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‘WE WANT TO PUT FRANCE’98 EXPLOITS BEHIND US’, SAYS CROATIA, NIGERIA’S WORLD CUP FOES

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BY BOLAJI OKUNOLA.

 

Zlatko Dalic, the Coach of Nigeria’s first Russia 2018 opponents, Croatia, has enjoined his players to forget the old glory and face the present reality as the Eastern European side attempts to chart new course in next month’s World Cup.

Croatia was an instant hit in the country’s debut appearance at the World Cup 20 years ago in France. Having attained self-rule in 1990 from the former Yugoslavia, the country’s entry for USA ’94 was turned down.

But four years later, it was like a fairy tale as big teams crumbled miserably under the rampaging debutants.

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Croatia beat Germany 3-0 before seeing off The Netherlands in third-place playoff to emerge the best mover ever in the 25 year history of FIFA ranking. On admission to FIFA, Croatia ranked 125th in the world. But following impressive outing at France ’98, the team rose astronomically to the third place, making it the most volatile team in FIFA ranking history.

But that is where the fairy tale ended. In subsequent World Cup finals, Croatia had been a shadow of the France ’98 squad.

The team got eliminated in the first round at 2002, 2006 and 2014 and failed to qualify for the 2010 edition in South Africa.

That was what Dalic, the coach harped on when he was interviewed on Dnevnik Nova TV, a Croatian station. He believes the Croatian side had been living off France ’98 feat for too long.

“I have to say what is good and what is not,” Dalic told Dnevnik Nova TV. “Croatia haven’t done well in a World Cup since France 1998, and going on our quality, we should have.

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“We have a brilliant generation of players who, like me, have to know that we can’t live on past glory. Ahead of us is the World Cup, and we have to be at our best there”.

But he is excited that he has three quality players in the UEFA Champions League final – Liverpool’s Dejan Lovren and Real Madrid pair Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic.

“I’m very proud that Croatia has three players in the Champions League final, which proves our quality,” said the 51-year-old. “They won’t be tired and will come to Russia full of confidence and motivation.”

Dalic also has the likes of Sime Vrsaljko (Atletico Madrid), Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona), Marcelo Brozovic and Ivan Perisic (both Inter Milan), Nikola Kalinic (AC Milan) and Mario Mandzukic (Juventus) at his disposal, and he intends to maintain his faith in them rather than gamble on youngsters at Russia 2018.

“This week we will define a larger squad, and it will comprise players who have spent the last two-three years in the national team,” said the former midfielder. “There will be no big surprises.

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“We have great players and a great generation, and we have to believe in this generation at the World Cup. They got us there and we should give them a chance.

“I’m looking forward to seeing a group of youngsters who are the future of Croatian football. But we will introduce them in the [UEFA] Nations League in the autumn to give them the chance to show their quality.

“It will be best for [Borno] Sosa, [Filip] Benkovic, [Duje] Caleta-Car, [Nikola] Vlasic, [Ante] Rebic to enter a new cycle for the EURO 2020 qualifiers and the Nations League.”

Dalic believes that starting the World Cup with a tough opponent like Nigeria portends good for his team. “I’ve always said I wanted tough matches and tough opponents, and we can only progress as a team by playing against top sides and [learning from] our mistakes,” said Dalic. “We don’t need weaker opponents. Perhaps it’s risky of me to feel this way, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

He however forgot that Croatia had even tougher opponent in Brazil at the opening match four years ago and yet the team could not make it beyond the group stage.

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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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International Football

Amokachi, Adebayor and Amanda Dlamini confirmed for CAF African Schools Championship Finals

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African football legends, Emmanuel Adebayor, Daniel Amokachi and Amanda Dlamini are some of the top names that have been confirmed for the Continental Finals of the CAF African Schools Football Championship 2024 scheduled in Zanzibar between 21 – 24 May 2024.

The CAF African Schools Football Championship is the school’s competition that includes over 44 African countries with over 800 000 participants of Boys and Girls under the age of 15.

This is the second edition of the competition that is not only focused on Football but also on a number of programmes including Young Referee’s Programme, Young Reporter Programme and Safeguarding. 

Adebayor, CAF Player of the Year in 2008, represented Togo at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany for their only appearance at the tournament. Ex-striker for Arsenal, Manchester City, Real Madrid, and others, the Togolese star has had a successful career, earning over 85 caps with Les Eperviers.

Nigerian football star Amokachi played 42 international matches for the Super Eagles. He participated in the 1994 and 1998 FIFA World Cups and was part of the team that won the TotalEnergies CAF Africa Cup of Nations in 1994 and the Olympic Games in 1996.

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Former Banyana Banyana (South Africa) captain Dlamini played in two TotalEnergies CAF Women’s Africa Cup of Nations competitions where they finished third and second in 2010 and 2012, respectively. She is one of the few footballers, both in the men’s and women’s national teams to reach 100 caps.

Dlamini recently made history when she became the first female to be part of the world commentary feed at the TotalEnergies CAF Africa Cup of Nations Cote d’Ivoire 2023.

Also on the list are local stars Abdi Kassim Sadalla, former Tanzanian National Team Captain, and Hilda Masanche, Head coach of the Tanzania U17 Women’s National Team.

The Legends will feature in various activities to promote and support football development among African youth.

The finals will bring together talented young players from across the continent, providing them a platform to showcase their skills and passion for the game.

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-CAF

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International Football

Nigeria’s Nnadozie, Malawi striker, Chawinga scoop top awards in France

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Malawi striker Tabitha Chawinga and Chiamaka Nnadozie of Nigeria have been named the best player and best goalkeeper respectively in the French women’s league.

Chawinga wasted no time in making an impact upon her arrival in France after joining Paris Saint-Germain from Inter Milan in less than one year.

 The Malawi captain joined PSG in the summer of 2023 and has quickly showcased her talent, resulting in the top award on Monday night.

She played 25 matches, scoring 18 goals and providing 10 assists while donning the iconic red and blue jersey.

As a semifinalist in the UEFA Women’s Champions League, PSG’s number 22 became the first Malawian to score a goal in a European competition.

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Meanwhile, Nnadozie has had an exceptional season with Paris FC which had led to dethrone Christiane Endlerthe – long standing best goalkeeper in the French women’s top-flight.

The Nigerian goalkeeper boasts 10 clean sheets in 28 appearances in the French league.

For the first time in her career, Nnadozie has been recognized in this category, ending the dominance of Endler, who was named the best goalkeeper in the French league from 2019 to 2023.

Chawinga and Nnadozie’s achievements highlight the growing influence of African players abroad as their performances will pave the way for future generations of footballers from the continent to shine on the global stage.

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What a twist of fate! Before now, Morocco and Algeria were  allies

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When FIFA Suspended Morocco for Supporting Algeria’s Independence

Despite Morocco’s historical solidarity with Algeria, the regime continues to politicize sporting events in search of opportunities to undermine Morocco’s territorial integrity.

Algeria continues to push with its obsessive tendency to undermine Morocco’s territorial integrity despite the country’s long-standing solidarity with its National Liberation Front (FLN) in international sporting events.

Last week, the Algerian regime confiscated the jerseys of a Moroccan club RS Berkane ahead of a CAF Confederation match in Algeria due to the fact that they featured a full map of Morocco.

The decision drew outrage from Moroccans and international observers who decried Algeria’s politicizing of sporting events and its constant search for opportunities to undermine Morocco’s territorial integrity.

On Saturday, Algerian journalist and political analyst, Oualid Kebir, took to social media exposing the regime’s disregard for Morocco’s historical support for the Algerian FLN in international sporting events.

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Kebir highlighted Morocco’s “heroic” and “strong supportive stances” during Algerian’s challenging times during French occupation. “Morocco’s historical and heroic stance at that time is added to the honorable and strong supportive stances at that time towards Algeria,” the post read. 

Kebir’s statement referred to Morocco’s Royal Football Federation (FRMF) organizing a match in 1958 against the FLN team despite the fact that the team was not recognized by FIFA. The team consisted then of French Muslim (Algerian) players who had been suspended by the French Football Federation.

FIFA’s justification at the time for punishing Morocco was due to the licensing of the FRMF clubs to play against the FLN team. 

“Today, the military regime disguises ingratitude and compels Algerian clubs and sports teams to refuse to play and confront their Moroccan counterparts who display the map of Morocco on their jerseys!” Kebir wrote, decrying Algeria’s ungratefulness to Morocco’s historical support.

“This is the reward for standing with us during difficult times?!” he stressed.

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Attached to the post was the official document from FIFA outlining its decision to revoke the affiliation of the FRMF due to Morocco’s authorization of its clubs to play matches against the Algerian national team, despite FIFA’s objections. 

Algeria’s blatant attacks on Morocco’s sovereignty have especially peaked over the past days with the country staunchly attempting to politicize yet another sporting event.

One such event occurred during the Arab Championship this week, where the Algerian U-17 national handball team withdrew in protest of Morocco’s jersey featuring a full map of Morocco that includes its southern provinces. 

After the Confederation of African Football (CAF) announced RS Berkane to be the winner of the Sunday match, Algeria relentlessly appealed the decision, losing the appeal in the process.

However, the regime announced that they would take their case to a higher court, alleging that the jerseys include a political symbol.

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In January 2023, Algeria orchestrated a similar attack on Morocco through the African Nations Championship (CHAN). During the tournament, the Algerian regime denied the Moroccan team the right to participate and defend their title, while using the tournament’s opening ceremony as a political platform to express support for the Polisario Front. 

-Morocco World News

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