Four goals: Another night to remember from Zlatan Ibrahimovic

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Consider the magnitude of star it takes to overshadow the huge collection of talent they’re accumulated at Paris Saint-Germain. We’re talking about one of the world’s best defenders (Thiago Silva), a world-class number nine (Edinson Cavani), a uniquely exciting attacker (Ezequiel Lavezzi) and a player that many have called the next Andrea Pirlo (Marco Verratti).

Imagine the type of talent that can put distract from all those stars, and you’ll come up with some version of Zlatan Ibrahimovic – a player whose combination of skill and gravitas overshadows one of the most expensive rosters ever assembled.

That squad won on the road in Champions League by five goals on Wednesday, a performance that would normal be triumphed as a rare show of excellence. Instead, after their captain’s four-goal performance, Zlatan will be the story coming out of Anderlecht. And he only needed 62 minutes to write it.

“Ibra” started his day in the 17th minute with one of the easiest goals you’ll ever see him score. A perfectly placed ball from Gregory Van der Wiel went through the six-yard box, between goalkeeper and defenders, and onto Ibrahimovic’s foot. The redirection proved the most mundane goal of Ibra’s day.

Five minutes later, Ibrahimovic slightly over-ran another ball from Van der Weil while attacking near-post. To compensate, he allowed the ball to run onto his trailing right foot. The Swedish international then hit a back heel that beat Thomas Kaminski – the type of shot that forced you to ask whether he was setting up for the back heel all along.

Ibra’s third goal came in the 36th minute and will be the one you’ll see over-and-over during the next 24 hours. With a right-footed shot first time from 28-yards out, Ibrahimovic flexes the back of Anderlecht’s net with a ball stuck as well as you’ll ever see:

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In the second half, after his team had found a fourth, Ibrahimovic finished with the most surgical finish of his night. Put behind the defense and into the right side of the penalty area, Ibra hit a bouncing ball from a sharp angle against the left post, the path of the rebound across goal sending his shot into the near-side netting.

Given the angle and where he hit the ball, that spot may have been Ibra’s only option. To the left, and it goes off the post and out. To the right, and it finds Kaminski’s hand. He not only hit it, but he did so with the same degree of intent he put behind his third goal.

Talk all you want about Messi or Ronaldo, Ibra’s attitude or persona, but there’s only one player in the world that consistently does things like this. And when you hear people fawn over him, comparing his play to artistry, they’re talking about nights like this, where Ibrahimovic not only finds one highlight reel goal but strings together three or four.

This isn’t luck or happenstance. This isn’t a guy asking ‘why not’ every time he tries something new. This is intent. This is skill. This is a man who expects to score when he hits a ball from a near-impossible angle, the reason why Ibra gives us three or four like this each year.

It’s also why we watch European soccer. It’s for performances like these. It’s for nights like tonight. It’s for the transcendent talents who, at any moment, remind you of what can be done with a ball – a lifetime’s worth of work coupled with the type of imagination that sees a clearance rolling out of the penalty area as a chance to swerve a shot into the upper-left hand corner.

Talk about Zlatan’s arrogance if you want, but when we see nights like this, anything else would be false modesty. There’s no arguing what this guy can do with a soccer ball. Or, in the case of his last two goals, what he does to a soccer ball.

Performances like these are what it’s all about.

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.