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    Saturday, February 04, 2023

    World Cup roundup

    England's Marcus Rashford, left, celebrates with teammates after scoring the opening goal during the World Cup group B soccer match between England and Wales, at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan , Qatar, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. England won 3-0. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
    Daley Blind of the Netherlands connects a shot during a World Cup group A soccer match against Qatar at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)
    Senegal's Kalidou Koulibaly celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the World Cup group A soccer match between Ecuador and Senegal, at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

    England 3, Wales 0

    Marcus Rashford dropped to his knees and pointed up to the sky.

    The England forward had just scored against Wales at the World Cup, starting off a victory that sent his team into the round of 16 on Tuesday.

    His celebration, he said, was in tribute to a friend who recently passed away after a long battle with cancer. It could have also been in celebration of working his way into the starting lineup in Qatar.

    "Moments like this, this is what I play football for. The biggest moments, the best moments," said Rashford, who started his first game of the tournament. "I'm happy we are going through to the next round of the tournament because I have massive ambitions for this team and I think we can play even better than we did today."

    Rashford scored two goals at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, making him the co-leading scorer at the World Cup with three goals — the same as France striker Kylian Mbappe and two others. Phil Foden, another England player who made his first start in Qatar on Tuesday, got the other.

    Rashford played at the last World Cup in 2018 and also at the 2020 European Championship, but the 25-year-old Manchester United forward was considered to be fortunate to make England coach Gareth Southgate's squad for this year's tournament.

    Ever since his miss in the penalty shootout loss to Italy in the Euro 2020 final, Rashford has been going through a turbulent period in his career, compounded by injuries. He and teammate Bukaya Saka, both of them Black, were racially abused after missing their penalties in the shootout at Wembley Stadium.

    "It has been a challenge for him," said Southgate, who also led the team to the World Cup semifinals four years ago in Russia. "I went and saw him in the summer, had a big chat with him and he had some clear ideas on things he felt he needed to think about.

    "You can see with his club there has been happiness in his performances and that has shown itself on the training ground. We have a different version (of him) completely to the Euros. That's great for him and for us."

    In Qatar, Southgate opted to leave Rashford and Foden on the bench in the first two matches against Iran and the United States, starting with Saka and Raheem Sterling up front alongside captain Harry Kane.

    Rashford came on a substitute in the 6-2 victory over Iran and scored one of the goals. Foden played 19 minutes in that match.

    Against the United States, England was held to a 0-0 draw with Rashford again coming in off the bench.

    The lineup changed for the final Group B match against Wales, and both Rashford and Foden took advantage of their time on the field.

    Rashford put England in the lead with a free kick in the 50th minute, and followed it with that tribute to his late friend. Foden added the second only one minute later, and Rashford made it 3-0 in the 68th.

    The win guaranteed England first place in the group. The team will next face Senegal in the round of 16 on Sunday.

    Wales, which was playing at the World Cup for the first time in 64 years, finished last in the group and was eliminated. The United States ended up in second place and will next face the Netherlands, while Iran finished third and was also eliminated.

    It may have been captain Gareth Bale's last match for his national team.

    The former Real Madrid player had to come off the field at halftime because of a hamstring injury, but Wales coach Rob Page said he expects Bale to continue.

    "He wants what's best for the team. He understands that and he knew if he had gone back out he would have probably played at about 70%," Page said. "When you are playing against a team like that you can't carry anyone.

    "I don't think it will be the last time we see him in a Welsh jersey. There's games starting again in March in the Euros (qualifying) and we want to get off to a flying start. We will see him in a jersey."

    Netherlands 2, Qatar 0

    The Netherlands still has a long way to go to match the "total football" teams of the 1970s, or even the more offensive "Oranje" squads that reached the World Cup final in 2010 and finished third in 2014.

    Still, a win over Qatar ensured the Dutch advanced to the round of 16 by finishing first in Group A while the Qataris, who were already eliminated, became the first host to lose all three of its group matches at the World Cup.

    "If you play against Qatar everybody will think and expect that you'll win 5-0 or more, but this tournament has shown that it's very difficult," Netherlands midfielder Davy Klaassen, who earned player of the match honors, said through an interpreter.

    "We're very critical of ourselves and we need to improve," Klaassen added. "But we have progressed and we're going to move on."

    Cody Gakpo put the Netherlands ahead midway through the first half with his third goal in as many matches and Frenkie de Jong doubled the advantage five minutes into the second half.

    The Netherlands, a three-time runner-up at the World Cup, will next face the United States for a spot in the quarterfinals.

    Qatar, which was making its tournament debut, won the 2019 Asian Cup. But the team's Spanish coach, Félix Sánchez, said that the Asian Cup can't be compared to the World Cup.

    "We came here trying to compete and we managed to do that," Sánchez said, adding that he wasn't sure about his future status with the team.

    "One of the things about our national team is that we have a long-term plan that doesn't depend on me or anyone else," Sánchez said. "We're going to rest for a few days and we're going to keep working and planning."

    The Netherlands, which failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, finished with seven points at the top of the group. Senegal, which beat Ecuador 2-1 in the other group game, advanced in second place with six points. Ecuador was eliminated with four points and Qatar ended up with zero.

    The attendance at Al Bayt Stadium, which also hosted Qatar's loss to Ecuador in the tournament opener, was given as 66,784 — nearly at full capacity. There were small pockets of orange-clad Netherlands supporters, and Qatar fans behind one of the goals chanted in unison and jumped up and down.

    At one point during the second half, Qatar fans held aloft a large Palestinian flag that said "Free Palestine" on it.

    In the 26th minute, Gakpo took control outside the area, dribbled forward and unleashed a powerful side-footed shot between two defenders that entered inside the right post.

    Gakpo became the fourth Dutch player to score in three consecutive World Cup games after Johan Neeskens (1974), Dennis Bergkamp (1994) and Wesley Sneijder (2010). He also became only the second player to open the scoring for his team three times in the same group stage after Alessandro Altobelli for Italy in 1986.

    "Cody Gakpo has everything it takes to become a star," 71-year-old Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal said. "Plus he has a wonderful personality. He's open minded to everything."

    De Jong's goal came when he sprinted forward uncontested to knock in a rebound from close range following a shot from Memphis Depay.

    A possible third goal for the Netherlands by Steven Berghuis was waved off following a video review for a handball in the buildup.

    Berghuis then hit the bar in added time.

    While the Netherlands dominated the possession and created many more chances, Qatar did push forward on occasion and there was a nervous moment for the Dutch when goalkeeper Andries Noppert had trouble collecting a long-range shot from Ismael Mohamed after Gakpo's goal.

    Senegal 2, Ecuador 1

    Kalidou Koulibaly literally drew inspiration on his captain's armband, writing the No. 19 on it in memory of one of Senegal's most loved players.

    Then Koulibaly became one himself.

    The Senegal captain scored the winning goal in the victory over Ecuador, putting his team into the round of 16 at the World Cup despite the absence of the injured Sadio Mane, the team's best player and one of the best strikers in the world.

    The No. 19 was to honor Papa Bouba Diop, the Senegal midfielder who scored the winning goal against defending champion France in the opening game of the 2002 World Cup. It was one of Senegal's greatest soccer moments and a victory that started that team's run to the quarterfinals — still Senegal's best performance.

    "We wanted to make him proud. We wanted to give homage to him," Koulibaly said of Diop, who died at the age of 42 exactly two years ago Tuesday. "He was the one who made me dream when I was a boy. This was something we weren't going to let slip.

    "Thank God I was there to send that ball into the back of the net."

    Only a win against Ecuador would have taken Senegal through to the next round from Group A, and Koulibaly scored the goal that made it happen at Khalifa International Stadium.

    A free kick from Idrissa Gueye bounced off an opponent and came his way. Koulibaly threw out his right foot and hit it past Ecuador goalkeeper Hernan Galindez in the 70th minute. Koulibaly then sprinted toward the corner flag and slid on his knees to celebrate.

    The African champions took the lead after a first-half penalty from Ismaila Sarr. But Moises Caicedo evened the score when he was left unmarked after a corner kick in the 67th minute.

    At 1-1, Ecuador was going to advance and Senegal was out.

    That result would have been as agonizing as Senegal's early elimination four years ago, when the team finished the group stage with a loss to Colombia and even on points with Japan. Senegal was eliminated on a fair play rule because it had picked up two more yellow cards than the Japanese.

    This year, Senegal coach Aliou Cisse was forced to reinvent his forward line following the injury to Mane, who sent the team a message before the match. Koulibaly said the Bayern Munich striker has also been an inspiration for the team despite not being in Qatar.

    "When it came to his (Mane's) injury, two thirds of the world probably doubted that we would be able to qualify," Koulibaly said.

    Senegal lost its opening match against the Netherlands 2-0 but gave itself a chance with a 3-1 win over host Qatar. Still, the team needed a victory over Ecuador.

    "We were up against a brick wall," Cisse said.

    The 24-year-old Sarr won the penalty when he was knocked over by a clumsy challenge from Ecuador defender Piero Hincapie just before halftime. He side-footed his penalty into the bottom right corner in the 44th minute and almost the entire Senegal bench and coaching staff ran to him.

    Sarr also headed over to the corner flag to celebrate while putting his hands over his eyes.

    He can look now, because Senegal has at least one more match to play.

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