Cristiano Ronaldo marked his record-breaking 178th Champions League appearance with a 95th-minute winner as Manchester United snatched a 2-1 victory over Villarreal at Old Trafford on Wednesday.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner had barely threatened until he fired past Geronimo Rulli at the back post to ease the mounting pressure on United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with virtually the last kick of the game.
United were staring down the barrel of another embarrassing group stage exit from the Champions League after deservedly falling behind early in the second half to Paco Alcacer’s smart finish.
Alex Telles’ stunning strike quickly levelled, but a sixth draw from open play in as many meetings between the sides was on the cards until Ronaldo’s late intervention.
Despite the result, there was little in the performance to quell the growing questions as to whether Solskjaer is the man to get the best out of a squad of supremely talented individuals that are yet to click as a collective.
Bruno Fernandes’ stoppage-time penalty that ended up in the Stretford End condemned United to a 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa on Saturday, but Solskjaer showed his backing for the Portuguese midfielder by handing him the captain’s armband in the absence of Harry Maguire.
Luke Shaw was also missing due to injury, while Aaron Wan-Bissaka was suspended after being sent off in the 2-1 defeat to Young Boys on matchday one.
A makeshift United defence looked as such in the first half as Villarreal wasted a host of chances to inflict more misery on the Red Devils after beating them in May to win the Europa League.
Arnaut Danjuma toyed with stand-in United right-back Diogo Dalot, but the Dutch winger firstly fired straight at David de Gea and was then denied by a brilliant finger-tip stop by the Spanish goalkeeper.
De Gea was the fall guy in the Europa League final as he was the only player of the 22 on both sides to fail to score in a marathon penalty shootout.
– United fall behind –
However, he has started the season in supreme form and was needed to save his side once more midway through the first half to turn Alcacer’s header over.
Alcacer then fired wide with just De Gea to beat after an error from Raphael Varane and botched a two-on-one counter-attack with a poor pass to Yeremi Pino.
United did not heed their first-half warnings as eight minutes into the second period another promising break from Danjuma finally got the finish it deserved as Alcacer prodded through the legs of De Gea at the near post.
Telles was at fault for the opening goal as he played Danjuma onside.
But the Brazilian quickly made amends in spectacular fashion as he volleyed home Fernandes’ free-kick from outside the area.
Solskjaer had named an extremely offensive line-up with Ronaldo flanked by Jadon Sancho and Mason Greenwood, and Paul Pogba alongside Fernandes in midfield.
But it was another night to forget Sancho since his £73 million move from Borussia Dortmund in July.
The England winger was easily kept in check by Juan Foyth before being replaced 15 minutes from time by Edinson Cavani.
The Uruguayan had a golden chance to instantly make himself the hero, but somehow headed wide with the goal gaping from Greenwood’s perfect cross.
De Gea saved United once more five minutes from time in a goalmouth scramble to deny Moi Gomez and Boulaye Dia.
And Villarreal’s profligacy in front of goal came back to haunt them as the all-time top goalscorer in Champions League history showed them how to finish.
Jesse Lingard turned a loose ball Ronaldo’s way deep into stoppage time and his effort had too much power for Rulli.
PDP Reveals Why Buhari Cancelled Zamfara Trip, Says President Afraid of Terrorists
Following the cancellation of his trip to Gusau, the Zamfara State Capital, the Peoples Democratic Party has criticised President Muhammadu Buhari for his action.
This is as it argued that the President would have easily embarked on the journey by road but was “afraid because he was not sure of his security as well as the dilapidated state of our roads under his watch”
The Party’s National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba, disclosed this in a statement he signed on Friday titled, ‘Insecurity: PDP mocks, berates Buhari for cancelling trip to Zamfara State’.
The main opposition party dismissed the President’s excuse of not travelling to Zamfara State because of inclement flying weather when he had the option of travelling the short trip from Sokoto to Gusau by road.
“From Sokoto to Gusau, the Zamfara State capital is about 206 kilometres, a journey a leader who has the interest of the people at heart and who is sure of his security could have undertaken by road.
“President Buhari ought to have reassured Nigerians by travelling to Gusau; instead, he opted for a video broadcast in which he promised the troubled people of the state that he looks “forward to a more weather-friendly period when I will visit,” the PDP said.
The party said the cancellation is another demonstration of the President leading from behind against his promise and commitment to Nigerians to lead from the front in the fight against terrorism.
It said such attitude to governance speaks volumes about why the nation is in a “shambolic state under the Buhari-led All Progressives Congress regime which is largely laidback, unconcerned and corrupt.”
The party added, “If truly the people matter to Mr President and his Party, the APC; then Mr President would have taken it upon himself, with all the apparatus of power at his disposal, to visit and empathise with the people of Zamfara State who are daily traumatised by terrorists.
“Our Party is not particularly surprised because this is a Party and President which is always absent in critical areas of our national life. Such absenteeism from responsibility is the hallmark of the APC. Even when prodded to visit such areas, President Buhari will always dwell on excuses, blame game and buck-passing.”
Why Buhari Canceled Planned Subsidy Removal
Details have emerged on how security advice forced President Muhammadu Buhari to make a U-turn on the decision to remove fuel subsidy.
An impeccable security source told The PUNCH that intelligence handed over to the President by security officials showed that the protests that would have accompanied the subsidy removal might have been far worse than the #EndSARS demonstrations, mass protests against police brutality that grounded many parts of the country in 2020.
The official, who spoke to The PUNCH on strict condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak with the press, said the President was eager to implement the Petroleum Industry Act which would have ensured that subsidy was removed by June and investments in the oil sector increased.
He further stated that the government was afraid that such protests would have easily been hijacked by the opposition and affected the chances of the All Progressives Congress in next year’s election.
The official added, “The police, DSS, the National Intelligence Agency and the Office of the National Security Adviser usually send security reports to the President on the impact of sensitive issues like fuel subsidy. Reports given to the President showed that the protests being planned by unions would have been 10 times bigger than the #EndSARS protests.
“Petrol price was projected to increase to about N350 if the international price of oil continues to rise. This would have increased the cost of everything and encouraged everyone to take to the streets.
“They also drew the President’s attention to the coups sweeping many African countries and how the protests could have been hijacked by the opposition. This was why the President not only delayed subsidy removal but transferred the responsibility to the next government.”
Former President Goodluck Jonathan had in 2012 faced a similar challenge when he removed petrol subsidy forcing the price to rise from N65 per litre to N140.
The incident sparked protests in several parts of the country especially in Lagos where thousands converged on Ojota for over a week, grounding commercial activities in the country’s commercial capital.
“Some ministers actually advised the President to go ahead with subsidy removal because of the potential investments that deregulation would bring. But the President could not have taken such advice. The country is currently facing insecurity in several states, people are hungry. Outright removal of subsidy would have led to a rise in the cost of goods and protests. The alternative given to the President is to increase fuel price slightly. This could be done gradually by adding N3 or N5 periodically,” he said.
When one of our correspondents called the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, on the phone on Thursday for a reaction, he declined making any comments on the issue
But, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, had in an interview on Channels Television’s ‘Sunrise Daily’ programme on Wednesday, said subsidy removal would have forced Nigeria into a tailspin.
Adesina added, “If that subsidy had been removed, it would have been a show of will that we want to solve this problem (oil fraud). There was a will but if you have a will and what you want to do will upturn the system, throw the country into a tailspin, then you would have to reconsider, you will weigh it. That is why further consultations will still happen.”
The Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union had last year said it would on Thursday (yesterday) and February 2 embarked on nationwide protests against government’s plan to remove fuel subsidy.
But on Tuesday, the union shelved the protests following government decision to shift fuel subsidy removal by 18 months and amend the Petroleum Act, whose implementation was earlier scheduled to start in June.
Ekiti APC Gov Aspirants Kick As Oyebanji Wins Primary
Former Secretary to Ekiti State Government, Biodun Oyebanji, on Thursday clinched the ticket of the governing All Progressives Congress in the state for the June 18 governorship election.
The Chairman, APC Governorship Primary Electoral Committee for Ekiti and Jigawa State Governor, Abubakar Badaru, who declared Oyebanji winner of the primary election, said the former SSG scored 101,703 votes to defeat other aspirants.
Badaru announced that former governorship aspirant, Kayode Ojo, got 767 votes; National Assembly member, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, scored 760 votes; former Minister of Works, Senator Dayo Adeyeye, secured 691votes; and House of Representatives member, Femi Bamisile scored 400 votes.
Others are former House of Representatives member, Bamidele Faparusi, who garnered 376 votes; aviation expert, Demola Popoola, got 239 votes; and Oluwasola Afolabi scored 47 votes.
Badaru, who said the election followed the party’s guidelines, said he had not received any official complaint from any aspirant.
However, earlier in the day, seven of the eight governorship aspirants protested the list of Local Government Electoral Committees for the exercise, saying it contained names of Oyebanji’s supporters and campaigners.
The aggrieved aspirants – Bamidele; Adeyeye; Bamisile; Faparusi; Ojo; Popoola; and Afolabi, alongside their supporters stormed the state APC Secretariat where they called on the party national leadership and the Badaru-led committee to suspend the primary.
They stated, “We request that both the Local Government Election Committee and Ward Election Committee as constituted on the list already in circulation is disbanded and replaced with names that would reinforce internal democracy and uphold the aims and objectives of the party”.
The aggrieved aspirants took their grievances to the state headquarters of the Nigeria Police, Independent National Electoral Commission and the Department of State Services.
However, Oyebanji, described the primary as credible, free and fair, contrary to the position maintained by his co-contestants, who branded the poll as a sham.
He said that the APC appeal panel would handle any controversial issue surrounding the conduct of the election.
The former SSG said, “The guidelines of our party gives room for the constitution of appeal committee to attend to whatever grievances anyone has. They have the right to their opinions, but the party will come up with its position on whatever they say.”
Disproving the allegation of fraud and manipulation, Oyebanji said, “We thank God for the role of technology in our politics. The reports I got was that things are going on well. I have seen people queuing for accreditation and voted. In fact, the process has gone on seamlessly and peacefully and the committee should be commended.”
Meanwhile, the African Union’s Economic Social and Cultural Council on Thursday appealed to the Governor Mai Mala Buni-led Caretaker Committee of the APC to annul the party’s primary in the state over alleged fraud.
The primary held across the state despite protest by seven of the eight aspirants jostling for the governorship ticket, who called for suspension of the exercise over allegation that the local government committee members to serve as electoral members were campaigners and supporters of a particular aspirant.
The Nigerian representative of AU- ECOSSOC, Dr. John Asaolu, said it was disappointing that the APC, which ought to be a shining light in Africa could conduct a primary that could aptly be described as a sham.
Asaolu said, “We are disappointed that Ekiti State is far behind in politics of this nation. This AU body came to monitor this primary, but the guidelines are not being followed. The AU charters on conduct of elections not followed. In any election, there should be respect for human rights and all interested parties should be carried along.
“If the aspirants agreed that the election should be cancelled, majority must be allowed to carry the day and anything short of this is irregularity. The party must respect their opinions and listen to them. Their rights should not be violated.”
Also, the convener of Concerned APC Youth, Bello Ibraheem, said it was undemocratic for Badaru to allow an aspirant to hijack the process, saying this could destroy the party’s unity.