Maurice Pochettino has spoken out following claims that he is next for the Manchester United job following the sack of Jose Mourinho.

The Tottenham manager insists he is focused on doing his best for Spurs amid reports he is the leading candidate to replace Mourinho as head coach of the Red Devils.

Pochettino was installed as the bookmakers’ favourite to take charge at Old Trafford after Mourinho was sacked by United on Tuesday.

United are expected to appoint a caretaker manager this week to lead the troubled team for the rest of the season.

That would give them time to tempt Pochettino to leave Tottenham, where he has established a reputation as one of the brightest young managers in Europe during his four-year reign.

Pochettino refused to completely rule out any interest in the United job, which might appeal to him given the club’s vast resources in contrast to Tottenham, who failed to sign a single player in the summer transfer window.

But the 46-year-old, whose has led Tottenham to third in the Premier League and a place in the Champions League last 16 this season, insists he is only concerned with his current team at present.

“After nearly five years there is a lot of rumours about my position as manager at Tottenham,” Pochettino told reporters ahead of Wednesday’s League Cup quarter-final at Arsenal.

“I cannot answer this type of question because rumours happen. I want to deliver my best at this football club.”

Although Pochettino is yet to win a trophy with Tottenham, he has caught the eye by establishing a stylish side made up of flourishing youngsters and astute signings.

His commitment to an attacking game-plan and his friendly relationship with his players is a stark contrast to Mourinho’s acerbic personality and dour tactics.

Pochettino wouldn’t comment on the reasons for Mourinho’s downfall but admitted he felt sorry to see his friend sacked after just two-and-a-half years in charge of United.

“First of all, I want to send my best wishes to him. I feel so sorry,” Pochettino said.

“I have a very good relationship with Jose, he is a good friend, it is sad news.

“It is not my business what has happened in another club. I send my best wishes to Jose

AFP

Pepe Gives Second-Placed Lille Victory At Nimes

In-form striker Nicolas Pepe scored what proved to be the winner as 10-man Lille claimed a 3-2 win at Nimes on Sunday to consolidate second place in Ligue 1.

Later on Sunday, Lyon won 3-0 at home against struggling Monaco to move into third.

Lyon are three points behind Lille with a match in hand, while Montpellier, who did not play for a second consecutive week, are another two points back but have played two games fewer than Lille.

The French title race is all but over with reigning champions Paris Saint-Germain 10 points clear, but a young Lille side are eyeing a return to the Champions League group stage for the first time since 2012.

“What a match, I’m really proud of my players,” said Lille coach Christophe Galtier. “We must not forget that we played for more than an hour and 20 minutes with 10 men.

“With the added time, it was a very long and hard match physically.”

Portuguese teenager Rafael Leao headed Lille into a fourth-minute lead, but Galtier’s men suffered a setback when former Southampton centre-back Jose Fonte was sent off in the 16th minute.

Jonathan Bamba’s deflected effort doubled the advantage shortly before the interval, though, and Pepe appeared to have made the points safe midway through the second half with his 12th goal of the campaign.

The 10 men finally started to tire late on, but Lille held on for victory despite Nimes goals from Rachid Alioui and Clement Depres.

In the late game, Lyon dominated Thierry Henry’s Monaco from beginning to end. They took the lead in only the sixth minute with a goal by Houssem Aouar, his sixth of the season.

Nabil Fekir added the second in the 34th minute, attacking Kenny Tete’s low cross as Monaco’s Jemerson hesitated.

Monaco managed only one shot all game. They played almost the whole second half with 10 men after Aleksandr Golovin raked his studs down the back of Fekir’s calf in the 47th minute and was sent off.

Ferland Mendy added a deserved third for Lyon just before the hour mark.

AFP

Chelsea put a week of negative headlines for the behaviour of their fans behind them on the field thanks to an inspired Eden Hazard in a 2-1 victory at Brighton on Sunday

The Belgian provided his ninth assist of the season for Pedro Rodriguez to open the scoring and then chalked up his ninth goal of the campaign, but first in 13 games for club and country.

However, Chelsea failed to build on their 2-0 lead and endured a nervous finale after Solly March pulled one back with his first goal of the campaign.

Victory saw Chelsea open up a three-point lead over Arsenal in fourth and close back to within seven points of leaders Manchester City.

Much of the pre-match speculation centred on the travelling Chelsea supporters and whether there would be any repeat of either the accusations of racist remarks aimed at Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling last weekend or the anti-Semitic chanting heard during their Europa League tie against Vidi in Budapest in midweek.

Fortunately there appeared to be no further incidents as the visiting fans enjoyed an excellent start from Maurizio Sarri’s side.

Brighton had only previously been beaten at home by Tottenham Hotspur this season.

An early foul on Hazard sent the message that the Seagulls would not show Chelsea as much respect as they had last season when they stood back and admired Hazard and company in a 4-0 defeat.

It resulted in a free kick that David Luiz thumped through the defensive wall but straight at Australia goalkeeper Maty Ryan.

But Hazard was clearly not in the mood to be intimidated by a kick or two, and he answered in the most effective way possible in the 17th minute.

He tried a shot from 20 yards that was blocked but he was instantly onto the rebound, sped into the penalty area, past Brighton right back Martin Montoya and played the ball across goal for Pedro to steer the ball into the empty net.

Brighton’s confidence was visibly dented and they almost disappeared completely as an attacking force, barring a long-range effort from March that Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa trapped with a diving stop.

Chelsea could afford to sit back and pick off their passes, as they did when doubling their lead in the 33rd minute.

Brighton’s Nigeria defender Leon Balogun underhit a forward pass that Willian picked off with ease before sending the ball through the Brighton defence and into Hazard’s stride. The Belgian collected and slipped it between Ryan and his near post.

A third goal would not have flattered Chelsea’s dominance and only the post denied Marcos Alonso just after the hour mark.

But three minutes later, Brighton were, improbably, back in the match.

The previously anonymous Pascal Gross crossed from the right, Brazilian left-back Bernardo nodded the ball back across goal, and March hooked it past Kepa from six yards.

Brighton were revitalised and Alonso was lucky not to be sent off for pulling back March as he broke clear on goal.

And Chelsea also breathed a sigh of relief when England defender Lewis Dunk headed wide late on.

AFP

Afghanistan’s attorney general on Sunday called on football’s world governing body FIFA to share evidence about allegations of sexual and physical abuse against the women’s national team

The request is part of an ongoing investigation into claims of abuse by male officials against players in Afghanistan’s female football team, Jamshid Rasuli the attorney general spokesman told reporters in Kabul.

“We officially ask FIFA to provide us with any evidence that may help the investigation,” he said.

FIFA on Wednesday suspended the president of the Afghanistan Football Federation (AFF) Keramuddin Karim for 90 days over allegations of sexual and physical abuse against the women’s team.

The move came days after the attorney general’s office said it also suspended five officials, including the president of AFF, to facilitate the investigation into the case.

Allegations were first reported in November by Britain’s Guardian newspaper, which cited what it described as senior officials associated with the women’s team who said the abuse had taken place in Afghanistan — including at the AFF headquarters — and at a training camp in Jordan last February.

Former captain Khalida Popal — who fled the country after receiving death threats and has spoken out previously about the discrimination women face in Afghanistan — was quoted as saying male officials were “coercing” female players. Rasuli said Popal had been contacted to provide evidence for her claims.

“We also ask all the women support organisations, media and activists to share their information with us about women’s abuse in the football federation so that a proper decision is made about the case,” he said.

Earlier this month, Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani ordered the attorney general to conduct a “thorough investigation” into what he called “shocking” claims of abuse by male officials against members of the women’s team.

FIFA has also said it was looking into the claims, while the Danish sportswear company Hummel announced it had cancelled a sponsorship deal with the team due to the allegations.

“We have also asked Hummel to provide us information about the cancelling of their support to the team,” Rasuli said.

Afghanistan has made strides to promote female football. As well as the national side, four years ago it launched its first all-women’s league that ran in parallel with the men’s.

In 2017 the female teams were sidelined by a lack of funding.

AFP

Charlie Austin shattered Arsenal’s 22-game unbeaten run as the Southampton striker punished a howler from Gunners goalkeeper Bernd Leno to seal a shock 3-2 win on Sunday.

Austin settled a thrilling Premier League clash at St Mary’s when he headed home with just five minutes left after Leno misjudged Shane Long’s cross.

Southampton had twice taken the lead through Danny Ings, only for Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s brace to draw Arsenal level on each occasion.

Leno’s mistake and Austin’s predatory finish handed Arsenal their first defeat in 15 league games and brought a stunning halt to their longest unbeaten run in all competitions since 2007.

Unai Emery’s fifth-placed team hadn’t lost since a 3-2 defeat at Chelsea in August and the north Londoners’ first setback since the summer leaves them two points behind the fourth-placed Blues, who won at Brighton on Sunday.

While it was a bitter afternoon for Arsenal, Southampton’s first win in 15 matches in all competitions was cause for much celebration.

Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl, taking charge of his first home game, danced a jubilant jig on the pitch at full-time after securing the maiden victory of his reign.

Hasenhuttl watched Southampton lose 1-0 at Cardiff in his first match and, in a PR stunt this week, he sent free drinks vouchers to Saints season ticket holders.

The Austrian, who left his role as Leipzig boss in May, was the toast of St Mary’s after Southampton won at home in the league for the first time since April to climb out of the relegation zone on goal difference above Burnley.

Laurent Koscielny was making his first Premier League start since April after recovering from an Achilles injury, but Arsenal’s French center-back looked rusty when Southampton took a surprise lead in the 20th minute.

Matt Targett whipped over a superb cross and Koscielny was caught by Ings’ perfectly-timed run, completely missing his attempted clearance as the on-loan Liverpool striker powered his header past Leno.

Ings’ sixth goal of the season reflected well on Hasenhuttl, who had recalled him in place of Austin on his return from a hamstring injury.

It took Arsenal just eight minutes to equalise with a flowing move that saw Alex Iwobi pick out Nacho Monreal’s run before the Spaniard chipped a cross for the unmarked Mkhitaryan to head home.

Ings’ movement was causing Arsenal problems and he struck again to restore Southampton’s lead in the 44th minute.

Nathan Redmond’s cross unhinged Emery’s creaky back-three and this time Ings got in between Koscielny and Stephan Lichtsteiner to loop a fine header over the stranded Leno.

Ings hadn’t scored with a header in the league for three years, but now he had two in just one half.

For the 17th time this season, Arsenal had failed to secure half-time lead in the league and Emery responded by sending on Alexandre Lacazette.

The Gunners have been far more dangerous after the interval this season and once again they hit back to equalise in the 53rd minute.

Allowed too much space on the edge of the area, Mkhitaryan collected Lacazette’s pass and drilled a low strike that took a crucial deflection off Jannik Vestergaard as it flashed past the wrong-footed McCarthy.

Southampton thought they had taken the lead in the closing stages when Long stabbed in after Maya Yoshida’s header was clawed out by Leno, but the goal was ruled out for offside.

Hasenhuttl cursed in frustration on the touchline, but the Austrian was celebrating soon after as Southampton punished Leno’s blunder to snatch the points in the 85th minute.

Long’s cross floated across the penalty area, tempting Leno off his line, but the German missed with his attempt to punch clear and Austin was on hand to head into the empty net.

AFP

Manchester City laid down the gauntlet to Liverpool by leapfrogging their title rivals back to the top of the Premier League with a 3-1 win over Everton at the Etihad on Saturday.

Gabriel Jesus enjoyed a welcome return to form by scoring his first league goals in four months either side of half-time to put City two goals up.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin briefly gave Everton hope, but Raheem Sterling came off the bench to make the game safe with his first touch as City moved two points ahead of Liverpool, who host Manchester United on Sunday.

Pep Guardiola could even afford the luxury of leaving Kevin de Bruyne and Sergio Aguero on the bench on their return from injury as the Catalan coach again shuffled his pack for the busy festive period.

But fears in recent weeks that City lack a predator in front of goal when Aguero is absent were quashed by two fine finishes from Jesus.

Caught cold

With temperatures approaching freezing in Manchester, City were nearly caught cold by a rare Everton break early on when Richarlison fired the first big chance of the game over from Lucas Digne’s cross.

The first big threat to Everton’s goal came from one of their own defenders when Michael Keane turned Leroy Sane’s cross towards his own goal and Jordan Pickford had to make a smart low save.

Everton also played a big part in their own downfall as Jesus opened the scoring midway through the first-half. Yerry Mina’s hopeful punt gifted away possession and the Colombian then played Jesus onside as the Brazilian ran onto Sane’s pass to fire low past Pickford.

The England number one handed Liverpool’s title challenge a huge boost earlier this month as his error deep into stoppage time left Divock Origi an open goal to win the Merseyside derby.

But Pickford wasn’t so charitable to City as he made an excellent save to prevent Riyad Mahrez doubling the hosts’ lead just before half-time.

The champions had to wait just five minutes after the break to make it 2-0, when a patient build-up again found Sane on the left and the German’s cross was met by a bullet header from Jesus.

Everton had barely offered any threat in the second period before they got back into the game 25 minutes from time, Calvert-Lewin’s header from a high-hanging Digne cross flicking off Fabian Delph and past the helpless Ederson.

Guardiola responded by sending on Sterling for Sane and in a week when the England international has bravely spoken out about the alleged racist abuse he suffered last weekend by Chelsea fans, he also made his mark on the field by scoring immediately.

Jesus was involved again as he freed Fernandinho inside the area and his cross picked out the unmarked Sterling to score a rare header.

De Bruyne then made his first appearance for six weeks — just his fourth in the Premier League all season, all of which have come as a substitute — after lengthy absences for two knee injuries.

Other than defeat to Chelsea last weekend, City have barely missed a beat without the Belgian, but the return of their player of the year in last season’s record-breaking campaign is an early Christmas present for Guardiola ahead of Liverpool’s visit to the Etihad on January 3.

AFP

Ekundayo Retains IBF European Welterweight Title

Ekundayo defeated Green after 10 cracking rounds 100-89, 98-91, 99-90 on all the judges’ scorecards at the York Hall in London.

In a recent interview, Ekundayo said his training ahead of the biggest fight so far in his career was going ‘super’ well and added that he was looking for his time in the ring with Greene.

“This is my territory. It’s always going to be big in terms of my fanbase. A lot of Nigerians are getting behind me now. 70-80% of my fanbase is British even though I’m from Nigeria.

“It took me 10 years to build this fanbase and although I was well-known back in Nigeria, it’s different with social media helping and creating awareness. It’s gathering momentum now.

“It’s a positive thing for me to be representing Nigeria and my family. My children were born in Britain and have never been to Nigeria. I’m doing it for them. They know their roots even though they were born here.

“It’s something I see as a positive thing. I get the British fans support me too so it’s win-win,” he said.

The 36-year-old has now won 15 out of his 16 professional bouts with his only loss coming against Gary Corcoran in July last year

unique red Napoli shirt worn by Maradonna with a number nine on the back was sold for 12,000 euros ($13,600) at an auction in Turin on Thursday.

The Italian club usually wear sky blue and the Argentine star was best-known for wearing the number 10 jersey — one was sold for 6,500 euros ($7,400) at the same event.

Maradonna played in the top during an Italian Serie A fixture away to Pisa in 1990-1991 after he had given his usual number to team-mate Gianfranco Zola.

222 other sporting memorabilia including football jerseys worn by Cristian Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Zinedine Zidane, an Eddy Merckx cycling vest and a Richie McCaw’s All Blacks rugby shirt were brought in northern Italy.

AFP

South Africa Bid To Host 2019 Africa Cup Of Nations

We have submitted our bid documents,” South African Football Association spokesman Dominic Chimhavi said in reply to emailed questions from AFP.

“(It) is now up to CAF to decide (who hosts the 2019 Cup of Nations).”

Earlier Thursday, Egypt said it was willing to stage the biennial African football showpiece after Morocco surprisingly announced it would not bid.

Morocco had been strong a media favourite to host the tournament for the first time since 1988.

Last week, Cameroon was stripped of the right to stage the tournament with African football body CAF citing behind-schedule preparations and security concerns.

The deadline for bids is 2200GMT Friday with a decision on who replaces Cameroon to be made in Senegal on January 9.

South Africa last week “expressed an interest” in staging the Cup of Nations for the second time in six years, but stopped short of formally applying to be hosts.

If South Africa is chosen, it will be third time it has replaced another country as hosts of a tournament first staged in Sudan 61 years ago.

It took over from Kenya in 1996, going on to win the tournament just four years after returning to international football from apartheid-induced isolation.

Post-Moamer Kadhafi-era violence prevented Libya hosting the 2013 edition and South Africa stepped in three years after becoming the first African country to stage the World Cup.

Record seven-time champions Egypt were hosts in 1959, 1974, 1986 and 2006 and won three of those four tournaments.

The 2019 Cup of Nations will be the first to feature 24 teams, up from 16 in Gabon last year when Cameroon were surprise winners.

There will also be a change of dates with the tournament moving from January/February to June/July to avoid club-versus-country clashes.

Cameroon won in 2017 despite a number of stars, including Liverpool defender Joel Matip, opting to stay with their clubs in the middle of the season.

AFP