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

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.”

Pakistan’s Azhar Ali signs for Somerset

Pakistan's Azhar Ali celebrates reaching his century during a match between England and Pakistant on August 4, 2016. (Reuters file)
Updated 17 July 2018

Pakistan’s Azhar Ali signs for Somerset

  • Azhar is set to make his Somerset debut against Worcestershire later this month

LONDON: Pakistan batsman Azhar Ali has joined Somerset for the remainder of their first-class English County Championship fixtures this season, the southwest club said Monday.

The 33-year-old replaces Australia opener Matt Renshaw, who made three hundreds at 51.30 in the opening rounds of the Championship before breaking a finger against Surrey at Guildford last month.

Azhar is set to make his Somerset debut against Worcestershire later this month.

"The standard of first-class cricket in England is very high and I hope that I can make a contribution to Somerset winning matches," Azhar told his new county's website.

"I have heard good things about Somerset and I was impressed by what I saw at Taunton in 2016 (when Pakistan opened their tour of England that year against the county).

"I am looking forward to joining my new team mates and meeting the Somerset supporters soon."

Azhar struggled during Pakistan's three Tests against Ireland and England earlier this season, making 73 runs in six innings although his lone fifty did come during Pakistan's impressive victory over England at Lord's.

"Finding the right fit at short notice can be challenging, however we are delighted to have secured a player of Azhar Ali's character, pedigree and class for the remaining seven Specsavers County Championship matches," said Somerset's director of cricket, Andy Hurry.

"His experience at the top of the order will prove to be hugely valuable at the business end of the season.

"I have spoken to him several times over the last few weeks and he is very keen to share his knowledge of the game with our aspirational players, so the influence he can have within the changing room will also be vital for us as a club."