Nige­ria to play short af­ter el­bow­ing

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Kevin Bax­ter kevin.bax­ter@la­times.com

VAN­COU­VER, Canada — Nige­ria will be short-handed when it meets the U.S. on Tues­day in the fi­nal game of Women’s World Cup group play af­ter FIFA suspended Ugo Njoku for three games for el­bow­ing Australia’s Sa­man­tha Kerr in a group­play game last Fri­day.

Njoku was also fined the equiv­a­lent of $3,200.

A sec­ond-half sub­sti­tute, Njoku was stand­ing with her back to Kerr in the 76th minute of Australia’s 2-0 win when she drove her right el­bow into Kerr’s face, knock­ing her to the turf. Kerr, who was orig­i­nally thought to have a bro­ken jaw, was at­tended to by train­ers but fin­ished the game. She is ex­pected to play Tues­day against Swe­den.

“It was quite vi­cious,” Kerr said of the un­pro­voked, off-the-ball play.

The Aus­tralian bench brought the in­ci­dent to the at­ten­tion of French ref­eree Stéphanie Frap­part, but Frap­part did not see the in­ci­dent and no ac­tion was taken against Njoku dur­ing the game.

Af­ter the game, Nige­rian Coach Ed­win Okon said the el­bow­ing was ac­ci­den­tal, though video re­plays con­tra­dicted that.

“It was not de­lib­er­ate,” Okon said. “It’s a game of con­tact. I don’t think any player would do that on their own with their el­bow.”

Pri­vately, how­ever, the Nige­rian soc­cer fed­er­a­tion is said to be deeply em­bar­rassed by the in­ci­dent, with of­fi­cials sternly scold­ing the team.

Nige­ria will en­ter the fi­nal day of pool play at the bot­tom of the Group D ta­ble although it still has a chance of ad­vanc­ing with a win over the U.S., a team it has never beaten. On Sun­day, they rested

No World Cup games were played Sun­day, the sec­ond break in the tour­na­ment’s first nine days. The 24 teams al­ready have had as many days off as they have had games.

There are 10 sched­uled rest and re­cov­ery days in the World Cup, mean­ing noth­ing will be hap­pen­ing for a third of the month-long tour­na­ment. In the men’s event last sum­mer, there were seven breaks in 32 days, but none dur­ing group play. The days off there came be­tween each round of the knock­out stage.

“The cre­ation of a match sched­ule and the de­ci­sion to con­firm tour­na­ment dates is a com­plex process,” a FIFA spokesper­son said.

“Var­i­ous el­e­ments have to be taken into ac­count, such as the in­ter­na­tional match cal­en­dar, feed­back from as­so­ci­a­tions, avail­abil­ity of sta­dium and train­ing sites and TV sched­ul­ing, among oth­ers.”

Also af­fect­ing the sched­ule was the fact that the first two rounds of group games were played as dou­ble­head­ers, with all four teams in a par­tic­u­lar pool play­ing on the same day at the same sta­dium.

In 1994, the last time a men’s World Cup fea­tured 24 teams and 52 matches, it was played over 31 days with eight rest days, none dur­ing the group stage.

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