Tag Archives: 2018

My Predictions For The 2018 Academy Awards

Chocolate Oscar

Holding this year’s Academy Awards has been a load of chaos going even as far back as August. The struggle had as its focus the record-low ratings of last year’s Oscars. Hey, when they keep on giving Best Picture to films with low grosses, they have that struggle coming. First there was an attempt to include a new category: Best Popular Film. Derision from critics, filmmakers and the public quickly rose and the category was dropped within a week. Then there was having Kevin Hart as the host. That seemed like a good idea, until he said something homophobic in his comedy. He apologized and even some celebrities came to his aid, but the hostility did not die. That meant no host this year: only the second Oscars to be hostless. Then came the procedure two weeks ago of four categories to be awarded during commercials with the presentation broadcast on livestream. Filmmakers and fans shouted their derision online and that led to the categories assigned back on broadcast.

All I can say about the ceremonies is what a headache for the organizers. The big question may not be ‘who will win what’ but ‘can they do a winning Oscars without a host?’ There has been one hostless Oscars in the past — the 61st in 1989 — and they went off very well despite the highlight being an unforgettably cheesy song-and-dance number with an awkward Snow White singing and dancing with Rob Lowe. This year’s hostless Oscars have yet to bee seen, but there have been other awards shows where there wasn’t a host.

The surprises weren’t just about the ceremony itself. The surprises were in the awards race too. One big shocker was a NetFlix film being a heavy favorite. Another was most of the Best Picture nominees snubbed in at least one category that effects their Best Picture standing: like in acting, directing, writing or film editing. Only BlacKkKlansman had nominations in all. Another was the double-snub of Emily Blunt in both acting categories to actresses of Roma that didn’t have as big of awards clout. Another was films with outside chances like Cold War and The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs garnering nominations. Guild awards provided other lopsided results too like SAGs giving snubbed-out Emily Blunt the Best Supporting Actress award, and the Writers Guild of America giving Bo Burnham the Best Original Screenplay award. With only days to go there’s still no clear favorite for Best Picture. Not even The Favourite!

However the awards results and the pictures themselves do give a good sense on who just could win. So without further ado, here are my predictions for who Will Win the Oscars as well as a Should-Win pick where I feel necessary. Also hyperlinks to my reviews are included.

BEST PICTURE

This year’s eight-pack of Best Picture nominees are quite unique and exhibit a lot in diversity. One is a film predominantly in Spanish. One is a superhero movie. Two are music-based. Three begin with the letter B. Three have African-Americans as their dominant or central characters. Five have some reference to LGBT people. All have a lot of awards clout and have paved their way successfully to their nominations. So here is my rundown of the Best Picture nominees:

Black Panther – The 21st Century is best remembered so far as the heyday of the superhero movie. For so long, people have waited for a superhero movie to get nominated for Best Picture. In fact the number of Best Picture entries was expanded past its traditional five when The Dark Knight didn’t get nominated. Finally a superhero movie is nominated. I can’t think of a better choice than Black Panther. It has all the qualities of a Best Picture contender — acting, directing, writing, and a lot more — but its buzz fell fast when its only other nominations were technical ones. I don’t think it will win.

BlacKkKlansman – Isn’t it something how Spike Lee went from boycotting the Oscars three years ago to becoming a nominee this year. Spike Lee has had a career with a lot of ups and downs. Ever since Do The Right Thing, he has struggled to get his greatness back. His success however has paved the way for other African American directors. BlacKkKlansman brought him back into major action. I consider this a top contender for the Best Picture award, but not necessarily the winner.

Bohemian Rhapsody – This film has all the ingredients of a Best Picture contender, especially a performance by the lead that will blow you away. The film also has a very critical weakness. That being the original director is an alleged sex offender. That may not hurt Rami’s chances for Best Actor, but it robs any and all chances of a Best Picture win for this film.

The Favourite – What’s the Oscar race without a timepiece set way back being a top contender for the Best Picture award? The Favourite is just that movie, and one of only two movies with ten nominations. The film has the ingredients to win Best Picture. However some may find the story too tempestuous and the film too eccentric to win the biggest award of the night.

Green Book – Overcoming racism has been a central theme in many a film in this year’s Oscar race. This is a film that may not be historically accurate, but it does make for a good film from start-to-finish with a good message. Much of it is true as Tony Lip’s son was the scriptwriter. It’s tight but I give this my Will Win pick.

Roma – This film is a thing of beauty. I can sum it up like that. For the record, no film predominantly in a foreign-language has ever won the Best Picture Oscar. I have a feeling that could rob Roma of the biggest award that night. However this is a close race and anything can happen. That’s why I give it my Should Win pick.

A Star Is Born – When the Oscar season began, this film had the biggest buzz. Especially with it being Lady Gaga’s big screen breakthrough. The film has all the ingredient for a Best Picture winner. However, this is a film that’s been done three times before. I don’t think the Academy is willing to give the Best Picture Oscar to a reboot.

Vice – If you remember The Big Short, you’ll see how Adam McKay lampooned the banking system and the games they were playing just as they were about to lead the US to its biggest recession since the Great Depression. Here McKay lampoons the American political system and how Dick Cheney played a major role in the political climate we have today both as Vice President and while holding other office. It’s as entertaining as The Big Short, but not as good. That’s where I feel Vice falls short in the Best Picture race.

BEST DIRECTOR

Should Win and Will Win: Alfonso Cuaron – Roma

If you see Roma, you will see it’s more than just two women transformed in a changing time in Mexico. You will notice it’s a piece of Alfonso Cuaron’s childhood. He creates a masterpiece so beautiful and intimate, not even the images of the dog droppings can ruin its beauty. It’s a masterpiece of a film and I feel Cuaron deserves to win again.

BEST ACTOR

Should Win and Will Win: Rami Malek – Bohemian Rhapsody

Thirteen of this year’s twenty acting nominations are for performances of people that exist or have existed. In no other category is that best represented than in the Best Actor category. Bradley Cooper’s is the only nomination of a fictional person here. It’s a tough call between Christian Bale as Dick Cheney or Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury. I have to go with Malek because his performance was more dead-on while Bale’s was intended to be cartoonish in the way Adam McKay wanted it. Besides those that saw Bohemian Rhapsody will say Malek got the spirit of Freddie to a tee.

BEST ACTRESS

Should Win and Will Win: Glenn Close – The Wife

How far back was Glenn Close’s first Oscar nomination? Back in 1982 for her performance in The World According To Garp. Her performance in The Wife is her seventh nomination. Many people will claim that she will win the Oscar on career culmination. I’m sure Lady Gaga fans will have their own trash-talk on social media for her when she wins (Monsters indeed!). However those who have seen The Wife will admire her acting for how her character hides her true intentions and true feelings and you can see it. As expected, Glenn delivers.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Should Win and Will Win: Mahershala Ali – Green Book

Ever since he stunned audience in Moonlight as the crack dealer with a soft spot for the young boy, Mahershala Ali has been on a roll. I still remember in his acceptance speech, he said the advise his teacher taught him: “It’s not about you. It’s about the character.” He delivers again as Don Shirley. Another winner.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Should Win and Will Win: Regina King – If Beale Street Could Talk

This is a category with jam-packed with top contending performances. It’s tough to pick a favorite. However I have to go with Regina King for playing the mother in Beale Street who goes all out for her son-in-law’s innocence.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Should Win: Alfonso Cuaron – Roma

Will Win: Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara – The Favourite

The originals have the edge over the adapted this year, but the results are all over the map. Green Book has the Golden Globe, First Reformed has the Critics Choice, The Favourite has the BAFTA, while the Writers Guild award went to Eighth Grade which was snubbed out. This must be the major category that’s hardest to predict. I was tempted to go with Roma, but I have to pick The Favourite.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Should Win: Barry Jenkins – If Beale Street Could Talk

Will Win: Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee – BlacKkKlansman

In all frankness, I think If Beale Street Could Talk was the best film by an African American director this year. James Baldwin would have been proud of Barry Jenkins’ adaptation. However I think the major buzz is for the four writers of BlacKkKlansman for creating a clever story that’s very thought-provoking.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

Should Win and Will Win: Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

This year, animated movies continued to draw crowds and families. However it was once again another year that couldn’t compare to 2016. Near the end of the year, the two biggest movies were sequels: Incredibles 2 and Ralph Breaks The Internet. Just when it seemed lackluster, Spider-Verse came and was more entertaining than the others. Deserves to win here.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Will Win: Alfonso Cuaron – Roma

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Will Win: Ruth E. Carter – Black Panther

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

Will Win: RBG

BEST FILM EDITING

Will Win: Hank Corwin – Vice

BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM

Will Win: Roma (Mexico)

BEST HAIR AND MAKE-UP

Will Win: Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe and Patricia Dehaney – Vice

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Will Win: Nicholas Britell – If Beale Street Could Talk

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

Should Win and Will Win: ‘Shallow” from A Star Is Born

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

Will Win: Fiona Crombie and Alice Felton – The Favourite

BEST SOUND EDITING

Will Win: A Quiet Place

BEST SOUND MIXING

Will Win: Bohemian Rhapsody

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Will Win: Avengers: Infinity War

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM

Click here for reviews and predictions.

BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM

Click here for reviews and predictions.

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT

Will Win: Black Sheep

JUST ONE MORE – TOP OSCAR UPSETS

Here are the six upsets I feel are most likely to occur. In category order:

  • Roma wins Best Picture
  • Spike Lee wins Best Director for BlacKkKlansman.
  • Christian Bale wins Best Actor for Vice.
  • Amy Adams wins Best Supporting Actress for Vice.
  • Łukasz Żal wins Best Cinematography for Cold War.
  • Cold War wins Best Foreign-Language Film.

And there you have it. My predictions for the winners, and possible upsetters of the 91st Academy Awards. The end result of a hostless Oscars has yet to be seen, as well as the ratings results. But the winners have yet to be seen too, and that should be the most important thing. It will all be decided Sunday night.

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My Predictions For The 2018 Academy Award Nominees

Chocolate Oscar

This has been an interesting year for the Academy. Last year’s Oscars suffered their lowest ratings ever and they were in a frustration. Hey, when they keep on giving Best Picture to movies with low grosses, they’ve got it coming. However nothing lasts forever.

This year looks like movies with good grosses have good chances. Yes, we do have the arthouse films and film fest films dominating, but this year looks good for popular fare too. So here are my predictions for the nominations of the 2018 Academy Awards:

BEST PICTURE

  • Black Panther
  • BlacKkKlansman
  • Bohemian Rhapsody
  • The Favourite
  • Green Book
  • If Beale Street Could Talk
  • A Quiet Place
  • A Star Is Born
  • Roma
  • Vice

BEST DIRECTOR

  • Bradley Cooper – A Star Is Born
  • Alfonso Cuaron – Roma
  • Peter Farrelly – Green Book
  • Spike Lee – BlacKkKlansman
  • Adam McKay – Vice

BEST ACTOR

  • Christian Bale – Vice
  • Bradley Cooper – A Star Is Born
  • Rami Malek – Bohemian Rhapsody
  • Viggo Mortenson – Green Book
  • John David Washington – BlacKkKlansman

BEST ACTRESS

  • Emily Blunt – Mary Poppins Returns
  • Glenn Close – The Wife
  • Olivia Colman – The Favourite
  • Lady Gaga – A Star Is Born
  • Melissa McCarthy – Can You Ever Forgive Me?

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

  • Mahershala Ali – Green Book
  • Timothee Chalamet – Beautiful Boy
  • Adam Driver – BlacKkKlansman
  • Richard E. Grant – Can You Ever Forgive Me?
  • Sam Rockwell – Vice

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

  • Amy Adams – Vice
  • Regina King – If Beale Street Could Talk
  • Margot Robbie – Mary, Queen Of Scots
  • Emma Stone – The Favourite
  • Rachel Weisz – The Favourite

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

  • Deborah Davis & Tony MacNamara – The Favourite
  • Paul Schrader – First Reformed
  • Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly & Nick Vallelonga – Green Book
  • Alfonso Cuaron – Roma
  • Adam McKay – Vice

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

  • Ryan Coogler & John Robert Cole – Black Planther
  • Charlie Wachtel. David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee – BlacKkKlansman
  • Nicole Holofcener & Jeff Whitty – Can You Ever Forgive Me?
  • Barry Jenkins – If Beale Street Could Talk
  • Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper & Bill Fetters – A Star Is Born

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

  • The Incredibles 2
  • Isle Of Dogs
  • Mirai
  • Ralph Breaks The Internet
  • SpiderMan: Into The Spider-Verse

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

  • Rachel Morrison – Black Panther
  • Robbie Ryan – The Favourite
  • Linus Sandgren – First Man
  • Alfonso Cuaron – Roma
  • Matthew Libatique – A Star Is Born

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

  • Alexandra Byrne – Mary Queen Of Scots
  • Ruth E. Carter – Black Panther
  • Julian Day – Bohemian Rhapsody
  • Sandy Powell – The Favourite
  • Sandy Powell – Mary Poppins Returns

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

  • Free Solo
  • Hale County This Morning, This Evening
  • RBG
  • Three Identical Strangers
  • Won’t You Be My Neighbor

BEST FILM EDITING

  • Alfonso Cuaron & Adam Gough – Roma
  • Tom Cross – First Man
  • Jay Cassidy – A Star Is Born
  • Hank Corwin – Vice
  • Yorgos Mavropsaridis – The Favourite

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

  • Burning – South Korea
  • Capernaum – Lebanon
  • Cold War – Poland
  • Roma – Mexico
  • Shoplifters – Japan

BEST HAIR AND MAKEUP

  • Black Panther
  • Mary Queen Of Scots
  • Vice

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

  • Nicholas Brittell – If Beale Street Could Talk
  • Alexandre Desplat – Isle Of Dogs
  • Ludwig Goranson – Black Panther
  • Justin Hurwitz – First Man
  • Marc Shaiman – Mary Poppins Returns

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

  • “All The Stars” – Black Panther
  • “Girl In The Movies” – Dumplin’
  • “I’ll Fight” – RBG
  • “Revelation” – Boy Erased
  • “Shallow” – A Star Is Born

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

  • Hannah Beachler – Black Panther
  • Nelson Coates – Crazy Rich Asians
  • Fiona Crowley – The Favourite
  • Nathan Crowley – First Man
  • John Myhre – Mary Poppins Returns

BEST SOUND MIXING

  • Black Panther
  • Bohemian Rhapsody
  • First Man
  • A Star Is Born
  • A Quiet Place

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

  • Avengers: Infinity War
  • Black Panther
  • Ready Player One
  • Mary Poppins Returns
  • Solo: A Star Wars Story

Those are my predictions for nominations. I also include predictions for possible upsetters for my main predictions. Not every category will include my picks for upsetters. Just for those in the case I feel they could get nominated instead of the favorites. Without further ado, here is my list for the most likely upsetters:

BEST PICTURE

  • Crazy Rich Asians
  • Mary Poppins Returns

BEST DIRECTOR

  • Yiorgos Lanthimos – The Favourite
  • Damien Chazelle – First Man

BEST ACTOR

  • Ethan Hawke – First Reformed
  • Willem Dafoe – At Eternity’s Gate

BEST ACTRESS

  • Elsie Fisher – Eighth Grade
  • Regina Hall – Support The Girls

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

  • Sam Elliott – A Star Is Born
  • Michael B. Jordan – Black Panther

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

  • Emily Blunt – A Quiet Place
  • Claire Foy – First Man

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

  • Bo Burnham – Eighth Grade
  • Bryan Woods, Scott Beck & John Krasinski – A Quiet Place

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

  • Josh Singer – First Man

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

  • Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch
  • Ruben Brandt, Collector

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

  • Lukasz Zal – Cold War
  • James Laxton – If Beale Street Could Talk

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

  • Erin Benach – A Star Is Born

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

  • Minding The Gap

BEST FILM EDITING

  • Barry Alexander Brown – BlacKkKlansman
  • John Ottman – Bohemian Rhapsody

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

  • The Guilty – Denmark
  • Never Look Away – Germany

BEST HAIR AND MAKEUP

  • The Favourite

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

  • Marco Beltrami – A Quiet Place

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

  • “The Place Where Lost Things Go” – Mary Poppins Returns
  • “Trip A Little Light Fantastic” – Mary Poppins Returns

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

  • Eugenio Caballero – Roma
  • Stuart Craig – Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindenwald

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

  • Christopher Robin
  • First Man

And those are my predictions for the nominations of this year’s Academy Awards. The actual nominees will be revealed bright and early Tuesday morning. It’s the only reason to wake up that early on a Tuesday!

 

Golden Globes 2018: My Predictions

Golden Globe

This year’s Golden Globes will be hosted by Andy Samberg and Sandra Oh. I’ll admit it’s awfully late for me to post my Golden Globe predictions, but I have been lacking the drive this holiday season. A late-minute alerting made me get myself into action. To start things off, here are my predictions for both the winners and their respective most likely upsetters in the film categories:

FILM:

Best Motion Picture, Drama
Winner: 
A Star Is Born
Most Likely Upsetter: BlacKkKlansman

Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Winner:
 The Favourite
Most Likely Upsetter: Green Book

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama
Winner:
 Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born
Most Likely Upsetter: Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Winner:
 Christian Bale, Vice
Most Likely Upsetter: Viggo Mortenson, Green Book

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama
Winner:
 Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born
Most Likely Upsetter: Glenn Close, The Wife

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Winner:
 Olivia Colman, The Favourite
Most Likely Upsetter: Emily Blunt, Mary Poppins Returns

Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture
Winner:
 Mahershala Ali, Green Book
Most Likely Upsetter: Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture
Winner: 
Amy Adams, Vice
Most Likely Upsetter: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk

Best Director
Winner: 
Alfonso Cuaron, Roma
Most Likely Upsetter: Peter Farrelly, Green Book

Best Screenplay, Motion Picture
Winner:
 Alfonso Cuaron, Roma
Most Likely Upsetter: Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie & Peter Farrelly & Vanessa Taylor, Green Book

Best Foreign-Language Film
Winner:
 Roma (Mexico)
Most Likely Upsetter: Shoplifters (Japan)

Best Animated Feature Film
Winner:
 SpiderMan: Into The Spiderverse
Most Likely Upsetter: The Incredibles 2

Best Original Song, Motion Picture
Winner:
 “Shallow”, A Star Is Born
Most Likely Upsetter: “All The Stars”, Black Panther

Best Original Score, Motion Picture
Winner:
 Marc Shaiman, Mary Poppins Returns
Most Likely Upsetter: Marco Beltrami, A Quiet Place

Those who know me well enough know I will predict the winners for the television categories but not predict the most likely upsetters. Especially since this year’s crop of nominees come mostly from new shows for this season. So my predictions for the winners:

TELEVISION:

Best TV Movie or Miniseries: American Crime Story: The Assassination Of Versace

Best TV Series, Drama: The Americans

Best TV Series, Comedy: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Best Actor in a TV Series, Drama: Matthew Rhys, The Americans

Best Actor in a TV Series, Comedy: Bill Hader, Barry

Best Actress in a TV Series, Drama: Sandra Oh, Killing Eve

Best Actress in a TV Series, Comedy: Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Best Actor in a Miniseries or TV Movie: Darren Criss, American Crime Story: The Assassination Of Versace

Best Actress in a Miniseries or TV Movie: Regina King, Seven Seconds

Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Mini-Series or TV Movie: Henry Winkler, Barry

Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Miniseries, or TV Movie: Thandie Newton,  Westworld

And there you go. Those are my predictions for tonight’s Golden Globe awards. Winners to be revealed starting 8pm EST. That’s less than an hour!

2018 Grey Cup Preview

GreyCup Image

It’s the football event that defines us Canadians. Grey Cup Sunday is back. This year marks the 106th contesting of the Cup. Again it’s East vs. West. Like 2016, it’s Calgary vs. Ottawa.

FIFTH TIME FOR EDMONTON

This marks the fifth time the Grey Cup will be contested in Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium. The Stadium, which was built in 1978 to host the Commonwealth Games, is one of the biggest in Canada. It features a basic capacity of 56,302 and can be expanded to just over 63,000. Since 2016, the Stadium has been named ‘The Brick Field At Commonwealth Stadium.’

One thing about Edmonton is that they really love their football. It was announced back in February that they’d make Grey Cup festivities twice as big as they were in 2010: the last time Edmonton hosted. The five-day festival which started on Wednesday is to include things like a ZipLine, an artificial hill and a multitude of musical acts and theme parties. Since the Grey Cup would be taking place around the annual Santa’s Parade Of Lights, the event would be combined into one parade. For entertainment, The Reklaws will perform prior to the game as part of the Sirius XM Canada KickOff Show. The half-time show will be performed by Alessia Cara.

And Now The Game

As I mentioned earlier, this is going to be a 2016 rematch of the Calgary Stampeders vs. the Ottawa RedBlacks. The Stampeders are the heavy favorites again, but there are no guarantees in sports. The RedBlacks could win their second Grey Cup in only their fifth year of existence.

stampedersWEST: CALGARY STAMPEDERS

The Calgary Stampeders not only lead the Western division but the whole CFL too. They come as the heavy favorites for this year. But this is a constant repeat. This is the third year in a row the Stampeders have topped the CFL in Regular play and won the West Final. The thing is they lost the Grey Cup both times as the heavy favorite. In no way will they want this to be their third loss of the Cup in a row.

Going over their regular season, Calgary has had thirteen wins and five losses. All of their losses were from teams in the West. In the West Final, they won beating Winnipeg 22-14. They had just lost to Winnipeg three weeks earlier in regular season. That alone can send the message that Calgary can overcome a lot. Calgary has the best defense in the league and they will present a challenge when put to the test. However Ottawa does have a tough offence, which I will touch on later. That could be the one thing standing in the way of Calgary avoiding a three-peat of Grey Cup losses. Not to mention weather could be a factor. I still remember last year’s Grey Cup and how it snowed heavily. The snowy slippery field was too much for Calgary that day.

ottawaEAST: OTTAWA REDBLACKS

The East teams don’t have as jam-packed the combined talent the West does. However the Ottawa RedBlacks turned out to be the only team from the East this year to have more wins than losses in regular season. Their record of 11 wins and 7 losses would have them ranking third in the West. However don’t let sabermetrics fool you. They did beat the Eskimoes, the RoughRiders, the Lions and the Bombers in at least one game. The only loss to an East team was to a game against the Argonauts back in August.

The RedBlacks lost both their games against the Stampeders in the regular season, but both games were in June and July. The RedBlacks are a different team now. Calgary may have the best defense in the CFL, but Ottawa has a tough offense to match. On top of it, Ottawa has a star quarterback in Trevor Harris. In fact Harris scored a playoff-record six passes during Ottawa’s 46-27 win in the East Final. They could just pull another upset.

FINAL PREDICTION

I know it’s tough to pick. Sure, it’s easy to think Calgary’s going to win it, but I thought that in the last two Grey Cups. I think Calgary will do it this time 30-25. Plus the weather will look good for tomorrow.

So there you have it. That’s my prediction for tomorrow’s Grey Cup. I knew I had to complete my VIFF Wrap-Up before I gave my Grey Cup prediction. Glad I had the energy to do both. We’ll see who wins tomorrow!

World Cup 2018: My Prediction For The Final, And Third-Place Playoff Too

Final

I know most of my picks for the Group Stage panned out while some didn’t. I know I was very good at predicting the Round Of 16 and QuarterFinals but was off a bit. Also I know I got both SemiFinals wrong. Nevertheless I’m not worried. If the BBC’s Mark ‘Lawro’ Lawrenson can have a 52% success rate and still keep his job, I’m pretty comfortable right now.

Anyways the last two big matches will be contested this weekend. Here are my reviews of the two big matches:

The 3rd-Place Match for the bronze medal will be contested Saturday the 14th in Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg. The Final for the Cup will take place at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

THIRD-PLACE PLAYOFF REVIEW:

The 3rd-Place Match for the bronze medal will be contested Saturday the 14th in Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg. Often you wonder who normally wins the 3rd-Place Match? The team who most feels they have one last thing to prove? Or the team that’s the least disheartened? Whatever the situation, it should make for an interesting match. Especially since both teams met in the Group Stage in Group G. Here’s my review of both teams.

Past Head-To-Head Results: England and Belgium have squared off 22 times before. England won 15 times and Belgium won only three times including here in Russia 1-0 in group play. They drew four times in the past. As for World Cup play, their other two games were a 1990 Round-of-16 win for England and a 4-4 draw in 1954.

BelgiumBelgium: The Red Devils should be admired. They are a collection of marvelously talented players in their own right coming together to give Belgium one of their best World Cup performances ever, if not the best. They proved to be a top challenger for the final, but the goal from France’s Unmiti in the 51st minute ended their World Cup dreams. Nevertheless the Belgian team here have the chance to give Belgium it’s best-ever World Cup finish. Belgium’s best finish ever was 4th in 1986. Here’s the chance for them to win a 3rd-place match. An excellent chance to revive the #RedTogether spirit.

They have the advantage since they met England in group play and won 1-0. They can do it again. However they did show vulnerability in their game against Japan when they trailed 2-0 with 25 minutes to go. They did do an excellent job of coming back to win. However their luck ran out when they faced France. Their top players are still in excellent form in this ‘marathon’ of a competition, but they have to function together if they want to win this.

England fixedEngland: They came in 2018 with a new team and a new determination based on past humiliations. They came with a fairly young coach with experience playing in a World Cup. They came from the various teams of the Premier League with a lot of established talents and a lot of young rising talents. They came with the hope of winning England’s first World Cup since 1966. They delivered one of their best group stage showings in years. They delivered England’s first-ever win of a World Cup game on penalties after losing the previous three. They came with their fans chanting It’s Coming Home (in reference to the Euro 1996 theme song). Then it ended in the semifinal against Croatia. They began strong with a goal from Kieran Trippier in the 5th minute. However they were losing it after Ivan Perisic equalized in the 68th minute. It was Mandzukic in the 108th minute that took the match for Croatia and brought an end to the #ItsComingHome phenomenon.

However the 3rd-Place Match can give England one last thing to prove. This is only England’s third time to the Top 4 of the World Cup. The team has done an excellent job of putting their Premier League differences aside and play as one unified team. Gareth Southgate has done an excellent job of coaching and has successfully help Team England overcome many past adversaries and many weaknesses the team had for a long time. That gives England an advantage leading into the match. However England hasn’t fully overcome their habit of choking at big events. Sure their finish here will be their biggest since 1990, but they can blow it if the team don’t come together and deliver the same play they delivered over this past month. This was no ordinary Three Lions here in Russia 2018. This was a new Team England that had a lot to prove and did prove a lot.

My Final Verdict: I know Belgium beat England in the group stage, but this is a new match. The game will go to the team that has the best team tactics and functions as one. I’ll say it will be Belgium winning 2-0.

THE FINAL

Whos Next

Which team will be next?

I know for my review, you will see me repeating a lot of what I wrote for my SemiFinal review. There’s a purpose. Because all they went through will be coming to this moment. Making it to the final is no easy journey. It’s also not just about having a great team of assembled talent. It’s about having your team together, it’s about them delivering each and every time, it’s the ability to protect from racked up injuries to players, it’s the ability to endure mentally… basically it’s a month-long marathon. A game of survivor.

The World Cup has all these games to basically narrow it down to the very two to play in the Final to decide the Cup.  Of the two teams that made it, one made it to the Final twice before and won 20 years ago, while the other is playing in the Final for the first time ever. So without further ado, my review of the World Cup Final:

Past Head-To-Head Results: Croatia and France have played each other five times in the past. Both teams drew twice. France has won the other three games, including the 1998 World Cup semifinal 2-1.

FranceFrance: France is a nation whose football greatness really only started to take off in the early 1980’s. It was in Mexico 1986 that France got its first-ever Top 3 finish. They would fail to qualify for the next two World Cups, but would host in 1998 and would go on to win. Some say France’s team of 1998 was the best World Cup team since Brazil in 1970.

They’ve had a lot of ups and downs since. In 2002, they suffered the ‘curse of the defending champion‘ and not only failed to advance past the group stage, but failed to even score a single goal. They would come back in 2006 and appeared to be on their way to a second World Cup, but Zidane’s head-butt to an Italian player and subsequent red card in extra time in the Final marked the end of their chances right there. Then the disastrous 2010 which I talked about in my Semifinal write-up.

However it was the 2014 World Cup that showed a ray of hope for the French team. They were out in the quarterfinals to eventual champions Germany, but the team showed a big improvement and promise for the future with young players like Pogba and Griezmann. France played host to Euro 2016. There they delivered the best showing of all teams en route to the Final for the Cup. Unfortunately they lost to Portugal 1-0 in added extra time.

Here in Russia, Les Bleus has delivered the best showing of all teams.  They may have had the only 0-0 game of the World Cup so far, but all their other games were wins including all their knockout games, and all in regulation time. The #FiersDetreBleus phenomenon has taken them this far. France appears to have the best chances with players like Pogba, Griezmann, Giroud, Payet, young gun Mbappe and their goaltender Hugo Lloris who claims the loss at Euro 2016 really changed him. They look like the team that best has what it takes to win. However they could easily just let it go the same way they did in Euro 2016. If you remember their Round-Of-16 game against Argentina, they conceded three goals. They’re lucky they scored four to win. They all have to be together as a unified unit ready to play hard if they want to win the biggest match of their lives.

CROATIA footballCroatia:

“Everybody cheers for David. Nobody cheers for Goliath.”

-Wilt Chamberlain

Croatia comes to the World Cup final as the underdogs. They also come as the first country with a population of under 5 million to qualify for a World Cup final since Uruguay back in 1950. They come as the biggest underdog story in decades. Already the hashtages of #Vatreni , #FlamingPride and #BudiPonosan have been big hits. However it was very hard and with a lot of heartache. It started with a 3rd-place finish in their first World Cup back in 1998. It was finally a chance for Croatian football to define their identity now that they were free from Yugoslavia. However it was a struggle since. The next four World Cups were cases of a failure to qualify in 2010 and out in the Group Stage the other three times. After the 2010 World Cup failure, Croatian football was about to make a comeback. They may have been out in the Group Stage in 2014, but there was promise shown by players like Ivan Perisic, Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Mario Mandzukic.

Croatian football unfortunately was also given a big black eye in the last few years thanks to the irreverence of certain fans. Certain Croatian fans were known to shout racist slurs, wear Nazi symbols, and cause violent incidents during matches. The most noticeable was during the Euro 2016 match against the Czech Republic where flares were thrown onto the field. The Federation HNS and the National Team paid the biggest price by facing sanctions and fines from both FIFA and UEFA including having to play ‘closed’ matches. However after Euro 2016, Croatia has made strides to get tougher with fan behavior.

Here in Russia, The Blazers, or Vatreni, were brilliant in group play as they won all three of their games. Their biggest luck came in the Round of 16 against Denmark and the QuarterFinals against hosts Russia as they drew 1-1 and 2-2 respectively, only to win both in the penalty shoot outs. Then came their semifinal against England. The game went into 1-1 in regulation only for Mandzukic to deliver the game-winner in added extra time. There have been calls from many for Croatia to be disqualified since that match, but the alleged controversies have been proven false.

And to think Yugoslavia never qualified for a World Cup final ever in its existence! Croatia comes with the least star-studded team here in this stage of the World Cup. The key to Croatia’s success is for players like Modric, Perisic, Rakitic, Lovren, Mandzukic and Danijel Subasic to play as one functioning team. Many can easily dismiss Croatia’s success because of luck in the knockout rounds, but truly it is the team unity of the players that have got them this far. Croatia however has shown weakness of their own. The fact that they won two of their knockout matches in penalty shootouts shows they can come short on delivery. Whatever they’ve been holding back or just not delivering on in past games, it won’t work against a team like France. Croatia has a strong midfiled, but France’s midfield has proven more this Cup. Croatia’s team will have to play a lot harder if they want to win the Cup. If they do win the Cup, they will do it through their first-ever victory over France, at the very least.

My Final Verdict: Both teams have been performing well and with a great sense of team unity, but I have to pick France to win 3-1. It’s not just in terms of past performance, but also because of the brilliance of the players individually as well. Plus the fact the referee for the match will be an Argentinean won’t help Croatia too much.

And there you go. My look at the teams playing for both the match for the bronze medal and the Final to win the World Cup. Let’s sit back and watch history be crowned.

World Cup 2018: Semifinals Predictions

WC2018 Final Four

Hard to believe a little more than three weeks ago, the action was just starting. Now it’s winding down with the biggest action of all getting closer and closer. But before we can have the final on Sunday the 15th, we need the semifinals to decide the two that qualify. In both of the semifinals we’ll have won team that won a World Cup in the past and another team whose best result ever was making it to a past semifinal. All four teams are from European countries and and four never made it past the quarterfinals at the last World Cup. This will be the first World Cup since 1966 that will have a completely different Top 4 from the last.

Here I will do my review of the teams and also make my predictions. I hope I do better here than when I predicted in 2014. And to think I thought Brazil would win over Germany in 2014! After Germany delivered their ‘7-up,’ I sure felt dumb!

Without further ado, here’s a look at the four teams that will be in the semifinals and my prediction for each one:

SEMIFINAL #1 – FRANCE vs. BELGIUM

Head-To-Head Stuff:

France and Belgium have played each other 73 times. France won 24 times, Belgium won 30 times, and 19 were draws. At the World Cup, France faced Belgium only twice in a 1938  match and 1986 in the match for 3rd place, and France won both times.

Team By Team Analysis:

FranceFrance: The current French team is an example of a team that arose from the ‘ruins’ of football. Some of you may remember the 2010 World Cup. If it was not France’s worst-ever performance, it was France’s hardest World Cup trip ever. The trip started on controversy as they had qualified thanks to a fist-aided goal from Thierry Henry in their qualifying playoff match against Ireland. Then at the World Cup 2010, striker Nicolas Anelka was fired from the team after an obscenity-laden dispute with manager Raymond Domenech. A boycott of training from players in response and a lecture from the French sports minister paved the way for France’s eventual loss in their last game. The team returned home in disgrace and the president of the FFF resigned, as did coach Domenech. It would be another six years for Domenech to accept another coaching job.

What happened after would be quite the rebound. They would continue to have difficulty at Euro 2012 by going out in the quarterfinals to Spain 2-0. Then Dider Deschamps, who was part of France’s World Cup-winning team of 1998, assumed the position of head coach and would give France quite the turn-around. The turnaround however was not an overnight success, but more of steady progression. It started at the 2014 world Cup where France bowed out at the quarterfinals after losing 1-0 to Germany, but promise was noticed. The team gave an improved showing of play and Paul Pogba was named Top Young Player of the Cup. Then came Euro 2016 which France was host nation. Until France lost in the final to Portugal 1-0 in extra time, France had delivered the best show of teamwork during the tournament and had the top scorer with Antoine Griezman scoring 6 goals. Olivier Giroud and Dimitri Payet also scored 3 goals of their own.

Excellence has continued for Les Bleus here at the World Cup and they look as one of the teams that can best win the Cup. Kylian Mbappe and Griezmann have three goals each. On top of that, they only conceded four goals. They’ve reached the Last 4 for only their sixth time. France has shown a lot of strength and a lot of team unity. There’s even talk Mbappe may win the Young Player award. It’s hard to pinpoint a mistake this last while. However they were rather conservative in the group stage. They did come alive in a big way in the knockout round but they did concede three goals against Argentina. They were lucky they delivered four. They will be facing a Belgian team that has become one of the more exciting teams of the Cup and will need to deliver.

BelgiumBelgium: Belgium is another example of a team that took a long time to develop. This is only Belgium’s 13th World Cup but many are already calling this team the best Red Devils ever.

In the past, Belgium would only go as far as the group Stage or 1st round at the World Cup. Success for Belgium would come starting in the 1980’s when they made it past the opening stage for the first time in 1982 and then to the semifinals for the first time ever in 1986. Their 4th place finish in 1986 ranks currently as Belgium’s best World Cup finish ever. However they would struggle to repeat as they would find themselves out in the Round of 16 or the Group Stage during the next four World Cups. Then would come failure to qualify for the World Cups of 2006 and 2010, even after they recruited famed Dutch coach Dick Advocaat. They would even face a rock-bottom 66th ranking on FIFA list in 2009. They would miss qualifying for Euro 2012.

Red Devils 2002

In 2002, a Belgian magazine published an article about young rising footballers. Count the number of Red Devils here in Russia!

Then came coach Marc Wilmots who himself played for team Belgium at four World Cups. He brought a new sense to the team. He found talent in players like Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku to name a few and was able to get them to perform well as a team function. They’d go through straight wins in World Cup qualifying and would find themselves ranked 11th on FIFA’s list and a heavy favorite to go well at the World Cup. At the 2014 World Cup, they finished in the quarterfinals which was their second-best result ever. 2015 was their breakthrough year as they hit #1 for the first time ever on FIFA’s rankings. However they would face difficulties as they’d only make the quarterfinals at Euro 2016 losing to Wales 3-1. That’s when they then hired Spanish coach Roberto Martinez. The Belgian team has not lost a game since September 2016 and have come to Russia delivering straight wins to the semifinal.

No doubt they have a lot to win their semifinal against France. Their straight wins have shown for it. However they did show weakness during this World Cup. If you remember their Round-Of-16 match against Japan, they were trailing 2-0 into the 2nd half. It wasn’t until the 69th minute Belgium scored and then go on to win 3-2. That was quite a comeback. And a close call. However Belgium can’t afford to pull stunts like those any longer as they’re getting closer and closer to the Cup. They’re en route to becoming the best Belgian team ever and they need to stay en garde.

My Final Verdict:

Okay, you will now want me to make a prediction for this match. I think it will be a case of the match drawing 2-2 with Belgium taking it in a penalty shoot out.

SEMIFINAL #2 – ENGLAND vs. CROATIA

Head-To-Head Stuff: England and Croatia have squared off seven times before. England won four times, Croatia won twice and one was a draw. This will be the first time England and Croatia will play each other in a World Cup game.

Team By Team Analysis:

EnglandEngland: England has always been a subject of frustration. The Three Lions have only won a single World Cup: back in 1966 when they hosted. They have had difficulties whenever they’ve made it to the knockout rounds as they’d frequently expire in the quarterfinals or face elimination when the game ends up in penalty kicks. In fact England has been 0 for 3 at the World Cup for penalty kick matches. Then there are the embarrassments at the two most recent World Cups by expiring to Germany in a highly controversial 4-1 in the Round Of 16 and then failing to advance past the group stage in 2014. It always seemed like the case where the team is full of talent but they just couldn’t play well as a united team. Possibly they didn’t leave their Premier League rivalry at the door?

Southgate

England coach Gareth Southgate consoles Colombia’s Mateus Uribe after he missed his penalty shot (right). Southgate knows what it’s like to miss a crucial penalty (left; during Euro 1996).

In 2016, right after they lost to Iceland 2-1 in the Round Of 16, they hired a new coach in Gareth Southgate who played for team England at the 1998 and 2002 World Cups. They put in a lot of investment into young rising talent like John Stones and Harry Kane and goaltender Jordan Pickford. The work paid off as England qualified for the World Cup top of their group. Here in Russia, the Three Lions gave their fans a lot of relief as they won two games in group play and qualified for the knockout round. This marked the first time since 2010 they qualified for the knockout round and the first World Cup since 2010 that they won a game. Then came the big test against Columbia. They drew 1-1 against a team that was missing their star James Rodriguez and had to go to penalty kicks. Gulp! Instead they won the shootout 4-3 and their penalty kick curse was finally lifted. This marked their first win of a World Cup knockout match since 2006. The irony being Southgate missed a critical penalty against Germany in the Euro 1996 semifinals, when England was host! Then their quarterfinal against Sweden turned up a win of 2-0. This would mark only the third time England would reach the Top 4 of a World Cup and the first since 1990.

England bring to the semifinals a lot of top players and a better sense of team unity. Some say they may actually have what it takes to win the Cup. However they could also have what it takes to give it away too. Before their 1-1 draw to Colombia, they lost to Belgium 1-0. They will have to play right and not try to give anything away. Especially since they have a lot of rising talent to work with. A second World Cup has never been so close in a long time.

CROATIA footballCroatia: Croatia is another case of a team whose struggle is also paying off here in Russia. Croatia came to be in the early 1990’s after the nation of Yugoslavia fell apart in a brutal civil war. Soon after Croatia declared independence in 1991, they fielded their own national team. However they would have to wait until after the 1994 World Cup for them to play internationally. They played their first World Cup in 1998 and surprised everybody by finishing third, beating out big names like The Netherlands and Germany in the process.

One thing about Croatia’s success in 1998 was that much of it was due to players who used to play for Yugoslavia. After 1998, Croatia worked to develop their own football identity and struggled along the way. They found themselves out in the group stages of 2002 and 2006. Then they’d fail to qualify for 2010. Between 2010 and 2014, they’d undergo two coaching changes. However 2014 showed signs of improvement for Croatian football with the development of talents like Luka Modric, Vedran Corluka, Ivan Rakitic, Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Perisic. The talent was there and they were back on the World Cup scene, but they still had to struggle as they again failed to advance past the group stage in 2014. Further difficulty came when Croatia lost in the Round of 16 at Euro 2016.

Croatia’s struggles were not just on the football field, but in the stands as well. In the past ten years, Croatian fans developed a reputation of being some of the most obnoxious in Europe with incidents like shouting racist taunts, showing off swastikas and throwing flares. The most notable being the game against the Czech Republic during Euro 2016 when flares were thrown onto the field. Sanctions against the Croatian team have come from UEFA and FIFA in the result of the team being fined money, the team losing game points in qualification play, and even the team having to play ‘closed-door’ games for a period of time.

Things have improved greatly for the Croatian team. There has not been a major incident of ‘hooliganism’ since Euro 2016. The team has also played like a strong team unit here in Russia by winning all their group stage games and qualifying for the knockout stage for the first time since their golden year of 1998. In knockout play, the Croatian team have won all their matches in penalty shootouts. This makes it the second time Croatia has made the Top 4 at the World Cup. Croatia has played very well. Especially with a surprise win over Argentina. However they have shown some weak spots in their knockout games. Unique how they’re a team with the least ‘stars’ but have beaten out teams with big names. Their team unity has taken them this far, but they will need it more than ever here in the semis and they have to be on guard if they want to win.

My Final Verdict:

Sure, Croatia has changed a lot since their last game against England in 2009. But England has changed a lot too. The careless mistakes we commonly see from England in major international play are not as present here. I don’t want to rely on sabermetrics completely, but I think England will win 3-1.

And there you have it. My look at the upcoming semifinals and my predictions. We’ll see who the real winners are on Tuesday and Wednesday.

World Cup 2018 Preview Links

Russia 2018

So how about that? The 2018 World Cup begins today. Opening ceremony takes place at 16:00 MSK and the opening game of Russia vs. Saudi Arabia takes place at 18:00. I know I’ve been delivering previews to each of the World Cup groups. This is just simply a post with hyperlinks to all my group analyses. I will also post the two countries from each group I think will qualify for the knockout round. So here are the links:

Group A: Russia and Uruguay

Group B: Spain and Portugal

Group C: France and Peru

Group D: Argentina and Croatia

Group E: Brazil and Switzerland

Group F:  Germany and Mexico

Group G: Belgium and England

Group H: Poland and Colombia

For the record, I’m not listing my predictions as who will finish first and second. I’m listing in group order. Anyways best of luck to all teams and let’s have some fun!

World Cup 2018 Preview: Group E

With the World Cup getting ever so closer, it’s time for another group review, along with another stadium review. Also this blog will give you an added bonus feature. Anyways lots to anticipate. Lots to focus on here.

Brazil-Brazil (2)- I’m not going to bring up the humiliation Brazil went through during the 2014 World Cup. I will say it has been an interesting four years since. The first two years were the hardest, but also very hopeful. Dunga had assumed the role as head coach and things looked promising, until the 2015 Copa America. There, they were ousted in the quarterfinals. For the next year, they struggled in international play and were even ranked low in World Cup qualifying. Then at the 2016 Copa America, another early ouster: in group play. With the Olympics coming soon, they changed to coach Tita, who was most experience in play and coaching with Brazil’s Campeopnato Brasiliero league. The change has worked to success. Brazil won gold at the 2016 Olympics and won every World Cup qualifying game since. Brazil would become the first team to qualify for this World Cup.

The  Seleção’s success continues. It has not lost a game since the 2016 Copa America and even won a friendly against Germany 1-0. Brazil is one team coming to Russia not simply for victory, but redemption as well.

Switzerland-Switzerland (6)- Switzerland is one team that’s been waiting long and hard for their big breakthrough. They have a lot to prove, but have often come up short. The last time they won a knockout game was back in 1938. Their best ever result is the quarterfinals which was last achieved in 1954 which they hosted. They’ve grown in talent and prowess in recent years. At the last World Cup, Xherdan Shaqiri delivered a hat trick en route to qualifying to the Round Of 16, but their trip to the Cup was ended by Argentina.

The Swiss team has had its strongest years in this past while. This is the fourth straight World Cup they’ve qualified for. The team features defender Stephan Lichtsteiner, midfielders Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka and striker Haris Seferovic. The team is coached by Bosnian Vladimir Petkovic. The Swiss team come to Russia with a good track record in this past year with wins against Hungary and Greece and a 1-1 draw against Spain. However they also had to endure a 2-0 loss to Portugal. Switzerland comes to Russia with a lot to prove.

Costa Rica-Costa Rica (25)- Costa Rica is a team that will surprise you when you least expect it. At the last World Cup, the team wound up in Group D where they would have to play Italy, Uruguay and England. Just about everybody, including myself, thought Coast Rica would be the team least likely to qualify. Instead they topped the Group with wins against Italy and Uruguay and drew against England. A win against Greece on penalties in the Round of 16 took them to the quarterfinals for the first-time ever. Despite losing to the Netherlands on penalties, Costa Rica defied all expectations and set a new standard for the team.

This year’s team features a new coach in Oscar Ramirez. Their star striker Bryan Ruiz from Sporting CP is back. Many of the team’s top players play for MLS. In the past year, Costa Rica has had good wins against Northern Ireland, Scotland and the US. However it’s had to endure losses to Hungary, Spain (5-0) and Tunisia. Who knows? 2018 could be another Cinderella story like 2014.

Serbia-Serbia (35)- Serbia is a national team that’s rather young: only 12 years old. Its national team may not have the experience as most of the teams present in Russia. However they’re a team of surprises. If you remember the 2010 World Cup, they won against Germany 1-0. The team of the former Yugoslavia has had way better success in the past; even going as far as fourth. Serbia hopes one day to emulate the past success. The team does show promise as they won the under-20 World Cup in 2015.

Possibly as a result of their win in 2015, seven players of the Serbian team were born in 1995 or later. The team also features top veterans like defenseman Branislav Ivanovic and goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic. In the past year, they’ve acquired notable wins against China, Ireland and Nigeria. However they’ve had notable losses to Morocco and Chile. Don’t rule Serbia out for 2018.

And there’s my rundown of the teams from Group E. As for who will qualify for the Round of 16, I believe it will be Brazil and Switzerland.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT

Moscow: Spartak Stadium (Okritie Arena)Otkritie

Year Opened: 2014

Capacity: 45,360

World Cup Groups Hosting: D, E, G, H

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16

Spartak Stadium is one of two venues in Moscow that will be hosting matches for this World Cup. Its current name is Okritie Arena after the Russian Okritie Bank, but will be known as Spartak Stadium during the World Cup.

The stadium cost $430 million to build. Actually the second Moscow stadium that was planned for the World Cup was VTB Arena, which was to combine a soccer stadium and ice hockey rink all in one. Instead Spartak Stadium was build first and won the right to be an official venue. It was even one of the four venues that played host to last year’s Confederations Cup. After the World Cup, the stadium will be the host venue for FC Spartak Moscow and the Russian national team.

BONUS FEATURE

Stadiums aren’t the only thing I will be focusing on in this World Cup. I will also focus on other things unique to the World Cup. For this first bonus, I will be focusing on the official World Cup Ball.

Official Match Ball: Telstar 18Telstar 18

It’s a given that with each world Cup, Adidas delivers a match ball that is designed to take football technology to a new level. Some like 2014’s Brazuca are welcomed well. Some like 2010’s Jabulani hit a sour note with the players. For 2018, Adidas launches Telstar 18.

The ball was unveiled by Adidas on at its official presentation in Moscow on November 9, 2017 and it was Lionel Messi that announced the name. Telstar 18 plays tribute to the original Telstar ball (from 1970) which was Adidas’ first ever official World Cup ball. This Telstar ball features six textured panels that aren’t sewn together, but seamlessly glued together. The ball has an embedded near-field communication chip which allows the consumer to access information personalized from the ball and including interactivity themed on the upcoming World Cup.

And there you have it. That’s my review of the Group E teams. Only three more groups to go! Time sure does pass fast! Stay tuned!

World Cup 2018 Preview: Group D

The funniest thing about Group D is that Argentina and Nigeria are paired up again! Of the six times Nigeria has qualified for the World Cup, 1998 remains the only time they never had to face Argentina in the group stage! However it was Croatia that was with Argentina in that group stage. So much ridiculous trivia here! Actually one other legitimate piece of trivia is Group D features one of two teams making their World Cup debut. So for more on Group D, here I go:

argentina-Argentina (5)- Argentina is one team at this year’s World Cup with the most accolades. Two World Cups, five World Cup finals appearances, fourteen Copa Americas, and legendary players like Mario Kempes, Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi. La Albiceleste however has garnered a reputation in the last few years of being a team of near-misses. They lost in the finals of the 2014 World Cup and four of the last five Copa America finals. This is especially biting for Lionel Messi. He’s had a career full of feats and achievements. However ever since he became part of the national team since 2005 at the age of 18, a major international trophy has been the one thing he’s never been able to win.

Argentina have been in struggle since the last World Cup. They’ve gone through three coaching changes and almost missed qualifying for the World Cup. It was nothing less than a win needed for their eighteenth-and-last qualifier match against Ecuador to get them in, and they did: 3-1. As for their World Cup chances, they look quite iffy. They have the talent with the likes of Messi, Javier Mascherano (who has more international caps than Messi), Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero. However they lack a strong defense. Their flaws have been exposed in the last two years upon losses to Spain 6-1 and Group D opponents Nigeria 4-2. However Argentina has delivered good wins like 1-0 against Russia, 1-0 against Brazil and 2-0 against Italy. World Cup 2018 is another test for the Argentinian team. Also Russia could be the place where Messi will either become the ‘best ever’ or the ‘best never.’

Iceland-Iceland (22)- Iceland is the team that keeps on surprising the world. Two years ago, they became the first team from a country with a population under 1 million to qualify for a European Championships, and they made it to the quarterfinals, beating England in the process! This time they become not only the first team from a country with a population under 1 million to qualify for a World Cup, but the first from a country under 500,000!

Iceland surprised everybody not just by qualifying for the World Cup, but topping their qualifying group in the process. Iceland proved the fire is still there after Euro 2016. However it appears the fire may have faded since the World Cup qualifying. Iceland’s only wins since have been against two Indonesian teams. They’ve since had to endure losses to Mexico, Peru, Norway and the Czech Republic. Chances are Icelandic fire can come back once they start play in Russia.

Croatia ficed-Croatia (18)- Croatia is a team that has had a lot of hard luck over the past few years. There is less news copy about the playing prowess of the team and more copy about the team’s fans’ obnoxious behavior. And don’t get me started about the Euro 2016 game against the Czechs! Mind you, Vatreni is a team loaded with talent worth noticing.

The Blazers are coached by Zlatko Dalic who has come off of coaching mostly club teams in Croatia and the Arabian Peninsula. The team boasts of top players like midfielder Luka Modric, striker Mario Mandzukic and defenseman Vedran Corluka. Croatia has done well playing against European teams and even won against Mexico 1-0. However they’ve also lost to Peru 2-0  and Brazil 2-0 just recently. Croatia have what it takes to once again move to the knockout round and hopefully go far. World Cup 2018 could be the place where they’re finally back.

Nigeria-Nigeria (47)- Nigeria may not be one of the three African teams that have gone as far as the quarterfinals at a World Cup. However the Super Eagles the only African team that has made it past the group stage in three World Cups. That’s a feat in itself along with three Africa Cup of Nations wins and four more Cup finals appearances.

The current team is coached by German Gernot Rohr who has been coaching African teams for the past eight years and features a wealth of talent young and old. Seven of the teams’ players play for teams in the Premier League. The team features forward Ahmed Musa (who plays for CSKA Moscow), midfielder John Obi Mikel and defenseman Elderson Echiejile. Sure, Russia 2018 may become the fifth time out of Nigeria’s six World Cup runs where they have to face Argentina in the group stage, but they have an advantage; they won in a friendly against the Argentines back in November: 4-2. However they’ve had some noticeable losses this year against Morocco 4-0, Serbia 2-0, and England 2-1. However they could all come together in Russia 2018 and go further than they ever had.

Now that I’m done summing up the teams, it’s time for me to predict the two I think will advance to the Round of 16. It’s a tough challenge, especially since all four have noticeable strengths and weaknesses, but I predict it will be Argentina and Nigeria. However don’t be surprised if it ends up the second qualifier is Iceland. Remember they beat Croatia in World Cup qualifying.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT

These past three reviews, I’ve reviewed two stadiums at once. I’ve already reviewed six out of the twelve so I’ll save my next double-review for Group H as I will review the stadiums staging the finals and semis. Save the best for last, right? So here’s my first solo stadium review for this World Cup:

VOLGOGRAD: Volgograd Arenavolgograd

Year Opened: 2018

Capacity: 45, 568

World Cup Groups Hosting: A, D, G, H

Volgograd Arena may be one of the stadiums that’s brand-spanking new for Russia 2018, but it’s on familiar ground. The Arena’s ground is on what used to be the ground for Central Stadium which was opened back in 1962. It was the age of the stadium, FIFA demands and the ability to change capacities that led to the new Volgograd Arena. Its original expense was to be 10 billion Russian Rubles, but ended up being 17 billion Rubles, or $275 million US, in the end.

It has a unique shape where it’s shaped like an overhead truncated cone. The large roof, which rests over a cable frame, resembles a bicycle-wheel pattern through steel-wire cables. The stadium will have many features available to fans like navigation and information support, information, a storage room, and audio visual commentary for those with sight impairment. After the World Cup, the stadium is to be the host venue for local team FC Rotor Volgograd and host a fitness centre.

And there you have it again. Another World Cup group review. And another stadium review. More to come in the ten days leading up.

 

World Cup 2018 Preview: Group C

Group C may prove to be one of the groups that’s hardest to predict. Some may appear to be clear favorites or likely to be eliminated at the end, but don’t be so quick to judge. Don’t forget nobody expected Costa Rica to top Group D at the last World Cup. So without further ado, here’s my review of Group C:

France fixed-France (7)- Les Bleus has had a reputation of being an all-or-nothing team. France is never short on talent. The 2014 World Cup saw a lot of young French talent on the rise like Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezman. This World Cup’s team promises a big mix of the old and the new. The team is still coached by legend Didier Deschamps and are poised to perform very well, especially after the strength of making it to the finals of Euro 2016. France’s play since Euro 2016 has been consistent with wins against England and the Netherlands, but they have also lost to Sweden 2-1 and Columbia 3-2. 2018 is an opportunity for France to win their second World Cup. It’s a matter of them all being there and delivering.

Australia-Australia (40)- When Australia made it to the Round of 16 at the 2066 World Cup, people were expecting more to come from the Socceroos. However they haven’t done as well as originally hoped. In fact they’re coming back from three straight losses in 2014. Not everything is down for Australia. They did win the 2015 AFC Asian Cup. Their play is still struggling to show. The only win against a team outside of Asia was against Honduras in a World Cup playoff.

Australia is coached by Bert van Marwijk who coached the Netherlands to the World Cup final. The team consists mostly of players from the Premier League and Australia’s A-League. 38 year-old Tim Cahill leads the team in what will be his fourth World Cup. The team has a good mix of young and old. Australia can provide another surprise again.

Peru-Peru (11)- Ten of this year’s teams at this year’s World Cup had to wait longer than four years to return to the World Cup stage. Peru has had the longest wait of all: 36 years to be exact. Things have changed ever since they’ve been coached by Argentine Ricardo Gareca who was part of Argentina’s World Cup-winning team. The team consists of players whom play mostly for teams in North and South America. The players are a good mix of youth and experience with defenseman Alberto Rodriguez leading. Peru may have the most experience playing against South American teams, but they’ve had three wins this year against European teams like Croatia, Iceland and Scotland. Peru could be the surprise of the Cup.

Denmark fixed-Denmark (12)- The last time the Danish Dynamite made it to the World Cup was back in 2010. There they didn’t advance past the group stage. Since then, they’re recently acquired Norwegian coach Åge Hareide. The team was able to qualify for the 2016 Olympics and finished in the quarterfinals. They’ve done very well having not lost a game since 2016. They’ve had some notable wins against teams like Ireland and Poland and even drew against Germany last year. Denmark’s current lineup consists of players mostly from the Premier League and Spain’s La Liga. Denmark looks poised to be one of the teams from Group C to advance. Russia will be their big test.

Now my prediction for the two that will advance. It’s a toughie but I believe it will be France and Peru that will advance.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT

Two more stadiums. Both in focus are at least five years old. Both were also built to host major events before this World Cup.

-KAZAN : Kazan ArenaKazan Arena

Year Opened: 2013

World Cup Capacity: 45,379

World Cup Groups Hosting: B, C, F, H

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16 & a quarterfinal

Kazan Arena was first build to host the 2013 World University Games. Kazan Arena has also hosted the 2015 World Aquatics Championships. The stadium has the largest outside screen in Europe and the largest LED installed on a football stadium in the World.

After the World Cup, Kazan Arena will be the home venue of team FC Rubin Kazan, replacing the 25,000-seat Central Stadium.

-SOCHI : Fisht Olympic StadiumSochi Fisht

Year Opened: 2013

World Cup Capacity: 41,220

World Cup Groups Hosting: B, C, F, G

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16 (A1 vs. B2) & A quarterfinal

If you remember the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, you will remember this stadium very well. This is where the opening and closing ceremonies took place. You may also remember the hefty price tag of the Sochi Olympics. This stadium cost $779 million to build!

Names after Mount Fisht, the stadium was originally built to be an enclosed stadium, but has stayed an open-air stadium since 2016 in order to conform with FIFA rules. The stadium complex now serves as a training centre and match venue for the Russia national football team.

And there you have it. The four teams of Group C and two more stadiums. Less than two weeks to go!