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No friend, no foe as Peseiro leads Super Eagles against his former team, Saudi Arabia’s Falcons

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BY KUNLE SOLAJA.

No permanent friends; no permanent enemies’ is a popular saying that has come into focus as Nigeria’s Super Falcons take on Saudi Arabia on Friday.

The two teams meet for the second time ever. In their first meeting 13 years ago at Alpenstadion in Austria, Jose Peseiro was the coach of Saudi Arabia, plotting a defeat for the Super Eagles.

Now his interest has shifted to Nigeria as he plots a defeat of his former team, Saudi Arabia in Friday’s clash at Portimao in Portugal.

It is a clash of teams that have green as their dominant colour and nicknamed after high soaring birds – eagles and falcons.

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The comparison does not end there. Both are three-time champions of their respective continents – Africa and Asia.

While Nigeria used the first encounter of 25 May 2010 as preparation for the 2010 World Cup, the Friday encounter serves almost the same purpose – preparation for World Cup qualifiers as well as that of Africa Cup of Nations finals.

In May 2010 when both teams met, the Super Eagles were rated 21st in the world while the Green Falcons were 66th.

Today, the Super Eagles are 40th in the world while the Falcons are 57th. Incidentally, Saudi Arabia’s best-ever ranking was at 21st in July 2004.

The Eagles were ranked 5th in the world in April 1994, just after winning the Africa Cup of Nations in Tunisia.

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For Friday’s encounter, Head Coach Jose Peseiro will have exciting talents Bright Osayi-Samuel, Jordan Torunarigha, Calvin Bassey, Bruno Onyemaechi, Raphael Onyedika, Fisayo Dele-Bashiru, Terem Moffi, Victor Boniface, Samuel Chukwueze, Sadiq Umar and of course FIFA Ballon d’Or Dozen-Shortlist member, Victor Osimhen, at his disposal.

There are also experienced defenders Kenneth Omeruo (who was in the 2013 AFCON-winning squad and is happy to echo ‘Let’s Do It Again’), Semi Ajayi and Chidozie Awaziem, midfielders Wilfred Ndidi, Frank Onyeka, Joseph Ayodele-Aribo and Alex Iwobi, and forwards Moses Simon and Kelechi Iheanacho.

While Peseiro will surely miss in-form Nottingham Forest of England forward Taiwo Awoniyi, who is sidelined by injury, there is the opportunity to either start Victor Boniface or see what ravemaking France-based Terem Moffi can truly offer. Moffi was in Peseiro’s first roll-of-the-dice with the Eagles in the friendlies against Mexico and Ecuador in the USA last year’s summer, and scored as the Eagles marched on Sao Tome and Principe to set a record international scoreline in an AFCON 2023 qualifying match in Agadir, Morocco some days later.

With the recall of goalkeeper Maduka Okoye, the rivalry between him and Francis Uzoho for Nigeria’s number one jersey resumes, and both goal-tenders know that only the best will keep the gloves in next month’s World Cup qualifiers and at the AFCON early next year.

Friday’s game kicks off at 5pm Nigeria time.

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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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International Football

Two Moroccan football players lost at sea, says club official

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Abdellatif Akhrif, IRT player reported missing off the coast of M'diq this Saturday, July 6, 2024. © COPYRIGHT: IRT

Two Moroccan players from top-flight soccer side Ittihad Tanger have been missing at sea since Saturday after strong currents drifted their small yacht, a club official said on Sunday.

They were in a group of five players from the club who went cruising off the northern city of Tangier when strong currents and heavy winds drifted their yacht away as they were swimming in deep waters, club deputy president Anass Mrabet told Reuters.

“Three players have already been rescued on Saturday, while research is still ongoing for the missing Salman Harraq and Abdellatif Akhrif,” he said.

The players did not have buoys on them when they jumped from the small yacht to swim, he said citing recounts by rescued players.

While Akhrif, 24, is already a full member of the squad, Harraq, 18, was about to move up to the senior team this year, Mrabet added.

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Ittihad Tanger have been in the Moroccan top flight since 2015 and won the league title for the first and only time in their history in the 2017-18 season. However, they have struggled in the lower half of the standings in recent years.

-Reuters

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International Football

FIFA launches ‘Football Manager’ World Cup with $100,000 in prize money

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FIFA's Chief of Global Football Development and former soccer manager Arsene Wenger speaks during the 74th FIFA Congress at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center, in Bangkok, Thailand, May 17, 2024. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha/File Photo

FIFA will host its first ever FIFAe World Cup of Football Manager this year to crown the best virtual manager on the highly-popular video game, world soccer’s governing body said on Thursday.

FIFA is partnering with Sports Interactive, the developers of the game that has sold millions of copies and has also been used by several football clubs to scout players and opponents thanks to its extensive database.

Players will compete for $100,000 in prize money in the final event from Aug. 29 to Sept. 1.

“This competition requires participants to demonstrate a profound understanding of football strategy and tactics,” said former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, who is the ambassador for the esports event.

“Success demands not only mastery of game mechanics but also in-depth football knowledge, making this format a fascinating blend.”

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FIFA said in the inaugural year of the event, selected member associations will be invited to be represented at the final event.

Member associations from all six confederations are expected to be invited while players can sign up on FIFA’s website.

-Reuters

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Former Italy international Roberto Baggio robbed at gunpoint

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Former Italy international Roberto Baggio was assaulted and robbed at gunpoint at his home in northern Italy while watching his country’s match against Spain in the Euro 2024 tournament on Thursday, local police said.

Burglars broke into Baggio’s house near Vicenza, hit him on the head with a gun butt and locked him and his family in a room while they stole jewellery, watches and cash, daily Il Corriere della Sera reported. It said he suffered a deep wound.

“Luckily, the violence I suffered only resulted in a few stitches, bruises and a lot of fear. Now it is to overcome the fear,” Baggio was quoted as saying by Italian news agency ANSA.

Baggio, 57, played for clubs including Juventus (JUVE.MI), opens new tab, AC Milan and Inter Milan. He also played 56 times for Italy, scoring 27 goals, and is widely seen as one of his country’s all-time greats.

After the robbery, Baggio, widely known as the “divine ponytail”, was treated at a local hospital where he received stitches for the head wound, Italian media reported.

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Italy lost to Spain 1-0 on Thursday and now must avoid defeat by Croatia to guarantee progression in the tournament.

-Reuters

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