2019 AFCON: Super Eagles in group of death — Offor-Okenwa

Chidi Offor-Okenwa, Chairman, Enugu State Football Association, says the Super Eagles’ Group in the forthcoming African Cup of Nations (AFCON) is the “group of death”.

Offor-Okenwa told the Bengbenro news in Enugu on Tuesday that there were no minnows in African football and as such, the Super Eagles should not take their opponents for a ride.

He noted that any team that made it to the competition was capable of winning it by virtue of performance. The chairman, who is also the chairman of Nigeria National League, said that the Super Eagles’ group was a group of death. Nigeria is grouped alongside Guinea, Madagascar and Burundi in Group B of the tournament.

“We are looking forward to a stiff competition and it is not all about group but about ensuring that they qualify to the next stage. “The Super Eagles need to play and win all their matches because there are no minnow team in African football.

“You may not have big stars in these other teams but on the background, most of them are playing regularly for their local clubs,” Offor-Okenwa said. He said that a player who is playing regularly for his clubs was better than a player regarded as a star player warming the bench in his big club.

“I can tell you that the group is going to be too competitive and that the Super Eagles should not take it easy with any opponent.” On the invitation of new players to the team, Offor-Okenwa noted that such was good for competition and even if it caused confusion, a good coach would deal well with it. He noted that competition in a team was good because in competition, you either fit in or you are out.

Offor-Okenwa said that the physical condition of a player at a particular time mattered a lot and that a player, who was not in a physical condition towards any competition, should not be considered. On Mikel Obi’s return, the administrator said that he heard that Obi was playing regularly in Middlesbrough’s FC of England.

“’In the game of football, what we should be talking about is the player’s physical and mental readiness for a tournament and not a player who warms the bench in a big club,” Offor-Okenwa said.

Henderson thriving after Klopp lifts shackles

Jordan Henderson has emerged as the unexpected driving force in Liverpool’s midfield after persuading Jurgen Klopp to grant him the freedom to roam.

Henderson has spent most of his career as an unsung support act for more glamourous teammates with Liverpool and England.

But the 28-year-old has won Klopp’s trust so completely that he goes into Wednesday’s Champions League quarterfinal second leg at Porto firmly established as one of the key components of Liverpool’s push for a European Cup and Premier League double.

Ever since joining Liverpool from his hometown club Sunderland in 2011, Henderson had struggled to silence the critics who have questioned his ability to influence matches against the very best opposition.

Those doubters seized on criticism from former Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson, who once wrote in his autobiography that he opted not to sign Henderson because of the way he ran.

“We looked at Jordan Henderson a lot, and Steve Bruce was unfailingly enthusiastic about him. But we noticed that Henderson runs from his knees, with a straight back,” Ferguson said.

“The modern footballer runs from his hips, and we thought this gait might cause him problems later in his career.”

But the level-headed Henderson refused to be beaten down by Ferguson and others who wrote him off.

Impressing Klopp with his tactical discipline and relentless work ethic, Henderson has improved significantly since the German took charge at Anfield in 2015, earning the captain’s armband.

But even with his place in Klopp’s plans secure as a reliable defensive midfielder, Henderson remained restless for a bigger role in the team’s attacking scheme.

Offered the chance to play in an advanced midfield berth during England’s recent Euro 2020 qualifiers against the Czech Republic and Montenegro, Henderson showcased his versatility with two terrific performances.

Emboldened by those displays, Henderson made a beeline for Klopp’s office on his return to Liverpool’s Melwood training ground and made his case to be used in the same role with the Reds.

ON FIRE

It wasn’t the first time this season Henderson had been willing to challenge Klopp after the pair briefly clashed on the Old Trafford touchline when the midfielder was substituted against Manchester United.

Intriguingly, Klopp decided to bow to Henderson’s request on this occasion and the results have been a revelation.

He scored his first goal for 17 months in Liverpool’s 3-1 win at Southampton, delivered a dynamic show in the 2-0 Champions League first-leg victory over Porto and then set up Sadio Mane’s opener in Sunday’s vital 2-0 success against Chelsea.

“From now on, all the time when players come into my office and ask for a different position, I will play them. It’s brilliant!” Klopp joked.

“Actually we had that talk. He played the other positions when we had a need and played them really well.

“Now you can see he is really energetic. For the game against Porto, wow. So no problem. That is my job, to play the players in their strongest position.

“In the last three games he’s obviously on fire.”

Henderson’s Liverpool teammate Mohamed Salah believes the switch to a more attacking position has benefitted the rest of the side as well.

“Hendo did a great job and it makes it easier for me. I think we do a good job together, we know how to play to each other,” Salah said.

With Henderson, who should recover from an ankle knock to face Porto, in such fine form, Liverpool are top of the Premier League as they chase a first English title since 1990.

They are also within touching distance of the Champions League semifinals and Graeme Souness, himself a buccaneering midfielder in Liverpool’s golden era, gives plenty of the credit to Henderson.

“He’s got great energy. Now he’s off the leash and he’ll be better for it,’ Souness said.

“It’s definitely his best position. Jordan wants to be on the ball and he’s got that athleticism.”

UEFA Champions League News: Big Match Feature: Barca v Man United

For the second Uefa Champions League tie running Manchester United face an away second leg having been beaten at home as Ole Gunnar Solskjær returns to the scene of his most famous triumph with Barcelona holding the upper hand.

Catch the action live on SuperSport and live streaming through DStv Now.

An early own goal from United defender Luke Shaw – the 14th Barcelona have benefited from in the UEFA Champions League, equalling the competition record – proved enough to separate the teams at Old Trafford. It was Barcelona’s first win in seven away knockout games (D2 L4) and only their second goal in that period.

While the Catalan giants have won the last three meetings between the sides, a run that includes the UEFA Champions League finals of 2009 and 2011, United have won both previous two-legged contests.

United produced a memorable away display to retrieve their round of 16 tie against Paris Saint-Germain and reach the quarter-finals for the first time since 2013/14. Barcelona ultimately cruised through their last-16 contest against Lyon en route to an unprecedented 12th successive last-eight appearance – although their last three UEFA Champions League campaigns have all ended at this stage.

United won their second European Cup at the Camp Nou, coming from a goal down to beat Bayern München 2-1 in the 1999 final with two added-time goals – substitute Solskjær scoring the winner.

PREVIOUS MEETINGS

While there is little between the sides overall, United recording three victories to Barcelona’s five in their 12 meetings, the Spanish side have won the last three fixtures – the first two on the biggest club stage of all.

The 2009 UEFA Champions League final in Rome went Barça’s way thanks to a goal in each half from Samuel Eto’o and Lionel Messi. Two years later, Messi scored in between goals from Pedro Rodríguez and David Villa as Barcelona ran out 3-1 victors at Wembley, Wayne Rooney with United’s only response.

Gerard Piqué and Sergio Busquets joined Messi in Barcelona’s line-up for both finals with United coach Michael Carrick in the opposing team for both games and Antonio Valencia appearing in 2011, when Chris Smalling was an unused substitute.

United did get the better of Barcelona in the 2007/08 UEFA Champions League semi-finals, Paul Scholes scoring the only goal of the tie in the Old Trafford second leg after United’s Cristiano Ronaldo had missed an early penalty at the Camp Nou.

Barça have never lost at home to United (W2 D2), although the last two fixtures have both been draws.

Barcelona inflicted United’s heaviest UEFA Champions League defeat, a 4-0 reverse at the Camp Nou in the 1994/95 group stage in which Hristo Stoichkov scored twice.

United beat Barcelona in the 1991 European Cup Winners’ Cup final in Rotterdam, former Barça striker Mark Hughes scoring both goals in a 2-1 win.

FORM GUIDE

BARCELONA

Barcelona’s record in European Cup quarter-finals is W14 L6, with four of those defeats coming in the past five ties:

2017/18 Roma L 4-4 away goals (4-1 h, 0-3 a)
2016/17 Juventus L 0-3 (0-3 a, 0-0 h)
2015/16 Atlético Madrid L 2-3 (2-1 h, 0-2 a)
2014/15 Paris Saint-Germain W 5-1 (3-1 a, 2-0 h)
2013/14 Atlético Madrid L 1-2 (1-1 h, 0-1 a)
2012/13 Paris Saint-Germain W 3-3, away goals (2-2 a, 1-1 h)
2011/12 AC Milan W 3-1 (0-0 a, 3-1 h)
2010/11 Shakhtar Donetsk W 6-1 (5-1 h, 1-0 a)
2009/10 Arsenal W 6-3 (2-2 a, 4-1 h)
2008/09 Bayern München W 5-1 (4-0 h, 1-1 a)
2007/08 Schalke W 2-0 (1-0 a, 1-0 h)
2005/06 Benfica W 2-0 (0-0 a, 2-0 h)
2002/03 Juventus L 2-3 (1-1 a, 1-2 h aet)
2001/02 Panathinaikos W 3-2 (0-1 a, 3-1 h)
1999/00 Chelsea W 6-4 (1-3 a, 5-1 h aet)
1994/95 Paris Saint-Germain L 2-3 (1-1 h, 1-2 a)
1985/86 Juventus W 2-1 (1-0 h, 1-1 a)
1974/75 Åtvidaberg W 5-0 (2-0 h, 3-0 a)
1960/61 Spartak Hradec Králové W 5-1 (4-0 h, 1-1 a)
1959/60 Wolverhampton Wanderers W 9-2 (4-0 h, 5-2 a)
Twelve months ago Barcelona looked set for the semi-finals after a 4-1 home win against Roma, only for a 3-0 away defeat to end their campaign on away goals and inflict a third successive last-eight loss. Barcelona won the home leg in two of those three ties, drawing the other.

Barcelona have encountered English opponents already this season, taking four points off Tottenham Hotspur in the group stage thanks to a 4-2 away success and a 1-1 home draw on matchday six.

The first-leg win made it one defeat in their last 14 European games against English clubs for Barça, who have won ten of those fixtures. They beat Chelsea 4-1 on aggregate in last season’s round of 16 (1-1 away, 3-0 home).

Their overall home record against English clubs is W20 D11 L2. They have been victorious in seven of the last nine at the Camp Nou (D2).

Barcelona have won 14 of their 24 two-legged ties with English clubs. The 2012 semi-final defeat by Chelsea is the only reverse in their last eight contests, all in the UEFA Champions League knockout phase.

That defeat at Roma is Barcelona’s sole loss in their last 20 UEFA Champions League fixtures (W12 D7). They beat Lyon 5-1 at home in the second leg of this season’s round of 16 and by the same aggregate scoreline.

Barcelona won both home games in last season’s knockout rounds, and are unbeaten in 12 knockout games at the Camp Nou (W10 D2), since a 3-0 loss to Bayern München in the 2012/13 semi-final second leg.

Ernesto Valverde’s side won their first two home games in this season’s group stage, beating PSV Eindhoven 4-0 and Internazionale 2-0 before a 1-1 draw with Tottenham.

Barcelona are unbeaten in 30 UEFA Champions League home matches, a run that started in September 2013 (W27 D3); the defeat of Lyon eclipsed the previous competition record of 29 set by Bayern München between March 1998 and April 2002.

Barcelona need four more goals to score 500 in the UEFA Champions League – a milestone reached by just one other club, Real Madrid.

Spanish champions for the 25th time – and third in four years – in 2017/18, Barcelona have been European champions on five occasions, most recently in 2015.

Barcelona have progressed 36 out of the 38 times they won the away first leg in UEFA competition, most recently against Arsenal in the 2015/16 round of 16.

One of those two failures came after a 1-0 away win, against Köln in the 1980/81 UEFA Cup second round (0-4 home); the other was against Metz in the 1984/85 European Cup Winners’ Cup first round (4-2 away, 1-4 home). Seven of those aggregate victories came after a 1-0 first-leg away win, most recently against Schalke in the 2007/08 UEFA Champions League quarter-final.

Barcelona’s record in six UEFA penalty shoot-outs is W5 L1:

5-4 v Lech Poznan, 1988/89 European Cup Winners’ Cup second round
0-2 v Steaua, 1985/86 European Champion Clubs’ Cup final
5-4 v IFK Göteborg, 1985/86 European Champion Clubs’ Cup semi-final
4-1 v Anderlecht, 1978/79 European Cup Winners’ Cup second round
3-1 v Ipswich Town, 1977/78 UEFA Cup third round
5-4 v AZ Alkmaar, 1977/78 UEFA Cup second round
MANCHESTER UNITED

United’s record in European Cup quarter-finals is W12 L6:

2013/14 Bayern München L 2-4 (1-1 h, 1-3 a)
2010/11 Chelsea W 3-1 (1-0 a, 2-1 h)
2009/10 Bayern München L 4-4 away goals (1-2 a, 3-2 h)
2008/09 Porto W 3-2 (2-2 h, 1-0 a)
2007/08 Roma W 3-0 (2-0 a, 1-0 h)
2006/07 Roma W 8-3 (1-2 a, 7-1 h)
2002/03 Real Madrid L 5-6 (1-3 a, 4-3 h)
2001/02 Deportivo La Coruña W 5-2 (2-0 a, 3-2 h)
2000/01 Bayern München L 1-3 (0-1 h, 1-2 a)
1999/2000 Real Madrid L 2-3 (0-0 a, 2-3 h)
1998/99 Internazionale W 3-1 (2-0 h, 1-1 a)
1997/98 Monaco L 1-1 away goals (0-0 a, 1-1 h)
1996/97 Porto W 4-0 (4-0 h, 0-0 a)
1968/69 Rapid Wien W 3-0 (3-0 h, 0-0 a)
1967/68 Górnik Zabrze W 2-1 (2-0 h, 0-1 a)
1965/66 Benfica W 8-3 (3-2 h, 5-1 a)
1957/58 Crvena zvezda W 5-4 (2-1 h, 3-3 a)
1956/67 Athletic Club W 6-5 (3-5 a, 3-0 h)
United’s first 12 UEFA Champions League quarter-finals all came with Sir Alex Ferguson as manager; their most recent, the 2014 defeat by Bayern, was overseen by David Moyes.

United engineered a stunning turnaround in the round of 16, overturning a 2-0 home defeat against Paris SaintGermain with a 3-1 win in France to progress on away goals – only the fourth time a team had come back from losing the home first leg in the UEFA Champions League era and the first to do so following a two-goal first-leg loss.

The Red Devils have already played Spanish opposition in this season’s competition, following a goalless draw at home to Valencia on matchday two with a 2-1 loss at Mestalla in their final group game.

This season’s results against Valencia and Barcelona mean United have now won just two of their last 16 matches against Spanish clubs (D6 L8) – and none of the last seven (D3 L4). United have, however, lost only twice in their last ten visits to Spain (W2 D6).

In 2017/18 United’s campaign was ended by Spanish opponents, Sevilla winning 2-1 in the round of 16 second leg at Old Trafford to progress by the same aggregate scoreline.

United’s record in two-legged ties against Spanish clubs is W6 L8.

United won their first two away matches in Group H this season, at Young Boys (3-0) and Juventus (2-1), before losing at Valencia. They have been beaten in only two of their last 13 European away games (W8 D3), with just eight goals conceded during that period; the Valencia contest is the only time they shipped more than one in that sequence.

Nevertheless, United have lost just seven of their last 29 European matches, home and away (W17 D5); the losses to Valencia and Paris were the first time they have suffered successive defeats since November/December 2012.

The round of 16 was Solskjær’s first tie in the UEFA Champions League proper as a coach; he oversaw eight qualifiers while in charge of Molde (W3 D4 L1). He took the Norwegian club into the UEFA Europa League group stage in 2012/13, and into the round of 32 of that competition three years later.

The last-16 tie against Paris was the first time United had come back from a first-leg home defeat to win the tie in UEFA competition, after three previous defeats. Two of those aggregate losses came after a 1-0 first-leg reverse, against Bayern München in the 2000/01 quarter-finals (1-2 away) and AC Milan in the 2004/05 round of 16 (0-1 away).

United’s record in three UEFA penalty shoot-outs is W1 L2:

6-5 v Chelsea, 2007/08 UEFA Champions League final
3-4 v Torpedo Moskva, 1992/93 UEFA Cup first round
4-5 v Videoton, 1984/85 UEFA Cup quarter-finals
LATEST NEWS

BARCELONA

Ivan Rakitic made his 100th UEFA club competition appearance in the first leg.

Luis Suárez brought up 50 appearances in the UEFA Champions League, group stage to final, at Old Trafford. MarcAndré ter Stegen will reach the same mark when he next features.

Lionel Messi is the joint leading scorer in this season’s UEFA Champions League, level with Robert Lewandowski of eliminated Bayern München on eight goals.

Barcelona are 18 games unbeaten in all competitions (W12 D6); the 4-4 draw at Villarreal on 2 April, in which they were 4-2 down entering the 90th minute, ended a seven-match winning streak.

A much-changed Barcelona were held 0-0 at Huesca on Saturday, the first time they have failed to score in 11 games in all competitions.

Moussa Wagué, Jeison Murillo, Ricard Puig and Jean-Clair Todibo all made their first senior appearances for Barcelona in Saturday’s stalemate.

Barça have won their last five fixtures at the Camp Nou, where they have lost once all season, a 4-3 defeat to Real Betis on 11 November. Their record otherwise is W18 D5, with no defeats in the last 15.

Barcelona have kept nine clean sheets in their last 14 fixtures in all competitions.

Messi is the Liga’s top scorer with 33 goals; he has 26 in his last 23 games for Barcelona and 14 in his last 13.

Suárez has seven goals in his last ten games. Neither he nor Messi played on Saturday.

Ousmane Dembélé had not featured since the last 16 second leg against Lyon due to a hamstring injury before playing 67 minutes on Saturday.

Rafinha was ruled out for up to six months after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left leg in the second half of the 1-1 draw with Atlético Madrid on 24 November.

The Blaugrana, who have lifted the Copa del Rey in the last four seasons, have reached a sixth successive final and will play Valencia on 25 May at the Estadio Benito Villamarín in Seville.

Todibo signed for Barcelona from Toulouse in January but is not in the UEFA Champions League squad; the club also agreed deals for Frenkie de Jong (Ajax) and Emerson (Atlético Mineiro) to join in the summer.

MANCHESTER UNITED

Ashley Young made his 50th appearance in UEFA club competition in the first leg. Romelu Lukaku will reach the same mark when he next features.

United have lost four of their last six matches, including the last three away from home. The 2-0 defeat at Arsenal on 10 March was their first in the Premier League since Ole Gunnar Solskjær replaced José Mourinho as manager on 19 December and ended a club record nine-match winning away run.

The Red Devils were 2-1 winners against West Ham at Old Trafford on Saturday, Paul Pogba scoring both goals from the penalty spot.

Pogba has 13 Premier League goals this season – the first time in his career he has reached double figures in a league campaign – although he had not found the net in the competition since 9 February before his weekend double.

On 28 March Solskjær, who was initially appointed until the end of the season, was named United’s permanent manager on a three-year contract.

United’s FA Cup campaign was ended by a 2-1 quarter-final defeat at Wolves on 16 March.Solskjær won his first eight games – the best start for a manager in United’s history.

Ander Herrera (knock) and Nemanja Matic (muscle strain) have not played since 30 March.

Eric Bailly has not played for United since being replaced in the first half at Paris and has been struggling with a concussion.

Alexis Sánchez has been out since 2 March with a knee injury.

Antonio Valencia (calf) and Matteo Darmian (knock) have also been sidelined.

UEFA Champions League News: Messi fit for Barca as United attempt another comeback

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde has said Lionel Messi is in “perfect” condition to face Manchester United in the second leg of their Champions League quarterfinal on Wednesday.

It is four years since Barca last reached the semis of Europe’s premier competition but a 1-0 victory at Old Trafford makes them firm favourites ahead of the return at Camp Nou.

Messi was among 10 players rested for the goalless draw against Huesca on Saturday after a hefty challenge from Chris Smalling last week left him with a swollen nose and cheek.

“He is fine,” said Valverde at a press conference on Tuesday. “He has recovered perfectly from the blow he suffered. He was fine after a couple of days.

“It is true that during the match he was a little stunned but he is in perfect condition and does not have any problems ahead of tomorrow’s game.”

Valverde said Ousmane Dembele could also feature after he played for 67 minutes against Huesca, having recovered from a hamstring injury. “I don’t know to what extent because he has been out for four weeks,” Valverde said. “But he is ready to play.”

Barcelona have lost only one home game in the Champions League in 10 years but United will take hope from their last 16 comeback against Paris Saint-Germain, when they overturned a 2-0 first-leg defeat to go through.

“That memory from PSG will help the players and us as a team, that we know we can turn things around,” coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said.

“Barcelona here at the Nou Camp is a difficult prospect but the memory will live with the players, it’s not long ago.”

Barca goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen is confident his team can avoid a repeat. “The good thing is we play differently to PSG,” he said. “But United are dangerous and the result from the first leg is dangerous, it is a very small advantage.”

OLE BACK TO BARCA

Solskjaer might also draw upon his own experience of the Camp Nou, in 1999, when he scored a 93rd-minute winner as United came from 1-0 down to beat Bayern Munich 2-1 in the Champions League final.

“Of course it’s a fantastic memory for me. It’s the only time I’ve been on the pitch here,” Solskjaer said.

“I dont mind if we score in the 93rd minute. If we get to injury-time we are a fit team.”

Barcelona’s recent history in this competition has been more painful as United look to follow Juventus, Atletico Madrid and Roma in sending them out in the quarterfinals for a fourth year in a row.

“It has been hard,” said Ter Stegen. “We are another year older and we want to make sure it doesn’t happen again. We have to take those losses into account and use them to move forward.”

Valverde urged his players to seize the opportunity. “I think we all take examples of things happening in the past and use them to spur us on,” he said. “That’s fine but I prefer to take charge of your own destiny. You won’t be given something that falls from the sky. We have to earn it.”

United’s greatest threat in recent weeks has tended to come on the counter-attack but Solskjaer insists they cannot afford to sit back.

“There are freak results against Barcelona when you have 10 or 15 per cent possession and they don’t win but normally they do win,” Solskjaer said. “We need to stamp our authority on the game.”

WWE News: Finn Balor wins the Intercontinental Championship

Finn Balor unleashed his otherworldly alter ego on Bobby Lashley and devastated The All-Mighty to become Intercontinental Champion on The Grandest Stage of Them All.

When the bell tolled, The Demon rushed right at Lashley, clobbering him with a series of kicks that sent the champion to the arena floor. From there, Balor crushed Lashley at ringside with a breathtaking dive.

Balor then turned his attention towards Lashley’s hypeman, Lio Rush, who wanted no part of The Demon. However, that temporary distraction gave Lashley the opening to try and end the “myth” of The Demon. The All Mighty slammed Balor into the canvas, then drove him from the apron into the arena floor with a devastating Spear.

However, there was no stopping The Demon at WrestleMania. Balor summoned power from deep down, lifting Lashley up and planting the champion into the canvas with a big powerbomb, then scaled the ropes to cave Lashley’s chest in with the Coup de Grace to become Intercontinental Champion.

Lashley learned an important lesson – watch whose ire you draw. You never know what demons are lurking beneath.

UEFA Champions League News: Juve’s old guard bidding to finish job against Ajax kids

Cristiano Ronaldo will spearhead Juventus’ old guard as they look to finish the job on Tuesday against Ajax’s impressive young guns in a quarterfinal clash between two sides desperate to end years of Champions League heartbreak.

Juventus have the edge on away goals thanks to Ronaldo’s 125th Champions League goal in a 1-1 draw in Amsterdam, but Ajax’s David Neres ensured the teams will start on a knife-edge in Turin in a repeat of the 1973 and 1996 finals.

Juventus have put their bid to wrap up an eighth consecutive Serie A title on the back burner as they focus on their European ambitions.

Massimiliano Allegri lined out with a young squad against lowly SPAL on Saturday and the champions fell to a 2-1 defeat when a point would have sufficed for another Scudetto.

“The Scudetto will come sooner or later,” said Allegri, whose side hold a 17-point lead on second-placed Napoli with six games left.

“If we had put all our starters in, it would have been easier to win it, but there is the goal to obtain on Tuesday.”

Juventus have won the Champions League twice, most recently in 1996 when they beat Ajax in the final.

Four-time winners Ajax won their third consecutive title in 1973 at the expense of Juventus, last lifting the trophy in 1995.

Allegri said he was prepared for “a difficult match against a very impressive team”.

Ronaldo was rested at the weekend along with regulars Leonardo Bonucci, Blaise Matuidi, Alex Sandro, Mario Mandzukic and Miralem Pjanic.

Teenager Moise Kean’s fine form continued with the 19-year-old scoring his sixth goal in as many games.

Captain Giorgio Chiellini, however, remains a doubt with the 34-year-old defender recovering from a calf injury, with Daniele Rugani a possible replacement.

But Ronaldo remains Juve’s key weapon.

The 34-year-old was signed for 100 million euros ($117 million) last summer, and pocketed an annual 31 million-euro salary to help Juventus win a competition they have finished runners-up in a record seven times, most recently in 2015 and 2017.

Ronaldo has played a leading role in all of his five previous European triumphs, including with the tie-clinching, 97th-minute penalty for Real Madrid against Juventus last season in the quarters.

He has scored five goals this campaign, one against Manchester United and a hat-trick which rescued Juventus in the last 16, second leg against Atletico, before returning from injury to score against Ajax.

DE JONG DOUBT

The financial clout of Dutch league leaders Ajax is significantly less than Juventus.

The club, who are captained by 19-year-old defender Matthijs de Ligt, spent a reported club-record 45 million euros last summer on new signings to bolster their Champions League hopes.

Defensive midfielder Daley Blind arrived from Manchester United, and forward Dusan Tadic from Southampton, to provide leadership for a young squad where the average age is 24 years.

Ajax’s strike-force of 22-year-old Neres, Dusan Tadic and Hakim Ziyech have proven effective this season.

Veteran Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, 35, also hit form with a hat-trick in a 6-2 win over Excelsior in the Dutch league at the weekend.

But midfielder Frenkie de Jong, 21, is uncertain to start after going off clutching his hamstring.

Neres stole the limelight with his seventh goal in eight games against Juventus in Amsterdam, but Barcelona-bound De Jong was outstanding in midfield.

Both teams produced memorable second-leg comebacks in the round of 16.

Ajax overturned a 2-1 home defeat by Real Madrid to oust the three-time holders with a stunning 4-1 victory at the Santiago Bernabeu to reach their first quarterfinal since 2003.

Ronaldo’s hat-trick rescued Juventus, who lost 2-0 against Atletico Madrid in Spain.

While Juve are looking to reach a third semifinal in five seasons, Ajax have not made it to the last four since 1997.

The winners would go through to a semifinal against the winners of the all-English tie between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur.

UEFA Champions League: Sunk cost of Sanchez holding Man Utd back

Manchester United travel to Barcelona on Tuesday needing another miraculous Champions League fightback from a 1-0 first-leg defeat on home soil to make the semifinals.
The return of the club’s highest earner from a six-week injury layoff to make the voyage to Catalonia in such circumstances should be a source of inspiration.

However, it is symptomatic of Alexis Sanchez’s decline in 16 months at United that the Chilean makes his comeback behind Marcus Rashford, Romelu Lukaku, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s pecking order.

Sanchez signed reportedly the most lucrative contract in Premier League history when joining from Arsenal last January, earning close to £400 000 ($520 000) a week plus a series of bonuses.

Unfortunately for the Red Devils, there has not been much cause for bonus payments as Sanchez has scored just five goals in 41 appearances for the club and only twice so far in his first full season at Old Trafford.

Sanchez left Barcelona for the Premier League in 2014 in search of a more prominent role after being squeezed out by the arrival of Neymar at the Camp Nou and with Luis Suarez soon to complete a fearsome front three alongside Lionel Messi.

Now into their thirties, Suarez and Messi still pose Barca’s biggest threats, combining for 66 goals this season.

By contrast, a hard-running style and years of grind for club and country seem to have burnt Sanchez out having just turned 30 in December.

In four consecutive summers between 2014 and 2017, he helped Chile reach the last 16 of the World Cup, win two Copa America titles in two years and then make the final of the Confederations Cup.

So durable for much of his career, Sanchez’s time at United has been permeated not only by poor performances but a series of injuries.

Falling down the pecking order in a Barca squad laced with star talent and built around arguably the best player ever in Messi is one thing.

Now Sanchez is a mere spectator even to a United side that has scored just once in five Champions League home games this season and failed to manage a single shot on target in the first leg against Barca.

The splash on Sanchez’s contract also threatens to cost the club dearly, either in lucrative new deals, or losing some of their best players.

Solskjaer credited a fortunate 2-1 win over West Ham on Saturday to a stunning save from David de Gea.

“We have one of the best goalkeepers in the world,” said the Norwegian, but De Gea’s future is far from certain as he holds out for a pay packet at least on par with Sanchez with his current contract set to expire in 2020.

Paul Pogba is also in talks over a new contract and reportedly wants to be the club’s highest earner if United are to ward off interest from Real Madrid.

A run of four defeats and two highly unconvincing 2-1 home wins over Watford and West Ham since United stunned Paris Saint-Germain with a 3-1 win in the French capital to make the last eight has laid bare how much surgery is needed on Solskjaer’s squad, even if they hold onto De Gea and Pogba.

Instead, it is Sanchez they would love to ship out if a buyer can be found to fund his wages.

A Champions League quarterfinal at the Camp Nou is exactly the sort of stage United’s No 7 was signed for.

But with a £75 000 appearance fee included in his contract, it seems Solskjaer and United have decided there is little point throwing good money after bad.

AFCON pitches Rohr against in-laws

No doubt, it will be the dream of Nigeria’s manager, Gernot Rohr to overcome all oppositions in Group B of the Africa Cup of Nations in June. But a member of his family may not share that dream.

When the Super Eagles face Madagascar at the Alexandria Stadium on June 30, Rohr will be incurring the wrath of his in-laws. Rohr’s wife, it has been gathered is from Madagascar.

She runs a hotel for Rohr in the French island of Reunion close to Madagascar. Rohr came into contact with Africa through Reunion in 2001 after his French friends told him of the serenity of the island. It was then he opened his first hotel there and once said he would settle there one day. Rohr would not be the first member of a Super Eagles’ squad to square up against his in-laws.

Sunday Oliseh captained the Super Eagles to defeat Tunisia 4-2 in the opening match of the 2000 Africa Cup of Nations. Oliseh is married to a Tunisian. Rohr’s wife does not follow him to tournaments. At Russia 2018 World Cup, he told the media that other members of his family would be with him except his wife who has avoided public glare.

Spanish LaLiga News: Barca surrender two points to Atletico

Barcelona’s 11-point advantage over Atletico Madrid became nine on Saturday as Lionel Messi was left out of their goalless draw with Huesca and Gerard Pique watched on television with a bowl of prawns.

With Barca’s focus clearly on Manchester United, Messi and Pique were among 10 players rested for the stalemate at El Alcoraz as coach Ernesto Valverde prioritised Tuesday’s second leg and progress to the Champions League semifinals.

The price was two points dropped and Atletico capitalised, beating Celta Vigo 2-0 thanks to a thundering Antoine Griezmann free-kick and a cool finish from Alvaro Morata.

“Obviously we always want to win but it’s true this game came in slightly different circumstances,” Valverde said.

“It is an unusual week because we come from playing an intense match on Wednesday, when the trip was long, and we have the return on Tuesday.

“Considering the schedule and our advantage in the league, I thought it was time to make changes.”

Messi was left out of the squad completely while the suspended Pique posted a picture on social media of the match on television, in front of him a large bowl of seafood.

Barcelona’s huge advantage at the top of La Liga has afforded them the luxury of prioritising success in Europe, the only issue perhaps for Valverde the matter of maintaining momentum.

Overall, they were better than Huesca but never really got out of second gear.

Luis Suarez was also banned, with Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and Clement Lenglet given the chance to recuperate too ahead of the return against United at Camp Nou, where Barca will start with 1-0 lead from the first leg.

Ousmane Dembele’s chance of a start there would appear enhanced after he played 67 minutes following his recovery from a hamstring injury.

Malcom came closest to a winner, his shot hitting the post, but Huesca were good value for the draw and could even have snatched victory themselves in the second half.

Still bottom of the table in their first-ever season in Spain’s top flight, Huesca now sit five adrift of safety, albeit having played a game more than those immediately above them. Their survival bid remains unlikely but alive.

Celta’s defeat to Atletico means they are still in the scrap, two points separating them from the bottom three.

BARCA FOCUSED ON EUROPE

Dembele came closest to a goal in the first half after a brilliant reverse pass from the talented Riqui Puig, one of a number of youngsters given a chance to impress.

Another was Jean-Clair Todibo, who saw a header saved while Kevin-Prince Boateng, also handed a rare outing after his arrival in January, was unable to connect with a low Dembele cross.

Huesca had their moments as Enric Gallego burst through but shot wide and then he wanted a penalty after Marc-Andre ter Stegen slid through the back of his legs.

Malcom struck the post with a fizzing drive but despite Jordi Alba, Philippe Coutinho and Arthur Melo all coming on in the second half, Barca could not find a way through.

The onus was on Atletico to take advantage at the Wanda Metropolitano even if any chase, with six games left to play, will surely prove fruitless.

Griezmann’s free-kick flew into the top corner just before halftime and he then teed up Morata to make it two, the Spaniard carrying it around the goalkeeper for his seventh goal in 10 games.

Becky Lynch is The Man

The Man did it. Becky Lynch knocked down every barrier put in her way to become the first woman to win a WrestleMania main event, the first woman to pin Ronda Rousey, and the first woman to hold the Raw and SmackDown Women’s Championships at the same time in the historic, Winner Take All main event of WrestleMania 35.

Everything Becky Lynch had up to, during and after the main event was earned. She earned her place in the WrestleMania main event by winning the 2019 Women’s Royal Rumble Match. She earned the opportunity to stand across the ring from Charlotte Flair when she’d spent so long standing in her shadow. And she earned the right to be mentioned in the same sentence as Ronda Rousey when she attacked her on Raw five months ago and made herself a star.

What Becky earned was her first major main event against women with a long, storied experience on this type of stage. And, for a time, Becky struggled to keep up. But both Flair and Rousey found their respective skills put to the test as well. Charlotte was forced to fight dirty, as she chopped Rousey square across the chest and face early in the match. Rousey was forced to adapt her move set, as she contended with a torqued knee after suffering a Figure-Four Leglock against the turnbuckle, and later, a full-fledged Figure-Eight. Both had to change. Becky Lynch, on the other hand, was who she was since before she started calling herself The Man. And everything that took her to the main event at WrestleMania took her over the finish line as well.

She remembered everything. The bad blood with Charlotte Flair that led her to break up that Figure-Eight with a legdrop to The Queen’s sternum – shades of a similar manoeuver from WrestleMania 32. She remembered the brutality that took her to the Match of the Year at WWE Evolution, breaking out a table for a fateful sequence that culminated in Charlotte being thrown through the pine by Lynch and Rousey. And she remembered the showdown she always wanted, the one she chose: The Baddest Woman on the Planet.

More importantly, she was ready, and she put Rousey away suddenly. Despite coming out on the short end of a hockey fight and finding herself stranded on The Baddest Woman on the Planet’s shoulders, she countered Piper’s Pit into a crucifix pin, sticking Rousey’s shoulders to the mat, as The Rowdy One was pinned for the first time in her WWE career. Clearly, it was a moment Becky had prepared for.

So now she’s the champ. And the champ again. Does that make her The Man? It doesn’t hurt. But what might make her The Man is the sum of what Becky Lynch did to get to this moment. She wanted it. She worked for it. And she took it all.