SuperSport scores FIFA majors

SuperSport has confirmed itself as Africa’s home of world football after completing a broadcast deal with FIFA for its major international rights for the 2017/18 season.

DStv & GOtv customers’ football experience will be taken to a whole new level with the impending FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia and the FIFA World Cup, which also takes place in Russia in June 2018. All 64 matches will be broadcast live in High Definition.

Other FIFA events on the broadcast calendar are the FIFA Under-20 and Under-17 World Cups, the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup and, in 2018, the FIFA Under-20 and Under-17 Women’s World Cup tournaments.

SuperSport has exclusive pay TV rights in South Africa to all the games of the FIFA Confederations Cup and the FIFA World Cup. Rights are on a non-exclusive basis in the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa.

These acquisitions now sit alongside SuperSport’s already substantial offering that includes the major leagues, Champions League and the SA Premier Soccer League.

“Soccer is among the jewels in the SuperSport crown,” said Gideon Khobane, SuperSport Chief Executive. “We have long enjoyed the thrills of the World Cup and FIFA’s other properties and this new arrangement prolongs what has become a great partnership.”

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Ronaldo tops Messi in earnings

Real Madrid’s Portuguese striker Cristiano Ronaldo was the best paid footballer in 2016-17, with €87.5 million in earnings, ahead of his Argentinian rival at Barcelona, Lionel Messi (76.5m), according to figures to appear in Tuesday’s edition of France Football.

Messi’s Brazilian teammate Neymar is third with €55.5 million ahead of Real Madrid’s Welsh forward Gareth Bale (41m) and Argentina’s Ezequiel Lavezzi (28.5m), who plays for Hebei Fortune in the Chinese Super League.

Manchester United’s Jose Mourinho is the best paid coach, with income of €28 million, the magazine said.

France Football said it based its figures on salary, bonuses and advertising income for the 2016-2017 season.

Onazi bounces back as Eagles train on

AFCON 2013 winner and skipper in the match vs Senegal Ogenyi Onazi who looked badly injured in the match on Thursday participated fully at the training on Saturday morning. A smiling Onazi spoke to supersport.com after training “I am fine and I am very happy that it was not worse than I had feared”.

The Trabzonspor of Turkey midfielder was hit in the back in a mid air collision with Mane Biram Diouf of Stoke City. “I don’t know why he was so aggressive considering it was a friendly but I thank God I am ok. It is football” the team’s skipper said.

Even though prestige friendly between Nigeria’s Super Eagles and the Stallions of Burkina Faso has been called off the Nigerian team still came out to train on Saturday morning at the Hive stadium of Barnet Football club.

Coach Geraht Rohr and his technical crew put the players through their paces and it was as competitive as their trainings have been since the team arrived London.Missing from the training was defender Chidozie Awazie who had to return to Porto because they had a UEFA Youth Champions League match. Leicester City duo of Wilfred Ndidi and Ahmed Musa did not take part. The match organisers are trying to find a replacement for Burkina Faso but in the absence of any the players are still training together to encourage more bonding time for the players but more importantly for the coaches to pass across the tactics.

Pundits, Arsenal and PL title race

Last weekend following Arsenal’s defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, the fans of the North London club were again split right down the middle with regards to their long-serving manager Arsene Wenger.

Former Man United skipper Gary Neville, now a pundit with Sky Sports, piled in and was very vociferous in his defence of Wenger. He even went as far as calling a fan with a “Wenger Out” sign at the Bridge an idiot live on TV.

Neville’s defence of Wenger and his quite brutal dismissal of the “Wenger Out Brigade” has come under fire by other journalists in England.

The respected football writer Henry Winter of the London Times believes Neville was out of order in his branding of the fans.

“The fans who pay money to support the club are entitled to their views on the club” Winter said in his column. Neville quite rightly replied that he also has a right to his views on the situation.

Somewhere at the beginning of the season I tipped Arsenal for the title. In one of my appearances on #plfanzone I repeated my belief that “the team that finished above Wenger’s side will win the title.

My presenter, James Richardson, looked at me with amusement and asked me what had changed. I replied that I believe that for once Wenger seems to have assembled a squad that was deep enough to mount a serious challenge.

On that programme and in my columns here I did give my reasons to support my view. Now, I feel like a proper muppet. Arsenal, it seems, under Wenger must revert to type and start to collapse when expectations rise.

That defeat to Chelsea was expected to be fair. However, the manner of it and the same manner of the defeat at the Etihad to Man City, is what drives Arsenal fans mad with frustration.

The defeat to Chelsea came after the mind-boggling home capitulation to an out of sorts Watford. In all of these, Wenger still believes they are in the title race. Who can genuinely argue against him? Stranger things have happened.

At some point this season it seemed that Chelsea’s strongest challengers will be Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. Pundits left with eggs on their faces again as the Merseyside club have not won a league game this year.

At the weekend they capitulated 2-0 in Humberside to a resurgent Hull. The home side thoroughly deserving of their win as they battle to stave off relegation.

This weekend, by the time Liverpool host second-placed Tottenham, they could be in fifth place, only a point ahead of Man United. That is the measure of how poorly they have played since Christmas.

In the last three home games this year they have turned up two defeats and one very lucky draw – a Simon Mignolet penalty save denied Chelsea all three points.

A few weeks ago I wrote that I thought Klopp has started talking too much on the press and this is perhaps causing needless tension in the team.

The return of Sadio Mane did not prevent last weekend’s defeat. He and fellow forwards Firmino and Coutinho need to rediscover their early-season form otherwise Liverpool could easily be sucked out of the top four.

How Mauricio Pochettino handles the Spurs’ squad when the Europa League resumes will tell how much they will be able to hang on to the coattails of leaders Chelsea.

In the previous two seasons I don’t think the Argentine had rotated his squad well enough; as a result their league form has suffered. He believes his team is in a title race and who can really deny him that belief.

It is a fascinating period in the Premier League. The two Manchester clubs believe they can still make the Top 4. United have been consisted in their unbeaten run, but have been let down by the many draws.

City seem to have overcome their wobbles and in Gabriel Jesus they have found a player who has given the squad a new boost.

Yaya Toure has rolled back the years and is standing firm in the holding role; conducting the play as this City side attempt to eke out a rousing end from tired limbs.

In it all, we the pundits try to call it as we see it or as we think we are seeing it. Football, like life, can be pretty unpredictable. We like it so.

Don’t forget to follow the live matches this weekend across our SuperSport channels. Please check local listing for times.

I will use this opportunity to congratulate the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon on a deserved Afcon triumph last weekend in Gabon. Vincent Aboubakar’s glorious winner was worthy of winning any major final. I loved the fact that it did not go to penalties.

Big Match Fixture: Nigeria v Senegal

Nigeria will Today face Senegal in the first of two international friendlies lined up for the team in the latest FIFA international window.

The game will be played in London at Barnet FC’s ground aptly named ‘The Hive’ in what should be an entertaining clash of teams who have similar styles.

The Super Eagles and the Teranga Lions will use the game to test their readiness for the start of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations as well as the resumption of the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers.

Senegal is looking to get back into gears after a disappointing campaign at the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon.

The Lions were tipped by many to lift the title, but after a blistering start to the tournament, the were edged out by eventual champions Cameroon on penalties at the quarter-final stage.

Coach Aliou Cisse knows he has to get the Lions back on winning ways for another shot at the Africa Cup of Nations and the World Cup.

The game against a resurgent Nigerian side will be the proper test for the Teranga Lions who are four places above their Nigerian counterparts on the Fifa rankings.

Cisse has assembled a crack squad that includes Liverpool’s Sadio Mane, Kara Mbodji of Anderlecht and Cheikou Kouyate while handing maiden call-ups to Moussa Wagué (Eupen), Adama Mbengue (Orlando City) and ex-France U-20 international Opa Nguette (Metz).

Senegal is third in Group D of the 2018 Africa zone of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers with 3 points from two matches. Cisse will look to change all using the Nigerian game a cue to get his wards ready.

Gernot Rohr has rejuvenated the Nigerian squad since taking over late last year. He has won all his games in charge and seems to have instilled a sense of belief and confidence in the Super Eagles again.

Nigeria is top of Group B of the Africa zone of the 2018 Fifa World Cup qualifiers with maximum points from two games, a testament to Rohr’s work with the squad.

With South Africa, Libya and Seychelles as hurdles for a place at Cameroon 2019, the Eagles will definitely fancy their chances of a first Afcon appearance in six years.

Rohr has named a 25 man squad for the two games but will have to do without Chelsea wing back Victor Moses who has withdrawn from the squad.

The trio of Mikel Obi, Brown Ideye and Odion Ighalo who all moved to China in the winter transfer window have been excused from the team but Ahmed Musa, Ogenyi Onazi, Carl Ikeme, Moses Simon and Kenneth Omerou are all included.

There is a first ever call up for Hannover ‘96 man Noah Joel Sanrenren Bazee and Olanrewaju Kayode while Watford’s Isaac Success and Tyrone Ebuehi are finally with the squad after missing out previously due to injury and documentation issues respectively.

Liverpool ready to rise to occasion

If the Premier League contained only the current top six then Liverpool, not Chelsea, would be heading for the title.

In nine games against those teams this season Liverpool are unbeaten and have taken an impressive 19 points which is why they will travel to third-placed Manchester City on Sunday brimming with confidence.

Victory over City, which would be their sixth in seven against the Sky Blues in the league, would propel Liverpool above Pep Guardiola’s side in what has become a five-club battle for second, third and fourth spots behind leaders Chelsea.

The higher calibre the opposition, the better Liverpool have played this season with notable victories over Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, a double over Arsenal and a narrow home win over City who will also be deflated by their Champions League loss to Monaco.

Jurgen Klopp’s side laboured to a 2-1 win over woeful travellers Burnley last weekend, when all the sides around them were in FA Cup action, but former Liverpool striker John Aldridge said points not style are now the priority.

“It was a crucial three points in terms of pushing for a Champions League spot,” Aldridge, who won the title with Liverpool in 1987-88, told the club’s website.

“Mentally, it was a big step forward for this Liverpool side. I know we’ve played two games more than both Arsenal and Manchester United but I’d rather have the points on the board than fixture congestion.”

Liverpool, who were neck-and-neck with City at the top of the table after 10 games of the season, are fourth with 55 points from 28 games, one less than City and second-placed Tottenham Hotspur, both of whom have played a game fewer.

Significantly, they have a five-point cushion on Arsenal and six over United. What is more, Liverpool can concentrate on their final 10 games without the distractions their top-four rivals must contend with.

While bookmakers have not stopped taking bets on Chelsea winning the title yet, a 10-point lead with 11 games to go makes them overwhelming favourites.

One thing is certain, though, two of Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal and United will be shut out of the top-four this season.

Tottenham can increase the pressure on City and Liverpool when they host Southampton earlier on Sunday chasing a 10th consecutive home victory in the Premier League, although they will be without injured top scorer Harry Kane.

Manchester United, for whom the top four has remained just out of reach since very early in the season, are away at relegation-threatened Middlesbrough on Sunday in their third game in six days.

Antonio Conte’s Chelsea, who beat United on Monday to set up an FA Cup semifinal against Tottenham, are away to Stoke City on Saturday looking to open a 13-point gap.

Fifth-placed Arsenal begin the weekend schedule at West Bromwich Albion – a side they have never failed to score against in 21 previous Premier League clashes.

Three defeats in their last four league games, however, mean Arsene Wenger’s side have precious little margin for error in their quest for a 21st consecutive top-four finish.

Mourinho defends Pogba

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has leapt to the defence of Paul Pogba after the under-fire midfielder came in for further criticism following a below-par performance in Monday’s FA Cup quarterfinal defeat at Chelsea.

Pogba, who returned to United from Italian champions Juventus for a world record fee of £89 million in August, has struggled to live up to his hefty price tag, scoring seven goals in 40 appearances this campaign.

“I feel that the world is losing values and I am scared about the level of envy coming in. It is not Paul’s fault that he gets 10 times the money some players did in the past,” Mourinho told reporters on Wednesday.

“It is not his fault that some pundits are in real trouble with their lives and need every coin to survive, while Paul is a multi-millionaire.

“Paul reached the top and nobody gave him anything. I am really worried about the way things are going with previous generations. Envy is everywhere.”

Despite Pogba’s performances often dividing opinion among supporters and pundits, Mourinho said he was pleased with the Frenchman’s performance in this campaign and was sure that the midfielder turned a deaf ear to all the criticism.

“I am very happy with Paul … The best thing is that because of his personality he doesn’t give an ass to what people say about him,” Mourinho added.

United host the Russian side FC Rostov at Old Trafford on Thursday and will hope to book their place in the quarterfinal of the Europa League following the 1-1 first-leg draw last week.

However, United will be without injured duo Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial for the clash.

Mourinho’s men can qualify for next season’s Champions League by winning the Europa League but the Portuguese manager was not thinking too far ahead.

“We know Rostov is a very good team. We are so many matches away and some of those are against big opponents who have experience in the Champions League. 1-1 is a very doubtful result,” Mourinho said.