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Talking points from the Premier League weekend

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Arsenal beat Manchester United 2-0, lifting the Londoners into fourth place and ending Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s unbeaten domestic run as United’s caretaker manager.

The following are five talking points from the weekend:

Manchester United defender Chris Smalling was shoved by a pitch invader at Arsenal while Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish was punched in the face by another in a Championship game at Birmingham City.

Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), saw a growing problem.

“We have seen an increase in such behaviour at clubs this season. It’s been racist abuse, anti-Semitism and now its real fear for the safety of players,” he told Sky Sports television.

Grealish went on to score the winner for Villa while Smalling said on Twitter that commenting on his attacker “would only add to the attention he craved”.

But while individuals were arrested, and face court action, there is plenty of debate about how to prevent such incidents, the risk of a more serious attack and the potential ramifications.

“What next…a knife?,” declared the back page of the Sun tabloids.

Should there be a points deduction for a side whose supporter assaults a player? Or would that merely encourage some to pretend to be fans of another club in the hope of deliberately triggering a sanction? Ground closures?

What happens if a key player, such as Grealish, has to leave the field of play due to an injury sustained in an assault by a pitch invader? Or reacts, and is then shown a red card?

Arsenal’s home win sent them fourth and just a point behind North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur, who lost 2-1 at Southampton.

So have Spurs run out of steam after looking sure to finish at least third?

On paper, Arsenal have the easier run-in with only clubs below them to come while Tottenham still have to play Manchester City and Liverpool and are still in the Champions League.

The Gunners have not lost at home since the opening day of the season, and won their last nine at the Emirates, with manager Unai Emery winning plaudits for his bold tactics.

“Maybe a backlash from Wednesday night,” said Solskjaer after Sunday brought a first domestic defeat to his remarkable run as Manchester United caretaker.

When you have pulled off the sort of Champions League comeback United achieved against Paris St Germain to reach the quarter-finals, the Norwegian can afford a shrug.

The defeat should certainly not dent the momentum building behind Solskjaer getting the job permanently.

“Solskjaer has connected the club, the results have been incredible and there was always going to be a defeat. But it’s not been a defeat that’s embarrassing,” said former United team mate Gary Neville.

Burnley manager Sean Dyche has been around football long enough to have seen most things but he admitted to being “completely discombobulated” by current interpretation of the offside rule.

“I just liked it in the old days when they would just be offside and everyone would go ‘right they are offside’.

It has just got so technical now,” he told Reuters. “I marvel at when they (officials) get it right because I think it is just so confusing.”

Sterling’s first goal against Watford at the Etihad triggered controversy, with referee Paul Tierney changing his mind about an offside call after a discussion with his assistant.

The decision appeared to be over-ruled because Watford defender Daryl Janmaat played the ball against Sterling, who appeared offside, as the City striker aimed for goal.

Another good reason, as Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola said, for the introduction of the video assistant referee (VAR).

Some people thought Liverpool had lost their bottle after recent results dropped them go from seven points clear in January to four behind Manchester City on Saturday, but they showed plenty of fighting spirit on Sunday.

Burnley can be a tricky side and Liverpool were behind after six minutes on a gusty and wet afternoon at Anfield, but battled back to get the job done.

“Nobody gets rid of us if we play as we played today, because we had the perfect mixture of fighting the opponent.

Fighting the circumstances and playing football,” said Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp.

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Tottenham part ways with Pochettino

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Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino has left his post after five years in charge after a disappointing start to the season, the Premier League club said on Tuesday.

The Argentine, appointed by the north London club in 2014, had turned Tottenham into a force in England and took them to the Champions League final in June.

Results have tailed off badly this season, however, and Tottenham have won only three of their opening 12 Premier League games and are in 14th spot.

They were also thrashed 7-2 by Bayern Munich in the Champions League.

Pochettino’s assistant Jesus Perez and the rest of his backroom staff have also been relieved of their duties, the club said in a statement.

“We were extremely reluctant to make this change and it is not a decision the Board has taken lightly, nor in haste,” Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy said.

“Regrettably domestic results at the end of last season and beginning of this season have been extremely disappointing.

“It falls to the Board to make the difficult decisions — this one made more so given the many memorable moments we have had with Mauricio and his coaching staff — but we do so in the club’s best interests.”

Tottenham finished in the top-four of the Premier League for the past four seasons under Pochettino who has become a much-loved figure amongst the fans since joining from Southampton.

They also mounted serious title challenges in 2015-16 and again in 2016-17 when they finished second to Chelsea.

Last season they enjoyed a fairytale run to the Champions League final, beating Ajax Amsterdam on away goals in the semi-final after trailing 3-0 on aggregate at halftime in the second leg.

They lost 2-0 to Liverpool in the final in Madrid.

“Mauricio and his coaching staff will always be part of our history,” Levy said.

“I have the utmost admiration for the manner in which he dealt with the difficult times away from a home ground whilst we built the new stadium and for the warmth and positivity he brought to us.

“I should like to thank him and his coaching staff for all they have contributed. They will always be welcome here.”

The statement said an update on the new coaching set-up would be made in due course.

Edited by Joseph Edeh/Maharazu Ahmed

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Athletics’world body ratifies half marathon record set by Kenya’s Kamworor

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World Athletics, the world governing body of athletics, on Tuesday said it has ratified Geoffrey Kamworor’s world half marathon record of 58 minutes 01 seconds.

In a sensational run, Kamworor removed 22 seconds from the previous record at the Copenhagen Half Marathon on Sept. 15.

He was tantalisingly close to breaking the event’s 58-minute barrier.

It was an apt setting for the 26-year-old Kenyan who won the first of his three successive world half marathon titles in the streets of the Danish capital in 2014.

Covering the first five kilometres in 13:53, just outside world record pace, Kamworor upped the tempo to reach 10 kilometres in 27:34, four seconds inside his stated target.

He was in front alone by the 11-kilometre mark, but did not slow down.

The Kenyan reached 15 kilometres in 41:05, the fastest time ever recorded for that distance and a stunning 11 seconds inside sub-58 minute pace.

His pace dropped over the waning stages but he still reached 20 kilometres in 55:00, another world best.

He was just a few metres from the finish line as the clock moved to 58 minutes before stopping at 58:01.

“It is very emotional for me to set this record,” said Kamworor, who also won back-to-back world cross country titles in 2015 and 2017.

“And doing it in Copenhagen, where I won my first world title, adds something to it.”

World Athletics said in a statement to announce the ratification that the previous record of 58:23 was set by Zersenay Tadese in Lisbon in 2010.

World Athletics is the new name for the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).

OLAL

(Edited by Olawale Alabi)

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60 Goals Soccer Stars Project: 150 youngsters picked for mentoring ahead of professional football career

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Organisers of the 60 Goals Soccer Stars Project, a grassroots-based football talent-hunt initiative, on Tuesday in Abuja said they have now selected 150 young Nigerians for mentorship.

Jane Ndubuisi, the project’s National Co-ordinator, said at a press conference on Tuesday in Abuja that the selected players would then be endorsed for a professional football career.

The Nigeria News Agency reports that the 60 Goals Soccer Stars Project is a collaboration with the Ned Nwoko Foundation.

Ndubuisi said the football youngsters were selected from screenings by the group in Lagos, Delta, Akwa Ibom, Anambra and the FCT during the first phase of the project.

She added that the young footballers were presently being camped, mentored and recommended for football agents, clubs and the project’s partners both within and outside Nigeria.

“In the past eight months, we have been moving from state to state as part of our vision to scout, discover and develop raw talents in football to be showcased to the world.

“We are happy to announce that some of the best talents in football have been finally selected for the first phase of the project, and we believe that in the nearest future they will make Nigeria proud.

“I appreciate and congratulate these young players for showing commitment and discipline during this period.

“We believe strongly that at least 50 of the selected players will make it to foreign clubs in this first phase, while the others will be mentored and further trained for opportunities that will come,” Ndubuisi said.

Also, Francis Ikechukwu, the initiative’s Project Director and former national under-23 player said: “Nigeria is blessed with abundant talents but they need platforms like this to showcase themselves.

“The project is to develop football from the grassroots by discovering and empowering these young ones who had no opportunities.

“We want the best for them. So, we brought in foreign coaches as part of their mentorship, and thereafter we shall give them endorsements and recommend them for agents,” he said.

John Fashanu, an ex-international footballer, who represented at the occasion Ned Nwoko, the head of the Ned Nwoko Foundation, congratulated the selected youths.

He urged them to remain focused in order to stand out as they begin their professional football life.

“This is the beginning of your journey as footballers. So, I urge you to go on and work hard because the agents and clubs know what they want. They want real talent.

“The Ned Nwoko Foundation, as always, is willing to support this project to ensure that young Nigerians, especially, realise their dreams.”

NAN reports that football scouts and agents, as well as football enthusiasts were present at the event.

(Edited by Olawale Alabi)

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Enugu Sports Club plans state-of-the-art gymnastic hall to improve physical fitness

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The Executive Chairman, Enugu Sports Club, Mr Onyeka Onwe, has said that the Club is planning a State-of-the-art gymnastic (gym) hall to improve physical fitness in the State.

Onwe disclosed this in an interview with Nigeria News Agency on Tuesday in Enugu.

According to him, the club and Enugu residents need a state-of-art gym hall since the present gym at the club is small.

“The gym at the club is small that is why we are planning a spacious and state-of-the-art gym so that club members and visitors will have a nice environment for physical fitness.

“The new gym will boost the fitness of those who will take advantage of the facilities.

“Keeping fit in a spacious and secured environment is one of the legacies l want to leave for the club,” he said.

“We are making efforts to get philanthropists, organisations and governments to assist the club with funds for the gym,” he said.

Onwe said that the club would also modernise its table tennis auditorium and snooker parlour and make them standard for competitions.

The chairman said that the club would focus on the improvement and upgrading of all sporting facilities in the club house.

Edited by Chidinma Agu/Donald Ugwu

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Nigeria`s Football administration needs overhauling, says Elegbeleye

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A former Director-General of the National Sports Commission, Gbenga Elegbeleye, has called for a thorough examination of football administration in Nigeria as a response to the national teams’ dwindling fortunes.

Elegbeleye told Nigeria News Agency on Tuesday.

“Age-grade and women’s football have always been our strength and we particularly do well in those tournaments. But here we are not booking qualification for international age-grade and women’s competition,“he said.

He alleged that football administrators these days bring in their clients, cronies and kinsmen to manage the affairs of the country`s national teams.

“I am not happy about the tragedy that befell our national teams this year,” he said.

NAN reports that the most recent football under-performance by Nigeria came when five-time champions, the Golden Eaglets, failed to go beyond the round of 16 at the U-17 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

Before then, the home-based Super Eagles also failed to qualify for the  Africa Nations Championship (CHAN) in Cameroon in January 2020.

The national U-23 team, the Olympic Eagles, also failed to book a Tokyo 2020 ticket, as they could not go beyond the group stage at U-23 Africa Cup of Nations.

The women’s national teams haven’t fared better either. The Super Falcons didn’t qualify for the Olympics, as they were beaten to the ticket by Cote D’Ivoire in Oct.

Elegbeleye, who was a member of the 2011 Ministerial Committee on Reform of Football Administration in Nigeria, said only a careful and complete overhaul of the system would curtail further underachievement.

Sunday Dare, Minister of Youth and Sports Development, had on Monday met with the board of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF).

The minister demanded a written explanation over the “dismal” exit of the country’s teams from four football tournaments.

But Elegbeleye stated that the minister should go beyond demanding an explanation.

“We need a complete overhauling of football administration in Nigeria.

“With all due respect to the current board of the NFF – I do not have any problem with the board – football is not Nollywood.

“It takes effective and efficient football administration to deliver success in every aspect of the football value chain.

“Football matches are won on the pitch by players through the input of the technical crew, but football successes are engineered and recorded in the boardroom.

“We need to sit up and tell ourselves some hard truth that football is not a showbiz. Grandstanding and showmanship can’t earn us success in the game,” he said.

He, however acknowledged that the men’s senior national team, the Super Eagles, were at the heart of whatever went well for Nigerian football in 2019.

“Yes, the Super Eagles are about the only success story in Nigerian football this year.

“They got to the semi-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations and have so far recorded 100 per cent success rate in the 2021 qualifiers.

“However, they have only played Benin Republic and Lesotho.

“For me, their true test comes when they play fellow African powerhouses such as Senegal, Ghana and Algeria. Benin and Lesotho victories are routine,” he said.

Edited by Joseph Edeh/Sadiya Hamza

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Toothless Egypt held by Comoros as Algeria, Ghana win

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Egypt, without injured striker Mo Salah, lacked a cutting edge in front of goal as they were held to a 0-0 draw by tiny Comoros Islands in their 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier on Monday.

Midfielder Kahraba struck the crossbar early on and forward Trezeguet missed a one-on-one chance in the second period but Egypt also had goalkeeper Mohamed El Shenawy to thank for important saves.

The result follows a 1-1 home draw with Kenya in their Group G opener on Thursday and was wildly celebrated by the home fans, who invaded the pitch at the final whistle.

In the other Group G game, Kenya and Togo drew 1-1. Johanna Omolo put the East Africans in front before Hakim Ouro-Sama equalised for the visitors.

African Champions Algeria were made to sweat but collected a 1-0 victory in Botswana as Youcef Belaili netted after 15 minutes to ensure a full haul of six points from their opening two games in Group H.

Ghana needed a second half penalty from Jordan Ayew to claim a 1-0 success over Sao Tome and Principe on a difficult artificial surface as they also made it two wins from two matches in Group C.

Pa Modou Jagne scored an injury-time equaliser for Gambia in a 2-2 draw with the Democratic Republic of Congo in Group D to follow on from their surprise 3-1 success in Angola last week.

Cedric Bakambu and Jackson Muleka netted for the Congolese, who led twice in the contest but Bubacarr Jobe and Jagne rescued a point for the home side.

It was a similar story in Praia, where Mozambique scored in injury-time of the game to salvage a 2-2 draw against hosts Cape Verde Islands.

The home side also led twice as Garry Rodrigues and Ryan Mendes netted but Edson Mexer found the first equaliser before striker Witi netted for the visitors in injury-time to secure an excellent away point.

The top two nations in each pool advance to the 24-team finals scheduled to be held in Cameroon.

Edited by Emmanuel Okara/Adeleye Ajayi

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