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Women’s W/C 2023: Girelli’s late winner gives Italy perfect start

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Cristiana Girelli came off the bench to score an 87th-minute winner over Argentina as Italy began their Women’s World Cup with a 1-0 victory in a feisty encounter at Eden Park on Monday.

It looked like Italy would have to settle for a draw in their Group G opener, watched by almost 31,000, fans after Arianna Caruso and Valentina Giacinti both had goals disallowed in the first half.

But Girelli, the Juventus veteran who was Italy’s top scorer in qualifying, came on for 16-year-old Giulia Dragoni near the end and needed just four minutes to make her mark with a header.

The result sets Italy up perfectly for their next game, against group favourites Sweden in Wellington on Saturday.

Milena Bertolini’s team are hoping to match their performance at the 2019 World Cup in France, when they surprisingly made it to the quarter-finals.

Meanwhile an Argentina team appearing at their fourth World Cup have still to win a game at the finals in 10 attempts. They will hope to break their duck when they play South Africa next.

It looked set to be a frustrating evening for Italy as both Caruso and Giacinti had goals ruled out for offside in the first half.

Argentina might even have gone in front just after the restart when an Eliana Stabile free-kick from wide on the left almost caught out goalkeeper Francesca Durante.

When a Manuela Giugliano free-kick whistled just over at the other end midway through the second half, after captain Barbara Bonansea had been chopped down, it seemed as if the game would end goalless.

But then Girelli, who scored a hat-trick in a 5-0 win over Jamaica at the last World Cup, entered the fray in the 83rd minute.

Moments later she got up above Stabile to score with a superb header from Lisa Boattin’s left-wing cross.

Italy then held on for the victory, with Durante having to make another important save in stoppage time to keep out a free-kick by Florencia Bonsegundo.

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Nigerian League

There’s a twist’ – Springbok hopeful rejects South African homecoming

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Ruan Ackermann will not be returning to South Africa after signing a contract extension with Premiership club Gloucester Rugby.

 

The powerhouse forward’s contract was expiring at the end of the current season and looked set to return to South Africa but has instead opted to remain in the West Country.

 

The Sharks and his former employers, the Lions, were two of the teams that Ackerman was reportedly in talks with, but ultimately, he decided to remain at the club he joined back in 2017.

“I miss playing in South Africa, I see the stadiums are getting more and more full,” Ackermann told Afrikaans newspaper Rapport in January.

 

But on Thursday, Gloucester and Ackermann revealed that the player had changed his mind.

 

“There is a little twist, I can’t see myself leaving yet, I want to stay on, so we are staying on,” he said in an interview confirming his extension.

 

He added: “The players, the staff, the people, the coaches, everyone has been really good to me. It’s basically like a second home, so that’s what makes things, when it comes to a decision, so tough.”

His re-signing with the Premiership side means that he will head into his eighth season at Gloucester this year, having arrived along with his father Johan, who was head coach at the time.

 

The Kingsholm favourite is consistently one of the top players in the Premiership for carries and metres made and was voted Gloucester Rugby’s Players’ Player of the Season for 2021/22.

 

His ability to play across the back-row, and even at lock, is a huge asset for the Cherry and Whites, with director of rugby, George Skivington, hailing the club’s ability to retain his services.

 

“There was lots of competition for Ruan’s signature, so it’s a huge coup for the Club,” Skivington said.

 

“Ruan has been fantastic for us and to have a player of his quality committing his future to the Club is a massive statement of trust in the direction we are heading in.

 

“Everyone at Gloucester Rugby is delighted that Ruan will be in Cherry & White next season.”

International ambitions

Ackermann is qualified to represent England through residency and his potential move back to South Africa was seen as an attempt to better his chances of cracking the Springboks squad.

 

In fact, he was reportedly on the cusp of making the Red Rose squad before injury struck and ruled him out of the World Cup and a debut in the England jersey.

 

However, he still hopes to make it on the international stage.

 

“I just want to play at the highest level, it’s a dream of mine, but the Springboks are my first choice,” he said in an interview in January.

 

“I feel like I have been here [England] long enough to prove myself, and that chance or option never came. I think they have their eyes on other players.”

 

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Nigerian League

Sunshine Stars unveil Boboye, Oboabona

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Sunshine Stars FC on Thursday in Akure unveiled former Plateau United coach Kennedy Boboye and AFCON 2013 winner Godfrey Oboabona as the team’s coach and player respectively.

The club employed the services of the former Abia Warriors and Heartland manager following the sacking of Edith Agoye, who led the team to 14th place in the ongoing Nigeria Professional Football League season.

The appointments were contained in a statement issued by Sunshine Stars media officer, Michael Akintunde.

According to the statement, other technical crew members unveiled alongside Kennedy Boboye include Kayode Julius (chief coach), Nwachukwu Ifeanyi (assistant coach) and John Gaadi (goalkeeper trainer).

Oboabona, a member of the Super Eagles that won the Africa Cup of Nations in 2013, has made a return to the team after playing for various clubs in Europe.

The statement read, “He (Oboabona) is expected to add his wealth of experience to the team as Kennedy Boboye gets set to lead the team back to winning ways.”

Boboye, in his remarks, thanked the management of the team for giving him an opportunity to serve and lead the team again, seeking the corporations of the stakeholders and promised to give his best with the support of everyone.

“I’m glad I’m back home, Sunshine Stars remain in my heart, with God and the collective support of everyone we shall succeed and achieve the desired results,” the coach stated.

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Nigerian League

NPFL Youth league finals hold in Benin

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(NPFL) Youth League

Benin, the Edo State capital has been announced as the host city for the Championship finals of the inaugural edition of the Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL) Youth League.

The zonal qualifiers held in five centres from February 1-3 from where teams emerged for the championship finals.

Chairman of the NPFL YOUTH league Committee, Pastor Emeka Inyama, on Tuesday, confirmed that the championship finals will take place in Benin.

He also announced that the finals will be held from February 24th to March 2nd at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, Benin.

Teams that progressed from the zonal qualifiers are Rangers International from the South East, Rivers United from South South, Remo Stars from the southwest, katsina United from North East/west and Plateau United from North Central.

“We expect the teams to arrive Benin on the 24th, and first rounds of matches will begin on February 25th,” Pastor Inyama told NPFL Media.

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