Sun, Sep

Barely 20 years old, they are icons in their homeland already. Fans flock to each of their games in droves. All three of their group matches have been broadcast on a loop across the country, and absolutely everyone recognises them in the street. They are the players representing host nation Korea Republic at the FIFA U-20 World Cup – and, since the tournament began, their lives have been transformed.


Such a sudden burst of media exposure might cause many players to lose their heads. Add in the captain's armband and you could forgive anyone for struggling to stay modest. Lee Sangmin, however, is as humble as they come. "The idea that I'm already a star is far from my mind," the centre-back told FIFA.com, fresh from signing a few autographs for strangers thrilled to be sharing the Taeguk Warriors' hotel in Cheonan. "But, if one day I become a little more known outside Korea, in a sense that would mean I'd succeeded in my career, given how important football is throughout the world."


For the moment, two of his team-mates in particular have started building reputations abroad: Lee Seungwoo and Paik Seungho. Both have been learning their trade at Barcelona's prestigious La Masia academy, and – unsurprisingly – the pair face more media coverage than most. Their captain could not be happier for them. "How could I be envious?" he said. "I've been playing with Lee since I was 13 or 14. On the contrary, I'm grateful to them. Thanks to them, people are taking an interest in our whole team."


As for Lee Sangmin himself, he began catching the eye when he skippered Korea Republic at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Chile 2015, a tournament he remembers fondly. "We were considered the weakest team in the group, but we managed to surprise everyone by reaching the Round of 16," he said. "That kind of experience teaches you so many lessons. If we've been able to remain calm, focused and confident at this World Cup, it's thanks in part to what we went through in Chile."


Reluctant hero

Despite that impressive start, Lee truly found fame during a warm-up match for the U-20 World Cup against Zambia in April. And for good reason - the Soongsil University student having saved the life of team-mate Jeong Taewook following a collision with Kenneth Kalunga.


Jeong had started to swallow his tongue, but Lee was able to clear his airway in time. "I was closest to the action, so it was me who intervened," he explained. "There's no reason to talk about glory. Lots of people think it was a heroic act, but I'm certain that anyone else would have done the same. What's important is that Jeong is here with us at this World Cup."  


Jeong and Co have been excellent so far as well, having finished runners-up in a tough group featuring Argentina, Guinea and England. "We've done a pretty good job since the start of the tournament," said Lee. "But I think we've only shown 50 per cent of our potential, and our best is yet to come."


He is eager to raise his own standards too, though few would agree with his harsh analysis of his own contribution. "Speaking personally, I'm not at all satisfied with my performances. I want to show what I'm capable of, and hopefully I'll get the chance to do that against Portugal tomorrow." 


While undoubtedly severe, that hyper-critical take is in keeping with the youngster's humble personality. A fan of Germany defender Mats Hummels, the Taeguk Warriors' captain is loath to blow his own trumpet. But, whether he likes it or not, with Lee Sangmin in their ranks, Korea Republic's rising stars can legitimately start dreaming of bigger things.

Super Eagles and AS Monaco wing- back Elderson Echiejile has said the Super Eagles will not underrate the Corsica Senior National Team when both sides lock horns on Friday evening at the Stade Francois Coty, Ajaccio.


The Super Eagles play the tiny island of Corsica in a warm up game ahead of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against South Africa's Bafana Bafana on the 10th of June, and despite Corsica's non- affiliation with either UEFA or FIFA, Echiejile says they expect some kind of challenge from the team.


"I know a bit about them, when I was here in France. Most of their players play in the Ligue One so I expect a tough challenge from them. We cannot afford to, and will not underrate them," Elderson told thenff.com 


A number of first –team players are not in Corsica either as a result of visa hitch or injury, but Nigeria’s camp in Ajaccio boast a number of young, ambitious fresh legs called up to jostle for positions in the team. The former Sporting Braga FC defender believes healthy competition for first team places in the team is a welcome development.


"The team is improving after every game but there are places in the team the coach thinks need more competition which to me is a welcome development. Every good team needs a good back up and I think that is what has informed the reason for the new faces in the team for these friendlies," he opined.


The Eagles tackle Corsica Senior Team on Friday at the Stade Francois Coty, Ajaccio starting from 8pm.  

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) has picked former 1st Vice President of Nigeria Football Federation, Mazi Amanze Uchegbulam and seasoned sports journalist, Morakinyo Abodunrin as part of its strong official delegation to the forthcoming Total U17 Africa Cup of Nations (Gabon 2017) to be held 14-28 May.


The high-calibre delegation to the 12th continental cadet competition is led by newly-elected CAF President Mr. Ahmad from Madagascar along with a member of the Executive Committee, Mr. Kwesi Nyantakyi from Ghana, and also includes 1988 African Player of the Year, Kalusha Bwalya who would preside over the organising committee.


In a letter dated April 20th and signed by CAF’s Acting Secretary General, Essam, Uchegbulam is designated as the vice-president of the of the Appeal Board while Abodunrin, the media officer of Nigeria U17 team (Golden Eaglets), would serve in the media as the English Editor for the competition. 


Meanwhile, fast-rising arbiter Ferdinand Anietie Udoh would be the only Nigerian referee at the event, and this would be his second successive attendance at the U17 AFCON after he made his debut in Niger Republic in 2015.   


NFF President Amaju Pinnick, a member of the CAF Executive Committee and also member of the influential Organizing Committee for FIFA Competitions, described the various appointments as a welcome development, saying he was confident the trio would bring their experience to bear towards a successful event in Gabon.

Nine different coaches have won the FIFA Confederations Cup but, so far, none have managed to repeat the feat.


The youngest winning coach was Dunga, who guided his native Brazil aged 45 to triumph at South Africa 2009 after a dramatic 3-2 win against USA in the final. Next youngest was Alfio Basile, who won the debut Confederations Cup in 1991 at 48 years of age, and then Jacques Santini, who celebrated victory with France in 2003 when he was 51.


Theoretically, only New Zealand head coach Anthony Hudson, who turned 36 in March, could better Dunga’s achievement at the 2017 Confederations Cup. Nevertheless, even if Dunga loses this record, he has gone down permanently in the tournament’s annals as the first and, to date, only person to lift the Confederations Cup trophy as both a player (in 1997) and a coach.

Southern Conference


Crown 1-0 Go-round

Bendel Insurance 1-0 Heartland

Akwa starlets 1-0 Osun utd

Bayelsa 1-0 Ikorodu

Warri Wolves 1-0 Unicem Rovers

AS Racine 1-0 My People

Delta Force 2-0 Gateway

First bank 1-1 Nnewi utd

Abia comets 0-0 Pappilo

Northern Conference

FRSC Abuja 2-1 Yobe Stars

Jigawa G'Stars 3-0 Taraba utd (W/O)

Mighty Jets 1-0 Sokoto utd

Kaduna utd 1-0 FC Abuja

Kwara uts 3-0 Adamawa utd

Kumi Yokoyama a key figure in Japan's new-look side

Yokoyama is one of the few females to be shortlisted for a FIFA Puskas Award

The 2011 world champions are rebuilding under new coach Asako Takakura


If Kumi Yokoyama's scoring form is anything to go by, it seems that the 23-year-old forward looks set to continue her new-found role as the talisman of Japanese women's football.


The No9 finished as joint-top scorer in March's Algarve Cup alongside Denmark's Pernille Harder with four goals. But all the more impressive was the way she played. The diminutive 155-cm striker dazzled spectators through her mazy runs and finishing. Yokoyama opened her account in the 2-1 loss against eventual champions Spain in the opener, grabbed a brace as they beat Norway 2-0 before wrapping up her campaign with goal in a 3-2 loss to Netherlands. Japan may have finished with a modest fifth place, but Yokoyama's eye-catching performances have truly established her as a key player in Asako Takakura's new-look Nadeshiko.


Such displays may be pleasing and encouraging for most emerging players. Yokoyama was, however, far from satisfied reflecting on her performances in what was her first international tournament with the senior national team. "My aim was to score in every match," she told FIFA.com with an air of disappointment in her voice. "But I failed to make it because I couldn't find the back of the net against Iceland. This shows that I have to train harder. Of course, I wanted to score and my team won. So it was disappointing that I scored and my team didn't win."


For Yokoyama, it was the collective lessons learned and experiences gained during the tournament that is most important. "After playing in the Algarve Cup, we know what we are capable of and meanwhile, we are aware in which areas we need to improve,” she said. “We are clear about our place in the world of women’s football."


Maradona-like goal 

It wasn't the first time that Yokoyama impressed the watching world through her goal-scoring talents. She exploded on the international scene in the 2010 FIFA U-17 World Cup, managing to score six times as Japan finished second in Trinidad & Tobago. Notably, she scored in the semi-final victory against Korea DPR with a slalom run reminiscent of Diego Maradona in his pomp. So impressive was the goal, that it was eventually short-listed for the FIFA Puskas Award.


Despite the significance and stunning visual impact of the goal, Yokoyama maintained that her best is yet to come. She said: "My career is still running, so I wouldn't single out a goal as the most memorable until after my retirement."


The 2010 FIFA U-17 World Cup proved a launching pad for Yokoyama’s emergence. Yokoyama figured prominently as Japan stormed into the last four at the 2012 FIFA U-20 World Cup on home soil, before graduating into the senior side three years later. However, she didn't earn a regular place until Takakura assumed the reins last year.

Midfielder Sarpreet Singh is aiming to help New Zealand achieve new heights at this month’s FIFA U-20 World Cup

The teenager received financial support and mentorship from New Zealand captain Winston Reid

Singh says ‘playing professional football is all he ever wanted to do’

New Zealand youth international Sarpreet Singh was an impressionable ten-year-old when Winston Reid scored a famous last-gasp equaliser against Slovakia to earn the All Whites their first-ever point at a FIFA World Cup™. Now 18, Singh is well advanced down the path towards his own success in the game. And New Zealand’s South Africa 2010 hero Reid - the current senior national team captain - has played an important role in that journey.


As a starry-eyed youngster, Singh had two main dreams – becoming a professional footballer and wearing the national team colours. He is now on the verge of achieving both those ambitions within a matter of months, as New Zealand prepare for the FIFA U-20 World Cup, which commences later this month in Korea Republic.


Mentoring and friendship 

Singh was a scrawny schoolboy when his unexpected break came in the unlikely setting of Samoa. The then Wellington Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick picked out Singh during the 2015 U-17 World Cup qualifiers as being worthy of a spot in the club’s academy side. A rough diamond for sure, but one that could be polished to shine even brighter.


But then there was the problem of finance, and schooling. Raised in Auckland to Indian-born parents, Singh needed to move south to the capital. That was when Reid stepped in, as Singh and fellow teen Max Mata became beneficiaries of the first-ever Winston Reid scholarship.


“Winston Reid played a big part in that whole process,” Singh told FIFA.com. “He helped with the financial side of things, helping me go to school here [in Wellington] and set up a homestay. He looked after me with all that, for which I’m really grateful.


Since I started playing, all I ever wanted to be was a pro footballer and play for the national team, and I’m slowly working towards that.


New Zealand U-20 midfielder Sarpreet Singh


“I haven’t actually met Winston in person, but we have Skyped and I still email him on occasions, if I need something. I can go straight to him, and I also have other people I can go to.”


A stylish attacking midfielder, Singh is well on the way to achieving his football aims. He recently made his senior debut for the Phoenix – New Zealand’s only professional club. It was an experience that was both gratifying and eye-opening. “The intensity is a lot higher, and your decision-making needs to be quicker, but I enjoyed it,” Singh said. “On one level, it is almost easier in a way, because more things open up for you.”


Dreams can come true 

New Zealand have been drawn in an intriguing group for Korea Republic 2017, with Group E’s football mix as diverse as its cultural flavour. The Kiwis will tackle Vietnam and Honduras, before rounding out their group-stage commitments with a meeting against France.


New Zealand boast some solid results at U-20 World Cups in recent years, notably reaching the knockout round on home soil two years ago. They reprised that feat a few months later at the U-17 World Cup, where it took a somewhat unlucky 1-0 defeat against Brazil to suffer elimination in the Round of 16 – a team Singh was part of.


Singh believes that experience at Chile 2015 will stand the side in good stead when they enter the heat of battle in Korea Republic. Darren Bazeley’s side is also well stocked with senior internationals - Clayton Lewis, Henry Cameron, Dane Ingham, Moses Dyer and Logan Rogerson among them.


“Getting that exposure to the world stage obviously stands me in good stead, as it does all players that have played at that level," said Singh. “There is nothing to be scared of. We know what a threat they [our opponents] can be, but as long as we prepare well, we should be OK.”


Singh’s schoolboy day-dreaming from back in 2010 seems a long time ago now, but the 18-year-old is aware of the significance. “It is the kind of thing you dream of as a kid,” he said. “To actually do that, really is a dream come true.


“Since I started playing at a young age, all I ever wanted to be was a pro footballer and play for the national team, and I’m slowly working towards that.”


Perhaps one day that will include playing in a World Cup alongside Winston Reid. What a story that would be.

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