First 11: Nigeria Await W/Cup Playoff Foes + This Week’s Biggest Sports Stories

 

The draw for the 2022 World Cup playoffs for Africa will hold on Saturday (today) with the Super Eagles possibly facing Egypt, Cameroon, and Ghana. Earlier in the week, Nigeria were also paired with Tunisia in the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) round of 16.

These and more are part of stories that make First Eleven this week!

W/Cup Qualifiers:  Who Will Nigeria Play?

(Top L-R) Nigeria’s goalkeeper Maduka Okoye, defender Kenneth Omeruo, midfielder Wilfred Ndidi, forward Taiwo Awoniyi, midfielder Joe Aribo, defender William Troost-Ekong, (bottom L-R) forward Kelechi Iheanacho, defender Ola Aina, defender Zaidu Sanusi, forward Samuel Chukwueze and forward Moses Simon pose prior to the Group D Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2021 football match between Nigeria and Sudan at Stade Roumde Adjia in Garoua on January 15, 2022. Daniel BELOUMOU OLOMO / AFP

 

Nigeria will know their opponents in the playoff for the 2022 World Cup qualifiers. The Super Eagles had a tumultuous journey en route to this stage. They lost at home to the lowly-ranked Central African Republic in one of their games and survived Cape Verde in their last match to make the final lap of qualification for the competition.

The team, which is already without long-time manager, Gernot Rohr, after the uninspiring showings, are in Pot 1 for the draws billed for Saturday in Cameroon.

Africa’s football ruling body had ranked the teams based on the November 19 FIFA ranking which will see the three-time continental champions avoid some of the heavyweights.

Nigeria is in Pot 1 alongside Algeria, Ivory Coast, Morocco, Tunisia, and Senegal. This means the Super Eagles won’t be meeting any of these sides. Their opponents, will, however, come from Pot 2 which includes Cameroon, Ghana, Mali, Egypt, and DR Congo.

The playoffs will take place in March with the first leg set to be played at the home of the lower-ranked sides.

2023 AFCON Draws

Apart from the draws for the playoffs, pairings for the third round of 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifiers will also be held in the Cameroonian city of Douala. The competition is billed for the Ivory Coast next summer.

Battle Of Eagles

A giant replica of the trophy of the Africa Cup of Nations is seen during the opening ceremony of the Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2021 football tournament at Stade d’Olembé in Yaounde on January 9, 2022. KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

 

Saturday’s draws will be coming days after the pairings for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) were confirmed. High-flying Super Eagles – who won all group stage games – are up against 2004 winners, Tunisia.

Nigeria, seeking a fourth AFCON title, face the Carthage Eagles in Garoua on Sunday. The time for the game is 8:00 pm (WAT).

In another mouth-watering round of 16 clash, Ivory Coast – who sent defending champions, Algeria, packing from the tournament –  take on Egypt.  The full fixtures are here.

NFF’s Dilemma

File photo of Austin Eguaveon

 

While the Super Eagles have everything going for them at the AFCON, that is not the fate of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) which is in dilemma over the team’s coach, Austine Eguaveon.

The former international was appointed on an interim basis following Rohr’s dismissal. He had one thing to do: take the boys to the AFCON. Weeks after his new role, the federation named Portuguese, Jose Paseiro, as the substantive manager of the 2013 champions. Paseiro is expected to take over at the end of the competition and lead Nigeria to the 2022 World Cup qualifiers.

But that might not be the case as calls to retain the 1994 AFCON winner gathered momentum. Eguavoen has won the hearts of millions of Nigerian fans following Nigeria’s stellar showing in Cameroon.

The president of the NFF, Amaju Pinnick, admitted that Eguavoen might be retained if he wins the competition as against the earlier announcement. Calls for indigenous coaches to handle the team have also heightened in recent weeks.

Discounted World Cup Tickets

(FILES) In this file photo taken on December 10, 2021 a view of the Education City Stadium in the Qatari city of Ar-Rayyan. – Qatar World Cup ticket sales were launched at reduced prices on January 19, 2022 with residents and migrant workers able to attend games for just $11 as concerns persist over Covid-19. (Photo by KARIM SAHIB / AFP)

 

Away from Nigeria, tickets for the next World Cup have gone on sale at discounted prices. While authorities are yet to confirm if fans will be allowed to attend the games as concerns over COVID-19 persists, migrant workers can attend the matches for just $11.

FIFA opened a draw that gives individuals match tickets for as little as $69 for international fans. This is about one-third lower than in Russia 2018. But a ticket for the final could cost up to $1,607.

FIFA’s Best

Lewandowski narrowly lost the Ballon d’Or to Messi. Photo: Credit: [email protected]_Official

 

And in what seems like a consolation for missing out on the Ballon d’Or, Roberto Lewandowski, won the FIFA Men’s Player of the Year.

The Bayern Munich forward beat 2021 Ballon d’Or winner, Lionel Messi, to take home the prize in a ceremony held on Monday.

Egypt and Liverpool striker, Mohamed Salah, was also in contention for the award. Lewandowski was not the only winner on the day. Manchester United forward, Cristiano Ronaldo, also claimed the FIFA Special Award. Chelsea and Senegal goalkeeper, Edouard Mendy, picked up the goalkeeping prize.

Djokovic Deported!

Novak Djokovic was denied aces to participate in the Australian Open despite ab exemption from two panels of medical experts
In this file photo taken on October 22, 2020, Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic attends an open-air press conference in Belgrade. (Photo by Andrej ISAKOVIC / AFP)

 

Moving on to tennis! Serbian star, Novak Djokovic’s Australian Open vaccination row ended in deportation. Djokovic was deported by the Australian government on Sunday after a protracted dispute over his vaccination status.

The Australian government said it took the decision so as not to encourage vaccine hesitancy. It also insisted that the country’s laws must stand irrespective of personality.

Djokovic’s deportation also triggered reactions from across the globe. Fans back home hailed the tennis star’s insistence, with his family saying, like the player, that they were disappointed.

Osaka Crashes Out

Defending Champion Naomi Osaka crashes out of the Australian Open
Japan’s Naomi Osaka reacts as she plays against Amanda Anisimova of the US during their women’s singles match on day five of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 21, 2022. William WEST / AFP

 

In spite of the drama, the Australian Open continued seamlessly. Naomi Osaka’s defeat is one of the shocking losses recorded so far in the championship.

The Japanese player lost to unseeded American, Amanda Anisimova, in the third round of the competition on Friday morning.  The former world number one had won the first set on Margaret Court Arena but did not close out the match with Anisimova winning 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (10/5). Friday’s victory sets Anisimova with Ashleigh Barty.

Benitez Fired

File photo of Rafa Benitez

 

Before Osaka’s ouster, there was also another dismissal. This time, it was former Liverpool manager, Rafa Benitez, who got the hammer.

The Spaniard was sacked as Everton manager, about 200 days after he took over the job. Benitez paid dearly for a series of poor results that saw Everton lose nines of their last 13 games.

“Benitez, who joined Everton in June 2021, has left the club with immediate effect,” the club added.

Manchester United legend, Wayne Rooney – who currently manages Championship side, Derby – is favoured to take over the job!

Robinho Sentenced

Robinho Handed Nine-year Term For Rape
This file photo taken on September 28, 2013, shows AC Milan’s Brazilian forward Robinho during the Italian Seria A football match AC Milan vs Sampdoria, on September 28, 2013, in San Siro stadium in Milan.  Olivier MORIN / AFP

 

The former Liverpool manager’s dismissal came in a week where a court in Italy upheld Brazil’s Robinho’s nine-year sentence for the gang rape of a young woman.

The former AC Millan player’s lawyer, Jacopo Gnocchi, said that judges “deemed that the appeal filed by the player was inadmissible and that therefore the sentence is final”.

Judges at the Court of Cassation in Rome said the sentence dates back to January 2013.

Jacopo Gnocchi added that judges “deemed that the appeal filed by the player was inadmissible and that therefore the sentence is final”.

The 37-year-old did not attend any of the hearings relating to the case. He was among a group of six men accused of taking part in the rape of an Albanian woman celebrating her 23rd birthday in a Milan nightclub.

“A total of 15 Italian magistrates consider the accusations to have been widely proven. Our wish is that Brazil carries out the sentence,” Gnocchi noted.

In 2017, the Brazilian had the conviction and sentence confirmed for a second time. This followed his loss at the Milan Court of Appeal in December 2020.

England To Host Côte d’Ivoire As Part Of World Cup Build-Up

Ivory Coast players pose for a team photo during the Group E Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2021 football match between Ivory Coast and Algeria at Stade de Japoma in Douala on January 20, 2022.
CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP

 

Gareth Southgate’s England will face Ivory Coast in a Wembley friendly on March 29 as part of their build-up to the World Cup in Qatar.

The match against the two-time African champions, currently competing in the Africa Cup of Nations, will be the first meeting between the two nations at senior level.

It will be the first time that the Euro 2020 runners-up have faced non-European opposition since November 2018.

READ ALSO: Ivory Coast Send Reigning Champions Algeria Crashing Out Of AFCON

England are hosting Switzerland, also at Wembley, on March 26.

England play four Nations League fixtures in June, then complete Group A3 in September — the final international meet-up before the World Cup in Qatar, which starts on November 21.

AFP

Qatar World Cup Ticket Sales Launched At Reduced Prices

(FILES) In this file photo taken on December 10, 2021 a view of the Education City Stadium in the Qatari city of Ar-Rayyan. – Qatar World Cup ticket sales were launched at reduced prices on January 19, 2022 with residents and migrant workers able to attend games for just $11 as concerns persist over Covid-19. (Photo by KARIM SAHIB / AFP)

 

Qatar World Cup ticket sales were launched at reduced prices on Wednesday with residents and migrant workers able to attend games for just $11 as concerns persist over Covid-19.

Authorities have not yet announced how many fans will be allowed into stadiums for the first World Cup in an Arab country, which runs from November 21 until December 18.

Football’s world governing body FIFA opened a draw which offers individual match tickets for as little as $69 for international fans — about one third less than at Russia 2018 — but a ticket for the final could cost up to $1,607.

Qatari residents, including migrant labourers whose treatment has been a source of controversy for the organisers, will be able to get tickets for as little as $11.

Fans who apply now for the different packages — for individual games or following a team, or for special stadium tickets — will go into a draw after the first deadline on February 8. FIFA said fans who are successful in a random draw will be told by March 8.

First 11: NFF Consults Mourinho Over Eagles Job + Other Top Sports Stories

A photo collage used to illustrate the story.

 

It was yet another fun-filled and exciting week in sports as FIFA ramps up its push for a biennial World Cup. 

The move, which has triggered debates in the football world, was not the only talking point in a busy sports circle. FIFA, the global football body, is also leading calls to fix the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in the off-season.

But CAF says the competition will hold as planned. Several teams, including the Super Eagles, have also named their squad for the tournament.

First Eleven captures this and other major sports stories that made headlines this week. 

Nigeria Unveil AFCON Squad

Ahmed Musa Augustine Eguavoen Victor Osimhen

 

With the AFCON less than two weeks away, Nigeria on Saturday named a 28-man squad for the competition billed for Cameroon.

Interim coach Austine Eguavoen released the list which included captain Ahmed Musa, and Napoli’s Victor Osimhen.

Leicester City midfielder Wilfred Ndidi and Watford hitman, Dennis Emmanuel, also made the cut as the three-time African champions begin their quest for a fourth continental crown.

In Search For Rohr’s Successor

A photo combination of Mourinho and Wenger.

 

Another story that triggered conversations was the revelation from the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) that it consulted some top coaches in the search for a new Super Eagles manager.

The President of the Nigeria Football Federation, Amaju Pinnick, had told journalists in a media parley that former Arsenal long-time coach, Arsene Wenger, and Portuguese gaffer, Jose Mourinho, were contacted for counsel.

“These are some of the best coaches in the world. And there is nothing wrong with it because he [Wenger] is equally concerned just the way we are,” a few weeks before the commencement of the AFCON.

FG Fixes Date For National Sports Festival

A photo taken on April 10, 2021, shows athletes running in the Women’s 400M Semi-Finals of the 20th National Sports Festival at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin, the Edo State capital.

 

Away from the AFCON, the Federal Government has fixed November 2 to 15, 2022 for the National Sports Festival.

The competition is billed to hold in the country’s oil-rich Delta State, according to the Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Sunday Dare.

“Interestingly, Delta State came first at the recently concluded Edo 2020,” he said.

“Now, we are happy that they have the opportunity not just to host, but to validate their first position.”

NPFL Enters Second Week 

Remo Stars and MFM FC. Photo: Remo Stars

 

The restart of the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) equally made the news.

Ten matches were played in the opening weekend of the season, leading to some shocking results. Akwa United began their title defence on a good note, just as MFM FC lost to new boys, Remo Stars.

Action returns again this weekend in the elite league as teams seek to consolidate on their first-week gains.

Kano Pillars, NSCDC Crowned Champions

Credit: Facebook/Supporters of Kano Pillars in Malaysia.

 

Earlier in the week, Kano Pillars and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) won the men and female categories of the 2021 National Volleyball Premier League respectively.

Their victories followed 10 days of action at the Moshood Abiola National Stadium, Abuja.

Kano Pillars (male) beat Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) 3-0 (32-30, 25-20, 22-25,), as the NSCDC defeated Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) 16-2, 25-19, 23-25,22-25).

Nigeria Gets AFCON Boost

Nigeria’s forward Victor Osimhen (C) is challenged during the 2022 Qatar World Cup African qualifiers group 3 football match against Central Africa Republic at the Teslim Balogun Stadium, in Surulere in Lagos State, on October 7, 2021. PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP

 

While talks about the AFCON is still making frontpages, Nigeria received a boost ahead of the January competition when hitman, Victor Osimhen, indicated he will be available for selection.

The former Lille star had been ruled out for three months following a head collision. After the incident in a Serie A game, Osimhen had surgery and was expected to miss the party in the Central African country.

But in a recent social media post, the Napoli forward said he is ready to play for the 1994 African champions, raising hopes among fans in Nigeria. Reports, however, suggest that his club might not allow him feature in the competition over COVID-19 fears.

An Optimistic CAF

AFCON trophy.

 

Napoli’s comment about Osimhen is not the first opposition to the tournament. Several European clubs had raised concerns about the competition due to the pandemic.

As calls to push the competition to the summer gains traction, CAF insists there is no going back. During his visit to Cameroon, CAF President Patrice Motsepe said it will hold despite the challenges of COVID-19. He noted that fans would, however, need negative COVID-19 results to enter the stadiums much to the delight of the Cameroonian authorities.

Promises of a Biennial World Cup 

File photo: The World Cup winner’s trophy is seen during the 68th FIFA Congress at the Expocentre in Moscow on June 13, 2018. Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP

 

And as preparations for the continental showpiece enter the final stages, FIFA is also preaching the gospel of a biennial World Cup already backed by CAF.

Gianni Infantino in a meeting on Monday said the proposal will improve the financial fortunes of the game to the tune of  $4.4 billion despite opposition from Europe and South America.

A report commissioned by UEFA recently estimated a shortfall of between 2.5 and three billion euros ($2.8 to 3.4 billion) over four years for European federations if FIFA’s plan goes through, however.

Game On!

Manchester City’s Spanish midfielder Ferran Torres (C) scores his team’s fifth goal during the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England, on August 28, 2021. (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP) /

 

Before FIFA’s recent remarks, English Premier League clubs earlier confirmed that there won’t be a COVID-19 break.

The decision came on the heels of a surge in infections leading to the postponement of games in the English topflight.

“The health and wellbeing of all concerned remain our priority and the League will continue to monitor and reflect public health guidance, always proceeding with caution,” the Premier League said in a statement.

Pele Discharged

In this handout file photo released by WEF and taken on March 14, 2018, Brazilian football legend Pele smiles during the opening plenary at the World Economic Forum on Latin America 2018 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on March 14, 2018. Benedikt VON LOEBELL / World Economic Forum (WEF) / AFP

 

It was not all gloomy for sports in recent days. Brazilian legend, Pele, was discharged from the hospital on Thursday after two weeks of chemotherapy for a colon tumor.

The 81-year-old is stable and will continue treatment for the disease, the Albert Einstein Hospital said in a statement three months after the Brazilian spent a month in hospital.

Pele’s latest health challenge is expected to decrease the aging star’s public appearances.

Al Ahly Continues Dominance

Ahly’s players celebrate with the winners trophy following the CAF Super Cup football match between Egypt’s Al-Ahly and Morocco’s Raja Club Athletic (Raja Casablanca) at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in the Qatari city of Ar-Rayyan on December 22, 2021. KARIM JAAFAR / AFP

 

In Africa, Egyptian giants, Al Ahly, have continued their dominance of club competitions on the continent after they won the CAF Super Cup.

Pitso Mosimane’s men defeated Raja Casablanca of Morocco 6-5 on penalties after a 1-1 in a thrilling encounter in Qatar.

Wednesday’s victory seals Al Ahly’s position as a dominant force in Africa. They now have 23 titles — 10 in the CAF Champions League, eight in the Super Cup, four in the Cup Winners Cup, and one in the Confederation Cup.

Biennial World Cup Plan Would Make Football $4.4b Richer – FIFA 

File photo: The World Cup winner’s trophy is seen during the 68th FIFA Congress at the Expocentre in Moscow on June 13, 2018. Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP

 

FIFA on Monday claimed staging the World Cup every two years would offer enormous financial benefits for its member federations as president Gianni Infantino expressed hope that the highly controversial plans will not be derailed by opposition from Europe and South America.

Infantino was speaking after FIFA held a virtual global summit with federations to discuss the project, although there was no vote on the subject on Monday and he refused to confirm if there would be one at the next FIFA Congress on March 31.

Football’s global body published findings from two separate feasibility studies which it claimed showed there would be “a strong upturn in football’s economic situation” if the World Cup was held as a biennial tournament rather than the current four-year cycle for the men’s and women’s competitions.

One study, by market researchers Nielsen, estimated that approximately $4.4 billion (3.9 billion euros) of additional revenues would be generated over four years, with income from gate receipts, media rights and sponsorship increasing from seven billion dollars to $11.4 billion.

READ ALSO: Why Is FIFA Proposing A Biennial World Cup?

To help convince its 211 member federations — 207 of whom participated in Monday’s summit — FIFA vowed to hand over an extra $19 million every four years to each one, with the amount the same for major federations such as Brazil and France as it would be for Andorra or Guam.

Each member would get “around $16 million” allocated from a “Solidarity Fund” of some $3.5 billion in the first four years of the reformed calendar, as well as an increase in funding via its FIFA Forward programme from the current six million dollars to nine million.

However, FIFA did not reveal the methodology used for the study, at a time when the desire of broadcasters to keep paying more for rights has been questioned by experts in football finance, and it offered no details as to the potential repercussions for domestic leagues or continental tournaments.

Transatlantic Front 

In contrast to its own studies, a report commissioned by European football’s governing body UEFA recently estimated a shortfall of between 2.5 and three billion euros ($2.8 to 3.4 billion) over four years for European federations if FIFA adopts its plan.

“We have just finished a feasibility study of over 700 pages. It is very thorough, so maybe some will change their minds,” Infantino said about the opposition to the project from Doha, where he gave a press conference alongside Arsene Wenger, FIFA’s head of global development who has championed the biennial proposal.

“There is a lot of opposition and there is as well a lot of voices in favour and FIFA is a global organising body, so we need to really try to combine all these different points of view.”

Only eight countries have ever won the men’s World Cup since it was first held in 1930, and there has never been a winner from outside Europe or South America.

These confederations will provide more than half the teams for next year’s World Cup in Qatar, which is due to be the last with 32 teams before the competition is expanded to feature 48 nations from 2026.

UEFA, as well as leading European clubs and leagues, have all united in opposition to the biennial World Cup plans.

In South America, CONMEBOL rejected the proposal, and in the meantime it has become a close ally of UEFA’s — last week it emerged that South America’s 10 nations could join the UEFA Nations League after 2024.

“I don’t believe we are making enemies. My role as FIFA president is to try to bring everyone on board,” added Infantino, who insisted “the prestige of a competition like the World Cup will not be undermined by it becoming more frequent.”

“I think everyone agrees that the current situation is not satisfactory, everyone sees the gap is getting bigger and bigger between a few who have it all, and others who have nothing.”

The plans offer the chance for more countries from across the globe to take part in a World Cup, and the Confederation of African Football (CAF) has given its backing — CAF has 54 member federations but only five will qualify for next year’s tournament in Qatar.

AFP

Next, The World Cup: After Arab Cup, Qatar Faces Bigger Test

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (C) and FIFA President Gianni Infantino (R) present Algeria’s goalkeeper and captain Rais M’Bolhi with the FIFA Arab Cup 2021 trophy following the final football match between Tunisia and Algeria at the Al-Bayt stadium in the Qatari city of Al-Khor on December 18, 2021. (Photo by DENOUR / AFP)

 

Qatar passed their first test with a successful hosting of the Arab Cup but bigger challenges lie ahead when 1.2 million fans and 32 international teams arrive for the World Cup one year from now.

Algerian rejoicing at Saturday’s 2-0 extra-time win over Tunisia in the final — exactly a year before the 2022 World Cup decider, and with FIFA president Gianni Infantino in the stands — will have been accompanied by satisfaction from Qatari officials.

But now comes the hard work as Qatar prepares for the unique task of hosting a World Cup in and around a single city, Doha, with limited hotel accommodation and a transport network that is likely to come under strain.

The wealthy Gulf state will also be bracing for intense scrutiny after coming under fire over the rights of the migrant labourers who have built its infrastructure, including the World Cup stadiums.

And it will be mindful of a cultural gap when fans from around the world arrive in a conservative Muslim country with restricted access to alcohol, and where public drunkenness and homosexual relations are illegal.

More than 600,000 tickets were sold for the 16-team Arab Cup, including a Qatari-record 63,439 crowd when the hosts played fierce rivals the United Arab Emirates in the quarter-finals.

Six of the eight World Cup venues were employed as Qatar took the chance to test its stadiums and training sites, transport, accommodation, volunteers, and other areas including security.

A fan ID system was dropped midway through the tournament following reports of long queues and complaints from fans, but crowd trouble appeared limited to some damaged seats at the quarter-final between Tunisia and Oman.

READ ALSO: Why Is FIFA Proposing A Biennial World Cup?

 ‘Lessons Learned’ 

Algeria’s players celebrate winning the FIFA Arab Cup 2021 final at the Al-Bayt stadium in the Qatari city of Al-Khor on December 18, 2021. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP)

 

Qatar will “take account of the lessons learned to organise the best World Cup”, said Jassim Al-Jassim, the organising committee’s vice-president of operations.

The Lusail Stadium, which will host the World Cup final, was notably not used for the tournament. In October, its project manager told AFP that it still needed final checks and tests.

Coaches were impressed by the facilities, with Algeria’s Majid Bougherra, a World Cup veteran, saying “everything is perfect” –apart, perhaps, from the accommodation.

“The stadiums are great, the pitches are great. Perhaps one small downside, but it won’t be the case at the World Cup, is that we were in the same hotel as everyone else,” he said.

“We congratulate (Qatar) on this beautiful Arab Cup and I think the World Cup will be exceptional,” Bougherra added.

Egypt coach Carlos Queiroz, the former Iran, Portugal and Real Madrid boss, said the Qatar World Cup has “all the ingredients to succeed”, but called for better communications.

“If there is one advice I will give to everybody, we need to talk, because the better we talk the better the harmony between the needs inside and outside the pitch,” he said.

Daniel Reyche, a sport policy and politic researcher and visiting associate professor at Qatar’s Georgetown University, said he was impressed by the organisers’ ability to learn from their mistakes, for example by dropping the fan ID.

“Overall, I think the test went well, but it is difficult to compare the FIFA Arab Cup and the FIFA World Cup, since most visitors this time came from within the country and next year they will come from outside the country,” he told AFP.

And after Qatar dismissed concerns from the LGBTQ+ community about attending the World Cup, FIFA secretary-general Fatma Samoura gave assurances next year’s tournament would be inclusive.

“People are free to display any kind of flag they want, including the rainbow flag, without them being targeted or singled out,” she said this week.

AFP

Club World Cup To Hold In UAE

FIFA logo.

 

The FIFA Club World Cup, initially set to be held in Japan in December, will now be held in the United Arab Emirates in February, world football’s governing body announced Monday.

The Club World Cup will run from February 3-12, featuring eight matches between the champions of the six continental confederations along with the top team in the host nation.

The competition draw will be held in Zurich later Monday (1600 GMT).

Teams include Champions League winners Chelsea, Copa Libertadores champions Palmeiras of Brazil, Mexican club Monterrey and Al-Ahly of Egypt.

Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia, Emirati club Al Jazira and Auckland complete the line up.

Japan pulled out as host because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Club World Cup is usually played in December, but this is the second successive year in which it has been delayed — the 2020 edition in Qatar was played in February this year.

Bayern Munich won the most recent edition of the Club World Cup, which has been held in the UAE on four previous occasions, most recently in 2018 when Real Madrid were the winners.

A lucrative, revamped 24-team Club World Cup, including eight sides from Europe, was due to be played in China this year before the pandemic put that project on hold.

AFP

CAF Backs Biennial World Cup Proposal

File photo: The World Cup winner’s trophy is seen during the 68th FIFA Congress at the Expocentre in Moscow on June 13, 2018. Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP

 

The Confederation of African Football on Friday gave its support to the “decision of the FIFA Congress to conduct a feasibility study” for a World Cup every two years.

CAF is the first confederation to officially and publicly approve the controversial plan to hold a World Cup every two years, at the same pace as its Africa Cup of Nations tournament.

The confederation, at its extraordinary general assembly in Cairo, also voted in favour of establishing a Super League for African clubs.

FIFA will hold a summit in December with president Gianni Infantino still hoping to find consensus on plans to stage the men’s tournament more often than the current four-year cycle.

It is an incendiary topic given the various interests at stake, between clubs and national teams, domestic leagues, and international competitions.

Opposition has been so widespread from leagues, players, and supporters groups that the chances of a biennial World Cup actually happening appear remote.

The World Cup has been played every four years, apart from cancellations during World War II, since the inaugural edition in 1930.

The new biennial proposals were put forward by Arsene Wenger, FIFA’s head of global development.

The World Cup is expanding regardless in another way — the men’s version to 48 teams from 2026 and the women’s to 32 teams from 2023.

AFP

Uruguay Sack Tabarez After Record-Breaking 15-Year Stint

File photo: Uruguay’s coach Oscar Washington Tabarez waits for the beginning of an international friendly football match between Uruguay and Peru in Montevideo on October 11, 2019. EITAN ABRAMOVICH / AFP

 

Iconic Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez was sacked on Friday after a record-breaking 15 years in the job, following a poor run of results that leaves the country’s World Cup qualification hopes in the balance.

Tabarez, 74, enjoys almost legendary status in Uruguay having led the tiny country of 3.4 million people to the World Cup semi-finals in 2010 and then to the Copa America title a year later.

But four straight defeats — three of them by three goals — have left Uruguay in danger of missing out on next year’s World Cup, a tournament they won in 1930 and 1950.

“The executive committee of the AUF informs that it has decided to end the contract of Oscar Washington Tabarez and other members of the national team coaching staff,” said the Uruguayan Football Association (AUF) in a statement.

The AUF described it as a “difficult decision” that in no way “disavows Tabarez’s important contribution to Uruguayan football.”

Uruguay have scored just one goal, conceding 11, in their last four matches that included defeats to Brazil, Bolivia, and twice to Argentina.

They sit seventh in the single South American qualifying table for the World Cup in Qatar, with only the first four progressing automatically.

Brazil and Argentina have already qualified, while Ecuador need just two wins from their final four matches to join them.

The battle for the final spot sees five teams, including Uruguay, separated by just two points.

Tabarez took charge of a record 221 matches with a single national team, even putting him ahead of former Germany boss Joachim Loew, with 198 games.

He was the longest-serving current national team coach until Friday at 15 years and eight months.

Tabarez first took over the Uruguay reins from 1988 to 1990 before he was hired again in 2006.

He also coached Boca Juniors twice and AC Milan between his two stints with the national team.

AFP

Cricket: Nigeria To Battle Tanzania, Others For 2022 T20 World Cup Ticket

Nigeria’s senior men’s cricket team, the Yellow-Green during today’s training session in Kigali, Rwanda.

 

Nigeria’s national senior men’s cricket team, the Yellow-Green will compete in a four-day six-match session for a ticket to represent Africa at next year’s T20 World Cup in Australia.

Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya will compete in the qualifying round for a ticket to the tournament. To confirm the importance of the mission, Coach of the Yellow-Green Asanka Gurusinha confirmed they got into Kigali, Rwanda in good time to enable the team to settle ahead of the busy qualifying schedule.

“This qualifiers’ schedule is a tough one and I think our team is very ready for the on-field battle. At each stage of our preparation, we have brought in new learnings that have improved the quality of the team. I think we have a far better team going for this event now, and we are optimistic of a good outing,” he said.

Gurusinha also confirmed that Slyvester Okpe will replace Joshua Ayanaike as the team captain at the event and he is confident Okpe will carry the team along.

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President of Nigeria Cricket Federation, Uyi Akpata corroborates that it is important the team gets adequate preparation before competing.

“We have had the team training together for weeks and had two major tournament exposures in Uganda and the bilateral series at home to hone them better for this event. We are very pleased with the way the team is turning out and equally hope for the best outing when we file out in Kigali from Wednesday,” he added.

Akpata explained that as part of the federation’s developmental agenda, they hope to leverage the exposure and experience that the tournament will provide.

“A bulk of the Nigerian team members are from the Under 19 World Cup team in 2020 including the new captain; it shows our long-term objective for the national team. The team also comprises a number of talented experienced players. It is a mix that the head coach is working with now and we are backing him all the way,” he said.

The Nigerian team will go against Tanzania and Uganda on the opening day, Wednesday, November 17 at the Gahanga International Cricket Stadium in Kigali. The team will resume with another doubleheader against Kenya and play Uganda again at the IPRC Cricket Ground on Thursday.

The teams will take a break on Friday and return for the final round on Saturday, November 20, where Kenya and Tanzania will clash at the IPRC grounds in Kigali.

Serbia Defeat Portugal, Qualify For 2022 World Cup

Portugal’s forward Cristiano Ronaldo reacts during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualification group A football match between Portugal and Serbia, at the Luz stadium in Lisbon, on November 14, 2021. PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP

 

Serbia stunned Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal to qualify for the 2022 World Cup as Aleksandar Mitrovic’s 90th-minute winner secured a 2-1 victory in Lisbon on Sunday.

Portugal now face two rounds of playoffs in March if they are to make it to Qatar, unlike Spain, who qualified with a 1-0 win over Sweden thanks to Alvaro Morata’s goal four minutes from time in Seville.

AFP

Five-Time Champions Brazil Qualify For 2022 World Cup

Brazilian players celebrate after qualifying for the 2022 World Cup. Photo: Facebook/Confederação Brasileira de Futebol

 

Lucas Paqueta’s instinctive strike gave Brazil a 1-0 World Cup qualifying win over Colombia on Thursday to book their place at Qatar 2022.

The five-time world champions join the hosts and Europeans Germany and Denmark as early qualifiers for next year’s finals.

They have produced a near-perfect qualifying campaign, winning 11 of 12 matches — their only blemish was a goalless draw in Colombia last month — to qualify with six games to spare.

“This is the fruit of the work we’ve been building for some time,” said the match-winner.

“Now I have to keep working hard to find my space” in the World Cup squad, he added.

Brazil were made to graft as Colombia had the better of the first half, but an attacking tactical switch from coach Tite at half-time paid dividends as the Selecao dominated after the break.

Colombia’s defeat saw them drop out of the four automatic qualifying positions in the single South American group as Chile overtook them after a third successive win, 1-0 away to Paraguay.

Wilmar Barrios had the first chance of the match, lashing a half volley narrowly over the bar as Colombia made a bright start.

A typically muscular run into the box by Duvan Zapata saw him get off a shot that flashed past the post.

Colombia were proving tough opponents and creating clearer chances.

William Tesillo should have done much better at the back post when picked out by Juan Cuadrado’s deep cross but headed into a crowd of players.

Brazil struggled to create any notable chances with Paqueta’s shot from outside the box easily gathered by David Ospina and Neymar’s free-kick blocked by the wall.

Colombia were always dangerous on the break and Luis Diaz whipped an effort from outside the box narrowly wide, but their failure to test Alisson Becker in the Brazil goal was indicative of a team that came into the match on the back of three successive goalless draws.

Brazil were unable to get behind Colombia’s organized defense and a deflected cross from full-back Danilo that hit the side-netting was as close as they came until Marquinhos headed inches off target from a corner in first-half stoppage time.

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Slick Winner 

Brazil’s Lucas Paqueta (C) celebrates with teammates Vinicius Junior (L) and Neymar after scoring against Colombia during the South American qualification football match for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, at the Neo Quimica Arena, previously known as Arena Corinthians, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on November 11, 2021. NELSON ALMEIDA / AFP

 

Tite was unimpressed with what he saw in the first half and hooked much-maligned Manchester United midfielder, Fred, for Real Madrid’s exciting winger Vinicius Junior.

They were on the front foot with Gabriel Jesus, who hasn’t scored for Brazil in 17 matches, testing Ospina with a low effort, before the goalkeeper then tipped a Neymar free-kick around the post.

Brazil were turning the screw and substitute Matheus Cunha should have done better with a header from eight yards that he sent over.

When the goal came on 72 minutes it was beautifully orchestrated as Marquinhos fired a pass from halfway into Neymar, whose first-time ball found Paqueta to hit an instant shot under pressure from two defenders that seemed to catch out Ospina.

Vinicius should have sealed the win two minutes from time but stumbled as he rounded Ospina, who also saved from Antony, another substitute, in injury time.

Fans of Brazil cheer for their team before the start of the South American qualification football match for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 between Brazil and Colombia, at the Neo Quimica Arena, previously known as Arena Corinthians, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on November 11, 2021. NELSON ALMEIDA / AFP

 

A month ago, Chile’s hopes of reaching Qatar appeared in tatters after a 2-0 defeat to Peru, but three straight wins have resurrected their chances.

An own goal from goalkeeper Antony Silva on 56 minutes gave them a 1-0 victory away to Paraguay, who they also beat last month to start their fine run.

It was a third straight defeat and fourth match in a row without a goal for Paraguay, who last month replaced coach Eduardo Berizzo with Guillermo Schelotto, and whose hopes are rapidly fading.

Peru boosted their qualification chances as goals from Gianluca Lapadula, Christian Cueva and Sergio Pina gave them a 3-0 win over Bolivia to move two points behind Chile.

Defender Piero Hincapie scored the only goal of the game in 41 minutes to give Ecuador a 1-0 win over rock-bottom Venezuela and cement their grip on third place.

AFP