Holders Ivory Coast ousted from Cup of Nations

Morocco's players celebrate after scoring a goal against Ivory Coast during the Africa Cup of Nations match in Oyem on Tuesday night. (AFP)
Updated 25 January 2017
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Holders Ivory Coast ousted from Cup of Nations

OYEM, Gabon: Defending champions the Ivory Coast were sent packing from the Africa Cup of Nations on Tuesday after losing 1-0 to a Morocco side coached by their old boss Herve Renard.
A brilliant Rachid Alioui goal gave Morocco the victory in Oyem in northern Gabon as the Atlas Lions marched on to the quarterfinals alongside DR Congo.
An impressive Congolese side eased to a 3-1 win against Togo in the night’s other game in Port-Gentil as they sealed top spot in Group C.
But it is the elimination of the Elephants, winners in 2015 after a penalty shoot-out against Ghana, that overshadows all else.
Their departure is the latest blow to the tournament following premature exits for hosts Gabon and much-fancied Algeria in the last few days.
And for the fourth consecutive Cup of Nations, the reigning champions will be absent from the quarterfinals, but the winning coach from two years ago will be in the last eight.
The blond, bronzed 48-year-old, wearing his lucky white shirt, hopes to become the first coach to win three Cup of Nations titles with three different countries having also won it with Zambia in 2012.
“Today we beat the Ivory Coast on a bad pitch that proved to be a leveller. Now a new competition begins with the knockout matches, which will be much like this one, and we will need a winning mentality,” Renard said.
Alioui, of French second-tier side Nimes, curled in a sublime long-range effort at the end of a counterattack just past the hour mark to break the deadlock and leave the Ivorians needing to score twice to stay alive. They could not.
“It is an immense disappointment. My thoughts go out to all Ivorians who are going through a difficult time,” said their French coach Michel Dussuyer.
“I take responsibility. We did not fulfil our objectives. Our ambition was to get past the first round and retain our title. It is going to be a difficult night,” he added as he refused to be drawn on his future in the job.
As the Ivorians prepare to go home, Morocco will now head to Port-Gentil for a quarterfinal while DR Congo make their way back to Oyem.
Florent Ibenge’s side needed just a draw to qualify but a 3-1 win over Togo secured top spot and the manner of their performance on a shocking pitch suggests the 2015 semifinalists must be seen as genuine contenders to win the trophy now.
Junior Kabananga fired past Togo’s substitute goalkeeper Cedric Mensah for the opener just before the half-hour mark and he also headed against the post prior to the interval.
Neeskens Kebano of Fulham lobbed in the second goal nine minutes into the second period after latching onto Marcel Tisserand’s punt downfield.
Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba pulled one back for Togo but a Paul-Jose Mpoku free kick with 10 minutes left that struck the underside of the bar and came down just over the line secured the win.
“Having gone top of the group after two rounds of games we needed to remain vigilant and we did that,” said Ibenge.
“They gave us a fright after we had gone 2-0 up and had we not matured as a team thanks to the two years we have spent together we might have panicked.”
Togo and their captain Emmanuel Adebayor were given a guard of honor at the end by the Congolese players but they go home having failed to register a win.
The group stage concludes on Wednesday when Ghana and Egypt clash in Port-Gentil and Mali meet already-eliminated Uganda in Oyem in Group D.
Egypt needs a draw to secure progress to the last eight along with Ghana, but if they slip up Mali could take advantage by beating the Ugandans.

Today’s matches

Egypt vs. Ghana (10:00 p.m. KSA time)

Uganda vs. Mali (10: 00 p.m. KSA time)


Real Madrid can still win title, claims Santiago Solari

Updated 17 February 2019
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Real Madrid can still win title, claims Santiago Solari

  • Defeat leaves Real in third, nine points behind arch-rivals Barcelona.
  • Girona had not won in the league since November.

LONDON: Santiago Solari insisted Real Madrid could still win the La Liga title despite a shock 2-1 defeat at home to Girona.
The capital club were coming off a five-match winning streak, but were not able to get past their relegation-threatened rivals at the Bernabeu, conceding twice in the second half after taking a 1-0 half-time lead.
Girona had not won in 13 matches in all competitions and were coming off six straight losses. The Catalan club had not won in the league since November and had entered the weekend one point from the relegation zone. So to say this was a shock would be understating the case, Real were on the up, and this was supposed to be an easy win to aid their slim title hopes and add to the momentum of their good 2019 form.
But Solari — clearly a “glass half full” man — claimed Real’s title charge was far from over. Asked if the title was lost, the Argentine, who took over the asked Julen Lopetegui in October, said: “Not at all, not at all, next week there is another match, our rivals, too. All the matches are difficult, as Girona have shown today, we have to keep winning to try to cut the gap.
“This is football and there is always a rival, in this case Girona, who played well.
“In the second half there was a lot of energy. Girona were forceful when they attacked and we lacked clarity. The fatigue is not only physical, it is mental, concentration. We come from a major bustle, many games with good results, and that may have happened to us at the energy level in the second half. It’s likely.”
The surprise defeat dropped Madrid to third place and left them nine points behind Barcelona, who edged Valladolid 1-0 on Saturday with a penalty kick converted by Lionel Messi. The result at the Nou Camp ended a three-game winless run for the Girona neighbors in all competitions.
Madrid had won seven of their last eight matches in all competitions, with the only setback a 1-1 draw at Barca in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals. They had cut Barcelona’s lead from 10 points to six in recent rounds after seeing their arch-rivals go through a slump.
Solari made some changes to the starting lineup, leaving Vinicius Junior and Gareth Bale on the bench after they started midweek in the 2-1 win at Ajax in the Champions League second round clash.
Casemiro opened the scoring with a firm header from near the penalty spot in the 25th minute after a cross by Toni Kroos, and Girona equalized with a penalty kick converted by Cristhian Stuani in the 65th after a handball by Sergio Ramos inside the area.
Girona had a golden chance to equalize about five minutes before the penalty, when Aleix Garcia’s close-range shot went over the crossbar. The visitors moved in front with a 75th-minute header by Portu after Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois initially saved a shot by Anthony Lozano.
Portu had hit the post a few minutes earlier with a booming shot from inside the area.
Solari put on Vinicius Junior and Bale in the second half, but they were unable to save Real. Courtois made it to the area in a last-gasp attempt, but could not get enough on his header, sending the ball just wide of the post.
As if to emphasize the dire day, Ramos was sent off in 90th minute after receiving a second yellow card.