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UEFA Champions League

Victor Osimhen and Mike Maignan go head-to-head as Napoli and AC Milan chase Champions League glory

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Victor Osimhen (left) and Mike Maignan arrived at two of Italy’s most storied clubs via Ligue 1 outfit Lille. PHOTOS: AFP, REUTERS

Victor Osimhen and Mike Maignan will face off for a place in the Champions League semi-finals on Tuesday when AC Milan travel south to Naples for the decisive second leg of the all-Italian quarter-final.

Nigerian striking sensation Osimhen and France’s new first-choice goalkeeper Maignan arrived at two of Italy’s most storied clubs via Ligue 1 outfit Lille, where they played together for a season.

Osimhen had not played for Napoli since the last international break before making a substitute’s appearance in Saturday’s goal-less draw with Hellas Verona.

That reduced Napoli’s imposing Serie A lead to 14 points.

The 24-year-old played only the final 17 minutes of that frustrating stalemate, but the match came alive once he was on the pitch.

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He caused havoc in the Verona defence and came close to snatching the points and his 26th goal of the season in all competitions when he smashed a first-time rocket off the underside of the bar with eight minutes remaining.

Osimhen’s devastating efficiency in front of goal was sorely missed in last week’s 1-0 defeat, which gave Milan a slender advantage to take into Tuesday’s showdown at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.

“Osimhen has such a physical presence and speed, you can chuck the ball at him and he’ll hold on to it, use his head or unleash a change of pace,” Napoli coach Luciano Spalletti said on Saturday.

“He has so many different options when he has the ball.”

Napoli wasted a host of chances to get something from the game at a packed and soaking wet San Siro, in which Maignan produced the sort of display which has made him a natural successor to Hugo Lloris as Les Bleus’ goalkeeper.

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The 27-year-old’s return between the sticks in late February following five months out injured has given Milan more security at the back, with five clean sheets in their last nine matches in all competitions.

And, knowing he is ready to pull off, at times, astonishing saves when gaps appear at the back, Milan have slowly returned to the more swashbuckling style with which they won the Serie A title last season.

His superb stop in the dying seconds on Wednesday denied Giovanni di Lorenzo from giving Napoli, then down to 10 men following the harsh sending off of Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, what would have been a deserved draw.

Former Milan manager Fabio Capello said Maignan was Milan’s best player in the first leg and the seven-time European champions will need him in similar form on Tuesday, if they are to have a chance of winning No. 8.

Maignan and Osimhen only played together for one season at Lille – the 2019-20 campaign – but it was enough to leave an impression on Serie A’s top scorer.

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Asked while still at Lille whether it was easy to score penalties against Maignan, Osimhen said: “No! Nearly everyone misses against him. He’s too good!”

AFP

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.

UEFA Champions League

How Heineken Made UEFA Champions League History in Nigeria

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Cheers to Hard Core fans of Real Madrid with consumers enjoying the best moment put together by Heineken

Nigerian football fans enjoyed the magic of the Champions League final first-hand thanks to Heineken’s unforgettable Viewing Experience across the country over the weekend. 

Heineken transformed viewing centres into vibrant celebrations as Real Madrid secured their historic 15th title with a 2-0 victory over Borussia Dortmund at Wembley Stadium.

“Heineken is all about celebrating the beautiful game with true fans,” said Maria Shadeko, Portfolio Manager of Premium Drinks at Nigerian Breweries Plc. “We wanted to recreate the electric atmosphere of Wembley right here in Nigeria, and judging by the incredible energy at our Watch Parties, we achieved that!”

Unbeatable fun across Lagos 

From Lagos to Port Harcourt, Abuja to Enugu, the night was alive with the spirit of football. Fans at the Jewel Aeida on Lekki, Lagos, were treated to captivating performances by music stars like Mia, Dotun, Crowd Kontroller, Big N, and the electrifying finale by Adekunle Gold. 

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While the Muri Okunola Park in Victoria Island pulsed with the energy of the female DJ duo, Wanni x Handi, the passionate crowd at the Lagos Terraform mirrored the energy at the Green House on Oba Adeyinka Oyinkan Ave, Ikoyi, and Stalad Gardens in Abule Egba where fans revelled in the action on giant screens while enjoying Heineken’s refreshing brews

Heineken ensured every fan experienced the best viewing experience possible, all laced with unbeatable entertainment.

Party after party across the Nation

The electrifying atmosphere wasn’t limited to Lagos.  Port Harcourt witnessed a phenomenal performance by music sensation Oxlade at Oak Park and Gardens.

Abuja residents also enjoyed an unforgettable night at Papiee’s Metropolis on Ahmadu Bello Way, where Alternate Sound kept the excitement levels soaring with their dynamic performance. 

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Fans in luxurious comfort at the Transcorp Hilton on Aguyi Ironsi Street also revelled in the night’s festivities.

The magic of Heineken’s Watch Parties extended beyond major cities. Fans in Ibadan, Benin City, Enugu, and Owerri all shared in the unforgettable experience, uniting in their support for their favourite teams and celebrating Real Madrid’s monumental victory.

Heineken’s Watch Parties successfully recreated the Wembley atmosphere, proving that the beautiful game can unite and ignite joy across Nigeria. 

As Maria Shadeko states, “We are thrilled to have played a part in this historic night for football fans. Here’s to many more celebrations together!”

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UEFA Champions League

Real Madrid come full circle with second great European dynasty

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Champions League - Final - Borussia Dortmund v Real Madrid - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - June 1, 2024 Real Madrid's Aurelien Tchouameni lifts the trophy as he celebrates with teammates after winning the Champions League REUTERS/Hannah Mckay 

Real Madrid added another chapter to their already astonishing love affair with European soccer’s elite club trophy by claiming a 2-0 win against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League final on Saturday as they were crowned for the 15th time.

The story of the season they finished at Wembley was about two generations of players who met, bonded as a group and connected on the pitch like a well-oiled machine to establish the second great dynasty Real spent half a century looking for.

It all started at the dawn of the competition when, during the Alfredo Di Stefano years, the Madrid side won the first five editions of the European Cup from 1956 and another in 1966.

The current crop of youngsters and seasoned veterans have matched that with a sixth title in 11 seasons, although Dani Carvajal, who scored the opener, is the only surviving starter from the side that won ‘The 10th’ a decade ago.

Vinicius Jr, hero of their 14th title triumph in Paris two years ago, on Saturday became the first Brazilian to score in two Champions League finals and is the symbol of Real’s young guns who keep proving they can prolong the club’s success.

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“Why not think about ‘The Seventh’? We don’t reset, we always want more and more and more,” Carvajal said.

The defender, who matched Real great Paco Gento’s record six European Cup titles along with Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and defender Nacho, was a long-time reserve who stepped up this season and ended it by lifting the trophy as team captain.

“I have never lost a final. I hope the streak continues,” he said. “To get our 15th and my sixth is a wonderful thing. As we keep winning … we end up making it harder for any other team to come close to what this club have accomplished over the history. It is something remarkable.”

REAL’S MOMENTUM

In March, Carlo Ancelotti gave a three-minute insight on managing suffering and happiness inside a changing room to explain the complexity of handling the personalities at a club constantly under pressure and held to such high standards.

He has expertly managed to keep Real’s momentum going after Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Karim Benzema and Casemiro had all long gone and with Modric, 38, becoming a rotational player in a young squad brimming with talent.

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Next year Ancelotti will face another challenge by having to replace Kroos, who has just had a retirement send-off from the fans at the Bernabeu and will stop playing after the Euros.

The Germany midfielder said farewell after delivering the corner for Carvajal to score with a glancing header on Saturday.

But Ancelotti, who as a manager holds the record of most Champions League finals played (six) and won (five), did not seem too worried about the challenge.

“We will have to adapt ourselves to the players we have and try to maximize their qualities like we have always done,” he told a press conference.

“This season we’ve had a lot of problems, we’ve lost quality players. We have solved this with collective sacrifice.

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“We didn’t always play at our best, but we never gave up.

“We lose a very important player for us in Kroos, but we will replace him, in a different way. We will think about how.”

-Reuters

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UEFA Champions League

Real Madrid strike late to win 15th European Cup

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Real Madrid were crowned kings of Europe for a record-extending 15th time with a 2-0 victory over Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League final at Wembley on Saturday.

Huge favourites going in to the game, the Spanish side were outplayed for long periods but broke Dortmund’s resistance with late goals from Dani Carvajal and Vinicius Jr.

Veteran right back Carvajal glanced in a header from a Toni Kroos corner in the 74th minute and from that moment Carlo Ancelotti’s side sparked into life.

Vinicius slid home Real’s second in the 83rd minute to silence the yellow-clad Dortmund fans who had created a wall of noise throughout the final.

It was hard on the German side who missed several good first-half chances, the best of which saw Niclas Fuellkrug hit the post from close range.

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-Reuters

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