Morocco into Women’s Africa Cup of Nations final after dramatic Nigeria win

Morocco into Women’s Africa Cup of Nations final after dramatic Nigeria win
Morocco continued to break new ground as they moved into the final of the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations. (ENMaroc)
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Updated 19 July 2022

Morocco into Women’s Africa Cup of Nations final after dramatic Nigeria win

Morocco into Women’s Africa Cup of Nations final after dramatic Nigeria win
  • Atlas Lionesses’ 5-4 penalties victory followed controversial 1-1 draw as opponents had 2 players sent off in Rabat

RIYADH: Morocco continued to break new ground on Monday night as they moved into the final of the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations with a dramatic and controversial win over Nigeria in Rabat.

The Atlas Lionesses had already made history by getting this far and qualifying for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, and now only South Africa in Saturday’s final stand between them and national glory.

After 120 minutes of semi-final football ended 1-1 and with Nigeria fielding nine players after receiving two red cards, Morocco won 5-4 on penalties to become the first Arab team to reach the final of the tournament.

Rosella Ayane, who plays her club football in England with Tottenham, scored the winning kick after Ifeoma Onumonu had missed.

Nigeria, continental champions in 11 out of 13 previous tournaments, came into the game as favorites and had the best of the first half. A red card for Halimatu Ayinde just four minutes into the second half after a rash tackle gave Morocco, who last appeared at this tournament in 2000, a numerical as well as home advantage and the North Africans began to pile on the pressure in front of more than 45,000 fans.

Yet it was Nigeria who took the lead just after the hour. After Onumonu’s header had come back off the post, Uchenna Kanu was on hand to open the scoring from close range. It was a short-lived lead as just four minutes later, Ayane broke down the right. Her low cross was palmed away by Chiamaka Nnadozie only for Sanaa Mssoudy to fire the rebound home.

Soon after that, it got worse for Nigeria as Rasheedat Ajibade was red carded as the Atletico Madrid forward brought down Zineb Redouani, the virtual assistant referee overturning the original yellow card.

Morocco had their chances to prevent the game from going to penalties, but the nine women of Nigeria defended resolutely and even hit the woodwork in extra-time through substitute Gift Monday.

The Super Falcons were delighted however to take the game into a shootout. When Khadija Er-Rmichi pulled off an excellent one-handed save from Onumonu then the pendulum swung in the favor of the hosts and there was huge delight when Ayane scored the final kick to take Morocco into the final.

Morocco’s coach Reynald Pedros said: “We played against a team that we knew was strong and then there are some game incidents that are in our favor. We were a bit rushed with the final passes and crosses and lacked a little fluidity but of course we are very happy with the outcome of this semi-final.”

There was plenty of controversy. It was clear that the Nigerian kick-takers not only had to deal with the pressure of a semi-final’s all-or-nothing situation, but lasers from the stands were being shone into their eyes. It was something that goalkeeper Nnadozie also had to deal with. The red cards will be debated too and there was no hiding the disappointment from the Super Falcons.

Nnadozie, who was named player of the match, said: “The whole Moroccan team know that Nigeria is a great team, so to beat us they had to distract us. They did everything they did just to distract us. Since I have been playing football, this is the worst match I have ever played in my life.

“They won but this is not winning for me. The officiating was not really okay. If they were good enough, we were nine players against 11, they would have scored and won. That is to show you how great we are.”

Such discussions about the lasers and officiating will not worry the hosts too much. Not only are they the first Arab team to get this far in the continental tournament but just by reaching the last four, they qualified for the 2023 Women’s World Cup – again the first Arab team to do so.

This could be a turning point for football in Morocco, North Africa, and the Arab world. Lifting the trophy at the weekend would be huge but appearing at the World Cup, to be co-hosted in Australia and New Zealand next summer, is also a major prize. A year of preparation, interest, investment, and excitement should take the women’s game in Morocco to the next level.

The country is already basking in the success of the Atlas Lionesses.

“It’s something incomparable when we all feel the passion of the fans in the stadium and we hear all these people supporting us, they were the 12th, 13th, and 14th man tonight. It was fantastic. We dedicate this victory to them and the spectators who all came very early to the stadium,” Pedros added.

South Africa will be another tough test but with a huge and passionate crowd again expected in Rabat, it will surely be an occasion to remember.

Pedros said: “I think South Africa are a great team and this match will be a great final. Each match is difficult. Since the start of this AFCON, there hasn’t been a team that stands out, there hasn’t been a team that has won by a wide margin. It’s hotly contested, and we saw it again today.

“We hope to have a good final and then try to win it for the country, for everyone, for the girls. But we have to get it out of our minds that it’s a final, we have to say that it’s our last game of the season and we simply have to win it.”

Morocco have already been a major success at the tournament, and Saturday should be a night to remember.


Russia’s Alexandrova shines in Seoul for third title

Russia’s Alexandrova shines in Seoul for third title
Updated 13 sec ago

Russia’s Alexandrova shines in Seoul for third title

Russia’s Alexandrova shines in Seoul for third title

SEOUL: Ekaterina Alexandrova overcame nerves to win the third title of her career as she dismantled injury-hampered top seed Jelena Ostapenko 7-6 (7/4), 6-0 in the final of the Korea Open on Sunday.

The two battled to a lengthy tiebreaker after an evenly matched hour-long first set in front of more than 10,000 spectators, a record for the Seoul event.

But everything changed in the second set as Russia’s second-seeded Alexandrova dominated the former French Open champion from Latvia, who required a medical timeout at 3-0 down for a foot problem.

“I think it was tough for me to start because I was really nervous and I couldn’t find the rhythm in the first couple of games,” said Alexandrova, 27.

“But the longer we played, the better I felt on the court.

“I think maybe somewhere in the end of the first set I finally found the rhythm and I just continued to keep it that way in the second set.”

The Russian is enjoying the best season of her career, having also won the Libema Open in the Netherlands in June, and is set to rise to a career-high 21 in the world.

“You always want to achieve more,” Alexandrova added.

“I want to go higher and maybe end the year top 20 in the best-case scenario.”

Ostapenko had advanced to the Korea Open final after former US Open winner Emma Raducanu retired in the third set of their semifinal with injury.


Saudi women’s team draw 3-3 with Bhutan in first ever international at home

Saudi women’s team draw 3-3 with Bhutan in first ever international at home
Updated 25 September 2022

Saudi women’s team draw 3-3 with Bhutan in first ever international at home

Saudi women’s team draw 3-3 with Bhutan in first ever international at home
  • The side led by German coach Monika Staab previously played only Seychelles and Maldives abroad

The Saudi women’s national football team made history on Saturday night at Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Stadium with a 3-3 draw against Bhutan in their first ever international played on home soil.

The team, led by German coach Monika Staab, had previously played only two internationals, against the Seychelles and Maldives in February.

Bhutan took the lead in the fifth minute through Bima Shoden, before Bayan Sadaka equalized with a powerful shot from outside the penalty area 10 minutes later.

The visitors retook the lead through Dickie Yangdon on 40 minutes and extended their advantage only two minutes later with a goal from Sonam Shoden to leave the Falcons trailing 3-1 at the break.

However, Staab’s team produced an inspired second half performance with Al-Bandari Mubarak reducing the deficit in the 75th minute, before Noura Al-Ibrahim managed a 90th minute leveler.

The Saudi team will meet the same opponents again on Wednesday at Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Stadium in the Asir region.


Toyota’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi cruises to comfortable victory at Rally Asir

Toyota’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi cruises to comfortable victory at Rally Asir
Updated 25 September 2022

Toyota’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi cruises to comfortable victory at Rally Asir

Toyota’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi cruises to comfortable victory at Rally Asir
  • ‘It’s great to make such a good start to the Saudi Toyota Championship’
  • Kingdom’s driver ready for round 2 at Rally Qassim from Oct. 12-14

ABHA: Toyota Hilux driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi and his German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz stayed clear of trouble to clinch an emphatic victory at the Abha-based Rally Asir, round one of the 2022 Saudi Toyota Rally Championship.

The Saudi was fastest on both selective sections on Friday and Saturday and a time of 1 hour 36 minutes and 54.6 seconds for the longer of the two stages earned the Toyota man a winning margin of 26 minutes and 1.5 seconds.

Al-Rajhi said: “This was a challenging rally, not easy, but the car was perfect and Dirk did a great job with the navigation. It’s great to get back to winning ways and to make such a good start to the Saudi Toyota Championship.”

Event stewards awarded Miroslav Zapletal and his Slovakian co-driver Marek Sykora a 12-minute penalty for a timing infringement on Friday afternoon and the Czech was pushed down from second to sixth place before the final 186.73-kilometer selective section got underway. The Ford F-150 driver’s misfortune promoted Al-Saif into second place and the Can-Am driver started the day 14:44 behind Al-Rajhi.

The final day’s action was split into two sections and passed between Tareeb and Al-Qa’ah. Al-Saif and his Spanish co-driver Oriol Vidal were unable to hold on to their position and set the fourth quickest time in the Black Horse Can-Am Maverick X3. The Saudi duly finished fourth overall, sealing victory in the T3 category in the process.

Zapletal was second on the day and managed to overhaul four crews, including Al-Saif and third-placed Mohammed Al-Tuwaijri and his Peruvian co-driver Hector Garcia, to regain second position in the overall standings. Khalid Al-Feraihi and French navigator Sébastien Delaunay finished fifth.

Hamad Al-Harbi and Russian co-driver Alexey Kuzmich managed to fend off a late challenge from Dania Akeel and her Uruguayan navigator Sergio Lafuente to confirm sixth overall and second in T3 in their Al-Shegawi Racing Can-Am. Akeel was seventh, despite finishing the stage with a cracked windscreen after hitting a tree branch.

Saudi Border Guard team driver Jafar Al-Qahtani secured eighth and outright success in the T2 section for series-production cross-country vehicles. SBG teammate Haylan Al-Subaie and Ahmed Al-Shegawi were second and third in the showroom section.

Both Saeed Al-Mouri and Maha Al-Hamali failed to finish the opening stage and the duel for the T4 category win was fought out over the final morning with both drivers carrying massive time penalties from the previous day. Al-Mouri and his Jordanian co-driver Ata Al-Hmoud pipped Al-Hamali and her Spanish co-driver María de Los Angeles to the day’s stage win and snatched T4 success, courtesy of having less time penalties for missing waypoints.

Mubarak Al-Zubaidi and Abdullah Al-Sanad joined Muneef Al-Salmani on the list of retirements, as 17 crews tackled the final stage. Ibrahim bin Sahnan and Fahad Al-Maioweed withdrew during the morning.

The event was organized by the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation in conjunction with the Ministry of Sport, the Saudi Motorsport Marshals Club and the Saudi Motorsport Company, in partnership with Abdul Latif Jameel Motors Toyota.

Round two of the championship will be Rally Qassim from Oct. 12 to 14.

 

Asir Rally 2022 positions after leg 2 over 186.73 km:

 

1. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (Saudi)/Dirk von Zitzewitz (Germany) Toyota Hilux: 3:19:58.7

 

2. Miroslav Zapletal (Czech)/Marek Sykora (Slovakia) Ford F-150 Evo: 3:46:0.2

 

3. Mohammed Al-Tuwaijri (Saudi)/Hector Garcia (Peru) Nissan: 3:49:42.4

 

4. Saleh Al-Saif (Saudi)/Oriol Vidal (Spain) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3): 3:50:6.4

 

5. Khalid Al-Feraihi (Saudi)/Sébastien Delaunay (France) Nissan: 3:55:21.7

 

6. Hamad Al-Harbi (Saudi)/Alexei Kuzmich (Russia) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3): 4:07:45

 

7. Dania Akeel (Saudi)/Sergio Lafuente (Uruguay) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3): 4:16:48.2

 

8. Jafar Al-Qahtani (Saudi)/Ali Al-Yami (SAU) Nissan (T2): 4:51:57.4

 

9. Haylan Al-Subaie (Saudi)/Hussam Al-Zahrani (Saudi) Nissan (T2): 4:55:50.3

 

10. Ahmed Al-Shegawi (Saudi)/Waleed Al-Shegawi (Saudi) Nissan (T2): 5:00:10.9

 

11. Abdulaziz Al-Yaeesh (Saudi)/Omar Al-Lahim (Saudi) Nissan: 5:05:23.6

 

12. Ahmed Al-Gashami (Saudi)/Nawaf Al-Enezi (Kuwait) Nissan: 5:26:18.3

 

13. Majed Al-Thunayyan (Saudi)/Fahad Al-Sufinay (Saudi) Nissan: 6:34:47.7

 

14. Saeed Al-Mouri (Saudi)/Ata Al-Hmoud (Jordan) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T4): 22:47:18

 

15. Maha Al-Hamali (Saudi)/María de Los Angeles (Spain) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T4): 24:11:56.9


Thailand’s Atthaya grabs LPGA NW Arkansas lead

Thailand’s Atthaya grabs LPGA NW Arkansas lead
Updated 25 September 2022

Thailand’s Atthaya grabs LPGA NW Arkansas lead

Thailand’s Atthaya grabs LPGA NW Arkansas lead
  • After birdies at the first, third and fifth Atthaya picked up four shots in her last three holes

 

 

LOS ANGELES: Thai rookie Atthaya Thitikul fired an eagle and eight birdies in a 10-under par 61 on Saturday to seize the lead in the LPGA NW Arkansas Championship.

The 19-year-old chasing a second LPGA victory, had a 13-under par total of 128 and a one-stroke lead over Japan’s Yuka Saso, who carded a 6-under par 65 at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers.

Former amateur No. 1 Lilia Vu carded her second straight 65 for solo third on 130 heading into the final round of the 54-hole event.

Atthaya teed off on 10 and picked up three strokes in her first nine holes.

After birdies at the first, third and fifth she picked up four shots in her last three holes.

She eagled the seventh, where her four-iron approach from 210 yards out left her two feet from the pin, and birdied the eighth and ninth.

“I think my mind was blank and just nothing there,” she said of her mindset as she picked up steam coming in. “Just hit a shot, just tap it in, putt it in, just like totally blank.”

She said she plays her best golf when she keeps her mind clear and her plan is to “keep that blank mind for tomorrow.”

The 19-year-old has plenty of experience to draw on come Sunday.

Her 11 international victories include a win in the Ladies European Thailand Championship as a 14-year-old amateur in 2017.

Since winning her first LPGA title in March she has top-10 finishes in the Women’s PGA Championship, the Evian Championship and the Women’s British Open.

“I think (I’ll) just do my best out there and I’m trying to enjoy every moment of it,” she said. “You’re not going to be in the same moment anymore so just keep trying my best.”

Saso, who was among six players sharing the overnight lead, had six birdies without a bogey and she’s hoping she can add a victory to what has been an otherwise average season.

Last year she made her first LPGA title a major when she won the US Women’s Open, but she had her last top-10 finish in January.

Nine players shared fourth place, four shots off the lead. The group included overnight co-leaders Megan Khang, Ryann O’Toole and Lee5 Jeong-eun.

But South Korean Kim Sei-young, who was also among the first-round leaders, faded with a 1-under-par 70 that featured a triple-bogey at the par-four 14th.


Portugal beat Czechs, Spain lose to Swiss in Nations League

Portugal beat Czechs, Spain lose to Swiss in Nations League
Updated 25 September 2022

Portugal beat Czechs, Spain lose to Swiss in Nations League

Portugal beat Czechs, Spain lose to Swiss in Nations League
  • Spain failed to disturb the Swiss in attack and their defense conceded two goals on corner kicks featuring Swiss defender Manuel Akanji

BARCELONA, Spain: Diogo Dalot helped Portugal take control of its Nations League group by scoring his first two international goals in a 4-0 rout at the Czech Republic on Saturday.

Spain blew their lead of Group A2 after flopping in a 2-1 loss to Switzerland in front of their disappointed fans in Zaragoza.

Portugal moved two points ahead of Spain before the neighbors meet in Braga on Tuesday in a winner-take-all clash to see which advances to the tournament’s final four next June.

While his Portugal rolled in Prague, Cristiano Ronaldo had a rough night, first enduring a nasty blow to his face that made his nose bleed and required a small bandage. International soccer’s all-time leading scorer with 117 goals also committed a penalty that, fortunately for him, the Czechs failed to convert with the score 2-0.

Dalot put Portugal ahead in the 33rd minute when the right back scored from a pass by Rafael Leão.

Bruno Fernandes doubled the lead in first-half injury time moments before Ronaldo was guilty of the handball inside his own area. But Patrik Schick wasted the penalty kick by sending it onto the crossbar.

Dalot put the result beyond all doubt in the 52nd with a curling shot into the corner.

Ronaldo finished with an assist for Diogo Jota to take a fourth goal in the 82nd.

Spain flops

Luis Enrique, who last year guided Spain to the semifinals of the European Championship and the final of the Nations League, is known for making unpopular decisions and sticking to them.

And, once again, he surprised by starting Marco Asensio, who has been relegated to a substitute role at club Real Madrid, as a false nine while leaving pure strikers Álvaro Morata and newcomer Borja Iglesias on the bench.

Spain failed to disturb the Swiss in attack and their defense conceded two goals on corner kicks featuring Swiss defender Manuel Akanji.

Akanji struck with a great header in the 21st when he outjumped his marker and drove the ball off the turf and into the top corner of the net.

Asensio finally managed to pick apart Switzerland’s defense in the 55th when he dribbled past four players before laying off for Jordi Alba to rifle in the equalizer.

But Switzerland hit right back three minutes later when Akanji was left unchecked at the near post to use one touch to redirect a corner kick into the six-yard box where Breel Embolo nudged it over the line.

“They said that it was easy to beat Switzerland and we have seen that is not true in the least,” Luis Enrique said. “They stopped us from playing our game, and you have to add to that our very sloppy first half. We improved in the second half, showed more precision, but just when we scored, we conceded another goal from a corner. Now we have to go to Portugal and win.”

Iglesias and 20-year-old Nico Williams debuted for Spain as substitutes. Nico’s older brother and clubmate Iñaki Williams debuted for Ghana on Friday after he changed allegiance from Spain.

Switzerland hosts the Czech Republic in St. Gallen on Tuesday to decide which avoids relegation. Switzerland has two more points than the Czechs in last place.

Portugal, Spain and Switzerland will all play in the World Cup in November.

League B

Israel were promoted from Group B2 after it beat Albania 2-1 thanks to a goal by Tai Baribo in injury time.

It is all level between Serbia and Norway atop Group B4 ahead of their game in Olso to see which joins League A.

Erling Haaland scored for Norway but Slovenia fought back for a 2-1 home win, while Serbia’s Aleksandar Mitrovic netted a hat trick to lead a 4-1 victory over Sweden in Belgrade.

Scotland remained in charge of Group B1 after edging Ireland 2-1 in Glasgow. Ukraine is two points behind after routing Armenia 5-0 before it plays the Scots in Krakow.

League C

Greece earned promotion from Group C2 despite losing to Cyprus 1-0 thanks to Northern Ireland’s 2-1 comeback win over Kosovo.

Friendlies

Senegal prepared for the World Cup by beating Bolivia 2-0 in a friendly in Orleans, France.