Archive for the ‘AFP’ Category

10-man Wydad claw back to hold Esperance in first leg of final


Johannesburg (AFP) – Wydad Casablanca overcame having their captain sent off and two VAR referrals going against them to draw 1-1 with Esperance Tunis Saturday in the CAF Champions League final first leg.

Both goals came from Ivorians with midfielder Fousseny Coulibaly giving the Tunisian outfit a 44th-minute lead in Rabat and centre-back Cheikh Comara equalising 11 minutes from time.

Wydad and Esperance meet again next Friday in the Tunis suburb of Rades to decide who wins the elite African club competition and becomes $2.5 million (about 2.2 mn euro) richer.

Spectators and TV viewers will hope for some free-flowing football in the return match with the first leg never reaching great heights due to constant fouling by both sides.  

Drawing away makes Esperance favourites to emulate TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Enyimba of Nigeria and Al Ahly of Egypt and win back-to-back titles.  

The first leg stalemate was not surprising as three of the previous four meetings between the clubs in the Champions League were also drawn.

A cagey first half before a 50,000 crowd at the Stade Prince Moulay Abdellah in the Moroccan capital suddenly came to life as half-time approached.

Coulibaly scored his second goal of the competition with a close-range shot after his header had been parried off the goalline by Wydad goalkeeper Ahmed Tagnaouti.

– VAR replays –

Ayoub el Amloud thought he had levelled in first-half stoppage time only for his effort to be ruled out for handball by Ismail el Haddad after the Egyptian referee watched VAR replays.

Wydad were reduced to 10 men just four minutes into the second half when captain and midfielder Brahim Nakach received a second yellow card and was sent off.

There was more VAR disappointment for the hosts soon after when penalty appeals were rejected with the referee deciding the ball hit the shoulder of an Esperance defender, not his hand. 

But Wydad never stopped trying and were finally rewarded when Comara completed a brilliantly executed move by powering a header past helpless goalkeeper Moez Ben Cherifia.

El Haddad took a free-kick that was nodded on by Salaheddine Saidi in a crowded goalmouth and Comara scored his first Champions League goal this season with an unstoppable header.

Mohamed Ounajem could have won the match for Wydad in stoppage time but his hastily struck close-range shot flew over.

Wydad are coached by 69-year-old Tunisian Faouzi Benzarti, who won the competition with Esperance in 1994, the first of his five successes in African club finals.

Former Tottenham manager Gross aims to end Zamalek trophy drought


Johannesburg (AFP) – Former Tottenham Hotspur manager Christian Gross believes the 16-year African trophy drought of famed Egyptian club Zamalek will end Sunday near ancient Mediterranean city Alexandria. 

Coached by Gross, Zamalek lost 1-0 away to Moroccan outfit Renaissance Berkane last Sunday in the first leg of the CAF Confederation Cup final, the African equivalent of the UEFA Europa League.

The 64-year-old Swiss is convinced the ‘White Knights’ can overcame the deficit at the 86,000-seat Borg el Arab Stadium, with the crowd restricted to 60,000 for security reasons.

In 2003, Zamalek won a ninth African competition by beating Wydad Casablanca of Morocco 3-1 in the CAF Super Cup match.

However, the closest they have come to African glory since was finishing runners-up to South African side Mamelodi Sundowns in the 2016 CAF Champions League final.

“I am very sad we conceded a goal right at the end,” said Gross, referring to the stoppage-time winner of Togo-born Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba in the first leg of the final.

“But we can come back at home and turn things around. We will fight to win the Confederation Cup for the sake of our supporters.

“We had several good scoring chances in Morocco, but could not convert them. I am sure it will be a different story in Alexandria.

“While Berkane are strong opponents with quality players, I promise our supporters we will give them something to cheer about.”

Gross became Tottenham manager in November 1997 and two losses in three matches at the start of the 1998/1999 season triggered his dismissal.

– Constant ridicule – 

He achieved only 10 victories in 30 matches at the London club and was the target of constant ridicule by sections of the media, particularly over his poor grasp of English.

After Tottenham, he coached clubs in Switzerland, Germany and Saudi Arabia with more success before being hired by Zamalek in July last year.

Gross inherited a team that had lived in the shadows of fellow Egyptian club and arch rivals Al Ahly for more than a decade.

While Zamalek last lifted an African trophy in 2003, Ahly have won 11 CAF titles in the past 16 years, including the Champions League five times. 

Berkane, based in the citrus fruit-producing northeastern region of Morocco, are appearing in an African final for the first time after a last-eight exit from the 2018 Confederation Cup.  

Their best known figure until recently was not a player, but an official as club chairman Faouzi Lekjaa is a vice-president of the Cairo-based Confederation of African Football (CAF).

US star Rapinoe takes aim at FIFA over final clash


New York (AFP) – United States star Megan Rapinoe hit out at world football’s governing body FIFA on Friday, criticising “ridiculous” scheduling that will leave the Women’s World Cup final clashing with the climax of two other continental championships.

Speaking at a media event in New York ahead of the USA’s final home friendly before next month’s finals in France, Rapinoe said FIFA was still not doing enough to promote women’s football.

Rapinoe, a veteran of the USA’s 2015 World Cup triumph , voiced particular dismay at the fixture clash which means the finals of the women’s World Cup, Copa America and CONCACAF Gold Cup will all be played on July 7.

“Obviously, it is very disappointing,” the 33-year-old told reporters. 

“I think there’s two (other) finals on the same day and the other tournaments going on at the same exact time.

“Yeah, it’s ridiculous and disappointing to be honest.”

Rapinoe said the fixture pile-up was symptomatic of a FIFA which failed to throw its full weight behind the women’s game.

“I think there have been strides that have been made, but in terms of their capacity for change and the ability for them to change – obviously they have essentially unlimited resources – I don’t think that it’s really been a huge change at all,” she said.

“I think, sort of, the incremental change that we’ve seen is just not enough and I don’t think that’s really the model that needs to happen. 

“I would like to see a major paradigm shift and sort of a major overhaul and kind of a double-down realizing that there has been such a lack of investment for all of these years and such a lack of care and attention that double or tripling or quadrupling investment care, attention to the women’s game I think would be appropriate. 

“Incremental change is better than none at all, but for the resources and for the ability that I feel that FIFA has to implement that change I think that they’re not doing nearly enough.”

FIFA has doubled the amount of prize money to be shared between the 24 teams competing at this year’s World Cup, from $15 million in 2015 to $30 million.

However the cash increase is dwarfed by the amounts distributed at the men’s World Cup, where more than $400 million was shared amongst 32 teams in 2018.

The $15 million increase for this year’s tournament is also less than half of the $40 million raise the men’s tournament will receive in 2022.

Dijon escape automatic relegation on final day of Ligue 1


Paris (AFP) – Dijon came from behind on the last day of Ligue 1 on Friday to beat Toulouse, 2-1, and grab a lifeline that could keep them in the French top flight.

At the start of the final round, Guingamp were sure to finish last, while Dijon occupied the other direct relegation spot, one point behind Caen occupying the pace that brings a playoff against a Ligue 2 team. Both could have caught Monaco and Amiens and escaped altogether.

Dijon needed to win but fell behind at home to a 33rd minute goal by Bafode Diakite. Naim Sliti levelled after 58 minutes. Four minutes later, Julio Tavares smashed in a close range shot that Mauro Goicoechea reached but could not stop only for the assistant referee to flag off side. Referee Mikael Lesage consulted video replay and awarded the goal.   

Caen, who had needed only a draw to stay clear of Dijon, lost 1-0 at home to Bordeaux despite frantic second-half pressure. Younousse Sankhare headed the only goal of the game after 19 minutes.

That meant Monaco, who suffered an ugly 2-0 loss along the Riviera at Nice and Amiens, who beat Guingamp 2-1, were safe. 

Paris Saint-Germain, long ago confirmed as champion, lost 3-1 at Reims but still finished 16 points clear. Kylian Mbappe scored the PSG goal to finish the season on 33 goals, 11 more than the next highest scorer in Ligue 1, Nicolas Pepe of Lille.  

Lille, already sure of second and a place in the Champions League group stage, subsided 3-1 at Rennes, finishing the match with 10 men.

Lyon, sure of third and, at the least, a place in Champions League qualifying, scored in the 89th minute and then in added time to win 3-2 at Nimes.

Dijon will now play Lens, who finished fifth in Ligue 2 but beat Troyes in a the playoffs earlier Friday, for a place in Ligue 1. The two-leg playoff begins on Thursday.

Neymar to arrive early in Brazil for Copa America


Teresópolis (Brazil) (AFP) – Star striker Neymar will join Brazil’s Copa America squad for training Saturday, three days ahead of schedule, an official said Friday.

“He will arrive tomorrow between 11:00 am and noon,” (1400 GMT and 1500 GMT) Brazil football federation press officer Vinicius Rodrigues told reporters at the Granja Comary complex in Teresopolis near Rio de Janeiro. 

Neymar, the world’s most expensive player, had been expected to arrive on May 28, six days after Brazil began preparations for the tournament. No explanation was provided for the change. 

Reporters were tipped off to Neymar’s early arrival after he failed to show up to a PSG training session open to the media. 

His team-mates Marquinhos and Thiago Silva, who are also part of the Brazilian squad, were there. 

When asked if Neymar had been released from training, coach Thomas Tuchel said “not by me.”

Neymar had been sidelined for PSG’s last two games of the domestic season and the French Champions Trophy after being handed a three-match suspension for lashing out at a spectator following PSG’s shock defeat by Rennes in the French Cup final earlier this month.

His early arrival was welcomed by his Copa America team-mates.

“Neymar is our best player, it’s good that he is here, he brings us his experience,” said Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson. 

Everton winger Richarlison said “we can do better training” with Neymar. 

Eight-time winners Brazil face Bolivia, Venezuela and Peru in the group stage, which start on June 14, after two friendlies against Qatar and Honduras.