The Latest: FIFA blames VIPs for empty seats at World Cup

The Latest: FIFA blames VIPs for empty seats at World Cup
The Associated Press

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

2:30 p.m.

FIFA says VIP fans are often to blame for empty seats at its World Cup games.

Empty seats have been seen, often in prime positions, during numerous games, including some which were officially sold out. That’s because FIFA measures its 98 percent attendance rate for the World Cup based on the number of tickets sold and delivered, rather than the number of people who attend the game on the day.

FIFA competitions director Colin Smith says “we want every seat filled inside the stadium. The reality is that there are some no-shows.”

He adds empty seats are often caused by VIP fans either choosing to watch part or all of the game in an indoor hospitality area. If they don’t turn up at all, Smith says, security concerns mean their seats sometimes can’t be redistributed because “in certain cases it may be difficult at short notice to have access for general public fans at the VIP areas.”

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2:15 p.m.

England midfielder Fabian Delph is returning home temporarily from the World Cup because his wife is due to give birth to their third child.

The English Football Association says Delph flew home from Kaliningrad, where he played for England in its 1-0 loss to Belgium on Thursday.

England next plays on Tuesday in a last-16 match against Colombia in Moscow.

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2:03 p.m.

FIFA says it will review a rule that saw Senegal eliminated from the World Cup because it had more yellow cards than Japan.

The rule, in use for the first time at the World Cup, meant Japan barely attacked in the end of its 1-0 loss to Poland on Thursday because it was due to qualify on its disciplinary record.

FIFA’s competition director Colin Smith says officials will evaluate the rule after the World Cup “but as it currently stands we don’t see any need to change.”

Smith defends the rule as preferable to drawing lots to determine who qualifies, although “the preference is that slots and teams advancing is on the basis of goals and results and there’s clear winners … the fair play criteria is an additional criteria and it’s very clear.”

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12 p.m.

Croatia midfielder Ivan Rakitic says teammate Luka Modric plays football “from a different planet” and is the best to have ever played for their national team.

Rakitic grew up idolizing Croatia midfield great Robert Prosinecki but says Modric, now a four-time Champions League winner with Real Madrid and Croatia’s captain at the World Cup, is at the next level.

Rakitic says “not only is Luka the best player ever (for Croatia), but he is a great person, a leader and we are following him.”

Croatia plays Denmark in the last 16 at Nizhny Novgorod on Sunday.

With many of Croatia’s so-called golden generation into their 30s, including Modric and Rakitic, every game now is potentially their last together at a major tournament.

Rakitic says “if we at the end manage to lift this trophy, we go into international retirement happy.”

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8:20 a.m.

Japan soccer fans debated their team’s controversial tactics at the World Cup, with most accepting them as an inevitable outcome of the tournament’s tiebreaking format.

Japan lost to Poland 1-0 in their final group game on Thursday in Russia. Despite the loss, Japan advanced to a round-of-16 match against Belgium because it received fewer yellow cards than Senegal, which lost to Colombia by the same score at the same time.

Once Colombia scored in Samara, Japan knew it had done enough to advance even though it was losing late in its match. The Japanese players slowed play down to almost nothing, softly passing the ball back and forth in little triangles in their own end to waste time.

Poland, happy to get a victory after two losses, did little to pressure Japan’s players.

Japanese fans celebrated the team advancing, and former players and soccer commentators supported Japan coach Akira Nishino.

“It was a difficult decision by Nishino but the correct one,” said soccer commentator and former player Tetsuo Nakanishi.

Company employee Makoto Uchida said: “It wasn’t pretty near the end, but the team did what it had to do. I’m happy we are going to the next round.”

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