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.

EFL Cup Tues. preview: Spurs-Reds, plenty of non-PL participants

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27:  Dele Alli of Tottenham Hotspur in action during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool at White Hart Lane on August 27, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images
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Sixteen teams remain in the battle to clinch the Premier League’s first European place of next season’s tournament, and we have some tremendous battles on tap for Tuesday and Wednesday in the EFL Cup (formerly the League Cup).

Today we focus on the 24 hours ahead of us, focusing on Tuesday’s five matches and allowing the Manchester Derby, West Ham-Chelsea, and Southampton-Sunderland to percolate a bit.

[ MORE: Finland’s “Leicester” gets it done ]

That’s not to say we don’t have a pair of giants dueling on Tuesday. Liverpool is three wins away from a return to the final, where the Reds fell in penalties last season. Standing in their way is Tottenham Hotspur, a deep squad which won’t have to worry much about a quick turnaround from Saturday.

That said, the Reds didn’t have to play at all last week, while this will be Spurs third match in a week. Spurs have been to the EFL Cup final thrice since 2008, and one of two teams (Chelsea) to make three finals this decade. Liverpool will start Simon Mignolet between the sticks.

The remaining four EFL Cup matches include at least one team outside the Premier League.

Arsenal will host USMNT midfielder Danny Williams and Reading.

— Hull City is off to Ashton Gate to face Bristol City.

— Newcastle United is leading the Championship, and will get a visit from Preston North End in the first of two matches between the two sides this week.

— Norwich City will pay a visit to Elland Road and Garry Monk‘s Leeds United.

FC Dallas gave injured Mauro Diaz a home champagne shower (video)

FRISCO, TX - APRIL 12:  Mauro Diaz #10 of the FC Dallas controls the ball against the Seattle Sounders FC on April 12, 2014 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
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FC Dallas has two jewels of its triple crown all set, having claimed the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and the Supporters’ Shield.

One of the key reasons the club was able to sustain its pace this season was Mauro Diaz, 25, who shone even as Fabian Castillo shockingly left the club before the stretch run.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

A River Plate product, Diaz gave FCD seven goals and 15 assists over 32 appearances before tearing an achilles tendon last week.

Diaz underwent season-ending surgery, but his teammates made sure he was a part of the champagne celebration by heading to his very nice-looking house for an early morning visit.

[ MORE: Pre-playoff power rankings ]


VIDEO: Premier League Player of the Week – Matchday 9

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There was some eye-popping moments in the Premier League this weekend, yet still very little debate who shone brightest.

Stoke City’s Xherdan Shaqiri scored a pair of Goal of the Month competitors in the same day in the Potters’ 2-0 win at Hull City on Monday.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

The first was a curling wonder from distance, while the second came from a bit closer as the big-calfed Swiss attacker bamboozled the Hull wall and goalkeeper.

The Potters are up to 16th in the Premier League table with nine points.

Finnish fans celebrate surprise title for IFK Mariehamn

IFK Mariehamm
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HELSINKI (AP) Fans of IFK Mariehamn have gathered in the main square of the remote Finnish town to celebrate their team’s surprise league title.

“I feel very proud,” the club’s managing director, Peter Mattsson, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview on Monday, adding that “thousands” were expected to turn up for the party.

Watched by more than 4,000, Mariehamn clinched the Finnish title on Sunday with a 2-1 home victory over Ilves, from the industrial city of Tampere.

[ MORE: Full MLS Cup bracket ]

Mariehamn held off 11 other teams, including the traditionally strong Helsinki club, HJK, and defending champion SJK from western Finland. It ended three points clear of second-placed HJK for its first league title.

Local media dubbed the team “Leicester” after the surprise English Premier League champions last season.

Mariehamn, which has a population of 11,500, is the capital of the Aland islands off the southwestern Finnish coast