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Player ratings as Sabiri & Aboukhlal shock Red Devils

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Morocco took a big step towards the next round of the World Cup, taking a very much deserved three points against a poor Belgium side on Sunday.

Abdelhamid Sabiri’s free kick caught out Thibaut Courtois in the 73rd minute before Morocco sealed the 2-0 victory as Zakaria Aboukhlal fired home in injury time.

Belgium made a far better start than they did against Canada, dominating the ball and controlling the match.

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For all of their possession though, they couldn’t trouble Morocco goalkeeper Munir, taking just one tame shot on target in the opening 20 minutes.

The African side grew into the game after that, enjoying some possession of their own, but they too couldn’t create any big chances.

Achraf Hakimi came relatively close to opening the scoring in the 34th minute, firing an effort just off target from the right hand side of the box.

Five minutes later, Kevin De Bruyne hit a free kick over the bar at the other end, but he and his team-mates remained incapable of causing Morocco any problems from open play.

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Just before the break, Hakim Ziyech thought he’d opened the scoring with a free kick of his own but VAR ruled it out as Romain Saiss was in an offside position and in Courtois’ eyeline.

Morocco started the second half the stronger of the two sides with Ziyech going close again, having a long shot saved by Courtois shortly before Eden Hazard had a good effort palmed away by Munir. From the corner that followed, Amadou Onana headed over.

Back at the other end, Sofiane Boufal so nearly opened the scoring, curling just wide after being set up by a cross-field pass from Ziyech. With just under an hour gone, the underdogs looked more likely to take the lead.

Roberto Martinez then replaced Hazard with Dries Mertens and the 35-year-old made an instant impact, having a good effort from the edge of the box saved by Munir.

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Morocco took control back after that and made a deserved breakthrough in the 73rd minute when Sabiri saw his free kick from out wide go straight into the back of the net.

Martinez called for reinforcements after that, bringing on three attackers including Romelu Lukaku, but a second Morocco goal on the counter looked far more likely than an equaliser.

That goal came in injury time with Ziyech setting up Aboukhlal who fired in to seal the win and put his nation top of the group.

GK: Thibaut Courtois – 4/10 – Made a few saves but should’ve done a lot better for Morocco’s first goal.

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RB: Thomas Meunier – 4/10 – Was really poor at both ends of the pitch, particularly when having to defend.

CB: Toby Alderweireld – 5/10 – Never looked too comfortable at the back on or off the ball.

CB: Jan Vertonghen – 6/10 – Was the better of the two Belgium centre-backs, dominating in the air.

LB: Timothy Castagne – 4/10 – Couldn’t handle Ziyech or cause Morocco any problems going forward.

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CM: Amadou Onana – 5/10 – Battled well in midfield but was a little clumsy at times and couldn’t do much with the ball at his feet.

CM: Axel Witsel – 4/10 – Couldn’t do anything good with the ball, losing it more often than not.

RM: Kevin De Bruyne – 4/10 – Didn’t get anywhere near the levels he reaches for his club, unable to conjure up anything decent.

AM: Eden Hazard – 3/10 – Looked a shadow of his former self, completely incapable of taking players on or creating anything whatsoever.

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LM: Thorgan Hazard – 6/10 – Was one of Belgium’s better attackers, making some good passes.

CF: Michy Batshuayi – 4/10 – Rarely got involved and was sloppy when he did, missing a decent chance.

SUB: Youri Tielemans (60′ for Onana) – 4/10

SUB: Dries Mertens (60′ for Hazard) – 6/10

SUB: Leandro Trossard (75′ for Hazard) – N/A

SUB: Charles De Ketelaere (75′ for Batshuayi) – N/A

SUB: Romelu Lukaku (81′ for Meunier) N/A
Manager: Roberto Martinez – 3/10 – He doesn’t have as good a squad as he used to, but to make them look *this* bad is some achievement.

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GK: Munir – 7/10 – Came in for Bono at the last minute but didn’t look nervous at all, making a few good saves.

RB: Achraf Hakimi – 7/10 – Got forward really well, causing Belgium some problems, and dealt with Thorgan Hazard easily.

CB: Nayef Aguerd – 6/10 – Dealt with Batshuayi with ease and looked solid throughout.

CB: Romain Saiss – 7/10 – Led his backline perfectly, ensuring they never came close to being breached by the Belgian attack.

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LB: Noussair Mazraoui – 6/10 – Didn’t get too involved going forward but was good at the back.

CM: Azzedine Ounahi – 6/10 – Made a few good balls but never really asserted himself.

CM: Sofyan Amrabat – 7/10 – As he did in the first match too, he more than held his own, looking better than the big names in the Belgium midfield.

CM: Selim Amallah – 5/10 – Struggled to get involved in the midfield battle.

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RW: Hakim Ziyech – 8/10 – Created a number of chances, had a goal harshly ruled out by VAR and deservedly got a really good assist. The best player on the pitch.

CF: Youssef En-Nesyri – 5/10 – Worked hard but wasn’t able to cause problems for the Belgian defence.

LW: Sofiane Boufal – 7/10 – Arguably the most dangerous player on the pitch when he was on, so nearly scoring with a great effort and constantly getting the better of Meunier.

SUB: Yahia Attiyat Allah (67′ for Hakimi) – N/A

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SUB: Abdelhamid Sabiri (67′ for Amallah) – 7/10 – Only had eight touches but two were key passes and one was a goal. Pretty good going.

SUB: Abderrazak Hamdallah (72′ for En-Nesryi) – N/A

SUB: Zakaria Aboukhlal (72′ for Boufal) – 7/10 – Took his goal excellently.

SUB: Jawad El Yamiq (78′ for Ounahi) – N/A

Manager: Walid Regragui – 8/10 – As he did against Croatia, set his team up to not only keep Belgium at bay but attack them too, and got his reward.

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Player of the Match – Hakim Ziyech



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Football

Everything you need to know about the Hollywood-backed club

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Wrexham are gearing up for one of the biggest games in their club history when they face Sheffield United in the FA Cup.

The Welsh side have grown exponentially in recent years following the arrival of Hollywood players Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds, with a documentary series also raising the profile of the club.

There has been plenty of on-pitch progress too, with some big signings being made in the past couple of season.

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Here’s what you need to know about the club.

Wrexham host Sheffield United in the fourth round of the 2022/23 FA Cup with both sides in brilliant form. Wrexham are top of the National League as they target promotion back to the Football League, while the Blades are second in the Championship.

It’s the first time Wrexham have reached the fourth round since 1997. The two teams last met in 2014 when United edged a five-goal thriller – Phil Jagielka was among the scorers that day.

Phil Parkinson is the current manager at Wrexham, having taken charge of the club back in 2021. He began his managerial career with Colchester United and had roles with Hull and Charlton before a five-year spell with Bradford.

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City achieved promotion as League Two play-off winners in 2012/13, also unexpectedly reaching the League Cup final at Wembley that season.

Parkinson then managed over 150 games for Bolton before resigning in August 2019. He was snapped up by Sunderland a few months later but lasted little more than a year before leaving.

He arrived at Wrexham in July 2021 and took the Welsh side to the FA Trophy final where they were defeated by Bromley in May 2022. The were imminently knocked out of the play-offs by Grimsby at the semi-final stage.

Paul Mullin in undoubtedly Wrexham’s main danger in attack. After boshing in the goals for Cambridge United, the striker dropped down the pyramid to sign for the Robins and has delivered goal after goal.

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The physical Ollie Palmer is dangerous up front, too, with 13 league goals this season, while Ben Tozer and goalkeeper Mark Howard are important players in their defence.

Ryan Reynolds is a Canadian-American actor renowned for roles in films like Deadpool, Free Guy and Red Notice.

He is thought to have a net worth of around $150m. He has a stake Aviation Gin though unclear how big, having sold the company recently for $610m, and co-founded Maximum Effort Productions and Maximum Effort Marketing.

He’s also involved in Mint Mobile.

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Rob McElhenney is an American actor, writer and producer most well known for the comedy show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which he co-created alongside Charlie Day and Glenn Howerton.

What is It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia?

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is an American sitcom that centres around a group of narcissitic and self-obsessed friends who run an Irish pub in south Philadelphia. McElhenney is known for playing Ronald “Mac” McDonald.

It stars the aforementioned McElhenney, Howerton and Day as well as Kaitlin Olson, who McElhenney married in 2008, and acting legend Danny DeVito.

Rob McElhenney’s fascination with Wrexham began with Mythic Quest writer Humphrey Ker, who revealed he got the actor into the spot during lunch breaks.

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“I’m laying claim to the fact (Rob’s) interest in football derives from several years of teasing me for watching football during our lunch breaks at work. Until eventually, just by pure osmosis, I got him interested in the game to the degree that he decides to buy a football team,” Ker said.

Wrexham had been fan owned since 2011 but the supporters’ trust voted McElhenney and Reynolds’ takeover bid through with 98% in favour.

The pair took total control through RR McReynolds Company LLC and made an initial £2m investment under the terms of the deal in early 2021.

Wrexham is a Welsh town close to the Welsh/English border. The club is well renowned for being one of the oldest professional teams in world football. They nearly folded as recently as 2011, though fan action kept the institution afloat.

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The place is known for being a mining town and was previously a rock-solid seat in United Kingdom political elections for Labour, but in 2019 a Conservative MP was voted in.

Welcome to Wrexham is available exclusively on Disney+ in the United Kingdom, while viewers in the United States can view the show through streaming platform Hulu.

When is the next series?

Wrexham owners Reynolds and McElhenney confirmed on social media the show would return for a second series. It will likely come after the 2022/23 football season finishes.

The biggest result in Wrexham’s history came in the FA Cup in 1992 when they upset First Division Championship winners Arsenal at the Racecourse.

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Alan Smith’s opener was cancelled out by Mickey Thomas’ awesome free kick before Steve Watkin slid in the winner.

They reached the first round of the FA Cup in 2021/22, while the year before they were dumped out in the fourth qualifying round by Solihull Moors.

Wrexham’s ground is the Racecourse Ground. It’s the world’s oldest international football stadium that still hosts international matches and the fifth largest stadium in Wales. It has a current capacity of 10,771, though in 1957, 34,445 spectators watched as Wrexham faced Manchester United.

It was first opened in 1807 and has been Wrexham’s home since 1864.

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Player ratings as single Ake goals knocks Gunners out of FA Cup

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Manchester City knocked Arsenal out of the FA Cup at the Etihad Stadium as the fourth round kicked off on Friday night, with Nathan Ake the unexpected star of the show with the only goal.

The Gunners made a bright start and right-back Takehiro Tomiyasu stung the palms of City goalkeeper Stefan Ortega after only a few minutes. Leandro Trossard was the architect of a few moves down the left in those early stages, exposing City’s preference to have right-back Rico Lewis operate as an auxiliary central midfielder.

The hosts caught their first sight of goal courtesy of a loose ball that threatened to let Erling Haaland in. Matt Turner was quick to rush out, but as the ball popped up into the air, Haaland attempted the acrobatic – think Zlatan Ibrahimovic vs England in 2012 – but Tomiyasu dropped back onto the line.

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Midway through the first half, Ortega’s strong left hand stopped Trossard putting Arsenal ahead after the £27m Belgian drove in-field from his flank. City had their own chance from a Belgian soon after when Kevin De Bruyne whipped a left-footed shot just wide of the far post.

Trossard made another Arsenal chance when he put a teasing cross into Eddie Nketiah at the near post, with the in-form striker sending his flick just wide. It didn’t really feel like an action-packed first half, yet the opportunities kept coming as Haaland missed the target under pressure from Gabriel.

Trossard aside, none of the big players on either side had particularly stood out in the first 45 – the likes of Haaland, De Bruyne, Riyad Mahrez and Bukayo Saka had all be disappointingly quiet.

Given that, it was perhaps fitting that the eventual breakthrough came from an unlikely source. Substitute Julian Alvarez changed things by taking on a shot from distance that rebounded off the post. Jack Grealish recycled it and found left-back Ake, who passed the ball into the far corner of the goal like a seasoned striker.

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Both managers made numerous changes to try and shift the balance of the game in their favour as the minutes ticked away. It achieved little as far as the spectacle was concerned, breaking up any potential for a bit of rhythm or momentum.

City dug in in the closing stages, squeezing Arsenal out whenever the Gunners threatened to make something happen in or around the box – in particular Ortega made a couple of vital smothers when Arsenal sub Gabriel Martinelli injected some pace for the hosts.

Stefan Ortega

Stefan Ortega was the busier goalkeeper in the first half / Michael Regan/GettyImages

GK: Stefan Ortega – 8/10 – Needed to make saves from the start, keeping City in it when Arsenal were arguably stronger in the first half. Stayed strong throughout and never looked as though he was going to be beaten.

RB: Rico Lewis – 6/10 – Spent a lot of time in the middle of the pitch as per instructions from his manager. Clearly a good player but it gave Trossard too much space, albeit not his fault.

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CB: John Stones – 5/10 – Often looked vulnerable because of how Lewis was playing. A suspected hamstring injury then ended his night before half-time.

CB: Manuel Akanji – 7/10 – Had to switch positions after Stones was taken off but put in a dominant performance regardless.

LB: Nathan Ake – 8/10 – Finished with great composure to put his team ahead and put in a solid defensive shift as well, with Saka hardly given a sniff.

CM: Kevin De Bruyne – 5/10 – Narrowly missed with a great curling effort in the first half and slightly improved after half-time but was far from his best.

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CM: Rodri – 5/10 – Unusually sloppy with the ball by his standards.

CM: Ilkay Gundogan – 6/10 – Did both sides of the ball pretty well but not always on the same page as the forwards ahead of him.

RW: Riyad Mahrez – 4/10 – Not really himself. Didn’t have enough of the ball to make any real impact and was withdrawn before an hour had passed.

ST: Erling Haaland – 5/10 – Attempted the spectacular early on and also took a whack to the back of the head before half-time. Didn’t get his usual quality service.

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LW: Jack Grealish – 6/10 – Gets an assist for his layoff to Ake and City’s best forward on the night.

Substitutes

SUB: Aymeric Laporte (45+4′ for Stones) – 7/10

SUB: Julian Alvarez (58′ for Mahrez) – 7/10

SUB: Kyle Walker (58′ for Lewis) – 7/10

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SUB: Bernardo Silva (75′ for De Bruyne) – 6/10

Manager

Pep Guardiola – 7/10 – The way he set up the team didn’t make sense when Trossard kept causing problems down City’s right. Changed shape early in the second half and the substitutes definitely did make a positive impact overall.

Bukayo Saka; Rodri

Bukayo Saka saw precious little of the ball / Michael Regan/GettyImages

GK: Matt Turner – 6/10 – Stood little chance with the only goal. Always keen to come for crosses or rush off his line.

RB: Takehiro Tomiyasu – 6/10 – Had the first early chance with a good foray forward.

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CB: Rob Holding – 5/10 – Got physical with Haaland and took a yellow card for it with 50 minutes still left to play. The danger of getting another saw him removed at half-time.

CB: Gabriel – 6/10 – Did enough to put Haaland off in a key moment.

LB: Kieran Tierney – 6/10 – Would have expected a tougher test from Mahrez. Didn’t offer much going forward to take advantage of that.

CM: Fabio Vieira – 5/10 – Had one shot that missed the target and didn’t do enough otherwise.

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CM: Thomas Partey – 5/10 – Didn’t stand out and was surprisingly replaced at half-time.

CM: Granit Xhaka – 6/10 – Successful in stopping City play their usual sparkling game, although a couple of hesitations in key moments were almost costly.

RW: Bukayo Saka – 4/10 – Just 23 touches of the ball tells its own story.

ST: Eddie Nketiah – 5/10 – Couldn’t find the target with a chance in thef first half. The service wasn’t there for him and he touched the ball only slightly more than Saka.

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LW: Leandro Trossard – 7/10 – Gave City real trouble from the start and created a number of chances in the first half. Much quieter after the break.

Substitutes

SUB: William Saliba (46′ for Holding) – 6/10

SUB: Albert Sambi Lokonga (46′ for Partey) – 6/10

SUB: Gabriel Martinelli (66′ for Trossard) – 7/10

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SUB: Oleksandr Zinchenko (66′ for Tierney) – 6/10

SUB: Martin Odegaard (74′ for Saka) – 5/10

Manager

Mikel Arteta – 6/10 – Took no risks with Holding on a yellow card and later responded to going behind by making chances immediately. Couldn’t get one over on his old mentor.

Player of the match – Nathan Ake (Man City)



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Wolves finally set to sign Brazilian talent from Flamengo

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Wolves are finally set to conclude the signing of Joao Gomes after winning their stand-off with Flamengo, sources have confirmed to 90min.

90min revealed earlier in January that Wolves had agreed terms with Flamengo, but at the point of exchanging contracts the Brazilian club did not return documents at their end.

Wolves then struggled to communicate with Flamengo and it emerged that talks had begun with French side Lyon, who made a bid worth €19m (£16.7m) – that was €2m more than Wolves offered.

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However, despite Lyon’s determination to persuade Gomes otherwise, the player refused to move to France. Instead, he insisted he wanted to move to the Premier League and even new Lyon owner John Textor made a personal trip to try and convince him to no avail.

Now, after accepting the Lyon move won’t happen, Flamengo have greenlighted the Wolves deal and given permission for Gomes to join them. The transfer is on course to be finalised over the weekend.

On this edition of Talking Transfers, Scott Saunders hosts Toby Cudworth & Graeme Bailey to discuss some of the latest transfer news. On today’s agenda: Dusan Vlahovic, Anthony Gordon, Enzo Fernandes, Amadou Onana, Malo Gusto, Nicolo Zaniolo, Pedro Porro, Weston McKennie, Milan Skriniar, Maiximo Perrone & more! If you can’t see this embed, click here to listen to the podcast!



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