Confederations Cup Preview: Nigeria v. Uruguay

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After the all-out destruction that Spain has imparted on Confederation Cup darlings Tahiti, it will be nice to drink in a proper football match, which is exactly what we will get when Nigeria and Uruguay meet later today.

Nigeria come into the match having pummelled Tahiti 6-1 by virtue of a Nnamdi Oduamadi hat-trick, goals by Uwe Echiejile and Nicolas Vallar, and an own-goal by Jonathan Tehau. The Super Eagles did well to keep their focus on the match and get the job done following what were some unusual circumstances departing from Africa, where the team had been refusing to travel due to player bonus discrepencies.

But the mess got itself sorted, Nigeria made it to Brazil with one day to spare and mananger Stephen Keshi’s men looked comfortable in the victory, although it was difficult to tell how hard the players were taking it given their opponents’ talent and inexperience.

With the Tahitian hammering, Nigeria find themselves atop Group B on goal difference over Spain but would be foolish to rely on that cushion ahead of the clash with Uruguay. Keshi plans on making changes to his back four in an attempt to bottle-up La Celeste‘s strikeforce of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez.

With a result tonight, Nigeria will take their unbeaten run total to 19 games, with the last defeat coming 13 months ago when they fell to Peru 1-0 in Lima. South American opponents have proved difficult for the Super Eagles to overcome, having won only three times in 17 international contests.

A victory tonight, however, will render that history meaningless and would put Nigeria through to the semi-finals.

Uruguay comes into the match off a 2-1 loss to Spain where the scoreline was more flattering than the performance. Uruguay manager Óscar Tabárez will not have been happy with his side’s performance as they looked disinterested and slow for large portions of the contest. Cavani was completely ineffective while Suarez was relatively quiet until his thunderous 30 yard free-kick found the top corner in the 88th minute.

If Uruguay are to turn things around on Thursday they will need their midfield to dramatically improve it’s movement on and off the ball. Walter Gargano and Diego Perez have to do better in transition to close the gaps between the midfield and forward lines and to improve the link-up play with Cavani and Suarez.

If the Liverpool and Napoli frontmen can not get it done, expect the timeless Diego Forlan to come in and take the match by the scruff of the neck. “We knew before coming to Brazil that our most important game was against Nigeria and nothing has changed because we lost to Spain,” Forland said.

A victory for Uruguay will put them in prime position to advance to the semi-finals while defeat could mean curtains for Tabárez.

The match kicks-off tonight at 6:00pm on ESPN in the United States and 11:00pm on BBC3 in the United Kingdom.

“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

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Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

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Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.