West Bromwich Albion defender Semi Ajayi admitted his confidence has received a boost after helping Nigeria secure a 1-1 draw against Brazil last Sunday.
The 25-year-old was handed a starting role in the encounter, partnering William Troost-Ekong at the heart of the Super Eagles defence.
The former Rotherham United defender shone in the game, keeping the star-studded attack of the South Americans at bay to help the West Africans secure a famous draw against the five-time world champions.
Ajayi, who returned to West Brom on Tuesday after the international break, is looking to carry on with the impressive showing for the Baggies.
“I’m feeling really good. The Brazil game went really well. I’ve given myself a lot of confidence coming up against the big stars. Hopefully, I can carry that form into our league game on the weekend,” Ajayi told the club website.
“You want to play against the best players and test yourself. If you can come out of that with a good performance and a good result then that is even better so the trip went really well.
“I don’t really focus on their names, it is more about what they do on the pitch. I felt like myself and my team-mates dealt with their threats really well and it is something we can take a lot of pride from.”
Ajayi has quickly settled in at the Hawthorns since his summer switch from Rotherham United, becoming a key member of Slaven Bilic’s squad.
The utility defender has made 12 appearances for the Baggies and capped his fine defensive displays with two goals which helped his side climb to the summit of the Championship log.
“It’s a joy to be involved in. Everyone is on the same page, the manager has got us singing off the same hymn sheet. He is very detailed in the way he tells us how he wants us to play and everyone has taken it on board and it has been a joy to be a part of and to watch. Some of the forward play at times has been breathtaking,” he continued.
“I’ve been over the moon to come straight into the team and settle in. The lads have welcomed me really well and the fact that the team has been winning as well has made it even easier for me to settle. It’s been a really, really positive environment for me to come into and long may it continue.
“I’ve been happy with how I have played. There is still definitely more to come from me. The start has been really good and I just need to kick on now.
“Slaven talks to me daily, he is always giving me pointers on how I can improve or little bits of information that he thinks could help me that I may not have seen. I am always picking his brains for things I can learn. He has been really, really good with me.
“I’ve been going into every game thinking we are going to win, no matter who we play against. A big part of that is down to the form we have shown here. We have been nearly faultless. We have got one defeat and even that defeat we played really, really well.
“The fact that the performances have been really good and consistent is giving me the confidence to know that when I step on the pitch it is likely that we are going to continue.
“As they say the league table doesn’t lie. After 11 games, almost a quarter of a way through the season now, the fact that we are where we are can only be on merit and it’s important that we don’t get too carried away now.
“We just need to take every game one by one and make sure we keep the levels that we have already achieved so far.”
Ajayi will hope to maintain his form for West Brom when they take on Middlesbrough today.
Iheanacho Architect of His Downwards in Career-Ekpo
Leicester City forward Kelechi Iheanacho has come under severe attacks from retired midfield maestro and former Nigeria international Friday Ekpo for being the ‘architect’ of the problems militating against his career.
Iheanacho, 23, has seen his stocks fallen drastically after going from being one of the world’s most highly rated talents following his remarkable triumph with the Golden Eaglets squad that won the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup to languishing on the Foxes bench.
The former Manchester City attacker missed Nigeria’s bronze-winning party to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations tournament and has not featured for even a single minute for Brendan Rodgers’ side in the Premier League this season.
Ekpo however believes that several suitors would have been willing to take on Iheanacho and guarantee him regular playing time but his insistence on staying at Leicester City could only have been influenced by his love for money.
“Iheanacho is still young but age is gradually catching up on him. He needs a club where he would be playing regularly,” Friday Ekpo was quoted by Brila as monitored by Soccernet.ng.
“To me Iheanacho is the architect of his misfortune. He should be more interested in playing the game than chasing after mega bucks.
“If he moves to Besiktas, his value would drop and he is not going to the club to grab automatic shirt.
“He is still going to fight for regular place because Besiktas is not a small club in Turkey,” Ekpo said.
10th Korean Ambassador’s Taekwondo Championship Ends in Style
The 10th edition of the Korean Ambassador Championship which kicks off on October 17, at the Molade Okoya-Thomas Hall of Teslim Balogun Stadium in Lagos State, came to a close on Friday.
Several prizes including gifts of equipment were won by medallists, with the star prize of new flat television screens dished out to the best male and female athlete.
In his remarks, Ambassador Lee In-tae of the Embassy of the Republic of Korea said one of the reasons his country is promoting Taekwondo in Nigeria is to promote the Korean culture in Nigeria and helped the country developed its athletes.
“The Ambassador’s Championship is part of our efforts to promote Taekwondo in Nigeria and to help Nigerian athletes to improve their skills so that they can compete on the global stage,” Lee In-tae said.
With the Tokyo Olympics just around the corner, the Ambassador said the experience garnered from the championship would help beat other competitors in Tokyo and become Olympic medalists.
“Taekwondo has helped strengthened the mutual relationship between Korea and Nigeria.
As more Nigerians practice Taekwaondo, they are eager to study the Korean culture,” he noted.
Lee In-tae concluded by thanking the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports development, and the Nigeria Taekwondo Federation for making the championship possible.
Fears over Civil Unrest Force Postponment of Barcelona, Madrid Clash
This month’s El Clasico between Barcelona and Real Madrid has been postponed because of fears of civil unrest.
The match was scheduled for 26 October but there have been days of protest in Barcelona after nine Catalan separatist leaders were jailed on Monday.
Both Barcelona and Real Madrid disagreed with calls to switch the game to Madrid.
The clubs have proposed Wednesday, 18 December as a new date.
Manager Ernesto Valverde had said Barcelona were against switching the game to Madrid as they visit Slavia Prague in the Champions League on 23 October, three days before El Clasico had been scheduled.
And on Friday the club issued a statement saying their “desire” was to play the match as originally scheduled because they had the “utmost confidence” in the fans who they say “always express themselves in exemplary fashion” at the ground.
Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane was asked about the postponement in a news conference on Friday and said “we will be ready to play on the date told by the right person”.
“We will adapt to what we are asked,” he added
La Liga made the postponement request because of “exceptional circumstances beyond our control” as more protests are expected in Barcelona on the day of the match.
Protests have continued into a fifth day in Spain’s Catalonia region with protesters clashing with riot police.
Hundreds of thousands of people waving pro-independence flags and chanting “freedom for political prisoners” took part in marches across Catalonia on Friday. At least 96 people have been hurt across the region.
Catalonia is a semi-autonomous region in north-east Spain and in a referendum on 1 October 2017, declared illegal by Spain’s Constitutional Court, about 90 per cent of Catalan votes cast backed independence. Turnout was 43 per cent.
The nine separatist leaders were convicted of sedition over their role in the referendum and handed jail sentences of between nine and 13 years by Spain’s Supreme Court.
Chisora to Partner Joshua Ahead of Ruiz Jr’s Rematch
nthony Joshua and Derek Chisora will lock horns in sparring as they both prepare for high-stakes heavyweight fights.
Next Saturday Chisora meets David Price while Joshua aims to avenge defeat to Andy Ruiz Jr in a rematch on December 7.
Joshua criticised sparring partners for leaking “false allegations” in the build-up to his first fight with Ruiz Jr so has set about identifying a higher quality of boxer to help him get ready for the rematch.
“He’s sparring Chisora. That is great sparring for both,” promoter Eddie Hearn told Sky Sports.
“The difference in this camp is the quality of sparring – replicating Ruiz Jr’s style. It is a unique style and not many people can do it.
“I’ve seen pictures of Ruiz Jr – he looks lighter but I don’t know if they were photo-shopped!
“There are plenty of hard rounds of sparring to go but AJ is a good place, he’s just turned 30.”
Joshua and Chisora both came through the same Finchley amateur gym but are not regular sparring partners.
Chisora revealed plans to spar last week, and his manager David Haye explained: “For both of their respective fights, they are ideal sparring partners for each other.
“If any heavyweight can mimic Ruiz Jr’s pressure, it is Derek. If anyone can mimic Price’s long-range jab, it is AJ.”
Joshua “struggled” to prepare with sparring partners that replicated Ruiz Jr before the first fight because his then-challenger came in as a replacement for Jarrell Miller.
“First time around we only had four weeks, and three weeks of sparring,” Hearn previously said. “We found guys but probably not the guys we really wanted.”
Joshua denied rumours that he was hurt in sparring prior to the first fight with Ruiz Jr.
He told AJ: The Untold Truth: “You bring someone into your training camp to do them a favour, you’re paying them, nothing like [the knock-down rumour] in that nature has happened, you beat them up in every round, then they go and do an interview.
“It just happens all the time in boxing, there is just a lot of envy.”
American Timothy Moten, unbeaten in five fights, has also sparred Joshua during camp for the rematch with Ruiz Jr.
Bulgaria Coach Balakov Resigns Following Racist Chants
Bulgaria coach Krasimir Balakov has resigned four days after England’s Euro 2020 qualifying win was overshadowed by racism from home supporters.
Monday’s match in Sofia was stopped twice because of racist abuse directed at England’s black players. However, after the match Balakov, 53, said he “didn’t hear anything”.
“I am no longer national team coach,” Balakov told Bulgarian media after a meeting of the Bulgarian Football Union on Friday.
According to reports from Bulgaria, the whole board of the Bulgarian Football Union, including president Borislav Mikhailov, has resigned.
“The performance of Bulgaria’s men’s national team in recent months has been described as unsatisfactory, which is why Krasimir Balakov resigned,” a statement from the organisation said. Bulgarian authorities have so far identified 16 suspects and made 12 arrests following the England game.
Four supporters received fines and two-year bans on Thursday, with others remaining under investigation. “I wish success to the next coach, the situation is not rosy at the moment,” said Balakov.
“I have never been a coach in such an atmosphere.
“I tried to pick up the players in the locker room. There was no rebellion. “The players were so mentally stressed by what was happening on the pitch that they lacked the energy to rebel.”
Balakov said on Monday night: “I was concentrated on the game.
“I didn’t actually hear anything but I just talked to the English press downstairs and I told them that if this is proven to be true, then we have to be ashamed and we have to apologise for it.
“But, once again, first it has to be proven to be true.”