Deportivo Alaves 0-1 Barcelona: Frenkie de Jong winner gives Blaugrana late joy at last

By Sports Desk January 23, 2022

Frenkie de Jong netted an 87th-minute winner as Barcelona finally found themselves on the right side of late drama in a 1-0 victory at Deportivo Alaves.

Barca entered the game on a three-match winless run in all competitions, having been held by Granada following a last-gasp equaliser before consecutive cup defeats after extra-time.

The stage was set for another frenzied finish after Luuk de Jong passed up two presentable opportunities for the Blaugrana, and it was his namesake who delivered this time.

Xavi's men leapfrogged Real Sociedad into fifth place in the LaLiga table, a point behind Atletico Madrid after their own late show a day earlier.

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  • Morocco v Portugal: Fernandes alert to upset threat as Regragui calls on support of Arab world Morocco v Portugal: Fernandes alert to upset threat as Regragui calls on support of Arab world

    Bruno Fernandes and Portugal are alert to the threat of an upset posed by Morocco in their World Cup quarter-final after the Atlas Lions stunned Spain and now eye tournament history.

    Walid Regragui's side held La Roja to a 0-0 draw before beating them 3-0 on penalties, owing much to the saves of goalkeeper Yassine Bounou.

    Portugal had been effective if unspectacular in the group stage, but they released the handbrake in the last 16, demolishing Switzerland 6-1 in one of the finest performances by any team at Qatar 2022 after Goncalo Ramos came in for the benched Cristiano Ronaldo and scored a hat-trick.

    With the out-of-form and maligned Ronaldo out of the team, there was a perception of Portugal suddenly realising their potential without the 37-year-old holding them back, and Ramos' performance – as he became the first player since 2002 to net a World Cup treble on his first start – was evidence of that.

    But Fernandes – involved in more goals (five) than any of his team-mates in this tournament – insists Portugal will not be taking anything for granted.

    "It's a difficult game," he told reporters. "Morocco are a really good team.

    "They came first in the group, beat Spain, so we are aware of their qualities. We want to do the best game, as always, but we have to focus on ourselves and understand what we need to do to win our game.

    "That's the most important thing: that we do our game, do our job to get through. We know it will be a really difficult game."

    That is backed up by the fact Morocco have kept three clean sheets in four games at this World Cup, which is the most ever by an African side in a single edition of the tournament.

    But the task facing Morocco is monumental.

    If they do see off Portugal, Morocco will become the first African nation to reach the semi-finals of a World Cup.

    Each of the previous three African teams to reach a quarter-final were all eliminated in the last eight, with Cameroon (1990), Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010) falling at this hurdle.

    Additionally, only two of the previous 11 knockout meetings between European and African teams at the World Cup have seen CAF sides progress, and one of those was Morocco's shoot-out win over Spain.

    Morocco have been one of the best-supported nations in Qatar, and Regragui is calling on the support of the rest of the Arab world to help bridge the gap in quality to Portugal.

    "We cannot achieve anything without the Moroccan public," he said. "Four days ago, they came to the hotel to ask for tickets, and many of them came from all over to encourage us.

    "We tell our supporters that we need them, especially in the quarter-finals, to write history. We also need Arab supporters; Algerians, Tunisians and Africans, and we know that many countries are behind us."
     

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Portugal – Goncalo Ramos

    Will Fernando Santos stick to his guns and keep Ronaldo on the bench? Judging by the team's performance against Switzerland, he should.

    Ramos had a hand in four goals against the Swiss and his hat-trick in 74 minutes was more knockout goals than Ronaldo has ever managed in the knockout stages of the World Cup (none in 531 minutes).

    Morocco – Yassine Bounou

    He was the Atlas Lions' hero in the last 16, saving two penalties in the shoot-out – the other hit the post, but he seemed to have it covered anyway.

    But even outside of penalty shoot-outs, Bounou is a key man for Morocco as a dependable goalkeeper who was even nominated for FIFA's Yashin Trophy – the prize given to the world's best keeper – earlier this year.

    PREDICTION

    Portugal are firm favourites here, with Santos' side having a 55.8 per cent chance of progressing to the semi-finals.

    Morocco have an 18.8 per cent likelihood of winning in normal time, with the draw rated at 25.4 per cent.

    Clearly then, while the Atlas Lions are the underdogs, they have a good opportunity of at least forcing extra-time, which did not work out too badly for them last time.
  • Regragui proving Arab coaches are 'worthy' of top jobs like Barcelona Regragui proving Arab coaches are 'worthy' of top jobs like Barcelona

    Walid Regragui hopes Morocco's performance at the World Cup is showing why Arab coaches should get top jobs in Europe, which is "impossible" right now.

    Regragui was only appointed as Morocco head coach at the end of August.

    Since then, the Atlas Lions are unbeaten, conceding only an own goal against Canada and reaching the quarter-finals at Qatar 2022.

    Regragui's short stint has included an upset win over Belgium and a penalty shoot-out success against highly-fancied Spain in the last 16.

    Morocco are the first Arab team and fourth African side to make the last eight at a World Cup, prompting discussion of interest in Regragui's services.

    But the coach explained the battle he had faced just to get this job, let alone taking over at Manchester City or Barcelona.

    "This question is probably best asked to European clubs: why don't they hire Arab coaches? Maybe it's a cultural question, maybe it's a mentality aspect," he said.

    "Today I think it's impossible Manchester City or Barcelona bring an Arab coach. They don't think about it, as if we're not worthy, as if we're not capable.

    "But there's moments in history that make people change their mind. It's on us, the Arab and African people, to show we are ready."

    Having spent much of his coaching career with clubs in Morocco, Regragui added: "Ten years I am a coach, nobody looked at me. 'No, it is impossible, he does not have the experience. Let's look at somebody else'.

    "I'm in the quarter-final. Explain this miracle.

    "Experience doesn't matter. It's skills. It doesn't matter your background, where you're from; skills matter. If you're not worthy, you don't have the skills, you can leave."

    Perhaps Morocco's style of play could be an obstacle to Regragui's progress, with only Costa Rica (30.2 per cent) having a smaller average share of possession at the tournament than their 32.3 per cent.

    But Regragui made no apologies for Morocco's approach as they stifled Spain, who dominated 76.8 per cent of the play in the previous round but had only one shot on target in 120 minutes.

    Highlighting other examples of Spain – with the highest possession share at the finals (77.0 per cent) – bossing proceedings against elite sides, Regragui wondered if critics would rather Morocco had bravely lost.

    He asked: "Why do Morocco need to keep the ball? Why do African teams need to play very well and lose after and cry?"

    But now, against Portugal in Saturday's quarter-final, Regragui feels huge support for his side.

    "We want to show Africa deserves to be here, Morocco deserves to be here, football is global," he said.

    "We have a federation behind us, a whole people behind us, a whole continent behind us. We have the Arab world. That's a lot of people. That's what we're going to draw from."

  • Ronaldo is not being shown enough respect, says former Real Madrid team-mate Ozil Ronaldo is not being shown enough respect, says former Real Madrid team-mate Ozil

    Mesut Ozil described Cristiano Ronaldo as "one of the greatest athletes in sports history" and does not believe his former Real Madrid team-mate is being shown sufficient respect in the twilight of his career.

    Free agent Ronaldo has fallen out of favour at club and now international level, having been named among the substitutes for Portugal's 6-1 win over Switzerland on Tuesday.

    The five-time Ballon d'Or winner is also currently without a club after his contract with Manchester United, where he struggled for playing time, was terminated by mutual consent.

    Ronaldo's replacement on Tuesday, Benfica youngster Goncalo Ramos, scored a hat-trick against Switzerland and is now set to keep his place for Saturday's quarter-final tie with Morocco.

    Istanbul Basaksehir midfielder Ozil played alongside Ronaldo in the Spanish capital between 2010 and 2013, and has taken to social media to launch a robust defence of his former team-mate.

    "I really don't get where this constant negativity from the press about Cristiano comes from," he wrote on Twitter.

    "The media is just trying to get clicks, and pundits who don't have a career anymore just want to get attention with his big name and try to make him look bad.

    "He is soon 38 years old - so what's the surprise that he doesn't score 50 goals a season anymore? Every football fan out there should be happy to have seen him playing world-class football for 20 years.

    "I don't think anyone from the new generation will be able to match his numbers again. He will forever be in his own category. Everyone should show more respect to one of the greatest athletes in sports history."

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