WORLD CUP KICKOFF: With Russia out, who will home fans back?
MOSCOW (AP) — A look at what’s coming up at the World Cup :
Russia’s unexpected run to the quarterfinals sparked a surge of support from fans who had largely been indifferent to the team before the World Cup started. By the knockout stage, supporters were chanting “Roo-see-ah!” at stadiums where the team wasn’t even playing. The hosts were oh-so-close to securing a spot in the semifinal match in Moscow, where the final also will take place. Now that they’re done, eliminated in a penalty shootout by Croatia, will the home fans who have filled most of the seats pick a favorite from the final four or go back to being blase?
After returning from their Friday quarterfinals in Nizhny Novgorod and Kazan, respectively, France and Belgium will work out at their Moscow-area training bases Sunday before heading to St. Petersburg to take each other on Tuesday night for a ticket to the final. Russia is a big country. By the time they get back to Moscow again, France will have racked up 1,300 miles (about 2,100 kilometers) and Belgium will have gone 1,700 miles (about 2,700 kilometers) in about five days.
With just four days between matches, the workouts are likely to be fairly light. Both squads are deep and are dealing with relatively few injuries, though Belgium will be missing defender Thomas Meunier, who picked up his second yellow card for tripping Neymar in the 2-1 quarterfinal win over Brazil .
Croatia wouldn’t trade its second straight shootout win, but four hours of soccer in six days have left the Croats banged-up. They’ll spend Sunday nursing injuries including stellar goalkeeper Danijel Subasic’s hamstring issue picked up against Russia, which kept him from taking goal kicks by the end of the match. They may have as complete a starting 11 as any of the four teams remaining but they don’t have as much depth, and the semifinal match with comparatively fresh and injury-free England is just four days away.