The Latest: Rakitic casts vote for Messi in GOAT debate

Jun 20, 2018

Ivan Rakitic has taken sides in the Messi vs. Ronaldo debate. The Croatia midfielder says "For me, Lionel Messi is the best player of all time. And I hope he will continue playing for as long as he wants."

MOSCOW — The Latest on Wednesday at the World Cup (all times local):

8:40 p.m.

Ivan Rakitic has taken sides in the Messi vs. Ronaldo debate.

The Croatia midfielder says "For me, Lionel Messi is the best player of all time. And I hope he will continue playing for as long as he wants."

Rakitic's spoke Wednesday on the eve of his Croatia team's World Cup meeting with Messi's Argentina.

Rakitic and Messi are teammates at Barcelona, but will be on opposing sides in Nizhny Novgorod as Croatia aims to qualify for the knockout stage and Argentina hopes to rebound from a disappointing draw against Iceland.

While Rakitic and Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic both noted Argentina has more than just Messi, they both rated him as the greatest.

Dalic says "Messi is the best in the world. No single player can stop him. Our formation, our deployment, our game can stop him. This is the only way."


8:25 p.m.

Spain coach Fernando Hierro has made two changes to his lineup to face Iran in their second World Cup group game, bringing in defender Dani Carvajal and Lucas Vazquez to recreate the Real Madrid right wing. Carvajal has recovered from a muscle injury he picked up during the Champions League final and will operate in place of Nacho Fernandez.

 As promised, Hierro is keeping faith with goalkeeper David De Gea despite a blunder that cost the 2010 champions a goal during Spain's opening 3-3 draw with Portugal. Diego Costa, who scored twice against Portugal, is leading the attack.

Having lost defender Rouzbeh Cheshmi for the remainder of the tournament through injury, Iran coach Carlos Queiroz replaced him with Majid Hosseini among other changes.

Iran beat Morocco 1-0 in its first match in Group B.


Iran: Ali Beiranvand, Ehsan Haji Safi, Saeid Ezatolahi, Morteza Pouraliganji, Omid Ebrahimi, Karim Ansarifard, Vahid Amiri, Mehdi Taremi, Majid Hosseini, Sardar Azmoun, Ramin Rezaeian.

Spain: David De Gea, Gerard Pique, Dani Carvajal, Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta, Lucas Vazquez, Sergio Ramos, Jordi Alba, Diego Costa, David Silva, Isco.


7:53 p.m.

Luis Suarez celebrated his 100th international appearance with a goal that helped Uruguay reach the round of 16 and ended the chances of Saudi Arabia and Egypt advancing at the World Cup.

Suarez struck from close range in the 23rd minute for his 52nd international goal, and Uruguay hung on for a 1-0 win over the Saudis.

The result meant Uruguay and Russia ensured progression from Group A after winning their first two games, while the Saudis and Egypt are out of contention following two losses apiece.


7:10 p.m.

Coach Jorge Sampaoli says his star Lionel Messi "shouldn't shoulder all the responsibility" for Argentina's fate at the World Cup.

Messi missed a penalty in Argentina's 1-1 draw against Iceland in opening group match. That slip has piled the pressure on Argentina to win in the second group game against Croatia on Thursday.

Croatia defeated Nigeria 2-0 in its opener.

Sampaoli says "when you score with the Argentina jersey, we all take credit for it. But when Argentina loses, it's all Leo's fault. I think that's quite unfair treatment. It's a lot of pressure for a single player to stand."

Argentina has not won a major title since 1993. It lost the World Cup final four years ago against Germany, and two South American championship finals to Chile in 2015 and 2016.

— AP Sports Writer Stephen Wade reported from Nizhny Novgorod.


6:53 p.m.

Uruguay is on course for early qualification in Group A, leading Saudi Arabia 1-0 at halftime with a goal from Luis Suarez.

Suarez scored in the 23rd minute, flicking in a corner from Carlos Sanchez to score in his 100th appearance for La Celeste.

The Saudis fought hard for an equalizer, with winger Hatan Bahbri leading counterattacks. But the South Americans controlled the game and maintained pressure on Saudi goalkeeper Mohammed Alowais.

The Uruguayans beat Egypt in their opening match. A win Wednesday would put them and the host Russians through to the knockout stage.

— Associated Press writer Derek Gatopoulos reported from Rostov-on-Don.


6:23 p.m.

Luis Suarez has scored against Saudi Arabia during his 100th game for Uruguay. Suarez met a corner kick from Carlos Sanchez in the 23rd minute and fired in from close range to give Uruguay a 1-0 lead in the World Cup Group A game.


6:09 p.m.

It looks like Iceland defender Hordur Magnusson will be staying in Russia after the World Cup.

CSKA Moscow and second-tier English club Bristol City say they've agreed on a transfer deal for the 25-year-old center back. The terms weren't disclosed.

Magnusson played on the left side of the defense in Iceland's opening 1-1 draw with Argentina on Saturday in Moscow.

Magnusson spent five years with Juventus but didn't play a first-team game for the Italian club before moving to Bristol City in 2016. He made 61 appearances while in England.


5:45 p.m.

France coach Didier Deschamps says star striker Antoine Griezmann is on track to play the World Cup game against Peru after injuring his ankle during Les Bleus' opening win.

Deschamps says there was "a little concern" following the 2-1 victory over Australia after Griezmann experienced some swelling but now "he's well" and will be available for Thursday's game.

Griezmann scored France's first goal against Australia from the spot — the first penalty awarded at the World Cup on video review.

Deschamps says Griezmann "wasn't at his best during the match, he had heavy legs, but it was less decisive because he did score the goal."

Griezmann has 55 international caps and 21 international goals.


5:40 p.m.

Anti-discrimination campaigners are denouncing the host of the British version of "The Apprentice" reality television show over an offensive World Cup-related tweet.

Alan Sugar, a member of the House of Lords, combined an image of Senegal's World Cup team with a photo of handbags and sunglasses laid out on sheets. Referring to a Spanish resort, Sugar tweeted: "I recognise some of these guys from the beach in Marbella. Multi tasking resourceful chaps."

Sugar, a former chairman of Premier League club Tottenham, later deleted the tweet and apologized, saying it was not "intended to cause offence."

But Piara Powar, executive director of the anti-discrimination Fare network, says "this ignorance and stereotyping of a whole race, a continent of over 1.3 billion people, is disgraceful. It is particularly damaging coming from a prominent public figure, a member of the House of Lords."

The BBC, which airs "The Apprentice" in Britain, described Sugar's tweet "seriously misjudged."


5:30 p.m.

His team has received a favorable decision from it but Peru coach Ricardo Gareca doesn't seem to be a fan of the newly introduced video assistant referee technology at the World Cup.

Speaking through a translator a day before Peru's second Group C game against France, Gareca says that for him soccer differs from other sports because "mistakes always occur. That's one of the attractions football has to offer."

He says the VAR technology can be useful but it's not a "perfect solution."

Gareca says "There are always differences in opinions. Football is inexplicably interlinked with mistakes."

Peru was awarded a penalty after a video review in its first game against Denmark late in the first-half when the score was still 0-0 but Christian Cueva sent the spot shot sailing over the crossbar.

Denmark won the game 1-0 and shares top spot in the group with France, which beat Australia 2-1.


5:15 p.m.

Striker Luis Suarez will play his 100th game for Uruguay in the World Cup encounter against Saudi Arabia. Suarez is hoping to recover from his lackluster performance against Egypt which Uruguay went on to win 1-0. Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez handed starting places to first-game substitutes Carlos Sanchez and Cristian Rodriguez in midfield.

Still reeling from a 5-0 opening loss to Russia, Saudi Arabia switched goalkeepers to start with Mohammed Alowais but stuck with its forward-leaning lineup and players from the opener.


Uruguay: Fernando Muslera, Jose Maria Gimenez, Diego Godin, Guillermo Varela, Carlos Sanchez, Rodrigo Bentancur, Cristian Rodriguez, Luis Suarez, Matias Vecino, Edinson Cavani, Martin Caceres.

Saudi Arabia: Mohammed Alowais, Osama Hawsawi, Ali Albulayhi, Mohammed Alburayk, Salman Alfaraj, Hatan Bahbri, Yasser Alshahrani, Abdullah Otayf, Taiseer Aljassam, Salem Aldawsari, Fahad Almuwallad.


5 p.m.

Neymar has returned to practice two days before Brazil's World Cup game against Costa Rica.

The Brazilian star joined the rest of the squad in a training session in Sochi on Wednesday, a day after he limped out of practice because of pain in his right ankle.

Brazil's practice session was closed to the media but the Brazilian soccer federation says Neymar "participated normally in the team's activity." It also posted photos of him practicing , including one showing the playmaker touching the ball with his right ankle.

The federation says Neymar had been in pain since the team's 1-1 draw against Switzerland on Sunday, when he was consistently fouled. It had downplayed the seriousness of the injury, saying he was confirmed to play against Costa Rica on Friday in St. Petersburg.

Neymar was sidelined for about three months earlier this year because of an unrelated right-foot injury.

Brazil and Switzerland are two points behind group leader Serbia, which defeated Costa Rica in its opener.


4:54 p.m.

Cristiano Ronaldo has made European football history by scoring in a 1-0 win for Portugal that also meant Morocco was the first team eliminated from the World Cup in Russia.

Ronaldo's header in the fourth minute was his fourth goal at this tournament, his 85th for his country, and lifted him over Hungary great Ferenc Puskas as the most ever for a European national team.

The Portugal star celebrated with a trademark run and soaring leap toward a corner flag at Luzhniki Stadium,

Morocco fell to a second straight 1-0 loss and is out of contention in last place even before Group B rivals Spain and Iran play later Wednesday.

4 p.m.

Australia coach Bert van Marwijk isn't saying whether the team's all-time leading scorer Tim Cahill will play the World Cup game against Denmark.

Van Marwijk says "There's always a chance — for all the players."

The 38-year-old Cahill, who has scored 50 goals in 106 appearances for Australia, had limited playing time at club level last season and that cast some doubt over his selection in the World Cup roster. Van Marwijk included Cahill in the squad, saying he knew the veteran star's "qualities," but didn't start him in the opening 2-1 loss to France.

Cahill is aiming to join an elite club with four other players who have scored in four straight editions of soccer's top tournament.

With his hat trick against Spain in Portugal's opener, Cristiano Ronaldo joined the group. Others who have goals in four consecutive World Cups include Brazilian legend Pele and Germans Uwe Seeler and Miroslave Klose.


3:48 p.m.

Cristiano Ronaldo's 4th-minute goal has made the difference as Portugal leads Morocco 1-0 at halftime.

Ronaldo made European football history when he stooped to score with a powerful header from Joao Moutinho's right-flank cross after a corner.

His 85th goal for Portugal broke a tie with Hungary great Ferenc Puskas as the most ever for a European national team. Only Ali Daei of Iran, who scored 109 international goals, is ahead of Ronaldo in the world list.

Ronaldo created a good scoring chance for Goncalo Guedes in the 39th but Morocco goalkeeper Monir El Kajoui stood tall and strong to beat out the shot.


3:20 p.m.

Morocco midfielder Noureddine Amrabat started the game against Portugal wearing protective headgear after he sustained a head injury in his team's opening 1-0 loss against Iran.

Amrabat had a cushioned protector similar to the one worn in recent years by Czech Republic goalkeeper Petr Cech. It didn't last long. Amrabat ripped the headgear off after a challenge early in the game, and threw it over the sideline.

The 31-year-old midfielder fell heavily, face first, to the turf in a challenge late in Morocco's opening game last Friday. Team medical staff slapped Amrabat on the cheeks before he was substituted and later treated in a hospital.

FIFA wrote to remind the Morocco team of "the importance to adhere to the guidelines that have been communicated" regarding possible concussion cases.

It is a team decision if a player is deemed fit to start a game.


3:05 p.m.

Cristiano Ronaldo has scored his fourth goal at the World Cup and Portugal leads Morocco 1-0 in the fourth minute at Luzhniki Stadium.

Ronaldo stooped to score with a powerful header after he evaded his marker, Manuel Da Costa, when the ball was crossed from the right flank after a corner.

Ronaldo, who scored a hat-trick in Portugal's opening 3-3 draw with Spain, is now the all-time leading scorer for any European national team. His 85th career goal for Portugal moves him ahead of Hungary great Ferenc Puskas.


3 p.m.

He implied he was the GOAT. Now he's grown a goatee.

Cristiano Ronaldo sported the facial hair on his chin before Portugal's World Cup match against Morocco on Wednesday.

After the first of his three goals in Portugal's 3-3 draw against Spain, Ronaldo stroked his then-hairless chin — an apparent reference to an ad featuring Lionel Messi of Argentina cuddling a live goat. The ad makes the case that Messi is the GOAT, an acronym for "greatest of all time."


2:10 p.m.

Noureddine Amrabat retains his place in the Morocco team to play Portugal, days after sustaining a head injury in a 1-0 loss against Iran.

Amrabat was treated in a hospital and regarded as a doubtful starter for a game Morocco likely needs to win to have hopes of advancing.

Morocco coach Herve Renard makes three changes, with forward Khalid Boutaib replacing Ayoub El Kaabi, Manuel Da Costa coming in for Romain Saiss in central defense, and defender Nabil Dirar replacing winger Amine Harit.

Cristiano Ronaldo is again partnered in attack by Goncalo Guedes, despite the Valencia forward's unimpressive form in a 3-3 draw with Spain. Joao Mario starts in midfield replacing Bruno Fernandes. 

Portugal: Rui Patricio, Pepe, Raphael Guerreiro, Jose Fonte, Cristiano Ronaldo, Joao Moutinho, Joao Mario. Bernardo Silva, William Carvalho, Goncalo Guedes, Cedric Soares.

Morocco: Monir El Kajoui, Achraf Hakimi, Manuel Da Costa, Mehdi Benatia, Hakim Ziyech, Karim El Ahmadi, Younes Belhanda, Khalid Boutaib, Mbark Boussoufa, Noureddine Amrabat, Nabil Dirar 


12:30 p.m.

Poland goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski has finalized a move to English Premier League club West Ham while on national-team duty at the World Cup.

The 33-year-old Fabianski has left Swansea, which was relegated from the Premier League at the end of last season, to join West Ham on a three-year deal. He has made more saves than any other goalkeeper over the last four seasons in the English top flight.

Fabianksi is the back-up to Wojciech Szczesny for Poland at the World Cup and didn't play in the team's first group game, a 2-1 loss to Senegal.

West Ham director of football Mario Husillos says Fabianski "fits perfectly the mould of the modern goalkeeper, with excellent agility, presence and distribution."

Joe Hart and Adrian were West Ham's goalkeepers last season. Hart was on loan from Manchester City.


12:10 p.m.

FIFA is "extremely satisfied with the level of refereeing" at the World Cup, and hails the introduction of video review as a success.

The new technology system for helping referees make decisions has "on the whole ... been positively accepted and appreciated within our football community," FIFA says.

The introduction of the video review has coincided with more penalty kicks being awarded.

However, Brazil complained to FIFA about Switzerland's goal in a 1-1 draw being allowed to stand, and wanted audio recordings of communication between the match officials to be released.

England fans were bemused as to why rugby-style tackles by Tunisia defenders on forward Harry Kane at set pieces did not earn a penalty. The same video review official in that game was the referee who in an earlier game awarded a penalty to Croatia for a similar challenge by a Nigeria defender.

FIFA concedes there will "still be discussion and divided opinion" about some incidents.


11:30 a.m.

Rather than risk further outrage from football fans, rights holders in Australia have agreed to keep sharing World Cup matches with free-to-air TV until the end of the group stage.

Telecommunications company Optus bought the broadcast rights for most World Cup games in Russia but technical issues with the live streaming in Australia caused a major backlash from subscription buyers — to the point where the prime minister had to intervene.

The SBS network, which retained the broadcasting rights for Australia's games and the World Cup final under a sharing agreement with Optus for the 2018 tournament, initially stepped in to broadcast all matches for a 48-hour period as the telco tried to rectify its technical problems.

The network issued a statement Wednesday saying "following further discussions with Optus ... it has been mutually agreed that SBS will continue simulcasting the 2018 FIFA World Cup until the end of group stage on June 29."

The technical issues over the first few days of the tournament included poor-quality match footage or no vision at all.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull took the unusual step of contacting Optus chief executive Allen Lew, wanting assurances the problems would be fixed.

"There's no doubt this has adversely affected the Optus brand," an apologetic Lew said, "everybody is very disappointed, to put it mildly."

Lew on Wednesday said his company would continue to stream matches, but all pool matches would also be telecast on free-to-air TV.

Optus also decided to provide all Australians with free access to its streaming service, and those users who paid 15 Australian dollars ($11) to access Optus Sport during the World Cup will receive refunds.

Australia lost its opening game 2-1 to France and has group games remaining against Denmark and Peru.