AFCON 2019: Nigeria grouped with Guinea, Burundi, Madagascar

Nigeria will take on Guinea, Madagascar and Burundi in Group B in the African Cup of Nations(AFCON) in June, according to the draw held Friday in Giza, Egypt.

Under the gaze of the Sphinx and the illuminated backdrop of pyramids, the spectacular draw that followed an open-Air event produced an intriguing set of groups that leave many riddles to be answered.

Hosts Egypt, winners of the competition a record seven times, will face double champions Democratic Republic of Congo. Uganda and Zimbabwe fill the last two places in Group A.

The AFCON draw

Group F in the 24-team tournament brought together the second and third most successful sides in its history. Cameroon, who won their fifth continental crown last time and were originally set to host the competition, will face four-time winners Ghana. Benin and Guinea-Bissau complete the group.

Group D contains three former champions, with top seed Morocco matched against Ivory Coast and South Africa, as well as Namibia.

Senegal, the only one of the six top seeds never to have won the event, will face a former champion Algeria as well as the East African pair of Kenya and Tanzania in Group C.

Tunisia face Mali, Mauritania and Angola in Group E.

The host put on a colourful show, though it strangely included an acrobatic troupe imported from Austria who performed dressed as African zebras.

Man United vs Barcelona: How Mourinho reacted to Smalling’s clash with Messi

Former Manchester United manager, Jose Mourinho has reacted to defender, Chris Smalling’s clash with Barcelona’s Lionel Messi during the Red Devils’ 1-0 defeat to Ernesto Valverde’s men in the Champions League.

A first-half own goal by Luke Shaw gave the La Liga champions all three points against the Red Devils at Old Trafford on Wednesday night.

Smalling left Messi with a bloodied nose after an aerial challenge with the 31-year-old during the match.

Reacting, Mourinho told RT on Thursday night that the challenge between Smalling and Messi was ‘nothing’, stressing that such situation normally arises in football.

“That situation with Smalling and Messi is nothing. It happens,” Mourinho said.

“He’s just a tall guy with tall arms. I don’t think he has that intention. But they thought about him. And they have to think about him.”

Mourinho added: “I don’t know if they did or if it was Messi who decided to be quiet. I think a little bit of both. United were positively aggressive.

“By the defensive point of view, they [United] were good, keeping a lot of people behind the ball. But again, there are two legs, you will have to go away in the second game.

“If it was a group phase, where one point would be a positive result… They could because Barcelona never killed the game.”

Mikel Obi: Rohr advised to drop Middlesbrough star from Super Eagles’ 2019 AFCON squad

Ex-Nigerian footballer and sports administrator, Segun Odegbami, Thursday urged the Super Eagles coach, Gernot Rohr, to drop captain John Obi Mikel from Nigeria’s 2019 African Cup of Nations, AFCON, squad.

Mikel Obi is yet to play for Nigeria since the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia but Odegbami wants Rohr not to include the midfielder in Super Eagles’ squad that will represent Nigeria in Egypt this summer.

Odegbami believes the Middlesbrough star has done his part for with Super Eagles and should be allowed to move on.

“Recall Mikel? History is against such a decision. Mikel is not the player he once was. We have seen his best and it cannot be recreated or better. What did it fetch?

“The last time we brought back a captain it ended in a disaster that halted the country from going to its first World Cup in 1981. Why are we not taking lessons from history? Why do we keep doing the same things based on sentiments and expecting a different result?

“If old players do not retire new players cannot emerge. Some of the best players in our history came into being by been thrown into the deep end of a big competition and discovering their best-hidden ability. I am a good example. I took over from Baba Otu Mohammed after he had just been named Africa’s best right-winger but was disappointing in a few games. One match did the transformation.

“Nigeria shall not win AFCON 2019 because of Mikel. We can diminish our chances or even lose it because of him. Let him be, and let’s throw up new talent. We won’t know how good a player is until we give them a chance at a high level,” Odegbami said in an interview with ThisDay.

The Super Eagles will know their AFCON 2019 group stage opponents on Friday evening at the draw ceremony in Cairo, Egypt.

2019 AFCON Draw: Super Eagles now in Pot 1

  • Avoid Egypt, Cameroon, Senegal, Tunisia, Morocco Contrary to earlier speculations on the Pot placements of the 24 teams of the Africa Cup of Nations, it can be revealed that Nigeria’s Super Eagles are now in Pot 1. This is the outcome of the seeding released yesterday, 24 hours to the final draw of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations

Nigeria thus make the first seeding level ahead of the draw. With Super Eagles in Pot 1 are: Egypt, Cameroon, Tunisia, Morocco and Senegal. It means Nigeria will head its group and will also not face any of these top teams at the group stage.

The other level of seeding put DR Congo, Ghana, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea and Algeria in Pot 2. One of these countries will be Nigeria’s opponent in the group stage.

In Pot 3 where the Super Eagles will also draw one group opponent are: South Africa, Uganda, Benin, Mauritania, Madagascar and Kenya. Two of these teams – Mauritania and Madagascar are debutants.

In Pot 4 are Zimbabwe, Namibia, Guinea Bissau, Angola, Tanzania and Burundi. One of them will complete the group in which Nigeria heads.

THE DIFFERENT POTS

Pot 1: Egypt, Cameroon, Senegal, Tunisia, Nigeria, Morocco

Pot 2: DR Congo, Ghana, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Algeria

Pot 3: South Africa, Uganda, Benin Republic, Mauritania, Madagascar, Kenya

Pot 4: Zimbabwe, Namibia, Guinea Bissau, Angola, Tanzania, Burundi Related

Pique inspiring Barca to rediscover defensive steel

Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez might be the deadliest attack in Europe but Barcelona’s success in the Champions League could rest on their increasingly mean defence.
After their 1-0 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford on Wednesday, Gerard Pique said Barca are tighter at the back than they have been all season.

“We put in an excellent performance defensively, we’re in our best form in defence of the season,” Pique said.

“The early goal relaxed us and we knew how to cope with the situation, the fact we didn’t concede helps us a lot.”

Barcelona face a trip to La Liga’s bottom-club Huesca on Saturday, when Ernesto Valverde is likely to rotate his line-up ahead of the return leg against United three days later.

An 11-point lead at the top of the table has earned Barca that luxury, while United face West Ham the same afternoon, still scrapping for a place in the Premier League’s top four.

To turn the tie around, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team will have to score at least once at Camp Nou, where their opponents have endured only one defeat in 52 matches and, in the Champions League, one in 10 years.

Nerves could yet affect Barcelona, whose entire season seems to hinge on their performance in Europe, but they now have a defence too that can step up when the attack stalls.

Messi, bruised and bloodied, was quiet against United, a muted display typical of his team, who struggled for their usual fluency going forward.

Instead, it was Pique that shone, the 32-year-old delivering arguably his best showing of the season as part of an impressive, disciplined defensive display.

“We were very conscientious,” said Jordi Alba. “Sometimes you go on the attack and leave the defence open but we sat in more and balanced the game.”

PRAGMATIC VALVERDE

Under Valverde, Barcelona’s free-flowing, passing style has been given a more pragmatic edge, with solidity and athleticism deemed key ingredients to allow Messi and Suarez to thrive.

But the defensive rigour had slipped. After conceding less than half a goal a game in the first half of Valverde’s opening campaign, Barca were conceding more than a goal a game for the second half of last season and the first half of this one.

Four league matches without a win in September and October were underpinned by errors at the back.

There are signs though that they have tightened again. In the last 12 league games they have kept six clean sheets, with the goals conceded now back below a goal per game.

In all competitions, they have shut out Lyon, Real Madrid, twice, Atletico and Manchester United in the past three months alone.

“Pique and Lenglet are a great pairing, they are the security for us,” Sergio Busquets said on Wednesday.

“They are playing at a very high level,” added Valverde.

Barca’s dominance means Real Madrid and Atletico are left battling for second place, with Real away to Leganes on Monday after Atletico host Celta Vigo on Saturday.

Diego Simeone will be without Diego Costa, who has been handed an eight-match ban by the Spanish football federation for insulting referee Gil Manzano during last weekend’s defeat at Camp Nou.

Atletico have appealed but if unsuccessful, Costa will not play again this season.

Real are now only two points behind their city rivals ahead of their game against Leganes, with all eyes on Zinedine Zidane’s team selection again.

Gareth Bale endured another difficult afternoon as Real scraped past Eibar last time out and it remains to be seen if the Welshman keeps his place.

Whistled again by supporters at the Santiago Bernabeu, Bale’s future in Spain has perhaps never looked less certain.

“Bale, with all his experience, is used to it,” said Casemiro on Thursday. “When the fans whistle a player, they are whistling all of us. We cannot forget the titles and goals that he has given us.”

Arsenal, Chelsea put one foot in Europa League semis

Arsenal and Chelsea closed in on the Europa League last four on Thursday after the Gunners saw off highly fancied Napoli 2-0 at the Emirates, while Marco Alonso’s late header earned Maurizio Sarri’s side a hard-fought win at Slavia Prague.

Unai Emery’s Arsenal hold a healthy advantage going into next week’s second leg thanks to a fine early strike from Juventus-bound Aaron Ramsey and an unfortunate Kalidou Koulibaly own goal midway through the first half, and can rue missed chances that would have put the tie completely beyond the Italians’ reach.

Chelsea meanwhile escaped from Eden Arena after a bitty display that saw Kepa Arrizabalaga have to make some fine saves to keep the Czechs out before Alonso nodded home Willian’s pinpoint cross four minutes from time to seal a 1-0 win.

The Premier League pair remain on a collision course for the final in Baku, with both sides set to avoid each other if they make it through next week’s second legs.

Arsenal were all over Napoli from the kick-off and got their deserved opener with 14 minutes on the clock, Ramsay waltzing in at the end of a beautiful passing move to calmly stroke home Ainsley Maitland-Niles’s neat lay-off.

Napoli were completely out of sorts, barely able to get the ball out of their own half at times, and 10 minutes later the Gunners doubled their lead.

Former Sampdoria midfielder Lucas Torreira won possession in midfield and charged towards goal before letting off a weak shot that flicked off Koulibaly and flew past a bamboozled Alex Meret in the Napoli goal.

Arsenal should have made more of their first-half dominance over Carlo Ancelotti’s slipshod side, but were not punished by the Serie A outfit, who through Piotr Zielinski should have bagged an away goal to take back to Naples in the second half.

FELIX ON FIRE

Arsenal will almost certainly take on Valencia should they hold on at what will be an intimidating Stadio San Paolo after the La Liga side scored twice in stoppage time to win 3-1 at fellow Spaniards Villarreal.

Goncalo Guedes scored twice, including what could be the decisive third three minutes into added time, as Marcelino’s side struck with two clinical breakaway goals to give them a great chance of making the semis.

Chelsea meanwhile will likely play Benfica should they go through, after young gun Joao Felix fired them to a 4-2 win over Eintracht Frankfurt with a hat-trick that leaves the Bundesliga side, who had to play with 10 men for 70 minutes, with an uphill task to make the last four in Germany next week.

Felix got the ball rolling for Benfica, who are also neck-and-neck with Porto in the Primeira Liga title race, from the spot in the 21st minute after Evan N’Dicka was sent off for shoving over goal-bound Gedson Fernandes.

He put the hosts back in front just before the break after Luka Jovic – on loan from Benfica – scored a shock leveller against his parent club in the 40th minute.

Ruben Dias made it three when he headed in Felix’s flick-on a from a corner, and the 19-year-old side-footed home Alex Grimaldo’s cross to complete his treble nine minutes into the second half, before Goncalo Paciencia pulled one back with his head from a corner to keep the tie alive.

Three things we learned from Man United v Barca

Manchester United failed to capitalise on an out-of-sorts display from Lionel Messi and Barcelona on Wednesday as Luke Shaw’s own goal left the La Liga side firmly in charge of their Champions League quarterfinal.

Despite a spirited performance at Old Trafford, United rarely threatened after Shaw turned in Luis Suarez’s header in the 12th minute, an away goal that makes Barcelona strong favourites ahead of the second leg at the Camp Nou next week, when they can take a step closer to a first Champions League triumph since 2015.

We look at three things we learned from their 1-0 victory.

SLACK BARCA FAR FROM POMP

Against a team with more craft and firepower than United, Barcelona would surely have been punished for a lacklustre performance that looked little like a team among the favourites to win this competition.

Barca were rarely in control on Wednesday night but escaped with a huge win that was as much about the lack of quality they faced from United’s attack as their own play.

A sloppy display high on misplaced passes and surprisingly low on input from Messi, produced not only a victory but a crucial away goal to take back to Camp Nou.

Barcelona’s rivals for the trophy this season might feel encouraged, even if United have probably missed their chance.

MESSI HUMAN AFTER ALL

Ten goals in his last seven games meant Messi arrived at Old Trafford in scintillating form but the Barca captain endured a mediocre night by his own supremely high standards.

He was far from anonymous and his clipped cross to the back post set up the game’s only goal as Suarez headed in off the unfortunate Shaw.

But this was not the masterclass that bewitched Tottenham at Wembley earlier in the tournament nor even the clinical show of finishing that saw off Lyon in the previous round.

Instead, Messi sauntered through the game, poking passes to his teammates and wearing a black eye after being clattered by Chris Smalling in the first half, offering little of the form that has lit up La Liga in recent weeks.

UNITED SHORT OF EUROPE’S ELITE

Scott McTominay was United’s best player by some distance on Wednesday, the 22-year-old delivering a barnstorming performance in midfield, but it was clear how short United now are when it comes to players that can turn matches at this level.

Paul Pogba failed to the run the game like Solksjaer insisted he could, while Romelu Lukaku barely threatened up against the excellent Gerard Pique.

United will take heart from a determined display and a close scoreline that could yet give Barca nerves in the return leg.

But this was a far cry from the United of old that could frighten visiting teams with their pace and ruthlessness in the final third. Barcelona were made to feel uncomfortable, and United and Solksjaer have work to do if they are to keep their hopes of an unlikely fourth European Cup alive.

Man Utd can hurt Barcelona in the Camp Nou – Pogba

Paul Pogba says Manchester United can hurt Barcelona at the Camp Nou as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side plot another unlikely Champions League comeback following their 1-0 home defeat.
Luke Shaw’s own goal from a Luis Suarez header was the difference in Wednesday’s first leg of the quarterfinal at Old Trafford, where United failed to muster a single shot on target but largely shackled Barca’s glut of attackers.

Solskjaer’s men face an uphill battle but they will travel with memories still fresh of their remarkable recovery last month to beat Paris Saint-Germain on away goals after losing the home leg 2-0.

French World Cup winner Pogba was encouraged by how United largely kept Barcelona quiet.

“I think it was a good game,” the midfielder said. “Obviously we were playing against Barcelona, one of the best teams in the world, but we gave them some problems as well.

“They gave us some problems but we know where we can hurt them. Now it is one leg gone, you have the other one and we are going to give everything on this one.”

Asked if United could beat the Spanish league leaders, Pogba said: “Of course. If you don’t believe that you can beat them, you just let them go through.

“Of course we believe that we can beat them. We are Manchester United. Even if they are Barcelona, we are Manchester United and we play in the Champions League like they do and we can go through, of course.”

Winning at the Camp Nou will be a tough ask but Pogba said the PSG comeback breeds positivity.

“Probably Paris will be in their minds for sure because they saw what we can do against PSG,” he said.

“Obviously they will be comfortable on their own pitch but let us see. We’ll see what happens at the end. I think maybe the chances that we get we have to put them in and be careful.

“They didn’t have really a lot of chances. Maybe one when David (de Gea) made a great save but then after that they were not that dangerous, not a lot of chances.

“So, try to avoid this and be a killer in front. That’s it.”

Lukaku calls for Man Utd ‘arrogance’ against Barca

Romelu Lukaku called on Manchester United to play with “arrogance and confidence” against Barcelona as they seek to overturn a 1-0 defeat in the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side face an uphill battle at the Camp Nou next week after Luke Shaw’s own goal gave Barca a 1-0 win in Wednesday’s match at Old Trafford.

United rallied after that early setback and unsettled Ernesto Valverde’s side, giving Lukaku and his teammates confidence of a memorable turnaround in Spain next Tuesday.

“We have to believe and have the desire and more quality than today,” said the Belgium striker. “Be better on the ball and then you never know what can happen in football.

“I don’t think we played with the same arrogance and confidence on the ball (early on). Second half we tried and the first 20 minutes of the second half we were there.

“It’s something we have to do for the whole 90 minutes over there and not concede a goal and score early.”

That approach worked well at Paris Saint-Germain last month as United made Champions League history by becoming the first side to progress after losing the first leg at home by two or more goals.

The Parc des Princes triumph was the highlight of a topsy-turvy campaign for the Old Trafford giants, but even during the difficult Jose Mourinho era they managed to seal a last-gasp 2-1 comeback win at Juventus.

Asked if those two matches will play on Barcelona’s mind, Lukaku said: “Yeah, but I don’t think they will look at us. We have to look at ourselves, get a result and give our all, run as much as we can.”

Wednesday saw United fail to muster a shot on target for the first time in a Champions League match since 2005, but there was some promising build-up play.

“Definitely (they are beatable),” Lukaku added. “On the day you can score from one chance and that’s what they did today.

“There was a lack of concentration and they scored a goal and from that moment on we tried to control, but I think over there we have to do a better job and stay focused a bit more, we know they have players who make late runs.

“For us we have to go with the desire, be focused and when the chance comes, we have to score.”

I’m ready to fight, says Nigerian boxer Helen Joseph

Nigerian-born female boxer, Helen Joseph, popularly known as “The Iron Lady” has challenged her counterparts in the United States to a fight, saying she is ready to knock out her competition.

The former IBF champion in the featherweight division said during a courtesy visit to the Nigerian Consul General in New York, Mr Benayaogha Okoyen, that she wanted to put Nigeria on the world female boxing map.

Joseph, also nicknamed “The Princess of Africa” in her boxing world, had three different boxing titles: the WBF, IBF, GBU but she confessed her opponents were afraid to come out to fight her.

She ranks among the top in the world of female boxing and has five weight classes – flyweight 115, bantamweight 118, superbantam 112, featherweight 116 and any other super feather weight 129.

“In these categories, all these female boxers are running, they don’t want to fight me. When I was back in Africa, they were reigning all over the U.S. and they were unbeatable.

“But ‘The Iron Lady’ has arrived and everybody has run away, nobody wants to fight. I mean I’m knocking on their doors and they don’t want to come out. What’s wrong with you girls?

“So all these while you have been fighting cheap opponents, now that I have arrived, nobody wants to show face,” Joseph said.

“But I will bring them out because they have what I need, they have all the titles that I desire.

“I will keep collecting those titles from them and pack them because I know they will not take it from me.

“I want that message to go out there and let them to know that I remain the ‘Iron Lady’, the ‘Princess of Africa’ and I fear nobody,” Joseph taunted her competition.

Joseph awards are: the best fighter of the year 2015, the best fighter of the year 2012 and the best knockout of the year 2017.

According to her, however, there is the need to fight a world title on the Nigerian soil so as to put the name of her country on the world’s boxing map.

“There is no world title in Nigeria right now in boxing. If they say all world titles should line up now, Nigeria is not among because there is no world title in Nigeria now.

The Rivers State-born boxer said in the history of female boxing in West Africa, she was the first woman who had travelled to different countries and won three world titles.

“I also won two awards in boxing and I have fought for two world titles in two countries that I’m sure I won because I knocked down all my opponents but they robbed me because I travelled to their countries.”

Joseph shared her ultimate dream: “One support I want from my government is to promote my world title fight in Nigeria. I want to go back home. I want to fight in my own country.

“I want my country to watch the kind of action and power God has given me. The fight I want Nigeria to sponsor for me is the World Boxing Organisation.

“If I have a sponsorship, I’m supposed to fight on June 10 in New York City. Then I will go back to Nigeria to defend the title.

“So that’s why I want my country to support me so I can fight my opponents on the Nigerian soil and take back what belongs to me.

“I am proud of Nigeria and I love my country. Even when I was in Ghana, I used the Nigerian Passport and everyone asked me to change my passport to Ghana’s passport but I refused.

“I know Ghana loves me and supported me a lot; Ghana is my second country,” she said.

The Nigerian Consul-General, said Nigeria would be very happy to support any of its talented stars like Joseph, to succeed, adding, it will be our pride and joy.

Okoyen added: “We are happy that you are making our country proud, you are making the female world proud and whatever we can do as a Consulate, as Nigerians, as a Government, we will continue to do.

“We will continue to support your activities and others who are making Nigeria proud. Nigeria is proud of the feat you have attained so far. We like your spirit and where you’re going.”

Joseph’s Manager, Devonne Canady, described her talent as superb, adding, they were talking with the Federal, Lagos and Rivers State Governments to sponsor Joseph’s fight.

“She’s the hardest worker that I’ve ever met in boxing and I’ve been in boxing for a long time. She trained hard, I love her and I’m committed to her success,” Canady said.

Prof. Joseph Shipley from Columbia University, said Joseph should be the Anthony Joshua female boxer adding, “she had turned professional, she’s fought for the world title around the world”.

“She is a Champion, she is one of the most feared fighters in the world but she hadn’t had enough promotions.

“Right now, Nigeria has incredible top talents in the arts, in sports around the world and she is of that calibre, she’s a top global athlete.

“She can do a lot, she wants to represent Nigeria. She’s an incredible personality, she’s not just a talent, she’s got charisma. Everybody needs to know she’s a star,” Shipley said. (NAN)