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Soccer: 2018 World Cup News & Notes

Soccer: 2018 World Cup News & Notes 7 months 1 week ago #484310

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Betting news, trends, odds and predictions from various handicappers and websites for Monday 6/11/18
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Soccer: 2018 World Cup News & Notes 7 months 1 week ago #484311

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WC Group Best Bets (A-D)
June 8, 2018
By Toby Maxtone-Smith

Group A
Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay

The World Cup hosts could hardly have been happier with their group draw, but this Russia team is rightly being called one of the weakest hosts of all time.

There is no one thing badly wrong with Stanislav Cherchesov’s side - it is simply that they have a dud generation right at the time they needed a good one. Injury problems have been so bad that 37 year-old Sergei Ignashevich has earned a recall.

Russia’s strong point is the form of talented young midfielder Alexander Golovin - he will have to play out of his skin for Russia to go far. Egypt, then, would have looked well placed to finish above Russia. But that was before the injury to Mohamed Salah. This is a good defensive side but they are incredibly reliant on Salah for attacking spark. Egypt’s hopes rest on Salah’s fitness.

Saudi Arabia look one of the weakest teams at the World Cup. They will play as defensively as possible, but their defence is old and slow. They have a few tidy midfielders, but no real recognised goalscorer. Do not expect a thriller from the opening game of the World Cup, when they play Russia.

And so Uruguay should walk the group. They look one of the most underrated teams at this World Cup. Oscar Tabárez’s men have one of the best centre-back partnerships in the competition. And as well as the duo of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suárez up front, they have a talented cluster of midfielders that have recently been brought through. The 4/5 available on the Celeste winning Group A should be the cornerstone of any group stage accumulator.

Best Bet:
Uruguay to win the group at 4/5

Group B
Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Iran

Group B looks fascinating, with two European heavyweights matching up against arguably the strongest teams from both Africa and Asia. Spain are the 1/2 favourites to win this group. They look good value to go on and win the tournament and should come through this section with ease. A more interesting prospect may be Portugal. A low-scoring group looks likely, with all four teams looking strong in defence, and there are doubts as to where Fernando Santos’s side’s goals will come from, with the obvious exception of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Portugal face Spain in their first game, and should they fail to win they will face tough matches against Morocco and Iran. They look vulnerable. Morocco’s first game against Iran is a must-win. And while this is a talented team with a vastly experienced manager in Hervé Renard, this looks like a side more suited to playing against the big boys than breaking down a stubborn Iran side.

Mehdi Benatia is the captain and the leader - he is one of the best defenders at the tournament. A strong midfield is led by the experienced Mbark Boussoufa.

They look weak up front - striker Khalid Boutaïb can bang them in in Africa, but does not look to have the quality for the biggest stage. Iran will be cautious as ever under the wily Carlos Queiroz. Their spark comes from AZ winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh, the top scorer in the Eredivisie last year. Their defence is well-organised if untested against the best in the world, while the keeper Alireza Beiranvand looks dodgy.

It would not be a surprise if a stalemate between Morocco and Iran was enough to ensure Portugal sneak through a tricky section.

Best Bet:
Portugal to get under 5.5 points at 1/1

Group C
France, Peru, Denmark, Australia

France are the 3/10 favourites to win the group and this looks plenty short enough. All three opponents pose interesting problems. They are one of the tournament favourites, but that was the case for the implosions in 2002 and 2010.

Peru are fascinating. This is their first World Cup since 1982. They got a huge stroke of fortune in qualification when a 2-0 defeat in Bolivia was turned into a 3-0 win by the stroke of an administrative pen.

After that, however, Ricardo Gareca’s side showed that their luck was deserved. They have since set the longest ever unbeaten run by a Peruvian national team.

The country is at fever pitch. The big question is whethe this side can handle huge pressure at home. The draw could be harder, but the match order looks awkward. The first game against Denmark is vital. Lose, and Peru face France next - they could be out before they have really caught their breath. Denmark are a pragmatic side with one genius in Christian Eriksen. The Danes are ideally set up to play on the counter-attack and are flexible tactically. However they may find themselves bogged down against two other counter-attacking teams in Australia and Peru.

At the prices, Peru look the much better value of the two sides.

Australia probably do not have enough talent to qualify, but this is a typically competitive, aggressive team.

Aaron Mooy is key, while Tom Rogic has come off a fantastic season for Celtic. The defence is weak, however, and was even exposed in Asian qualifying. Do not write Bert van Marwijk’s side off. Even if they do not qualify, they could have a big impact on deciding who does.

Best Bet:
Peru to qualify at 15/8

Group D
Argentina, Croatia, Nigeria, Iceland

Argentina look so vulnerable.

Qualification was only secured by a win away to Ecuador in the last match. Quite simply, without Lionel Messi Argentina would not have got near qualifying for Russia. Their reliance on him has become absurd.

Manager Jorge Sampaoli is under huge pressure at home after some disastrous results.

The defence looks terrible. They are slow, old and do not fit into Sampaoli’s pressing, aggressive style. Their array of superstar strikers all underperform for the national team.

But they have Messi.

Croatia, as always, come into a tournament with fans salivating at the talent in their midfield. Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic pull the strings for Spain’s big two. Mario Mandzukic presents a fascinating challenge for defenders out wide, while Nikola Kalinic is an effective goalscorer through the middle. The problem comes off the field. Their fans are engaged in a huge conflict with the FA. Players have been dragged in and it still has not been resolved.

Nonetheless, they look value to finish ahead of Argentina.

Nigeria may lack the individual quality of their past teams, but they are better organised and more unified than before.

Jon Obi Mikel thrives in a more creative roll for the Super Eagles, while Wilfred Ndidi is effective at breaking up the play in midfield.

One big problem is in goal. Vincent Enyeama has had disagreements with the FA and is no more, and there simply is no adequate replacement. Iceland will be very similar to what we saw at Euro 2016. Their strengths are their work ethic, their organisation and their comradeship. They qualified impressively.

But this is now an ageing team, and the are questions over the fitness of Gylfi Sigurdsson, who is to Iceland as Christian Eriksen is to Denmark. They will be competitive but a group exit looks likely.

Best Bet:
Croatia to win the group at 3/1
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Soccer: 2018 World Cup News & Notes 7 months 1 week ago #484312

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WC Group Best Bets (E-H)
June 8, 2018
By Toby Maxtone-Smith

Group E
Brazil, Serbia, Switzerland, Costa Rica

Similar to Group C, this section is one with a clear favourite, a clear outsider and two teams that seem almost impossible to separate. Brazil will be reasonably happy with the draw. They look to have most of the tools to go very far in Russia, and they have recently been nudged into favouritism by punters.

The only big doubt is the mentality of a team that has failed to live up to expectations at recent tournaments. But they should win this group. Serbia are very interesting. They qualified impressively, averagin two goals a game, but promptly sacked their manager for not doing enough to bring young players through.

The appointment of Mladen Krstajic will benefit the gifted Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, who will play as the number 10 in a 4-2-3-1. The defence is good and is well-guarded by Nemanja Matic and Luka Milivojevic.

Serbia often crumble thanks to divisions in the team. But the draw has been kind to them. Win their first game against Costa Rica and they will be confident of qualification, which they look good value to achieve.

Switzerland should never be underestimed. They work very well as a unit and have good full-backs in Stephan Lichtsteiner and Ricardo Rodriguez. Moving up the pitch Xherdan Shaqiri has huge talent, but Haris Seferovic is hardly prolific in front of goal. They will be pragmatic and compact. Costa Rica were the big shock in 2014. They bring a similar group of players to Russia, but they are all four years older. The defence looks cumbersome, and the wing-backs have gone backwards. Do not expect them to repeat their heroics.

Best Bet:
Serbia to qualify at 6/5

Group F
Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea

Very similar to Group E.

Germany always win their group, and they look a class above their three opponents here. It may well be worth betting on them to score a few as well. They have reached double figures for goals in all of the last four World Cups, and are likely to play with familiar freedom in this section. Do not expect any complacency from Joachim Löw’s men.

For Mexico, the big problem has always been getting to the “fifth game” - they have been knocked out in the last 16 in each of the last five World Cups. There is lots of pressure on manager Juan Carlos Osorio, who is disliked in Mexico despite a decent record.

Attack is their strength, with Carlos Vela in great form alongside Javier Hernandez. The midfield three is technically gifted, but they lack an ideal holding midfielder.

The big question here is whether they are better than Sweden.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will not return for this World Cup, and that could be a blessing. Their reliance on him was a key reason for their poor performances in France in 2016. The flip side is that, without Zlatan, this is a limited team. They will play a classic 4-4-2 and will need to keep it tight at the back. They absolutely need to beat South Korea first up.

This year’s South Korea team looks to be their weakest since they made their World Cup bow in 2002. The defence is error-prone, not physical and dodgy on set-pieces. There is no obvous choice in goal.

There is no real goalscorer up front, so South Korea will need huge performances from Son Heung-Min to qualify.

Best Bet: Germany to win all three games at 11/4

Group G
England, Belgium, Tunisia, Panama

This group is the most boring at the World Cup. Belgium and England are far better than Tunisia and Panama, and the game order does not help, with Belgium playing England last.

Belgium are rightfully narrow favourites to win this group. They will probably set up in a 3-4-3, with Romelu Lukaku leading the line. Although there remain questions over Lukaku’s displays in the biggest matches, he could be lethal against limited, deep defences in Tunisia and Panama. The problems are likely to come later for Roberto Martinez’s men.

England are reasonably similar to Belgium. They have question marks at centre-back and in the centre of midfield, and while they do not possess players as good as Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne, they will look to get the best out of a talented forward line.

Preparation has been good, and England look more fluid than before. Even with their poor recent tourament record, it would be a surprise if they did not claim maximum points against the group’s two weak teams.

Tunisia look quite dull, basically. They are very unfortunate in that Youssef Msakni, their most talented player, is injured for the tournament. Unlike some other North African nations, Tunisia’s team is not largely made up of the diaspora, making them a tight unit. They will aim for 0-0s against England and Belgium and then open up against Panama.

Panama are delighted to be there and look the weakest team in Russia. They are, to be blunt, too old and too slow. Four of their expected starters are over 35. A similar approach to Tunisia is likely

They were probably better four years ago, but there is a desperate lack of quality in this team.

Best Bet:
Panama to finish bottom (4th) at 4/6

Group H
Poland, Colombia, Senegal, Japan

From the least interesting group to arguably the closest. Many pundits are struggling to split these four teams, but it may be less close than it first appears.

There is a lot to like about Poland. They were superb in qualifying, winning eight of their ten games, although the 4-0 defeat to Denmark is a cause for concern.

Robert Lewandowski is one of the best strikers at the tournament. Napoli pair Arkadiusz Milik and Piotr Zielinksi can help out with scoring goals. Szczesny is a good keeper and the backline is solid.

The problem is that they may have peaked a bit early. Lewandowski has endured a miserable run of form, while the right-sided pair of Piszczek and Blaszczykowski are not what they used to be.

There are more concerns around Colombia. They were muddled and uninspiring in qualification and look to have gone backwards since 2014. Their big strength is James Rodriguez, but he may be limited in a 4-4-2 formation. Davinson Sanchez and Yerey Mina are good, mobile defenders. They should qualify, but they still flatter to deceive.

Senegal have a lot of pedigree in their team. Sadio Mané is the star. Kalidou Koulibaly is a fantastic centre-back and the rest of their side has good top-level experience.

However a midfield three of Cheikhou Koyaté, Badou Ndiaye and Idrissa Gueye is unbalanced. They are all destroyers and have little creativity. They may well end up being disjointed.

In general, Senegal look overrated.

Japan are rightfully outsiders. They were inconvincing in qualifying and their best players, Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda, are both getting on in years. They will pass it around neatly, but as always the problem is creating clear-cut chances. They have never really had a prolific goalscorer:

Best Bet:
Poland-Colombia straight forecast (1st, 2nd) at 9/2
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Soccer: 2018 World Cup News & Notes 7 months 1 week ago #484400

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2018 FIFA World Cup Group-by-Group Preview

The greatest tournament in the world begins on Thursday in Moscow with host Russia squaring off with Saudi Arabia. There’s no way to deny that the United States failing to qualify will stunt enthusiasm for this event for most in the country, but the opportunity to profit guarantees you’ll still be paying attention.

Many games are going to be breakfast treats, so the opportunity to cash first thing in the morning should entice the early birds. Here’s a group-by-group look, with odds to win the group courtesy of the Westgate Superbook.

Group A: Egypt (11/2), Russia (11/5), Saudi Arabia (40/1), Uruguay (5/8)

Analysis, Projected winner- Despite a huge edge in hosting the tournament and a likely three points to get started with since it should handle business in the opener, Russia isn’t favored to win this group. It’s the weakest of all eight, so Vladimir Putin is right to expect to see the team make the playoffs, but a veteran Uruguay side is rightfully chalk. The favored teams don’t play until the final group date on June 25, so it’s conceivable they’ll be playing for the right to finish first after each coming in with six points. If there’s a surprise, it could be Egypt, but that depends on whether star striker Mo Salah’s injured shoulder can heal up after it cost him most of the Champions League final. Uruguay’s combination of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani up front is going to be a problem. Uruguay will claim Group A.
Multiple "Group of Death" candidates highlight first round

Group B: Iran (40/1), Morocco (16/1), Portugal (2/1), Spain (4/9)

Analysis, Projected winner- Two countries that know one another very well will advance out of this group since neither the Asian nor African reps will be able to hang with the quality of two of the event’s top eight favorites. Cristiano Ronaldo has help up front with winger Goncalo Guedes and Andre Silva coming on strong and midfielder Bernardo Silva emerging. Although Spain is favored and features household names, it wouldn’t be too surprising to see the Portuguese rise up when the teams open group play in Sochi. The fact they play one another first could mean we see the teams play cautiously and settle for a draw, so hopefully there’s an early goal to loosen things up. The African “Lions of the Atlas” haven’t lost in years and will be favored over “Team Melli,” so they’re under pressure to win immediately before taking their shots at the two Iberian powers. Morocco defender Mehdi Benatia is world-class. Backing Portugal to double up is the way to go here.

Group C: Australia (20/1), Denmark (9/2), France (2/7), Peru (9/1)

Analysis, Projected winner- The French are heavily favored but come off a home draw against a young U.S. side in their final warmup, which is either a sign of things to come or a wake-up call. Although France benefits from facing the Aussies first, a slow start could create a situation where panic sets in and the team flames out in group play as it did in ’02 and ’10. Vets like Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema aren’t taking part, leaving Paul Pogba, Antoine Greizmann and Olivier Giroud to lead. We’ll see if teenager Kylian Mbappe can rise up since he’s considered a top candidate to one day be the best player in the world, but he suffered an injury in practice on Tuesday. It wouldn’t be surprising to see an impressive Danish team or upstart Peru persevere and win this group. Denmark is faster than its ever been and is my choice to prevail in C, while the Peruvians got a huge boost when Paolo Guerrero was reinstated following a doping ban. He’s special and will help the South Americans at least put a scare into France.

Group D: Argentina (5/9), Croatia (11/5), Iceland (12/1), Nigeria (12/1)

Analysis, Projected winner- Although there are other candidates, this is the one I’m expecting to emerge as the “Group of Death,” the pairing which will wind up the most difficult to navigate. Lionel Messi (15/2) is the favorite to win the Golden Boot, handed to the event’s most impressive performer, so I recommend staying away from him in that prop because there’s a possibility the favorite doesn’t get out to the quarterfinals. Iceland has a special group making its World Cup debut but hasn’t beaten anyone of significance since last October, so they may bring up the rear here. Nigeria looks like the class of the African teams but may be vulnerable in the back, so my choice here would be Croatia, which features a star-studded midfield and a reliable goal scorer up front in Mario Mandzukic.

Group E: Brazil (2/9), Costa Rica (16/1), Serbia (8/1), Switzerland (15/2)

Analysis, Projected winner- Brazil is incredibly deep. Marcelo is the world’s best left back, Neymar is still a monster and 21-year-old striker Gabriel Jesus has a real shot at becoming a household name. At 16/1 to win the Golden Boot, I’d ride the Manchester City man who has a great shot at being the World Cup’s top goal scorer. Neymar is at 10/1, second behind Messi. The other three teams will all have a chance to finish second in the group, which will likely hinge on who finds a dependable goal scorer to break out since they’re all technically sound and defensive-minded. If Haris Seferovic and Xherdan Shaqiri can make the most of opportunities Granit Xhaka is sure to create, the Swiss could join Brazil in the quarters. A lot will hinge on how it handles coming off the opening game against South America’s juggernaut, which most pencil in as a likely loss. Costa Rica won the “Group of Death” at the last World Cup and shouldn’t be dismissed. They’ve got one of the world’s top goalkeepers minding net in Real Madrid’s Keylor Navas. Expect Brazil to roll and second place to come down to goal differential.

Group F: Germany (1/4), Mexico (6/1), South Korea (20/1), Sweden (15/2)

Analysis, Projected winner- The World Cup favorite, defending champion Germany will have no problem here, so if you can afford it, this is a bigger lock than Brazil winning its group despite similar odds. The Germans have made it to the semifinals in four straight tournaments and won’t get much resistance here, which will put it in a favorable spot once the field is trimmed to 16. Keep in mind that coach Joachim Low’s team has won only one of their last six matches, losing twice and finishing tied the other three times, but they should be able to hit their stride against the Mexicans in the opener on June 17. South Korea will go as far as Son Heung-min will take it, but both it and Sweden could be vulnerable if Mexico proves resilient after its opener. Goalie Memo Ochoa arrives in excellent form, while vets Andres Guardado, Chicharito and Giovani dos Santos know it’s now or never for them.

Group G: Belgium (20/27), England (23/20), Panama (50/1), Tunisia (20/1)

Analysis, Projected winner- Panama is making its World Cup debut after sneaking in when the Americans collapsed in Trinidad & Tobago and is the biggest longshot. Tunisia has hung tough with Portugal, Spain and Turkey in friendlies over the last few weeks but isn’t likely to pull an upset of the top teams in this group, which means the June 28 clash between Belgium and England should decide things. That game has a chance to be one of the tournament’s top matchups until we get to the knockout stage, especially since both teams will want to win the group and clinch the more favorable matchup. Belgium is loaded and hasn’t lost since a friendly back in September of 2016, while the Brits last lost in June of 2017. I’d stay away from this future and just bet the game winner once a clearer picture of who is available emerges since suspensions or injuries could factor in heavily.

Group H: Colombia (6/5), Japan (8/1), Poland (9/5), Senegal (9/2)

Analysis, Projected winner- No one is quite sure what to make of this group, so oddsmakers haven’t really taken a stand. Japan has a chance to make a special run, but have come up with one draw and four losses in its last five matches. “Samurai Blue” is loaded with guys who play in the world’s top leagues, so they shouldn’t be intimidated as they take the pitch for an opening date with Colombia. James Rodriguez won the Golden Boot in the ’14 World Cup and has plenty of help with goal scorer Radamel Falcao healthy and world-class talent across the board. Poland is led by elite scorer Robert Lewadowski, who will command so much attention that fellow striker Arkadiusz Milik could greatly benefit. It would be surprising not to see a few competitive, high-scoring matchps out of this group, which could feature an African winner if Senegal plays to its potential. Liverpool’s Sadio Mane has an opportunity to carve out a place among the world’s best, while the entire midfield is comprised of guys who toil in England’s Premier League. If forced to pick a winner, my expectation is that Colombia will top the group, followed by the Senegalese.
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Soccer: 2018 World Cup News & Notes 7 months 1 week ago #484440

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The World Cup features plenty of betting opportunities – so don't miss out. Our daily Russia 2018 Free Kick looks at the best ways to wager on Thursday and Friday's games, highlighting our favorite picks for sides, totals, props and alternative odds.

Home Sweet Home

The host team has almost always kicked off the World Cup festivities with a splash - and Russia should be no different, as it opens competition against lowly Saudi Arabia. The home side has never lost its opening match in the history of the tournament, with the average margin of victory coming in at close to two goals.

The Russian side isn't nearly as prolific as some of the powerhouse teams in the World Cup, but is more than capable of humbling a Saudi Arabian side that would need an absolute miracle to advance to the Round of 16. Moreover, it's critical that Russia get off to a strong start in order to appease a demanding fan base – led by President Vladimir Putin, of all people.

Playing such a heavy favorite requires a little craftiness in order to make a tidy profit without investing too much of your bankroll at one time. You certainly have plenty of options here since it's likely that the Russians will win by multiple goals - but how bad could this rout be? Look for the Russians to exert their dominance over their opening-round opponent and win this one running away.

Top Play: Russia 3-goal winning margin (+550 on Bet365)
Count on Cavani

Uruguay hasn't won a World Cup championship in 68 years - and while the diminutive South American nation isn't among the contenders in Russia, it will certainly hold its own in the goal-scoring department. Boasting two of the world's top offensive threats in Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, the Uruguayans are a strong bet to reach the Round of 16.

Yet, while Suarez gets plenty of attention – and rightfully so – it is Cavani whom bettors should target in Uruguay's opening-round match with an Egyptian side that should struggle to contain him. Cavani actually trails his compatriot in total international goals (51-42) while playing more matches (100-98), but erupted for a tourney-best 10 goals in World Cup qualifying.

The Egyptians are expected to play an up-tempo style – led by banged-up superstar Mohamed Salah – to try and keep up with the high-powered Uruguay side. And that should open things up nicely for Cavani, who is playing the best football of his career and will be lethal on the counter-attack – so don't be afraid to go all the way in on him.

Top Play: Edinson Cavani 2 or more goals (+600 on Bet365)
Not-so-Magnificent Morocco

Don't let that World Cup qualifying result fool you: Morocco will need to punch well above its weight if it hopes to earn more than three points at this year's tournament. With both Spain and Portugal drawn into Group B, the Moroccans will be putting all of their focus into their opener against Iran – and goals could be difficult to come by in this one.

Morocco was sensational defensively in qualifying, rolling through the double-round-robin without allowing a single goal. But when you consider the opposition – Ivory Coast, Gabon and Mali – that shouldn't come as much of a surprise. And it's worth noting that Morocco was held to a scoreless draw in three of its six matches - one against each of its three opponents.

Iran wasn't much more prolific – it scored just 10 goals in 10 World Cup qualifying matches, and was held goalless three times – but was nearly as impressive at the defensive end, allowing just two scores over that span. This game has a high likelihood of producing zero offense, so act accordingly – after all, what's more fun than rooting for neither team to score?

Top Play: Under 0.5 goals (+450 on Bet365)
Sensational Spain

It's a battle between two top-10 teams in the FIFA World Rankings as Spain and Portugal do battle in Sochi this Friday. As one of the marquee matchups of group play, plenty of eyes will be on both sides – but while the Spanish side has shown solid form entering the tournament, the Portuguese have not looked good; they come into this one as heavy underdogs at +375.

It isn't often you see a team ranked fourth in the world facing such long odds – especially when you consider that Portugal employs one of the three greatest players in the world in Cristiano Ronaldo. But the Portuguese side was throttled by the Netherlands in a March friendly, then scuffled to draws with Tunisia and Belgium before routing Algeria in its final pre-tourney match.

Those kinds of performances won't fly against the Spaniards, whose 2018 international friendly ledger includes an impressive 1-1 draw with defending-champion Germany and just two goals allowed in their previous three matches. Spain hasn't quite clicked up front, but has enough firepower to get a lead – and should have no trouble keeping it.

Top Play: Teams to score - Spain only (+175 on Bet365)
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