AHIA MGBEDE: The Latest: Nigerian Squad Receives Warm World Cup Welcome

Nigeria's John Mikel Obi attends a press conference on the eve of the Group D match between Croatia and Nigeria at the Kalinigrad Stadium in Kalinigrad, Russia, Friday, June 15, 2018. Image: Petr David Josek


7:25 p.m.

Nigeria's coach and captain have brushed aside concerns over racism in World Cup stadiums and say that the country's young players have enjoyed a warm welcome in Russia.

A report last month said 19 incidents of racist chants were recorded in Russia this season including monkey noises directed at France players and racial abuse directed by Spartak Moscow supporters at Liverpool youth player Bobby Adekanye.

Nigeria captain John Obi Mikel, however, says his team has been welcomed to Russia with open arms.

He says that "Russian people have been very nice to us — a lot of Russian supporters seem to support the Nigerian team."

7:16 p.m.

Iranian activists are using their national team's first match at the World Cup to protest Iran's ban on women attending soccer matches.

Fans unfurled a protest banner at the stadium Friday in the Russian city of St. Petersburg during Iran's opening match against Morocco, prompting a brief commotion. It read "#NoBan4Women" and "Support Iranian Women to Attend Stadiums."

Since the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iranian women have been banned from attending football matches and other male-only sporting events.

Ahead of Friday's match, fans from Iran and Morocco mingled on the streets of Russia's northern capital, wearing their countries' flags, blowing whistles and chanting songs. Enthusiastic Iranian women were among them.

That contrasted with the one of the main squares in Tehran, where a billboard portrays fans celebrating and holding aloft the World Cup, accompanied by the slogan "One nation, one heartbeat." There were no women on it.

7:05 p.m.

How much height matters in soccer was a predictable source of disagreement between the coaches of Peru and Denmark on the eve of their World Cup encounter in Saransk.

On average, the Danes are nearly 3 inches taller than the Peruvians, but Incas coach Ricardo Garecas dismissed the notion that any height advantage would be a significant factor in Saturday's opener for the Group C teams.

Gareca says "We're used to playing against teams who have tall players and who are very good in the air. And until now, we have been able to overcome this challenge."

Fortunately, Gareca adds, "Our sport is made for players of any size. We do have the right players for this sort of championship."

Compare that with the assertions made by Denmark coach Åge Hareide about how the taller stature of his squad could influence the match.

Hareide says "We do have a strength there physically, particularly in the air. When the ball comes in the air, we will be stronger and we need to benefit from that."

6:50 p.m.

Iran weathered early pressure from Morocco before missing a late opportunity as the teams went into halftime locked at 0-0 in Group B of the World Cup on Friday.

Playing in their first World Cup in 20 years, Morocco made a great start in St. Petersburg and created a series of half-chances — notably when successive close-range efforts from Younes Belhanda and Mehdi Benatia were blocked in a goalmouth scramble.

Iran gradually came into the game and just before halftime, star striker Sardar Azmoun was played through on goal — only for goalkeeper Monir El Kajoui to make a sprawling save.

Both teams entered the World Cup with strong defensive records, so a goalless score line wasn't entirely surprising.

6:20 p.m.

It's a tough travel schedule for FIFA President Gianni Infantino's plan to visit all 12 stadiums seeing all 32 teams play at the World Cup.

It meant a tight turnaround Friday to get from Yekaterinburg to Sochi between the first and third games played.

Infantino was at Uruguay's 1-0 win over Egypt, and his name was on FIFA's list of VIP guests expected at the later Portugal vs Spain game.

Kickoff in the Black Sea resort of Sochi is scheduled a little over four hours after the Yekaterinburg game finished.

The flight is around 1,300 miles (2,100 kilometers). Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is on the VIP list waiting in Sochi for the FIFA group.

5:50 p.m.

More than 5,000 people with tickets skipped Uruguay's 1-0 win over Egypt in the opening game at Yekaterinburg.

FIFA says it is investigating why, with "no-shows" one of the factors.

Pockets of orange seats were clearly visible in the lower tiers of the stadium which has a 33,061 capacity for World Cup games.

FIFA says it allocated 32,278 tickets and the official attendance was 27,015 for the 5 p.m. local time (1200 GMT) kickoff.

5:28 p.m.

FIFA is trying to stop the pirating of Qatari-owned World Cup broadcasting rights, in fallout from the emirate's diplomatic dispute with Saudi Arabia.

The BeIN network, a sports spinoff from Al Jazeera, owns exclusive Middle East and North African rights to this World Cup, and the 2022 edition which Qatar will host.

However, BeIN's signal is widely blocked since a Saudi-led economic blockade of Qatar began last year.

FIFA says "a pirate channel named BeoutQ has illegally distributed the opening matches" from Russia, which featured Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Football's world body is "exploring all options to stop the infringement of its rights," and warns of "action against legitimate organizations" supporting illegal activities.

The dispute is unresolved despite FIFA's close recent relations with Saudi Arabia.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino watched Russia's 5-0 win Thursday with Saudi Arabia's crown prince.

5:20 p.m.

Iran started with Sardar Azmoun in place of injured striker Mehdi Taremi for the opening Group B match against Morocco in St. Petersburg.

Up front for Morocco was Ayoub El Kaabi, who only made his international debut in March but has forced his way into Herve Renard's starting lineup.

Morocco: Achraf Hakimi, Mehdi Benatia, Romain Saiss, Hakim Ziyech, Karim El Ahmadi, Ayoub El Kaabi, Younes Belhanda, Monir El Kajoui, Mbark Boussoufa, Noureddine Amrabat, Amine Harit

Iran: Ali Beiranvand, Ehsan Hajisafi, Roozbeh Cheshmi, Masoud Shojaei, Morteza Pouraliganji, Omid Ebrahimi, Karim Ansarifard, Vahid Amiri, Alieza Jahanbakhsh, Sardar Azmoun, Ramin Rezaeian.

4:58 p.m.

Defender Jose Gimenez came to Uruguay's rescue scoring the lone goal in a 1-0 victory over Egypt in their Group A opening game at the World Cup on Friday.

Gimenez rose in the area to head home a free kick in the closing minutes of the match in Yekaterinburg.

The result leaves Russia atop of the group with three points after routing Saudi Arabia 5-0 on Thursday. Uruguay also has three points while Egypt and Saudi Arabia have none.

Star forward Mohamed Salah was on the bench for Egypt's first World Cup game since 1990 after injuring a shoulder while playing for Liverpool in last month's Champions League final.

At the other end, Uruguay star strikers Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani wasted their chances. Suarez failed to beat goalkeeper Mohamed El Shennawy in two one-on-one situations and Cavani hit the post from a free kick with two minutes left.

Egypt is yet to win a World Cup game while Uruguay won its opening World Cup game for the first time since 1970.

4:20 p.m.

Australia coach Bert van Marwijk has a simple message for his players ahead of their World Cup opening game against France: Just be yourselves and play with guts.

Speaking at a news conference ahead of Saturday's Group C match in Kazan, Van Marwijk urged his players to believe that an upset is possible against star-studded France.

He says "We must have the guts to believe in something," and adds "We realize that we play against an opponent that has the chance to win the World Cup but not always the best players win prizes, lots of times the best teams."

Van Marwijk did not give any indication about his lineup amid speculation captain Mile Jedinak would not start after he was replaced at the last minute by Mathew Leckie to attend the news conference.

The 33-year-old Jedinak has been Australia captain since May 2014 but did not start in the side's two most recent friendlies.

4:05 p.m.

Dutch football fans don't have much to cheer about at the World Cup, after their national team failed to qualify for the tournament in Russia. At least they had one Dutchman on the pitch Friday as referee Bjorn Kuipers officiated over Egypt and Uruguay's Group A opener.

Kuipers had two Dutch assistants running the lines and countryman Danny Makkelie acting as the video assistant referee.

Kuipers refereed this season's Europa League final, when Uruguay captain Diego Godin and fellow defender Jose Gimenez won the cup as Atletico Madrid beat Marseille 3-0.

The Dutch ref also is familiar with Uruguay's star forward Luis Suarez from his time with Ajax in the Dutch league. Kuipers officiated a 2010 match between Ajax and PSV Eindhoven and did not notice when Suarez bit PSV player Otman Bakkal. Suarez was later suspended for seven matches based on video footage of the incident.

3:55 p.m.

It is 0-0 at halftime in the Group A matchup between Egypt and Uruguay. Despite starting without Mohamed Salah, who has a left shoulder injury, the underdog Pharaohs have been able to hold the Uruguay attack scoreless.

Uruguay had a good chance in the 23rd minute, but forward Luis Suarez missed from close range.—

4:30 p.m.

Russia's team says a scan has confirmed creative midfielder Alan Dzagoev sustained a hamstring injury in the opening World Cup win over Saudi Arabia.

The team says Dzagoev underwent an MRI scan on Friday and "a timeframe for his treatment will be determined in the coming days."

Dzagoev would have to recovery quickly in order to play any further part in Russia's group games against Egypt on June 19 and Uruguay six days later.

The injury to the 27-year-old CSKA Moscow midfielder meant winger Denis Cheryshev was brought on against Saudi Arabia. He then scored two goals.

3:22 p.m.

Iceland is showing the charming, funny, friendly style that has won friends worldwide ahead of a World Cup debut against Argentina.

Coach Heimir Hallgrimsson acknowledges a "headache" preparing to face Lionel Messi on Saturday in "the biggest game in the history of Icelandic football."

Hallgrimsson also knows the Nordic island of 330,000 people has global support from its fairytale run at the 2016 European Championships.

"It's a pretty little nation and pretty people in general. You can't but love us," the coach said in Icelandic at a packed news conference at Spartak Stadium.

If Iceland really is every neutral's favorite at the World Cup, it might be the only army it needs.

"We haven't attacked anyone, we haven't been at war with anyone," Hallgrimsson said, before citing a 1970s fisheries dispute with Britain. "We have only had the Cod War and nobody got hurt there."

3:14 p.m.

Uruguay's Luis Suarez entered this World Cup in search of redemption following a championship history checkered with bad boy moments on the pitch.

So far he's getting no love from fans of opposing Egypt. The Pharaohs' faithful greeted him with a sustained chorus of boos when he announced as a Uruguay starter.

Suarez was cast into the role of villain beginning with the 2010 World Cup when his blatant handball prevented a Ghana goal and eventually denied the African team a chance to advance.

Four years later, he earned a nine-match ban for biting Italy's Giorgio Chiellini in Brazil. The referee didn't catch the incident and yielded a corner to Uruguay, allowing it to score and eliminate Italy from the tournament.

Egypt supporters were equally boisterous in cheering their striker Mohamed Salah when he walked onto the field. Salah was in uniform but not starting as he recovers from an injury.

3 p.m.

U.S. President Donald Trump says he worked hard on the effort to bring the 2026 World Cup to North America and thanked Bob Kraft, owner of the NFL's New England Patriots and Major League Soccer's New England Revolution.

Trump signed letters to FIFA President Gianni Infantino expressing confidence World Cup delegations and fans would be welcomed for the tournament. Although of no legal force, the letters were used in lobbying by the U.S. Soccer Federation and the joint North American bid competed against Morocco's. The North American bid won 134-65 in voting by FIFA members on Wednesday.

Trump tweeted Friday "Thank you for all of the compliments on getting the World Cup to come to the U.S.A., Mexico and Canada. I worked hard on this, along with a Great Team of talented people. We never fail, and it will be a great World Cup! A special thanks to Bob Kraft for excellent advice."

Kraft became honorary chairman of the bid last July, worked to obtain U.S. government support and helped gain the support of federations.

2:50 p.m.

France coach Didier Deschamps has always been clear with his players since taking charge six years ago: there is no "I'' in team.

Deschamps, however, has made an exception with Antoine Griezmann, stopping short of criticizing the star striker a day after he theatrically announced his decision to stay with Atletico Madrid during a television show. The program, called "The Decision," was broadcast on Spanish TV on Thursday, just two days before France's opening World Cup game against Australia.

Griezmann has been mocked on social media for the way he promoted his announcement in the 45-minute special that included footage of him getting a tattoo and eating popcorn.

Asked about what he thought about the timing of his player's announcement, Deschamps said he didn't care. He said that "it's a very good thing for his club. You might think the format (he picked) matters. I'm more interested in the substance."

2:40 p.m.

Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani will start in Uruguay's opening World Cup group A game against Egypt, which will be missing star Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah.

Suarez is hoping his football prowess gets more attention in Russia than his disciplinary issues did at the previous two World Cups in South Africa and Brazil.

Uruguay lineup: Fernando Musiera, Jose Maria Gimenez, Diego Godin (captain), Guillermo Varela, Rodrigo Bentancur, Nahitan Nandez, Luis Suarez, Giorgian De Arrascaeta, Matias Vecino, Edinson Cavani, Martin Caceres.

2:30 p.m.

Egypt will starts its opening Group A match against Uruguay without injured forward Mohamed Salah, and with veteran goalkeeper Essam El Hadary on the bench.

Salah injured a shoulder while playing for Liverpool in last month's Champions League final. Marwan Mohsen will be playing upfront.

Mohamed El-Shennawy will start in goal after being selected in front of 45-year-old El Hadary, who is hoping to make history by becoming the oldest player to play in a World Cup game .

Egypt lineup: Ali Gabr, Ahmed Hegazy, Ahmed Fathi, Tarek Hamed, Marwan Mohsen, Mohamed Abdel-Shafi, Mohamed Elneny, Abdallah El Said, Mahmoud Hassan, Amr Warda, Mohamed El Shennawy.

2:20 p.m.

Mohamed Salah is on the bench for Eygpt's first World Cup game since 1990 after injuring a shoulder while playing for Liverpool in last month's Champions League final.

Salah was the Premier League Player of the Season after scoring a league-leading 32 goals and 44 in all for Liverpool last season.

He left the Champions League final in tears on May 26 after he was injured by Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos in a challenge by the Spaniard.

1:25 p.m.

The head of the Palestinian Football Association faces FIFA punishment for urging fans to burn photos of Lionel Messi if Argentina played a World Cup warmup game in Jerusalem.

FIFA says it opened disciplinary proceedings against PFA president Jibril Rajoub because of comments "widely reported in the media."

Argentina called off a game against Israel earlier this month after protests by pro-Palestinian groups.

Rajoub had called for Arab and Muslim fans to burn photos and T-shirts of Messi, the Argentina and Barcelona superstar, if he played.

FIFA did not specify when the case will be judged.

Argentina opens its World Cup program Saturday against Iceland.

12:35 p.m.

Peru coach Ricardo Gareca will not commit to playing recently reinstated striker Paolo Guerrero in their World Cup opener against Denmark.

Gareca's only promise in a news conference Friday is that if Peru's all-time goal scorer gets into the game, he'll be fit and ready.

The 34-year-old Guerrero was allowed to play in the World Cup only after a doping suspension was frozen by a Swiss Supreme Court judge.

The striker has played few games since FIFA's initial suspension in November.

Guererro was Peru's top goal scorer in South American World Cup qualifying, netting five in the campaign.

Team captains of Peru's rivals in Group C recently asked FIFA to lift Guerrero's suspension so he could play against France, Denmark and Australia.

Guerrero has blamed his test failure on a tainted cup of tea at a Lima hotel.

12:00 p.m.

Costa Rica defender Ronald Matarrita will not play in the World Cup because of a right hamstring injury.

The Costa Rican federation says Matarrita will be replaced on the Ticos' roster by Kenner Gutierrez.

Following training at the team's St. Petersburg camp, the left back had an MRI which confirmed the injury. Matarrita, who plays for the MLS club NYCFC, will miss at least two weeks.

Costa Rica is preparing to play Serbia in its World Cup opener on Sunday in Samara. The Ticos are hoping to improve on their finish at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, when they advanced to the quarterfinals.

Matarrita was one of six players from Major League Soccer on Costa Rica's roster.

Gutierrez plays for Alajuelense in Costa Rica's top division.

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