WEEKEND TAKEAWAY: Nigeria Qualify for AFCON for the First Time Since 2013 Win

The last time Nigeria played a game at the Africa Cup of Nations was on February 10, 2013. Sunday Mba scored a memorable goal against Burkina Faso, securing Nigeria’s first AFCON title in 19 years and a third in the history of the country. That game was played at the 85,000 capacity FNB Stadium and who would have thought that the Super Eagles will miss the next two editions, but miss they did.

Back in the same venue, against a new bogey team, Nigeria was presented with a chance to earn a place amidst the elite footballing nations in Africa again. Nigerians filled up every sports bar as expected. Viewing centers were equally packed and what is more, even the FNB stadium in Jo’burg was packed with more Nigerians than South Africans. Such was the level of optimism around this team; anything but a defeat was all that the Super Eagles needed to progress.

In the end, the Super Eagles were unlucky to leave South Africa with a draw, a fair result in itself, but when you consider the fact that both assistant referees made a mistake in each half, both against stand-in captain Ahmed Musa who was unplayable every time he was on the ball, Nigerians might have been aggrieved by the result seeing as the South Africans didn’t trouble Ikechukwu Ezenwa enough on the day.

So far, Nigeria joins Madagascar, Senegal, Morocco, Mali, Zimbabwe, Guinea, Tunisia, Egypt, Mauritania, Algeria, Uganda and Cameroon as the nations to have qualified for the first edition of a 24-team Africa Cup of Nations 2019.

What has got everyone talking is the manner in which Nigeria qualified for this tournament; for the second consecutive tournament, Gernot Rohr has qualified Nigeria with a game to spare. Loath him or love him, he delivers in a manner than Nigerians are not accustomed to.

Alexander Zverev wins ATP Tour finals in style

Not many people would have stood a chance against Novak Djokovic, who was perhaps in the best form of his life this week. The Serb clearly had his sight set on matching Roger Federer’s unprecedented 6 ATP Tour finals tally, and with the Swiss beaten – by Zverev – in the semi-finals, there’s no stopping the Serb now. Scratch that!

This moment belongs to Alexander Zverev, a 21-year old who is keen to tell anyone who cares to listen that he is the next big thing in the sport. Oh! That’s a cliché we should probably never use in the same line when describing this prodigy anymore. Zverev is the real deal.

While other players look awed by the mere thought of dismantling the old other, read: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic, the young German has dared to do it. The last man to dare the existing order was Novak Djokovic, and since he joined the ‘trinity’ no one has been consistent enough to mount serious pressure on them.

To put this victory in perspective: Federer is the record winner of the year-ending ATP Tour with 6 titles to his name, Novak has 5 and Rafael Nadal hasn’t won any, an anomaly that is as bewildering as the mere thought of it. And here is Zverev, having lost his first game to Novak in the round robin stage, coming off to defeat Federer in the Semis and then Djokovic in the final. Insane stuff!

The ambition of this 21-year old is unreal, first, his decision to bring Ivan Lendi on-board signals a young lad who isn’t comfortable with just being there, but is prepared to shake the order. This is the future.

 BBC shocks Africa with AFOTY final five-man shortlist

Mohammed Salah and Sadio Mane, no surprises. Kalidou Koulibaly and Thomas Partey, deserved inclusion in the final five-man nominees but, Medhi Benatia? This one will remain a mystery.

On Friday, I had written with optimism that West Africa duo Wilfred Ndidi and Nicolas Pepe will make the final shortlist for some reason, I didn’t think Thomas Partey played enough for Atletico within the time in review to merit a place in the final shortlist ahead of these two. And while the inclusion of Koulibaly is an interesting one, it is pleasing to know that defenders can now expect their names to pop-up in the closing rounds of individual awards such as this; so forgive me for not giving him a chance.

With the Pierre Emerick Aubameyang out of this one, and the return of Mohammed Salah to his predatory best, it will take a really big swing for Sadio Mane to win the award ahead of the Egyptian forward who is currently riding on the all-important popularity wave – a crucial factor in all individual awards that is decided by fan votes .

Again, this award will set the tone for CAF’s Player of the Year awards next January, with a Mane and Salah poised to make the final three-man shortlist for that award again, it will be interesting to see who CAF picks as the third.

 England, Portugal seal Nations League Semi-final berth

All England had to do in front of a supportive home crowd was beat Croatia to go through to the semis of another major tournament under Gareth Southgate. Easy, eh?

Having spurned numerous chances to do just that in the first half, it felt like déjà vu all over again, the increasing possibility of another agonizing defeat to a Nation of barely 4 million residents, for the second time in four months, was looming and the thought of it alone must have sent shivers down the spine of the English side.

Harry Kane delivered the killer blow with four minutes of regulation time to spare, saving England from another defeat at home and completing a series of comebacks that will send believe into the minds of these crew.

Like Italy and Germany, Spain faded out of this the same way their World Cup campaign ended 5 months ago in Russia. All three nations, winners of three of the last four World Cups have endured trying times lately; from failing to qualify for the Mundial to embarrassing exits and this will only cap off an incredibly forgettable era.

And just when you think things can’t get worse for World Cup winners, Netherlands may well pick a slot ahead of current World Champions France, if they can avoid defeat against Germany on Monday.  A shocking statistic should none of the past four world champions make it to the semi-finals of the UEFA Nations League, an increasingly possible outcome.

Spare a thought for Ronald Koeman and the Dutch side who have themselves endured and experienced the worst in recent years. Under the former Everton manager, they have seen their fortunes turn and it is exemplified by Memphis Depay’s ridiculous Panenka goal against France on Friday. A goal that summarizes the air of confidence in that team.

MVG who? Grand Slam of Darts gets new winner

In a weekend full of upsets and unlikely victories, Gerwyn Price recorded what would rank as the unlikeliest of victories in sports over the weekend.

After Gary Anderson defeated Michael van Gerwen to set-up a seemingly easy final against the Iceman, the odds hugely favoured the Scot to complete the demolition job he began by putting an end to the three-year reign of Michael van Gerwen.

Price had other ideas though, his previous experience as a rugby player coming to the fore as he scored point after point to ensure first, a 7-4 and then 12-9 comeback before securing a 16-13 win.

Perhaps Gerwyn was just incredibly fortunate, the sort of comeback victories he recorded particularly in the semi-final where he was trailing Mensur Suljovic 10-5 at some point gives one the impression the stars were aligned for the Iceman; defeating Gary Anderson, one of the best players in the game in that manner is beyond incredible.