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Iniesta magic helps Japan’s Kobe win 5-1

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Barcelona legend Andres Iniesta produced a magical display on his Asian Champions League debut Wednesday to inspire Japan’s Vissel Kobe to a 5-1 thrashing of Malaysia’s Johor Darul Ta’zim.

The 35-year-old, who won four European Cups in a glittering career with the Spanish giants, set up the home side’s opening goal after 13 minutes, threading a defence-splitting pass for hat-trick hero Keijiro Ogawa to lob over goalkeeper Farizal Marlias.

A handball by Iniesta’s former Barca teammate Thomas Vermaelen allowed the visitors to equalise from the spot through Safawi Rasid on 27 minutes.

But parity vanished less than 60 seconds later when Kyogo Furuhashi slammed in a shot from the edge of the box to restore Kobe’s advantage before Brazilian striker Douglas forced a sharp save from Marlias.

With Iniesta spraying passes from deep, Vissel could have been out of sight by half-time in their Group G opener, especially if their players had been on Iniesta’s wavelength.

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World Cup winner Iniesta, who joined the J-League club on a monster, three-year deal almost two years ago, played a key part in Kobe’s third goal 13 minutes into the second half.

The little sorcerer conjured a filthy no-look pass for Gotoku Sakai, who teed up Ogawa for the bleach-blond striker’s second of the night, before Douglas added a brilliant solo goal seven minutes later.

As the floodgates threatened to open, Iniesta dinked an inch-perfect cross onto the head of Ogawa to complete his hat-trick after 72 minutes.

He was substituted to a standing ovation two minutes from time, turning to bow to the pitch as is the Japanese custom, before taking his place on the bench.

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Iniesta, who captured 32 major trophies with Barcelona, is chasing a third title with Kobe after helping them to their maiden Emperor’s Cup triumph in January and a first Japanese Super Cup last weekend.

Elsewhere, in Group H, Ange Postecoglou’s Yokohama F Marinos won 2-1 in an entertaining clash with Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, who finished with nine men.

Teruhito Nakagawa twice went close for Yokohama before he set up the opener, crossing to Keita Endo who half-volleyed the visitors ahead just after the half-hour.

Endo also had a hand in Yokohama’s second, when his cross was intercepted by unfortunate Jeonbuk defender Kim Jin-su who prodded the ball into his own net.

In a chance-filled first half, Jeonbuk also had their moments but Yokohama could have gone further ahead when Ado Onaiwu had a shot cleared off the line and Nakagawa fired narrowly wide.

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Jeonbuk’s chances of a comeback sank when Son Jun-ho received his second yellow card, but a moment of madness from Yokohama goalkeeper Yuji Kajikawa gave the hosts hope with 10 minutes left.

Kajikawa needlessly charged out to intercept a long ball and missed it completely, gifting substitute Jo Kyu-Seong an empty net. However, Jeonbuk soon lost their second player when Lee Yong was carded twice in two minutes.

Only two games were played on Tuesday as ties involving Chinese teams — Guangzhou Evergrande in Group G, and Shanghai SIPG in Group H — have been postponed until April over the deadly coronavirus.

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Bruno Fernandes fires Manchester United into Europa League semi-finals

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Bruno Fernandes’s extra-time penalty edged Manchester United through to the Europa League semi-finals as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side toiled to victory against gutsy FC Copenhagen.

An overturned penalty, two disallowed goals, and efforts of the woodwork frustrated the Old Trafford giants during a goalless 90 minutes in which the Danish side looked dangerous despite failing to register a shot on target.

Fernandes would save the day from the spot in extra time, securing a 1-0 victory and a last-four date against Wolves or Sevilla back at Stadion Koln this Sunday.

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Solskjaer will need a vastly-improved performance if they are to get any further than that, though, as their tired, sloppy play was compounded by Copenhagen playing with the intensity you would expect from a side in their first-ever European quarter-final.

United struggled to find a rhythm in the stifling Cologne heat but had the better of the chances, with the VAR ruling out a penalty and then Mason Greenwood’s emphatic strike in the first half.

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Marcus Rashford saw a goal ruled out for offside before Fernandes hit a post in the second period, with Anthony Martial superbly denied as regulation time wound down.

The match was on a knife-edge as play headed into extra time, which was just five minutes old when Fernandes scored from a spot-kick won by Martial.

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Copenhagen retained hope as goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnson produced a string of superb saves and Victor Lindelof became the latest to hit the goal frame, but there was to be no late leveler for Stale Solbaken’sdogged side.

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I’m yet to receive Olympic gold medal won in ’96 – Ex-Super Eagles coach

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A former coach of the Super Eagles, Johannes-Franciscus Bonfrere, says he is yet to receive his Olympic gold medal more than two decades after leading the team to victory in Atlanta, USA.

The Dutch technical expert was in charge of the Nigerian under-23 football team that won Africa’s first-ever Olympic gold medal in football at the 1996 games.

Bonfrere managed the team which had quality players like Jay-Jay Okocha, Nwankwo Kanu, Emmanuel Amuneke, Sunday Oliseh, Daniel Amokachi, Celestine Babayaro, Taribo West, Victor Ikpeba, amongst others.

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The team defeated Brazil 4-3 in the semi-final before beating a very coordinated Argentina side 3-2 in the final.

In an interview with BCOS TV, the former Super Eagles coach said that 24 years after leading Nigeria to the glorious outing in the USA, he is yet to receive his gold medal.

“I have not been given the Olympic gold medal we won in 1996. After we celebrated our victory over Argentina at the final, I was prevented from climbing the podium to receive my medal.

“They said mine was not available. I was annoyed and refused to return with the team to Nigeria. I went to Holland instead. It is unfair that after bringing glory to Nigeria, I was denied of my rewards,” he said.

Recall that in June 2018, minister of works and housing, Babatunde Fashola, handed over the keys of a house allocated to Bonfrere in fulfilment of Nigerian government’s pledge to him 26 years ago for winning the 1994 African Cup of Nations.

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NTTF considers organizing 2020 Nigeria Open before end of year

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The Nigeria Table Tennis Federation (NTTF) is considering organizing before the end of the year the 2020 Nigeria Open Table Tennis Tournament, which was held back due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ishaku Tikon, the President of Nigeria Table Tennis Federation (NTTF), disclosed this to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Monday in Abuja.

“We have been thinking about this, against the backdrop of the resumption of non-contact sports in the country.

“But the federation is yet to get clarification from the Federal Ministry of Youths and Sports Development on the directive by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19.

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“That pronouncement by the PTF mentioned non-contact outdoor sports, and table tennis is an indoor sport.

“So, we want to get clarification from the ministry, to know if what the PTF said about outdoor was in error. Otherwise, players and officials are ready to get back to court,” he said.

On the return of competitions, Tikon said 2020 has a busy schedule both for the federation and the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF).

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“But the halt in activities affected the year’s program.

“We will now be activating the programs we have for the year, although we will be taking into consideration ITTF’s plans before we schedule ours.

“For instance, this month of August is usually when we have the Nigeria Open which attracts so many foreign players to the country. But due to COVID-19, we were not able to prepare early.

“So, we are looking at the possibility of securing a window (from ITTF) to organize the event.

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“But we will still have to reconcile whatever plans we have with that of the international body,” he said.

The NTTF president also said the federation would begin the decontamination of its venues in Lagos and also reach out to the states to do the same thing.

“This will be done in adherence to the COVID-19 safety measures, and it will be before competitions and training will commence,’’ he said.

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