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The Nigeria Professional Football League saw matchday three encounters hold across the country over the weekend, with Sunshine Stars of Akure going top of the table, a couple of big clubs getting back to winning ways and yet another away win being recorded.
At Akure, Sunshine Stars edged to an entertaining 3-2 victory over visiting Gombe United to go top of the league with seven points, a point ahead of six clubs led by Shooting Stars that claimed a 3-1 win over Lobi Stars.
Enugu Rangers is third, with a game in hand, and are followed by Bayelsa United and Enyimba after both won 2-0 at home to Wikki Tourists and El-Kanemi Warriors respectively, while Akwa United jumped to sixth with a lone goal win over league champions Kano Pillars that dropped to seventh to round-up the teams on six points.
In other results, Heartland thrashed Kaduna United 4-1, a goal just before the hour mark gave Kwara United a 1-0 win at Sharks of Port-Harcourt while ABS completed the Ilorin clubs’ double over Port Harcourt clubs with a 1-0 win over Dolphins in Ilorin.
Since the league suffered a number of postponements before eventually commencing earlier this month, a full programme of matches will take place in midweek and the weekend with Shooting Stars visiting Kano Pillars, Kwara United welcoming Heartland to Ilorin, Sunshine Stars going away to play Dolphins and Enyimba also being away at newly promoted Nembe City some of the midweek ties.
Apologies for stating in the last post that there would be no league matches over the weekend, the World Cup qualifier between Nigeria and Kenya as well as the Flying Eagles’ final group match at the Africa Youth Championship taking place last Saturday led me to believe so.
Being the first match since, much to the pleasant surprise of pretty much all her citizens, conquering Africa at the Nations Cup, the expectation ahead of the qualifier against Kenya was, basically, to whitewash the East African visitors.
Alas Kenya took the lead, against the run of play, via a well struck free-kick nine minutes from half time. Before then, Victor Moses had had a shot blocked by a last ditch tackle while Brown Ideye saw a goal bound header cleared off the line.
Indeed Nigeria was playing well, John Mikel Obi particularly was impressive on the day with a few visionary passes but there crucially was no gainful end result coming and it was time to read the real script.
Second half almost followed the trend of the first, almost. The Kenyans parked their bus while the Super Eagles, champions of Africa, again and again sought after at least a goal. And just when a shocking home loss looked an inevitable conclusion to the encounter, just when Nigerian tweeters would have to swallow their tweets of Thursday… Nnamdi Oduamadi got Nigeria a face saving equaliser three minutes into the five minutes of stoppage time given.
Oduamadi, by a twist of fate, was a 75th minute substitute for the man whose goal won us the Nations Cup back in February, Sunday Mba. Mba surely passed on the ‘heroics’ spirit to Oduamadi.
On a serious note, the 1-1 draw, which leaves us level on five points with Malawi atop our qualifying group, probably is the perfect result for Nigeria at the moment. Hopefully it will have the Super Eagles show better precision in front of goal, more so with the FIFA Confederations Cup coming up.
In other World Cup qualifiers, Morocco fell to a shock 3-1 loss at Tanzania, Samuel Eto’o scored both goals as Cameroun edged Togo 2-1 in Yaounde, Ghana got a 4-0 win over Sudan, Cote D’Ivoire won 3-0 at home to Gambia and Equatorial Guinea emerged 4-3 winners in a thrilling affair against Cape Verde.
Away from the adults, the Flying Eagles qualified for the World Youth Championship holding later this year in Turkey after easing to a 3-1 win over DR Congo in their final Group B match at the ongoing AYC in Algeria.
All four AYC semi-finalists are now through to the WYC but Nigeria will hope to defend her AYC crown starting with a semi-final match against Group A winners Egypt. The other semi-final will see Mali face fellow West Africans Ghana.
In Formula One, Sebastien Vettel bolstered his chances of retaining the world drivers championship title for a third successive season by winning a dramatic Malaysian Grand Prix, albeit in rather unsavoury circumstances.
First Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso crashed out of the race very early on, then 2008 champion Lewis Hamilton; in his first season with Mercedes, erroneously made for a pit-stop at his former team McLaren’s, only to be waved through to his actual team’s pit.
The Briton would then have the benefit of team orders and finish third ahead of teammate Nico Rosberg who finished in fourth, after being told to not go past Hamilton in the closing stages of the race; a decision that left Hamilton embarrassed and feeling undeserving of his podium place in the post race press conference.
But Hamilton had it much better, as he didn’t have to deal with answering questions with Rosberg around, unlike Vettel who mostly kept being evasive and apologetic about the manner the race was won while Mark Webber tried to veil his massive anger/disappointment at the whole plot that had played out on the tracks.
Locked in a battle with his Redbull teammate with 15 laps to go, Vettel disregarded team orders to ease off Webber and ‘overtook’ the Australian on his way to going past the chequered flag first. Webber later admitted that he let his world champion teammate go ahead seeing as he wasn’t letting up.
While the above may be strange to aliens of Formula One, it is nearly common practise to have a team give certain orders that favours one of its drivers over the other. Michael Schumacher especially gained from such orders in the twilight of his time at Ferrari at the expense of Felipe Massa.
Vettel’s ‘disobedience’ however is a new one, made even worse by him replying that he is the faster of the Redbull drivers and hence, should be in the lead/shouldn’t be told to ease off. On a larger view, it could trip off a ripple of bad for Formula One as a competitive sport.
In hindsight, if Vettel had ‘allowed’ Webber win the race it would have put Webber on top of the drivers’ championship standings with 35 points ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, who finished in seventh in Malaysia, on 33 points while Vettel would be level on 33 points with Raikkonen in third place.
Alas what obtains now is Vettel being top with 40 points, Raikkonen second with 33 and Webber coming in at third with 28 points. Had the wisdom of the Redbull team principal prevailed, Webber winning the race and Vettel finishing second would have given Redbull same 68 points it has now anyway on the constructors’ championship standings, while more imperatively putting both drivers in good stead on the drivers’ championship standings.
That’s their mess to deal with internally though, and one gets the feeling now that a race would be tailored in favour of Webber for the sake of team spirit, which for now seems lost somewhere down the drain.
On a lighter note, in Tennis, Serena Williams made it to the fourth round of the Miami Masters with a straight sets win over Ayumi Morita of Japan, after riding to the venue of her match on a bicycle to beat traffic on the way and not be late for the encounter.
Older sister Venus Williams unfortunately retired due to injury, while former number one Caroline Wozniacki suffered a loss. Maria Sharapova, Agnieszka Radwanska and Li Na however made it to the next round with Serena.
On that note, here’s to a beat-the-deadline, no-bad-blood week ahead. Cheers.