Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Latest: Croatia to go black and blue again at World Cup

MOSCOW (AP) — The Latest on Sunday at the World Cup (all times local):

6:35 p.m.

Croatia in the World Cup semifinal? Check. Playing in trademark red-and-white checkerboard shirts? Sorry.

For the fifth straight game, Croatia will wear its change shirt of black and dark blue checks to play England on Wednesday for a place in the final.

Only in its opening game in Russia — against Nigeria playing in green — has Croatia's team worn the short that is unique in international soccer and worn almost uniformly by its fans at the World Cup.

It's not by choice for Croatia and FIFA.

All through the knockout bracket, Croatia has faced teams whose first-choice shirt is red or white, and change shirt is white or red.

England, which will play in all-white kit Wednesday in Moscow, follows Russia in the quarterfinals and Denmark in the round of 16 as Croatia's opponents.

The black and blue color scheme has been a lucky option for the Croats. They won penalty shootouts in both previous rounds to advance to a first semifinal in 20 years.

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5:25 p.m.

Thousands of fans have gathered in Moscow to welcome back the Russian team after its narrow loss in the World Cup quarterfinals.

The fan zone in Moscow, usually used for public screenings of games, was packed as Russia's squad and coach took to the stage to thank the fans.

Goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev says "We played for you. You are the best."

Russia was eliminated in a penalty shootout after its quarterfinal match against Croatia in Sochi was tied 1-1 after regulation and 2-2 after extra time.

Forward Artyom Dzyuba, who scored three goals in five games for Russia at the World Cup, says Russia and its fans "have proved we're a football country."

The striker Fyodor Smolov struck an apologetic tone after failing to score during the tournament and missing in Saturday's shootout, saying "what you'd like to say yesterday and today about me, in your place I'd feel the same." He was cheered by the crowd.

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4:45 p.m.

FIFA says it has issued a warning to Croatia defender Domagoj Vida over a video he made praising Ukraine after his team beat Russia at the World Cup.

FIFA says in a statement that "we can confirm that FIFA's disciplinary committee has sent a warning to the player Domagoj Vida due to his video statement following the 2018 FIFA World Cup match between Russia and Croatia."

The video shows Vida shouting "glory to Ukraine" before the retired ex-player Ognjen Vukojevic adds "this win is for Dynamo and Ukraine ... go Croatia."

Vida and Vukojevic played together at Ukrainian club Dynamo Kiev.

Tensions have been high since Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

The warning without a match sanction should mean Vida is available for Croatia's World Cup semifinal against England in Moscow on Wednesday. He scored in extra time against Russia and was involved in the shootout Croatia won 4-3.

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3:15 p.m.

Fernando Hierro's brief tenure as Spain's national team coach has ended after less than a month in charge and a disappointing four-game run at the World Cup.

The Spanish federation says it wanted "to thank Fernando Hierro for his commitment and for assuming the responsibility of being in charge of the national team during some extraordinary situations."

Hierro was promoted from sporting director to the top job two days before Spain opened the tournament against Portugal. New federation president Luis Rubiales was incensed that previous coach Julen Lopetegui had agreed to take charge at Real Madrid after the World Cup without giving the federation sufficient notice. Lopetegui was summarily fired despite a 20-game unbeaten streak that had made Spain one of the favorites coming into the tournament.

Spain drew with Portugal and Morocco and beat Iran to get out of their group, then lost to Russia on penalties in the round of 16.

The federation says Hierro has declined to return to his previous role as sporting director.

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2:50 p.m.

FIFA says it is investigating a video made by a Croatia player praising Ukraine after his team beat World Cup host Russia.

The video shows Croatia defender Domagoj Vida shouting "glory to Ukraine" before the retired ex-player Ognjen Vukojevic adds "this win is for Dynamo and Ukraine ... go Croatia."

Vida and Vukojevic played together at Ukrainian club Dynamo Kiev. It wasn't immediately clear whether they intended the video to be made public, or if it was a personal message later uploaded to YouTube by someone else.

When asked about the video, soccer's international governing body says it "is processing the different reports of the said match as well as potential evidence concerning the matter referred to in your message. Please understand, until we have evaluated all information available, we cannot comment further."

Tensions have been high since Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

___

2:30 p.m.

Pope Francis is trying to cheer up Brazilian soccer fans after the team's quarterfinal exit from the World Cup.

The pope, an Argentine and an avid soccer fan, noted a preponderance of Brazilian flags on display in St. Peter's Square during his traditional Sunday blessing.

He told the crowd: "I see a lot of Brazilian flags: Have courage! There'll be a next time."

The five-time world champions left the World Cup empty handed after losing to Belgium in the quarterfinals, leaving only European teams contending for the title in Russia.

Francis often meets with visiting national soccer teams, has a collection of gifted jerseys and frequently promotes the value of sports particularly for young people. Argentina was eliminated from World Cup contention in the first of the knockout rounds.

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