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Australia, England set for titanic Women’s World Cup semifinal

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The Women’s World Cup semifinal clash between Australia and England on Wednesday will be the latest installment in the long rivalry between the nations.

Co-host Australia has the nation behind it as it heads into its first World Cup semifinal, with Stadium Australia expected to be packed with a crowd of around 80,000 fans.

England, however, is the European champion and the favorite to reach the World Cup final, against either Spain or Sweden, for the first time, despite having to first face down a hostile crowd.

England coach Sarina Weigman, who is from the Netherlands, was asked if she fully appreciated the enormity of a match between Australia and England.

“It’s going be really big,” she said.

“But now I’ve had a couple of questions about that so it’s probably going to be bigger than I imagined now.

“I’ll talk to my players and staff and see what that rivalry is.”

The storied rivalry between Australia and England has already added a few episodes this year.

Australia won both the men’s and women’s Ashes cricket series and its netball team rubbed salt in the wound by beating England in the recent World Cup final.

England soccer captain Millie Bright understands how much it means to fans of both countries.

“I don’t think you can’t look forward to that game,” she told reporters after England came back from a goal down to defeat Colombia 2-1 in the quarterfinals.

“This is the biggest tournament in the women’s game to date so what a game to be a part of.

“We’re not just coming here to compete, we’re coming here to get the job done and we’ve shown that in our mentality and character in every single game.”

Teammate Lauren Hemp, who scored the equalizer against Colombia, said the team was ready.

“Australia, bring it on,” she said.

“It’s going to be a packed stadium with so many Australian fans, but we know if we play at our best we are unstoppable.”

England will again be without the suspended Lauren James, but did not miss her in a convincing performance against Colombia in front of a crowd that was roaring on the South Americans.

England may be ranked six places above the Matildas in the FIFA rankings, but Australia is riding a wave of momentum.

The Matildas’ heart-stopping penalty shootout win over France in the quarterfinals was one of the most-viewed sporting events on television in Australia in almost 20 years.

The team has fed off that support in difficult moments and will be banking on more of the same at the imposing Stadium Australia.

The team should also have confidence after its 2-0 win over England in a friendly in April that ended the Lionesses’ 30-match unbeaten run.

Australia also has striker Sam Kerr back in the picture after she was sidelined by a calf injury earlier in the tournament.

Coach Tony Gustavsson’s biggest decision will be whether to start the prolific Chelsea forward.

He has named an unchanged side in the last three games, but Kerr played 65 minutes against France and it looks increasingly likely she will have a bigger role against England.

“What’s good is that we have continuity in what we’re doing,” Gustavsson said.

“We have a clear playing style, so we don’t really need to train to be tactically prepared.

“It’s more about making sure we’re mentally and physically prepared for the semifinal. These players are on a mission.”

Vice captain Steph Catley said the players were “just primed for this moment.”

“We’ve got a perfect little balance of a core group that understand the gravity of the situations and a small group of younger players who might not understand the gravity, which is kind of bliss,” she told reporters.

“You’ve got their confidence and their flair, and then we’ve got mature (players) bringing an understanding to moments like that.”

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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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