Cup of Nations: Nigeria routs Mali to make AFCON final

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The match always had the potential for goals, but few would have predicted such a lopsided result. With four goals in a 35-minute span starting mid-first half, Nigeria qualified for their first Africa Cup on Nations final in 13 years, eliminating Mali 4-1.

In some ways the result was just as impressive as Sunday’s quarterfinal defeat of tournament favorites Cote d’Ivoire. While the Malians are not held in the same regard as Les Elephants, the Super Eagles put on a more impressive show, leaving little doubt the project initiated by Stephen Keshi — one that left many of the team’s highest profile, most-capped players out — has come good.

Braga defender Uwa Echiejile opened the scoring in the 25th minute, heading come a cross from Victor Moses. Five minutes later, Dyanmo Kyiv striker Brown Ideye doubled Nigeria’s lead, with Spartak Moscow attacker Emmanuel Emenike giving the Super Eagles a 3-0 lead minutes before halftime. CSKA attacker Ahmed Musa’s goal on the hour completed the Nigerian onslaught, with Bordeaux forward Cheick Diarra’s late tally sparing Mali a sliver of indignity.

Nigeria will meet the winner of the day’s other semifinal, Burkina Faso-Ghana, Sunday in Johannesburg.

That final appearance will be the latest vindication of Keshi, who selected a young team for South Africa with the hopes of leaving the program’s baggage behind.

“There were a lot of problems in Nigeria because some of the big players, I did not want to take along in the team,” Keshi said of the response to his Cup of Nations selection. Players like Peter Odemwingie and Yakubu Aiyegbeni, veterans who have combined for 112 appearances and 30 international goals, were omitted from the squad, as were experienced players Obafemi Martins and Taye Taiwo.

The result is a team that may lack the attacking power of some of Nigeria’s previous major tournament squads, but it’s also a team that’s avoiding the pitfalls. After a disappointing 2010 World Cup and the failure to qualify for the 2012 Cup of Nations, Nigeria has yet to lose in their five games in South Africa, scoring 10 goals while allowing only four.

Now the Super Eagles have a chance to win their first African title since 1994, when their squad featured a 32-year-old Keshi as well as a young Jay Jay Okocha.

Pogba: Manchester United hoping to win FA Cup, Europa League

Aston Villa - Manchester United recap
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Paul Pogba and Manchester United are cruising through matches and sending a message to the Premier League.

The Red Devils won by three-or-more goals for the fourth-straight match, something that hasn’t been done in the history of the PL, and moved within a point of fourth place thanks to a 3-0 demolition of Aston Villa at Villa Park on Thursday.

[ RECAP: Aston Villa 0-3 Man Utd ]

Injured for most of the year, Pogba scored his first goal of the season in the win. He’s been looking tremendous in the midfield since returning from the coronavirus pause, and has even triggered hope that he’ll sign a new long-term deal with United.

Pogba was asked how he’s feeling about his time at Old Trafford and where it may run:

“Right now I’ve been injured for a very long time,” Pogba said. “I focused on myself to get back and help the team as much as I can. This year I have two goals, to go for the Europa League and the FA Cup so we focus on that.”

United faces Chelsea in the FA Cup semifinal and has one foot, well, most of its body in the Europa League quarterfinals.

The Frenchman says it’s good that the Red Devils are playing as well as they have been, but he’s not getting carried away with accolades.

ASTON VILLA – MANCHESTER UNITED FULL MATCH REPLAY

“We didn’t win the Premier League,” he said. “That’s the goal. We didn’t win anything this year so obviously we have to keep working. There’s a lot to do.”

Pogba thinks United can achieve all of their season goals regardless of what the top four chasers do, but cautioned that the Red Devils cannot ignore their poor start to Thursday’s win.

“We are our own enemy. We have to play not like we did the first 15 minutes but how we finished the game.”

Pogba, Fernandes lead Manchester United cruise at Aston Villa

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Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba are loving life.

Heck, all of Manchester United is feeling mighty good after the Red Devils won yet another game with ease, this one a 3-0 defeat of Aston Villa at Villa Park on Thursday.

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

Fernandes had a goal and an assist, joining Mason Greenwood and Pogba on the score sheet in a cruise past the relegation-threatened Villans.

United moves six points ahead of sixth-place Wolves and within a point of fourth-place Leicester City. The two sides meet to finish the Premier League season, and the Red Devils will meet Southampton, Crystal Palace, and West Ham before that.

Villa is four points behind safety and still meets Palace, Everton, Arsenal, and West Ham.

ASTON VILLA – MANCHESTER UNITED FULL MATCH REPLAY


Three things we learned

1. Bruno and Pogba unfair: The are systems that will make Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba work a whole lot harder than what’s demanded by Aston Villa, of course, but don’t let that deter you from witnessing the special combination play between the Portuguese midfielder and his World Cup-winning French teammate. Fernandes had a goal and an assist, the latter a training ground routine that Pogba scored with class, and United looks a new team. No team has benefited more from the break than United.

2. He’s got the look: The stories out of the Manchester United training ground have been coming for years and we’re now getting an eyeful of what they’ve been promising about Mason Greenwood. The 18-year-old strikes a ball like it’s his job, or even better like he’s an artisan. Few players on earth possess a way about them that the ball’s path off their foot just looks different. His strike to beat Pepe Reina was absolutely marvelous and we can’t wait to see what he does in the future.

3. Villa through the ugly stretch (hopefully): Dean Smith’s men have tried to escape the drop zone by getting points against a rough stretch of opponents and it has not gone well. Draws against Sheffield United and Newcastle have been joined by losses to Chelsea, Wolves, Liverpool, and now Manchester United. Villa finds itself four points adrift with four opponents to play: Palace, Everton, Arsenal, and West Ham. There are points there. Will Villa take them?

Man of the Match:

Fernandes — The way he won his penalty was unsavory but that doesn’t change his status as the best player on the pitch.

Aston Villa – Manchester United recap

Jack Grealish missed a back-post chance to give the hosts an early lead, as United was a bit uneven over the opening 20 minutes.

VAR helped United to a penalty soon after that, won and converted by Fernandes off Ezri Konsa.

United had a chance to double the lead in the 36th minute when Mason Greenwood got past Douglas Luiz to pump a hard shot saved by Pepe Reina.

Fernandes missed with a bullet header in the 45th minute off a Luke Shaw cross, but United scored just before halftime when Greenwood took an Anthony Martial layoff and blasted a shot past Reina. He has such a sweet stroke.

Pogba made it 3-0 with a tremendous strike in the 58th minute, Fernandes spotting the Frenchman above the arc and Villa giving him ages to address the ball.

Martial smashed the ball off the bottom of the bar at the hour mark, United threatening to put a cartoonish figure on the scoreboard..

WATCH: VAR controversy sees Mourinho call out referee Oliver (again)

Jose Mourinho Michael Oliver
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Imagine the sound VAR Michael Oliver made when he saw the call he had to make against Jose Mourinho in Thursday’s 0-0 draw between Bournemouth and Tottenham.

Mourinho can’t get over his thing with referee Michael Oliver, who was again in the middle of controversy during a Tottenham Hotspur match.

“The same referee that was the VAR against Sheffield United,” Mourinho said. “In the world everybody knows that is a penalty. And I say everybody, I mean everybody.”

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Harry Kane was shoved to the turf by Joshua King very early in the contest but also made contact with teammate Jan Vertonghen.

Most expected to see a penalty given, but referee Paul Tierney didn’t think it was a foul and Oliver saw nothing on the video worth overruling.

From Football.London:

“The game had the most important moment, you know when, you know who, and I don’t want to say anything more in relation to that because everyone knows and I don’t need to say much more. Everybody knows.

“The performance was not good enough, but good enough to win. I am not saying a strong performance or a sharp one but good enough to win. In a way they surprised us with the way thy played, since Bournemouth were in the Premier League I don’t remember them playing the way they did, but that is an option for them because they have a point they wanted. They played direct, only direct, they didn’t move the ball in the first phase like they used to do and they made it difficult for us in their approach.”

Spurs face Arsenal at the weekend in a statement North London Derby between Mikel Arteta and Jose Mourinho, before Newcastle, Leicester City, and Crystal Palace complete the fixture list.

Spurs, Bournemouth split points in drab draw

Bournemouth - Tottenham recap
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Twelve minutes of stoppage time barely injected life into a scoreless, slumberous slog between Tottenham Hotspur and Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium on Thursday.

Hugo Lloris made a terrific stop on Harry Wilson deep in 12 minutes of stoppage time to keep Spurs’ sheet clean.

Tottenham has 49 points, six back of fifth-place Manchester United who plays Thursday and behind three teams in the race for Europa League places.

BOURNEMOUTH – TOTTENHAM FULL MATCH REPLAY

Spurs face Arsenal at the weekend in a statement North London Derby between Mikel Arteta and Jose Mourinho, before Newcastle, Leicester City, and Crystal Palace complete the fixture list.

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

Bournemouth’s 28 points are three back of safety. The Cherries finish with Leicester City, Manchester City, Southampton, and Everton.


Three things we learned

1. South coast snooze: Bournemouth fans wouldn’t have minded the point, but the journey to a rare clean sheet was just about as boring as you’ll see apart from an early penalty controversy, a gnarly injury, and a goal being pulled off the board by handball when Callum Wilson’s clever 90th-minute goal took a turn off Josh King and into the goal.

2. Scary incident for ex-Spurs man Smith: There was a lengthy delay around the hour mark when Cherries defender Adam Smith was involved in a violent collision at midfield, requiring plenty of medical attention. The former Spurs man was given oxygen and needed a stretcher to get off the pitch. Hopefully the long time right back is doing alright.

3. Mourinho’s offense looks toothless: First, let’s admit that Harry Kane had a goal egregiously taken away from him via the rulebook when Lucas Moura’s unwitting handball led to a goal against Sheffield United. But Spurs have five goals in five matches since the Premier League’s return. As much as it’s nice to see three clean sheets in four outings, Mourinho has to find a way to get his men moving.

Man of the Match:

Hugo Lloris – The Frenchman’s incredible stop of a surging Harry Wilson deep in stoppage time was a welcome moment for a sleepy match. Lloris made the only two saves of a slumberous affair.

Bournemouth – Tottenham recap

Harry Kane was not given a penalty in the opening minutes as he was shoved to the turf but also collided with a teammate while tracking a pass. Referee Paul Tierney didn’t see anything in it, and surprisingly neither did VAR.

The Cherries had a good spell of play after that, a mini-vibe of how Spurs looked after the Harry Kane goal was took off the board against Sheffield United.

The game flowed back into Spurs control for the final stanza before halftime.

Spurs let Bournemouth stick around and Harry Wilson’s nice run led to nothing in the 68th minute as the match looked destined for goose eggs, sadly enough.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]