‘Japan should follow US example in promoting football’ – World Cup winner Podolski

By ethan / March 30, 2018

German World Cup winner Lukas Podolski, who moved to the Japan Professional Football League last year, says that his team Vissel Kobe has every chance of becoming the top football club in Asia.

The 32-year-old forward, who retired from international football last year, having amassed 130 appearances, the third-highest total in German history, announced his transfer to Japanese club Vissel Kobe in March last year – much to the surprise of football fans.

Speaking to RT’s Stan Collymore, Podolski says that he has settled in well in the Land of the Rising Sun.

“It’s all good for now. I am nearly eight or nine [months] here now. The life is good, for me and my family. Everything is good: the food, the safety. People are friendly,” he said.

The third-highest scorer for Die Mannschaft is also positive about Vissel Kobe’s future, and is aiming to help the team become the dominant force in Asian football in the coming seasons.

“I hope that we can bring this club to another level. But it takes time, it can’t be done in one year. In three or five years we can make this club the team in Asia. This is our target, that’s why I’m here. To help the club on the pitch and off the pitch.”

As for the Japanese national team’s hopes for the World Cup in Russia this summer and beyond, former Bayern Munich and Arsenal striker Podolski was cautiously optimistic, noting that the right steps must be taken to popularize football more in a country where baseball is seen as the top sport.

“It would be interesting to see. There’s a lot of potential in this country. Japan has to push football in the next years, closer to the level of baseball. Look at the US, they have NFL, baseball, basketball, but they still have football, and they have a good marketing for it. And I think this is the key point for the J1 League, to push [the level of popularity of football] in the next years.”

He added that bringing big football names to the country is important, but it should be done to share experience with local players, not only for the sake of attracting fans.

“It’s important [to bring the big names], but it’s not everything. You can look at China. A lot of players went there, but they have moved back already. So it’s not only about bringing the names, it’s about making the Japanese players better, to make the quality of the J1 League better, to bring more Japanese players to Europe, and develop football [in the country].”

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Bus fire forces evacuation at London Stansted airport (VIDEO)

By ethan / March 30, 2018

A shuttle bus that went up in flames forced the partial evacuation of a terminal at London’s Stansted Airport in Essex.

Authorities at Stansted cordoned off the front of the international airport while emergency services tackled the blaze on a parked coach on Friday afternoon.

Footage from the scene shows flames and black smoke rising from a passenger set-down spot at the airport’s car park.

After the fire was extinguished, Stansted services began the re-screening of passengers through airport security.

Essex County Fire Services said a number of crews attended the fire, which was put out just after 5pm local time.

“The bus has been completely destroyed, while much of the front of the terminal building has suffered smoke damage,” the fire department said.

The airport confirmed that there were no injuries reported from the blaze, which was “caused by an engine electrical fault on the bus.”

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US, UK soldiers killed in Syria roadside bombing – reports

By ethan / March 30, 2018

A roadside bomb in the Syrian town of Manbij has killed two members of the US-led anti-ISIS coalition and injured five more. One of the killed was American and the other British, according to multiple reports.

Although the Coalition has yet to officially identify the casualties, a number of news outlets have already reported them as American and British. Fox News and Reuters cited a US military official, while Sky News cited the UK Ministry of Defence.

This was the first casualty the US military sustained in Syria, according to Fox. Five other troops were injured in the explosion on March 29. Their identities have not been made available.

A spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) – the official name of the US-led military operation against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) in Iraq and Syria – confirmed in a brief statement on Thursday that “two Coalition personnel were killed and five were wounded by an improvised explosive device in Syria.”

The blast took place near Manbij, a city in the northeast of Aleppo governorate, two US officials who spoke on condition of anonymity told Reuters. Manbij was liberated from IS in August 2016, by US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the majority of whom are Kurds. Turkey has objected to the SDF presence in Manbij, as Ankara considers the Kurdish militias terrorists.

OIR said the names of slain service members “will be released at the discretion of the pertinent national authorities,” adding details of the incident are being withheld “pending further investigation.”

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FILE PHOTO © Cpl. Rachel Diehm / dvidshub.net

The news came just a day after US President Donald Trump promised to pull out American troops from Syria, where they are stationed without approval from Damascus or an internationally recognized mandate.

“We’re coming out of Syria very soon. Let the other people take care of it now,”Trump said during a speech in Richfield, Ohio on Thursday.

His announcement appeared to contradict what the Pentagon has said and done for months, however. On December 5, 2017, a Defense Department spokesman announced that US troops will remain stationed in Syria indefinitely.

“We are going to maintain our commitment on the ground as long as we need to, to support our partners and prevent the return of terrorist groups,” said spokesman Eric Pahon.

Two days later, the Defense Department announced that there were 2,000 US troops in Syria, a four-fold increase from the previously acknowledged 500, justifying their presence by the need “to combat the threat of insurgent-led insurgency, prevent the resurgence of ISIS and to stabilize liberated areas.”

Damascus has consistently opposed US military presence on its territory saying the Americans’ deployment was a breach of Syria’s sovereignty. Syrian President Bashar Assad has called the US troops “invaders.”

“We will knock on every diplomatic door, because [the] American military presence in Syria is illegal,” Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said in 2017.

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Moscow expels diplomats of countries that kicked out Russians over Skripal case

By ethan / March 30, 2018

In a tit-for-tat response, the Russian Foreign Ministry has expelled some embassy and consulate staff of countries which earlier ordered Russian diplomats to leave. Moscow is ousting the same number of people other states have.

On Friday, the foreign ministry summoned the heads of diplomatic missions whose countries announced a number of Russian diplomats persona non grata in what they called solidarity with the UK. London is accusing Moscow of poisoning double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia earlier in March, even though the investigation is still underway and no evidence against Russia has been produced.

In a tit-for-tat response, Moscow has handed notes of protest to the ambassadors and announced the expulsions of the same number of diplomats – on average, between one to four diplomats. They were given several days to leave the country.

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© Jean-Philippe Arles

Lithuania, which expelled three Russian diplomats, called the decision “disproportionate” because the country has “fewer diplomats working in Russia than Russia has in Lithuania,” the foreign ministry’s spokeswoman said.

More than half of the EU member states, as well as the US, Canada, and Australia, followed the UK in expelling Russian diplomats. Russia announced the closure of the US Consulate in St. Petersburg and the expulsion of 60 US diplomats. The UK has been given one month to cut its diplomatic mission in the country to the same number of Russian diplomatic staff in Britain.

Austria is one of the few EU states which has resisted the London-orchestrated campaign against Russia. “Indeed, we want to keep the channels of communication to Russia open,” Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl said. Austria has already been dubbed ‘the East-West mediator’ in the media.

Members of a new Italian government criticized the decision of the lame duck officials to expel two Russian diplomats. 

Though UK police say that the investigation in Salisbury would take “several weeks and months,” the UK government – particularly Theresa May and Boris Johnson – was quick to point the finger at Russia. They assumed that the military-grade nerve agent A-234 (also known as ‘Novichok’) of Russian origin was used in the attack.

Russia has firmly dismissed all such allegations and urged London to provide evidence, including samples of the nerve agent. However, it hasn’t received anything yet.

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Russia 2018 World Cup: Home team in desperate need of winning formula

By ethan / March 30, 2018

Russia’s defeat against France on Tuesday extended the team’s winless run to five games and led to questions over whether the 2018 World Cup hosts are set for a disappointing showing at this summer’s tournament.

Strikes from teenager Kylian Mbappe either side of a Paul Pogba free-kick goal condemned Russia to a 3-1 defeat in St. Petersburg, with the hosts scoring through striker Fedor Smolov.

READ MORE: Russia v Brazil: New-look Luzhniki set for latest World Cup test-run

It was the second time in four days that Russia had conceded three goals in a game, following the 3-0 drubbing by Brazil in Moscow on Friday night. The defeat against France signalled the team’s eighth loss in 18 games under head coach Stanislav Cherchesov.  

Following the game, the more scathing headlines in the Russian press included: “No result and no hope.”

Any hopes of the team building momentum after a promising 3-3 draw with Spain in November have now been replaced by fears that Russia could struggle to make it out of a World Cup group that includes Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Uruguay.

So what are the key issues for Russia, and can they be rectified in time for the opening World Cup game against Saudi Arabia on June 14?

Defensive frailties

While most people didn’t expect Russia to beat Brazil and France – two of the favorites for this summer’s tournament – conceding six goals and scoring just one in those games means Cherchesov is under pressure to address defensive frailties that have been exposed.

Cherchesov has suffered the misfortune of seeing two of his first-choice central defenders, Georgy Dzhikiya of Spartak Moscow and Viktor Vasin of CSKA Moscow, both suffer long-term knee injuries that will rule them out of the tournament this summer.

The pair would usually form part of a back three for Russia in a 3-5-2 formation, meaning the Russian head coach has been left scrambling for replacements.

Cherchesov has settled on a partnership between Rubin Kazan’s Fedor Kudryashev and Vladimir Granat as two of the three – the latter making his return to the national team after a four-year absence – but seems uncertain as to who will play alongside them.

Spartak’s Ilya Kutepov lined up against Brazil, putting in a decent first-half performance in keeping the Brazilians at bay for 45 minutes. Roman Neustadter came in against France – although he suffered a night to forget as Mbappe danced past him for his two goals.

Brazilian-born defender Mario Fernandes missed both games through injury, but will return before the World Cup and is many people’s pick to add some much-needed mobility to the backline.

READ MORE: Russia v Brazil: New-look Luzhniki set for latest World Cup test-run

Those three will all likely be in the final World Cup squad announced towards the end of May. However, Cherchesov will need to use remaining friendly games against Austria and Turkey – in May and June respectively – to settle on a definite backline trio and work on them operating as a much tighter unit.       

Blunted attack

Russia’s injury woes also extend further up the pitch, with Zenit St. Petersburg striker Alexander Kokorin sidelined through a knee ligament injury, meaning the team’s attacking threat almost entirely lies with Fedor Smolov.

The 28-year-old Krasnodar striker has provided seven of the 25 goals scored during Cherchesov’s 18 games in charge, and is revered by a number of European clubs – including West Ham United.

His goal against France – his 12th in 30 appearances for Russia – was typical of his sharp movement in the box as he darted into space at the back post to connect with a cross from wingback Igor Smolnikov.

However, that kind of service into Smolov was a rarity in the two recent friendlies, and more threat is needed from elsewhere on the pitch.

In particular, Russia will want better returns from attacking midfielders such as Alexander Golovin, Alan Dzagoev, and Aleksey Miranchuk – especially as defensive weaknesses mean the team are liable to leak goals at the World Cup against Uruguay’s strike duo of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, and Egypt’s free-scoring frontman Mohamed Salah.

Constant rotation

Cherchesov inherited a team at rock bottom when he took over in 2016, with Russia finishing bottom of their group at the European Championships in France. He then faced a host of retirements from stalwarts of the side including defenders Aleksei and Vasili Berezutski and Sergei Ignashevich.  

In attempting to rebuild the team, Cherchesov has used 45 different players in his 18-month tenure. In that respect, Russia’s lack of a World Cup qualifying campaign has proved a double-edged sword. Friendly games have added to the temptation to try different players and tinker with combinations, which has led to a lack of continuity.   

Players have been recalled to the team, only to disappear further down the line, while others such as Neustadter and Konstantin Rausch, both of whom have been naturalized to play for Russia, have been brought in for what appears to be attempts at quick fixes.

There are established names on the teamsheet and players that form the core of the squad – notably veteran goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, Alexander Golovin and Denis Glushakov in midfield, wide men Alexander Samedov and Yuri Zhirkov, and Smolov up front.

But speculation continues over who exactly will fill other key positions, despite just 11 weeks to go until the team kicks off against the Saudis.  

Striker Artem Dzyuba – who is enjoying a revival at Arsenal Tula on loan from Zenit St. Petersburg – could be brought back into the fold, although that would mean settling reported personal differences with Cherchesov.

READ MORE: ‘We hope to carry on this success story’: Russia 2018 LOC head on World Cup preparation

Many are also clamoring for in-form Lokomotiv Moscow midfielder Igor Denisov to return to the team. Denisov has made 54 appearances for the national side, but has not played under Cherchesov due to a falling-out the pair had while both were at Dynamo Moscow.

Essentially, Cherchesov’s options seem all too many and all too few – numerous players of a similar type, but, with the exception of Smolov, none who particularly stand out.   

The time for experimentation is over, however, and in the friendlies against Austria and Turkey, Cherchesov will have to field 11 that closely resembles the team to start in the World cup opener at Luzhniki on June 14.

Limited expectations

Most Russian fans understand the limitations of the squad at Cherchesov’s disposal, and are realistic about the team’s chances this summer.  

Russia has exited the past four major tournaments – the 2014 World Cup, the European Championships in 2012 and 2016, and the 2017 Confederations Cup – at the group stage.

The team’s last significant achievement was a decade ago, when Andrey Arshavin’s star performances lit up the 2008 European Championships and helped the team reach the semi-finals.

Few would back Russia to repeat that feat at this year’s World Cup or even get beyond the last 16, particularly as they would most likely face Spain or Portugal should they get out of their group.

But reaching the knockout stage is seen as a minimum – especially given the relatively kind group draw the hosts have been given. Opening game opponents Saudi Arabia will be the lowest-ranked team at the World Cup, and occupy 69th place in the FIFA table, six places below Russia.

READ MORE: 2018 World Cup – 100 days to go: Leaving a legacy for Russia

The Saudis suffered a 4-0 friendly defeat against Belgium on Tuesday, and the game at Luzhniki on June 14 would appear to be a banker for Russia. Second-game opponents Egypt offer a more difficult proposition, and showed against Portugal last week that they should not be taken lightly.

They led in that game through a Salah goal until an injury-time double from Cristiano Ronaldo spared Portugal’s blushes. Salah has scored 28 league goals so far in a prolific season for Liverpool, and the Egyptian forward’s pace will pose Russia’s immobile defense similar problems to the ones Mbappe offered in the game against France.

Slip-ups in either of the first two games could mean that Cherchesov’s team are left needing a result in the last group match against Uruguay to go through – which would be an unwanted scenario.

Early exit

If Russia were to exit at the group stage this summer, it would no doubt dampen the festivities, especially for home fans, who would like to see the pride in their team reciprocated in performances on the pitch.

They have been looking for signs of encouragement from their team that something special might just happen. But instead in recent games they have seen a team that at best has stagnated, and at worst is going backwards.

Come June 14, Russia’s gleaming new stadiums and infrastructure will be ready for the big kick-off, but the biggest danger is that the nation’s team will not be.

By Liam Tyler for RT Sport

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Kentucky teachers shut down schools in protest over ‘shameful’ pension bill

By ethan / March 30, 2018

Widespread teacher absences forced schools across Kentucky to close Friday as educators protested against the passing of a controversial pension bill. The move comes after massive teacher strikes in neighboring West Virginia.

At least eight school districts across the state were forced to close their doors due to the absences. The teachers are protesting against the passage of legislation which overhauls pension rules for educators.

The Republican-controlled Kentucky House and Senate passed the bill in quick succession Thursday.

The Kentucky Education Association said the hasty manner of the bill’s passage was “shameful” as it did not give the public an opportunity to comment on the legislation.

“This kind of backroom dealing is shameful. Pitting local government interests against the interests of current and future educators is cowardly,” the association said. The shutdown comes after hundreds of teachers gathered at Kentucky’s capitol building Thursday to voice their extreme dissatisfaction. The furious crowd chanted “shame on you” at lawmakers.

Schools officials said Friday they couldn’t get enough substitutes to cover all their classes due to the mass absences. “A lot of sick days are going to be used today,” Patricia Lea Collins of the Pike County school system explained. Under Kentucky law public employees do not have the right to strike.

The school shutdown sparked a huge reaction on social media with supporters of teachers widely sharing the #120Strong on Twitter. The message called for all 120 counties in Kentucky to close their schools.

READ MORE: Last-ditch deal ends West Virginia teachers’ 9-day strike

Earlier this month West Virginia’s biggest teachers’ strike in 30 years was finally ended when their demands were finally met. The nine-day industrial action received widespread public support. Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, told RT that he had “never seen the education community so united.”

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Over 3,000 foreign firms working in Crimea despite Russia sanctions

By ethan / March 30, 2018

Nearly 3,000 firms owned by foreign investors, including European businesses, are currently working in Crimea, according to the head of the Russian region, Sergey Aksenov.

The firms registered on the peninsula sealed 66 deals worth more than 68 billion rubles (US$ 1.19 billion). The official stressed that half of those projects are currently being implemented.

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Autumn in Crimea © Sergey Malgavko

Since the reunification with Russia in March 2014, over 180 investment agreements worth a total 190 billion rubles ($ 3.31 billion) have been signed in the republic. The projects will reportedly create more than 15,000 local jobs.

As of the end of last year, investment volume in core assets more than doubled, having gone beyond 195 billion rubles ($ 3.4 billion). Half of the amount was reportedly invested in small businesses and the so-called informal economy.

The investments in the sector reportedly tripled compared to 2016.
According to Aksenov, such sectors of the region’s economy as tourism, agriculture, construction, and fuel and energy are the most attractive for investors.

The head of the region also said that the majority of Crimean trade turnover is implemented with partners from non-CIS countries. “More than 52 percent of the turnover is accounted for by China, Italy, India, Spain, Egypt and Bulgaria,” Aksenov said.

Belarus and Ukraine still comprise the bulk of the trading, with trade turnover with Belarus hovering around 22 percent, while Ukraine trade accounts for 16 percent.

For more stories on economy & finance visit RT’s business section

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Liberal groups file criminal complaint against Trump campaign

By ethan / March 30, 2018

Two liberal watchdog groups have filed a criminal complaint alleging that the Trump campaign and National Security Advisor John Bolton’s super PAC, worked with Cambridge Analytica in violation of US election law.

The groups, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and Democracy 21, allege that John Bolton’s super PAC paid Cambridge Analytica $ 25,000 “to craft and deploy a communications program in the target states.”

The groups also allege that the Trump campaign proceeded to work with the British company, despite Cambridge Analytica’s lawyer Laurence Levy warning the firm’s co-founder Steve Bannon that such a decision “could support a claim of indirectly participating in the decision to spend federal campaign funds” – an action that “would violate the law.”

Bannon left his position with Cambridge Analytica to become chief executive of the Trump campaign in 2016.

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 © Henry Nicholls

“The law prohibits foreign nationals from participating, directly or indirectly, in
elections in the United States,” said CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder. “What’s worse than the fact that it apparently happened in this case is that the people involved apparently knew they were breaking the law and continued to do so anyway.”

Both CREW and Democracy 21 have a history of targeting Republican politicians. CREW operates as a non-profit, non-partisan group dedicated to fighting the influence of money in politics. Despite this statement, CREW is funded by a host of progressive donors, including globalist billionaire financier George Soros.

David Brock, described by Time as “”one of the most influential operatives in the Democratic Party” has chaired CREW since 2015.

Democracy 21 also describes itself as promoting campaign-finance reform. Like CREW, Democracy 21 is funded by wealthy liberal donors, including George Soros’ Open Society Institute.

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Bionic flying fox can glide, swoop & hang upside down all by itself (VIDEO)

By ethan / March 30, 2018

A German electronics firm experimenting with aerodynamics has produced an astonishing robotic replica of a flying fox, complete with 3D printed parts and elastane – usually used in hosiery.

The BionicFlyingFox from Festo is an attempt to master the sleek movements engineered by mother nature. Out in the wild, the genuine flying fox is the only mammal that can actively fly.

The animal uses its fingers tucked under its membrane wings to help direct its flight path. In the artificial prototype by Festo, manufacturers used carbon rods to create the bionic fox’s body and wafer thin elastane to replicate the wings. Elastane is typically used in garments like underwear and skinny fit jeans.

According to Festo, the robot is welded together at 45,000 points and weighs just 580 (20oz). The machine is also capable of completing a predetermined flight path, with a human operator required only for take-off and landing.

READ MORE: ‘World’s first’ bionic fish drone makes waves with Kickstarter success (VIDEO)

“So that the BionicFlyingFox is able to move semi-autonomously in a defined space, it communicates with a motion-tracking system. The installation constantly records its position. A person performs the start and landing manually. The autopilot takes over in flight,” the company explains.

Footage shows the bionic creature hanging upside down before plunging into an incredible dive and steadily gliding to safety. In the past, Festo has produced a bionic jumping kangaroo and a smart dragonfly machine.

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