Morocco’s proud Lionesses fall short of Africa Cup of Nations glory

Morocco’s proud Lionesses fall short of Africa Cup of Nations glory
Morocco's forward Ibtissam Jraidi (L) and South Africa's defender Bambanani Mbane vie for the ball during the 2022 Women's Africa Cup of Nations final football match. (AFP)
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Updated 24 July 2022

Morocco’s proud Lionesses fall short of Africa Cup of Nations glory

Morocco’s proud Lionesses fall short of Africa Cup of Nations glory
  • In their debut final, the hosts lost 2-1 to a strong South African team but have a spot in next year’s World Cup

Morocco’s dream of becoming the first Arab country to win the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations ended at the final hurdle on Saturday in Rabat with a 2-1 defeat against South Africa, but the nation was proud of their achievements.

All the goals came in the second half. Hildah Magaia opened the scoring for South Africa just after the hour and the forward extended Banyana Banyana’s lead 10 minutes later. The home team had 50,000 fans in the Prince Moulay Abdallah Stadium on their feet after 81 minutes as Rosella Ayane pulled a goal back but the Atlas Lionesses were unable to get the all-important second as South Africa won their first continental title in their sixth final appearance.

Despite the defeat, the tournament has been a huge success on and off the pitch with Morocco by far the best performing Arab team in the competition’s 14 editions and, more importantly, securing qualification for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, which is another first for the Arab world.

Morocco coach Reynald Pedros spoke for many after the game.

“They gave it their best but it was not enough,” said the Frenchman. “I am extremely proud of my team. They have achieved so much. They have honored the shirt and honored the supporters. We will deal with the defeat, but we are not disappointed with our path in the championship.”

South Africa deserved the win and almost took the lead early in what was a nervy first half from both teams with Moroccan defender Hanane Ait El-Haj clearing the ball off the line from Magaia in just the fourth minute.

It was the closest either team was to come in the first half as the hosts were pinned back and Moroccan goalkeeper Khadija Er-Rmichi had to come off her line quickly to deny the busy Magaia seven minutes before the break.

The deadlock was finally broken just after the hour. Jermaine Seoposenwe broke free down the left and pulled the ball back for Magaia and the South Korea-based star found the net with a low shot.

After 71 minutes South Africa doubled their lead. Morocco failed to deal with Karabo Dhlamini’s cross from the left allowing Magaia to nip in and finish from close range to really silence the home supporters.

Yet with 10 minutes remaining, the fans found their voices once more as Ayane pulled a goal back. Fatima Tagnaout squared the ball from the left side of the area for the Tottenham star to bury the ball in the bottom corner.

It caused the South Africans to retreat deeper and deeper but despite the pressure and the nine minutes of added time, Morocco were unable to get the all-important equalizer against the determined South African team.

“The players showed resilience,” said South Africa coach Desiree Ellis. “They wanted the trophy so badly. We played great football in the 2018 tournament but we did not come home with the medal. I’d like to take my hat off to all the players.”

Despite the disappointment for the hosts, the tournament still seems like a turning point for women’s football in Morocco.

“Morocco aren’t in the final by chance,” said Ellis. “They started their program a while ago. They have a two-tier professional league. They have a national league for under-17s. They’ve brought in a coach who won league titles in France and the Champions League and have had a lot of friendlies against top teams.”

Morocco thrilled the nation with their exploits, culminating in a dramatic semifinal victory against Nigeria that put the team on the front and back pages for the first time in history. This passionate football country has embraced the Atlas Lionesses with the players now household names.

Captain Ghizlane Chebbak certainly is. She was named as the tournament’s best player.

“No-one believed in us at the beginning of the competition,” Chebbak said. “But I’m proud that we have been able to change the perceptions of people. All the players are glad that women’s football has attracted so many people and we’re happy that we’ve been able to reach out to fans who’ve seen us play and the effort that we make on the field.”

There is still plenty more international action for Morocco as the next tournament is the really big one.

“Now it is time to prepare for the 2023 World Cup,” said coach Pedros, who spoke to King Mohamed VI after the game. “There weren’t any weak teams in the African Nations Cup, but the World Cup will be more difficult.”

A nation will be watching once again.


‘All lights green’ for 2024 Paris Olympics opening ceremony: official

‘All lights green’ for 2024 Paris Olympics opening ceremony: official
Updated 28 September 2022

‘All lights green’ for 2024 Paris Olympics opening ceremony: official

‘All lights green’ for 2024 Paris Olympics opening ceremony: official
  • The opening ceremony on July 26, 2024, is not set to take place as is customary in the athletics stadium
  • The original plan was for an armada of 200 boats and some 600,000 spectators

PARIS: Organizers of the 2024 Paris Olympics intend to press ahead with an ambitious opening ceremony on the river Seine despite security concerns, a senior official said Wednesday.
“All the lights are green to organize this ceremony in good security conditions,” an aide to President Emmanuel Macron told reporters ahead of a top-level meeting to discuss preparations.
There had “never been a question” of abandoning the idea which was first announced by Macron himself, the aide added.
The French president is to chair a meeting with ministers, security forces, sports officials and the heads of Paris local authorities on Thursday to review the plans.
The opening ceremony on July 26, 2024, is not set to take place as is customary in the athletics stadium, but be celebrated with a flotilla down the river Seine.
The original plan was for an armada of 200 boats and some 600,000 spectators, but organizers are under pressure to scale down these ambitions.
Paris’ Olympics also face financial pressure, with the cost of energy and inflation rising sharply and Macron insisting “the Games must finance the Games.”
The aide confirmed that France was still discussing with the International Olympic Committee “if savings could be made” on some events and sites.
Paris was aiming to be the most energy-efficient and cost-effective possible, creating a “new model” for the competition, the aide added.


San Siro demolition on table as Milan and Inter’s stadium dream put to public

San Siro demolition on table as Milan and Inter’s stadium dream put to public
Updated 28 September 2022

San Siro demolition on table as Milan and Inter’s stadium dream put to public

San Siro demolition on table as Milan and Inter’s stadium dream put to public
  • AC Milan and Inter Milan both insist that they can no longer stay in the current, city-owned San Siro
  • Should it go ahead the project is scheduled to be completed in 2030

MILAN, Italy: A crucial step toward the demolition of the iconic San Siro begins on Wednesday when Milan hosts the first of a series of meetings with the public necessary for the new stadium proposed by the city’s two footballing giants.
AC Milan and Inter Milan both insist that they can no longer stay in the current, city-owned San Siro and have drawn up plans for a new 60,000-capacity ground flanked by sport and leisure facilities on the same site, which will be completely remodelled.
Should it go ahead the project is scheduled to be completed in 2030, with 1.3 billion euros ($1.24 billion) being jointly invested in the development by both clubs, who say they cannot afford to build separate new grounds and need the increased revenue this project would bring.
Over three years after presenting their initial project the public will now be able to scrutinize it and have their say at 10 meetings held over a month, after which a report will be presented to the city by the meetings’ independent organizers in mid-November.
The city can then decide whether to insist on further changes to a project which has had 50,000 square meters of development cut from it since it was first proposed, or proceed with approval.
The project is divided into two main sections: construction of the new stadium in the area immediately west of the San Siro currently occupied by car parking and a local park, which the clubs want finished by September 2027.
After that is built the current stadium, set to host the opening ceremony of the 2026 Winter Olympics, will then be demolished before the new facilities — including shopping, convention and sports centers, are built around a new public park.
It’s these facilities and the destruction of a symbolic stadium which have attracted the ire of some Milan residents and a sizeable portion of the city council, who are also angry at the granting of public land to private investors for a fraction of the rent the pair currently pay.
Other criticisms include the significant reduction in the number of seats — of which over 10,000 could be reserved for hospitality — way down not just on the San Siro’s capacity but also the number of fans currently packing the ground.
Both Inter and Milan have been regularly getting crowds of over 70,000 as a post-pandemic wave of enthusiasm among fans has led to supporters flocking back to stadiums in big numbers across Serie A.
Some pressure groups are pushing for the renovation of the current ground and dismiss Milan CEO Paolo Scaroni’s claims on Tuesday that it would be “impossible and dangerous to get 50,000 fans into a building site,” citing the redevelopment of the San Siro ahead of the 1990 World Cup which added a whole new tier to the stadium.
However, Milan mayor Giuseppe Sala has repeatedly asked critics what local authorities would be able to do with a massive, unused football stadium on the outskirts of the city should the project not be approved and the clubs decide to move in order to get the new ground built.
A source at Inter told AFP in the summer that any more bureaucratic bumps in the road would lead to the project being moved to the site of a former factory in Sesto San Giovanni, a town just outside Milan which is on the city’s metro network.
The teams abandoning the area wouldn’t just leave the city with a clubless football stadium, it would also have an impact on neighborhoods which have for a long time been some of the city’s most problematic.
Two stops down the ‘lilac’ metro line which takes fans to the San Siro is Piazzale Segesta, which flanks a troubled council housing estate — one of several in the area.
Laura Guardini, a former journalist at the daily Corriere Della Sera and volunteer at the local neighborhood association, says that of the 6,000 homes on the estate almost 1,000 are squatted in, often by people involved in drug dealing and other serious criminal activities.
She says that residents in the legally occupied apartments refuse holidays and sometimes even hospital treatment as once word is out that their flat is empty squatters “kick in the doors and take over.”
Silvia Cavagnari, who runs a local Italian language school for foreigners, says “the people in this area couldn’t care less about the stadium project, they have much bigger problems.”
And Laura Mariani, a teacher at the language school, hopes that Milan and Inter manage to get the project approved.
“I hope that the clubs do manage to build it,” she says. “Because if they leave it would be a disaster for this area.”


Colleagues DeChambeau and Lahiri embracing LIV Golf’s debut in Asia

Colleagues DeChambeau and Lahiri embracing LIV Golf’s debut in Asia
Updated 28 September 2022

Colleagues DeChambeau and Lahiri embracing LIV Golf’s debut in Asia

Colleagues DeChambeau and Lahiri embracing LIV Golf’s debut in Asia
  • LIV Golf Invitational Bangkok takes place Oct. 7-9 at all-new Stonehill
  • A new 14-tournament LIV Golf League will launch in 2023 with 48 players, 12 franchises

BANGKOK: LIV Golf makes its eagerly awaited Asian debut in Thailand next week, and Crushers GC captain Bryson DeChambeau and teammate Anirban Lahiri have spoken of their excitement in bringing the fresh format to a new audience.

Forty-eight of the world’s best golfers, including 12 major champions and four former world No. 1s, are set to tee off at the all-new Stonehill, the first stop in Asia this season ahead of a trip to Saudi Arabia for the LIV Golf Invitational Jeddah, the seventh of eight events this year.

The LIV Golf Invitational Bangkok takes place Oct. 7-9.

“The game of golf is global, that is first and foremost,” said 2020 US Open Champion and Crushers GC Captain Bryson DeChambeau. “As I have traveled to Dubai, and won overseas, and played in the UK and did well — even as an amateur at college, I played the World Amateur Championship in Japan, I played the Australian Masters and Australian Open as an amateur. And playing those events, you realize that golf is not just this small little thing in the States. You realize it is a global game.”

This summer, LIV Golf announced that the LIV Golf League will officially launch in 2023 with 48 players and 12 established team franchises competing in a 14-tournament schedule. The full slate of events, to be announced in the future, is expected to expand LIV Golf’s global footprint across North and Latin America, Asia, Australia, the Middle East and Europe.

LIV Golf has also made a $300 million, 10-year investment in the Asian region through the creation of The International Series — a program of events with larger prize purses on the Asian Tour in venues such as Thailand, Singapore, Korea, Egypt and Morocco, as well as England so far this season.

The Crushers GC roster has featured a broad range of international stars such as England’s Paul Casey and Richard Bland, India’s Anirban Lahiri, South African stars Shaun Norris and Justin Harding, and Australian Travis Smyth.

DeChambeau believes that this approach will appeal to more markets and improve the game.

“I looked at this opportunity. I got Anirban on the team and Paul Casey on the team, and it is great to have international players on the team so we can grow internationally and that’s my goal,” said DeChambeau. “So many people don’t know this great game and having created amazing relationships, I want to provide that opportunity moving forward and that’s what I think team Crushers and LIV Golf can do, and that is what we are trying to accomplish and expand, and grow this opportunity to the max.”

Lahiri, a star in his native India, finished second in his LIV Golf debut in Boston following a dramatic three-way playoff with Chile’s Joaquin Niemann and the eventual victor, Johnson. He spoke about the excitement that has already picked up in his home country and across Asia after being onboard with LIV Golf for just one month.

“One perception from back home is that people are looking at the golf and they are excited about having one of their own playing on this stage. People are excited about LIV going to Asia,” said Lahiri. “At least 20 people I know from India are flying to Bangkok and that’s just from India, not Singapore or Malaysia and everywhere. Golf is huge in Asia.

“People are viewing this as something that could be a lifeline going forward. Not just what they are doing with the Asian Tour, but they are going to get to see the players they want to see. They are loving the broadcasts and it is overwhelmingly positive. I’m very happy that so many people are positive about what is going on.”

Lahiri explained how the new format and the broadcast on YouTube will enable fans to see more of the action.

“Even if I’m in middle of the field, you are still going to see me hit a few shots, and there is still a narrative if you follow my team,” Lahiri added. “The people who follow me will also follow (the team) because it affects me. And that’s where the team aspect builds the fan base. The whole dynamic works well, especially in the countries where golf is growing. People are still trying to get interested and involved with the sport, and this platform does a lot more for engagement.”


e& partners with Manchester City to support young UAE footballers

e& partners with Manchester City to support young UAE footballers
Updated 28 September 2022

e& partners with Manchester City to support young UAE footballers

e& partners with Manchester City to support young UAE footballers
  • The Talented Player Program looks to develop those aged 11-16

ABU DHABI: The company e&, formerly known as Etisalat Group, announced on Wednesday its continued partnership with Manchester City’s Football Schools to support the development of young players.

First launched in 2019, the Talented Player Program provides a platform for those aged 11 to 16 across Abu Dhabi and Dubai to fulfil their potential under the guidance of expert coaches from City Football Schools. The TPP has seen over 50 players transition in the last three years into elite environments.

With the support of e&, the technology and investment conglomerate, the program will help young players travel for training at partner clubs around the world.

“Since the Manchester City Football School launched in 2011 in Abu Dhabi, it has seen over 10,000 players take part in around 50,000 sessions and the Talented Player Program has been a hugely successful part of our delivery in the UAE,” said Simon Hewitt, senior manager football education MENA.

“Through the program, players have signed for professional academies in the UAE, UK, Italy, Spain and Egypt, including one player at our very own Manchester City,” said Hewitt.

“We are excited that this platform opens new horizons for players to excel and with the support of e&, we are confident that we will see more success stories in the years to come.”

Etisalat has been the Official Telecommunications Partner of Manchester City since 2009, with the agreement recently extended for a sixth term.


Room for improvement: 5 things learned as Arab teams have mixed results in World Cup warm-up matches

Room for improvement: 5 things learned as Arab teams have mixed results in World Cup warm-up matches
Updated 28 September 2022

Room for improvement: 5 things learned as Arab teams have mixed results in World Cup warm-up matches

Room for improvement: 5 things learned as Arab teams have mixed results in World Cup warm-up matches
  • Tunisia suffer against Brazil, Qatar remain consistent, lack of Saudi goals becoming concern

RIYADH: The last international break before the 2022 World Cup kicks off in Doha on Nov. 20 has just wrapped with the four Arab qualifiers of Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Tunisia continuing to have mixed results in what could be their final warm-up matches.

Meanwhile, Egypt, who will miss out on the party in Qatar, are already looking ahead to the future.

Here are five things learned from the latest action.

1. If Saudi Arabia can score, they have a chance in Qatar

An obvious point, but the 0-0 draw with the US in Spain did mean a fourth straight friendly without a goal for the Green Falcons. However, the performance was an improvement on the 0-0 draw with Ecuador on Friday, and the two 1-0 losses to Colombia and Venezuela in June.

The defense prevented the US, with plenty of talented players, from creating clear chances and it was a hard-working display all around. The Saudis did not create too many clear-cut scoring opportunities, but there was an improvement in their overall attacking display.

None of the chances that did come along were taken and while there are absences such as Salem Al-Dawsari and Salman Al-Faraj that make a difference, it is a concern.

Coach Herve Renard does not have a Robert Lewandowski or a Lionel Messi to score at will, and he needs his stars fit if there is to be a chance against Argentina, Poland, and Mexico.

Taken in isolation, however, and not after three blank returns, the result and the performance against the Americans were encouraging and with more preparation games to come (unlike some other teams at the World Cup) there is still a little time to get firing in an offensive sense.

2. It could have been worse for Tunisia

Losing to Brazil is no disgrace for any team but it is never nice to be hit with a  5-1 defeat. However, Tunisia were simply blown away by the in-form five-time champions.

There was much to cheer about in the 18th minute as Montassar Talbi equalized Raphinha’s opener but within seconds, Richarlison had restored the lead and soon after Neymar scored from the spot. By 40 minutes it was 4-1 and when Dylan Bronn was red carded before the break, it looked really bleak for the Carthage Eagles.

Brazil eased off in the second half and it was a chastening experience for Tunisia who were coming off the back of some positive results of late.

They had their moments going forward and saw a goal disallowed which could have changed things but, in the end, Brazil were just too good. At least it is unlikely that the North Africans will face such a talented team in Qatar even against defending champions France, or Denmark and Australia.

3. Qatar improve against Chile but need more

After losing to Canada in a poor performance last week, Qatar improved to draw 2-2 with Chile. Their first-half performance was a continuation of the previous match, lacking energy, invention, and focus as Alexis Sanchez’s well-worked goal gave the South Americans a deserved lead at the break.

In the second half, Qatar took advantage of a defensive mistake to equalize through Akram Afif and then a thunderbolt from Hassan Al-Haydos gave them a lead that they could not hang on to.

At this stage of preparation, it was another concerning performance overall.

This is not the well-drilled and fluid Qatar team that strolled to the 2019 Asian Cup title. That is now three poor halves out of four and the goals against Chile came from mistakes and a moment of brilliance rather than sustained pressure.

It could be that the Maroons are so focused on the tournament and games against Ecuador, Senegal, and the Netherlands that are less than two months away that it is hard to perform in friendlies, but it is time to find the old intensity.

4. Morocco and Ziyech moving forward

The second game in charge for coach Walid Regragui ended in a 0-0 draw with Paraguay but the tactician will not be too concerned as his team did enough to win but just could not quite find the goal in a high-tempo clash.

At the back, the defense was tested by the lively Miguel Almiron of Newcastle United but held firm to keep a second clean sheet in four days following their 2-0 win over Chile.

Hakim Ziyech, recalled to the side after his fall-out with the previous coach, was the standout. The Chelsea winger hit the inside of the post with a curling shot from outside the area and put a couple of chances on a plate for team-mates. He also created Ryan Mmaee’s goal that was narrowly ruled out for offside.

Overall, it was a fine performance from the Atlas Lions who are feeling much better about their national team than a couple of months ago and will be looking forward to Belgium, Croatia, and Canada.

5. Egypt looking good for 2026

It cannot be easy for Egypt as they watch their rivals prepare for the first World Cup in the region, but fans are feeling happier than before.

New coach Rui Vitoria has promised that there will be qualification for the 2026 tournament and while it is obviously very early days, the signs are good with two 3-0 wins in the first two games in charge for the Portuguese boss.

Supporters were delighted to see Mohamed Salah score twice in the first win over Niger and while the Liverpool man withdrew from the second game, the same score line was recorded against Liberia. There are tougher tests to come but it seems that a small corner has been turned.

It has been a roller-coaster year for the national team with penalty shootout defeats in the Africa Cup of Nations final and World Cup qualification under Carlos Queiroz and a new coach Ehab Galal, who was quickly fired after a 4-1 loss to South Korea in June.

Some stability and progress are needed and while this is just a start, it is a good one. Missing out on the 2022 World Cup was tough to take but the road to 2026 has already begun.