FIRST 11: Abramovich Hands Over Chelsea + Last Week’s Biggest Sports Stories
It’s now four days since Russia invaded Ukraine. While the military action has continued, sporting activities have also been affected. Chelsea’s owner Roman Abramovich has handed over the club to their board of trustees, becoming one of the biggest sporting impacts of the conflict.
First 11 covers this, the Super Falcon’s qualification for the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations, their delay at the Abuja airport, and other major sports stories last week.
Abramovich Hands Over Chelsea
Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich handed over Chelsea to the club’s board of trustees on Saturday. His move followed sanctions against Russian entities after the invasion of Ukraine.
Abramovich is an oligarch, one of the groups targeted by western sanctions. Earlier, UK lawmakers said they were planning to take over Chelsea after linking Abramovich to the Russian state and his reported involvement in corrupt practices.
Russian GP Cancelled
Apart from this, Formula One authorities also cancelled the Russian Grand Prix billed for September 25 as fighting continued into the second day in the Eastern European nation.
Earlier, world champion Max Verstappen and four-time champion Sebastian Vettel had said they won’t be taking part in the testing in Barcelona, an opposition to driving at the Russian Grand Prix.
UEFA Changes Champions League Host
Formula One was not the only sporting body that took a drastic decision since the invasion. Europe’s football governing body moved the Champions League final from Saint Petersburg to Stade de France in France’s capital of Paris. The final will hold on Saturday, May 28, 2022.
‘No To War’
During the week, Fedor Smolov became the first Russian footballer to publicly oppose his country’s invasion of Ukraine. The 32-year-old Dynamo Moscow took to social media to condemn the action and wrote: “No to war” on Instagram. A day before that, Ukrainian forward Roman Yaremchuk celebrated a Champions League goal for his Portuguese side Benfica by revealing a shirt bearing his country’s coat of arms.
Elanga Keeps Man U’s Hopes Alive
In other matches in Europe’s elite competition, Chelsea became one of the first teams to put one leg in the next round. They saw off Lille, 2-0, in the first leg of the last 16 game at Stamford Bridge. Kai Havertz and Christian Pulisic scored the goals for the defending champions.
A day later, Anthony Elanga netted a late winner to help Manchester United peg Atletico Madrid. The second-round game ended 1-1. The Spanish side had led for much of the match, thanks to a goal from Joao Felix. But Manchester United stroked home an equaliser with just ten minutes to time, cancelling Felix’s seventh-minute effort. Villareal and Juventus had the same scoreline just as Benfica drew 2-2 with Ajax in other Champions League ties.
Barcelona Outclass Napoli
After the Champions League, action returned to Europa League as Barcelona outclassed Napoli to reach the last 16. The Catalans won 4-2 to end the tie 5-3 after the first leg finished 1-1.
“We dominated for 90 minutes and that’s the first time we’ve done that since I became coach,” Xavi told reporters after the match. “It’s a win over a team which I repeat is a Champions League-level team, one which does not concede many goals and is fighting for the league title.”
Falcons Qualify For AWCON
At the home front, the Super Falcons of Nigeria qualified for the African Women’s Cup of Nations (AWCON). The defending champions beat Ivory Coast 0-1 on Wednesday to end the game on a 3-0 aggregate. It was sweet revenge for the Nigerian girls who had lost to the Lady Elephants in the qualification series for the football event of the Tokyo Olympics.
But their victory was marred by the controversy that greeted them once they touched down in the country. They were held up at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja over COVID-19 protocols. Officials of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) demanded that the players and officials undergo a round of routine tests and pay a certain amount of money before. This is despite having done tests less than 24 hours before arrival in Nigeria.
While reacting to the incident, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), apologised to the ladies, describing the development as ‘unfortunate’.
“We are a responsible organization and the various National Teams have been going out and returning to Nigeria since these covid19 protocols, procedures, and guidelines started. We have never been caught napping, “NFF General Secretary, Dr Mohammed Sanusi said.
Sanusi added: “It was beyond us, but we have already apologized to our players and officials over this incident.”
‘Jollof’ Derby Gets New Date
On the other hand, their male counterpart have their 2022 World Cup play-off date shifted. The Confederation of African Football (CAF) moved the first leg from March 24 to 25 while the return fixture, previously billed for March 27, will take place at the Moshood Abiola (MKO) National Stadium in Abuja on March 29.
FIFA Sanctions Kenya, Zimbabwe
On Thursday, FIFA suspended the Kenyan and Zimbabwean football federations over government interference.
“Without prejudice to investigations by national authorities or other judiciary bodies, the FIFA Council has decided to suspend the Kenya Football Federation and the Zimbabwe Football Federation with immediate effect for undue influence by a third party,” FIFA said in a statement.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino said the sanction was due to “government interference in the activities of the football federation”.
“They know what needs to be done for the suspension to be lifted,” he said.
D’Tigress Make Giant Leap
Meanwhile, the D’Tigress moved up the FIBA rankings on the back of their impressive showing at the world cup qualifiers. The female team are now 14th on the globe, going one place up from their previous ranking. They are trailing South Korea who are in the 13th position.
Nigeria grabbed their ticket for the competition after two wins in three matches. They had lost to China in their opening tie but victories against France and Mali earned them a spot in Australia.