Monthly Archives: May, 2015

2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup: Group F Focus

Okay. I just have one last group to go. But before I head into it, I’ll give you the links to my other Group reviews for those that missed:

And now here is my last group review for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup:

GROUP F:

France fixed-France (3): France is one team loaded with talent and prowess but still looking for their first big break in a major international competition. The highest ‘Les Bleues’ have ever finished at a World Cup or an Olympics is fourth and they’ve never made it past the quarterfinal of a Women’s Euro.

No doubt they come to this World Cup with something to prove and the hopes of finally proving it here and now. France has been very impressive in their play these past two months. They’ve only lost to the United States. This could be their year.

England fixed-England (6): England is one of those countries that has constantly seen football as a man’s game leaving the women getting the short end of the stick. That was made evident in the 2003 movie Bend It Like Beckham. Things have gotten better as many Premier League teams have their own women’s teams like Everton, Aston Villa, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool to name a few. They even have their own league, the WSL. Heck, even Prince William gave the national team a royal send-off before they left for Canada. However as they improve, so does women’s football as a whole and they struggle to show their greatness. They’ve only gotten as far as the quarterfinals in the World Cup. The ‘Three Lionesses’ did however make the finals of the 2009 Women’s Euro.

Play for the national team has been a struggle in recent years. They failed to advance past the group stage of the 2013 Women’s Euro. They also suffered a blow knowing that there won’t be a Great Britain team for the 2016 Olympics remembering the difficulties getting Great Britain teams were for London 2012. So it’s no wonder they’ll be looking for Canada for glory. They did however win the Cyprus Cup back in March where they beat Canada in the final as well as Finland and Australia. The last eighteen months have also been consistent for England as they’ve won most of their matches, losing only to France, Germany and the U.S. Their reputation can increase after this World Cup which will be a plus because at last year’s World Cup, the men failed to advance past the group stage for the first time since 1958. Trust the girls to give England that well-needed upper.

Colombia

-Colombia (28): Colombia is an emerging nation in women’s football. They competed in their first World Cup in 2011 and they’ve finished second in the last two Copa America Femininas. They even have a berth in the 2016 Olympics upon their second-place finish at last year’s Copa and with winners Brazil automatically competing as host nation.

However ‘Las Cafetaras’ are still relatively inexperienced in terms of international play. The only UEFA team they’ve ever won against is Wales and they’ve never won against Mexico. They have some good talent that even plays in American and European leagues but they still have along ways to go to contend for bigger things. Nevertheless it’s all uphill from here. It would be interesting to see how far they go over time.

Mexico-Mexico (25): Mexico is one team on the move in women’s football. They’ve competed in two previous World Cups and one Olympics. They’ve been runner-up at the CONCACAF Cup twice and medalists at the Pan Am Games three out of four times.

‘El Tricolor’ have a talented line-up with no less than twelve players playing for American or European leagues. This is the team that is most likely to pull an upset as they have drawn against England in their last meeting. Their qualifying chances are very good. They could also progress well but they have a mixed record from the past twelve months. They’ve won against Italy, Czech Republic and Colombia but lost to Canada, U.S., Costa Rica and South Korea. Nevertheless whatever happens in Canada, El Tricolor have a bright future.

MY PREDICTION:

I feel France will take the top spot in this group. I feel England will most likely be second but Mexico could surprise. Mexico will definitely be third at the least.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT

-VANCOUVER: BC Place StadiumBC Place

Year Opened: 1983

World Cup Capacity: 54,500

World Cup Groups Hosting: C,D,

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16, Quarterfinals, Final

The stadium was built with the intention of being a highlight during Expo 86.It consisted of a unique air-supported dome until 2010. Highlights of its use have primarily been CFL games and concerts. Noteworthy use in the past include Vancouver Canadians baseball games, the Pope’s visit in 1984, and ceremonies venue for the 2010 Winter Olympics and Winter Paralympics.

Vancouver however has a special liking to the sport of football. BC Place’s first ever event in June of 1983 was actually a soccer match starring the Vancouver Whitecaps who were then part of the NASL. The Whitecaps have had a loyal following over four decades and whatever name changes over the years and their transfer to the MLS five years ago were met with open arms. The Whitecaps have since gone on to be the fifth-most attended team of the MLS. It’s no wonder with this kind of football support Vancouver was easily chosen as a venue for the 2015 Women’s World Cup. One noteworthy item: all the tickets for the final at BC Place are sold out.

And there you have it. My last Women’s World Cup group review. More WWC blogs to come like my experience at the Trophy Tour, tournament analyses and my own experience at a Round of 16 game (Yes, I have a ticket!). The Cup all beings in Edmonton on Saturday the 6th!

2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup: Group E Focus

I’m sure that when some of you hear me talk about a controversy about this World Cup, it’s about the recent bombshell about the arrests of FIFA members. It’s not. I’m going to save that for another blog just like I’m saving the topic of women’s football for a separate blog. In this blog, here’s my review of Group E with another stadium focus and another issue focus:

GROUP E:

Spain Fixed-Spain (14): This will be Spain’s first Women’s World Cup. Spain’s women are relatively inexperienced to  major competition. They’ve never played in an Olympics before either. Nevertheless ‘La Roja’ do have some accolades like a third-place finish at the 1997 Women’s Euro and a quarterfinals finish at the last one in 2013. They’ve also had an impressive play record in the past two years with only a single loss to Norway in 2013 and wins against Italy, the Czech Republic and Belgium. Spain may just be a future power in women’s football.

Brazil-Brazil (7): When women’s football started making a name for itself in the 1990’s, it was North America and Asia that were the leaders. Countries from South America and most European countries still thought of football as strictly a man’s game and had lackluster women’s teams to show for it. Since then the continents have been taking women’s football more seriously. If there’s one country that has shown the most progress, it’s Brazil.

The Brazilian men without a doubt have the biggest legacy of any football country. The Brazilian women have really made strides to become one of the best in the world these last 15 years. They were finalists at the 2007 World Cup and achieved 3rd place in 1999. They also have two Olympic silver medals and have won the Copa America Feminina all but once. They even produced a player that can be called ‘The Female Pele,’ Marta, with five FIFA Women’s World Player Of The Year awards.

Even though Brazil has become one of the best in the last couple of decades, they still have some noticeable ‘weak spots.’ For starters, they’ve never won against England or France. Secondly, they lost to Germany twice this year. Nevertheless Brazil has been impressive these past twelve months. They’ve ties the U.S. and they’ve had wins against China, Sweden and Switzerland. Canada will be both another proving point for Brazil and a learning experience for Rio 2016.

Costa Rica-Costa Rica (37): Another of the two debut teams of this Group E. True, Costa Rica have never played in a world Cup or an Olympics before but they are a team whose cred is growing slowly but surely. They’ve been impressive during the CONCACAF Women’s Gold Cup with three semi-final finishes and were finalists at the last one in 2014.Despite their lack of experience on the world stage, they do have a promising team with four players playing for either American professional teams or American colleges.

I know I’ve talked a lot about countries here to learn. We shouldn’t forget women’s football is still growing, especially in continents where play has been denied a lot in the past. We should keep in mind Costa Rica is the first Central American country to qualify for the Women’s World Cup. Like the other ‘learning’ teams, Costa Rica really has nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Korea-South Korea (18): South Korea’s men are the tops of Asian countries in football. South Korea’s women have long been relegated to second-fiddle to China and Japan but they’re seeking to improve over the years. They’ve never qualified for an Olympics and they’ve made only one previous World Cup appearance back in 2003. However they have some accolades of their own like four semi-final finishes at the AFC Asian Cup and bronze medals at the last two Asian Games.

Their play has been 50/50 this year as they beat Russia and tied Belgium but lost to Canada and Scotland. 2015 should help boost the team for a brighter future.

MY PREDICTION: I predict Brazil to win Group E with South Korea coming in second. Third-place was a tough prediction. I predict Spain, based on their experience. Mind you anything can happen.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT

-EDMONTON: Commonwealth StadiumEskimos

Year Opened: 1978

World Cup Capacity: 56,302

World Cup Groups Hosting: A,C,D

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16, Quarterfinal, Semifinal, Third-Place

The Stadium was opened in 1978 in time for the Commonwealth Games Edmonton hosted. Since then it has served as the venue for the Edmonton Eskimos football team and occasionally the FC Edmonton soccer team. The Stadium is the biggest of the six hosting matches for the FIFA World Cup which explains why Canada’s first two Group Stage matches will be held here. The stadium has undergone two renovations: the first in 2001 in time for the World Athletic Championships which included a new scoreboard, an enlarged concourse and a new track. The second in 2008 which experienced a reconfiguration and a turf replacement. Outside of their main sports teams, the stadium has hosted many concerts and has also hosted many soccer friendlies for both Canada’s men’s and women’s teams.

THE TURF ISSUE

The World Cup may be building in excitement but hard to believe a year ago there was a controversy brewing with threats of boycotts. The reason was because all six stadiums will be using some form of artificial turf. why does it matter? Many believe artificial turf makes players more prone to injuries. 50 players protested the use of turf on the basis of gender discrimination. Seems odd to me to think that getting them to play on turf is a form of discrimination. Keep in mind it’s FIFA regulation that the men’s World Cup matches all be contested on grass.

There was even a lawsuit claiming FIFA would never have the men play on ‘unsafe’ artificial turf and is a violation of the Canadian Human Rights Charter. The suit filed in October 2014 in Ontario even pointed how FIFA demanded stadiums in the United States to replace the artificial turf with grass even if it meant extra millions in expenses. The lawsuit had supporters like Tom Hanks, Kobe Bryant and U.S. men’s team goalkeeper Tim Howard. FIFA’s head of women’s competitions Tatjana Haenni made it firm: “We play on artificial turf and there’s no Plan B.” The lawsuit was eventually dropped in January of this year. All the stadiums have kept the turfs they had.

Despite its firm stance, FIFA has not hesitated to discuss the issue. In fact FIFA.com did an interview with Professor Eric Harrison. Harrison, who was assigned by FIFA to inspect the pitches of the six stadiums between September 29th to October 8th of last year, was given a Q&A about his findings, the various football turfs and even injury rick. He gave his answers on why Canadians stadiums have artificial turf (Canada’s extreme weather conditions), the various turfs classified by FIFA and if there’s any difference int he frequency of injury (Harrison claims there’s no real difference). For the complete interview, click here.

And there you go. My focus on Group E and bonuses. That only means one last group to review. Coming Sunday.

WORKS CITED:

FIFA.com Staff. “Harrison: Football Turf is Integral to Canada 2015” FIFA.com. 23 October 2014<http://www.fifa.com/womensworldcup/news/y=2014/m=10/news=harrison-football-turf-is-integral-to-canada-2015-2461003.html>

WIKIPEDIA: 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Wikipedia.com. 2015. Wikimedia Foundation Inc.<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_FIFA_Women%27s_World_Cup>

2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup: Group D Focus

You’re probably wondering how do the berths at this World Cup get decided? Firstly, the number per continent is decided by FIFA. Often the continents with more berths have better prowess in women’s football. You’ll notice as North America and Asia have a bigger presence than at the men’s World Cup. So here’s the continental breakdown of the 24 berths at this year’s World Cup:

  • Host Nation – 1
  • North and Central America, Caribbean countries under CONCACAF- 3
  • Europe or UEFA-Allied countries – 8
  • Africa or CAF-allied countries – 3
  • Asia or AFC-allied countries – 5
  • South America or CONMEBOL-allied countries – 2
  • Oceania countries under the OFC – 1
  • CONCACAF/CONMEBOL playoff – 1

That’s how FIFA sets the Women’s World Cup for an even distribution among the continents. Now that it’s all explained, here’s the latest group in review. Funny thing is that it’s already being called a ‘group of death’ because of how all four teams have significant cred to themselves. Heck, what do three teams in the FIFA Top 10 tell you about this group? Without further ado, here’s my review, along with another stadium focus and a bonus where you can have a ball:

GROUP D:

USA-United States (2): There’s no doubting the legacy the United States have in women’s football. While the men struggle to make it past the Round of 16, the   U.S. excel like no other country having won two World Cups–they’ve never finished worse than third at a Women’s World Cup– and Olympic gold in four of the five Games women’s soccer has been contested. They’ve churned out legends of their sport in the past like Kristine Lilly, Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain and they continue to churn out current greats like Christie Rampone, Abby Wambach, Megan Rapinoe and Hope Solo.

The U.S. may excel like no other country but they’re not invincible. 1999 is the last year the women have won a World Cup. Even play this past year has shown their imperfections as they’ve lost to Brazil and France and tied against China and Canada. They’re not even guaranteed to finish top of their group as they lost to Sweden in their last meeting with them March of last year. Remember that they lost to Sweden in the Group Stage of Germany 2011. Even though Coach Jillian Ellis is hoping to lead them to their first World Cup in sixteen years, she will acknowledge this will be a tough group. If they’re all together here in Canada, they can do it. They do have what it takes.

Australia-Australia (10): You know how the men are called the ‘Socceroos?’ The women are called the ‘Matildas!’ Australia’s women have competed in all but the first World Cup. They had very good success under the OFC as they competed in two Olympics and even earned a 5th place finish in 2004. Switching from the OFC to the AFC have helped them in terms of World Cup play as they were able to qualify for the quarterfinals for the first time back in 2007 and win the Asian Cup in 2010.

Australia is looking for its first big breakthrough on the world stage. However it will have to come with a fight. They’ve been playing very well against Asian teams but have struggled against teams from outside the AFC such as a 3-0 loss to England back in March. Their group chances also look questionable as they’ve lost their most recent meetings against Sweden and the U.S. and they’ve never played Nigeria before. Whatever the situation, this World Cup could be either new glory for Australia or another learning experience for the future.

Sweden Fixed-Sweden (5): If there’s one team that can prevent the U.S. from finishing atop Group D, it’s Sweden. They beat the U.S. in their last meeting. They also have a reputation of their own to match. Sure, their best Olympic finish is fourth and sure, Germany has hoarded all but one of the Women’s Euros. However they have finished in the Top 3 at three World Cups including third in 2011 and they’ve had many second and third place finishes at the Women’s Euro.

They’ve had a good play record since the least World Cup but it has been imperfect. This year they’ve had wins against Germany, China and Norway but they’ve also had losses to Germany, Brazil and Switzerland. Whatever the situation, Canada will be another proving point for them. They could just emerge the winners if they play right each time.

Nigeria-Nigeria (33): Nigeria is one of only seven teams that have competed at ever Women’s World Cup. Clinching the African berth is a cinch for them. Just as the men have possibly the most illustrious success among African football teams, the women are consistently tops of Africa too. They’ve won the CAF Women’s Championship all but twice. They’ve even made the quarterfinals of both a World Cup and an Olympic Games once before.

However Nigeria has the difficulty of being in the toughest group. Yes, they have a good reputation but this is a tight group and they know they will have to be very tough against the U.S. and Sweden because they’ve beaten Nigeria very often in the past. One advantage is that they’ve never played Australia so that game can be a proving point for them. Whatever happens in Canada, I’m sure it will be a benefit to the Nigerian team either as a plus to their reputation or as an opportunity to learn more.

MY PREDICTION: This is the hardest group to decide all the places. First and second will be a toughie. I’ll take a risk and predict Sweden to finish first and the U.S. to finish second. I expect third to go to Nigeria. Predicting third was a toughie too.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT:

-OTTAWA: Lansdowne StadiumOttawa

Year Opened: 2014

World Cup Capacity: 40,000

World Cup Groups Hosting: B,E,F

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16, quarterfinals

Talk about name changes. The stadium was first named Frank Clair Stadium, then chanced to TD Place Stadium and will be known as Lansdowne Stadium due to FIFA’s orders.

The actual playing field dates back to the 1870’s. The first event stands were added in 1908. Lansdowne Park has gone through numerous ramps and revamps over time. It had played host to Ottawa’s CFL teams and college football teams as well as many concerts. However it wasn’t until September 2007 when the lower-south side was showing cracks in the concrete that it was clear a new stadium was needed. Unfortunately it could not be done until there were plans to return a CFL team to Ottawa; Ottawa lost their CFL team in 2005. An agreement was reached in 2008 to have a new CFL team for Ottawa once a new stadium was created. The ‘Design Lansdowne’ program was launched to construct a new stadium over Lansdowne Park. By July 2014, the stadium was completed and Ottawa was ready to welcome their new CFL team, the RedBlacks, in July. The new stadium is also home to Ottawa’s NASL team Ottawa Fury.

BALL FOR THE WORLD CUP: CONEXT15conext15

We see it every men’s World Cup. Adidas doesn’t just simply launch a ball specific to the World Cup for the sake of a nice design. It does so with the hopes of adding a new technological innovation to the football. You don’t hear of the football for the Women’s World Cup adding an innovation to the football. However it will be the case for the Conext15.

The Conext15 features a new design inspired by the three elements of nature: earth, wind and fire. The flowing green, red and blue design will reflect the perfect balance of the three natural forces. It will include many elements from the Brazuca, the ball from the 2014 World Cup, but will have an innovation of its own: designed for never-before-seen power, swerve and control. Its structural innovation is a unique symmetry of six identical panels alongside a different surface structure that provides improved grip, touch, stability and aerodynamics on the pitch. Guaranteed to be more player-friendly than the Jabulani of 2010, that’s for sure.

And there you go. My review of Group D and many more WWC bonuses. Just ten days to go and two more groups to review.

WORK CITED:

Byrne, Bryan. “Official WWC Match Ball Released – Adidias Conext15” Soccer Cleats 101. 5 December 2014<http://www.soccercleats101.com/2014/12/05/official-wwc-match-ball-released-adidas-conext15/>

2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup: Group C Focus

I think Group C will be the hardest group to make predictions for. Why? Because none of the teams have ever played each other in the past. I think the fact that Japan is the only country here who’s played in a past World Cup may have a lot to do with it. For these predictions, I had to rely on stats involving past achievements and recent play results. So without further ado, here are my Group C predictions along with my latest stadium focus and a bonus feature:

GROUP C:

Japan-Japan (4): What can I say? Japan have been at every Women’s World Cup since it began in 1991. Japan are also defending Cup champions. The win of the Cup was definitely an upper for Japan since the only other World Cup they were able to make it past the Group Stage was back in 1995. They’ve also won the Olympic silver medal in 2012 and their first ever AFC Asian Cup in 2014. Much of it has to do with the football boom in Japan over the past 25 years. Before that, Japan didn’t have much interest. Over time the sport has boomed thanks to the big success of the J-League for men and the L-League for women.

Their chances of winning again here are quite good. I cannot see any other team in Group C that could rob them of a 1st place finish. It’s questionable once they move into the knockout rounds. They have had a lot of good wins in this past year but they’ve also endured losses to France, Denmark and North Korea. Canada’s the stage for another chapter for the team.

Switzerland-Switzerland (19): This is not only Swizerland’s first ever World Cup. This is their first ever major international tournament. They’ve never qualified for an Olympic Games or even a Women’s Euro in the past. No doubt they’re looking to this World Cup to make a name for themselves. Already they’ve shown signs of coming of age. Last May they had their biggest win ever: against Malta 11-0. Although I don’t think they’ll win, I feel they’ll fare well. Switzerland has some players who play for women’s teams of the Bundesliga and that will be an advantage here.

Cameroon-Cameroon (53): This may be Cameroon’s first ever World Cup but they’ve already been developing a reputation for themselves. They competed at the 2012 London Olympics and they’ve been runners-up three times at the CAF Women’s Championship including last year. However women’s soccer in all of Africa is still growing and learning. Nevertheless I feel Cameroon will fare well due to their past experience and the fact some of their players are playing in European leagues, especially France. Cameroon have a lot to learn and a lot of talent to deliver.

Ecuador-Ecuador (48): Ecuador was lucky to host the 2014 Copa America Feminina. It sure helped them as they finished third thanks to a 3-2 win over Argentina in the final Copa America game and winning the playoff against Trinidad and Tobago thanks to a last-minute goal. Ecuador, like most of South America, have just started to accept women’s football in recent years. Like Cameroon and Switzerland, this World Cup will be a learning experience for Ecuador no matter how they finish.

MY PREDICTION: Without a doubt, Japan will win the group. The rest of the spots will be harder to predict. I will predict Switzerland for second and Cameroon for third. I chose Cameroon because they have more international experience including an Olympic appearance.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT:

-MONTREAL: Olympic Stadiummontreal

Year Opened: 1976

World Cup Capacity: 61,004

World Cup Groups Hosting: E,A,F

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16, Quarterfinal, Semi-final

Us Canadians are very familiar with Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. The whole stadium–roof, tower and all– was to be completed by the 1976 summer Olympics. However construction problems and budget problems caused its delay leaving the Olympics with a stadium but no tower or roof. The Olympic left Montreal with such a debt the roof and tower didn’t get completed until 1987.

Since then, things have had easier moments in the early decades. After the Olympics, the Stadium became the main home of the CFL football team Montreal Allouettes and the MLB baseball team Montreal Expos. However ever since the Expos moved to Washington, D.C. in 2004 and since the Allouettes moved to a new stadium and use this one part-time, they’ve lacked a full-time tenant. The venue still does host the CFL’s Grey Cup and host bigger games for the Montreal Impact of the MLS. The venue hosted the visit of Pope John Paul II when he came in 1984 and has hosted many large concerts.

BONUS – MEET THE MASCOT: SHUEME

Shuéme, a Great White Owl, is the mascot for the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup.

Shuéme, a Great White Owl, is the mascot for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Shuéme (pronounced shwe-MAY) was first unveiled on June 17, 2014 at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa introduced by Laureen Harper, wife of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. She would also make an appearance in Brazil last year during the men’s World Cup where she was greeted warmly by Brazil mascot Fuleco and Brazilian football player Marta. She has made many appearances since including the World Cup Group Draw in Ottawa back in December and has toured the country promoting the World Cup event.

Shueme was warmly greeted by Fuleco in Brazil during the Men's World Cup last year.

Shueme was warmly greeted by Fuleco in Brazil during the Men’s World Cup last year.

Shuéme is a great white owl: a bird common to Canada. In fact the name Shuéme is based off the French word for owl: ‘chouette.’ Her name pays tribute to the bilingualism, multiculturalism and inclusiveness of Canada. She was inspired by the strength and the elegance of the game. Her colors inspire peace and fair play while her hair exudes self-confidence and pride. Her contours denote her ability to grace under pressure and her wings and tail provide precise control and agility needed to play the game well. No doubt Shuéme will make appearances at all the games in Canada and make a good impression at the World Cup.

And there you go. My review of Group C. I’m already at the halfway point. Just three more groups to go.

WORK CITED:

VanCity Buzz Staff. “Meet Shuéme, the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015 Canada Mascot” VANCITY BUZZ. 16 July 2014<http://www.vancitybuzz.com/2014/07/meet-shueme-fifa-womens-world-cup-2015-canada-mascot/>

2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup: Group B Focus

Oh man. If I would have known that yesterday as Woman’s Football Day, I would’ve posted this blog yesterday. Well the start of the Women’s World Cup is getting closer and closer. With it the excitement is building. I just walked into a local grocery store and I saw a display of soft drink cases saluting Team Canada. So upon the building excitement, here’s my look at Group B:

GROUP B:

Germany fixed-Germany (1): Germany is like a lot of European countries that’s just slowly starting to accept women’s football. Actually Germany’s more welcoming than most and with good reason. As you know, Germany’s men, The Mannschaft, are on top of the world right now. Germany’s women, the Nationalelf (National Eleven), have a legacy of their own too. They’ve won two World Cups in the past and have won all Women’s Euros except the inaugural in 1993. They’ve even won FIFA’s Women’s Player of the Year these past two years: Nadine Kessler in 2014 and Nadine Angerer in 2013. However they have some imperfections of their own. One is that they’ve only won three Olympic bronzes. The second is that they hosted the last World Cup and were ousted in the quarterfinals on penalty kicks. Penalty kicks? The German men are penalty kick aces with a near-flawless record! That loss also meant they missed qualifying for the Olympics for the first time ever.

However the team really wants to have this World Cup as the one where they can rebound, if not win. The team consists of many members of female teams of the Bundesliga. Yes, the Bundesliga is one of many football leagues that includes female teams: 12 in total. The team looks like they have a very good chance to come out on top. Norway may be its closest threat to take #1 from them. As for winning the Cup, their chances look good too but they’re not perfect. These past twelve months they’ve had wins against Sweden, China, Brazil and England. However they’ve also had losses to Sweden and France. Canada’s the proving point. They have what it takes to win again but they have some weak spots. They will have to rise to the occasion.

Ivory Coast-Ivory Coast (67): The Ivory Coast is another one of the eight newbies at this World Cup. The men have already made a name for themselves with three world Cup appearances and churning out big names like Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure. The women hope to follow in their footsteps. They’ve already won a bronze at last year’s CAF Women’s Championships. However it will be hard for me to predict how well they’ll do in the Group Stage since they’ve never played any of the other three countries before. Whatever happens will be a big learning experience for the team.

Norway-Norway (11): Norway is another country that could easily be dismissed as a ‘blast from the past’ in women’s football. Winners of the 1995 World Cup and having won the only Olympic gold not won by the U.S.: back in 2000. They were definitely top when women’s football was starting to emerge but they’ve faded since. Failing to qualify for the 2004 and 2012 Olympics and being ousted in the Group Stage at the last World Cup. However they have shown signs of making a comeback. They were finalists at the last Women’s Euro back in 2013. Here in the Group Stage, Germany looks to be the only team that can beat them and even they have the ability to surprise Germany. Canada is the stage where they seek to redeem their reputation.

Thailand-Thailand (29): Thailand is one country which has never landed a men’s team at the World Cup but has landed a women’s team. And for the first time this year. It’s hard for me to predict how well Thailand will do in the Group Stage. The only team they’ve played before was Norway and that was all the way back in 1988. However Thailand has been impressive in their play over the past year. Sure they’ve mostly played Asian teams but they’ve delivered some very impressive wins even though they’ve also lost to China, South Korea and the Netherlands. Like the Ivory Coast, Thailand will also have a learning experience here as this will be their first World Cup.

MY PREDICTION: Without a doubt, Germany will come out on top in this group. Norway will definitely be second. Third will be a hard guess as both Ivory Coast and Thailand lack international experience. I’ll go with Thailand because of their impressive play in friendlies these past few months.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT:

Moncton Stadium-MONCTON: Moncton Stadium

Year Opened: 2010

World Cup Capacity: 20,000

World Cup Groups Hosting: B,E,F

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16

Of all the six stadiums that are hosting this year’s World Cup, this is the only one that is not a host site for a CFL team. Moncton was included as a host city for one of two possible reasons: either to include participation of a maritime city in the Cup or because Toronto couldn’t be a host city as they’re busy preparing for the Pan American Games later this summer. Whatever the situation, it’s good to have Moncton. This stadium was originally planned to have 28,000 seats in hopes of attracting a CFL team. Instead it was reduced for 10,000 for the current needs of a local football team. It has hosted the World Junior Athletics Championships and three CFL Touchdown Atlantic Games where expansion to 20,000 proved to be successful.

And there’s my focus on Group B. Group C is next and it’s coming hopefully Tuesday.

2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup: Intro and Group A Focus

Canada will host the sixth edition of the FIFA Women's World Cup.

Canada will host the sixth edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

The FIFA Women’s World Cup is coming and Canada is to be the host nation. This is to be an exciting time for both the country and the sport of women’s football.

This marks the first time Canada has ever hosted a World Cup. Canada has hosted past soccer tournaments for FIFA like the 1987 U-16 World Championships, 2002 U-19 Women’s World Championships, 2007 Men’s U-20 World Cup and last year’s U-20 Women’s World Cup. It’s up to the challenge. And a new challenge for the Women’s World Cup as this year the number of competing teams have been expanded from 16 to 24.

Throughout the next two weeks, I will be doing an analysis of each first round group and even making judgments on who I think will come out on top, come second and even come third. I don’t think I’ll predict the wildcard advancers as that will be too tricky. I’ll just limit to a third-place prediction. The number in brackets below is the FIFA Women’s Ranking for May 2015.

GROUP A:

Canada

Christine Sinclair will captain possibly Canada's greatest women's soccer team ever. They already have an Olympic bronze to their feats.

Christine Sinclair will captain possibly Canada’s greatest women’s soccer team ever. They already have an Olympic bronze to their feats.

-Canada (8): The Women’s World Cup is where Canada can show off its football prowess. Our men have only qualified for a single World Cup all the way back in 1986 which leaves us cheering for whoever during the World Cup; most of the time the country of our ethnic background. As for our women, the only World Cup they didn’t qualify for was the inaugural one back in 1991. Canadian women have an impressive resume of their own such as two CONCACAF Championships and an Olympic bronze medal from 2012. In fact their bronze was Canada’s favorite memory of those Olympics. Even I remember the excitement I felt and even referred to them as ‘our girls.’ Naturally so since soccer is probably the team sport in Canada with the most female participation. Even more than hockey. In fact this World Cup should make Canada proud as it is one nation that has one of the best instances female participation in soccer. Heck, our female stars like Christine Sinclair and Melissa Tancredi are bigger household names than our male stars!

However it’s not to say the women are looking for their own World Cup glory. This may be our sixth World Cup but Canada has only advanced past the Group Stage once back in 2003 where they finished fourth. In fact Canada lost all three of their Group Stage matches at the last World Cup back in 2011. Things changed after Canada recruited English coach John Herdman after he finished coaching New Zealand. After that, he helped guide Canada to gold at the Pan American Games and the bronze in London.

Canada’s chances to qualify to the knockout rounds are not only great but they also have good chances to come out on top. They beat China in their last game. They’ve won against New Zealand in six of their ten meetings and won against the Netherlands in ten of their eleven meetings. They also look good to win their Round of 16 match but things look to get tougher around the quarterfinals. Nevertheless this World Cup is anyone’s game. Women’s football has progressed to the point that there are now many equals at the top rather than one to rule them all. Canada could just provide the surprise.

China-China, People’s Republic of (16): Is it too soon in women’s football to call China a ‘blast from the past?’ It’s easy to dismiss it as one. The ‘Steel Roses’ have an Olympic silver medal from its first Olympic contest in 1996 and were runners-up to the Cup in 1999 where they lost to the US on penalty kicks. China hosted the World Cup twice during the very first in 1991 and in 2007. However they had a recent setback when they did not qualify for either the 2011 World Cup or the 2012 Olympics. Even their dominance of the AFC Asian Cup in the 90’s have faded and even finished out of the medals for the first time back in 2010. Nevertheless China are determined to comeback. They had good moments such as beating many top Asian teams last year and even winning against Argentina 6-0. However Argentina was their last win back in December of 2014. Right now it’s safe to say China’s in comeback mode but it will take a lot of effort for them to come back. A lot has changed in women’s football since their glory days of the 90’s.

NZL-New Zealand (17): How ironic is it that John Herdman’s team from the last World Cup is pitted against Canada in the Group Stage? This will be the fourth World Cup for the ‘Football Ferns’ however they have yet to establish themselves. They have not made it past the Group Stage in their three appearances. They haven’t even won a World Cup game yet. They did make it to the quarterfinals at the London Olympics showing improvement already. This World Cup looks to be one where the women want to show how much they’ve improved. They may have had recent losses to the bigger countries like the U.S., Japan, France and Norway but they have tied Brazil and Spain and even won against Denmark. This World Cup is another proving point for them. Also with the potential of three teams from each group advancing, chances look better than ever.

Netherlands Fixed-Netherlands (12): The Netherlands is one of eight teams competing in their very first World Cup here in Canada. The women, whom like the men are also called ‘Oranje,’ do not have a legacy but they have developed a reputation in recent years. In 2009, they qualified for their first-ever Women’s Euro and finished third. Even though they still lack the experience of the other three teams in Group A, they should look at this as a learning experience. It’s even possible the Netherlands will be a top challenger in the future. They could even cement their name here. They have never won against Canada and have more losses than wins against China and New Zealand but they have won their most recent meetings with both teams. Netherlands could pull an upset.

NOTE: This Women’s World Cup will act as a meet for European teams to earn berths for the 2016 Summer Olympics. The top three European teams here qualify for Rio.

MY GROUP PLAY PREDICTIONS:

This looks to be Canada’s best World Cup. The team looks in good shape, especially with Christine Sinclair as captain. I strongly believe they’ll come out on top. It’s harder to predict second or third. It can go to any of the other three. For this group, I predict China to be second and the Netherlands to be third.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT:

Okay, just like I did with the men’s World Cup from last year, I will again do a Stadium Spotlight.  One good thing about this World Cup is you remember how during last year’s men’s World Cup the groups were ‘scrambled’ across stadiums during the group play? The women’s are more organized as the teams of all six groups will be allocated in the same stadium during their first two games. It’s only the third game for all teams where they’ll go to a different stadium. The other good thing about this World Cup is that no new stadiums were required to be built. Whatever new stadiums build or renovated were done so for the sake of its current purposes. Only two stadiums are less than five years old. And the first of the two will be focused in this blog:

WINNIPEG: Winnipeg StadiumWpg Stadium

Year Opened: 2013

World Cup Capacity: 40,000

World Cup Groups Hosting: A,B,C,D

This stadium was actually opened just two years ago. It was needed because the 50+ year old Winnipeg Stadium was long past its prime. Actually it was to be opened in 2012 but construction delays pushed opening to the following year. The stadium, which is actually anmes as the Investors Group Field, is home to the Canadian Football team Winnipeg Blue Bombers and will actually host the Grey Cup in November this year. The new stadium was also the stage for concerts by Taylor Swift, Paul McCartney, Beyonce and Jay-Z and have One Direction coming in July. They even held their first soccer match in May 2014: a women’s match of Canada vs. the U.S.

And there’s my first preview of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Five more preview blogs to go before it all begins Saturday June 6th in Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium.

Double Movie Review: Paddington and Cinderella

Normally I don’t see live-action family movies unless the renown for it catches my eye. In the last three months, there were two that caught my eye: Paddington and Cinderella. I’m glad I had the chance to see them.

PADDINGTON

Paddington Bear was adapted into a movie for the first time. The movie is an impressive result.

Paddington Bear was adapted into a movie for the first time. The movie is an impressive result.

For the first time, Paddington Bear comes to the big screen. And in live-action format rather than animation. However this did involve taking some chances. The first chance was making a movie that could entertain today’s children. The second was not having to mess with the Paddington Bear people know and love.

The film does a good job of keeping many aspects of Paddington such as his love of all things British, especially marmalade. The film also does a decent job of not trying to resort to too many cheap laughs like one would come to expect in today’s children’s films. It’s not to say there were some questionable moments, like the scene where Paddington thinks the toothbrushes are ‘earbrushes.’ The film also does a good job in presenting Paddington in today’s world and meeting the Brown family who are actually reluctant to adopt at first.

I give kudos to director/writer Paul King and co-writer Hamish McColl for coming up with a very good adaptation of Paddington Bear into a feature-length film. It was no easy task to make such a film especially when Paddington has resorted to being simple children’s books since the 1950’s.  The plot where Paddington boats from Peru to London only to find a cold country, a reluctance to adopt from the Brown family and being pursued by the daughter of a poacher whose goal was to make him hers to kill and stuff worked well to entertain crowds. The inclusion of the effects in the film couldn’t be avoided as nowadays family movies have to have some special effects to win crowds. Even though Paddington wouldn’t be the type of movie for a lot of visual effects, the effects included did things right without messing with the story.

I also give them credit for not messing with the spirit of Paddington whose sweet charm is the reason why he has become one of the most beloved children’s book characters in recent decades. He’s even so beloved in England to the point there’s a bronze statue of Paddington Bear at Paddington Station where he got his name from. I also give them kudos for adding character to the Brown family. They may not be much like the Browns in the Paddington books but the character of the Browns do fit well in the movie.

Just as much deserving of respect are the performances of the actors. Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins did a very good job playing the Brown parents. Madeleine Harris and Samuel Joslin also did well as playing the Brown children. They both played their roles well without being too overly-cutesy. Julie Walters succeeded in stealing scenes as the wise Mrs. Bird. Nicole Kidman also did a good job of playing the evil Millicent Clyde without becoming too hateable. Actually Millicent Clyde was rather entertaining as a villain. Finally Ben Whishaw did a very good voice-over as the voice of Paddington. Paddington needed a sweetness in order to make the story work and Whishaw was the right fit.

Paddington is now out on DVD and BluRay. For those that didn’t see it in theatres, it’s worth seeing. I don’t know if it’s the type of family movie one won’t need to see with a family of their own but it is entertaining and very good quality entertainment.

CINDERELLA

In ofor Cinderella to work as a live-action movie, the set design and costuming had to be top notch.

The live-action version of Cinderella had a lot of expectations placed on it but it delivered.

If you think making a film about Paddington Bear is difficult, try making a live-action version of Cinderella. And knowing that it will be Disney doing the work, you can understand they’d be under a lot of pressure. We’re talking about the film company that made their 1950 animated version a staple into many people’s hearts. So it would not be surprising that there would be a lot of questions surrounding the make of the new live action version. Will it have the same Disney spirit? Will it stray too much from the animated version that lives on in the hearts of millions? Or even the book? How will the sets and costumes be done? And will it entertain crowds of today?

There’s no question that making a live-action version of a fairy tale can be expensive in production. Cinderella wasn’t too expensive to make but $95 million is expensive enough. For a film like Cinderella to work, there’s no question that one of the top aspects to focus on would be the technical areas like set design and costuming. Dante Ferretti was a top choice for set design. We’re talking about a set designer whose works have earned him nine Oscar nominations and three wins for The Aviator, Sweeney Todd and Hugo. Ferretti did not let anyone down. In fact his set designs in all scenes worked perfectly for the movie. It was hard to notice a glitch.

Costumer Sandy Powell was another top pick with loads of cred including ten Oscar nominations and three wins. Here she again adds to the reputation by making costumes perfect not only for Cinderella but for all characters in the movie. My favorite costumes were actually the bratty looking outfits for Drisella and Anastasia. It fit their brattiness perfectly. However Cinderella’s glass slippers really caught my eye. They looked more like crystal slippers. The visual effects team also did a top job in adding the necessary visual effects for the film and giving them the magic that will remind people of the magic Disney movies are famous for. They even succeed in making the mice and lizards human enough without being too ridiculously cartoonish.

Credit should also be given to director Kenneth Branagh and writer Chris Weitz. People easily forget that Branagh is as much of a director as he is an actor directing films from Shakespeare (Henry V) to comedy (Love’s Labor’s Lost) to superhero action flicks (Thor). Now he ventures into the territory of fantasy films. The result is excellent. Just as excellent is the writing from scriptwriter from Chris Weitz. He does a very good adaptation by retaining the spirit of Disney and even including some aspects not included in the original. Actually his writing makes you forget he wrote American Pie!

Despite all those efforts, the success of the movie would have to bow down to the roles being done right. The inclusion of the king, the prince’s father, added to the story as did the appearances of Cinderella’s parents. The characterizations of the mice and lizards were well done and didn’t go over the top or even cheesy. The characters of the two stepsisters were very good depictions. They were nasty and bratty but you’ll actually find yourself laughing at how stupid they are rather than hating them. If there’s one character you will hate, it’s the stepmother Lady Tremaine. Cate Blanchett did an excellent job of depicting Lady Tremaine as both cruel and hurting on the inside to the point she feels she should hurt Cinderella. Her depiction also fits within the common Disney theme of featuring a female villain who’s beautiful rather than ugly. Blanchett’s depiction actually seems more like the queen from Snow White rather than the stepmother of the animated version.

There were some radical choices for character depictions in the movie. The first was the prince as being more of an awkward young adult rather than the flawless Prince Charming we come to expect. Even referring to himself as ‘an apprentice’ during the casual contact with Cinderella is something no one would have expected. The most radical of character depictions has to be Helena Bonham Carter as the fairy godmother. I found it very different to have a clumsy fairy godmother this time around. I wasn’t expecting another fairy godmother that sang ‘Bibbity Bobbity Boo’ but this was way different from what I expected.

Finally I focus on the character of Cinderella. Lily James did a very good job as Ella. She’s already an experienced actress in her native England and she does a very good portrayal here. She portrays Ella as a young woman who doesn’t make having an imagination look like a weakness. We shouldn’t forget her imagination has kept her holding her head high during the toughest of times such as the deaths of her parents and keeps her going strong with her stepmother and stepsisters whom even her father described as ‘trying.’ Hah, ‘trying’ is an understatement! However she does not come across as naive as most would come to expect of her or anyone with an active imagination. In fact it’s the scene where she says to her stepmother: “You were never my mother and you never will be.” shows Cinderella to have more inner strength than most thought.

Focusing on Cinderella lastly seems appropriate because she is essentially the epitome of the theme of the movie. The movie showed two people who had a lot of tragedy in their lives: Cinderella and Lady Tremaine. One was bitter about it. The other did what her mother said: “Have courage and be kind.” Cinderella’s courageous positivity upset Lady Tremaine to the point she had to hurt her however she can. Cinderella stayed strong. There were some points where her courage was tested but she still stayed strong. I guess that’s what this version of Cinderella was trying to say. That staying positive is not being oblivious. That having an imagination is not a weakness. That’s what was not only shown in Cinderella but almost every Disney movie.

Both movies have had their own box office success stories. Cinderella has grossed $197 million in North America and over $500 million worldwide. Paddington was not as big of a hit but it did have its own success with $76 million in North America and $259 million Worldwide. Impressive since it was done with a $55 million budget. The marketers of Paddington did a common job but a smart job in releasing it in most of Europe, South America and Asia first during the latter weeks of 2014 before releasing it in the US on January 16th. That’s a common technique used to plug movies with characters common in European pop culture. They did that with Tintin back in 2012.

Paddington and Cinderella are two family movies that have pleased the critics and will also please audiences alike. Both have what it takes to entertain children but they both also have elements that will please adults.

Movie Review: Furious Seven

Furious 7 was Paul Walker's last hurrah. But was it done right?

Furious 7 was both a continuation of the Furious series and a final farewell to Paul Walker. But was it done right?

Sure, Furious Seven is another sequel. However it is one that has been anticipated hotly. Particularly of a star’s death. Nevertheless does it hold up as a movie?

I admit that the only previous Fast and The Furious movie I’ve seen was the very first one. I can’t really judge it against the ones I haven’t seen. What I can say is that it is for the most part a very cliched movie. There were some notable moments that made the story unique with some cred like Dominic’s love to Letty and Brian’s struggle of being a family man while simultaneously being part of the ‘mission.’ However it had the typical thick action you’d come to expect from an action movie. The plot is nothing you haven’t seen before. It also includes scenes where you’d feel it’s too over-the-top. It’s especially notable when you see Dwayne Johnson come on from out of the hospital with his machine gun. You can see the Mr. Heavy Testosterone acting there. Even the comedic parts from Roman looked too ridiculous and question if it was too over-the-top for this movie. Many times I asked myself during his ‘song and dance’ at the Dubai party “Is this really necessary?”

Despite all this, there are some relevant qualities to the movie. Vin Diesel did well as Dominic. Actually he made the role of Dominic in the franchise. I was better at stomaching him than Dwayne Johnson as he was better at playing a macho character that doesn’t come across as Mr. Testosterone. Michelle Rodriguez was also impressive as Letty as her acting wasn’t as showy or over-the-top. And Ludacris as Tej knew how to keep Tyrese Gibson from unnecessarily stealing the show. And Paul Walker, whom I will focus on later in this review, did a respectable job as Brian.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I’ve only seen the first of the series. The first Furious movie was a good adrenaline rush, especially for those who like to street-race, but had a formula too similar to what you’d find in popcorn movies. I remember turning 2 Fast 2 Furious down because Vin Diesel wasn’t in it. Being a person who’s only seen the first and the last, I have to say the films other biggest quality is showing how far this film series has come. When The Fast And The Furious started, it started as street racers who would find themselves involved in fighting criminal activity Most of which are at high speed. The film ended with a street race. Six sequels later, the street-racing days are over but the fighting crime has continued and even progressed to the point of the type of action you’d come to expect in superhero movies. High speed action scenes continue to occur but this will surprise anyone who has only seen the first Furious movie. I’m sure I’m not the only one. I usually pass on Hollywood sequels because for all intents and purposes, I consider most Hollywood sequels the actors, directors and producers masturbating for two hours. This sequel was common to expect from a Hollywood sequel but it did have some positive traits. Showing how far this franchise has come since the first is one of them. When I saw the first, I didn’t expect it to grow this big.

Finally I’ll focus on the memorializing of Paul Walker in the film. It’s no question that the Fast and The Furious series was what made Paul Walker. Sure, he had experience as a child actor in TV and movie bit parts, sure he had a major role in the renowned Flags Of Our Fathers, but it is his role as Brian O’Conner in the Fast and The Furious franchise that he will most be remembered for. Of course the first movie was a product featuring Vin Diesel and hoping to propel his stardom further. Even though it did, it also made a star out of the supporting player: Paul Walker. It was the breakthrough Paul had hoped for. Otherwise his movie career’s peak would have been the Disney Schmalzfest Meet The Deedles. Paul would go to star in all but one of the Fast And The Furious movies. It seems like a bizarrely tragic irony that Paul’s death at the age of 40 came as he was street racing along with his friend and crashed his car at a high speed. The death could even add to the stigma of Paul Walker being Brian O’Conner. So it shouldn’t be that big of a surprise that Furious 7 opened huge, albeit a bigger-than-expected $140 million on opening weekend. That set a record for biggest opening weekend for an April release.

As for this movie being a fitting ‘last hurrah’ for Paul Walker, his acting was fine. Nothing spectacular but nothing out of what you’d expect for the role of Brian O’Conner. The ending first seems like a good tribute to Paul and a nice final salute to him. However it would not be too long until the secret was given out that Paul’s look-alike brother was used to film the final screen and that his face was computer enhanced to look more like Paul. Knowing that will make the final tribute to Paul very questionable. Even seen as tacky. It’s also a question whether this movie was intended to be Paul’s last Furious movie right from the start. Right into the plot Paul talks about the challenges of putting his past behind and moving onto family life. That could be a hint this may have been intended to be his last movie. Even the ending of the beach scene will make one wonder if it was planned before his death or after. Something to think about, especially as they’re in the works of making Furious 8.

Furious 7 is your typical Hollywood sequel continuing and building on the formula made popular. It also tries to be a good farewell to Paul Walker. Despite it being off in a lot of areas and leaves Paul’s farewell questionable, it does have some positive qualities and succeeds in entertaining its core audience and pleasing fans of the franchise.