Offshore Drilling, Africa Cup of Nations: Nigeria 1, Burkina Faso 0

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A single moment of brilliance separated the teams on the scoreboard, but the gap in quality was greater. After the match’s initial settling in period, we knew Nigeria were better. Their superior quality on the ball gave them more promise in attack. As the first half unfolded, the favorites started enjoying large advantages in possession.

Those advantages eventually allowed midfielder Sunday Mba — a 24-year-old midfielder who’s never played outside of native country — to break through, scoring the 40th minute goal that downed Burkina Faso and gave the Super Eagles their third African title, 1-0.

Three Mba touches won the Cup for Nigeria. Trying to settle after poor first touch, Mba (right) poked the ball into over an onrushing Mohamed Koffi and into the penalty area with his right foot before getting a shot off with his left. The ball didn’t hit the ground. Volleying a shot toward the right post before Bakary Koné closed him down, the Nigeria-based midfielder gave the Super Eagles the only goal they’d need. Mba put his name in the history books as the man who reclaimed the title.

That title had been in others’ hands for 19 years. For all the acclaim the Super Eagles have received as a result of being a near-perpetual World Cup qualifier, Nigeria had failed to live up to their reputation at home. With this win, the team turns back the clock, winning their first major title since Jay Jay Okocha and Sunday Oliseh were patrolling the midfield.

Another name on that 1994 team was defender Stephen Keshi, the man who coached Nigeria on Sunday. While Mba may have been the man of the moment in Johannesburg, Keshi was the story of the tournament. Much maligned at home for declining to call in veteran stars Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Peter Odemwingie, Obafemi Martins, and Taye Taiwo, Keshi put his coaching livelihood on the line by wagering a house cleaning would restore some of the Nigerians’ spirit – a pride that had lacking during a 2010 World Cup disappointment and failure to qualify for the 2012 Cup of Nations.

Electing to play a younger, more balanced, and more cohesive team, Keshi saw his gamble vindicated when the Super Eagles ousted tournament favorites Cote d’Ivoire last Sunday. With their 4-1 win over Mali on Wednesday, Keshi’s team got their chance to make history. From the moment Mba’s shot crossed Burkina Faso’s goal line, there was little doubt the Nigerians would have their breakthrough.

source: Getty ImagesMan of the Match: Sunday Mba’s individual effort takes this award, but take that moment away and Burkina Fasi’s Jonathan Pitroipa (right) would have won the award, just deserts for a player who was clearly this tournament’s best. On Sunday, he was the Stallions’ one bright spot in attack, his skill on the ball creating a number of near-opportunities for the underdogs. Whether playing through the middle or back in his customary wide position, he was the only player that troubled the Nigerians.

From the tournament’s outset it was clear: It was time for Pitroipa to step up. To this point in his international career, the Rennes star had failed to replicate his club form for country. As one of the Stallions’ few elite talents, Burkina Faso was only going to go as far as Pitroipa took them.

With a breakthrough performance, the 26-year-old put that criticism behind him. Seeing his red card suspension overturned before the final, Pitroipa nearly completed the first-time finalists’ Cinderella story. With a little more help from his teammates, he might have done it.

Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

Not all sacred cows shouldn’t be worshipped – Nigeria’s diminishing results gave Keshi reason to show his icons the door, but the Super Eagles had to hit rock bottom before somebody (and really, only a few people) saw the light. Other countries with iconic burdens should look to the 2011 Not-So-Super Eagles as a lesson. You should act before you’re forced to do so.

Here in the States, we’re having a debate about Carlos Bocanegra. Fairly or not, people are also starting to whisper about Tim Howard. Italy had to fall flat in 2010, while England’s just recently started moving on from their almost golden generation. These debates happen all over the world.

The lesson to draw from Nigeria: Sometimes moving on doesn’t necessarily mean moving down. Teams get scared that moving the Bocanegras, Cannavaros, and Gerrards of the world aside represents a one-step back, two-step forward scenario, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes the difference in talent doesn’t match the gap in reputation. And reputations are only earned by playing.

Sometimes, you have to take a chance.

Oh these cagey, cagey finals – Burkina Faso wasn’t bad, but Nigeria was a much better team, just as Spain was a much better team than the Netherlands in South Africa. Both games ended 1-0 mostly because of the styles the teams employed. When the difference in reward between winning and losing is at its greatest, it’s no surprise teams become risk averse.

Mexico came out cagey and almost got burned in the last Gold Cup final. Japan beat Australia 1-0 in extra time of the last Asian confederation final. Only Uruguay (2011 Copa America) and Spain (Euro 2012) took recent finals by the horns, though Spain’s 2008 European title was also a 1-0.

There’ve only been three goals in the last five Cup of Nations finals, but that’s not all Africa. Games with these stakes usually produce cagey soccer.

source: Getty ImagesNot every talent plays in Europe – Of course, nobody thinks Europe has a monopoly on world soccer’s talent, but in an age of YouTube, internet streams, and blogs about everything, there is a sense that there are no undiscovered talents, only neglected ones.

Sunday’s final dispelled that notion. The Man of the Match is still playing in the Nigerian league. Godfrey Oboabona (right), one of Nigeria’s central defenders, also plays in his domestic league, while Burkina Faso’s impact substitute, Willy Sanou, is playing in the second division of Japanese soccer.

Those stories might not get people watching Morocco 2015, but it is a reminder that good soccer exists beyond our usual haunts. Tournaments like Copa America, Asian Cup, Cup of Nations and even our own Gold Cup are great showcases for it.

And if you’re lucky, some of that soccer will involve something distinct to that corner of the world. Like vuvuzelas. BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!

Packaged for takeaway

  • Mba’s goal wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for Victor Moses. The Chelsea attacker’s skill during a 1-on-3 produced the shot that was blocked out to Mba.
  • Burkina Faso played a 4-2-3-1 formation. Nigeria stayed with their 4-3-3, but electing not to press high during the early portion of the match, the defensive shape folded into a 4-1-4-1 through most of the first half. Rather than pressure Burkina Faso’s defense, Moses and Brown Ideye, the wingers at the onset, played very deep in Keshi’s initial base setup.
  • Sanou came closest to a Burkina Faso goal. A blast along the ground from 18 yards to the right of goal forced goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama to palm the ball wide of the far post.
  • The referee mistakenly awarded Nigeria a goal kick on Sanou’s shot, meaning Burkina Faso finished their only Cup of Nations final without a shot on goal.
  • The win qualifies Nigeria for this summer’s Confederations Cup. They’ll be grouped with Spain, Uruguay, and Tahiti.

PL roundup: Liverpool runs rampant; Brighton, Huddersfield victorious

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Get caught up on all seven of Saturday’s Premier League fixtures…

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Liverpool 4-1 West Ham — FULL RECAP

When Philippe Coutinho departed for Barcelona there was a question as to how Liverpool would perform without the Brazilian. Now, it’s safe to say the Reds are going to be just fine without him. Another dominating effort at home on Saturday has pulled the Reds up to second place in the PL, courtesy of goals from Emre Can, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah. Jurgen Klopp‘s side has now totaled 65 league goals in 28 matches.

Leicester City 1-1 Stoke City — FULL RECAP

Xherdan Shaqiri‘s brilliant finish before halftime looked like it would be enough to give the Potters a much-needed three points, however, Stoke goalkeeper Jack Butland cost his side dearly with a howler in the second stanza. A powerful cross from Marc Albrighton, coupled by a darting run from Jamie Vardy, gave the keeper troubles, before he spilled the ball into his own net.

West Bromwich Albion 1-2 Huddersfield Town  — FULL RECAP

Second-half finishes from Rajiv Van la Parra and Steve Mounie helped go three points clear of the bottom three on the day, while West Brom looks very much buried in the relegation race. The Baggies pulled a goal back through Craig Dawson‘s finish, however, it was too late to provide a comeback for the last-place side.

Burnley 1-1 Southampton FULL RECAP

The Clarets sit seventh in England’s top flight, however, Sean Dyche and Co. have not won a PL match since early December. Southampton’s form hasn’t been much better though, with the Saints winless in their last 15 matches. Manolo Gabbiadini‘s finish was vital for Southampton, who are one of 10 teams separated by a mere six points.

Bournemouth 2-2 Newcastle — FULL RECAP

A victory would have been massive for the Magpies, who are muddled in the heap of relegation sides, but a strong second-half effort from Bournemouth helped secure a point for the hosts.

Brighton 4-1 Swansea City — FULL RECAP

The promotion side has opened up a four-point cushion in the relegation race after a brilliant home showing on Saturday. A brace from Glenn Murray, combined with Anthony Knockaert and Jurgen Locadia goals, helped the Seagulls move into 11th place, while Swansea’s offensive woes continue to prove critical in their attempt to stay afloat in the PL. The Swans have score a league-l0w 21 goals in 28 matches, nearly 0.75 goals per game.

Watford 1-0 Everton — FULL RECAP

Troy Deeney‘s strike with 10 minutes to play was the difference for the Hornets, closing the gap between the two sides to just one point. Everton struggled mightily on the day to muster up any quality chances, although to be fair, both clubs didn’t look like they were in the finest of form up front. The Toffees have been dreadful away from home this campaign, with just one victory away from Goodison Park.

Bundesliga wrap: USMNTs Johannsson the hero for Bremen, Bayern draws

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Goals were not abundant as the Bundesliga staged five Saturday matches without a single squad finding the back of the net on multiple occasions.

[ MORE: Projecting PL relegation ]

And there’s a shake-up at the bottom of the table after American striker Aron Johannsson’s substitute heroics moved Werder Bremen 14th.

Werder Bremen 1-0 Hamburg

USMNT strikers Johansson and Bobby Wood started on the bench for the hosts and visitors, respectively, as Werder Bremen and Hamburg dueled for critical points in the race to avoid relegation to 2.Bundesliga.

Wood entered the game in the 77th minute, but was upstaged when Johannsson again played super sub for Werder Bremen. The Icelandic-Alabamian’s shot pushed through the keeper and onto the doorstep for Johannes Eggestein to slide over the line.

It looked offside, but withstood all protests and reviews. Werder is now 3-1 in its last four matches, all featuring significant contributions from the previously rarely used Johannsson.

Hoffenheim 1-1 Freiburg

Andrej Kramaric scored for the fifth time in four matches to give the hosts a lead just after halftime, but Freiburg star Nils Petersen scored in the 66th minute to give the visitors a point and him 12 league goals on the season.

Hannover 96 0-1 Borussia Monchengladbach

Defensive midfielder Christoph Kramer scored his second goal of the season to give the visitors a 72nd minute lead, a 90-minute win, and positioning to potentially negotiate European qualification with a strong finish to the season.

Elsewhere
Mainz 1-1 Wolfsburg — Friday
Bayern Munich 0-0 Hertha Berlin
Stuttgart 1-0 Eintracht Frankfurt
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Schalke — 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday
RB Leipzig vs. Koln — Noon ET Sunday
Borussia Dortmund vs. Augsburg — 2:30 p.m. ET Monday

STANDINGS

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 24 19 3 2 55 18 37 10-2-0 9-1-2 60
 Borussia Dortmund 23 11 7 5 48 29 19 5-3-3 6-4-2 40
 Eintracht Frankfurt 24 11 6 7 32 27 5 5-3-4 6-3-3 39
 Bayer Leverkusen 23 10 8 5 43 30 13 5-4-2 5-4-3 38
 RB Leipzig 23 11 5 7 36 31 5 7-3-1 4-2-6 38
 FC Schalke 04 23 10 7 6 36 30 6 6-4-2 4-3-4 37
 Mönchengladbach 24 10 4 10 31 35 -4 6-2-4 4-2-6 34
 1899 Hoffenheim 24 8 8 8 38 38 0 6-4-2 2-4-6 32
 Hannover 96 24 8 8 8 32 34 -2 6-3-3 2-5-5 32
 FC Augsburg 23 8 7 8 32 29 3 5-4-3 3-3-5 31
 Hertha BSC Berlin 24 7 10 7 30 30 0 4-4-4 3-6-3 31
 VfB Stuttgart 24 9 3 12 20 27 -7 8-1-3 1-2-9 30
 SC Freiburg 24 6 11 7 25 38 -13 5-6-1 1-5-6 29
 Werder Bremen 24 6 8 10 22 28 -6 4-4-4 2-4-6 26
 VfL Wolfsburg 24 4 13 7 27 31 -4 2-7-3 2-6-4 25
 FSV Mainz 05 24 6 6 12 29 42 -13 5-2-5 1-4-7 24
 Hamburger SV 24 4 5 15 18 35 -17 3-3-6 1-2-9 17
 1. FC Köln 23 3 5 15 20 42 -22 2-3-7 1-2-8 14

Watford 1-0 Everton: Deeney, Okaka get it done

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  • Deeney’s 80th minute goal was 3rd shot on target for either team
  • Yes, we’re serious
  • Everton just 1W-5D-8L away from Goodison Park

Troy Deeney‘s late goal moved Watford to within a point of woeful and ninth place Everton in a 1-0 win at Vicarage Road on Saturday.

The win avenged a 3-2 loss at Goodison Park earlier this season, and Everton is 2W-2D-4L since Dec. 30.

Watford now has 34 points, while Everton has 35.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

An early free kick from Gylfi Sigurdsson was sent to the back post, but did not find a receiver.

The better part of the first half hour was physical if haphazard, and an Idrissa Gana Gueye slide from behind gave Watford a free kick from 25 yards.

Gerard Deulofeu hit that into the wall.

Tom Davies was the next to just miss on a chance, unable to reach a searching back post ball for Everton in the 53rd minute.

Watford raced to the other end, and Troy Deeney’s looping header didn’t have enough gusto to beat Jordan Pickford at the back post.

Stefano Okaka’s introduction threatened the lively up the game, but it took some time as much as the Vicarage Road crowd tried to inject life into a sloppy affair.

Kiko Femenia saw a late chance provided and denied by Pickford, who then collected a low effort from Daryl Janmaat.

Deeney then found Watford’s moment, lashing a shot past Pickford when found by Okaka in the 80th minute.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Who will be relegated? Projecting the crazy situation

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With 10 games of the 2017-18 season to go, 11 of the Premier League’s 20 teams are in real danger of being relegated.

Eleven.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League table ]  

A busy Saturday saw three “relegation six pointers” take place and we expected the relegation situation to become a little clear. Wrong. So, so wrong.

The only team who legitmately look dead and buried is West Brom, who sit bottom of the table and seven points from safety. Bye, bye, Baggies.

But if you look at the table below, just five points separates Brighton in 11th place and Stoke City in 19th place. Bournemouth sit in 10th in the table and they have 32 points to their name.



The all important thing at this time of the season is momentum and teams like Huddersfield Town and Brighton have it with back-to-back wins in the PL, plus all of a sudden Southampton, Crystal Palace and West Ham are sweating.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Another important factor for the final months of the season is the schedule.

With that in mind, below is a look at the schedule for the 11 teams in the mire and a projected points tally for each.

Wow. This is going to be incredibly tight…


Bournemouth
Remaining games: Leicester (A), Tottenham (H), West Brom (H), Watford (A), Crystal Palace (H), Liverpool (A), Man United (H), Southampton (A), Swansea (H), Burnley (A)
Projected final points tally: 41 points

Watford
Remaining games: West Brom (H), Arsenal (A), Liverpool (A), Bournemouth (H), Burnley (H), Huddersfield (A), Crystal Palace (H), Tottenham (A), Newcastle (H), Man United (A)
Projected final points tally: 40 points

Brighton
Remaining games: Arsenal (H), Everton (A), Man City (A), Leicester (H), Huddersfield (H), Crystal Palace (A), Tottenham (H), Burnley (A), Man United (H), Liverpool (A)
Projected final points tally: 38 points

Swansea City
Remaining games: West Ham (H), Huddersfield (A), Southampton (H), Man United (A), West Brom (A), Everton (H), Man City (A), Chelsea (H), Bournemouth (A), Stoke (H)
Projected final points tally: 38 points

Southampton
Remaining games: Stoke (H), Newcastle (A), Swansea (A), West Ham (A), Arsenal (A), Chelsea (H), Leicester (A), Bournemouth (H), Everton (A), Man City (H)
Projected final points tally: 38 points

Crystal Palace (11 games left)
Remaining games: Tottenham (H), Man United (H), Chelsea (A), Huddersfield (A), Liverpool (H), Bournemouth (A), Brighton (H), Watford (A), Leicester (H), Stoke (A), West Brom (H)
Projected final points tally: 37 points

Huddersfield
Remaining games: Tottenham (A), Swansea (H), Crystal Palace (H), Newcastle (A), Brighton (A), Watford (H), Chelsea (A), Everton (H), Man City (A), Arsenal (H)
Projected final points tally: 36 points

West Ham
Remaining games: Swansea (A), Burnley (H), Man United (H), Southampton (H), Chelsea (A), Stoke (H), Arsenal (A), Man City (H), Leicester (A), Everton (H)
Projected final points tally: 36 points

Newcastle
Remaining games: Liverpool (A), Southampton (H), Tottenham (A), Huddersfield (H), Leicester (A), Arsenal (H), Everton (A), West Brom (H), Watford (A), Chelsea (H)
Projected final points tally: 35 points

Stoke City
Remaining games: Southampton (A), Manchester City (H), Everton (H), Arsenal (A), Tottenham (H), West Ham (A), Burnley (H), Liverpool (A), Crystal Palace (H), Swansea (A)
Projected final points tally: 33 points

West Brom
Remaining games: Watford (A), Leicester (H), Bournemouth (A), Burnley (H), Swansea (H), Man United (A), Liverpool (H), Newcastle (A), Tottenham (H), Crystal Palace (A)
Projected final points tally: 27 points