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
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
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