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UCL: Liverpool Test Strength against Barcelona

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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.”

(AFP)

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Peter Obi Chides FG, Says Poverty on the Increase, Unemployment Rising

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The presidential candidate of the Labour Party in the 2023 election, Peter Obi, has criticized Nigerian leaders for their misplaced priorities amidst the country’s declining economic fortune. Obi, in a social media statement, noted that Nigeria’s GDP growth rate plummeted from 6.72% between 1999-2014 to 2.79% in 2015, followed by a recession in 2016 with a negative growth rate of -1.58% and 0.82% in 2017.

He lamented that the country’s economy has regressed significantly over the past nine years, with Nigeria losing its position as Africa’s largest economy. He said, “When Nigeria returned to democratic governance in 1999, it maintained an average GDP growth of about 6.72% for 16 years from 1999-2014. The impressive growth trajectory, unfortunately, was not sustained by the then-new government and our GDP growth collapsed to 2.79% in 2015 and then sank into a recession in 2016 with a negative growth of -1.58% and 0.82% in 2017. For the past 9 years, Nigeria’s economy has seen unprecedented retrogression on many fronts.

“In 2014, just before the inception of a new administration a year later, Nigeria had the biggest economy in Africa with a Gross Domestic Product of $568.5 billion and a GDP Per Capita of about $3,200.

“Our economic indices pointed towards hope and prospects for the future growth of the economy. Nine years later, the giant of Africa has retrogressed to the 4th largest economy in Africa.

“Reports showed our GDP in 2023 stood at $375 billion with a per capita of $1700. In 2024, our estimated GDP declined further to $253 billion with an estimated per capita of $1087. These trends and figures show how our 9 years journey since 2015 has resulted in a sharp decline in our national prosperity.”

He added, “Today, poverty is pervasive and on the increase. Unemployment is rising. Food inflation has skyrocketed to over 43%.

Foreign and local investors are losing faith in the future growth of our economy and are leaving in large numbers.

“Businesses are shutting down. Urgent actions need to be taken to salvage the nation from further economic collapse and move it from consumption to production.” Instead of addressing these pressing issues, Obi accused leaders of prioritizing their selfish luxuries and lavishness while blaming others for the country’s problems.

According to him, politics should focus on serving the people and bettering society, committing to inclusive and sustainable growth to alleviate hardship and achieve a peaceful and secure society.

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Aftermath of Monopoly Allegation: Dangote Offers to Sell Refinery to NNPC

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Africa’s wealthiest man Aliko Dangote said he is willing to give up ownership of his multibillion-dollar oil refinery to the state-owned energy company NNPC Limited.

The billionaire spoke as a new dispute with one of the key equity partners in the plant heats up in the latest phase of a bitter row with regulatory authorities in Nigeria.

The 650,000 barrel-per-day refinery, which came to life last year after a decade of prolonged construction, cost $19 billion, more than double the initial estimate, promising to help wean Africa’s biggest oil producer off its reliance on fuel from overseas and save up 30 per cent of the total foreign exchange spent on importing goods.

“Let them (NNPCL) buy me out and run the refinery the best way they can. They have labelled me a monopolist. That’s an incorrect and unfair allegation, but it’s OK. If they buy me out, at least, their so-called monopolist would be out of the way,” Mr Dangote told PREMIUM TIMES in an exclusive interview on Sunday.

“We have been facing fuel crisis since the 70s. This refinery can help in resolving the problem but it does appear some people are uncomfortable that I am in the picture. So I am ready to let go, let the NNPC buy me out, run the refinery.”

The multisectoral investor’s big bet on oil and gas, which he ventured into following years of relatively stress-free dominance of Nigeria’s cement, salt and sugar industries, is turning out problematic in its early days.

Set for its first roll-out of petrol to the Nigerian market in August, the mammoth plant has been operating just above half its capacity since the January start of refining operations, constrained in part by difficulties in sourcing crude from international producers.

Dangote Refinery said those companies are either demanding outrageous premiums before agreeing to supply crude or simply claiming the product is unavailable.

NNPC, once a sweetheart of the refiner before the current dispute soured relations, had delivered only 6.9 million barrels of oil to the plant as of May since last year, according to S&P Global Platts, a tracker of supply data.

NNPC Limited has a supply deal with the company dating back to the commencement of operations and previously agreed to a 20 per cent equity participation, the refinery saying only 7.2 per cent has been fully paid for before the deadline issued to the company to acquire the stake.

Starving the refinery of the feedstock required to keep it running at present capacity means it has turned to countries like Brazil and the US to bridge the gulf in supply.

“As you probably know, I am 67 years old, in less than three years, I will be 70. I need very little to live the rest of my life. I can’t take the refinery or any other property or asset to my grave. Everything I do is in the interest of my country,” Mr Dangote told PREMIUM TIMES.

“This refinery can help in resolving the problem but it does appear some people are uncomfortable that I am in the picture. So I am ready to let go, let the NNPC buy me out, run the refinery. At least the country will have high-quality products and create jobs,” he added.

Mr Dangote said the obstacles his refinery is facing seem to have vindicated friends and associates who conselled him to tread with caution as he pumped billions of dollars into the Nigerian economy.

“Four years ago, one of my very wealthy friends began to invest his money abroad. I disagreed with him and urged him to rethink his action in the interest of his country. He blamed his action on policy inconsistencies and shenanigans of interest groups. That friend has been taunting me in the past few days, saying he warned me and that he has been proven right,” the businessman said.

Culled from Premium Times

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Media Office Alleges Plot to Arrest Peter Obi by Tinubu’s Govt

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The Peter Obi Media Reach has refuted allegations made by the presidential spokesman, Bayo Onanuga, linking the 2023 Labour Party presidential candidate, Peter Obi, to a planned protest.

The media office described the allegations as wild, wicked and baseless, saying that the presidency was planning to use the planned protest to arrest Obi.

In a lengthy post on his verified X handle on Saturday, Onanuga claimed that Obi’s supporters are behind the planned nationwide protests against the Tinubu administration.

The presidential aide said Obi and his supporters should be held responsible for any mayhem that may occur in the protest, alleging that “they are not democrats but anarchists.”

Onanuga accused the protest organisers of lacking the patience to wait for another election in 2027 and instead, “destabilise Nigeria by staging a civilian coup against President Bola Tinubu.”

He claimed that those organising the protests were also behind the ENDSARS protest of October 2020, which later turned violent and urged security agents to interrogate the “agents of destabilisation” behind the demonstrations.

However, in a statement issued by its spokesman, Yunusa Tanko, on Saturday, the media office said the “unsubstantiated allegations are being orchestrated to arrest Obi and limit his freedom and association”.

Tanko also stated that the allegation was an attempt to stop Obi’s propagation of good governance, which the presidency found injurious to their lavish lifestyle.

He added that the former Governor of Anambra State has not in any way shown or been associated with violence, even in the most obvious provocations.

The statement reads, “The attention of the Peter Obi Media Reach, POMR, has been drawn to the wild, wicked and baseless allegations by one of the Spokespersons in the Presidency, Bayo Onanuga, accusing the Labour Party’s Presidential Candidate in the 2023 elections, Peter Obi, of being the mastermind of a planned protest in the country.

“The statement even said that Obi should be held responsible for any mayhem that may occur in the protest. But POMR can report from good and reliable authority that these unsubstantiated allegations are being orchestrated to arrest Obi, limit his freedom and association and stop his propagation for good governance which they find injurious to their lavish lifestyle.

“Peter Obi, by his mien in and out of political office, has not in any way shown or been associated with violence even in the most obvious provocations. He has always shown, even during the electioneering, that he is issue-driven as he carries on without calling anybody’s name.

“POMR is also aware that multiple attack dogs have been hired and strategically deployed to ensure that Obi does not enjoy the ear of the Nigerian populace who are keen on hearing his voice on issues.

“These spine doctors and hirelings, to justify their pay, indulge in all kinds of falsehood ostensibly to distract Obi and confuse Nigerians who already see Obi as a suiting balm in the current turbulent political and economic environment.”

The media team urged Nigerians to ignore the Presidency’s cheap blackmail as Obi and his supporters all over the country and in the diaspora remain resolute in their search for a new Nigeria.

“It added, “All the problems, real and imagined, created by their insensitivity and lavish lifestyle they have curiously tried to link to Obi. Notable challenges of the administration, which are a consequence of their actions and inactions like fuel subsidy fallouts, growing poverty in the land, inflation, nepotism and unresolved historical conflicts, among others they blame all on Obi.

“POMR, therefore, wishes to urge Nigerians to ignore the Presidency’s cheap blackmail as Obi and the Obidient family all over the country and in the diaspora remain resolute in their search for a new Nigeria that is possible and would not be cowed or be made to lose focus.”

The Punch

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