Dec 16, 2017 Last Updated 8:35 AM, Dec 15, 2017
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Senegal's sports minister, Matar Ba, says the Teranga Lions are aiming to do better than any other African nation at the World Cup and reach the semi-finals next year.

In Russia, Senegal are in Group H along with Poland, Colombia and Japan.

In 2002, at their first ever World Cup, Senegal made it to the quarter-finals.

"We have to have our objectives - those objectives are to get to the second round and do better than in 2002," Ba told BBC Sport.

"The semi-finals are achievable because today football is not about being European or African or American - football is global,

"You look at the biggest championships in the world - in England in Italy, everywhere - there are Senegalese playing and they are in the teams. So we can rival any of the teams.

"We won't underestimate any of these teams because all 32 teams who are there have won through the qualifiers and so we have to respect them and we have to take them seriously."

Senegal will begin their Group H campaign against Poland on 19 June in Moscow before they play Japan on 24 June and finally Colombia four days later.

Ba refused to be drawn into making comparisons between the current team and the squad that play in South Korea and Japan in 2002.

"It's not the same - we can't compare them," he said.

"Each generation does its work and this generation want to do better than the team of 2002.

"We have a great team and we have Senegalese coach and we are going to prepare well for a good performance.

"We are ambitious but we are also reasonable and so we are going to set obtainable objective."

Ba admitted they may not now much about their opponents at the moment but added that can easily be changed.

"Nothing can be hidden these days with the internet. We can see everything we can analyse Colombia's matches and all the others," he pointed out.

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Tunisia coach Nabil Maaloul believes his side's hopes of reaching the World Cup second round hinge on their opening Group G game against England.

On Friday, the World Cup draw also pitted the North Africans against Belgium and Panama. 

"The key to qualification is going to be the first match, on 18 June, against England," Maaloul told BBC Sport.

"England have got a lot better this year, especially after appointing a new coach and fielding young talent.

"Dele Alli and Harry Kane are exceptional players. For me, Kane is one of the greatest forwards in the world right now."

Tunisia have met England at a World Cup once before, losing 2-0 in the French city Marseille during the 1998 World Cup.

"It's a new match, with two new trainers and a new generation," added Maaloul, who took charge in April this year.

"England had lots of stars and good players in 1998 but now you sense that there is a team - a team of young talented players. We are expecting a very difficult match."

After meeting England in Volgograd, Tunisia - appearing at their fifth finals, and first since 2006 - meet Belgium in Moscow on 23 June before finishing against Panama in Saransk on 28 June.

"It's a difficult group but we were expecting a difficult draw because if you are in Pot 3, you are going to have some great footballing nations - like Belgium and England."

"Belgium are ranked fifth in the world (rankings) - and are one of the great nations in the world, not only in Europe. They have talented players.

"We have to pay great attention to England and Belgium without forgetting Panama, who could be a surprise. It may be the first time they have qualified for the World Cup but we have to pay them attention as well."

In 1978, Tunisia became the first African nation to ever win a match at a World Cup when beating Mexico 3-1 in Argentina.

That was the Carthage Eagles' very first game at the finals but they have failed to win any of their 11 World Cup matches since - the longest winless run of any team in Russia next year.

However, Maaloul - who is in his second stint as Tunisia coach after a brief spell in charge in 2013 - believes his side can correct that unwanted statistic.

"We have a great chance," said the former international, who played for Tunisia between 1982-1994.

"We have talented players - players who are at the summit of their form and young players too. The average age of this Tunisian squad is 26 and despite meeting England, we have a great chance of reaching the second round."

Tunisia have never reached the knock-out stage of a World Cup, having failed in 1978, 1998, 2002 and 2006.

The Confederation of African Football (Caf) will give US$500,000 to each the of the continent's World Cup teams.

Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia will receive the money ahead of next year's finals in Russia.

"The financial package will be used in order mainly to strengthen and improve the technical supervision of each team," a Caf statement read.

The move is the first decision taken by a special committee set up to work with the five qualifiers.

The ad hoc committee chaired by the Caf vice-president, Kwesi Nyantakyi from Ghana, met for the first time ahead of the World Cup draw in Russia on 1 December.

The other committee also has Caf executive committee member Kalusha Bwalya and presidents of the five presidents of the football associations of the World Cup-bound teams.

In addition, Caf will provide each nation with specialised technology to help measure the physical performances of sportsmen and women.

 

Italy have sacked coach Giampiero Ventura after the four-time champions failed to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1958.

The Azzurri lost a play-off with Sweden 1-0 on aggregate to spell the end of 69-year-old Ventura's 17-month tenure.

Ventura said his record was "one of the best of the last 40 years".

"I lost only two games in two years," he told Italian television show Le Iene before the Italian Football Federation fired him on Wednesday.

Ventura replaced Antonio Conte in June 2016, and was described as a "master of football" by Italian football federation president Carlo Tavecchio.

However, Italy took one point out of a possible six against Spain in qualifying and also drew at home to Macedonia.

"I can only apologise to the Italians, not for the will or effort but for the result, which as I know is the main thing," said former Napoli and Sampdoria boss Ventura after Italy's World Cup hopes were ended.

When he was appointed he was given a two-year deal which would have taken him to the end of the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia.

At the time, Tavecchio called Ventura an "innovative" coach with "limitless experience" who had helped many players reach the national side.

More than 20 police officers were injured in Brussels when celebrations over Morocco's qualification for football's World Cup turned violent.

The Moroccan national side qualified for the 2018 tournament in Russia with a 2-0 victory away to Ivory Coast on Saturday, topping their group.

Belgium has a large Moroccan community and fans hit the capital's streets after the game.

Damage included a burnt car, smashed glass and looted shops, police said.

One witness posted video to Twitter of a water cannon being used on a crowd. Police said it was used on a group of about 300 people, some of whom were throwing stones.

Calm had returned by 21:30 local time (20:30 GMT), a reporter for the AFP news agency said.

Belgium’s Interior Minister Jan Jambon condemned the riots, tweeting (in French) that they constituted "unacceptable aggression in the centre of Brussels".

He added: "Living together means respect, also for the police who are committed to our safety day and night."

In the Netherlands too, large groups of fans from Morocco or of Moroccan background celebrated in the streets. Some celebrations there turned violent, with the police in The Hague tweeting (in Dutch) that some people threw things at officers.

In Rotterdam, dancing fans set off flares in red and green, Morocco's colours.

Meanwhile in Morocco itself thousands of fans celebrated in the streets of Marrakesh, Casablanca and other cities.

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