World Cup semifinalist Morocco recruit France U21 player Diop to start qualifying for 2026 edition

PSG's Achraf Hakimi, left, challenges for the ball with Nice's Sofiane Diop during their French League One match at Parc des Princes stadium on Sept. 15, 2023. Diop was picked by coach Walid Regragui for scheduled games against Eritrea and Tanzania this month. (AP)
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Updated 09 November 2023
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World Cup semifinalist Morocco recruit France U21 player Diop to start qualifying for 2026 edition

  • The 23-year-old Diop was born in France and has family ties to Morocco and Senegal
  • “He’s a player who could have chosen other countries also,” Regragui said

SALE, Morocco: World Cup semifinalist Morocco will start their qualifying campaign for the 2026 tournament with a newly-recruited France Under-21 player named in the squad for the first time Thursday.
Sofiane Diop, a midfielder with French league leader Nice, was picked by coach Walid Regragui for the scheduled games at home to Eritrea next Thursday and in Tanzania on Nov. 21.
The 23-year-old Diop was born in France and has family ties to Morocco and Senegal. FIFA rules let players change their national eligibility before they have played a senior competitive game.
“He’s a player who could have chosen other countries also,” Regragui said at a news conference. “He’s deserved to be with us.”
Eritrea are reportedly withdrawing their team from the qualifying campaign, but Regragui said FIFA has not yet confirmed cancelation of the game with Morocco in Agadir.
At the 2022 World Cup, Regragui called on several players from the Moroccan diaspora in Europe to build a squad that stunningly became the first African country to reach the semifinals.
Morocco topped a group ahead of Croatia, the 2018 World Cup beaten finalist that also reached the semifinals last year, and eliminated No. 2-ranked Belgium.
Regragui then helped Morocco eliminate Spain and Portugal in the knockout rounds before his injury-hit team lost 2-0 to France. Morocco have now united with Spain and Portugal and will co-host the 2030 World Cup.
Morocco start as strong favorite in Group E in African qualifying for the 2026 tournament being hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico. Africa has nine guaranteed places in the expanded 48-team lineup.
Morocco also will play Niger, Republic of Congo and Zambia and only the group winner in October 2025 will qualify.


Man City win historic fourth straight Premier League title

Updated 20 May 2024
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Man City win historic fourth straight Premier League title

  • The champions’ relentless surge to the finishing line has included 19 wins and four draws since their last defeat in the league, at Aston Villa in early December
  • The Gunners, without a Premier League trophy since 2004, came from a goal down to beat Everton 2-1 but had to content themselves with second place for a second straight season

MANCHESTER, United Kingdom: Manchester City created English football history on Sunday, beating West Ham 3-1 to win their fourth straight Premier League title and break Arsenal’s hearts as Jurgen Klopp made an emotional Liverpool exit.

Phil Foden scored two early goals — including one after 79 seconds — at an expectant Etihad to lay the foundations for City’s victory.

West Ham’s Mohammed Kudus pulled a goal back with a spectacular overhead kick to give Arsenal renewed hope but Rodri struck just before the hour mark to effectively wrap up the title.

The Gunners, without a Premier League trophy since 2004, came from a goal down to beat Everton 2-1 but had to content themselves with second place for a second straight season after they finished two points behind City’s tally of 91.

The champions’ relentless surge to the finishing line has included 19 wins and four draws since their last defeat in the league, at Aston Villa in early December.

City, who have now won six titles in seven seasons, stand alone as the only English team to have won four straight top-flight titles, eclipsing the achievements of the great Liverpool and Manchester United teams of the past.

“When I moved here, if someone had said I would win six leagues in seven seasons I would say ‘You’re insane — no way’,” said City manager Pep Guardiola.

“All these players for Manchester United and Liverpool and Chelsea, all these teams. Now is our period. We are part of that.”

But while City have set new standards in English football, they remain under a cloud as a result of 115 Premier League charges for alleged financial irregularities, levelled early last year.

Elsewhere on the final day of the Premier League season, Luton’s relegation was confirmed with a 4-2 loss at home to Fulham. They will join Burnley and Sheffield United in the Championship next season.

Tottenham beat Sheffield United 3-0 to seal fifth spot and a place in next season’s Europa League while Chelsea guaranteed a sixth-place finish and European football with a 2-1 win against Bournemouth.

Newcastle’s 4-2 win at Brentford condemned Manchester United to an eighth-place finish — their lowest since 1990.

Erik ten Hag’s men, who beat Brighton 2-0 in Roberto De Zerbi’s last game in charge of the south coast club, have a chance to salvage something from a disastrous season in next week’s FA Cup final against City.

But if United lose that they will miss out on European football.

Foden, 23, has enjoyed his most impressive season yet for City, taking his tally to 27 goals in all competitions on Sunday, together with 11 assists.

The England midfielder opened the scoring on Sunday in the second minute with a vicious left-footed shot from outside the penalty area, settling nerves among the home fans. He then stroked the ball into the net in the 18th minute after an assist from Jeremy Doku.

The title race briefly came alive again when Takehiro Tomiyasu side-footed home to level for Arsenal at the Emirates before Kudus pulled one back for West Ham.

The atmosphere became more subdued at the Etihad but the visitors rarely threatened again in David Moyes’s final game in charge for the visitors and Rodri’s goal in the 59th minute ultimately made the game safe.

Kai Havertz’s late winner for Arsenal proved irrelevant.

Arteta gave a rousing speech to the fans in the immediate aftermath of the match, urging them to crave more.

“All this is happening because you started believing, you started to be patient and started to understand what we tried to do,” he said.

“All the credit has to go to the players and the staff. Don’t be satisfied. We want much more than that and we’re going to get it.”

Klopp ended his Liverpool reign with a 2-0 win at home to Wolves but the match was merely a sideshow as the fans paid a warm tribute to a manager who has transformed the club since arriving in 2015.

“It doesn’t feel like an end,” the German told a packed Anfield. “It just feels like a start. Today I saw a football team play full of talent, youth, creativity, desire, greed.”

He added: “We have this wonderful stadium, training center and you — the superpower of world football. Wow.”


Barcelona seal lucrative 2nd place in Spain, Sorloth scores 4 as Villarreal draw with Real Madrid

Updated 20 May 2024
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Barcelona seal lucrative 2nd place in Spain, Sorloth scores 4 as Villarreal draw with Real Madrid

  • Real Sociedad secured the last Europa League spot with a 2-0 win at Real Betis, who were left with a place in the Europa Conference League
  • Atletico Madrid will finish fourth after a 4-1 loss to midtable Osasuna at their Metropolitano stadium

MADRID: Barcelona routed Rayo Vallecano 3-0 to secure the lucrative second place in the Spanish league on Sunday, while champion Real Madrid drew 4-4 at Villarreal with Norway striker Alexander Sorloth scoring all four goals for the hosts.

There won’t be much left to fight for in the final round next weekend as Cadiz became the last team to be relegated after being held to a 0-0 draw at home against Las Palmas.

Real Sociedad secured the last Europa League spot with a 2-0 win at Real Betis, who were left with a place in the Europa Conference League.

Pedri scored twice and Robert Lewandowski once for Barcelona, who kept a four-point gap to Catalan rival Girona with a round to go. Girona won 3-1 at Valencia for their first-ever third place finish in the Spanish league. They had already clinched a Champions League place in advance.

Atletico Madrid will finish fourth after a 4-1 loss to midtable Osasuna at their Metropolitano stadium.

BARCELONA SECOND

Lewandowski scored in the third minute and Pedri added goals in the 72nd and 75th as Barcelona won for the fourth time in five matches to seal second place and a spot in the lucrative Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia.

Madrid and Copa del Rey finalists Mallorca and Athletic Bilbao also will play in the Super Cup next season.

The victory came a day after Xavi denied a slew of reports in Spanish media outlets that Barcelona’s leadership is considering firing the coach for having said that the club’s poor finances will impede it from competing with Madrid.

“The situation hasn’t changed,” Xavi said. “I imagine I’ll speak with the president tomorrow or the next day. We needed the win to secure second place and we did it.”

Some fans chanted in support of Xavi and against Laporta during Sunday’s match.

Rayo are in 16th place.

SORLOTH THRIVES

Sorloth scored once in the first half and three times in the second to give eighth-place Villarreal a draw against Madrid, who scored all of their goals before halftime.

Arda Guler scored twice and Joselu and Lucas Vázquez added a goal each for Madrid, which played with a mostly reserve squad as it continues to prepare for the Champions League final against Borussia Dortmund on June 1 in London.

Madrid had clinched their 36th league title three rounds ago.

CADIZ DEMOTED

Cadiz needed a win against Las Palmas to avoid returning to the second division for the first time since the 2019-20 season.

Cadiz, coming off two consecutive victories, had a goal disallowed by video review for offside in the first half, and saw defender Victor Chust sent off with a straight red card in the 74th.

Cadiz had spent 14 straight seasons in the lower divisions — including seven years in the third tier — before making it to the top flight in 2020-21.

Almeria and Granada had already been relegated before Sunday’s games.

SOCIEDAD SIXTH

Sociedad sealed the final Europa League spot with the win against Manuel Pellegrini’s Betis.

Brais Mendez and Mikel Merino scored first-half goals for Sociedad, who won three of their last four games.

The other Europa League place had been secured by Athletic Bilbao, who beat 13th-place Sevilla 2-0.

In other results, 17th-place Mallorca drew 2-2 against last-place Almeria and Celta Vigo won 2-1 at second-to-last Granada.


Leverkusen become first team to complete Bundesliga season unbeaten

Updated 18 May 2024
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Leverkusen become first team to complete Bundesliga season unbeaten

  • Cologne were relegated after a 4-1 loss at Heidenheim
  • Union Berlin scored in stoppage time against Freiburg to win 2-1 and beat the drop

LEVERKUSEN, Germany: Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday became the first team in Bundesliga history to go through an entire season unbeaten after a 2-1 home win against Augsburg extended their undefeated streak in all competitions to 51 games.
Crowned champions for the first time in April, goals from Victor Boniface and Robert Andrich put Leverkusen — who play the Europa League final against Atalanta and the German Cup final this week — on course for victory.
“Totally deserved. It was our goal after winning the title against Bremen. Very proud of the team — very satisfied and very happy,” said Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso.
“We can enjoy it just a little bit — and recover tomorrow.”
Elsewhere on the final day of the league campaign, Cologne were relegated after a 4-1 loss at Heidenheim.
Union Berlin scored in stoppage time against Freiburg to win 2-1 and beat the drop, leapfrogging Bochum who will play a two-legged relegation play-off against second-division Fortuna Duesseldorf after losing 4-1 at Werder Bremen.
Leverkusen took the lead after 12 minutes when Amine Adli forced Augsburg goalkeeper Tomas Koubek into an error, winning possession before squaring for Boniface to tap in from close range.
Midfield star Andrich doubled Leverkusen’s lead, backheeling in a rebound after 27 minutes.
Augsburg teenager Mert Komor pulled one back on his first start for the visitors with a stunning strike on the 62nd-minute mark, but Leverkusen held on to win ahead of what could be a historic week.
At the other end of the table, Union — who were playing in the Champions League against the likes of Real Madrid as recently as December — were locked 1-1 at home to Freiburg in stoppage time and headed for a relegation playoff clash with Duesseldorf.
Union had been reduced to 10 men when Michael Gspurning was red carded with four minutes remaining but won a penalty just into stoppage time.
Kevin Volland missed the spotkick but Janik Haberer was there to turn in the rebound and save Berlin.
Bochum, who looked to have secured top-division football with a 4-3 win at Union Berlin two weeks ago, will now need to beat Duesseldorf in a home and away playoff.
The loser will join relegated Cologne and Darmstadt in the second division.
Serhou Guirassy scored a brace as Stuttgart won 4-0 at home against Borussia Moenchengladbach, leapfrogging Bayern Munich, who lost 4-2 to a Andrej Kramaric-inspired Hoffenheim, into second spot.
Despite being without the injured Harry Kane, Bayern were 2-0 up after just six minutes thanks to goals from Mathys Tel and Alphonso Davies.
Maximilian Beier, selected as part of Germany’s Euros squad on Thursday, cut the deficit two minutes later, capitalizing on an error by goalkeeper Manuel Neuer to make it 2-1.
Kramaric then scored three goals in 20 minutes to turn the match on its head.
Bayern finished outside the top two for the first time since 2010-11.
“We made a series of a large, individual mistakes and gave the game away. We brought the opponent into the game, defended absolutely inadequately and gave up a 2-0 lead,” outgoing manager Thomas Tuchel said.
“This has happened to us far too often.”
Borussia Dortmund veteran Marco Reus signed off in impressive style in his last home match, scoring a goal and laying on another in a 4-0 win over Darmstadt.
In Dortmund’s last competitive outing before June’s Champions League final with Real Madrid at Wembley, Reus set up Ian Maatsen for the opener after 30 minutes, then added one of his own from a free kick eight minutes later.
Julian Brandt and Donyell Malen added second-half goals to seal the win.
Eintracht Frankfurt came from two goals down to draw 2-2 at home with RB Leipzig, while Mainz came from behind to win 3-1 at Wolfsburg.


Xavi denies reports that Barcelona’s leadership is considering firing him

Updated 18 May 2024
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Xavi denies reports that Barcelona’s leadership is considering firing him

BARCELONA: Xavi Hernández on Saturday denied a slew of reports in Spanish media outlets that Barcelona’s leadership is considering firing the coach for having said that the club’s poor finances will impede it from competing with Real Madrid.
“The club has transmitted to me that I should stay calm and continue working with the same motivation and commitment. Nothing has changed,” Xavi said at a pregame news conference.
Almost all the questions he faced were about the speculation in Spain’s sports press that club president Joan Laporta was upset with Xavi for having said earlier this week that “the situation is very difficult, above all on the economic level, for us to compete with our top rivals, whether it be Real Madrid or teams in Europe.”
The media reports said Laporta is pondering a replacement for Xavi this summer.
Xavi insisted Saturday that he had heard no such thing from the club.
“I don’t know and I don’t care where that information is coming from. I have the support of the president and Deco, our sports director,” the former Barcelona midfielder said.
Neither Laporta nor the club have made any public statements about the rumors. The club said it had no comment on them when asked by The Associated Press.
Even if it Barcelona keeps Xavi on, it is still an awkward situation for a coach who just three weeks prior had reversed a previous decision made in January to leave the club this summer. In April, Xavi said that he had changed his mind after his players showed him that they believed in the team’s potential and had improved their performances.
Laporta inherited a club mired in debts of more than 1.3 billion euros ($1.4 billion), and soccer’s most expensive payroll, when he returned to run the club for a second time in 2021.
A few months later he brought back fan favorite Xavi, who had been coaching in Qatar, to lead a team rebuild following the exit of superstar Lionel Messi.
But with no cash on hand and mounting debts, Laporta had to sell off future television revenues and other club assets, which Laporta dubbed financial “levers,” to sign Robert Lewandowski and other players two seasons ago.
With those reinforcements, Xavi guided Barcelona to the Spanish league title last campaign. But Barcelona has struggled this season and will finish it without any titles.
Xavi’s words earlier this week seemed aimed at curbing the expectations of fans used to the club making significant signings in the summer.
The club’s wages still exceed the salary cap established by the Spanish league and it is more likely to sell players this off-season than bring in new talent.
Barcelona plays Rayo Vallecano on Sunday seeking a win to lock up a second-placed finish in the domestic league and secure a spot in the Spanish Super Cup.


Al-Hilal manager Jorge Jesus ‘very proud’ as last-gasp equalizer preserves unbeaten domestic season

Updated 18 May 2024
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Al-Hilal manager Jorge Jesus ‘very proud’ as last-gasp equalizer preserves unbeaten domestic season

  • Roshn Saudi League champions earn 1-1 draw in Riyadh derby on Friday thanks to Aleksandar Mitrovic’s injury-time penalty
  • Al-Nassr manager Luis Castro disputes penalty award and praises players’ performance

Riyadh: Al-Hilal manager Jorge Jesus saluted the resilience of his players after they preserved the club’s unbeaten domestic season with an injury-time penalty from Aleksandar Mitrovic in their Roshn Saudi League 1-1 draw against Al-Nassr.

A dramatic Riyadh derby exploded into life on Friday night after just 25 seconds when Al-Nassr midfielder Otavio thundered the hosts into the lead from distance at Al-Awwal Park. But Mitrovic ensured the champions remain on course for an invincible 2023/24 league campaign by smashing home a late spot-kick awarded after a VAR check.

In a match in which both sides created chances, both Jesus and Al-Nassr counterpart Luis Castro agreed the hosts enjoyed the better of the first half, and the title winners the second half.

While Al-Hilal could not maintain a remarkable Roshn Saudi League winning run that stretched all the way back to September — 24 games in total — Jesus said the determination shown to earn a point bears all the hallmark of champions.

“I’m very proud of my players,” he said. “They showed great resilience (to keep the unbeaten record). We have a fantastic group of players. I believe in their talents; they believe in my ideas.

“It has been a fantastic season until now. We want to finish as winners and there are three games left: two in the league and one the King’s Cup final. We not only want to be unbeaten in the next two games in the league, but also win the King’s Cup. I don’t think you can have a better season than this in local competitions.”

The penalty kick was awarded deep into injury time when Sadio Mane was deemed to have caught Saud Abdulhamid just inside the penalty area. Spanish referee Jose Maria Sanchez Martinez pointed to the spot after being called to the screen by the VAR.

Jesus believed Saud was impeded by Mane, but Castro was unhappy that the decision denied his team three points against their Riyadh rivals.

Castro said: “The penalty given to them and scored by them; it wasn’t at all a penalty. There is no injury, there is no foul at all.”

Asked whether the game will influence the upcoming King’s Cup final between the two sides that will round off the season, Castro said: “No, this was one match and that is a different match. We all saw how Al-Hilal celebrated as if they won, but they only drew. That means it was a tough match for them. We had chances to win.”

Twelve points separate champions Al-Hilal and second-placed Al-Nassr in the Saudi Roshn League table.

The previous league derby between the two this season saw Al-Hilal beat Al-Nassr 3-0 in December. As well as being unbeaten domestically this season, Al-Hilal also created world football history earlier in the campaign by winning 34 matches in succession across all competitions.