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UEFA Europa League preview: Mourinho eyes more hardware, Spurs to Belgium

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The battle for Pogba family bragging rights just so happens to be Jose Mourinho’s next step in a quest for lots of laurels at Manchester United.

Sure Mourinho won the Charity Shield to start the season, but the Man Utd boss is within a win of the EFL Cup, and in the final 16 of both the FA Cup and Europa League competitions.

Yeah he’s won them all before, but Mourinho would love clinching an automatic Champions League berth for next size by winning the Europa League.

[ MORE: Bayern 5-1 Arsenal | 3 things ]

The next step to that is Saint-Etienne, who visits Old Trafford on Thursday. The Ligue 1 side is more than a story line involving Florentin Pogba going up against little brother Paul Pogba of the Red Devils; You’ll remember Jordan Veretout and Henri Saivet from brief Premier League stints.

But, yes, the focus is on the Pogba family, including the matriarch according to Mourinho:

“I think it’s a nice destiny. I think only Mum Pogba is in a little bit of trouble, which is normal. It’s difficult for the lady to choose. It’s not difficult, it’s impossible for her to choose. I know from Paul that the mum wants a draw but next week one son will be happy and another one will be sad.”

Still, United will be expected to advance to the next round, as will fellow Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur.

Spurs are coming off a disappointing performance at Liverpool last weekend, and now visit Belgium for a match-up with KAA Gent. Captained by Nana Asare and coached by Hein Vanhaezebrouck, Gent will hope to keep Spurs off the scoreboard at home before a trip to London.

Other highlights on the schedule include Roma’s trip to Villarreal and Fiorentina’s visit to USMNT wideman Fabian Johnson and Borussia Monchengladbach.

Full schedule of Thursday’s first legs

11 a.m. EDT
Krasnodar vs. Fenerbahce

1 p.m. EDT
Alkmaar vs. Lyon
Astra Giurgiu vs. Genk
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Fiorentina
Rostov vs. Sparta Prague
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Copenhagen
Celta Vigo vs. Shakhtar Donetsk
Gent vs. Tottenham Hotspur
Olympiacos vs. Osmanlispor

3:05 p.m. EDT
Manchester United vs. Saint-Etienne
Anderlecht vs. Zenit Saint Petersburg
Villarreal vs. Roma
PAOK vs. Schalke
Hapoel Be’er Sheva vs. Besiktas
Athletic Bilbao vs. Apoel Nicosia
Legia Warsaw vs. Ajax

The halted World Cup flip-throw heard around the world (video)

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 its 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.

Queiroz: Iran has one “match point” left in World Cup group stage

AP Photo/Sergei Grits
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Iran manager Carlos Queiroz isn’t going to let his tournament be defined by one win or one loss, especially with a massive moment on the horizon.

Iran fell 1-0 to Spain on Wednesday, days after defeating Morocco in its World Cup opener. Team Melli was denied its equalizer despite VAR review thanks to an offside, and failed in several other bids to level the score.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Now Queiroz and his men need a win over Portugal to qualify for the first knockout stage in its five World Cup history.

“We showed that we were ready to suffer and ready to compete. I felt we deserved a better result. There’s no doubt Spain play wonderful, stylish football but I thought we deserved more for the way we played.

“But congratulations to Fernando Hierro and Spain. We will learn a lot from this game. If you think of it like tennis, we had one match point today and we will have another against Portugal. Everything is still open. We are still alive and still dreaming.”

What chance do you give Iran of getting over on Portugal, who only topped a dominant Morocco side via a terrific designed play executed to perfection by Cristiano Ronaldo?

The odds are in Portugal’s favor, if only for its experience in tight games on massive stages. Well, perhaps the better “if only” would be to say if only for Ronaldo. Either way…

Spain gets win after Iran sees equalizer ruled out

AP Photo/Frank Augstein
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  • Spain goal: Costa (54′)
  • Iranian goal disallowed
  • Next: Spain-Morocco, Portugal-Iran

Iran had an equalizer taken away via Video Assistant Referee and Spain picked up its first win of the 2018 World Cup with a 1-0 win in Kazan on Wednesday.

Diego Costa scored Spain’s goal, as La Furia Roja joined Portugal atop Group B on four points. Iran has three, while eliminated Morocco has yet to get a result.

Team Melli lost their chance to sit atop the group when Saeid Ezatolahi rebound was ruled to have come after an offside touch from a teammate.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Spain certainly had its chances in the first half hour, capped off by an attempted overhead kick from David Silva.

Man City’s 32-year-old attacker had a great deal of chances in the contest, and would see a deflected rip bound wide of the goal during three minutes of first half stoppag time.

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

After Gerard Pique missed an in-tight chance to start the second half, Iranian goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand made an outstanding punch save on Isco before punching away the rebound bid.

Iran found its first true chance of the match in the 53rd minute, with Karim Ansarifard lashing into a shot from 15 yards that tore into the outside of the goal.

It was moments later that Spain went ahead, Costa getting a goal when a clearance bounding off his shin and into the net.

Mehdi Taremi flicked a header wide of the goal, and Iran thought it had an equalizer through Saeid Ezatolahi only for VAR to step in and call offside on the previous Iranian to touch the ball.

It was off, but only just.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

Beiranvand was again on the scene for a 70th minute goal mouth scramble following a drawn-up corner kick by Spain.

Taremi pounded a header over the goal after a Vahid Amiri nutmeg of Pique led to a back post cross.