Odemwingie’s goal holds up as Nigeria eliminates Bosnia and Herzegovina

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Claiming their first World Cup win since 1998, African champions Nigeria kept their knockout round hopes alive, while today’s loss in Cuiabá, Brazil, doomed tournament debutants Bosnia and Herzegovina’s to a group stage exit. Thanks to a 29th minute goal from Peter Odemwingie, the Super Eagles earned a 1-0 win at Arena Pantanal, moving the Nigerians into second in their group. Bosnia, on the other hand, sit at the bottom of Group F, with two losses in as many games eliminating their chance to advance to the knockout round.

That reality will be a controversial one thanks to two first half officiating decisions that went against . In the 21st minute, and Eden Dzeko goal was not allowed to stand, though replays showed the assistant referee’s offside call was likely incorrect. Eight minutes later, play was allowed to continue after Bosnia captain Emir Saphic’s leg tangled with Emmanuel Emineke’s. The resulting play saw Odemwingie score the game-winning goal.

Now behind Argentina in Group F, Nigeria face the Albiceleste on their group stage finale on Wednesday in Porto Alegre. Bosnia and Herzegovina will conclude their World Cup against Iran, kicking off at the same time in Salvador.

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A game that set up before kickoff as control versus counter played up to expectations over the first half-hour, with Bosnia’ss kill in the middle of the field pitted against the threat Nigeria posed in transition with its three-ponged attack. In the 21st minute, the balance appeared to swing in Bosnia’s favor when a quick movement from Miralem Pjanic, through Zvjezdan Misimovic, to Edin Dzeko produced an apparent goal. When the assistant referee’s flag went up, judging Dzeko offside, the match remained scoreless.

Eight minutes later, that changed, with another point of controversy breaking in Nigeria’s favor. Having drifted wide right, striker Emmanuel Emineke turned to take on Bosnia captain Emir Sephic. Approaching the Bosnian penalty area, Sephic went down, his feet tangling with Emineke’s as the duo pursued a ball rolled into the box. When no foul was called, Emineke was allowed to find Odemwingie in front of goal for the close-range finish.

Despite the deficit, Bosnia’s control of the ball persisted into the second, but matching their opponent’s chances, Nigeria were able to balance play in transition. When that balance continued into the 57th minute, Safet Susic changed his team, brining in a second forward (Vedad Ibisevic) as his team tried to avoid elimination.

Those changes couldn’t prevent the match’s next opportunity from falling to Nigeria, with Bosnia goalkeeper Asmir Begovic called into action when Michel Babatunde was allowed to take his chances from just outside the penalty box. After a parry from the keep, play eventually moved to the left of goal, where Begovic came off his line to cut down the angles for Emineke. Nigeria was prevented from doubling their league, but nearly 20 minutes into the period, the Super Eagles were creating the half’s better chances.

Bosnia’s next chance for an equalizer didn’t come until the 75th minute, when Ibisevic’s open header off a corner kick failed to draw a save from Vincent Enyeama.  In the 81st minute, however, Ogenyi Onazi drew a diving stop from Begovic, while, moments later, Emineke shot just outside the right post. Despite Bosnia’s increased urgency, the best chances were still falling to Nigeria.

In stoppage time, however, Dzeko nearly took a point for Bosnia. In the 91st minute, on the second ball in from a corner kick, Dzeko headed a seven-yard shot right to Enyeama, while a 93rd chance from the middle of the area saw the Nigerian keeper deflect the ball onto his right post.

Come full-time, the first half’s two moments of controversy were all that separated the two sides, leaving the Bosnians to rue what might have been. Nigeria, on the other hand, can build on their first World Cup win in 16 years as they prepare for their group stage finale against Argentina.

Nigeria: Enyeama; Ambrose, Oshaniwa, Yobo, Omeruo; Mikel, Onazi; Musa (Ameobi 65′), Odemwingie, Babatunde (Uzoenyi 75′); Enemike

Goals: Odemwingie 29′

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Begovic; Mujdza, Sunjic, Spahic, Lulic (Salihovic 58′); Besic, Medunjanin (Susic 64′); Pjanic, Misimovic, Hajrovic (Ibisevic 57′); Dzeko

Mexico captain Guardado suffers hamstring injury

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With the World Cup still half a year away, there’s plenty of time to heal from injuries and get the body right after tweaking things during the club season.

And yet, there will still be some concern among Mexico fans.

Team captain Andres Guardado suffered a hamstring tear, his club Real Betis confirmed on Monday, and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. That’s nothing to write home about when it comes to preparing for the big tournament, but with Guardado 31 years old and struggling with injuries in recent years, Mexico fans will be keenly aware that hamstring injuries can return with a vengeance if not given the right time to heal.

Guardado has shown his age in recent times, not necessarily with his play on the field, which has been critical to his country, but with his fitness. Guardado has just four full 90 minute performances for Mexico dating back to October of 2016, missing time with ankle, leg, and now hamstring injuries in that span.

The 31-year-old has had a fine season so far for Real Betis, scoring one goal and assisting six while appearing in all 15 La Liga matches for the club thus far. The club sits 12th in the La Liga table with 18 points.

Guardado will be fine with plenty of time to spare, but if not fully healed properly, there’s always the risk that muscle injuries can flare back up, and Mexico fans will hope that their captain’s club gives him plenty of rest to recover.

Mark Hughes wants Stoke City to “suck it up”

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Mark Hughes is under fire at Stoke City with the Potters firmly entrenched in the relegation battle, and with that he’s charging his players, staff, and himself to gut the rest of the season out.

With Stoke heading to Turf Moor to take on Burnley, they sit just three points above the drop. The players were faced with jeers from angry fans at the train station following this past weekend’s 5-1 disaster against Tottenham. The fiery Hughes is hoping to use this jarring moment to jolt his squad.

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“That is still resonating. It’s good we have a game because it is still fresh in their ears probably, and they can use it as a motivating factor,” said Hughes during his pre-match press conference.

“You either suck it up and do ­something about it or you go under, and we can’t accept players like that. I don’t feel we have players like that.”

With managers nowadays often reaching into the excuses barrel as they hope to save their own skins, Hughes refuses to do just that, instead placing the decision firmly on the players shoulders, telling them they are the only ones who can save the club.

“Maybe some hadn’t ­confronted that before – but sometimes you need a reality check, and understand how our results and ­performances affect people,” Hughes said. “When people criticize you, you have to grow a thick skin in this industry. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong place.”

Louis van Gaal calls Mourinho’s United “far more boring”

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Louis Van Gaal has picked just the right time to pipe up.

The former Manchester United manager, who took flak while in charge for his side being hideous to watch, has now taken shots of his own at his successor Jose Mourinho, kicking Manchester United while they’re down after a 2-1 derby defeat at home.

The Dutchman told Fox Sports Netherlands, “If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under. We played football that was quite alright. But it’s not football that is appreciated in England. And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it’s far more boring football.”

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Van Gaal was blasted consistently for playing a boring style, especially in front of the home crowd, and now Mourinho is being criticized for the same concept. Mourinho was denounced for similar reasons while in charge of Chelsea, but with the club winning multiple titles under his leadership, the noise was always less while the team was winning. With Manchester United still unable to crack the top 4, Mourinho is feeling the heat.

“What United produce now is defensive football,” van Gaal said. “I always played attacking football. The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus. They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive.”

To van Gaal’s point, Manchester United is seventh in the Premier League in possession, holding 51% possession this season. They were out-possessed by Manchester City 65-35 at Old Trafford over the weekend. Meanwhile, van Gaal’s last full season with Manchester United, the 2015/16 season, saw the Red Devils hold 54%, which ranked third in the Premier League, just a percentage point behind leaders Arsenal. However, van Gaal’s United ranked 15th in the Premier League in total shots, while Mourinho’s United this season ranks sixth at this point.

Van Gaal made sure to point out he prefers their cross-town rivals.

“I would rather watch City play than United. You need quality in a squad and it’s clear City have a better squad.”

Conte blames fatigue for dip in Chelsea form

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Antonio Conte has figured out what is plaguing his Chelsea side as they sit 14 points back of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“I think when you play every three days, it is impossible to have a training session and to work on the physical aspects,” Conte said in his pre-match press conference as the Blues get set to play Huddersfield Town on Tuesday. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you have to prepare with the players for a game every three days.”

Chelsea has yet to find itself eliminated from a single competition, drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League while navigating fixtures across all four competitions.

And yet, this is nothing new for Conte. The Blues boss is more than familiar with fixture congestion, having taken charge of Juventus and regularly competing at a high level on multiple fronts. In 2012/13, he won the Serie A title, won the Supercoppa Italia, and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

However, this is new for Conte at Chelsea. Last season, the Blues did not take part in a European competition thanks to their disastrous season the previous year. While they reached the FA Cup final, they were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the 4th round.

“We have to try to do our best,” Conte said. “For sure, some players can be tired, that’s normal because some players are playing from this summer and our tours in China and Singapore. It’s normal. But I repeat we have to find the best solution. We have to find more rotations. I’m doing this, we will try and do our best with hunger and desire. We will fight.”

As an example, Conte said Alvaro Morata will miss the match on Tuesday against Huddersfield Town due to fatigue, with the Spaniard battling a slight back injury. “Morata is out. He is a bit tired and he has a problem in his back.