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Pele, Messi, others pay tribute to Maradona

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  • Pele: I hope we can play football together in the sky
  • Diego is eternal, says Mess

Pele paid tribute to his fellow all-time great Diego Maradona after the Argentina legend’s death at the age of 60, saying, “One day, I hope we can play football together in the sky.”

The Brazilian three-time World Cup winner has consistently been compared as Maradona’s closest competitor in debates and polls to decide the greatest footballer of all time.

Pele, 80, issued heartfelt praise for Maradona, writing on his official Twitter account: “What sad news. I lost a great friend and the world lost a legend.

“There is still much to be said, but for now, may God give strength to family members. One day, I hope we can play football together in the sky.”

Maradona’s death was confirmed by Argentina’s football association. He had been in hospital in Buenos Aires after surgery to remove a blood clot on the brain earlier this month.

He captained his country to World Cup glory in Mexico in 1986, and later led Napoli to two Serie A titles in 1987 and 1990.

Lionel Messi, the greatest Argentina player of the current generation, wrote on Instagram: “A very sad day for all Argentines and for football. He leaves us but does not leave, because Diego is eternal.

“I keep all the beautiful moments lived with him and I wanted to take the opportunity to send my condolences to all his family and friends. RIP.”

Argentina eliminated England from the 1986 finals at the quarter-final stage, as Maradona scored twice. The first was a blatant handball – ‘the Hand of God as Maradona described it – and the second a stunning solo effort.

Gary Lineker, who was playing for England that day, tweeted: “By some distance the best player of my generation and arguably the greatest of all time.

“After a blessed but troubled life, hopefully he’ll finally find some comfort in the hands of God. #RipDiego”

Lineker later added on BT Sport: “I played for a Rest of the World side at Wembley, when I was at Barcelona, all the great players like (Michel) Platini on the pitch were all totally in awe of him.

“The first thing he did in the dressing room was sit there in just a pair of shorts, juggling his socks on his left foot for about five minutes.

“Then he went out on the pitch and did something incredible, one of the most unbelievable things I have even seen on a football pitch.

“He juggled the ball all the way out to the centre circle, when he got there, still juggling, he went ‘bang’ and kicked the ball up as high as he could, then waited.

“It came down; he went ‘bang’ and did it again. He did it 13 times and the most he ever did was walk three paces to it.

“All of us were sitting there saying: ‘that is impossible’.”

European football’s governing body UEFA held minute’s silences before all Wednesday night’s Champions League matches in tribute to Maradona.

Boca Juniors, where Maradona made his name before securing a then world-record transfer to Barcelona in 1982, tweeted: “Eternal thanks. Eternal Diego.”

Asif Kapadia, who directed the 2019 film Maradona, tweeted: “Can’t quite believe DM has gone. Hard to process.

“He always seemed indestructible. I had 10 hours with the man!! I touched his left foot. We did our best to show the world the man, the myth, the fighter he was. The greatest.”

Peter Reid, another member of the England side which suffered from the left foot – and hand – of Maradona in 1986, spoke highly of the South American’s incredible footballing gift, exhibited so gloriously during the 2-1 quarter-final win.

He said, “The crowd in the stadium exploded in terms of the first goal being given. There were a few of us running after the Tunisian referee but they didn’t see it. It was cute the way he did it, but to us on the pitch, it was obvious.

“My Spanish ain’t great and his Scouse wasn’t great, but I met him in Dubai a few years ago and I did ask him about it. He laughed, and he reiterated to me that it was the ‘Hand of God’. I am going to argue, because he cheated. But as bad as that one was, the second one was a great goal.”

Regarding that second goal, a slaloming solo effort voted the best of the century on an online FIFA poll in 2002, Reid said:”It’s something that I’ve seen once or twice, if I’m being honest. We were playing against someone who was at the absolute height of his career and as bad as the first goal was, that was outstanding.

“I saw him go past the great Alan Hansen in 1981 for the first time. He had this in his locker. He made people, like the No 16 [Peter Reid], look foolish.”

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola said: “There was a banner in Argentina some time ago when it said ‘it doesn’t matter what you have done with your life, it matters what you have done with our lives’.

“I think Maradona would have done in our generation. There are a few incredible players in history, and he is one of them.”

Cristiano Ronaldo, who alongside Messi is regarded as one of the game’s greatest current players, also offered his own personal tribute.

The Juventus and Portugal star posted on Twitter: “Today I bid farewell to a friend and the world farewells to an eternal genius.

“One of the best ever, an unmatched magician. Leaves too soon but leaves a boundless legacy and a void that will never be filled. RIP. You will never be forgotten.”

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Man Utd defender Malacia admits he ‘didn’t agree’ with Van Gaal over centre-back trial

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Tyrell Malacia

Man Utd defender Tyrell Malacia says he “didn’t agree” with Louis van Gaal trialling him as a centre-back in a recent international match.

The Netherlands made it to the Nations League finals on Sunday when they beat Belgium 1-0 with Malacia coming off the bench at the half-time interval.

Malacia is used to playing at left-back for Man Utd and his country but Van Gaal decided the 23-year-old would play on the left-hand side of a back three against Belgium.

It had been presumed that Daley Blind – who had been playing at left-back – would shift inside to left centre-back when Malacia replaced Nathan Ake at the break.

However, that wasn’t the case with Malacia performed well in a new position, keeping Belgium playmaker Kevin de Bruyne quiet in the second half.

Van Gaal and Malacia exchanged some heated words on the touchline during the match but the Man Utd defender admits he went forward “too much” for his role.

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“I went two or three times too much forward,” Malacia told De Telegraaf.

“That is not possible in this position as quickly. But I was corrected by others.

“I didn’t agree with it at the time, yes. That’s right. After the game we talked about that moment for a while and then it was over.

“I’m comfortable with United at the moment. The national coach thinks that I should also be able to play in the centre of the defence. But I feel best on the left.”

Van Gaal revealed after the match that the idea of playing Malacia at left centre-back was to prepare the Netherlands for the absence of Bruno Martins Indi at the upcoming World Cup.

“I put Malacia in the left centre-back role because Martins Indi is not going to make it to the World Cup squad in time due to injury,” Van Gaal told ESPN NL.

“I have to look at other players who can play there and I wanted to see what Malacia could do, so Ake was substituted.

“The defensive work he did very well, but the constructive work in the build-up could have been a lot better.”

But former Ajax and PSV Eindhoven player Kenneth Perez reckons Malacia – who joined Man Utd in the summer from Feyenoord – should be Van Gaal’s first-choice left-back heading into the World Cup in Qatar.

Perez said earlier this month:”If he continues this and becomes a regular base player for Manchester United, then he is very close to becoming the first left back of the Dutch national team.

“Especially in a three-man defence, where you need someone who is very active and willing in that position [wing-back].”

Football365
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Iwobi’ll be Eagles game changer in Oran ­­‑ Egwuekwe

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Alex Iwobi

FORMER Super Eagles defender Azubuike Egwuekwe has backed the national team to overcome their hosts Desert Foxes of Algeria when they faceoff at the Miloud Hadefi Olympic Complex in Oran on Tuesday (today), saying in-form Everton forward Alex would be the “game changer.”

The Eagles were held  2-2 last Friday by an Algerian side largely made up of domestic league players in a test game played behind closed doors in Constantine, with Iwobi scoring an amazing goal from outside the box.

AFCON 2013 winner Egwuekwe believes the Eagles can get a result against the Foxes despite the quality in the Algerian team.

“Of course, the Eagles can win; they are playing well under the new coach (Peseiro). But you know, Algeria is a very strong side, however, as a Nigerian, I have to support my country. I believe we are going to come out victorious,” Egwuekwe told PUNCH Sports Extra.

The former giant centre-back believes that the exploits of Everton midfielder Alex Iwobi will be pivotal in the game.

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“We have a lot of talents in Nigeria, but, for me, at this moment, Alex Iwobi will be the game changer, because he has been in top form since the beginning of this season in the Premier League. I believe that if he starts, he is going to make a difference for the team.”

Also, 2008 Olympics silver medallist Femi Ajilore said the friendly was an opportunity for new players to show the stuff they were made of.

“I am not expecting much from them, but I am expecting a little from the new players in the team. I am not expecting much because we have a lot of issues, when you look at the injured strikers (Victor Osimhen and Umar Sadiq) but of course, it’s an opportunity for some other young ones that are just entering the team to step in.

“Of course, the Algerians have been doing so well in recent times; they’re on a winning streak, so all I want to see is the introduction of the few new players in the team so we can access how good they are.”

The former Warri Wolves captain also spoke on emerging star Raphael Onyedika; the new boy in the Eagles camp.

“I am expecting a bit from him, this is his first time at the national level, and I am happy to see him because he has managed to shine at the same place where I shined; in Midtjylland, and now, he is in Club Brugge, playing in the Champions League, which has added more to his profile. I am expecting to see his integration in the team and also a good performance so that he can be a regular in the team,” Ajilore told The PUNCH.

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Tyson Fury must ‘shut up’ on social media to resume Joshua fight talk – D Whyte

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  • Targets fight with Joshua

British boxer Dillian Whyte says Tyson Fury should “shut his big mouth up” on social media and allow talks to resume for a British battle with Anthony Joshua.

Fury has declared on social media that his fight against Joshua is off after a contract was not finalised by a 5pm deadline Monday, which had been set by the WBC champion.

Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury

Whyte also hinted in an interview with Sky Sports that he might set up a new fight with Joshua should Fury decide not to change his mind.

He believes Fury has derailed plans with his public outbursts and advised his former opponent to remain silent while negotiations continue between both fighters.

“He (Fury) definitely needs to chill out,” Whyte told Sky Sports. “Some of the ways he does negotiating business, it’s all social media and shouting, screaming and calling people big dossers. I’m not an Anthony Joshua fan as well; I don’t really like both of them.

“Big fights sometimes it pays off to be a bit patient, and just shut his big mouth up a bit and stop talking s**t about the big GK (Gypsy King).

“Let the fight happen, you want the fight to happen or you don’t want the fight to happen. If you want the fight to happen be patient, there’s a lot of money, a lot of things at stake so it will take time.

“It’s a lot of things that can go wrong. He just needs to relax.”

Whyte has experienced organising fights with both men in the past and took a media silence at one point during the build-up to his fight with Fury earlier this year having initially been unhappy with negotiations.

He admits his fight with Joshua in 2015 had been more straightforward to make given the position they were both in at that stage of their careers.

Whyte said, “I think it could happen but Tyson Fury is putting a lot of pressure on, not intelligently, he’s just trying to use social media and it’s been a bit silly really.

“These big fights take time because there’s a lot that goes into it, there are a lot of commercial things and protecting your rights. It’s not just as simple as ‘ah sign the contract you big dosser’.

“Big fights take time and they have to get everything right otherwise it will fall over at the wayside if not done properly.

“Joshua fight was simple, we’d fought already before and it was a big fight and I’ve got a good team around me so we were quick with the paperwork.

“There was no ‘the deadline is this’, we took time to protect our own interests because the fight started as a normal fight that became a pay-per-view fight a week before the fight was due to happen.”

If the Fury fight falls through, Whyte insists he is ready to step in and face Joshua this winter as the pair seek a return to world title contention.

“If the Fury fight doesn’t get made with him and Joshua, me and Joshua can fight in December if he wants,” said Whyte.

“He’s training for it, he’s ready for it, he’s willing to take Fury on so if that fight doesn’t get made I’ll step up and take the fight with Joshua.”

Whyte is relocating to California for his next training camp ahead of a return to the ring later this year and is working with a new-look coaching set-up that includes American trainer Buddy McGirt.

McGirt has previously worked with world champions such as Sergey Kovalev, Antonio Tarver and Hasim Rahman.

“Buddy has been a two-time world champion, he fought a lot of good guys and has been in the corner of a lot of top guys as well,” said Whyte.

“He’s been around, had years and rounds of world title experience and I think that’s why I need at this stage in my career, somebody who can make little tweaks and has a bit more experience in big fights.”

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