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Lewandowski scores hat-trick as Barcelona thrash Plzen

Lewandowski
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Robert Lewandowski marked his first Champions League game for Barcelona with a hat-trick as Xavi Hernandez’s side thrashed Viktoria Plzen 5-1 at the Camp Nou on Wednesday.

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Barca, who failed to get past the group stage last season, also saw Franck Kessie and Ferran Torres score in an accomplished display.

Lewandowski has now scored eight goals in just five appearances for his new team in all competitions.

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“I knew from the beginning here it was going to be important to adapt right from the first game,” he told uefa.com.

“Today is my wife’s birthday so the goals and the birthday were for her. The fact that she was in the stadium on her birthday means a lot. Something amazing for me.”

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There will be tougher tests to come for the five-time European champions with Bayern Munich and Inter Milan also in Group C.

The Catalan giants visit the Allianz Arena next Tuesday in a real test of how far they have come in the last 12 months, after Bayern’s opening 2-0 win at the San Siro.

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Barca took the lead in the 13th minute as Kessie nodded the ball home after Jules Kounde had headed Ousmane Dembele’s corner back across goal.

It was the Ivorian midfielder’s first goal for the club since signing from AC Milan in the close season.

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Ansu Fati almost doubled the advantage midway through the first half, but his effort was saved by visiting goalkeeper Jindrich Stanek.

Plzen were awarded a penalty in the 25th minute as Andreas Christensen brought down Jhon Mosquera, but the referee changed his mind after a VAR review and instead gave a free-kick to Barca.

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Lewandowski moved ahead of Karim Benzema into third place on the all-time Champions League goalscoring charts with his 87th in the competition, and first for his new club.

The 34-year-old curled a low shot into the bottom corner from just inside the area in the 34th minute.

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The Czechs gave themselves a lifeline shortly before the break as Jan Sykora headed in Vaclav Jemelka’s cross.

But Plzen could not stay within a goal until half-time as Lewandowski stooped unmarked to head Dembele’s cross over the line.

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Lewandowski completed his sixth Champions League hat-trick with a fine low strike from distance in the 67th minute.

“I don’t know if Robert is the best striker in Europe but for us he’s the best,” said Xavi.

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“He helps us play out, he presses, he brings us loads of solutions in attack. Total maturity as a player, and completely spectacular. He scored a hat-trick but how he worked for the team.”

Xavi’s men wasted little time in making it five, as substitute Torres drilled a brilliant volley on the turn into the top corner from Dembele’s chipped pass.

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Plzen avoided any further damage but face a daunting task in their remaining five group matches, with a home game against Inter next up.

AFP

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Terry, Ighalo, Eguavoen Lead Tribute As Mikel Announces Retirement

Mikel , Oliseh
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Glowing tributes have continued to pour in following Tuesday’s announcement by Mikel Obi about his retirement from professional football after 20 years.

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“What they say has a beginning must definitely have an end.”

Those were the words of Mikel as he joined the long list of ex-internationals like Joseph Yobo, Vincent Enyeama and others to bid farewell to active football after serving clubs and country meritoriously.

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The career of the Jos-born midfielder which started in Nigeria transcended to Europe where Mikel featured for one of the most reputable English clubs, Chelsea.

As expected, there were tons of reactions after Mikel dropped his retirement statement on his Instagram page with the likes of John Terry, Odion Ighalo, and Augustine Eguavoen leading the line.

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Mikel, 35, rightly feels accomplished and while thanking those who supported him all through his playing career, hinted a new chapter is set to begin.

“I look back at the past 20 years of my career, and I must say that I am very satisfied with all that I was able to achieve and more importantly the human it has helped shape.

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“All of this would not have been possible without the unwavering support of my family, managers, clubs, coaches, teammates and most importantly my ever-loyal fans. You supported me through my highs and lows, even on days that I did not live up to your expectations. I say a big thank you.

“I will also like to encourage everyone who I may have inspired one way or the other in the course of my career to never give up on their dreams, for every time you think about quitting, remind yourself why you started.

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This is not goodbye, it’s the start of another journey, another chapter of my life. I look forward to what the future holds and I hope you will walk with me. Thank you.”

The emotion-laden words of Mikel raised teary farewells from top sporting figures and fans around the world.

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As of the time of filing this report, Mikel’s retirement post already had over 85,000 likes and 5,000 comments with the majority congratulating the former Super Eagles skipper.

A very popular one was from the former Chelsea captain, John Terry, who welcomed Mikel to the retirement club.

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“@mikel_john_obi 💙 What a great career my friend, it was a pleasure to play and share the dressing room with you. Love you Georgie Boy💙⚽️.”

The Nigerian did respond by appreciating the English ex-international for being a true leader.
“Mikel_john_obi

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V@johnterry.26 Thanks Georgie boy 😁 love ya old boy. You made us winners in that dressing room. And loads of banter 👌😂🙏 thank you 💙”

Not only Terry, the likes of Fellipe Luiz, Salamon Kalou and Gary Cahil who were members of the historic 2012 Champions League winning set also congratulated Mikel.

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Salomonkalou V OGaaaaaaaaaaaa. I dey miss u Baba Thank u for that wonderful journey 💙💙 . Ps I fancy well well that 1st foto obina🥇

Filipeluis Congrats on your AMAZING career my friend.
It was an honour to play with you. ❤️

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Garyjcahill V Congratulations on an amazing career mate, pleasure to play alongside you. Enjoy your retirement. 👏🙌🙌

A popular Chelsea fan, Khalid Frank, also appreciated the Nigerian for the years spent at Stamford Bridge.

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Frankkhaliduk 💙💙💙💙💙💙Accordingly, Mikel’s teammates in the national team were also on hand to wish him well.

The likes of Odion Ighalo, Ogeniyi Onazi, who played in the midfield alongside Mikel, Oghenekaro Etebo, Kelechi Iheanacho, Jamilu Collins and others all had kind words for Mikel

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Ighalojude Congrats skippo and good luck 🙌🏾💙🙏🏾

Onaziogenyi Ahhh skippo I miss you sha.. LEGEND 🙏🏿🙏🏿🙏🏿🙏🏿🙏🏿🙏🏿

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Collinsjamilu Enjoy your retirement skippo 🙏🏿

kelechi72 Congrats on a wonderful career
Legend Skippo friend brother
All the best for the future
❤️❤️ Obi O’gba ball

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Mikel’s former coach in the national team, Austin Eguavoen, also congratulated Mikel on his achievement.

Austineguavoen Congratulations on your retirement, John Mikel Obi.

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An honor coaching you at the FIFA U17 World Cup 2003, AFCON 2006 🥉 & AFCON 2008. 🇳🇬

You played it all, and won it all. 🏆

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Enjoy the good life. 🥂

Undeniably, Mikel Obi is one of the most successful Nigerian players ever.

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At Chelsea where he made 372 appearances, he won all the major trophies including the UEFA Champions League and Europa League.

For Nigeria, Mikel is an Olympic medalist and also won the Africa Cup of Nations, among other silverware.

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Spain beat Portugal to reach Nations League semi-finals

League
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Alvaro Morata’s late strike snatched Spain a 1-0 Nations League victory over Portugal in Braga on Tuesday and sent them into the semi-finals.

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La Roja needed to win to finish top of League A Group 2, but struggled on another difficult night for the Euro 2020 semi-finalists, until Morata’s 88th-minute breakthrough.

Spain have not been able to hit top form in the internationals leading up to the Qatar 2022 World Cup, but this hard-fought victory provides a welcome morale boost.

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Portugal had the better of the game but Spain brightened in the final stages, with the introduction of several substitutes, including Nico Williams, who headed across goal for Morata to gleefully turn in at the back post.

“When we had to stand up, we did,” Morata told TVE. “If we had lost, it had to be giving everything we had on the pitch, and that’s what we did.

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“I’ll remember the attitude of the team, we fought until the end. And Nico Williams, in his second game for the national team, was key and I put it over the line.”

Spain will join Italy, Croatia and the Netherlands in the semis in June 2023, although attention now switches to the fast-approaching World Cup.

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Luis Enrique made wholesale changes to the side that suffered Spain’s first home defeat since 2018 against Switzerland on Saturday, retaining only four starters.

Morata was brought in to lead the line, while the Asturian coach rotated his entire midfield trio.

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Spain still dominated possession, as their gameplan demands, but to little effect as Portugal created the more dangerous openings in the first half.

Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper Unai Simon made a solid save to deny Ruben Neves and then a brilliant one to keep Liverpool striker Diogo Jota at bay.

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Cristiano Ronaldo appealed for a penalty in a race for the ball with Simon but the referee spotted he went to ground without any contact and waved play on.

With Portuguese confidence increasing, Bruno Fernandes lashed an effort narrowly off-target, celebrated prematurely by swathes of the stadium as the ball appeared to settle in the net.

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Just as they did against Switzerland, Spain failed to get a single shot on target in the first half, and after Simon made another good save from Ronaldo early in the second half, Luis Enrique took action.

The coach sent on Pedri, Gavi and Yeremy Pino to try and give La Roja more inspiration going forward, although it was the hosts who almost broke the deadlock when Dani Carvajal deflected a strike narrowly over his own crossbar.

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At the other end Morata replied with a tame effort which was easily collected by Diogo Costa, who also thwarted Spain substitute Williams.

The changes livened Luis Enrique’s team up and Costa was required again to shovel away a far more emphatic strike from Atletico Madrid striker Morata, before the breakthrough ultimately arrived.

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Carvajal launched a crossfield ball into the area, with Williams’ header leaving Morata with the simple task of firing into the empty net to put the runners-up of the last edition of the Nations League back into the final four.

Ronaldo was denied by Simon at the death and Fernando Santos’s Portugal left ruing their missed chances and wishing they had killed off Spain when they had the chance.

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“This is a wonderful sport in which winning is the best antidote to any depression or sadness,” said Luis Enrique.

“Portugal are a top, top, top team. In the first half I insisted, maybe too much, on having the ball, and we did. It’s evident we’d prefer to play the passes in their half.

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“(But) the first half was necessary to show that the ball was ours, and in the second we had the sensation that the goal would come. We’re in the final four again and it’s a great joy.”

AFP

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NFF Elections: Nothing has changed, presidential candidates say

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Some Presidential Candidates in the upcoming Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) elections have expressed optimism that the elective congress would still go on as scheduled on Friday in Benin.

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A cross section of some presidential candidates spoke to newsmen after a crucial meeting with the Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Mr Sunday Dare, on Tuesday in Abuja.

They noted that nothing had changed, adding that the election will still go ahead as scheduled on Sept. 30 in Benin, despite a court order on Sept. 15, putting the NFF Elections on hold.

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Justice Inyang Ekwo in a ruling on an ex-parte motion moved by counsel for the claimants, Celsus Ukpong, ordered the minister, Pinnick or any person, acting on their instruction, to maintain a status quo.

This, he said, was pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice for interlocutory injunction.

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Former NFF 1st Vice President, Seyi Akinwunmi, said the meeting with the minister was just a heart-to-heart discussion about where they were as football administrators, government and as Nigerians.

“It wasn’t anything controversial, there wasn’t any issue that will make anyone of us frown.

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“So, really there isn’t much to report unfortunately beyond the fact that we are all going back tonight to our various locations I guess to continue our hustle and campaign for votes.

“The issue of the court order has to do with the Electoral Committee and not with us.

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“So, there’s no much we can do. If the Electoral Committee says that this is what their interpretation of what was served on them means, that we can’t have elections, then we don’t, if it says we can, then we do.

“So, you don’t worry yourself over something you don’t have control over,” he said.

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Idah Peterside and an ex-international expressed his gratitude to the minister for allaying the fears of all the presidential candidates.

“We want to thank the Minister because we all had our fears concerning the election.

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“But, a whole lot of things have been cleared and we are all going to Edo, we are all going for the elections.

“You can see us happy and taking pictures with the minster. Everything is in order.

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“We really want to thank the minster as we had some reassurances that everything is in order and the government is taking care of it.

“We thank the minister for helping to calm all the nerves. So we are all going ahead unless something else changes,” he said.

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Mouktar Mohammed, Chairman, FCT Football Association, said that the meeting was a welcome development, adding that as stakeholders, the minister is the leader of sports in Nigeria.

“We obliged to the meeting as stakeholders and aspirants to have a dialogue because there are issues on ground.

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“So, it was a very good meeting and everybody comes away with the feeling that government is guiding the process in the right direction,” he said.

Mohammed noted that there were certain decisions that he expects the Electoral Committee to take which had to do with advise from the security agencies as well as some investigations.

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He said all the presidential candidates were well aware of the court order, adding that they are all law abiding citizens.

“There are still days to go and the court order could be vacated, but as law abiding citizens we will follow what the court says.

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“So, it’s an ongoing discussion and there are no conclusions yet. I am sure in the next few days we will hear more.

“Everybody is anxious and we hope at the end of the day there will be a credible process and everybody would accept the process and football will begin to grow and ensure everybody is on board,” he said.

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On the 10-year masterplan, the chairman said he was a big fan of the document, adding that the country now have a document that will make the game grow.

“The Minister has done a good job with the masterplan and I have said that if I am elected I will work with government to ensure that it is implemented properly.

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“I have always felt that the NFF has to be a partner of government and all other stakeholders.

“So I would love to see a resolution of all the issues from any stakeholder in the football family,” he said.

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Christian Emeruwa, Head of Safety and Security Department, Confederation of Africa Football (CAF), on his part said the presentation of the 10-year plan by the minister to all the presidential aspirants was the highlight of the meeting for him.

“More importantly, the minister handed over the 10-year master plan to each of the contestants with the hope that whoever emerges as the president should be able to work with it.

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“This is also what the Federal Government wants to see in football.

“So, I think it was a good meeting, as you can see everybody is happy and smiling and hopefully we are looking forward to the show,” he said. (NAN)

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