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Maradona tributes the backdrop as rattled Napoli eye win

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Napoli will pay tribute to Diego Maradona on Sunday when they host Lazio hoping to put two painful and costly consecutive defeats behind them.

The football world honoured Maradona on the anniversary of his death on Thursday but Napoli are using this weekend’s fixture to enable Neapolitans to finally say goodbye at the place where their icon was most at home.

On Thursday Napoli told supporters to arrive at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona over three hours early so they could be in the stands for an “intense” commemoration ceremony dedicated to the man who led a previously mediocre team to their only two Serie A titles and the 1989 Uefa Cup.

Maradona remains a God-like figure in Naples, where children are still named Diego in his honour and murals of the Argentine can be found all over the city, despite his grisly fall from grace at the end of his turbulent seven years in southern Italy, a failed drugs test and details of a sordid private life dogging him as he fled back to Buenos Aires in 1991.

Now Napoli fans will be able to collectively express their love for Maradona in the stadium where he weaved magic at the peak of his career, after being locked out by Covid-19 a year ago.

“Naples was always there for dad, and he was always there for Naples,” says his son Diego Maradona Junior in a recent Sky Italia documentary.

“You see a sticker in a car, or a mural, or a kid on the street who has a top with Maradona written on the back, and that fills me with pride because he gave the people of my city unending joy.”

Napoli will be hoping for a boost from the pre-match events as they take on Lazio off the back of losses at Inter Milan and Spartak Moscow.

The 3-2 defeat at the San Siro last weekend was Napoli’s first of the league season, cut the gap between the league leaders and champions Inter to four points and cost them their star striker Victor Osimhen.

Osimhen is expected to be out of action for three months after fracturing his left cheek and eye socket in a sickening clash of heads with Milan Skriniar.

To make matters worse their hopes of making the Europa League knockouts are still in the balance following a fraught 2-1 defeat in Moscow on Wednesday.

Napoli’s bid to maintain their Serie A lead has also been hit by the absence of Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, who has been a revelation in midfield since arriving in the summer on loan from Fulham.

AC Milan, who are level on 32 points with Napoli and on a high after their win at Atletico Madrid on Wednesday night, host Sassuolo with coach Stefano Pioli set to sign an extension to his contract which will keep him at the club until the summer of 2023.

Juventus meanwhile travel to high-flying Atalanta still reeling from their 4-0 demolition at Chelsea, four points behind their opponents who sit in the final Champions league spot.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Giovanni Simeone

While Napoli prepare to give Maradona the send off they would have liked to a year ago, another Argentine in the shape of Simeone is making waves in Italy.

After striking against both Juventus and Napoli in recent weeks, Simeone is having the best season of his life on loan at Verona under Igor Tudor and has scored his nine Serie A goals in his last eight matches.

Hellas Verona 2-1 Juventus: Giovanni Simeone double condemns Juve to fourth  Serie A defeat of the season - Eurosport

Read Also: Ndidi nets as Leicester win to keep Europa League hopes alive

Verona travel to struggling Sampdoria with the European places in their sights thanks to the 26-year-old’s red hot form.

KEY STATS

1 – the number of games Juventus have won by more than one goal

25 – Atalanta have a club record-equalling number of points after 13 league fixtures ahead of the visit of Juve.

FIXTURES

Friday

Cagliari v Salernitana

Saturday

Empoli v Fiorentina
Sampdoria v Verona
Juventus v Atalanta
Venezia v Inter Milan

Sunday

Udinese v Genoa
AC Milan v Sassuolo
Spezia v Bologna
Roma v Torino
Napoli v Lazio

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Algeria stunned by ‘unfancied’ Equatorial Guinea

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Equatorial Guinea stunned Algeria to leave the defending champions on the brink of a group-stage exit from the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon.

Esteban Obiang slid in at the far post to convert a flick-on and net the only goal with 20 minutes left in Douala.

Algeria have just one point from their opening two games and must beat Ivory Coast in their final Group E game to have a chance of reaching the last 16.

The north Africans had two goals ruled out in what was a scrappy encounter.

The result ended Algeria’s unbeaten run at 35 matches, two short of Italy’s world record set last year.

Equatorial Guinea reached the Nations Cup semi-finals as hosts in 2015 but, having qualified for the tournament by right for the first time, this will go down as one of their biggest results in their history.

Juan Micha’s side move on to three points and are second in Group E, with Ivory Coast top on four points, Sierra Leone third on two points and Algeria bottom on one point.

The tight nature of the group will make Thursday’s final round of games fascinating, with the Equatoguineans facing the Leone Stars in Limbe at the same time as Algeria take on Ivory Coast in Douala (16:00 GMT).

Algeria were held to a goalless draw by Sierra Leone in their opening match and were once again frustrated in front of goal – this time by a side mostly comprised of players from clubs in the lower leagues in Spain.

read also:Real Madrid defeat Athletic Bilbao to win Spanish Super Cup

Youcef Belaili had two attempts blocked by keeper Jesus Owonu shortly before the Desert Foxes had the ball in the net for the first time midway through the first half.

Owonu made a fine reaction save to keep out Riyad Mahrez’s header but Baghdad Bounedjah tapped in the rebound – yet an offside flag against Mahrez cut the North Africans’ celebrations short.

Equatorial Guinea then threatened, as Pablo Ganet had a low free-kick clawed away by Rais M’bolhi and Iban Salvador sent a fierce strike flashing past Algeria’s right-hand upright.

Belaili had a shot deflected wide midway through the second half before Josete Miranda helped on Salvador’s corner for Obiang to convert for a shock lead.

read also:Real Madrid defeat Athletic Bilbao to win Spanish Super Cup
Algeria had chances to equalise, with their record goalscorer Islam Slimani miskicking from close range before Belaili’s rasping low strike from the edge of the area was ruled out for offside.

Obiang then made a crucial block to shut down an opening for Ramy Bensebaini and the Equatorial Guinea defender subsequently diverted Youcef Atal’s cross behind.

The Equatoguineans managed five minutes of injury time well and defeat leaves Algeria coach Djamel Belmadi sweating on their final match against Ivory Coast, with the Elephants not yet assured of progress to the knock-out stages themselves.

No country has successfully defended the Nations Cup since Egypt in 2010, and once again questions will be raised about Algeria’s performance in sub-Saharan Africa, with two of their players citing the tropical climate as a factor in their opening stalemate.

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Real Madrid defeat Athletic Bilbao to win Spanish Super Cup

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Real Madrid won the Spanish Super Cup by beating Athletic Bilbao 2-0 on Sunday as Luka Modric and a Karim Benzema penalty secured a comfortable victory in Saudi Arabia.

Modric’s curling finish towards the end of the first half and Benzema’s strike early in the second sealed the win for Madrid, who claimed their first trophy in Carlo Ancelotti’s second spell as coach.

Athletic had beaten LaLiga champions Atletico Madrid to reach the final but were well beaten at the King Fahd Stadium by a slick, organised Real Madrid side, that have now lost only once in 20 matches.

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They had brief hope in the 87th minute when they were awarded a penalty and Eder Militao was sent off, but Raul Garcia missed and Madrid’s win was safe.

Ancelotti’s side face Elche on Wednesday in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey and Paris Saint-Germain next month in the last 16 of the Champions League.

In LaLiga, they are five points clear at the top of the table.

Modric continued his brilliant form by scoring the opener, a goal that makes him the oldest goalscorer in Spanish Super Cup history at 36.

Marcelo, meanwhile, came on for the last few minutes, before lifting his 23rd trophy at Real Madrid, equalling the haul of the legendary Paco Gento as the most successful player in the club’s history.

Ancelotti now has five trophies as Real Madrid coach, adding a Spanish Super Cup to the Copa del Rey, Champions League, Uefa Super Cup and Club World Cup he won during his first spell.

The Spanish Super Cup stayed in Spain in 2021 because of the pandemic but has returned to Saudi Arabia as part of an agreement until 2029 that will earn the Spanish football federation around €30 million a year.

Objections from players and coaches have been noticeably muted but Athletic Bilbao’s Raul Garcia spoke out last week. He said moving a Spanish tournament 7 000 kilometres away was symptomatic of the authorities “forgetting the basics of football”.

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Read Also: AFCON: Tunisia bounces back, brushes aside Mauritania 4-0

Criticism has been more forthright from human rights groups like Amnesty International, who have accused the federation of failing to support “harassed and persecuted women in Saudi Arabia” and of collaborating in Saudi “image-washing”.

Athletic’s Inaki Williams and Oihan Sancet looked dangerous early on, with Williams wanting a penalty when the ball struck the sliding David Alaba on the hand but referee Cesar Soto was not interested.

Despite Vinicius Junior’s imperious form in recent weeks, Madrid’s greatest threat came down the opposite side, through Rodrygo.

The first warning came when Kroos pinged the ball out to the Brazilian, who dropped it inside for Benzema and the striker’s curling shot flew just wide of Unai Simon’s far post.

The opener took a similar route, even if it started with Thibaut Courtois, who played out to Toni Kroos. Under pressure, Kroos found Casemiro and the ball shuffled along, through Modric and out right.

Rodrygo drove past two Athletic defenders afraid to challenge in the box and by the time Dani Garcia slid to block, it was too late, Rodrygo toeing the ball inside to Modric, who whipped the ball first time into the corner.

Seven minutes into the second half, it was two, as Yeray Alvarez leapt to block Benzema”s shot, stopping the ball with his outstretched right arm. The referee checked the monitor and gave the penalty, which Benzema fired left and in.

Hope for Athletic came late, and briefly, in the 87th minute, when Militao was sent off for blocking another Raul Garcia header towards goal and Athletic were awarded a penalty. But Raul Garcia missed, his drive down the middle met by the left foot of Courtois.

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BREAKING: Equatorial Guinea stun holders Algeria in AFCON clash

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Reigning champions Algeria are in danger of an early exit from the Africa Cup of Nations after a shock 1-0 defeat at the hands of outsiders Equatorial Guinea in Douala on Sunday.

Esteban Obiang’s 70th-minute goal gave Equatorial Guinea the victory and brought Algeria’s 35-game unbeaten record crashing to an end.

The 2019 Cup of Nations winners could only draw 0-0 with Sierra Leone in their opening game in Cameroon and are now left needing to beat Ivory Coast in their final Group E outing on Thursday if they are to advance to the last 16.

The Ivorians, who were last continental champions in 2015, were held 2-2 by Sierra Leone earlier and the group remains wide open but with Algeria bottom on just one point.

Meanwhile an Equatorial Guinea side ranked 114th in the world and 28th in Africa are now well placed to reach the knockout stages for the third time.

The two previous occasions came when they were hosting the tournament, in 2012 and in 2015, but this time many of the fans in the crowd of almost 12,000 in Douala were supporting the ‘National Thunder’.

Equatoguinean capital Malabo, on the island of Bioko, is a short hop over the Gulf of Guinea from Cameroon’s economic capital.

Few of their fans could have foreseen this result against an Algerian side captained by Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez and almost entirely the same as that which won the 2019 AFCON final against Senegal.

Yet Algeria struggled to break down the opposition defence, while both Baghdad Bounedjah in the first half and Youcef Belaili late on had goals disallowed for offside.

The outstanding Iban Edu Salvador came close from long range for Equatorial Guinea in the first half and also created a chance that Luis Nlavo could not finish shortly after the break.

They again came close on a breakaway midway through the second half but it was from the corner that followed that their goal arrived – the delivery from the left was flicked on to the back post where the Spanish-born Obiang tucked it in before running to celebrate with the crowd.

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