EYE WITNESS PLAYER & MATCH REPORTS
2nd June 2018 England 2 Nigeria 1 International.
England and Nigeria continued their final preparations for the World Cup in Russia with this friendly international at Wembley.
Judged on the first half performance England looked like world-beaters and Nigeria no-hopers.
That was after Gary Cahill had headed the home side in front direct from a corner. And captain Harry Kane had driven a right footer through goalie Francis Uzoho.
Coach Gareth Southgate again employed a back three which allowed full-backs Trippier and Young to ramage down the flanks. Those tactics continually troubled the Super Eagles defence.
Newly tattooed Raheem Sterling was among those who benefited though he failed to convert his chances.
At the other end, Nigeria managed little of consequence apart from some weak efforts from Victor Moses.
But all that changed early in the second half after the Africans brought on four substitutes and soon got back into the match.
Striker Ighalo, fairly anonymous up until then, turned and shot against the post and Arsenal youngster Alex Iwobi followed up to score past Jordan Pickford.
That animated the large Nigerian support and spurred their team on to press the England backline.
For a while it seemed they would get level but the numerous substitutions and breaks in play tended to stifle their rhythm.
And England would threaten again through Welbeck and Rashford towards the finish.
Ultimately England could contemplate a fine start but continued concerns about their ability to withstand quality attacks.
While for Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr will need to get them out of the blocks much quicker otherwise their stay in Russia will be very short.
report - John Bethell
26th May 2018 Real Madrid 3 Liverpool 1 UEFA Champions League final. Kiev.
1. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool and Egypt) - for half an hour looked sharp and incisive. Combined with the other Liverpool forwards to threaten the Madrid defence. But then clashed with Sergio Ramos and damaged his shoulder. His loss severely disrupted the Reds rhythm.
2. Sadio Mane (Liverpool and Senegal) - his pace often troubled the RM back line. One of the main dangers to the opposition. Was on hand to score the equaliser and also struck the post in the second period.
With this victory, Real Madrid completed an historic treble of UCL titles.
It was a personal triumph for Welsh star Gareth Bale who came on as a substitute on the hour. And produced an overhead kick that will be recognised as one of the greatest ever CL goals. His introduction, for Isco, was a masterful move by coach Zinedine Zidane.
That goal stunned Liverpool and their army of boisterous fans. As did two disastrous errors by goalkeeper Loris Karius.
The Merseysiders had made a very strong start with Mo Salah and co. causing the Madrid defence numerous problems. But that momentum was lost when the Egyptian had to go off with a shoulder injury. Real Madrid then began to get their passing going.
Which led to a second half that will live long in the memory.
For Bale's wonder strike and for those two inexplicable goalie blunders. The first when an attempted throw out with easily intercepted by Benzema. And the second a feeble effort to stop a Bale shot from long-range.
It was no wonder Karius joined Salah and Carvajal (though they were because of injuries) in floods of tears.
Inevitably there was no way back for Liverpool from these setbacks. But they did respond when Lovren reached a corner allowing Mane to score from close range. To level the match at 1-1.
And even after Bale's 'worldy' the EPL team did put some threatening combinations together.
Then Karius imploded again and the match was over.
So more records for Real Madrid and an unwanted sixth major final defeat for Jurgen Klopp.
But it will be a German goalkeeper and a Welsh striker whose names will be most remembered from this night.
16th May 2018 Marseille 0 Atletico Madrid 3 UEFA Europa League final. Lyon.
1. Andre Zambo Anguissa (Marseille & Cameroon) - midfield, tall, strong looking figure, but his loss of concentration caused the mistake for the opening Madrid goal, seemed mostly to be defending after that.
2. Clinton N'Jie (Marseille & Cameroon) - second half substitute striker, prominent with his blond hair, active but ultimately limited effect, booked for a clash with Hernandez.
3. Thomas Partey (Atletico & Ghana) - very late substitute for the winners.
Atletico Madrid claimed their third Europa League title thanks to two well-taken goals by French striker Antoine Griezmann and a late clincher by captain Gabi.
It was another final defeat for a French side giving them just two successes in 165 major club finals since 1955.
But it began so well for the OM team who should have gone ahead when Dimitri Payet setup Germain only for the striker's effort to be screwed wide. For twenty minutes it seemed OM were worrying the favourites.
Then Anguissa's error allowed an easy finish for Griezmann and the misery was compounded by the exit of Payet with an injury.
After those issues, Atletico always looked like prevailing.
The well-organised Spanish side went in 1-0 up and soon after the interval, Koke provided Griezmann with the chance to double their advantage.
Possibly bound for Barcelona the French striker showed again how deadly he is when given the opportunity.
Marseille would produce one moment of hope for their vast number of vociferous fans when Greek substitute Kostas Mitroglou headed against the post from a fine Sanson delivery.
But that hope disappeared and in the end Atletico, whose coach Diego Simeone again watched from the stands, clinched the victory when captain Gabi shot across Mandanda.
And so the favourites, and best team, won.
Although Marseille could reflect on a bright beginning and despair at mistakes that might have meant a different outcome.
10th May 2018 Djurgarden 3 Malmo 0 Swedish Cup final.
1. Tinotenda Kadewere (Zimbabwe & Djurgarden) - tall, leggy, forward : showed skill on the ball, often involved, part of the solid home performance.
2. Fouad Bachirou (Comoros & Malmo) - mostly central midfield, a Kante-like style : often concentrated on defending, more positive in the second period but overall a difficult afternoon.
Before a noisy, passionate crowd in Stockholm Malmo never quite got to grips with the Djurgarden set plays. The home side scored from one in the first half when Une-Larsson forced home a corner. Mrabti would add a second goal soon after the interval.
And the Cup was secured late on following a great run by the talented Norwegian Ulvestad who set up Ring for the clincher. Despite having more play in the second period Malmo failed to find a telling final ball. It was a well-deserved victory for Djurgarden. After a delay while fireworks were cleared their fans could enjoy the moment on a sunny day in the Swedish capital.
20th April 2018 Leganes 0 Deportivo La Coruna 0 Primera
This was a match Depor badly needed to win. But they missed a couple of early chances, mostly involving striker Lucas. And despite some skills from Emre Colak they failed to break through the home defence. Leganes goalie Cuellar was very solid. Relegation now looks very likely for the Galician team.
1. Nordin Amrabat (Morocco) - on loan from Watford, stayed wide left, has some pace, less involved, solid down his flank, subbed late on.
2. Nabil El Zhar (Morocco) - right midfield, smaller, lively, often moving inside, tricky at times, good combination moves.
13th April 2018 Liefering 1 Kapfenberger SV 1 Austria 1.Liga
1. Mohamed Camara (Mali) - Mostly holding midfield, right foot pass, solid, gets around the central pitch area, subbed on 53 minutes.
2. Patson Daka (Zambia) - home striker, average height, some good breaks forward, left foot shot, some pace, injured later and subbed on 67.
3. Anderson Niangbo (Ivory Coast) - replacement for Daka, striker, got involved and contributed.
6th April 2018 Hannover 96 2 Werder Bremen 1 Bundesliga.
1. Ilhas Bebou (Togo) - mostly played on the right, some pace, able to defend his wing, his chip set up the second goal.
2. Salif Sane (Senegal) - tall centre-back, looked solid, mobile, commanding in the air.
3. Ishak Belfodil (Algeria) - tall, long-striding forward who played wide in the first half then centrally in the second, initially limited but played a significant role later. Scored the Werder goal from a header.
10th March Crawley Town 1 Morecambe 1 EFL League 2 John Bethell
Panutche Camara (Guinea Bissau) - Substitute. Young, tall, slim striker brought from non-league. Has pace but needs to work on decision making.
4th February 2018 Morocco 4 Nigeria 0 CHAN final Casablanca.
Morocco secured their first CHAN (the tournament for locally based African players) title on a rainy night in Casablanca.
The Atlas Lions had gone ahead just before the interval when Zakaria Hadraf converted a left wing cross for the first of his two goals.
That had followed a first half when both sides had chances.
But after the interval there was only going to one winner especially after young Nigerian forward Eneji Moses was dismissed for a second foul.
He was distraught and his team then struggled to contain a rampant Morocco.
With wide men Hadraf and El Haddad having more space the hosts soon put the outcome out of reach of the opposition.
With about twenty minutes remaining Morocco were four up and cruising. It was a harsh lesson for Salisu Yusuf's team.
Inevitably top scorer Ayoub El Kaabi was on the scoresheet taking his event tally to nine goals. He had nearly scored earlier with a spectacular overhead and from another volley that struck the post.
An overwhelming choice as man-of-the-tournament he must be on many sides shopping list.
So the hosts triumphed in convincing fashion and despite the persistent downpour they celebrated in style together with Crown Prince Moulay Hassan.
report - John Bethell
31st January Nigeria 1 Sudan 0 CHAN Marrakesh.
Nigeria would face hosts Morocco in the final of the CHAN tournament after this single goal semi-final victory over a spirited Sudan team.
The Super Eagles always looked like favourites despite having Ifeanyi Ifeanyi sent off early in the second period.
Nigeria began with more possession and they scored what turned into the decisive strike on the quarter hour. A long ball was headed on for striker Okechukwu Gabriel to break free and he shot past Sudan keeper Abdeltam.
The Sudanese then created a series of half chances particularly when Mohamed Abdallh saw a header diverted onto the post by substitute goalie Ajiboye.
Ajiboye had replaced starting keeper Ezenwa who had to depart following a collision with his own defender, the gangly Stephen Eze.
The replacement would continue to show his competence as he dealt with further Sudanese chances in the second half.
As the match wore on Sudan never quite produced the telling moment and Nigeria managed to seal the win, helped by a late red card for opposition defender Bakri Bashir.
Overall Sudan had certainly acquited themselves well but it was Nigeria who sealed a date with Morocco in what should be a very competitive CHAN final.
report - John Bethell
28th January Congo 1 Libya 1 (Libya won on penalties) CHAN Agadir.
Libya completed the semi-final lineup as they joined Morocco, Sudan and Nigeria in the last four.
Congo captain and goalkeeper Barel Mouko played a key part in their defeat. Firstly he could only deflect a cross out to striker Saeid who volleyed home the opener. Then his penalty in the shootout was blazed over the bar. It was the only miss and allowed the North Africans to progress to a matchup with Morocco.
Congo did counter that early goal on 37 minutes after a cross was headed back for Junior Mouzita an easy finish. The Libyan defence was nowhere to be seen.
Both sides had plausible claims for penalties including what looked a definite handball by a Congo defender. But they were dismissed.
In a mostly even second period Libya (for whom young Zakaria Alharash had shown some neat moves) should have won the game near the end when a Saeid flick set sub. Alaqoub free only for him to shoot straight at the goalie.
Entering extra time Libya looked the stronger though without managing any serious threats.
It was left to the shootout to decide and all were scored, in a typically decisive style, apart that wild effort from 38-year-old Mouko.
report - John Bethell
27th Janury 2018 Morocco 2 Namibia 0 CHAN Casablanca.
On a cool afternoon in the Complexe Mohammed V stadium the CHAN hosts successfully progressed to the semi-finals with this comfortable victory.
Morocco soon set the pace and created half-chance opportunities through Wydad's Bencharki and captain Benoun. Most of the threats began down the left with winger El Haddad.
But it was from a sharply taken free kick that the Atlas Lions took the lead. A quick pass to Ayoub El Kaabi gave the striker the chance to score his 6th goal of the competition. Namibia looked naive to the danger.
Morocco sealed the win ten minutes after the interval when Salaheddine Saidi glanced in a near post header from a corner. They might have added some more especially when a Nahiri free kick ended up hitting the bar.
Namibia had one moment of optimism when Keimuine reached the ball before Zniti in the home goal only for the score (surprisingly) to be ruled out. Apart from that the Brave Warriors had little to show for their efforts.
So the hosts maintained their status as one of the favourites for the title.
report - John Bethell
14th January 2018 Hapoel Ashkelon 0 Hapoel Ra'anana 1 Israeli Premier.
Hapoel Ashkelon :
1. Dele Aiyenugba (Nigeria) - international goalie, fan favourite, but misjudged cross that lead to winning goal, made good block in second half, otherwise few direct efforts to save, Ok distribution.
2. David Manga (CAR) - second half substitute forward, good left foot control, also right foot lay-off, looks to have pace, but couldn't affect the outcome.
Hapoel Ra'anana :
1. Mohamed Aly Camara (Guinea) - central defender, scored winner with glancing header, a threat in the opposition area, right foot pass, generally untroubled, also see below.
2. Ernest Mbela (Zambia) - readily goes forward from left back, can be out of position, but more solid that last game (see below)
13th January Bnei Sakhnin 0 Maccabi Petah Tikva 2 Israeli Premier
Maccabi Petah Tikva :
1. Richard Soumah (Guinea) - left wing back, left foot pass, scored opener from close range, often gets forward, takes free kicks, justified valuation, but gets clattered early in second half and got carried off.
10th January Hapoel Ra'anana 0 Maccabi Haifa 3 Israeli Premier
Hapoel Ra'anana :
1. Mohamed Aly Camara (Guinea) - Tall, centre back, right foot pass, could have control issue, occasional error, wins headers.
2. Ernest Mbela (Zambia) - smaller, left footed left back, often gets forward, some wrong choices, not his best game, his winger (Sallalich) scored two goals.
9th January Hapoel Beersheva 0 Bnei Yehuda 0 Israeli Premier
Hapoel Beersheva :
1. John Ogu (Nigeria) - central midfield, confident looking player with the longest shorts in the team, left foot pass, strong in the air, generally solid.
2. Tony Nwakaeme (Nigeria) - played wide left, sometimes drifted inside to get involved, seemed to lack pace, can deliver right & left foot crosses. Subbed on 77 minutes.
Bnei Yehuda :
1. Mavis Tchibota (Congo) - late substitute striker. Brief involvement.