Spoilers threaten dream Ghana-Nigeria final clash

Updated 06 February 2013
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Spoilers threaten dream Ghana-Nigeria final clash

NELSPRUIT: Ghana and Nigeria hope they are headed for a heavyweight clash in the African Nations Cup final but Mali and Burkina Faso could well emerge as the spoilers in today’s semifinals.
For the first time in Nations Cup history, all four semifinalists are from the west African region and while Ghana and Nigeria have the pedigree, Mali appeared to have the most depth while Burkina Faso proved the surprise package.
Mali and Nigeria meet in the first semifinal in Durban today, followed by the match between Burkina Faso and Ghana in Nelspruit later the same day.
Ghana are seeking to end more than three decades without success at the Nations Cup since their last tournament victory while Nigeria have only won twice before, the last time in 1994.
Both teams have admitted they are in a rebuilding phase, as inexperienced youngsters with bright futures dominate their selection as they seek to use the tournament in South Africa to aim for future success.
However, having progressed this far, both countries suddenly have a chance to fulfill potentials ahead of schedule and also restore reputations lost in recent times.
Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi is basking in the satisfaction of seeing his controversial selections pay off.
“Somehow, the Nigeria fans don’t appreciate their players. But I know my team, I know their mentality. I know the boys I picked were right, I have confidence in them,” he said.
Blocking the two heavyweights’ passage to Sunday’s final are two countries with far less resources but peaking on the back of talented crops of players.
Mali’s charge is being led by 33-year-old Seydou Keita and augmented by a team full of players with European league experience, particularly Ligue 1.
They have proven to have a powerful midfield and in Mamadou Samassa, coach Patrice Carteron claims to have the best goalkeeper in the competition.
Samassa is likely to return from suspension to replace Soumbeyla Diakite, who was the hero of Saturday’s penalty shootout win over hosts South Africa in the quarter-final.
Burkina Faso’s progress has come on the back of keeping a clean sheet in their last five-odd hours of action, plus the strength of skipper Charles Kabore in midfield and Jonathan Pitroipa’s wing play.
They have overcome the loss of key attacker Alain Traore to injury, but not before he had scored three times in the first two matches.
“I’m the happiest coach of this tournament now as all we worked on in training came to play,” said Burkina Faso’s Belgian coach Paul Put.
Burkina Faso only previously made the semi-finals when they hosted the tournament in 1998. The losers in today’s semifinals play for the bronze medal in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.


Arsenal, Chelsea win in Europa League as Rangers hold Villarreal

Aubameyang opened the scoring in London after 32 minutes of the Group E encounter. (Reuters)
Updated 21 September 2018
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Arsenal, Chelsea win in Europa League as Rangers hold Villarreal

  • I think we played well in the first half and in the beginning of the second as well: Aubameyang
  • Chelsea made a winning start to their Group L campaign as Willian's seventh-minute effort was enough to see off PAOK

PARIS: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang struck twice as Arsenal defeated Ukraine's Vorskla Poltava 4-2 in the Europa League on Thursday, while in-form Chelsea began their campaign with a 1-0 win away to PAOK in Greece.
Aubameyang has struggled to hit top gear in the Premier League so far with just one goal in five starts, but the Gabon striker opened the scoring in London after 32 minutes of the Group E encounter.
Danny Welbeck nodded in a second just after half-time and Aubameyang curled in the Gunners' third, with Mesut Ozil also on target before a lapse in concentration saw Vorskla hit back with two late goals.
"I think we played well in the first half and in the beginning of the second as well," Aubameyang told BT Sport.
"We have to improve and try to fight not to concede a goal like we did in the last minute."
Premier League leaders Chelsea made a winning start to their Group L campaign as Willian's seventh-minute effort was enough to see off PAOK at a hostile Toumba Stadium.
Eden Hazard was omitted from the Chelsea squad at his own request due to fatigue, but manager Maurizio Sarri fielded a strong side as the Blues extended their winning run to six games in all competitions.
"We were in control of the match for 90 minutes. We had a lot of opportunities. We missed them and so I'm very happy with the three points, very happy with the performance, but not very happy with the result," said Sarri.
"When it's time to kill the match, we have to kill the match."
Steven Gerrard's Rangers acquitted themselves well on their first appearance in the group stage of a European competition since the 2010-11 Champions League, as they came away with a 2-2 draw against Villarreal.
A disastrous start for the Glasgow side saw Carlos Bacca fire Villarreal ahead inside 60 seconds, but Scott Arfield turned home a cross from Daniel Candeias to level on 67 minutes.
Gerard Moreno put the hosts back in front almost immediately, only for Kyle Lafferty to again hit back for Rangers as Gerrard's men made a solid start in Group G.
Leigh Griffiths hit a late winner for Celtic in a 1-0 home victory over Rosenborg, a team Brendan Rodgers' side knocked out in this season's Champions League qualifying rounds.
Salzburg triumphed in the clash of Red Bulls in the other Group B fixture as Fredrik Gulbrandsen scored a minute from time to give the Austrian club a 3-2 victory over RB Leipzig.
Marseille, last season's runners-up, slumped to a 2-1 home defeat by Eintracht Frankfurt in Group H as Luka Jovic grabbed an 89th-minute winner for the reigning German Cup champions.
Lucas Ocampos opened the scoring early for Marseille, who were playing behind closed doors at the Stade Velodrome after numerous crowd incidents last season.
But Lucas Torro levelled on 52 minutes for Eintracht before Jovic's late strike won it.
Dudelange, the first Luxembourg team to play in the Europa League group stage, made seven-time European champions AC Milan work hard for a 1-0 win in Group F.
Luxembourg's Grand Duke Henri and Grand Duchess Maria Teresa were in the crowd as Dudelange, who have a dozen non-professional players in their squad, succumbed to a deflected second-half goal by Gonzalo Higuain.
Record five-time winners Sevilla launched their Group J campaign with a 5-1 rout of Standard Liege, as Ever Banega and Wissam Ben Yedder both netted twice for the Spaniards.