On Wednesday, legendary Argentine footballer, Diego Armando Maradona died from a cardiac arrest, aged 60, throwing the sporting world into one of its saddest moments in recent times.
The 1986 World Cup winner’s death saw the outpouring of condolences from across the globe, adding further buzz to a week which started with FIFA’s suspension of CAF President, Ahmad Ahmad.
This edition of First Eleven, a recap of the top 11 sports stories from the world, also features action from the UEFA Champions League, the Europa League and stories from the domestic front.
1. Maradona: Football World Grieves, Bids Farewell To Argentine Legend
Millions of fans in Argentina and around the world on Thursday bided farewell to football great, Diego Maradona, the player who helped his country to a triumph in the 1986 FIFA World Cup.
The former Napoli star who died on Wednesday was buried on the outskirts of Argentine capital, Buenos Aires after a farewell that was chaotic at times. In the ceremony attended by family and close friends in the leafy surrounds of the Bella Vista cemetery, the peaceful event contrasted sharply with the sometimes raucous scenes of the World Cup winner’s send-off in Buenos Aires.
Thousands of people had lined up from early Thursday morning to file past the star’s coffin, draped in the Argentine flag and his iconic No.10 jersey, at the presidential palace to pay their last respect to the player who commanded a cult following in the South American nation. Tributes are still pouring in from footballers, clubs, associations and coaches, a development that could continue for weeks.
2. FIFA Hammer Lands On CAF President Ahmad Ahmad
The week had begun on a rather surprising note as FIFA’s hammer landed on Ahmad Ahmad, the President of the Confederation of African Football (CAF). Football governing body, FIFA had on Monday suspended Ahmad, from Madagascar, for five years having “breached his duty of loyalty, offered gifts and other benefits, mismanaged funds and abused his position as the CAF President.”
Ahmad who has been the president of the football body since March 2017 was equally fined 200,000 Swiss francs ($220,000) by FIFA for the misdeeds, which related to “the organisation and financing of an Umrah pilgrimage to Mecca” and his involvement in CAF’s dealings with a sports equipment company.
The 60-year-old, has, however, launched an appeal against his suspension, citing unfairness in FIFA’s decision.
3. FIFA Awards 2020: Lewandowski, Messi, Ronaldo Lead Shortlist
Polish striker, Roberto Lewandowski was shortlisted alongside Argentine star, Lionel Messi, and Cristiano Ronaldo for the 2020 FIFA Awards, to cap off an interesting year in which he won the quadruple with Bayern Munich.
The European Player of the Year is also joined on the list that includes Senegal’s Sadio Mane, Egyptian Mohamed Salah and Dutchman Virgil van Dijk by former teammate and Spanish international, Thiago Alacantra.
Paris Saint-Germain duo of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne and Real Madrid defender, Sergio Ramos are the other players in the ten-man shortlist. Marcelo Bielsa, who led Leeds into the English Premier League, is in the shortlist for the men’s coach award, which features Bayern’s Hans-Dieter Flick, Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp, Sevilla’s Julen Lopetegui and Real Madrid’s Zinedine Zidane.
4. Pope Francis Receives NBA Players
Pope Francis believes sports can be a great tool to fight social and economic injustice following his meeting, on Monday, with five NBA players.
“Looking at the problems in society and especially those of social justice, sport can be a good means of resolving them,” Pope Francis said during the event which was held at the Vatican. “We should always remember this because your message is the goodwill of sports but also working together as a team, the work as a community and may this be the seed of beauty and of a shared development towards justice.”
The players – Jonathan Isaac, Sterling Brown, Marco Belinelli, Kyle Korver and Anthony Tolliver – who spoke about their efforts at tackling inequalities in their communities described the meeting as “an incredible experience.” During last season’s NBA, players took a knee before matches and wore the Black Lives Matter slogan on jerseys, protesting the killing of a black man, George Flyod by a police officer in the US.
5. Champions League: Barcelona, Chelsea, Juventus, Sevilla Enter Last 16
Spanish giants, Barcelona and North London side, Chelsea were among the first teams to reach the last 16 of this term’s Champions League, joining Juventus and Sevilla in claiming an early spot in the knockout phase of Europe’s elite club competition.
The Blaugrana shipped for goals past Dynamo Kiev away from home to move a step closer to securing their first Champions League title since 2015. Manchester City have also made it to the round of 16.
6. Pepe Redeems Self As Arsenal, Roma, Others Make Europa League Knockout Phase
Nicolas Pepe netted as Arsenal qualified for the Europa League round of 32 with the Gunners beating Molde 3-0. The Ivorian scored just after half-time with a cool close-range finish to ensure the North London side moved to the next stage of the competition which they got to the final two seasons ago.
Hoffenheim, Leicester and Roma complete the first four teams through to the UEFA Europa League next round.
7. COVID-19: A Green Light For Fans’ Return
Football fans in English had reasons to smile over the week as clubs within the tier two areas can now allow spectators in sports arenas. Although the Premier League is yet to confirm matches to be played over the weekend of December 5 and 6, clubs can welcome up to 2,000 fans.
During that weekend, Brighton will be at home against Southampton, Chelsea welcome Leeds, Premier League holders Liverpool host Wolves at the Anfield just as Manchester United travel to the London Stadium for a date with West Ham.
The games would be the first batch of top-flight matches to be attended by fans since the outbreak of COVID-19 that shut spectators out of stadiums in March. While government had planned to let supporters back into sports venues in reduced numbers from October, the move was shelved following a spike in the coronavirus infection.
8. 2020 National Sports Festival Moved To January 2020
The National Sports Festival (NSF) earlier billed for Benin from Dec. 3 to Dec.13 has been postponed to Jan.3 to Jan.17, 2021.
According to the Ministry of Sports and Youth Development, the decision to move the games was arrived at during a virtual meeting with stakeholders on Thursday in Abuja.
Tagged Edo 2020, the games was earlier scheduled to take place in March, but was postponed to December due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
9. Coleman Appeals Ban For Breaching Anti-Doping Rules
World 100m champion, Christian Coleman has appealed the two-year ban handed to him by the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU). Coleman wants the AIU to set aside that decision “and that the sanction be eliminated, or in the alternative, reduced.”
AIU in October banned the American sprinter saying he “committed an ADRV in relation to an alleged filing failure and missed tests.” He was provisionally suspended for three ‘whereabouts failures’ in June with the World Athletics’ Disciplinary Tribunal upholding the charge, backdating it to May 14, 2020.
If the ban is upheld, Coleman would miss next year’s Olympic Games in Japan, an event he is touted to win the 100m gold.
10. 2021 FIBA AfroBasket Qualifiers Tips Off
Yesterday, Tunisia 🇹🇳, Kenya 🇰🇪, Senegal 🇸🇳 and Rwanda 🇷🇼 got their training session, in preparation for their upcoming games.
— FIBA #AfroBasket (@AfroBasket) November 24, 2020
After months of delay occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 FIBA AfroBasket qualifiers tipped off on Wednesday.
Three groups – made up of 12 teams – are in Kigali, the Rwandan capital. These are teams in Group A, B and D while Group E will battle it out in the Egyptian city of Alexandria. Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon and Guinea – in Group C – had played during the February window in Yaounde, Cameroon.
The top three sides in all groups will book a ticket to the FIBA AfroBasket 2021. That is not, however, the case in Group D which has Rwanda.
“In case, Rwanda is ranked first, second or third in this group, then the three highest-placed teams will make it to the final tournament from Group D,” FIBA explained in a statement on its website.
“This also means that the best fourth-placed team in all the five groups, based on the classification rules of the Official Basketball Rules, shall obtain the last spot for the FIBA AfroBasket 2021, making a total of 16 teams. However, should Rwanda finish in the fourth position, all Group D teams will qualify for the FIBA AfroBasket 2021.”
11. United Forward Rashford Makes Football Black List
England and Manchester United striker, Marcus Rashford has made the Football Black List, an initiative which celebrates the most influential black people in British football.
The 23-year-old’s campaign, raising awareness of child poverty in the UK and convincing the government to give children school meals, earned him a place in the list.
Aston Villa and England defender, Tyrone Mings; Watford striker, Troy Deeney and Crystal Palace and Ivory Coast forward, Wilfried Zaha were some of those who made the Football Black List. It was founded in 2008 by sports journalists Leon Mann and Rodney Hinds, and spotlights positive influencers from the black community in sport.