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Champions League To Be Completed In Final 8 In Lisbon, Final On August 23

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The 2019-2020 Champions League, suspended since March because of the coronavirus pandemic, will be completed in a ‘Final Eight’ in Lisbon in August, UEFA said on Wednesday.

Europe’s top club competition will be decided by a series of one-off matches beginning in the Portuguese capital on August 12, with the final on August 23, European football’s governing body confirmed.

Similarly, the Europa League will be completed with a ‘Final Eight’ across four German cities including Cologne, with the final there on August 21. The closing stages of the women’s Champions League will go ahead in Bilbao and San Sebastian at the end of that month.

The men’s Champions League final was initially due to be played in Istanbul at the end of May before the Covid-19 crisis took hold. The Turkish city will now host the 2021 final instead.

The quarter-finals and semi-finals are usually held over two legs, home and away, but will now be played as single ties, with games in the last eight on August 12 to 15 and the semi-finals on August 18 and 19.

UEFA said all matches would be split between Benfica’s Estadio da Luz home, and the nearby Estadio Jose Alvalade, home of Sporting.

The 65,000-capacity Estadio da Luz hosted the final of Euro 2004 and the Champions League in 2014, while Sporting’s 50,000-seater stadium was also used at Euro 2004 and for the UEFA Cup final in 2005.

Portugal’s credentials to host a Champions League mini-tournament were boosted by the fact that it has not been as badly hit by the pandemic as other western European countries, and it has no clubs left in the competition.

The Portuguese top flight resumed at the start of this month, with matches being played behind closed doors.

With the European death toll from the coronavirus easing and numerous EU countries this week opening their borders once again to visitors, there is some hope that matches can be played in front of crowds.

However, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said no decision would be made on whether to let spectators in “until mid-July”.

“If I would answer today then we don’t think we could have spectators but things are changing rapidly,” Ceferin said in a videoconference.

“We don’t know if (it would be) only the local fans, if no fans, or even if fans from different clubs could travel.

“As it looks now, we would decide that we would play without fans but we have to wait because the siutation is changing every day.”

Before getting to the quarter-final stages, there are still four Champions League last 16, second legs to be completed, and it is possible those games could also be moved to Portugal.

“A decision is pending on whether the four remaining round of 16 second legs will take place at the home team’s stadium or in Portugal,” a UEFA statement said.

If needed, the games will be played in the northern Portuguese cities of Porto and Guimaraes.

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Nigerian Footballer Drowns In Belarus

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Kelvin Odenigbo, the Nigerian footballer who plied his trade for FC Vitebsk in Belarus, has been found dead after drowning in a lake.

The Belarusian Premier League club confirmed the demise of the 20-year-old striker in a statement on its website.

In the statement, the club said Odenigbo drowned and his corpse was found on Saturday by the lake Beloye, a tourist destination in the Vitebsk region.

“We express our sincere condolences to the family and friends of the football player. The football club Vitebsk reports that on June 5, 2021, on the lake Beloye, in the area of the tourist base Verasy, OSVOD employees found the drowned Kelvin Odenigbo,” the statement read.

The club also promised to release more details about Odenigbo’s death while expressing its condolences to the family and friends of the deceased.

“We will publish all official information as it becomes available. We express our sincere condolences to the family and friends of the football player, as well as to all the fans of the team,” the statement added.

Odenigbo recently joined the club on loan from NAF Rockets FC, the Nigerian National League side, at the end of last season before making the switch permanent for the 11-match-old 2021/22 season.

He featured for sixth-placed Vitebsk this season, assisting one goal in four appearances.

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Koeman To Continue As Barca Coach –Laporta

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Ronald Koeman has escaped the Barcelona axe with club president Joan Laporta announcing on Thursday the Dutchman is to continue as coach next season.

“We’ve decided to give continuity to a contract already in place,” Laporta confirmed after a meeting of the club’s directors.

Koeman’s confirmation comes after the Catalan press had hinted that winning round Lionel Messi as well as lifting the Copa del Rey and overseeing a year of transition may not have been enough for him to keep his job.

Laporta explained, “We think it’s the best for Barca and we are very happy to be able to announce today that Ronald Koeman is staying.”

He said “very frank and straight” conversations had taken place before committing to Koeman until the summer of 2022.

“This time for reflection was necessary… to see together what didn’t work at the end of last season”.

AFP

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Liverpool’s Nigerian Striker Awoniyi Granted UK Work Permit

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The 23-year-old joined Liverpool on a long-term deal in August 2015 from Nigeria’s Imperial Academy, but has never played for The Reds due to his inability to secure a work permit. It means Awoniyi, who is currently on a seventh loan spell outside of the United Kingdom at German side Union Berlin is now eligible to be included in the Liverpool squad for next season.

“It’s been a long process but finally [Taiwo] Awoniyi can now focus on his career either at Liverpool or somewhere in England,” a top official at Imperial Academy told BBC Sport Africa. “He has the ambition to play in the Premier League and hopefully, he can do that next season.”

Fit-again Awoniyi, who has a contract with Liverpool until June 2023, scored five goals in 20 appearances for Union Berlin despite an injury-blighted campaign in the Bundesliga.

Since becoming a Red, the forward has enjoyed loan spells with then German second-tier club FSV Frankfurt, Dutch side NEC Nijmegen, Belgian outfits Royal Excel Mouscron (twice) KAA Gent and Mainz in order to attract interest from national selectors and gain a work permit.

Under-17 World Cup winner with Nigeria in 2013, Awoniyi has represented the West African country at all youth levels.

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