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AFCON

Like Saka, like Daka…Premiership stars star in Nations Cup

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Saka

Two English Premier League players with almost identical names are making waves with their respective teams in Nations Cup qualifiers in two continents – Europe and Africa.

Nigerian-born Bukayo Saka is the toast of the England team in their Euro 2024 qualifying series as the smiling Arsenal star created England’s opener for Harry Kane in the comfortable 2-0 victory over Ukraine  at Wembley on Sunday, then scored an absolute beauty himself to seal the man-of-the-match award.

In Africa, Patson Daka scored a double on Sunday to guide Zambia to a 2-0 away win over Lesotho in Africa Cup of Nations qualification and strengthen their chances of qualifying for next year’s finals.

The Leicester City attacker played a centre forward role forZambia and tucked away opportunities in the 14th and 69th minute, both set up by Scottish-based Fashion Sakala.

It was a second successive win since Avram Grant took over as coach and puts Zambia top of Group H, from which only one team qualifies.

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Back to Europe, Saka’s curled effort was his eighth goal for England and in his last 16 national appearances has been involved in 10 goals.

Saka has 12 goals and 10 assists in the Premier League too and currently appears to be able to do nothing wrong.

“Football is fun and it’s always fun. I just hope the happiness can continue to the end of the season,” Saka, who has rebounded magnificently from missing a decisive penalty in the shootout in the Euro 2020 final after which he was subjected to racist abuse, said on Sunday.

London-born Saka, who came through Arsenal’s youth ranks, is riding the crest of a wave at the moment and if Arsenal do win the title he will be a serious rival to Manchester City’s goal machine Erling Haaland for the Player of the Season award.

England coach Southgate spoke of Saka having developed a ‘ruthless’ streak after the game.

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He is playing with a growing swagger and maturity, as shown at the World Cup, and is rewarding Southgate for the freedom he is now allowing his creative players to express themselves.

“I think when he is in front of goal he plays with real belief and that’s evident with his club and the games with us,” Southgate, whose side are already firm favourites to top their qualifying group, told reporters.

“You expect him to score now when he goes through, it was a mentality shift, he always had the technique.

“To be a top wide player you need the goals and assists and he has delivered that all season. His hunger and humility has put him on a good path and he has all the attributes to improve and learn, that’s how he’s wired.”

England sit top of Group C with six points and with a game to come against Malta in June, the path looks inviting for them to quickly book their place in the Germany finals.

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But Saka says nothing will be taken for granted.

“I think we’ve been really mature. We can’t just look past these games and magically be in the Euros. We have to qualify first,” he said.

Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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AFCON

Nigeria’s AFCON 2025 fixtures almost in same pattern with World Cup qualifiers

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Confederation of African Football (CAF)  has now released the full fixtures of the qualifying series for the 2025 Africa Cup of Nations.

The fixtures for the Nigerian team is almost in the same pattern with that of the 2026 World Cup qualification which has seen the Super Eagles wobbling.

Like that of the World Cup, the Super Eagles will begin their quest for qualifcation for AFCON with a home game in Uyo as they will host Benin Republic.

As it was in the World Cup, they will then head to Rwanda. Last November, their second match was played in Rwanda which hosted Zimbabwe home match. This time the Super Eagles will be facing Rwanda, the same team they will meet when the World Cup qualification series resume in March next year.

On Match Day 3, the Super Eagles will host Libya and will have the reverse fixture immediately after that of Match Day 3.

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Later they travel to Benin for Match Day 5 before hosting Rwanda on the last match day.

The Fixtures

  • September 2 – Nigeria vs Benin Republic; Libya vs Rwanda
  • September 6 – Rwanda vs Nigeria; Benin Republic vs Libya
  • October 11 – Nigeria vs Libya; Benin Republic vs Rwanda
  • October 16 – Libya vs Nigeria; Rwanda vs Benin Republic
  • November 11 – Benin Republic vs Nigeria; Rwanda vs Libya
  • November 15 – Nigeria vs Rwanda; Libya vs Benin Republic

The top two teams qualify for AFCON 2025

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AFCON

Rohr roars warning to Benin; Nigeria, Rwanda will not be easy

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BY KUNLE SOLAJA.

Former Nigeria manager, Gernot Rohr now handling Benin Republic has warned The Cheetahs of Benin not to expect an easy match when the team meet Rwanda and Nigeria in the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers later this month.

 Last month, he led his team to defeat both Rwanda and Nigeria in World Cup qualifying duels in Abidjan, where Benin Republic are compelled to play their home matches following inadequate facilities at home.

 Benin’s 1-0 defeat of Rwanda was Rohr’s first victory with the team. Days later, he followed up with a 2-1 defeat of Nigeria, the first Benin Republic victory in over 65 years.

 Those wins have put Benin in the frame of possible qualification for the World Cup. They are now to meet Nigeria and Rwanda again in World Cup qualifiers.

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 It won’t be easy, remarked Rohr.  Hear the Franco-German as he spoke in French but translated into English for the Sports Village Square: “From September we will play against Nigeria before facing Libya and Rwanda.  

“These are three difficult opponents.  We had already played Rwanda and Nigeria but be careful, it’s not because we won Rwanda and Nigeria that it will be easy matches.

“ We know that it is possible to achieve good performances again.  We know that Nigeria with its great players will want to take revenge against us.

“ I think it will probably be an interesting match in Uyo before continuing against Libya.  I suppose in Abidjan because in September the Mathieu Kerekou friendship stadium  will not be ready.  

“Everything will be decided in three months in September, October and November.  It’s a difficult group but it’s playable.  

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“You have to finish in the top two.  We had a team that is becoming solid, where the players are like brothers, accomplices.  I hope we will recover the players who were absent.  We are confident.”

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Coaches react after intriguing Africa Cup of Nations Qualifiers Draw

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The journey towards qualification to the  Africa Cup of Nations Morocco 2025 shifted a gear higher on Thursday, after CAF officially conducted the draw of the qualifiers in Johannesburg South Africa.

A total of 48 nations will vie for the 24 places that will contests the 35th edition of Africa’s most prestigious competition.

This is what some of the coaches has to say in reaction to the draw outcomes.

Emerse Fae, Cote d’Ivoire coach

“I am satisfied because we are going to play against Zambia, a team that we know very well. In our last qualifying campaign, we lost against them. We know what mistakes to avoid.

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“I am also satisfied because I did not want to have countries geographically far from Cote d’Ivoire which will lessen the travel load. That said, in Africa, there are no longer small teams. All the teams will want to challenge us because we are the reigning champions”

Leslie Notši

“The draw is very interesting because when you have the host in your group, it means they qualify automatically for the tournament, and you have to double your efforts to secure the remaining qualification spot which will be contested by the three other teams in the group.

“We will work very hard to see to it that we are competitive side and try as much as we can to get maximum points in matches against countries that are with us in our group. It will be very important to do well in our home games and I know all eyes will be on “Morocco as the hosts and a powerhouse in our group. We will draw inspiration from recent games where we played the likes of Nigeria as well as Cote d’voire and were able to frustrate them”

Amir Abdou, Mauritania Coach

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“Quite a complicated draw. Egypt will be the big contender for qualification. They have a good track record that speaks volumes.

“Seven times African champions – that’s no small thing. We also have Cape Verde who eliminated us during the last AFCON.

“This team is made up of many quality players. We have Botswana, they are having a good qualifying campaign for the World Cup. We have a pretty strong group. It’s up to us to believe in ourselves. We will do everything we can to achieve our fourth participation in the AFCON”.

Kévin Nicaise, Chad coach

 “We are already having the reigning African champions facing the last qualified team in the FIFA rankings. These will definitely be very difficult matches played at high intensity. We will fight to defend our nation’s pride. The group remains relatively open, and we will approach these qualifications with humility and ambition”.

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 Badou Zaki, Niger coach

“We have every chance of qualifying. For me, Ghana is a football country with a team that is blessed with great professionals. But this is not the team of 5 or 6 years ago. Even at home, they can lose.

“Angola had a good showing at the last AFCON with their beautiful, modern and fast football. It’s a team that shook up the big teams in Cote d’Ivoire.

“I know Sudan very well. They are first in their World Cup qualifying group. They are going to be dangerous, but we know our strengths and we know we can go far”

-CAF

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