Is Ravel Morrison England’s next big star? Only if he stays out of trouble, off the field

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On Sunday at White Hart Lane, West Ham United midfielder Ravel Morrison picked the ball up inside his own half and just kept running, and running, and running, before lifting the ball over Hugo Lloris and into Tottenham’s goal to make it 3-0.

West Ham’s fans were in heaven, and Morrison’s heroics have been a reoccurring theme this season.

Aftwerwards Hammers manager Sam Allardyce called Morrison’s goal against Spurs “genius” and the “goal of the year” so far. Big Sam also revealed it was a big gamble to bring Morrison to Upton Park, but the young English midfielder has blossomed into a fine talent.

“Sir Alex Ferguson told me ‘I hope you sort him out because you will have a top-class player,'” Allardyce said. “I’m not sure I’ve sorted him out, he’s sorted himself out. He’s begun to enjoy his football which he loves so much. He enjoys being with the lads and listens to what the experienced players say, and can do something that nobody else can do in our side.”

(MORE: Tottenham 0-3 West Ham, Delight for visitors as they shock Spurs – Video)

If Sir Alex is a big fan, then you have to be a pretty decent player.

But the fact is, Morrison had to get away from his hometown of Manchester after being involved in plenty of trouble off the pitch. Moving South to England’s capital is obviously helping him out, but last season Morrison spent the year on loan at Birmingham City in the Championship and was almost sent back after training ground bust ups.

Allardyce credits Morrison for digging in and focusing on the task ahead.

“He’s learnt so much in a short period of time,” Allardyce said. “That’s the beauty. The penny has dropped.”

When the Manchester United academy product switched Old Trafford for Upton Park in January 2013, this is what Sir Alex had to say: “In the case of Ravel, it’s been quite well documented. I think he’s better out of Manchester. He’s got a great talent, but it’s how to deal with it that is important.”

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Morrison has been a driving force in West Ham’s midfield this season. Can he push into the England setup?

The 20-year-old midfielder has scored four goals in eight games so far this season, his first full campaign in England’s top-flight. And if he continues to blossom the former England Under-18 international, who was called up the Three Lions U-21 squad earlier this week, won’t be far off making the full international team.

But how has Morrison been able to leave his trouble past behind so quickly?

His older teammates have been key, as Kevin Nolan and Mark Noble have taken their central midfielder partner under their wing.

“Ravel has been fantastic since he came back,” Nolan said. “Last year, we had a lot of problems with his lifestyle off the pitch as well as on it, but he went to Birmingham, worked really hard and got back in the team at the end of last season. It was like he was a new man. He is one now. He needs to stand up.”

Nolan, West Ham’s captain, revealed everyone is working together to help Morrison overcome his off-field issues, so he can produce more moments of brilliance like he did against Tottenham on Sunday.

“Me and Mark Noble speak to him and have had big long chats with him all last season. We try to protect him and take him under our wing,” Nolan said. “We will continue to do that. Obviously we are going to be excited by his talent – it’s frightening – and if you ask anyone at Manchester United they will tell you the same. But it’s about nurturing him and making sure he does the right things on and off the field.”

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

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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.