EYE WITNESS PLAYER & MATCH REPORTS
6th December 2018 Rosario Central 1 Gimnasia (LP) 1 (Rosario won on penalties) Copa Argentina final.
After suffering three previous Argentina Cup final defeats Rosario Central finally got their hands on the trophy.
Before 35,000 fans in Mendoza, they kept calm to beat their rivals from La Plata 4-1 on spot-kicks. Helped by a save from man-of-the-match, goalkeeper Jeremias Ledesma.
And a bad miss by the very experienced, and much travelled, Gimnasia striker Santiago Silva. Silva had been instrumental in their semi-final victory but in this match, he was far less effective.
But Gimnasia did have more possession and they looked unlucky to go behind in the first period. Although Central produced few chances when they did get near goal they threatened.
And, after some controversy, the Rosario team forced the ball home for a one-goal first-half lead.
That was disputed as was much else in a frantic, fractious initial 45 minutes.
With a number of yellow cards issued by the referee who at one point signalled for everyone to take it easy.
Within six minutes of the restart, Gimnasia equalised. And it was a superb move that belied a lot of the previous action ending with Faravelli connecting neatly with a right-wing cross.
That move stood out from the heavy tackles and misplaced passes.
But neither side could add to their score and we went straight to penalties.
And ultimately a famous victory celebrated greatly by the Central players and their mass of fans.
27th October 2018 Toulouse 0 Montpellier 3 Ligue 1.
Max Gradel (Ivory Coast) - captain of Toulouse, striker though he did move back into midfield at times, pacy, tried hard to create including combos with Dossevi, but ultimately unsuccessful.
Mathieu Dossevi (Togo) - a striker in the first half, a wide man in second, some good links with Gradel, again limited chances.
Issiaga Sylla (Guinea) - played wide left, had one or two breaks near goal, otherwise limited. Subbed at half-time.
Stephane Mbia (Cameroon) - experienced defender, played holding midfield in the first period, partly culpable for one goal, positioned in centre of defence in second half, produced some good blocks, but overall a mixed game.
Ambroise Oyongo (Cameroon) - played left wing back for Montpellier, looked solid, some useful left foot deliveries, more forward in the first half.
This was a fairly comfortable three points for the visitors. They scored two quick goals midway through the first 45 minutes from strikers Laborde and Delort.
And added a clincher, from a deflected Sambia free kick, at the end of the match.
Toulouse, whose ultras staged a small protest, always struggled to make progress in the final third. Despite the urgings of captain Gradel and Dossevi.
Ultimately the higher placed Montpellier consistently provided the threats with midfielder Florent Mollet one of the main instigators.
5th October 2018 Arsenal Tula 1 Ufa 1 Russian Premier.
Abdul Mohammed (Ghana) - home central midfielder, certainly gets stuck in, holding in the centre, much more involved in the second half, then solid.
Evans Kangwa (Zambia) - wide left for Tula, smallish, has pace, missed chance, injured and substituted early in the second period.
Sylvester Igboun (Nigeria) - with blond-haired Mohican, ranged across the front line, heavily involved in the first half, tackled back, scored a fine goal for the visitors cutting in from the left, found it harder when isolated up front in the second half.
Honours were even in this battle near the foot of the Russian Premier.
Tula had half chances in the first 45 minutes but ended up a goal down after Igboun's superb finish.
That was just before the break. But afterwards, the home side dominated though they only managed one successful strike.
A stinging long shot was parried by Belenov and sub. Kostadinov followed up to level.
Ultimately Ufa survived the late pressure and came away with a useful point.
3rd October 2018 Lokomotiv Moscow 0 Schalke 04 1 UEFA Champions League.
Bryan Idowu (Nigeria) - smallish left back, managed a couple of efforts on goal, seemed a little lightweight in defence at times, decent going forward.
Hamza Mendyl (Morocco) - blond-haired full-back, some dangerous left foot crosses, looked solid.
Salif Sane (Senegal) - tall and strong looking centre back, right foot pass, good in the air, part of visiting defence that restricted the home side to limited chances.
Nabil Bentaleb (Algeria) - a second-half substitute for Schalke, tall central midfielder, immediately prompted brisker action, left foot delivery.
The Bundesliga side edged this fairly close encounter with a late header from Weston Mckennie. In a match played at a steady pace, neither side looked particularly strong near goal.
After an even first period with some half-chances, Schalke looked more threatening once Algerian Bentaleb appeared. His prompting allowed the visitors to test the home defence.
Before eventually the goal came from a corner.
Missing some players, the Russian champions, generally struggled to create enough opportunities.
1st September 2018 CSKA Moscow 4 Ural 0 Russian Premier.
In the end, it was a convincing win for CSKA with Fedor Chalov scoring a treble. Beginning with a deflected effort from a shot by Efremov. The next two goals were both the product of fine moves coolly dispatched by the young Russian striker.
The home side finished it off when Bistrovic volleyed home late in the game.
Ural did have chances. Especially early on through Panyukov and Dimitrov while Belgian Bicfalvi also threatened.
But they lacked composure highlighted by Boumal's penalty miss. And as the game wore on CSKA remained well in control.
The noisy home crowd celebrated a very solid three points.
Petrus Boumal (Cameroon) - stocky Ural midfielder, mostly holding, missed penalty, left foot pass, kept going though found it tough against the opposition, had more of the ball in the second period.
Othman El Kabir (Morocco) - further forward in away midfield, mostly down the left, right footed, can spread passes, but again found it tough and ended frustrated.
18th August Slavia Prague 0 Jablonec 2 Czech League.
With a perfect league record up until this match, Slavia failed to convince at home to Jablonec.
The home side did have more of the ball and produced some half chances but failed to break through a solid opposition defence.
Their captain Skoda also contrived to miss a penalty early in the second period.
Jablonec absorbed the pressure fairly comfortably and went ahead just before the interval. A cross by Holes was headed home by Dolezal.
Recently knocked out of the Champions League Slavia, despite the vociferous support, just weren't accurate enough anywhere near goal.
When they were goalie Hruby stayed very solid.
And Jablonec sealed the win with another header in the final 15 minutes.
Frustrating for the home fans but a deserved three points for the visitors.
Simon Deli (Ivory Coast) - Tall central defender, international, partners with Ngadeu, showed some cool play early on but went off injured on 17 minutes.
Michael Ngadeu-Ngadjui (Cameroon) - Tall but stockier, 27-year-old international, right side central defender, decent right foot pass, solid in the air, good block in first half, needed bandaging after a head clash, exposed on turn for second Jablonec goal.
16th August 2018 Rapid Vienna 4 Slovan Bratislava 0 Europa League.
Slovan made the short trip across the border with a 2-1 advantage from the first leg. But that was soon annulled when Belgian Boli Bolingoli set up Knasmullner within three minutes.
We then had a long period when the tie could have gone either way. Although the home side had the edge on sharpness. Both Berisha and defender Barac went close. While Sporar made sure goalie Strebinger was alert at the other end.
Greif in the Slovan goal was busy in the second half, including diverting another Knasmullner effort onto the woodwork.
The visitors big chance came on 68 minutes after sub. Savicevic's shot was blocked Mohammed Rharsalla should have steered home the equaliser. That went wide.
And Rapid would go on to settle the outcome in decisive fashion with Knasmullner completing his hat-trick.
Mohammed Rharsalla (Morocco) - young winger, looks capable, with pace, generally held earlier, overran one chance, got in shots later, missed a great chance in the second half but kept going.
Rabiu Ibrahim (Nigeria) - past issues after early promise, now 27, small attacking midfielder, worked across the field, found it difficult at times against the home opposition, replaced on 67 minutes.
1st August 2018 MLS All-Stars 1 Juventus 1 (Juve won 5-3 on penalties) Atlanta.
Over 72,000 watched this MLS All-Star game in the impressive Mercedes-Benz stadium in downtown Atlanta.
Though some would bemoan the lack of stars such as Ibrahimovic and Ronaldo they could enjoy the goal by Atlanta United striker Josef Martinez. He forced home a header by Piatti from close range to level up the game. Before that Pereira had crossed for young Andrea Favilli to glance in a header on 21 minutes.
The Stars took the game to the Italian champions and despite being from a mix of teams and nationalities often developed some promising moves. They also managed to incorporate a range of substitutes. One of these, Sebastian Giovinco, caused some trouble for the Juve defence. At the other end, Zack Steffen was solid in the Stars goal, including making a good save from Di Pardo.
Though both sides had late chances the match ended all-square.
On to the penalty shootout and each kick was scored until Bradley Wright-Phillips (who recently notched his hundredth MLS goal) stepped up. His effort diverted off the post and it was left to De Sciglio to deliver the knockout.
Alphonso Davies (Ghana) - one of the many substitutes, left back, produced a few surges that showed promise.
Medhi Benatia (Morocco) - sub, established defender, made one superb block from Valeri effort. typically solid.
31st July 2018 Tottenham 1 AC Milan 0 Minneapolis.
Spurs continued their pre-season preparations with another win in the International Champions Cup.
Coach Mauricio Pochettino fielded a young midfield of Skipp, Marsh and Amos. And they usually held their own against their Italian counterparts. Milan did look more threatening, often through Cutrone, but Spurs managed to keep a clean sheet.
Goalkeepers Vorm and Riena, and later Donnarumma all had some dodgy moments but mostly contrived to escape. Until the young Italian conceded from a break by Georges-Kevin Nkoudou early in the second period. That was the decisive goal.
Among the various substitutes, Halilovic looked the most dangerous for AC.
In the end Spurs, for whom Eriksen and Son appeared later on, got the win. Although Antonelli should have set up Kalinic for the equaliser near the whistle.
Franck Kessie (Ivory Coast) - right midfield, often joined in attacks, snapshot went just over, right foot pass, booked near the end.
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.