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Spain beat Sweden 2-1 to reach FIFA Women’s World Cup final

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Olga Carmona’s stunning late strike gave Spain a 2-1 win over Sweden on Tuesday to propel them into the Women’s World Cup final for the first time in their history.

Spain’s thrilling victory at Eden Park sets up a showdown in Sydney on Sunday with either Australia or England, who meet in the other semi-final on Wednesday.

The semi-final in Auckland seemed to be drifting towards extra time before suddenly bursting to life when substitute Salma Paralluelo put Spain ahead with nine minutes left.

Rebecka Blomqvist equalised for Sweden in the 88th minute only for full-back Carmona, Spain’s captain, to score with a superb shot in off the underside of the crossbar from the edge of the box.

It has been a remarkable run for a nation who had never previously gone beyond the last 16 at a Women’s World Cup, and for a team who had been in disarray in the months leading up to the tournament.

Fifteen Spanish players told their federation last September that they no longer wished to be considered for selection, principally out of unhappiness with coach Jorge Vilda, and only three of them returned for this World Cup run.

While their dream of World Cup glory remains alive, Sweden are left with a familiar feeling after going so far at another major tournament before falling short.

This is the third time in four World Cups in which they have reached the semi-finals, only to lose on each occasion.

Peter Gerhardsson’s side also lost in the last four at the European Championship last year, having been beaten in the final of the Tokyo Olympics on penalties against Canada in 2021.

Vilda decided against handing a start to Paralluelo, after she came off the bench to score the winner in the quarter-final against the Netherlands.

Instead he recalled Alexia Putellas and the reigning Ballon d’Or winner started for the first time since Spain were walloped 4-0 by Japan in the group phase.

The plan was clearly to dominate possession and make a more physically imposing Sweden do the chasing.

Spain had far more of the ball in the first half yet neither Putellas nor Aitana Bonmati were allowed the time and space to really influence the game.

The closest they came to breaking the deadlock was from long range, when Jennifer Hermoso laid the ball back to Carmona, whose shot whistled wide.

Sweden had taken the game to Japan in an impressive 2-1 win in the quarter-finals but they offered next to nothing here until suddenly they almost struck three minutes before half-time.

Nathalie Bjorn sent a hanging cross from the right to the back post for Fridolina Rolfo –- facing seven of her Barcelona club colleagues in the Spain starting line-up -– but her side-foot volley was saved by Cata Coll.

Vilda’s plan was clearly to save the pacy Paralluelo for when the Swedish defence was beginning to tire, and it was just before the hour mark that he turned to the former athlete.

Paralluelo took the place of Putellas, who has still not completed 90 minutes at this World Cup as she continues to recover full fitness following a serious knee injury.

The substitute’s persistence almost brought the opener for Spain with 20 minutes left as she stretched to keep the ball in play following a cross by Hermoso, but Alba Redondo turned her cutback wide.

Paralluelo then struck with nine minutes of normal time remaining, showing a killer instinct to lash a shot low into the corner.

But Sweden did not give up, drawing level in the 88th minute thanks to two substitutes of their own.

Lina Hurtig had only just come on when she nodded down a cross for Blomqvist to fire home, raising the spectre of extra time once again.

But Carmona, the Real Madrid left-back, had other ideas as she clinched victory for Spain in style.

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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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