Iran’s World Cup hopes rise from Brentford’s shock win over Man City

Iran’s World Cup hopes rise from Brentford’s shock win over Man City
Brentford's Iranian midfielder Saman Ghoddos (L) runs with the ball during the English Premier League football match between Brentford and Tottenham Hotspur. (File/AFP)
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Updated 15 November 2022

Iran’s World Cup hopes rise from Brentford’s shock win over Man City

Iran’s World Cup hopes rise from Brentford’s shock win over Man City
  • Star winger Saman Ghoddos relishes his nation’s underdog role, will play for the people against England, US and Wales in Qatar

If Saman Ghoddos needed confirmation that Iran can “make history” at the World Cup then he got it at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

As an unused substitute, the winger watched in delight as his club side Brentford claimed an upset 2-1 win over champions Manchester City.

Ivan Toney’s double ended a 16-match home winning run for Pep Guardiola’s side and provided a stark reminder that even the biggest favorites can falter in football.

That will be in the mind of Ghoddos and his Iran teammates as they prepare to face England, the US and Wales in Group B.

“It was an amazing win, not an easy place to come and to get the three points. We were really happy with that,” he said.

“This shows what can happen in football, everyone can be beaten, everyone can win. We feel like we deserved it and it’s a big achievement for us. There’s now a lot of energy, confidence, and that’s the perfect thing to take to the World Cup.

“The first game stands out, playing against England, one of the best teams in the world. For me it’s the perfect game to start with, go against the best team and try to prove ourselves and show we are there to compete.

“We won’t fear them, we won’t fear anyone. It’s the World Cup and everything can happen.”

Phil Foden got City’s consolation against Brentford with a fierce strike and he should be in England’s side to take on Team Melli on Monday, Jan. 21.

But with players like Porto striker Mehdi Taremi in their ranks, Ghoddos is confident Iran have the quality to cause problems of their own.

“England have some exceptional players all over the pitch, so it’s not only Foden,” said the Malmo-born 29-year-old, who switched allegiance in 2017 to play for Iran — the country of his parents — rather than Sweden.

“I feel like every one of them can do these magical things, but we need to stop them. We have a strong unit, who play for each other, play for the people and that can bring you further than you think.

“Even though you don’t have players as good on paper as the other team, when we are together, when we are solid, it’s very difficult to break us down. Hopefully we can do well. If it’s a surprise I am happy with that. The hope is to get to the next stage.”

Iran have never managed to get past the first group stage at the World Cup. They came close four years ago in Russia but were pipped by Spain and Portugal.

Carlos Queiroz has returned to coach them again in Qatar, having led them in the 2014 and 2018 tournaments.

“Carlos gives us a lot of confidence, a lot of tactical knowledge and it’s a happy place when you go to the national team when he’s there,” added Ghoddos, who has 33 caps.

“He brings so much togetherness and I feel everything is getting better when he’s there. The last World Cup I played in, it was the biggest thing I have done in my life so far, the biggest football achievement I have done.

“We got four points in a very difficult group, so close to going through. We just want to go through now, that’s the aim. It’s another difficult group, but I think we have some better players, more mature.

“I feel we have the experience now of having that last World Cup and we will bring that with us. Hopefully we can show what we can do. We have a very good team and very good coaching staff.”

While expectations may not be as high at the first World Cup in the Middle East from those outside Iran, Ghoddos added: “I feel the pressure and we are putting a lot of pressure on ourselves.

“What is said outside you try to block that, if it is good or bad. With this pressure, we have to handle it and just try to make history. We will play for the people and that will give us massive energy.”


Enrique set Spain players ‘homework’ of 1,000 penalties ahead of World Cup

Enrique set Spain players ‘homework’ of 1,000 penalties ahead of World Cup
Spain's coach Luis Enrique attends a press conference at the Qatar National Convention Center (QNCC) in Doha. AFP
Updated 17 sec ago

Enrique set Spain players ‘homework’ of 1,000 penalties ahead of World Cup

Enrique set Spain players ‘homework’ of 1,000 penalties ahead of World Cup
  • “Over a year ago, in one of the Spain camps, I told them they had to get here with at least 1,000 penalties taken,” Enrique said on Monday

DOHA: Spain coach Luis Enrique set each of his players the “homework” of practicing 1,000 penalties ahead of the World Cup, saying he is convinced they are not a lottery.
The 2010 world champions face Morocco in the last 16 on Tuesday, with the threat of extra-time and penalties looming in the knockout phase of the tournament in Qatar.
Spain beat Switzerland on penalties at last year’s Euro 2020 but were eliminated on spot-kicks by Italy in the semifinals.
“Over a year ago, in one of the Spain camps, I told them they had to get here with at least 1,000 penalties taken,” Enrique said on Monday.
“I imagine that they have done their homework. If you wait until getting here to practice penalties... (it won’t be enough).
The Spaniard insisted spot kicks were “not a lottery.”
“It’s a moment of maximum tension, a time to show your nerve, and that you can shoot the penalty in the way you have decided, if you have trained it a thousand times,” he said.
“It says a lot about each player. It’s trainable, manageable, how you manage the tension. It’s increasingly less luck — the goalkeepers have more influence.
“We have a very good goalkeeper, any of the three can do very well in this situation. Every time we finish training I see a lot of players taking penalties.”
The Spain coach also responded to criticism over the team’s style of play — their commitment to playing out from defense sometimes puts them under pressure in dangerous areas.
Japan earned a shock 2-1 win over Spain, with their first goal coming after the European team lost the ball on the edge of their box and Ritsu Doan slammed home.
“Every team has their weapons,” said Enrique. “We want to get the ball in the best way possible to the forward,“ 
“If we have to hit a long ball, we’ll hit it. The interpretation has to be done on the pitch.”
He said he did not agree with Spain’s critics.
“It doesn’t make sense to say that against Japan if we hoofed it away to clear our lines we wouldn’t have let in the first goal,” he said.
“We also wouldn’t have scored any goals if we kept kicking it long. We will keep playing the ball out from the back, it’s what we want.”
Enrique confirmed that Cesar Azpilicueta had recovered from his knock against Japan and all 26 players would be fit to train on Monday evening ahead of the game.


Morocco out to make history in crunch World Cup game with Spain

Morocco out to make history in crunch World Cup game with Spain
Updated 42 min 54 sec ago

Morocco out to make history in crunch World Cup game with Spain

Morocco out to make history in crunch World Cup game with Spain
  • The Atlas Lions reached last-16 stage in 1986, but progress to the quarter-finals this year will lift them, and Arab football, to new levels

DOHA: Morocco face Spain on Tuesday with a place in the World Cup quarterfinals at stake.

It is surely the biggest game in the country’s history and perhaps the biggest game ever played by an Arab nation. A knockout game against a football superpower on the global stage — this is what dreams are made of. 

There is also no reason to have nightmares. After all, Morocco topped their group with seven points, more than any other Arab nation has ever collected.

This is also a team that has conceded just one goal in seven games under coach Walid Regragui. Even that was an unfortunate own goal in Thursday’s 2-1 victory over Canada.

This is a team that started with a solid draw against Croatia and then deservedly beat Belgium 2-0. Spain thrashed Costa Rica 7-0 but then were held to a draw by Germany and were defeated 2-1 by Japan to finish second.

The Europeans remain favorites but they created little for all their possession against Japan. There is no reason for Morocco to fear Spain. They have already shown they can live with, and beat, some of the best that Europe has to offer.

Morocco are now a force to be reckoned with. They have been here before, winning the group back in 1986 and then losing 1-0 to West Germany, when Lothar Mattheus grabbed the only goal of a hard-fought encounter in Mexico with just two minutes remaining. 

Going one round further this time around would give the present crop of players immortal status.

If they were to make it, a quarterfinal against either Portugal or Switzerland would really get the excitement flowing in North Africa.

They already have the quality. Captain Romain Saiss and Nayef Aguerd have been excellent in the center of the backline. Goalkeeper Yassine Bounou is as solid as they come. The likes of Hakim Ziyech of Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain’s Achraf Hakimi, and Nasser Mazraoui of Bayern Munich, play at the highest club level week in, week out and have started to show their class in this World Cup. 

It is such stars who will need to be at their best against the 2010 champions. A World Cup knockout game will not faze them and they are able to help Morocco get forward quickly and to devastating effect.

Soon, some of their national team mates will be joining them in the UEFA Champions League. Liverpool are reportedly interested in midfielder Sofyan Amrabat who has been one of the standout players of the tournament so far. His current club Fiorentina are big but a move to the elite is on the cards.

Youssef En-Nesyri has also impressed. The Sevilla striker will know the Spanish national team very well. He may also be in line for a move elsewhere in 2023, and there have already been reports of interest from West Ham United.

“We are determined to continue the dream in Qatar with the same will, determination, and perseverance,” the 25-year-old said. “Our focus will be on ourselves, our abilities, and the possibility of presenting a level worthy of the Moroccan national team in order to continue the adventure with success.” 

There is also coach Regragui. The 47-year-old has been in charge for just over three months, succeeding Vahid Halilhodzic. As well as bringing tactical discipline, he has been praised for his motivational skills and bringing together a squad that had looked disunited at times under the former boss. 

It was striking that after the win over Canada sealed top spot, Regragui refused his players’ attempts to throw him in the air before eventually relenting. The message is very much that it is a case of so far, so good but there is still work to do.

While the destination is still unknown, everyone is enjoying the journey. 

“I never dreamed of achieving something for my country,” said Hakimi. “Playing with Morocco is something amazing. To do something big for your country is better than with the club. 

“I am here to help all the Moroccan people. When I was young I saw the last generation that came to the World Cup and I dreamed of being like them.”

It remains to be seen what happens on the pitch but it is clear that Morocco’s fans will win the contest in the stands. They have been one of the loudest, most passionate and numerous groups of supporters at the World Cup. 

Such was the demand for the Spain game that FIFA released an extra 5,000 tickets. There will be ‘home’ advantage and a fantastic atmosphere.

That’s the way it should be. The locals will be supporting them too. At the 2010 World Cup, much of Africa got behind Ghana when the Black Stars were the only team left in the tournament. Now, Morocco are representing the Arab world and history awaits.


Neymar close to World Cup return, England and France set up last-eight showdown

Neymar close to World Cup return, England and France set up last-eight showdown
Brazil's forward Neymar reacts at the end of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group G football match between Cameroon and Brazil. AFP
Updated 05 December 2022

Neymar close to World Cup return, England and France set up last-eight showdown

Neymar close to World Cup return, England and France set up last-eight showdown
  • Superstar forward Neymar has been absent for Brazil since spraining his ankle in his team’s opening Group G win against Serbia last month and their supporters have been sweating on his fitness ever since

DOHA: Neymar could make his return to the World Cup stage on Monday as Brazil continue their bid to be crowned kings for a record-extending sixth time against South Korea.
Superstar forward Neymar has been absent for Brazil since spraining his ankle in his team’s opening Group G win against Serbia last month and their supporters have been sweating on his fitness ever since.
Coach Tite said Neymar would be assessed in Brazil’s final pre-game training session on Sunday, but gave a heavy hint that the Paris Saint-Germain attacker would start.
“He’s going to train this afternoon and if he’s OK, he will play tomorrow,” Tite told reporters.
His return would be a big boost as Brazil have scored just once since Neymar fell foul to his ankle injury and on Saturday lost Arsenal forward Gabriel Jesus for the rest of the World Cup.
South Korea famously reached the semifinals 20 years ago when the tournament was shared between their country and Japan, who are also in action on Monday against Croatia.
The Koreans have not reached the knockout stages since 2010 and only got to the last 16 in Qatar thanks to an injury-time winner from Hwang Hee-chan in their final group game against Portugal.
They will need a different performance to the one in June’s friendly between the two teams, when Brazil romped to a 5-1 victory with Neymar scoring two penalties.
“We have good memories of 2002, of making it to the last four and we want to relive that,” said Korea midfielder Kim Jin-su, who was 10 years old at that time.
“We’ve waited so long to come to this knockout stage and we all truly wanted to come this far.”
Japan veteran Yuto Nagatomo said his side will again show the world their samurai spirit in their clash with unbeaten Croatia, after having already stunned Germany and Spain on their way to topping Group E.
“Before battle, the samurai would polish their weapons and refine their technique, but if they were scared in battle, all that would count for nothing,” the former Inter Milan left-back said Sunday.
“The most important thing is to have courage.”

- Mbappe shines, England cruise -

Kylian Mbappe was the star of the show again for France with a superb brace which sunk Poland 3-1 and gave the world champions a mouthwatering last-eight showdown with England, easy 3-0 winners over Senegal.
Paris Saint-Germain superstar Mbappe rifled home two blistering second-half strikes after his veteran striker partner Olivier Giroud became France’s all-time leading scorer with his 52nd goal for his country just before half-time.
Mbappe called the World Cup his “obsession” after his match-winning performance, which took his tally to a tournament-leading five and also included an assist for Giroud’s record-breaking opener.
“The only objective for me is to win the World Cup,” said the 23-year-old.
“That is what I am dreaming of. I didn’t come here to win the Golden Ball (for best player). That is not why I am here. I am here to win and help the French national team.”
France will face England on Saturday at the Al Bayt Stadium, where Gareth Southgate’s team strolled past Senegal in a performance full of positives, not least the form of teen sensation Jude Bellingham.
Bellingham, 19, set up Jordan Henderson’s opener and the Borussia Dortmund midfielder was involved again when England captain Kane bagged his first goal in this World Cup and overtook Gary Lineker as England’s all-time top scorer in major tournaments.
Bukayo Saka dinked home England’s third in the 57th minute to secure a comfortable win and set up a huge tie with one of the pre-tournament favorites.
“We’ll enjoy this one but then our focus turns to that, it’s going to be a really tough game,” said captain Kane. “They are reigning champions but it’s a good battle.”


Saudi Arabia set to host 2027 Asian Cup after India withdraws bid

Saudi Arabia set to host 2027 Asian Cup after India withdraws bid
Updated 05 December 2022

Saudi Arabia set to host 2027 Asian Cup after India withdraws bid

Saudi Arabia set to host 2027 Asian Cup after India withdraws bid
  • Bids from India and Saudi Arabia had been shortlisted by the AFC’s executive committee in October
  • The 2023 Asian Cup will be played in Qatar after China withdrew as host

KUALA LUMPUR: Saudi Arabia is set to host the 2027 Asian Cup after India withdrew its bid.
The Asian Football Confederation issued a statement Monday saying the All Indian Football Federation had withdrawn from the host selection process. No reason was published.
The bids from India and Saudi Arabia had been shortlisted by the AFC’s executive committee in October and the final decision was expected to be made at a regional congress in February. Saudi Arabia is now the only candidate to host the 2027 tournament.
The 2023 Asian Cup will be played in Qatar after China withdrew as host. Qatar, which is hosting the ongoing World Cup, has already staged the Asian Cup twice.
The Saudis started their World Cup campaign in Qatar with a stunning 2-1 upset win over Argentina, but didn’t advance to the knockout stages after back-to-back losses to Poland and Mexico in Group C. Argentina topped the group and then edged Australia in the Round of 16 to qualify for the quarterfinals.


Sergei Perelygin and Lindsay Webster crowned winners at Spartan World Championships in Abu Dhabi

Sergei Perelygin and Lindsay Webster crowned winners at Spartan World Championships in Abu Dhabi
Updated 05 December 2022

Sergei Perelygin and Lindsay Webster crowned winners at Spartan World Championships in Abu Dhabi

Sergei Perelygin and Lindsay Webster crowned winners at Spartan World Championships in Abu Dhabi
  • Event in Al-Wathba saw athletes compete from more than 80 countries

ABU DHABI: Sergei Perelygin and Lindsay Webster have been crowned Spartan World Champions after conquering an all-new obstacle course in Al-Wathba to beat the world’s best athletes at the weekend.

The event — only the second time it has been held outside the US — was organized by Abu Dhabi Sports Council in partnership with Spartan, which is the world’s leading endurance sports and wellness brand.

Taking place at Al-Wathba Luxury Collection Resort & Spa, the race saw international athletes from more than 80 countries compete for the men’s and women’s individual World Championship Super, with more than $125,000 in prize money on offer.

On Saturday, athletes from both categories tackled a number of challenging obstacles, including A-Frame Cargo, Atlas Carry and Ape Hanger.

Perelygin, who settled for an impressive second place in last year’s race, won the Men’s Elite 2022 title following the completion of the 10 km race in a time of 1 hour, 3 minutes, 47 seconds. The Russian beat his rival Ryan Atkins by 0.12 seconds, who achieved a time of 1:03:59.

“I’ve always dreamed of being a Spartan World Champion since I first began competing back in 2015,” said Perelygin. “I’m very happy as it’s only my second world championship. Last year was very hard to compete against Ryan Atkins, he pushed me as much as I pushed him. Last year he got the finish but this year it was my turn. If you believe in your dreams, it can happen.”

The women’s category saw Canadian Webster victorious in 1:12:49 to claim her fourth title, whilst Slovakian and European Spartan Champion, Ezster Hortobagyiova, finished second in 1:14:52.

“This year’s race felt a lot shorter. I thought the terrain was going to be equally as tough but it was sufficiently easier,” said Webster. “I feel relieved, it’s been a big lead-up to this event so it felt really good to get out there. We’re excited to be back in Abu Dhabi, they completely spoil athletes here and take really great care of you.”

Suhail Abdulla Alareefi, executive director of the event sector at Abu Dhabi Sports Council, said: “It’s the second year Abu Dhabi has held the Spartan World Championship and we’re extremely proud of the large and diverse participation from both men and women. It’s been a tremendous turnout. Hosting such an established brand within the region further cements our efforts to encourage the community to get fit and take part in activities like Spartan.”

Alareefi and Joe De Sena, CEO and founder of Spartan, presented the winners and runners up from each category with their awards. “Being back in Abu Dhabi for this year’s Spartan World Championship and be among this ever-growing community is tremendously exciting,” said De Sena.

In addition to the two elite races, the event also showcased the Age Group World Championship with winners crowned across 10 categories, from ages 14 to over 60.