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Brazil brace for Russia friendlies in snow without Neymar.

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Training between mounds of snow without Neymar, Brazil may be forgiven for feeling out of their element as they prepare to face hosts Russia in their penultimate World Cup warmup.

The most expensive football player on the planet is back home, celebrating his sister’s birthday with his famous right foot recovering from surgery in a protective boot.

But things are deadly serious in Moscow, where the Selecao play on Friday at the Luzhniki Stadium in which they will hope to lift a record sixth World Cup trophy on July 15.

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Coach Tite will try to make sure his superstars have learned from the unmitigated disaster of their 7-1 drubbing by Germany, whom Brazil play on Tuesday, on home soil back in 2014.

That fateful World Cup semi-final four years ago was played without the injured Neymar or suspended centre-back Thiago Silva.

Now, as then, Brazil are looking vulnerable in defence and missing their 26-year-old hero.

Paris Saint-Germain forward Neymar “is a different player. He is one of the top three in the world,” said Tite.

“But a strong team should not depend on specific names.”

Without Neymar, Tite is entrusting the left wing to Juventus’s in-form Douglas Costa.

The 27-year-old is in the prime of his career after spending much of it tucked away in Ukraine playing for Shakhtar Donetsk.

Costa has only found the net three times in 22 appearances in a yellow jersey but this is his time to shine, and he does not seem phased by the occasion.

“Replacing Neymar is an enormous challenge, but we have a lot of class acts on the team who have big potential,” said Costa.

“Neymar’s absence gives the other players a chance to show themselves, to show their best side.”

Costa will be paired up front with Chelsea’s graceful winger Willian and Gabriel Jesus, who has scored 11 times for Manchester City this season.

It is a dizzying array of stars and Real Madrid midfielder Casemiro may have put it most succinctly when contemplating the effect of such strong internal competition.

“I do not want to lose my place to anyone,” said Casemiro.

“I want to play for my country, play in all the matches, and I am ready to show my best at training to do it.”

If Tite is spending any sleepless nights, it might not be because of Neymar’s absence but due to his defence.

Despite boasting a trio of Neymar’s PSG teammates: Silva, Marquinhos and Dani Alves, Brazil have a weakness at left-back should something happen to Real Madrid’s Marcelo.

His regular replacement Filipe Luis suffered a broken leg playing for Atletico Madrid last week and is expected to be out for two months.

Third choice Alex Sandro of Italian champions Juventus was injured during the first training session in Moscow.

As a result, Tite had to call up the uncapped 28-year-old Ismaily — named after an obscure 1956 British film called “Smiley”.

He is a complete unknown in his homeland and his selection was perhaps more due to his geographic proximity — he plays for Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine — than anything else.

Rio’s Globo Esporte newspaper pointed out incredulously that Ismaily was the 10th left-back called up by Tite since he took over in 2014.

Despite the problems, and temperatures due to drop to -9 Celsius (16 Fahrenheit) in Moscow, Brazil are hoping to leave a legacy.

“We will be playing in the stadium that will host the final, and we want to leave a wish,” said Casemiro.

“We want to come back here in the summer and try to win the title.”

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24 Hours Across Africa

Ten and thousands of Hong Kong protesters flood city streets in largest rally in weeks

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Source: AFP- A sea of democracy activists flooded the streets of Hong Kong Sunday in a defiant show to the city’s leaders that their movement still pulls wide public support, despite mounting violence and increasingly stark warnings from Beijing.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters carrying umbrellas poured across the heart of Hong Kong island defying torrential rain and a police order not to march from a park where they had gathered earlier for a rally.

Weeks of demonstrations have plunged the financial hub into crisis, with images of masked black-clad protesters engulfed by tear gas during street battles against riot police stunning a city once renowned for its stability.

Sunday’s action, which organisers the Civil Human Rights Front said drew more than 1.7 million in the largest rally in weeks, was billed as a return to the “peaceful” origins of the leaderless protest movement.


“It’s been a long day and we’re very tired, but to see so many people out in the rain marching for Hong Kong gives strength to everyone,” said Danny Tam, a 28-year-old graphic designer.

The unprecedented political crisis was sparked by opposition to a plan to allow extraditions to the Chinese mainland.

But protests have since morphed into a wider call for democratic rights in the semi-autonomous city.

Anger has been sharpened among protesters by the perceived heavy-handedness of the police who have used tear gas, baton charges and rubber bullets in incidents that have pinballed across social media.

“The police are doing things that are totally unacceptable,” said Yim, who like many of the protesters gave only one name.

“They are hurting citizens, they aren’t protecting us.”

AFP / Manan VATSYAYANATorrential rain failed to dampen the enthusiasm of protesters in Hong Kong

Communist Party-ruled mainland China has taken an increasingly hardline tone towards the protesters, decrying the “terrorist-like” actions of a violent hardcore minority among the demonstrators.

Despite the near-nightly clashes with police, the movement has won few concessions from Beijing or the city’s unelected leadership.

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24 Hours Across Africa

Hong Kong Activities face crucial weekend test after airport setback

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Source: AFP- Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement faces a major test this weekend as it tries to muster another huge crowd following criticism over a recent violent airport protest and as concerns mount over Beijing’s next move.

Ten weeks of protests have plunged the international finance hub into crisis with the communist mainland taking an increasingly hardline tone, including labelling the more violent protester actions “terrorist-like”.

Chinese state media have put out images of military personnel and armoured personnel carriers across the border in Shenzhen, while the United States has warned Beijing against sending in troops, a move many analysts say would be a reputational and economic disaster for China.

The nationalistic Global Times newspaper said there would not be a repeat of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, in which hundreds — or even thousands — are believed to have been killed, if Beijing moves to quash the protests.

“The incident in Hong Kong won’t be a repeat of the June 4th political incident in 1989,” it said, insisting the country now had more sophisticated approaches.

It was a rare reference to the bloody events, which are taboo in China.

Hong Kong’s protests were sparked by opposition to a plan to allow extraditions to the mainland, but have since morphed into a wider call for democratic rights in the semi-autonomous city.

Millions of people have hit the streets while clashes have broken out between police and small groups of hardcore protesters for 10 consecutive weekends.

For most of that time, US President Donald Trump has taken a hands-off approach to the unrest but began speaking up this week, suggesting any potential trade deal with Beijing could be upended by a violent response from the mainland.

Speaking on Thursday, Trump urged his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping to meet protesters and solve the crisis “humanely”.

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