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Russia 2018 World Cup May Be Without Messi and Ronaldo

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As it is getting anxious for teams and players fearing missing out on the World Cup, two of the world’s iconic players are possible victims.

By the time the draw for the finals is conducted in Moscow in December, even Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo could be facing up to spending next June on the beach rather than on the fields in Russia.

For now, only seven qualification slots have been filled by Belgium, Brazil, Iran, Japan, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and South Korea.

Another 24 places are still vacant, after the latest rounds of qualifiers.

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MESSI AND RONALDO

Time is running out for the two best players in world soccer over the last decade. Not just to win the World Cup for the first time, either, because Ronaldo and Messi might not even make the trip to Russia.

As things stand in Europe, Ronaldo’s Portugal is second in its qualifying group and the reigning European champions are facing a November playoff to gain a spot in the following month’s finals draw.

At least Portugal won both games in the last week. Argentina was held by both Uruguay and Venezuela in Jorge Sampaoli’s first games in charge, despite having Messi back from suspension.

Argentina still has time to move up from fifth to the fourth and final automatic qualification place.

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But the final two qualifiers next month for the two-time world champions are against Peru — currently fourth — and Ecuador — chasing Argentina in fifth place for the right to face New Zealand in a playoff.

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CHAMPIONS COLLAPSE

The World Cup will be without African champion Cameroon. Copa America winner Chile could be absent, too.

Cameroon’s qualification bid ended this week, while Chile is sixth in the South American standings and struggling to force its way into a playoff after losing to Bolivia on Tuesday.

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It’s barely two months since the Chileans were contesting the Confederations Cup final where they lost to Germany, and players are feeling the heat.

“You get tired of being criticized with reason and without reason,” Chile forward Alexis Sanchez wrote on Instagram.

“You get tired of people wanting to see you lose, you get tired of saying to yourself ‘Once more I’ll get up’ after crying after a defeat, and you get tired of telling the world and people who are with you, that everything is going well.”

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AMERICANS CLING ON

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The United States is in danger of missing its first World Cup since 1986 after a home loss to Costa Rica and a draw in Honduras.

Bruce Arena’s team is hanging onto fourth place by goal difference ahead of Honduras. The fourth-place team is still plunged into a playoff against Australia or Syria to qualify for Russia.

Next up in October for the Americans are a Panama side which is a point ahead of them in the third automatic qualification place and last-place Trinidad and Tobago.

It’s the first time since 1989 that the qualification fate of the U.S. has been on the line going into the finale.

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SYRIA’S BID

Several teams are still in contention to make their World Cup debuts in Russia: Burkina Faso, Panama, Uganda … and Syria.

To qualify, Syria would have to beat Australia over two games in October and then overcome a CONCACAF opponent in a November playoff round.

When Syria drew in Iran on Tuesday in qualifying, there were celebrations home back in the capital Damascus.

What makes Syria’s progress on the field even more remarkable is the team is playing as a civil war rages. That is also what makes the prospect of a Syrian team packed with government supporters appearing at the World Cup potentially problematic for critics of the President Bashir Assad’s regime.

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FIFA rules say politics should be separated completely from the soccer.

A World Cup trip next June by Assad to Russia, Syria’s chief international ally, could rapidly become a sensitive issue for FIFA.

Without citing any country, the Asian Football Confederation opened an investigation on Wednesday into rule breaches linked to the need for national teams to respect political neutrality.

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DUTCH DESPAIR

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The Netherlands is facing missing a second straight major tournament, with even a place in the playoffs slipping out of sight.

The 2010 World Cup finalists were dealt one of the hardest groups, but a 4-0 loss to leader France last week showed the size of the gulf between Dick Advocaat’s side and the continental powers.

The Dutch are third in their group with two games remaining, three points behind their final group opponent, Sweden.

Although France leads the group from Sweden, Les Bleus have carelessly dropped points in a late defeat to Sweden in June and a 0-0 home draw with lowly Luxembourg.

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GERMAN FAN TROUBLE

Germany’s problem isn’t qualifying for Russia as the World Cup holders lead their group by five points with two games remaining. The issue is the behaviour of fans.

There is abuse aimed often at their own player — Timo Werner — all over a dive by the striker in a German league game last season.

Far more disturbing are the Nazi slogans that were chanted during a game in the Czech Republic last week and led to FIFA opening an investigation.

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NO QATAR

Qatar’s qualification bid ended in failure last week, just like in every previous campaign.

The significance this time is that the Gulf nation will now make its debut on soccer’s biggest stage when it hosts the World Cup in 2022.

 

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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Manu Garba proud of Eaglets as team countenances Niger Republic

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Coach Manu Garba has asserted that he is proud of the Golden Eaglets after Thursday’s scoreless encounter with their Burkina Faso counterparts in the Group B opener of the WAFU B U17 Championship.

 Five-time champions Nigeria created several scoring chances particularly late in the game at the Accra University Stadium, but failed to utilise even one that could have earned them the three points and handed them early leadership of the pool.

 However, Garba said the boys played a cohesive game in their first-ever international outing and deserve credit for their display.

 “We are proud of our team’s performance. Although we didn’t secure the win that we hoped for, our players showed great teamwork and sportsmanship. We look forward to our next match and the opportunity to continue growing and improving.

 “The boys will get better with experience and exposure.”

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 Against the Burkinabes, the Eaglets showed flair and fluency, but a heavy downpour in the final 15 minutes of the game disrupted the general flow of play, with the pitch waterlogged and effective control and passing impossible.

 The Golden Eaglets go up against their counterparts from the Niger Republic on Sunday evening (6pm Ghana time; 7pm Nigeria) with renewed hope and vigour to pick up the three points that will enhance their chances of a place in the last four.

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Paris to face major disruption ahead of Games opening ceremony, says police chief

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Paris will face major disruption ahead of the Olympics opening ceremony along the Seine on July 26, as organisers ramp up security measures to safeguard the event, the city’s police chief said on Thursday.

Organisers hope the opening ceremony, in which 160 boats carrying athletes from around the world will travel a 6 kilometre route along the Seine river towards the Eiffel tower, will deliver a jaw-dropping spectacle. Some 300,000 spectators will watch from the banks of the Seine as a global audience tunes in on TV.

But the ceremony is also a major security headache, taking place against a backdrop of wars in Ukraine and Gaza. French President Emmanuel Macron has already floated the possibility of scrapping the river ceremony and reverting to at least two back-up plans if the security risks become untenable.

Paris residents with a view of the Seine can invite friends to watch the opening of the 2024 Summer Games from their balconies, but should prepare for heavy traffic and limited movement, Paris police chief Laurent Nunez said at a press conference.

Adjacent metro stations, most river crossings and all water traffic will be halted in the week before the open-air ceremony, Nunez said, adding that some bridges will remain open “in order not to cut Paris in two halves.”

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Everyone who wants to access the immediate surroundings of the Seine in the week before the Games will need to sign up on an online platform, Nunez said. Local residents hoping to access their homes, which are among the most prestigious addresses in France, will need to do the same.

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, who also spoke at the event said the disruption would impact around 20,000 residents and business owners.

Asked about Macron’s comments earlier this month, Nunez said his teams were still working on the ‘Plan A’ of the river ceremony.

“As of today, we have no reason to be worried,” Nunez said.

-Reuters

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New dawn expected as Nigeria sports ministry partners with Yanga Games

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Towards creating a new dawn for Nigerian Sports,  the Federal Ministry  of Sports has signed a landmark  agreement with  top lottery  company Yanga Games to raise the revenue profile of the Ministry  and ensure a new deal for the welfare of athletes. 

Speaking during the unveiling  of the partnership between  the Ministry  and  Yanga  Games in Lagos on Friday,  Chairman/CEO of Yanga Games  Derrick  David Kentebe  said: “we are so super excited by this opportunity to work  with the Ministry  of Sports Development to change the narrative about Sports in the country. 

Continuing, he remarked: “We see opportunity for marketing our athletes  and sports generally . We shall avail ourselves  the best use  of this unique and  special partnership. We shall pursue this mandate with vigour, passion and unrivaled  commitment  to bring benefits to all the critical stakeholders.”

The agreement  according  to Kentebe  will provide  support for retired athletes, enhance grassroot  sports Development and advance the potentials of  special athletes.

He assured that ” Yanga Games has the capacity to  raise funds on behalf of the Ministry  of Sports for athletes  Development, endorsement and sponsorship deals for athletes”. 

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Minister of Sports Senator John Owan Enoh assured that the Ministry has total and absolute  confidence  in Yanga Games to deliver on the given mandate.

“Gone are the era when we depended solely  on government  to fund sports  development.  We are partnering with  Yanga Games to bring maximum  benefits  to the athletes and all critical stakeholders.

“We shall give institutional encouragement and support to the Management of  Yanga Games to succeed in this onerous task of rebuilding our sports sub sector.”

Speaking further, Kentebe  said ” We shall raise about 34 Billion in the next four years to assist athletes and improve sports in the country.

“We shall help to develop  grassroot  sports and  sustain youth involvement  through raffle draws, fund raiser and other avenues.

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