Africa has a new champion: Egypt’s Al-Ahly claim CAF title

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Like the rest of Egypt’s teams, Al-Ahly hasn’t played a domestic match since the Port Said tragedy, where rioting at a Feb. 2 soccer match in the Egyptian port city let to the deaths of 74 spectators. Al-Ahly, one of Egypt’s clubs, were facing Al-Masry that day, with players and coaches left scrambling to escape as Masry supporters surged onto the field.

In March, security concerns forced the country’s soccer federation to cancel the remainder of the Premier League season. Egypt hasn’t played since. (They’re now scheduled to resume play in December).

Since February, the only soccer seen by Al-Ahly and Zamalek (Egypt’s other big club) has been in African Champions League. Both teams played their way through initial rounds and into this summer’s eight-team group stage where the Cairo-based rivals were grouped together with former champions TP Mazembe (DR Congo) and Ghanians Berekum Chelsea.

While Zamalek stumbled, Al-Ahly finished at the top of the group, their only loss coming in DR Congo. Three matches later, and the Egyptians found themselves in Tunis, facing continental power Esperance one week after a 1-1 draw in Alexandria swung momentum in the CAF Champions League final toward the Tunisians.

But as any cynic would note, momentum is only a goal away:

(Al-Ahly is in blue. Esperance is in the yellow and red)

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLQXf2rnCA4]

Your goal scorers were Geddo (putting home a 43rd minute setup from Al-Sayed Hamdy), Walid Soliman (with an amazing piece of skill before a great finish), and Cameroonian Yannick N’Djeng (who pulled Esperance within a goal of the title).

“Ahly deserved the victory as they dominated the entire game,” Esperance coach Nabil Maaloul admitted after the match.

For Al-Ahly, the win clinches their seventh continental title (a record), though the story of where they’ve been is more compelling that the accumulation of another trophy.

Forward Mohamed Aboutrika, one of the players on the field at Port Said, initially retired from soccer in the wake of February’s tragedy. “I will not play football again,” he told the club’s television station.

“People here are dying and no one is doing a thing. It’s like a war,” Aboutrika said. “Is life this cheap?”

Midfielder Mohamed Barakat said there would be “no football after [Port Said],” while forward Emad Moteab told Al-Ahly TV he would not play again until there was “retribution for the people that died.”

Nine months after considering the end of their careers, all three were on the bench today, Aboutrika getting a late runout in place of Hamdy.

After the team’s victory, the trio is on their way to Japan, their team set to represent Africa at next month’s Club World Cup.

Toronto locks down USMNT backstop Bono with extension

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Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono is going to stay Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The newly-capped USMNT backstop, 24, has been attracting interest from abroad since breaking past Clint Irwin to win the TFC job and guiding the club to multiple MLS Cup Finals.

Now general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has locked down his young goalkeeper to an undisclosed contract extension. From TorontoFC.com:

“Alex was a big part of our success last season. He set club records for wins and clean sheets and was a critical piece of our championship team,” said Toronto FC Sr. Vice-President, Soccer Operations & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko. “Since joining the club as a first round pick in 2015, Alex’s ability to make key saves in big moments has been critical to our success.”

The Syracuse-born product of Syracuse University has made 64 appearances for the Reds.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 8 — Argentina on the edge; France aims for berth

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France, Denmark, and Croatia can clinch knockout round berths on Thursday in Russia, the last nation also holding the opportunity to help deprive the World Cup of an extended Lionel Messi run.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Messi’s Argentina drew Iceland in its opener, the megastar infamously missing a penalty, and will look to beat a Croatian side that looked quite good in dispatching Nigeria.

That’s the final match of the day, which begins with Denmark facing Australia and continues with a tasty match-up between France and Peru.

Below is Thursday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20

Group C
Denmark vs. Australia: Samara, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
France vs. Peru: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group D
Argentina vs. Croatia: Nizhny Novgorod, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Halted World Cup flip-throw heard around the world

AP Photo/Sergei Grits
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Milad Mohammadi knew the time was right for something special, but special isn’t always good.

And good is a subjective term. Cause to us this is very good, Milad.

The Iranian national team defender failed with a flip-throw bid in the final moments of a 1-0 loss to Spain on Wednesday at the World Cup in Russia.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

And this wasn’t like he illegally flipped or broke some other rule. No, like a kid trying an audacious jump into the deep end, Akhmat Grozny star Mohammadi just bailed and climbed in from the side (so to speak).

The kiss, the look skyward, the headbutt… all integral parts of a wonderful World Cup moment.

Renard, Morocco ‘very proud’ of unlucky national team

AP Photo/Antonio Calanni
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If you would’ve told Morocco fans or their manager, Herve Renard, that they’d outshoot and outpossess both Iran and Portugal at World Cup, their next question would probably be, “So do we need to do against Spain to win Group B?”

Alas, Morocco lost a pair of 1-0 decisions to become the first team knocked out of the 2018 World Cup.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The Lions of Atlas fell to Iran in their opener on a stoppage time own goal after carrying 64 percent possession and a 13-8 advantage in shot attempts, then lost to a Cristiano Ronaldo fourth minute goal on Wednesday despite a 16-10 shot advantage and 53 percent of the ball.

“I’m very proud of the performance and I am very proud of my players, I’m very proud of this country,” Renard said.

With no hope of advancing to the next round, the manager is finding the experience bittersweet. From RTE:

“What I am sure of at this moment is that the entire Moroccan people is proud of this team. Of course it’s easier to play with a player who has one chance and he puts it away. But we are in Morocco.

“We have quality players. Despite the ups and downs of the game, we should have been more effective. Because, like in the first game, we had plenty of chances. I won’t blame anyone. That’s football. It’s always those who know how to be present in the box, the most gifted players, who make the difference. We took a lot of risks and we didn’t get our reward.”

It’s unlikely Morocco will hold either of those statistical advantages against Spain, especially a Spanish side yet to qualify, but there is plenty to like from the tournament aside from poor finishing quality.

But the performances of 19-year-olds Amine Harit (Schalke) and Achraf Hakimi (Real Madrid) — not to mention Hakim Ziyech (25, Ajax) — seem to hint at a promise for 2022. And Renard’s men can still play spoiler for Spain, which is no small shockwave.