MOSCOW (AP) — The Latest on the opening day of the World Cup (all times local):
The Spanish team has arrived in Sochi for its World Cup opener trying to leave behind the ordeal of its shocking coaching change.
New coach Fernando Hierro led the players out of the bus after their arrival at a hotel in the coastal city on the eve of their Group B match against European champion Portugal.
Hierro replaced Julen Lopetegui, who was fired Wednesday after accepting a job with Real Madrid without telling the Spanish soccer federation in advance.
Hierro and captain Sergio Ramos are due to face a news conference at Fisht Stadium later Thursday.
Egypt coach Hector Cuper says he is “very optimistic” that Mohamed Salah will play in his team’s World Cup opener against Uruguay.
Cuper announced the development during a news conference in advance of Friday’s matchup.
Cuper said officials would continue to monitor Salah during their training session Thursday. But he said he was expecting his star striker to be on the field.
Salah had been questionable since suffering a left shoulder injury during a collision with Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos during the Champions League final last month in Kiev, Ukraine.
Salah almost single-handedly led Egypt to its spot in the 32-team World Cup field. He scored five goals in six games in the first round of the qualifiers, including a late penalty that earned the seven-time African champions their first World Cup berth since 1990.
Salah will celebrate his 26th birthday Friday.
— AP Sports Writer Kyle Hightower reported from Yekaterinburg, Russia.
Russia’s rival neighbor Georgia is denouncing the Kremlin’s decision to showcase the leaders of two breakaway regions at the opening of the World Cup.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to host the leaders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia at Thursday’s opening match in Moscow.
The Georgian president’s foreign relations secretary, Tengiz Pkhaladze, told The Associated Press that “Russia is trying to use a sports forum to legitimize its unlawful actions.” He urged the international community not to allow Russia to whitewash its actions.
Russia gained control of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia after a short war in 2008. Russia recognizes both regions as independent nations but supports them financially and militarily, despite international condemnation.
Others expected at Thursday’s match include a senior North Korean official, the Saudi crown prince and some Latin American presidents.
The French football federation says it has set up houses for its supporters who traveled to Russia to back Les Bleus.
Dubbed the “Casas Bleues,” for blue houses, they will be set up in the cities where France plays its group games, in Kazan, Yekaterinburg and Moscow.
The French federation says performances will be organized ahead and after the matches for the fans, who will also be provided with transportation to the stadiums.
Russian women and visiting World Cup fans: be fruitful and multiply.
After a Russian lawmaker caused a backlash on social media by advising Russian women against getting involved with foreign soccer fans, her colleague is urging love and procreation during the championship.
The state news agency Tass is quoting parliament member Mikhail Degtyaryov as saying on Thursday that “the more love stories we have connected to the world championship, the more people from different countries fall in love, the more children are born, the better.”
Degtyaryov is the head of a parliamentary committee overseeing sports. He said Russia is welcoming “fans from all countries, skin colors, all religions, all genders and all (sexual) orientations.”
Degtyaryov spoke after his colleague Tamara Pletnyova suggested that Russian women may end up rearing the fans’ children alone.
Some workers in Moscow will mark the start of the World Cup with a day off in a push to ease the Russian capital’s notorious traffic jams.
Mayor Sergei Sobyanin appealed last week to companies to give their staff time off “so they don’t end up in jams and there aren’t transport problems.” Those going to work are urged to use public transport.
While it’s been far from universally accepted, some bosses have agreed to let their staff work from home or take the day off altogether.
Widespread road closures are expected ahead of the Russia-Saudi Arabia kickoff at 6 p.m., the height of what would normally be rush hour.
Russian authorities are reluctant to have the World Cup start against a backdrop of clogged roads, and they’re also keen to clear the way for the various visiting dignitaries, mostly from ex-Soviet and Latin American countries.
By Associated Press