Monday, June 17, 2024
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A three-horse race for two continental ticket is set up after Enugu Rangers league win

Enugu Rangers have broken loose from the pack as title contenders – Remo Stars, Enyimba and Shooting Stars all blew their chances in the penultimate match days as all lost with identical scorelines of 2-1 in their respective away games.

  The title is gone, now resting in Enugu who are having their second league celebrations in over 30 years. They win the jackpot N150 million prize for their title.

  But the battle is not over for the initial aspiring trio. At best they have the second CAF Champions League ticket to battle for. One of the three will win that on the last match day. The second placed team gets the CAF Champions League slot while the third gets the Confederation Cup ticket.

 Another

Coincidentally, the trio will be at their familiar home ground. As it is, second placed Remo Stars are at advantage to pick a ticket if they can pick a point from their home game with Katsina United. It will be their third consecutive adventure in the continent.

 The fierce battle will therefore be between third placed Enyimba and fourth placed Shooting Stars.  Both badly need a win to get either the Champions League ticket or that of the Confederation Cup.

  However, Plateau United are lurking and an away win by the Jos team in Aba will not only upset Enyimba, it could land the Plateau United a continental ticket should Shooting Stars lose or draw with Sporting Lagos.

On the other side of the divide, the battle to escape the drop has taken a dramatic twist. As the Sunday matches were on, Sporting Lagos initially thought they had escaped the drop.

 But a turnaround by Bayelsa United who came from behind to beat Shooting Stars change the weather condition for the worst for the Lagos sides.

  They now face an herculean task next weekend in their duel with continental ticket chasing Shooting Stars. The confirmed teams for relegation are Gombe United and Heartland.

Mbappe rules out playing at Paris Games after Real Madrid move

Kylian Mbappe confirmed on Sunday he will not play for France’s Olympic team at the Paris Games as his new club Real Madrid are against the idea.

The 25-year-old said in March that he was keen on playing at his home Games but since the Olympic soccer tournament is not on FIFA’s calendar clubs are not obliged to release their players.

Mbappe was not included in a 25-man preliminary squad for the Olympics earlier this month, though head coach Thierry Henry left the door open.

“My club’s position was very clear, so from that moment on, I think I (knew) I won’t be taking part in the Games,” Mbappe told reporters ahead of Monday’s Group D match against Austria at Euro 2024.

“That’s just the way it is, and I understand that too. I’m joining a new team in September, so it’s not the best way to start an adventure.

“I’m going to wish this French team all the best. I’m going to watch every game. I hope they’ll win the gold medal.”

The men’s Olympic football competition begins on July 24, 10 days after the European Championships final, and ends on Aug. 9.

-Reuters

Enugu Rangers are Nigerian champions!

Enugu Rangers re-enacted their glorious old days and now the new Nigerian champions after defeating Bendel Insurance 2-0 and Remo Stars losing 2-1 to Sunshine Stars.

 The trio of Remo Stars, Shooting Stars and Enyimba who were on the heels of Enugu Rangers all lost their away games with 2-1 scorelines.

With the result, Enugu Rangers attained an unassailable lead with just one match day to end the Nigerian league season. Despite their pedigree in Nigerian football, this is just their second title since the Nigerian top league changed status to professionalism in 1990.

  Rangers, who are the only Nigerian club never to be relegated since the Nigerian national league began in 1972 won their only professional league title in 2016.

 In the pre-professional football era, they were Nigerian champions in 1974, 1975, 1977, 1981 and 1982.

This time,  Remo Stars who who have delayed Enugu Rangers’ coronation lost  in a western derby, but retained their second position when Shooting Stars conceded  late goals to Bayelsa United and lost 2-1 after leading 1-0 for the greater part of the match. They dropped to the fourth position giving Enyimba a respite.

 Shooting Stars who got rejuvenated midway in the season can still hold on to their continental ambition when they host relegation-escapee, Sporting Lagos on the last match day.

  Rangers have a dead rubber away duel to Gombe United whose visa to the lower NNL has been issue. They possibly hold the record for the worst goal difference in the Nigerian league as they have a deficit of 56 goals.

 Results

  • Sunshine Stars 2-1 Remo Stars
  • Sporting Lagos 2-1 Enyimba
  • Bayelsa United 2-1 Shooting Stars
  • Enugu Rangers 2-0 Bendel Insurance
  • Abia Warriors 2-0 Akwa United

Behold, Finidi George’s resignation letter and why he quit the job

The decision of the Nigeria Football Federation to engage a foreign technical adviser is the main reason why Finidi George resigned from his appointment as the head coach of the Super Eagles.

This is contained in the letter of resignation which copy Sports Village Square has. In the letter dated June 14, 2024 and addressed to the NFF President, Finidi wrote:

 “I am writing to inform you of my decision to step down as the head coach of the Super Eagles, Nigeria’s men senior team. This decision is in light of recent decision to effect changes in the team’s rechnical crew.

  “I would like to express my sincere gratitude to you, the entire leadership of the federation, the sports ministry and the people of Nigeria for the opportunity to serve as the head coach of the Super Eagles.

“Although, our recent results in the qualifying matches were not as desired, I remained committed to getting our World Cup qualification campaign back on track.

“However, with the recent changes to the technical crew, I believe it is time to vacate my position.

“Please be assured of my continued support for the team, and I wish us all the best for the future.”

Can of worms discovered in Super Eagles camp

BY KUNLE SOLAJA

All is not well at the moment with the Nigeria’s Super Eagles who have gone seven World Cup qualifying matches since November 2021 without a win.

The dwindled fortunes contrast sharply for a team noted before now as the African sides with the longest unbeaten streak in the World Cup qualifiers. At time, they were unbeaten since losing through a late goal to Angola in Luanda on 20 June 2004 till 10 November 2017 when their 1-1 draw with Algeria was converted to a 3-0 forfeiture owing to NFF featuring an unqualified player. At  the time, Super Eagles had raked 35 unbeaten run. At another time from 2012 to 2013, the team had an unbeaten run of 18 matches from 3 June 2012  when they beat Namibia 1-0 in Calabar to 21 June 2013 when they were beaten 2-1 by Uruguay in a FIFA Confederations match in Brazil.

 Yet the same outfit has turned laborious after losing its flairs. A source close to Finidi George told Sports Village Square that the coach complained that the NFF just heaped all the blames of the team’s current precarious situation on him while exonerating the players.  

  He also reportedly remarked that the NFF did nothing to mobilise crowd support for the Super Eagles in the back-breaking encounter with Benin Republic in Abidjan despite the presence of large Nigerian community in the Ivorian commercial capital city.

 A Benin Republic sports journalist confirmed this to Sports Village Square. The journalist remarked that it was true that there “were not many Nigerians at the Félix Houphouet Boigny stadium even though Nigeria has a strong community in the Ivory Coast.  I see that the defeat against the Republic of Benin really hurts.”

  Dr. Rafiu Ladipo, the President General of the Nigeria Football and other Sports Supporters’ Club (NFSP) had earlier made the same assertion on the neglect of crowd mobilisation for the Super Eagles and that those who made it to Uyo and had auto accident on their way back were not even given a mention by the NFF.

 He had since 1991 established the first of the international cells of the supporters club. They were not mobilised for the game against Benin Republic.

 On players attitude, a member of the NFF confirmed that the Super Eagles camp in Uyo was loose as players went to camp with their girl friends.

 That could also explain their dismal forms in the back-to-back destiny shaping encounters with South Africa and Benin Republic.

Enugu Rangers may emerge Nigeria’s league champions this Sunday

BY KUNLE SOLAJA.

The 2023/2024 Nigeria Premier League is undoubtedly the most keenly contested in recent time as there is everything to play for till the last match day.

The battle for the title looks open and sweeping. So also is the struggle for the drop as two teams can still avoid the drop despite being deep in the relegation waters while others are within the drop zone.

For the title, it is a four-horse race equally separated along rivalry and geographical divides.

From the East are front-runners, Enugu Rangers and Enyimba who are also fierce rivals. From the West are the emerging Nigerian sensations, Remo Stars and traditional war lords, Shooting Stars.

 Like Enugu Rangers and Enyimba, Remo Stars and Shooting Stars are regional rivals. Thus the four teams chase three continental tickets and the ultimate Nigerian title.

  Arithmetically, the four have chances of picking the title, but the odds tilt more in Enugu Rangers’ favour. If they win their match this Sunday against medium ranked Bendel Insurance and take their haul to 67 points, the Nigerian league title could be theirs irrespective of results elsewhere.

 That theory will be validated if any of the trio of Remo Stars, Enyimba and Shooting Stars should drop points in their respective duels with Sunshine Stars, Bayelsa United and Sporting Lagos.

 But if Remo Stars  beat Sunshine Stars and Enyimba also do the same against relegation prone Sporting Lagos, the title race will be thrown wide till last match day.

  Then, all the three teams chasing Enugu Rangers will be at their comfort zones at home, while the leaders will be away to already relegated and no-hoppers, Gombe United whose entry visa to the second tier NNL has been granted.

Remo Stars, hardy known to drop points at home will face Katsina United. Shooting Stars who are having their best run in close to 30 years will be at their fortress against relegation candidates, Sporting Lagos.

Enyimba, though at home, may face stiffer oppositions as they will face Plateau United – a team that could upset the cart if they win their penultimate duel with Kano Pillars.

Key Matches

Enugu Rangers v. Bendel Insurance

Bayelsa United  v. Shooting Stars

Sunshine Stars   v. Remo Stars

Sporting Lagos   v. Enyimba

Italy recover from disastrous start to win Euro 2024 opener

Italy recovered from conceding the fastest goal in the competition’s history to get their defence of the European Championship title off to a winning start on Saturday as they came back to beat Albania 2-1 in front of a partisan crowd.

Nedim Bajrami stunned the Italians and delighted a huge Albanian support in Dortmund as he smashed in the opener after just 23 seconds, his strike pulverising the previous record for the quickest goal at the Euros of 67 seconds by Dmitri Kirichenko of Russia in 2004.

Yet Italy’s response to falling behind was quick too, as Alessandro Bastoni headed the Azzurri level on 11 minutes and Nicolo Barella’s glorious effort put them ahead just past the quarter-hour mark.

From then on Luciano Spalletti’s team looked much more assured, although they really should have won by a greater margin rather than face an anxious finale as Albania pushed for an equaliser.

Their performance -– the first 23 seconds apart -– was largely encouraging before an enticing showdown with fellow heavyweights Spain in nearby Gelsenkirchen next Thursday.

Whatever happens in that match, Italy are already well-placed to advance to the knockout phase of Euro 2024 from Group B, in which Spain defeated Croatia 3-0 earlier on Saturday in Berlin.

Italy are in some ways an unknown quantity coming into this tournament, with the reigning champions having also missed the last two World Cups and failed to fully convince during qualifying.

Only five of Italy’s line-up at kick-off here started the final of the last Euros three years ago, with a new-look team featuring Bologna centre-back Riccardo Calafiori winning just his third cap.

Bajrami makes history

Albania, though, are appearing at just their second major tournament having also gone to Euro 2016.

The novelty of the experience for them helps explain why the home of Borussia Dortmund was a sea of excitable Albanian fans decked in red and black who made up the vast majority of the crowd.

They could hardly believe it when their team, coached by the Brazilian former Arsenal and Barcelona left-back Sylvinho, opened the scoring almost straight from kick-off.

Italy’s Federico Dimarco took a throw from the left-back position but played it loosely back into his own box. Bastoni was caught on the back foot, and Bajrami –- who plays in Italy for Sassuolo — pounced to control and fire past Gianluigi Donnarumma at the goalkeeper’s near post.

It was a similar start to Italy’s last European Championship match, when Luke Shaw put England ahead inside two minutes in the final at Wembley in 2021 before the Azzurri came back to win on penalties.

This time they drew level when Dimarco and Lorenzo Pellegrini played a short corner routine on the left before the latter crossed for Inter Milan centre-back Bastoni to head in at the back post.

Italy had regained their composure and soon went in front on 16 minutes, a Jasir Asani clearance dropping straight to another Inter player in Barella, who made the cleanest of contacts at the edge of the area to send a first-time shot past goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha.

They should have added to their lead before the interval, with Davide Frattesi hitting the post after meeting a lovely reverse pass by Gianluca Scamacca in the box.

Scamacca was then denied by Strakosha, while Fedrico Chiesa curled a shot just wide on the hour mark.

Italy then sat back, but Albania did not manage another attempt on target and the second-lowest ranked nation in the competition could not find an equaliser despite their best efforts late on.

-AFP

Osimhen: An unnecessary outburst

BY KUNLE SOLAJA.

Nigeria’s current most celebrated striker, Victor Osimhen this Saturday hit the headlines for a wrong reason. He had a live video post on his social media handles and poured invectives on Finidi George, the erstwhile Super Eagles’ coach.

No matter the course he was attempting to crusade, he got it all wrong. He did not present himself as the model footballer for aspiring stars to look up.

No matter what Finidi George must have spoken against him, going to the social media to vent his anger and using foul languages are the least expected of a player of his standing and an African Footballer of the Year award holder.

Had it been his club coach, he would not have reacted the same way he has done now. If he does, he is aware of the consequences. Stars have been known to lose corporate endorsments owing to out of field attitudes and utterances.

A star player must be model who distinguishes himself in action and in character.

Coaches in the past have spoken one or two bad things about their players. But such players employed decent ways to express their displeasure.

Take for instance, when Mourinho’s views about the ages of African players escaped into the public domain and he particularly pointed at Samuel Eto’s who was then in Chelsea.

 Mourinho then was secretly recorded questioning age of Samuel Eto’o: ‘He is 32 years old, maybe 35, who knows?

Mourinho was preparing to speak to Canal Plus when he was filmed speaking to a Swiss businessman during a recent sponsor’s event, with the recording being made public on Monday.

As weighty as that could be, Eto’o reacted by saying: “And you may have noticed that the old man was better than the youngsters. Some believe I am going to retire in the United States or in the Middle East, but I have regained the joy of the Champions League and I am going to carry on playing in the Champions League.

He showed he had no hard feelings to Jose Mourinho over the Chelsea’s boss’s jibes about his age with a goal celebration mocking his ‘old-man’ status.

The Cameroon striker looked like a teenager as he raced on to to put Chelsea ahead against Spurs in the 56th minute of their 4-0 win And his goal celebration — walking like a hunched old man to lean on a corner flag, feeling his back — brought a smile to his team-mates and Mourinho.

He has made his point known. Osimhen would not have openly insulted any of his coaches in Europe.

What is wrong is wrong, no mater the status of the player. Osimhen needs to grow up and should be asked to offer apologies . It is Finidi George today as a national coach.

That position has been disrespected and desecrated by the player’s outburst. Tomorrow, the NFF president or even the sports minister could be the next target. Other players too, might take a cue from what Osimhen has done. Enough of this nonsense.

Dominican Republic 2024:Flamingos land in the Dominican Republic!

Nigeria’s U17 girls, Flamingos, have secured their ticket to the 8th FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup finals to be staged in the Dominican Republic later this year, after a 2-0 defeat of their Liberian counterparts at the MKO Abiola National Stadium, Abuja on Friday.

Victory took the aggregate tally to 6-1 in favour of Nigeria, with extraordinary poacher Harmony Chidi setting a record of 13 goals in a qualifying series that will be difficult to equal in years to come. She had 11 goals before kick-off, but netted the two goals of the evening to take Nigeria’s total of the series to a whopping 25. Central African Republic fell by a dozen goals while Burkina Faso fell 1-7 on aggregate.

Her first came after only four minutes when she sped past the Liberian defence to toe-poke the ball beyond the flailing arms of goalkeeper Makula Konneh from a cross by Shakirat Moshood.

A goal feast was expected, but this did not happen, as Peace Effiong had a close call in the 17th and Moshood rocked the crossbar a minute after from 20 yards. Moshood also missed from close range with 10 minutes left of the first half.

In the 56th minute, Moshood blasted beyond the goalpost when faced with Konneh, but Harmony Chidi made sure of her brace seven minutes later when she lashed the ball beyond Konneh’s reach as Nigeria seized the ball from a defensive slip-up by the visitors.

The 8th FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup finals will be staged in the cities of Santiago de los Caballeros and Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, 16th October – 3rd November.

Germany’s Beckenbauer honoured in Euro 2024 opening ceremony

UEFA paid tribute to Germany’s late World Cup-winning captain and coach Franz Beckenbauer during the Euro 2024 opening ceremony on Friday, with fans applauding as videos of one of Germany’s greatest players were shown in the Munich stadium.

“We will never forget you,” said an announcement.

Beckenbauer, who died in January aged 78, captained West Germany to European Championship victory in 1972 and a World Cup success in 1974 before winning the World Cup as national team manager in 1990.

“Der Kaiser”, as he was nicknamed for his imperious playing style and command of the game, was also a stalwart of the Bayern Munich team who won the European Cup three times in a row from 1974-76.

His wife Heidi joined Bernard Dietz and Juergen Klinsmann, who captained the Germany sides that won Euro 1980 and Euro 1996, in bringing the Henri Delaunay Cup – the trophy which will be presented to Euro 2024’s winning team – on to the pitch.

-Reuters