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International friendlies: Video replay aids Spain, Portugal lose

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Spain twice benefited from the use of video assistance to defeat France 2-0 on Tuesday, while Sweden rallied from two goals down to beat Portugal 3-2 and spoil Cristiano Ronaldo’s homecoming in Madeira.

Antoine Griezmann headed in what appeared to be the opening goal at the Stade de France shortly after half-time, but it was ruled out for offside after consultation with the video assistant referee.

David Silva then converted from the penalty spot after a foul by Laurent Koscielny, and the Spaniards again profited from technology as the referee reversed an offside decision that had initially negated Gerard’s Deulofeu 78th-minute effort.

“The victory was not a result of the (video) refereeing but due to the excellent work and attitude of my players,” said Spain coach Julen Lopetegui.

“The (video) refereeing gave justice to this match, it resolved those two incidents fairly.”

Monaco’s teenage prodigy Kylian Mbappe made his first international start and nearly struck as early as the fifth minute, with David de Gea reacting sharply to kick away the Frenchman’s attempt.

Gerard Pique hooked a header from Koscielny off the line, while Andres Iniesta twice went close in the first half before video replays were used for the first time in France.

Griezmann’s celebrations after the break were cut short when Layvin Kurzawa was shown to be in an offside position as he set up the Atletico Madrid striker.

The linesman’s flag was then raised as Deulofeu tapped in Jordi Alba’s left-wing cross, but replays indicated the on-loan AC Milan winger was marginally behind Samuel Umtiti as the ball was played into the box.

“Playing Spain in a friendly is not a fun game, it never has been. But we need this,” said France coach Didier Deschamps.

Real Madrid star Ronaldo paraded the European Championship trophy before kick-off at the Maritimo Stadium as Portugal played their first match on his home island of Madeira since 2001.

Ronaldo fired the hosts ahead with 18 minutes gone against Sweden before Andreas Granqvist’s own goal doubled the lead for the Euro 2016 champions.

But Viktor Claesson pulled one back just before Ronaldo was withdrawn on 58 minutes, and the Krasnodar midfielder then struck an equaliser before Joao Cancelo turned into his own net in injury time as Sweden crashed the party in dramatic fashion.

“We played pretty well in the first half but we weren’t completely serene defensively,” said Portugal coach Fernando Santos.

“After the break we didn’t play as well and we ended up losing a match we should never have lost.”

The Netherlands slumped to another defeat, losing 2-1 at home to Italy in the country’s first game since the dismissal of head coach and former Dutch international Danny Blind.

Assistant Fred Grim replaced Blind in the dugout with the Netherlands’ World Cup hopes hanging by a thread after Saturday’s 2-0 loss in Bulgaria left them fourth in their qualifying group.

The Dutch grabbed a 10th-minute lead in Amsterdam when Italy defender Alessio Romagnoli diverted the ball past 18-year-old Gianluigi Donnarumma — the AC Milan goalkeeper making his first international start.

But Italy hit back immediately through Eder and Leonardo Bonucci converted the winner after turning in the rebound from Marco Parolo’s header on 32 minutes.

Christian Benteke scored twice for Belgium in Sochi, the stadium used for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympics, since converted into a football ground.

However, Russia marked the occasion of the first ever match at the Fisht Arena with a rousing comeback as the 2018 World Cup hosts recovered from 3-1 down with goals from Alexei Miranchuk and Alexander Bukharov in the final quarter hour.

Bristol City defender Hordur Magnusson curled in a first-half free-kick as Iceland downed the Republic of Ireland 1-0 in Dublin, while Marko Arnautovic scored as Austria were held to a 1-1 draw with Finland in Innsbruck, reports supersport.com.

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Eagles’ll prove FIFA wrong – Rohr

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Super Eagles Manager Gernot Rohr has said Nigeria will prove FIFA by emerging from Grop D of the World Cup despite being rated lowest in that section. Nigeria slipped in the current FIFA rankings; the Eagles are rated 56th in the world far behind Argentina, Croatia and even Iceland. Rohr is unfazed by the continuous tumbling of his team on FIFA rankings, saying the lads will prove their mettle when the tournament takes the centre stage in June.

“Everybody knows that FIFA is a respectable organization; they also know that we are ranked the lowest in our group but we want to prove to everyone what we can do by getting out of the group. We want go all the way in the competition and I trust my players they will do that,” the coach said at the venue of the NFF awards on Monday.

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Echiejile seeks to cement Eagles’ position

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Super Eagles’ left-back Elderson Echiejile is happy to return to the pitch after an injury spell in the past few months made him miss games for the country, AOIFootball.com reports.

The former AS Monaco player, who joined Belgium’s second division side Cercle Brugge on loan from Turkey’s Sivaspor on the final day of the winter transfer window, told AOIFootball.com exclusively that he was happy to be back and relished the opportunity to wear the Eagles’ jersey against Poland and Serbia next month. “It feels nice to be back after injury setbacks. I missed the games against Algeria and Argentina, but I’m back now and I want to always give my best for the country.

“The games against Poland and Serbia will be key to our World Cup preparations and I believe this kind of games can help us prepare well ahead of the tournament proper in June,” Echiejile said.

Echiejile further expressed confidence in cementing his left-back role, saying the competition is good for the team and will make the coaches select the best for the World Cup.

“Currently there are three or maybe four left-backs in the team; should I be scared? I don’t think so because this competition for places is a statement that the national team is returning to his glory days,” Echiejile concluded.

Meanwhile, the Super Eagles’ defender made his debut for second division side Cercle Brugge in a league game at the weekend. He featured for the entire duration of the encounter against St. Gilloise. He was booked for a foul in the 89th minute of the game.

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Supporters’ Club plans to take 20 lucky fans to Russia 2018

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National chairman of Nigeria Football Supporters Club, Reverend Samuel Ikpea, has confirmed plans to take 20 lucky Nigerian fans to the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia through a planned raffle draw in Lagos on April 29.

Ikpea explained that following a partnership with Telecom Youth Games, 20 fans who would be picked at the April 29 draw would be sponsored to and fro Russia- including feeding, accommodation and transport “All Nigerians wishing to go to Russia to support the Super Eagles should do is to buy World Cup raffle draw tickets at the National Stadium, Lagos, State Football Association Secretariats nation wide for N200 only.

Once you are lucky to have your ticket picked at the draw, you are qualified for full sponsorship to and fro Russia,” concluded Ikpea. Meanwhile, the chairman has expressed shock over the death of Kano Pillars star, Chinedu Udoji in an auto crash. Udoji, a veteran of the league died on Sunday and Ikpea has described the sudden demise as a huge loss to Nigerian football. “On behalf of Nigeria Football Supporters Club, I sympathise with family of Udoji and Kano Pillars.

It’s indeed a painful death of a promising player. He was such a dedicated player from when he was captain of Enyimba of Aba before moving to Kano Pillars. “We at the Supporters Club pray God to give the Udoji Family, Kano Pillars F.C and the football fraternity the fortitude to bear the huge loss,” Ikpea said.

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