Ronaldinho leads Atletico Mineiro against Raja
AGADIR, Morocco (AP) — 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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