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International Football

Draw with Super Eagles ends Saudi Arabia’s losing streak

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Saudi Arabia ended their six-game losing streak in dramatic fashion on Friday as they secured a 2-2 draw with Nigeria in the 100th minute of their friendly in Portugal.

Mohamed Kanno’s late, late free-kick provided an exciting end to an entertaining game. The Green Falcons had held their own throughout, and kept going to the final seconds before bagging their reward.

Salman Al-Faraj’s free-kick broke the deadlock on the hour but Victor Boniface’s tap was deflected into the net for Nigeria by Saudi Arabia’s defender, Abdulelah Almri in the 73rd minute.

Kelechi Iheanacho then scored what looked to have been a fine winner, with nine minutes remaining, before Kanno’s timely intervention.

Coach Roberto Mancini, who was appointed in August, will be relieved that he did not have to face the media to explain a seventh successive defeat for Saudi, and a third in three since he took over.

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Nigeria were on top in the first half and Mohammed Al-Owais began a busy evening early on, getting down well to push a shot from Boniface to safety.

The Bayer Leverkusen forward was dangerous once more just before the 20-minute mark but Al-Owais dealt with the low shot comfortably once again, and was also relieved when Victor Osimhen shot over from close range.

Saudi Arabia were still very much in the game and a few minutes before the break they fashioned the best chance of the half. Fahad Al-Muwallad, brought back into the starting lineup by the Italian boss, burst into the area and, with just the goalkeeper to beat, stretched for the shot and Francis Uzoho saved.

The African team should have taken the lead on the stroke of halftime but Ademola Lookman shot just wide while in a one-on-one situation.

Saudi Arabia looked a little more dangerous after the break and scored on the hour, although it came out of nowhere. Al-Faraj took a free-kick and the looping ball deceived Uzoho who palmed the ball into his own net. Nigeria were stunned.

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They were almost two down shortly after. Substitute Saleh Al-Shehri pulled the ball back for Abdullah Al-Hamdan and the forward’s low shot looked destined for the back of the net before it was smartly blocked.

Saudi Arabia felt they should have had a penalty with 20 minutes remaining as Semi Ajayi seemed to handle a Salem Al-Dawsari pass but, despite a check from VAR, the kick was not awarded.

It was 1-1 three minutes later. Boniface had missed a couple of chances but made no mistake after getting to the near post to guide a low left-sided cross from Moses Simon into the net.

Nigeria took the lead with nine minutes left. Al-Hamdan’s misdirected ball fell to Iheanacho and the forward, who has been in fine scoring form for Leicester City, curled home a delightful shot from the edge of the area.

Another legitimate claim for a Saudi penalty was ignored before Kanno’s late free-kick salvaged the draw. The losing streak had finally ended and Mancini will be encouraged.

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Attention now turns to Mali on Tuesday, a final warm-up for November’s 2026 World Cup qualifiers.

 

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.

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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