Pools Confirmed For Rugby World Cup 2023

Caption: Rugby World Cup 2023 Pools.                                                 Image courtesy: World Rugby


Preparations for the 2023  Rugby World Cup in France marked an important milestone today with confirmation of the pools for the 10th edition of the pinnacle competition in men’s 15s rugby.

The draw hosted in Paris was opened by World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont and French President Emmanuel Macron as France prepares to deliver a landmark event for players, fans, the host nation and the rugby community.

Confirmation of the pools means that teams and fans can begin to plan their Rugby World Cup 2023 adventure.

Rugby World Cup 2023 – POOLS

Pool A: New Zealand, France, Italy, Americas 1, Africa 1

Pool B: South Africa, Ireland, Scotland, Asia/Pacific 1, Europe 2

Pool C: Wales, Australia, Fiji, Europe 1, Final Qualifier Winner

Pool D: England, Japan, Argentina, Oceania 1, Americas 2

Full List: France Drawn Against Ukraine, England To Face Poland In 2022 W/Cup Qualifiers

In this file photo taken on July 15, 2018 France’s goalkeeper Hugo Lloris holds the trophy as he celebrates with teammates during the trophy ceremony at the end of the Russia 2018 World Cup final football match between France and Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 15, 2018. Alexander NEMENOV / AFP


Holders France were handed an awkward draw in qualifying for the 2022 World Cup on Monday, with Ukraine and Bosnia and Herzegovina standing in their way on the road to the finals in Qatar, while England will face Poland in their group.

Gareth Southgate’s England, semi-finalists at the 2018 tournament in Russia, will also take on Hungary and Albania as well as two of the minnows of international football, Andorra and San Marino, in Group I.

France will also face Finland — who recently beat Les Bleus in a friendly in Paris — in Group D, with Kazakhstan completing the group that was drawn in a virtual ceremony at FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

They are in a group of just five teams because they will be involved in the finals of the UEFA Nations League in Italy in October next year.

The European qualifying competition to reach the finals begins next March, with a total of 13 countries from the continent going through.

Only the winners of each of the 10 groups will qualify automatically for the finals, which are to take place in November and December of 2022.

The 10 runners-up will go into play-offs alongside the two best Nations League group winners who miss out on qualifying via the traditional path.

Those play-offs will produce three more qualifiers in total, with Europe having 13 spots out of the 32 at the finals.

Germany, whose coach Joachim Loew has been under severe pressure after a run of poor recent results for the 2014 World Cup winners, will be expected to come through a group in which Romania and Iceland appear their main threats.

UEFA World Cup 2022 Qualifying Groups 

Group A



Republic of Ireland



Group B






Group C



Northern Ireland



Group D






Group E



Czech Republic



Group F





Faroe Islands


Group G







Group H







Group I






San Marino

Group J




North Macedonia




Pele’s Tribute To Late Maradona, Diop’s Death And The Biggest Sports Stories Last Week

Diop scored the country’s winning goal against France at the 2002 World Cup. Photo: [email protected] Online.


Barely a week after the death of Argentine legend, Diego Maradona, the football world was once again, thrown into mourning with the demise of Senegalese World Cup hero, Bouba Diop, aged 42. 

He netted three goals for the Teranga Lions as they cruised to the quarter-finals of the 2002 World Cup in their maiden appearance in the competition, kicking off a week that saw Brazilian legend, Pele penning an emotional farewell to Maradona, a winner of the 1986 World Cup.

Even though activities are picking up in most parts of the world following the halting of events due to the COVID-19 pandemic, sports personalities are still testing positive for the disease with Formula 1 champion, Lewis Hamilton and 48 NBA players the latest in the long-list to have contracted the virus.

On First Eleven, a recap of the biggest eleven stories this week, the EPL and EFL are also mulling measures to combat the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic while organisers of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are saying there is a financial adjustment to the games billed for next year in the Asian nation.


1. Senegal World Cup Hero Diop Dies At 42

Barely a week after the demise of legendary soccer star, Diego Maradona, the football world was thrown into another bout of mourning. Bouba Diop, the former Portsmouth star who scored Senegal’s lone goal in the famous defeat of the then-world champions, France in the opening game of the 2002 World Cup died on Sunday from a long illness.

“FIFA is saddened to learn of the passing of Senegal legend Papa Bouba Diop,” the world football governing body said in a statement confirming the death of the 42-year-old player who was popularly called ‘The Wardrobe.’ “Once a World Cup hero, always a World Cup hero.”

Diop also played for French club Lens, Fulham, West Ham United and Birmingham City and was part of the Senegal side that lost to Cameroon on penalties in the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations final.

2. Pele Pens Message To ‘Great Friend’ Maradona


In this file photo taken on June 09, 2016 former Argentinian football international Diego Maradona (L) and former Brazilian footballer Pele pose after a football match organised by Swiss luxury watchmaker Hublot at the Jardin du Palais Royal in Paris, on the eve of the Euro 2016 European football championships. PATRICK KOVARIK / AFP


A week after the death of Maradona, Brazillian legend, Pele wrote an emotional farewell message to his “great friend” and “genius who enchanted the world”.


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A post shared by Pelé (@pele)

“The world would be much better if we could compare each other less and start admiring each other more,” Pele posted on Instagram alongside a series of photos with him and the Argentine maestro. “So, I want to say that you are beyond comparison,” said the three-time World Cup winner.”

Both did not play at the same time but they have always drawn comparisons from football fans. At the turn of the millennium when Pele was crowned “Player of the (20th) Century” by FIFA while Maradona won a public vote.

3. Tokyo Olympics To Cost $2.4b More


The Olympic Rings are pictured in front of the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lausanne on March 21, 2020, as doubts increase over whether Tokyo can safely host the summer Games amid the spread of the COVID-19. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP.


Organisers of the Tokyo Olympics have said the postponed games will cost an extra $2.4bn, ballooning an already controversial budget.

They said the Tokyo 2020 Games will need an additional $1.5 billion for operational costs, with another $900 million to be spent on countermeasures against the COVID-19 pandemic.

The cost may equally move up with the organisers on Friday noting that more $250 million in “contingency” funds will be released to help cover the expenses.

4. Lewis Hamilton Tests Positive For COVID-19

Formula One World Drivers Champion Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP celebrates in parc ferme during the F1 Grand Prix of USA at Circuit of The Americas on November 03, 2019, in Austin, Texas. Dan Istitene/Getty Images/AFP


Multiple Formula 1 champion, Lewis Hamilton has joined the long list of sports personalities to have contracted  COVID-19, meaning he missed this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix.

“He woke up on Monday morning with mild symptoms and was informed at the same time that a contact prior to arrival in Bahrain had subsequently tested positive,” a statement from Hamilton’s Mercedes team said, explaining that the British man is isolating in line with COVID-19 protocols and health guidelines in the Asian nation.

The team noted that Hamilton who had been tested thrice the past week had returned negative.

5. 48 NBA Players Contract COVID-19


In this file photo taken on March 12, 2020, an NBA logo is shown at the 5th Avenue NBA store in New York City. (Photo by Jeenah Moon / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP).


From Hamilton to the US, more sportsmen and women have continued to test positive to COVID-19. The NBA on Wednesday said after its latest round of testing, 48 players had contracted the virus, a dramatic increase over the zero positive tests reported during last season’s quarantine bubble in Florida.

The league said the positive tests are the result of 546 tests carried out between November 24-30 as the NBA gets set to begin preseason games in nine days. The zero positive tests were from the beginning of last season’s quarantine bubble to the end of the season in mid-October.

Under the league’s new COVID-19 protocols, a player who tests positive has to refrain from workouts for at least 10 days and more if he is showing symptoms. The NBA’s first preseason games are December 11 with the regular season scheduled to begin less than two weeks later.

6. EPL, EFL Roll Out COVID-19 Package


The Premier League was put on hold since mid-March due to COVID-19 outbreak. Photo: Twitter/Premier League.


The Premier League and the English Football League agreed a £250-million rescue package on Thursday, ending months of uncertainty for lower-league clubs struggling financially during the coronavirus pandemic.

The EFL said clubs in Leagues One and Two — the third and fourth-tiers — would receive grants worth £50 million ($67 million). The Premier League will provide a further financial commitment to help the EFL secure a £200-million loan facility for clubs in the second-tier Championship.

It follows months of negotiations between the two governing bodies, who had been criticised for their failure to reach an agreement.

7. IOC Presidency: Bach To Go Unopposed


In this file photo taken on January 10, 2020, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach attends a press conference in Lausanne.  Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP


Thomas Bach will stand unopposed to serve a second term as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) president.

Bach, a 66-year-old German lawyer, is set to be confirmed for a second and final four-year term at an IOC session in March in Athens. He was initially elected for an eight-year term as Olympic chief in September 2013, taking over from Belgian Jacques Rogge. If re-elected, Bach’s term will end in 2025, a year after the Paris Olympics.

The next term for the IOC presidency will start after the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, which will now take place from July 23-Aug 8, 2021, having been postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

8. LA Lakers: LeBron James Extends Contract


In this file photo taken on October 11, 2020, LeBron James (C) of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates with teammates after winning the 2020 NBA Championship in Game Six at AdventHealth Arena in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Douglas P. DeFelice / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP
In this file photo taken on October 11, 2020, LeBron James (C) of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates with teammates after winning the 2020 NBA Championship in Game Six at AdventHealth Arena in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Douglas P. DeFelice / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP


Reigning NBA finals MVP LeBron James, who will turn 36 this month, has agreed to a two-year, $85 million contract extension with the Los Angeles Lakers, his agent Rich Paul confirmed on Wednesday.

The extension means James will make $39.2 million next season and will be a Laker through the 2022-23 season, American sports broadcaster ESPN reported Paul as saying.

James will also make $41.1 million in 2021-22 and $44.5 million in 2022-23. By the time his contract ends, he will have played two decades in the NBA. Last season, James averaged 25.3 points and led the NBA in assists with 10.2 per game.

9. Champions League: Woman Makes Refereeing History

French referee Stephanie Frappart gives a yellow card to Dynamo Kiev’s Ukrainian midfielder Nicholas Shaparenko (C) during the UEFA Champions League Group G football match Juventus vs Dynamo Kiev on December 2, 2020 at the Juventus stadium in Turin. Vincenzo PINTO / AFP


Stephanie Frappart became the first woman to referee a men’s Champions League game on Wednesday as Cristiano Ronaldo scored his 750th career goal in a 3-0 win for Juventus over Dynamo Kiev.

The 36-year-old Frappart has already made history as the first woman to referee in Ligue 1, and took charge of the 2019 UEFA Super Cup final between Liverpool and Chelsea. She also made her Europa League debut in October.

Meanwhile, Liverpool, Borussia Dortmund, Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain suffered mixed fortunes as the group stage of Europe’s elite competition enters its latter phase.


Paris Saint-Germain’s Brazilian forward Neymar celebrates after he scores his team’s third goal during the UEFA Champions League group H football match between Manchester United and Paris Saint Germain at Old Trafford in Manchester, north-west England, on December 2, 2020.


Dortmund was held 1-1 by Lazio while Brazillian star, Neymar bagged a brace to hand PSG a 3-1 win over English giants, Manchester United. A depleted Liverpool side beat Ajax 1-0 to move to the next stage of the competition.

Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid have their hopes of reaching the knockout phase of the Champions League hanging in the balance after going down 2-0 away to the Ukrainian side, Dynamo Kiev.


10. UEFA Mulls 10-Game Model For Champions League 


(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 28, 2020 shows the UEFA logo at the organization's headquarters in Nyon. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
In this file photo taken on February 28, 2020 shows the UEFA logo at the organization’s headquarters in Nyon. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP


UEFA is to hold talks over proposals that would see the Champions League group stage transformed to guarantee 10 matches for each side in the competition, according to a report on Tuesday.

Champions League reform is expected from 2024 onwards as European football’s governing body aims to ward off the threat of a breakaway super league from the continent’s biggest clubs.

British newspaper The Times reported that a “Swiss system” that would see all sides in the competition compete in one league and play 10 different opponents, selected by a draw, is now UEFA’s favoured model for reform.

11. Women’s Rugby W/Cup Teams Increased


A file photo of World Rugby logo.


World Rugby has announced an increase in the number of teams in the women’s edition of the Rugby World Cup, expanding the number of sides to 16 teams from 2025 onwards.

The decision, taken by the Rugby World Cup Board in 2020, is a confirmation of World Rugby’s resolve to speed up the women’s game globally via its transformational women’s strategic plan of 2017-25. Women’s rugby has experienced record growth in recent years, with women and girls now accounting for 28% of the global playing population.

Your Biggest Sporting Story? 

In a week that saw action from the Champions League, the Europa League, the death of Senegalese World Cup hero, Diop, and other thrilling events, sports enthusiasts undoubtedly had an exciting week.

From football, and tennis, to basketball and athletics, what could you describe as your biggest sports story this week?





Women’s Rugby World Cup To Increase From 12 To 16 Teams From 2025

A photo of World Rugby


World Rugby has confirmed that the women’s edition of the Rugby World Cup will expand to 16 teams from 2025 onwards.

The landmark decision, taken by the Rugby World Cup Board earlier this year, confirms World Rugby’s commitment to accelerating the development of the women’s game globally through its transformational women’s strategic plan of 2017-25.

With women’s rugby interest and participation going from strength to strength, the decision supports a core pillar of the plan in increasing the global competitiveness of women’s international rugby, providing the opportunity for more teams to be more competitive on the biggest stages.

Women’s rugby has experienced record growth in recent years, with women and girls now accounting for 28% of the global playing population.

Interest in Rugby World Cup hosting continues to grow ahead of the formal process beginning in February 2021 and today’s announcement follows recent confirmation of key elements related to the evaluation, publication and voting process for the 2025 and 2029 editions, which will be awarded at the same time as the men’s in May 2022.

READ ALSO: Odusanya, Adeyinka Emerge Champions Of 52nd Asoju Oba Cup

Rugby World Cup continues to go from strength to strength and New Zealand 2021 is set to feature a host of exciting new format changes which prioritise player welfare and event promotion.

World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said “Women’s rugby is the single greatest opportunity to grow the sport globally. In 2017 we set out an ambitious eight-year plan to accelerate the development of women in rugby, with a core pillar focusing on high-performance competition and an ambition to improve and expand the number of teams competing in pinnacle events. We have seen in recent years that more teams are making a statement at international level and unions are continuing to develop their women’s high-performance programmes.

“This is a milestone moment for the women’s game, expansion of the Rugby World Cup opens additional aspirational and inspirational playing pathway opportunities for unions at the highest level of the game and creates an added incentive for unions worldwide to continue to invest and grow in their women’s programmes,” Beaumont concluded.

Referee Who Missed ‘Hand of god’ Hails ‘Genius’ Maradona

In this file photo taken on February 26, 2013, Football legend Argentinian Diego Maradona gestures during a press conference in Naples. CARLO HERMANN / AFP


Tunisian former referee Ali Bin Nasser, who officiated the 1986 World Cup quarter-final in which Diego Maradona scored his famous double against England, hailed the Argentinian as a “genius” following his death, aged 60, on Wednesday.

Bin Nasser admitted that he doubted the validity of Maradona’s infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal, but said the football legend’s second strike in the game was a “masterpiece”.

In the 51st minute of a politically-charged last-eight clash in Mexico, four years after the Falklands War, Maradona outjumped England goalkeeper Peter Shilton and punched the ball into the net to give his country the lead.

“I didn’t see the hand, but I had a doubt,” Bin Nasser, the first Tunisian to referee a World Cup quarter-final, told AFP.

“You can see the pictures — I stepped back to take the advice of my assistant, Bulgarian (Bogdan) Dochev, and when he said it was good, I gave the goal.”

The 76-year-old said he believed he was a go-to man for FIFA in tough matches, and that world football’s governing body gave him a high rating for his performance in the game.

“I had already refereed a match between the USSR and China in 1985, I was the man of difficult missions for FIFA,” Bin Nasser said.

“FIFA gave me a 9.4 on this game, I did what I had to do, but there was confusion — Dochev later indicated that he had seen two arms, and he didn’t know if it was Shilton’s or Maradona’s.”

Argentina secured their place in the semi-finals of a tournament they would go on to win when Maradona put them two goals ahead with a strike later voted the ‘Goal of the Century’.

The then-Napoli star evaded six England players’ attempts to either tackle or foul him during a mesmerising run from the halfway line, before prodding into an empty net.

READ ALSO: Argentines Mourn Maradona, ‘The Most Human Of gods’

“I was ready to whistle for a dangerous foul on Maradona,” remembered Bin Nasser of a goal which proved to be the winner after Gary Lineker pulled one back for England.

“I thought after 50 yards of effort they were going to bring him down.

“I was proud to participate in that masterpiece.”

Maradona visited Bin Nasser 29 years later while shooting an advertisement in Tunisia, giving him a T-shirt bearing the words “To my eternal friend Ali”.

“We had a good time, I told him that that day, it was not Argentina who won, but him, Maradona.

“He was a genius, a football legend. As a referee, I did not allow myself to close my eyes even for a second when following him, because he was capable of anything.”


Official Gilbert Rugby World Cup Match Ball Design Unveiled

The official Gilbert Rugby World Cup Match Ball design was unveiled on November 17, 2020.


The World Rugby and Gilbert today unveiled the official Rugby World Cup 2021 match ball design which embodies the unique Rugby World Cup 2021 brand identity.

Taking inspiration from the vitality and connectivity of the RWC 2021 brand, the ball design works seamlessly to showcase unstoppable energy, with key single colour focal points on either end to encourage player performance.

In addition, the official Gilbert Rugby World Cup 2021 ball features unique elements from the tournament’s striking brand look and feel which integrates the energetic RipoRipo graphic.

The RipoRipo carries cultural significance in New Zealand, where the 2021 tournament will be hosted, representing the water and the land.

Gilbert have a long-standing affiliation with the women’s editions of Rugby World Cups, having supplied the match balls to every tournament since 1991.

The 2021 tournament edition will be the first time ever that Gilbert have offered a full range of replica and supporter products to commemorate what will be an unforgettable tournament.

World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: “As anticipation builds ahead of the Rugby World Cup 2021 Draw, which is less than three days away, we are delighted to mark another important milestone with the unveiling of the official Rugby World Cup 2021 ball with our partner Gilbert, a longstanding supporter of the women’s game.”

Richard Gray, CEO Commercial at Gilbert Rugby, added: “We are delighted to renew our long and successful relationship with Rugby World Cup and to extend our support of women’s rugby.”

“The 2021 tournament promises to be an unforgettable experience and we are excited to today launch the official ball design – celebrating New Zealand’s unique rugby history and heritage.

“Having supported women’s Rugby World Cup since 1991, for the first time ever, everyone at Gilbert is proud to offer an unprecedented full range of products for supporters for the 2021 edition.”

The Rugby World Cup 2021 in New Zealand will be contested by 12 teams and kicks off on 18 September with the winner to be crowned at Eden Park on 16 October.

ITTF World Cup: Quadri Aruna Knocked Out On Day One

File photo of Aruna Quadri


Nigeria’s No.1 player, Quadra Aruna, has been beaten by Slovenian player, Darko Jorgic at the ITTF Men’s World Cup which kicked off in Dishang, China.

The shocking loss was disclosed on Friday by the International Table Tennis Federation.

“The Slovenian has caused a major upset here in the final match of day, as he has managed to eliminate Quadri Aruna from the group stages and reach the round of 16!” ITTF said.

“Drawn in a group with two veterans of the sport, Darko Jorgic has shown his class and composure to come through with a decisive win.

“Sadly for Aruna, he is unable to proceed to the knockouts on his sixth appearance at the Men’s World Cup.”

The 32-year-old Aruna fell 4-2; 11-4, 8-11, 10-12, 12-10, 11-8, 11-4 to the 22-year-old Jorgic.

While Nigeria’s Aruna is ranked 20th in the world, Slovania’s Jorgic is ranked 34th in the world.

World Cup Qualifier: Brazil Struggle To Beat Venezuela Without Neymar

Players of Brazil gather before the start of their closed-door 2022 FIFA World Cup South American qualifier football match against Venezuela at Morumbi Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on November 13, 2020. NELSON ALMEIDA / POOL / AFP


Liverpool striker Roberto Firmino scored the crucial goal as Brazil laboured to a 1-0 win over a well organized but limited Venezuela in their World Cup qualifier on Friday.

Firmino broke the deadlock on 66 minutes in Sao Paulo, poaching a goal after Venezuelan defender Darwin Machis’ attempt to clear an Everton Ribeiro cross fell to him a few yards out.

Firmino’s 16th goal in 47 appearances for the Selecao was enough to maintain their 100 per cent record in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers.

Brazil have already beaten Bolivia (5-0) and Peru (4-2) and top the South American qualifying table with Argentina second.

Venezuela, who lost their first two qualifiers, were set up to contain and held the Brazilians scoreless at half time in the deserted Morumbi stadium.

The hosts missed the injured Neymar’s creativity in midfield, but even with an attack sporting Firmino, Gabriel Jesus and Richarlison, they could find no way through the mass Venezuelan defence in the first half.

Richarlison did have the ball in the net early on but the Everton striker’s celebrations were cut short when Firmino was adjudged to have been narrowly offside in the buildup.

Players of Brazil gather before the start of their closed-door 2022 FIFA World Cup South American qualifier football match against Venezuela at Morumbi Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on November 13, 2020. FERNANDO BIZERRA / POOL / AFP


For all Brazil’s pressing, Wuilker Farinez had little enough to do in the Venezuela goal, but the keeper made a flying save to beat away a bouncing shot from Firmino just before the half-hour, the Liverpool striker heading the resulting corner well wide.

With 75 per cent possession but short of ideas in attack, most of Brazil’s threat came from the left and it was from there they worked their best chance on 32 minutes, Atletico Madrid’s Renan Lodi whipping in a cross that Gabriel Jesus and then Richarlison, at full stretch, failed to turn in to a gaping goal.

Venezuela’s only threat came from a break up the left wing by Yeferson Soteldo, whose cross for Salomon Rondon was hacked away by Marquinhos.

Rondon, formerly of West Bromwich Albion and now plying his trade for Chinese Super Lague club Dalian Professional, otherwise cut an isolated figure when not busy with defensive duties.

Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson, who hardly touched the ball during the whole match, reacted quickly to scramble the ball away when Rondon briefly threatened the Brazil goal at the death.

Venezuela’s Corinthians star Romulo Otero wasted Venezuela’s only other real chance when he fired a 25-meter free kick over Ederson’s bar in injury time.

A worried Brazilian coach Tite will have seen how sorely his side missed Neymar’s invention.

The Paris Saint-Germain star, who suffered a thigh injury in a Champions League match last month, is also set to miss Tuesday’s match with Uruguay in Montevideo.

Venezuela host a resurgent Chile in Caracas on Tuesday.

Jose Peseiro’s side are likely to maintain their uncomfortable record of being the only South American team never to qualify for a World Cup.


2021 Rugby World Cup Qualifying Tournament Postponed

A photo of World Rugby


World Rugby and Rugby Europe have taken a decision to postpone the Rugby World Cup 2021 European qualification tournament that was scheduled to take place on 5, 12, and 19 December. 2020

The tournament is due to feature Ireland, Italy and Scotland and the winner of the postponed Rugby Europe Women’s Championship.

With the COVID-19 situation in Europe presenting continued travel and quarantine challenges for some teams, the decision was made to postpone and identify an optimal opportunity for the tournament to be rescheduled in early 2021.

World Rugby and Rugby Europe continue to consult with unions and Six Nations Rugby Limited regarding a window that provides a fair opportunity to deliver the Europe qualifier, with the winner qualifying directly for Rugby World Cup 2021 in New Zealand. The runner-up will progress to the final qualification tournament to be held in 2021.

An announcement regarding the rescheduling of the tournament will be confirmed in due course.

Ezeli, Diogu, Uzoh Make 20-Man Provisional List For Afrobasket Qualifiers


D’Tigers captain, Ike Diogu; 2015 NBA winner with Golden State Warriors, Festus Ezeli, and Ben Uzoh are some notable names coach Mike Brown included in a 20-man provisional list for the 2021 Afrobasket qualifiers

Coach Brown who will officially begin his assignment with Nigeria submitted a list featuring seven players who featured at the 2019 FIBA World Cup where Nigeria qualified for the Olympics in Tokyo.

Diogu will lead the legion which includes 29-year-old Stan Okoye (Gran Canaria), Ben Uzoh, Ike Iroegbu, Talib Zanna, Ekpe Udoh and Michael Eric.

Festus Ezeli will take his NBA experience to Rwanda and fight for a chance to represent Nigeria for the first time ever alongside a member of the 2015 Afrobasket winning team, Mike Gbinije.

After missing the final 12-man team to the World Cup, France-based Ike Nwamu will make another return to the team alongside Tonye Jekiri, Christopher Obekpa, Braxton Ogbueze, Mike Efevberha, Obinna Emegano who at some point featured during the team’s 2019 qualifiers series.

Chima Moneke who has averaged 12.3 points and 5.8 rebounds in four games for Orléan in the French league has also been called up for the first time alongside Zaid Christopher Hearst-Okpalannaka who plies his trade in the second tier of the French league.

Other new faces who will hope to earn their first cap include Real Betis power-forward, Obi Enechionyia alongside Ogbunu John and Rasheed Sulaimon who play for Casademont Zaragoza.

The 2021 Afrobasket qualifiers will take place in Kigali, Rwanda between November 27 and 29.

World Cup Winner, Toothless Tiger Dies At 78

(FILES) In this file photo taken on July 20, 1966 France’s Robert Budzynski (L) kicks the ball against England’s Nobby Stiles (R) during the football World Cup match between France and England at Wembley Stadium in London.     AFP


Nobby Stiles, whose celebratory dance on the Wembley pitch holding the World Cup trophy in one hand and his dentures in the other, and described as the “heart and soul” of England’s 1966 World Cup-winning team, has died, aged 78.

Stiles was a tough-tackling midfielder and an integral part of the Manchester United side under Matt Busby who became the first English club to win the European Cup in 1968.

He played every minute of the World Cup campaign and is largely credited for keeping Portugal’s superstar Eusebio under wraps in the semi-final.

“The heart and soul of the team, he will be sorely missed,” tweeted Geoff Hurst who scored a hat-trick in the 4-2 win over West Germany in the final.

Known as ‘The Toothless Tiger’ — for his physical appearance not for his whole-hearted tackling — Stiles suffered a series of health issues in later life, including prostate cancer and dementia.

In 2010, after a mini-stroke, he decided to sell his medals in order to leave something to his family.

United bought them for £200,000 ($259,000) and the medals are now housed in the club’s museum.

“The Stiles family are sad to announce that Nobby Stiles passed away peacefully today (30/10/2020) surrounded by his family after a long illness,” read a family statement.

“The family kindly ask for privacy at this sad time.”

Stiles, who also won two league titles with United, is the latest member of Alf Ramsey’s 1966 team to pass away.

Jack Charlton died earlier this year and Norman Hunter — who did not play in the final but was in the squad — also passed away.

Only George Cohen, Hurst, Roger Hunt and Stiles’s fellow Manchester United icon Bobby Charlton remain alive of the starting XI.

– ‘Half-blind dwarf’ –

Although Stiles featured throughout the 1966 tournament, he ended up with just 28 caps, the lowest number of any of the World Cup-winning side.

Stiles was born in the cellar of the family home during a Second World War air raid in May 1942 and as he related in his 2003 biography ‘After The Ball’ it was not the end of his close shaves.

“I was born a half-blind dwarf (he suffered from severe short-sightedness) who was bombed by the Germans and run over by a trolley bus when I was one.”

Stiles — who was a devout Roman Catholic and went to Mass every day of the finals — was one of the most instantly recognisable faces of the 1966 team with a grin which revealed a number of teeth missing.

“The image of Nobby dancing is the most iconic moment in British football history aside from Bobby Moore lifting the trophy,” former United great Gary Neville told Sky Sports News.

“Such gregariousness was not really his style.”

England’s official Twitter account tweeted their condolences.

“We’re incredibly saddened to learn of the passing of Nobby Stiles, a key member of our @FIFAWorldCup-winning squad, at the age of 78. All of our thoughts are with Nobby’s loved ones.”

Stiles left United in 1971, going on to play for Middlesbrough and Preston.

He later managed Preston between 1977 and 1981, before coaching Canadian side Vancouver Whitecaps and then West Brom between 1985 and 1986.

He returned to United as a youth team coach under Alex Ferguson in 1989 for a four-year stint where he encountered the class of ’92 including David Beckham, Neville and Ryan Giggs.

“You suddenly realise at moments like these how special it is to spend time with people like Nobby,” added Neville.

“He was ferocious, never left anything out there when he played.

“Winning was doing everything possible to achieve that.”

Stiles was married to Kay, a sister of Irish international Johnny Giles, and had three children.


My Goal Is To Win World Cup With Argentina – Messi

In this file photo taken on July 02, 2019, Argentina’s Lionel Messi strikes the ball during the Copa America football tournament semi-final match against Brazil at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Pedro UGARTE / AFP


Superstar footballer Lionel Messi will take a break from his Barcelona soap opera as he bids to fire Argentina to the World Cup in Qatar and what will probably be his last chance to try to win the coveted trophy.

The 33-year-old, a record six-time winner of the Ballon d’Or, has won everything in the club game with Barcelona several times over but his international trophy cabinet looks bare in comparison.

“The only goal I have now is to win the World Cup with the national team,” he has said.

The closest he has come so far was as losing finalist against Germany in 2014.

Thursday’s clash with Ecuador gives him the chance to start building towards one last tilt at that goal.

He will be 35 by the time the Qatar World Cup ends, and will turn 39 during the following global showpiece in North America.

In the meantime, he has a pair of qualifiers — Argentina also travel to Bolivia next Tuesday — to distract him from his club travails.

Messi tried to force his exit from the Catalan giants in the close season but Barca held firm and a 700 million euro release clause ensured he remained, albeit disgruntled.

Playing Ecuador in his homeland may provide a welcome respite but it is also fraught with potential difficulty.

Four years ago at the start of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Ecuador stunned Argentina 2-0 at River Plate’s iconic Monumental stadium in Buenos Aires.

It took a hat-trick by an inspired Messi in Argentina’s final qualifier — away to Ecuador — to send the twice world champions to Russia.

Thursday’s match will be in another iconic stadium: Boca Juniors’ Bombonera.

But it will be a surreal experience in an empty ground that would normally be bouncing with stands packed full of some of the most fervent and passionate fans in the world.

Covid-19 has put paid to any hopes of a paying public.

– ‘Memory’ players –
This is a much-changed Argentina from that which disappointed at the last World Cup.

Young coach Lionel Scaloni embarked on an ambitious regeneration of the squad following the abject exit from Russia under the tutelage of Jorge Sampaoli.

However, alongside Scaloni’s ‘new guard’ remain several old hats, like Messi.

“We can say that there are seven or eight “memory” players that are the foundation,” said Scaloni, pointing out that with “only one day of preparation” they would need the experienced heads to help the team hit the ground running.

He will be without the injured Manchester City forward Sergio Aguero, though, while Scaloni has left out Paris Saint-Germain winger Angel Di Maria.

“Messi needs two players ahead of him that he can assist, and sit deep, not at the tip. That’s how we got results at the Brazil 2019 Copa America,” added Scaloni in reference to Argentina’s third-place finish.

One player competing to lead the line is Sevilla’s Lucas Ocampos.

“He’s strong, technical and scores goals, and also helps in the defensive phase,” said Scaloni, who will have to also select between Paulo Dybala of Juventus and Inter Milan’s Lautaro Martinez.

– Cruyff’s successor –
It’s been a turbulent covid period for Ecuador, who will be led by Argentine Gustavo Alfaro after Dutchman Jordi Cruyff quit without ever leading the team.

Cruyff, the son of late Dutch legend Johan Cruyff, was hired in January but football was put into lockdown over covid-19 before he could take charge of his first match and he subsequently resigned in July with no restart date yet fixed.

Alfaro has coached 13 clubs in Argentina, winning the Copa Sudamericana with Arsenal in 2007, but this is the 58-year-old’s first job as a national team coach.