UCL: Liverpool Test Strength against Barcelona
Neither Trent Alexander-Arnold nor Andrew Robertson have Lionel Messi’s star power, but the buccaneering Liverpool defenders could play just as vital a role as the Barcelona captain in their mouth-watering Champions League semi-final.
Virgil van Dijk has hogged the spotlight among Liverpool’s defenders with a superb campaign that earned the Dutch centre-back the Professional Footballers’ Association player of the year award.
Ahead of Wednesday’s first leg against Messi’s Barca, Robertson and Alexander-Arnold have emerged as essential contributors to Liverpool’s bid for Champions League glory.
With 24 assists between them in all competitions, England right-back Alexander-Arnold and Scotland left-back Robertson are pivotal figures in Jurgen Klopp’s game-plan.
Robertson’s 11 assists have equalled the Premier League record for a defender and Alexander-Arnold is not far behind, with nine, making Liverpool’s full-backs are as many wingers as defenders.
It has become the most demanding, tactically significant position in the Liverpool team.
Without Robertson, 25, doing the job of two players with his lung-bursting runs up and down the flanks, Senegal winger Sadio Mane would not have the freedom to move infield, from where he has scored 24 goals this term.
Mohamed Salah’s licence to roam from the wing is only possible because there is less need to track back defensively while Alexander-Arnold, 20, tirelessly covers every blade of grass on the right.
Klopp’s bold system has reaped rich rewards as rivals struggle to find a way to turn off the supply line fuelled by Robertson and Alexander-Arnold.
In producing perfectly weighted crosses for Mane’s double and a Van Dijk goal, Alexander-Arnold became the youngest Premier League player to create three goals in a single fixture when Liverpool thrashed Watford in February.
Then, when Robertson supplied Roberto Firmino with Liverpool’s opening goal against Tottenham recently, Alexander-Arnold matched him by crossing for Salah’s header that led to Toby Alderweireld’s decisive late own goal.
– Unlikely heroes –
They are the kind of key contributions that have become commonplace this season and Robertson admits the pair’s friendly rivalry is spurring them to ever greater heights.
“I always try and go forward. Sometimes my passes don’t find people. But I do try and create. If I get two assists, I expect Trent to get three,” Robertson said with a smile.
“We all need to chip in with goals and assists. It’s not just the front three. It’s not just the defence that keeps clean sheets, either. It’s a team game.”
Liverpool’s unlikely heroes have taken contrasting routes to the top.
Liverpool-born Alexander-Arnold is the soft-spoken prodigy who still lived with his mum at the start of this season, such has been the rapid nature of his rise from the club’s academy
Robertson started his career in obscurity at Queen’s Park and Dundee United before joining Liverpool from Hull for £8 million ($10.3 million) in 2017 — a deal that Klopp says came at a time when “there weren’t 500 clubs asking about him”.
Now comes the acid test of the duo against Barcelona in the Camp Nou.
Inspired by the sublime Messi, Barca have scored more than 130 goals in all competitions already this term and wrapped up the Spanish title at the weekend.
But, while he acknowledges the threat posed by Messi, Luis Suarez and company, Robertson believes Liverpool should stick to their guns.
“We know we’ll have our hands full defensively but we all defend as a team and we attack as a team. If me and Trent have time to go forward, we will do it. It’s not going to stop us,” Robertson said.
“We know that we can create goals and chances, so why change that? But look, we will learn from the game and move from that and see how it pans out.
“It’s a challenge we all look forward to.”
NLC Shuns FG Subsidy Removal Meeting As Electricity Workers Back Strike
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) on Sunday shunned a meeting called by the Federal Government to discuss the subsidy removal and the attendant hike in fuel pump prices across the country.
The union insisted that it would not hold any dialogue with the government representatives unless a legitimate team was set up.
However, the Trade Union Congress officials attended the meeting which was a follow-up to the talks held with the NLC at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, last week, which ended in a deadlock.
This is as the electricity workers vowed to join the strike and plunge the nation into a blackout in protest against the removal of fuel subsidy by the Bola Tinubu administration.
The National Treasurer of the NLC, Hakeem Ambali, confirmed the decision of the union to boycott the meeting which was a follow-up to the Wednesday meeting on the removal of subsidy.
During the meeting attended by the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, Managing Director, Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation Limited, Mele Kyari, Dele Alake, and others, the NLC had insisted on the reversal of the fuel pump price pegged at between N488 and N540.
Following the breakdown of talks, the congress resolved at its NEC meeting held on Friday to embark on a nationwide strike.
Speaking to The PUNCH on Sunday, Ambali explained that like the TUC, the NLC was invited for a follow-up meeting at the State House following the earlier meeting which ended in a deadlock.
He hinted that the union did not attend the talks because the government representatives had no official mandate or authority to negotiate for the President.
“It was an adjourned meeting, a follow-up to the last one. However, the NLC insisted that we would be ready to negotiate with a team that has legitimacy and official mandate to negotiate for President Tinubu,” he stated.
Shedding light on the NLC’s boycott of the session, the National President of the congress, Joe Ajaero, contended that the meeting was of no consequence to the congress.
Speaking in an interview on Arise television on Sunday, Ajaero said, “Of what use is today’s meeting? As of Tuesday night, I had a meeting with the president of the TUC and some other government officials. I told the NNPCL MD that any move to increase the pump price would be taken as war.
“They went ahead to announce. We told them to return to the status quo so that negotiations will continue but up till now, they have not done that. So what are we going to the meeting to do?
“We are not making any progress and this is because we are still at the same point. The issue of alternatives and subsidies are things we have discussed over time and our position has been made public but the government appears not to be interested in our position.”
Speaking on media reports about factions of the NLC opposed to the strike, Ajaero said, “On Friday, all affiliates of the NLC agreed that we should take the next line of action. We don’t have northern NLC or southern NLC. If any media house has proof, let them bring it forward.”
In a notice issued on Sunday, the National Union of Electricity Employees also threatened to join the strike action.
Already, the NUEE has directed its members to withdraw their services nationwide over the sudden removal of the fuel subsidy by the FG.
The NUEE in a notice signed by its acting General Secretary, Dominic Igwebike, urged its members to comply with the directive and stop work from the early hours of Wednesday.
The union said its decision was a sequel to the directive from the NLC.
“To this effect, all national, state, and chapter executives are requested to start the mobilisation of our members in total compliance with this directive,” the statement said.
It further added, “Please note that withdrawal of Services nationwide commences from 0.00 hours of Wednesday, June 7, 2023.
“You are encouraged to work with the leadership of State Executive Councils of the Congress in your various states with a view to having a successful action.’’
As the Federal Government was scrambling to avert the strike, various state chapters of the NLC on Sunday started mobilising their members for the strike on Wednesday as directed by the leadership of the union.
The Lagos State chapter of the union endorsed the strike declared by the NLC leadership despite pleas by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu.
The NLC Chairman in Lagos State, Funmi Sessi, said the chapter was “in full support of the strike.”
Sessi, who said the NLC was not against subsidy removal, stressed that the congress was concerned about the masses and the effect the abrupt removal of subsidy would have on them.
She stated, “We are part of the NLC NEC’s decision to embark on a nationwide strike from Wednesday. If the Federal Government does not caution the NNPCL to revert to the old pump price, the strike will go on as planned.
“The pump price must be reversed, then the Federal Government should afterward invite the NLC and stakeholders to dialogue over the issue. We are part of this decision in Lagos, and we are in full support of the strike.”
Like his Lagos counterpart, the Chairman of NLC in Nasarawa State, Ayuba Okok, said the workers in the state would participate in the strike action.
Addressing journalists after an emergency meeting of the State Executive Council held in Lafia on Sunday, Oko stated that he had directed all affiliates of the union in the state to mobilise their members preparatory to the strike.
Similarly, the Bayelsa State Council of the NLC said that it had asked the state workers to prepare to join the strike.
The state NLC secretary, John Angese, who stated this in a telephone chat with The Punch correspondent on Sunday, said the state council was against the removal of oil subsidy by the Federal Government.
Flying Eagles Lose 1-0 to South Korea, Crash Out of U-20 World Cup
The Flying Eagles’ quest to win their first-ever U-20 World Cup ended in the quarter-final stage on Sunday, after they lost 1-0 to South Korea at the Santiago Del Estero.
An extra-time goal by Choi Seok-hyeon was the difference as the Asians progressed to the semi-final of the U-20 World Cup in Argentina, where they face European champions, Italy.
Ladan Bosso made one change to the side that defeated hosts Argentina on Wednesday as Samson Lawal made way for Victor Eletu, who provided the assist for the second goal against the South Americans four days earlier.
Nigeria started the encounter as the better side and almost got the opener just two minutes into the game.
After dribbling past two opponents, Daniel Bameyi floated a nice cross into the Korean area, but the ball, intended for Ibrahim Muhammad, was blocked and cleared into safety following frantic defending by the Asians.
Bosso’s boys continued their dominance and in the eight minute, Abel Ogwueche almost broke the deadlock.
A well-taken corner-kick by Tochukwu Nnadi was headed straight into the hands of goalkeeper Kim Jun-hong by Ogwueche.
The Flying Eagles continued their dominance and were able to contain the pacy and skilful Red Devils.
At the start of the second half head coach Kim Eun-jung sent in Bae Jun-ho to replace Kang Seong-jin as he added more threat to his attack.
Despite the early change from the coach, the Nigerians remained the team looking likely to score and captain Bameyi drew out a fine save from Jun-hong after hitting a long-range shot with venom, but the goalkeeper was equal to the task to keep the score level.
After an hour of action, South Korea began to look more dangerous and had their first shot of the game, with Lee Seung-joon’s curler beating Kingsley Aniagboso, in goal for Nigeria, but narrowly missed the target.
In response, Bosso made two quick changes as he sent in Umeh Emmanuel and Kehinde Ibrahim for Fago Lawal and Muhammad respectively.
Bameyi then missed the opportunity to give Nigeria the late winner after winning the ball from Park Hyun-bin on the edge of the box in the 86th minute, but he dragged his shot just wide as the game headed into extra time.
And just four minutes into extra time, South Korea took the lead with their first shot on target in the encounter, Lee Young-jun’s corner-kick headed in by Choi Seok-hyeon.
With just 10 minutes left, Emmanuel squandered a glorious chance to hand Nigeria an equaliser after he volleyed his shot way high beyond the posts from inside the box.
The South Koreans held onto their slender lead as they sealed a spot in the semi-finals and will face Italy on Thursday.
Fuel Subsidy Removal: FG, Labour Meeting Ends in Deadlock
Talks between the Federal Government and organised labour over the removal of fuel subsidy ended in a deadlock on Wednesday as they failed to reach a consensus following the hike in petrol pump prices to over N700 from N195 per litre by oil marketers.
The hours-long meeting which was held at the Presidential Villa was to, among other things, prevent a labour crisis following the recent increase in the petrol pump price occasioned by the discontinuance of petroleum subsidy.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited said it had adjusted the pump price of Premium Motor Spirit to reflect the market realities. The agency, however, failed to state the new prices of petrol.
However, several retails outlets sold the product between 600 and N800 in Lagos, Abuja , Ogun and some other states.
The National Public Relations Officer, Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria, Chief Chinedu Ukadike, pointed out that the hike in the cost of PMS would trigger galloping inflation in the country, stressing that some outlets in the South-East were currently dispensing the product at N1,200/l.
Ukadike stated, “Once NNPCL retail stations have adjusted their pumps to reflect the new price, there is nothing you can do about it; that is the new price. As I speak with you, all of them are now selling at the new prices. The situation is so bad, that somewhere in Ebonyi State our members informed us that it is now N1,200/litre.
“We thought the President would remove the subsidy through a seamless means because the source of this petrol is the NNPCL. They are the ones subsidising petroleum products, they are the people who use their revenue to subsidise this product.’’
The IPMAN spokesperson expressed worry over the rate of increase in inflation and hardship that would come as a result of the latest hike in petrol price.
“This hike in petrol price will definitely lead to galloping inflation and will worsen the hardship already being faced by the Nigerian masses. It is not something to cheer about. It came as a surprise and in the coming days, we will see the very harsh ripple effects,” he stated.
Meanwhile, Ukadike has called on the Federal Government and the NNPCL to give other marketers the opportunity to start importing petrol in order to create competition in the sector.
“The NNPCL is importing and has not given people the opportunity to join them in importing so as to see whether private sector operators can import the product cheaper or not. So there is no competition. In a deregulated regime, there must be competition, everyone with capacity should be allowed to import,” the IPMAN official stated.
When asked whether other marketers could resume imports since the government had finally deregulated petrol prices, Ukadike replied, “Marketers can import, but let me tell you some of the factors militating against this. The first is that there won’t be availability of dollars.
“You will source your dollar from the parallel market and if you are not careful in doing this, and you go into the importation of petroleum products, you might not ‘come out of it alive’ at the end of the day.
“So what we are saying is that those advantages that NNPCL has, should be shared with other major importers of petroleum products. If it is through crude buy-back, they should let us know so that independent players such as IPMAN members can come together and be able to use it in the buy-back model.’’
He added, “For independent marketers, the most important thing is that there should be availability of petroleum products, and the government should open up the space for importers and investors to come in.”
NNPCL, the sole importer of petrol into Nigeria for several years running, confirmed the hike in petrol price in a statement and a new pricing template released to marketers nationwide.
But the move has sparked a groundswell of anger across the nation with the Nigeria Labour Congress demanding an immediate reversal of the decision.
The union also said it would hold an emergency meeting on Friday on the fuel price increase which had triggered hoarding and scarcity across the country with attendant rise in transport fares, goods and services.
The fuel price hike by the oil firm is coming 72 hours after President Bola Tinubu declared in his inaugural address on Monday that the subsidy regime had ended.
To pacify the growing anger over the situation, the FG hastily summoned some labour leaders to a meeting at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, on Wednesday evening.
The meeting had in attendance the NLC President, Joe Ajaero and his Trade Union Congress counterpart, Festus Osifo, former NLC President and immediate past governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, Permanent Secretary, State House, Tijjani Umar, Head of Service of the Federation, Dr Folashade Yemi-Esan, Group Chief Executive Officer of the NNPCL, Mele Kyari, and others, however, ended in a deadlock as the labour and government teams failed to reach a consensus.
Speaking at the end of the meeting, Joe Ajaero, said “As far as labour is concerned, we didn’t have a consensus in this meeting.”
He faulted the NNPCL over an official release published hours earlier reviewing the petrol pump price in its filling stations nationwide.
He said the move puts the labour unions in a difficult position on the negational table.
“That’s the principle of negotiation. You don’t put the partner, ask them to negotiate under gunpoint. The prayer of the NLC is that we go back to the status quo, negotiate, think of alternatives and all the effects and how to manage the effects this action is going to have on the people. If it is an action that must take off.
“The subsidy provision has been made up to the end of June. And before then, conscious people, labour management, and the government should be able to think of what will happen at the end of June. You don’t start it before the time,” Ajaero said.