Mkhitaryan agrees Arsenal switch as Sanchez swap moves closer
Manchester United’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan agrees a move to Arsenal, with Alexis Sanchez set to go in the opposite direction.
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Mkhitaryan agrees Arsenal switch as Sanchez swap moves closer
CHAN 2018: Nigeria look good for quarter-final berth, but can still be better
The home-based Super Eagles face Equatorial Guinea on Tuesday knowing they are just a step away from Nigeria’s second-ever quarter-final berth at the African Nations Championship (CHAN).
In this ongoing fifth edition of the competition in Morocco, newcomers Equatorial Guinea stand between them and a place in the knock out round in their final group game at Agadir.
After a disappointing barren draw against Rwanda on Monday, the Eagles have not appeared with the intent to take charge of the group.
A lone goal victory against Libya on Friday helped to displace the table-toppers, and they now only need to avoid defeat against Equatorial Guinea to progress.
They should be aware that a loss is dangerous, as Libya can go on to draw with Rwanda for both sides to advance ahead of Nigeria on goals difference.
But a win is necessary on Tuesday to get to seven points and an opportunity to head into the last eight as group leaders.
The task before the Eagles may however look quite easy, but with Rwanda looking hot and just a point separating Libya from the joint table-table toppers, the Eagles cannot afford any slip-up.
The Amavubis would be nursing the very lofty ambition of finishing top of the group so as to avoid meeting Group D winners who could be any of their regional rivals.
Libya, after a bright start, will fight till the last with the hope that Nigeria will slip up.
The Eagles therefore must avoid any form of complacency and affirm their qualification by winning Group C, and only a massive win over Equatorial Guinea can ensure this.
One stark reality from the Eagles’ two matches is lack of goals, which may quite rightly be a reflection of the local league.
In the NPFL, the average number of goals per match is two, and one of them most often would come from the penalty kick spot.
Teams which score goals commit players to the opponents’ area, with a creative midfield standing before a solid defence.
Apart from during set-pieces, the Eagles normally had just two players in the box against Libya, and if they continue like this, they will continue to struggle to get goals.
If there is one thing the Super Eagles must get right in their subsequent matches, it is their finishing.
They registered more than 24 shots against the Amavubis, but ended up with not even a single goal.
As much as they will need goals against Equatorial Guinea, they will much more need them in the quarter-finals and beyond.
In spite of the seeming inadequacies in the first game, coach Salisu Yusuf kept faith with the same starting line-up against Libya, and this shows his confidence in them.
Hopefully, they will make amends with a better showing against Equatorial Guinea who are yet to open their goal scoring account but have conceded four goals in the championship so far.
However, the best for the Eagles going forward may be to rest key players like Anthony Okpotu and Rabiu Ali.
This is to avoid them picking up injuries like the one suffered by Ifeanyi Ifeanyi.
Clearly, Emeka Ogbugh is the most technical forward in the CHAN team, especially as he has been able to see and exploit opportunities, especially on breakaways.
But he has been backing himself into cul-de-sac.
The coaching staff must tutor the Rivers United forward on how he should deploy his technical ability to help the team create more fruitful goal scoring chances and also score.
The team can obviously improve in all aspects, though the defensive foundation of Stephen Eze and Orji Okagbue in central defence is already in place.
However, Yusuf will have to tinker with his midfield and attack to get the best out of these set of players.
The championship which began on Jan. 13 is expected to end on Feb. 4.(NAN)
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Aussie Open: Kerber crushes Sharapova in ex-champs showdown
Angelique Kerber crushed Maria Sharapova in straight sets in a battle of former champions at the Australian Open on Saturday.
The 2016 winner from Germany and 21st seed roared past the unseeded Russian 2008 champion 6-1, 6-3 in 64 minutes to reach the last 16.
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“I was just trying to enjoy every point,” said Kerber after snuffing out Sharapova’s hopes in only her second Grand Slam tournament back since serving a 15-month doping ban.
The hugely anticipated match-up of the only two Australian Open winners — and indeed Grand Slam champions — left in the women’s draw got top billing Saturday night on Rod Laver Arena.
“I have so many good memories on this court,” said Kerber, who won her first Grand Slam title there two years ago when she beat Serena Williams in the final.
“I knew before the match it would be a tough one.”
Sharapova only returned to the top 50 two weeks ago and Kerber to the top 20 last week after being on top of the rankings as defending champion in Melbourne a year ago.
Sharapova reached the semi-finals in Shenzhen to start the year but Kerber’s form has been outstanding heading into the year’s first major.
The German enjoyed an unbeaten singles campaign in the Hopman Cup, won in Sydney and surrendered only nine games in the first two rounds in Melbourne.
The pair had played each other on seven occasions before Saturday, with Kerber edging the series 4-3 including their previous two meetings, the last of which came on the Stuttgart clay in 2015.
Kerber sent an early reminder of her recent superiority, breaking the Russian and then holding serve to go 2-0 up for the loss of just two points.
Sharapova finally got on the board, but flawless Kerber was finding winners almost at will and broke again to take a 4-1 advantage in just 23 minutes.
Six minutes later and a third break, this time to love, brought the first set to the German who celebrated her 30th birthday earlier this week by taking it with just two unforced errors.
Sharapova was facing the biggest test of her comeback as the pattern continued at the start of the second.
A double fault followed by a sloppy backhand way beyond the baseline handed Kerber a 2-0 lead.
Sharapova’s form may have been patchy since her comeback but her fighting qualities have never been in doubt.
Almost down and out, she broke Kerber for the first time and held to get back on serve at 2-2.
But Kerber’s relentless accuracy finally told at 4-3 in the second. Sharapova netted twice to hand the decisive break to Kerber who served out with ease to seal the victory.
Kerber will face either 26th seed Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland or Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei for a place in the quarter-finals.
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Australian Open: Alexander Zverev beaten in five sets by Hyeon Chung
Alexander Zverev loses the fifth set 6-0 as he is knocked out of the Australian Open by unseeded Hyeon Chung.
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Our target at Akwa United is the NPFL title — Bassey
Veteran journalist turned football asministrator, Paul Bassey is chairman of Akwa United Football Club of Uyo. The former CAF/FIFA Media Officer and General Co-ordinator watched his team beat Rangers International of Enugu 2-0 on matchday one of the 2018 Nigeria Professional Football League season in Uyo. He spoke with Jacob Ajom at his residence in Uyo. ExcerptsHow has it been as chairman of Akwa United FC?IT’s been tough, very tough. Most people forget that I have never managed a football club before, so for me it is a virgin ground. The only thing people remember is that Paul Bassey has been there; he has experience in CAF and FIFA. But I never had the experience as club chairman. What I found out when I first arrived was that I needed to restructure the place and professionalise the club, get records and the discipline structure.Yes I have been a FIFA Media officer, CAF General Co-ordinator, I have interacted with clubs abroad, which got me working close with clubs. I have such experience. When I came I thought we will use the first year to fix the structure; it was supposed to be a gestation period and maybe in the second year we then go for a trophy. But success happened on us. Since the formation of the club 20 years ago, this is the first time the club finished fourth in the league and won the Confederation Cup. In 2015 we won the Federation Cup but we were almost relegated. Before the last season, the best the club had recorded was the 14th position. That was the burden we were carrying.But like what I always tell people, it’s easy to get to the top but tougher to remain there.. In 2018 we want to be better than what we did last time out in Africa. In 2018 we want to better our position on the league table and finish as winners or at least get a Champions League ticket. It is a massive challenge and a massive responsibility.We want to appreciate Governor Emmanuel Udom who has been making the funds available. As a result we don’t owe salaries. We are looking forward to January salaries, bonuses have been paid. Akwa United is one club where you don’t have outstanding match bonuses, except for this evening’s match (Akwa Utd vs Rangers). If you are in such an environment, you can challenge the players to give you the desired results. But if you are owing players, how do you ask them to give you good results.Another thing going for us is that we have coach Abdul Maikaba as our technical adviser. He is one of the best coaches in this country. We are happy to have him and a set of fantastic staff. Everybody will key behind him, they will key behind a leader. Considering the environment, it has been tough but thank God for where we have gotten so far.One can recall that last time out Akwa United were knocked out in the first round of CAF Confederation Cup preliminaries. What have you done to avert a repeat of that this season?When we played that time, I was a consultant to the club. In fact it was that ouster from Africa that necessitated my coming. We have learnt our lessons.We learnt that in Africa it is not easy to take part in a continental competition. At times you want to book for a flight you may not get 25 seats on one flight. Another problem is funding, you may not get the funds when they are needed because of bureaucracy.In Africa you should be able to know before hand whether you are going to play on grass or artificial turf. You should be able to watch the team you are going to play against to know how good they are. If you do all these things on time you will be ready.This time, we are even a bit lucky that our opponents are coming here first. We will have the opportunity of assessing them here before going away for the second leg. I would rather play first leg at home than going away. What if you go away and lose, say 4-0, how do you come back home to upturn that result? So we have found out those little but important things that made us not to do well in 2016 and we are working hard to avoid them.It is expensive, very expensive. Running football in Nigeria is very expensive. The Nigerian terrain doesn’t help matters. Imagine you have to travel to Maiduguri, Bauchi, you have to go to Nasarawa, you have to go to Ilorin and so on. We have midweek matches. Take Go Round, for instance, they started the league in Bauchi on Sunday and they have to run down to Rivers state to play us on Wednesday. The best they can do is to arrive home on Tuesday. After the Wednesday match they will now be preparing for another match on Sunday. The fixtures are choked up, so ther is fatigue.Clubs should be flying to make it easier for the players.Where do you fly to? Let’s say you are going to Bauchi, you can only fly to Abuja then you have to hit the road. You have a match in Lafia, you fly into Abuja and you still have to hit the road. At the end of the day, you drive all the way to Nasarawa, you drive all the way to Katsina then you drive back again to take the flight. You have a match in Maiduguri you fly to Abuja then drive all the way to Maiduguri. What about the funds? It is a difficult terrain. So those are the challenges that we have.What is your assessment of the Nigerian Professional Football League?It can only get better by the day. I have told you about man-made challenges. You cannot say let us not go and play in Nasarawa, let us not go and play in Katsina or Maiduguri. The same thing happening to you happens to everybody. It’s tough. Every year, there is some degree of improvement. Dana Air have approached us. But yet again, they can only fly us to the nearest airport to the venue of the next match, then you find your way. For instance when you are playing Sunshine they take you to Lagos, then you drive to Akure. It will help to cushion some of the financial challenges and it will help to reduce the fatigue in the players. We need more of that. But in a country as it is now, you cannot fly from Uyo to Katsina, or to Maiduguri or fly from Uyo to Jos. In terms of organisation, fine. You saw the match we played, Akwa United versus Rangers, good organisation and quality of play impressive. I think it is improving by the day. Very soon we will get there, especially when it comes to TV coverage.After your years in journalism, CAF and FIFA, one thought Paul Bassey would just go home and have a quiet retirement time and now you have been given even a more tasking job of piloting Aqua United. How do you feel about this?Well, the governor told me ‘’no matter what it is, you have to serve your people.” This is one of the ways I can serve my community. It is tough. You are not there as a technical person, but the day they lose people will call for your head. You can hardly sleep. You have forty boys under your kitty, boys from different backgrounds; and players can be very difficult to handle because they are from different backgrounds and different intellectual levels and different level of reasoning. And the coaches too are under me. It is one tough job. I do not know how coaches do it, but I will not recommend to my enemy to come and manage a clubAfter your latest experience, can we at any point expect to see a Paul Bassey become the President of the Nigeria Football Federation?No. I am not a politician. I tried some years ago to head the secretariat. Most of the work I did in CAF and FIFA was on an organisational capacity – match commissioner, general co-ordinator, instructor on club licensing, etc.I don’t think I want the NFF Presidency. It’s political. I had wanted an opportunity to reorganise the secretariat. But I don’t think I want to go back there.We can’t talk Nigerian football without a mention of the Super Eagles. We are going to Russia, what do you see in this team that can give you confidence that we are going to do well at the World Cup?The problem is that we have always had good teams but they have been plagued by poor organisation. One way or the other, people compromise either at the technical level or the boardroom. There have been so many problems associated with poor organisation in the past.Luckily, the present NFF wants to get away from the mistakes of the past. They don’t want any bonus problems. They have taken the right step to discuss with the players and the coaches in advance. The players now know, this is what you stand to get at each stage of the tournament.It will help give the boys the desired confidence and will engender concentration in them because they now know that the further they go means more money.I like the enthusiasm among Nigerians, the media. I like it. But we are in a very difficult group. We are in a group where we can lose three matches, and we are also in a group where we can win three matches. So that is where we are. But with some degree of off-the-field organisation, we can go far.The boys are young and a very hungry. They know what it is to play at the World Cup. All we need now is good organisation.Are you worried that players from the domestic league have no chance in the World Cup bound Eagles squad?No. The Worls Cup is about Nigeria. I don’t care whether you are playing at home or anywhere in the world. As long as you are a Nigerian, whether you play in Ukraine or play in England or Germany, you can play Nigeria.Has the Nigerian media done justice to the domestic league?Yes. I am impressed. Now I can say that every passing day, it’s getting better. The TV, radio, online publications etc dedicated space and airtime to the Nigeria Professional Football League. People like you leave Lagos and travel to Uyo to come and watch matches, go back and report. It’s getting better.What should we expect from Akwa United in 2018?We will give it our best shot. Last year we got to where we are now, we got to stay there or get one better. We are very positive we will do better than what we did last season. Better than last season means winning the league or at least, finishing second. We want to win the league, defend the FA Cup and go as far as we can in Africa. Those are our targets.
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CHAN 2018: Eagles beat Libya, top Group C
Nigeria bounced back from a disappointing start to their campaign at the 2018 African Nations Championship with a hard-fought 1-0 defeat of Libya at the Stade Ibn Batouta, Tangier, Morocco, on Friday.
A lone goal from 19-year-old Shooting Stars’ forward Sunday Faleye gave Nigeria the three points to go top of Group C after a disappointing goalless draw against Rwanda in their first match on Monday. Rwanda are second after a 1-0 win over Equatorial Guinea.
The home-based Super Eagles will play Equatorial Guinea, who lost their first game 3-0 to Libya, in their last match on Tuesday. A win will see them qualify for the quarter-finals of the championship.
Eagles Assistant Coach Salisu Yusuf retained the starting team, which drew 0-0 with Rwanda. Captain Ikechukwu Ezenwa remained in goal while Osas Okoro, Daniel Itodo, Stephen Eze and Kalu Orji were in defence. Emeka Atuloma, Ifeanyi Ifeanyi and Rabiu Ali were in the midfield while Emeka Ogbugh, Anthony Okpotu and Sunday Faleye started in the attack.
Nigeria started the stronger side as they sought to score the early goal but the Libyan defenders kept the Eagles attackers at bay. The Eagles first chance came in the third minute when Itodo’s long throw found Okpotu in the Libyan box – the Lobi Stars’ forward failed to convert the chance.
The Eagles kept the momentum but failed to create clear-cut opportunities to beat the Libyan defence.
The match became an end-to-end affair as both sides searched for the opener but the Nigerian defenders kept the Libyan attackers at bay. Ezenwa made a confortable save in the 30th minute from a Libyan free-kick.
The Eagles forced Libyan goalkeeper Nashnush to make a save from an Ogbugh header, off a cross from Faleye.
Coach Yusuf substituted Okpotu with Mustapha Ibrahim in the 61st minute as the Eagles continued to search for the opening goal.
The Eagles’ pressure paid off in the 79th minute. Faleye, who was unmarked, sent a right-footed shot into the net from an Okoro corner kick.
The Eagles almost doubled the score in the 81st minute after Ibrahim was through on goal but his pass to Faleye was well-read by a Libyan defender, who cleared into safety.
Libya came forward in search of an equaliser but Nigeria held on for their first win of the competition.
Meanwhile, Nigeria Premier League great Victor Ezeji advised the team to work more on their attack if they are to go far in the competition.
Ezeji, who spoke with our correspondent on the telephone after the match on Friday, said the team are good in the defence, adding that their attackers needed to score goals to win matches.
“I knew they would defeat Libya because it is a Nigerian thing. When the chips are down, Nigerian teams have always woken up and done the needful,” the former Enyimba forward said.
“They played better against Libya than in their first match against Rwanda but there is much work to be done on their goal scoring abilities. They need to get the goals to win matches. They defend very well and are composed in the midfield but the final ball let them down a couple of times.
“They have got a goal against Libya, they should work on it and get more in their next match and see how they can win the tournament.”
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Brighton sign Locadia for reported club record £14m
Brighton break their transfer record to sign striker Jurgen Locadia from Dutch club PSV Eindhoven for a reported fee of about £14m.
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Breaking: Pele collapses, hospitalised
Football greatest, Pele, is in hospital after collapsing due to exhaustion, preventing him from travelling to London for an engagement this weekend.
According to the English Football Writers Association (FWA), the 77-year-old, a three-time World Cup winner, collapsed on Thursday.
He is being monitored in hospital in Brazil, FWA said. The FWA were due to host a dinner in his honour.
Pele “has undergone a series of tests which appear to point to severe exhaustion”, said the FWA.
“He is on fluids while doctors monitor his recovery. Thankfully there is no suggestion of anything more serious.”
Pele helped inspire Brazil to wins in the 1958, 1962 and 1970 World Cups.
He has become increasingly frail in recent years and was unable to light the Olympic flame at the opening ceremony of the 2016 Games due to ill health.
He scored 1,281 goals in 1,363 appearances during his 21-year career, including 77 goals in 91 appearances for Brazil.
He was a guest in Moscow on 1 December, 2017, where the draws for the World Cup matches were made. President Vladimir Putin and Diego Maradona took photographs with the legend on wheelchair.
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Sergi Roberto signs new three-year Barcelona deal
Sergi Roberto has signed a three-year contract extension with Barcelona, tying him to the leaders of La Liga until 2022, the club announced on Friday.
Barcelona said the deal included a 500 million-euro ($614 million) buyout clause for the 25-year-old, whose existing deal was due to expire in 2019.
Spanish press reports said that deal had included a buyout clause worth just 30 million euros, a figure that made them vulnerable to approaches from rival clubs.
The announcement comes just a day after Barcelona revealed that Gerard Pique had extended his contract by three years to 2022.
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Australian Open: Organisers defend heat policy after extreme temperatures
Australian Open organisers defend the decision not to stop play for extreme temperatures following player criticism.
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