Raja Casablanca upset of Atlético Mineiro gives Moroccans surprise spot in World Club Cup final

2 Comments

With a penalty converted in the 84th minute, Mouhssine Moutouali has completed Raja Casablanca’s improbable run into the World Club Cup finals, the host nation’s representative eliminating South American champions Atlético Mineiro 3-1 today in Marrakesh. Building on an early second half goal from Mouhssine Iajour, Moutouali broke a tie forged from a 66th minute Ronaldinho free kick, with Vianney Mabide’s 94th minute insurance finishing the Moroccans’ march into Saturday’s final.

There the competition’s hosts will face European champion Bayern Munich, who defeated Asian representatives Guangzhou Evergrande 3-0 on Tuesday in the tournament’s other semifinal. Atlético, meanwhile, is relegated into Saturday’s third place match to face Guangzhou , unable to claim a second straight title for CONMEBOL.

Raja’s success marks the first final appearance by a host since the competition resumed in 2005, with the berth likely to spark a small debate about the means by which the club qualified for the tournament. Whereas the competition’s six other participants won their confederation championships to make the World Club Cup, Raja qualified as a representative of the host nation, having won Morocco’s domestic league.  Since 2005, no host had moved past the semifinals.

Atlético Mineiro nearly drew first blood in the 22nd minute when a cross from the left of Raja’s penalty area looked set to connect with striker Jô at the edge of the six-yard box. The Atlético attacker never saw the ball, however, a sure goal denied when left back Adil Kerrouchy’s right heel clipped the ball out for a corner.

Just past the half-hour mark, Atlético winger Fernandinho pulled a shot just passed the left post, a miss the visitors were nearly made to rue three minutes later when a cross from Kerrouchy found  Moutouali in front of goal. The Raja attacker’s redirection found goalkeeper Victor, however, with an ensuring miss in the 40th minute adding to Moutouali’s close calls.

Just before half, another cross for Jô saw the Brazilian international go over the ball before goalkeeper Khalid Askri intervened, sending the match into halftime scoreless.

That scoreline would only last five minutes come the second half, with Raja taking a surprise lead on the South American champions with a 51st minute counterattack. With transition play building down the left flank, forward Mouhssine Iajour sprinted down the middle of the field to onto a ball put behind the defense, eventually finishing into the lower left hand corner from 19 yards out.

source: AP
Atlético Mineiro’s first match of the World Club Cup saw the South American champions into the third place game, Diego Tardelli (left) and Ronaldinho left on the wrong side of a 3-1 loss in Marrakesh.

The lead lasted 15 minutes before Ronaldinho, with a goal that felt like a foregone conclusion the moment the foul was called, finished into the upper right hand corner from a direct kick 19 yards out. From just outside the left post, the Mineiro star’s two-step run up sent the ball curving into the far side of goal, the inevitability of the score seen in Askri’s swiveling head as the ball arced into the goalkeeper’s net. After 15 minutes of dreaming of their unlikely final berth, the hosts had been pulled back to 1-1.

As the match’s final phase approached, Mineiro had resumed control of the game, though their persistence on the ball was always offset by the potential for the type of Raja counters that balanced the first half. When, in the 75th minute, a cross targeting Jô was redirected at Askri, Raja answered with a dash toward the Atlético area, a reminder that any momentum derived from Ronaldinho’s equalizer could still be used against Mineiro.

Six minutes before the end of regulation time, that threat paid off for Raja, who earned a penalty when  Mineiro center back Réver brought down Iajour in the Atlético area. Moutouali, making amends for his two first half misses, sent Victor diving left as he drilled the winning into the right of goal, giving the Moroccans their winning goal.

In the 94th minute, substitute Vianny Mabidé’s finish gave Raja unneeded insurance, with the final whistle moments later handing the Moroccans their 3-1 win.

With their third win of the competition, having eliminated Aukland City and Monterrey to reach the semifinals, Raja completes an improbable and what could be must-discussed run to the World Club Cup’s final. Whereas the tournament’s six other entrants had to win their confederation championships to qualify for the tournament, Raja participates by virtue of being the host country’s domestic champion.

If the improbable becomes the impossible, Raja could use that backdoor to become world champions, though to do so, they will have to defeat Bayen Munich on Saturday in Marrakesh.

Reports: Liverpool reject latest Barcelona offer for Coutinho

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Barcelona has reportedly upped its offer for the services of Philippe Coutinho. But the response from Liverpool has remained the same.

According to multiple reports, Liverpool has rejected a third Barcelona offer for Coutinho, believed to be worth up to $151.5 million. Coutinho put in a transfer request a week ago but Liverpool has remained firm on its desire to keep Coutinho for this season. Liverpool has not yet publicly commented on Barcelona’s latest transfer bid.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Coutinho meanwhile is still off the field for Liverpool due to a back injury, the club states.

“Phil is not available; he is not training so far, so there is nothing new,” manager Jurgen Klopp told reporters. “It is always how it is with injured players, there is no real time on when he is back.”

The Brazilian midfielder signed a new five-year contract with Liverpool just last January and the deal doesn’t have a buy-out clause. But should Liverpool accept a new bid for Coutinho, he’d become the second-most expensive transfer behind fellow Brazilian Neymar.

It’s unclear whether Barcelona will shift focus to other targets such as Borussia Dortmund’s Ousmane Dembele or Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann as a replacement for Neymar.

Conte can’t stop laughing when asked about Costa

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte was asked for his thoughts on Diego Costa‘s latest comments on the club-player impasse. When he heard a reporter say Costa felt he was being treated like a criminal, Conte lost his composure and began laughing.

Conte spent a good 20 seconds giggling during the question before responding, saying “I can tell you that everyone who was in Chelsea knows what happened last season with Diego.

“I’m not interested to continue this issue.”

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Diego Costa has held out from Chelsea training to stay in his native Brazil after being told to train with the reserves ahead of the 2017-2018 Premier League season. Costa has made clear his desire to leave Chelsea for a return to Atletico Madrid, but Costa claims that Chelsea are asking for an absurd transfer fee, which prices Atleti out of the market.

[ Costa: Chelsea “won’t decide my fate”]

It’s unclear as to what’s next in the transfer saga, but it’s looking more and more likely that it will come down to the final hours of the transfer window. Complicating matters is that Costa’s preferred destination, Atletico Madrid, is banned from signing players during this transfer window and can’t add new pieces until January.

Transfer Rumor Wrap: Tottenham set to make Ajax’s Sanchez its record signing

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Tottenham look set to break the bank on one of the world’s most exciting defensive prospects.

According to a report in the Guardian, Tottenham and Ajax have agreed on a $54.1 million transfer fee for centerback Davinson Sanchez. The Colombian international only joined Ajax a year ago but led the backline to the Europa League final, where Ajax fell to Manchester United.

Spurs officials reportedly traveled to Amsterdam earlier this week to sort out a deal to bring Sanchez back to London. It’s believed to be a $36 million transfer with add-on clauses worth around $18 million.

Sanchez will add more speed and strength to one of the Premier League’s best backlines, giving Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen a partner to play with in a back three.

Here’s some more news from around the Premier League:

(more…)

Costa: Chelsea “won’t decide my fate”

Getty Images
Leave a comment

As each day passes, the impasse between Chelsea manager Antonio Conte and Diego Costa grows.

Costa is continuing to holdout from Chelsea after being asked to train with the reserves and has made clear his preference to transfer back to his former club, Atletico Madrid. But in his latest comments to ESPN Brazil, Costa said that Chelsea are asking for a transfer fee that’s well above what Atletico can afford.

[ LIVE: Stream Premier League live ]

“Chelsea offered me to several clubs,” Costa said. “But I was very clear with them. They said that since I’m not part of the coach’s plans, I want to choose my destiny. For them they have made more money, I will not let them decide my destiny. Even because when I came to Chelsea they paid well below the proposal that is coming now. I think they have to be aware and see everything I’ve done.”

It’s easy to feel sympathetic for Costa and his situation. He said in the interview that he’s struggled with English and as such, has had to rely on people at the club to take care of a lot of tasks. In Madrid, a country he’s received citizenship from and a city and language he’s comfortable with, he doesn’t have these worries.

But for all the good will he earned, Costa also painted himself in a bad light later in that response to a question about what the deadlock was about with Chelsea.

“It’s not my fault I’m not there,” Costa said. “If it was up to me, I’d be playing. There’s already (been) a month. Holiday is good, but it gets boring. I did not cause this situation. Since this is where the club has to think in two ways. Of course they have to have a payback, as I have given sportily and financially as well. After three years you will receive an amount above what you paid.”

Costa though did provide some insight. It had been believed over the past week or so that Costa would only move to Atletico Madrid, but the Brazilian-born Spanish international forward clarified that statement, saying he’d prefer to go to Atletico but if Atletico can’t afford him or can’t figure out a deal to sign him and get around the club’s transfer ban, he’d be open to going to another European club.

“I have already shown my affection and my interest in playing for Atletico,” Costa said. “But if they, Athletic and Chelsea did not reach an agreement and they [Athletic] do not force a move, I can not be wanting to play in a club that does not want to make a greater effort. I know that this will happen. If it is to pay as much as Chelsea want [the transfer], it is not possible. You must see this. What I know is that the proposal to come will exceed that Chelsea paid when he brought me. And I gave back in every way.”