DOHA: Morocco jeopardized Belgium’s World Cup hopes as Abdelhamid Sabiri and Zakaria Aboukhlal’s late goals secured a surprise 2-0 triumph in Doha on Sunday.
Belgium, third in Russia four years ago, could have qualified for the last 16 with victory but instead produced another insipid display after their fortunate opening win over Canada.
Substitute Sabiri was the hero thanks to a 73rd-minute free-kick which Thibaut Courtois allowed to bounce in at his near post, before Aboukhlal grabbed a second in stoppage time.
The tens of thousands of Morocco supporters responded by cheering their team home at a raucous Al Thumama Stadium.
Morocco replace Belgium at the top of Goup F and know they will qualify for the knockout phase for the first time since 1986 if they can avoid defeat against Canada on Thursday.
Belgium, the world’s second-ranked side, will have to beat 2018 runners-up Croatia to be sure of going through.
Roberto Martinez’s aging side have reached at least the quarter-finals of each of the past four major tournaments.
Belgium, whose captain Eden Hazard has admitted are not as good as in 2018, lacked spark and were made to pay by inspired opposition.
Morocco were dealt a blow after the national anthems when goalkeeper Yassine Bounou appeared to gesture he would not be able to play.
The experienced Munir El Kajoui was sent out in his place.
The Atlas Lions fans vastly outnumbered their Belgian counterparts and breathed a sigh of relief when the Europeans almost grabbed a fourth-minute lead.
Hazard played in Michy Batshuayi whose effort from a tight angle was kept out by Munir.
Belgium dominated the early exchanges but Morocco did manage a shot at goal when Hakim Ziyech fired over from distance.
The African side continued to grow into the contest and Selim Amallah, who was born in Belgium, volleyed into the stands before Achraf Hakimi blazed a presentable chance off target.
The crowd erupted in raucous celebration when Ziyech’s free-kick flew all the way into the net in first-half injury time.
But the goal was ruled out after a VAR check, as Romain Saiss was leaning just offside and the former Wolves defender was in ‘keeper Courtois’ eyeline.
Both teams started the second period brightly, with Ziyech shooting straight at Courtois and Hazard bringing a save from Munir at his near post.
Sofiane Boufal almost broke the deadlock in the 57th minute after a jinking run but bent the ball narrowly wide of the far post.
Martinez made two changes on the hour mark, replacing the ineffective Hazard with Dries Mertens and bringing on Youri Tielemans for Amadou Onana in midfield.
Mertens almost made an immediate impact when his strike from just outside the area was beaten away by Munir.
The deadlock was finally broken with 17 minutes remaining as Sabiri’s free-kick from near the touchline, much like for Ziyech’s ruled out goal, caught out a flat-footed Courtois.
Martinez threw on Romelu Lukaku, expected to miss the game injured, in a desperate attempt to get back into the match.
But Belgium had long since run out of ideas and it was Morocco who scored the second goal of the game.
Brilliant play by Ziyech created space in the area for Aboukhlal to lash the Chelsea winger’s pull-back into the roof of the net.
Any tension in the stands was lifted and the Morocco fans were able to celebrate their first World Cup win in 24 years.
Belgium slip to shock World Cup defeat by Morocco
Belgium slip to shock World Cup defeat by Morocco
- Abdelhamid Sabiri and Zakaria Aboukhlal’s late goals secured a surprise 2-0 triumph in Doha
- Belgium produced another insipid display after their fortunate opening win over Canada
DOHA: Morocco jeopardized Belgium’s World Cup hopes as Abdelhamid Sabiri and Zakaria Aboukhlal’s late goals secured a surprise 2-0 triumph in Doha on Sunday.
Djokovic wins Australian Open to equal Nadal’s Grand Slam record
- Djokovic defeated the Greek third seed Tsitsipas 6-3, 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (7/5) at the Rod Laver Arena
- The Serb’s dominant win drew him level with Nadal on a record 22 Slams, two clear of now-retired Roger Federer
MELBOURNE: An emotional Novak Djokovic called it “the biggest victory in my life” after sweeping past Stefanos Tsitsipas to win a 10th Australian Open title and equal Rafael Nadal’s 22 Grand Slam crowns on Sunday.
The Serb will return to world number one as he overcame a hamstring injury and off-court drama to defeat the Greek third seed 6-3, 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (7/5) on Rod Laver Arena.
The 35-year-old climbed to his player’s box afterwards to embrace his mother and broke down in uncontrollable tears, collapsing to the ground sobbing.
His father Srdjan was again missing after he sparked controversy by posing with a fan carrying a Russian flag featuring Vladimir Putin’s face following his son’s quarter-final win.
The emphatic victory over Tsitsipas capped a remarkable return for Djokovic to Melbourne Park, having missed last year’s tournament when he was deported over his Covid vaccination stance.
“I have to say this has been one of the most challenging tournaments I’ve ever played considering the circumstances, not playing last year, coming back this year,” he said, wearing a jacket with 22 emblazoned on it.
“I want to thank all the people that made me feel welcome, comfortable, to be in Melbourne.
“I try to pinch myself and really live through these moments, it’s a long journey,” added Djokovic, who was more emotional than usual.
“Only my team and family know what we have been through in the last four or five weeks and this is why I’d probably say this is the biggest victory in my life considering the circumstances.”
There had been an air of inevitability about Djokovic triumphing once more.
After his three-year ban from Australia was lifted, he won the lead-up Adelaide International before reinforcing his status as an all-time great in Melbourne.
His dominant win drew him level with Nadal on a record 22 Slams, two clear of now-retired Roger Federer.
The Spanish great made a second-round exit with a hip injury, one of a series of shocks which upended the men’s and women’s draws during the first major of the year.
“I guess we always find the A-game on the Slams,” Djokovic said of equalling his old rival Nadal. “This is what I feel both Nadal and myself probably still fight for.
“It is still what motivates us the most, winning the biggest titles in our sport and trying to keep up with the young guns.
“Tennis is in good hands,” he added. “But we’re still not going anywhere.”
Nadal and Djokovic have won 16 of the last 19 Slams.
The 36-year-old Spaniard though is set to slide down the rankings when they are released on Monday, in contrast to Djokovic.
The Serb will dethrone Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz and return to the top for the first time since June. Tsitsipas will climb one place to three.
Both men were back on a court that helped them rise to stardom.
Djokovic won his first Grand Slam in 2008 on Rod Laver Arena while Tsitsipas burst on the scene in 2019 when he stunned defending champion Federer in the last 16.
Moving freely with only minimal strapping on his troublesome left hamstring, Djokovic opened with a comfortable hold after being greeted by huge cheers.
He worked two break points on Tsitsipas’s opening serve, to no avail, but kept probing and the Greek handed him a break for 3-1 with a careless double fault.
Tsitsipas, 24, in only his second Grand Slam final to Djokovic’s 33rd, appeared nervous, losing the first set.
But he battled back into contention in a much closer second set as his confidence grew, earning his first break point — and set point — when Djokovic blasted a backhand wide.
But the Serb clung on to keep the set on serve and it went to a tiebreak, where his greater experience roared to the fore.
Against the odds, Tsitsipas broke for the first time on Djokovic’s opening serve in set three, only to relinquish the advantage immediately after a gripping rally.
It again went to a tiebreak, where Djokovic once again raised a level.
“I’ve had the privilege to play a lot of difficult, high-intensity matches, but I would like to say one more time Novak brings the best out in me,” said Tsitsipas, who is still yet to win a major.
“He’s the greatest that has ever held a tennis racquet, for sure.
“I don’t think there’s any reason for me to be affected by today’s loss,” he added.
“It is a step forward. I’m looking forward to scoring more points during this season, making bigger results, fighting for bigger trophies.”
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 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
- 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 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.