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19
DEC
2022

Batting remains an issue but ‘we will never go down without a fight’ says Proteas spearhead Kagiso Rabada

Both Australia and South Africa battled to find runs on an unruly pitch in Brisbane in the first Test match — which the Aussies won by six wickets – but South Africa’s batting woes go back further than one Test match.
The Proteas’ six-wicket first Test defeat to Australia can be attributed to a few factors including an unruly pitch and a potent Australian bowling lineup. However, this isn’t the first sign of cracks in the batting lineup.
The Proteas have failed to register more than 180 runs in their last six Test batting innings. Adding scores of 99, 152, 118, 169 and 151.
Their side has also been bowled out for less than 200 runs 12 times since the start of 2020.
“The batting lineup that we have is quite inexperienced,” said stalwart bowler Kagiso Rabada, excusing the efforts of the batters.
“In fact, the team that we have is relatively inexperienced in comparison to other cricketing nations around the world.
“Dean Elgar is our most experienced player followed by myself and Temba [Bavuma] and I’ve only played 50-odd Test matches. Everyone else hasn’t played much.”
Rabada admitted to feeling “frustrated” by the constant lack of runs put on the board by the Proteas’ batters.
“It can get frustrating as well. When I say frustrating, I don’t mean to single out the batters. I mean it’s frustrating as a team. You have to understand that sometimes this is what happens in a rebuilding phase.
“We understand that no one is going out to the centre of the wicket looking to throw their wicket away.”
Rabada has reasoned the lack of international experience in the batting lineup as the main reason for South Africa’s struggles with the willow.
And the team won’t get many opportunities to build extensive experience with no three-match Test series on the horizon for the Proteas in the next five years, according to the Future Tours Programme.
Outside of Elgar (80) and Bavuma (52), the rest of South Africa’s batting lineup contains only 41 Test caps between them.
“Now with the situation we’re faced with, there’s just a whole lot of [new] players that have come in. They have the ability, but they need to get used to the international circuit,” said Rabada.
“There needs to be an element of patience and understanding but at the same time, you can’t be advocating for bad performances. However, we’re quite positive.”
Fight
Australia — a team whose top four all average over 45 (Travis ...
19
DEC
2022

Messi’s jersey will be ready if decides to play at next World Cup — Scaloni

Though Lionel Messi has not retired from the Argentina national team, he has previously hinted that the Qatar World Cup would be his final. However, his coach has left the door open for the ‘little magician’ should he wish to play when the next edition of the tournament comes around.
Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni said that he will keep Lionel Messi’s jersey ready in case the talismanic captain wishes to play at the next World Cup after he ended the country’s 36-year wait to hoist the golden trophy again.
On a night of high drama, Messi scored two goals and again in the shootout as he led Argentina to an emotional 4-2 win on penalties over France on Sunday, with the match ending in a 3-3 draw following 120 minutes of breathtaking action.
After finally fulfilling a lifelong dream by lifting the ultimate prize in world soccer, many thought the 35-year-old Messi may never again come out wearing the famed blue and white stripes of Argentina. But within a few moments, Messi declared that he does not plan to retire from international duty in the near future.
It was a decision welcomed by his coach.
“I think we should keep the No 10 jersey prepared for the next World Cup if he (Messi) feels like playing,” Scaloni told a news conference.
“He earned the right to do whatever he wants with his career. What he transmits to his teammates is incredible. I have never seen such an influential person in the changing room.”
Scaloni said following last year’s Copa America triumph when they beat Brazil in the final, they started to feel unbeatable.
“After (we beat) Brazil, I had a conversation with Messi. (and explained) we had a big task in front of us, people from our country were starting to believe (in our World Cup chances), to hope, and pressure was rising,” said Scaloni.
“He told me that ‘we have to keep going, nothing else matters’ and that gave me a tremendous emotional boost. I realised that we were on the verge of (achieving) something (big).”
Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations
With the World Cup triumph coming just two years following the death of Diego Maradona, who had famously led Argentina to their last title in 1986, an emotional Scaloni said: “I only now realise that Maradona is not with us anymore and that makes me think that he will be happy and proud ...
19
DEC
2022

Emiliano Martinez’s starring role for Argentina – the spread saves, the penalties and the mind games

While Lionel Messi rightly took the plaudits for Argentina’s first World Cup title since 1986, goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez was one of the players of the tournament for Albiceleste.
In psychology, the butterfly effect describes how small, seemingly insignificant moments can have huge, unforeseen long-term effects.
A butterfly flapping its wings and causing a typhoon is an example, as is Neal Maupay accidentally injuring Arsenal’s Bernd Leno in June 2020.
That paved the way for Emiliano Martinez to become part of Arsenal’s starting 11 and 911 days later he lifted the World Cup with Argentina. He was central to that team but also the side that won last summer’s Copa America in Brazil, winning the Golden Glove – the award for best goalkeeper – at both tournaments.
So, what does Martinez bring to Argentina?
Big players are made by big moments. With the World Cup final deep into stoppage time, an Argentina error defending a long ball gave Randal Kolo Muani a chance to grab victory for France.
By holding his position, Martinez forces Kolo Muani to either go over him or beat him for power and go through Martinez, not rushing out and allowing himself to be dribbled round.
As analysed by John Muller using John Harrison’s model in March, goalkeepers should “wait and react” in one-versus-one scenarios when the shooter is closer to the edge of the box.
The France forward opts to shoot through Martinez – the pressure cooker of injury time and a World Cup final means players must rush their decisions even more than usual, but Martinez spreads himself incredibly well and fully extends his left leg to keep out the shot.
In a starfish-like spread that increases his surface area and maximises his chances of touching the ball, he can get a big surface (left-foot instep) onto the ball to deflect it away from goal and prevent a rebound or corner. It was one of the saves of the tournament.
What a guy!! So proud!! Champion of the world!!
18
DEC
2022

Argentina win incredible World Cup final in shootout

Lionel Messi and Argentina won a dramatic World Cup final to end the Albiceleste’s 36-year wait for their third world title.
Argentina won their third World Cup in an extraordinary final on Sunday as they beat France 4-2 on penalties after Lionel Messi scored twice in a 3-3 draw that featured a hat-trick for Kylian Mbappe as the holders recovered from 2-0 down.
It was an extraordinary night of drama, high emotion and fluctuating fortunes, delivering one of the all-time great finals to cap a wonderful tournament as its two star players delivered command performances on the biggest stage of all.
Argentina had looked to be cruising to a one-sided victory after Messi’s penalty and a brilliant goal by Angel Di Maria in the first half put them in total control, but Mbapé converted an 80th-minute penalty and volleyed in an equaliser a minute later to take the game to extra time.
Messi put Argentina ahead again, but Mbappé levelled with another penalty, becoming the second man to score a World Cup final hat-trick after England’s Geoff Hurst in 1966.
That took the game to a shootout where Argentina keeper Emiliano Martinez saved Kingsley Coman’s effort and Aurelien Tchouameni fired wide to give Gonzalo Montiel the chance to win it, which he gleefully took.
Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations
Argentina have now won six of their seven World Cup shootouts, including the quarterfinal against the Netherlands a week ago when they also blew a 2-0 lead, while France have lost three of five, but with two of those defeats coming in finals.
It meant that after his record 26th World Cup match, at the fifth and final time of asking, the 35-year-old Messi claimed the trophy he demanded, lifting him up alongside Diego Maradona, the country’s first football god who carried them to their emotional second triumph in 1986 following their first in 1978.
It seems all the more incredible coming a month after his team began the tournament by suffering statistically the biggest upset in World Cup history when they were beaten by Saudi Arabia.
“I cannot believe that we have suffered so much in a perfect game. Unbelievable, but this team responds to everything,” Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni said.
“I am proud of the work they did. With the blows we received today, this makes you emotional. I want to tell people to enjoy, it’s a historic moment for our country.”
Neat turn
There seemed ...
17
DEC
2022

Is Messi the greatest soccer player of all time?

It’s okay to debate it – don’t let people ruin your fun. Because one thing is for sure, having an opinion about the game and expressing it is an inalienable right.
And so, Lionel Messi has reached his second World Cup final with a dazzling performance that people will be talking about for years.
As have the rest of the Argentina team, but most of the discussion in the next few days is likely to ignore Angel Di Maria, Julián Álvarez and Enzo Fernández, and centre on the man many believe to be the greatest footballer of all time. Many people also dispute that he is the greatest footballer of all time.
There will be lots of talk, echoes from debates down the years, about whether Messi needs to win a World Cup to be considered the greatest. People will compare him to Pele, Zinedine Zidane and, most pertinently, his Argentine countryman Diego Maradona.
There will also be comparisons to Cristiano Ronaldo, the spicy old to-and-fro argument that will still be going aboard some spaceship long after our sun explodes and Earth is consumed by the fires of the apocalypse.
This is Maradona’s Argentina. His presence is everywhere, forever entwined with the World Cup. And as a counter to this line of debate, there will also be lots of sensible, centrist types who will say things along the lines of “Why can’t we just enjoy them both?” or “Does it matter who the best is?”
Essentially, that sentiment is telling you not to have an opinion. Walk the middle ground, don’t feel strongly about anything and drift on through life without committing to anything. It is, in a way, a method of shutting down debate.
Is that a dramatic thing to say about what is a fairly frivolous football opinion? Maybe, but surely the frivolous things are the things everyone can have opinions about. Who are they going to harm?
Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations
If you speak your mind about, say, Palestine, you’d better be sure you know what you’re talking about, because otherwise you could cause some damage.
But an opinion on the best footballer of all time? On whom is that going to have a negative impact in any material way?
Half the point of being a football fan is to have opinions about things. Whether that’s in conversations with friends, strangers, taxi drivers, builders, café owners, bar staff, or people in ...
17
DEC
2022

Though minnows tried their best, World Cup veterans prevailed

France, the imperfect back-to-back World Cup finalists, have had to draw on deep reserves in what has been a strange tournament in many ways. If they can do so again, a third title might well be theirs.
French daily L’Equipe called it “un exploit venu des trefonds”, a feat from the depths, and when you look at it that way – as a triumph over adversity as well as a valiant opponent – France’s progression to a second consecutive World Cup final looks that bit more impressive.
The performance? Not so much, in truth. France coach Didier Deschamps admitted his team “weren’t perfect” in beating Morocco in the semifinal on 14 December, and that they “weren’t perfect” when they overcame England in the quarterfinal either.
Over the course of those two matches they rarely looked like reigning world champions, but ultimately, with a squad ravaged by illness and injury, only the result mattered.
France’s 2-0 win over Morocco means that this strangest of World Cups will end with the showpiece final its organisers would have desired beforehand. Argentina vs France means Lionel Messi vs Kylian Mbappé, which means the greatest player of his generation against his heir apparent, both of them in the employment of Qatari-owned Paris Saint-Germain.
If the “dream final” was in doubt for a time in Al Khor on Wednesday evening, it was because Morocco, the surprise package of this World Cup, made France sweat for it.
For periods of the game, with Sofyan Amrabat outstanding again in midfield, Morocco pushed Deschamps’s team harder than England did on Saturday. After conceding the first goal to Theo Hernandez within five minutes, Morocco went on the offensive, taking risks, committing players forward and threatening an equaliser until Randal Kolo Muani came off the bench to tap home France’s second goal.
With that, Deschamps and his players could finally begin to focus on Sunday’s final. “We could have played better,” the coach said. “But we’re in the final and both finalists will be playing a better team than they’ve played so far in the tournament. Maybe the team who makes fewer mistakes will win the game.”
Errors and excitement
Thinking back to France’s last World Cup final four years ago, that 4-2 victory over Croatia in Moscow was a strange game, strewn with errors at both ends of the pitch.
So was Wednesday’s semifinal as both teams played at a frantic pace and left large gaps for the opposition to ...
15
DEC
2022

Goalless Griezmann happy to put in hard yards for France

Though the plaudits for France reaching a second successive World Cup final have been directed towards attackers such as Kylian Mbappe and Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann has been a key pivot to the team’s success.
France’s Antoine Griezmann proved once again that he is the ultimate team player with another virtuoso performance to help guide his team to a second consecutive World Cup final on Wednesday with their 2-0 win over Morocco.
Goals from Theo Hernandez and substitute Randal Kolo Muani made the difference for France, but it was Griezmann’s combination of graft and guile at both ends of the pitch that caught the eye.
The Atletico Madrid forward has not scored a single goal at the World Cup in Qatar but has created several chances while also dropping deep and breaking up play.
Compatriot Paul Pogba even suggested on Instagram that Griezmann was playing like France’s injured all-action defensive midfielder N’Golo Kante after another all-round performance against Morocco which earned the forward the man of the match award.
“I feel good in my legs, in my mind. The work I did on vacation and later with Atleti did me good, it was what I needed. I try to help the team as much as possible, as always,” Griezmann said.
“Morocco impressed me tonight, they set up very well tactically and defensively. In the second half they created a lot of opportunities,” the wily campaigner added.
“Scoring an early goal made things easier for us as well and the second goal made it more comfortable for us. It was a tough game that came down to small details. We’re going to try and learn from this.”
Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations
Victory set up a mouthwatering final with Lionel Messi’s Argentina, at Lusail Stadium on Sunday.
“Any team with Messi is a different proposition. We’ve seen Argentina play, we know how they play, they’re a difficult team to play and they’re in top form,” Griezmann said.
“They have a strong side around Messi. We know they’ll have a lot of support in the crowd. We’ll see where we can hurt them and how we can defend against them. We’ll be well prepared.
“We can make history but there is still a very long way to go, 90 minutes or more. You have to keep your feet on the ground.”
Read in Daily Maverick: “Semifinal: France end Morocco’s run to set up Argentina showdown”
For Griezmann, it is a ...
15
DEC
2022

Cristiano Ronaldo — the end of a stellar World Cup era

After Morocco shocked Portugal in the quarterfinals of the 2022 Fifa World Cup, while the whole of Africa rejoiced, it spelled the end of an era, as one of the greatest players to ever grace a football pitch exited the world’s biggest stage for the final time.
When the full-time whistle blew in the eighth minute of stoppage time during Portugal’s 2022 Fifa World Cup quarterfinal clash against Morocco — the Moroccan fans, players and staff rejoiced. It was a victory for the ages, having defeated an immensely talented Portuguese team to become the first African side to reach a world cup semifinal in the 92-year history of the competition.
Yet amidst the ecstasy and celebrations, one man headed straight for the tunnel. And as he left the pitch in tears, covering his face with his hand — the reality set in that after 16 years and five World Cups, it would most likely be the last time one of the greatest players of all time would feature on the world’s biggest stage.
The beginning
During the first round of matches at the 2006 Fifa World Cup in Germany, a 21-year-old rising starlet named Cristiano Ronaldo made his World Cup debut, starting in Portugal’s 1-0 win over Angola.
Ronaldo, who was touted as a rare talent at Sporting Lisbon, signed for Manchester United at the age of 18 in 2003, having been headhunted by then manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
The Portuguese youngster broke out onto the world stage during the 2004 Uefa Euro tournament, scoring two goals in the tournament en route to Portugal’s final defeat to Greece.
Wearing the number 17 shirt, Ronaldo went on to score his first World Cup goal in Portugal’s next game against Iran, converting a penalty kick in the 80th minute to become his country’s youngest-ever goal scorer at the tournament.
After being injured in the first half of Portugal’s victorious round of 16 clash against the Netherlands, Ronaldo scored the winning penalty during the penalty shootout against England in the quarterfinals.
Portugal ultimately lost their semifinal clash against France, as well as the third-place playoff against hosts Germany, to finish the tournament in fourth place — Ronaldo starting all but one game during their campaign, scoring one goal.
2010 World Cup
In the four years between Germany and the 2010 tournament in South Africa, Ronaldo blossomed.
He inherited the No 7 shirt for Portugal, as well as the captaincy, after the retirement of the legendary ...
14
DEC
2022

Semifinal: France end Morocco’s run to set up Argentina showdown

France’s victory set up the tantalising prospect of a decisive clash between Argentina maestro Lionel Messi, at the end of his international career, and France’s Kylian Mbappé, emerging as the next superstar of the world game.
France will take on Argentina in the World Cup final after beating Morocco 2-0 in an absorbing semifinal on Wednesday to stay on course for a successful title defence and end the fairytale run of the north Africans in Qatar.
Theo Hernandez scored in the fifth minute in a perfect start for the holders, who would have been looking for an early strike to silence the rowdy Moroccan support at the Al Bayt Stadium and dent the confidence of their team.
But it still proved a close-run clash as Morocco overcame injury blows and showed no deference to France’s reputation, taking the game to them in a gallant effort that added to the glowing reputation they have earned at the tournament.
France settled the outcome with a second goal 11 minutes from time as substitute Randal Kolo Muani, with a first touch after coming on, tucked in a shot at the back post.
Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations
For the first goal, Hernandez had to lift his left foot high to connect with a bouncing ball from a tight angle to finish off a sweeping move started by Antoine Griezmann’s run down the right and a cutback pass that Kylian Mbappé initially fluffed.
Mbappé was the creator of the second as he attempted first to dribble through the Morocco defence and then shot, his effort blocked but falling for Kolo Muani to net.
Olivier Giroud struck the post and missed from point-blank range in the first half at the end of a barnstorming run through the middle from Aurélien Tchouaméni.
The midfielder threaded a superb ball to find Mbappé, whose miscued shot was poorly cleared, allowing Giroud a first-time shot which was wide from close-in.
But Morocco were never overawed and had opportunity as Azzedine Ounahi forced two good saves out of French captain Hugo Lloris with speculative efforts, and curling set-pieces put the French defence under pressure.
The north Africans were hit hard by injuries to their key centrebacks with the gamble of naming Nayef Aguerd in the starting line-up failing to come off as he hurt his hamstring in the warm-up and skipper Romain Saïss having to go off after 20 minutes.
Bicycle kick
Replacement centreback Jawad El Yamiq ...
14
DEC
2022

Australia and South Africa ready to continue a fiery rivalry four years after ‘sandpapergate’

It’s been a long wait, but Australia and South Africa will square off in a three-Test series for the first time since 2018, starting at the Gabba in Brisbane on Saturday.
Dustups on the stairwell to the changeroom, aggressive send-offs ending with South Africa’s most media-hungry lawyer, Dali Mpofu, stepping in, and, of course, “sandpapergate”. The last time South Africa and Australia met in Test cricket, it was memorable — mostly for the wrong reasons.
Four years have passed since that controversial 2018/19 series in South Africa ended with the biggest scandal in modern cricket, when the Aussies were caught sandpapering the ball to create reverse swing. The wounds inflicted by that series still feel raw.
However, the rivalry runs even deeper than that incident. Australia and South Africa are two sides of the same coin. They play similarly and they love to dislike each other.
If we’re being honest, the post-isolation rivalry has stemmed more from South Africa’s side. All through the ’90s and until 2008, Australia dominated.
Of course, they were bullies, with their sledging and their superb skills. The Waughs, Warne, McGrath, Gilchrist, Hayden. names that conjure up pain and wonder for South Africans.
But, more latterly, Smith, Kallis, Amla, De Villiers, Steyn, Philander, Duminy and Markram provide much happier memories.
Holding the line
Once South Africa started winning regularly, the Aussie sledging battled to be matched by their performances. But they continued to play with a sense of entitlement, especially with that most mythical of aspects — “the line”. You know, the thing they never crossed when dishing out vile verbal abuse.
Even as sandpapergate was unfolding like a slow-motion car crash, Australia’s initial defence was that their self-defined “line” was never crossed.
On that fateful day, Australia lost control of “the line” and although they’re still a good cricket team — possibly even a great one — they don’t quite have that same air of arrogance and entitlement. And it’s no bad thing, either. Say it quietly, but under the impressive Pat Cummins, the Aussies are even quite likeable.
Two of the main protagonists from sandpapergate will face the Proteas — Steve Smith and David Warner — the captain and vice-captain back then. They were subsequently banned for months for their roles in either coercing or failing to stop inexperienced batter Cameron Bancroft from tampering with the ball.
They’ve served their time and both appear to have returned as slightly contrite and more likeable players.
But they’re also ...
14
DEC
2022

Morocco’s Qatar World Cup heroics the result of years of effort — on and off the pitch

The year 2022 has been a splendid one for Moroccan football. The country’s Qatar World Cup exploits are just the cherry on top.
Morocco’s run to unchartered territory in the Fifa World Cup may appear to be just another fairytale sports run. Think Greece winning the 2004 European Championships, or 17-year-old Boris Becker’s Wimbledon win in 1985.
Of course, who can forget English club Leicester City’s 2016 Premier League success.
There was also that memorable and equally surprising win for Denmark at Euro 1992 — thrown into the fray at the eleventh hour, following the disqualification of Yugoslavia due to the civil war that was gripping the then country at the time.
However, the first African country to finally reach the World Cup semifinals in the history of the 92-year-old global football extravaganza is not here by chance.
We want it all!
They have made history equally owing to the concerted and concentrated effort by the Royal Moroccan Football Federation (RMFF), as they have for the valiant fighting spirit that the players — led by head coach Walid Regragui — have shown at the World Cup.
However, the Moroccan men’s national team’s success in 2022 is not unique to them.
The women’s senior side reached the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (Wafcon) final, on home soil, where they lost to an experienced and hungry South African side that had failed to lift the crown after reaching the final five previous times.
Despite having to settle for silver in their maiden final appearance in the continental competition, they managed to qualify for the 2023 Fifa Women’s World Cup — the first time they have achieved this.
At club level, Wydad Casablanca are the reigning men’s Caf Champions League champions, while in the women’s equivalent, the North African nation’s Asfar recently dethroned Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies of South Africa to become the queens of African club football.
To cap it off, men’s side RS Berkane are also the current defending champions in the Caf Confederations Cup after clinching that title in May 2022.
Morocco are also the holders of the African Nations Championship (Chan) — which is not to be confused with the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon). The former is reserved only for players based on the continent. The Atlas Lions won it in 2020, after also having triumphed two years prior in the biennial competition.
Infrastructure
Africa has long lagged behind Europe in terms of infrastructure. However, Morocco has attempted to change that fact one ...
14
DEC
2022

France vs Morocco tactical preview – Griezmann’s importance and a weakness at set pieces

We’ve taken an analytical look at today’s match, weighing up the key match-ups and where it may be won and lost.
France are looking to reach back-to-back World Cup finals for the first time in their history, and become the first nation to do it since Brazil in 1994 and 1998.
And by reaching the semifinals, Morocco have already far exceeded the expectations of pretty much everyone on this planet apart from Samuel Eto’o (he predicted they would reach the final). They have gone further than any African team in the history of the tournament. In the past, only Cameroon (1990), Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010) had got as far as the quarterfinals. Having knocked out Spain and Portugal already, Morocco will fear nobody.
Before each France game, the big question is “how do you stop Kylian Mbappe?”
Why wouldn’t you ask that question? Mbappe is near-unstoppable at the moment, providing threat on the ball with his passes, carries and shots, but also his dangerous runs off the ball to receive in dangerous areas.
Of course, the answer to “how do you stop Kylian Mbappe?” is complicated. As The Athletic analysed after the win against England, there are multiple ways to dampen France’s left-sided threat altogether — be it extra defensive cover, preventing the supply line, or using attack as the best form of defence.
Today’s game takes on extra nuance, as Mbappe faces his Paris Saint-Germain teammate and close friend Achraf Hakimi in a straight shootout on France’s left flank. It is a match-up that Mbappe spookily predicted at the start of the year.
Throwback to January 2022, when Mbappe predicted he would face Achraf Hakimi at the World Cup:
Mbappe: “I will have to destroy my friend. It will break my heart a little, but that’s football.”
Hakimi: “I’m going to smash him.”
@beinsports_FR
Football Tweet ⚽ (@Football__Tweet) December 12, 2022
So there are few people in world football better placed than Hakimi to know how to nullify Mbappe’s threat.
“I’m not going to set up a plan to counter Mbappe. Unfortunately for us, France have other great players,” explained the Morocco manager Walid Regragui. “(Antoine) Griezmann is on his game, (Ousmane) Dembele on the other wing is a great complement to Mbappe.
“To focus on Mbappe would be a mistake. Hakimi is one of the best in the world in his position too, so it will be a great duel between two champions, both going at it hell for leather.”
Attack is ...

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