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Croatians give heroes’ welcome to squad

Argentina part company with Sampaoli

ZAGREB, July 16, (Agencies): Tens of thousands of Croatians gave a heroes’ welcome to their team in Zagreb on Monday after the squad returned from Russia following their World Cup final defeat.

A crowd estimated at more than 100,000 thronged the capital’s main square to see the players, led by captain and World Cup Golden Ball winner Luka Modric, parade through the streets on an open-top bus.

Cheering fans, many waving flags and wearing the famous red and white shirt of Croatia, held up banners celebrating the runners-up after their gallant 4-2 defeat by France.

“This is how Croatia is loved,” read one banner. Another said: “We are few, but we believed and that is enough”.

Many even skipped work to celebrate the team reaching their first ever World Cup final.

“I closed my office to welcome our heroes. I put a sign up reading ‘Today, July 16, 2018’, office closed due to our Vatreni (‘the Fiery Ones’ in Croatian),” doctor Sanja Klajic told AFP.

Earlier noisy fans awaited their side’s appearance by singing a popular song “Play on my Croatia, when I see you my heart is on fire!” while watching the plane carrying the team progress to the capital on a giant TV screen.

When the plane, accompanied by military jets and emblazoned with the logo “Bravo Vatreni” flew overhead the crowd cheered and chanted “Hands up, hands up!”.

After landing at the city’s airport around 3:25 pm (1325 GMT), the players emerged to shrieks from fans at the terminal.


Argentina have parted company with coach Jorge Sampaoli following their poor World Cup campaign, the federation announced on Sunday.

“Today the Argentine football federation and Jorge Sampaoli agreed by mutual consent to bring to an end his position as head of the national team,” the AFA said in a statement.

The split comes just one year into Sampaoli’s five-year contract.

The 58-year-old’s days as coach were numbered after his Lionel Messi-led side failed to fire in Russia, their campaign fraught with tension and dispute.

Appointed in June 2017, his final game in charge was the last-16 defeat to France, who were crowned world champions earlier Sunday.

Divorce proceedings were complicated by Sampaoli’s reluctance to resign and a costly contract clause were the AFA to sack him.

Reports suggest he walks away with a $2 million pay-off.

Sampaoli’s record makes grim reading given Argentina’s usually high standards: seven wins, four draws and four defeats in 15 matches.

He was hired with a big reputation after guiding Chile to the 2015 Copa America title – beating Argentina on penalties in the final.


Heavy rain damaged one of Russia’s newly-built World Cup stadiums on Sunday when the tournament ended with the final in Moscow.

Footage from the southern city of Volgograd showed a fresh landslide on an embankment near the stadium, which made a several-metre-deep hole in it and covered a sidewalk with mud.

A spokesman for the state Sport In company overseeing the construction said there were also leaks inside the stadium which could take up to a week to repair.

“I’m sorry for the city. They invested so much money and it was washed away by one rain,” 19-year-old Vitaly Ovchinnikov, a local resident, told Reuters TV.

Volgograd Arena, a stadium that can accommodate up to 45,000 spectators, was built for the World Cup at a cost over 16 billion roubles ($257 million), according to data on the regional government’s website.


Russia was the target of almost 25 million cyber-attacks during the World Cup, President Vladimir Putin said, though he did not indicate who may have been behind the attacks.

“During the period of the World Cup, almost 25 million cyber-attacks and other criminal acts on the information structures in Russia, linked in one way or another to the World Cup, were neutralised,” Putin said during a meeting on Sunday with security services.

The president, whose comments were reported by the Kremlin on Monday, gave no information on the nature or possible origins of the cyber-attacks.


England’s run to the semifinals of the World Cup will encourage more home fans to show up and support the team in future matches, defender John Stones has said.

Manager Gareth Southgate’s youthful team exceeded expectations by reaching the semifinals at the World Cup for the first time since 1990, helping turn some of their indifferent fans into passionate supporters.

England are back in action at the UEFA Nations League in September, when they take on Spain in their opening fixture at Wembley and Manchester City defender Stones is expecting a high turnout for that game.

“I think an awful lot of people will want to come and watch this England team again and really get behind us, even more than before,” Stones told British media.

“That’s not to say we haven’t had support everywhere but I’ve seen the scenes at home and that has been a massive boost for us because we’ve in a kind of bubble here.

“To play at Wembley again will be exciting for us and hopefully it will be a big advantage in the months to come.”

England’s lack of goals from open play during their World Cup run was among their biggest criticisms, with the team scoring a majority of their 12 goals from set pieces and penalties.

The 24-year-old recognised England’s shortcomings and said he would re-watch the games to identify the areas of improvement.

“I will watch all the (England) games back in my own time, what we did at both ends of the pitch, because if you don’t score goals you don’t win games and if you don’t keep clean sheets you don’t either,” Stones said.

“That’s the harsh reality of it when you play against the very highest level.”

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