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European club finals heroes adjust sights to World Cup in Africa



Nigeria forward Ademola Lookman celebrates scoring for Atalanta against Bayer Leverkusen in the 2024 Europa League final in Dublin. (AFP)

European club finals match-winners Ademola Lookman and Ayoub el Kaabi turn their attention to 2026 World Cup qualifying in Africa from Wednesday with 52 fixtures scheduled over seven days.

Lookman scored a hat-trick as Atalanta won the Europa League last month, and ended a 51-match unbeaten run by Bayer Leverkusen in domestic and international competitions.

The London-born 26-year-old could lead the Nigeria attack at home to South Africa in Uyo in a repeat of the 2024 Africa Cup of Nations semi-finals won by the Super Eagles on penalties.

A week after Lookman stole the show in Dublin, Moroccan El Kaabi nodded the extra-time winner for Olympiakos against Fiorentina in the Europa Conference League final in Athens.

He will be a contender for a place in the Atlas Lions attack against Zambia in Agadir in another Cup of Nations repeat with Morocco winning 1-0 in the Ivory Coast last January.


Meanwhile, Kenya are among 17 nations who must stage home matches at neutral venues due to sub-standard venues, stadium renovations or security issues.

Here, AFP Sport highlights five matchday three showdowns that include shock 2022 World Cup semi-finalists Morocco and reigning African champions the Ivory Coast.

Nigeria v South Africa

A powerful Nigerian attack will lack its biggest star — 2023 African Footballer of the Year Victor Osimhen — through injury and Nathan Tella is absent for undisclosed personal reasons.

But with Lookman, Victor Boniface, Kelechi Iheanacho and Samuel Chukwueze to choose from, coach and former star Finidi George is not short of talent as he prepares for his competitive debut.


South Africa welcome back forward Lyle Foster from demoted Premier League club Burnley, who missed the Cup of Nations due to mental health challenges.

Egypt v Burkina Faso

Prolific Liverpool scorer Mohamed Salah is set to represent Egypt for the first time since an injury against Ghana in a group match cut short his AFCON campaign.

“Mohamed is one of the best footballers in the world and there is no rift between us,” said coach Hossam Hassan, who replaced Portuguese Rui Vitoria after a last-16 exit in the Ivory Coast.

When Salah was injured, Hassan said the star should remain with the national squad in west Africa, but the forward returned to his club for treatment.


Morocco v Zambia

A Hakim Ziyech goal separated the teams at the latest AFCON, where Morocco suffered a shock last-16 loss to South Africa and Zambia failed to make the knockout stage.

Key Moroccan figures in the 2022 World Cup run in Qatar, including goalkeeper Yassine Bounou, defender Achraf Hakimi and forward Youssef en-Nesyri remain.

Coach Walid Regragui also called up Brahim Diaz, an attacking midfielder at European titans Real Madrid for the clash with Zambia, who are on the back foot after a surprise away loss to Niger.

Senegal v DR Congo


Defending champions and among the favourites to win the 2024 AFCON, Senegal only reached the round of 16 before falling to hosts Ivory Coast after a penalty shootout.

Stalwarts like goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly and forward Sadio Mane — all based in Saudi Arabia — remain as the Teranga Lions seek redemption in World Cup qualifying.

The Congolese exceeded expectations by finishing fourth at the AFCON this year and hope Yoane Wissa can replicate his form with Premier League outfit Brentford.

Cote d’Ivoire v Gabon

Coach Emerse Fae has given maiden call-ups to a France-based trio — defender Christopher Operi and forwards Mohamed Bamba and Evann Guessand — for a Korhogo clash with Gabon.


But there are no places in the Cup of Nations title-holders squad for defenders Serge Aurier and Eric Bailly due to a lack of club game time, and winger Wilfried Zaha remains out of favour.

Star Marseille forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang — voted the outstanding African after the 2023-2024 Ligue 1 season — has been recalled having missed the first two matchdays.



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



- 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.


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.


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World Cup

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



Denmark unexpectedly beat Nigeria 4-1


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.


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.


 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.


  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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World Cup

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




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.


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.


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