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Euro 2024: De Bruyne's Belgium plays Ukraine in a Group E too close to call

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Euro 2024: De Bruyne's Belgium plays Ukraine in a Group E too close to call
Sport

Sport

Euro 2024: De Bruyne's Belgium plays Ukraine in a Group E too close to call

2024-06-25 17:28 Last Updated At:17:31

STUTTGART, Germany (AP) — Belgium plays Ukraine on Wednesday with all to play for in Group E at the European Championship. With all teams in the group on three points after two games, only goal difference separates top to bottom. Kickoff is at 9 p.m. local (1900 GMT) in Stuttgart. Here’s what to know about the match:

— Belgium got its campaign up and running with a 2-0 win against Romania after being shocked by Slovakia in its opening game.

— The No. 3-ranked team in the world is second in the group on goal difference going into the last round of fixtures.

— Ukraine suffered a 3-0 defeat to Romania in its opening game, but responded by beating Slovakia 2-1.

— Both teams know a win will be enough to guarantee their place in the round of 16.

— Axel Witsel has missed both of Belgium's games so far and didn't even travel with the team for the game against Romania.

— This is the first time Belgium and Ukraine have met in international soccer.

— Romelu Lukaku is Belgium’s all-time leading scorer with 85, but he is still to get off the mark at these Euros after having three goals ruled out by VAR.

— Ukraine has advanced to the knockout stage of a Euros once in three previous attempts, reaching the quarterfinals three years ago.

— Ukraine's Andriy Yarmolenko is playing in his fourth Euros at the age of 34.

— “For Andriy Yarmolenko, it’s his fourth Euro, and he knows absolutely everything about this tournament, about football. What he has to say to us is priceless.” — Ukraine defender Illia Zabarnyi.

— ”(Ukraine) have a situation in their country which isn’t easy. They have their hearts set on making their fans and their nation very happy. They will give their all, just like we will.” — Belgium defender Arthur Theate.

AP Euro 2024: https://apnews.com/hub/euro-2024

Ukraine's Roman Yaremchuk celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during a Group E match between Slovakia and Ukraine at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament in Dusseldorf, Germany, Friday, June 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Ukraine's Roman Yaremchuk celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during a Group E match between Slovakia and Ukraine at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament in Dusseldorf, Germany, Friday, June 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Belgium's Kevin De Bruyne celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during a Group E match between Belgium and Romania at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament in Cologne, Germany, Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Belgium's Kevin De Bruyne celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during a Group E match between Belgium and Romania at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament in Cologne, Germany, Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

A court has convicted Alsu Kurmasheva, a Russian-American journalist for the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, of spreading false information about the Russian army and sentenced her to 6½ years in prison after a secret trial, court records and officials said Monday.

The conviction in Kazan, the capital of Russia's central region of Tatarstan, came on Friday, the same day a court in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg convicted Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich of espionage and sentenced him to 16 years in prison in a case that the U.S. called politically motivated.

Kurmasheva, a 47-year-old editor for RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir language service, was convicted of “spreading false information” about the military, according to the website of the Supreme Court of Tatarstan. Court spokesperson Natalya Loseva confirmed Kurmasheva's conviction and revealed the sentence to The Associated Press by phone in the case classified as secret.

Kurmasheva was ordered to serve the sentence in a medium-security penal colony, Loseva said.

“My daughters and I know Alsu has done nothing wrong. And the world knows it too. We need her home,” Kurmasheva's husband, Pavel Butorin, said in a post Monday on X.

He had said last year the charges stemmed from a book the Tatar-Bashkir service released in 2022 called “No to War” — “a collection of short stories of Russians who don’t want their country to be at war with Ukraine.” Butorin had said the book doesn’t contain any “false information.”

Asked about the case, RFE/RL President and CEO Stephen Capus denounced the trial and conviction of Kurmasheva as “a mockery of justice.”

“The only just outcome is for Alsu to be immediately released from prison by her Russian captors,” he said in a statement to the AP.

“It’s beyond time for this American citizen, our dear colleague, to be reunited with her loving family,” Capus said.

Kurmasheva, who holds U.S. and Russian citizenship and lives in Prague with her husband and two daughters, was taken into custody in October 2023 and charged with failing to register as a foreign agent while collecting information about the Russian military.

Later, she was also charged with spreading “false information” about the Russian military under legislation that effectively criminalized any public expression about the war in Ukraine that deviates from the Kremlin line. The legislation was adopted in March 2022, just days after the Kremlin sent troops into Ukraine, and has since been used to target Kremlin critics at home and abroad, implicating scores of people in criminal cases and sending dozens to prison.

Kurmasheva was initially stopped in June 2023 at Kazan International Airport after traveling to Russia the previous month to visit her ailing elderly mother. Officials confiscated her U.S. and Russian passports and fined her for failing to register her U.S. passport. She was waiting for her passports to be returned when she was arrested on new charges in October that year. RFE/RL has repeatedly called for her release.

RFE/RL was told by Russian authorities in 2017 to register as a foreign agent, but it has challenged Moscow’s use of foreign agent laws in the European Court of Human Rights. The organization has been fined millions of dollars by Russia.

In February, RFE/RL was outlawed in Russia as an undesirable organization. Its Tatar-Bashkir service is the only major international news provider reporting in those languages, in addition to Russian, to audiences in the multiethnic, Muslim-majority Volga-Urals region.

The swift and secretive trials of Kurmasheva and Gershkovich in Russia’s highly politicized legal system raised hopes for a possible prisoner swap between Moscow and Washington. Russia has previously signaled a possible exchange involving Gershkovich, but said a verdict in his case must come first.

Arrests of Americans are increasingly common in Russia, with nine U.S. citizens known to be detained there as tensions between the two countries have escalated over fighting in Ukraine.

Gershkovich, 32, was arrested March 29, 2023, while on a reporting trip to the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg. Authorities claimed, without offering any evidence, that he was gathering secret information for the U.S.

He has been behind bars since his arrest, time that will be counted as part of his sentence. Most of that was in Moscow’s notorious Lefortovo Prison — a czarist-era lockup used during Josef Stalin’s purges, when executions were carried out in its basement. He was transferred to Yekaterinburg for the trial.

Gershkovich was the first U.S. journalist arrested on espionage charges since Nicholas Daniloff in 1986, at the height of the Cold War. Foreign journalists in Russia were shocked by Gershkovich’s arrest, even though the country has enacted increasingly repressive laws on freedom of speech after sending troops into Ukraine.

U.S. President Joe Biden said after his conviction that Gershkovich “was targeted by the Russian government because he is a journalist and an American.”

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield accused Moscow last week of treating “human beings as bargaining chips.” She singled out Gershkovich and ex-Marine Paul Whelan, 53, a corporate security director from Michigan, who is serving a 16-year sentence after being convicted on spying charges that he and the U.S. denied.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday that when it comes to Gershkovich, Whelan and other Americans wrongfully detained in Russia and elsewhere, the U.S. is working on the cases “quite literally every day.”

Sam Greene of the Center for European Policy Analysis said the conviction and sentencing of Kurmasheva and Gershkovich on the same day “suggests — but does not prove — that the Kremlin is preparing a deal. More likely, they are preparing to offer up a negotiating table that Washington will find it difficult to ignore.”

In a series of posts on X, Greene stressed that “the availability of a negotiating table shouldn’t be confused with the availability of a deal,” and that Moscow has no interest in releasing its prisoners — but it is likely to "seek the highest possible price for its bargaining chips, and to seek additional concessions along the way just to keep the talks going.”

Washington “should obviously do what it can” to get Gershkovich, Kurmasheva, imprisoned opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza and other political prisoners out, he said, adding: “But if Moscow demands what it really wants — the abandonment of Ukraine — what then?”

FILE - Alsu Kurmasheva, an editor for the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Tatar-Bashkir service, attends a court hearing in Kazan, Russia on April 1, 2024. A Russian court has convicted Kurmasheva of spreading false information about the Russian army and sentenced her to 6½ years in prison after a secret trial, court records and officials said Monday July 22, 2024. (AP Photo, File)

FILE - Alsu Kurmasheva, an editor for the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Tatar-Bashkir service, attends a court hearing in Kazan, Russia on April 1, 2024. A Russian court has convicted Kurmasheva of spreading false information about the Russian army and sentenced her to 6½ years in prison after a secret trial, court records and officials said Monday July 22, 2024. (AP Photo, File)

FILE - Alsu Kurmasheva, an editor for the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Tatar-Bashkir service, attends a court hearing in Kazan, Russia on May 31, 2024. A Russian court has convicted Kurmasheva of spreading false information about the Russian army and sentenced her to 6½ years in prison after a secret trial, court records and officials said Monday July 22, 2024. (AP Photo, File)

FILE - Alsu Kurmasheva, an editor for the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Tatar-Bashkir service, attends a court hearing in Kazan, Russia on May 31, 2024. A Russian court has convicted Kurmasheva of spreading false information about the Russian army and sentenced her to 6½ years in prison after a secret trial, court records and officials said Monday July 22, 2024. (AP Photo, File)

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