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.

UCL wrap: Napoli, Celtic win big; Nwakaeme volleys beauty (video)

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A day after three of five road sides felt good with their work in first legs of the UEFA Champions League playoff round, it was the hosts time to celebrate good results.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s UCL first legs ]

Home sides in Italy, Scotland, Greece, and Israel posted wins. Spanish side Sevilla did manage a road win.

Napoli 2-0 Nice

Chances and even possession was at a premium for the visitors, and Napoli found its breakthrough from one of the more overlooked gems in the world. Dries Mertens scored in the first half, his sixth career UCL goal, and Jorginho converted a second half penalty to give Napoli a foot in the group stage.

Adding insult was a pair of red cards in the 80th minute, the first to Vincent Koziello for a dangerous tackle (it was a harsh call) and Alassane Plea was given a second yellow for protesting the sending off.

Mertens’ goal was smooth as silk:

Celtic 5-0 Astana

A pair of Scott Sinclair goals joined an Astana own goal as the Bhoys went a long way towards avoiding the tight tie that made the last round tricky.

Olympiacos 2-1 Rijeka

Heber gave the visitors a halftime lead in the 42nd minute, but Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe equalized in the 66th minute to minimize the damage for Olympiacos, who would go on to win.

Istanbul Basaksehir 1-2 Sevilla

Remember Eljero Elia? The Dutchman’s on his eighth club and third since leaving Southampton after just a half season, but he’s given his Turkish side hope against mighty Sevilla after Sergio Escudero gave the Spanish side an early lead and Wissam Ben Yedder nabbed the winner.

Hapoel Be’er Sheva 2-1 Maribor

Goals from Anthony Nwakaeme and Shir Tzedek boosted the Israeli hosts to a come-from-behind win.

In the case of the former, it was a beauty:

Brighton breaks transfer record (again) with Izquierdo (video)

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Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: Brighton and Hove Albion have broken its transfer record.

A week after setting a new club standard with the signing of Davy Propper from PSV Eindhoven, the Gulls have signed electric Colombian attacker Jose Izquierdo from Club Brugge for over $15 million.

[ MORE: Matuidi medical at Juve ]

Izquierdo averaged a goal every other match for Brugge last season and broke through to the Colombian national team with two caps this summer, scoring in a friendly against Cameroon.

With Propper and Izquierdo, manager Chris Hughton has two more playmakers who can better set the table for a strike corps that has been questioned at the Premier League level.

Brighton lost to Man City 2-0 on Saturday and next faces Leicester City at King Power Stadium.

Matuidi having a medical at Juventus ahead of move from PSG

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TURIN, Italy (AP) Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Blaise Matuidi was having a medical at Juventus on Wednesday ahead of a potential move to the Serie A club.

Juventus said that Matuidi arrived at Turin airport in the afternoon and was undergoing tests.

Juventus will reportedly pay PSG 20 million euros ($23 million) plus bonuses for the 30-year-old Matuidi, who had a year left on his contract with the French club.

[ MORE: Wenger issues updates on Alexis, Ox, Wilshere ]

PSG, which is also trying to balance the books after buying Neymar for 222 million euros, could not afford to lose Matuidi on a free transfer.

Matuidi played nearly 300 games for PSG in all competitions after joining from Saint-Etienne in 2011.

After a difficult first season, he quickly became an integral part of the team for successive managers, Carlo Ancelotti and Laurent Blanc.

He flourished from a largely defensive midfielder to a robust, tireless runner with an eye for goal and an enormous work-rate.

Overcoming some technical deficiencies in his game, Matuidi gradually earned himself a place in the France lineup and became a key player at the 2014 World Cup and last year’s European Championship.

At the beginning of last season, after Blanc was fired and replaced by Unai Emery, he expressed a desire to leave PSG and already wanted to join Juventus. But the club blocked his move, considering him too important to leave, and he stayed for another season.

Altogether, Matuidi has scored 33 goals for PSG in 295 appearances, becoming a well-respected player among fans and teammates alike, often taking a public stance when others would not and when tensions arose within the club.

In all, Matuidi has won four league titles, three French Cups and four League Cups with PSG.

This story has been corrected to show that Neymar’s fee was 222 million euros, not 220 million euros.

Furious Cristiano Ronaldo responds to five-game ban

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Cristiano Ronaldo has hit out at the Spanish soccer federation after his five game ban for pushing a referee in the back was upheld.

Ronaldo, 32, pushed the ref after he was shown a second yellow card in Real Madrid’s 3-1 win in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup at Barcelona on Sunday.

It capped an eventful El Clasico for Ronaldo who arrived in the second half as a sub, then scored a stunner to put Real 2-1 up.

He received his first yellow for taking off his shirt and holding it up to the Nou Camp crowd to mock Lionel Messi for doing the same in a goal celebration in April at the Santiago Bernabeu. Ronaldo then received a second yellow for going down in the box under a challenge.

In an Instagram post the Real Madrid forward had the following to say about the decision which sees him banned for the second leg ag the Bernabeu on Wednesday as well as Real’s next four games.

“It seems to me exaggerated and ridiculous, this is called persecution.”