Nigeria 2 Iceland 0

Musa brace boosts Super Eagles & Argentina

Jun 22, 2018

Ahmed Musa struck both goals as Nigeria boosted their World Cup qualification hopes with a 2-0 defeat of Iceland, a result that is also good news for Argentina.

Lionel Messi’s team were pushed to the brink of an early exit after a stunning 3-0 loss to Croatia on Thursday, but victory in their final Group D game against Nigeria could now send them through to the last 16.

Musa was left out of Nigeria’s loss to Croatia but he justified his recall to the side with the opening goal shortly after the interval at the Volgograd Arena on Friday.

The forward controlled a cross from Victor Moses and thumped an unstoppable drive into the roof of the net, with Musa becoming the Super Eagles’ top scorer in the history of the tournament courtesy of his third World Cup goal.

Nigeria were poor in the first half – failing to record a single shot – but they were much improved after the break, Musa adding another to his personal tally in the 75th minute as Iceland’s rock-like resilience crumbled.

Iceland, who saw Gylfi Sigurdsson miss a late penalty, need to win to stand any chance of making the knockout stages, although even three points may not be enough depending on the outcome of Nigeria’s clash with Argentina with all three teams still standing a chance to join Croatia in the last 16.

Gylfi Sigurdsson had tested Francis Uzoho with an early free-kick as Iceland made a bright start.

Iceland’s star man then fired a sixth-minute chance straight at the teenage goalkeeper, who dealt with a string of corners as both sides struggled for fluency in midfield.

But Iceland almost took the lead in the last minute of the first half, Alfred Finnbogason unable to get a decisive touch on Gylfi Sigurdsson’s dangerous free-kick delivered from the right wing.

Nigeria, in contrast, were unable to put any cohesive attacking moves together, meaning they became the first team at Russia 2018 to fail to record an attempt in the first half

They did test Hannes Thor Halldorsson just 14 seconds after the restart, with the goalkeeper easily saving from Oghenekaro Etebo, who had scored an own goal in his team’s 2-0 defeat in Kaliningrad at the weekend.

However, the Super Eagles opened the scoring with their next attack in the 49th minute.

Moses led a rapid break down the right with his cross brilliantly collected by Musa, whose superb first touch took defender Ragnar Sigurdsson out of the equation. If Musa’s first touch was good his second was even better, a lashed finish on the half-volley giving Halldorsson no chance.

Nigeria’s confidence levels grew in the wake of the goal, Halldorsson having to be alert to tip over a deflected rifled drive from Wilfred Ndidi.

Musa rattled the crossbar as Nigeria pushed to seal all three points – and the striker would not be denied again in the 75th minute.

Fed by Kenneth Omeruo, Musa burst clear in the left channel, cut inside and slipped a calm finish past Halldorsson.

Nigeria survived a late scare after a VAR review spotted substitute Tyronne Ebuehi had tripped Finnbogason, with Gylfi Sigurdsson’s spot-kick effort clearing the crossbar.

But a late injury to captain John Obi Mikel, who appeared to hurt his hand during six minutes of additional time, could be a concern for Gernot Rohr’s side ahead of an all-or-nothing clash with Argentina.

Key Opta stats:

– All six of Nigeria’s World Cup wins have come against European opposition, and they have kept a clean sheet in five of those victories.

– This was Iceland’s first defeat in a group stage match at a major international tournament, having previously drawn three and won one of their four games.

– Ahmed Musa has scored each of Nigeria’s last four goals at the World Cup, having also bagged a brace in a 3-2 defeat to Argentina in 2014.

– Gylfi Sigurdsson fired in two shots on target in the first six minutes of this match, as many as his side managed in total in 90 minutes against Argentina

– This was only Nigeria’s second win in their last 14 matches at the World Cup (D3 L9), having also beating Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2014.

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Musa shows Messi how it’s done to set up critical Argentina showdown

Jun 22, 2018

Argentina can breathe again. Nigeria have blown World Cup Group D wide open in the race for second spot behind Croatia, and set up a tantalising showdown between Gernot Rohr’s side and the South Americans on matchday three.

It was fitting that Nigeria, on Russian soil, managed what England could not in France in 2016: namely, beat Iceland. It was fitting because it was Ahmed Musa who inspired them. The forward never settled at Leicester City, never showed enough of his qualities to a Premier League audience, but Volgograd Arena witnessed the real deal, the man who has excelled at CSKA Moscow.

At half-time, it looked as though the entertaining 2018 finals, still without a goalless draw, was about to be hauled down into the doldrums.

Nigeria became the first team since South Korea four years ago to fail to register a shot in the first half of a World Cup match. They tried 10 crosses and completed none of them. Within 18 minutes, Iceland matched the number of efforts on target they managed in the whole game against Argentina: a whole two of them.

The neutrals must thank Rohr for whatever he said at half-time. After only 14 seconds of the second half, Nigeria had Iceland looking rattled, with Oghenekaro Etebo testing Hannes Halldorsson after a swift break.

Three minutes later, they had the breakthrough: Victor Moses’ cross was not the best and Musa’s first touch looked a little fortuitous, but his finish was emphatic.

It forced Iceland to throw off the shackles and suddenly we had some entertainment. It also meant that famous defensive rigidity of theirs had to be disregarded, a glimmer of a soft underbelly shown. Musa took full advantage 15 minutes from the end, dancing past defenders and goalkeeper before picking his spot.

The 25-year-old has now scored all four of his side’s most recent World Cup goals and nobody has managed more for the Super Eagles at football’s grandest event. Only the crossbar denied him a hat-trick on Friday. There are few more singularly important players for any of the 32 teams in Russia.

It means we are still waiting for the first 0-0 draw of these finals; a goal in the match between Serbia and Switzerland will match the record of 26 from 1954. It has also offered a stay of execution for Jorge Sampaoli’s Argentina, and Lionel Messi, who will have one more chance to keep their tournament alive when they face Nigeria in St Petersburg on Tuesday.

It would not be fair to put all the focus on Messi’s reprieve, though. This is the moment to praise Nigeria and Musa, their own undisputed attacking star, for breathing life into their finals when it mattered most.

Nigeria’s young World Cup squad learning on the job – Rohr

Jun 21, 2018

Gernot Rohr has insisted Nigeria will not lose their crunch World Cup Group D clash with Iceland and is adamant his youthful squad will continue to improve.

Gernot Rohr has insisted Nigeria will not lose their crunch World Cup Group D clash with Iceland and is adamant his youthful squad will continue to improve.

Nigeria’s hopes of reaching the last 16 hang in the balance following their 2-0 defeat to Croatia on Saturday, and defeat to Iceland would guarantee an early exit for the Super Eagles.

Rohr is sure his side will not slump to a second defeat, but knows Nigeria’s inexperienced squad face a tough task to secure a place in the knockout stage.

“For me it’s no question to lose, I don’t think we’ll lose, so I don’t ask this question myself,” Rohr answered when questioned how a defeat could impact his future.

“You can ask me again after the game, but I tell you we will not lose.

“We are the youngest team of the World Cup. We have John Obi Mikel who was and still is a very good player. [Victor] Moses too, these are well known.

“But with young players you hope they are stars tomorrow. I think we have a team for 2022, because when you are so young they will be better and better.

“We are number 50 in the world and I think Iceland are in the top 20, Croatia top 12 and Argentina in top eight.

“I see the matches are so different and the squads so close. We have to learn. It’s not finished after the World Cup for us, we want to improve, learn. When you are the youngest it’s not possible to already be the best.”

While Nigeria failed to impress against Croatia, Iceland put in a superb performance to hold Argentina to a 1-1 draw – Alfred Finnbogason cancelling out Sergio Aguero’s opener.

Euro 2016 surprise package Iceland rode their luck at times in Moscow, with Hannes Thor Halldorsson keeping Lionel Messi at bay from the spot, but Rohr is full of admiration for Heimir Hallgrimsson’s side.

“I’ve a lot of respect for Iceland, they did so well against Argentina,” Rohr added.

“We know it’ll be very difficult to beat them. They have great players playing like a team. Like them we don’t have the big stars, so we’ll be like two collectives.”

Mbappe breaks record

Mbappe wants more World Cup dreams after breaking France record

Jun 21, 2018

Kylian Mbappe says playing at the World Cup is a “dream”, but he wants more after becoming France’s youngest goalscorer at a major tournament.

Mbappe took advantage of a fortunate deflection to knock in from close range and earn a 1-0 win over Peru, securing qualification from Group C for Les Bleus.

France have failed to impress in both of their one-goal wins, having also benefited from good luck in a 2-1 defeat of Australia.

And teenager Mbappe, who was named the man of the match, is targeting more honours for France, who last lifted the World Cup at their home tournament in 1998.

“I was very happy [to score],” Mbappe told a news conference.

“I’ve always said the World Cup is a dream for any player.

“It was mine too and I hope I have more like this.”

With Peru putting France under pressure, particularly in the second half, Mbappe had to help out his defensive colleagues to protect Les Bleus’ clean sheet.

“If the team needs you, you need to sacrifice,” Mbappe said. “It wasn’t even a sacrifice, I was just bringing something to the team.

“Sometimes we didn’t need to be up in the pitch so I went back. That’s what I did.”

Argentina a broken mess

Calamity Caballero and Sampaoli tinkerings leave Argentina a broken mess

Jun 21, 2018

If Argentina are going to survive in this World Cup, they need fresh impetus, a new system, and certainly a new goalkeeper.

Willy Caballero was never meant to be their number one in Russia but the injury to Sergio Romero forced coach Jorge Sampaoli to make a choice. He went with the 36-year-old, who only made his international debut in March. After Thursday’s 3-0 defeat to Croatia, that decision may have cost his side a place in the last 16.

Caballero has had a fine career but the warning signs have been flashing brightly. He shipped five goals against Spain in that humiliating 6-1 friendly loss in Madrid before these finals, and he seemed to create a constant unease in their surprise opening draw with Iceland.

What happened in Nizhny Novgorod was an error of an altogether different category. With the ball trickling back towards his goal, Ante Rebic giving chase, all the uncertainty about his own form seemed to cloud at once around Caballero’s shining bald head. He neither cleared to the sidelines, nor found a team-mate; instead, he chipped the ball up and into the perfect striking distance for Rebic, who volleyed sweetly into the net.

Caballero’s face was immediately in his hands. Sampaoli mirrored the gesture on the bench, as did approximately 10,500 Argentina fans who had made the stadium a cauldron of noise until then.

Argentina’s malaise cannot be blamed entirely on the goalkeeper, of course. They were better than they were against Iceland here for the first hour, but drastically short of good enough. Possession and high pressing is only useful if it leads to chances, and the only one of note fell to Enzo Perez in the first half, who fluffed his lines horribly.

Sampaoli has continually tinkered with his system and line-up in a bid to bring the best out of Lionel Messi. This time, he switched to 3-4-3, adding flying wing-backs to aid the Barcelona star and Maximiliano Meza in the wide positions, who in turn supported Sergio Aguero. The fact the Manchester City man spent 21 minutes and 11 seconds of the first half without touching the ball says enough about how successful the plan was.

In the aquatic-themed Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, this had felt like a watershed moment for Sampaoli’s Argentina. The deafening support of the travelling fans was commendable, especially after the Iceland disappointment. The ground itself is even blue and white, both outside and in terms of seat colour.

It was a home away from home, wrecked by a goalkeeping calamity, an uncertain system and a stunning strike from Luka Modric. Caballero could not even redeem himself in injury time, his low save to deny Ivan Rakitic sending the ball straight to Mateo Kovacic, who teed up the Barcelona man for a tap-in. Messi watched on from the halfway line, scarcely reacting at all.

Argentina’s World Cup is not over yet. A win for Nigeria over Iceland, or even a draw, in Friday’s Group D match would help their cause. But forgetting this Nizhny nightmare will take some doing.

BALE FEATURES BUT NO RONALDO IN REAL MADRID’S 2018-19 KIT LAUNCH

The Welshman has been heavily linked with an exit from the Santiago Bernabeu but has been pictured in the new strip for the 2018-19 season
Gareth Bale may be linked with a mega-money move to Manchester United, but the Wales forward has featured in Real Madrid’s latest kit launch.

https://mobile.twitter.com/realmadriden/status/1001375436935516160/video/1

Bale scored twice in the Champions League final at the weekend, the first a brilliant overhead kick, as Real ran out 3-1 winners over Liverpool in Ukraine.

However, his exceptional acrobatics did not dominate the headlines, as he gave an interview after the game insisting that he must be playing regularly, sending the transfer rumour mill into a frenzy.

United have been heavily linked with the 28-year-old, while former club Tottenham are said to have first refusal on any deal.

Nevertheless, the attacker features heavily in Madrid’s kit launch, along with Marcelo, Toni Kroos, Karim Benzema and Nacho Fernandez.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s absence from the launch may set tongues wagging, too, after the Portugal superstar hinted at a potential exit from the club in the immediate aftermath of Real’s win in Kiev.

He has, however, appeared to play down those reports as he said “until next year” when he addressed supporters a day after Madrid’s final triumph.

Real’s pristine white home kit remains, with some classy black piping, while they will wear black away from home.

The goalkeepers at Santiago Bernabeu will wear black at home, and light blue away from home.

Real have yet to announce the colour of their traditional third kit, which is usually worn in the Champions League.

BALE READY TO QUIT REAL, BUT ARE UNITED, OR ANYONE, READY TO SIGN HIM?

The link between Manchester United and Bale has long existed, with the player now said to see Old Trafford as a preferred destination.

They would also be better placed to match the forward’s current wages, but that is precisely why United are now cool on the player, especially at his age and at this point of his career as well as after signing Alexis Sanchez.

Sources close to Bale say he would also be very open to a return to Spurs, and would be willing to make compromises on financial demands if a deal could be structured.

The Welshman’s wage demands are a stumbling block (Getty)

With manager Mauricio Pochettinohaving urged the club to make statements in the market this summer, those close to the hierarchy say Tottenham would be willing to offer a deal similar to Harry Kane’s, of around £200,000 a week with bonuses.

Sources say that Spanish tax means Bale only gets £200,000 in hand at Real Madrid, but that other commercial deals related to being at the club take him up to way over £500,000.