While the country remains grappled in deadlocked dialogue between the Academic Staff Union of Universities and the Federal Government, sustained poor power supply, uncertainty over the status of Shekau’s heartbeat or lack of, a couple of errant pastors and what not, some of her sportsmen have provided a good bit of reprieve from those… at least for me.
At Cote D’ivoire, the African Basketball Championships (Afrobasket 2013) dunked/tipped off on Tuesday with the host nation easing to a 64-47 win over Algeria in Group A while Senegal came through a close encounter against Egypt 72-70 winners.
Nigeria’s campaign began on Wednesday with a 74-59 win over Mali in Group D while neighbours Cameroun fared even better, defeating Congo 74-43 in the group’s other match. Defending champions Tunisia meanwhile edged Morocco 56-54 in Group B and favourites Angola opened their account with a 75-50 win over Cape Verde in Group C.
Nigeria then recorded a convincing 93-75 win over Congo on Friday night to seal qualification from the group stage for D’Tigers. Cote D’Ivoire and Angolan are pretty much through following wins in their respective second matches on Thursday, with the Ivorians beating Senegal 74-46 while Angola got a 91-73 win over Mozambique.
Also on Thursday, back home, in football, Warri Wolves qualified for the final of the Federations Cup courtesy of a 2-1 win over Akwa United in a replayed semi-final encounter after the initial match on Wednesday was halted due to bad weather with scores level at 1-1.
Wolves will now face Enyimba of Aba that had earlier reached the final thanks to a lone goal win over Lobi Stars, making it the fifth time in eight seasons the Aba Elephants have reached the final of the competition.
Enyimba’s focus however returns to the league, where they travel to face fourth placed Kwara United in Ilorin in one of this weekend’s matches, as both sides hope to sustain their contention for the league title.
Two other teams in direct contention too; champions Kano Pillars and Bayelsa United, come up against Sharks of Port Harcourt and ABS of Ilorin respectively, aiming to take advantage of the result from Ilorin and consolidate their title charge.
Beaten Fed. Cup semifinalists Akwa United and Lobi Stars will also be home this weekend, with Akwa Utd taking on Shooting Stars while Naze Millionaires Heartland will be Lobi’s guests at Makurdi.
Other matches will have Dolphins at home to Rangers in Port Harcourt, Sunshine Stars visiting relegation threatened Wikki Tourists in Bauchi, Elkanemi Warriors hosting Warri Wolves in Maiduguri and Nembe City making the short trip to face Kaduna United.
In England, Manchester City got their season underway in emphatic fashion, handing Newcastle United a 4-0 thumping at the Etihad to go top of the league ahead of city rivals Man. United. And City will look to build on Monday’s thrashing when they pay Welsh newcomers Cardiff City a visit on Sunday.
Before then, Arsenal will get the weekend’s Premier League programme going when they visit Fulham in a London affair on Saturday. The Gunners go into that encounter with fragile confidence following a 3-0 win at Istanbul against Fenerbahçe in a Champions League playoff match.
While Laurent Koscielny’s early injury looked to be the start of another miserable evening, an inspired second half (especially from Aaron Ramsey) saw the Gunners virtually book their place in the group stage with the margin of victory, which came through goals from Kieran Gibbs, Ramsey and a Giroud penalty.
In other first leg UEFA Champions League playoff matches played in midweek, two spectacular, better-after-every-view goals gave Real Sociedad a commanding 2-0 win at the Gerland against Olympique Lyon, PSV Eindhoven and AC Milan played out a 1-1 draw as did Greek club PAOK Thessaloniki at Schalke 04.
Zenit eased to a 4-1 win at Pacos Ferreira of Portugal and Switzerland’s FC Basel won 4-2 at Ludogorets Razgrad but the biggest result came from Kazakhstan where Scottish champions Celtic got shocked in a 2-0 loss to Shakhter Karagandy… that had a sheep ‘sacrificed’ before kickoff.
Down in the Europa League, Marko Marin scored twice either side of a Kevin Gameiro goal for temporal club Sevilla, as the Spaniards came from a goal down to slaughter Slask Wroclaw 4-1 in one of several first leg qualifying matches played on Thursday.
Fomer Bayern Munich striker Mario Gomez began competitive life as a Fiorentina striker in good form, scoring in la Viola’s 2-1 win at Grasshoppers while Wilfried Bony continued his in like manner as Swansea City recorded a 5-1 win at home to Petrolul Ploiesti of Romania.
Elsewhere, Udinese lost 3-1 at home Sloban Liberec, Spartak Moscow drew 1-1 at St. Gallen and Roberto Soldado made it three goals in two appearances for Tottenham Hotspur in the 5-0 win at Dinamo Tbilisi, scoring twice for the Londoners on the night.
That win should’ve been the cake on which Willian’s £30m arrival would be the icing. Spurs looked set to land the attacker, weeks after usurping Liverpool for him, until Roman Abramovich whistled by with an extra £2m to hijack that and ensure the Brazilian attacker would now join Chelsea instead, even after having his medical at Spurs; something Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho implied should have been kept secret in an amusing press conference.
Now everyone’s wondering why Chelsea would move for Willian when there’re Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Oscar, Kevin de Bruyne, Andre Schürrle and dear Victor Moses already choking in that department… I already wrote about that here. Besides, the Brazilian made quite an impression on Chelsea while with Shakhtar Donetsk.
Willian’s imminent arrival at the Bridge, coupled with Mourinho saying the club could bid for Wayne Rooney again afterwards, fills Monday night’s league clash between the Blues and champions Manchester United at Old Trafford with even more expectation than already anticipated.
For Daniel Levy and Andre Villas-Boas, the sentiment would be different, whatever the outcome of their home match against Swansea on Sunday is. With Gareth Bale set to join Real Madrid, Willian would have been an ideal replacement though the Lillywhites will now pursue a deal to bring in Erik Lamela from AS Roma.
The Italian side; that has already parted with Marquinhos and Pablo Osvaldo but brought in Gervinho and Kevin Strootman, begin their league campaign away at Livorno on Sunday while the Serie A season kicks off on Saturday at Verona where last season’s third placed side AC Milan are visitors of newly promoted Hellas Verona.
Champions Juventus, on a high after claiming the Super Cup in emphatic manner, then play at Sampdoria later on Saturday while Napoli host Bologna, Genoa visit Inter Milan and Lazio host Udinese in some of Sunday’s matches there.
In Spain, champions Barcelona visit Malaga on Sunday without Lionel Messi who went off injured in the 1-1 draw at Atletico Madrid in the first leg of the Super Cup. Atletico host Rayo Vallecano on Saturday while city rivals Real visit Granada on Monday.
In France, Monaco went top of the league for the moment after being held to a goalless draw by Toulouse on Friday night, thus failing to equal a record of a newly promoted side winning the opening three Ligue 1 matches, a record held by Toulouse.
Lyon can now regain top spot with a win at home to Reims, while Olympique Marseille or St. Etienne could also go top if they win respective matches against Valenciennes and Lille and other results go their way. Elsewhere, PSG visit newly promoted Nantes in search of a first win this season following two draws so far.
Penultimately in Tennis, draws for the last grand slam of the year sees third seed Andy Murray begin his title defence against Michaël Llodra, well ahead of a potential semifinal against top seed Novak Djokovic; whom Murray beat to win last year’s title.
And unlike before when a Rafael Nadal vs. Roger Federer match would’ve been the potential second semifinal, both men could potentially face each other a round earlier in the quarterfinal instead; owing largely to Federer dropping to seventh in the lastest world rankings, his lowest rank since 2002.
The women’s draw sees too seed and defending champion Serena Williams starting off her US Open defence against veteran Francesca Schiavone. And barring any upsets, Serena would face second seed Victoria Azarenka in the final in a fortnight.
The US Open will serve off on Monday without world number three Maria Sharapova who withdrew from the slam due to an ‘inflamation’ in her shoulder. Probably what happens when you consider changing your name to ‘Sugarpova’ for the duration of the grand slam.
Finally on this day after Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced he’ll retire next year, Thomas Edison patented the motion picture camera in 1891 while in 1981, Mark David Chapman is sentenced 20 years to life in prison for the murder of Beatles singer John Lennon.
And happy birthday to everyone celebrating their birthday today, including Nigerian football striker Joseph Akpala, Portuguese fullback Jose Bosingwa, American comedian Dave Chappelle, Dutch swimmer Inge de Bruijn and Swedish midfielder Kim Kallstrom. Deceased former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat would have been 84 today as well.
Now I’m off to sort my fantasy league team. Have yourself a great weekend then.