Ronaldinho leads Atletico Mineiro against Raja

In a career that has been marked by comical gaffes and emotional

miscues, Raja Casablanca’s goalkeeper has a chance to continue his

standout Club World Cup by stealing the spotlight from Ronaldinho

and Atletico Mineiro.

While fans adore Ronaldinho for his bright personality and

on-field flare, Khalid Askri is giving the Brazilian playmaker a

run for his money in Morocco.

Askri’s clutch saves in an extra-time quarterfinal victory over

Mexican club Monterrey helped Raja advance to the semifinals, where

the Moroccan team will face the Copa Libertadores winners.

For a player dubbed ”the unluckiest goalkeeper in the world,”

Askri has given the hosts a chance of becoming the first African

team to reach the Club World Cup final.

Askri earned the title in September 2010 when a pair of mistakes

cost his then club FAR Rabat.

He celebrated a penalty save, only for the backspin to carry the

ball into goal to his shock. He followed that up weeks later with

an embarrassing giveaway that led to a goal and for him to rip off

his shirt and storm off the field despite pleas from his teammates

to continue.

Askri has showed none of those traits as the host club looks to

reach Saturday’s final.

”These videos made me very well-known. It was because of them

that I had lots of goalkeepers from all around the world calling me

to show their support, even (Gianluigi) Buffon,” Askri said. ”I

hope he saw the game (against Monterrey), because he would have

seen a different player.”

While Atletico is playing in the event for the first time, Raja

returns after its 2000 appearance and it would like to become the

first team from outside of Europe or South America to reach the

final in its present format. European champion Bayern Munich plays

Asian winner Guangzhou Evergrande in Tuesday’s semifinal.

The Moroccan side will just have to avoid feeling star struck

when Ronaldinho emerges for the South American champions.

”This has been a dream come true. It’s been a long time since

the country has had a good result to celebrate. Now we have nothing

to lose, but we want to make the final,” Askri said. ”Playing

against a team containing Ronaldinho is another dream for us.”

Ronaldinho has rediscovered his best play since joining from

Flamengo. The former Barcelona player has helped forwards Jo and

Diego Tardelli flourish, with holding midfielder Gilberto Silva

allowing the playmaker freedom to provide from the midfield.

”We want to win this title and put Atletico’s name in the

history books. We are very prepared for this game,” Ronaldinho

said from Marrakech on Tuesday. ”It is impossible for me to feel

more motivated than I do in this moment. Ever since my arrival at

Atletico it’s been like a wonderful dream, and I want to close it

with a flourish.”

Also on Wednesday in Marrakech, Monterrey plays Al-Ahly for

fifth place.

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