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FOOTBALL

Ballack dismisses worries over Russian artificial pitch

Germany captain Michael Ballack on Tuesday dismissed concerns over the artificial pitch for the key World Cup showdown with Russia, saying his team is well-prepared to adapt to the tricky surface.

Ballack dismisses worries over Russian artificial pitch
Photo: DPA

The Chelsea midfielder, 33, said Germany is confident ahead of the Group Four clash in Moscow on Saturday where a win would see them book an automatic place in South Africa at next June’s tournament.

The match will be played at the 78,000-seater Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, one of the few major European grounds with an artificial pitch, but Germany have been practising on a similar surface this week at their training base.

“I have only trained on artificial turf a few times and never played a match on it,” Ballack told reporters after a training session on the AstroTurf. “But we are well prepared. Of course, it’s all a bit new, but it’s the same for both teams and so I

do not think it will play much of a role.”

Coach Joachim Löw said his players had worked on ball retention and precision passing at their training session and were already coming to terms with the new surface.

“Of course there is an adjustment that we’re going to have to get used to in the next few days but we will get used to it,” said Löw. “We have a few days to get accustomed to it and then it shouldn’t play a role.”

Germany are just a point ahead of Russia in the qualifying group and victory in Moscow would guarantee Loew’s side a place in South Africa regardless of their last match against Finland in Hamburg next Wednesday.

Ballack said he expected Guus Hiddink – who left Chelsea after a short stint as coach last season to return to his former role as Russian trainer – to prepare his team well.

“But at the end of the day, you can have respect but you mustn’t forget to play football,” he said.

“We are well prepared and we are full of self-confidence. We know what we can do. We are at the top of the table and I am expecting a classic game,

obviously with a good result for us.”

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RUSSIA

Germany arrests Russian scientist for spying for Moscow

German police arrested a Russian scientist working at an unidentified university, accusing him of spying for Moscow, prosecutors said on Monday, in a case that risks further inflaming bilateral tensions.

Germany arrests Russian scientist for spying for Moscow
Vladimir Putin. Photo: dpa/AP | Patrick Semansky

Federal prosecutors said in a statement that the suspect, identified only as Ilnur N., had been taken into custody on Friday on suspicion of “working for a Russian secret service since early October 2020 at the latest”.

Ilnur N. was employed until the time of his arrest as a research assistant for a natural sciences and technology department at the unnamed German university.

German investigators believe he met at least three times with a member of Russian intelligence between October 2020 and this month. On two occasions he allegedly “passed on information from the university’s domain”.

He is suspected of accepting cash in exchange for his services.

German authorities searched his home and workplace in the course of the arrest.

The suspect appeared before a judge on Saturday who remanded him in custody.

‘Completely unacceptable’

Neither the German nor the Russian government made any immediate comment on the case.

However Moscow is at loggerheads with a number of Western capitals after a Russian troop build-up on Ukraine’s borders and a series of espionage scandals that have resulted in diplomatic expulsions.

Italy this month said it had created a national cybersecurity agency following warnings by Prime Minister Mario Draghi that Europe needed to
protect itself from Russian “interference”. 

The move came after an Italian navy captain was caught red-handed by police while selling confidential military documents leaked from his computer to a Russian embassy official.

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The leaders of nine eastern European nations last month condemned what they termed Russian “aggressive acts” citing operations in Ukraine and “sabotage” allegedly targeted at the Czech Republic.

Several central and eastern European countries have expelled Russian diplomats in solidarity with Prague but Russia has branded accusations of its involvement as “absurd” and responded with tit-for-tat expulsions.

The latest espionage case also comes at a time of highly strained relations between Russia and Germany on a number of fronts including the ongoing detention of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who received treatment in Berlin after a near-fatal poisoning.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has moreover worked to maintain a sanctions regime over Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula, the scene of ongoing fighting between pro-Russia separatists and local forces.

And Germany has repeatedly accused Russia of cyberattacks on its soil.

The most high-profile incident blamed on Russian hackers to date was a cyberattack in 2015 that completely paralysed the computer network of the Bundestag lower house of parliament, forcing the entire institution offline for days while it was fixed.

German prosecutors in February filed espionage charges against a German man suspected of having passed the floor plans of parliament to Russian secret services in 2017.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas last week said Germany was expecting to be the target of Russian disinformation in the run-up to its general election in September, calling it “completely unacceptable”.

Russia denies being behind such activities.

Despite international criticism, Berlin has forged ahead with plans to finish the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, set to double natural gas supplies from Russia to Germany.

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