'Miracle' semi-finalists Sudan put 2,550-day unbeaten record to the test at African Nations Championship

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Sudan have a scarcely believable record at the African Nations Championship.

“Miracle” semi-finalists Sudan defend a 2,550-day unbeaten African Nations Championship (CHAN) record when they tackle Nigeria in Morocco on Wednesday.

The east African country have played 10 matches spanning eight years in the biennial tournament for home-based footballers, winning six and drawing four.

However, finishing unbeaten as 2011 hosts failed to bring Sudan the title as they lost on penalties to Angola after a drawn semi-final.

None of the 29 other nations who have qualified for the CHAN can match the Sudanese record, which many pundits believe will end in central city Marrakech against the Nigerians.

Sudan have grinded their way to the last four on the back of a strong defence set to face its greatest challenge against the highly creative west Africans.

No team has carved open rearguards more regularly than the Nigerians and they will be hard to stop should the likes of Anthony Okpotu become more clinical inside the box.

Nigeria's Anthony Okpotu will be a handful for Sudan.

Nigeria’s Anthony Okpotu will be a handful for Sudan.

Recently hired Sudan coach Zdravko Logarusic, a widely-travelled 55-year-old Croatian, told AFP that reaching the semi-finals was a “miracle”.

“We had only a couple of weeks to prepare and the expectation was that we would finish behind Morocco and Guinea and be eliminated after the first round.”

Sudan, who are 24 places below Nigeria in the FIFA Africa rankings, defeated Guinea and Mauritania and held hosts Morocco to finish second on goal difference.

“Unfortunately, our quarter-finals victory over Zambia has changed our status from no-hopers to title dark horses.

Expectations among Sudanese supporters have risen.

“The Nigeria match represents our greatest challenge because more is expected of us now. We are no longer flying under the radar.”

Logarusic will hope for another outstanding performance from goalkeeper Akram Elhadi, a vocal goalmouth organiser at set-piece time who has been beaten only once in 360 minutes.

Earlier Wednesday, two of the most successful CHAN 2018 sharpshooters will be in action when title favourites Morocco play former champions Libya in Casablanca.

Virtually unknown outside Morocco before the tournament kicked off in mid January, striker Ayoub el Kaabi is the leading scorer with six goals, including a hat-trick against Guinea.

Libyan Saleh Taher Saeid had a similar low-level profile in the continent until netting twice against Equatorial Guinea and once against Congo Brazzaville.

What Morocco will desperately want to avoid is a penalty shootout – Libya have been involved in four at CHAN tournaments and won them all.

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Man City sign Aymeric Laporte from Athletic Bilbao in club-record £57m deal

David Cooper 30/01/2018
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Aymeric Laporte

Manchester City have completed the signing of French defender Aymeric Laporte from Athletic Bilbao on a deal until 2023, the Premier League club have announced.

City tweeted the announcement of the reported £57 million (Dh295.9m) deal with the message: “Defensive reinforcements acquired!”, as manager Pep Guardiola aims to bolster the Premier League leaders’ defence for the title run-in.

The 23-year-old Frenchman is Guardiola’s sixth signing of the 2017/18 season and has joined in a deal until 2023.

“I am very happy to be here,” Laporte said. “City are a club with a lot of ambition and they are one of the best teams in Europe.

“I am looking forward to working under Pep Guardiola and trying to help the club to achieve success.”

Txiki Begiristain, City’s director of football, added: “We are delighted to have signed Aymeric. We have assessed defensive options and he is a player we have admired for a long time.

“With his quality and ability to play out from the back, we feel Aymeric will fit in perfectly with Pep Guardiola’s playing style.”

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Man United on the road whille Chelsea host Hull City in FA Cup fifth round draw

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League One leaders Wigan will hope history can repeat itself after landing an FA Cup rematch with Manchester City in the fifth round draw.

The DW Stadium clash will stir memories of the 2013 final when Wigan – then sliding out of the Premier League – snatched a stunning late winner through a Ben Watson header.

In the pick of the other ties, new Swansea boss Carlos Carvalhal will face a quick return to his former club Sheffield Wednesday provided the Swans beat League Two Notts County in a replay.

Manchester United will travel to either Huddersfield or Birmingham, who battled out a 1-1 draw at the weekend and face a replay at St Andrew’s.

Chelsea face Hull at Stamford Bridge while Millwall could face Tottenham in a repeat of last season’s quarter-final provided they win replays over Rochdale and Newport respectively.

West Brom and Southampton meet in an all-Premier League clash, Sheffield United travel to Leicester, while Brighton face 1987 winners Coventry.

FA Cup fifth-round draw

Sheffield Wednesday v Notts County/Swansea

West Brom v Southampton

Chelsea v Hull

Leicester v Sheffield United

Huddersfield/Birmingham v Manchester United

Millwall/Rochdale v Newport County or Tottenham

Brighton v Coventry

Wigan v Manchester City

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