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World Cup

Six of the best as Morocco win handsomely in World Cup qualification

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Moroccan player Achraf Hakimi and Ayoub El Kaabi.PHOTO; Morocco World News

Striker Ayoub El Kaabi netted a hat-trick as Morocco stormed to a 6-0 win over Congo in World Cup qualification on Tuesday, maintaining their 100% start to the African preliminaries for the 2026 finals in North America.

But other leading contenders, Cameroon and African champions Ivory Coast, were held to away draws on a busy day of action around the continent.

El Kaabi kept up the goalscoring form that helped Olympiakos win the Europa Conference League last month with his hat-trick as Morocco made it three wins out of three in Group E.

The thrashing of Congo in Agadir started with a sumptuous curling goal from Azzedine Ounahi and there were also goals for Chadi Riad and Soufiane Rahimi as Morocco reminded everyone of their exploits at the last World Cup in Qatar where they reached the semi-finals.

Zambia were expected to prove the toughest challenger for Morocco in the group but their chances are now severely impaired after a 1-0 home defeat by neighbours Tanzania. Waziri Junior scored the only goal of the game in the fifth minute.

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Ivory Coast had their 100% start to their Group F campaign halted in a 0-0 draw away against Kenya but remain top of the standings. The match was played in Lilongwe, Malawi because Kenya, due to co-host the 2027 Africa Cup of Nations finals, do not have a suitable stadium for their home internationals.

Kenya had an effort cleared off the Ivorian goalline midway through the second half before Ivorian substitute Oumar Diakite struck the woodwork in the 82nd minute.

Cameroon top Group D after a potentially important point away against Angola after Bryan Mbeumo put them ahead in the 11th minute before a home fightback in Luanda saw Angola force a second-half own goal from Michael Ngadeu for a deserved share of the spoils.

Also in the group, Diney Borges’ 10th minute goal allowed Cape Verde to beat Libya 1-0 while Mauritius won a World Cup qualifier for only the second time as they edged Eswatini 2-1 at home.

EXILE

Sudan went to the top of Group B despite the civil war raging in the country that has brought their league to a halt and forced players into exile. They won their derby away against South Sudan 3-0, spoiling the re-opening of the renovated stadium in Juba attended by FIFA president Gianni Infantino.

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The victory saw Sudan move two points ahead of Senegal in the standings.

Mali missed out on a chance to move closer to leaders Ghana in Group I after being held by 10-man Madagascar, who had centre back Louis Demoleon sent off in the 15th minute of the match played at Soccer City in Johannesburg

But Mali failed to make use of the advantage and played out a goalless draw. They had only arrived in South Africa 10 hours before the afternoon kick off after botched travel arrangements.

Comoros Islands are level with Ghana on nine points after a 2-0 away win over Chad.

Thapelo Morena scored a second-half double as South Africa joined Benin and Rwanda at the head of Group C with seven points from four matches after winning their derby against Zimbabwe 3-1 in Bloemfontein.

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Iqraam Rayners’ goal after 31 seconds handed South Africa a dream start only for Zimbabwe to equalise within a minute through Wolverhampton Wanderers striker Tawanda Chirewa, winning only his second cap.

Rwanda won 1-0 away against Lesotho at the same time with a goal from Jojea Kwizera, who plays for Rhode Island in the second tier of football in the U.S.

Benin had gone top of the standings on Monday after a shock 2-1 win over Nigeria.

Tuesday’s matches concluded the fourth round of African World Cup qualifiers, which will resume in March next year.

-Reuters

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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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World Cup

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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World Cup

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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World Cup

Can of worms discovered in Super Eagles camp

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BY KUNLE SOLAJA

All is not well at the moment with the Nigeria’s Super Eagles who have gone seven World Cup qualifying matches since November 2021 without a win.

The dwindled fortunes contrast sharply for a team noted before now as the African sides with the longest unbeaten streak in the World Cup qualifiers. At time, they were unbeaten since losing through a late goal to Angola in Luanda on 20 June 2004 till 10 November 2017 when their 1-1 draw with Algeria was converted to a 3-0 forfeiture owing to NFF featuring an unqualified player. At  the time, Super Eagles had raked 35 unbeaten run. At another time from 2012 to 2013, the team had an unbeaten run of 18 matches from 3 June 2012  when they beat Namibia 1-0 in Calabar to 21 June 2013 when they were beaten 2-1 by Uruguay in a FIFA Confederations match in Brazil.

 Yet the same outfit has turned laborious after losing its flairs. A source close to Finidi George told Sports Village Square that the coach complained that the NFF just heaped all the blames of the team’s current precarious situation on him while exonerating the players.  

  He also reportedly remarked that the NFF did nothing to mobilise crowd support for the Super Eagles in the back-breaking encounter with Benin Republic in Abidjan despite the presence of large Nigerian community in the Ivorian commercial capital city.

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 A Benin Republic sports journalist confirmed this to Sports Village Square. The journalist remarked that it was true that there “were not many Nigerians at the Félix Houphouet Boigny stadium even though Nigeria has a strong community in the Ivory Coast.  I see that the defeat against the Republic of Benin really hurts.”

  Dr. Rafiu Ladipo, the President General of the Nigeria Football and other Sports Supporters’ Club (NFSP) had earlier made the same assertion on the neglect of crowd mobilisation for the Super Eagles and that those who made it to Uyo and had auto accident on their way back were not even given a mention by the NFF.

 He had since 1991 established the first of the international cells of the supporters club. They were not mobilised for the game against Benin Republic.

 On players attitude, a member of the NFF confirmed that the Super Eagles camp in Uyo was loose as players went to camp with their girl friends.

 That could also explain their dismal forms in the back-to-back destiny shaping encounters with South Africa and Benin Republic.

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