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Morocco beats Spain on penalties to advance at World Cup

Source image: https://apnews.com/article/morocco-spain-2022-world-cup-results-60d958068e5a7d8eb55469f61f660e14

AL RAYYAN, Qatar (AP) — The first World Cup held in an Arab nation has produced the Arab world’s first quarterfinalist.

Morocco became only the fourth African country to reach the quarterfinals at the biggest soccer tournament in the world by beating Spain 3-0 in a penalty shootout after a 0-0 draw through extra time.

The Moroccans were playing in only their second knockout game at a World Cup, an event which is being held in the Middle East for the first time in its nearly 100-year history.

“Right now is a special moment for all Africa, for all the Arab countries, for all the Muslims around this world,” Morocco midfielder Azzedine Ounahi said. “You try to make them happy, try to make ourselves happy. And I think it goes quite well.”

The World Cup in Qatar is the first to be played in the Arab world and only the second to be held in Asia. The tournament began with one of the biggest upsets in history when Saudi Arabia beat two-time champion Argentina on the third day of action.

The Saudis were eliminated, as were host Qatar and Tunisia, in the group stage. That left Morocco as the Arab world’s standard bearer.

“I’m very proud of my fans, of my people and Arabic people,” said Morocco coach Walid Regragui, who is the first African to coach an African team to the quarterfinals. “Also because I think you have Qatari people here, maybe Algerian people, Tunisian people, Arabic people and African people.”

Achraf Hakimi, who was born in Madrid and previously played for Real Madrid, converted the deciding penalty in the shootout. Abdelhamid Sabiri and Hakim Ziyech, who returned to the national team after a dispute with the previous coach, also scored.

Morocco has been the biggest surprise of the tournament and will next face Portugal in the quarterfinals on Saturday.

Morocco, which has a complex geopolitical relationship with close neighbor Spain, advanced from a difficult group that included Canada, 2018 semifinalist Belgium, and 2018 runner-up Croatia.

The team came to the tournament with more than half of its squad filled with players who were not born in Morocco, the most of any of the 32 participating countries.

“Today I think it showed to the world every Moroccan is Moroccan with his passport,” Regragui said. “When he comes to the national team, you want to die, you want to fight. And that is what I want to show. And now, we have one example. The coach is born in France but nobody can have my heart but my country.”

The king of Morocco called to congratulate the team after the game.

Morocco, which also reached the round of 16 at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, is also the only team from outside Europe or South America to make it to the last eight in Qatar.

Cameroon, Senegal and Ghana are the only other African nations to reach the World Cup quarterfinals. None of the three advanced to the semifinals.

Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bounou, who plays for Spanish club Sevilla, saved two of the three penalties he faced in the shootout, from Carlos Soler and Sergio Busquets. Pablo Sarabia hit the post.

“We knew that if we went to the penalty shootout, we had one of the best goalkeepers in the world and we could win it,” said Regragui, who took over as coach of Morocco in August and had little time to prepare the team ahead of the World Cup.

Sarabia had entered the match in the final minutes of extra time, apparently for the shootout. He replaced Nico Williams, who had also come in as a substitute earlier in the match.

“It’s my responsibility,” said Spain coach Luis Enrique, who before the match said he had asked his players to practice 1,000 penalty kicks while with their clubs. “I picked the first three penalty-takers, and then they could decide themselves. But the first three were my decision, and I would’ve done the same thing again. The only thing I wished I could do was to take Bounou out and put another goalkeeper in there.”

Spain was eliminated by host Russia in a penalty shootout at the 2018 World Cup, and by Italy in the semifinals of last year’s European Championship. The team hasn’t advanced past the last 16 at the World Cup since it won the tournament in 2010 in South Africa.

“We were unable to score … so no matter how much we say that we deserved to win for the chances we created and for playing more in their area, it is not going to change anything,” said Spain goalkeeper Unai Simón, who stopped one penalty in the shootout. “The only thing left for us is to accept that we have been eliminated.”

It was the fifth straight time Spain played extra time in a knockout round of a major tournament. The team played 120 minutes against Russia and in all three of its knockout games at Euro 2020.

Moroccan fans were significantly outnumbered by — and were louder than — the Spaniards at Education City Stadium.

It was the second match in the round of 16 to go into extra time at this year’s World Cup. Croatia beat Japan on penalties Monday.

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Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Source: https://apnews.com/article/morocco-spain-2022-world-cup-results-60d958068e5a7d8eb55469f61f660e14

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Report: NWSL to expand in Boston, Utah and California

The National Women’s Soccer League is close to expanding by three teams, which will be in Boston, Utah and the San Francisco area, according to a Friday report in the Wall Street Journal.

The women’s pro league previously indicated it would add at least two teams by 2024. The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources, reported that the franchises in northern California and Utah are set to start play next year, with Boston to join at a later date.

The NWSL did not confirm the report in a statement Saturday to The Associated Press, saying: “We remain engaged in our expansion process and are excited about our prospects. When we have news to share, we will do so.”

The NWSL has 12 teams, after Angel City in Los Angeles and the San Diego Wave joined the league last year.

The Wall Street Journal also reported that the Boston and Bay Area groups will pay about $50 million in franchise fees. The Utah team will pay a reduced fee because of a previous agreement struck when the Utah Royals folded in the 2020 season.

Before the NWSL draft earlier this month, league commissioner Jessica Berman said it would be “somewhere between days and months, more like weeks, when we’ll be in a position to share information” about an expansion.

“What I can say is that I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunities we have in front of us,” she added.

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Former MVP Candace Parker to sign with champion Aces

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Former two-time MVP Candace Parker announced on social media Saturday that she would sign with the defending champion Las Vegas Aces.

Parker spent the past two seasons playing for her hometown Sky, leading Chicago to the WNBA championship in 2021. She also won the 2016 title playing for the Los Angeles Sparks.

She posted on Instagram that Chicago would always be her home, but “my family’s home is on the west coast.

“To play for a championship close to home is the perfect situation for us. I’m looking forward to continuing the journey this summer in Las Vegas.”

The free-agent signing period begins Wednesday, and the Aces can’t comment until then.

Parker, a 6-foot-4 forward/center, adds to an already loaded lineup that includes reigning MVP A’ja Wilson, who also won the league’s top award in 2020. Wilson also was last season’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Chelsea Gray was MVP of the WNBA Finals and Kelsey Plum MVP of the All-Star Game. Wilson, Plum and Jackie Young were All-Star starters.

Parker and Gray were teammates on Los Angeles’ 2016 title team.

The Aces traded one of their key pieces, two-time Sixth Woman of the Year Dearica Hamby, to the Sparks on Jan. 21, creating speculation Las Vegas was creating salary cap room to sign a big-name player.

Parker, the 2020 Defensive Player of the Year and the 2016 Finals MVP, certainly fits that bill. Even at 36 last season, she averaged 13.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists for the Sky.

“Candace has done so much for our franchise in her time here,” Chicago coach and general manager James Wade said in a statement. “I understand her reasons for wanting to be closer with her immediate family. We wish her nothing but the best. She will always be a part of the Sky family. We will celebrate her time here as she deserves.”

Losing her is a big blow to the Sky, who made the semifinals in last season’s playoffs before losing in five games to the Connecticut Sun. Kahleah Copper is the only starter under contract for next season, so the Sky could head into a rebuild.

“I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to win a championship in my hometown and parade down the same streets I watched the Bulls parade down as a young girl first falling in love with the game of basketball,” Parker posted.

Parker joins the Aces at a time the Women’s National Basketball Players Association said it wanted that organization investigated regarding allegations that Hamby made after being traded. She posted on Instagram she was “lied to, bullied, manipulated, and discriminated against” because she is pregnant with her second child.

The Aces still have not commented on Hamby’s allegations.

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AP sports: https://apnews.com/hub/sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Estrada, Hofstra end No. 18 Charleston’s 20-game win streak

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — This season, Hofstra has been a one-man show. This time, Aaron Estrada had some help as the Pride ended the nation’s longest winning streak.

Estrada scored 25 points, but just two in the second half, while Darlinestone Dubar added 18 as Hofstra had four players in double figures to knock off No. 18 College of Charleston 85-81 on Saturday — ending the Cougars’ 20-game win streak.

“That’s a really big for our program,” Hofstra coach Speedy Claxton said. “To beat a nationally ranked team on their home court when they’ve got it rolling like they do speaks volumes about our kids.”

Claxton saw a team effort to take down the hottest team in the country.

“It wasn’t just Aaron,” Claxton said. “He had a great first half, but we had other guys step up and make baskets or get rebounds when we really needed them.”

The loss ended Charleston’s spotless run that began after losing to then-top-ranked North Carolina on Nov. 11.

Hofstra, the CAA’s leader in field-goal shooting, used that to move past Charleston in the second half as it made 18 of 32 attempts. The Pride led 76-69 with 6:10 to play before the Cougars cut it to two points on Ryan Larson’s foul shots with 2:02 to play.

But Charleston managed just two free throws after that and missed all four 3-pointers they tried.

This is the second straight season the Pride have beaten a Top 25 team. A year ago, Hofstra defeated then No. 24 Arkansas 89-81. The Pride’s only other victory against a Top 25 team came against Southern Illinois in 1976.

Hofstra (15-8, 8-2 Colonial Athletic Association) beat the Cougars (21-2, 9-1) at their own game — 3-point shooting. The Pride were 11 of 22 from 3-point range and overall shot 56 percent from the floor in the second half.

Estrada, who had 23 points in the opening half, shredded the Cougars defense at will. Estrada was 5 of 9 from 3-point range.

“Estrada is a great player, hit a bunch of tough shots, especially in the first half,” Charleston coach Pat Kelsey said. “Hofstra is a very, very talented team. It’s not just Estrada. They were better than us tonight.”

Then Estrada took over. The CAA’s leading scorer at 21.1 points a game scored 16 of the next 24 points for the Pride, including four 3-pointers.

Ante Brzovic’s dunk at the buzzer gave the Cougars a 46-44 advantage at halftime.

Tyler Thomas had 17 points and eight rebounds for Hofstra.

Brzovic finished with 18 points to lead the Cougars.

BIG PICTURE

Hofstra: The Pride are on a roll in 2023. winning seven of their past eight games, including three in a row.

College of Charleston: The Cougars chances of receiving an NCAA Tournament at-large bid took a major blow with the loss to the Pride. Despite having the nation’s longest win streak for three months, Charleston will most likely have to win the CAA Tournament in March to advance to the NCAAs.

NO PLACE LIKE HOME

The Cougars’ 20-game win streak wasn’t the only streak to end on Saturday. College of Charleston played 14 of its first 23 games at TD Arena to start the season and were a perfect 13-0 at home before facing the Pride. Charleston’s 13-game home win streak included three wins in the Charleston Classic. The Cougars became the first mid-major program to win the ESPN event, beating Virginia Tech 77-75 in the championship game. Charleston will finish the season playing four of their final eight games on the road.

POLL POSITION

Charleston’s first loss in nearly three months might drop the Cougars from the national rankings. They have been part of the last four rankings, entering at No. 23 before reaching No. 18 this past week.

UP NEXT

Hofstra returns home to play Towson on Thursday night.

College of Charleston starts a two-game road trip at Drexel on Thursday night.

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AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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