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La Liga: Messi keeps Barca’s title hope alive

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Lionel Messi kept Barcelona’s title hopes alive with two goals and an assist to see off Real Sociedad 3-2 as Spain’s top two edged five-goal thrillers ahead of next weekend’s El Clasico.

Earlier on Saturday, Isco struck at the death to keep Real Madrid three points clear and with a game in hand at the top of the table after twice coming from behind to beat Sporting Gijon 3-2.

Barcelona will need Messi on this form if they are to produce another miracle Champions League fightback against Juventus on Tuesday from a 3-0 first leg deficit.

The Argentine is now just two off his 500th Barca goal as he smashed home an effort from 25 yards to open the scoring.

Messi then took his tally to 45 goals in 44 games this season with a far less spectacular finish as he bundled home from close range after Geronimo Rulli had saved from Luis Suarez.

However, Barca passed up the chance to enjoy a comfortable evening in a three-goal spell in as many minutes just before half-time.

Firstly, Samuel Umtiti turned Inigo Martinez’s driven effort into his own net.

Paco Alcacer, deputising for the suspended Neymar, briefly restored Barca’s two-goal lead with a composed finish from Messi’s pass.

Yet, Sociedad scored again almost straight from kick-off as Xabi Prieto cushioned William Jose’s cross into the bottom corner.

Barca struggled for control after the break, but were handed a let off by Sociedad’s wild finishing.

Madrid can all but secure a first league title in five years with victory when they host Barca next weekend.

But not for the first time this season they needed a late show after Duje Cop and Mikel Vesga put Sporting in front early in both halves.

Isco’s fine individual effort and a towering header from Alvaro Morata ensured neither lead lasted more than a few minutes.

And Isco sealed the comeback when he drilled home from the edge of the box.

“This is the spirit of Real Madrid,” said Isco.

“It is in the DNA of this shirt and this badge, we have shown it so many times and again today. Until the referee blows the full-time whistle it is not over.”

The Spanish international is yet to agree a new contract with his current deal expiring at the end of next season, reports supersport.com.

And Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane insists he wants Isco to stay despite his lack of starts and interest from Barcelona.

“You know what I think of Isco, he is a player I like a lot and his place is here.”

Isco’s late intervention bailed out his coach after Zidane made nine changes from the side that beat Bayern Munich in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final in midweek.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema were left out of the squad entirely alongside the injured Gareth Bale, while Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Marcelo had to settle for a place on the bench.

“I feel like I am unfair with those that don’t play,” added Zidane.

“There are 24 players that can play in all positions. It is the difficult part of this job.”

Atletico Madrid warmed up for the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final against Leicester City with a comfortable 3-0 win over rock bottom Osasuna despite missing two penalties in the same game for the second time this season.

Coach Diego Simeone also left out a number of his first-team regulars with top scorer Antoine Griezmann on the bench for the full 90 minutes.

Yannick Carrasco’s low strike and back-post header put Atletico comfortably ahead either side of half-time.

Left-back Filipe Luis then added his third goal in five games.

However, Atletico’s problems from the spot continued as they have now failed to score any of their last six penalties in La Liga.

Carrasco was denied his hat-trick by a fine save from Salvatore Sirigu before the Italian ‘keeper made an even better stop to deny Thomas Partey seconds later.

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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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