It’s right there on FIFA’s website on how much it took to determine the 32 qualifiers for next year’s World Cup: thirty months, six confederations, 209 teams, 868 matches played, and 2454 goals scored. All 31 available berths up for grabs were decided by November 15th. December 1st was the day to decide the four teams for all eight groups for the World Cup.
Qualifying for the World Cup is already enough of a battle. The respective continent’s confederations contested their matches and conducted their own qualifying format for deciding their qualifiers for the World Cup. There were even two countries that qualified via a ‘wildcard’ berth where they’d have to play a team from another continent twice. The thirty-two qualifying countries were all decided more than two weeks ago. The qualifying rounds made a lot of news for those that qualified, but those that didn’t got a lot of news of their own too. The second-round qualifying matches for the CAF saw two of Africa’s best-ever teams–Nigeria and Cameroon– pitted against each other. Only one can qualify and it ended up being Nigeria. Another surprise was the Ivory Coast being surprised by Morocco and Ghana being overtaken by Egypt. Asia didn’t have many surprises, but Qatar finished last in the Second Round group. Not good since they will be hosting in 2022. The CONMEBOL almost saw the non-qualification of Argentina, but they recovered to win their last game and qualify. Instead the most shocking non-qualifier was 2015 and 2016 Copa America winner Chile which was third the day before the final game for all teams.
The biggest shockers in qualifying came from the CONCACAF and Europe. On the last day of CONCACAF qualifying, all the USA needed to do to qualify was beat Trinidad and Tobago in their last game. It was something they could do as Trinidad would finish last of the Final 6. Instead the USA lost 2-1. That was enough for them to kiss their qualification chances goodbye as Panama beat Costa Rica 2-1 to qualify and Honduras beat Mexico 3-2 to earn a berth in the interconfederation playoff against Australia. Europe had some of the biggest shockers as The Netherlands didn’t even qualify for a UEFA playoff round and Italy thwarted their playoff against Sweden losing 1-0 the first game and a scoreless draw the next. Russia 2018 will be the first World Cup since 1958 in which Italy didn’t qualify and only the third World Cup ever with Italy absent!
Now enough of this World Cup’s also-rans. On with those that qualified. Twenty of the 32 teams for Russia 2018 played in Brazil 2014. Brazil makes it 21 for 21. All former World Cup winners except for Italy will be present. The team with the longest absence making a return to the World Cup stage in 2018 is Peru whose last World Cup appearance was back in 1982. There are only two countries that will make their World Cup debut in Russia: Iceland and Panama. Iceland is especially noteworthy as it has become the first nation with a population of less than 1 million to qualify for a World Cup! Actually there aren’t even half a million people living in the nation of Iceland so that makes it even more remarkable.
Now onto the draw. The draw was held Friday at 18:00 Moscow time at the Kremlin. Legends from all eight countries that have won the World Cup in the past were present: Laurent Blanc, Diego Maradona, Gordon Banks, Cafu, Miroslav Klose, Fabio Cannavaro, Diego Forlan and Carles Puyol. Gary Lineker was host of the event and Russian legend Nikita Simonyan was also part of the event, Vladimir Putin was defintely in attendance, an d the Igor Moiseyev Ballet provided the performance before the draw.
Now onto the actual drawing. In the past, FIFA has organized the pots to give appropriate correlation with continents and availability. FIFA wants the eight groups of four to be a case of no more than two European teams and only one team of the other confederations. There are fourteen European teams (UEFA) including host Russia, five South American teams (CONMEBOL), three teams from North and Central America and the Caribbean (CONCACAF), five African teams (CAF) and five teams from the AFC (Asia and Australia).
FIFA wants to create better parity among the groups for this World Cup. FIFA doesn’t want a case of two or three top-ranked teams in a group as only two can advance past the Group Stage. We all remember the dreaded Group D of 2014 which consisted of three top-ranked teams. This time around FIFA decided to break the draw into four pots of eight. The pots are all based on the teams’ FIFA World Ranking as of October 2017, regardless of continent. The only exception being Russia as the host nation is always automatically in Group A. Here’s how the pots break down with their confederation listed and their ranking in brackets:
- Russia – UEFA (65)
- Germany – UEFA (1)
- Brazil – CONMEBOL (2)
- Portugal – UEFA (3)
- Argentina – CONMEBOL (4)
- Belgium – UEFA (5)
- Poland – UEFA (6)
- France – UEFA (7)
- Spain – UEFA (8)
- Peru – CONMEBOL (10)
- Switzerland – UEFA (11)
- England – UEFA (12)
- Colombia – CONMEBOL (13)
- Mexico – CONCACAF (16)
- Uruguay – CONMEBOL (17)
- Croatia – UEFA (18)
- Denmark – UEFA (19)
- Iceland – UEFA (21)
- Costa Rica – CONCACAF (22)
- Sweden – UEFA (25)
- Tunisia – CAF (28)
- Egypt – CAF (30)
- Senegal – CAF (32)
- Iran – AFC (34)
- Serbia – UEFA (38)
- Nigeria – CAF (41)
- Australia – AFC (43)
- Japan – AFC (44)
- Morocco – CAF (48)
- Panama – CONCACAF (49)
- South Korea – AFC (62)
- Saudi Arabia – AFC (63)
As you can tell by the pot arrangements, they’re trying to make the contest as balanced as possible. In addition, FIFA knows the top seeded teams are Team 1 in each group–host nation being Team A1– but FIFA still wants a drawn ball in all cases to make it official, even drawing the order of the last group team drawn. That explains all those red balls at the beginning of the draw; to make defaults official. Confederation rules still apply as far as maximums per group. Pot 1 had six UEFA teams and Pot 2 had four. It could have been a case where four groups could have reached their maximum two for UEFA teams by the time Pot 2 was all drawn out. Instead it was just two groups with UEFA berths completed. Drawing teams and placing them in the right groups was not as hard and tedious as I had anticipated. In the end, all eight groups had their teams drawn and allotted with only minor complications which were sorted out with ease:
- Saudi Arabia
- Costa Rica
- South Korea
So those are the groups for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. It makes for some interesting analyses. The draw usually tries to make for the host nation to have an easy time qualifying to the knockout phase. Russia has a good group with only Uruguay looking to be a real threat to them. Group B is most interesting not because of the challenge of the teams, but of the geography: Spain, Portugal and Morocco! The draw was aimed so that there could be better parity among ranked teams, but there are possibilities of a ‘Group Of Death’ or two. First bet is Group D; Croatia and Iceland are underdogs that can cause a surprise, and Nigeria meet Argentina for the fifth time out of six World Cups. The second potential Group Of Death could be Group F with Germany and Mexico plus possible upsets coming from either Sweden or South Korea.
And there you go. That’s the Final Draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The teams now have six months to prepare themselves and be among the top two to advance. Lots of excitement guaranteed.
With the World Cup just a year away, that means this year will have the FIFA Confederations Cup. Back in 2013, I did a focus on the Confederations Cup and why it’s an important tournament. This year’s Confederations Cup is important as well. Not just because the Cup is a growing tournament but also for the host country of Russia.
Russia is already a country controversial enough with the way they do politics. Hosting next year’s World Cup is also considered controversial as there’s question on how Russia won their bid and FIFA’s process in achieving the victories for both Russia for 2018 and Qatar for 2022. All I can say in this matter is I don’t have the research on that and things will have to sort themselves out over the year’s time leading up to the World Cup.
While the World Cup will be contested in twelve stadiums in Russia next year, this Confederations Cup will be contested in four stadiums. All four being ‘fresh’ stadiums which are either just now breaking ground or have broken ground only within the past five years:
- Otkrytiye Arena, Moscow – This will be one of two stadiums in Moscow that will stage the World Cup. Located in the Tushino area of Moscow, this stadium is the home venue for Spartak Moscow. Completed in 2014, this stadium seats just over 45,000 people.
- Krestovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg – This 68,000-seat stadium may have just broken ground this year but it took ten years to complete. Problems from construction management to changing contractors to problems with its conditions have plagued the stadium and its construction but it will finally be ready for the Confederations Cup. Built on Krestovsky Island, the stadium is also the host venue for the football team FC Zenit.
- Kazan Arena, Kazan – Completed in 2013, this 45,000-seat stadium has the largest outside screen in Europe. The stadium has hosted events like the 2013 World Student Games and the 2015 World Aquatics Championships. The stadium is also the home venue for Russian Premier League team Rubin Kazan.
- Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi – Remember the $51 billion Sochi Winter Olympics? This is the host stadium which hosted the ceremonies and held the Olympic flame. Determined not to have it become a ‘white elephant,’ the stadium is now the home venue for Russian Professional Football League team FC Sochi. In addition, it will also host six World Cup games next year.
The tournament begins Saturday the 17th. There will be eight teams. Six are winners of their continent’s respective championship, Germany qualified as winner of the World Cup and Russia qualifies as host nation. Here’s how the teams stack up. FIFA rankings for June 2017 are the numbers in brackets:
-Russia (63): Russia is an enigma in football right now. The team has a lot of talent but constantly misses in delivering in major tournaments and qualifying events. Such examples include qualifying for three World Cups since the USSR dissolved and failing to qualify for the knockout round each time. Another example is the Euro tournament: semifinalists in 2008 but out in the Group Stage in 2012 and 2016. Trying coaches from other countries like Guus Huddink and Fabio Capello have delivered sub-par results.
Russia has yet to prove its current team since Euro 2016. The team consists of a Russian coach and all but one of the lineup for the Cup play for teams in the Russian Premier League. 2017 has not been the best to Russia as they lost 2-0 to the Ivory Coast and drew 3-3 against Belgium and 1-1 against Chile. They did however score a 3-0 win against Hungary. Remember that football is a box of surprises as Pele always says and Russia could end up surprising everyone here.
-New Zealand (95): New Zealand can be either a very good team or a bad team. It qualified for the 2010 World Cup and drew in all of its games. However it hasn’t made much of an impact since. The current line-up of the all-blacks only features one player that plays for a team in a major European League (France’s Ligue 1). The Kiwis have been dominant against teams from Oceania but have struggled against teams from other continents such as a 1-1 draw against the US and losses to Belarus, Northern Ireland and Mexico. If they don’t go far here, they can always learn in time for next year.
-Portugal (8): Portugal is a team of surprises. The team went from lackluster group play in Euro 2016 to becoming Cup champions. Portugal has since maintained its reputation as one of the best teams in the world with excellent play in World Cup qualifying and continuing to win most of their games. However they have had some notable losses such as a 2-0 loss to Switzerland in September and a 3-2 loss to Sweden in March. Portugal can either be very on or very off here in Russia. The next two weeks will decide their fate.
-Mexico (17): Mexico has always been seen as the leader of the CONCACAF. They hope to take it even further by proving themselves among the best in the world. However it’s come at a struggle as they’ve ended their last six World Cups in the Round of 16. Mexico have had a lot of good wins in the last 12 months to teams like Ireland, Iceland and Costa Rica and even had a 1-1 draw against the US. However they’ve had a 2-1 loss to Croatia and a 7-0 loss to Chile at the Copa America. The World Cup may be one year away but now is a good chance for Mexico to prove itself on the world stage.
Prediction: This is a tough one but I predict the two qualifiers to the semis to be Mexico and Portugal, but don’t count out a possible surprise from Mother (?) Russia.
-Cameroon (32): Cameroon have been one of the most consistent African teams. However their play in the last two decades have been far from their glory days in the early 90’s. The team has worked hard to become better and more consistent since the embarrassment of the 2014 World Cup where they finished dead last. The current squad has many players from many leagues. The team hasn’t had the best chances at proving themselves since. In the past twelve months, they’ve either won or tied every game, but they’ve all been against African teams. The Confederations Cup is a chance for them to prove themselves and where they stand.
–Chile (4): We can have a long discussion about the ‘sleeping giants’ in football waiting for their big moment to arrive. Chile would be one of them. They have been underestimated in the past and have even gone out in the Round Of 16 in the past two World Cups; and to Brazil both times. However Chile has seized the moment at both the 2015 and 2016 Copa Americas by winning their first-ever Copas. Chile now wants to prove its greatness on the world stage, but they have had an up-and-down period since Copa 2016. They’ve had wins against Uruguay, Colombia and Iceland, but they’ve also had losses to Romania and Argentina and even drew against Russia 1-1 just a week ago. Chile will have to seize the moment if they want to prove themselves further.
–Australia (48): Since Australia was switched from the Oceania federation to the AFC after their Round of 16 surprise at World Cup 2006, bigger and better things were anticipated from them. Instead it’s been the opposite with losing in the Group Stage these past two World Cups. Australia hopes to put itself back as a powerhouse. However they’ve had a mixed bag of results in the past twelve months ranging from a 1-0 win against Greece to a 4-0 loss to Brazil. Anything can happen here in Russia and Australia could possibly find itself among the frontrunners.
-Germany (3): The current holders of the World Cup appear to be the heavy favorites to win here. They’ve maintained a consistency even with new members added to the national team ever since. However they’ve had their difficulties too. The semifinal loss at Euro 2016 showed they still have some elements of team unity and other glitches to work on. Since Euro, Germany have not had a loss. They’ve had wins against England and the Czechs but have also drawn 0-0 against Italy and 1-1 against Denmark. They have what it takes to win the Cup here. They just have to deliver.
Prediction: Long shots can pull surprises but I’m going to go with my best instincts and predict Germany and Chile to be this group’s two qualifiers.
And there’s my look at the confederations Cup and the competing teams. Winner to be decided on Sunday July 2nd. Possible more blogs to come, depending on how many hits I get with this.
How about that? What started on the 10th of June with 24 teams will end on the 10th of July deciding which team will win the 2016 European Championship. It took this whole time 50 matches to decide the two teams most worthy to play for the Championship. On Sunday, it will come down to Portugal and hosts France. The big question is who will win it?
Before I get to head-to-head stuff, I’ll do some finals stats. France has been to the Euro finals twice before and won both times, including when they hosted in 1984. Portugal has been to the finals only once before back in 2004 when they hosted and lost to underdogs Greece. And to think back then it featured a rising 19 year-old by the name of Cristiano Ronaldo. The two have squared off 24 times before. France has won 18 times, Portugal five times and one draw. France’s most recent win over Portugal was 1-0 in a friendly nine months ago. The last time Portugal beat France was all the way back in 1975.
PORTUGAL: Just a small tidbit of trivia. Two players from Euro 2004 –Cristiano Ronaldo and Ricardo Carvalho– are here in Euro 2016. Also a piece of irony: you know how Portugal lost to Greece in the 2004 Euro final? Well coach Fernando Santos coached the Greek team at the 2014 World Cup. Unlike 2004, Portugal come to the finals as the underdogs. And it’s easy to see why. All three of their Group Play games were draws. Their Round of 16 match against Croatia was won thanks to an extra time goal. Their quarterfinal against Poland was a 1-1 draw which Portugal luckily won on a flawless penalty shootout. They didn’t fully come alive until their semifinal against Wales which they won 2-0.
It’s obvious Portugal has shown some of their weaknesses. Hungary was good at exploiting them during their 3-3 draw. Portugal should consider themselves lucky they were able to score three goals during that match too. Portugal has a lot of strengths too. They have two good strikers in Cristiano and Nani. They have a rising young star in 18 year-old Renato Sanches. They’ve also delivered more goal attempts than France. They’re a team that knows how to attack. Their defense needs to be as consistent as it was during their match against Wales if they want to win the Championship because the French are the highest-scoring team in the tournament. This will make for an interesting final of Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Antoine Griezmann.
FRANCE: No member of France’s Euro-winning squad of 2000 is playing for France now. However the team is coached by Didier Deschamps who was the captain of the Euro-winning 2000 squad and was part of the 1998 world Cup winning squad.
For the most part, this trip to the Championship has been a dream for France. Save their scoreless draw against Switzerland, the French have been the class of the field. They’ve played like a strong team unit and have defended strongly too. They have a star striker in Antoine Griezmann but don’t forget Olivier Giroud and Dimitri Payet. They look like they’re on fire to win France’s third Euro title.
It’s not to say France has weaknesses, though they have hardly been exposed. One thing is that France has had less ball possession in some games. While that doesn’t prove much of a fact for those games, that could be a factor in the final as Portugal also has strikers who know how to score. France has even been contained by the other teams at times, including Albania who kept them scoreless until the 90th minute. Sure, Portugal has slacked off for most of the tournament but they could just surprise France on home turf when they least expect it.
My Verdict: Eventually I will have to predict a winner for the final so here goes. I predict France to win 3-1. They’ve been delivering the most and giving the least away. So I have to go with them. If they do, France would also become the first country to win the Euro twice as host nation. No nation has won even the World Cup twice as host.
Here’s an interesting note. Whichever team wins the Euro will represent Europe in next year’s Confederations Cup in Russia. Already six of the eight berths have been decided. Russia qualifies as hosts, Germany qualifies as World Cup winners, and Australia, Chile, Mexico and New Zealand qualify upon winning their Confederation’s respective championship. Africa decides their winner in February next year. However Sunday will decided which team will represent UEFA next year.
And there you have it. My breakdown and my prediction. So Sunday will answer all your questions. Who will win it? Will France be only the third nation to win a total of three Euros? Or will Portugal become the tenth country to win a Euro? It will all be decided in the Stade de France that night.
How about that? The past three-and-a-half weeks have narrowed the field from 24 to four. It’s been full of shocking surprises with teams like the Czechs, Swedes and Russians performing well below expectations in the Group Stage. It’s also had unpleasant surprises off the football field with rowdy behavior from Russian, Croatian and Hungarian fans. It’s also had a lot of positive surprises like Wales and Iceland humiliating bigger competition. And now we’re down to four: Portugal, Wales, Germany and France. It’s the semifinals to decide the two teams to play for the final for the Championship. So here’s my rundown of the two Semifinals:
SEMIFINAL #1: PORTUGAL vs. WALES
Head To Head Stuff:
This is one head-to-head scenario where I don’t have much to compare. Wales only once played Portugal all the way back in 2000. Portugal won.
Portugal: Portugal has been an enigma at this tournament. They’ve been very successful in making their way to the semifinals but they’ve grazed the bar almost each and every time. One important fact for this Euro: Portugal is the only semifinalist that has not had a single win in regulation time. All three of their group games were draws, their Round of 16 win against Croatia game after a single goal from Quaresma in added extra time, and their quarterfinal win was thanks to a penalty shootout. Even star Cristiano Ronaldo has faced some flack for underplaying. He should be thankful his two goals against Hungary were what Portugal needed to stay alive in the tournament. If Portugal expects to win the semifinal, they will have to come together and play solid. They can’t afford to take it easy or give things away. Not while Wales has been performing while other teams have slacked off.
Wales: Two of the biggest Cinderella teams at this Euro have been Iceland and Wales. In fact the Euro 2016 can best be remembered as the tournament where Gareth Bale finally came to prominence in international play. He’s one of only five players here that has scored three or more goals. In addition to Bale, other teammates had moments to shine too like Ashley Williams, Aaron Ramsey and the currently-unsigned Hal Robson-Kanu. In fact the whole team has performed as a solid unit winning matches over teams with bigger clout like Slovakia, Russia and especially #2 ranked Belgium 3-1 in the quarterfinals. Who decides these FIFA rankings anyways?
Wales does have its imperfections. In fact it faced a heated battle against Northern Ireland in the Round of 16 and was only lucky to advance thanks to an auto goal scored by Gareth McAuley: the only goal of the match. In short, Wales have proven themselves able to deliver. However it’s a matter of them all being there.
My Verdict: With no reliable head-to-head stats to base a judgement, I have to base it on the team’s play during the Euro. I predict Wales to win 2-1 in added extra time.
SEMIFINAL #2: GERMANY vs. FRANCE
Head To Head Stuff:
They’ve both faced each other off twelve times ever. France has won six times, Germany four and two draws. Germany’s wins have been one home, three away. France’s wins have been three home, three away. Germany’s last win over France was at the 2014 World Cup quarterfinals. France’s last win over Germany was during a friendly in Paris in November 2015.
Germany: Germany faced a lot of expectations here at the Euro. They came as the reigning World Cup holders who were struggling to form a new team with new younger talent. They’ve done very well for the most part as they won 2-0 against Ukraine and 1-0 against Northern Ireland. Their big moment came in the Round of 16 when they beat Slovakia 3-0. Remarkable since Slovakia beat them 3-1 in a friendly one month earlier.
This Euro has also been the arena where Germany’s weaknesses have also been exposed. First was the 0-0 draw against Poland in the Round of 16. The second came against Italy in the quarterfinals. It wasn’t simply drawing 1-1 but their three misses in the penalty shootout right during the first five. Usually Germany are the experts at penalty kicks going without a miss in a major tournament since 1982. That was a shock! Had Italy not also had three misses in their first five, it would’ve been the Italians heading to the semis instead.
The German team here in Euro 2016 is very capable of great play and have gone beyond most people’s expectations. However they cannot give anything away while playing against France. Not while France is host nation and playing brilliantly.
France: France is one team that has been on a roll consistently. They’ve only had a single draw: 0-0 against Switzerland in the Group Stage. Everything else has been a win: 2-1 over Romania, 2-0 over Albania, 2-1 over Ireland and 5-2 over Iceland. They even have the three highest scorers: Antoine Griezmann with four, Olivier Giroud with three, and Dimitri Payet with three. Having Didier DesChamps, captain of France’s 1998 World Cup winning team, as coach definitely has a lot to do with it.
France have been excellent though they aren’t perfect. The team has definitely risen to the occasion game after game and showed all of Europe they’re ready to win at home. They have not had a single loss in 2016. However they could face the pressure of playing at home. Sure, they may have beaten Germany in a friendly in Paris seven months ago but Germany may have something up their sleeve. Don’t forget Germany did a reversal on Slovakia. Also keep in mind Germany beat France 1-0 in the quarterfinals in Brazil as Des Champs was coaching. Some food for thought.
TRIVIA: The world was horrified on Friday November 13, 2015 when six bombs went off in various areas of Paris. The first attack was at 9:20pm just outside the Stade de France; right while the friendly between France and Germany was taking place. In fact the two explosions can be heard on video replays during the 16th minute and 19th minute of that game, which continued on and France won 2-0.
My Verdict: There’s no one ‘wonderteam’ at this Euro but I think France is the team that most has it together. I think they will win 1-0.
And those are my predictions for the semifinals for Euro 2016. I may be right. I may be wrong. All to be decided Wednesday and Thursday.
That’s the Group Stage for you. All four teams in each group play each other and have to prove in those 270 minutes and then some if they deserve to move on. Sixteen teams proved themselves worthy and it’s up to a single match in the Round of 16 to narrow the field of 16 down to 8 and the quarterfinals to reduce the field of 8 down to 4. So here are my predictions for the next two rounds:
ROUND OF 16
First off the Round of 16. This is the first Euro ever to have such a round. That’s what happens when you increase the number of teams from 16 to 24. Similar confusing format as the Women’s World Cup last year, if not the same. And here are my predictions with my picks for the winner in bold.
Switzerland (Group A 2nd) vs. Poland (Group C 2nd): This makes it the first Euro for either team to qualify for the knockout round. This is also the first Euro Poland won their first game. Also who would’ve expected that draw to Germany? I believe further success will come Poland’s way as they have been excellent. Also Switzerland has never won against Poland. They may have drawn in a friendly almost a year and a half ago but Poland has always beat Switzerland.
Wales (Group B Winner) vs. Northern Ireland (Wildcard: Group C): You could attribute Wales coming out on top because of Gareth Bale but it is a whole team effort. Also Northern Ireland knew how to deliver in their surprise win over Ukraine 2-0 which was enough to give them the berth here. The two have played each other eight times before with Wales winning three times, NI once and four draws. Their most recent match was a friendly back in March where they drew 1-1. I feel this will lead to a draw that will go to penalty kicks where Wales will win.
Croatia (Winner Group D) vs. Portugal (Wildcard: Group F): Normally I would predict Portugal to win this, especially since Portugal beat Croatia the three previous times they’ve met. However you just have to watch the play of these two teams here to get a good sense who will win. Croatia has been playing brilliantly despite their games plagued by obnoxious flare-throwing fans. However Portugal has struggled in their lineup and they have not appeared all that together. In fact you’d expect a team like Portugal to qualify with more than just three straight draws. I will give it to Croatia to win. They definitely look like a team that’s on. Note: If Croatia wins, this will be the first Euro where Croatia wins a knockout game.
France (Winner Group A) vs. Republic of Ireland (Wildcard: Group E): As host nation, France had to do well. However they already had a talented enough squad to take them through the first round. Actually many people are thinking France has what it takes to win. Ireland have to have the ‘luck of the Irish’ that they were able to qualify after their win against Italy. They had a tie and a loss and appeared in danger of heading out. It’s either the luck of winning or Italy just wanting to take it easy knowing they finished first in their group. It almost seems like a forgone conclusion for France to win. Besides their last loss to Ireland was all the way back in the 80’s. It’s fair to pick France.
Germany (Winner Group C) vs. Slovakia (Wildcard: Group B): Germany won their group as expected. This was Slovakia’s first Euro so a chance for themselves to prove themselves in front of the whole continent. They did very well in tying England and beating Russia. You think they should be invincible against Slovakia, right? Not so fast! Germany may have beat Slovakia in three of the five times they met but their last meeting was a month ago in a friendly and it was SLOVAKIA that won 3-1. So I predict the game will go to a draw even in extra time. However I predict Germany to win on penalty kicks. I have a hunch that’s what it will come down to. The only sure thing about Germany is a blemish-free penalty kick result.
Hungary (Winner Group F) vs. Belgium (Group E 2nd): A case of two teams. One is a team playing better than their country ever has. Another you could rightfully call the ‘comeback kids.’ However it’s better to say Hungary proved you can’t call them a ‘blast from the past’ anymore. Hungary has a team that’s ready to return their country to glory. However Hungary’s comeback is not immediate. It’s slow but sure. However I think the Round of 16 is the furthest they’ll be getting right now. Besides Belgium has never lost to Hungary in the times they’ve played each other. I predict Belgium to win.
Italy (Winner Group E) vs. Spain (Group D 2nd): How about that? Two teams that have a stellar reputation in football. Two teams that had an embarrassing Group Stage ouster during the 2014 World Cup. Two teams that played very well in the Euro 2016 group stage. And only one will still be in the running and one other will be out in the Round of 16. There may be concern since both teams lost their last game. However Italy decided to send in some lesser-skilled players for their match against Ireland since they knew they’d finish first in Group E anyways. Spain on the other hand started brilliantly and ended up giving their 1st place ranking away to Croatia. The two have known to have a colorful rivalry with Italy last defeating Spin in 2011. However I think Italy will win in added extra time.
England (Group B 2nd) vs. Iceland (Group F 2nd): England qualifying is not a surprise. Here in Euro 2016, they’re back in a familiar position. Iceland however has been the big surprise of the tournament with 1-1 draws against Hungary and Portugal and a last-second goal giving them a 2-1 win over Austria. The funniest thing is that whenever you see 25,000 Icelandics waving their flag in the stadiums, you’re reminded at least 5% of Iceland’s population is there. Yes, pound-for-pound Iceland has proven themselves in recent years to be the top football team in the world, especially during Euro 2016. However I think Icelandic luck will end here. England has only played Iceland once before and won but that was back in 2004. I’m sure England will win again here although definitely by a smaller margin.
It is tradition that I make quarterfinal predictions. For each quarterfinal, I assume each prediction I make for the Round of 16 is true, though you know it’s not always the case. Whatever the situation, here goes:
Croatia vs. Poland: Croatia is the best it’s ever been at a Euro as is Poland. Poland is actually the best it’s been in decades. However both Croatia and Poland have met five times in the past with Croatia winning three times and Poland once. I predict Croatia to win again but in added extra time.
Wales vs. Belgium: Wales and Belgium have met ten times before with Wales winning three times and Belgium four. I predict this will go to a draw in added extra time and Belgium will win on penalty kicks.
Germany vs. Italy: Traditionally Italy has been known as Germany’s ‘Achilles Heel.’ Germany has lost to Italy on many big occasions like the semifinals of both the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2012. However Germany turned the tables in a friendly three months ago and won 4-1. I predict Germany to win again here.
England vs. France: A familiar rivalry. England has won in 17 of the 30 previous meetings. However the tabled turned for France starting in 1999 and the odds would be in their favor with wins or draws. However England got back their advantage back in a friendly in November and won 2-0. I think however France will have the advantage with the home crowd.
And there are my predictions for the first two knockout rounds. That’s how I see things but I know there will be at least one surprise or two. Pele has always said “Football is a box of surprises.” Expect to see some here in the next few rounds. And I’ll see you all again in the semis.
Euro 2016 has made headlines for a lot of good memorable play. It’s also made headlines for the worse for hooliganism from Russian and Croatian fans. However starting tomorrow, all 24 teams have one last game to play. Three teams have officially qualified, one is officially out and the other twenty are still relying on the last game to decide it all. Here’s the breakdown of the teams that made it and the teams still with one last chance. Note only teams guaranteed qualification have their names bolded.
Okay, it’s safe to say that by now, two wins guarantees you’ll be playing in the knockout round no matter what happens in the third game in any group. France is already guaranteed to move on after their wins against Switzerland and Albania. However they’re not guaranteed first place in the standings. Switzerland could take France’s top position away if they beat them. Chances are slim but still there. If Switzerland doesn’t win, they do have strong chances of finishing second despite what happens in the Romania-Albania game. Romania would need to have a win of at least 2-0 or 3-1 over Albania and Switzerland will have to endure nothing more than a loss to France if they can take second place in Group A.
Albania may have lost both of their games but they are not out. They still have a chance of qualifying if they defeat Romania. It will have to be nothing less than a win for Albania and even then they will have to wait until all the groups have finished and have all the third-placers ranked in order to determine the four that qualify. It’s what it all boils down to in this wildcard race.
This is unique because none of the teams in the group are guaranteed of qualifying. That’s a good thing because all four still have a chance leading up to their last matches on Monday, June 20th.England currently leads with a win and a draw with Wales and Slovakia with both a win and a loss. However they could drop to third place if Slovakia beats them and Wales beats Russia. I’m sure England wouldn’t want that embarrassment. Slovakia and Wales can qualify even if they draw Final results of who ranks where will have to be decided in the final game. One thing is certain: if Wales and Slovakia both win, draw or lose, Wales will have a higher ranking because of their win over Slovakia. Even if Wales lost to Russia on Monday, they would still have the advantage of finishing at least third.
Now onto Russia. Russia has had a lot of bad publicity because of their fans’ hooligan actions. UEFA has even dealt them a blow of a fine of 150,000. In addition, they face difficulty with their play as they sit with just a draw and a loss. Russia can still qualify but they will need nothing less than a win against Wales to do so.
Germany currently at the top is no surprise. Germany’s scoreless draw against Poland was to many. Except me because I anticipated them to draw: albeit a score of 1-1. No doubt about it, this is Poland’s best Euro especially since they achieved their first ever win. Germany leads Poland in goal differentials should both Germany and Poland win, lose or draw on Tuesday the 21st.Poland could still clinch the lead over Germany but they would have to win over Ukraine and Germany draw over Northern Ireland or Poland draw and Northern Ireland win. Northern Ireland will need nothing less than a win over Germany to rank second at the very least. They are guaranteed a third-place finish but they will have to rely on win-loss stats and goal differentials of the other third-place teams to see if they are one of the wildcard qualifiers.
As for Ukraine, it’s over. Even if they did win over Poland by even the hugest margin, their Euro 2016 trip will end Tuesday because their loss to Northern Ireland on Thursday put them in last place in Group C. For those that don’t know, head-to-head results override goal differentials at the UEFA Euro while it’s the opposite for the FIFA World Cup. That’s how things work here.
It’s official that Spain is advancing to the Round of 16. Their wins against Turkey and the Czech Republic solidified their chances. However they could still finish second in the group. That can happen if they lose to Croatia. Croatia sits in second with a win against Turkey and a draw to the Czech Republic. Croatia is comfortable enough that they’re guaranteed finishing third at least. A draw will give them second place. A loss could still keep them in second but it would have to be a small loss to keep them in second. They wouldn’t want the Czechs to win big against Turkey.
The Czech Republic will need a win if they are to advance. A draw will not cut it because of possibly falling short in the wildcard ranks. Meanwhile Turkey is not out either. A win will put them in third place with the possibility of qualifying. It will all be decided Tuesday the 21st.
It’s now official that Italy has guaranteed qualification to the Round of 16. Its wins against Belgium and Sweden assured them a spot in the next round. Actually Italy has been guaranteed first place because even if they lost to Ireland and Belgium won, they’d have the advantage over Belgium because of their 2-0 win. Belgium’s win over Ireland brought their chances back. They could still qualify if they drew against Sweden. However a loss could endanger their chances of qualifying. Simply put, Sweden and Ireland need nothing less than a win to qualify. A draw for either wouldn’t cut it.
Hungary is the team on top right now thanks to the group’s only win: against Austria 2-0. Every other match was a 1-1 or 0-0 draw. Hungary can still advance with a loss to Portugal because of their win over Austria. Iceland and Portugal have two draws but Iceland leads because they scored more. Already Iceland has their best team ever and they keep on breaking new ground each time, even if their two Euro games are 1-1 draws. I’ll bet Portugal was shocked to find out how good they were. Iceland would have to win over Austria in order to advance but Austria needs nothing less than a win over Iceland for their chances as they’re the one team with a loss. And it’s all chancy for Portugal. A win over Hungary will give them qualification but a draw will put them in the tricky wildcard category.
And there you go. That’s the team rundown before they play their final preliminary game. Just like in FIFA tournaments, the third games for each group will all be played simultaneously. Hey, it’s do or die.
For my predictions for the previous groups, just click below on the links and you’re there:
Interesting how the next Euro won’t have a single host country. It was decided in 2014 for what will be the 60th anniversary of the Euro to have all the first round matches and knockout games in cities throughout the continent mainly for that celebration. The second reason why was because Europe was, and still is to a certain extent, struggling with an economic crisis. It makes sense as most cities that have agreed to stage part of the tournament will use the stadium already in existence. Only Brussels is planning a new stadium for Euro 2020 and Budapest is planning a new version of their old stadium in time for the tournament. This should prove interesting in how it works out. In the meantime, here are my predictions for Group F:
Portugal (8): This isn’t simply the time for The Navigators. More like this is the century for them. Back in the 20th century, the team only qualified for two World Cup and two Euros. Now they’ve made every World Cup since 2002. Not to mention every Euro since 1996. The team features legends like Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Alves, Nani and Pepe. The team also shows promise for their youth as they were finalists in the under-21 Euro last year. They team will come to France in hopes of shaking off their embarrassment from the 2014 World Cup of being ousted in the Group Stage. The team brought back Fernando Santos whom coached Greece at the 2014 World Cup. The squad for Euro 2016 features a wealth of talent both old and young. Since Brazil, the team has had a lot of key wins against Argentina, Belgium, Serbia and Italy. They’ve also had some key losses against France, Bulgaria, Russia and England. The players playing their best strengths and the right team chemistry should take them far in Euro 2016, if not win.
Iceland (35): Iceland amazes me. A nation of less than half a million people fielding a football team to be reckoned with. This is their first-ever Euro. They almost qualified for the 2014 World Cup going as far as the knockout stage against eventual qualifiers Croatia and even bringing them to a scoreless draw in the first match. They’ve even reached their highest FIFA ranking of 23rd for three months of last year. The team consist of members that play for a variety of teams throughout Europe across many different countries. Sweden’s Allsvenskan league is the national league with the most members of the national team. In the past two years, the team has had key wins against Turkey, Czech Republic, Greece and the Netherlands twice. However 2016 has shown the team struggle in Friendly play losing four of their seven matches including Norway, Denmark and the United States. France will be the first stage for them to prove themselves on an international level. Don’t count them out.
Austria (11): Austria is an enigma. The team had their best days in the 1930’s and 1950’s. Since the 1960’s the team’s prowess has declined with only qualifying for four World Cups and giving a dismal showing at Euro 2008 which they co-hosted. Since 2014, the team has shown a remarkable turnaround. In Euro qualifying, they finished top of the group by winning nine of their ten games and only drawing once, even overpowering Russia and Sweden. The current team is coached by Swiss coach Marcel Koller and features players that mostly play for Germany’s Bundesliga. In the past two years, the team has had additional wins against the Czech Republic and Albania. The team has also had losses against Turkey, Switzerland and the Netherlands. I’m sure they hope to show the World what they’re made of in France. Possibly their best team in decades.
Hungary (18): I’m sure Hungary hates being known as a ‘blast from the past’ but it’s easy to dismiss them as that. It’s a long ways since their days of being the ‘Magical Magyars’ back in the 30’s and 50’s which include two World Cup finals appearances and Olympic gold in 1952. Their first signs of their prowess waning came in the 60’s. Despite finishing third in Euro 1964, they only went as far as the quarterfinals at both the 1962 and 1966 World Cups. Since 1966, the team has never made it past the Group Stage at the World Cup with their last appearance in 1986. Their last Euro appearance was in 1972. The demise of Communism led to less focus on Hungarian football talent and an eventual demise in world rankings including a worst-ever FIFA ranking of 86th in 1996. However Hungarian football is making a comeback as there is more funding for football and more development of players happening nationally. They’ve even hired a German, Bernd Storck, as their head coach. Most of the players play for Hungary’s OTP Bank Liga but there are four players that play for teams of Germany’s Bundesliga. They’ve had notable victories in the last two years against Finland, Norway and Albania and some notable draws against Croatia and Greece. They’ve also had some notable losses to Russia and Germany. France could be the stage for them to prove Hungary’s back.
Prediction: Okay, my final prediction for the final group. Predicting Portugal to top it is easy. Predicting the other two is heard because it could be any of the three. I’ll go with Austria second because of their consistency and Hungary third.
And this not only sums up my review of Group F but of all Euro 2016 first round groups. Some of you may wonder why I haven’t predicted the winner of the Euro yet. It’s simple. Because I’ve always had a case on my blog of predicting the groups first and then making predictions for the knockout rounds as the tournament moves on and then then predicting the final just days before it happens. It always was my case. Besides if I went with my group predictions, I’d have a raw idea on who would win the Euro as I mapped them out. I’ve basically mapped out that the winner of the Cup would end up being France. Yeah, that raw. So hang tight right now.
And that wraps it up for all my pre-tournament posting of Euro 2016.24 teams playing, only 16 will still stand after Wednesday the 22nd. It all remains to be decided over the next two weeks. More predictions and write-ups from me coming as the tournament progresses.
A lot of you are wondering if a Canadian like me is getting into the fanfare of Euro 2016. Actually I am, though not on a huge basis. I do go the the UEFA website and go to the fanzone area. Yes, I go to the Panini online sticker album. I’m also going into the Hyundai predictor too. I’ll do both match predictor and bracket predictor. I just do it to have fun and who knows? I might win something. In the meantime, more predicting happening. Here’s my rundown of Group E:
Belgium (2): This seems to be the time for the Red Devils. They’ve shown a level of consistency and team play that has taken them to the top of FIFA’s World Rankings for the first time ever back in November 2015. What Belgium needs now is a landmark accomplishment. They have achieved third-place and a runners-up finish at the Euro before but that was all the way back in 1972 and 1980 respectively. Also their best World Cup result was a fourth place back in 1986. This is their first Euro since they co-hosted back in 2000. Back then the team wasn’t all there and it took a long time to get off the ground. Their first signs of success came around World Cup qualifying which led them to a quarterfinals finish in Brazil in 2014. Since the 2014 World Cup, Belgium has further extended its reputation of consistency winning twelve of their seventeen matches since. Notable opponents they’ve beaten in that time are France, Italy,Switzerland and Norway. Their only losses came to Portugal and Wales. No doubt they will come to France with something to prove and possibly have their best Euro ever.
Italy (15): Italy is traditionally one of the maverick countries of football. However every maverick country of football have their moments of big glory and their downtimes too. Now seems like the downtime for Azzurri. Their defense isn’t as strong. It’s not like the unbreakable defense they had back in the 90’s. Another thing Italy is missing is their consistency. Sure they were finalists at the last Euro and they finished third at the 2013 Confederations Cup. However they still have the frustration of failing to advance past the Group Stage of the last two World Cups. Their play since World Cup 2014 have had ups and downs of their own. Italy’s wins since include the Netherlands, Norway and Scotland. On top of that, they qualified for the Euro top of their group and without a loss. However they have had losses to Portugal, Belgium and Germany in the meantime. Euro 2016 could either be a time of redemption for them or a time of disappointment. It’s all in their hands.
Republic of Ireland (31): Ireland is a team that has moments of success in spurts. They’ve gone as far as the quarterfinals at the World Cup, back in 1990, but have never made it past the group stage in the two Euros they’ve played in. At the last Euro, they exited with the worst result of all teams losing all three games and a goal differential of -8. The team has rebounded considerably especially after being ranked 67th by FIFA back in 2013. Notable wins include Switzerland, Germany and the United States. They’ve only endure three losses: to Scotland, Poland and Belarus. They’ve also had some noteworthy draws to the Netherlands, Slovakia, England and Bosnia. It’s possible the Green Army could be one of the surprises here in Euro 2016.
Sweden (36): Sweden is a team struggling to get their greatness noticed. Sure, they have a star player in Zlatan Ibrahimovic but they have a talented full team too. Their recent results have not been the best as they failed to qualify for the last two World Cups and exited the last two Euros in the Group Stage. Interesting trivia fact: Sweden has never won a knockout game at the Euro. Since the 2014 World Cup which they sat out, they’ve had a mixed record. They’ve had wins against Denmark, Iran, Finland and Wales as well as draws against Russia and Norway. They’ve also had losses to France, Turkey, Austria, Russia and Finland. They will have to come together in France if they want to go further.
Prediction: Okay, now it’s time to predict the group. No doubt about it, I predict Belgium to top it. I predict Italy to be second and Ireland to take third.
And there are my thoughts on Group E. Predictions for Group F coming soon.
Here are my reviews of other groups:
Wow! Euro 2016 is not even a week away. Fast notes about the ten stadiums staging the Euro. Six were venues of the 1998 World Cup. The other four are new stadiums that opened anywhere from back this January to four years ago. Glad to see this Euro isn’t that big of an expense. Although five of the ‘older’ stadiums did need upgrades for this event. Anyways here’s my look at the Group D teams:
Turkey (13): Turkey is a team known for its infrequent successes. It has competed in three Euros and two World Cups. It finished third in the 2002 World Cup–its first World Cup since 1954– and hasn’t qualified since. Turkey didn’t qualify for the 2004 Euro but finished in the semis in 2008 and didn’t qualify for 2012. Turkey’s back now. All but six players play for Turkey’s Super Lig, three play for German teams and captain Arda Turan plays for Barcelona. The team has done very well in play the past year and a half including wins against the Netherlands, Czech Republic and Sweden. Their only loss came to England two weeks ago and the score was 2-1. Turkey is one team that shouldn’t be underestimated.
Croatia (23): Croatia has a reputation of being world class ‘minnows’ that will surprise you when you least expect it. However Vatreni has struggled to regain their strong reputation they had back in the late 1990’s. In fact the team’s play has been mostly quiet news. However they still should not be underestimated. They may have lacked a standout moment for the team in recent major tournaments but they’ve continued to exhibit consistent play. They may lack a standout superstar but they function excellently as a team unit. Since World Cup 2014, they’ve regained the consistency they’re known for. They’ve had wins against Russia, Israel, Norway and Bulgaria and have even drawn against Italy. The team has only had two losses in that time: against Argentina and Norway. In this group, their toughest opposition will be Spain as they’ve only won against them once in the last 25 years. In that same time, they’ve never lost to Turkey and the Czechs. Euro 2016 is another time for the team to prove themselves once again.
Spain (6): We’ve talked about England trying to recover from its 2014 World Cup embarrassment. England’s not alone. Spain entered the Cup as the reigning holders only to lose their first two Group games which meant their elimination as Group play concluded. Like England, La Roja didn’t drop their coach: Vicente Del Bosque. Their road to redemption did have a struggle for the remainder of 2014 as they lost three of their six 2014 games after the Cup. Spain did have challenges bringing in new players who aren’t as well seasoned as their veterans still on the team. However Spain were very good in qualifying for the Euro and their only loss in 2015 came to the Netherlands. This past week they scored big wins against Bosnia (3-1) and South Korea (6-1). No doubt they will be coming to France with something to prove.
Czech Republic(29): The Czechs are an enigma in football. Since the divorce of Czechoslovakia in 1992, the team has qualified for every Euro even being finalists in 1996 and semifinalists in 2004. However they’ve only qualified for one World Cup: back in 2006 and they were out in Group Stage. Their play since the 2014 World Cup has also been enigmatic. They’ve lost to the United States, Slovakia, Iceland, Turkey, Poland and Scotland. However they’ve also won against Iceland, the Netherlands, Serbia and Russia. France will be another chance for the team to prove themselves.
Prediction: This is a tough one because both teams have a lot of strengths but they also have a lot of very noticeable weak spots. You could call this a ‘group of death.’ I predict Spain to top it with Croatia second and Turkey third.
And there are my thoughts for Group D. Next up my review of Group E.
Here are my reviews of other groups:
This is actually my favorite group of the six because I’m 3/4 Ukrainian, 1/4 German. Plus I like Poland because Poland and Ukraine have a lot in common, especially in their language. Nevertheless this should make for an exciting group with a lot of rivalry. So here’s my review of Group C:
Poland (27): Poland may have a good World Cup legacy with seven appearances and two third-place finishes but they lack a Euro legacy with competing in only the last two and going out in the Group Stage both times. Last Euro was especially embarrassing since they were co-hosts and didn’t win a game. Since then the White Eagles has gotten better. And it’s not just with Robert Lewandowski becoming a star striker for Bayern Munich. It’s the whole team that has been performing consistently. In fact the team even scored their first ever win against Germany in October 2014 during Euro qualifying. They’ve had other notable wins in the past two years against Ireland, Czech Republic and Serbia. Their only loss in the past two years came to Germany when they got their Euro qualifying revenge last September. Before I even give my predictions, I can already say I know Poland will advance to the Round of 16 at the very least. Poland could be the team most likely to cause a surprise.
Northern Ireland (26): This is Northern Ireland’s first ever Euro. They’ve played in three World Cups before and even made the quarterfinals in 1958 but no previous Euro. The team may not have a George Best right now but they appear to be getting stronger in recent years. Five players play for the Premier League and they’ve scored notable wins against Hungary and Greece. Their two losses to European teams in the past two years were to Romania and Scotland. France could be another proving ground for the team.
Germany (5): You think that since they’ve won the World Cup in 2014, they should be top of the world, right? Well one of the reasons why they won the World Cup is because they had the most team unity and best team chemistry of all. No standout superstars, just one functioning team. And that’s how it should be. However three of its top players from World Cup 2014–Per Mertesacker, Phillipp Lahm and Miroslav Klose–retired immediately after. This led to dealing with a new team format since then and also into developing new national team players. Manuel Neuer, Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil, Andre Schurrle and Mario Gotze and still part of The Mannschaft but they’re also added some new younger talent too.
With the changes to the team, they’ve gone through some ups and downs. They qualified for the Euro top of their group. They’ve had some notable wins against Poland, Spain, Scotland and their traditional ‘Achilles heel’ Italy. However they’ve also had some notable losses to Argentina, Poland, the U.S., France, England and most recently Slovakia. However Germany has a habit of coming alive when they most need to so it’s not right to dismiss them quite yet. Plus Euro 2016 could be the grounds for a lot of the new younger players to come of age. Only time will tell.
Ukraine (22): Ukraine is a team that either gets better or keeps on learning over time. They first arrived as a team at the 2006 World Cup where they made the quarterfinals. However they’ve struggled to qualify for a World Cup since. They played in their first Euro in 2012 as co-hosts going out in the Group Stage. The current team mostly plays for teams in the Ukrainian Premier League. The current team has a lot of good talent like veteran Anatoliy Tymoschuk and rising great Andriy Yarmolenko. In the past year, the team has had some notable wins over Wales, Romania and Slovenia. Their only loss in 2015 came to Spain. In their history, they’ve either won or tied Northern Ireland, had mixed results against Poland and never won against Germany. Chances they could be on at Euro 2016.
Prediction: I think Germany vs. Poland will be a draw game and both teams will have the exact game results in all of group play. But I think Germany will come out on top over Poland because of goal differentials. Third place in this group will go to Ukraine.
And there you go. My thoughts on Group C. My thoughts on Euro 2016’s Group D coming soon.
Here are my reviews of other groups: