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No Salah As World Cup Qualifiers Kick Off In Africa

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WORLD CUP

Liverpool star Mohamed Salah will be a notable absentee due to coronavirus travel restrictions when the group phase of qualifying in Africa for the 2022 World Cup finally kicks off on Wednesday.

 

 

Salah plays for Egypt, who are on the United Kingdom travel ‘red list’, and he would have to quarantine for 10 days when he returns from his homeland, sidelining him for four fixtures.

 

 

Both world body FIFA and African confederation CAF have pleaded, without success, for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to exempt African footballers on World Cup duty.

 

 

Stars in other European countries could also be affected as the pandemic continues to wreak havoc with an African group schedule that has already been delayed three times.

 

 

Here, AFP Sport looks at the 10 four-team groups and which countries may reach the final qualifying stage.

 

 

Group A

As if facing African champions Algeria, who are unbeaten in 27 matches since November 2018, was not sufficiently intimidating, rivals Burkina Faso, Niger and Djibouti are barred from playing at home.

 

 

All must use neutral venues because their stadium facilities and/or pitch does not meet international standards, making Riyad Mahrez-captained Algeria hot favourites to advance.

 

 

Group B

Wahbi Khazri-led Tunisia are among the most successful African countries when it comes to World Cup qualifying, reaching the finals five times.

They will face tough opposition on visits to resurgent Zambia, rising Mauritania and improving Equatorial Guinea, but it would be a shock if they did not finish first.

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Group C

Although Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr is pleading caution, the German knows that failure to finish above Cape Verde, the Central African Republic and Liberia will trigger his dismissal.

Since missing out on the 2006 World Cup, the Super Eagles have reached every finals and Rohr has more than enough talent to maintain the successful streak.

 

 

Group D

Cameroon were grouped with Serge Aurier-captained Ivory Coast, the second seeds every coach wanted to avoid when the draw was made in Cairo more than two years ago.

Modest southern Africa sides Mozambique and Malawi complete a section that looks like a two-horse race between seven-time World Cup qualifiers Cameroon and three-time participants Ivory Coast.

 

 

Group E

Top seeds Mali and east African nations Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda make up the only group not containing a previous World Cup qualifier.

Given that Uganda have slumped, Kenya flatter to deceive and Rwanda are ranked 35th in Africa, a Malian side including Southampton midfielder Moussa Djenepo should prevail.

 

 

 

Group F

Egypt lifted the Africa Cup of Nations trophy a record seven times, but have a poor World Cup record, reaching the finals only twice since official qualifying began in Africa.

“Far too often we talk of easy groups, then fail,” warned coach Hossam el Badry before the Pharaohs tackle Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang-inspired Gabon, Libya and Angola.

 

 

 

Group G

Automatic 2010 entrants as hosts, South Africa have not reached a World Cup as qualifiers for 20 years and that depressing situation is likely to continue under new coach Hugo Broos.

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The Belgian, who made Cameroon African champions in 2017, has chosen a young, raw squad with an eye on the future, leaving Ghana as favourites to finish above South Africa, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia.

 

 

 

Group H

This appears the easiest section to predict with number one ranked African team Senegal, including Liverpool star Sadio Mane, seemingly far superior to Congo Brazzaville, Namibia and Togo.

Namibia have the added handicaps of no football being played locally for several years due to bickering officials, and being among eight nations barred from hosting matches.

 

 

Group I

The pressure will be on Bosnia and Herzegovina-born Morocco coach Vahid Halilhodzic, whose contract states that failure to reach the 2022 World Cup can lead to the sack.

Morocco are capable of collecting maximum points at home to Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Sudan, but visits to Conakry and Omdurman will be tough for a team that includes Chelsea fringe midfielder Hakim Ziyech.

 

 

 

Group J

Perhaps the most open section as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Benin, Madagascar and Tanzania are all struggling, with none of them qualifying for the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations.

Slight favourites DR Congo were World Cup qualifiers in 1974 when the vast country was called Zaire and have hired Argentine coach Hector Cuper, who took Egypt to the last World Cup.

 

 

AFP

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ALL GONE RON Barcelona fans demand Koeman is sacked after he plays Pique as STRIKER vs Granada and rules out ‘tiki-taka’ football

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Barcelona

BARCELONA fans are calling for boss and club legend Ronald Koeman to be sacked after playing Gerard Pique as a STRIKER.

 

 

The Spanish club are struggling for goals after allowing star forwards Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann to leave in the summer.

 

 

Barca needed a 90th-minute equaliser against Granada on Monday evening to secure a 1-1 draw and maintain their unbeaten start in LaLiga.

 

 

A late goal from defender Ronald Araujo spared Koeman’s blushes but the manager was still heavily criticised for the team’s woeful performance.

 

 

#KoemanOUT was trending on Twitter throughout Monday evening and many were perplexed as to why Pique was playing up front.

 

 

The Spanish defender was brought on in the 75th minute and did make an impact, controlling the ball in the box for Gavi, 17, to assist the goal.

And Pique has played as a striker before, with Pep Guardiola shoving him up front in Barca’s Champions League defeat to Inter Milan in 2010.

 

 

But fans were still furious with Barca’s display, leaving Koeman to defend his players and their prospects for this season.

 

 

As quoted by the Daily Mail, Koeman said: “If you see the squad list today do you really think we can play tiki-taka?

“Barca right now is not the Barca of eight years ago.

“We play the Barca way but we don’t have the speed in wide areas because we have Coutinho who cuts inside and Demir who doesn’t reach the byline much.

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“When Ansu Fati and [Ousmane] Dembele come back then we will be different but they are not fit so we have to find alternatives.”

 

 

Monday evening’s result leaves Barcelona seventh in LaLiga, five points behind leaders and rivals Real Madrid with a game in hand.

 

It also comes just six days after Koeman’s team were thrashed 3-0 at home by Bayern Munich in the Champions League.

 

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Tottenham Boss Nuno Espirito Santo Insists He Wouldn’t Swap ‘Amazing’ Harry Kane For Chelsea Hot Shot Lukaku

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Tottenham

The Spurs boss said: “I don’t even consider that option because it’s something that I don’t think about – for me, it doesn’t make sense. Harry is an amazing player.”

 

Nuno hailed Kane’s ability and attitude after the England captain failed to force through a move to Manchester City this summer.

 

 

He said: “I have been impressed with his quality and talent.

 

 

“I think he still can improve. We are in that process of trying to find the best levels of fitness. But his dedication has been huge.”

 

 

Striker Son Heung-min, defender Eric Dier and midfielder Ryan Sessegnon are all injured and set to miss tomorrow’s home clash with Lukaku’s Chelsea.

 

Attackers Steven Bergwijn and Lucas Moura are also big doubts after picking up knocks in the 2-2 Europa Conference League draw at Rennes on Thursday.

 

 

But Tottenham could be boosted by the return of Argentina duo Giovani Lo Celso and Cristian Romero, plus Colombia centre-back Davinson Sanchez.

 

 

The trio have been training in Croatia where they have been self-isolating, after travelling to South America on international duty without the club’s permission.

 

 

Nuno said: “They arrive back Saturday and will have a training session in the afternoon. If they are available and fit, they will be in the squad.

 

 

“They are working hard in Croatia with the sports science department. We’ll assess them properly.”

 

 

Nuno is not surprised by how quickly Thomas Tuchel has turned things around at Stamford Bridge.

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The German guided the Blues to Champions League glory in May, just four months after taking over.

 

 

Nuno said: “Chelsea are a very good team and Thomas is doing an amazing job.

 

 

“They have lots of strengths, talented players, they play good football, they are organised and intense.

 

 

“They are European champions so we must value that. But we will compete, that’s a promise.”

 

Tottenham won all three of their opening top-flight fixtures, before the wheels came off in a 3-0 loss at Crystal Palace last week.

 

 

But defender Matt Doherty – who played under Nuno at Wolves – is backing his gaffer to get it right.

 

 

He said: “He is only at the start of his reign, it takes time. You see what he did at Wolves, it takes a few seasons to master it.”

 

 

 

SUN

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The Micro-Economy Spinning Around Messi’s Paris Adventure

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MESSI

For Paris photographer Olivier Sanchez, there is only one story in town: the new life of Lionel Messi.

Newspapers and magazines around the world harangue his Crystal Pictures agency for images of the Argentine footballer, his wife and children settling into the French capital a month after arriving.

“Today, for me, it is Messi and no one else,” he said. “Everybody wants a piece of him. He is king. Simple.”

When Messi’s childhood club FC Barcelona announced they could not afford to keep the six-times Ballon d’Or winner, French club Paris St Germain (PSG) swooped.

PSG agreed a staggering net salary of 71 million euros ($84 million) over two years, according to media, but club chairman Nasser al-Khelaifi said bluntly that people would be “shocked” by the revenue he would fetch.

The money train extends far beyond the club.

From luxury real estate agents to Argentine restaurant owners, paparazzi to private concierge, Messi represents a financial opportunity.

Sanchez said he had at least two photographers collecting tips and following Messi and PSG for the first shots of the family when they finally break cover from their hotel.

In Barcelona, he won the admiration of locals for his down-to-earth lifestyle, waving at neighbours, enjoying seafront meals and taking his children to bouncy castles.

“If we can get them in a park, or strolling in town, or out at Disneyland Paris, the newspapers will lap it up,” Sanchez said.

Luxury real estate agent Susie Hollands, meanwhile, is scouring the market for a property worthy of a man listed by Forbes as the world’s second highest-paid athlete in 2021. Hollands, founder of boutique real estate group Vingt Paris, has collaborated with PSG before and is familiar with players’ demands.

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“Typically, they’re going to want 1,000 square metres – that barely exists in central Paris – and parking for their cars,” Hollands said.

Top-notch security and privacy are also important.

One PSG player, whose housing Hollands worked on, was paying 35,000 euros ($30,000) per month, she said, adding that such a rental contract would earn her 50,000-60,000 euros in fees.

“We’re taking a look to see if we can find something. But you either have it or you don’t,” Hollands said, adding that she was one of a select group of agents the club worked with.

MESSI BOUNCE

For several years after the Emir of Qatar bought PSG in 2011, Yves Abitbol’s concierge company helped settle some of its highest-profile players, organising the house hunt, dealing with banking and insurance paperwork, and finding house staff.

Sometimes he catered for a player’s fancier needs, including visits to sports car dealerships and luxury watch boutiques.

Abitbol said his firm MyConcierge had worked closely with PSG until it created its own internal team several years ago, cutting the likes of him out.

Nonetheless, Abitbol’s upmarket travel agency has seen a Messi bounce. “I’ve got people around the world asking us to organise three days in Paris with seats for match day to watch Messi,” he said.

The red-hot demand to see Messi in person – even when he was just watching from the stands rather than playing – saw tickets for PSG’s first game after his signing, at home to Strasbourg, sell secondhand for over 800 euros.

On Wednesday night, he was set to join fellow superstars Neymar and Kylian Mbappe in a frightening attacking trio away to Brugge in the Champions League.

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His number 30 jersey, which retails at 108 euros, has sold faster than any other, PSG said. Activity tracker Talkwalker said that from the Friday Messi was first linked to the club in early August to the following Tuesday when he signed, PSG gained 3 million followers across social media platforms.

Again, the club was not alone

“We saw a jump on social media,” said Enrique Tirigall, co-founder of Volver, an upmarket Argentine restaurant chain in Paris. Reservations for his flagship steakhouse, a popular haunt for PSG stars including Messi compatriot Angel Di Maria, flooded in after the Argentine sealed his deal.

“Everybody want to eat what he eats,” Tirigall said.

($1 = 1.1814 euros)

Reuters

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