Will African Cup of Nations champs Nigeria scrap through to the final round of WCQ?

Confederations Cup Preview: Tahiti v. Nigeria

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The opening round of the Confederations Cup finishes today with the intriguing yet potentially lopsided clash between Nigeria and Tahiti.

Nigeria qualified for this summer’s quadrennial tournament by winning last winter’s Africa Cup of Nations, defeating Burkina Faso 1-0. The victory reignited hope among fans of the Super Eagles that their country may once again rise up as a legitimate power in world football.

Things got off to a rocky start for the West African nation last Friday when players refused to leave their hotel in Namibia following a World Cup Qualifying match. The lock-down was the result of a dispute concerning player bonuses, with the Nigerian Football Foundation offering the players $2,500 apiece but the players wanting double the amount.

The row was settled following the intervention of the country’s sports minister, Bolaji Abdullahi, who eased tensions between the cash-strapped Nigeria Football Foundation and the players. Without making the resolution public, the players agreed to board a flight from Namibia to Brazil on Saturday, leaving them only one day to train ahead of this afternoon’s match against Tahiti.

Despite the drama, Nigeria are still heavy favorites to overcome their French Polynesian opponents. The Super Eagles are unbeaten in 17 matches although they have won only once in their last four games since claiming the Africa Cup of Nations title. The Nigerians are led defensively by Celtic’s Efe Ambrose, who is determined not to be on the end of an upset by Tahiti. “Big shocks have happened before in these kind of tournaments and we don’t want to be the victims this time.”

The Super Eagles will be without Lazio midfielder Ogenyi Onazi, who was ruled out after suffering a knee injury in the encounter with Namibia, and will look to Chelsea’s Jon Obi Mikel to marshall both sides of the ball. Up top, Nigeria will seek out highly-touted 20 year old CSKA Moscow striker Ahmed Musa, who could use this tournament as a platform for his breakout.

Tahiti qualfiied for the Confederations Cup last June when the they shocked the continent by defeating New Calendonia 1-0 to claim their first Oceania Nations Cup. Despite those heroics, Tahiti have had a tough go of it of late with four straight losses in the third and final stage of Oceania region World Cup qualifiers, dashing their hopes of a return to Brazil next summer.

Tahiti’s hopes of securing victory against Nigeria can be summed up by a look at the team roster, which is made up mainly by amateurs who quietly ply their trade on French Polynesia’s main island. Only one player, uncapped former France Under 21 striker Marama Vahirua, plays football professionally (for Ligue 1’s Nancy). The rest of the squad is comprised of office workers, laborers, school teachers, salesman, delivery men and accountants.

Mikael Roche, Tahiti’s starting goalkeeper and a school teacher, talked about the rigors of going from a deskjob to training. “It is quite difficult, as we start each day very early and so have to wake up early, and yes, it is not physical work but still demanding,” Roche said. “I just have time to go home, collect my bag and go to the pitch so the timelines are quite short.”

If Tahiti are to challenge Nigeria, the goals will likely come from midfielder Lorenzo Tehau, his twin brother Alvin Tehau, their older brother Teaonui Tehau, or their cousin Jonathan Tehau. The quartet of Tehau’s have managed to score 15 of Tahiti’s 20 goals during their Oceania Nations Cup success.

The match kicks-off today at 3:00pm on ESPN in the United States and 8:00pm on BBC3 in the United Kingdom.

Reports: Jack Grealish banished to U-21’s after heavy partying

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 25:  Jack Grealish of Aston Villa looks around the Etihad Stadium prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Aston Villa at Etihad Stadium on April 25, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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Aston Villa youngster Jack Grealish has found himself in hot water with the club’s new manager, and it has him on the outside looking in.

According to reports from England, Grealish has been sent to train with the U-21’s after partying back-to-back nights following a 4-0 pummeling at Everton. Recent comments from Villa manager Remi Garde on Grealish’s on-field performances seem to suggest this has been coming for a while, and the partying was simply the last straw.

Garde called him an “unfinished player” in his press conference prior to the Everton match, saying, “Jack for me is a very gifted player with a lot of skill and quality but what I saw in the last few games he played was not the level he should have played. It is as simple as that. He needed more confidence and more structure in his game.”

Following the Everton defeat, which saw Grealish start and play 74 minutes before being removed, Grealish was pictured partying in Manchester, where he was seen inhaling nitrous oxide from balloons with his friends, the same act that got youngsters Raheem Sterling and Saido Berahino in trouble with their clubs in the past year.

The 20-year-old burst onto the scene last season registering some solid minutes down the stretch as Villa maintained its Premier League status. However, this season has been a rough go for Grealish, who has appeared in eight matches (nine starts) for Villa this season, all losses, and has scored just one goal. The five points earned by Aston Vill this season have all come in matches without Grealish making an appearance.

FC Twente president steps down amid investigation of transfer deals

ENSCHEDE, NETHERLANDS - NOVEMBER 8: General view of the FC Twente Stadion, home of FC Twente taken during the UEFA Europa League group stage match between FC Twente and Levante UD held on November 8, 2012 at the FC Twente Stadion in Enschede, Netherlands. (Photo by Anoek de Groot/EuroFootball/Getty Images)
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Aldo Van der Laan, the President of Dutch club FC Twente, has stepped down after allegations of shady transfer dealings have surfaced.

This week, a website posted a contract dated 2014 between Van der Laan and Malta-based Doyen Sports Investments that saw a payment of $5.3 million from the company to the club in exchange for between 10 and 50 percent of the transfer rights to seven Twente players.

In a statement on its official website, the club said “Van der Laan has stated that the club is always of paramount importance to him, and that is now in jeopardy. Continuing doubt about him harms FC Twente.” The statement went on to say the Dutch federation (KNVB) is investigating, and that the club will cooperate.

FIFA outlawed third-party ownership of players to keep outside forces from influencing transfer deals. The alleged contract posted is dated before the FIFA ruling went into effect, but the KNVB has outlawed third-party ownership for a while.

According to Dutch reports, five of the seven players listed on the contract have already been sold, including current Southampton midfielder Dusan Tadic. The contract states that the two remaining players, Shadrach Eghan (with the first team) and Kyle Ebecilio (on loan at Championship club Nottingham Forest) must be sold by the end of the season, or the club must pay a $1.48 million fine to Doyen.

Those same reports also suggest Twente is likely to see some form of sanction, with some serious possibilities including relegation, a large points deduction, or a transfer ban as long as two years.

UEFA orders Dynamo Kiev to close stadium doors for racist incidents

KIEV, UKRAINE - SEPTEMBER 19:  FC Dynamo Kyiv supporters during the UEFA Europa League group stage match between FC Dynamo Kyiv and KRC Genk held on September 19, 2013 at the Olympic Stadium, in Kiev, Ukraine. (Photo by Genya Savilov/EuroFootball/Getty Images)
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UEFA handed down a two-match closed door ban to Dynamo Kiev after racist incidents during a Champions League match against Chelsea, with a third match suspended for three probationary years.

Anti-discrimation body Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) brought footage to UEFA of four black fans who appeared to be harassed in the stands at the match on October 20. UEFA charged Dynamo for racist behavior, crowd disturbances, and blocked stairways.

Dynamo was also fined €100,000 for the incidents.

As a result, Dynamo will play in an empty stadium on December 9 in a group stage match against Maccabi Tel Aviv, and their second match will either be in the Champions League Round of 16, or in the Europa League Round of 32 should they finish third in their group, which seems more likely.

Last season, Dynamo was punished by UEFA for racist behavior at Europa League matches, ordered to close part of their stadium on two separate occasions.

Roma goalkeeper Szczesny calls rout to Barcelona “beautiful”

BARCELONA, SPAIN - AUGUST 05:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona competes for the ball with Radja Nainggolan of AS Roma during the Joan Gamper trophy match at Camp Nou on August 5, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Roma was trounced by Barcelona 6-1 in the Champions League on Tuesday, and while the Italians will have to pick up the pieces and continue the battle for second place in Group E, one player is still peeking back at the destruction.

Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, on loan from Arsenal, played the full 90 minutes  on the losing side and while he has struggled to cope with the massive defeat, he also appreciates what he saw – what all of us saw.

“It was beautiful to watch because we played against a team from another planet,” Szczesny told BT Sport after the game. “I was in goal playing for Roma but I appreciated what I saw from Barcelona. They were ridiculously good. As hard as it is to lose 6-1 it was beautiful to watch.”

Under normal circumstances, this would not be an appropriate reaction for the losing team to have. These are not normal circumstances. This Barcelona team is anything but normal. In fact, it might be one of the most dominant teams we have seen in recent memory.

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Szczesny wasn’t the only Roma player to feel Barcelona’s wrath. Defender Maicon told BT Sport, “We were lucky to lose only 6-1 actually.”

Even without an injured Lionel Messi, Barcelona has torn up La Liga and the world. They suffered a 2-1 loss to Sevilla in Messi’s first game out, but went on to win their next five league games by a combined 17-3 score. Neymar scored eight of those 17, while Luis Suarez scored another eight himself. Tack on a pair of Champions League wins without Messi by a 5-0 combined score (both against BATE Borisov) and it’s been total domination.

Now with Messi back, it’s completely unfair. The Argentinian bagged a brace against Roma along with Suarez, while Neymar remained a force out on the left.