Gerrard’s Rangers open against Aberdeen, Celtic host Livingston

RANGERS’ new manager Steven Gerrard will kick off his tenure in the Scottish Premiership away at Aberdeen on August 5, a day before Celtic begin their title defence against newly-promoted Livingston.

Gerrard, who took over from Graeme Murty on a four-year deal last month, will get his first taste of the Old Firm derby when he visits his former manager Brendan Rodgers at Celtic Park on Sept 1.

The former Liverpool captain will look to have a crack at Celtic’s recent dominance, which yielded seven straight titles including a record-breaking second successive domestic treble last season.

Rangers have won a record 54 Scottish league titles but are struggling to recover from the financial problems that saw them reformed in the bottom tier of Scottish football in 2012.

Aberdeen, who finished runners-up for the last four seasons, will face title rivals Celtic on Sept 29. (Reuters/NAN)

Jun. 15, 2018 @ 12:17 GMT |

World Cup: Croatia take on Nigeria in Russia’s European bolthole

FORMER World Cup semi-finalists Croatia take on African powerhouses Nigeria in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad on Saturday in their opening Group D match that may prove a test of the organisers’ anti-racism drive.

It is 20 years since Croatia surged to the final four at France ’98 with a resounding quarter-final win over favourites Germany, and fans will be buoyed by a squad brimming with attacking talent.

Nigeria, long one of African football’s underachievers, boast several players with English Premier League pedigree, and will hope they can secure only their second win in their last 12 World Cup matches.

The stage for Saturday’s clash is Kaliningrad, a thickly forested outpost of Russia wedged between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea — a potentially challenging location for some fans to reach.

FIFA’s official site showed tickets still available 24 hours before kick-off.

Saturday will also prove a crucial test for FIFA’s anti-discrimination drive, with tension running high in the build-up to the tournament over a spate of recent incidents.

Racism has plagued Russian football since clubs began purchasing foreign players after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

Russia’s football federation was last month slapped with a 25,000-euro fine after racist chants from supporters during a friendly against France.

FIFA has instituted a three-strikes policy against any racist abuse from fans across the tournament, threatening to abandon matches if supporters ignore a stadium speaker announcement and then a pause in play.

Nigeria’s Dutch-born defender Will Troost-Ekong told Britain’s The Guardian newspaper last month that the players would react as one to any abuse.

Croatia, appearing at their fifth World Cup, boast a host of world-class talent, including Real Madrid’s Luka Modric, Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic of Juventus.

The Balkan nation lost 2-0 to Brazil in a friendly in the run-up to the tournament that marked Neymar’s return to international football, before a come-from-behind 2-1 win over Senegal on June 9.

Nigeria lost 2-1 to England at Wembley and fell to a turgid 1-0 defeat by the Czech Republic to leave their German coach Gernot Rohr plenty of selection headaches, particularly in attack.

The Super Eagles are this World Cup’s youngest squad, and several Premier League regulars, including Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi, Leicester’s Wilfried Ndidi and Victor Moses of Chelsea will be crucial.

Ndidi is one of three Leicester City players in the squad.

Both sides will be keen to get off to a winning start in Russia to give themselves the best chance of exiting a tough Group D that includes Iceland — who topped Croatia’s qualifying group — and two-time winners Argentina. AFP

June 15, 2018 @ 10:45 GMT |

World Cup: Nervy Argentina seek Messi magic against Iceland

LIONEL Messi’s Argentina aim to put a shambolic World Cup build-up behind them and make a statement in their opening match against tournament debutants Iceland on Saturday.

The two-time champions arrived in Russia dogged by poor form, injuries and controversy.

But Messi is a man on a mission as he chases his first World Cup winner’s medal and will not tolerate complacency against the minnows at Moscow’s Spartak stadium.

“Iceland showed they could compete with anyone at the last Euros,” he said, referring to their giant-killing run at the 2016 European Championship in France.

Messi was devastated by Argentina’s loss to Germany in the 2014 World Cup final, with the agony compounded by back-to-back Copa America defeats to Chile in 2015 and 2016.

Despite his achievements with Barcelona, the five-time world player of the year is yet to win a major international tournament and time is running out as his 31st birthday looms.

He briefly retired from international football after the 2016 Copa America and has hinted he will do so permanently if the campaign in Russia ends in failure.

The Group D clash pits an Argentine side that critics say is too focused on superstar Messi against a band of grafters who pride themselves on teamwork.

On paper, the South Americans should have little trouble disposing of Iceland, an island nation of 330,000 that is the smallest country to ever reach the finals.

But the Icelanders revel in their underdog status and showed at Euro 2016 they will not be cowed on the big stage.

– Messi ‘can carry team’ –

Spurred on by their fans’ thunderous “Viking clap”, they earned a 1-1 draw with Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal then famously dumped out England to reach the quarter-finals.

“We kept Ronaldo quite quiet so hopefully we can do the same against Messi,” said Burnley winger Johann Berg Gudmundsson.

“We know we’re probably going to be defending for a lot of the time and obviously he’s one of the best players in the world and he can turn it on.”

Iceland, ranked 17 places behind Argentina at 22nd in the world, topped their group in European qualifying with comfortable wins over Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey.

Argentina reserve goalkeeper Nahuel Guzman said the squad would do everything in their power to give Messi the success he craves but they are expecting a tight match against Iceland.

“We must show patience and move the ball around to try and find space, and look to get in behind with speed,” said Guzman, who plays for Mexican club Tigres.

“It will be a very tight game in which we’ll also have to control our nerves.”

Argentina only made it to the finals courtesy of a Messi hat-trick in their final qualifier against Ecuador.

Subsequent friendlies have given cause for concern — there was a 4-2 loss to Nigeria in November and a 6-1 humiliation by Spain in March, although Messi did not play in either match.

Argentina’s final warm-up against Israel in Jerusalem was cancelled after protests from Palestinians, miring the team in controversy and leaving players short of match practice.

To further compound their problems, goalkeeper Sergio Romero and midfielder Manuel Lanzini both fell victim to late injuries.

Accusing Argentina of over-reliance on Messi may seem unfair to a team boasting the sharp attacking talents of Sergio Aguero, Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain but it is a view coach Jorge Sampaoli himself has expressed.

“He can carry the team on his shoulders,” Sampaoli said of the player who scored 45 goals in 54 games for Barcelona this season. This is going to be his team.” AFP

June 15, 2018 @ 10:22 GMT |

France, Arsenal great Vieira appointed Nice coach

FORMER Arsenal and France star Patrick Vieira, world and European champion with Les Bleus, has taken the reins at top flight Nice, the French club said Monday.

Vieira, 41, arrives after a stint at MLS outfit New York City FC and replaces Lucien Favre after signing a three-year contract. (AFP)

– Jun. 11, 2018 @ 14:29 GMT |

Nadal stays top of ATP pile with Garros repeat

SPAIN’s Rafael Nadal maintained his hold on top spot in the men’s ATP rankings Monday after his 11th French Open success.

The Spaniard is 100 points ahead of Roger Federer going into the grasscourt season where the Swiss will be looking to close the gap.

Beaten finalist Dominic Thiem of Austria rose one spot to seventh.

Germany’s Alexander Zverev remains third after reaching the quarters in Paris with Argentine semi-finalist Juan Martin Del Potro up two places to fourth.

The big mover in the top echelons of the men’s game is Italian surprise package Marco Cecchinato, who had never won a Grand Slam encounter before barreling his way to the last four at Roland Garros.

He rises 45 spots to 27th after becoming the first Italian man to reach the last four of a major in 40 years.

ATP rankings as of June 11:

  1. Rafael Nadal (ESP) 8770 pts
  2. Roger Federer (SUI) 8670
  3. Alexander Zverev (GER) 5965
  4. Juan Martín Del Potro (ARG) 5080 (+2)
  5. Marin Cilic (CRO) 4950 (-1)
  6. Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) 4870 (-1)
  7. Dominic Thiem (AUT) 3835 (+1)
  8. Kevin Anderson (RSA) 3635 (-1)
  9. David Goffin (BEL) 3110
  10. John Isner (USA) 3070
  11. Diego Schwartzman (ARG) 2435 (+1)
  12. Pablo Carreño (ESP) 2145 (-1)
  13. Sam Querrey (USA) 2130 (+2)
  14. Jack Sock (USA) 2110
  15. Fabio Fognini (ITA) 2030 (+3)
  16. Roberto Bautista (ESP) 2030 (-3)
  17. Lucas Pouille (FRA) 2030 (-1)
  18. Kyle Edmund (GBR) 1950 (-1)
  19. Tomas Berdych (CZE) 1715 (+1)
  20. Hyeon Chung (KOR) 1685 (-1)

– Jun. 11, 2018 @ 13:05 GMT |

Basket ball enthusiast pledges to construct court at Pa Ngele Oruta stadium

AN enthusiast, Chike Nwagwu, has pledged to construct a basketball court at the Pa Ngele Oruta Stadium, Abakaliki, only if the government would allocate a space for the infrastructure.

Nwagwu, who is the Managing Director of Mid-Town Pharmacy, Abakaliki, also pledged to donate 20 bags of cement for the project among other interventions in collaboration with other enthusiasts.

The entrepreneur told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Friday in Abakaliki that as soon as a space was provided, they would get the project completed.

“We are earnestly seeking for a portion to construct a befitting basketball court at the stadium.

“Basketballers are presently playing on a borrowed court at St Patrick’s Catholic Church, Abakaliki, and such issues impede the growth of the sport in the state.’’

He told NAN that the relevant authorities had not been forthcoming in allotting the needed portion of land, but would not allow the delay to dampen his interest in the project.

“The state government should create the enabling environment for private sector engagement in sports, especially those that have the passion for the sport.

“There are business investors who would invest in sports development purely for business purposes; and for what will accrue to them from the investment.

“When a basketball court is constructed at the stadium for instance, sponsors can easily invest by branding their goods and services among other activities.

“Airtel Communication Ltd branded the basketball court in Jos, Plateau, and constructed the rims among other interventions that developed the sport in the state.

“A sponsor will always be sure that relevant facilities exist before investing in a particular sport, the number of spectators at the court is one of such incentives that could propel the investment,’’ he said. (NAN)

– Jun. 8, 2018 @ 13:39 GMT |

Leicester sign defender Evans from West Brom

LEICESTER City have signed defender Jonny Evans on a three-year contract from Championship side West Bromwich Albion, the Premier League club said on Friday.

The former Manchester United centre back made 96 appearances for West Brom in all competitions since joining the club in 2015, but the Hawthorns outfit were relegated to the second-tier championship last season.

Leicester activated the 30-year-old’s relegation release clause with British media reports saying the club will pay 3.5 million pounds ($4.7 million) in two instalments to West Brom.

“It’s great to join and I’m happy it’s all gone through. When this opportunity came up, it’s one that I couldn’t turn down.

“It’s an ambitious club, the owners are ambitious and everyone wants to push the club forward,’’ Evans told Leicester’s website.

Northern Ireland international Evans is Leicester’s second signing in the close season after Portuguese defender Ricardo Pereira’s arrival last month. (Reuters/NAN)

– Jun. 8, 2018 @ 12:59 GMT |

No plans yet for Merkel to attend FIFA world cup in Russia – German Government

NO plans have been made yet for German Chancellor Angela Merkel to attend the 2018 FIFA World Cup matches in Russia, deputy government spokesperson Martina Fietz said on Friday.

“At the moment there are no plans of such a trip, if they are made, we will inform you,’’ Fietz told newsmen.

On Wednesday, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, who is also responsible for sports in the German government, said that he planned to visit Russia and attend the World Cup matches if his schedule permitted.

Russia’s first-ever FIFA World Cup will be held from June 14 to July 15 at 12 arenas in 11 cities across the country.

Defending champions Germany will face Mexico, Sweden and South Korea in Group F. (Sputnik/NAN)

– Jun. 8, 2018 @ 12:49 GMT |

Basketball: Coach urges NBBF to organise more female championships

WILSON Idanwekhai, the coach of AHIP female Basketball Club of Kano, on Friday, urged the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF) to organise more basketball championships for women.

Idanwekhai told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja that the Federation should get more sponsors, who would make the female basketball more lucrative.

“The Federation should have three to four sponsors that will make female basketball more competitive. It is unbelievable that the federation has only one competition for the female basketball.

“If we can have up to three leagues in male basketball: the premier league, division 1 and division 2; the female basketball should also have grassroots competitions organised by the federation,’’ he said

Idanwekhai said his team would target the final stage of the 2018 Zenith Basketball women league.

“We are working towards the commencement of the 2018 league; we are expecting the Federation to announce the date of the league.

“We are targeting the final phase of the league; we fight hard to meet up with our expectation,’’ he said. (NAN)

– Jun. 8, 2018 @ 12:32 GMT |

Nigeria, Niger Republic to play friendly as Rugby Africa lifts suspension

FOLLOWING the lifting of suspension by Rugby Africa, Nigeria will  play Niger Republic who are champions of the Super 16 rugby tournament in a friendly game on Aug. 11.

The Nigeria Rugby Football Federation (NRRF) said on Friday, that the match was made possible by the lifting of the suspension.

It added that Rugby Africa held an Executive meeting in Gaborone, Botswana, on May 25, and lifted the suspension on the NRFF from participating in any international championship.

Nigeria was suspended from all international activities following a leadership crisis that trailed last year’s election into the board of the federation.

The suspension stopped Nigeria from featuring in some international engagements in 2017.

The lifting of the suspension means that the NRFF is eligible to participate in the Regional Sevens pre-qualifier tournament which will take place in Cote d’Ivoire in September.

Kelechukwu Mbagwu, NRFF’s President, commended Rugby Africa for giving Nigeria the nod to actively participate in the body’s programmes once again.

“Nigeria will be playing Niger Republic who are champions of the Super 16 rugby tournament in a friendly game in August.

“Talks are still ongoing with the Ghana national team for another tune-up game.

“These are all geared to put the national team on the right track to contend with other teams at the international level,’’ Mbagwu said in statement.

He pledged that his administration would not relent in making rugby more popular in the country.

“I am happy to see that Nigeria is back on the international scene.

“On assuming office as the president of NRFF, I promised that it will not take too long for Nigeria to be back in the international scene.’’

“The journey has not been easy, but I thank God that Rugby Africa understood the need to develop rugby in Nigeria by lifting the ban.

“We are grateful. This recent development will make the NRFF to redouble its efforts and keep working hard to reposition the national rugby team, The Black Stallions.

“The female team, Nigeria’s domestic clubs and grassroots development programmes,’’ Mbagwu said.

The NRFF president said: “Nigeria is on the waiting list to host Rugby Africa Regional Championship later this year, if Cote d’Ivoire are unable to host it.

“Cote d’Ivoire will host the Rugby Africa Regional Championship later this year, but Nigeria is on the waiting list to host if they are not ready,’’ he said.

He added that the different domestic leagues would commence on June 30.

“The Northern domestic league will start on June 30 with eight clubs, the South-South league, which is making its debut in Nigeria, will commence soon.

“My target is to see that rugby is played in all parts of the country, this is why we also focus on grooming children in rugby,’’ Mbagwu said. (NAN)

– Jun. 8, 2018 @ 12:15 GMT |

Ghana to dissolve football association over bribery allegations

GHANA has decided to dissolve its national football association a day after officials, including the body’s president, were shown in a documentary taking kickbacks, Information Minister Mustapha Abdul-Hamid said on Thursday.

The two-hour documentary, “When Greed and Corruption Become the Norm’’, by undercover journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas, was provided to the authorities last month before being screened in public for the first time on Wednesday.

Association President Kwesi Nyantakyi did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The Football Association said it would cooperate with any investigation. (Reuters/NAN)

– Jun. 8, 2018 @ 12:05 GMT |

2018 World Cup: FG directs NAPTIP to screen contingents

THE Federal Government has mandated the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), to carry out a comprehensive screening of all members of the Nigeria’s contingent to the World cup in Russia.

The Head of Press and Public Relations of NAPTIP, Mrs Stella Nezan disclosed this in a statement in Abuja on Thursday that the step will be taken in order to forestall any incidence of human trafficking.

Nezan explained that this development was a fallout of a meeting between Officials of the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports led by the Minister, Mr. Solomon Dalung and the management of National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) led by the Director General, Ms Julie Okah – Donli.

She said officials of the embassy of Russia in Nigeria were also part of the meeting.

“To this end, all members of the Nigeria Supporters Club, large delegation and other organized bodies are to submit the list of members traveling to Russia to NAPTIP for screening, after which a clearance certificate will be issued to enable them travel out of the country for the soccer fiesta.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) recalls that NAPTIP had on May 28, in a news conference alerted the general public on plans by human traffickers to use the upcoming World Cup to traffic Nigerian youths.

Okah-Donli explained that part of the plot was to float unregistered football supporters club, unofficial government delegation, as well as unregistered youth bodies.

She said that they planned to use these platforms to collect huge sums of money from some desperate youths, with the promise to ferry them out of Nigeria using the World Cup tournament as a ploy.

According to the tip they received, the traffickers in collusion with their collaborators at the destination countries, have also arranged with their cohorts in Europe to facilitate the defection of the victims out of Moscow.

“Already these traffickers have continued to mount pressure on some youths and their parents forcing them to part with huge sums of money in exchange for Russian visa.

“One of such cases at hand is that of a girl from one of the states in the South-South part of the country (name withheld).

“She reported that a Moscow-based trafficker has continued to pressure her through her parents in order to traffic her.

“The trafficker has concluded plans to airlift her on or before June 5, 2018,” she explained.

Okah-Donli said that the agency’s detectives were already on the trail of the said parents, while the sister operatives in Moscow were handling the traffickers.

She warned parents to beware of persons coming to them to give out their children to be taken abroad within this period.

She added that yielding to undue pressure and deceit would send such children to their early grave.

“Russia is a country with high incidence of human trafficking and many Nigerian victims of human trafficking are held up there, and now seeking assistance to return home.

“Stories from victims of human trafficking rescued by NAPTIP from Russia in the past are full of pains and agonies, with few of such victims permanently incapacitated for the rest of their lives,’’ she said.

The director-general assured that her agency was making effort to meet with the Minister of Sports and Russian Ambassador to Nigeria on the development.

She called on leadership of the Nigeria Football Federation to ensure that only accredited delegates and officials made the Russian contingent.

Okah-Donli said that NAPTIP would strategise and work to ensure a World Cup free of human trafficking was achieved.

She said that whoever is caught in the act would not be spared no matter how highly placed he or she may be in the country.

The NAPTIP’s spokesperson said that Dalung said the meeting was called to review preparations of Nigeria’s participation at the forthcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup finals holding in Russia.

According to her, the Minister also announced at the meeting that in order to ensure that some suspected human traffickers do not feast on Nigerian youths by trafficking them under the guise of football fans, NAPTIP shall carry out thorough screening of all contingents to the game.

Nezan quoted NAPTIP boss as saying that apart from preparing the fans for the trip through proper screening, the Agency shall also monitor them on arrival to ensure that they did not defect.

“Okah-Donli promised to ensure swift screening and clearance of all intending football supporters knowing fully that the assignment is time-bound.” (NAN)

Jun. 7, 2018 @ 19:17 GMT |

10,000 security personnel for Asaba 2018 CAA Championships — Security Sub-Committee

OMATSEYE Nesiama, Head, Security Sub-Committee for the upcoming 21st Confederation of African Athletics (CAA) Championships, says that no fewer than 10,000 security personnel will be deployed to the competition.

Nesiama, a retired Commodore, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos that security during the event would be accorded topmost priority.

The competition which will have not less than 25 African countries in attendance is scheduled for Aug. 1 to Aug. 5 in Asaba, Delta State.

The former Technical Director of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) said the security personnel would be selected from the Police, Traffic Control Agencies and the Armed Forces.

“Over 10, 000 security personnel are to be deployed for the event. These will be drawn from the Nigeria Police, NSCDC, Armed Forces, Traffic control agencies, local vigilantes etc.

“Personnel will be deployed from Lagos, Abuja, Benin City, Enugu, Owerri and Port Harcourt. They are also expected to transit airports to receive international guests coming for the event.

“Preparations are on course to ensure provision of top-notch security that would leave a lasting impression in the minds of all,’’ he said.

He said that the indigenes would also be sensitised to ensure the competition was a success, adding that they had already pledged their support.

“We are involving everyone through sensitisation to create appreciable security domain awareness. The locals are already buying into it fully.

“This is attested to from the courtesy call and sensitisation visit to the Palace of the Asagba of Asaba, Chike Edozien on Tuesday.

“The Asagba and his cabinet members speaking through the Iyase of Asaba, Chief Patrick Onyeobi, expressed delight at the security sub-committee’s visit.

“Onyeobi said it was the first formal visit of any kind to inform them of the event and therefore, commended the committee for taking a good step in the right direction.

“They promised their full co-operation and readiness to support every aspect of the committee’s work to succeed. They also believed that the success of the event is heavily dependent on the security.

“They are hoping that the success will translate to the attraction of investors to Asaba after the event,’’ Nesiama said.

He added that vetting, documentation and training of selected persons would hold from June 9 to June 16

Nesiama, who also headed the 2013 African Youths Athletics Championships (AYAC) Security Sub-Committee, said training for volunteers, staffs of selected hotels, vendors and pool drivers would hold from July 4 to July 7.

He was also the Competition Director for the AYAC Championships which was adjudged to have set the standard for similar competitions in Africa. (NAN)

– Jun 6, 2018 @ 15:45 GMT |

UEFA ban Buffon for three matches after referee rant

OUTGOING Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon was on Tuesday banned for three European matches for his red card and comments about referee Michael Oliver after the Italian side’s dramatic Champions League quarter-final loss to Real Madrid last month.

The 40-year-old had been charged both with breaching UEFA’s “general principles of conduct” over his outburst and also for his red card for dissent.

European football’s governing body announced Tuesday that Buffon was suspended for “three UEFA competition matches for which he would be otherwise eligible”.

The last-eight clash between holders Real and Juventus was decided by a last-gasp Cristiano Ronaldo penalty after the Serie A champions had staged a remarkable comeback to wipe out a 3-0 first-leg deficit at the Santiago Bernabeu.

But Buffon, who was sent off in the aftermath of the penalty decision, lashed out at Oliver’s decision to award the spot-kick, saying the English official had a “rubbish bin for a heart”.

The 2006 World Cup winner, who did not renew his contract with Juventus, could however be playing for Paris Saint-Germain next season.

He said on Monday he needed a week before making a decision on whether to head to the French capital or not. AFP

– Jun 5, 2018 @ 16:32 GMT |

Arsenal sign Swiss captain Lichtsteiner from Juventus

ARSENAL announced the capture of Swiss international defender Stephan Lichtsteiner from Juventus on Tuesday — new manager Unai Emery’s first signing for the Premier League club.

The 34-year-old was out of contract at the Serie A champions and joins the Gunners on a free transfer before captaining Switzerland at the World Cup in Russia.

Lichsteiner moved to Juventus in 2011 and won seven successive league titles with the Italian club.

“It is a great moment for me, after Juventus, to come to Arsenal,” Lichtsteiner told the Arsenal website.

“It is a project to come back into the Champions League, it is hard not to see a club like Arsenal that is not playing in the Champions League if you see the players, the club, the stadium.

“The big objective is to come back on the highest level.”

“Stephan brings huge experience and leadership to our squad,” said Emery, who has replaced long-serving boss Arsene Wenger at the helm of the club.

“He’s a player with great quality with a very positive and determined attitude. Stephan will improve us on and off the pitch.” (AFP)

– Jun 5, 2018 @ 16:29 GMT |