Cheers: Morocco last Arab team left standing in World Cup

Cheers: Morocco last Arab team left standing in World Cup
Morocco's supporters celebrate their team's qualification for the next round of the World Cup after their victory in the Group F football match against Canada in Doha. (AFP)
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Updated 02 December 2022

Cheers: Morocco last Arab team left standing in World Cup

Cheers: Morocco last Arab team left standing in World Cup
  • Morocco beat Canada 2-1 to finish top of their group in a stadium thronged with their supporters

DOHA/RABAT: Moroccan fans celebrated on Thursday as their country became the only Arab nation to reach the knockout rounds of the first World Cup held in an Arab country, dancing and cheering in the stadium in Qatar and on the streets back home.

Morocco beat Canada 2-1 to finish top of their group in a stadium thronged with their supporters. In earlier matches they had tied with Croatia and scored a surprise win over Belgium, the second-ranked team in the world.

“This team can go all the way in this World Cup!” shouted a young woman draped in a Moroccan flag, leaning from the window of a packed car in Rabat as people rushed toward a central district to join street celebrations.

In Qatar, where the home team along with Saudi Arabia and Tunisia have already been knocked out, Morocco now carries the mantle for an Arab world that has cheered victories by Arab teams against some of the tournament favorites.

Hundreds of fans crowded outside the stadium, some pushing and shoving and others trying to climb a fence to get in even after the game had begun, a Reuters journalist there said. Many lacked tickets but hoped to see the game.

“Fans crowded here because they can’t enter the stadium. Almost all these fans have no ticket and they love Morocco and want to get in,” said one, Abdulmajid Mohammed, from Saudi Arabia.

The crowding also left some fans who said they had tickets unable to enter. “We have tickets but they closed all the doors and are not letting people in,” said Mohammad Abdelhadi from Libya, who said his group’s tickets each cost more than $200.

FIFA and Qatar’s World Cup organizers, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on the crowding outside the stadium.

The deafening support has been a 12th man for the side.

“They proved on the pitch that they are lions... honestly as a Saudi we lost yesterday but we made up for that loss with Morocco’s win,” said Talal Ahmed Obeid, watching at a fan zone in Casablanca.

While Morocco is a proud member of the Arab League, the country has also in recent decades embraced its African identity and Berber lineage, enshrining Amazigh as an official language.

“We hope to fly the flag of African football high,” said Morocco coach Walid Regragui on Wednesday.

Mohamed Tahiri, a lawyer out celebrating in Rabat among crowds waving flags and honking car horns despite the rainy weather, said Morocco was the only team left for Arabs to identify with.

“This is a day of celebration not only for us Moroccans but for all Arabs and for all the Amazigh North Africans too,” he said.

People had already been out looking for cafes with televisions to watch the game hours before kickoff.

“My generation is experiencing this for the first time,” said Oufae Abidar, 38, a company employee. She was a toddler when Morocco last reached the knockout phase in 1986. Morocco’s last World Cup appearance, four years ago, ended in the group stage.

Back in Doha, Omani national Saeed Al Maskari, 30, said he would be supporting Morocco now. “We are in the Asian part (of the Arab region) and they are in the African part. But we speak one language,” he said. 


Marseille score rare home win against rivals PSG in French Cup

Marseille score rare home win against rivals PSG in French Cup
Updated 14 sec ago

Marseille score rare home win against rivals PSG in French Cup

Marseille score rare home win against rivals PSG in French Cup
  • Marseille’s previous win at the Velodrome against PSG in all competitions dated back to November 2011

MARSEILLE: Marseille celebrated their first home win against Paris Saint-Germain in more than a decade to reach the quarterfinals of the French Cup, beating their bitter rival 2-1 on Wednesday.

Cheered on by buoyant fans at a packed Stade Velodrome, Marseille had rarely looked so dominant against PSG since the Paris club started their supremacy in France after Qatari investors took over.

Marseille’s previous win at the Velodrome against PSG in all competitions dated back to November 2011.

Alexis Sanchez put the hosts in front in the fixture known as “Le Classique” of French soccer, and Ukraine attacking midfielder Ruslan Malinovskyi scored the winner after Sergio Ramos pulled one back.

“We are delighted to progress to the next round, the French Cup is one of our goals,” Marseille captain Valentin Rongier said. “Our fans had been waiting for that win, we are so happy to share it with them.”

It was PSG’s third loss this season. It came ahead of a major test as Bayern Munich travel to the French capital for the first leg of their round-of-16 match in the Champions League on Feb. 14.

Igor Tudor’s players imposed an intense pressing from the start that destabilized PSG. Second-best in all sectors, the visitors were pegged in their own half and Marseille piled up chances in the first half.

The hosts could have been awarded a penalty after Achraf Hakimi elbowed the ball in the area, but referee Francois Letexier ignored calls from Marseille players.

Marseille came close with efforts from Sead Kolasinac and Cengiz Under before Sanchez dribbled past Sergio Ramos on the right side and cut back inside the box, with the Spain defender bringing him down.

This time, Letexier pointed to the spot and Sanchez wrong-footed Gianluigi Donnarumma in the 31th minute for his 11th goal in a Marseille shirt.

On the back foot, PSG had to rely on individual talent to respond. Neymar hit the post with a long-range shot.

Marseille, however, continued their dominance and could have doubled their lead before halftime as Jonathan Clauss forced a good save from Donnarumma on the counter.

But it was PSG who pulled one back against the run of play just before the break when Ramos, left unmarked in the box, headed home a corner.

PSG, missing Kylian Mbappe through injury, played higher in the second half and the game was more balanced, progressing at a slower pace.

Marseille again went ahead in the 57th when Malinovskyi, who joined the southern side on loan during the winter transfer window, fired a superb strike from outside the box past Donnarumma after defenders failed to clear the ball. PSG pressed hard in the closing stages but could not find an edge.

PSG and Marseille are first and second in the French league, respectively. They will meet again on Feb. 26 at the Velodrome in the league.

Earlier, French Cup holder Nantes snatched a late equalizer against Angers before prevailing in a penalty shootout to advance to the quarterfinals.

After conceding an early goal, Nantes struggled to find an edge until Florent Mollet beat goalkeeper Paul Bernardoni with a powerful half-volley with three minutes left.

The match finished 1-1 and Nantes’ players were flawless during the 4-2 shootout while Amine Salama and Faouzi Ghoulam missed for the hosts.

Lyon wasted a two-goal lead but also advanced 4-2 on penalties against top-tier rival Lille after finishing 2-2.

Goals from Ryan Cherki and Alexandre Lacazette had given Lyon a 2-0 advantage after 21 minutes. Jonathan David pulled one back in the 29th before Edon Zhegrova leveled soon after the hour-mark. Lyon goalkeeper Anthony Lopes then denied Mohamed Bayo’s effort during the shootout before Timothy Weah hit the crossbar.

Second-division side Rodez beat Auxerre 3-2, with Grenoble and Annecy also advancing. Reims lost 3-1 at Toulouse.


Man United mount fightback to draw 2-2 with Leeds

Man United mount fightback to draw 2-2 with Leeds
Updated 09 February 2023

Man United mount fightback to draw 2-2 with Leeds

Man United mount fightback to draw 2-2 with Leeds
  • Erik ten Hag’s team missed the chance to move level on points with second-place Manchester City

MANCHESTER, England: Manchester United fought back from a two-goal deficit to draw 2-2 with Leeds in the Premier League on Wednesday.

Substitute Jadon Sancho rescued a point for Erik ten Hag’s team, which missed the chance to move level on points with second-place Manchester City.

Leeds fired Jesse Marsch on Monday. They are still waiting for a first win in the league since Nov. 5, but moved a point clear of the relegation zone.

Both teams, however, will feel they missed the opportunity to take more from the thrilling match at Old Trafford.

Leeds stunned the home crowd by taking the lead after just 55 seconds through Wilfried Gnonto and looked on course for victory when Raphael Varane deflected Crysencio Summerville’s cross into his own net three minutes after halftime.

United got back into the game through Marcus Rashford’s header in the 62nd and Sancho equalized in the 70th.

But on a night when United were looking to cut the gap on leader Arsenal to five points, it remains seven behind the London club having played two more games.


Dream of an all-Arab Club World Cup final is over as Al-Ahly fall to Real Madrid

Dream of an all-Arab Club World Cup final is over as Al-Ahly fall to Real Madrid
Updated 32 min 49 sec ago

Dream of an all-Arab Club World Cup final is over as Al-Ahly fall to Real Madrid

Dream of an all-Arab Club World Cup final is over as Al-Ahly fall to Real Madrid
  • The Spanish giants beat the Egyptian side 4-1 in a game that was not as one-sided as the score might suggest, and will take on Saudi champs Al-Hilal in Saturday’s decider

The dream of an all-Arab FIFA Club World Cup final is over, after Real Madrid defeated Al-Ahly of Egypt 4-1 on Wednesday in the second semi-final.

It came a day after Al-Hilal claimed their place in the final with an impressive victory over Brazilian side Flamengo. And though they will not face their regional rivals, the reality of the situation is still pretty special: The Saudi and Asian title-holders will face the 14-time European champions in Saturday’s decider. Either the Riyadh giants will be crowned world champions for the first time or their Madrid counterparts will take the title for a fifth time.

Al-Ahly, meanwhile, will have to watch as their regional neighbors take on arguably the biggest club in the world and, perhaps, rue what might have been, because the one-sided scoreline on Wednesday did not reflect the problems they caused Real Madrid.

Regardless, the Red Giants can take some comfort from the fact that although they fell short against Los Blancos, as have many before them, they did themselves, their country and their continent proud. There is no doubt that Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti’s words of comfort and consolation for opposite number Marcel Koller were heartfelt. The game was an enthralling and tight contest until the final few minutes. The 10-time African champions, unbeaten in the Egyptian Premier League after 15 games this season under Koller, and victorious in this tournament over Oceania champions Auckland City and CONCACAF title-holders the Seattle Sounders, gave as good as they got.

After 18 minutes, Mohammed Sherif fired just over the bar from the left side of the area and, soon after, Mohammed Abdelmonem’s header from a corner also narrowly cleared the woodwork. On the half-hour mark, Madrid goalkeeper Andriy Lunin saved well from a Hussein El-Shahat shot. It was all looking very promising for the Egyptians.

That effort came just after Real striker Rodrygo had burst into the left side of the area and hit the post. Indeed, as the half progressed, the Europeans looked more and more dangerous. Still, it was looking as if the two teams were going to go into the dressing rooms at half-time level — only for the Spanish side to open the scoring.

A mix-up in the Egyptian defense let in Vinicius Junior and the Brazilian winger lifted the ball smartly over goalkeeper Mohammed El-Shenawy.

The next goal was always going to be crucial and once again it went the way of the team in light blue. Just after the restart, a smart through ball from Luka Modric found Rodrygo in the area. His shot was blocked but there was Federico Valverde, who had time to steady himself, pick his spot and extend his team’s lead.

It seemed as if the game as a contest was over but, almost immediately, the impressive El-Shahat had a great chance to reduce Madrid’s lead. It was not to be.

Just after the hour, however, Al-Ahly were handed a lifeline, in the form of a penalty, when El-Shahat was brought down by Eduardo Camavinga. Ali Maaloul stepped up and left Lunin with no chance. Suddenly anything was possible and, seconds later, the North Africans should have been level, only for Afsha to shoot high from a great position. At this point, the African side were looking more likely to score than their opponents.

But then, with five minutes left, the video assistant referee ruled that Vinicius had been brought down in the area by Amr El-Solia. It was a soft penalty and justice was done when El-Shenawy saved well from Modric’s spot-kick. In the end, though, it did not matter as Rodrygo added his second and his team’s third in stoppage time. It was harsh on Al-Ahly, and even more so when substitute Sergio Arribas added a fourth with the last kick of the game.

Now the most successful team in the history of this tournament, with four titles, have a chance to make it five but they will know it will not be easy. Al-Hilal have already disposed of Wydad AC, the African champions who were playing on home soil, and then South American champions Flamengo in a thrilling semi-final. The La Liga giants will be strong favorites but Al-Hilal have nothing to lose.

Al-Ahly, meanwhile, can finish third for a third tournament in a row if they defeat Flamengo at the weekend, before returning home to what is looking like a very promising Egyptian Premier League season for them.


FIFA rules panel to debate more stoppage time in games

FIFA rules panel to debate more stoppage time in games
Updated 08 February 2023

FIFA rules panel to debate more stoppage time in games

FIFA rules panel to debate more stoppage time in games
  • Changes agreed on March 4 can take effect next season
  • Organizers such as individual domestic leagues have not followed FIFA's example

ZURICH: The 10-plus minutes of stoppage time that were a regular feature of games at the World Cup in Qatar are back on soccer’s agenda.
FIFA’s rule-making panel known as IFAB put additional time on the agenda published Wednesday for its annual meeting next month. Changes agreed on March 4 can take effect next season.
Talks are scheduled on “possible measures to create fairer conditions for both teams in terms of the amount of time available in a match, with a particular focus on a stricter calculation of additional time.”
Games of 100 minutes became routine at the last World Cup as referees followed FIFA advice to add on more accurate amounts for stoppages due to goal celebrations, injuries, video reviews and substitutions.
The directive was part of a long-standing FIFA aim to create more active playing time on the field and give fans and viewers better value.
It led to record-setting long games at the World Cup with a slew of stoppage-time additions of more than 10 minutes early in the tournament.
Though a head injury helped to cause 14-plus minutes of stoppage time in the first half of England-Iran, there were more than 13 minutes added to the second half of Saudi Arabia’s stunning 2-1 win over eventual champion Argentina.
The United States’ 1-1 draw with Wales on the second day of the tournament kicked off at 10 p.m. in Doha and finished the next day once almost 11 minutes were added to the second half.
Organizers such as individual domestic leagues have not followed FIFA’s example, though some said they were unwilling to change policy midseason and would revisit the subject in the offseason.
FIFA trials at the Club World Cup in Morocco of live broadcasts during video reviews of communications between match officials will also be discussed at the IFAB meeting in London.
Other subjects include allowing an extra substitute for teams when a player sustains a suspected concussion, though not the emergency temporary replacements requested by the global players’ union FIFPRO and some head injury experts.
The IFAB panel includes representative of FIFA and the four British soccer federations. The voting structure weighted toward FIFA means soccer’s world body can veto any proposal.


Brittney Griner absent from USA camp, but keeping in touch

Brittney Griner absent from USA camp, but keeping in touch
Updated 08 February 2023

Brittney Griner absent from USA camp, but keeping in touch

Brittney Griner absent from USA camp, but keeping in touch
  • “She (Griner) wants to be a part of this like no one else,” Taurasi said
  • Griner has said she'll play for Phoenix again this season, although she's still an unsigned free agent

DUBAI: Brittney Griner texted her good friend Diana Taurasi on Tuesday asking how the USA Basketball training camp was going.
Griner was back in Arizona, choosing to skip the camp in Minnesota so she can be with her partner and recover from her time in a Russian jail.
She returned to the US in December after a dramatic prisoner swap.
“She wants to be a part of this like no one else,” Taurasi said. “So, she’ll get there eventually. She’ll find her footing.”
Taurasi said the two talk regularly now that Griner is home in Phoenix. They work out together as well as chat and text each other often.
“We’ve been on the court together working out. We’ve sat down and talked for hours,” Taurasi said. “It’s been really nice to reconnect. It’s good to see her smile. Good to give her a hug. Know she was alive and still had the ability to be thankful and happy.”
There was a time during Griner’s 10-month ordeal in Russia that the 40-year-old Taurasi wasn’t sure she’d ever see her friend again.
“Every single day we suffered and hoped she’d be back and not until I saw her did I really believe it. And just to see her smile, just to see her free, was really emotional for everyone,” Taurasi said. “And we knew, at the same time, the minute she got into that plane and we got to Phoenix, there was going to be a whole new set of challenges, a whole new reality, a whole new way of living life for BG.”
Griner has said she’ll play for Phoenix again this season, although she’s still an unsigned free agent. She hasn’t talked about her international future and potentially playing for the US at the Olympics next year in Paris. She has helped the US win two gold medals at the Olympics already.
USA Basketball coach Cheryl Reeve said Monday that she hasn’t talked to Griner yet, but the organization made it clear that she could take all the time she needed to decide if she wanted to play for the US again.
“We’ve missed her and when she’s ready we’ll welcome her back,” Reeve said.