Heroic Morocco make history to reach World Cup quarter-finals

Special Heroic Morocco make history to reach World Cup quarter-finals
Morocco players celebrate after winning the penalty shoot-out against Spain at Education City Stadium in Al-Rayyan, west of Doha, Dec. 6, 2022. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 07 December 2022

Heroic Morocco make history to reach World Cup quarter-finals

Heroic Morocco make history to reach World Cup quarter-finals
  • Penalty shootout win over Spain means Atlas Lions are first Arab nation to reach last eight
  • Achraf Hakimi scored the crucial spot kick to light the touch-paper in an already febrile Education City Stadium

Morocco are in dreamland and in the quarter-finals of the World Cup after a historic 3-0 penalty shootout victory over Spain on Tuesday after 120 minutes ended 0-0.

It is by some distance the greatest result in Morocco’s history, and the Arab world now has a team in the last eight for the first time ever. And now who knows how far they can go?

Achraf Hakimi scored the crucial spot kick to light the touch-paper in an already febrile Education City Stadium. 

With Senegal, the US, Australia, Japan and South Korea falling by the wayside earlier in the second round, Morocco were not just the last Arab hope but the only team left at Qatar 2022 not from the traditional power centers of Europe and South America. 

There was plenty of support for the team from all around the world and how they delivered against a genuine powerhouse.

Spain were still regarded as clear favorites despite collecting just four points from their group, three less than the Arab record notched up by the Atlas Lions, who finished top of Group F above Croatia, Belgium and Canada.

Such is the pedigree of a nation that lifted the trophy just 12 years ago, and it is that level that Morocco are aiming for. They are not far away as this victory proves.

Whatever the result at the end of the 90 or 120 minutes, Morocco are now a team to be reckoned with and not an opponent to be under-rated.

The same goes for their fans. Once again, it was a sea of red that produced waves of noise that crashed around Education City Stadium. As much as the team, the Moroccan fans have really made their presence felt at the World Cup. The support has been monumental from the start.

From offset, they roared their heroes into every tackle and every run. When Sofiane Boufal danced down the left midway through the first half, you could have closed your eyes and felt like you were in Rabat, Fez or Agadir.

Spain were dangerous, however, and capable of breaking free at any time.

Before the game, Morocco had conceded just one goal in seven under Walid Regragui and that was an own goal against Canada in the final group game. 

This was their toughest test by far and, if there was to be any chance of going through, the defense had to hold firm. With Spain enjoying the lion’s share of possession, the Moroccan players had to stay focused and they did, allowing just one shot in the first half.

Nasser Mazraoui has improved with every game, and the Bayern Munich star forced a good save out of the Spanish number one just after the half-hour. With Hakim Ziyech and Achraf Hakimi combining well down the right and the opposition looking smooth in the middle, it was a fascinating clash. 

Just before the break, Morocco had the chance of the half with Boufal enjoying a free header that was missed.

The second half continued in a similar fashion though as the minutes ticked by, Spain had more of the ball (80 percent after 90 minutes) but were still struggling to create chances with Morocco defending well and looking to hit on the counter.

Even with 20 minutes remaining, the shadow of a longer game was looming large, though both teams had chances. Spain almost snatched a goal in the final seconds of normal time.

Morocco had their best period of the match early in extra time. The game was on a knife-edge with the Arab team continuing to defend magnificently.

If extra time seemed inevitable, penalties did not. Both teams had chances to win in the final half hour with Spain hitting the post with virtually the last kick of the game.

The first kick of the shootout was converted by Abdelhamid Sabiri and when Pablo Sarabia hit the post, a whole nation started to believe. Ziyech made it 2-0, then Carlos Soler saw his kick saved and the roof was being raised.

Badr Benoun failed to convert but it didn’t matter when Sergio Busquets became the third Spaniard to miss. Up stepped Hakimi and the rest is history.


Mekkonen returns to Dubai Marathon’s ‘life-changing’ streets

Mekkonen returns to Dubai Marathon’s ‘life-changing’ streets
Updated 31 January 2023

Mekkonen returns to Dubai Marathon’s ‘life-changing’ streets

Mekkonen returns to Dubai Marathon’s ‘life-changing’ streets
  • Former champion confirmed for Feb. 12 race after winning in 2014, finishing third in 2016

DUBAI: Former winner and unofficial junior world record holder Tsegaye Mekonnen will return to the scene of his greatest triumph when he lines up at the start of the 2023 Dubai Marathon on Feb. 12.

On his official marathon debut nine years ago, Mekonnen clinched first place as he clocked the fastest time by an 18-year-old runner in two hours, four minutes and 32 seconds, nine seconds shy of the course record and 69 seconds off the world record — a time he was on course to beat at the half-way split.

Twelve months earlier, the young Ethiopian had taken part in Dubai as a pacemaker so the whirlwind start to his marathon career was as unexpected as it was explosive. Two years later he was back running over the streets he described as “life-changing”, finishing third in the 2016 Dubai Marathon.

Still the youngest winner in the history of the Middle East’s oldest Marathon, Mekonnen has an impressive CV as a young runner with his 2014 Dubai victory being the third fastest time in history by an athlete making his full marathon debut.

Held under the aegis of the Dubai Sports Council, the 2023 Dubai Marathon will see the World Athletics Gold Label race finally return to the sporting calendar after a three-year absence.

By his own admission, victory in Dubai was a life-changing experience for the now 27-year-old. “Winning in Dubai meant I was able to buy a house in Addis Ababa and I bought a car to be able to go to training,” he said. “I was also able to stop school and concentrate fully on running. It is definitely a completely different life for me now.”

Since that mercurial debut, Mekonnen scored a fifth-place finish at the 2014 London Marathon (two hours, eight minutes and six seconds), won the 2017 Hamburg Marathon (two hours, seven minutes and 26 seconds) and finished runner-up in the 2018 Shanghai International Marathon (two hours, nine minutes and 18 seconds).

Over the past few years, he has had to deal with injury as well as a lack of race opportunities due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the runner will return to Dubai eager to rekindle old memories on the flat and fast course that changed his life and had him dreaming of a future world record.


Farah says 2023 London Marathon will be his last

Farah says 2023 London Marathon will be his last
Updated 31 January 2023

Farah says 2023 London Marathon will be his last

Farah says 2023 London Marathon will be his last
  • Farah last ran in London in 2019, coming fifth, having finished third the year before

British athletics great Mo Farah has said this year's London Marathon will likely be his last as he contemplates the end of a brilliant career.
The 40-year-old is best known for his success on the track winning gold in the 5,000 and 10,000 metres at both the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympic Games, as well as several world titles across both distances.
And while his marathon career has reached nothing like the same heights, Farah is keen to run in London again after missing last year's edition even though he will be 40 by the time of the April 23 race
"It's been an amazing career and taking part in the London Marathon is a very big deal," he said in a statement issued by event organisers.
"I was gutted not to race last year and I just want to give it one more shot.
"It depends on my body. I just want to get to the start line and see what I can manage. I'm just taking one race at a time."
He added: "I'm not a spring chicken any more. You can't keep coming back in the right shape and, for me, I'd love to be able to finish it at home."
Farah has ruled out competing at the 2024 Olympics in Paris, but may yet try to finish his time as a British international at this year's World Championships in Budapest.
"I'm not going to go to the Olympics and I think 2023 will be my last year," he added.
"But if it came down to it towards the end of the year and you did get picked for your country, I'd never turn that down."
Farah last ran in London in 2019, coming fifth, having finished third the year before.
"So it's been a little while," he said. "But I'll be preparing well, I'll head out to Ethiopia and put in a lot of solid training and see what I can do when it comes to April."


Defending champions Varner III, Hall praise sporting equality at Saudi golf events

Defending champions Varner III, Hall praise sporting equality at Saudi golf events
Updated 31 January 2023

Defending champions Varner III, Hall praise sporting equality at Saudi golf events

Defending champions Varner III, Hall praise sporting equality at Saudi golf events
  • Equal prize funds on offer at PIF Saudi International (Feb. 2-5) and Aramco Saudi Ladies International (Feb. 16-19)

RIYADH: The equal prize funds available for the upcoming men’s and women’s golf tournaments in Saudi Arabia are creating a powerful statement about equality in sport, reigning champions Harold Varner III and Georgia Hall said as they prepare to defend their titles in the Kingdom over the coming weeks.

Varner and Hall were visiting Riyadh ahead of the PIF Saudi International powered by Softbank Investment Advisers (Feb. 2-5) and the Aramco Saudi Ladies International presented by PIF (Feb 16-19), to help spread the sport among a new generation of golfers at a special school clinic with boys and girls from Trbiyah Namouthajiyah School.

Hall, the 2018 Women’s British Open Champion, said: “Massive credit to Golf Saudi and the sponsors for raising the prize fund to match the men’s tournament now. It’s a massive step for the Ladies European Tour, for women’s golf, and hopefully that will help raise the bar for other tournaments and companies to do the same in the future.”

Meanwhile, Varner said: “Growing up I played golf so I can provide for my family. When players have the chance to make more money, I am happy for them. The women work so hard and commit everything to the game, so they are more than deserving of the opportunity. I’m thrilled for them and for the likes of Golf Saudi and the sponsors who do good things when they’re able to do good things.”

Talking about the growth of golf in Saudi Arabia, Varner III added: “To grow the game as professional golfers, the best thing we can do is be the best golfer. I holed that really long putt last year and people in Saudi Arabia know more about golf. Also, a cool part was being with the kids today — they’ll remember playing with Georgia and myself for a long time, they’ll be attached and hopefully carry on playing with the right opportunities.”

The PIF Saudi International, taking place at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, has been a major draw for the world’s best players, with a prize fund of $5 million up for grabs. Varner III faces stiff competition from a strong field featuring major winners such as Cameron Smith, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau at this year’s Saudi International, the opening event of the 2023 Asian Tour season in King Abdullah Economic City.

Hall has just as tough a challenge ahead as she prepares to defend her title at the same venue, with notable challengers including world No.1 Lydia Ko, No.4 Atthaya Thitikul, Ireland’s Leona Maguire and other big names in a field which features several of the world’s top 20 players.


WWE SuperStar Cody Rhodes emerges victorious at 2023 Royal Rumble

WWE SuperStar Cody Rhodes emerges victorious at 2023 Royal Rumble
Updated 31 January 2023

WWE SuperStar Cody Rhodes emerges victorious at 2023 Royal Rumble

WWE SuperStar Cody Rhodes emerges victorious at 2023 Royal Rumble
  • ‘The American Nightmare’ dispatched Logan Paul to be last man standing in the 30-wrestler match
  • Rhea Ripley won the women’s title after overcoming Becky Lynch, Liv Morgan and Bayley

With the Road to WrestleMania 39 underway, the 2023 Royal Rumble rocked the WWE Universe to its core with an unexpected win for Cody Rhodes.

With the Road to WrestleMania 39 underway, Cody Rhodes claimed an unexpected win at the 2023 Royal Rumble after dispatching Logan Paul to be the last man standing.

Fight Night kicked off with the Men’s Rumble as Intercontinental Champion Gunther and his fierce rival Sheamus entered at No. 1 and 2, respectively. Down to a head-to-head fight against Paul, “The American Nightmare” Rhodes emerged the winner of the 30-man Royal Rumble match.

Meanwhile, the women’s match saw Rhea Ripley as the last woman standing in a record-setting Royal Rumble win, defeating WWE Superstars Becky Lynch, Liv Morgan, and Bayley to earn a Women’s Championship Match at WrestleMania 39 in April.

In the championship matches, Bianca Belair defeated Alexa Bliss to retain the Raw Women’s title, while Roman Reigns defended the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship, destroying Kevin Owens in a brutal collision.

Elsewhere, the first-ever Mountain Dew Pitch Black Match proved to be a bizarre but captivating battle as Bray Wyatt triumphantly took on LA Knight in what was his first match since his return to the ring.

Match Results:

Cody Rhodes won the 2023 Men’s Royal Rumble Match to earn a World Title opportunity at WrestleMania.

Rhea Ripley won the Women’s Royal Rumble Match to earn a Women’s Championship Match at WrestleMania.

Bianca Belair defeated Alexa Bliss to retain the Raw Women’s Championship.

Roman Reigns defeated Kevin Owens to retain Undisputed WWE Universal Championship.

Bray Wyatt defeated LA Knight in Mountain Dew Pitch Black Match.


LIV Golf League’s 2023 schedule to feature 14 events in 7 countries

LIV Golf League’s 2023 schedule to feature 14 events in 7 countries
Updated 31 January 2023

LIV Golf League’s 2023 schedule to feature 14 events in 7 countries

LIV Golf League’s 2023 schedule to feature 14 events in 7 countries
  • Tournaments to take place in London, Chicago, Bedminster, Jeddah and Miami
  • New events in Orlando and Washington D.C. for Global League Launch

LONDON: LIV Golf have announced its full schedule of events for 2023 league play, including a return to five venues that hosted tournaments as part of the 2022 series.

Centurion Club outside London, England (July 7-9), Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in Bedminster, New Jersey (Aug. 11-13), Rich Harvest Farms outside Chicago, Illinois (Sept. 22-24), Trump National Doral Golf Club in Miami, Florida (Oct. 20-22) and Royal Greens Golf & Country Club near Jeddah (Nov. 3-5) will all welcome back some of the sport’s leading stars in the LIV Golf League teeing off this year.

In addition, fans in the US will see LIV Golf’s innovative league at Orange County National in Orlando, Florida (March 31-April 2) and at Trump National Golf Club, Washington D.C. (May 26-28).

These seven venues, alongside the seven previously announced dates and locations complete the 2023 LIV Golf League schedule: Mayakoba’s El Camaleon Golf Course on Mexico’s Riviera Maya (Feb. 24-26), The Gallery Golf Club in Tucson, Arizona (March 17-19), The Grange Golf Club in Adelaide, Australia (April 21-23), The Serapong at Sentosa Golf Club in Singapore (April 28-30), Cedar Ridge Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma (May 12-14), Real Club Valderrama in Andalucia, Spain (June 30-July 2) and The Greenbrier in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia (Aug. 4-6).

“We received tremendous feedback globally from fans throughout our beta-test year, with one resounding theme: LIV Golf’s team format, innovations, and festival-like events are delivering a one-of-a-kind golf experience,” said LIV Golf CEO and Commissioner Greg Norman. “Last year helped lay the foundation for the future of golf at extraordinary courses that have hosted some of the world’s top competitions. LIV Golf’s schedule features fantastic venues and championship sites for our official league launch that will carry the sport into a new era.”

Along with hosting LIV Golf tournaments, these courses collectively have hosted more than 200 professional, collegiate and amateur events, including such prestigious tournaments as the Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup, Senior PGA Championship and US Women’s Open.

Leading golf organizations and pro tours across the globe have utilized these venues, with many of the courses considered the best in their respective regions and states. Honors such as World’s 100 Greatest Courses, America’s 100 Greatest Courses, 100 Greatest Public Courses, Top 3 Best New Courses, Top 5 Best New Private Golf Courses, and Top 100 Golf Resorts have been bestowed in recent years. Three courses on the 2023 schedule (Real Club Valderrama, Sentosa Golf Club, Royal Greens Golf & Country Club) rank No. 1 in their respective countries.

LIV Golf’s international field will feature many of the sport’s biggest names including major winners Cameron Smith, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Sergio Garcia, Patrick Reed, Henrik Stenson, Bubba Watson, Louis Oosthuizen, Graeme McDowell, Martin Kaymer and Charl Schwartzel.

Final rosters for the LIV Golf League will be announced prior to the league launch, when 12 established team franchises will compete in the global 14-event schedule for an unprecedented $405 million in prize purses.