John Obi Mikel

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Daniel Sturridge signs for Trabzonspor

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Free agent Daniel Sturridge has signed a three-year contract with Turkish side Trabzonspor.

Sturridge, 29, has been out of contract since leaving Liverpool at the end of last season after seven years at Anfield.

Trabzonspor announced his signing on Wednesday, with Sturridge signing a three-year contract for wages reportedly worth up to $3.2 million per season, including bonuses.

Several clubs across the globe were interested in signing Sturridge, who has struggled for playing time over the last few seasons.

The England international has made just 73 PL appearances over the past five seasons, with several injuries curtailing his progress, plus the emergence of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino not helping his cause. He did pop up and scored a crucial goal at Chelsea last season, but he scored just four times in 27 appearances, most of which were cameo displays off the bench.

During his time at Liverpool he ended up winning the UEFA Champions League trophy, as he played in seven UCL games last season but didn’t feature in the final against Tottenham Hotspur.

There will always be a feeling of ‘what might have been?’ for Sturridge at Liverpool, as he never managed to replicated his incredible 2013-14 campaign alongside Luis Suarez. He scored 21 goals in 29 appearances that season but has since struggled for form and fitness and he never really suited Jurgen Klopp‘s style of play.

It will be interesting to see how he fares in Turkey, and it is also intriguing that he decided against joining one of the giants of Istanbul in Besiktas, Galatasaray or Fenerbache. Sturridge reportedly had offers in Spain, the Middle East and from MLS, but it was clear that plenty of PL clubs were put off by his injury issues and the fact that in July he was handed a six week ban (four of which were suspended) for breaching the FA’s betting rules.

Trabzonspor are currently in the UEFA Europa League playoff round, where they face AEK Athens over two legs for a place in the group stage this season. The Turkish Super Lig season started last weekend, as they drew 1-1 at Kasimpasa. Former Chelsea star John Obi Mikel plays in midfield for the Turkish side, while Crystal Palace’s Alexander Sorloth is on loan and will battle for minutes with Sturridge up top.

FOLLOW LIVE: Wolves, PSV, Frankfurt in Europa League qualifying action

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Wolves continue their Europa League journey with a chance to move into the playoff round as they look to protect a 4-0 first-leg lead over Armenian club Pyunik in the second leg at Monlieux.

Raul Jimenez was on the mark for a brace in the first leg, with Matt Doherty and Ruben Neves also on target to build the significant lead. Should Wolves reach the playoff round, they would be one two-legged tie away from the group stage.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores  ]

Also in action are Rangers, PSV Eindhoven, Eintracht Frankfurt, Espanyol, Trabzonspor, and Torino, among a host of others.

Steven Gerrard‘s Rangers are protecting a 4-2 lead after a wild second half in Denmark saw them return home with a significant away goal advantage over FC Midtjylland. Rangers have been near perfect to start the new season, with six wins and a draw in seven matches, including a pair of wins in league play.

PSV will take its first go at the Europa League, having been dumped out of the Champions League in the second qualifying round by Basel. Hirving Lozano is rumored to be nearing a switch to Napoli, and it remains to be seen whether he will be available for the Dutch side that has won one and drawn one in early Eredivisie play. On the other wing, Steven Bergwijn has had a prolific start to the young campaign, as the 21-year-old Dutch international owns a goal and two assists in six matches thus far.

Ante Rebic will look to bring his recent hat-trick form with him to help Eintracht Frankfurt protect a 5-0 lead over Lichtenstein side Vaduz. Rebic scored a hat-trick in DFP-Pokal play last weekend, the first goals of the season for the Croatian international. Frankfurt owns three wins out of three in Europa League play thus far, looking to maintain momentum with its opening Bundesliga match of the season coming on Sunday.

Espanyol is also perfect in three Europa League matches and will be protecting a 3-0 lead over Swiss side Luzerne. Benfica loanee Facundo Ferreyra has scored a whopping four goals in their three games thus far, tallying at least one in each match. Like the Bundesliga, La Liga play also begins this weekend and Espanyol will look to maintain momentum ahead of their opening league game against Sevilla on Sunday.

Turkish side Trabzonspor returns home for a critical second leg against Sparta Prague with the aggregate scoreline level at 2-2. Former Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel made his club debut in the first leg but was yanked at halftime, and the Turkish side scored both goals in the final 10 minutes to dramatically level the score. Ghanan international Caleb Ekuban scored one and assisted the other in the comeback.

Serie A doesn’t begin play until next weekend but Torino is a perfect three-for-three in Europa League play thus far and will be protecting a whopping 5-0 lead against Belarusian side Shakhtar Soligorsk, hitting the road for the second leg. Captain Andrea Belotti scored a brace in the first leg to help Torino to the massive advantage, and he could be rested with such a large lead.

All fixtures (first leg score in parenthesis):

HJK Helsinki (1-1) Riga FC – 12:00 p.m. ET
Dinamo Tbilisi (0-4) Feyenoord  – 12:30 p.m. ET
Spartak Moscow (3-2) FC Thun – 12:45 p.m. ET
AIK (2-1) Sheriff Tiraspol – 1:00 p.m. ET
Apollon Limassol (2-1) Austria Vienna
BATE Borisov (2-1) FK Sarajevo
Bnei Yehuda (2-2) Neftchi
FC Zorya Luhansk (1-1) CSKA Sofia
FK Suduva (2-1) Maccabi Tel Aviv
Mlada Boleslav (0-0) FCSB
Shakhtar Soligorsk (0-5) Torino
Yeni Malatyaspor (1-3) Partizan Belgrade
Zrinjski Mostar (0-3) Malmo FF
Hapoel Be’er Sheva (1-1) IFK Norrkoping – 1:30 p.m. ET
The New Saints (0-5) Ludogorets Razgrad
Trabzonspor (2-2) Sparta Prague
AEK Athens (2-0) Universitatea Craiova  – 2:00 p.m. ET
Valletta (1-5) FC Astana
Viktoria Plzen (0-1) Antwerp
Aris (0-3) Molde – 2:30 p.m. ET
AZ Alkmaar (0-0) FC Maruipol
Eintracht Frankfurt (5-0) FC Vaduz
KAA Gent (1-1) AEK Larnaca
PSV Eindhoven (1-0) Haugesund
Strasbourg (1-0) Lokomotiv Plovdiv
Aberdeen (0-2) Rijeka – 2:45 p.m. ET
Braga (4-2) Bronby
Rangers (4-2) FC Midtjylland
Wolverhampton Wanderers (4-0) Pyunik
Espanyol (3-0) Lucerne

AFCON: Nigeria first team through to Round of 16 at African Cup, joined by host Egypt

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CAIRO (AP) Former champion Nigeria became the first team to reach the last 16 at the African Cup of Nations after defender Kenneth Omeruo‘s second-half goal delivered a 1-0 win over Guinea on Wednesday.

The Nigerians were unimpressive in the first half in Alexandria but lifted their game in the second. Alex Iwobi‘s rasping shot was pushed away by Guinea goalkeeper Ibrahim Kone and Ahmed Musa almost set up Odion Ighalo on a counterattack.

The former Chelsea defender Omeruo did what the forwards had not been able to do when he beat Kone with a glancing header at the near post off Moses Simon’s corner in the 73rd minute.

Nigeria, which won the title in 2013, has two wins from two games in Group B. It beat Burundi 1-0 in its first match and now needs a draw from its last fixture against Madagascar to finish top and stay in Alexandria for the last 16.

There was more good news for Nigeria when Samuel Kalu came on as a substitute near the end. The midfield player collapsed at a training session the day before the first game, suffering from dehydration, and was hospitalized.

Coach Gernot Rohr rested captain John Obi Mikel against Guinea.

Elsewhere, Egypt also confirmed a place in the knockout stages with a 2-0 win over the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ahmad Elmohamady and Mohamed Salah each scored in the first half to lead the Pharoahs to victory, the hosts second-straight win in the competition.

In the other match of the day, Uganda tied Zimbabwe, 1-1.

Africa Cup of Nations: Nigeria beats Burundi on late goal

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CAIRO (AP) Odion Ighalo scored a late winner four minutes after coming on as a substitute to see a relieved Nigeria squeeze past tournament debutant Burundi 1-0 at the African Cup of Nations on Saturday.

Nigeria had been warned when the second day of the tournament opened with its first major surprise: Uganda, playing at the Cup of Nations for the first time in 41 years, beat former champion Congo 2-0.

Nigeria ultimately prevailed over the newcomers when Ighalo pounced to bury his chance in Egypt’s second largest city of Alexandria.

The forward slipped in behind the Burundi defense after a backheeled pass by Ola Aina. He opened his body and stroked a right foot shot across the goalkeeper and into the far corner.

Three-time champion Nigeria deserved the win on the second half evidence, but not on the first 45 minutes.

Then, Burundi was the more adventurous team on the biggest day in its soccer history.

Cedric Amissi controlled a long pass superbly but had his shot blocked by Nigeria `keeper Daniel Akpeyi. Akpeyi struggled to keep out a powerful long-range free kick by Gael Bigirimana and Frederic Nsabiyumva hit the crossbar with a header.

“It was a very difficult game,” Nigeria captain John Obi Mikel said. “It was tough. We knew that they are a tough team. They can run and run and run.”

John Obi Mikel discovered father was abducted before Argentina match

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Nigeria captain John Obi Mikel discovered that his father, Pa Michael Obi, was abducted just four hours prior to the African side’s Group D finale against Argentina on June 26.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

The former Chelsea midfielder was notified by a family member of the kidnapping while the Super Eagles were en route to the stadium to face the Albiceleste, however, Mikel wasn’t able to discuss the matter with any of his teammates or members of the Nigeria federation due to strict demands from his father’s captors.

Mikel’s father has since been rescued, and is receiving hospital care after being held captive in his native Nigeria.

John Obi Mikel spoke of the experience with the Guardian:

“I played while my father was in the hands of bandits,” Mikel said. “I had to suppress the trauma. I took a call four hours before kick-off to tell me what had happened.

“I was emotionally distraught and I had to make the decision about whether I was mentally ready to play. I was confused. I did not know what to do but, in the end, I knew that I could not let 180 million Nigerians down. I had to shut it out of my head and go and represent my country first. I could not even inform the coaches or NFF staff and only a very tight circle of my friends knew.

“I was told that they would shoot my dad instantly if I reported to the authorities or told anybody. I also did not want to discuss it with the coach [Gernot Rohr] because I did not want my issue to become a distraction to him or the rest of the team on the day of such an important game. As much as I wanted to discuss it with the coach, I could not.

“Thankfully, my father was safely released on Monday afternoon. I thank the police authorities for their rescue efforts and the support I’ve received from friends and family members. Unfortunately, my dad is now in hospital receiving emergency treatment as a result of the torture he received during his capture.”

Nigeria fell to the Albiceleste, 2-1, in their Group D finale, which left the African side a point short of reaching the knockout phase.