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Nigeria edge South Africa on penalties to reach Cup of Nations final – ARN News Centre

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Three-time winners Nigeria reached the Africa Cup of Nations final after goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali guided his side to a 4-2 penalty shootout victory over South Africa following a 1-1 draw on Wednesday.

Nigeria had lost five of their previous six semi-finals at the continental finals and rode their luck in this one to book a place in Sunday’s decider against hosts Ivory Coast.

William Troost-Ekong put Nigeria into the lead from the penalty spot midway through the second half, before South Africa earned a spot-kick of their own in the final minute of the 90 and it was converted by Teboho Mokoena.

South Africa lost defender Grant Kekana to a red card in extra time as Nigeria put them under constant pressure, and then lost their nerve too in the shootout as Nwabali saved from Mokoena and Evidence Makgopa.

“It was a very good victory against a very good team, the most organised team at the tournament. We deserved to win, but they deserved to win too,” Nigeria coach Jose Peseiro told reporters.

“We were better in the penalty shootout, so my players deserve it. The team fought well.”

Nwabali plays his club football in South Africa at topflight side Chippa United and was a surprise pick for the tournament having only won a single cap prior to the start of 2024 in a 4-0 loss to Mexico nearly three years ago.

South Africa will rue missed chances in the 90 minutes, not least in the dying seconds when right-back Khuliso Mudau fired over the bar with the goal gaping, but must now settle for a place in the bronze-medal match on Saturday.

Napoli striker Victor Osimhen won his side a penalty as he went down under the challenge of Mothobi Mvala, in what was an easy decision for Egyptian referee Amin Omar.

Troost-Ekong held his nerve to send his spot-kick down the middle of the goal to put them ahead in the 67th minute.

Nigeria thought they had a second on 85 minutes through Osimhen, but as they celebrated, the Video Assistant Referee alerted the on-field official to an earlier foul on Percy Tau in the Nigerian box.

Nigeria’s effort was chalked off and South Africa was awarded a penalty after a review, which Mokoena fired home before Mudau fluffed his golden chance to win it and the game went to extra time and penalties.

“Football can be hard when you see the performance of my team, and then there are penalties and you lose the game and are not in the final. It is hard to accept that, we played a very good game,” South Africa coach Hugo Broos said.

“It is a big disappointment, but I am very proud of my players. I think everyone now knows South Africa as a good team, and that is important.”



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Spanish court hands jail term to Brazil’s Dani Alves for assault – ARN News Centre

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Brazilian footballer Dani Alves was sentenced to four and a half years in prison on Thursday for sexually assaulting a woman in a Barcelona nightclub in 2022.

The top court in Spain’s Catalonia region also ordered Alves, who had maintained throughout it was consensual, to pay 150,000 euros ($163,000) to the victim.

“The sentence considers that it has been proven that the victim did not consent, and that there is evidence, in addition to the testimony of the plaintiff, to consider the rape proven,” the court – the Audiencia Provincial de Barcelona – said in a statement.

The prosecutor had sought a nine-year prison term for Alves. The verdict can be appealed.

The 40-year-old former Barcelona defender was arrested in January last year and has been held on remand since then.

The case has attracted significant attention not only because of Alves’ profile but because gender violence has become an increasingly dominant topic in Spain’s public discourse.

It has been one of the most high-profile trials in Spain since a law was passed in 2022 that made consent a key element in sexual assault cases and increased the minimum prison time for assaults involving violence.

Alves’ lawyers were not immediately reachable for comment.

“We are satisfied as the sentence recognises what we’ve been saying all along: that the victim was telling the truth and that she suffered,” lawyer David Saenz told reporters outside the courthouse, adding that his team would still analyse whether the sentence corresponds to the gravity of the crime.

Alves won more than 40 trophies for Brazil and clubs including Barcelona, Sevilla, Juventus and Paris St Germain. Following his arrest, he was fired by Mexico’s Pumas UNAM.

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Humbert dominates Bublik to seal ATP 500 glory – ARN News Centre

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Ugo Humbert produced a ruthless masterclass to defeat Kazakhstan’s Alexander Bublik in straight sets and seal ATP 500 victory in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Saturday night.

The French No5 seed, who rises to a career-high World No14 after his heroics in Dubai, made it a clean sweep of six titles in six ATP finals with a clinical 6-4, 6-3 dismantling of No7 seed Bublik, the World No19, at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium.

Humbert, who defeated compatriot Gael Monfils, Britain’s Andy Murray, World No8 Hubert Hurkacz, and World No4 Daniil Medvedev to reach the final, unleashed his full repertoire of booming forehands and laser-like double-handed backhands to eclipse Bublik, who progressed past 2022 Dubai champion Andrey Rublev in a dramatic semi-final, which saw the No2 seed disqualified for unsportsmanlike conduct. 

After tight opening exchanges where the pair were evenly matched, the final stayed on-serve until the 10th game when Humbert, who had failed to convert break points in Bublik’s two previous service games, finally broke the Kazakh’s resistance to clinch the first set 6-4. 

With Bublik delighting the Dubai crowd with a combination of whipped forehands and a deft array of dropshots, Humbert, relaxed and controlled, raced into a 3-1 second set lead after breaking Bublik. From there, the 25-year-old left-hander relied on his own dominant serve – unbroken throughout the final – to close out the match on his second Championship point.

“I played a fantastic level all through the week, but it was not easy,” said Humbert, who claims the winner’s prize of $550,140. “I really don’t know how I stayed calm. I have too much respect for [Bublik], he’s such a nice guy on and off the court, and congratulations to him on a great start to the year.”

A beaten but upbeat Bublik reflected: “This week has had almost everything for me, and I can’t wait to come back here again in 2025. Before the final, I thought if I won I would dedicate it to my son, but sorry, maybe next time,” said the 26-year-old, who pockets the runner-up prize of $296,000.

In the men’s doubles final, the Netherlands’ Tallon Griekspoor and Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff narrowly defeated Croatia’s Ivan Dodig and the USA’s Austin Krajicek 6-4, 4-6, 10-6. With a pair of service breaks enough to settle the opening two sets, Griekspoor and Struff came from 1-3 down in the deciding super tiebreak, winning nine of the last 12 points to claim a maiden Dubai title and shared prize pool of $180,700. Beaten finalists Dodig and Krajicek share a runners-up purse of $96,370.
 
“It’s the first time we’ve played together, so maybe we should keep it one week,” Griekspoor joked during the post-match ceremony. “We played really well and had a great time, it was a lot of fun on court. I had such a pleasure on court this week.”

The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships is owned and organised by Dubai Duty Free and held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. 
 



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F1 season opens with Verstappen in ‘a different galaxy’ – ARN News Centre

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Max Verstappen could not have hoped for a better start to his bid for a fourth-consecutive Formula One title, with even rivals hailing his crushingly dominant display in Saturday’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix as being in “a different galaxy”.

The Dutch driver took the chequered flag 22.4 seconds clear of his teammate Sergio Perez driving a similar RB20.

He did it having started from pole, led every lap and with the fastest lap to complete a ‘grand slam’.

“Unbelievable, I think today went even better than expected,” said Verstappen.

“It was a lot of fun, I felt really good in the car.

“It’s special to have these kind of days, where it all feels perfect and you feel at one with the car.”

A close-run qualifying on Friday and a constant changing of the guard in practice, with three different teams occupying top spot in the three sessions and none of them Red Bull, had raised the prospect of a closer-run race on Saturday.

The seemingly untroubled ease of Verstappen’s win in the first race of a record 24-round season swiftly dashed those hopes, instead giving way to a sense of resignation and foreboding.

The 26-year-old, barely breaking a sweat as he got out of the car, had similarly won last year’s Bahrain season-opener from pole.

But that wasn’t as commanding as his win on Saturday, with his winning margin then half what it was this year and no fastest lap.

Nevertheless, it set the stage for Verstappen to sign off 2023 with 19 wins from 22 races.

With his Red Bull harder to catch, at least on the evidence of the 2024 season opener, there is every possibility he could go better.

Rivals are not ruling out the prospect.

“Unfortunately, yes,” Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said when asked if Verstappen could be uncatchable. “(We) just have to acknowledge his performance levels are really strong.

“I think today Max is not in a different league but he’s in a different galaxy — the performance is extraordinary.”



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