Midfielder Xabi Alonso was simply happy that Spain won their group after they came through a nervy match against Croatia to reach the UEFA EURO 2012 quarter-finals.
Group C was in the balance until the final few minutes on Monday, with the reigning champions qualifying for the last eight thanks to a 1-0 win and Italy joining them after beating the Republic of Ireland.
Both teams could have been eliminated had they conceded a late goal, but instead Jesus Navas scored Spain’s winner before Mario Balotelli wrapped up a 2-0 win for the Azzurri.
Their respective opponents were discovered last night, when France, England and co-hosts Ukraine battled for the two qualifying places in Group D, and Alonso said: “Clearly, the important thing was to advance as group winners.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy because Croatia is a good team and had chances to go through, too. We managed to keep a clean sheet despite their efforts, and at the end of the day, the goal calmed our nerves.”
Spain are bidding to become the first team ever to win three successive major international tournaments, having also lifted the FIFA World Cup in South Africa two years ago. Alonso continued: “We have achieved great things in the not-so-distant past, but we also struggled a lot, you cannot forget that. If we want to repeat that (success), it’ll definitely be another hard task.”
Goalkeeper Iker Casillas, who made a crucial second-half save from Ivan Rakitic’s header, said: “They made it very difficult for us to create chances, they defended very well. In the end we were lucky, scoring late on. It felt like a weight off our shoulders.
“I was lucky in one situation that could have put us in trouble, but I am happy the team managed to qualify for the next round.”
Sevilla midfielder Rakitic was distraught afterwards, and said: “I did not manage to take the chance that came my way. I think I will probably have sleepless nights thinking about that. It was obvious that we gave everything on the pitch, we gave it our best shot. I can honestly say that my soul was left on that pitch, and I think I need a few people to carry me off the pitch because I am literally dead.”
Team-mate Ognjen Vukojevic added: “We will regret missing Rakitic’s chance – if we had scored that I think it would have changed the course of the game.”
But he added: “I think we competed against the mighty Spain. Unfortunately we are not going through to the next round, but I think that Croatia have big prospects for the future. We are going back home with our heads held high.”
Aiteo Cup: Diri Hails Bayelsa Finalists
Bayelsa State Governor, Senator Douye Diri, has lauded the feat of the state-owned football teams who reached the finals in the male and female categories of the 2021 Aiteo Cup.
Diri, while congratulating Bayelsa United and Bayelsa Queens for their outstanding performances, praised their indomitable spirit and resilience in surmounting the odds to qualify for the last stage of Nigeria’s oldest football competition.
Bayelsa United, who plays in the second tier Nigerian National League, on Friday defeated Premier League neighbours Rivers United 1-0 in the semi-finals, while Bayelsa Queens crushed perennial rivals Rivers Angels 5-0 to reach the women’s final.
The Governor, in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Daniel Alabrah, on Saturday, described Bayelsa United as “giant killers” for defeating Premier League sides Enugu Rangers, Lobi Stars and Rivers United on their way to the final.
“The excellent run of Bayelsa United and Bayelsa Queens in this year’s Aiteo Cup is very heartwarming. Both teams reaching the finals is no mean feat. I congratulate them for making the state proud and setting a record of teams from the state playing in the finals of the male and female categories of the same competition for the first time,” Diri stated.
“By their outstanding performance, Bayelsa United and Bayelsa Queens have shown that the sporting revolution of our Prosperity Administration, which resulted in Bayelsa placing third in the last National Sports Festival in Edo State for the first time, is on course. I therefore urge them to complete their excellent run in the competition by bringing home the trophies.
D’Tigress To Play Mozambique In Afrobasket
Nigeria’s senior basketball team, D’Tigress, have been drawn to face Mozambique and a yet to qualify team in Group B of the 2021 Women’s Afrobasket, which holds from September 17 to 27 in Yaounde, Cameroon.
The draw was held in Yaounde last Saturday.
D’Tigress will be hoping to retain the title they won two years ago in Senegal, where they defeated the hosts in the final. A win in Cameroon will mean they have won the last three editions of the tournament.
The Nigerians will know their final group opponent when the FIBA Zone 6 qualifiers take place from August 16 to 22.
In Group A, hosts Cameroon will face Cape Verde and Kenya, while Senegal, the most successful team in the competition’s history with 11 first-place finishes, will slug it out with Egypt and Gabon in Group C.
Mali, Ivory Coast, and a team to be decided via wild card will fight for a slot in the next round in Group D.
Ebonyi Football Fans Celebrate Nwankwo Kanu At 45
Football fans in Ebonyi State yesterday, celebrated the birthday of formerNigerian international and Arsenal legend, Nwankwo Kanu.
The former Super Eagles skipper turned 45 yesterday.
Tidespoets source gathered that the 1993 FIFA U-17 world cup winner, fondly called “Papillo’’ by his fans had 86 caps for Nigeria.
The former Iwuanyanwu Nationale Football Club of Owerri’s talisman scored 13 goals for Nigeria in an enviable career that spanned from 1994 to 2010.
Kanu is a recipient of the Member of the Order of the Niger (MON), an Olympic Games football gold medalist and had illustrious club careers with Ajax Amsterdam of Holland, Arsenal and West Bromwich Albion of England.
Defunct Ebonyi Angels FC of Abakaliki Defender, James Onele, said that Kanu thrilled soccer fans across the world with sublime skills and trademark passes.
“Kanu won two African Footballer of the Year awards, an AFCON silver medal, four AFCON bronze medals among other honours.
“He was the first Nigerian, alongside Finidi George to win the prestigious UEFA champions league trophy with Ajax in 1995,” said Onele.
An Arsenal FC supporter, Ejike Okoro, said the club’s fans were proud of Kanu’s achievements during his time with the English Premier League side.
“Kanu played 197 times for Arsenal, scoring 44 goals and was part of the club’s invincible team that did not lose any match in the 2003-04 EPL season.
“He was instrumental in endearing Arsenal to millions of Nigerian soccer fans, despite later dropping to lowly-rated clubs such as Portsmouth and West Bromwich Albion,” Okoro said.
A banker and football enthusiast, Chief Barry Ogoh, told active footballers to emulate Papillo in investing adequately for the ‘rainy day’.
“Kanu, Augustine J.J. Okocha, among other ex-internationals are still financially stable as many ex-internationals have become bankrupt.
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