Henry Onyekuru return can help Nigeria forget their problems

COMMENT    By Solace Chukwu     Follow on Twitter 

Gernot Rohr’s latest Super Eagles squad has prompted more groans and moans of unhappiness than usual, even if Nigeria are only set to face the Seychelles.

It’s quite hard to know which is the supporters’ biggest gripe, although there are several that catch the eye, even if Rohr can’t really be blamed for Victor Moses’s decision to call time on his international career.

The decision to opt for Jamilu Collins and Semi Ajayi despite the fact the duo spent last season in the third tiers of Germany and England respectively, for example, hasn’t gone down too well, with many questioning whether the duo have the talent to contribute to the Nigeria project.

Elderson Echiejile’s omission may be a nod to a Super Eagles future, but Joel Obi and, particularly, Ogenyi Onazi’s ongoing presence in the squad hasn’t gone down well.

Nor has the persistence with Odion Ighalo, whose World Cup misses against Argentina are still fresh in the memory, despite a lack of viable alternatives.

John Obi Mikel, Tyronne Ebuehi and Moses Simon’s absences due to injury, coupled with Moses’s abdication, deny the Eagles several of their key on-field talents, while the form of Kelechi Iheanacho doesn’t inspire much confidence that he can offer much as a creator or a goalscorer.

Then again, it’s only Seychelles, and Nigeria don’t need to be at their best—yet—to avoid another Africa Cup of Nations absence.

However, amidst the extensive negativity, the return of Henry Onyekuru ought to boost the beleaguered Nigeria fans who still remember—all too readily—how the West Africans were eclipsed by Croatia this summer.

The 21-year-old wonderkid missed the trip to Russia after suffering a serious knee injury in December. Despite returning to training at Anderlecht in April, the Belgian giants opted not to use him again until the season’s end, and the chance to make a late impression on Rohr was lost.

As well as denying Onyekuru a spot in Russia, the injury also curtailed another promising season, fuelling the sense that people haven’t actually realised quite good the versatile wideman is yet.

After truly breaking through in the 2016-17 season with KAS Eupen, when he was top scorer with 22 goals, the youngster was signed by Everton for £7 million.

Henry Onyekuru, Galatasary vs Valencia, friendly

The Toffees sent him back on loan to Anderlecht, where he’d already scored nine — despite featuring in an unfamiliar left wing-back role at times — before injury struck.

It’s a sensational goal return, particularly for a player who’s found himself, at various times, adapting to a new position or club.

His fine form has continued this term, where Onyekuru, now on loan at Galatasaray, has made it two goals in his last two. His effort in the 6-0 demolition of Alanyaspor last Monday followed on from his winner over Goztepe, and he’s settled into life in Turkey—and with a Super Lig giant—seamlessly.Henry Onyekuru and Verrati

Of course, it’s Onyekuru’s speed, dribbling, footwork and technical quality that immediately catch the eye, but the starlet’s goalscoring is so consistent—his season with Eupen is definitely no fluke—that he must begin to be considered as a valuable asset in the final third for Nigeria.

Particularly considering the concerns about the identity of the national side’s leading goal threat, Rohr needs to find goals from elsewhere in his team, and Onyekuru offers just that.

In terms of an option in the final third, is it even too premature to say that he represents an upgrade on rather than just a replacement for Moses?!

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Suarez offers excuse for Barcelona’s Champions League capitulation against Roma

Luis Suarez thinks Barcelona’s humbling Champions League exit to Roma last season can be blamed in part on too many players being tired from their win over Leganes in their previous game.

Despite having won 4-1 in the first leg, the Catalans crashed out of their quarter-final after losing 3-0 in the return fixture in the Italian capital on April 10.

Three days earlier, Barca had named a strong team for the 3-1 win over Leganes at Camp Nou, despite them holding a nine-point lead at the top of the table before the game.

Suarez has admitted he went into the Roma trip feeling fatigued after playing 90 minutes of the Leganes match – something he hopes will not be repeated in 2018-19.

“I really regret the game before against Leganes at home,” he told RAC1.

“We had a big advantage [at the top] and in three days we had the [quarter-final] against Roma, but I played the whole game.

“You [go into the game] a little worn down, but you become aware of these things. The coach spots these details and I think it will help manage the squad this year in that sense.”

Ernesto Valverde’s men kick off this season’s Champions League campaign against PSV on September 18. 

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Mourinho handed one-year suspended prison sentence and €2m fine in tax evasion case

Jose Mourinho has accepted a one-year suspended jail sentence after being accused of defrauding the Spanish Tax Office of €3.3million (£2.9m) of earnings while in charge at Real Madrid, according to El Mundo .

The Manchester United boss, who spent three years in the Spanish capital, was accused of using offshore company accounts in Ireland, the British Virgin Islands and New Zealand to conceal income from image rights in 2011.

Spanish news outlet  El Mundo  claims Mourinho reached a deal with tax authorities, with two six-month suspended prison sentences.

Mourinho will not be spending time in prison, however, as Spanish law states ‘that a sentence of under two years for a first offence can be served on probation’.

The Office of the Prosecutor and the State Lawyers will ‘communicate in the next few days’ and ‘that they have already closed a compliance agreement’ according to the reports.

“I did not answer, I did not argue. I paid and signed with the state that I am in compliance and the case is closed,” Mourinho is quoted to have said in November 2017, after a court appearance in Pozuelo de Alarcon:

Mourinho is not the first high-profile name to be accused of tax evasion by the Spanish authorities, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi also falling foul of the rules previously.

Ronaldo, who left La Liga for Serie A in the summer,  is alleged to have defrauded the Spanish Treasury of €14.7m (£13m/$16.6m) in taxes between 2011 and 2014 by concealing income earned from his image rights. 

Messi was found guilty of defrauding the Spanish Treasury to the tune of €4.1m (£3m/£4.6m) between 2007 and 2009 and had his 21-month jail sentence changed to a fine of €252,000 (£226,000/$291,000) by the Spanish courts. His father Jorge had to pay €180,000 (£161,000/$208,000).

The Argentine was also fined €2m (1.78m/$2.3m) with his father paying €1m (£900,000/$1.15m). The pair in 2013 paid a “corrective” sum of €5m (£4.5m/$5.7m) to cover the unpaid tax plus interest.

Alexis Sanchez was also caught in a tax scandal , accepting a 16-month prison sentence for committing tax fraud during his time at Barcelona. The United winger was accused of defrauding the treasury of €1m (£900,000/$1.15m) between 2012 and 2013, relating to income from his image rights.

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‘A limit we will not cross’ – DFL chief rules out overseas Bundesliga matches

Germany Football League managing director Christian Seifert has ruled out Bundesliga matches being played abroad in the United States.

A Liga fixture could take place in the USA during the second half of the 2018-19 season after a 15-year promotional agreement was struck with Relevent Sports.

The Spanish Footballers’ Association have  reacted angrily against the announcement, however, threatening to strike if the match goes ahead.

But despite the commercial attraction to hosting a game in an untapped market such as the US, German officials view the move as a “lack of respect”.

“We will never play a league game outside of Germany,” DFL chief Seifert told Die Zeit . “That’s a limit we will not cross.

“An official league game, which is about points that decide promotion, relegation or participation in the international competition, abroad, is, in my view, a lack of respect for their fans, the players and in the end also Major League Soccer.

“You do not need help from overseas to promote football in this way.”

Relevent Sports’ chairman Charlie Stillitano is also the brains behind the International Champions Cup, the annual multi-country pre-season event.

The tournament has given Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund exposure to the United States market.

But Seifert does not feel the Bundesliga needs to sell its soul and has rejected suggestions they could follow the Liga model and have staggered kick-off times.

“You can rule out that there are as many kick-off times as there are games, as is the case in Spain,” he added.

Relevent are keen on ensuring that next year’s La Liga fixture includes “one of the top five or six teams” but it remains to be seen if the arrangement will lead to an overseas game.

Stillitano has confirmed no decision has been reached but has indicated that appropriate fixtures are being considered.

“We are working with [La Liga] right now and nothing’s been decided. We just have to find the right game in the calendar and we want to do it this season,” he explained .

“The other part will be that we want it to be that there’s not a cup game [in the week between] so there’s a little bit of rest for the players.

“We’re trying to respect the game, we are trying to respect the players. We know it’s a new thing and obviously in Europe, outside of the Champions League, you are not travelling great distances and this would be a big trip without question.”

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What is the UEFA Nations League? Europe’s plan to transform international football explained

Major changes are coming to international football in Europe, with the UEFA Nations League kicking off on September 6.

UEFA has devised a plan to make friendlies between national teams largely a thing of the past from 2018, replacing those matches with a brand-new competition.

The idea is to create a more regular schedule of competitive games in which teams can improve and develop ahead of European Championships and World Cups.

The new competition will also hold four qualification spots for the European Championship, with that tournament having now expanded to 24 teams.

It will be called the UEFA Nations League and on paper, its structure can be rather daunting to get your head around.

Fortunately, Goal is here to explain how the format works.

What is the UEFA Nations League?

*Embed only* Nations League 2018

As the name suggests, the UEFA Nations League is a league competition for UEFA’s 55 members. It will consist of four different divisions (called ‘Leagues’) and three stages.

In the first year, the four leagues will be decided on team strength according to UEFA’s coefficients, which are essentially their version of FIFA’s world rankings.

UEFA confirmed the overall composition of the inaugural Nations League on October 11, 2017.

League A contains the 12 highest ranked teams and League B features the next 12. League C is comprised of the following 15 teams and League D is made up by the final 16.

The likes of Germany, Spain, France and England are all in League A, with Iceland perhaps one of the more surprising participants.

League B contains the second tier teams, such as Wales, Russia and the Republic of Ireland. Scotland are in League C along with the likes of Greece, Serbia and Hungary.

League D is populated by nations such as the Faroe Islands, Andorra, San Marino and new teams such as Kosovo and Gibraltar.

Within those leagues, the teams will then be split up further into groups, with the draw scheduled to take place on January 24. You can see the seeding divisions in the tables above.

In Leagues A and B, there will be four groups of three teams each. In League C, there will be one three-team group and three four-team groups. In League D, there will be four groups of four teams each.

The first stage will be group play, which will take place across three consecutive international breaks in September, October and November 2018.

The countries in three-team groups will play four games each, while countries in four-team groups will play six games – both in the normal home-and-away format.

Still with us?

UEFA Nations League Groups

The draw for the inaugural Nations League took place on January 24 in Lausanne Switzerland and it threw up some interesting groups.

World champions Germany are along with France and rivals Netherlands in Group 1, while England have been drawn with Spain and Croatia in Group 4.

European champions Portugal will take on Italy and Poland in Group 3, while Belgium are joined by Switzerland and Iceland in Group 2.

You can see the draw in full below.

So, what happens once the groups have been played?

In League A, the winners of each of the four groups will advance to the ‘Final Four’ competition, which will take place in June 2019.

The Final Four will consist of two one-leg semi-finals decided by a random draw and the final, with all three matches taking place in a neutral host country.

The winner of the final is, of course, the first UEFA Nations League champion.

For everyone else, there is promotion and relegation to worry about.

The teams that finish bottom of their group in Leagues A, B and C are relegated and replaced by the teams that finish top of the groups in the League below.

Here’s a handy graphic from UEFA to illustrate how all the movement will work:

UEFA Nations League

What about EURO 2020 qualification?

Eden Hazard Belgium 2018

That brings us on to the extra European Championship qualification spots, which is where it really gets complicated.

To further incentivise teams to take the Nations League seriously, four ‘second-chance’ places at the finals of the continent’s biggest international competition will be up for grabs.

Now that the Euros will be contested by 24 teams, the top two teams from each of the 10 regular qualification groups will secure a place at the finals.

The only play-offs that will be played on top of that for the final four spots will be filled with teams who qualify through the Nations League.

One qualification spot will be awarded to each League, giving one of the lowest-ranked teams on the continent a rare chance to go to a European Championship through League D.

It will work like this: by default, the winner of each League’s four groups will go into the play-offs.

The four group winners from each League will play semi-finals and a final much like the Final Four, with the winner of each League’s mini-tournament qualifying for Euro 2020.

Where it gets messy is if some of the group winners in each League have already qualified for the Euros through the normal qualification process – which they inevitably will have.

Their place in the play-offs will then be allocated to the next-best team in that League as a whole. How that team will be selected is not entirely clear, but it will presumably be based on points and then the normal set of tiebreakers.

If there is not enough unqualified teams in a League – again, this is very likely in League A – to fill the four-team play-off mini-tournament, teams from the League below will slide up to complete the field.

These teams will have not qualified for their own League’s play-offs, though, so as not to punish the best teams in the League below by moving them up to a harder competition.

For example, if there are only three unqualified teams for the League A play-offs, the fifth-best unqualified team in League B will join the League A play-offs – not any of the top four.

The introduction of the Nations League will see Euro 2020 qualification condensed into a period between March and November 2019, while the play-offs will be played in March 2020.

So when is all this happening?

Luka Modric Croatia 2018

Let’s map it out step by step.

The Nations League group stage will be played across three international breaks between September and November 2018.

Euro 2020 qualifying will then take place between March and November 2019, with the Nations League Final Four also coming in the middle of that in June 2019.

UEFA Nations League

The Euro 2020 qualification play-offs are set for March 2020, and Euro 2020 itself – to be played across the continent – will begin three months later.

None of this will require the international schedule to be changed; UEFA’s new structure fits into FIFA’s existing international windows.

How can I watch the Nations League?

Cristiano Ronaldo Portugal

All of England’s qualifying matches through the 2018-2022 cycle – in both UEFA and FIFA competitions – will be broadcast live on ITV in the UK.

England’s Nations League matches, however, will be available to watch on Sky Sports, who also hold the exclusive rights to the rest of the teams competing as well as the Final Four.

In the US, ESPN has snapped up everything for the next cycle – Euro 2020 and its qualifiers, the Nations League and the European qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup.

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