Morocco crash out of World Cup as Cristiano Ronaldo delivers again

Medhi Benatia and Younes Belhanda react after a chance went begging for Morocco. (Reuters)
Updated 20 June 2018
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Morocco crash out of World Cup as Cristiano Ronaldo delivers again

  • Real Madrid star scores after four minutes of Moscow showdown
  • Atlas Lions eliminated after defeats to Iran and Portugal

MOSCOW: Cristiano Ronaldo followed up his opening game heroics at the World Cup with the only goal in a 1-0 win for Portugal against Morocco as the European champions edged closer to the last 16.
The Real Madrid star struck in the fourth minute in Moscow to surpass Hungarian legend Ferenc Puskas as Europe’s all-time leading scorer with 85 international goals.
Victory sent Portugal top of Group B on four points ahead of Spain’s game against Iran in Kazan, as a second straight defeat for Morocco condemned the African nation to an early exit in their first World Cup appearance since 1998.
Morocco coach Herve Renard opted for a back four, with Manuel Da Costa and Nabil Dirar coming into the side, to provide added protection against the “absolutely exceptional” Ronaldo after his hat-trick against Spain.
But his plans were torn apart within minutes at the Luzhniki Stadium as Ronaldo wriggled free of the imposing Da Costa to bury an unstoppable header past a helpless Monir El Kajoui.
It was Ronaldo’s fourth goal of the tournament, more than his combined tally at three previous finals, and left him trailing just Iran’s Ali Daei (109) on the list of top international goalscorers.
The Real Madrid forward threatened a second soon after, swivelling on the edge of the area and scuffing just wide after a powerful run from left-back Raphael Guerreiro.
Mehdi Benatia forced a smart low save from Rui Patricio at a corner for Morocco, before Hakim Ziyach skipped his way into the Portugal area, his goal-bound effort blocked by an outstretched leg.
Joao Moutinho then nipped in ahead of Mbark Boussoufa to get a vital clearing touch in the six-yard box as Morocco consistently targeted the right side of the Portuguese defense.
A crude lunge from Benatia on Ronaldo left the Portugal skipper writhing around in pain, while Morocco felt aggrieved when Nordin Amrabat was hauled down by Guerreiro as he muscled his way into the area.
Khalid Boutaib was flattened by Jose Fonte in an aerial challenge that again had the Moroccans up in arms, with Renard warned for gesturing for the video assistant referee.
Morocco goalkeeper El Kajoui kept his side in the game when he stuck out a strong left palm to repel a Goncalo Guedes effort following Ronaldo’s lofted pass over the top.
Ronaldo blazed over from 15 yards after a quick free-kick caught Morocco out, Guedes’s miscued attempt rolling invitingly to the five-time world player of the year.
Morocco continued to carve out opportunities as Patricio clung on well to a curling Belhanda shot, and the Portugal keeper pulled off an even better save minutes later.
Another dangerous delivery from Ziyach was flicked on by Belhanda, with new Wolves signing Patricio flinging himself to his right to magnificently claw the ball to safety.
A further opening fell to Benatia, the Juventus defender neatly shifting the ball onto his left boot only to lash over the bar as Morocco’s frustrations mounted.
The lively Ziyach nipped past Fonte in the closing minutes but found Pepe standing in his way, with Benatia hammering over one final chance to seal Morocco’s fate.
Portugal will meet Iran in their final group game on June 25, with Morocco set to bow out after their match against Spain in Kaliningrad.


UAE-based T10 League to help national side find future stars

Updated 6 min 16 sec ago
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UAE-based T10 League to help national side find future stars

DUBAI: The Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) has backed the UAE-based T10 league’s Talent Hunt program designed to unearth stars for the national side.
ECB board member Zayed Abbas welcomed the league’s announcement that is hoped will only enhance the ECB’s own initiatives aimed at finding and developing both Emirati and expatriate players who can go on to represent the country.
Any talented players that emerge from the T10 programme will feed into the UAE’s four cricketing councils.
Abbas told Arab News: “Any talent hunt that takes place here that can feed into the national team is welcome. Once it takes place then our national development programme management and team will be involved with them to set the criteria and the activities and plans going forward.
“At the end of the day, the T10 League is an approved league in the UAE. Their activities and the league are approved by the ECB and ICC so any talent hunt programme of theirs is definitely part of the UAE cricket board’s agenda.”
Casting the net farther for fresh faces in the UAE national team has been an ongoing pursuit for the ECB and is even more necessary following the disappointment of Dougie Brown’s men failing to qualify for this year’s Asia Cup, taking place on home soil, which offered the potential to showcase the UAE team to the country’s enormous cricketing community.
Hong Kong qualified at their expense, and considering the similarities between Hong Kong and the UAE as expatriate dominated countries with a local population waiting to be engaged, it is a case of what might have been. The impact could have been significant had the packed crowds of Dubai been able to witness captain Rohan Mustafa and Co. go up against the likes of MS Dhoni.
The ECB’s support — sought well in advance of the announcement and following discussions that have been ongoing since the culmination of the inaugural edition last year — will come as a major boost to the chairman and founder of the T10 league, Shaji Ul-Mulk.
It is also the latest in a series of expansions to the second edition of the T10 League, due to take place from Nov. 23-2 Dec. Two new teams have already been added, taking the number of franchises to eight and the tournament will be played across 10 days rather than the four of last year in Sharjah.
England’s one-day captain Eoin Morgan will return to lead the Kerala Kings in the defence of their title and he will be joined by a star-studded cast in Rashid Khan, Shahid Afridi, Sunil Narine, Shoaib Malik, Brendon McCullum, Daren Sammy and Shane Watson.
They will be joined once again by two UAE players in each squad — and one in each matchday XI, a further reminder of the T10 League’s investment in UAE cricket.
“The global talent hunt is designed to unearth the unsung heroes from the cricketing world, especially India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Bangladesh,” Ul-Mulk said.
“This programme will help the talent not only to get a job in the UAE and be able to display their cricketing skills at international level. The ECB is part of this programme and the good top-class cricketers will have a chance to play for the UAE national team.”
Mohammad Azharuddin and Wasim Akram have been announced as Talent Hunt directors and will oversee the searches in India and Pakistan respectively.
Abbas hopes that these ex-players-turned-scouts will add even greater gravitas to the T10’s plans to enrich the sport in the UAE and that the ECB’s own aim to grow the game among Emiratis is supported in everything T10 does.
“These players are considered legends of cricket so the more names you have at this level the better your product can get and the more successful you can get,” said Abbas of Azharuddin and Akram.
“These programmes are open for all, but the more effort (T10 organizers) put into the Emiratis (the) better for us because that will make a huge difference in the country’s national agenda and the sport’s agenda. 
“If you develop your own players there is nothing like it.”