of common values,” Putin said.

“People tried to scare us by saying the English would come and commit hooliganism... But everyone behaved in a most exemplary manner.”

Putin said foreign visitors holding “fan ID” cards for the World Cup could have visa-free entry to Russia for the rest of 2018.

The fan IDs which permitted ticket-holders to enter Russia during the World Cup had initially been due to expire on July 25.

Now, “foreign supporters who currently have fan IDs will be able to benefit from multiple entries into the Russian Federation without a visa until the end of the year,” Putin said.

Despite high diplomatic tension between Moscow and the West, world football officials and personalities as well as world leaders have lined up to praise Russia’s hosting of the tournament.

Russian leaders revelled in last night’s dramatic match after French players lifted the trophy.

The game was watched by Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron and Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic.

Putin said he had congratulated both leaders. “A score of 4-2 in a final — I can’t remember seeing a score like that and few people could,” Putin said.

“Both teams were magnificent... I am sure everyone liked the way they played, and so did I.”

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev wrote on Instagram: “A marvellous final! France are champions. Russia has organised the best World Cup.”

The Russian foreign ministry congratulated France for its victory in an official tweet.

“Congratulations to the @FrenchTeam for their second title and thank you for this feast of football!” it wrote.

MOSCOW, July 16, 2018 (News Wires) - Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic told his players they should be proud of their sensational World Cup run and their performance in the final Sunday night despite losing 4-2 to France at the Luzhniki Stadium.

The Croatia players were given a standing ovation by their fans after taking the game to the French for the entire 90 minutes, dominating much of the match but falling to an own goal, a penalty awarded by VAR and two second-half strikes.

The 51-year-old gathered his players in a circle on the pitch and told them they should in no way consider the defeat a failure.

“Of course, we are downcast, but I told them ‘hold your heads up high. You have no reason to feel dissatisfied, you have given your all and you have to be proud of your performances at this tournament’,” he told a news conference.


“‘Chin up lads, if somebody had offered us to be runners-up at the start of the tournament, that would have been fantastic’.

“‘Sometimes in football you lose, that’s football, but we were dignified in our victories and we must be dignified in defeat, we have to respect the scoreline,’ that was the message to my players.”

The Croatians had come back from a goal down in their previous three games, slogged their way through six periods of extra time and two penalty shootouts to get to the final — playing the equivalent of an entire match more than France.

They again came from behind last night when Ivan Perisic fired home an angled shot in the first half but they were 4-1 down when Mario Mandzukic punished a mistake by goalkeeper Hugo Lloris in the 69th minute to make amends for his early own goal.

Dalic thought the 18th minute own goal and the France penalty, awarded seven minutes before halftime for a Perisic handball after the referee viewed the TV footage, had been the turning points.

“I don’t talk about referees but let me say this one thing: In a World Cup final, you do not give such a penalty,” he said.

“But that in no way diminishes France’s win. Maybe we were a bit unlucky, in the first six games we were favoured by luck.

“It was maybe the best game we played in the tournament but... against a quality team like France, you cannot let in four goals.”

Dalic said he thought overall VAR was good for the game. “Don’t take this as me a saying something bad about the referee,” he added.

“I respect the referee, he made the decision he thought was right. On VAR, when it goes in your favour it’s good, when it goes against you it’s bad.”

Dalic, who took up the national team reins only nine months ago when it looked like Croatia might not qualify for the World Cup, said he was going to take some time to consider his future.

“It was beautiful working with the lads (but) I never make decisions overnight,” he said. “At this moment I’m not thinking about anything but getting safely home to Croatia.”

Dalic said the success of a team representing a country of only four million people showed what could be done with a dream and lots of hard work.

“I’m proud of my players, I’m proud of my team, I’m proud of my country,” he concluded, leaving the press conference room to a round of applause.

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