The Latest: Front and center is a tough spot at World Cup

The Latest: Front and center is a tough spot at World Cup
The Latest: Front and center is a tough spot at World Cup

MOSCOW (AP) – The Latest on Thursday at the World Cup (all times local):

4:45 p.m.

Once the world’s best center forward, Marco van Basten has sympathy with players in his old position at this World Cup.

Van Basten, now FIFA’s technical director, says well organized defenses in Russia made it “very, very difficult for the No. 9 to get the ball, to make goals, to influence the game.”

Van Basten says the “amount of square meters to play in is unbelievably difficult.”

The ex-Netherlands international picked out Sweden, Denmark and Iceland among the best organized defenses.

It meant players like Lionel Messi and Neymar found it tough to find space “between the lines” of an opponent’s defenders and midfielders.

Van Basten says teams such as Germany and Spain which faced packed defenses also left themselves vulnerable to fast counter attacks.


4:25 p.m.

Jerzy Brzeczek has been appointed to replace Adam Nawalka as Poland’s head coach after the team’s group-stage exit at the World Cup.

Poland’s football federation says the 47-year-old Brzeczek will present his plans on July 23. Nawalka didn’t have his contract extended after the World Cup.

Brzeczek played 42 games for Poland and played for clubs in Poland, Austria and Israel before going into coaching and working at clubs including Wisla Plock, GKS Katowice and Lechia Gdansk.

Poland lost 2-1 to Senegal and 3-0 to Colombia in the group stage and was out of contention before finishing with a 1-0 win over Japan in Group H.


4 p.m.

Ex-Netherlands player and coach Marco van Basten says he only discussed soccer with Russian President Vladimir Putin during meetings at the World Cup.

Van Basten, now FIFA’s chief officer for technical development, has been criticized for meeting Putin by families of the victims of a plane downed by a missile which has been linked to Russia.

The Dutch government in May announced it was holding Russia legally responsible for its role in the July 2014 missile strike that blew Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 out of the sky over eastern Ukraine. All 298 people on board were killed, including 196 from the Netherlands.

Van Basten has visited the Kremlin with a delegation from soccer’s governing body. They posed for pictures with Putin and held a round-table discussion that lavished praise on Russia’s hosting of the World Cup.

Van Basten has told The Associated Press “we were talking only about football and about the tournament. I am aware of the fact that a lot of families in Holland, they have a problem with what happened with the airplane. But this is another matter. I was just asked to come there and have a chat about football.”

Asked if he was helping to enhance Putin’s image, Van Basten says: “I am not helping him. I just had a discussion with him about the football. Nothing else.”


3:45 p.m.

Belgium outwitting Brazil in the quarterfinals has been hailed by FIFA’s expert panel as the best tactical success at the World Cup.

A 2-1 win in Kazan was built on Belgium’s impressive first half. Midfielder Kevin De Bruyne scored after being given a more attacking and central role, and forward Romelu Lukaku played wider to the right.

Praising Belgium’s tactical flexibility, FIFA technical study group member Andy Roxburgh says “the way they approached that game, the way (coach) Roberto Martinez set them up was fantastic.”

Roxburgh says the World Cup showcased “incredible variety” of national styles despite most stars playing in Europe.

The former Scotland coach says: “Yes, we’ve got globalization, yes, the influence of the Champions League on players, but all of these players have been brought up within their own country so they have a certain mentality about them.”

The influence of Pep Guardiola’s coaching philosophy was seen across the tournament, Roxburgh says.

Teams favored “high intensity pressing” of opponents with players showing “speed of action and speed of thought.”

Roxburgh praises England as “like the kings of the corner kick” at a tournament where teams paid special attention to set plays.


3:00 p.m.

FIFA’s technical director Marco van Basten says Neymar needs to cut down on theatrics after the Brazil star became a butt of jokes worldwide.

Van Basten says diving and simulating injury is “not a good attitude” and works against Neymar and his team.

The Netherlands great suggests “if you are acting too much I think everybody will understand that it’s not going to help you. I think he personally should understand his situation.”

Neymar was calculated to have spent almost 14 minutes on the turf injured or simulating injury during Brazil’s five World Cup games, sometimes dramatically rolling over on the ground before coming to a stop.

It started a trend in online videos of youth soccer teams practicing faking injury when their coach called out Neymar’s name.

Van Basten was asked about Neymar at a FIFA briefing analyzing tactics and technical skills at the World Cup.

He says Neymar “makes people laugh so also I think that’s a positive thing. It’s always nice if we have some humor in the game.”


More AP World Cup coverage:

Referee Milorad Mazic from Serbia, left, gestures as he speaking to Brazil’s Neymar during the quarterfinal match between Brazil and Belgium at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Kazan Arena, in Kazan, Russia, Friday, July 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)