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FOUR PICNIC ZONES; 4 BATTLE GROUNDS DEFINE RUSSIA 2018 AFRICA’S LAST MATCH DAYS

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BY KUNLE SOLAJA.

 

Three more World Cup qualifying tickets are up for grabs in Africa as the race to the Russia 2018 event gets to the home stretch. Eleven matches are on the card, but in the calculations by the Sports Village Square, only four are technically active as at least four others have become dead rubbers.

Two of such formality matches would ordinarily have been thrillers but for the fact that nothing other than prestige is at stake. One of such is Algeria versus Nigeria and the other pitches two Africa Cup of Nations’ record setting sides – Ghana and Egypt.

The four teams could easily be ideal African flag bearers at the World Cup. But two of them, Ghana and Algeria are already eliminated before now.

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The only other match that could be crucial will be the Tuesday’s return leg of Senegal versus South Africa, should the latter win the ordered replay duel scheduled to hold this Friday.

As such, the nine matches are either team party occasions or battlegrounds.  Below are Sports Village Square’s rating of the nine matches.

 

THE BATTLE GROUNDS:

 

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Friday 10 November, South Africa vs. Senegal:

 

This is perhaps the most emotional and passion-laden fixture this weekend. In Polokwane, South Africa, Bafana Bafana will be attempting to do what they did about the same time last year – a defeat of Senegal.

The previous match having been annulled by FIFA on account of the referee’s manipulation of the result has made the Friday match a do-or-die affair for South Africa which languishes in the bottom of Group D.

Winning is the only survival pill. No other remedy. With just four points, South Africa will need to win the match as well as the reversed fixture which has been pushed to Tuesday next week to be able to garner 10 points.

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The other match of the group, Burkina Faso versus Cape Verde was pushed to Tuesday to ensure all the matches are played simultaneously to avoid manipulation.

Senegal however appear to hold the ace. A draw on Friday will offer a sufficient lifeline as South Africa would have been eliminated. It will find it easy winning the last of the back-to-back encounter in Dakar. The possible threat by both Burkina Faso and Cape Verde would have also been seen off.

  • Two South Africans against one Senegalese and the final scores stood at 2-1. The result was however overturned necessitating a replay this Friday.

11 November, Cote d’Ivoire vs. Morocco:

It is advantage Morocco which requires just a draw in the away match to pick the ticket. But in encounters of this nature, nothing is decided until the final whistle.

Morocco with nine points leads the group. The results of Group C have largely fallen within predictions as it was expected that the final outcome would be decided in the last match pitching the two giants.

There is a common denominator – Coach Herve Renard who is leading Morocco having in the past led Cote d’Ivoire. His ambition is simple – terminating the aspirations of his previous employers!

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  • It will be crunchy battle in Abidjan on Saturday.

Saturday 11 November, Tunisia vs. Libya:

 The match on paper offers huge advantage to Tunisia who are already at 13 points. Just a draw in this home match will see the first African team to win a match at the World Cup qualifying again for the global soccer fiesta.

The permutation is that Tunisia which defeated Mexico at Argentina ’78 to become the first African team to win a World Cup match will not allow a type of slip that occurred eight years ago to happen again.

Just in need of a draw in November 2009 to pick a South Africa 2010 ticket, a late strike by Mozambique ended their aspiration while Nigeria beat Kenya away to pick the ticket.

But in the event of an upset by Libya, and if DR Congo expectedly beat Guinea, Tunisia’s hope will be ruined and DR Congo will be returning to the World Cup stage again since their calamitous outing of 1974.

 

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Tuesday 14 November, Senegal vs. South Africa:

This could turn a battle of epic proportion should South Africa win the first match slated this Friday in Polokwane. The return leg will be so crucial that it may call for close monitoring for its explosiveness. It will be a winner-takes-all affair.

But on the other hand, should Senegal shock their hosts on Friday, the encounter of next week will be a mere picnic for Senegal.

THE NEUTRAL GROUND

14 November, Burkina Faso vs. Cape Verde:

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The relevance of this match is hinged on the outcome of the back-to-back encounters of South Africa and Senegal. Group D holds a unique setting where all teams still have varying degree of chances of survival.

No team is eliminated yet. No team has also qualified. Burkina Faso and Cape Verde will be hoping that the first of the twin encounters of South Africa and Senegal ends in a stalemate.

With that South Africa will be eliminated. Then both Burkina Faso and Cape Verde will then hope that the eliminated South Africa will shock Senegal in Dakar to put point haul for South Africa at seven, and nine for Senegal.

Then both Burkina Faso and Cape Verde at six points each will attempt to outdo one another in goal scoring. With goal difference possibly in favour of Burkina Faso, it will require a 3-0 or 4-0 win to pick the ticket if either Senegal or South Africa slips.

THE PICNIC PARK

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Friday 10 November, Algeria vs. Nigeria:

This ordinarily should have been a clash of two continental giants who were the last African teams standing at the Brazil 2014 World Cup. Of the five African teams in Brazil, Algeria and Nigeria were the only ones to make it to the second round where both crashed out on the same day.

But with the Group B already decided, Algeria may not put up spectacular performance as there is virtually nothing for the troubled side to fight for. It had prosecuted virtually every match of the final qualifying round with new coaches.

The legendary Rabah Madjer is the latest man on the saddle. In the six-match series of the final round that began last year’s October, Algeria secured just one point from the 1-1 draw it played against Cameroon in Match Day 1.

The team lost all others. Friday’s match may not be an exception. On the other hand, Nigeria has had almost a stress-free flight in the final qualifying series.

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The Super Eagles were, expectedly, only stretched to almost breaking point in the last match with Zambia last month where both teams nervously have everything to fight for.

But the side facing Algeria may slightly be a different one as Coach Gernot Rohr could be tempted to try new options as he focuses on his final World Cup squad. Besides, some regulars have been unavailable owing to varying degrees of injury.

But all the same, the team will try to maintain its World Cup qualifying unbeaten run which could be stretched to an all-time African record of 35 matches.

On Friday, it would be 13 years, four months and 21 days (4,891 days) since Nigeria last lost a World Cup qualifying match.

It is a record good to be carried over to the qualifying series of Qatar 2022.

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  • Nigeria will be attempting a double against Algeria and extend unbeaten streak in the World Cup qualifiers to 35 matches.

Saturday 11 November, Zambia vs. Cameroon:

For a different reason, this is another formality match.  Both teams are already eliminated from the race and had virtually nothing to fight for. Zambia would had hoped it picked maximum points last month in Uyo when it faced Nigeria and possibly fire full cylinder against a hapless Cameroon this weekend.

But after strong resistance coupled with sporadic offensive, the Zambians finally caved in when Alex Iwobi scored the decider for Nigeria.

The possibly scenario in Lusaka on Saturday is that Cameroon may not travel with their best of stars and in the best of spirits for a mere formality match.

 

Saturday 11 November, DR Congo vs. Guinea:

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This is a match the hosts may like win. But owing to the possible outcome of the corresponding match in group where Tunisia will be facing the weak Libyan side, there may not be anything to fight for in the DR Congo versus Guinea encounter.

That may lead to both not putting in their best, but with the hosts still trying to maintain their prestige and hope for a possible slip in the Tunisia – Libya encounter.

The possibility exists as it happened in 2009 when Tunisia’s advantage was lost six minutes to end their South Africa 2010 World Cup qualifier in Mozambique.

 

Saturday 11 November, Gabon vs. Mali:

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A formality match as both teams are out of contention. Their result will also not impact on that Group C of the contenders – Morocco and Cote d’Ivoire who will be involved in epic battle in Abidjan.

Sunday 12 November, Ghana vs. Egypt:

Flash back to the last qualifying battle to Brazil 2014. Ghana were high riding, beating Egypt 6-1 in Kumasi. The result put Ghana in vantage position for the eventual qualification. Time have changed.

Even if Ghana achieves any victory of any kind on Sunday, it is a labour in vain as Egypt are through to the World Cup. But for that, this should be a heavyweight clash of two of Africa’s strongest teams.

So inconsequential is the outcome of the match that star player, Mohamed Salah asked to be excused from the fixture.

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  • Egypt and Ghana in the Match Day 2 clash. The Egyptians have taken their pound of flesh after Ghana denied them the opportunity at Brazil 2014 World Cup.

 

Sunday 12 November, Congo vs. Uganda:

The encounter is better relegated to the realms of a friendly match as both have been eliminated from the World Cup.

 

 

 

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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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