Nordin Amrabat

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Spain draw Morocco, win Group B in dizzying final five minutes

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Spain survived a near-disaster scenario, which could have seen them eliminated from the 2018 World Cup (pending result elsewhere), but still struggled en route to a 2-2 draw with Morocco in Kaliningrad, Russia, on Monday.

From start to finish, it was a muddled mess of a performance for Fernando Hierro’s side. And yet, rather than facing Uruguay, who clinched Group A with a 3-0 victory over Russia earlier in the day, Fernando Hierro’s side finishes top of Group B (based on goals scored) and will face the hosts in the round of 16. More importantly, they’ll (likely) avoid the likes of Brazil, France and Germany in their half of the knockout bracket.

[ SCENARIOS: Who needs what, to finish where, in final round of group games ]

Khalid Boutaib, Isco, Youssef En-Nesyri and Iago Aspas scored the goals, in that order, as Spain scraped their way to a 1W-2D-0L record in the group stage.

The scoring opened in perhaps the most unlikely way imaginable: a giveaway by Andres Iniesta, though plenty of blame could be given to Sergio Ramos as well, and an easy breakaway for Boutaib, who raced in on goal and slid the ball between David De Gea‘s legs to make it 1-0 (WATCH HERE).

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

Morocco’s lead didn’t last long, though, as Iniesta atoned for his earlier error, with a little help of some silky operators wearing red. A quick passing sequence down the left side of the penalty area freed Iniesta to play the simple, but perfectly timed, ball to Isco for a close-range finish. (WATCH HERE)

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The second half’s first great scoring chance came in the 55th minute, and it nearly put Spain behind again. Nordin Amrabat unleashed a powerful, right-footed strike from the corner of the penalty area, leaving De Gea completely helpless in goal, but the Watford man was denied by the 90-degree angle where the crossbar meets post. Another wake-up call for the 2010 World Cup winners, but a massive let-off in the end.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

En-Nesyri headed home the would-be winner from Faycal Fajr’s corner kick in the 81st minute, seconds after Gerard Pique was perhaps suspected of having committed a handball offense inside the penalty area.

It wasn’t the last bit of drama, though, as Aspas flicked home the equalizer in the 90th minute. He was initially ruled offside by the assistant referee, but a video review indicated he was perfectly level when the ball was crossed into the box.

American referee Geiger accused of asking for Portugal kit

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Morocco’s World Cup journey will conclude after the group stage, but the African side isn’t pleased with how their second match transpired on Wednesday against Portugal.

[ MORE: Spain gets win after Iran sees equalizer ruled off ]

The Moroccans have lodged a complaint with FIFA against referee Mark Geiger — an American who has become one of the most well-known officials in Major League Soccer.

Geiger was alleged to have asked Portuguese captain Cristiano Ronaldo for his jersey at halftime of the 1-0 win over Morocco, to which Geiger has categorically denied the claims.

FIFA released the following statement on the matter:

The claims stemmed from Morocco player Nordin Amrabat, who addressed the matter in an interview following the match.

“I don’t know what [Geiger] is used to, but he was very impressed by Cristiano [Ronaldo],” Amrabat said. “I’ve been just told by Pepe that in the [first half], he asked if he could have his shirt. Come on, man. What are we talking about? … We are at the World Cup, not a circus here.”

Geiger returned to action on Thursday as video assistant referee for the Denmark-Australia match, which included an important alteration in a call that led to an Australia penalty kick.

Watford 0-0 Brighton and Hove Albion: Gulls can’t break down 10-man Hornets

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  • Brighton has hour up a man
  • Amrabat, Knockaert play well
  • Gomes gets the job done

Watford stayed unbeaten thanks to fine defending down a man in a scoreless draw against visiting Brighton and Hove Albion at Vicarage Road on Saturday.

Miguel Britos went from hero to goat in a hurry, earning a red card weeks after snaring a late point for Watford versus Liverpool.

Brighton could not find the back of the net despite a lively day from Anthony Knockaert.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Nordin Amrabat won a dangerous free kick with a little embellishment following a manhandling from Markus Suttner, and a powerful ensuing header was blocked before it could get to Mathew Ryan.

Amrabat set up another chance with physical play against Suttner, but a pair of Hornets couldn’t get on the end of a square pass through the 18.

Brighton elbowed its way into the proceedings, and Knockaert forced Heurelho Gomes into a horizontal parry in the 23rd minute.

Miguel Britos then further put the ball in Brighton’s court with an ugly sliding challenge that earned him a red card with better than an hour to play.

Brighton hit a pair of posts, but received a scare when on-yellow Bruno tempted a red to even things up. No call.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Kiko Femenia saved Gomes from a tricky stop in the 50th minute, and Brighton earned a corner.

Shane Duffy barely missed with a far post header moments later, and the Gulls were knocking at the door.

Brighton was awarded an indirect kick inside the area when Abdolaye Doucoure was whistled for a high kick inside the 18. The charging wall got a piece of Lewis Dunk‘s effort and it was out for a corner.

Oddly enough it was a counter of a Watford corner that saw Brighton really threaten a diving Gomes.

Record signing Jose Izquierdo came off the bench for Brighton and nearly curled a long distance effort into the upper 90.

Premier League preview: Manchester United vs. Watford

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  • Man United currently sit 6th; Watford up to 10th
  • Red Devils unbeaten in 15 PL games (last loss Oct. 23)
  • Watford won the first meeting this season, 3-1 at home

Manchester United haven’t lost a Premier League game in nearly four months, yet Jose Mourinho’s side of obscenely costly superstars finds itself sitting right where it did when the current 15-game unbeaten run began: on the outside of the top-four, looking in. That’s not because the four sides immediately ahead of them — Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool — have lit the PL on fire and made it impossible to overtake them — quite the opposite, in fact. The Red Devils have won just over half (eight) of the games, meaning they’ve dropped 14 points from their last 15 games. Last weekend’s thrashing of the defending champions snapped a three-game winless skid, capitalizing on losses by Liverpool and Arsenal to bring Mourinho’s men to within one and two points of fifth and fourth, respectively.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Watford visit Old Trafford on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), represents the opportunity for United to avenge one of only three defeats in the PL this season. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (15 goals) is tied (with two others) for second in the race for the 2016-17 Golden Boot, currently one back of Romelu Lukaku, though the big Swede has scored just one goal in his last three league games following a run of 10 goals in nine games.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

INJURIES: Man United — OUT: Phil Jones (foot), James Wilson (knee) | Watford — OUT: Costel Pantilimon (ankle), Nordin Amrabat (ankle), Roberto Pereyra (knee)

What they’re saying

Mourinho, on Ibrahimovic’s future: Mourinho is “totally convinced” Ibrahimovic will stay at United beyond this season. “He came with intention of staying two years and the first year is going better than every expectation. He knows we are going to try again to improve next season and try to share with him in a fantastic way probably the last year of his career at the highest level.”

Walter Mazzarri, on being disappointed with back-to-back wins: These two victories were important for confidence. For us to be a great team, to make the next step forward we need to have continuity in performance. We played well in the first-half of both games [against Arsenal and Burnley] but bad in the second. This is something we need to change if we want to make the next step. What we did in the first-half we have to do for the whole 90 minutes.

Prediction

After back-to-back wins (over Arsenal and Burnley), Watford will feel like they’re playing with house mondey on Saturday, which may just play right into the hands of United, who’ll make the Hornets pay on the counter. 2-0, United.

PL Tuesday preview: B’mouth-Arsenal; relegation 6-pointer

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A look ahead to three games in the Premier League on Tuesday…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Bournemouth vs. Arsenal — 2:45 p.m. ET

Arsenal find themselves dead center of a five-team battle over the final three places in the top-four, four points back of second-place Liverpool and just one point clear of sixth place Manchester United. A loss would open up the door for Tottenham Hotspur to finish Matchweek 20 ahead of them (and Manchester City) for third when they take on league-leading Chelsea on Wednesday. Tuesday’s trip to the south coast of England comes barely 48 hours after the Gunners’ 2-0 home victory over Crystal Palace, spurred on by Olivier Giroud’s immaculate scorpion-kick goal. Arsene Wenger will hope to welcome Mesut Ozil back into the team after his superstar no. 10 missed Sunday’s game due to illness. Bournemouth, meanwhile, currently sit ninth in the PL table, though fewer points separate them from the relegation zone (9) than sixth place (15).

INJURIES: Bournemouth — OUT: Jack Wilshere (on loan from parent club), Lewis Cook (ankle) | Arsenal — OUT: Per Mertesacker (knee surgery), Santi Cazorla (achilles), Mathieu Debuchy (hamstring), Danny Welbeck (fitness); QUESTIONABLE: Mesut Ozil (illness), Theo Walcott (calf), Kieran Gibbs (knee)

[ MORE: Monday’s PL roundup – Liverpool draw late; Man Utd keep winning ]

Stoke City vs. Watford — 3 p.m. ET

Winless in their last five games, the PL schedule makers may have presented Stoke City with precisely the cure for what ails them: a visit from Watford, who are winless in almost as many games (4) and are fresh off a 4-1 pasting at the hands of Spurs on Sunday. New Years Eve wasn’t much kinder to the Potters, though, as Mark Hughes’ side took a 4-2 beating of their own, courtesy of the 2016-17 champions-elect. One small caveat, in Stoke’s defense: in those five games without a win, only three have been losses, which came against Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea (by a combined score of 11-4, it should be said).

INJURIES: Stoke — OUT: Geoff Cameron (knee), Jack Butland (ankle), Marc Muniesa (knee) | Watford — OUT: Valon Behrami (hamstring), Daryl Janmaat (groin), Roberto Pereyra (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Nordin Amrabat (knock)

[ MORE: Transfer needs for all 20 PL clubs in January ]

Crystal Palace vs. Swansea City — 3 p.m. ET

Can you say, “relegation six-pointer?” Swansea have started the season so poorly that a win against Palace wouldn’t even be enough to pull them out of the relegation zone, but it would bring them to within a point of the 17th-place Eagles, though their goal differential, which is nearly 20 goals worse, is still a problem. The Swans’ latest defeat came on Saturday, as Bournemouth walked into the Liberty Stadium, put three goals past the PL’s joint-worst (Hull City) defensive unit, and left them bottom of the league at the halfway point of the season.

INJURIES: Crystal Palace — OUT: Loic Remy (calf), Connor Wickham (knee) | Swansea — OUT: Jefferson Montero (hamstring); QUESTIONABLE: Fernando Llorente (knock), Sung-Yueng Ki (toe)