Mehdi Benatia

AP Photo/Matt Dunham

2018 World Cup team preview: Morocco

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Getting to know Morocco: The 2026 World Cup hosts — I’M JUST KIDDING, CARLOS!!! — are better known as the Atlas Lions (great name) but have a tall task ahead of themselves in a first World Cup appearance in 20 years.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

Once an AFCON semifinal mainstay, Morocco has had tournament trouble aside from 2004 AFCON runners-up status. Getting out of the group with Spain, Portugal, and Iran would qualify as a big success for a boss who’s used to getting the most out of his teams.

For more history on Morocco, click here.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 


What group are they in? B


Game schedule – Group B – Full 2018 World Cup schedule, here

Friday, June 15: Morocco v Iran, St Petersburg 11 a.m. ET
Wednesday, June 20: Portugal v Morocco, Moscow 8 a.m. ET
Monday, June 25: Spain v Morocco, Kaliningrad 2 p.m. ET


Projected lineup (4-2-3-1) – Check out the 23-man squad list in full

—– Bono —–

Hakimi — Saiss — Benatia — Mendyl

Boussoufa —- El Ahmadi

Amrabat —- Belhanda —- Ziyech

Boutaib


Star player: Mehdi Benatia – The 56-times capped captain of the squad is a rock at the back, one of the best center backs in Serie A having previously played for Bayern Munich and AS Roma amongst others.

(Photo by Steve Haag/Getty Images)

Manager: Herve Renard – It’s a first World Cup for the French boss, though he’s got a pair of Africa Cup of Nations titles (one with Zambia and the other with Ivory Coast). Renard also had success with Angola at the 2010 AFCON, and could become a big figure for a fourth African nation with an early win over Iran, a surprise draw against Portugal or Spain, and help.


Secret weapon: Hakim Ziyech – The longtime Eredivisie star is coming off a league-leading assist season (15) with Ajax and arguably the top season overall in the league. He’ll have to get past club teammate and fellow under-the-radar star Alireza Jahanbakhsh of Iran in a neat little subplot.


Prediction: It’s a tall ask to get out of the group, but if Spain puts Portugal to the knife and Morocco beats Iran on the first group match day, the CAF side can hope to stifle Portugal in Game Two and then keep goal differential in check against Spain in the finale. It’s still looking like third place at best, but there’s a path.

AC Milan’s mistakes hand Italian Cup title to Juventus

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ROME (AP) AC Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma gifted two goals and Nikola Kalinic added an own-goal in a nightmare 4-0 defeat for the Rossoneri as Juventus claimed a record fourth straight Italian Cup title on Wednesday.

While the 19-year-old Donnarumma could not be blamed for Medhi Benatia’s opener in the final, his mistakes led to the ensuing goals from Douglas Costa and Benatia. Then Kalinic headed a corner into his own net.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 1-1 Huddersfield ]

After the final whistle, Milan captain Leonardo Bonucci and Juventus counterpart Gianluigi Buffon attempted to console Donnarumma.

“We have to accept it and realize we made our own errors,” Milan coach Gennaro Gattuso said.

It was the first of two titles that Juventus is hoping to celebrate over the space of four days at the Stadio Olimpico.

The Bianconeri can clinch a record-extending seventh consecutive Serie A title with only a draw against Roma on Sunday.

“Now we have to ensure the Scudetto mathematically and enjoy this extraordinary season,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said.

Juventus has won a total of 13 Italian Cups, at least four more than any other team.

For Benatia, the brace served as redemption after he was blamed for a goal in a 1-0 loss to Serie A rival Napoli last month.

“After my error on the marking for Kalidou Koulibaly, everyone said I was useless,” Benatia said. “I haven’t become fantastic now and I wasn’t useless then. … I gave my contribution, nothing more.”

Buffon, who is expected to retire at the end of the season, far outperformed Donnarumma, who is considered his protege.

Milan, meanwhile, missed out on a chance to justify its preseason spending spree and take home a trophy ahead of likely punishment from UEFA for financial fair play violations.

The last time Juventus had beaten Milan by at least a four-goal margin came more than 20 years ago – in a 6-1 away win in Serie A in 1997.

“The guys had an extraordinary game and deserved this win, taking nothing away from Milan, who had a good first half,” Allegri said. “In games like this you need a little time to get into gear, but we found the passing lines, the spaces opened up and naturally the technique emerged.”

After a slow-paced first half, Juventus took control when Benatia headed in from a corner.

Donnarumma then had Costa’s shot on his fingers but the ball fell through his hands.

Three minutes later, Donnarumma was preparing to collect a header from Mario Mandzukic but it again slipped off his fingers and Benatia was waiting to pounce on it.

Milan came closest when Juventus midfielder Blaise Matuidi nearly scored an own-goal, hitting the post with a failed clearance.

Kalinic, who has not reached expectations at Milan, then added to the misfortune by finding his own net with his back to the goal by the near post as he attempted to defend a corner.

Buffon preserved the clean sheet with successive saves on Manuel Locatelli and Fabio Borini.

AP Serie A coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/SerieA

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf

Pep Guardiola on Manchester United: ‘They don’t have enough money’

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In an offseason that saw Manchester United splurge out over $240 million on transfers, one man believes they didn’t have quite enough.

Pep Guardiola recently criticized United’s spending spree, which initially had targets from his Bayern Munich squad. Rumors linked Manchester United with Bastian Schweinsteiger, Arjen Robben and Thomas Muller, but the trio ended up staying in Munich. United also targeted Toni Kroos, but he chose to sign with Carlo Ancelotti and Real Madrid. Ahead of their Champions League matchup with United’s rivals Manchester City, Guardiola had this to say on why United couldn’t get any deals done.

“They don’t have enough money.”

Short and sweet answer from Pep. It’s hard to think that a club that just spent over $200 million and signed a $1 billion deal with Adidas wouldn’t have enough money, but that’s European football. Guardiola would later go on to say the players wanted to stay at Bayern, and in the end, it usually comes down to the player’s demands.

While Guardiola congratulated Louis van Gaal on his summer of spending, he also gave an open statement to all the big clubs throughout Europe. With Manchester United out of the Champions League, Pep made it clear that you can’t get too comfortable when you’re at the top.

“It’s a good lesson for the big clubs. They think we are unbeatable, we are so historic, we are so strong and every year we will be there. That’s why it is magnificent. After you have a bad 45 minutes, you are out.”

Guardiola beat out van Gaal to two key signings this summer, including Moroccan defender Mehdi Benatia and Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso. These players strengthen a squad that won the Bundesliga last season by 19 points and has been to three of the last five Champions League finals.

Arsenal, Man United sigh as Benatia heads to Bayern, Manolas to Roma

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Manchester United and Chelsea were both linked with AS Roma defender Mehdi Benatia over this summer’s transfer window, but Pep has pipped them.

Bayern Munich boss Pep Guardiola has sealed the deal to bring Benatia, 27, to the Bundesliga on a five-year deal. The move looks to have been triggered by Roma’s ability to snare Arsenal target Kostas Manolas to take Benatia’s spot, though that move is unconfirmed as of now.

Sure, you may’ve read The Daily Star’s headline earlier today claiming Manchester United and Arsenal were in a two-horse race for Benatia and that Manolas was all but a Gunner as well but it’s called silly season for a reason.

[ RELATED: Tuesday’s transfer rumor roundup ]

Benatia can play, 31 times capped for Morocco and a mainstay in Serie A with Udinese before joining Roma last season. He’s netted five times in 33 league matches for i Lupi, has good size and a solid work rate.

He’ll join a back line with Jerome Boateng, Dante, Rafinha, Juan Bernat, David Alaba and Holger Badstuber.

The move could have a ripple effect for Arsenal, as both the Gunners and Roma have been reportedly after young defender Kostas Manolas.

Several outlets are reporting that Manolas will join Roma from Olympiacos for jost over $17 million. Fellow Greek defender Vasilis Torosidis is a member of Roma’s back line, which also includes Ashley Cole and Maicon.

Monday transfer rumor roundup: Defenders the focus as Liverpool unload, United search

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Defending is something Liverpool stocked up on this summer, while Manchester United has struggled to do so.

Now that the Reds have too many defenders, they’re looking to offload a few.

In the last few days, Turkish club Trabzonspor made a play for Kolo Toure, but the Ivorian rejected their advances. 23-year-old Sebastian Coates is rumored to be on Sampdoria’s wish list.  They’ve already sold Martin Kelly to Crystal Palace.

Newly coming to light now is that the Reds are hoping to send out 21-year-old Tiago Ilori (pictured) out on loan, something they did last season as well.

He performed well at Granada during his half-year loan, even potentially saving them from relegation when, during a match with Barcelona, he intercepted a ball from Neymar that had already passed goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis and was headed for the back of the net. Granada ended up beating Barcelona 1-0, and two weeks later avoided relegation by a mere two points.

The likely destination this time around would seem to be Bordeaux in the French Ligue 1. Ilori was present in the stands at Bordeaux’s last home match, a 4-1 thrashing of Monaco, and reports from both France and England have him headed to Stade Chaban-Delmas soon.

Meanwhile, Manchester United continue to struggle in their pursuit of defenders capable of passing for not only Champions League quality, but also those that can play in Louis van Gaal’s 3-at-the-back formation.

They seem to be behind in their pursuit of Serie A pair Philippe Mexes and Mehdi Benatia, with the latter proving a serious disappointment.  Thusly, Manchester United have turned to Marcos Rojo, and although the player has maturely backed down from his strong desire for the transfer, many are reporting that does not mean the deal is dead.

The Guardian says that their club sources called the deal “very complex” but that it should go through, with van Gaal desperately needing at least one left-sided defender. Not one of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, and Jonny Evans fits that bill.

Something else that may concern United is the stance of Real Madrid on star winger Angel Di Maria.  Manager Carlo Ancelotti was coy on the future of last year’s La Liga assists leader, but left the door open for his exit.

“I don’t know what Di Maria has decided,” Ancelotti said. “But I know that he’s training and that he could help us in tomorrow’s match [against Atletico]. Until August 31 it will continue the same way and after that everything will be cleared up and things will return to normal.”

With the arrival of James Rodriguez, Di Maria’s status has been thrown into question despite being a massive player in the team’s Champions League run.  Rumors of his exit have flooded the market this window, almost to the point of oversaturation, but yesterday they picked up around Manchester significantly.

Back to the defender roundtable, someone who desperately needs one is West Ham United. The club is facing an injury crisis with James Tompkins, James Collins is suspended after his opening day red card, and just Winston Reid left in the middle.

The Hammers are now reportedly hoping to pick someone up in time for their match with Crystal Palace next weekend.