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Five revelations of the Spanish football season

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MADRID, Spain, Jul 20Real Madrid’s 34th La Liga title owed much to their old guard but Spanish football has witnessed a number of new players exploding onto the scene.

Here, AFP Sport takes a look at five revelations to come out of the season.

1. Martin Odegaard, Real Sociedad

Real Sociedad’s Norwegian midfielder Martin Odegaard © AFP/File / ANDER GILLENEA

Real Sociedad have had many success stories this season, with Alexander Isak, Mikel Merino and Mikel Oyarzabal all helping to put them within sight of the top four.

But Odegaard was the architect of their surge, delivering performances of such consistent quality that many believed Real Madrid might recall him early from his two-year loan.

Four goals and five assists hardly does justice to the 21-year-old’s contribution. When Real Sociedad were playing well, he was at the heart of everything and it was no coincidence their late dip coincided with Odegaard’s suffering from tendinitis.

Half a decade after Madrid made him a world sensation aged 16, Odegaard is coming good.

2. Lucas Ocampos, Sevilla

Sevilla’s Argentinian midfielder Lucas Ocampos © AFP/File / CRISTINA QUICLER

After hopping around five clubs in seven years, Ocampos appears finally to have found his feet.

The 25-year-old is not only Sevilla’s top scorer, he is in the top five in La Liga, with 14 goals in 32 games.

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Sevilla signed Ocampos from Marseille and they got a gem because Ocampos has been one of the players of the season, with his running, power, and energy helping Sevilla secure a place in the top four.

With a thundering shot and a feisty attitude, the Argentinian has been a fans’ favourite from the start.

Ocampos has already been linked with another move but with Sevilla in the Champions League, he might finally decide to stay put.

3. Fede Valverde, Real Madrid

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Real Madrid’s Uruguayan midfielder Federico Valverde © AFP/File / JAVIER SORIANO

Valverde was quieter after the three-month break seemingly took the edge off his fitness but he was the catalyst for Madrid’s recovery early in the season and a pivotal run in the middle.

That 21-match unbeaten streak put Madrid in contention for the title when Valverde was perhaps the team’s most important player.

He injected energy and dynamism into a midfield that had become too one-paced and brought a directness that made Madrid’s attack less predictable.

When Madrid failed to deliver Paul Pogba last summer, many thought Zinedine Zidane had been left short. To his relief, Valverde stepped up.

4. Ansu Fati, Barcelona

Barcelona’s Guinea-Bissau forward Ansu Fati © AFP/File / LLUIS GENE

It is 11 months since Fati burst onto the scene by becoming the third youngest player to score in La Liga, before sending Spanish football into meltdown by scoring again, 111 seconds into his first start for Barcelona.

At 16 years and 304 days old, he was Barca’s youngest ever scorer but it was not just the records that impressed. He dribbled, shot, nutmegged opponents and took risks.

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“We have to take this kid very seriously,” warned Madrid’s Marca while El Mundo declared: “A star is born”.

Eight goals, three since the restart, and 25 league appearances is a remarkable return for a now-17-year-old, with a hugely exciting future.

5. Ferran Torres, Valencia

Valencia’s Spanish midfielder Ferran Torres (R) © AFP/File / JAVIER SORIANO

Torres made his La Liga debut in January 2018 but this has been a breakthrough campaign for one of Spain’s brightest young talents.

Lightning quick and with an end-product to match, Torres has long been attracting the interest of Europe’s top clubs, which could result in a move unless he extends his current contract beyond next year.

His performances this season have done little to dampen enthusiasm around the 20-year-old, who has hit six goals in 43 games, including two in the Champions League.

With Valencia missing out on Champions League qualification and the club again looking for a new coach, Torres appears to feel his future lies elsewhere. There will be no shortage of suitors.

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Europe beckons for South African rugby after Kiwi snub

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Jul 20World Cup-winning Springbok Schalk Brits believes the future of South African rugby lies in Europe after New Zealand said there was no room for sides from the republic in Super Rugby.

“All of this jet lag and flying across different time zones just does not work,” said the hooker who retired after the triumphant 2019 World Cup campaign.

“We have got so many South Africans playing in Europe and it would be awesome to see them in action here for European clubs.”

With New Zealand favouring a trans-Tasman Super Rugby competition, South Africa Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux will address the media Tuesday about the way forward.

There has been no rugby in South Africa since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic, which claimed 5,033 lives by late Sunday, the most in an African country.

Here, AFP Sport looks at the possibilities for the world champions Springboks and Super Rugby teams the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers.

Rugby Championship

There has been speculation that the six-round annual tournament will be cut to four matches with New Zealand and Australia playing in South Africa only every second year.

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That would be a huge blow for SA Rugby coffers as the century-old rivalry with the All Blacks makes them a huge drawcard.

South Africa might consider abandoning the Championship and pursuing a suggestion by former All Blacks Justin Marshall and Jeff Wilson for three-Test tours between the great rivals.

“British and Irish Lions tours are so successful because we look forward to them,” noted another ex-All Black, John Kirwan. The same could be said of an All Blacks-Springboks series.

‘Seven Nations’

Should South African franchises move north, would the Springboks follow suit and apply to join England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales in a ‘Seven Nations’ championship?

Having the world champions on board would surely excite the organisers and costs would be greatly reduced if the Springboks played their three away matches on consecutive weekends.

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England, Ireland, France and Wales, in particular, would bring freshness for rugby followers, who have not rushed to the turnstiles for Championship visits by Australia and Argentina.

Ask the SA Rugby treasurer for his ‘dream’ line-up and he would surely say a multi-Test tour by the All Blacks and participation in the ‘Seven Nations’.

Super Rugby

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Although not official yet, the reality is that New Zealand want to play some Australian sides and the Pacific Islands in a new competition while excluding South Africa and Argentina.

The original version, a Super 10 between 1993 and 1995, was a superb competition, but constant tinkering and expansion has led to waning interest in a difficult-to-follow event.

Even those supporting the Golden Lions of South Africa could not have derived too much satisfaction from a 94-7 thrashing of Japanese visitors the Sunwolves three years ago.

South Africa sides often battled with time differences in Australasia — New Zealand is 11 hours ahead of the republic — and were weary after four-match tours.

‘Pro16’

Pro14 chief executive Martin Anayi says he would welcome Super Rugby ‘rejects’ the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers into an expanded edition.

“The tournament works well but could be even better if we added some South African teams,” he said, referring to a competition that also includes Irish, Italian, Scottish and Welsh teams.

But there may be no room for the two current South African Pro14 participants, the Cheetahs and Kings, who have experienced very different fortunes.

While the Cheetahs have been competitive, the Kings won just four of 55 matches in three seasons with some of the losing margins embarrassing.

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Currie Cup

The domestic competition has survived constant format changes to remain the vital ‘nursery’ from which Springboks emerge.

First staged in 1892, it was the bedrock of South African rugby until the dawn of professionalism after the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

As Test and Super Rugby fixtures took up an increasing amount of the season, the Currie Cup often battled for calendar space.

But it survived and this year could feature the four Super Rugby sides plus the Cheetahs, Kings, Griquas and Pumas, if play is possible amid the coronavirus.

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Kenya records highest number of deaths from Covid-19

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Kenya records highest number of deaths from Covid-19

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Kenya’s coronavirus cases rise to 13,771 after 418 more infections

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By NATION REPORTER

Kenya on Monday reported 418 more Covid-19 infections, raising the country’s tally to 13,771 since the virus was first confirmed on March 13.

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Health Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) Rashid Aman also reported four more deaths, raising the toll to 238. He rectified an earlier report about 19 deaths in a single day, which would have been the highest number ever recorded in Kenya.

The 418 new patients were found following the testing of 2,474 samples in the last 24 hours.

Four hundred and eight of them were Kenyans and 10 foreigners while male patients numbered 263 and female patients 155.

Dr Aman also announced that 494 patients had been discharged, raising the country’s total number of recoveries to 5,616.

Of the recovered patients, 465 were under home care and the rest in hospitals.

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