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.

Donnarumma in tears after Milan fans jeer him

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MILAN (AP) A visibly shaken Gianluigi Donnarumma was comforted by AC Milan teammate Leonardo Bonucci as insults poured down on the teenage goalkeeper from the fans. And that was only the warmup.

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]

Donnarumma has swiftly gone from being one of Milan’s most adored players to its most hated.

After a protracted saga appeared to be settled in the offseason by Donnarumma signing a contract until 2021, speculation over his future has started again and supporters have had enough.

Despite the new deal being worth 6 million euros ($7 million) a year and including the signing of his older brother as Milan’s third-choice goalkeeper, Donnarumma and his agent, Mino Raiola, are reportedly looking to annul the contract because he felt pressure to agree to it.

Before Wednesday’s Italian Cup victory over Hellas Verona, fans unveiled a giant banner saying: “Moral abuse, 6 million a year and the signing of a parasite brother? Now go, our patience is finished.”

There were jeers ahead of the kick-off when the 18-year-old Donnarumma’s name was read out, and shouts for him to leave. He was in tears as he was comforted by Bonucci.

Donnarumma had to play the first half below the giant banner and his every touch was greeted with boos.

“Of course he’s upset, he’s only 18,” Milan coach Gennaro Gattuso said before his team plays Hellas Verona again in Serie A on Sunday. “For the age that he is, there’s no doubt that he will become the best goalkeeper in the world, but he’s not calm and it can’t be easy to go out on the pitch and be criticized by your own fans. I can only say that while he is with me he will always have my total protection.

“They’re turning a lad of 18 into a monster. And he doesn’t deserve it, he has incredible values. Luckily this was a match where there weren’t many people (about 9,000). Imagine how difficult it would have been with 50-60,000.”

It’s not the first time Donnarumma has faced insults from the stands. He had fake money thrown at him during Italy’s Under-21 European Championship opener against Denmark in June after it was announced he would not be renewing his contract, while a banner emblazoned with “Dollarumma” was also displayed.

“We understand the fans but I ask them to boo our opponents and not our players,” Milan sporting director Massimiliano Mirabelli said. “Gigio is a young lad and he’s not entirely at fault, he loves Milan and one day he will understand what’s good and what’s bad.

“He needs to be supported and the club will do so because he is an asset. We know where the evil comes from and we hope to resolve this problem in the next few months.”

Mirabelli said Milan “has no intention of selling Donnarumma” and criticized Raiola.

“I don’t have any plans to meet with Raiola. I don’t have anything to say to him,” Mirabelli said. “There’s a man who is trying to damage our image but he is becoming more a showman than anything else. We laugh about it, but he won’t get away with it.

“Gigio has never said he wants to leave, otherwise he would never have signed through to 2021. There’s someone who is trying to organize something deliberately, but we will look out for Milan’s interests in every arena.”

[ MORE: Christian Pulisic named USMNT Player of the Year ]

Donnarumma has been playing for Milan since October 2015, when he became the youngest goalkeeper to start a Serie A match, at the age of 16 years, 8 months, 6 days.

He has made four senior Italy appearances and is likely to take over as the No. 1 after Gianluigi Buffon retired from international duty following the Azzurri’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks

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Another Premier League weekend is on the horizon. Let’s just keep rolling.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ] 

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Listen carefully, because this is very specific.

[ STREAM: Premier League “Goal Rush”

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.

Click play on the videos below for quick previews on each game complete with a score prediction from yours truly.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Chelsea 3-1 Southampton (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

West Brom 1-3 Manchester United – (Sunday, 9:15 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Arsenal 3-0 Newcastle United – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, CNBC) – [STREAM]

Bournemouth 1-3 Liverpool – (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

DON’T TOUCH THIS… 

Leicester City 2-1 Crystal Palace – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Brighton 1-2 Burnley – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Watford 1-2 Huddersfield (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Stoke City 1-1 West Ham – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]

“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Everton 1-2 Swansea City – (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Man City 2-2 Tottenham (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) –  [STREAM

Christian Pulisic named USMNT Player of the Year

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Christian Pulisic was by far the best player for the U.S. men’s national team in 2017 and he was duly awarded on Thursday.

[ MORE: Pulisic speaks to JPW

Pulisic was named the 2017 Male Soccer Player of the Year by U.S. Soccer, with the 19-year-old becoming the youngest-ever player to win the award.

He beats Landon Donovan’s record who was the previous youngest at 21 years of age when he won the award in 2003.

Pulisic won 94 percent of the vote, with Michael Bradley, Jordan Morris, Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore the other nominees. In 2017 he won nine caps for the USMNT, scoring six goals and adding four assists as the teenager became the main attacking talent.

The Borussia Dortmund playmaker was delighted to receive the accolade.

“It really is a big honor and I just want to thank everyone who voted for me to win U.S. Male Player of the Year,” Pulisic said. “It’s something that I never could have imagined to be here in this position. I’m thankful for everyone who supported me and I’m excited for the future.”

With the USMNT failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, the first time they had failed to make a World Cup tournament since 1986, many had called for no U.S. player to receive the award in 2017.

However, Pulisic was truly deserving of the accolade as he tried his best to drag the USMNT to Russia next summer.

Premier League TV, streaming schedule

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Week 18 in the Premier League season is here and we are almost at the halfway point of the 2017-18 campaign.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ]

The full TV schedule for this weekend is below, plus you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com,the NBC Sports App and by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold.

Gold also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: Premier League live here ] 

You can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” at for all the goals as they go in. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App.

[ MORE: Premier League “Goal Rush” ] 

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here for the games streamed on NBCSports.com and here for the games on NBC Sports Gold.

Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days. Enjoy.


FULL TV SCHEDULE

Saturday
7:30 a.m. ET: Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Arsenal vs. Newcastle United – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Brighton vs. Burnley – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Chelsea vs. Southampton – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Stoke City vs. West Ham – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Watford vs. Huddersfield Town – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
12:30 p.m. ET: Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur – NBC  [STREAM]

Sunday
9:15 a.m. ET: West Brom vs. Man United – NBCSN [STREAM]
11:30 a.m. ET: Bournemouth vs. Liverpool – NBCSN [STREAM]

Monday
3 p.m. ET: Everton vs. Swansea City – NBCSN [STREAM