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Under siege Aliou Cisse slams critics as Senegal march on

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By CHARLES NYENDE
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For the umpteenth time here in Egypt, Senegal coach Aliou Cisse has had to defend himself against what many are considering a below par performance from the highly-rated Teranga Lions.

On Friday night after a workman like 1-0 victory against unfancied Uganda in the round of 16, the question again came up on why his team had shown little sparkle.

“I do not think that criticism is realistic. We have to prepare one match at a time and are capable of beating any team here,” said Cisse.

“I have been saying from the beginning that there is no big team and small team in Africa anymore. Look at Morocco, they have just been knocked out by Benin,” Cisse countered.

The Teranga Lions coach has been a man under siege in Egypt with the Senegalese following here expecting nothing less than the elusive title that they have never won in the history of the competition.

Senegal’s World Cup hero El Hadji Diouf, who is in Egypt for the tournament, and a regular critic of Cisse, his former teammate in that 2002 South Korea and Japan campaign, once called for his sacking saying he was not a good coach yet “we currently have the most complete team in the history of Senegalese football.”

Cisse calmly responded that everybody was entitled to their own opinion.

In reality, Senegal are struggling to live up to the hype of being Africa’s top ranked team and most talented.

They are yet to play the football that would truly elevate them to top favourites here in Egypt despite their star studded line-up.

Against Uganda in their round of 16, Senegal started strongly with fluid movement in attack, their wide men Liverpool forward Sadio Mane on the left and Stade Rainnes forward Ismael Sarr on the right stretching the much vaunted Ugandan backline.

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Senegal’s early breakthrough was impressive in how they were gifted the ball in midfield by a careless opponent and transited into a blinding swift attack that set up Mane for a competent finish against one of Africa’s best goalkeeper in Denis Onyango.

But that goal seemed to somehow freeze the Teranga Lions. Even as they continued to hold on to possession they just could not create any clear cut chances despite the high error rate from the Cranes.

In fact, it was at the other end of the pitch that chances were coming, lively Simba SC striker Emmanuel Okwi testing Senegal goalkeeper with a thumping shot and minutes later heading just wide from a corner.

Nippy Abdu Lumala also troubled the Teranga Lions with his direct approach.

Senegal had a chance to double their lead early in the second half when they were awarded a penalty, but for the second time in this tournament, star player Mane failed to execute, his spot kick well saved by Onyango.

“It was a match on equal footing. We scored early and then defended a lot. We are through to the quarter-finals and now need to prepare for our next game. This is a difficult tournament,” said Cisse.

The difficulty has been worsened by high expectations from the Teranga Lions, to not only win, but win in style.

However, they are in the last eight, and should they click, will take some stopping.

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Italy rugby star earns country’s highest award for volunteer coronavirus work

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MILAN, Italy, Jun 3 Italian rugby international Maxime Mbanda has earned one of Italy’s highest awards for his work as a front-line volunteer in the fight against the coronavirus.

President Sergio Mattarella on Wednesday named the back-row forward a ‘Cavalieri al merito della Repubblica’, or ‘Knights of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic’ for working with a volunteer ambulance team in the city of Parma during the COVID-19 crisis.

“It was unexpected news. This recognition fills me with pride,” said Mbanda.

“The credit goes to all the people who have worked hard during this period and who have been doing it for years in silence.”

The honour is awarded to those who have distinguished themselves in the service to the community, including doctors and nurses during the recent crisis which killed over 33,500 people in Italy.

Born in Rome to a Congolese father and Italian mother, Mbanda had been scheduled to face England in the Six Nations for his 21st Italy cap on March 14 when all sport was suspended as the pandemic quickly spread.

Instead, wearing a mask and protective suit, the 27-year-old volunteered as an ambulance driver with the volunteer medical transport group “Croce Gialla” (Yellow Cross) in the region of Emilia-Romagna, one of the areas most affected by the coronavirus.

“When everything was cancelled in rugby, I wondered how I could help, even without medical expertise,” Mbanda, who plays for Zebre Rugby, the Parma club, told AFP in March.

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He said he found the group, which helped transport patients, medicine and food for the elderly during the crisis.

“It was the 70 busiest days of my life,” Mbanda wrote on his Instagram account in May.

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“I transported more than 100 patients, had gruelling shifts where I had lunch in the evening, because I couldn’t take off that suit to avoid the risk of getting infected until I was sanitised,” he wrote.

Mbanda joined a service that transports patients who have coronavirus © AFP/File / ANDREAS SOLARO

“During the most intense period I cried in the evening, as a way to release what I saw during the day which I wasn’t used to,” he added

Mbanda’s father, a surgeon in Milan, was “also on the front line,” he said, adding that, if asked, he would do it all again.

“In fact, I have admitted several times during this period that I regretted not having started earlier and I will advise anyone from now on to try to volunteer,” he wrote.

“For me it was an incredible experience.”

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Amazon to make Premier League matches free-to-air

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LONDON, United Kingdom, Jun 3Amazon will make its four Premier League matches in the remainder of the 2019/20 season free-to-air as broadcasters prepare for the return of the English top-flight.

The Premier League is set to resume behind closed doors on June 17 after being suspended since March due to the coronavirus.

All 92 remaining fixtures will be televised live and Amazon has a small package of games.

Unlike earlier this season, fans will not need a Prime membership to watch fixtures on the online platform.

“Like the rest of the country, we are excited to see the Premier League return to action,” said Alex Green, managing director of Prime Video Sport Europe.

“We will be making all four of Amazon Prime Video’s additional fixtures in the 2019-20 season available free of charge. Fans will not need a Prime membership to view the games on Prime Video.”

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The online streaming service entered the competitive Premier League live rights market in 2018, changing the landscape of British sports broadcasting.

Sky Sports has announced 25 of its 64 matches will be free-to-air on its Pick channel, while the BBC has the rights to screen four games on terrestrial TV.

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It will be the first time the BBC has shown any live English top-flight action since 1988.

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MotoGP set to release revised 2020 calendar next week

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PARIS, France, Jun 3MotoGP is expected to announce a reworked schedule next week for a season it hopes to start in July, championship organisers said Wednesday.

“We hope to present our calendar next week,” said Dorna chief executive Carmelo Ezpeleta in a video on the MotoGP website.

“And it will start, if everything goes well, on the 19th of July in Jerez. The later races will be in the beginning of November, making around 12 to 13 rounds.”

MotoGP promoters Dorna are awaiting Spanish government approval to start the truncated season with back-to-back races at the Jerez circuit on July 19 and 26.

The 2020 season was due to start on March 8 in Qatar but only Moto2 and Moto3 races went ahead before strict quarantine measures were imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Several races were postponed while seven have been scrapped.

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“For the four non-European races which haven’t been cancelled, that means Thailand, Malaysia, the United States and Argentina, we have a deadline until the end of July to tell everybody if we continue or stop,” said Ezpeleta.

“That means after two races of this year we will see if the calendar is 12, 13, or any more, with a maximum of 16,” he added, explaining that stringent health measures had been put in place with a view to resuming the championship.

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