Keita ‘will do great things’ for Liverpool, insists Mane

Sadio Mane is certain Naby Keita will achieve greatness at Anfield despite a stuttering start to his Liverpool career.

Keita showed flashes of promise in the opening weeks of the season but is yet to find the form that won him widespread admiration at RB Leipzig.

The Guinea midfielder’s adjustment has been stalled by a hamstring strain which sidelined him for a month.

But Mane, who played alongside Keita at Austrian side Salzburg, believes the 23-year-old will in time prove his talent in the Premier League.

“He is a great player and also young. He still has a lot to learn and improve,” Senegal winger Mane told Premier League Productions.

“When he came he surprised everyone but not me, because I know him. I’m sure he will do great things for us.

“Now he is back with the team and we are happy to have him. I’m looking forward to seeing him helping the team as he can.”

Liverpool have avoided defeat in each of their 12 league matches this term without completely capturing their sparkling best of last season, and Mane put the onus on the players to lift their level.

“Maybe in a few games we haven’t played as we can and expect to play, but we have to deal with it and try to work as hard as we can, and push individually to do better again,” he said.

“We could do better – that’s part of football. We’d love to do better for the team and the club.

“We have had a better start than last season, now we have important games coming and we’re going to try to do our best.”

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Unoccupied Ikechukwu Ezenwa wouldn’t have believed his luck in Bafana draw

COMMENT    By Seye Omidiora     Follow on Twitter

After the entire furore that surrounded Gernot Rohr’s goalkeeping pick before Nigeria’s clash with age-old rivals South Africa at the FNB Stadium, it was somewhat anticlimactic seeing the German tactician opt for Enyimba’s Ikechukwu Ezenwa.

A few critics had put forward Theophilus Afelokhai as a contender to be between the sticks in the days leading up to the game, owing to the fact he’s ahead of Ezenwa in the pecking order at the Aba-based club.

Conversely, others suggested it could be Daniel Akpeyi’s chance at redemption with the Super Eagles.  Daniel Akpeyi, Chippa United

The much-maligned Chippa United stopper hadn’t seen any game time for the West African giants since his comical gaffe in a 4-2 friendly win over Argentina last November, but had been giving decent performances in recent months, evidenced by his three clean sheets in nine league appearances in what has been a troubled campaign for his side.

Last term, by comparison, he kept 10 shut-outs in 23 games.

For Afelokhai, it was always going to be a long shot thinking he’d be thrust into the limelight off the cuff, and having him start against Bafana Bafana would surely have been due to the sudden unavailability of the capped pair.

Theophilus AfelokhaiIn truth, the goalkeeper’s pick was always between Ezenwa and Akpeyi, and Rohr plumped for the former.

It was the Enyimba goalie’s first appearance for the Super Eagles in just over a year (his last outing was a 1-1 draw in a World Cup qualifier against Algeria in early November), and he might have expected a baptism of fire on his return to the side. Frankly, that was logical owing to the fact Stuart Baxter’s side dropped the ball in their last qualifier against Seychelles, that ended goalless, which consequently saw them surrender top spot in Group E.

Perhaps aided by Rohr’s decision to go with a back five on the day, the 30-year old had very little to do in the opening exchanges as both sides tried to get the measure of one another.

With the three-time West Africans going in front after 10 minutes, via the unlucky Buhle Mkhwanazi, who diverted a Samuel Kalu cross past the helpless Itumeleng Khune, it was always going to be more difficult to test the stopper, as you sensed the Nigerians would play even deeper and try to pick their moments to go forward.Nigeria training

The one time you felt the Enyimba shot-stopper would be called upon, only minutes after his side’s opener, Kalu made a last-ditch tackle to prevent an effort from just outside the six-yard box, and the stand-in was limited to just claiming crosses and loose balls in the box.

Even though Bafana controlled the game, they didn’t have any clear sight at goal after the aforementioned moment, often let down by their decision making in the final third. Ezenwa remained largely idle, although he did make a hash of claiming a corner, moments before Baxter’s side levelled, when he struggled to make his way across a crowded goalline.

He could do very little about the home side’s equalizer just before the half-hour, as he was left largely exposed by his defence. On the one hand, you’ve got to credit Percy Tau for showing great individual skill to beat the duo of William Troost-Ekong and Kenneth Omeruo, before following that up by unselfishly setting up Lebo Mothiba to finish from close range.

However, one has to question all three centre-backs in that phase of play. Firstly, the aforementioned pair for getting beaten so easily by Tau, while Leon Balogun’s lack of defensive awareness to track Mothiba would have irritated Rohr.

Disappointingly for South Africa, though, they failed to build on pegging the West Africans back, with Ezenwa becoming nothing more than a glorified spectator for the remainder of the game – all he had to do was stay alert to claim any loose balls. The home side only registered a measly three efforts all game, managing a sole effort on target (Mothiba’s goal) in 90 minutes… on their own patch. By contrast, Nigeria had seven.

Nigeria v. Argentina - Uzoho

A lack of height in the box made it impossible to go route-one by means of long balls – something Baxter ironically condemned after the game – and crosses into the box. Granted, hindsight is 20/20, however owing to the fact that dealing with crosses has been a continuing problem for Rohr’s men for a while, the home side might have found a bit more joy if they had the physical presence in the box to test their opponents’ defence.

In the end, the stalemate was probably a fair result, and while some Nigerians may feel aggrieved by having two goals chalked off, the overall performance of the team wouldn’t have justified a win.

For Ezenwa, he did what he had to with minimal fuss, and while he may have been relieved with not having too much to do in Johannesburg, his relative inactivity on the day ironically did more harm to his chances of usurping Francis Uzoho as Rohr’s number one.

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Carlos Tevez in line for start in Copa Libertadores final second leg

Guillermo Barros Schelotto confirmed Carlos Tevez could be handed a starting role in the second leg of the Copa Libertadores final as Boca Juniors look to grab victory at El Monumental against bitter rivals River Plate.

The 34-year-old was a second-half substitute in the first leg at La Bombonera, the first meeting of the two fierce rivals in the final of South America’s premier club knockout competition.

The clash ended 2-2 as River twice came from behind to leave the final evenly poised heading into the reverse fixture next weekend.

Tevez played from the start in Saturday’s 1-0 Superliga victory over Patronato, the former Manchester United striker featuring for 83 minutes in support of Mauro Zarate.

And that display could be enough to convince Schelotto to start the experienced striker, with Boca aiming to lift the title for a record-equalling seventh time.

“We will work on that and then we will decide,” Schelotto told reporters.

“People’s love for Tevez is huge, it is endless because it comes from the deepest [part of] their heart.

“Since the very first time Carlos started to play with us, and every time Carlos comes to play or close the goal they will cheer him up with chanting, and I totally welcome that motivation for him because it helps to prepare him mentally for the final.

“There is a chance [he could start]. The last time he entered the pitch against River he did very well and he made an important impression on the final. We are going to analyse it in the next week.”

Tevez is currently in his third spell at Boca having re-joined the club in January after leaving Chinese club Shanghai Shenhua late last year.

The forward made his debut for Boca as a 16-year-old in 2001, spending three years at the club before joining Brazilian side Corinthians.

Tevez spent just 18 months in Brazil before moving to the Premier League with West Ham. He would go on to enjoy successful spells at both Manchester United and Manchester City, winning nine major trophies.

A short spell with Italian side Juventus would follow before making an emotional return to Boca in 2015.

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Man Utd sweating on Rashford’s fitness as he limps out of England win

Manchester United have been handed another potential injury headache after seeing Marcus Rashford limp out of England’s win over Croatia.

Jose Mourinho would have been among the interested observers as the Three Lions took to the field at Wembley on Sunday.

He has already taken in Nations League action during the international break, with a trip to Belgium made to catch Roberto Martinez’s side face Iceland.

The Portuguese had three of his players involved in England’s latest outing and would have been hoping to see them all emerge unscathed from duty with their country.

Luke Shaw played no part for the Three Lions against Croatia, while Jesse Lingard started a crunch clash among the substitutes.

He was handed 17 minutes off the bench and made a telling contribution, with a crucial leveller recorded before Harry Kane snatched the most dramatic of winners.

As Lingard made his way onto the field, club colleague Rashford headed in the opposite direction.

Gareth Southgate was considered to be making bold changes, with Jadon Sancho also introduced.

Rashford did, however, appear to be nursing a knock as he headed straight down the tunnel.

He was clearly limping as he made his way back to the England dressing room, and those images will have concerned his club boss.

Mourinho will have been impressed by what the 21-year-old offered the Three Lions, with another energetic performance put in on the occasion of his 31st cap.

United are now sweating on Rashford’s fitness, though, and could see him returned to them facing up to a spell on the sidelines.

Marcus Rashford Romelu Lukaku

The Red Devils are back in domestic action on Saturday when they welcome Crystal Palace to Old Trafford.

They could already be without Romelu Lukaku for that contest, with the Belgian striker having been forced to withdraw from international duty after being called upon by Martinez.

He is nursing a hamstring problem, with a niggling knock having now prevented him from playing his way back into form for club and country.

United will be hoping that Rashford has avoided a similar fate, with only a minor ailment forcing him out of a fixture which saw England book their place in the semi-finals of the UEFA Nations League.

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England 2 Croatia 1: Kane able to secure Nations League Finals spot

Harry Kane scored an 85th-minute winner as England fought back from a goal down to beat Croatia 2-1 and secure a place in the Nations League knockout stages.

A repeat of the 2018 World Cup semi-final seemed set to end in heartbreak for England again when they fell behind to Andrej Kramaric’s deflected strike in the 54th minute.

However, substitute Jesse Lingard poked home a close-range equaliser with 12 minutes remaining, setting up a frantic finish as qualification was suddenly up for grabs again.

Captain Kane completed the turnaround, the striker overcoming a mixed performance in front of goal by poking home Ben Chilwell’s cross from England’s left flank.

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