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Leon Balogun produces man-of-the-match display in Rangers’ debut

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Nigerian international, Leon Balogun, produced a man-of-the-match display at the heart of Rangers’ defence as the Steven Gerrard’s side defeat of Aberdeen 1-0 on Saturday.

The Nigerian was thrown in at the deep end by his gaffer on the first day of the Premiership campaign, having only signed from Brighton less than a week ago.

Rangers secured a vital win thanks to Ryan Kent’s first-half strike but Balogun wasn’t happy with the challenge in his own box from Dons stopper Scott McKenna that left him crumpled in a heap on the goal line.

But he insisted the pain was worth it to keep a clean sheet and earn his side three points on opening day.

Balogun believes he’ll soon get used to Scottish football and was pleased to get off to a winning start for Rangers.

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Balogun was a surprise starter in Gerrard’s line up but afterwards, the manager hailed his performance as outstanding.

George Edmundson had started all of Rangers’ pre-season games at the back with Connor Goldson but was benched in favour of the Nigerian international yesterday.

Balogun showed composure on the ball to start attacks and defended superbly in the air and on the ground.

When Gerrard’s team were put under a bit of pressure towards the end, with Aberdeen pushing for an equaliser, he showed a steely determination to secure the points.

Balogun’s display also impressed his team-mates who gave him a round of applause in the away dressing-room.

He said:

“I enjoyed the game a lot. I was looking forward to getting started here.

“The second half was maybe not what we wanted but it’s always great to start the season with a win.

“As a defender, it’s also good to get a clean sheet. We accomplished that so it’s a good start for us. I was happy to start the game first of all. I did anticipate it after our training sessions but it’s still a great compliment to get the shirt straight away.“I said when I came I wanted to work and honour the jersey, so I was glad to get the opportunity.

“It was special for me to get a round of applause from my team-mates.

“They told me this is a tough place to make your debut so I’m happy.

“I am just pleased I was able to perform in the way I performed.

“That said, you are only as good as your last match – so I need to rest up ahead of the next game.

“I want to help the group be successful.”

Gerrard heaped praise on his new centre-back after the game.

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Balgoun was seen as a fourth-choice centre-back when he arrived, who might have to bide his time behind Goldson, Edmundson and Filip Helander.

But the former Wigan stopper did his chances of a regular start no harm at all with a flawless display at the back alongside Goldson.

Gerrard said:

“Leon was outstanding. We trusted him to go in for a debut but this is one of the toughest places to come for an away game.

“But he’s just had a round of applause from the players because they realise how tough a debut it was.

“He has been in the door six days but we’ve seen enough to trust him to do a job and I thought he was outstanding.”

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Mikel Obi eyes return to England

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Mikel Obi

Former Super Eagles’ captain John Mikel Obi has left the door open to a return to English football.

The 33-year-old, who won the Champions League with Chelsea in 2012, is currently without a club having left Turkish side Trabzonspor by mutual consent in March.

“Yes, there are interested clubs and England is a strong possibility and why not,” Mikel told BBC Sport Africa. “We are currently in talks with clubs and there is absolutely no hurry. I can only wait to see what happens.”

He refused to confirm or deny media reports in England linking him with newly-promoted West Bromwich Albion and Championship side Stoke City.

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Mikel, who captained his country to a third-place finish at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt, has previously played in Norway and China, but achieved success in England with Chelsea.

The midfielder made 249 Premier League appearances for Chelsea in an 11-year spell, which ended when he left Stamford Bridge in 2017.

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He also won two league titles, three FA Cups and the Europa League in 2013.

Before a stint with Chinese side, Tianjin TEDA and brief spell at Middlesbrough followed in the Championship during the 2018/19 campaign, featuring 19 times, scoring once.

Mikel won a total of 89 caps for Nigeria, playing for them in the past two World Cups and helping the Super Eagles win the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, before announcing his retirement from international football last summer. He was also one of Nigeria’s three over-age players as the African side won a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

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Champions Leagues: Neymar warns Bayern, Barcelona, Man City after Atalanta win

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Mbappe Brazilian teenagers

Paris Saint-Germain forward, Neymar, has warned their Champions League rivals, that they will be difficult to beat.

The Ligue 1 giants qualified for the semi-final on Wednesday, thanks to a last-gasp 2-1 win over Atalanta.

Mario Pasalic’s goal put the Serie A side in front and they led for most of the game.

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However, Marquinhos netted a late equalizer, before Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting tapped in the winner in stoppage time.

PSG will now face either RB Leipzig or Atletico Madrid in the last four on August 18.

“It’s a great night. We knew they were aggressive, they had chances, they played a good game. We have a great game too.

“We are now going to rest because it is a game that has fatigued a lot mentally.

“We never thought about going home. From start to finish, as soon as we warmed up, we thought about qualifying in the semi-final and no one will take my mind off that we want to be in the final. The first step is over.”

PSG are on course to face any of Manchester City, Barcelona or Bayern Munich in the final.

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Transfer: Blaise Matuidi leaves Juventus

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Juventus have announced the departure of France International, Blaise Matuidi.

Matuidi, who joined the club in August 2017, is parting with the Old Lady by mutual consent after three years.

The 33-year-old joined the Turin giants from Paris Saint-Germain and is now set for the United States to join David Beckham’s MLS side Inter Miami.

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The club’s statement said,

“Blaise Matuidi and Juventus say goodbye with the consensual termination of the player’s contract.

“With our colours on his back, he fought and played his heart out in every single game; placing constant pressure on the opponents, tearing apart the run of play and ever so eloquently relaunching the ball into action.”

While in Turin, the box-box midfielder played 33 games in all competitions, winning three Serie A titles, one Italian Cup and the Italian Super Cup.

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Confirming his departure, Matuidi wrote on Instagram, “To have been a member of the Juventus family is a dream come true, an honour.

“I will always remain your number 1 fan, or rather number 14. Thank you Juventus, a very real thank you.”

Matuidi was a member of the French team that won the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

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