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Ahmad Ahmad, new CAF President

Ahmad Ahmad of Madagascar has emerged the president of Confederation of African Football (CAF), defeating long-time incumbent, Cameroon’s Issa Hayatou.
Ahmad Ahmad polled 34 votes against Issa Hayatou’s 20 votes to beat the incumbent who has refused to step aside even as the continent’s fortunes in global football dwindled under his watch.

Hayatou, in charge for nearly three decades, has often been re-elected unopposed. On the two occasions when he did face a challenge, he won with landslides amongst the electorate of presidents of Africa’s football associations.

In 2000, he beat Angola’s Armando Machado by 47-4 votes and four years later he defeated Ismail Bhamjee of Botswana by 46-6 votes.

Caf former presidents

Abdel Aziz Abdallah Salem (1957-1958)

Abdel Aziz Moustafa (1958-1968)

Abdel Halim Muhammad (1968-1972)

Yidnekatchew Tessema (1972-1987)

Abdel Halim Muhammad (1987-1988)

Issa Hayatou (1988-2017)

Ahmad Ahmad (2017)

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Sports Minister Solomon Dalong

His is the case of a Solomon who lacks wisdom.

Minister of Sports and Youth Development, Mr. Solomon Dalong yesterday showed no signs of slowing down on his irresponsible comments as a public official.

In struggling to address the embarrassment the Federal Government’s inability to pay Super Falcons for their recent victory in the 2016 African Women Cup of Nations has caused the nation, Dalong said the government has not been able to pay the allowances of the Super Falcons because their victory in Cameroon was not expected.

Addressing State House Correspondents after a private meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the presidential Villa, Abuja, Dalong said that there was no money readily available to pay them. He however said that efforts were being made to find solution to the matter.

He said: “It is unfortunate that we are celebrating victory of the Super Falcons amidst some bitter feelings among the players because of some administrative lapses that were not managed properly because if the situation was explained to these girls, I don’t think the situation would have gotten to this level.

“They have stamped their authority and dominance over football in the continent, having consistently won the trophy eight times.

“After the girls came back from Cameroon, we had launched with them and they were in high spirits, the communication gap in trying to convey the situation to them could have been what led to it.

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Nigeria continued their quest to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, with a 3-1 win over Algeria, at the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.

Victor Moses scored twice for the Super Eagles, while John Mikel Obi also found the back of the net.

The North Africans grabbed what proved to be a consolation through Nabil Bentaleb. But what else did we learn?

Moses saves his people

Victor Moses was Man of the Match by a mile. The Chelsea man has been reinvented by Antonio Conte as a right wingback this season and his improvement was evident today at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium. He opened scoring in the first half and calmed the nerves of millions with a composed finish to settle the game.

Mahrez still blowing hot and cold

We are still waiting for the Riyad Mahrez, who left defenders hypnotized last season, as Leicester City won their first ever Premier League title. He was anonymous in the first half and only showed glimpses of his happy feet in the second half. However, it was Nabil Bentaleb’s exquisite strike that brought Algeria back into the match.

Of first choices and deputies

Daniel Akpeyi was selected ahead of Dele Alampasu and Ikechukwu Ezenwa in Carl Ikeme’s absence. He could do nothing about Bentaleb’s cracker and although he did not perform too shabbily, Akpeyi did not inspire confidence. Gernot Rohr picked Kelechi Iheanacho as his striker, with Odion Ighalo and Brown Ideye on the bench. The Manchester City was not at his influential best and did not hold the ball up well.

They’re still roaring under Rohr

The German is yet to lose a game as Technical Adviser of the Super Eagles. But that does not say it all. The team has looked much better on the ball and the pieces are falling in place nicely.

Russia, is that you?

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. But Nigeria are looking good for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. After Match Day 2, the former African champions lead the group with six points. Cameroon are second with two points, while Algeria and Zambia both have one point each. The double header against Cameroon will be key. If Rohr’s men manage to get four points, then it’s hello Russia!

‘Ifreke Inyang tweets via @Ifreke

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Questions on ethics swell around the action of an Egyptian football club, Al Ittihad, which terminated the contract of their new signing, 21-year-old Cameroonian Samuel Nlend, just after four days of sealing a 3-year contract, because his medical test results returned positive for HIV.

An Egyptian online Sports News platform, KingFut.com reported that a media representative of the club confirmed the news to the press.

Nlend is regarded as one of Cameroon’s brightest soccer prospects. According to Quartz, he finished the last Cameroonian soccer league season as the top scorer with his former club, Union Douala. He played and scored for the Cameroonian senior team at the African Nations Championship in Rwanda earlier this year. The chance to play in Egypt, in one of Africa’s richest leagues, presented a platform to launch a lucrative career in world soccer. But those hopes have been dashed.

Now questions about ethics hover around the decision to make the player’s HIV status public. Critics have lashed out at the club, saying their making the player’s HIV status public was unfair on the individual.

 

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Samson Siasia, Coach of Nigeria's U-23 Dream Team that just won Bronze in Rio, Brazil

The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) has debunked the claim by National U-23 Olympic Dream Team coach, Samson Siasia, that the football administrative body took away his official car while he was still in Rio executing the Nigeria’s campaign for Olympic football glory. In an interview with Vanguard Newspapers, Siasia had said, “Even before I returned from the Olympics, the only car they gave me, they took it away from my wife. That is just awesome. That is not how to treat someone who was out there seeking glory for the nation. Let them eat their national team,”

Siasia led the football team to a bronze finish at the just-ended Rio Olympics. In 2008 Olympics, he equally led Nigeria to win a silver medal in football.

Responding to Siasia’s claim in the interview which attracted the NFF opprobrium, the organisation’s Deputy Director (Communications), Ademola Olajire, told Nigerian Tribune that Siasia’s contract with the NFF did not include provision of an official car.

“The question you should ask him is, did his contract with the NFF as U-23 team coach include provision of any official car?

“The car in question was newly brought when Sunday Oliseh got the Super Eagles job. So, when Siasia handled the Eagles for two matches in March, the car was given to him as there was no immediate need for it in the absence of a substantive Super Eagles coach,” Olajire said.

It was not clear whether NFF’s understanding of coaching a national intermediate football team entailed. Mr Olajire did not say if they preferred Siasia hopping into buses or trekking as the coach of Nigeria’s Olympic Team coach.

The NFF spokesman further cleared the air on Siasia’s alleged resignation.

“There is no need for any resignation from him. His contract with the NFF expired at the end of the Rio Olympics. The coaching crew’s job ended with the Olympics,” Olajire told Tribunesport.

On the issue of backlog of salary owed the former Super Eagles coach, Olajire said Siasia would be paid as soon as funds were available to the federation.

The coach, who led the Flying Eagles to a second-place finish at the 2005 FIFA U-20 World Cup had told BBC Sport at the weekend that he had enough of Nigerian football.

“I have reached that point where I have to say I have had enough. I’ve gone several months without getting paid, years of being derided and disrespected by the sports authorities in Nigeria but I am done already,” he said

 

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Nigeria is the English-speaking world’s Scrabble superpower. Africa’s most populous nation is home not only to the global Scrabble champion, but team Nigeria ranks as the world’s top Scrabble playing nation — ahead of the U.S. in second place.

The Scrabble world champion is Wellington Jighere. He’s 33, has a soft voice, a slow smile and a penchant for fedoras, earning him the nickname “the Cat in the Hat”. Jighere acknowledges that he’s taciturn by nature, but also has an explosive, infectious laugh, though he considers Scrabble serious business.

“You can’t afford to waste too much energy doing unnecessary chatter,” he says. “During a tournament, I see it as business time. And that is no time to be joking around.” Jighere plays chess to relax, “and for fun,” he says.

Jet-lagged and weary, Jighere was crowned the world Scrabble champ last year in a grueling 32-round competition in Australia. Up to 30 of the top 100 global players are from Nigeria, which has the highest percentage of any country in the top 200. The Nigerians’ apparent collective strategy — short words that rack up the points.

Nigerians have been credited with perfecting that tactic under the tutorship of senior team coach, Prince Anthony Ikolo. He says Nigerians are passionate about Scrabble and the short word method gives them an edge. Many put Nigeria’s towering Scrabble prowess down to its players’ ability to “choke the board” as they say, with this defensive play.

“The game of Scrabble is actually built around short words — especially five letter words,” says Ikolo. “If you have such a word base, then you are good to go. But it would be a very big mistake for the world to think our players only know short words, especially five-letter words,” he warns.

The coach says “the short words help you to be defensive (by blocking longer words from opponents, but when it’s time to be offensive, we know those long words also. Nigeria is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to Scrabble”.

Ikolo, who’s also a university mathematician, came up with lists of five-letter words and distributed them to his players, including Jighere the world champion, to train them how to block the board. The coach says, armed with these, the Nigerians could take on and beat competitors playing seven-eight or even nine-letter words.

The other strategy was to gather his players at a hotel, before the tournament, and have them play two days of non-stop Scrabble. It appears to have worked.

Jighere though says his personal strategy is to have “no strategy at all. I play a fluid kind of game. Yah. I really don’t have a particular kind of style that you can pin me to”.

“So, when you are expecting me to do the traditional thing, I will just choose to do something that is uncharacteristic. It’s what sets me apart from everyone else,” he says.

Jighere should know. He and team Nigeria triumphed at the World English-Language Scrabble Players Association world championship in Australia in November 2015. They fully intend to hang onto that success when they defend those titles next year in Kenya, he says.

Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, phoned Australia to congratulate him, says Jighere with a big smile. “It felt so warm to have him speak with me right then and there. It was a very, very important experience. He told me how proud he was of my accomplishment and how proud I have made the nation as a whole, not just the nation but Africa as a whole. And that it has really gone to prove that we are truly the giants of Africa.”

Jighere bested a Briton in Perth, while Team Nigeria dethroned the U.S., which had been at the pinnacle for about decade, with Nigeria yapping at its heels, determined to topple the Americans.

“We are currently ranked No. 1 nation in the world for Scrabble,” says the champ. “In the world we have the highest number of persons in the top 100 rated Scrabble players. We have as many as 20 to 30 tough masters in Nigeria that can really give you a tough fight any time any day.”

Ikolo, the coach, will attest to that. Jighere’s friends and fellow Scrabble masters cut him no slack, in the jovial, noisy and garrulous atmosphere during the Lagos tournament.

Ikolo gleefully told NPR that until the Nigeria National Scrabble Players competition in the main city of Lagos, at the tail end of July, Jighere had failed to win any significant tournament after his success in Australia last year.

“Since he became the world champion, he has been beaten black and blue by his colleagues. It tells you how strong Nigeria’s Scrabble is. It tells you that the Scrabble scene we have here is a very tough one. It’s highly competitive and nobody can boast tomorrow that I’m going to win this, I’m going to win that when it comes to Nigerian Scrabble playing.”

So why Scrabble? “Ah, I didn’t exactly choose Scrabble,” says Jighere. “I ran into some friends who were tournament players and I beat them. They told me ‘Ah, if I could do this well against them, that means I should come to the next tournament’.” He adds, “And I was like, ‘Ah, you mean they play this in tournaments? OK, let’s go.’ And the rest, as they say, is history.” And he laughs.

That was in 2002. Today, Jighere sits atop the global Scrabble tournament ladder. He describes how he had to overcome fatigue and jet lag to win in Australia. Learn those words, commit them to memory and stay cool – and awake.

Scrabble was given official recognition as a sport in Nigeria in the 1990s. But local players, coaches, parents, officials and tournament organisers say government assistance has been patchy and more must be done to support, sponsor and finance Scrabble.

“Why will the government and corporate firms not look the way of Scrabble?” laments coach Okolo. “Government and corporate firms should come to the aid of Scrabble.”

The Lagos State Government provided the venue — Teslim Balogun stadium for indoor sports — for the recent tournament, as well as organising some logistics.

But senior team coach Ikolo says while cash prizes are welcome, the authorities — and corporate sponsors — should do more to capitalise on Nigeria’s global success at Scrabble. “We don’t value that Nigeria is ranked the best Scrabble playing nation in the world,” says Ikolo, “and we have the world Scrabble champion, Wellington Jighere”.

And yet Scrabble has caught on in Nigeria in a big way, among veterans and youths. There are scores of clubs up and down the 36 states of a nation of 180 million people. Daylong and weekend tournaments are held regularly and young players, like 10-year-old Angela Osaigbovo, are champions in their own right.

She’s been playing Scrabble since she was five and began competing at age six. “Scrabble for me is a fun way of using my academics, to help me in my hobbies and afterschool life,” says Angela with a big smile. Thrusting her Scrabble board into the air, she then shakes her bag of tiles, and tells me, “I’m good in Math and Literacy. And I think it’s due to Scrabble.”

As a Scrabbler, she likes using “premiums, or bingos, which are 7-letter words – such as zaniest, quiting and players.”

Relaxed and confident, Angela sits next to Vincent Okere, who’s 13. The teen won the local players championship and the trophy in the youth category in Lagos. He spent most of the tournament weekend prowling around the Masters, watching every Scrabble move by the veterans and, no doubt, learning.

But no hard feelings, says Angela, who came in second. She was working hard in the build-up to the youth championship at the Mind Sports International (MSI) global tournament in Lille, France, starting Saturday.

Every other year, MSI organises a championship for all-comers, while WESPA holds its tournaments the other years.

“Yes, I’m very excited. I’m aiming to win the WYSC – which is World Youth Scrabble Championship” in Lille at the end of August, Angela says, adding. “I’m not very shy!”

Her mother, Toyin Osaigbovo, is delighted that Angela loves Scrabble and says her daughter possesses what Nigeria has in abundance — focus and determination.

“Nigerians are very determined and dogged people,” says Osaigbovo. “And once we set our minds to something, we achieve it.”

Angela had this warning for their global competitors — “Watch out, because Nigeria is coming, with force!”

However, Angela’s disappointed mother says her daughter was refused a French visa, so won’t be able to compete in Lille since the youth championship began on Saturday.

The champ, Wellington Jighere, announced yesterday that he and other Nigerian players who applied had also been denied visas to travel to France. Social media has been twitching with outrage. Now Jighere says they’ve been told to report to the French Embassy today to be issued with visas.

So Scrabblers, you’re warned, Nigeria’s champions are on the warpath!

 

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By Jude Egbas

A goal each from Mikel Obi and Aminu Umar was enough to sweep Nigeria into the semi finals of the football event of the Rio Olympics at the expense of Denmark.

A couple of things we learned from that encounter tonight…

Jesus Emmanuel saves

Goalkeeper Emmanuel Daniel in goal for the Nigeria U-23 team sure earned his allowances on the night. The story of this game could have panned out differently had the Danes gone past him in one good spell for the Scandinavians before the break. Emmanuel was sure the difference between both sides in the first period, following one instinctive reflex save with another.

We witnessed his nerves jangle towards the death with an easy catch becoming a slippery one, but Emmanuel had done enough at this point to head into my book as the man of the match, nonetheless.

Thriving in adversity 

No one should gloss over the fact that the Nigerians went into this game on the back of perennial administrative bugaboo from the sports ministry, the national sports commission and the Nigerian soccer federation. 48hrs earlier, the players had even threatened to boycott the game if their allowances weren’t paid and coach Samson Siasia had thrown his weight behind that course of action should that become absolutely necessary.

News filtered in earlier today that a bumbling sports minister Solomon Dalung had brought out the cheque book before the country could embarrass itself before a global viewing audience, paying all outstanding allowances owed the players and the technical crew to the last dime.

No matter, because when the whistle went off to herald the start of proceedings, the Nigerians showed little signs of boardroom and administrative mess. Yeah, the Danes had that 20 minute spell before the break when they could have drawn level, but Nigeria was the better side for most of the game. Imoh Ezekiel was a delight to watch and Mikel kept things simple in midfield.

Talk about thriving in adversity.

The Nigerians couldn’t keep their heads

The “Dream Team” will face Germany in the semis without dependable ‘play-maker’ John Mikel Obi and Okechukwu Azubuike. Both were guilty of needless fouls that earned them bookings, robbing the team of their services against a German side that is everyone’s favorite to nick gold.

William-Troost Ekong was also guilty of losing his head on occasion and made it through the first half playing like he hadn’t slept a wink. Sadiq Umar was also asking for a booking at some point. There were also a couple of Nigerian bookings across the park that were totally uncalled for and plenty of show-boating from Stanley Amuzie and a couple of others that could have proved costly on another day.

Against the Germans, the team will need to keep its head, every minute of play. The Germans are very tricky customers.

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Jude Egbas is on Twitter as @egbas

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It’s that time of the year again.

Gripping games. Shockers. Controversies. Feisty confrontations. Mind games. Season-defining fixtures. Stadium cramped with excited fans, belting out songs in worship or war.

British most watched drama series, the English Premier League, returns to our screens this weekend.

The teasers have left us pleadingly counting down to the opening fixture between defending champions (incase you forgot that) Leicester City and Hull.

None bigger than Paul Pogba’s world-record transfer back to Manchester United. Depending on who you believe, the fee ranges from £89m to £110m.

This, really, says everything you need to know.

The EPL attracts the biggest TV deals and sponsors, which means they can afford to do Pogba-esque deals and offer crazy wages.

Even without Champions League football, United have been able to attract Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

Yannick Bolasie moving to Everton for a reported £30m and West Ham bidding £40m for Alexandre Lacazette says as much.

Let’s talk about the managerial heavyweights, shall we?

Jose Mourinho is back. At United. His dream job from all his cold, calculated digs at everyone that has listening ears. The Portuguese left English football under a cloud in December, having overseen the biggest implosion by any league winner. He will be desperate to piece together what is left of Louis Van Gaal’s philosophy and win silverware – no, the Community Shield does not count for me.

Across town is his former-life foe, Pep Guardiola. Tactically astute, deliciously dapper and supremely intense, the Spaniard takes over Manchester City and has splashed a bit of cash, as he seeks to mould the Etihad side in his image.

Antonio Conte needs no introduction. He got tired of winning the Serie A with Juventus and took charge of the Italian national team. Even without stellar names at this year’s European Championships, Conte managed to earn high praise from watchers and buffs.

In Liverpool, Jurgen Klopp begins his first full season in charge of the Reds. Saido Mane has been recruited to add much needed pace and trickery in his forward line, along with a few new faces from Germany. We saw two sides to his new-look team in pre-season. Producing a stunning humiliation of Barcelona one day and getting trounced by Mainz the next.

Arsene Wenger will always be with us. The Arsenal manager, who has not won the league since 2004, has dropped a hint that he could leave if his players don’t deliver. So far, he has only brought in Granit Xhaka, a tenacious tackler and a neat distributor. Word is Shkodran Mustafi and perhaps Riyad Mahrez/Alexandre Lacazette might come in too.

Across North London, is a seething Mauricio Pochettino, who lost second place on the final day of last season. Can Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester, repeat their wondrously thrilling adventure of last year?

The race to finish top in May 2017, starts at lunch time on Saturday.

‘Ifreke Inyang tweets via @Ifreke

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By Jude Egbas

At the men’s football event of the Rio Olympics, Nigeria lost its final group game to Colombia by two goals to nil. A few lessons the technical crew may have picked up….

Goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi has played his last game

It wasn’t just for bringing down Herald Preciado to hand the Colombians a penalty and a second goal, the goalie who plies his trade in Chippo United FC in South Africa, mistimed and misjudged just about every onslaught on Wednesday.

Coach Siasia had rested his first choice goalkeeper Emmanuel Daniel, handing Daniel Akpeyi the gloves. But on the evidence of last night, he’ll hurriedly return to Daniel until Nigeria’s participation at Rio is over.

Over-aged players are supposed to add that extra bit of quality, composure, experience and guile to the team at the football event of the Olympics. Akpeyi offered none. Harsh to judge a player from just one game, but such is the brutal world of football, Akpeyi will return to the bench and stay there when Nigeria confronts Denmark in the quarter finals. And subsequently.

Changes affected rhythm 

With qualification already sealed, coach Samson Siasia effected a raft of changes to his starting line-up. 5 regulars were asked to sit out the opening exchanges, including  goalkeeper Emmanuel Daniel, right-back Shehu Abdullahi, midfielder Usman Muhammed and exciting forward Imoh Ezekiel. The effect was a dis-jointed performance from the “Dream Team”, from the off.

Teofilo Gutierrez was left unmarked to slot in Colombia’s first goal in the fourth minute, after mix-up from the Nigerians in midfield and a defence caught flat-footed.

Passes broke down across the Arena Corinthians turf from the Nigerians before there had even begun and Sadiq Umar was a passenger all game. Mikel couldn’t boss the game like he’s accustomed to and the Nigerian back-line was a comedy of errors. The Colombians should have been three up in the first half, such was their threat to Nigeria’s goal in the opening exchanges.

It’s almost a given now that Siasia will return to his preferred starting line-up in the next game, except that he won’t have the services of Etebo, his brightest player who copped an injury during the encounter.

Colombia as the South American template

Should Nigeria meet another South American side in the tournament, the Colombians offered a ready template from which ample lessons can be drawn. They were quicker in the transitions, out-thought the Nigerians on numerous occasions and had a better tactical approach to the encounter. South Americans are often a sleek, easy on the eye bunch, and there were moments when it looked like the Colombians had Nigeria on the ropes, ready for the picking.

The men in green were unsettled from an early goal and the Colombians made sure to keep the advantage, adding a second to kill off all hopes of a Nigerian come-back, exactly when they wanted. It was beautiful execution, if you weren’t Nigerian.

South American gamesmanship and precision.

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Jude Egbas is on Twitter as @egbas

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German tactician Gernot Rohr will oversee the affairs of Nigeria’s Super Eagles at least for another two years, and that’s official.

Rohr has experience coaching in Africa, having overseen affairs at Tunisian outfit Etoile du Sahel, Niger Republic and Burkina Faso.

He also coached Girondins Bordeaux in France.

In recommending him for the job, the NFF technical committee described Rohr as “calm, mature and possessing a good knowledge of the game in Africa.

“The committee was impressed with Mr. Rohr’s profile and current activities for the German Football Federation (DFB), so we invited him to Nigeria for exhaustive deliberations.

“He was very positive, showed great interest in the job and is ready and willing to live in Nigeria. He is also willing to work with indigenous Nigerian coaches and with the committee, and believes the Super Eagles can qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, which is very important to the NFF. He swayed the committee with his calmness, good knowledge of the African terrain, focus and maturity.”

Rohr takes over from Sunday Oliseh, who dumped the Super Eagles in February, citing contractual breach and shoddy organization.

The NFF had named Paul Le Guen as coach of the Eagles only last month, but the Frenchman wasted no time in turning down the offer.

Rohr takes over a team low on confidence, ranked poorly in Africa and the world; and one which won’t be participating in the Africa cup of nations.