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Tuesday October 23rd, 2018 6:41PM

The Latest: Russia coach relaxed ahead of World Cup opener

By The Associated Press
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MOSCOW (AP) — The Latest at the World Cup, including the FIFA Congress vote for the 2026 hosting rights (all times local):

2:43 p.m.

Ahead of the biggest game of his career, Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov is in a surprisingly laid-back mood.

Cherchesov traded jokes with journalists Wednesday a day before World Cup's opening game between Russia and Saudi Arabia. But he was still reluctant to disclose any tactical info.

The Russia coach likened a British reporter to James Bond, suggested half of Russia doesn't know the World Cup's happening, and bemused foreigners with an untranslatable Russian-language pun about Denmark.

When a Russian reporter called on the country to support Cherchesov by imitating his distinctive whiskers, he replied "I don't know what you're on about, but everyone come to the stadium with a mustache."

Russia goes into the game on a seven-game winless streak and lowest of all 32 teams in the FIFA rankings. Saudi Arabia hasn't won a World Cup game since 1994.

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2:25 p.m.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino will stand for re-election in June next year.

Infantino confirmed his expected candidacy in a speech about leadership, minutes after FIFA member federations voted for the United States, Canada and Mexico to host the 2026 world Cup.

The 134-65 vote over Morocco's bid will help secure FIFA's financial future, with the North American bid likely securing billions of dollars in extra revenue.

Infantino says leaders must bring "clarity, decisiveness, courage, passion and humility."

The FIFA election is next June 5 in Paris.

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2:20 p.m.

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders displayed the pictures of seven journalists jailed in Russia on a temporary soccer field in a Paris plaza the day before the World Cup kicks off.

The group deployed a big banner reading "during the Word Cup, the clampdown continues" during the protest Wednesday.

The group's secretary general Christophe Deloire said the World Cup in Russia will hide what he called "another match which is not a fair game: the match between the Kremlin and independent journalists."

Reporters Without Borders ranks Russia near the bottom of its list of countries that are friendliest to journalists.

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1:55 p.m.

FIFA member federations voted 134-65 in favor of selecting the joint bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico to host the 2026 World Cup over Morocco.

The outcome was an endorsement for the more profitable and stable bid from the North American neighbors.

The four countries involved in the bidding and three U.S. territories were not involved in the ballot.

In his acceptance speech, U.S. Soccer Federation president Carlos Cordeiro says "Thank you so, so very much for this incredible honor."

The 2026 World Cup has 48 teams playing a total of 80 games — 60 planned across 10 U.S. cities, and 10 games in three cities for each of Canada and Mexico.

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1:52 p.m.

The United States, Canada and Mexico will jointly host the 2026 World Cup.

FIFA member federations voted in favor of the North American bid over Morocco. FIFA promises to publish each voter's selection.

The 2026 World Cup will have 48 teams playing a total of 80 games — 60 are planned in the U.S. and 10 each in Canada and Mexico.

All three hosts should get automatic places in the lineup, and each host a game on opening day.

Morocco lost again with its fifth bid campaign in the past 30 years, including to the U.S. for the 1994 World Cup.

The 2026 tournament will return to the North American region 32 years after that U.S.-hosted edition. Mexico also hosted in 1970 and 1986.

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1:40 p.m.

Morocco has urged FIFA voters to give the North African country a World Cup to host in its fifth bid attempt.

Presenting after the U.S.-led North American bid, Morocco distanced itself from the multi-billion dollar promises of its rival.

Former player Khalilou Fadiga says "Africa has joy and passion instead of the same material wealth. Football is not just a question of money and finances."

Morocco football federation president Fouzi Lekjaa notes that his country and Africa deserves a second chance.

A 2026 tournament in Morocco would be just a second African-hosted World Cup, following South Africa 2010.

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1:20 p.m.

The North American bid to host the 2026 World Cup has made its final presentations to more than 200 FIFA voters.

Presidents of the United States, Canada and Mexico football federations were joined by teenage players Alphonso Davies of Canada, Brianna Pinto of the U.S., and Diego Lainez of Mexico.

Davies spoke of being born in a refugee camp in Ghana, before growing up in Canada.

Pinto told of bonding with opponents from Iran after an Under-20 international game.

U.S. Soccer Federation President Carlos Cordeiro promised $4 billion ticket revenue for FIFA from 5.8 million people attending the 80-game, 48-team tournament.

The 15-minute presentation to leaders of FIFA member federations was to be followed by a presentation from Morocco.

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1:10 p.m.

The Spanish soccer federation has fired coach Julen Lopetegui two days before Spain's World Cup opener against Portugal.

Lopetegui was let go a day after Real Madrid announced him as its new manager beginning after the World Cup.

Federation president Luis Rubiales says it wasn't the best solution for the national team but the action was needed after Madrid's surprise announcement Tuesday.

A replacement was not immediately announced.

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12:50 p.m.

FIFA member federations have rejected a Palestinian proposal to amend world football's statutes with a stronger stance against human rights abuses.

FIFA members voted 156 to 35 against the motion which was formally supported by the Iraq and Algeria football bodies.

Palestinian football federation president Jibril Rajoub had said FIFA lacked any ability to sanction a nation for human rights abuses.

FIFA advised voters it already fulfilled all commitments to human rights in reforms passed over the past three years.

___

11:35 a.m.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and FIFA President Gianni Infantino have praised each other's work preparing for the World Cup.

Putin had a warm relationship with Sepp Blatter, who led FIFA when Russia was awarded the World Cup hosting rights in 2010. Blatter was ousted and banned in fallout of corruption scandals.

Putin says Infantino "stood at the helm of FIFA in very complicated times but he is very good as our frontman, as a true fighter."

The FIFA president has "always positive sentiment toward our country," Putin says.

With hundreds of thousands of fans expected to travel to the World Cup, Putin says visitors should "feel the hospitality and welcoming nature" of Russia.

Infantino praises Putin for "making us feel part of the same team" and thanks him "from our hearts."

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11:15 a.m.

FIFA's head of finance says he "anticipates strong revenues" leading to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Thomas Peyer tells member federations that income from broadcasting rights will add up to 53 percent of FIFA's budgeted income of $6.56 billion over the next four years. Around 70 percent is already contracted.

The extra income lets FIFA promise $1.5 million annual grants to each of its 211 member federations. That's a 20 percent increase.

FIFA's budget, which is typically conservative and eventually exceeded, calls for a $100 million overall profit through 2022. That should help lift FIFA's cash reserves close to $2 billion.

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10:25 a.m.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino says under his watch football's governing body has transformed from "clinically dead as an organization" to being "alive and well."

Infantino tells member federations that FIFA is now "full of joy and passion with a vision for its future."

The Swiss lawyer was elected in February 2016, nine months after American and Swiss federal prosecutors unsealed sweeping investigations of bribery and corruption linked to senior FIFA officials.

Infantino's speech at the annual congress of 211 members signals the next presidential election period starting.

The next FIFA election is June 5 next year in Paris. Infantino, who succeeded Sepp Blatter, is yet to confirm his candidacy for a new four-year term.

Infantino says FIFA now has "absolute transparency" in its finances, with more than $6.1 billion income for the 4-year commercial cycle tied to the World Cup in Russia.

This was achieved "despite the worst crisis FIFA has experienced," he says.

___

10 a.m.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to speak to global soccer leaders before the vote to select the host of the 2026 World Cup.

Putin is scheduled to enter the central Moscow conference hall at around 11 a.m. local time (0800 GMT), before more than 200 national football federations choose between Morocco and the joint United States-Canada-Mexico bid.

Eight years ago at the last World Cup hosting vote, Putin flew in to Zurich to host a news conference celebrating Russia winning the right to stage the 2018 tournament.

Putin should also attend Thursday's opening game, when Russia plays Saudi Arabia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

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9:45 a.m.

Former FIFA President Sepp Blatter is claiming credit for Morocco not being eliminated by inspectors as a candidate to host the 2026 World Cup, allowing the North African nation to take on the joint bid from the United States, Mexico and Canada in Wednesday's vote.

Blatter, who was ousted from power at FIFA in 2015 over financial misconduct, has publicly backed the Morocco bid.

He says "I was fighting for Morocco and for Africa because at a certain time (FIFA) wanted to eliminate Morocco before going to the vote, and now, they are at the vote and I think it's a victory also of my intervention, especially."

Morocco was scored 2.7 out of 5 by FIFA's inspection task force, which marked the North America bid a 4 in the report last month. Morocco would have been disqualified if it had scored lower than 2.

In April, Blatter had tweeted: "Just recall a fundamental principal in FIFA: Decision taken in 2011: the congress shall decide on the attribution of the World Cup 2026 - and not any sub-committee or task-force. Each candidate must have the right to make a presentation at the congress."

___

9:35 a.m.

FIFA is preparing to choose between Morocco and a joint North American bid to host the 2026 World Cup.

More than 200 national football federations are to set to vote at around midday local time in Moscow (0900 GMT) at their annual meeting one day before the 2018 World Cup kicks off.

FIFA member must pick between the financial security of the United States-Canada-Mexico bid where all venues are ready, and a Moroccan bid that needs to build or renovate all 14 stadiums for a 48-team tournament.

Mexico has twice hosted the World Cup, in 1970 and 1986, the U.S. hosted in 1994, while Morocco has lost in four previous bid campaigns.

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