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Madrid poor run puts Lopetegui under pressure

By Sports Desk,

Real Madrid failed to ease the pressure on coach Julen Lopetegui and instead set the record for the longest goal-drought in the club’s history during a surprise 2-1 defeat by Levante on Saturday.

Defeat means Madrid have now gone five games without a victory and by the time Marcelo gave them hope of a comeback at the Santiago Bernabeu, they had gone 481 minutes without a goal too.

The club’s previous worst run had been 464 minutes, in 1985.

For a team that prides itself on flair and flamboyance, it is a streak that reflects just as badly on Lopetegui as the results, which could leave Real Madrid four points adrift of Barcelona later on Saturday, with a ‘Clasico’ to come next weekend at the Camp Nou.

If Barca’s players were watching, they would have been licking their lips at the sight of Raphael Varane handing Levante a two-goal lead here after just 13 minutes. Jose Luis Morales and Roger Marti, from the penalty spot, were the beneficiaries.

At the final whistle, Lopetegui stood on the touchline, with his hands on his hips, staring ahead in disbelief.

He had left Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema on the bench, perhaps due to fitness issues, and the gamble backfired, despite both making a difference when brought on in the second half.

Madrid were two behind after 13 minutes and both came from Varane mistakes. The first was more blatant as he misjudged the flight of Sergio Postigo’s through ball and Morales was clear.

Thibaut Courtois rushed out but Morales nicked it round him and fired into the open net.

It got worse as Varane handled a bouncing ball on the edge of the area but as Madrid’s wall waited, Guillermo Cuadra refused to allow the free-kick to be taken.

The Video Assistant Referee said Varane’s handball was inside the box and Roger converted the penalty.

For the rest of the half, Madrid were scatty and imprecise, their finishing spoiled by bad luck but a lack of composure too.

VAR proved their undoing again, ruling Marco Asensio’s follow-up offside after Casemiro had headed against the crossbar. Mariano was also denied by the woodwork while Ramos and Lucas Vazquez missed from three yards.

At half-time, there were a scattering of white handkerchiefs — the traditional expression of discontent — but more whistles. After the restart, the home fans sang “echale huevos”, meaning, “play with some balls”.

Lopetegui had thrown Bale on for Alvaro Odriozola at the interval while Benzema and Dani Ceballos were introduced on the hour. Not before the 56th minute had passed, however, and Madrid’s drought became their longest ever.

Benzema shot straight at Oier Olazabal, who then pushed a bending Bale free-kick wide. Finally, Madrid scored, with that pair involved again as Bale flicked to Benzema at the back post. He picked out Marcelo to drive into the roof of the net.

Madrid believed again as Benzema struck the far post with a curling effort and Mariano thought he had grabbed an equaliser in the 87th minute. The striker, however, had strayed just offside. For Madrid, it was not to be.

Nigeria will qualify for Nations Cup – Chukwu

By Sports Desk,

A former Super Eagles Coach, Christian Chukwu, on Wednesday expressed his optimism that the Eagles would qualify for the African Cup of Nations.

Chukwu, who was also Captain of the defunct Green Eagles was speaking in an interview  on Wednesday in Abuja.

According to him, the Eagles have shown impressive performance in the ongoing qualifying matches.

He said that Nigeria had proved their superiority in African football so far with victory over strong teams like Libya.

“We should try to beat South Africa. Although I am confident that we will win them.

“For South Africa to draw with Seychelles means that Nigeria can beat them,” said Chukwu.

The former coach, who also urged the team to maintain its tempo, said that it was time for the Eagles to work harder.

He said he was delighted with the performance of the Eagles over Libya at home and away.

On Oct. 16, the Eagles defeated Libya 3-2 in Tunisia in the second leg match.

Ighalo shoots Nigeria top of Group E

By Sports Desk,

A brace by Odion Ighalo and another goal by Ahmed Musa gave Nigeria’s Super Eagles a 3-2 victory over hosts Libya in Sfax, Tunisia, to move top of Group E of 2019 AFCON Qualifiers.

The Super Eagles led the game 2-0 in the first half, with Ighalo and Musa scoring three minutes apart. Libya’s Mohamed Zubya reduced the deficit in the 35th minute.

And in the second half Ahmad Benali levelled for Libya after the team piled a lot of pressure on the Nigerians.

But Ighalo in the 81st minute gave Eagles the full three points, to keep them ahead of South Africa in the group.

The Super Eagles now have nine points, overtaking South Africa who played a goalless draw away at Seychelles earlier today.

Libya are third in the group with four points and Seychelles have had just a point.

The teams in the group will next meet on 16 November, with Nigeria travelling to South Africa, while Seychelles will host Libya.

Then next year March, Nigeria will host Seychelles, while Libya will host South Africa for the final matches of the group.

Ighalo gets hat trick as Super Eagles whip Libya

By Sports Desk,

Odion Ighalo’s first international hat-trick and a maiden Nigeria goal for Samuel Kalu fired the Super Eagles to a 4-0 victory over Libya in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier at the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium in Uyo on Saturday.

The Changchun Yatai forward opened scoring from the spot in the fourth minute, doubling his tally in the 58th minute, before completing his hat-trick 11 minutes later.

Kalu added a fourth right at the death to seal a win which ensures Nigeria climb into second place in Group E, a point behind leaders South Africa.

Nigeria started in impressive fashion, and were deservedly awarded a third-minute penalty after good pressing from Ighalo forced goalkeeper Muhammad Nashnoush into a foul.

Despite getting a fingertip to the ball, Nashnoush couldn’t prevent Ighalo from opening the scoring and affording the hosts the strong start they craved.

Libya almost responded within minutes, but goalkeeper Francis Uzoho produced a stunning one-handed save to deny Anis Saltou, whose firm header looked goal bound.

Alex Iwobi, who had struggled to influence proceedings in the opening half just behind Ighalo, gradually picked up his pace after the break, and his brilliantly weighed pass which sliced open the Libya defence was calmly tucked home by Ighalo after rounding Nashnoush.

The two-goal advantage clearly spurred Nigeria on, and it was soon increased to three with Ahmed Musa’s squared centre tucked home by Ighalo at the second attempt to complete his hat-trick and net his fourth goal in the qualifying campaign.

New kid on the block Kalu, who had endured a mixed outing on his second start for Nigeria, bagged the final goal in a surprisingly one-sided contest, with Libya perhaps feeling the effects of the shock exit of coach Adel Amrouche’s earlier this week.

Next up for both teams is the reverse fixture on October 16 at the Stade Taieb Mhiri, Sfax, Tunisia as both teams aim to consolidate their position in a bid to bag one of the two available group tickets to Cameroon.

Salah hopes for goal magic as Egypt battle eSwatini

By Sports Desk,

Liverpool star Mohamed Salah gets a chance to rediscover his scoring touch tomorrow when he plays for Egypt against eSwatini,formerly Swaziland, in the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.

After notching 44 goals for the English Premier League club in all competitions last season, the 26-year-old has managed only three this season, and just one in eight games since August.

When Salah last played for his country, he scored twice and missed two penalties as the record seven-time African champions romped to a 6-0 win over Niger during September.

Niger are ranked 105 in the world — 31 places above eSwatini — so Egypt can realistically hope to score goals this Friday at the Al Salam Stadium in Cairo.

Salah is the pride of Egypt having won the best goal and finished third in the best player category behind Luka Modric and Cristiano Ronaldo at the recent FIFA awards.

He is also among 30 contenders for the Ballon d’Or prize bestowed annually by France Football magazine.

His recent scarcity of goals for Liverpool, and being substituted in a match at Chelsea, has drawn sympathy from Egyptian pundits.

“Salah must not look back at last season, whether it was his goal scoring or his exceptional form,” said Islam el-Shater in Al-Masry Al-Youm.

“He must do what his manager (Jurgen Klopp) asks of him so that he does not lose his starting place.”

Another columnist in that newspaper, Mohammed el-Bourmy, wrote: “Salah is being compared to Ronaldo and Messi and some possibly believed he could score 40 to 50 goals every season.

“He is not required to do that, but rather to have a good season with 20 goals to his name and enjoy himself.”

Leading football commentator Hassan el-Mistekawi noted that “the Salah smile is missing since the start of the season because of the pressure he is under to score”.

While Egypt can boast of Salah, eSwatini have a caretaker coach and no stars with the squad comprised of locals and a sprinkling of players with South African second-tier clubs.

The countries will meet twice during the Cup of Nations window with the return match next Tuesday in Manzini, where the southern African nation lost 2-0 to Tunisia last month.

Madrid slump continues as they suffer shock defeat

By Sports Desk,

Real Madrid suffered a shock defeat by Alaves on Saturday to make it four games without a victory and also four games without a goal.

For the European champions, it was their longest scoring drought since 1985, as Manu Garcia headed home in the 95th minute to send the Mendizorrotza Stadium wild.

It is the first time they have beaten Madrid here since 1931.

Alaves fans ran onto the pitch to celebrate their stunning 1-0 win and the chants continued long after the final whistle.

For Madrid, this was another body blow and to make matters worse, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema, their chief attacking threats, were both forced off injured. Bale had missed the Champions League loss to CSKA Moscow on Tuesday with a groin strain.

It means Barcelona can go three points clear if they win their game in hand against Valencia on Sunday while Alaves’ excellent start to the season continues. They move up to third, level on points with Real.

However, Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui insisted it is too early to be questioning his future despite the strings of failure.

Lopetegui had been asked on Friday if he felt under pressure at the club he left Spain for on the eve of the World Cup and the question was put to him again after the match here.

“It interests you but is not a question that concerns me,” Lopetegui said.

“We know what the life of a coach is, especially at Real Madrid, but we also know that it is October and you have to keep perspective and stay calm.”

Talk of change is perhaps premature but it will only increase if Madrid do not find fluency soon and, in particular, if Barca pull away. The Clasico at the Camp Nou looms at the end of the month.

“We are disappointed,” Lopetegui added. “In the end, defeat is a harsh punishment.”

Thibaut Courtois took over from Keylor Navas in goal and was at fault for Alaves’ winner. The Belgian failed to claim the cross, leaving Garcia to head into any empty net.

Bale had been passed fit to start while Luka Modric and Sergio Ramos returned after being rested against CSKA. The first half was a fight, full of heavy touches, tussles and collisions but largely vacant of clear-cut chances.

Ramos was at the heart of things as he clattered Jonathan Calleri and then elbowed the Alaves striker in the face. The referee deemed it accidental but Calleri clearly did not, responding soon after with a clip on the defender’s leg.

Bale span in behind and backheeled to Benzema, who teed up Dani Ceballos to shoot. Benzema had a header volleyed off the line by Victor Laguardia.

But Alaves grew into the half and it took Raphael Varane’s diving header to prevent Ibai Gomez from tapping in at the back post.

Benzema was replaced at half-time by Mariano Diaz, who instantly looked more dangerous.

Only a dangling Laguardia leg ended his weaving run into the penalty area while Real right-back Alvaro Odriozola broke through but failed to find a team-mate with the pull-back. Lopetegui threw his arms up in frustration.

The rain came down and the whistles grew louder as Madrid dominated the ball but Alaves could have won it sooner when Jony sprinted clear, only to drag his finish wide.

Bale trudged off off and another Alaves chance arrived in injury time. Courtois came for the cross but failed to gather and Ruben Sobrino sent the ball to the back post. Garcia was perfectly placed.

Mourinho’s Manchester United roar back to life

By Sports Desk,

Jose Mourinho’s stuttering Manchester United gave a glimpse of their old image, roaring back from a two goal deficit in the first half to beat Newcastle United 3-2.

Alexis Sanchez scored the winner with a header on 90th minute.

The duo of Kenedy and Yoshinori Muto had shot Newcastle United ahead in the first half of a make or mar match for Mourinho at Old Trafford, scoring two goals in three minutes. And the two goals came in the first ten minutes of the match.

Manchester United lumbered through the half, not really threatening the boys from Newcastle.

But in the second half, Mourinho made some changes in his squad, throwing in Marouane Fellaini and Alexis Sanchez. Their introduction added some pep to the attack, and along with Juan Mata who came in as substitute for Eric Bailly in the first half, the result showed in the goals.

With United dominating possession and piling the pressure on New Castle, Mata first pulled one back on 70th minute, after a foul near the box by Mohamed Diame for teh visitors.

Six minutes after, Paul Pogba set up Anthony Martial, for the equaliser.

Then in the 90th minute, a cross by Ashley Young found Alexis Sanchez, who nodded in for the winner, to send the fans at Old Trafford into rapture.

The victory for Manchester United must definitely offer some relief to the embattled coach, following reports that the board members were unhappy with him and were planning to sack him.

United’s first win in five games in all competitions could buy the coach some much-needed breathing space heading into the international break.

“I am 55 years old. It is the first time I see man-hunting. There is too much wickedness in something that should be beautiful,” Mourinho said of his critics.

“I can cope with it. Some of the boys, in spite of them not being the man that is hunted, they are not coping well with it.

“Every ball around our box was almost a goal or some mistake, a bad decision, panic.

“At half-time we spoke and the team faced the second half with a different spirit, a different belief, giving everything for the victory.”

Asked if the speculation would stop, Mourinho added: “No. I go to London now and if it rains tomorrow in London then it is my fault.”

With the scoreline, United, after eight games, are now eighth on the league table with 13 points, six points away from leaders and city rivals, Manchester City, who still have a game in hand, against Liverpool on Sunday.

Alvaro Morata strike proves decisive for Blues

By Sports Desk,

Alvaro Morata’s goal proved decisive as Chelsea scraped past Hungarian champions Vidi to maintain their 100% start in Europa League Group L.

Despite dominating both territory and possession it took the second-half arrival of substitute Eden Hazard to add spark to a Chelsea team frustrated for long periods.

And Morata, who had earlier missed a glorious chance, capitalised on some extra space by sweeping in Willian’s flick from a Cesc Fabregas pass. It ended a miserable run for the 25-year-old, who had managed just one goal from nine previous outings this season.

The hosts were unable to add to their lead and had goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga to thank for preserving the three points when he turned away Istvan Kovacas’ drive late on.

The result ensured the 2013 Europa League winners top the group with six points, having beaten PAOK Salonika in Greece in their opening fixture last month.

Morata’s misery subsides

If one player epitomised Chelsea’s early frustration in attack it was Morata, whose performance, particularly in the first half, continued in the same vein as against PAOK.

The Spaniard had seven shots in the Blues’ first group game without any finding the target and he managed another five against the Hungarians before finally getting on the scoresheet.

And his close-range miss early on, when he horribly miscued a chip over Vidi goalkeeper Tomas Tujvel, smacked of a player shorn of confidence.

Morata has already featured in three Champions League finals, winning two with Real Madrid and scoring in the other when he was on the losing side with Juventus, but goals have dried up for him since his impressive start at Stamford Bridge last term, when he scored seven goals in his first seven games.

And a return of five goals from 32 appearances since the start of 2018 has done little to justify the £60m spent to prise him away from Real Madrid.

Loftus-Cheek’s big night

Having spent last season on loan at Crystal Palace, this game represented Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s first start for Chelsea since January 2017, when the Blues defeated Brentford in the FA Cup.

Hampered by an early-season injury, the 22-year-old midfielder had been limited to just two substitute appearances, meaning that before kick-off he had managed more minutes for England (61) than the Blues (31) this term.

In that time he has also had to watch fellow Chelsea youngster Mason Mount impress on loan at Championship side Derby County, earning himself a spot in Gareth Southgate’s latest England squad.

While Loftus-Cheek’s lack of action precluded him from inclusion, he did enough against Vidi to suggest he will be given more opportunities by manager Maurizio Sarri.

His power in possession set Brazilian winger Willian away early on and a slaloming run between three defenders gave Chelsea a valid claim for a first-half penalty when he was brought down by Vidi defender Stopira.

Ronaldo denies ‘abominable’ rape accusation

By News Desk,

Cristiano Ronaldo on Wednesday categorically denied accusations by a former model who says the Portuguese superstar raped her in a Las Vegas hotel penthouse suite in 2009.

“I firmly deny the accusations being issued against me,” tweeted the 33-year-old, who plays for Juventus in Italy’s Serie A. “Rape is an abominable crime that goes against everything that I am and believe in.”

“Keen as I may be to clear my name I refuse to feed the media spectacle created by people seeking to promote themselves at my expense,” he said.

“My clear conscious (sic) will thereby allow me to await with tranquility the results of any and all investigations,” he added.

Kathryn Mayorga, 34, of Las Vegas, accused Ronaldo, in a 32-page complaint filed last month with a district court in Nevada, of raping her on June 13, 2009.

Las Vegas police this week said they were reopening a case filed on that date but did not identify the victim or the alleged perpetrator.

Mayorga’s lawyers are to hold a news conference in Las Vegas at 3:00 pm Pacific time (0000 GMT) on Wednesday to discuss the case.

Man Utd booed off after 0-0 home draw with Valencia

By Sports Desk,

Manchester United failed to ease the pressure on manager Jose Mourinho with a goalless draw against Valencia in the Champions League at Old Trafford.

United, enduring their worst start to a league campaign for 29 years, started brightly, thanks mainly to the energy of recalled widemen Marcus Rashford and Alexis Sanchez.

However, as the Spanish side grew into the contest, the hosts became more ponderous and disjointed.

Indeed, Valencia had the better chances either side of half-time until United rediscovered the impetus and energised not only themselves but also the home crowd.

Rashford clipped the top of the bar with a free-kick, but the visitors hung on for a deserved draw that extended United’s winless run to four games.

United are second in Group H on four points, two behind leaders Juventus, who defeated Swiss side Young Boys 3-0 and will travel to Old Trafford on 23 October with Cristiano Ronaldo restored to their ranks.

Smiling Mourinho given no cheer

In the aftermath of Saturday’s 3-1 defeat at West Ham, a result that left United 10th in the Premier League, Mourinho claimed to not be worried about his position.

But in his programme notes, the Portuguese did call for his players to “fight, work, compete, win duels, be humble and then at the end of the game every player must be exhausted because of the hard work they have given for the club, for the fans and for each other”.

If Mourinho really is feeling the heat, he showed little sign. Dressed all in black and chewing on gum, he smiled as he emerged from the tunnel, embracing visiting manager Marcelino and later doing the same with Michy Batshuayi as the on-loan Chelsea striker collected the ball to take a throw-in.

Mourinho was a fixture on the touchline, sharing words with Paul Pogba during a break a play and, later, prowling the technical area to urge his men on.

As time ran out and Rashford hit the woodwork, he returned to his seat. When the final whistle was blown and he offered a hand to Marcelino, Mourinho would have heard boos from some sections of a crowd that has not seen United win at home for almost two months.

Rashford bright in mixed United display

England international Rashford has not started for United since their opening Champions League win against Young Boys, while Sanchez was not involved at all against West Ham.

They were two of four changes and, in the early stages, posed problems down the flanks as United pressed high up the pitch.

The hosts, though, became nervy as Valencia gradually took control of the midfield. For long periods, the Spanish side carried a greater threat, particularly on the counter, while United took too long to move the ball forwards.

Just as the home crowd was beginning to get tetchy, and soon after a cry of “attack, attack, attack”, United started to threaten again.

Pogba had a free-kick palmed over by visiting goalkeeper Neto, the previously anonymous Romelu Lukaku began to make a nuisance of himself and Anthony Martial replaced Sanchez to a huge reception.

Predictably, it was Rashford who came closest, bending a free-kick on to the top of the bar after Martial was tripped on the edge of the penalty area.

The hosts scrambled as the final whistle loomed but, ultimately, did not have the guile to break down the organised visitors.

Determined Valencia deserve their point

Valencia, Champions League finalists in 2000 and 2001, are enjoying something of a resurgence and are competing in Europe’s premier competition for the first time in three seasons.

However, they arrived at Old Trafford with only one win in seven La Liga games so far this term and were beaten by Juventus in the opening week of the Champions League.

Initially, they looked in danger of being overrun, but gradually grew into the contest and will leave Old Trafford knowing they had opportunities to earn victory.

The powerful Geoffrey Kondogbia was a dominant presence in midfield, the Frenchman not only shielding his defence but also propelling the Spaniards forward.

Goncalo Guedes buzzed around a United defence that often allowed their opponents too much space and should have done better when missing the target from the edge of the box, while Batshuayi also fired over when given a sight of goal.

Eventually, Valencia were forced backwards, but it would have been harsh on them had United found a winner.