Atlas Lions prove Moro-CAN with 2-0 World Cup win over Belgium

Atlas Lions prove Moro-CAN with 2-0 World Cup win over Belgium
Morocco’s Bilal El Khannouss celebrates after the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group F Belgium v Morocco match. (Reuters)
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Updated 28 November 2022

Atlas Lions prove Moro-CAN with 2-0 World Cup win over Belgium

Atlas Lions prove Moro-CAN with 2-0 World Cup win over Belgium
  • The 2-0 win over the world’s No. 2 team surpasses famous 3-1 victory over Portugal in 1986, and leaves them needing a draw to reach round of 16

DOHA: Belgium are the second best team in the world, according to FIFA, but they were definitely second best to Morocco on Sunday.

The 2-0 win that went the way of the Atlas Lions was fully deserved and surely the most impressive World Cup result in the country’s history. It also leaves the side’s short-term future looking pretty healthy too. 

The second-half goals from Abdelhamid Sabiri and Zakaria Aboukhlal mean that Morocco have claimed four points from their first two games in Group F. A draw against Canada will put them in the last 16.

But whatever happens on Thursday, this was Morocco’s best ever day on the global stage.

Back in 1986, they became the first Arab (and African) team to make the second round of the World Cup. Then they topped the group with two 0-0 draws against Poland and England, before defeating Portugal 3-1. That dream ended with a narrow 1-0 defeat against eventual finalists West Germany.

Fast forward 12 years and Morocco found themselves in another tough group. They started with a 2-2 draw against a strong Norway team, a point followed by a 3-0 defeat at the hands of the mighty Brazil. In the final game, the North Africans, inspired by Mustapha Hadji, sparkled as they put Scotland to the sword, winning 3-0.

Ten minutes from the end they were heading into the next stage as Brazil were leading Norway 1-0, only for a late turnaround from the Scandinavians to give them a 2-1 win and that coveted knockout stage spot.

Knowledge of the past means that coach Walid Regragui will not be taking anything for granted against Canada, but history has already been made.

Beating Portugal 36 years ago was a fine result, but the Iberians were not at their best; Scotland 12 years later were stronger than now but still not a major power.

Belgium are different. Second in the world at present and third in Russia in 2018, this generation of Red Devils may have lost their luster to an extent, but the likes of Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City, Real Madrid’s Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois, and Romelu Lukaku, on loan at Inter Milan, are generally regarded as world-class and play at elite clubs.

And yet Morocco were too good for them. With a defense that has not conceded a goal in five games since Regragui replaced Vahid Halilhodzic in August, they kept Belgium at bay fairly comfortably.

Hakim Ziyech was excellent, driving his team forward at all times.

There was such intensity and purpose from Morocco that they were far too much for the Europeans to handle.

The scoreline did not flatter the victors, and confidence will now be sky high.

In retrospect, Morocco’s 0-0 draw with Croatia in the opening game was the perfect start, providing the platform to move to the next level.

Many thought that a repeat of 1986, with two goalless draws in the opening games, would be the target, leaving victory in the final match with Canada as enough to qualify. It became quickly apparent that this was never the limit of Morocco’s ambitions.

Canada have already shown that they will be no pushovers: they have been energetic and hard-working, although perhaps lacking a cutting edge so far.

Morocco will be wary of taking their foot off the pedal, but their players will be well aware of the possibility of taking top spot in the group, as they did in 1986.

That is all about next week, though. Sunday was celebration day for the whole of Morocco, including their magnificent supporters in Qatar, after the biggest and best result in their World Cup history.


Casemiro scores twice, Man United beats Reading in FA Cup

Casemiro scores twice, Man United beats Reading in FA Cup
Updated 29 January 2023

Casemiro scores twice, Man United beats Reading in FA Cup

Casemiro scores twice, Man United beats Reading in FA Cup
  • The Brazil international struck twice in four second-half minutes as United won against second-division Reading 3-1

MANCHESTER, England: Casemiro was a serial winner with Real Madrid and on Saturday he kept Manchester United’s trophy hunt going strong in the FA Cup.

The Brazil international struck twice in four second-half minutes as United won against second-division Reading 3-1 and progressed to the fifth round.

On Wednesday, Erik ten Hag’s improving team put a foot in the League Cup final by beating Nottingham Forest 3-0 in the first leg of the semifinals.

There is growing belief among United fans that a six-year wait for a trophy will come to an end this season, with the club also still in the Europa League where a much-anticipated clash with Barcelona is coming next month.

If Ten Hag is to lift silverware in his first season as manager, Casemiro will be pivotal to that success.

The midfielder won five Champions Leagues and three Spanish titles with Madrid but left last summer for a new challenge in England.

Ten Hag wanted to add his winning mentality to a team that had seen Manchester City and Liverpool dominate the Premier League in recent years. His influence was evident against a Reading team that withstood United’s dominance until the 54th minute.

It was a performance that underlined how much Casemiro was missed when he was suspended for the 3-2 loss to Arsenal last week, which left United 11 points behind the league leader.

With Casemiro in the starting lineup, United have lost only two of 21 games in all competitions, compared to four of 11 without him.

While he is better known as a midfield enforcer, he has showcased his other attributes in his short time at Old Trafford, including his impressive range of passing.

Against Reading, it was his clinical finishing that broke the visitor’s resistance.

First came a delicate chip to lift the ball over goalkeeper Joe Lumley after racing onto Antony’s pass into the box. Then, in the 58th, he let fly from around 25 meters to double United’s lead.

His mastery was evident when Reading forward Andy Carroll’s frustration boiled over and he was sent off for a second yellow card after a wild challenge on Casemiro in the 65th.

Another Brazilian, Fred, came off the bench to add a third for United with a backheel a minute later.

Amadou Mbengue scored a consolation for Reading, but there was never any danger of a comeback.

While they are fighting for survival in the league, Leeds, Leicester and Southampton are advancing in the cup.

Securing top-flight status remains the priority for all three, but the cup is providing welcome relief from their battles against relegation.

Leeds won against third-tier Accrington Stanley 3-1, Leicester overcame fourth-tier Walsall 1-0, and bottom-of-the-league Southampton won against second-division Blackpool 2-1 on Saturday.

Goals from Leeds’ Jack Harrison, Junior Firpo and Luis Sinisterra ended any chance of a miracle for Accrington in front of its home fans at Wham Stadium. Leslie Adekoya, however, gave them something to cheer with a late consolation goal.

It was only Leeds’ second win since Nov. 5, both of them coming in the FA Cup.

Leicester — cup winner in 2021 — needed a late goal from Kelechi Iheanacho to end Walsall’s resistance in a match that also saw Youri Tielemans miss a penalty.

Leicester’s only other win since Dec. 20 was in the previous round of the cup.

Romain Perraud scored twice in Southampton’s win. Charlie Patino pulled one back for Blackpool.

Sunderland 15-year-old substitute Christopher Rigg thought he scored a famous winner against the Premier League’s Fulham, only to see his effort ruled out for offside.

Rigg struck in time added on at Craven Cottage, but the second division team’s celebrations were soon cut short.

Sunderland took an early lead through Jack Clarke, and Tom Cairney equalized for Fulham to set up a replay.

There will also be replays for Sheffield Wednesday and Fleetwood (1-1), Ipswich and Burnley (0-0), Luton and Grimsby (2-2) and Blackburn and Birmingham (2-2).

Second division Bristol City was through to fifth round after beating West Brom 3-0.

New Tottenham signing Arnaut Danjuma scored on his debut as Spurs beat Preston 3-0.

Danjuma, who has joined on loan from Villarreal, struck late on after going on as a substitute.

Heung-Min Son had already set Tottenham on course for the next round with two second-half goals.


Atletico hit out at Real Madrid ‘influence’ on referees

Atletico hit out at Real Madrid ‘influence’ on referees
Updated 29 January 2023

Atletico hit out at Real Madrid ‘influence’ on referees

Atletico hit out at Real Madrid ‘influence’ on referees
  • Atletico had Stefan Savic sent off in extra time in the 3-1 defeat but were angry that Ceballos was not shown a second yellow card in the second half of the regulation 90 minutes

MADRID: Atletico Madrid CEO Miguel Angel Gil Marin complained that Real Madrid’s “huge influence” exerts pressure on Spanish referees after his side’s Copa del Rey defeat, a suggestion dismissed by the victors.

Los Blancos beat Atletico in the cup quarterfinal derby clash on Thursday night and Atletico were convinced that Dani Ceballos should have been sent off at the Santiago Bernabeu.

“I have full respect for all the officials and I am convinced they always have the best of intentions, but anyone looking in from the outside can see that for decades the same thing almost always happens,” said Gil Marin in a statement. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t surprise anybody anymore, it isn’t news. It’s very clear and you just have to look back at history.

“Madrid are a club with a huge influence, with a lot of interests around them. They create so much pressure that it’s normal that it affects the people who have to take decisions.”

The officials are “aware of what awaits them if they harm them with a mistake, or even if they get something right. We often see a campaign against whoever they believe has hurt them,” Gil Marin added

The Atletico boss said his club cannot change the “system” alone and that the color of a team’s shirt should not have an impact on fair decision-making.

Atletico had Stefan Savic sent off in extra time in the 3-1 defeat but were angry that Ceballos was not shown a second yellow card in the second half of the regulation 90 minutes.

“The second yellow was obvious, undoubtable,” Marin insisted.

“But at 1-0 down in the 71st minute, playing for the semis of the cup in their own stadium, it would be a big thing to leave Madrid with 10 players.”

Atletico, out of the Champions League and the Spanish Cup are languishing in fourth, 13 points behind La Liga leaders Barcelona, having played an extra game.

Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti dismissed Atletico’s concerns in a news conference on Saturday.

“It was a hard-fought, even game, I think for our part we deserved to win,” said the Italian.

“The rest is topics I won’t speak about. The only ‘system’ I know is the one that I will use tomorrow.”

Real Madrid, second in La Liga, face third place Real Sociedad on Sunday night.


Bayern held at home to Frankfurt after Kolo Muani goal

Bayern held at home to Frankfurt after Kolo Muani goal
Updated 28 January 2023

Bayern held at home to Frankfurt after Kolo Muani goal

Bayern held at home to Frankfurt after Kolo Muani goal
  • The result was Bayern's third consecutive 1-1 draw, with the reigning German champions still looking for their first win of 2023
  • Union Berlin's 2-0 derby win over city rivals Hertha earlier on Saturday meant Bayern's three-point cushion on top of the table had been erased by kick-off

BERLIN: Bayern Munich saw their lead in the Bundesliga cut to just one point on Saturday after Randal Kolo Muani’s equalizer held the German champions to a 1-1 draw with Eintracht Frankfurt.
The result was Bayern’s third consecutive 1-1 draw, with the reigning German champions still looking for their first win of 2023.
Union Berlin’s 2-0 derby win over city rivals Hertha earlier on Saturday meant Bayern’s three-point cushion on top of the table had been erased by kick-off.
Bayern lacked fluency early in a testy opening half, which saw both center-back Matthijs de Ligt and goalkeeper Yann Sommer pick up yellow cards.
With 34 minutes gone, former Man City forward Leroy Sane settled his team’s nerves by hammering a cross from veteran forward Thomas Mueller past the outstretched hand of Frankfurt ‘keeper Kevin Trapp.
After the goal, Bayern rekindled their early season form and produced their best spell of the match, with France defender Dayot Upamecano going close to doubling their lead just three minutes later.
Bayern continued to push for a second goal after the break but Frankfurt, who had only lost once in their previous 11 games in all competitions dating back to early October, looked dangerous on the break.
Eintracht coach Oliver Glasner brought on Japan international Daichi Kamada just past the hour and the change had an almost immediate impact, Kamada exchanging passes with Kolo Muani before the latter struck the ball past Sommer and into the net.
Earlier on Saturday, Union took the lead away to Hertha late in the first half through Dutch defender Danilho Doekhi, who headed in a free-kick from captain Christopher Trimmel.
Union doubled their lead halfway through the second half through midfielder Paul Seguin to run out victors over a spirited but toothless Hertha.
Visiting fans began singing “city champions” with 10 minutes remaining, celebrating their fifth consecutive derby win.
Union’s win deepened the woes of Hertha, who are second bottom having won just three games all season.
After the match, Union coach Urs Fischer sought to play down expectations, telling AFP’s sports subsidiary SID that his side “did not look like a top team.”
“It was a hard-fought derby. It was close over 90 minutes. In the end, we were lucky winners. We were efficient,” he said.
Elsewhere, Freiburg beat Augsburg 3-1 at home to move into fourth place.
First-half goals by towering Austrian striker Michael Gregoritsch and fellow forward Lucas Hoeler put Freiburg in the driving seat.
A 29th-minute penalty from Mergim Berisha gave the visitors hope, but Freiburg sealed their first win of 2023 through an 85th-minute strike from Philipp Lienhart.
In Bremen, Germany striker Niclas Fuellkrug scored both his side’s goals in a 2-1 win over Wolfsburg, overtaking RB Leipzig forward Christopher Nkunku to top the Bundesliga scoring charts with 13 goals this season.
Promoted Bremen, who had lost six of their past eight matches came up against an in-form Wolfsburg who were unbeaten in 11 games under former Bayern coach Niko Kovac.
Borussia Moenchengladbach compounded Hoffenheim’s misery with a 4-1 away win.
Two first-half goals and a second-half assist for captain Lars Stindl from midfielder Jonas Hofmann, Gladbach’s only representative in Germany’s 2022 World Cup squad, gave the visitors a comfortable victory.
Hoffenheim suffered their sixth defeat in their last eight games, leaving them just three points clear of the relegation playoff spot.
Mainz overcame the disappointment of Wednesday’s last-gasp loss to Borussia Dortmund, thrashing Bochum 5-2 at home, their first win in seven league matches dating back to October.
A hat-trick from Austrian forward Karim Onisiwo, plus goals by Lee Jae-sung and Silvan Widmer lifted Mainz into 11th ahead of a midweek German Cup meeting at home with Bayern.


Pedri earns subdued Barca nervy derby win at Girona

Pedri earns subdued Barca nervy derby win at Girona
Updated 28 January 2023

Pedri earns subdued Barca nervy derby win at Girona

Pedri earns subdued Barca nervy derby win at Girona
  • Pedri netted the only goal from close range after an hour at an icy Montilivi on his 100th appearance for Barcelona
  • Despite the narrow margin of victory, Xavi believes his team is significantly stronger than when he took over in November 2021

GIRONA, Spain: Barcelona midfielder Pedri Gonzalez earned his side a tense 1-0 Catalan derby victory at Girona on Saturday, opening a six-point gap ahead of Real Madrid at the top of La Liga.
With Carlo Ancelotti’s side hosting high-flying Real Sociedad on Sunday, Barca put their rivals under pressure to get a result and keep up with them in the title race.
Pedri netted the only goal from close range after an hour at an icy Montilivi on his 100th appearance for Barcelona, after replacing the injured Ousmane Dembele.
The French forward limped off in the first half, pulling up after a sprint and asking to be replaced, a blow for Barcelona considering his superb recent form.
Barca coach Xavi Hernandez said the winger appeared to have a quadriceps injury.
Despite the narrow margin of victory, Xavi believes his team is significantly stronger than when he took over in November 2021.
“We have to be self-critical and improve in many ways, but we are happy, we have to look at where we came from,” Xavi told reporters.
“The change to the team and a lot of players is big, we have many things to improve on, but we’re on the right path.
“I think the (biggest difference) is the confidence of the players — when we arrived their confidence was on the floor.”
Defensively the Catalans have been strong, conceding just six league goals this season and winning their last three matches 1-0 — they are unbeaten in 13 consecutive matches across all competitions.
“I think at grounds like this you have to win, however you do it,” Barcelona defender Jules Kounde told DAZN.
“We can play better, but in these away games, against opponents playing well, winning is vital.
“I think keeping a clean sheet is key. The whole team works defensively, not just the back four. Everyone is working well.”


The league leaders were still without suspended Polish striker Robert Lewandowski, missing his final game after a three-match ban.
Girona created the first chance after just three minutes, Rodrigo Riquelme’s smooth through ball feeding Yan Couto, whose shot was blocked.
Dembele also had an effort deflected away at the other end after Ansu Fati won the ball from goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga.
The French winger, who fired Barcelona into the Copa del Rey semifinals against Real Sociedad midweek, was forced off injured after 25 minutes.
Dembele’s first years at Barcelona were hampered by injuries but since Xavi’s arrival, the forward had been able to stay fit and firing.
Xavi brought on Jordi Alba for Marcos Alonso at the break and it made the difference for Barcelona, who had been sluggish.
The left-back set up Pedri’s opener with a cross from the left, tapped in by the Spaniard at the back post at the end of the first incisive move Barcelona had put together all game.
Pedri, whom Xavi had intended to rest, reached a century of appearances for Barca at just 20 years old and celebrated with his 15th goal for the club.
“I know I have to improve in front of goal (but) right now they are going in for me,” Pedri told DAZN.
Ronald Araujo headed a cross off his own goal line under pressure as Girona pushed for an equalizer, throwing men forward.
Ivan Martin missed a fine chance in stoppage time for the hosts as Barcelona lost all control of the game but survived a nervy finale to earn the win.
Girona also appealed for a penalty as Eric Garcia tangled with Cristhian Stuani in the area.
“There are situations in the box in which these tangles are given and sometimes not,” said Girona coach Michel, who was sent off in stoppage time for complaining about a foul by Frenkie de Jong.
“Today, the final result is not due to the refereeing performance, I prefer to say these games are won by the players.”
Earlier Cadiz climbed out of the relegation zone with a 2-0 win over Real Mallorca.


Rybakina says struggled under Sabalenka ‘pressure’ in final loss

Rybakina says struggled under Sabalenka ‘pressure’ in final loss
Updated 13 min 39 sec ago

Rybakina says struggled under Sabalenka ‘pressure’ in final loss

Rybakina says struggled under Sabalenka ‘pressure’ in final loss
  • Rybakina powered down nine aces and 31 winners over two hours and 28 minutes of punch and counter-punch
  • Sabalenka was unstoppable on Rod Laver Arena

MELBOURNE: Elena Rybakina said she struggled with the “pressure” and aggression from Aryna Sabalenka in falling to defeat in the Australian Open final on Saturday.
The Russian-born Kazakh gave as good as she got over three pulsating sets at Melbourne Park before losing 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the face of some ferocious hitting from fifth seed Sabalenka.
Rybakina, who has one of the most potent serves in women’s tennis and some of the fiercest groundstrokes, powered down nine aces and 31 winners over two hours and 28 minutes of punch and counter-punch.
But Sabalenka was unstoppable on Rod Laver Arena, the Belarusian juggernaut hitting back with 17 aces of her own and 51 winners, finally getting over the line on her fourth match point.
“I would say that not many girls can put me really under that sort of pressure,” Rybakina, 23, told reporters.
“She has a great serve and she plays really aggressive. Her ball is coming very heavy.

“I just knew that I had to serve well. It’s also pressure in the end, as soon as I have an opportunity, take it.
“Today I had some opportunities and didn’t take. The match didn’t go my way.”
Wimbledon champion Rybakina has now failed to beat Sabalenka in all of their four meetings and admitted she needs to improve if she is to break her duck.
“With Aryna now, the score is 0-4,” Rybakina said. “I would say the most challenging for me now is to play against Aryna again and get a win.
“Against a powerful player like her, I need to play more to improve.”
Rybakina will have the consolation of breaking into the top 10 for the first time, after reaching her second Grand Slam final in seven months.
She was awarded no ranking points for her Wimbledon win because of the ban on Russian and Belarusian players there.
“I don’t think tomorrow I’m going to feel different just because of the ranking now,” said Rybakina, who is projected to rise to 10th from her current 25th on Monday when the new rankings are published.
“But, I mean, for sure it’s going to be different in the smaller tournaments. I’m going to be seeded and maybe in some tournaments I’m not going to play first round, so of course there is some benefits.”