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Nigeria’s Simon defying father’s expectations at AFCON 2021



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His father wanted him to give up on football as a teenager and join the military, but Moses Simon is now preparing to help lead Nigeria’s tilt at the Africa Cup of Nations title in Cameroon.

The 26-year-old winger has enjoyed plenty of success during a nomadic start to his career and is currently impressing at French Ligue 1 club Nantes.

The versatile Simon has scored 13 league goals since joining Nantes, initially on loan, from LaLiga club Levante in 2019 and has become a key member of the Nigeria side.

But he had to push to be given the chance of becoming a professional footballer, going against the wishes of his father.

“My dad loves football but he didn’t want me to play,” Simon told AFP. “He wanted me to be as him, in the military, because most football players in my areas didn’t make it in football.

“But my mum, like every mum, wants the best for her child. If you are happy, for them of course they are happy.

“But he said ‘No, you have to join the military’. So I had to push, so that was when I went to a school where they played football. He asked: ‘Which school do you want to go, I will pay’. So I had to choose a school that plays football but he didn’t know.”

Simon first moved to Europe in 2013 after being scouted by Dutch giants Ajax, but soon returned to Nigeria.

His first big break arrived in the unlikely surroundings of Slovakian club Trencin, though, where he played for two seasons.

“It didn’t work out (at Ajax). I believe it was the two parties, the agent and the club,” said Simon.

“So that was when I went back to Nigeria, I stayed there for four months before I moved to Slovakia.

“I was 18 when I moved to Slovakia. It was OK because I went there with a friend of mine. We played the under-20s together, so we were used to each other.

“That same day, him and me went to Slovakia to sign there. Of course in January, it was really cold. But we had no choice but to stick together and try to encourage ourselves if we wanted to succeed.”


Three-time African champions Nigeria are among the favourites for the title at the Cup of Nations, which got underway on Sunday, although their build-up to the tournament was somewhat clouded by the sacking of German coach Gernot Rohr in December.

He had come under pressure during an up-and-down World Cup qualifying campaign and was replaced by Portugal’s Jose Peseiro.

The Super Eagles open their tournament with a mouthwatering clash against seven-time winners Egypt on Tuesday.

Simon is confident, though, of Nigeria being able to go all the way and lift the trophy for the first time since 2013.

“Winning is the goal,” he said. “The last one we were third, now we have to do everything possible to have a gold medal, and we can.

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Read Also: AFCON 2021: Nigeria and Egypt set for heavyweight bout

“It’s difficult for every coach that wants to coach Nigeria because you have to do what the fans want, what the people want. You have to win, you have to play good.

“In Nigeria, everyone is a coach, so it’s not easy to coach Nigeria.”

Rohr played Simon in a variety of positions, including as a striker, winger and full-back.

“I don’t have a problem with that. If the coach thinks I can play there,” he said.

“If any coach says ‘Eh, I want you to play even as a goalkeeper because I believe in you’, I will stay in goal.”



Nadal beats Berrettini to reach Australian Open final



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Rafael Nadal marched into the final of the Australian Open to be just one match away from becoming the all-time men’s Grand Slam leader after overcoming Matteo Berrettini in their semi-final on Friday.

The 35-year-old Spanish great, seeded sixth, was too solid for the Italian seventh seed, winning 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 in 2hr 55min, and will face either Daniil Medvedev or Stefanos Tsitsipas in Sunday’s final.

Nadal is level on 20 majors with his golden era rivals Novak Djokovic, who was deported on the eve of the tournament, and Roger Federer, who is absent with injury.

It gives the Spaniard an opportunity to go clear at the top and add to his lone 2009 Melbourne Park crown in his sixth Australian Open final.

“For me it’s all about the Australian Open more than anything else, it’s an amazing event,” Nadal said.

“I have been a little unlucky during my career with some injuries and I played in some amazing finals here with some good chances against Novak in 2012 and Roger 2017, I was close a couple of times.

“I feel very lucky that I won once in my career in 2009, but I never thought about another chance in 2022.

“So I’ll just try to enjoy today’s victory and try my best in the final.”

It has been an extraordinary effort from Nadal at the year’s opening major, having to modify his game to compensate for a degenerative bone disease in his left foot that ended his 2021 season last August.


He then caught Covid in December which, he said, made him “very sick”.

Yet Nadal brushed aside Berrettini’s challenge with precision shot-making, while last year’s Wimbledon finalist could not overcome his sluggish start.

The stark statistic confronting Berrettini was that Nadal had never lost in his 20 Grand Slam semi-finals after leading by two sets.

“I started the match playing great, the first two sets were one my best for a long time and I knew Matteo was a very solid player, very dangerous and I knew at some point in the third set he was going to go for his shots,” Nadal said.

“It means a lot to me to be in the final again here,” added Nadal who is now unbeaten in 10 matches to start the 2022 season after winning a warm-up event in Melbourne.

Nadal made the better start, breaking tentative Berrettini’s opening service game when the Italian’s backhand went wide.

Nadal solidly rolled through his service holds to claim the opening set on his fourth set point in 43 minutes.

Nadal was honing in on Berrettini’s backhand and got his reward with a double break to take a stranglehold on the second set.

Read Also: Mane and Salah on track for AFCON final showdown

He finished off a 10-stroke rally with a delicate slice that again exposed Berrettini’s backhand to consolidate the double break.

Berrettini, the first Italian man to play in the Australian Open semi-finals, raised his level in the third set.

He brought up his first break points in six sets in his two encounters with Nadal and broke with a forehand winner to 5-3 and served out to reduce the deficit to one set.

But the key break came in the eighth game of the fourth set, Nadal bringing up two separate break points and getting the crucial break when Berrettini netted a forehand before serving out for the match.


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Versatile Dane Wass joins Atletico from Valencia




Denmark’s Daniel Wass has signed for Atletico Madrid from LaLiga rivals Valencia, the capital city side announced on Thursday.

The 32-year-old utility player, who can play in midfield or defence, “signs for the remainder of the campaign and another season,” Atletico said without giving details on the transfer.

“He is a very versatile player who can play in several areas of the field,” the club continued.

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Read Also: Mane and Salah on track for AFCON final showdown

“In his early days, he started playing as a full-back and a defender, but then moved to midfield, where he played both in the centre and on the sides”, before returning “to the back to play as a right-back again,” said Atletico.

During his three and a half seasons at Valencia, Wass scored 15 goals and provided 20 assists.

Capped 41 times for Denmark, Wass’s career has included stints with Danish club Brondby, French side Evian, Benfica in Portugal and Spanish outfit Celta Vigo.


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Bundesliga: Ambitious underdogs Freiburg eye UCL debut



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SC Freiburg are punching above their weight in the Bundesliga this season, with Christian Streich’s ambitious underdogs from the heart of the picturesque Black Forest eyeing a first appearance in the Champions League.

Freiburg have been perennial mid-table finishers in recent Bundesliga seasons, aside from their relegation in 2014-15 before coming straight back up.

Streich is the Bundesliga’s longest-serving current coach after more than a decade in the job.

Under his stewardship, Freiburg’s performances have fuelled dreams of a top-four finish and qualification for the Champions League for the first time.

“If that should happen, I think the party would really kick off in the city,” club captain Christian Guenter told AFP.

“It’s never happened before in the club’s history, but there is still a really long way to go.”

It’s 08:45am local time on a bleak morning, yet Guenter, 28, is fresh-faced and ready for training, clearly enjoying his football.

His performances at left-back earned him a Germany recall last November, seven years after his international debut.


Freiburg usually struggle to keep their best players, most recently when Germany defender Robin Koch left in 2020 to join Leeds United.

“Almost 10 years ago, we qualified for the Europa League and five important players left that summer,” sporting director Klemens Hartenbach told AFP.

“It’s always a bit related to sporting success — the exodus after the good work.”

However, Freiburg managed to keep their squad intact going into this season and have racked up league points.

“We simply know that we have great potential in the team,” added Guenter.

“There is always a lot of energy in training, everyone is very ambitious and wants to win.

“That’s what really distinguishes us this season: we never give up, no matter what the score is.”

Freiburg have no big-name stars, yet shocked Borussia Dortmund in their first home match on the way to remaining unbeaten in their opening 10 league games to set a club record.

Freiburg became the last Bundesliga side to lose their unbeaten status only after a narrow defeat at mighty Bayern Munich in November.

A win over Bayer Leverkusen before Christmas meant Freiburg finished the first half of the season third in the table — another club best.

Despite a 5-1 thumping a fortnight ago at Dortmund, when Erling Haaland ran riot, Freiburg bounced back with a win over Stuttgart to currently sit fifth, just a point outside the Champions League places.

Striker Nils Petersen, who spent two seasons at Bayern until 2013, loves the atmosphere in the Freiburg dressing room.


“Every win is something special for us, where as at Bayern you are expected to win,” Petersen told AFP.

“We’re enjoying it right now, we like to ride the wave of success, but the fear is always that it can go in the other direction again.”

At 33, Petersen is in the twilight of his career and out of contract in June, but hopes to be offered an extension.

“The club has already said they can imagine extending with me,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to watch the team be successful next season at home on the television.”

He has strengthened his case by proving his value as a substitute.

He holds the record for the most Bundesliga goals as a sub and his late winner at Hertha Berlin last October was his 30th after coming off the bench.

Read Also: Mane and Salah on track for AFCON final showdown

“If it gets you in the history books at some point, I’m not going to say no and I quite enjoy making an impact,” he added.

The club is also branching out off the pitch, moving from their iconic Schwarzwald Stadion to the state-of-the-art Europa Park Stadium, which holds around 35 000 people.

February’s fixtures against Cologne, Mainz, Augsburg and Hertha Berlin offer chances to again climb the table and boost their Champions League ambitions.

“Maybe we are a very small dot on Europe’s football map now,” added Hartenbach. “And that could lead to us maybe becoming something bigger.”


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