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JAPAN, SPAIN INTO W’CUP LAST 16, GERMANY CRASH OUT

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Spain's teammates react at the end of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group E football match between Japan and Spain at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha on December 1, 2022. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

Spain staggered through to the World Cup last 16 on Thursday despite a 2-1 defeat by Japan, who remarkably won Group E on a rollercoaster night which saw four-time champions Germany eliminated.

Japan secured another incredible triumph after beating Germany in their opening game, with their progression from the “group of death” one of the greatest achievements in the country’s footballing history.

For a few heart-stopping minutes Spain were poised to head out when Costa Rica were leading in the other game, but the 2010 champions squeezed through after Germany did them a favour by coming back to beat Los Ticos.

Spain and Germany ended on four points each, but La Roja progressed on goal difference.

Alvaro Morata sent Spain ahead early on with a towering header, but Japan dramatically struck back at the start of the second half.

Ritsu Doan and Ao Tanaka’s goals saw them mount a sensational comeback, just as they did against Germany.

Tanaka’s goal was highly controversial after the officials relied on VAR to decide Kaoru Mitoma had kept the ball in play by a hair’s breadth to set him up.

Spain struggled to create chances against a staunch Japanese defence in the final stages, with the Asian side aware that conceding another goal would see them eliminated.

Japanese players collapsed at full-time in celebration, exhausted and elated, while the substitutes raced on to celebrate.

Spain face Morocco in the last 16, while Japan play Croatia.

– Rollercoaster night –

Both sides made five changes, with Luis Enrique bringing in Morata to lead the line, and handing Alejandro Balde and Nico Williams their full debuts.

Japan started with five at the back, hoping to keep Spain at bay, but pressed high in attack to try and capitalise on any mistakes.

Spain are sometimes guilty of glaring defensive errors and Pau Torres exemplified that with a sloppy touch which led to Japan’s first chance, fired into the side-netting by Junya Ito.

Morata sent La Roja ahead in the 12th minute with a towering header from Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross, rekindling the connection which occasionally worked at Chelsea after the striker’s arrival in 2017.

Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu replaced the ineffective Takefuso Kubo and Yuto Nagatomo at the break with Mitoma and Doan, and it paid instant dividends.

Balde lost the ball under pressure and from the edge of the box winger Doan hammered past Unai Simon, who might have done more to keep it out.

Three minutes later and Japan had turned the game on its head, Tanaka bundling home from on the goalline after Mitoma had miraculously kept the ball in play as he crossed it — according to VAR.

Spain were shellshocked and struggled to react, with Luis Enrique making a raft of substitutions to try and regain control.

The coach, alone and perched on the edge of his technical area, was unaware that for a few moments his team faced elimination, when Costa Rica took the lead against Germany in the other game to go 2-1 ahead.

Spain survived, progressing thanks to their superior goal difference, on a night that was far more terrifying than they had anticipated — and Japan secured a hugely unlikely achievement.

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JUMP KING! OSIMHEN BREAKS RONALDO’S SERIE A RECORD

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Super Eagles and Napoli striker Victor Osimhen beats Cristiano Ronaldo's record for highest vertical leap for a header in Serie A

Super Eagles striker Victor Osimhen on Sunday broke Cristiano Ronaldo’s four years record to become Serie A’s jump-king after a leap of 2.58 metres during Napoli’s impressive 3-0 win away to Spezia.

Osimhen achieved the incredible feat when he netted his first goal – Napoli’s second of the day – against the Little Eagles at the Stadio Alberto Picco.

The Nigeria international has scored great headers during his career, but the goal against Spezia was truly extraordinary and could go down as a contender for the greatest headed goal in football history.

After a goalless first half, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia gave Luciano Spalletti’s side the lead after converting from the penalty spot before Osimhen added the game’s second in the 68th minute with a remarkable effort.

The 24-year-old produced a staggering 71cm leap and reached a height of 8.47ft (2.58m) – higher than the crossbar (8ft) – before heading past Spezia goalkeeper Bartłomiej Drągowski.

And according to Corriere dello Sport (via Tutto Napoli), Osimhen, with that jump, climbed to a height of 2.58 metres – a mark typical of elite NBA stars.

In doing that, Osimhen set a new Italian Serie A record, rubbing off the previous 2.56 metres mark set by Ronaldo for Juventus against Sampdoria in 2019.

It is also a new personal career high for Osimhen whose previous mark was at 2.52m set against Torino at the Diego Maradona Stadium last season.

The world record of 2.62m set by Ugandan defender Bevis Mugabi in the Scottish Championship in January 2021, however, remains intact.

Osimhen has now scored 16 Serie A goals this term, the most he has ever managed in a single season in his career.

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MAN CITY FACE POINTS DEDUCTION, EXPULSION FOR VIOLATING FINANCIAL RULES

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Manchester City have been allegedly accused of breaching financial rules and face points deduction or even expulsion from the Premier League.

According to TalkSport, Premier League has charged Pep Guardiaola’s side with more than 100 charges following the release of the statement from 2009/10 season to the 2017/18 season.

The Premier League made a four-year investigation into the finances of the blue side of the Manchester.

A range of penalties could be imposed at the Etihad outfit if they have found guilty of the charges, including a points penalty or even expulsion.

The club are alleged to have flouted league rules requiring provision “in utmost good faith” of “accurate financial information that gives a true and fair view of the club’s financial position.”

The Premier League disclosed that the correct financial information required related to “revenue (including sponsorship revenue), its related parties and its operating costs.”

Manchester City’s second set of breaches relate to alleged breaking of rules “requiring a member club to include full details of manager remuneration in its relevant contracts with its manager.”

This is related to seasons 2009/10 to 2012/13, when Roberto Mancini was in charge of the club.

These breaches also refers to requirements for a club to include full details of player remuneration within the relevant contracts, for the seasons 2010/11 to 2015/16 inclusive.

There are also alleged violations that link to failure to comply with UEFA Financial Fair Play regulations, which relates from 2013/14 to 2017/18

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I WANT TO WIN CHAMPIONS LEAGUE – OSIMHEN

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Napoli's Nigerian forward Victor Osimhen reacts during the Italian Serie A football match between Spezia and Napoli on February 5, 2023 at the Alberto-Picco stadium in La Spezia. (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)

Following their impressive run in the 2022/23 Serie A season, Napoli manager Luciano Spalletti and Nigeria international Victor Osimhen have set a Champions League target.

The Partenopei are on course to win their first Scudetto in 33 years and enjoy 13 points lead at the top of the standings, won 18 of their 21 league games of the season, drawn two and lost one.

The 24-year-old Nigerian striker scored a brace as Napoli dispatched Spezia 3-0 in a dominant match on Sunday to increase his goal tally to 16 in 17 appearances.

The Nigerian forward is now the fourth Napoli player to score 16 goals in the first 21 Serie A games of the season following in the footsteps of Luis Vinicio in 1955-56, Edinson Cavani in 2012-13 and Gonzalo Higuain in 2015-16.

According to Italian media, Gazzetta dello Sport, the Napoli striker has stated his intention of winning the Champions League title with Napoli.

The paper reported that Osimhen had already disclosed this to Azzurri president Aurelio De Laurentiis in their first meeting before signing the contract that currently binds him until 2025.

“I want to win the Champions League,” Osimhen told De Laurentiis on that occasion.

Spalletti hailed the team mentality and assured them they have every intention of going for Champions League glory too.

“You can either stick or twist and we’ve made our decision,” the Italian tactician told Sky Sport Italia.

Parthenopeans finished top of their Champions League group stage with 15 points from six matches and are also preparing for the Round of 16 matches against Eintracht Frankfurt on February 21 and Spalletti is aiming to take each day as it comes or go for it all.

“There are moments in life when you achieve results and then you can either stick or twist. We have no doubts about that, we have made our decision to gamble for double, going to attack every game and trying to achieve something for the love of these fans who were all praying for us today. We must be proud of the love Neapolitans have for us and translate that onto the pitch.”

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