REAL MADRID BEAT AL HILAL TO WIN RECORD FIFTH CLUB WORLD CUP
Real Madrid’s players celebrate with the trophy at the end of the FIFA Club World Cup final football match between Spain’s Real Madrid and Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal at the Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium in Rabat on February 11, 2023. – Real Madrid lifted the Club World Cup for a record fifth time with a pulsating 5-3 win over Al-Hilal. (Photo by Khaled DESOUKI / AFP
Real Madrid lifted the Club World Cup for a record fifth time with a pulsating 5-3 win over Al Hilal on Saturday in Morocco.
Vinicius Junior and Fede Valverde struck twice each, while Karim Benzema also scored on his return from injury in Madrid’s spectacular victory over their Saudi Arabian opponents.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side, who qualified as Champions League winners last season, had far too much attacking quality for their opponents to handle.
Madrid’s emphatic triumph at Rabat’s Prince Moulay Abdellah stadium secured their second piece of silverware of the season, after winning the European Super Cup in August.
It also provided welcome respite from their La Liga campaign, where they sit eight points behind rivals Barcelona, who also beat them in the Spanish Super Cup final in January.
Madrid also won three Intercontinental Cups in 1960, 1998 and 2002 — a match between European and South American champions, which merged with the Club World Cup in 2005.
“We are very happy, for the eighth time Madrid are champions of the world, it was what we had to do,” Ancelotti told Telecinco.
“We’re happy, it was a good game. We had a lot of quality up front.
“I think we were good up front, with Vinicius, Karim, Valverde, who got two, up top the team had mobility and quality.”
Ancelotti brought Benzema back into the starting line-up after he had missed the semi-final win over Al Ahly with a thigh injury, with Rodrygo dropping to the bench.
The 35-year-old striker created the opening goal for Vinicius with a short pass to send the Brazilian winger through on goal.
After a frustrating spell in Spain because of racist abuse from the stands and opponents targeting him on the pitch, Vinicius was able to enjoy himself in Morocco, netting in both of Madrid’s matches and crowned player of the tournament.
The same went for the team as a whole, glad to take a short break from their domestic battle with Xavi Hernandez’s Barcelona to earn the title of world champions.
Valverde rifled the second goal home through defender Ali Albulayhi’s legs, leaving goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayoof unsighted.
Former Porto striker Moussa Marega pulled one back for the 2021 Asian Champions League winners, sliding a shot past Andriy Lunin, who should have done more to keep it out.
The Ukrainian goalkeeper, standing in for the injured Thibaut Courtois, was celebrating his birthday but despite the win he had a game to forget.
For a short period it seemed the Saudi Arabian side were going to truly test their more illustrious rivals, but Madrid stepped up a gear in the second half and secured an entertaining victory.
Turning on the style
Vnicius set up Benzema early in the second half with a stunning cross using the outside of his boot and the French forward made no mistake from close range.
Uruguayan midfielder Valverde netted his second goal after a slick combination with defender Dani Carvajal, finding his form and goals again after a dip in form.
Al Hilal pulled another goal back through ex-Atletico Madrid striker Luciano Vietto, who dinked an effort past Lunin.
Vinicius quickly hit back with a clinical strike but Vietto pounced with a clever turn and finish to cut the distance to two goals again.
Marega sent a good chance wide with 10 minutes to go, letting Madrid off the hook when he might have forced a nervy finale.
Earlier Brazilian Copa Libertadores winners Flamengo finished third with a 4-2 win over Egypt’s Al Ahly.
FIFA CHANGES WORLD CUP FORMAT FROM 2026
The world football governing body, FIFA, confirmed on Tuesday that the 2026 FIFA World Cup would retain the four-team group’s format as seen in the 2022 Qatar World Cup.
Initially, the plan was that there would be 16 groups of three teams at the 2026 FIFA World Cup, which will be held in the United States, Mexico, and Canada. This is because the tournament has been expanded from 32 teams to 48 teams for the first time in the tournament’s history.
However, the world football governing body changed its mind since the Qatar 2022 World Cup’s four-team format was a success.
This decision was made at the Fifa council meeting in Rwanda on Tuesday.
The expanded edition of the World Cup starting in 2026 means that the number of matches will increase from the anticipated 80 to 104, including a new round-of-32 stage.
The top two teams and the eight best third-placed teams, according to Fifa, would advance to the round of 32.
“The revised format mitigates the risk of collusion and ensures that all the teams play a minimum of three matches while providing balanced rest time between competing teams,” FIFA announced on Tuesday.
Fifa’s president, Gianni Infantino, announced in December that the association was considering a format change after the group stages in Qatar saw several exciting games.
The four-team group system has been in use since the men’s World Cup’s expansion to 32 teams in 1998, with the top two teams moving on to the knockout rounds.
Under the new round-of-32 format, teams will need to play eight matches to win the competition, up from seven at the 2022 World Cup.
Based on the new schedule that Fifa approved for men’s international games from 2025 to 2030, the Fifa World Cup 2026 final will take place on Sunday, July 19, 2026.
ENYEAMA WINS BEST AFRICAN GOALKEEPER OF ALL TIME
Nigeria Ex-International and veteran goalkeeper, Vincent Enyeama has been named Best African Goalkeeper of All Time by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS).
This ranking takes into consideration the year 1987 to 2022 and was determined by the total points scored by each Goalkeepers as per their annual world ranking during their stints.
According to IFFHS, specific points was allocated to the “Top 20” Goalkeepers for each year. The first-placed receives 20 points, the second-placed 19 points, the third-placed 18 points… and a point for twentieth place. If the annual world ranking comprises more than 20 goalkeepers, then the goalkeepers from 21st place onwards receive no points.
In line with this, Enyeama surpassed other legendary goalkeepers from Africa, including Essam El-Hadary (Egypt’s and four times AFCON winning Goalkeeper).
The IFFHS ALL TIME RANKING (1987 – 2022)
Best UEFA Goalkeeper
Gianluigi Buffon (Italy)
Best CONMEBOL Goalkeeper
Jose Luis Chilavert (Paraguay)
Best AFC Goalkeeper
Mohamed Abdullaziz Al-Deayea (Saudi Arabia)
Best CAF Goalkeeper
Vincent Enyeama (Nigeria)
Best CONCACAF Goalkeeper
Keylor Navas (Costa Rica)
Best Oceania Goalkeeper
Mark Bosnich (Australia)
AFCON MOST DIFFICULT TOURNEY TO WIN – FINIDI
Enyimba coach and 1994 AFCON winner, George Finidi, who also doubles as assistant coach of the Super Eagles, talks about coaching the most successful club in Nigeria as well as the chances of NPFL players in the senior national team, in this interview with ABIODUN ADEWALE
Your team Enyimba are second in Group A at the end of the first stanza. How would you rate your performance this season?
We are in a very tough group where we have most of the best teams in the country. But at the moment, we are second and I think so far so good, the boys have been responding and we hope to keep the momentum. It’s not going to be easy; every team wants to be in the top three, and our aim is to make sure we are among them. Hopefully we will achieve that.
How would you also describe your first season as a coach in the NPFL?
First season, I will say that is gone. I will say we didn’t get what we wanted in terms of classification, but I think we played some good football. However, if the objective was not achieved, then you must say it was a bad season, but we all learnt from that and try to be better this season and get the job done.
Which NPFL team has given you a tough time since you took over Enyimba?
I can’t really say a team has given us a tough time. We have competed favourably even in matches that we lost. We have not been outplayed when a team played Enyimba and won the match. We have lost some matches as a result of little details and concentration, so we will try and put that into our training programme before the second stanza, so that we don’t commit those little errors again.
You played in the NPFL as well, looking back, what are the advancements and areas that still need improvement in the Nigerian league?
From my time to the present state, there’s been a lot of improvement. I think particularly with the teams and some facilities. There are other areas that need improvement but I think overall we are getting there.
As one of the assistant coaches of the Super Eagles, would you beat your chest for some of the NPFL players to be included in the national team?
As assistant coaches of the Super Eagles, our job is to contribute and help the head coach. He needs our support and we will give him. If there are players that are good enough that we see and can make it, not just to go to the camp and come back, but go there and make an impact, we will give him that advice and we will make sure we get the best out of the players. We are all watching, not just me, and we are looking at bringing one or two or even five players into the fold. There are lots of good players in the league, but we will see who is ready to go. Once we see that, we will be able to do what is necessary.
Eagles play Guinea Bissau in an AFCON qualifier this month and a lot of people think the coaches don’t have to invite overseas-based players. Do you feel the same way?
For the game against Guinea Bissau, if it’s necessary, we have to mix the team, bring some home-based players and overseas-based players and see how we can get the result. But this notion that no player abroad should be invited is not totally a good idea. I will always say that if we see players that are capable of going there and making an impact, we will give them that opportunity. It’s always nice to mix the players, we will see how everything goes.
It’s been 10 years since Nigeria last won the AFCON. How important is it for you to win it for Nigeria again, as a member of the technical crew?
I must tell you the AFCON is the toughest tournament to play and win. Most people feel AFCON should be won every two years, but if it was that easy, no one would cherish it anymore. It’s been a long time but we will work towards it and see if we can win the next edition.
Ex-Eagles coach Clemens Westerhof had a huge impact on Nigerian footbal. What lessons have you picked from him now that you are a coach yourself?
Personally, I think Westerhof did a good job in his time with Nigeria. At the same time, I have worked with so many coaches that have impacted my way of life and my career. From Westerhof to every coach I played under, even the ones I played under from Louis Van Gaal to Guus Hiddink and Shuaibu Amodu, I’ve learnt a lot and I try to imbibe one or two things into my own way as well.
What were your highest and lowest moments while representing Nigeria?
The highest moment in my Super Eagles days was winning the AFCON in 1994, while the lowest I will say will be not beating Italy in the second round of the World Cup in 1994 as well.
At club level, you won the UEFA Champions League with Ajax as well as other titles in Europe. If you place them side-by-side with your national team medals, which one is the most precious?
If I have to pick between all the titles I’ve won for club and country, I would say the AFCON medal is the most valuable while I will call the Champions League precious.
Finally, what is it going to feel like to lead Enyimba to another CAF Champions League glory in the nearest future and do you have plans of returning to Europe anytime soon?
For Enyimba, it’s one step at a time. Our focus now is getting to the Super Six, once that one is achieved, we will compete for the Top Three and then we can begin to talk about what to do on the continent. But yes, it will be great to achieve everything achievable with the club. I’m in Nigeria at the moment, I don’t know if I’m going back. But as a coach, you can find yourself anywhere. I don’t know what the future holds for me but I will try and enjoy my time here at home and whatever happens in the future will depend on the result I can achieve here. So, I will keep working hard to be better. I’m thinking about what I can do today and who knows what will happen tomorrow? I’m not thinking about going back to Europe, I’m just focused on my job here.
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