MANCHESTER, United Kingdom, Jul 14 – Manchester United missed the chance to move up to third in the Premier League on Monday after Michael Obafemi’s 96th minute equaliser earned Southampton a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford in the latest twist in the race for a place in next season’s Champions League.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men were unable to take advantage of weekend defeats for Chelsea and Leicester to remain in fifth.
United had become the first side in Premier League history to win four consecutive games by a three-goal margin, but there was no cruise for the Red Devils this time even after they responded to Stuart Armstrong’s early opener.
Two goals in as many minutes from Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial turned the game around, but United were caught out by a corner deep into stoppage time when substitute Obafemi turned home Jan Bednarek’s flick on.
Manchester City’s victory over UEFA in the Court of Arbitration for Sport earlier on Monday upped the pressure on United to continue their impressive form with only a place in the top four now good enough for Champions League qualification.
Solskjaer will still be confident of achieving that goal as his side have closed an eight-point gap on Leicester, who they face on the final day of the season, since the Premier League’s restart.
But two dropped points were a reminder that United are far from the finished article if they aspire to challenge Liverpool and Manchester City for the title next season.
A 17-match unbeaten run looked in danger early as Southampton — who have been in impressive form themselves since the Premier League’s return last month — were rewarded for a bright start at Old Trafford.
Paul Pogba’s return from injury has played a big part in United’s free-scoring run, but the Frenchman was at fault for the opening goal as he was caught in possession by Danny Ings.
Redmond then crossed for the unmarked Armstrong at the back post and the Scottish international took a touch before flashing a shot past De Gea.
– Firepower –
United have now scored 16 goals in their last five league games to close the gap on Chelsea and Leicester in the top four race.
That firepower was in evidence as the game was turned on its head within two minutes as Martial showed great strength and touch to tee up Rashford to slot home his 21st goal of the season.
Both Rashford and Martial are enjoying their best ever scoring seasons and moments later it was the Frenchman’s turn to score his 21st of the campaign as he powered past Kyle Walker-Peters before lashing a shot past Alex McCarthy for his 50th Premier League goal.
Southampton were lucky to get into half-time with just 11 men on the field as Oriol Romeu somehow escaped sanction despite a VAR review for a dangerous lunge on Mason Greenwood.
The Saints stemmed United’s flow at the start of the second half and Solskjaer responded by replacing Pogba with Fred.
Rashford and Martial still had chances to kill the game as Ryan Bertrand’s block denied the English international a certain second before Martial slashed a shot wide after a purposeful run from the halfway line.
United were given a warning five minutes from time when De Gea produced a stunning save to turn Redmond’s effort over to bounce back from a couple of errors leading to goals since the Premier League’s restart.
The hosts were left down to 10 men for the final few minutes as Brandon Williams was taken off with a head injury after Solskjaer had used his allocated three stoppages to make substitutions.
And they were caught out as Obafemi was in the right place to claim a point for Southampton.
Europe beckons for South African rugby after Kiwi snub
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Jul 20 – World 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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
Kenya records highest number of deaths from Covid-19
Kenya’s coronavirus cases rise to 13,771 after 418 more infections
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.
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.
More to follow