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World Cup qualifiers in Africa kicks off with Nigeria’s Group

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BY KUNLE SOLAJA.

Wednesday NOV 15

Group C: Rwanda v Zimbabwe – 2pm

Group H: Equatorial Guinea v Namibia – 2pm

Group B: Congo DR v Mauritania – 5pm

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Group A: Ethiopia v Sierra Leone – 8pm

The African qualifying series for the 2026 World Cup gets under way this Wednesday afternoon as the first ball is kicked in the Group C harbouring Nigeria, South Africa, Lesotho, Rwanda, Benin and Zimbabwe.

 

It is Rwanda hosting Zimbabwe that will set rolling, the projected 260-match series spanning 47 months. The matches could have been 270, but the 10 matches involving Eritrea in Group E have to be cancelled following the country’s  withdrawal.

Zimbabwe who are away to Rwanda are just returning to the international competitions after the country was suspended by FIFA. The suspension was only lifted in July.

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Rwanda, the hosts will be hoping for a good start having not won any competitive match since their  1-0 win over Mozambique on March 24, 2021.

They will be hoping for good form of the trio of Djihad Bizimana, Hakim Sahabo and Lague Byiringiro .  The trio can be decisive to the result.

Djihad Bizimana

After a torrid time at Belgian side KMSK Deinze which affected his output in the national team, Bizimana has burst into form again with series of fantastic displays for his new club FC Kryvbas in the Ukrainian Premier League.

The Rubavu-born defensive midfielder has featured in 13 league games this season providing one assist and went on to establish himself as a key figure at the heart of Kryvbas’ form.

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Bizimana remains the orchestrator in the Rwandan midfield and his leadership as the new national team captain could add value to the country’s performance against Zimbabwe. If the former Waasland Beveren player exerts his authority in the game, he can propel his side to victory.

Hakim Sahabo

Despite Rwanda finishing at the bottom of Group L in the 2023 AFCON qualifiers, teenager Hakim Sahabo proved himself to be one of the revelations in the Amavubi set up.

The 18-year-old attacking midfielder assisted Gilbert Mugisha as Rwanda held Benin to a 1-1 draw in Cotonou as Rwanda.

In the youngster, Rwanda has a player who has the eye to give that “final” pass. Against Zimbabwe, he is expected to operate just behind the main striker as a number 10.

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One moment of brilliance from the Standard Liege II wonderkid can decide the game. Currently, he is even playing professional football on Belgian Challenger Pro League and his maturity in the game has been improving.

Lague Byiringiro

The Rwandan forward will be going into the game against Zimbabwe with so much confidence against the back drop of his sterling performance for Sandviken IF in Sweden.

He scored 10 goals in Sweden in the just-ended 2023 season where his club secured promotion to the second league.

The former APR forward is capable of operating on both flanks, either as a supporting striker or as the main striker. With Rwanda struggling for goals in recent games and considering his fine form, Spittler might be tempted to use him as the number 9 against Zimbabwe.

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He is physical, great technique and ability to dribble past defenders.

You can’t forget that Amavubi’s last win in a competitive match was thanks to his goal against Mozambique on March 24, 2021. Byiringiro can be the saviour again.

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.

World Cup

Home grounds of Barcelona, Real Madrid among 11 proposed World Cup 2030 venues

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- Real Madrid celebrate winning the Champions League - Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain - June 2, 2024 General view inside the stadium and Real Madrid's Toni Kroos during the Champions League celebration with fans REUTERS/Susana Vera/File Photo

Spain’s soccer federation (RFEF) has proposed 11 stadiums as candidates to host matches during the 2030 World Cup, including the home arenas of LaLiga clubs Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.

Spain, who will co-host the tournament with Portugal and Morocco as well as centenary hosts Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, will also have 45 additional grounds as team bases, the RFEF said on Friday.

Other LaLiga clubs whose home arenas have made the list include Sevilla, Malaga, Real Sociedad, Athletic Bilbao, Las Palmas and promoted Espanyol.

Valencia’s Mestalla Stadium, despite being the fifth-largest stadium in LaLiga with a capacity of 49,430, was not included in the list of potential venues.

“In order to define the venues, all the possibilities have been analysed, including the option of expanding to 13, an option that must be taken unanimously by the three federations,” the RFEF said in a statement.

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The tournament will have a maximum of 20 venues, the RFEF added.

Co-hosts Morocco last year announced plans to build a stadium near Casablanca and upgrade six others before the World Cup.

-Reuters

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It’s 28 years since Super Eagles’ worst competitive defeat

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Denmark unexpectedly beat Nigeria 4-1

BY KUNLE SOLAJA

Denmark face Germany on Saturday hoping to recreate their famous victory at the Euro 92 when they secured their first title, although they were the underdogs.

 This day 28 June, a day before their Round of 16 Euro 2024 clash with Germany also brings the memory of their famous Round of 16 win over Nigeria at the France ‘98 World Cup.

Their 4-1 defeat of the Super Eagles remains the biggest defeat that the Nigerians have gotten in a competitive duel in nearly 30 years.

 It was an unexpected result considering that the Super Eagles contributed to the elimination of one of the tournaments favourites, Spain.

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A goal down under two minutes and two down under 12 minutes presented a huge mountain for the Super Eagles to climb.

 What a twist of an event most had thought the Nigerian team would be the dominant side.

The world was awaiting a match-up of Nigeria and Brazil in the quarter-finals.

It was to rekindle the memorable encounter of both countries’ Olympic teams two years earlier when Nigeria famously defeated Brazil 4-3 in a golden goal decider at the semi-finals.

     A rematch at the quarter finals of France ’98 would have brought up a novel match-up of reigning Olympic gold medallists and reigning World Cup holders. It turned out a mere dream.

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 Nigeria’s manager, Bora Milutinović fielded a starting line-up with seven midfielders and no attacker.

Could that had been a new tactical formation in football in a knockout game Nigeria had to score and win? Call it the 3-7-0. Call it overconfidence.

      Even Nigeria’s manager was reportedly half-kiddingly remarked before the match: “We’ve got a very important match coming up in Nantes” – a reference to a possible quarter-final meeting  with Brazil.

  Member of the team, Mutiu Adepoju told Sports Village Square that poor tactical approach cost Nigeria the match.     “The game was taken as a routine one and hence, no special preparation for it.

  “The coaches did not even border to get insight into the Denmark team”, said Adepoju who was called ‘Headmaster’  for his heading skill. It was with an header that he scored Nigeria’s first goal that put scores at 1-1 in a 3-2 defeat of Spain in the opening match.

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  He dismissed a well publicised claim by teammate, Taribo West that the players had busy nights with women prior to the match.

  He however admitted that there was discontentment in camp and that the coaching crew lost control of the team.

  It came light that the players did not sleep all night as the now very familiar agitations for enhanced match bonuses came up.

As published in the on-line version of Al-Jazeera in 2014, Sunday Oliseh was quoted as saying: “We wasted too much energy on the eve of our game haggling over bonus, something like that should not be the focus at a big tournament like the World Cup. “We lost that game off the pitch and not on the pitch.”           

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FIFA awards win to Niger after Congo no-show in World Cup qualifier

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FIFA has awarded Niger a win and the full three points in a 2026 World Cup soccer qualifier with Congo that was postponed this month, the world governing body said on Wednesday.

Congo had refused to travel to Kinshasa, capital of neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, for their home game after their stadium in Brazzaville was deemed not to have met hosting requirements.

Niger did travel, and were awarded the game 3-0, which leaves them second in Group E on six points, three behind leaders Morocco. Congo are stuck on zero points from their three matches.

Only the top team in each of the nine pools is guaranteed a place at the expanded World Cup in the United States, Mexico and Canada.

“The FIFA Disciplinary Committee has decided to declare the match lost by forfeit 3-0 by the representative team of Congo,” FIFA said in a statement.

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It said the Alphonse Massemba-Debat Stadium in Brazzaville could not have been used until renovations, including the laying of a new pitch, were completed

Congolese Sports Minister Hughes Nguilondile declared the stadium ready in late May, but it was deemed too late to move the fixture. FIFA ordered it to go ahead in Kinshasa as originally planned, leading to Congo’s withdrawal in protest.

-Reuters

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