FIFA chief asked to intervene to solve Iran and Saudi Arabia fixture dispute

FIFA president Gianni Infantino (Reuters)
Updated 08 February 2018
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FIFA chief asked to intervene to solve Iran and Saudi Arabia fixture dispute

BERLIN: The president of the Iranian FA has reportedly flown to meet with FIFA president Gianni Infantino to urge him to intervene in a politically-charged Asian Champions League game.
Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran have affected the forthcoming match between Tehran-based Esteghlal and Saudi Arabian club Al-Hilal.
The teams are due to meet in the group stages, which start next week, but Iran and Saudi Arabia have had no diplomatic relations since an attack on the Saudi Arabia embassy in Tehran in 2016.
Saudi Arabia has not wanted its teams to play in Iran. Tehran, on the other hand, has opposed playing games in neutral venues.
In the face of political pressure from both sides, the Asian Football Confederation have seemingly wavered, their position complicated by more recent tensions between Saudi Arabia and the UAE on one side and Qatar.
Esteghlal, led by German coach Winfried Schaefer, opted to host their game in Qatar on Feb. 20 with Al-Hilal choosing Kuwait as hosts on April 16.
However, the Iranian team’s choice has been vetoed by Asian football’s governing body AFC, who insist the match be moved from Qatar to Oman with no opportunity to find an alternative venue.
AFP’s German subsidiary SID report that Iranian FA boss Mehdi Taj intends to put the matter to Infantino personally in the hope FIFA will intervene.
The Iranian FA could not be reached for comment.
Esteghlal, who also face Al Rayyan of Qatar and Al Ain of the United Arab Emirates in Group D, boosted their squad with the signing of Senegal striker Mame Baba Thiam, it was announced on Thursday.
— AFP


Morocco lament opening-day loss to Iran after early exit in Russia

Updated 21 June 2018
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Morocco lament opening-day loss to Iran after early exit in Russia

MOSCOW: Medhi Benatia lamented Morocco’s opening-game loss to Iran after his side were eliminated from the World Cup after a 1-0 defeat to Portugal.
The Atlas Lions outplayed and outclassed the European champions, but Cristiano Ronaldo’s early goal left Benatia’s boys bottom of Group B, still having to pick up a point in Russia. 
“We have regrets, in particular about the first game,” said the Morocco defender said.
“Since 1966 it hasn’t happened that a team has conceded goals without conceding shots, which happened in the second half. So big regrets about the first game, which put us in great difficulty. But, if we had won 2-0 in the first twenty minutes, there is nothing to say.
“We went toe-to-toe with the European champions. They have the names and the stars, everything you want. We are a young team, with quality. We had chances. We played the match that we wanted to play. We tried to do the maximum, but the ball didn’t want to go on.” 
For the second game running, an inability to find the clinical pass in the final third, hurt the North Africans. Morocco alternated between a classic 4-4-2 and a 4-1-4-1 in which Karim El-Ahmadi shielded the Moroccan defense, a formation that allowed them to overload Portugal’s midfield, offering options further down the field, but the defensive-splitting pass never came. The European champions were subdued, but did enough to take the sting out of Morocco and the fleeting moments of brilliance from their talisman were sufficient to ensure victory. 
“It is a big blow,” Mbark Boussoufa said.
“You can’t blame any of the players. We wanted to play, we wanted to be positive and sometimes it is just you don’t have everything with you. You deserve to win twice, but you don’t always get what you deserve and you have to accept that and it hurts even more so, because it’s the World Cup.”
The Atlas Lions enjoyed 68 percent of possession against Iran and 55 percent against Portugal, but they lacked the cutting edge that Ronaldo had so aptly demonstrated in the fourth minute, with his headed winner. Younes Belhanda and Benatia had chances, but they failed to convert any. 
“It is reality, when you don’t score you cannot win,” said Belhanda.
“The regrets are mostly from the first game. If you win the first one, the second game would have been different. We gave everything, but it wasn’t enough.”
Wide midfielders Nordin Amrabat and Hakim Ziyech carried the fight to Portugal and in the second half the Moroccans went for broke, but Portugal, sitting ever deeper, held out to ensure the three points and eliminate Morocco, who had returned to the World Cup finals for the first time since 1998.
The elimination will leave the Atlas Lions bitter, and not just for exiting the tournament. The VAR did not interject when Pepe ran into Khalid Boutaib toward the near post, freeing the way for Ronaldo to score. In the 26th minute, Herve Renard and Morocco were left fuming again when Amrabat claimed a penalty having wriggled past Raphaël Guerreiro, but referee Mark Geiger and his VAR team were left unmoved. 
“I ask you to watch the images again,” said Benatia.
“I guarantee you that there was an incredible fault from Pepe on Boutaïb. We put Boutaïb, who is probably the team’s tallest player, at the near post. If that player barges in with an incredible charge and Boutaïb is floored, Ronaldo has nothing left to do but head. It seems incredible to not blow the whistle for a fault. You can think the referee didn’t see it, that is was difficult. We had meetings before the WC to talk about the Var and the video to us, this and that, and that there would be analysis for every goal, but I ask the VAR — how did you not see it, because I saw it?” 
On Monday, Benatia and the Atlas Lions will end their World Cup campaign with their final Group B game against Spain in Kaliningrad. The Moroccans have vowed to bow out of the tournament in style. They want to reproduce their high-tempo passing game and slick movements that so trouble Portugal against Fernando Hierro’s team in a bid to score goals and pick up points. 
“Against Spain we have to play the same we as we did against Portugal,” said Benatia.
“Give everything and make the fans proud. Try to win and it would be good to score. If we play the same match as against Portugal, we shouldn’t be ashamed.”

THREE REASONS THE ATLAS LIONS ARE OUT
CRISTIANO RONALDO

The Portuguese superstar is often peripheral in games as he enters the twilight of his career, but he still remains decisive for Portugal. Ronaldo doesn’t run much either, but he counteracts that lack of industriousness by picking his moments and doing the scoring. He has become the quintessential striker and his fourth-minute goal knocked out Morocco, putting him in pole position to win the Golden Boot in Russia.

VAR

The new technology is not a panacea and Morocco were correct to lament VAR not intervening after Pepe’s fault on Boutaib. The Portuguese defender has a penchant for fouling opponents and his assault on the Moroccan striker was instrumental for Ronaldo to get a free header. Referee Mark Geiger and his VAR team had no excuse for not reviewing the incident. 

GOALLESS DOMINANCE

Morocco were always on the front foot, pinning Portugal into their own half. They found lots of joy in behind the Portuguese full-backs Cedric and Raphaël Guerreiro and created half a dozen of good chances, but failed to score. Younes Belhanda and Medhi Benatia were in the thick of the action, but could not beat Rui Patricio. As against Iran, Morocco’s inefficiency was also their undoing.