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Lobi Stars, Rangers Eye Progress In Continental Challenges

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Lobi Stars and Enugu Rangers kicked off their continental campaigns, in the Caf Champions League and Confederation Cup, respectively without much fuss during the last round.
The Pride of Benue saw off UMS de Loum of Cameroon 2-1 on aggregate, while the Flying Antelopes dispatched Ethiopian side Defence Force 5-1 to progress.
The big challenges come up this weekend, as Lobi takes on Kenyan giants Gor Mahia in the Champions League final qualification round, while Rangers are up against USM Bel Abbes in the Confederation Cup second qualification round.
K’Ogalo have wealth of experience on the continental scene, and that’s not hard to understand as they are Kenya’s most successful team with 17 Premier League titles. However, their consistent representation has not led to any title triumph in the African elite competition, they’ll be looking to avoid last season’s disappointment, where they narrowly lost out to eventual champions Esperance in this round and dropped into the Confederation Cup.
Lobi Stars’ only appearance in the Champions League came in 2000 on the back of winning the league in 1999. They did manage to reach the group phase – the last hurdle before the final – but could only finish third in Group B behind Hearts of Oak and Al-Ahly.
Even though Gor Mahia is a more decorated club than the Makurdi outfit, Coach Solomon Ogbeide sees his side as a match for the Kenyans.
“Of course we know that Gor Mahia are a very big club from Kenya but the business…is the match on the field of play and Lobi Stars are also a big team,” he told the official Caf website.
The veteran coach believes his men are ready to challenge having recruited some big names in the Nigeria Professional Football League during the offseason. Kelly Kester, Samuel Mathias, Nojeem Olukokun and Sikiru Alimi have all arrived, but, as he said, the pitch is where the business is, and Lobi must prove they have what it takes to dispatch Gor.
Bel Abbes are not one of the big Algerian teams, having spent a chunk of their history in the lower tier where they won the Ligue 2 title five times.
They were able to qualify for the Confederation Cup after winning the Algerian Cup, even as they finished 10th in Ligue 1.
This will be their first ever appearance in the Confederation Cup, and having seen off LISCR FC of Liberia in the preliminary round, they’ll be looking continue making strides in their maiden season in Africa.
Rangers do have better history than their Algerians counterparts; they’ve appeared four times under the current competition name, and were close to making it to the 2004 final only to lose out to Ghana’s Asante Kotoko in the group phase.
Since then, they’ve failed to reach that round as the tournament has gone through a few tweaks, and they suffered a heavy 5-2 aggregate loss to ZESCO United in last year’s final qualification round.

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Coutinho To Spark Bayern’s Champions League Charge

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As Bayern Munich launches its Champions League campaign against Red Star Belgrade tonight, Bavarian hopes of reclaiming European club football’s top prize to a large extent on the shoulders of Philippe Coutinho.
Following seven semi-final appearances in the last decade, the former Liverpool’s midfielder has been hailed as the man who can take Bayern the extra step in European football’s flagship competition this season.
Last season’s defeat to Liverpool in the last 16 sparked fears that Bayern’s Champions League aura was fading.
The departure of veteran stars such as Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben seemed to confirm the end of an era, but Coutinho’s arrival on loan from Barcelona has prompted fresh hope that Bayern can be restored as one of the continent’s most feared sides.
“There are always big expectations at Bayern and of course the Champions League is a goal,” said Coutinho at his unveiling in August.
Many believe that the 27-year-old can inspire Bayern to their first Champions League title since 2013.
Earlier this month, his Brazil team-mate and Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson told German newspaper Bild that Coutinho’s arrival put Bayern among the title favourites this season.
Fellow Bayern midfielder Corentin Tolisso echoed that sentiment in an interview with Sky last month, saying that the loan signings of Coutinho and Croatian winger Ivan Perisic would be decisive for Bayern.
“Before those two arrived, we didn’t necessarily have a team that was capable of winning the treble,” said Tolisso.
“With this team, we can go very far in the Champions League. I think the title is possible.”
Such expectations could weigh heavy on Coutinho, who is looking to reboot his career after struggling to hold down a first-team spot in a year and a half at Barcelona.
His price tag is also a potential burden. Though Bayern paid a loan fee of just 8.5 million euros ($9.5m) to secure his services, German media estimate Coutinho’s wages at around 13 million euros a year after tax, which would make him the highest-paid player in the Bayern dressing room.
“Those things don’t bother me. I want to enjoy being on the pitch, play in big games and win titles. The numbers are just a side note for me,” Coutinho told TideSports source last week.
The Brazilian has charmed the Munich press so far, promising to learn German and speaking in glowing terms of the welcome he has received at Bayern.
He told Sport Bild that he hoped to emulate the sort of form which once made him a fan favourite at Liverpool.
“I have noticed in my first few games for Bayern that football here is very intense like it is in England. Much more so than in Spain and Brazil. That is good for me,” he said.
Coutinho even claimed he could imagine staying longer at Bayern if the club were to win the Champions League this season.
“That is a big dream for me, similar to winning the World Cup,” he said.
Yet it remains early days for Coutinho, who has made just one start for Bayern in three Bundesliga appearances so far.
He played just 10 minutes in last Saturday’s 1-1 draw at RB Leipzig, with Thomas Mueller preferred in the starting line-up.
Coach Niko Kovac insisted that Coutinho needed time to recover after returning from Brazil following the international break.
“He only had 72 hours recovery time. He will definitely play in the next few games,” said Kovac.

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Barca Faces Threat Of Stadium Closure

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Barcelona faces the threat of being forced to play a game behind closed doors as their transfer dispute with Atletico Madrid and a deal involving Antoine Griezmann rumbles on.
A year on from seeing the France international pass up the chance to move to Camp Nou, he finally arrived during the summer transfer window of 2019.
Barca agreed to pay the release clause in his contract, with €120 million (£107m/$134m) changing hands between two Liga rivals.
The trigger in Griezmann’s deal at Atletico reached that point on July 1, having previously stood at €200m (£178m/$221m).
Given that Barca had held long-standing interest in the World Cup winner, domestic rivals are not convinced that they waited until mid-summer to get a deal done.
Atletico claim that an agreement was reached with Griezmann when his larger exit clause was in place and are demanding that they receive the €80m (£71m/$88m) difference.
Those demands have fallen on deaf ears in Barcelona, with the Catalan giants adamant that they have done nothing wrong.
It is, however, possible that sanctions will be imposed on them for breaching Spanish football’s disciplinary code.
Juantxo Landaberea, the judge appointed by the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), to rule on the case is in the process of completing his findings.
Any action that he proposes will not be binding, with the RFEF committee set to have the final say, but they will be taken into account.
With that in mind, it is possible that Barcelona will be forced to close the doors on Camp Nou for one fixture.
That is considered to be unlikely, with a fine expected to be handed out.
Goal is able to confirm that those are the two options being mulled over and that Barca could get away with things very lightly.
If no ban on supporters is implemented, then the Blaugrana will be asked to pay just €300 to settle the case.
Given the regulations that are said to have been breached, the RFEF charter only allows for small financial penalties to be put in place.
If that course of action is taken, then it will come as little consolation to Atletico.
They stand to lose out on the €80m that they believe they are owed, while Griezmann their most potent attacking weapon across a five-year spell in the Spanish capital is now on the books of a domestic rival.

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Brazil To Clash With Nigeria, Senegal In Singapore

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Brazil has confirmed two friendly matches against Senegal and Nigeria in the October FIFA international window, with both games to be played in Singapore.
The first game will be against 2019 Africa Cup of Nations finalists, Senegal on October 10, the first time the two teams will clash in senior international football.
The second will take place against Nigeria on October 13, and comes against the back-drop of Super Eagles Coach, Gernot Rohr suggesting this week his side needed to face African opposition in the window in order to prepare for the Cup of Nations qualifiers in November.
His words now seem more pointed, though he will surely be happy to test his side against the South American giants.
It is the second meeting between Brazil and Nigeria after a 3-0 friendly win for the Samba stars in Abuja in 2003.
“We chose two of the best African teams because they are high level opponents,” Brazil Football Confederation official, Juninho Paulista told the country’s association website.

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