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Nigerian Super Model and Dancer - Amanda Igwe

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Lady Gaga


The controversial Lady Gaga continues to be a rich material for the press and tabloids. After her constant change of appearances and looks, she decided take the famous sexy Marlilyn Monroe as her muse in fashion.

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Mercy the Drama Queen and the sister Grace.


Sports

Amazing return


OLUFEMI ATOYEBI writes on the Indian deal that is bringing out Austin Okocha from retirement, relating the experience to some sporting legends who did the same.

The plan for Austin Okocha to end his retirement and star in the new football league in the Indian state of West Bengal may equate the former Super Eagles captain with some of the legends in sports who came out of retirement to earn mega bucks. Okocha is one of the former stars and semiretired world stars who are being lured out of retirement to earn big fees in a regional India league, expected to be played in six venues in West Bengal from March 24 to May 6.

But organisers said on Wednesday that kick-off date had been postponed. To star in the league, Okocha was signed for $550,000. The former Bolton star retired from football in 2008 after constant injuries reduced his appearance to 18 matches with no goal for Hull City. In 1972, Pele announced his retirement from football after 17 seasons with Brazil club Santos. Two years later, he signed with the New York Cosmos in the North American Soccer League, playing three more seasons that earned him a big in income. He played his final match for the club against former club Santos, featuring a half each for the two teams. Former heavyweight boxing champion, Muhammad Ali, retired in 1979 but the temptation of winning the title for the fourth time brought him out of retirement against Larry Holmes in 1980. Ali lost the fight but entered the ring one more time a year later, losing to Trevor Berbick.

After eight years in the ring, George Foreman announced his retirement in 1977 but returned in 1987. In 1994, he beat Michael Moorer, 26, to win the heavyweight title 20 years after he last won it. He retired in 1997 to private life. In recent times, Floyd Mayweather Jr. was undefeated in 41 bouts and has won 25 by knockout before retiring in 2008. Predictably, he returned to the ring in 2009, beating Juan Manuel Marquez in 12 rounds. He has since defeated Shane Mosley in a unanimous decision. He is considered by many to be the best pound for pound boxer in the world, and is looking for his next big money bout. Former basketball star Michael Jordan is still considered to be among the greatest players of all time. He announced his retirement in 1993 after the murder of his father. To honour his father’s wish for him to play baseball, he joined White Sox minor league team for a year.

Rumours said his retirement was conceived to hide his gambling problem. On March 18, 1995, Jordan returned to basketball, wearing the number 45 for the Bulls. He won three more championships and retired again in 1999. For the second time, he returned to the game in 2001, playing for Washington before finally retiring in 2003. Magic Johnson left basketball in 1991 after testing positive for HIV. But he returned to play in the 1992 All-Star Game and after complaints from fellow players for fear of being infected, Johnson announced his retirement again. In 1996, he returned to star for the Lakers, playing 32 matches before retiring finally.

In 1996, cyclist Lance Armstrong was diagnosed with cancer at 25, forcing him to retire from racing early. But he returned in 1998, finishing fourth in the Vuelta a España, and then went on to win seven consecutive Tour de France titles. After winning the seveth, in 2005, Armstrong officially retired from pro cycling. He came back to the sport once again in 2009, racing to raise awareness about global cancer.

Mickelson wins Pebble Beach tourney


PHIL Mickelson totally upstaged his playing partner Tiger Woods while charging past overnight leader Charlie Wi to win the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in spectacular fashion by two shots. Six strokes behind South Korean Wi going into the final round at Pebble Beach Golf Links, Mickelson fired a flawless eight-under-par 64 to clinch his 40th victory on the PGA Tour. The American left-hander took control of the tournament with a stunning outward nine of five-under 31 and holed two monster par putts after the turn on the way to a 17-under total of 269. “It feels awesome,” a beaming Mickelson told the Golf Channel. “Hopefully it's just one of a few this year because I am starting to feel pretty good.” While Mickelson won the pro-am celebrity event for a fourth time, Woods had to settle for joint 15th place after closing with a five-bogey 75 in his bid for a first PGA Tour win in more than two years. Wi, hunting a maiden title on the US circuit, dropped four shots in the first six holes but recovered well, a birdie-birdie-birdie finish giving him a 72 and outright second place at 15 under. Woods had been poised for a last-day charge after shooting a 67 on Saturday but missed several putts from inside six feet to tumble out of contention at the same venue where he won the 2000 US Open by a record 15 shots. “I didn't hit it as bad as the score indicated but I putted awful,” the former world number one said. “As good as I felt on the greens yesterday was as bad as I felt bad today. “I just could not see my lines, I couldn't get comfortable, I couldn't get the blade to swing. Anything that I tried to do wasn't working and consequently I made a ton of mistakes on the greens.” Mickelson, who had previously won the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in 1998, 2005 and 2007, took full advantage of a poor front nine by the pacesetting Wi. Three strokes ahead of the chasing pack overnight, the Korean made the worst possible start with a four-putt double-bogey on the opening hole. He also stumbled with a bogey at the tricky par-three fifth after missing the green to the left off the tee, to drop back into a tie for the lead at 12 under. Mickelson had charged to the top with birdies at the second, fourth and fifth, where he struck a superb mid-iron to just one foot.

Registration for MTN Street Soccer begins


THE Office of Sports in the Lagos State Ministry of Youth, Sports and Social Development has announced the commencement of registration of teams for season five of the yearly MTN Lagos Street Soccer Championship. The Championship, which is in its fifth edition, has also broadened its scope with the introduction of female and corporate street soccer tournaments. According to the organizers, Male, Female and Corporate Street Soccer teams willing to be part of this year’s edition are expected to obtain registration forms with N5,000, N2,000 and N100,000 from Local Councils and Local Council Development Areas as well as the secretariat at Teslim Balogun Stadium. Forms can also be obtained online at www.lagos streetsoccer.com. The tourney is being sponsored by MTN Communication Nigeria Limited in collaboration with the Lagos State Ministry of Youth, Sports and Social Development [Office of Sports] and it is aimed at youth development, empowerment as well as unearthing talents at grassroot level.

...Picks 20 players for Liberia


SUPER Eagles’ Head Coach, Stephen Keshi eventually settled for a 20-man list on Monday morning for Wednesday’s international friendly match against the Lone Star of Liberia in Monrovia. All the usual suspects were captured, including goalkepers Chigozie Agbim and Okemute Odah, defenders Azubuike Egwueke, Papa Idris and Juwon Oshaniwa, midfielders Gabriel Reuben and Bartholomew Ibenegbu and strikers Kalu Uche and Izu Azuka. The team flew out of Abuja to Lagos aboard an Air Nigeria flight on Monday afternoon, and will spend the night in Lagos before connecting another Air Nigeria airline flight to Monrovia on Tuesday morning. Keshi’s home boys will have an opportunity to feel the turf of the Antoinette Tubman Stadium on Tuesday evening before Wednesday’s clash with the Lone Star. The Nigeria Football Federation(NFF) believes Wednesday’s game will prepare the home boys for the 2013 African Cup of Nations qualifying match against Rwanda in Kigali on February 29. Coach Keshi is scheduled to name his list of players for the Rwandan game immediately after returning from Monrovia.

Zambia crowned champions of Africa


Zambia clinched their first African Nations Cup crown with a poignant penalty shoot-out win over Ivory Coast. Nineteen years after a plane crash which killed 18 members of their squad in Libreville, the Chipolopolo returned to the Gabon capital to record the most famous victory in the country's history.

A dramatic shoot-out at the end of 120 minutes of largely underwhelming football went the way of Zambia when Gervinho shot wide and Stophira Sunzu stepped up to slot home. The final proved a tale of penalty woe for Ivory Coast, chasing their first continental crown for 20 years, with Didier Drogba also failing from the spot during the 90 minutes. But the win was ultimately no more than Zambia deserved for a plucky display against the odds.

The underdogs started brightly and almost claimed a second-minute lead, Nathan Sinkala's low drive superbly saved by Ivory Coast goalkeeper Boubacar Barry low to his right. Zambia boss Herve Renard was forced into a reshuffle after 11 minutes when defender Joseph Musonda was forced from the field in tears after catching his knee in the turf when making a challenge. Nyambe Mulenga came on but the change did not disrupt the Zambians' flow, with Chisamba Lungu looping a header narrowly over two minutes later. It took Ivory Coast's star-studded line-up 30 minutes to create a noteworthy chance, a clever backheel from Drogba picking out Yaya Toure but the Manchester City midfielder failing to find the target from eight yards.

The match degenerated into a scrappy affair after half-time with neither side able to put together a period of sustained pressure. But in a rare moment of quality, Gervinho provided Drogba with the chance to redeem himself for his penalty shoot-out miss in the 2006 final defeat to Egypt. The Arsenal forward burst into the area and was felled by a combination of Isaac Chansa and Mulenga, but Drogba sidefooted his spot-kick horribly over the bar. The Elephants had another chance to win it in normal time but substitute Max Gradel, having turned his man inside the area, shot inches wide of the far post. Zambia also had a late chance with a wonderful tackle from Kolo Toure preventing Emmanuel Mayuka from getting a shot on goal when he was well placed. Zambia had the only chance in the first period of extra-time and it almost resulted in the opening goal.

Felix Katongo beat his marker down the right and crossed for brother Christopher, whose close-range shot would have sneaked in at the near post but for a vital touch from Barry's boot. Ivory Coast had two chances to win it after the break but Didier Ya Konan curled an effort just wide while, after 117 minutes, Gradel took an airshot when well placed. The shoot-out was locked at 7-7 after 14 nerveless penalties before Kolo Toure saw his effort saved by Kennedy Mweene. Rainford Kalaba fluffed his big moment by shooting over the bar but there was no second reprieve when Gervinho missed and Sunzu slotted in.

Mali pip Ghana to third place in ACN


Cheick Diabate's double ensured Mali beat 10-man Ghana in the third-place play-off to secure their best finish at an African Nations Cup for 40 years.

The Bordeaux midfielder scored in each half to complete a memorable tournament for Mali, capped by just their second ever win over their western African rivals. Diabate opened the scoring after 23 minutes and after Ghana had Issac Vorsah sent off in the 64th minute he secured victory 10 minutes from time. Mali had lost their previous three third-place play-off but after Garra Dembele shot narrowly wide Diabate gave them a lead thanks to his poacher's instinct. Ghana goalkeeper Adam Larsen failed to hold onto Bakaye Traore's low shot and Diabate was on hand to stab home the loose ball.

Ghana threatened only once before the break to pull the goal back, but Jordan Ayew's 20-yard effort was comfortably held by Oumar Sissoko. Ghana thought they had levelled eight minutes after the interval when Sulley Muntari lashed in a knock down but he was just caught offside. The four-time champion's hopes were then dealt a major blow when Vorsah was needlessly booked for the second time when he kicked out at Samba Diakite. Mali always looked the likely winners thereafter and, while Jordan Ayew curled another effort from the edge of the area just wide, Diabate made the game safe when he prodded in Adama Tamboura's low pass across the six-yard box.

Wenger impressed by cool Gervinho


Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has lavished praise on Gervinho for his winner in Wednesday's Africa Cup of Nations semi-final against Mali.

Gervinho put the Elephants ahead on the stroke of half-time when he tricked his way past Ousmane Berthe on the halfway line, burst unchallenged into the penalty area and finished coolly. The goal proved to be the decisive factor in the game and sealed Ivory Coast's route through to Sunday's final against Zambia. "It was a cracking goal against Mali," Wenger told Arsenal Player.

"They were the better side but he made the difference. They scored only one goal, Gervinho made it and you can basically say he scored it on his own because he started on the halfway line and finished in a cool way. "Sometimes he rushes his decisions a little bit but I was very happy that he kept calm and finished in a very controlled way. "That's great news for his confidence and his country as well because I believe they are the best team in Africa by a big distance at the moment. Hopefully they will get rewarded in the final.

"He creates those dangerous situations but the coolness he misses a little bit. That can help him to do that. I feel he proved that with us. "Also, who doesn't want to be a hero in his own country? That will help him to be recognised in his own country and therefore boost his confidence levels." The Elephants will return to Libreville on Sunday seeking their second Africa Cup of Nations title.

Kalou: Goals can come from anywhere


A delighted Salomon Kalou believes that Ivory Coast's firepower will help them win Sunday's Africa Cup of Nations final against Zambia.

The Elephants had a tough time against Mali in their semi-final, having to rely on a Gervinho strike in the 45th minute, his first of the tournament, to seal passage to the final. Ivory Coast have been resolute in the tournament so far, keeping clean sheets in each of their fixtures. Moreover, the team, currently ranked the highest in Africa, boast a squad with a number of players with goal-scoring pedigree and have scored nine goals in the competition. Something Chelsea player Kalou knew would help them in carving out an opening within the 90 minutes.

"Our goal was not to concede goals and with the forwards we have, every moment, we can make a difference. We did not doubt," the Chelsea forward Salomon Kalou told CAFonline.com.

"The goals can come from anywhere: Yaya (Toure), Gervais (Gervinho), Didier (Drogba), myself. We can score at any time [and] it's an advantage we have on many other teams in this tournament." Ivory Coast manager Francois Zahoui was pleased with the manner in which his side played their opponents even when the Malians surprised them with their dogged defending.

In comments to FIFA.com, he said: "I'm proud of the boys, they managed the game with calmness and patience, and a little stress. "We weren't expecting such a tough game. I'm surprised by the work (Mali coach) Alain Giresse has done with his team, hats off to them." The Ivory Coast, favourites to win the tournament from the off, will be a significant challenge to relative minnows Zambia who are also through to the final after a shock victory over Ghana in the other semi-final. The Zambians were lucky to beat the Black Stars after the latter missed a penalty in the first half and were made to pay for the mistake when 20-year-old Emmanuel Mayuka scored 12 minutes from time.

Mali captain Cedric Kante was dejected with the result but happy with his side's overall display and he said that he is looking forward to the third-place playoff match that his team will get to play against Ghana on Saturday in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. "We do not have any regrets about the game tonight [Wednesday] because we gave everything," he said. "Players, who have not had the opportunity to play will do so there is a chance to be on the podium of a major tournament, it does not happen every day but every two years so we will make the most of it." The final will be played on Sunday in Libreville, Gabon and the Ivory Coast players will severely test the luck of the Zambians in what promises to be an intriguing encounter.

ACN: Ivory Coast to meet Zambia in final


The Ivory Coast set up an Africa Cup of Nations final against Zambia after Gervinho's solo goal saw them past Mali on Wednesday night in Libreville.

The Elephants will return to the same venue on Sunday seeking their second title after the Arsenal forward ran from his own half and slotted home. His side's defence then kept their opponents at bay in the second half to ensure their progression to the final for the third time. Siaka Tiene delivered a free-kick from the right and Didier Drogba's downward header bounced up and struck the top of the post. Goalkeeper Soumaila Diakite, beaten to the ball by Drogba for that chance, then misjudged the bounce of the Chelsea striker's free-kick and was fortunate when the ball bounced into his face and around the post. He was beaten at his near post by Yaya Toure's powerful drive but again saw the ball rebound to safety off the woodwork.

Mali's first chance fell to Cheick Diabate but Jean-Jaques Gosso made a goal-saving challenge and Sambou Yatabare could not convert the rebound. Salomon Kalou then poked wide after creditably staying on his feet under a challenge in the penalty area, and Drogba scuffed a shot wide after holding off two defenders. But Gervinho put the Elephants ahead on the stroke of half-time when he tricked his way past Ousmane Berthe on the halfway line, burst unchallenged into the penalty area and finished coolly.

Diabate chanced his arm from distance early in the second period, but keeper Boubacar Barry saved and held onto the ball as he collided with the post. Barry's efforts were matched by opposite number Diakite, who tipped over Kalou's goalbound effort. Yatabare shot just over for Mali, his last contribution before he gave way to Garra Dembele. Toure twice went close and Diakite saved with his feet from Drogba, and Mali did not seriously threaten an equaliser in the closing stages.

ACN: Zambia see off Ghana in semis


Emmanuel Mayuka's second-half strike was enough to send Zambia through to the final of the African Nations Cup as they upset 10-man Ghana in Bata.

Star Ghana striker Asamoah Gyan was made to rue his seventh-minute penalty miss, and a host of other chances, as the unfancied Zambians reached the final for the first time in 18 years. Substitute Mayuka curled home his winner from the edge of the area with 12 minutes remaining and Ghana's hopes of a comeback were all but ended with the dismissal of Derek Boateng soon after. Zambia will meet Ivory Coast in the final after the Elephants saw off Mali in Wednesday's other semi-final.

That match is set to provide an emotional stage for the Zambians as they return to the city associated with one of the country's most most tragic events. Libreville was the city that a plane carrying the Zambian national side refuelled in before crashing into the Atlantic Ocean in 1993, killing all 30 people on board. The Copper Bullets looked certain to go behind early in Wednesday's match when Davis Nkausu tripped Kwadwo Asamoah in the area to concede an early penalty. Gyan wasted the opportunity, though, as his spot-kick was tame enough to allow Kennedy Mweene to save to his left.

Gyan then forced another save from the Zambia goalkeeper moments later before another mis-hit effort was more comfortably dealt with. Andre Ayew's free-kick met with an air-shot from his brother Jordan before Zambia missed a glorious chance on the half-hour, when Christopher Katongo was brilliantly played in behind the defence by Rainford Kalaba but scuffed his shot wide.

It mattered not, though, as Mayuka proved his side's match-winner with time ticking down in the game when he turned and perfectly placed his shot beyond a diving Adam Larsen. Ghana then had Boateng sent off for a second caution with six minutes to go as they crashed out at the semi-final stage for the third consecutive tournament.

Keita: Pressure on Ivory Coast now


Mali captain Seydou Keita has insisted that "the pressure is on" Cote d'Ivoire as both teams face off in the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations semi-final on Wednesday.

Mali emerged triumphant from Sunday's quarter-final with Gabon, with the Barcelona man scoring the winning penalty in a shoot-out following the 1-1 draw during normal time. Keita acknowledged the difficulty of being the underdogs, but knows the burden of suceeding will weigh heavy on the Ivory Coast. "We are not Barcelona or Brazil, we have our qualities and our faults, it's not going to be easy against Cote d'Ivoire," the 32-year-old said during a press conference. "But [against Gabon] you saw again that even when the going gets tough we can do what other teams can't. Cote d'Ivoire are favourites, they know the pressure is on them.

"In contrast, we have nothing to lose, we'll do our maximum to go even further in this competition." Keita went on to express his joy of returning to the national team after originally retiring from international duty in 2010. "I'm very proud to wear this shirt," said the Mali veteran. "When I scored the penalty it was like a dream. I've won a lot with Barcelona but this is like winning a cup. "I've always loved my country, and I was urged to come back by the president and even my mother did her maximum to persuade me to return. When Mali win it's a completely different feeling, I feel like a 'gamin' (kid)."

Yaya wishes Mario was an Elephant


Ivory Coast midfielder Yaya Toure has singled out Mario Balotelli as the one Manchester City team-mate he would most like to be Ivorian.

Keita: Pressure on Ivory Coast now

Balotelli joined City from Inter Milan in 2010 and has scored 12 goals this season to help Roberto Mancini's side top the Barclays Premier League. However, his stint at the club continues to be blighted by unwanted headlines concerning his behavior on and even off the pitch as well. Despite this, Yaya is certain he would love it if the fiery Italian had been born in his country and was eligible to play for the Ivory Coast - even ahead of City's other stars like David Silva or Sergio Aguero.

"If I could choose one City player to play for the Ivory Coast it would be Mario," Yaya was quoted on City's website as saying. "Whatever you hear about him is just newspaper stuff and I wish I had been as committed as him when I was his age. "He is such a powerful guy and his concentration levels are unbelievable. He is young, so sometimes one or two things he does are maybe misunderstood but for me it is all part of his charm.

The Ivory Coast are one of Africa's strongest sides with the current squad blessed with such names like Chelsea striker Didier Drogba and of course the Toure brothers - Yaya and Kolo. Both Yaya and Kolo will line-up for The Elephants on Wednesday as the Ivory Coast face Mali in the African Cup of Nations quarter-finals. The Toures will return to Manchester early next week and could mark their return to City against Porto in the Europa League.

ACN: Drogba fires Ivory Coast to last four


Didier Drogba scored twice and Yaya Toure put the seal on Ivory Coast's quarter-final victory over co-hosts Equatorial Guinea at the Africa Cup of Nations.

The Premier League pair did the damage in Malabo as the tournament favourites marched through to a semi-final meeting with Gabon or Mali. Ivory Coast were back to full strength after resting a host of stars for their final group game, and that added up to danger for Equatorial Guinea, who had Laurence Doe back from suspension.

After a slow start, Ivory Coast began to step up the pace of their play midway through the first half, and Gervinho, Toure and Max Gradel threatened to open the scoring before Didier Zokora was brought down to bring about a penalty. Goalkeeper Danilo kept out the Chelsea striker's spot-kick, but could not prevent him firing the Ivorians ahead in the 36th minute after a defensive mix-up. A thrilling run from Gervinho midway through the second half saw the Arsenal forward wind his way into a threatening position but he lost control at the critical moment, when he should have been firing the ball past Danilo.

It did not matter because Ivory Coast doubled their lead after 70 minutes when Drogba headed in a fine second goal from Toure's free-kick. With the Manchester City midfielder pulling the strings in midfield and Drogba a serious menace to any defence in this competition, it is little wonder many have tipped Ivory Coast from before the tournament. Toure showed his pedigree again from a set-piece with eight minutes remaining when he curled home a fine strike to make absolutely certain of victory.

ACN: Ghana break Tunisian hearts


Ghana are just two wins away from a first African Nations Cup crown since 1982 after booking their place in the semi-finals with a 2-1 extra-time win over Tunisia.

In a game that was often scrappy and marred by a number of arguments between both sets of players over alleged stray arms and elbows, it was Goran Stevanovic's men who kept their cool and won through to a semi-final with Zambia thanks to Andre Ayew's 101st-minute goal. When that came it was a gift from Tunisia goalkeeper Aymen Mathlouthi, who shelled Samuel Inkoom's cross into the striker's path. Prior to that, John Mensah's 10th-minute header for Ghana had been cancelled out by Saber Khelifa before half-time. But on weight of chances Ghana deserved to win, with their route to the finish line eased by Aymen Abdennour's sending-off for an elbow on Ayew.

That incident, which came 18 minutes into extra time, caused the game to end on an unsavoury note - something which had looked unlikely when Mensah opened the scoring, heading in at the back post after Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu's corner was flicked into his path by Kwadwo Asamoah. It could have been two shortly after when Agyemang-Badu nodded wide himself, before Tunisia had a penalty appeal rejected when Khelifa appeared to go down under the challenge of Inkoom.

Ghana striker Asamoah Gyan then worked Mathlouthi as his side looked for a second, but the next goal would go the way of Tunisia three minutes before the break, when Khelifa got his head on the end of Zouheir Dhaouadi's cross. After a lively first half, the second took some time to get going, with Asamoah's hit wide on the hour the first real action. Gyan's cross then saw Agyemang-Badu draw a save from Mathlouthi with a header, before Tunisia responded with a Youssef Msakni shot that was blocked by John Boye. Ayew then had a drive tipped over as Ghana turned up the pressure, while the same player headed over and Gyan was denied by Mathlouthi's feet. Jordan Ayew also worked Mathlouthi and, after the game entered an additional 30 minutes, it was unfortunate that the excellent Mathlouthi should be the villain. He came for Inkoom's cross and, despite it seeming to be a routine take, he dropped it at the feet of Ayew and he did the rest. Tunisia became ragged after that and Abdennour summed that up when he saw red, although his side could have forced penalties had Msakni shown better composure when free in the box.

Keita: Pressure on Ivory Coast now


Mali captain Seydou Keita has insisted that "the pressure is on" Cote d'Ivoire as both teams face off in the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations semi-final on Wednesday.

Mali emerged triumphant from Sunday's quarter-final with Gabon, with the Barcelona man scoring the winning penalty in a shoot-out following the 1-1 draw during normal time. Keita acknowledged the difficulty of being the underdogs, but knows the burden of suceeding will weigh heavy on the Ivory Coast. "We are not Barcelona or Brazil, we have our qualities and our faults, it's not going to be easy against Cote d'Ivoire," the 32-year-old said during a press conference.

"But [against Gabon] you saw again that even when the going gets tough we can do what other teams can't. Cote d'Ivoire are favourites, they know the pressure is on them. "In contrast, we have nothing to lose, we'll do our maximum to go even further in this competition." Keita went on to express his joy of returning to the national team after originally retiring from international duty in 2010. "I'm very proud to wear this shirt," said the Mali veteran. "When I scored the penalty it was like a dream. I've won a lot with Barcelona but this is like winning a cup. "I've always loved my country, and I was urged to come back by the president and even my mother did her maximum to persuade me to return. When Mali win it's a completely different feeling, I feel like a 'gamin' (kid)."

We are focused on Zambia - Ayew


ANDRE Ayew says Ghana are still far from winning the Africa Nations Cup title despite progressing to the semifinals. The Olympique Marseille ace struck the match winner in the first half of extra-time which secured a 2-1 win over ten-man Tunisia. Ghana will now play Zambia tomorrow in Bata, aiming for a second successive appearance in the final. Ayew wants his team to keep their focus on beating the Chipolopolo before dreaming of winning a fifth continental trophy. "The title now is far and what is now important is Zambia. We are going to concentrate. Think about Zambia," the 22-year-old told MTNFootball.com.

Carragher wants Spurs revenge


Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher admits the Reds will be out to avenge last September's 4-0 loss to Tottenham when both sides meet again at Anfield on Monday.

After a poor start to the season, Spurs gradually found form and their thumping of Liverpool at White Hart Lane marked the start of a run which has seen them rise to third in the Barclays Premier League, just five points behind joint-leaders Manchester City and Manchester United. Tottenham were also victorious in their last trip to Anfield near the end of last season, and Carragher reveals the Reds are eager to make amends for their recent defeats, although he reserves praise for Spurs' performances this term.

"Spurs have probably been the most impressive team in the league for me this season," Carragher said on Liverpool's official website. "I know they aren't top but they're great to watch. They play great football, very fast paced and they certainly showed that against us at White Hart Lane. "That was our biggest defeat of the season and something we want to rectify." Carragher feels last September's result flattered Tottenham, especially after Liverpool had Charlie Adam and Martin Skrtel sent off, but has no doubts Spurs are one of the best teams in the Premier League at the moment.

"The game [in September] changed a bit towards the end and when we were down to nine men and the scoreline flattered them to a certain extent but they played really well that day. We didn't start well enough and they caught us out. "They also won at Anfield towards the end of last season. That's probably in the mind as much as anything. We realise we're playing against one of the best teams in the league and it's going to be very difficult."

Nonetheless, Carragher insists Liverpool will head into Monday's game full of confidence, especially after two successive cup victories over City and United. "We proved in the last two home games, against the two teams above Tottenham, that we're a match for anyone in the country." Liverpool are currently 6th in the Barclays Premier League, eleven points behind Tottenham.

Rooney, Cleverley could face Chelsea


Wayne Rooney and Tom Cleverley are just two of four players who are set to give Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson a welcome boost on the injury front.

Rooney has not played for the Red Devils since the 2-1 win over Arsenal in January, along with Portuguese winger Nani, but the two of them are likely to be fit to face Chelsea on Sunday.

But the positive news for United does not stop there, with Ferguson revealing Cleverley and Ashley Young could also be involved in the trip to Stamford Bridge. "We're a bit better in terms of injuries," Ferguson said on United's official website. "We hope Wayne Rooney, Nani, Tom Cleverley and Ashley Young will all be in the squad.

"It's more likely Tom will play against Chelsea Reserves on Monday, but he'll travel. "Rooney and Nani have trained for the last two days."

However, Ferguson looks set to be without goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard for a prolonged spell, after it was confirmed he suffered ligament damage to his ankle. "It looks like Lindegaard will be out for at least four weeks, maybe five to six, with ankle ligament damage," Ferguson added. "We don't know what his recovery from injuries is like, so we'll have to wait and see, but I would have thought [he'll be out for] at least four weeks." In Lindegaard's absence, Ferguson will have to choose between erratic Spaniard David de Gea and young academy graduate Ben Amos to face Chelsea on Sunday.

Wenger tempted to rest Van Persie


Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger admits he is contemplating giving a rest to talismanic striker Robin van Persie. Van Persie has been the star of the Gunners' season so far, scoring 25 goals in all competition and leading the Arsenal attack by his own on countless occasions. However, with plenty of the season still to go, Wenger admits he is toying with the idea of rotating his side in Saturday's match against Blackburn.

"I will rotate a little bit because many players have given a lot," the French manager said on Arsenal's official website. "[With Van Persie] the temptation is there. "We are in a situation at the moment where he is the main goalscorer, so I will maybe have to build a team that works around him." Wenger has opted not to call on Marouane Chamakh, who has returned from international duty at the Africa Cup of Nations, but insists he has plenty of options even if he does drop Van Persie.

"We have Park [Chu-young], Thierry Henry, we have [Theo] Walcott who wants to play through the middle - he has not done it," Wenger added. "We have not done because we always have adapted. Thierry Henry at the start [of his Arsenal career] was not a centre forward, Robin van Persie was not a centre forward, so we'll see what we do if it happens. "But Chamakh is back. No [he is not ready to play]. He should be in today [Friday] because they have 48 hours to be back after the competition, but I will not use him [on Saturday]."

Arsenal are currently 7th in the Premier League, five points behind fourth-placed Chelsea who currently occupy the final Champions League qualifying spot.

Sturridge: Chelsea are still a big club


Chelsea striker Daniel Sturridge insists the Blues are still one of the big guns in the Barclays Premier League. The Stamford Bridge outfit have won the league three times in the last seven seasons but are currently struggling to make an impact in the current campaign, where they currently lie fourth, 12 points behind joint leaders Manchester City and Manchester United.

But ahead of Sunday's eagerly-anticipated clash with the Red Devils, Sturridge insists the Blues are still a force to be reckoned with. "We are a big club, and I don't think anybody should forget that," Sturridge said on Chelsea's official website. "Just because we have had a bit of a bad spell and we haven't been winning as frequently as we have in the past, I think people are doubting the credibility of Chelsea which they should never do.

"We're a great club, and we are going to go out there on Sunday and prove to everybody that we can still compete with the likes of Manchester United. "We've already shown by beating Manchester City that we can still mix it with the top two and we will be going out there on Sunday to show what we're about." While the England international admits Chelsea haven't been at their best this season, he has called for the fans to realise the Blues are currently undergoing a period of transition under new coach Andre Villas-Boas, who only arrived at Stamford Bridge in the summer. "We haven't been as consistent as we would have like but we're in a progressive stage where all the teams are improving. "The mood in the camp is good and everybody is looking forward to going out there and showing what they can do." Despite playing on the right-side of attack for much of the season, Sturridge is hoping he can weigh in with more goals as he looks to propel the club up the table. "I can't score in every game because it's difficult from that position," the 22-year-old added. "But hopefully I can carry on producing my fair share of goals and keep getting assists as well.

"It's good that I'm scoring goals, that's what I love doing, I love scoring goals that help the team win games and that's what I'll be striving to do. "I want to score as many as I can in order to help us climb the table." Sturridge has already scored ten goals in 20 appearances in all competition for Chelsea this season.

Pizarro snubbed Juve for Mancini


Manchester City's loan signing David Pizarro has revealed he turned down Juventus to play under Roberto Mancini again.

The 32-year-old Roma midfielder completed a deal to join the Barclays Premier League leaders until the end of the season just before Tuesday's transfer deadline. The former Chile international had attracted interest from elsewhere but a late approach from Mancini, under whom he won a Serie A title at Inter Milan in 2006, was too tempting.

Pizarro said: "It was a surprise for me because it was done pretty quickly. "Of course Mr Mancini played a big part in this. I already had quite an advanced agreement with Juventus but when they told me about Manchester City's concrete interest, I liked the idea more." Pizarro spent just one season with Inter before switching to Roma but has fond memories of Mancini, who ended a 17-year wait for the scudetto at the Milan club. Pizarro, speaking through an interpreter as he was unveiled by City on Friday, said: "I have worked with him already - I think his personality and his leadership are the main strengths.

"I remember when he arrived at Inter Milan. "They hadn't won for so many years but with his input we stabilised and from then on Inter went on to trophies." Pizarro will increase City's options as they look to secure their first league crown since 1968. Mancini has been unable to call upon the inspirational Yaya Toure for the past month due to the ongoing African Nations Cup while fitness issues have prevented former England midfielder Owen Hargreaves claiming a place.

Pizarro accepts he may need to adapt his game but believes he is ready for immediate action. He said: "I feel ready. The fact Man City are trying to win the league is something I like a lot. "I know it is a different league and the referees tend to see the game differently, so I know it is 90 minutes full on. "I am sure that from my years playing at the highest level in Italy and in European competitions give me enough experience to be able to contribute. "It is a moment where it is important for Manchester City so I need to adapt very quickly, but I think I have got the experience to do that." Mancini likes Pizarro for his versatility but the player himself knows how he would prefer to play. He said: "I have been playing for 12 years as a playmaker, so I think this is my best position, where I get most satisfaction as a player."

AVB: Every club would want Mourinho


Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas admits he and every top Premier League manager would be looking over their shoulders if Jose Mourinho left Real Madrid this summer.

Villas-Boas was relaxed about a report suggesting Mourinho would be interested in returning to Stamford Bridge were the self-styled 'Special One' to cut his ties with the Spanish giants.

The Blues manager acknowledged speculation over his own position would be rife if Mourinho became available but insisted the same would apply to the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson, Roberto Mancini, Harry Redknapp, Kenny Dalglish and Arsene Wenger.

Villas-Boas, who worked under Mourinho at Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan, said: "At the moment, there is not a vacancy at this club, that is the most important thing. And the Real Madrid manager is not available at the moment. He's tied to the best club in the world. "The only thing I can say is that I have lived Jose's availability when we were out of Chelsea and we know and I know how many clubs came knocking on our doors. "So, a manager of Jose's dimension and the number one in the world will always be an attractive target for whatever club." Mourinho has made no secret of his desire to return to England one day.

Villas-Boas added: "Because he's a manager that makes himself available to return to his beloved England will for sure capture the interests of City, United and Chelsea and Tottenham and Liverpool and Arsenal, and so on and so forth.

"So, in that sense, we are all under pressure, from Mancini to Ferguson to me to Dalglish to Harry Redknapp and so on." Villas-Boas appears under more pressure than most, with Chelsea 12 points behind league leaders Manchester City and Manchester United. The Blues have a chance to cut the gap to United when the sides meet at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. However, they will be without half their first-choice defence, with Ashley Cole suspended and John Terry ruled out injured on the same day he was stripped of the England captaincy.

"First, we cannot be crying out," Villas-Boas said. "Man United will miss players for sure, important players.

"We have important players out as well but we have a very big squad, which enables us to go on and try to win the game and approach it in a positive way. "So that's what we'll try to do, whoever is involved." Villas-Boas admitted the loss of Terry was a blow, saying: "He is the captain, leader, on the pitch and off the pitch and he's a great player, so we'll miss him, of course."

But he played down the significance of being without left-back Cole for the first time in 65 league games. Ryan Bertrand and Jose Bosingwa are vying to replace him and Villas-Boas said: "We have full trust in Ryan's abilities. It's a game of massive importance based on recent results and the fact that we have Man United, the champions, at home. "Difficult decision to be made tomorrow when we practice strategically for the game." Villas-Boas must also decide whether to hand Gary Cahill his debut and whether to risk Frank Lampard, who has missed the last two matches with a calf problem and did not train on Thursday.

He said: "Lamps has a chance to make it to the game. Again, reassessment tomorrow to make a final decision." Villas-Boas admitted he was still smarting from September's controversial defeat at Old Trafford, his first league loss as a manager for almost a year and a half. "I try to forget it but I can't," he said of the game where United scored two goals that should have been ruled out for offside. Until that game, Chelsea were considered genuine title contenders but they have slipped alarmingly off the pace since and Villas-Boas insisted a victory on Sunday would mean as little as December's triumph over City if they failed to build on it.

He said of the consequences of a win: "Good maybe in the immediate (sense) but maybe a false message regarding the future. The future has to be continuity. "After Man City, we went to seven points behind and we didn't find that continuity that would've taken us closer to the leaders. "So it can have an extra importance only if you manage to get the continuity after that."

Gervinho hails "inspirational" Drogba


Arsenal winger Gervinho has acknowledged Cote d'Ivoire captain Didier Drogba as one of the most inspiring players in the team.

The 24-year-old, who has appeared three times for the Elephants, has hailed the Chelsea star for constantly motivating his squad to secure the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations trophy for themselves.

"Drogba has been our great motivator," he told.

"He never stops reminding us that we are here to win the tournament, no matter the hurdles, no matter the game form and no matter the score margin." "His talks and desires have been inspirational and have turned the atmosphere within the team to be very convivial."

Cote d'Ivoire have qualified for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations quarterfinals after finishing on top of their Group B table. Despite being favourites, the team is known for progressing far in the tournament but eventually failing to clinch the trophy. Gervinho, however, admits that the squad is ready to change the course of their history this time round.

"In past editions, we were always seen as top favourites but we have won nothing up till now," the former French Ligue 1 champion told French radio RMC on Wednesday. "We are conscious of this image and the failures that have always follow, so we are ready this time to do everything possible to avoid the previous scenarios." Gervinho went on to state his belief that coach Francois Zahoui has not lost his touch, after recent criticisms from fans and officials during the Elephants' disappointing match debut against Sudan in the tournament.

"We have had a number of coaches, coming with their tactics and character, and we tend to cope as much as we can. Zahoui is a guy who's in quest of results, however it comes, "He tells us to win, pick up the three points and advance, no matter how people judge us and our game. He knows how to approach his players with respect and consideration." Cote d'Ivoire will face off against competition co-hosts Equatorial Guinea in the quarterfinals on Saturday, February 4 in Malabo.

Grp D: Ghana 1-1 Guinea


Ghana made certain of their progress into the quarter-finals of the African Nations Cup as they held outgoing Guinea to draw.

A screamer from Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu gave Ghana the lead in the 26th minute, and although Guinea levelled on the stroke of half-time through a fortuitous strike from Abdoul Camara, they could not find the goal they needed to go through.

Their challenge was only made harder by the 70th minute dismissal of Mamadou Bah. Guinea, needing a victory to have any chance of progression, started in determined fashion with Ismael Bangoura having early sights of goal but unable to trouble Adam Larsen. They wanted a penalty in the 11th minute when Larsen came to take the ball at the feet of Ibrahima Traore, but the referee said the goalkeeper took the ball cleanly while replays suggested otherwise.

They had the ball in the net in the 25th minute when Traore fired home from a through ball from Pascal Feindouno, but he was correctly called offside. It was just moments later when Ghana, second best to this point, took the lead with a superb goal from Badu, who flicked the ball up before lashing the ball home from the outside of the area.

The goal rather dimmed Guinea spirits, but Bangoura went close in the 37th minute with a shot Larsen had to palm away for a corner. Samuel Inkoom went close to a second for Ghana as he lashed just inches wide, while at the other end Camara got himself into a fine position only to scuff his shot. Asamoah Gyan fired into the side-netting for Ghana, and then moments later Camara made up for his earlier miss when his looping cross from the left wrong-footed the goalkeeper and found the far corner of the net.

Larsen denied Bangoura early in the second half but chances were in short supply, and Guinea's problems grew when Bah earned a second yellow card in quick succession in the 70th minute. With news coming through that Mali were ahead in the other game, making this result academic, the pace slowed. Prince Tagoe had a late chance for Ghana, but they had already done enough.

Keshi invites 30 players for Liberia friendly


Keshi gathers his National Team ahead of the international friendlies against Liberia

Super Eagles’ Head Coach, Stephen Keshi, has invited 30 players to the camp of the Senior Men’s National Team, Super Eagles, ahead of the international friendly match against the Lone Star of Liberia in Monrovia on Wednesday, February 15.

Keshi is expected back in the country early next week and has ordered the players to resume in camp on Sunday, February 5. The friendly match originally fixed for January was brought forward due to the anti-fuel subsidy removal protests in the country at the time.

There are three goalkeepers, eight defenders, 11 midfielders, and eight strikers. Most of the players were in the squad that held Angola’s ‘A’ team to a 0-0 draw in an international friendly in Abuja on Wednesday, January 11. The Super Eagles are expected to leave for Monrovia on February 13.

THE FULL LIST:

GOALKEEPERS: Chigozie Agbim (Warri Wolves), Okemute Odah (Sharks FC), Daniel Akpeyi (Heartland FC)

DEFENDERS: Juwon Oshaniwa (Sharks FC), Osasco Omomo (Sunshine Stars),
Azubuike Egwueke (Warri Wolves), Godfrey Oboabona (Sunshine Stars),
Gbenga Arokoyo (Kwara Utd), Uche Oguchi (Heartland FC), Ahmed Adesope
(3SC), Papa Idris (Kano Pillars)

MIDFIELDERS: Ossai Uche (Warri Wolves), Kola Anubi (Sharks FC), Ejike
Uzoenyi (Enugu Rangers), Bartholomew Ibenegbu, Kingsley Salami,
Stanley Ohabuchi (Heartland FC), Reuben Gabriel (Kano Pillars), Henry
Uche (Enyimba FC), Solomon Jabason (Akwa United), Chidi Osuchukwu
(Dolphins FC), Daniel Essien (Niger Tornadoes)

STRIKERS: Sunday Emmanuel (Enyimba), Sunday Mba, Jude Aneke (Warri
Wolves), Izu Azuka (Sunshine Stars), Barnabas Imenger (Kwara Utd),
Kabiru Umar (Heartland FC), Uche Kalu, Ifeanyi Ude (Enyimba FC).

U-17 women qualifiers: Kenya makes U-turn


The East Africans arrive Nigeria Thursday

After grandstanding for days, claiming they would not travel because of imagined security fears, and writing to the Confederation of African Football to express such ‘fears’, the Kenya Football Federation wrote to the Nigeria Football Federation on Wednesday to say they would now arrive the country Thursday.

According to the travel schedule, the U-17 Women's National Team of Kenya will fly into Lagos on Thursday evening ahead of Saturday's 2012 FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup qualifier against the Flamingoes of Nigeria. The letter from the KFF stated, inter alia: “We have decided to honour the match, and will therefore send to you our travel itinerary, which should be on Thursday, 2nd February, 2012 in a contingent of 27 people composed of 18 players and 7 officials”. The Kenyan delegation will fly into the Murtala Muhammed International Airport aboard Kenyan Airways flight on Thursday evening. Already, the Nigeria Football Federation and the Ogun State Government have made arrangements to take the delegation members to Abeokuta on Thursday night.

Getting ready

Meanwhile, the Flamingoes have continued their preparation for Saturday's match at the MKO Abiola Stadium.

Nigeria won the first leg 2-0 in Nairobi and will most certainly play Zambia in the final round of qualifiers in March. Governor Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State, who treated the Flamingoes and their officials to a dinner at the Government House, Abeokuta, on Monday, and presented them with a cash gift of N2.5 million, will be Special Guest of Honour at Saturday's match.

Grp C: Gabon 1-0 Tunisia


Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored his third goal in as many games as co-hosts Gabon confirmed top spot in Group C with a 1-0 win over Tunisia in the Africa Nations Cup in Libreville.

Aubameyang scored the only goal of the game in the 62nd minute to ensure his nation will stay in their capital city for the quarter-finals. Tunisia, as runners-up in the group, will also qualify. Tunisia started well with Saber Khelifa and Wissem Ben Yahia firing shots from long range while Youssef Msakni's influence down the flanks was pinning the hosts back in their own half.

Roguy Meye missed the target with a 25th minute head as Gabon began to edge their way back into the game, Meye then blazing a long-range shot wide with Tunisia goalkeeper Rami Jeridi looking full of nerves. Meye and Andre Biyogo Poko both came close as the game edged towards half-time, and in the last chance of an entertaining first half Aubameyang burst down the right flank before hitting a cross which the Tunisia defence did well to clear. Gabon started the second half with much more purpose, Edmond Mouele cutting into the box to hit a long shot which was deflected out for a corner, and Lloyd Palun heading wide in front of goal.

Aubameyang finally broke the deadlock in the 62nd minute when he raced on the end of a swift counter-attack by his side and beat Tunisian keeper Jeridi with a crisp right-foot finish. Aubameyang was denied a late penalty when he fell in the box and with tempers beginning to fray on both sides, the hosts held out for a win which underlines their status as one of the tournament's favourites.

PFA chief: Evra abuse may deter victims


Players may be deterred from reporting racist abuse in the future after witnessing Patrice Evra's treatment by Liverpool fans at the weekend.

Liverpool fans booed and jeered Evra all match during the FA Cup win over Manchester United, apparently in response to the French defender making a complaint that he was racially abused by Luis Suarez - which led to the Uruguay striker receiving an eight-match ban. Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish said there was nothing wrong with the booing and that it was "a bit of banter" but Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) is concerned it could have more serious repercussions.

Taylor told Press Association Sport: "The booing of Evra was unwelcome. For someone to be booed for reporting racist comments is not something we want to see happening. "Black players may be worried about reporting such things if there is going to be a backlash like this." Taylor said the Suarez ban shows that racism in football is still an issue to be dealt with. "The game must do all it can to eradicate it," he added.

Meanwhile, FIFA member Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein has said racism cases have done "a lot of damage" to English football. Prince Ali told www.insideworldfootball.biz: "Obviously it's a huge concern for everyone across the world. "England has a great track record in terms of fair play and a lot of damage has been done. "The Premier League is seen all over the world and whatever happens there is picked up everywhere else." Prince Ali, from Jordan, added that the way in which the Football Association and other football authorities had reacted to the issue had been admired across the world. He added: "Because of the stature of the Premier League, when people see how things like this are tackled, they reflect on themselves. "What's important is the solution, not simply focussing on the problem. "It's a big responsibility. Everyone was watching to see how things would be handled."

Dalglish: No late transfers for Reds


Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish tried to put an end to speculation about Andy Carroll's future by stressing there will be no transfer movement in or out of the club.

The Reds' £35million record signing has become the focal point of much speculation after enduring a difficult first year at Anfield following his move from Newcastle. Having been linked with a highly unlikely cut-price return to the Magpies, reports emerged at the weekend which claimed Manchester City had turned down an offer to swap Carroll for their wantaway striker Carlos Tevez. Dalglish, a staunch defender of the England international, refused to comment on speculation but categorically stated there would be no activity at Anfield before Tuesday evening.

"There is no-one going in or out the club before the transfer window [closes]," said the Reds boss. "I don't read the papers so I don't know [about speculation] but we have covered what we have to say. "We don't need to justify what people are speculating about, do we?

"There is nothing happening here apart from a young goalkeeper from Wrexham, and that is the academy. Here at Melwood there will be no-one moving in or out." The goalkeeper in question is Wales Under-19 international Danny Ward, whose move to the Kirkby academy is likely to net the Welsh club an initial £100,000. And while 12 months ago the club surprised everyone with their huge outlay to sign Carroll on the final day of January business, the situation has changed since then. Carroll and Luis Suarez represented a major re-investment of the money banked from the £50million sale of Fernando Torres to Chelsea and the £6.75million from Ryan Babel's move to Hoffenheim.

In the summer Dalglish made further improvements by bringing in Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam, Craig Bellamy, Jose Enrique, Sebastian Coates and Doni. He is still working on knitting together all his new recruits into a more consistently cohesive unit and even though there has been criticism over Carroll, in particular, the manager is standing by his players. He thinks the last week, in which they reached their first final for five years with an aggregate victory over Manchester City in the Carling Cup and then knocked arch-rivals Manchester United out of the FA Cup, could be a significant marker.

"It is a bit of a work in progress. With seven players coming in during the summer, plus the two in January, it is a big ask," added Dalglish. "If you look at the team who finished the matches in both games there were a lot of them (new signings) playing and I don't suppose many of them have played in semi-finals before. "Although we drew against United in October, playing them in a cup tie at Anfield is a totally different thing. "It was a great education for the new lads to see what the club stands for and what it means and I think everyone will benefit from that." The issue for Dalglish now is to coax the same level of performance out of his players for Tuesday's trip to Wolves.

Molineux last January was where he recorded his first win after returning for a second spell as manager but there are other factors to consider. While they may have beaten the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City this season, Liverpool have lost league games to Stoke, Fulham and Bolton and drawn against Norwich, Swansea, Blackburn, Wigan and Sunderland. After publicly criticising his players in their last Barclays Premier League outing at Bolton the 60-year-old does not think he needs to read the riot act before Wolves.

"I don't think we need any warnings. We have always gone in and played against any opposition and treated them with respect," he said. "Everyone knows the Premier League is difficult and the quality of the teams there. "There are no lesser teams for us. The only lesser teams are the ones we have just played; the next ones are the best ones because they are the ones coming up. "That should be our attitude and philosophy as it has not served the club too badly in previous reigns so I don't see any reasons why we should change that. "We would love to do better against teams that are below us in the league but we have to earn the right to take the points from those teams. "If we don't play well enough or adapt well enough we won't get as many points as we would like."

Sir Alex relishing Stoke challenge


Sir Alex Ferguson is relishing the prospect of his Manchester United side facing the unique challenge presented by Stoke at Old Trafford on Tuesday.

After Saturday's FA Cup defeat to Liverpool, an encounter with Tony Pulis' battlers would not normally be viewed as the ideal method of recovery. Yet, in much the same way as the Red Devils tended to overcome Bolton during the era under Sam Allardyce when they managed to get under the skin of all the other big clubs, they have emerged relatively unscathed in their meetings with Stoke.

A draw at the Britannia Stadium in September represented the first points dropped to the Potteries outfit since they were promoted to the Premier League in 2008. And United must go back to 1976 for their last Old Trafford loss to Stoke, courtesy of a late goal from club legend Alan Bloor. "You know what Tony Pulis's team will be like, they are the same all the time," said Ferguson.

"They will be 100% committed and they always get stuck in. You have to cope with that. "To be honest, I always enjoy it to. "It was like when we used to play Wimbledon. No-one used to look forward to playing against them but my team started to because it was a physical challenge and in terms of taking the ball and playing football.

"Stoke are a different team altogether but they still have the same qualities of never giving in, so it is always a good challenge for us." The weekend setback has placed even more emphasis on the next few weeks, when Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham must all be faced. With the Europa League - which United are competing for as a direct result of their Champions League failure - as the only other trophy they can win, focus on the domestic campaign has to be total. Three points behind Manchester City already, United cannot afford to slip any further adrift if they are to gain any advantage from their vast experience over the run-in.

"It is a big programme," said Ferguson. "From the middle of January until we go to Tottenham, it looked quite a daunting programme.

"But when you go back years ago in our title campaigns, we have always had periods of must win-games in a row and that is what we have here. "It is important to keep on City's coat-tails and hopefully come the important part of the season, we still are." Although Ashley Young, Tom Cleverley and Anderson are all inching closer to full fitness, it seems Nani may be out for a significant period with a foot injury. Wayne Rooney and Phil Jones are continuing to nurse ankle problems, so the main avenue of good news from the treatment table could come from Rio Ferdinand, who has returned to training after a back spasm, even if Ferguson felt unable to risk an appearance off the bench at Anfield. Yet again this season, United find themselves having to haul themselves off the floor, just as they did after that 6-1 hammering by Manchester City in October, and their shattering Champions League humiliation by Basel two months later.

And, speaking on Monday, defender Jonny Evans emphasised the kind of mentality that is being demanded of his players by Ferguson once more. "We responded really well after the 6-1 defeat against City and then the losses against Blackburn and Newcastle around the turn of the year," Evans told www.manutd.com. "We went on a great run after the City game and then after New Year we've beaten both City and Arsenal away. That's what this team does. "Every player knows what is expected. When you're at Manchester United you know defeats like that aren't acceptable. "We don't need anybody else to tell us that. We know it deep down."

Terry out of Swansea clash


John Terry was ruled out of Chelsea's Barclays Premier League game at Swansea in the week the court case begins into allegations he racially abused Anton Ferdinand.

Blues boss Andre Villas-Boas announced Terry would not travel to the Liberty Stadium after aggravating an injury to his right knee first suffered in this month's FA Cup win over Portsmouth.

The Swansea match takes place less than 24 hours before proceedings begin at Westminster Magistrates Court over whether Terry used a racist slur against QPR defender Ferdinand back in October, a charge he denies.

Chelsea insisted the decision not to risk Terry was purely on medical grounds after he played through the pain in Saturday's fourth-round cup win at Rangers, a match the defender was determined not to miss. Terry has been suffering with fluid in the knee since colliding with a post during the January 8 third-round victory against Pompey but is expected to be fit for Sunday's league clash with Manchester United. Villas-Boas told Chelsea TV: "It's just a bone oedema that he has been carrying for some time since he collided with a post, if I am not wrong against Portsmouth, and this stops him a little bit.

"It's nothing serious but something to keep an eye on. He has had an MRI before and he should be okay for Man United." Terry's absence will almost certainly see a debut for January signing Gary Cahill alongside David Luiz. Villas-Boas added: "We have a lot of positions covered, of course, because of our squad.

"We have Gary and David available and competing and hopefully we can make the right decision." Petr Cech looks certain to captain the side, with Villas-Boas confirming Frank Lampard was not quite ready to return from the calf problem that ruled him out on Saturday. He said: "Frank's rehabilitation is going well, we are trying to reintroduce him gradually to the first team activities. "Frank felt that it was still a little bit soon to come back and went on to work with the physios, so hopefully after Swansea we will get him ready for the Man United game."

Ramires is also out after damaging medial ligaments at Loftus Road and Villas-Boas was keeping his fingers crossed the dynamic Brazilian would be back in time for next month's Champions League trip to Napoli. "With what could have happened, it's just good news that he will be out for a short amount of time," he said. "Hopefully he will be available for the Napoli game, and hopefully before."

Terry's absence breaks up the centre-back partnership that has been together for the whole of the last seven matches. The Blues were beginning to reap the benefits of that stability, keeping four successive clean sheets for the first time this season. By not travelling to Swansea, Terry misses out on what would have been a welcome handshake from every member of the Swansea team, an honour he was denied at Loftus Road on Saturday. That could also be a problem before Sunday's match against United if Rio Ferdinand were to start at Stamford Bridge. Reports suggest Ferdinand is prepared to shake Terry's hand, something younger brother Anton was apparently not prepared to do this weekend. Chelsea have a chance to dent United's title bid on Sunday but, having declared his own side out of the championship equation, Villas-Boas is more interested in cutting the five-point gap to third-placed Tottenham, starting Tuesday.

"We are within a five-point margin of the third-placed team and five points more than Arsenal in fifth," he said. "For us, it's important to show our consistency in the away games." Meanwhile, Chelsea were on the brink of completing the signing of Kevin De Bruyne after the Genk midfielder underwent a medical. The 20-year-old was in London this morning to seal a reported £6.7million transfer on a five-and-a-half-year contract before being loaned back to the Belgian champions for the rest of the season.

Another possible target is Lille star Eden Hazard, who has confirmed he wants to join a Premier League club in the summer. Villas-Boas has admitted his interest in the 21-year-old but ruled out a January move for a player also linked with United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham, Barcelona and Real Madrid. Hazard told Canal+: "After thinking about it, I'm leaning towards England. "It's a style of play that suits me and it's there that you can learn the most. "Nothing has been decided yet. I want to play at a big club, but I don't want to sit on the bench. It needs to be a club that plays good football."

Walcott hopes for 'change of luck'


Theo Walcott hopes Arsenal's luck has finally changed as the Gunners aim to get their Barclays Premier League campaign back on track with victory over Bolton on Wednesday night.

Arsene Wenger's side were 2-0 down in their FA Cup fourth round tie against Aston Villa at Emirates Stadium yesterday heading into at half-time, with another shot at a long overdue trophy looking to have passed them by. However, a rousing second-half performance turned the tie around with a brace of penalties from captain Robin van Persie sandwiching a somewhat fortunate effort from the England winger as Arsenal secured a place in the last 16 against either Sunderland or Middlesbrough next month. Walcott, who scored after his goal-line cross was hacked against him by Alan Hutton and then into the net, feels Arsenal can head to Bolton confident of putting three straight league defeats behind them as they aim to close back on the top four.

"Hopefully something came out of us that we can turn into Premier League form, which hasn't been great lately. Hopefully our luck has changed now," he said. "It was a good thing that it was the FA Cup, it is totally different to the Premier League. We needed a slight break." Walcott continued: "We have a lot of regret from recent [league] games because we should have won them. "That was for the fans today - they have waited a long time for a great result and we gave them that." Walcott feels the FA Cup is a competition Arsenal - who have not lifted a trophy since 2005 - can go on to win in May, but warned against any premature dreams of Wembley.

The England forward, 22, said: "If we do start thinking a bit too far ahead, maybe we will be disappointed at the end of it. "However, this is a cup competition that we can win and we need to believe that we can. "But our priority is not that now, it is Wednesday's game. That's what everybody is like in the dressing room. "It was a great result for us but everyone will go home, put their feet up, recover and then travel and go again on Wednesday." "Bolton is going to be a tough game because they are coming off the back of a few good results, like against Liverpool."

Mancini worried by City's 'bad reputation'


Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini has claimed his side are being dubbed the new Wimbledon due to their growing disciplinary woes.

City have had five men sent off this season, including Gareth Barry and Vincent Kompany in successive games at the start of January. In addition, Mario Balotelli will serve the second match of a four-game suspension when he misses Tuesday night's Barclays Premier League trip to Everton after being found guilty of violent conduct when he lashed out at Scott Parker. It is not a great record. Yet Mancini's team are hardly the physical side it would make them appear to be. "We are a bad team," said Mancini. "Like Wimbledon."

The verdict was delivered with a rueful smile, as if the Italian could hardly believe it himself. "My players are good players," he said. "They never did a bad tackle on another player. This is not on our minds. "But that is why I have said we have been unlucky for the last two months." It is why it will be the middle of next month at the earliest before City play a game without someone being missing through suspension, a run that started for the FA Cup visit of Manchester United on January 8, which Barry sat out. As both Yaya and Kolo Toure have been away on African Nations Cup duty throughout that period, little wonder Mancini views it as the most significant time of the entire campaign.

And the fact a visit to Everton falls right in the middle merely adds to the concern. City have triumphed on just one of their last 13 visits to Goodison Park. Mancini has previously noted David Moyes tends to get a bit more out of his Toffeemen when his side are the opposition, although he finds it hard to believe the £22million departure of Joleon Lescott in 2009 is the cause. "Manchester City paid a lot of money for Lescott," he said. "We didn't take him for free. I don't think this would be a reason." Neither does Mancini believe there is any lingering resentment over his touchline fracas with Moyes at the Etihad Stadium in December 2010, the last time City lost on home soil in the Premier League.

"That is in the past," he said. "We have a good relationship with them. It is not a problem." Nevertheless, the return of Kompany to replace Stefan Savic is welcome, not least because of the youngster's travails in the last couple of games. "It is important to have Vincent back," he said. "He is a strong defender, who has improved a lot in the last two or three years. "He is a leader and our captain, one of the best defenders in Europe now and someone who can still improve a lot." However, Kompany will return with a warning from his manager.

Mancini made it perfectly plain at the time, and then through an unsuccessful appeal, that he did not believe his captain did much wrong when he attempted to tackle Nani during that fateful FA Cup tie. But he knows the punishment, which followed Sir Alex Ferguson's observation that Kompany frequently repeats those kinds of challenges, means officials will be keeping an eye out for any further transgressions. "It is difficult," said Mancini. "For us this tackle was a red card, for others a worse tackle was not a red card. "It is hard for us to understand. "I hope that Vinny can play all the games from now until the end but because of this, probably he should pay more attention."

Grp C: Niger v Morocco Preview


Both Niger and Morocco will be out to salvage some pride from their failed African Nations Cup campaigns when the two already-eliminated sides meet in Libreville.

Neither country has managed to pick up a point so far from their two Group C games having each lost to Gabon and Tunisia, and they can no longer claim a quarter-final berth. For former winners and 2004 runners-up Morocco especially the early exit is a huge disappointment, but coach Eric Gerets is hoping to end the tournament on a high - as well as use the match to help with future planning. "We will play for pride first. We don't want to leave without any positive results," said Gerets, who insisted following Friday's defeat to Gabon that he would not be resigning.

"It's also important for the future. A new era will begin. Everyone will be given a chance, so as to create more competition within the team. "We will take stock of what's happened and learn from our failure to be better prepared next time." He added at the press conference: "I understand the Moroccan public's disappointment, because there was so much hope in this team. But everyone needs to be aware that the disappointment also affects the players, staff and the Federation." Tournament debutants Niger will also be looking to bow out with a good performance, but midfielder William N'Gounou is confident their experiences over the last few weeks will stand them in good stead for the future.

"One year from now there's another Africa Nations Cup and I think we'll be ready for the next tournament," said N'Gounou, who scored his nation's first ever goal in the competition in Friday's 2-1 defeat to Tunisia. N'Gounou's eighth-minute strike cancelled out Youssef Msakni's early opener for Tunisia but it was not enough to earn his side a point as they conceded an injury-time winner to Issam Jemaa. "We were really close and we let it go," N'Gounou told BBC Sport . "It's sad but it's a lesson to learn for the next time. We'll be aware of our mistakes and try to do better."

Grp B: Sudan 2-1 Burkina Faso


Eltaib Mudather's brace saw Sudan complete the turnaround they required in African Nations Cup group B and reach the knockout stages.

The striker scored once in each half and Angola's 2-0 defeat to the Ivory Coast ensured Sudan progressed in second place behind the Elephants. Sudan went into the game needing to win and hope Angola lost - with at least a three-goal swing - if they were to qualify. But they lost Najem Abdullah to a serious injury in the early stages after a collision with Akram El Hadi as the goalkeeper dived to save at the feet of dangerman Jonathan Pitroipa. Omar Moseab took Najem's place.

Moumouni Dagano's header for Burkina Faso clipped the post and the Stallions captain then curled a free-kick over before again heading wide. Mohamed Tahir had Sudan's first serious effort with a free-kick after he was fouled by Djakaridja Kone, but his shot was deflected wide. But the 33rd minute brought double delight for the Falcons of Jediane as both they and the Ivory Coast took the lead almost simultaneously. As a sliding Emmanuel Eboue netted in Malabo, Mudather ran onto Ahmed Bashir's fine first-time pass and evaded a dreadful two-footed challenge from Hamadou Tall before finishing calmly to give his side the lead at the Estadio de Bata.

Burkina Faso could have been reduced to 10 men when Mady Panandetiguiri lunged in two-footed on Alaadine Yousif, but the defender escaped with a booking. Pitroipa missed a chance to equalise before half-time when he was played in by Dagano but finished weakly. Burkina Faso substitute Issiaka Ouedraogo missed a glorious chance to equalise in the 56th minute, just two minutes after his introduction, poking wide when through on Akram.

Dagano then headed the lively Ouedraogo's cross just wide from outside the penalty area and Sudan's Ahmed Khalifa was off target with an overly ambitious effort. Bony Wilfried's goal for the Ivorians swung the qualification race towards Sudan and back in Bata, an offside flag ruled out a Dagano header which would have changed the situation once more. Muhannad Tahir tried to make the result safe with a snap-shot which was tipped over by keeper Daouda Diakite. With 10 minutes remaining, though, Mudather did make it 2-0 via route one, racing onto Akram's long clearance and rounding Diakite to tap home. Ouedraogo grabbed a consolation goal, heading home Pitroipa's long ball deep into stoppage time, but it was not enough to deny Sudan their qualification.

Grp B: Ivory Coast 2-0 Angola


Emmanuel Eboue and Bony Wilfried scored the goals which saw Ivory Coast go through to a quarter-final meeting with hosts Equatorial Guinea after winning Group B.

The win also saw losers Angola go out of the competition as they finished with a worse goal difference than Sudan, who were 2-1 winners over Burkina Faso. Angola might have finished one goal worse off than Sudan but the gulf between them and Ivory Coast was easily greater than the 2-0 scoreline. Eboue gave Ivory Coast the lead when he slid in at the far post to score on the half hour and Wilfried doubled the advantage when he punished a mix-up in defence 30 minutes later. Max Gradel had the first effort for Ivory Coast after five minutes but shot straight at goalkeeper Alegre Wilson. Manucho was doing most of the attacking for Angola but saw Sol Bamba beat him to a loose ball as he threatened.

Wilfried then cut in from the left but Wilson turned his shot round the post, before Angola captain Andre Macanga sliced a shot badly wide during a rare attack. On the half hour Wilfried burst into the area and hit the ball low across goal. Miguel could only hold up the ball as he tried to clear and Eboue was on hand to open the scoring. Bamba got up well to head clear a free-kick early in the second half and then his keeper Daniel Yeboah was lucky to see his clearance rebound off the charging Manucho and go out for a goal kick. Ivory Coast extended their lead when Abdulkader Keita played a ball behind the Angola defence and when Alex Massunguna headed it past his own keeper Wilfried ran through to tap into an empty net.

Bamba headed wide from close range when Igor Lolo headed on Gradel's corner as Ivory Coast nearly added a third.

Grp B: Sudan vs Burkino Faso Preview


Sudan are nursing slim hopes of progressing from Group B as they prepare to face Burkino Faso in the African Nations Cup on Monday

Sudan scored their first goals in the competition in 36 years to come from behind twice and earn a 2-2 draw with Angola last time out - also collecting their first point since 1976.

The result means a victory, combined with an Angola defeat to Ivory Coast, could see Sudan sneak through as it would come down to goal difference. Sudan coach Mohamed Abdalla, who has vague memories of his country winning this tournament back in 1970 when he was 16, revealed after the Angola match that he had told his side to go for broke in the remaining games, as there was no way through without breaking their goal duck.

"I'm trying to minimise the small mistakes of our inexperienced defenders playing against high-quality strikers," he said. "I think we are improving. To survive in this competition you have to win, so we played more offensive." While Abdalla is trying to plot a course for survival in this tournament, his opposite number Paulo Duarte is battling for his job, having revealed a dispute with his paymasters at the Burkino Faso football federation.

The Portuguese coach saw the hopes of his side ended with a 2-0 defeat to Ivory Coast on Thursday, and then hit out at the way the federation had handled nationality issues, denying him the services of players like Cameroon-born Herve Zengue, Ivory Coast-born Stephane Agbre and Abdou Razak Traore - with the latter in the squad but still unable to play because of registration problems.

"If the federation don't change, I go," he told BBC Sport. "I don't know [whether I will carry on as coach]. I started this Nations Cup without starters because I had problems with passports and other things. "In professional football, this is not possible."

Grp B: Ivory Coast vs Angola Preview


Angola coach Lito Vidigal does not believe it will necessarily be good news for his side if Ivory Coast rest some of their star players for the final Group B clash in Malabo.

Tournament favourites Ivory Coast have already secured their berth in the quarter-finals after winning their opening two matches, but the other qualifying spot in the pool is up for grabs and Angola will be hoping they can secure it. The Palancas Negras are currently second on four points, three above Sudan, who face eliminated Burkina Faso in their final pool match. With a top-two spot already secured, Ivory Coast could ring the changes for the clash, but, according to Vidigal, that may not be the advantage it seems for Angola. As well as being more familiar with the Elephants' first-choice side, he said whoever is brought into the side "will want to show what they can do and prove to the coach that they can get into the first XI".

Vidigal added about the game in A Bola: "We will treat it like a final, playing to win. We depend only on ourselves to get through." Even if Angola slip up against Ivory Coast they could still go through if Burkina Faso prevent Sudan from winning in the other match. Ivory Coast only need a point to claim top spot in Group B but coach Francois Zahoui insists his side will be going out for all three no matter what their starting line-up looks like.

"Our goal is to finish first in the group, we want to keep our winning sequence going," he said. "Even if we make changes, we will do everything to win the game." Elephants striker Salomon Kalou scored the opening goal in his side's 2-0 win over Burkina Faso last time out but he limped out of the encounter in the second half with what looked like a hamstring injury.

Nevertheless, Zahoui has had positive news about the Chelsea striker's fitness. He said on www.ouest-france.fr: "The news is reassuring, we hope to have him available for the rest of the competition. We were afraid of a strain, but the x-rays have reassured us. He is a very important player in this African Nations Cup."

Grp A: E. Guinea 0-1 Zambia


Zambia defeated Africa Nations Cup co-hosts Equatorial Guinea to qualify ahead of them as Group A winners. Captain Christopher Katongo's second-half strike was the difference between the sides.

Equatorial Guinea were already assured of their place in the quarter-finals after winning their first two matches, but lost out on the chance of a favourable draw as they failed to get to grips with Herve Renard's side at the Estadio de Nuevo.

Zambia had the better of the chances but a stalemate looked likely until Katongo collected a throw-in on the left, dribbled the ball into the penalty area and beat Clementino Emmanuel Danilo at his near post with 67 minutes gone.

Katongo tried his luck early on with a 30-yard strike in the third minute, but it did not require Danilo to make the save. Zambia continued to press and Davis Nkausu found Emmanuel Mayuka on the six-yard line, though he somehow headed over. Equatorial Guinea were short of the attacking prowess they had shown in their previous matches and were stuggling to muster any serious attempts. Zambia's next opportunity came after 35 minutes when Rainford Kalaba jinked right and left on the edge of the area before laying the ball to Katongo, who took a touch past Daniel Evuy before seeing his shot saved smartly by Danilo. With five minutes left in the half Ivan Bolado registered the home side's first proper shot on target, but it did not worry Kennedy Mweene.

Just after the restart Zambia were lucky to win an indirect free-kick in the area. Kalaba teed up Hichani Himonde but his powerful shot was bravely charged down. Zambia were in control but lacked finesse in the final third, with Kalaba and Stophira Sunzu shooting wastefully. But with 23 minutes to play, Katongo produced his moment of quality, taking the ball from Joseph Musonda and driving into the danger area before finally defeating Danilo. A response did not seem likely and, one weak 25-yard strike from Viera Ellong aside, the local fans were given little to cheer.

Renard eyes Zambia final four spot


Zambia's coach Herve Renard has expressed his desire to qualify for the semi-finals in the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations.

The Zambian Copper Bullets were lifted to the top of the Group A table after beating co-hosts Equatorial Guinea 1-0 in Malabo in the final group stage match on Sunday. Renard has now sets his sights on progressing further in the tournament following the win which saw his side finish top of Group A ahead of Equatorial Guinea. "It wasn't a great match but the important thing was to get the points," the French coach was reported as saying by the AFP news agency. "The aim was to secure first place, as in 2010 when we finished in front of Cameroon. Here, we're ahead of the co-hosts, who were on cloud nine after beating Senegal." "Now it's imperative we get to the semi-finals for the first time since 1996."

Equatorial Guinea coach Gilson Paulo voiced out his disappointment on the loss, lamenting that the defeat will impact his team's progress in the tournament as they could face with favourites Côte d'Ivoire in the next round. "I'm disappointed because this loss has a bearing on the rest of the competition. But we are still not certain we'll be facing Côte d'Ivoire," the Brazilian said. Zambia are likely to encounter Angola or Sudan in the quarter-finals next Saturday.

Grp A: Libya 2-1 Senegal


A brace from Al Busaifi Ihaab was not enough to send Libya through to the knockout stages of the African Nations Cup.

Marcos Paqueta's men needed to win their Group A game and hope Equatorial Guinea would beat Zambia and, although Ihaab's double ensured they kept their side of the bargain, Zambia's 1-0 win ensured it was nothing more than a proud farewell for Libya. They and Senegal - who equalised on the night through Deme N'Diaye - are both now out, with much-fancied Senegal ending without picking up a single point. Knowing that they needed to first and foremost take care of their own result, Libya started well and got off to the perfect start, opening the scoring in the fifth minute.

A jinking run from Admed Saad created some space and, after he played a reverse pass, Ihaab was on hand to do the rest from just inside the area. The lead was shortlived, though, with N'Diaye getting ahead of his front-post marker to nod home Mamadou Niang's ninth-minute corner. Niang himself then blazed over from distance, with Jamal Mohamed doing the same at the other end, before Senegal's Souleymane Camara saw his close-range hit brilliantly kept out by Samir Abod. Camara was making a real nuisance of himself and his cross then found Pape Malickou Diakhate, but his header was well saved by Abod. That was the last meaningful action of the first half and the last real incident until the hour mark, which saw Ahmed Zuway's strike blocked by Kader Mangane as Libya hunted a second.

That could have come when Mohamed El Moghrabi's corner found Abdalah Al Sherif, only for him to miss the target, before Mangane got in the way of another Zuway effort. Newcastle-bound Papiss Cisse then swung a shot over the bar, before Ali Samala went close to scoring for Libya; his header being kept out by Khadim N'Diaye. A second Libyan goal did arrive, though, and when it did, with six minutes remaining, it was a memorable one. Zuway cushioned a long ball into the path of the onrushing Ihaab and he spectacularly volleyed it into the bottom corner. Cisse tried his best to get Senegal level for a second time just after, but time was not on their side as Libya held on.

Sengal coach resists calls to resign


Senegal coach Amara Traore is adamant that he will not resign, despite calls for him to do so after failing to qualify for the next round of the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations.

The already eliminated Lions suffered another blow with a 2-1 defeat to Libya in Sunday's final Group A encounter, finishing bottom of the table without any points. With three losses to their name during their short campaign, many people have begun to question the 46-year-old's methods and are calling for his departure. However, Traore insists he will not relinquish his coaching duties, stating his growing ambitions and next year's qualifying rounds for the following Africa Cup of Nations as the reasons.

"I won't resign, even if the responsibility rests with the manager. I began this project two years ago, the team can't be useless. I've got the strong desire to continue," the Senegal coach was reported as saying by the AFP news agency. "To call for the head of Amara or the (sports') minister doesn't achieve anything. As the 2013 (qualifying) Nations Cup approaches there are things to improve... but not by giving the team to a Mourinho, Capello or Ferguson."

Despite the win, Libya were unable to continue to the quarter-finals, finishing in third place with four points below Group A winners Zambia and runners-up Equatorial Guinea. Libyan coach Marcos Paqueta, however, hailed the win as an important reward to his team's hard work. "We didn't have any other choice but to take risks, and it worked. This is an important result for us after what's happened in Libya and the tough conditions endured," the 54-year-old admitted.

"Among the difficulties is the fact that most of the players haven't been attached to clubs, they've been through a war and there have been psychological consequences." "This (win) has crowned the efforts made since the start of the competition. I hope after their good performance here the players will be granted good conditions in Libya in the future."

Grp B: Sudan 2-2 Angola


Sudan twice fought back from a goal down against Angola to claim their first point of this year's African Nations Cup.

Mohamed Bashir's brace - Sudan's first goals in the tournament since 1976 - cancelled out two goals from in-form Angola striker Manucho as the spoils were shared in an entertaining Group B clash in Malabo. The result leaves Sudan with one point having lost their opening game to Ivory Coast 1-0 while Angola move onto four points having beaten Burkina Faso 2-1 in their first outing. Manucho scored a brilliant winner in that match and he needed just five minutes of Thursday's encounter to get back on the scoresheet following a bad defensive error by Najem Abdullah.

The Sudan centre-back allowed himself to be robbed by Manucho when he was last man and the former Manchester United man progressed into the area before drilling an unstoppable shot past Akram El Hadi just inside the far post. That was the ideal start for Angola but Sudan battled back and, after going close in the 17th minute when Muhannad Tahir's long-range drive drew a parry out of Carlos, they drew level in the 33rd minute through Bashir Eltaib Mudather curled in a fine cross from the right and Bashir climbed between Angola defenders Marcos Airosa and Francisco Zuela to send a glancing header inside the far post.

That ended Sudan's long wait for an African Nations Cup goal having failed to find the back of the net in 2008 - their only appearance in the finals since 1976. The 1970 winners almost found themselves trailing again four minutes later though when Djalma got in behind the Sudan defence and dinked the ball over El Hadi, but Saifeldin Ali managed to get back in time to clear the ball.

Sudan were not so fortunate four minutes into the second half, however, as Angola did manage to restore their lead from the penalty spot. Djalma was brought down by the outstretched leg of Hamid Nazar inside the area and Manucho fired the resulting penalty low past El Hadi. But once again Angola could not hang onto their lead as another defensive mistake led to Sudan drawing level in the 74th minute. Substitute Jose Vunguidica inexplicably chested down a Sudan cross inside his own area instead of trying to clear, and Bashir latched onto the loose ball to slam home his second goal of the game into the roof of the net.

Bashir had a chance to record his hat-trick three minutes later but his low shot was kicked behind at his near post by Alberto. Alberto then saved a low curling effort from Abd Alrahman at the second attempt as Sudan sought a winner. However, they could not find another breakthrough and Angola might have snatched the points themselves with an audacious effort from Manucho in the 87th minute, but his shot from halfway went over and the points were shared.

Grp B: Ivory Coast 2-0 Burkina Faso


Salomon Kalou's early goal helped Ivory Coast book their spot in the African Nations Cup quarter-finals and consign opponents Burkina Faso to an early exit.

The Chelsea striker opened the scoring after 16 minutes and a late own goal from Bakary Kone sealed the victory as the tournament favourites, having beaten Sudan in their opening match, guaranteed themselves a top-two finish in Group B. The loss signals the end of Burkina Faso's hopes, as they remain rooted to the foot of the standings having also lost 2-1 to Angola. Burkina Faso had their chances in a entertaining encounter in Malabo, with Beli Moumouni Dagano hitting the crossbar late on and Alain Traore a regular threat with his long-range thunderbolts, but Ivory Coast also had a raft of opportunities and they will hope their finishing improves in the latter rounds as they seek only their second Nations Cup title.

Burkina Faso felt they should have been awarded a sixth-minute penalty when Jonathan Pitroipa went down in the area following a challenge from Souleymane Bamba, but that was waved away and 10 minutes later they found themselves trailing. Didier Drogba sent over a cross from near the right corner flag which, after Yaya Toure had just failed to collect, found its way through to Kalou in the middle and he drilled home a sweetly-struck left-footed strike past Daouda Diakite.

Ivory Coast would have hoped that was the start of a comfortable night's work, but Burkina Faso proved no easy opponents and Traore twice went close with efforts from the edge of the box as they sought an equaliser. Ivory Coast almost doubled their lead on the stroke of half-time when Diakite did well to deny Drogba and Gervinho in quick succession, although the Arsenal man's effort would not have counted anyway due to offside.

Gervinho spurned a decent opening to increase his side's advantage at the start of the second half, before the left-footed Traore saw two good efforts saved by Boubacar Barry. Gervinho blazed an even better opportunity over when unmarked six yards out in the 60th minute and soon after he produced a good parry out of Diakite after bending a shot around a defender.

Kalou helped set Gervinho up for that chance but the Chelsea man suffered what appeared to be a hamstring injury in the build-up and he was replaced by Max Gradel soon after. Ivory Coast survived a huge let-off in the 72nd minute when Dagano got on the end of a superb deep cross from Charles Kabore before powering a header goalward, but fortunately for the Elephants the ball smashed against the crossbar and went over.

Dagano then saw another header comfortably saved by Barry before Ivory Coast sealed the win with an own goal in the 82nd minute. Arthur Boka launched a long ball forward into the Burkina Faso area and, as team-mates Kone and Mamadou Tall challenged for the ball without an Ivory Coast player involved, the former succeeded only in sending a looping header over Diakite and into his own net.

Grp C: Niger 1-2 Tunisia


Issam Jemaa struck a last-gasp winner to help Tunisia move a step closer to the African Nations Cup quarter-finals after beating Niger in Libreville.

Tunisia took a fourth-minute lead through the impressive Youssef Msakni but Niger equalised four minutes later in controversial fashion when William N'Gounou netted following a possible handball from his team-mate Ouwo Moussa Maazou.

Both teams created a host of chances after that, including each hitting the woodwork, but it was Tunisia who claimed the points when Jemaa netted in the 90th minute. The victory leaves Tunisia top of Group C with two wins from two, while Niger prop up the pool having also lost their first match to Gabon.

Niger's towering striker Maazou was rarely far from the action during the first half and, aside from his controversial role in his side's goal, he also missed three one-on-one opportunities. The first came inside the opening two minutes when he was let down by a heavy first touch and Tunisia goalkeeper Aymen Mathlouthi was able to gather. Two minutes after that, Niger found themselves trailing as Msakni netted a fine solo goal. Picking the ball up 40 yards from goal, the 21-year-old showed good footwork to twice evade challenges as he worked his way into the area before coolly side-footing past Kassaly Daouda.

Zouheir Dhaouadi went close to doubling Tunisia's lead soon after but, just as it seemed like the north Africa side were taking control, Niger drew level in contentious circumstances.

Maazou stuck up a hand as he challenged Mathlouthi for a bouncing ball in the Tunisia area and, although it was not clear whether he touched the ball or not, the action appeared to distract Mathlouthi as he dropped the ball, allowing N'Gounou to head it into an empty net. The Tunisia players were furious but the goal stood and Niger were back on level terms. That is the way the score stayed until half-time, although both countries had chances to add to the scoreline. The skilful Msakni curled over for Tunisia before Maazou missed his second one-on-one as he blazed high and wide going for the near top corner after latching onto a superb through-ball.

Maazou's third clear opportunity arrived in the 30th minute when the 23-year-old showed blistering pace to burst through the Tunisia defence, but he was again unable to finish with only Mathlouthi to beat as he side-footed wide of the far post.

Niger were giving the Tunisia defence a torrid time and in the 34th minute Boubacar Issoufou struck the outside of the post with a low shot from the edge of the area, while on the stroke of half-time Maazou felt he should have been awarded a penalty following a challenge by Karim Haggui. The second half continued to produce plenty of attacking football and Msakni curled another good opening wide before Tunisia struck the post themselves through Aymen Abdennour in the 64th minute.

Both sides pushed for a late winner, but after Issoufou and Maazou had failed to make the most of their chances for Niger, it was Tunisia who took the points thanks to Jemaa, who cut inside Chikoto Mohamed before drilling a shot past Daouda. There was still time after that for Tunisia to hit the underside of the bar through Oussama Darragi, but they had already done enough to claim the win.

Grp C: Gabon 3-2 Morocco


Substitute Bruno Zita Mbanangoye netted a brilliant last-minute free-kick to earn African Cup of Nations co-hosts Gabon a stunning victory over Morocco.

In a frantic finale, Gabon had looked to have claimed the win as two goals in three minutes late on through Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Daniel Cousin saw them overturn a first-half deficit to lead 2-1 heading into injury time. However, Morocco captain Houssine Kharja, who had earlier given his side a 24th-minute advantage, coolly rolled home a 90th-minute penalty to level up the scores and seemingly earn his side a vital draw. There was still one late twist though as deep into stoppage time Gabon earned a free-kick to the left of the area and Mbanangoye stepped up to curl a superb effort inside the near top corner and send the home fans wild at the Stade de Angondje in Libreville. The result means Gabon and Tunisia - who beat Niger 2-1 earlier on Friday - are through to the last eight after winning both of their Group C matches so far, while Morocco and Niger bid an early farewell.

Morocco saw an early chance sliced wide by defender Michael Chretien but they took the lead soon after when Kharja picked up a good pass from Younes Belhanda on the edge of the area, turned inside his marker and drilled a low shot into the corner. That goal separated the teams at the break but Gabon came close to an equaliser almost immediately after the interval when half-time replacement Cousin saw his effort parried by Nadir Lamyaghri.

Try as they might though it was beginning to look as though Gabon would end up empty-handed, until 13 minutes from time they drew level through Aubameyang. The St Etienne striker, who scored one and set up the other in Gabon's 2-0 win over Niger on Monday, slammed home an unstoppable volley from the near the penalty spot after Morocco defender Jamal Alioui had been unable to get any distance on a clearing header.

That sparked scenes of joy in the stands but it was to get better for the hosts two minutes later as they took the lead. Aubameyang turned provider with a pass inside to Cousin, whose turn on the spot wrong-footed marker Mehdi Benatia and allowed him the space to drill a low left-foot past stranded goalkeeper Lamyaghri. Levy Madinda had a great chance to kill the game off for Gabon in the 85th minute but he blazed over from 10 yards out, and it looked as though that miss would prove costly as Morocco drew level in the 90th minute from the penalty spot.

With his side facing elimination, Kharja showed remarkable composure in the circumstances to slot home his spot-kick after Belhanda's shot struck the hand of Charly Moussono in front of goal. However, that goal proved irrelevant moments later as Mbanangoye, an 84th-minute replacement, netted his brilliant free-kick to seal the win for Gabon.

Football - Africa Cup of Nations - Standings



Stevanovic lauds Ghana's maiden win


Ghana coach Goran Stevanovic was a relieved man after watching his side eke out a 1-0 victory against Botswana in their African Cup of Nations opener.

Lyon defender John Mensah netted the winner with his knee after 25 minutes, but the player then turned from hero to villain as he was sent off for a professional foul on Jerome Ramathlakwane.

But tournament favourites Ghana hung on for the three points to get their African Cup of Nations campaign off to a solid start. "We controlled the game until the red card for Mensah," Ghana coach Goran Stevanovic was reported as saying by the AFP news agency. "We created some chances but they closed down the game with 10 men behind the ball."

"All the same, it was very important that we won our first game of a tournament that has already produced some surprises." Botswana coach Stanley Tshosane was philosophical in his side's reverse to the Black Stars, adding that his charges were inexperienced in knowing how to approach Ghana despite their numerical advantage.

"I'm not happy with the result but with the performance especially in the second half," said Tshosane. "We were cautious at the beginning because we have never played Ghana before at this level and so we preferred to study how they play."

Grp A: Libya 2-2 Zambia


Libya and Zambia were made to work hard to take a point apiece from Wednesday's rain-affected African Nations Cup Group A encounter in Bata.

In a match contested on heavily waterlogged pitch after earlier rain put the fixture in doubt, Libya twice went ahead through Ahmed Saad but Zambia secured a share of the spoils thanks to goals by Emmanuel Mayuka and Christopher Katongo. The result leaves Zambia on four points following their victory over Senegal in their opening match, while Libya are off the mark after losing their first fixture 1-0 against co-hosts Equatorial Guinea.

The match got under way 75 minutes late after a heavy downpour arrived shortly before the scheduled kick-off time. The rain left the pitch at the Estadio de Bata severely waterlogged and caused flooding in the players' tunnel, but after the weather abated during the delay the match was given the green light. The decision was nevertheless a risky one, with the surface in danger of cutting up ahead of the day's second Group A match between Equatorial Guinea and Senegal at the same stadium.

The early exchanges indicated that the match was in danger of descending into chaos, the ball holding up in the many puddles dotted around the playing surface. One zone in particular - just in front of the penalty area defended by Libya in the first half - was heavily sodden and the players did well to put on any kind of a show in the opening period.

Certainly the two goals that graced the first 45 minutes were worthy of far better conditions. Libya's opener after five minutes was a fine effort. Walid El Khatroushi's through ball was perfectly weighted despite the conditions and Saad showed good composure to open his body and curl a right-footed effort around the goalkeeper.

Zambia's equaliser after 29 minutes was similarly easy on the eye, Rainford Kalaba lofting the ball invitingly into the area for Mayuka, who watched the ball over his left shoulder before connecting smartly on the volley to register his second goal of the tournament. Two minutes into the second period Libya restored their lead through Saad.

El Khatroushi's cross into the middle was missed by two Zambian defenders, and when the ball fell to Saad the striker took two touches to set himself before firing in confidently off the upright.

But again Libya failed to hold on to their lead as Zambia hit back in style. This time it was the athleticism of Isaac Chansa that set up the opening as his overhead kick fell perfectly for Christopher Katongo, who headed in at the far post. Christopher Katongo might have won it for Zambia late on when substitute Felix Katongo made inroads down the right before crossing for his namesake, but the ball was slightly behind the Zambia captain and the last clear-cut chance of the match went begging.

Grp A: Equatorial Guinea 2-1 Senegal


David Kily's stunning stoppage-time strike sent co-hosts Equatorial Guinea into the quarter-finals of the African Nations Cup.

Kily struck a long-range effort deep into time added on after Moussa Sow's 89th-minute strike for Senegal had cancelled out Randy's opener after 62 minutes. The winning goal sparked emotional scenes at the final whistle, with the result far beyond the expectations of the players or their fans at the Estadio de Bata. Laurence Doe saw red for Equatorial Guinea in the seventh minute of stoppage time after picking up a second booking for apparent time-wasting, but he will only miss his side's final group game, now little more than a dead rubber.

Despite a miserable recent history at this tournament, Senegal came into this year's edition as one of the favourites for the title, but a second defeat in as many games has delivered a terminal blow to their chances, with Amara Traore's men now unable to qualify from Group A in their final game. Victory for Equatorial Guinea came hot on the heels of their 1-0 win over Libya and leaves them leading the way in the group ahead of their final outing against Zambia, who sit second on four points after a 2-2 draw with Libya earlier today.

The match was played in tricky conditions after the pitch at the Estadio de Bata was saturated earlier today in a heavy downpour ahead of the Libya-Zambia match. The weather forced the kick off the early to be pushed back by 75 minutes, and the same delay was applied to the evening's late kick off, when conditions were much drier but still problematic enough to prevent a free-flowing encounter.

The conditions no doubt played a part in a forgettable opening 45 minutes which produced little in the way of presentable chances, but the game opened up after the break, with Guinea's Thierry Fidjeu and Senegal's Papiss Cisse trading shots in the minute after the restart. Narcisse Ekanga headed over for the co-hosts on 58 minutes as the game continued to open up, and the first goal duly arrived after 62 minutes. Kily was the architect, his precise cross from the right met by Randy with a firm header from six yards.

Mamadou Niang and Sow went close to pulling Senegal level inside the final 15 minutes, but they had to wait until the 89th minute to get back on level terms, Niang teeing up Sow, who fired home emphatically from close range to seemingly keep Senegal's hopes in the tournament alive. But there was sting in the tail to come, and it arrived four minutes into stoppage time when Javier Balboa picked out Kily from the left channel, and the defender unleashed an unstoppable drive from 25 yards to sent his side through to the last eight in the most dramatic of circumstances. There was still time for Doe to see red for Guinea late on, but even that could not dampen the scenes of jubilation both on the pitch and in the stands

Grp C: Gabon vs Morocco Preview


Morocco captain Houssine Kharja has vowed his side will learn from the early exit of Senegal as they head into Friday's crunch African Nations Cup game against co-hosts Gabon.

Eric Gerets' side lost their Group C opener 2-1 to Tunisia and face elimination if Friday's results go against them. Having seen Senegal, one of the pre-tournament favourites, crash out after losing to Zambia and then, on Wednesady, co-hosts Equatorial Guinea, Kharja believes his side have been warned.

He told the Moroccan federation's website, www.frmf.ma: "We were very disappointed to have lost the game against Tunisia but I can assure you that the group is really motivated to win against Gabon because we want to honour the Moroccan public that expects a lot from us and we do not want not disappoint them. "The elimination of Senegal yesterday [Wednesday] showed us all the errors that should not be committed against Gabon tomorrow [Friday]. "But the group was always united, and we are more determined than ever to get through the first round."

A report on the federation's website stated reserve goalkeeper Issam Badda was suffering from a form of malaria and Marouane Chamakh had a stomach upset. But coach Gerets said midfielder Oussama Assaidi, who has an ankle injury, was his only doubt for Friday's game. He added: "The players were in good spirits yesterday [Wednesday] in training and they dearly want to redeem themselves and prove that we deserve much better than losing to Tunisia."

Gabon captured the imagination with their opening 2-0 defeat of Niger, so much so that the country's president, Ali Bongo Ondimba, "congratulated the players and danced with them" in the dressing room afterwards, according to coach Gernot Rohr. And Rohr is hoping that euphoria will lift them against Morocco. He told www.fifa.com: "They have wonderful players in their team that play in big leagues, and we don't have that. "But we have confidence now, and I think my team has a very, very big motivation to win this game even against the big players."

Grp B:Sudan 2-2 Angola


Sudan twice fought back from a goal down against Angola to claim their first point of this year's African Nations Cup.

Mohamed Bashir's brace - Sudan's first goals in the tournament since 1976 - cancelled out two goals from in-form Angola striker Manucho as the spoils were shared in an entertaining Group B clash in Malabo.

The result leaves Sudan with one point having lost their opening game to Ivory Coast 1-0 while Angola move onto four points having beaten Burkina Faso 2-1 in their first outing. Manucho scored a brilliant winner in that match and he needed just five minutes of Thursday's encounter to get back on the scoresheet following a bad defensive error by Najem Abdullah.

The Sudan centre-back allowed himself to be robbed by Manucho when he was last man and the former Manchester United man progressed into the area before drilling an unstoppable shot past Akram El Hadi just inside the far post.

That was the ideal start for Angola but Sudan battled back and, after going close in the 17th minute when Muhannad Tahir's long-range drive drew a parry out of Carlos, they drew level in the 33rd minute through Bashir Eltaib Mudather curled in a fine cross from the right and Bashir climbed between Angola defenders Marcos Airosa and Francisco Zuela to send a glancing header inside the far post.

That ended Sudan's long wait for an African Nations Cup goal having failed to find the back of the net in 2008 - their only appearance in the finals since 1976. The 1970 winners almost found themselves trailing again four minutes later though when Djalma got in behind the Sudan defence and dinked the ball over El Hadi, but Saifeldin Ali managed to get back in time to clear the ball.

Sudan were not so fortunate four minutes into the second half, however, as Angola did manage to restore their lead from the penalty spot. Djalma was brought down by the outstretched leg of Hamid Nazar inside the area and Manucho fired the resulting penalty low past El Hadi. But once again Angola could not hang onto their lead as another defensive mistake led to Sudan drawing level in the 74th minute. Substitute Jose Vunguidica inexplicably chested down a Sudan cross inside his own area instead of trying to clear, and Bashir latched onto the loose ball to slam home his second goal of the game into the roof of the net.

Bashir had a chance to record his hat-trick three minutes later but his low shot was kicked behind at his near post by Alberto. Alberto then saved a low curling effort from Abd Alrahman at the second attempt as Sudan sought a winner. However, they could not find another breakthrough and Angola might have snatched the points themselves with an audacious effort from Manucho in the 87th minute, but his shot from halfway went over and the points were shared.

Grp B: Ivory Coast 2-0 Burkina Faso


Salomon Kalou's early goal helped Ivory Coast book their spot in the African Nations Cup quarter-finals and consign opponents Burkina Faso to an early exit.

The Chelsea striker opened the scoring after 16 minutes and a late own goal from Bakary Kone sealed the victory as the tournament favourites, having beaten Sudan in their opening match, guaranteed themselves a top-two finish in Group B.

The loss signals the end of Burkina Faso's hopes, as they remain rooted to the foot of the standings having also lost 2-1 to Angola. Burkina Faso had their chances in a entertaining encounter in Malabo, with Beli Moumouni Dagano hitting the crossbar late on and Alain Traore a regular threat with his long-range thunderbolts, but Ivory Coast also had a raft of opportunities and they will hope their finishing improves in the latter rounds as they seek only their second Nations Cup title.

Burkina Faso felt they should have been awarded a sixth-minute penalty when Jonathan Pitroipa went down in the area following a challenge from Souleymane Bamba, but that was waved away and 10 minutes later they found themselves trailing.

Didier Drogba sent over a cross from near the right corner flag which, after Yaya Toure had just failed to collect, found its way through to Kalou in the middle and he drilled home a sweetly-struck left-footed strike past Daouda Diakite. Ivory Coast would have hoped that was the start of a comfortable night's work, but Burkina Faso proved no easy opponents and Traore twice went close with efforts from the edge of the box as they sought an equaliser.

Ivory Coast almost doubled their lead on the stroke of half-time when Diakite did well to deny Drogba and Gervinho in quick succession, although the Arsenal man's effort would not have counted anyway due to offside.

Gervinho spurned a decent opening to increase his side's advantage at the start of the second half, before the left-footed Traore saw two good efforts saved by Boubacar Barry.

Gervinho blazed an even better opportunity over when unmarked six yards out in the 60th minute and soon after he produced a good parry out of Diakite after bending a shot around a defender. Kalou helped set Gervinho up for that chance but the Chelsea man suffered what appeared to be a hamstring injury in the build-up and he was replaced by Max Gradel soon after.

Ivory Coast survived a huge let-off in the 72nd minute when Dagano got on the end of a superb deep cross from Charles Kabore before powering a header goalward, but fortunately for the Elephants the ball smashed against the crossbar and went over.

Dagano then saw another header comfortably saved by Barry before Ivory Coast sealed the win with an own goal in the 82nd minute. Arthur Boka launched a long ball forward into the Burkina Faso area and, as team-mates Kone and Mamadou Tall challenged for the ball without an Ivory Coast player involved, the former succeeded only in sending a looping header over Diakite and into his own net.

Group C: Morocco 1-2 Tunisia


A freak goal from Khaled Korbi set up Tunisia to make an ideal start to their African Cup of Nations campaign. The midfielder's intended cross put the Tunisians ahead before half-time, and Youssef Msakni extended their lead in the Group C clash.

Houssine Kharja scored to make for a tense finish in Libreville, but Morocco could not find a leveller. Tunisia beat Morocco in the 2004 final and again had the measure of their north African opponents.

They threatened first in the eighth minute when Nadir Lamyaghri had to tip away a shot from Karim Haggui. Arsenal striker Marouane Chamakh had Morocco's first chance when he ran clear but sent his shot straight at Aymen Mathlouthi.

Tunisia then went close to a breakthrough in the 25th minute as Zouheir Dhaouadi cracked a left-footed shot from 25 yards against the left post. They did go in front after 34 minutes after a free-kick was awarded on the left flank for a dangerous challenge on Dhaouadi by Mehdi Benatia.

Forty yards out from goal, Korbi floated the ball across and one bounce later it nestled in the bottom right corner. Saber Khelifa looked to be claiming a touch, but replays indicated the ball whistled over his head.

Tunisia could have gone 2-0 up but Lamyaghri raced 35 yards from his goal to intercept a through-ball to Khelifa.

Morocco brought Adel Taarabt on for the second half, having surprisingly started with the QPR playmaker on the bench. Youssouf Hadji should have brought Morocco level in the 65th minute when he took down a long pass with supreme skill. On his left foot, slightly to the right of goal, Hadji aimed for the far corner on the half-volley but curled his finish wide. It was a rushed effort and a costly one. Tunisia doubled their lead in the 76th minute when a winding run from Youssef Msakni saw the substitute skip past Ahmed Kantari and Badr El Kaddouri before rifling a shot into the bottom left corner via the shins of Morocco defender Mehdi Benatia.

Kantari helped Morocco back into the game in the 86th minute when, from what seemed an offside position, he headed the ball down for Houssine Kharja to drive into the net.

Passions spilled over into some unnecessary jostling which led to a booking for Ammar Jemal.

Kharja, with some clever footwork, engineered an opening for himself in stoppage time, but his shot went a foot too high.

Group D: Mali 1-0 Guinea


A powerful strike from Bakaye Traore was enough to hand Mali an opening win over rivals Guinea in Group D of the African Cup of Nations.

Bakaye Traore blasted the ball home from the edge of the area, with the help of a deflection, on the half-hour mark, and they held out against some frantic attacks from Guinea to claim the points.

It was perhaps harsh on Guinea, who occasionally looked second best in terms of class but were rarely short of endeavour. Indeed, it was Guinea who got off to the better start, with Ibrahima Traore testing Soumaila Diakite just seconds into the game and bringing a fine save out of the Mali goalkeeper.

Ibrahima Traore then turned provider, whipping in a cross which Alhassana Bangoura headed back across goal, forcing another good save. Guinea had the ball in the net not long after, but the whistle had gone long before Kamil Zayatte's header struck the crossbar or Jean Habib Balde tucked in the rebound.

Barcelona's Seydou Keita, who shook off ankle and knee injuries to take his place in the Mali side, sent a free-kick straight into the wall from a good position before Guinea resumed their attacks with Alhassana Bangoura using electrifying pace down the right before shooting into the side netting.

But despite Guinea's attacks, Mali were controlling possession and they made it pay on the half-hour mark as Modibo Maiga cut in from the right and the ball came out to Bakaye Traore, who lashed it home and, with the help of a looping deflection, beyond the reach of Naby Yattara.

Guinea looked to respond as Ismael Bangoura ran down the right and cut in, only to have his shot charged down by the quickly-advancing Diakite. Ibrahima Diallo was then harshly booked for diving, having been fouled by Mahamadou N'diaye on the edge of the box but then overdoing it as he leapt into the penalty area seeking a spot-kick.

The start of the second half was dismal fare in long stretches, with no sight on goal until the 65th minute, when Razzagui Camara whipped in a wonderful cross which just eluded the oncoming Ousmane Barry. At the other end, Garra Dembele raced clean through on goal but Yattara raced out and made a well-timed tackle, albeit with two feet, to dispossess him. Guinea desperately pushed forward late on but failed to threaten Diakite's goal.