Morocco Snatch Equalizer to Take Advantage in World Cup Playoff

The FIFA World Cup 2022 countdown clock is seen in Doha, Qatar, Feb. 3, 2022. (AFP)
The FIFA World Cup 2022 countdown clock is seen in Doha, Qatar, Feb. 3, 2022. (AFP)
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Morocco Snatch Equalizer to Take Advantage in World Cup Playoff

The FIFA World Cup 2022 countdown clock is seen in Doha, Qatar, Feb. 3, 2022. (AFP)
The FIFA World Cup 2022 countdown clock is seen in Doha, Qatar, Feb. 3, 2022. (AFP)

Substitute Tarik Tissoudali scored minutes after coming on to earn Morocco a 1-1 draw away against the Democratic Republic of Congo in the first leg of their World Cup playoff in Kinshasa.

Tissoudali fired home in the 76th minute at the end of a counter attack in a rare foray forward for the visitors at the Stade des Martyrs.

Morocco will be favorites to progress with the second leg to come in Casablanca on Tuesday, and the aggregate winner qualifying for November's finals in Qatar.

The Congolese had led from the 12th minute after Yoane Wissa opened the scoring, but they wasted several other good chances while Morocco squandered a second-half penalty.

Wissa, the French-born attacker who plays for Brentford, cut inside off the right wing and saw his shot take a wicked deflection off Morocco´s captain Romain Saiss before nestling in the back of the net.

It was the perfect start for the home team, who are attempting to qualify for the finals for the first time since 1974.

Cedric Bakambu was denied a chance to extend the lead just before the half-hour mark by Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bounou while Morocco made their first effort on the home goal just before halftime when Youssef En-Nesyri headed wide.

Wissa came agonizingly close to a second goal straight after the break, firing narrowly wide, but then Bakambu handled in his own area while attempting to defend a corner, handing Morocco a way back into the game.

Ryan Mmaee, however, blasted his 55th-minute spot kick high over the crossbar.

Tissoudali spared his blushes with the equalizer after a long ball forward was chested down by Ayoub El Kaabi into the path of the Belgian-based striker, who blasted home.

Congo's woes were extended five minutes from fulltime when wingback Glody Ngonda was sent off for a second caution and will miss the return leg.

The build-up to the match was overshadowed by a complaint by Morocco to the Confederation of African Football that local fans had disrupted their training by invading the pitch and that buses they had booked to transport their squad on arrival in Kinshasa on Tuesday failed to turn up, leaving them stranded at the airport.

The Congolese football federation said buses were available for their visitors.



Licking Their Wounds, Croatia and Albania Prepare for Group B Dogfight

 Croatia's midfielder #10 Luka Modric looks on during the UEFA Euro 2024 Group B football match between Spain and Croatia at the Olympiastadion in Berlin on June 15, 2024. (AFP)
Croatia's midfielder #10 Luka Modric looks on during the UEFA Euro 2024 Group B football match between Spain and Croatia at the Olympiastadion in Berlin on June 15, 2024. (AFP)
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Licking Their Wounds, Croatia and Albania Prepare for Group B Dogfight

 Croatia's midfielder #10 Luka Modric looks on during the UEFA Euro 2024 Group B football match between Spain and Croatia at the Olympiastadion in Berlin on June 15, 2024. (AFP)
Croatia's midfielder #10 Luka Modric looks on during the UEFA Euro 2024 Group B football match between Spain and Croatia at the Olympiastadion in Berlin on June 15, 2024. (AFP)

Chastened by defeats to the heavyweights of Group B, Croatia and Albania both need a win in their clash on Wednesday to ignite their Euro 2024 campaign and give them hope of progressing.

Croatia have a rich World Cup history but have never replicated that at the Euros and began their latest attempt with a disappointing 3-0 defeat against Spain.

Albania are at only their second major tournament and performed creditably against defending champions Italy in their opening match, taking an early lead before succumbing 2-1.

Both teams urgently need points in their second game at Hamburg's Volksparkstadion, either to compete for the two qualifying spots or to bolster their chances of being one of the four best third-placed teams who will progress to the knockouts.

Croatia's coach Zlatko Dalic wants more aggression and speed from a team oozing quality -- from veteran midfielder Luka Modric, 38, at probably his last big tournament, to classy defender Josko Gvardiol, 22, at the other end of his career.

"We know what we're up against. We have two difficult matches. It's not over, keep your heads up. Our goal is to advance from the group and we will do our best to achieve that," Dalic said of a game Croatian media have billed as do-or-die.

"Everything is still in our hands, still under our control. We need to be better... It's up to me to turn things around, point out the flaws and not dwell too much on the Spain match."

Despite being viewed as minnows, Albania topped their qualifying group over teams such as the Czech Republic and Poland and are not at the tournament to make up the numbers.

Their Brazilian coach Sylvinho will try to keep his team disciplined before hitting Croatia on the break -- as they did against Italy with a goal after 23 seconds and so nearly again at the end when they narrowly failed to equalize.

"I have seen other sides in this tournament. If you try and go toe-to-toe with them, they will score five or six against you," he said. "It's only our second time here in the Euros. We have young players, very good players, but it's not easy."

Right winger Jasir Asani is Albania's main threat in what is the nation's first game against Croatia.