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.

Mourinho: League Cup “important to” Man Utd, but asks if it’s necessary?

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Marcus Rashford‘s heroics helped Manchester United cruise past visiting Burton Albion, 4-1, in a League Cup third round match at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

Mourinho said the League Cup is important to Manchester United because it’s an official tournament, and United wants to win everything it can as a club.

[ WATCH: Rashford’s sensational second ]

Yet he stopped short of endorsing the Cup’s long-term future, a tournament which his side won last season but is perhaps the major obstacle towards the Premier League joining other European leagues with winter breaks. From ManUtd.com:

“If the competition is an official competition then it is important for Manchester United and for me as a manager. If you ask me could the English football survive or even be better without this competition? Maybe, maybe we would be fresher for European competition for example. But we have this competition, we have to respect the sponsors, we have to respect the opponents and a lot of us are trying to do our best.”

[ MORE: Bundesliga wrap | La Liga | Serie A ]

United drew a trip to Swansea for the fourth round, and is certainly among the favorites to win the whole thing with their solid depth (See their Starting XI below).

Would you miss the League Cup if it went away?

Serie A: Mertens scores unreal goal; Napoli, Milan, Juve win (video)

AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino
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It’s early but signs of an actual title race in Italy are truly delightful.

Juventus and Napoli remain perfect, with the latter above the former in the Serie A table this early season following Wednesday wins.

[ MORE: Bundesliga wrap | La Liga | League Cup ]

Roma and Atalanta posted blowout wins, while AC Milan won a day after their Milanese rivals Inter needed a 77th minute penalty to draw at Bologna.

Lazio 1-4 Napoli

There were five goals in this one, but the only one you need to witness comes on this unreal shot from an odd angle by the world’s top under-appreciated scorer: Dries Mertens.

Juventus 1-0 Fiorentina

Mario Mandzukic scored the lone goal as The Old Lady slipped further behind Napoli in goal difference.

AC Milan 2-0 SPAL

I Rossoneri scored on a penalty in each half, with new boys Ricardo Rodriguez and Franck Kessie converting the chances.

Benevento 0-4 Roma

Edin Dzeko buried a pair of goals and the hosts gifted i Lupi a pair of own goals.

Elsewhere
Bologna 1-1 Inter Milan — Tuesday
Cagliari 0-1 Sassuolo
Genoa 1-1 Chievo
Verona 0-0 Sampdoria
Udinese 2-3 Torino

STANDINGS

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Napoli 5 5 0 0 19 3 16 2-0-0 3-0-0 15
 Juventus 5 5 0 0 14 3 11 3-0-0 2-0-0 15
 Inter Milan 5 4 1 0 11 2 9 2-0-0 2-1-0 13
 AC Milan 5 4 0 1 10 6 4 3-0-0 1-0-1 12
 Torino 5 3 2 0 10 5 5 1-1-0 2-1-0 11
 Lazio 5 3 1 1 10 8 2 1-1-1 2-0-0 10
 Roma 4 3 0 1 9 3 6 1-0-1 2-0-0 9
 Sampdoria 4 2 2 0 6 4 2 1-0-0 1-2-0 8
 Atalanta 5 2 1 2 9 7 2 2-0-1 0-1-1 7
 Fiorentina 5 2 0 3 8 7 1 1-0-1 1-0-2 6
 Cagliari 5 2 0 3 4 6 -2 1-0-1 1-0-2 6
 Chievo 5 1 2 2 5 8 -3 0-1-1 1-1-1 5
 Bologna 5 1 2 2 4 7 -3 0-2-1 1-0-1 5
 SPAL 5 1 1 3 3 8 -5 1-0-1 0-1-2 4
 Sassuolo 5 1 1 3 3 8 -5 0-1-1 1-0-2 4
 Udinese 5 1 0 4 7 10 -3 1-0-2 0-0-2 3
 Genoa 5 0 2 3 5 9 -4 0-1-2 0-1-1 2
 Verona 5 0 2 3 1 11 -10 0-1-2 0-1-1 2
 Crotone 5 0 1 4 1 11 -10 0-1-2 0-0-2 1
 Benevento 5 0 0 5 1 14 -13 0-0-3 0-0-2 0

History denied! Real Madrid loses, fails in bid to beat Pele-led record (video)

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Real Madrid did everything but score, and now find themselves denied a chance at unparalleled history and in a relatively deep early hole in La Liga’s table.

A stoppage time loss to visiting Real Betis ended the club’s 73-match run of matches with a goal, and it came on the day it could’ve passed Pele’s Santos for sole possession of the longest scoring streak in history.

[ MORE: Pulisic scores 10th BVB goal ]

Perhaps more important, Madrid now sits seven points back of first place Barcelona. Their eight points leave them sixth.

Real Madrid 0-1 Real Betis

The hosts looked so good, and so fluid… and provided any number of finishes which would’ve been goals on another day. Unfortunately for them, the only goal came from Paraguay’s Antonio Sanabria in the fourth minute of second half stoppage time.

That’s because Real Betis goalkeeper Antonio Adan was sensational, including a stunning stop on Gareth Bale‘s backheeled volley in the final quarter hour.

It could’ve gone worse for Madrid, as Mexico’s Andres Guardado had an assist called back for offside.

Before that, there was this from one of the best in history:

Athletic Bilbao 1-2 Atletico Madrid

Angel Correa and Yannick Carrasco helped the visitors go second in La Liga, as ex-Atleti midfielder Raul Garcia provided Athletic’s only goal deep into stoppage time.

Elsewhere
Leganes 0-0 Girona
Deportivo de la Coruna 1-0 Alaves
Sevilla 1-0 Las Palmas

League Cup draw: Spurs host Hammers; Everton off to Chelsea

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Sixteen teams are five wins from a berth in the Europa League following the fourth round draw for the League Cup.

Eleven of the 16 belong to the Premier League, leaving Leeds United, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Norwich City, Bristol City, and Middlesbrough to dream of dream runs to Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Pulisic scores 10th BVB goal ]

There are only a trio of all-Premier League ties in the bunch, including a high-profile London clash between Spurs and West Ham.

Chelsea will host Everton, while Manchester United heads to Wales for a date with Swansea City.

All-in-all, we could have quarterfinals without a single Cinderella story.

Full draw
Tottenham Hotspur vs. West Ham United
Bristol City vs. Crystal Palace
Arsenal vs. Norwich City
Chelsea vs. Everton
Swansea City vs. Manchester United
Manchester City vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers
Bournemouth vs. Middlesbrough
Leicester City vs. Leeds United