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


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.

Klopp’s Liverpool squad enthusiasm: “Everything is there”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 09:  Jurgen Klopp is unveiled as the new manager of Liverpool FC during a press conference at Anfield on October 9, 2015 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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It isn’t Dortmund, but that’s a good thing for Liverpool.

Our own Joe Prince-Wright was on the scene for Jurgen Klopp’s unveiling as the latest Reds manager, and the 48-year-old German had a lot to say.

Perhaps most poignant for Liverpool fans are Klopp’s words on the talent he inherits from Brendan Rodgers. Sure there are quips that will hit the headlines, but how about Klopp’s assertion that success shouldn’t take nearly as long as his dramatic work at BVB.

From JPW on Merseyside:

“We did in Dortmund what we had to do, to improve the players, to work for a common idea of play. That is what we did and its the same thing we want to do here. They are not the same players of course,” Klopp told NBC Sports ProSoccerTalk. “These players from Liverpool are better, more experienced in some ways and younger in other cases. Everything is okay, I am here. I am not here only because LFC was calling. I believe in the potential of this team. Four or five strikers you can work with when they are not injured, midfielders is really good, defenders experienced and very young, goalkeeper is really good. Everything is there.”

Everything. A powerful word and one that doesn’t get lost in translation. Liverpool has a batch of world class talent, and Klopp’s is anxious to organize it in world class fashion. Strap in, Anfield.

CONCACAF Cup preview: Ultimate guide to USMNT vs Mexico

Beasley, and other US veterans, have been asked to take the young guys under their wing.
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So here we go: the biggest rivalry in U.S. Soccer, the one that sends fans racing for the stadia for a glimpse of history.

It’s the U.S. and Mexico for the right to go to the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia, and it will play out at the Rose Bowl on Saturday night.

National pride is on the line, and national jobs may rightly be in jeopardy. Let’s swing through our coverage, and what’s at stake in just over 24 hours time.

The Battles

Who is the key to Saturday’s match? Is it Michael Bradley? Fabian Johnson? Andres Guardado? Will Klinsmann opt for players with Liga MX experience, stay Euro Heavy, or appease the domestic set? Read more here.

The XI

So how will Klinsmann line ’em up? JPW has his preference, some options, and a prediction of what the manager will do.

The history

What are the chances this one finds its way into the upper echelon of matches in the Mexico/U.S. rivalry? This is the company it could join.

Klinsmann’s future

The folks in the anti-Klinsmann brigade seethe with pure detestation of the USMNT boss. Any quote from him is self-serving and dishonest, any success accidental. Beat Germany or the Netherlands in friendlies on the road? Coincidental and Unimportant. Lose a friendly to Brazil? The worst thing ever.

[ MORE: The case for firing Klinsmann after a loss ]

So this match, being meaningful and testing his unbeaten mark vs Mexico, is going to be a clarion call for U.S. Soccer fans. Barring a cataclysmic loss in horrific blowout fashion, he won’t be canned. But a win will be validation for his supporters while a loss would cue a genuine hot seat. And for his detractors, already foaming at the mouth from the words of icon Landon Donovan? Kablammo.