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.

[ RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly ]

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

Petr Cech earns win with 2 penalty saves in hockey debut

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Former Chelsea and Arsenal goalkeeper joined English fourth-division hockey team Guildford Phoenix four days ago and made his debut on Sunday.

He did not disappoint.

The 37-year-old saved two penalties in the shootout, earning Man of the Match honors.

Cech is reportedly a fan of the Guilford Flames, the first-division side who use the Phoenix as their developmental side. He was signed to be the team’s third-choice goalkeeper, just a chance for him to get in on the action before his body gives way for good, but he was given a chance to play right away. He wore number 39, a nod to famous Czech goaltender Dominik Hasek. His custom helmet was adorned with Arsenal and Chelsea colors. Regulation finished level at 2-2 before Cech’s shootout heroics.

“I wanted to win, that was the main thing, and I’m glad we did,” Cech said after the match. “I was surprised that I wasn’t more nervous. I didn’t know what to expect so it was nice how quickly my body switched into matchday mode.”

Giroud upset with reserve role at Chelsea

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Olivier Giroud does not look back on his transfer to Chelsea and wish he had done things differently, but that doesn’t mean things are all sunshine and roses for the 33-year-old.

Giroud, who moved to Chelsea from Arsenal in the winter of 2018 after six years with the Gunners, has played just 43 times in the Premier League, averaging just 35 minutes per appearance. That has him frustrated, hoping to prove his loyalty to the club and work harder than the other options up front.

“I had competitors in attack – [Alvaro] Morata, [Gonzalo] Higuain, who ended up leaving,” Giroud said. “I won at the end: I played the final of the FA Cup in 2018 and the [Europa League] final in 2019. Once again, I’m starting the year in a difficult situation. But as my brother says, I have always built myself in the face of adversity.”

Girou is trying to be smart about how he approaches the competition for time with the likes of Tammy Abraham and Michy Batshuayi, but he says it is emotionally taxing.

“You do not have to be fatalistic in certain situations,” Giroud says about keeping a level head. “I have always been respectful and humble. Even if I do not agree with the coach, I do not criticize him. But in myself, I cannot accept it because I know what I’m worth on a pitch.”

The French international has made just three league appearances this season, mostly thanks to Abraham’s scalding form. Abraham, still just 22 years old, has snatched his opportunity for first-team minutes with eight goals in eight games to start the campaign. That has left Giroud on the sidelines for each of the last five league games, missing out on a spot in the matchday squad altogether for the last three.

Despite his struggles at the club level, Giroud has maintained his place in the French national team, missing just five matches of France’s last 64 games, including 37 of the last 39.

James says he was not knocked unconscious in Wales draw

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Head injury awareness again rose to the forefront in the 1-1 draw between Wales and Croatia in Cardiff when Daniel James went down after colliding with a pair of opponents.

The Manchester United winger looked to almost sure have been knocked unconscious when Domagoj Vida’s knee appeared to tap the back of his head while challenging for a ball in the air. Vida went toppling over the back of teammate Borna Barisic who ducked out of the way, but it was James who many were concerned for as he lay motionless on his back with his eyes closed.

Yet James was allowed to come back onto the field and completed the full 90 minutes, sparking criticism from injury advocates and fans who were concerned for James’ safety on the field, at potential risk for even more serious consequences should he indeed have suffered a concussion.

After the game however, despite what fans saw as James lie on the turf, the 21-year-old insisted he was not knocked unconscious. “I’m fine,” James claimed after the match, speaking to Sky Sports. “I think he just caught me in the head but I didn’t get knocked out fortunately.”

Wales boss Ryan Giggs backed up the decision as well, calling James’ motionless display “a bit of acting.”

“The medical staff went over, he was compos mentis and we did all the checks at half-time and he was fine,” Giggs said, referring to the latin phrase for “of sound mind.”

If James was indeed faking unconsciousness, it’s natural to wonder if he should face a fine from UEFA for looking to con referees, and in the process possibly confusing the independent neurologists on site assigned to assess head injuries.

ESPN broadcaster Taylor Twellman, who has been outspoken over the past few years advocating for head injury awareness after his career was cut short by concussions, took to Twitter to criticize Wales for allowing James back into the game. Twellman, who was on the ESPN call of the broadcast with Ian Darke, said more needs to be done to prevent players from being able to force their way back onto the field, lest someone be killed by second impact syndrome.

Former Hull City player Ryan Mason, who was forced to retire after a serious skull fracture saw him fighting for his life, was also seriously concerned about the incident.

Interestingly enough, later in the match just seconds after the second half restart, young Wales midfielder Ethan Ampadu was whalloped from behind by Croatia’s Bruno Petkovic in a wild and reckless aerial challenge. Petkovic’s elbow went clattering into the back of Ampadu’s head, and the was left writhing on the ground holding his head. The Chelsea youngster was taken off the field and immediately replaced by Joe Morrell, while Petkovic was lucky to escape with just a yellow card.

Kane reflects on Tottenham, England struggles

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Harry Kane keeps finding the back of the net, but his teams keep losing.

The 26-year-old striker has bagged five Premier League goals in eight games for Spurs thus far, plus another seven goals for England in five Euro 2020 qualifiers this cycle. Yet Tottenham sits ninth in the table after three losses already this season, while England slumped to its first Euro defeat last time out, putting its seeding at the Euro finals next summer in jeopardy.

Kane is hoping to be a leader through the tough times for both club and country, wearing the armband for both as it currently stands.

“I think you need to lead by example,” Kane said ahead of England’s visit to Bulgaria on Monday. “Not getting too down when you lose a game, not getting too high when you win games. It is a long, old season for club and country ahead – a lot of games to be played so there are going to be tough periods.”

Kane has taken over the England captaincy on a permanent basis, and is filling in for the injured Hugo Lloris at Tottenham. “I am still the same person,” he said. “I still try and lead by example on and off the pitch and I will continue to do that. I have been in high pressure situations before in my career, whether that is going through goal droughts, playing in high-pressure games or not playing well as a team. It is something I will take in my stride and improve on.”

Leading by example includes finding the back of the net, while also supporting teammates both on and off the pitch. He knows even if he’s in good personal form on the stat sheet, there’s always ways to improve and help the squads through tough times.

“I am scoring goals but can I get more assists, create more chances? So yeah, I always look at little things I can get better at. Yes, the England form has been good but as ever, it can be better. We will see if I can continue scoring. It has been a good campaign but important I do not stop now.”