Morocco's proud despite own-goal defeat to Iran

The moment Bouhaddouz will want to forget as he heads into his own net.
Updated 19 June 2018
0

Morocco's proud despite own-goal defeat to Iran

  • Last-minute own-goal gifts Iran the points in Saint Petersburg.
  • Atlas lions now have to face Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal on Wednesday.

SAINT PETERSBURG: On their return to the World Cup after a 20-year absence, Morocco masterminded their own downfall, a failure to exploit an excellent opening half an hour with plenty of pressing and open chances that led to a heartbreaking 1-0 defeat following Aziz Bouhaddouz’s headed own goal in the fifth minute of injury time. 
“It is a bitter moment,” reacted Bouhaddouz emotionally. “It happens in football and this time it was my turn. You simply have to deal with it mentally. I wanted to clear the ball, but the ball glanced off my head and into my own net. As I said, it’s a bitter moment and I can’t say too much about it as I still can’t believe it myself.” 
Throughout the game the Moroccans enjoyed possession with Al-Jazira midfielder Mbark Boussoufa directing the play. The Atlas Lions overloaded their right flank as they targeted Iran Ehsam Haj Safi. Morroco, attacking in numbers and exposing the Iranian rearguard, were enterprising and aggressive, but didn’t size their chances. 
“You thought it’s going to happen with our play and our chances, but it just didn’t,” said Boussoufa. “You could see they were waiting for it, lurking on the counter. A last-minute own goal is an enormous damper, even more so when Morocco tried to play football, but that’s football. It is very painful."
The second half was dire and grim as Iran further frustrated Morocco, whose intensity and physical fitness both dropped considerably. In a match with 36 fouls, Sofyan Amrabat replaced his brother Watford’s Nordin Amrabat after a crash with Hajsafi.
“There were a lot of fouls, but this is part of the game and, of course, we trust the referees and the VAR, but Iran were wasting a lot of time,” explained Boussoufa. 
Then, deep into injury time, Bouhaddouz erred, leaving Morocco in agony. 
“I couldn’t believe it, because I had never scored an own goal in my career,” said Bouhaddouz. “It the most difficult moment of my career. I can only apologise to all Moroccans around the world for the goal. It can happen to everyone.
“We know we were the better team, but in the end we must win and we didn’t do that.” 
Following the final whistle, the Iranians exploded with joy. They last won a World Cup game in 1998 against the US, and their win left Morocco and Bouhaddouz devastated. Earlier Morocco had already been on the  losing side as a joint bid from the US, Mexico and Canada landed the hosting rights for the 2026 World Cup. 
Renard’s men must now regroup ahead of two daunting Group B games. They will play against reigning European champions Portugal and Spain, who played out a spectacular 3-3 draw on Friday evening in Sochi. The mercurial Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat-trick and will severely test the Moroccan back line on Wednesday in Moscow. 
“We have to keep our heads high and be proud of the way played,” said Boussoufa. “It won’t be easy because if you lose the first game you have no more chances to make mistakes. You have to give it your all and see were will finish, but it’s going to be a tough ask.”


England avenge World Cup Croatia defeat to reach Nations League final four

Updated 18 November 2018
0

England avenge World Cup Croatia defeat to reach Nations League final four

  • Kane’s first goal in eight games for England sparked a wild celebration from manager Southgate
  • England were on the brink of relegation to the second tier of the competition after Andrej Kramaric gave Croatia the lead

LONDON: Harry Kane fired England into the Nations League semifinals as Gareth Southgate’s side scored twice in the last 12 minutes to seal a dramatic 2-1 victory over Croatia on Sunday.
England were on the brink of relegation to the second tier of the competition after Andrej Kramaric gave Croatia the lead against the run of play in the second half at Wembley.
But Southgate’s vibrant young side pulled off a stirring escape act in the closing stages to gain a measure of revenge for their World Cup semifinal defeat against Croatia earlier this year.
Jesse Lingard came off the bench to poach England’s equalizer and captain Kane was on hand to turn in the winner with five minutes left.
England’s fightback took them to the top of Group A4, above Spain and relegated Croatia, and they can look forward to playing in the last four in June next year.
It was a cathartic moment for England, who have made a habit of suffering painful defeats against Croatia, with this year’s World Cup woe following the 2007 loss that cost them a place at Euro 2008.
More importantly, the performance provided further tangible proof that Southgate is building a team capable of challenging for the major prizes after years of under-achievement.
England’s appearance in the semifinals of the Nations League, which are set to be held in Portugal next June, offers another chance to reach their first major final since 1966.
Following the 3-2 Nations League win over Spain in Seville last month, this tournament has been a serious statement of intent from Southgate’s team and they will go into 2019 with great expectations.
From start to finish, England were the dominant force, although they were fortunate to escape when Ante Rebic shot over after Jordan Pickford fumbled Fabian Delph’s backpass.
Kane slipped a perfectly-weighted pass through to Raheem Sterling and the Manchester City winger’s blistering pace sent him clear of the Croatia defense.
With only Lovre Kalinic to beat, Sterling let Croatia off the hook as he directed a hesitant shot straight at the keeper.
England kept probing intelligently, with the speed of Sterling and Marcus Rashford providing their main threat.
Delph’s pass sparked a frantic sequence, forcing Kalinic to dash out of his area to head away from Sterling.
When Kalinic’s clearance fell to Kane, the England captain’s effort was headed off the line by Tin Jedvaj.
The rebound fell to Kane, but Kalinic, by now back in his goal, used his legs to foil the Tottenham striker with a last-ditch save.
It was more of the same at the start of the second half, but once again England couldn’t find the killer touch.
That profligacy looked as though it would prove fatal when Croatia snatched the lead after 56 minutes.
Kramaric was allowed time and space to turn in the area and the Hoffenheim forward took full advantage, clipping a shot that deflected off Eric Dier and looped over Pickford’s despairing dive.
Southgate responded by sending on Lingard and the change reaped an instant reward as England equalized in the 78th minute.
Joe Gomez’s long throw was flicked on by John Stones and Kane prodded past Kalinic, leaving Lingard with the simple task of tapping in from virtually on the goal-line.
England’s deserved winner arrived in the 85th minute.
Ben Chilwell curled over a teasing low free-kick and Kane timed his run to perfection, guiding his shot past Kalinic from close-range.
Kane’s first goal in eight games for England sparked a wild celebration from Southgate, who leapt into the air as he punched the air on the touchline.
Kane had joked with his fiancee this week that he would cry if England ever win a trophy, but he couldn’t guarantee he would weep when they get married.
Thanks to their thrilling comeback, England could bring a tear to Kane’s eyes in the Finals next year.