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.
WEST: 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.
EAST: 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.
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!
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.
Belgium: 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: 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.
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.
France: 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.
“Everybody cheers for David. Nobody cheers for Goliath.”
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.
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
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:
France: 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.
Belgium: 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.
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:
England: 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?
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: 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.
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.
It’s Canadian tradition during the last Sunday of November. It’s Grey Cup Sunday. This will mark the 105th contesting of this momentous event. Once again, the final is East vs. West. Interestingly it’s like a rematch of the 2012 Grey Cup. It will be the Calgary Stampeders vs. the Toronto Argonauts.
First Time For TD Place; Seventh Time For Lansdowne Field
This will be the first time the TD Place Stadium, which was completed in 2014, will host the Grey Cup. This will be the seventh time for the field. It hosted five times before as Lansdowne Park between 1925 and 1988. It hosted once as Frank Clair Stadium in 2004. The older stadium was able to field more spectators in the past. TD Place normally has a capacity of 24,000 but it will expand to 36,000 for the Grey Cup. Shaw Cable is the main sponsor for the event. Freedom Mobile will be sponsoring the halftime show which Shania Twain is slated to perform.
And Now The Game
For the second straight year, the Calgary Stampeders will represent the West while Toronto will represent the East. It’s easy to predict the Stampeders to win, but don’t forget they were the heavy favorites last year. The Argonauts could pull the same upset the RedBlacks pulled last year.
WEST: CALGARY STAMPEDERS
Last year, the Stampeders led the CFL in game stats and entered the Grey Cup as the clear favorites, only to be surprised by the Ottawa RedBlacks in overtime. That’s considered by many to be the biggest upset in Grey Cup history.
This year, they find themselves in the same position: the best team in the regular season and the favorites to win.
Despite leading the regular season, they did show some weakness in the team such as losing the last three season games. Some say they simply gave it away since they knew they’d be tops anyways. Even their 32-28 win in their West Final against the Edmonton Eskimos would be in question as they had a convincing lead at the start of the final quarter only to give nine points away.
Calgary has their strengths and their weaknesses. Their strengths were the most present throughout the season. On top of that, they won both their games against the Toronto Argonauts. I know there are no guarantees in sport, but it’s hard to see Calgary losing the Cup this time around.
EAST: TORONTO ARGONAUTS
Calgary had the best performance this CFL season. Toronto’s, on the other hand, was nine wins and nine losses. Actually all but one team from the West had better win-loss stats than Toronto. It’s hard to believe Toronto came out on top of the East. That just goes to show how far ahead most of the West was this season.
Many people predicted that the Grey Cup would be an all-West game, but Toronto prevented this from happening by beating the Saskatchewan RoughRiders 25-21 in the East Final. Admit it. We all want the Grey Cup to be an East vs. West affair.
Even Toronto’s win in the East Final showed they do have some issues as they almost gave it away thanks to some strong last-quarter play from Saskatchewan. It took a last-minute touchdown from Cody Fajardo to save the Argos. If they look to win against the Stampeders, they can’t give anything away and play like they’ve never played before this year.
I feel that Calgary will win the Cup 40-15. They’ve been the best team this season. Plus I feel after the shock and humiliation of losing to the RedBlacks last year, I think they will want this more than ever. Plus I feel winning on the RedBlack’s home field will make this extra-sweet.
And there you go. That’s my preview of the 105th Grey Cup. Kickoff is 6pm Ottawa-time Sunday. May the best team win!
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.
The biggest football tournament is the FIFA World Cup, right? The second-biggest men’s tournament is UEFA’s Euro, right? What’s the third-biggest? I don’t know either but I think the Copa America should be it. Here, it’s almost like a continental tournament the way the Euro is, adding in two CONCACAF teams. However knowing that the tournament consists mostly of South American teams should draw big football interest. Here we’re talking about a continent that has won nine of twenty FIFA World Cups and continues to show some of the top football prowess in the world today.
The Copa America actually began fourteen years before the World Cup. The first competition was actually called the Campeonato Sudamericano de Football. It was contested in Argentina on July 2 and July 17, contested in two stadiums in Argentina and featured four teams competing: hosts Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay. The competition was decided strictly on round robin play between the four teams. The game results became that the final match, Argentina vs. Uruguay would be a contest to decide the Championship. Argentina needed a win and nothing less because of winning one game and tying another while Uruguay could afford to draw to win the Championship. A scoreless draw is what happened and Uruguay was the first ever Championship winner.
During that time the president of the Uruguayan Football Federation proposed that a continental federation be founded. On July 9, 1916, Argentinian Independence Day, the CONMEBOL was founded. Funny how while Europe and North America were fighting in World War I, South America made advances for football competitions.
The Championship was actually to be a yearly event and except for 1918 because of a flu epidemic in Brazil, it was an annual event until 1928. More countries would be added including Paraguay, Bolivia and Peru. However because of the creation of the World Cup and a bitter rivalry between Uruguay and Argentina, the Championship was no longer an annual event. It would then take a six-year break between 1929 and 1935 and re-emerge either bi-annually or irregularly such as two competitions in 1959. The inclusion of the Copa Libertadores that year affected how those saw the Championships.
The last Championships were held in 1967 but the idea of returning a continental championships for the CONMEBOL countries was still under consideration at the time. In 1975, the Copa America was born. There was no fixed country as round robin games were contested throughout the continent over a period of five months. Only the ten CONMEBOL countries competed and it consisted of round robins, two semi-finals, two finals and a grand final. The continental champion would earn a berth to the upcoming FIFA World Cup for the first and only time. Since then all previous continental championships have been official recognized as Copa Americas.
The Copa America would have its growing pains over the next two decades. It was originally to be a quadrennial event and the format from the 1975 tournament would continue to be the norm where competitions would be scattered throughout the countries and a grand final held in a country other than the finalists’. In 1987, the Copa would then be contested in a single host country. It was held in Argentina that year consisting of three groups of three. The winners of the three groups would qualify for the semifinals with the defending Copa champions automatically earning a semifinal berth. In 1989, the Copa changed to a bi-annual event and was held in Brazil. The Copa consisted of First Round group play of two groups of five. The Top 2 from each group would move to the Second Round of additional round robin play to decide the Copa winner upon play statistics. That would continue to be the format in 1991.
In 1993, the Copa underwent a new format that currently exists today. The Copa held in Ecuador would be the first ever Copa to include two invitees from the CONCACAF countries of North America, Central America and the Caribbean nations. There would be three groups of four with a maximum of one CONCACAF invitee per group, quarterfinals, a semifinal and a final to decide the Copa winner. The event would continue to be bi-annual until 2001 when the next Copa was played in 2004. It would be tri-annual only temporarily until 2007. Since then, the Copa is slated to be a quadrennial event like the Euro except for a commemorative Copa America to be contested in the United States next year to commemorate the event’s centennial.
Here’s something to take note of. As I’ve said in past blogs, sometimes it’s harder for a team to win a continental championship than it is to win the World Cup. Brazil has won eight Copas but the country that has won the most is Uruguay with a total of 15 including the last Copa America in 2011. Argentina has won fourteen. Countries that have never won the World Cup like Colombia, Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru have won a Copa America. Actually a total of seven countries have won the Copa. No country outside the CONMEBOL has won a Copa but Mexico has been a finalist twice.
Host country Chile has never won the Copa: one of three CONMEBOL countries that have never done so. They’ve been runner-up four times but they’re hoping to win for the first time ever this year. The winner of this year’s Copa America will represent the CONMEBOL at the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia. So there’s some additional pressure here.
So without further ado, here is my review of the Group A teams. Number in brackets are the FIFA rankings of May 2015:
-Chile (16): Well, Chile is host this year. It’s actually a good time since Chile is experiencing one of its best eras in football. Chile is actually one South American country long overdue for a major international win. It’s been runner-up to the Copa four times: they’re one of only three CONMEBOL countries never to have won the Copa. Its best World Cup finish was third back in 1962 which they hosted. Nevertheless this could be their competition as anything can happen in football. They’ve had some good plays since the World Cup where they were ousted by Brazil once again. They still face a tough rivalry with Brazil as they lost to them in a March friendly 1-0. Other friendly results include ties with Mexico and Bolivia, a 2-1 loss to Uruguay and wins over Peru and Venezuela. But they also include losses to Iran and Uruguay. Nevertheless football is a game of surprises and they could just do it if they play right.
-Mexico (22): Mexico is the sleeping giant of football. A country loaded with talent but still waiting for their big breakthrough. The last World Cup didn’t help because they lost their Round of 16 match against the Netherlands on a controversial note. An interesting note: ever since the Copa America has allowed invitees from the CONCACAF to play starting back in 1993, Mexico has qualified every time. Mexico could pull an upset as the first ever non-CONMEBOL country to win the Copa. They’ve had a great 2015 with wins over Ecuador and Paraguay but they’ve also had a loss to the United States back in April. Mexico could be the big surprise of this Group and possibly the whole tournament.
-Ecuador (34): The 21st century has definitely been good to Ecuador. They never qualified for a World Cup during the 20th century but this century has given Ecuador berths in three of the four World Cups. Copa America success is a different story as they’ve failed to advance past the first round in all four Copas this century. Their best Copa finish ever is fourth-place finishes in 1959 and 1993. The team is full of talent as they have five players playing in Europe and three in Mexico. However they’ve had a rocky 2015 as they’ve lost to Mexico and Argentina. Chile will be another proving point for them.
-Bolivia (92): Bolivia is an on-again off-again team in terms of success. They’ve played in three World Cups: the last being in 1994. They have won the Copa before in 1963 as hosts and was runner-up when they hosted again in 1997. They’ve had greats before like Luis Cristaldo and Erwin ‘Platini’ Sanchez but their team lacks the depth they’ve had. Most of the team plays for Bolivian teams or for lesser celebrated European teams. Whatever the situation, this Copa should be a meet where the Bolivians learn to improve themselves en route to the next World Cup.
My prediction for this group is that Mexico will top it with Chile in second. Third will be Ecuador. Instead of predicting if the third-place team will be the wildcard qualifier, I’ll just leave it with a third-place pick.
That wraps up my first blog of the Copa America. Like the next two, I will just predict group finishes and wait until further into the tournament to predict the eventual Copa winner once each team’s performance give indications which ones have the edge. More on Tuesday.
WIKIPEDIA: Copa America. Wikipedia.com. 2015. Wikimedia Foundation Inc.<Wikipedia: Copa America>
BONUS: Also you’re in for a treat. I have included a Spanish translation of my blog courtesy of Google Translate!
BONUS: También estás de enhorabuena. He incluido una traducción al español de mi blog cortesía de Google Translate!
La Copa América comenzó en realidad catorce años antes de la Copa del Mundo. La primera competición se llamaba en realidad el Campeonato Sudamericano de Fútbol. Se disputó en Argentina el 2 de julio y 17 de julio, impugnada en dos estadios en la Argentina y contó con cuatro equipos que compiten: los ejércitos de Argentina, Brasil, Chile y Uruguay. La competición se decidió estrictamente en juego del round robin entre los cuatro equipos. Los resultados de los juegos se hicieron que el partido final, Argentina vs Uruguay sería un concurso para decidir el campeonato. Argentina necesitaba una victoria y nada menos porque de ganar un partido y empatar otro, mientras que Uruguay podía permitirse el lujo de sacar para ganar el campeonato. Un empate sin goles es lo que pasó y Uruguay fue el primer ganador del campeonato.
Durante ese tiempo el presidente de la Federación Uruguaya de Fútbol propuso que se fundó una federación continental. El 9 de julio de 1916, Día de la Independencia argentina, la CONMEBOL se fundó. Es curioso cómo, mientras que Europa y América del Norte estaban luchando en la Primera Guerra Mundial, América del Sur hizo avances para las competiciones de fútbol.
El campeonato fue en realidad ser un evento anual y con excepción de 1918 a causa de una epidemia de gripe en Brasil, fue un evento anual hasta que se añadirían 1928. Más países incluyendo Paraguay, Bolivia y Perú. Sin embargo, debido a la creación de la Copa del Mundo y una amarga rivalidad entre Uruguay y Argentina, el Campeonato ya no era un evento anual. Luego tomaría un descanso de seis años entre 1929 y 1935 y re-emerger ya sea dos veces al año o irregularmente como dos competiciones en 1959. La inclusión de la Copa Libertadores de ese año afectó cómo los vio a los Campeonatos.
Los últimos Campeonatos se celebraron en 1967, pero la idea de volver a los campeonatos continentales de los países CONMEBOL todavía estaba bajo consideración en el momento. En 1975, la Copa América nació. No había ningún país fija como juegos del round robin fueron impugnadas en todo el continente en un periodo de cinco meses. Sólo los diez países de la CONMEBOL compitieron y consistieron en round robin, dos semifinales, dos finales y un gran final. El campeón continental ganaría un puesto para la próxima Copa Mundial de la FIFA por primera y única vez. Desde entonces todos los campeonatos continentales anteriores han sido reconocidos como oficial de Copa América.
La Copa América tendría sus dolores de crecimiento en los próximos dos decenios. Fue originalmente para ser un evento cuatrienal y el formato del torneo 1975 seguirían siendo la norma en competiciones estarían dispersos por los países y una gran final que tuvo lugar en un país distinto de los finalistas. En 1987, la Copa y luego se disputó en un solo país de acogida. Se llevó a cabo en la Argentina ese año que consiste en tres grupos de tres. Los ganadores de los tres grupos calificarían para las semifinales con los campeones defensores de la Copa ganando automáticamente una plaza en semifinales. En 1989, la Copa cambió a un evento bianual y se llevó a cabo en Brasil. La Copa constaba de Primera Ronda de juego en grupo de dos grupos de cinco. El Top 2 de cada grupo se trasladaría a la Segunda Ronda de juego del round robin adicional para decidir el ganador de la Copa en las estadísticas de juego. Eso seguirá siendo el formato en el 1991.
En 1993, la Copa se sometió a un nuevo formato que actualmente existe en la actualidad. La Copa celebrada en Ecuador sería la primera Copa de incluir dos invitados de los países de la CONCACAF de América del Norte, América Central y los países del Caribe. Habría tres grupos de cuatro, con un máximo de un invitado de la CONCACAF por grupo, cuartos de final, una semifinal y una final para decidir el ganador de la Copa. El evento seguirá siendo semestral hasta el año 2001 cuando la próxima Copa se jugó en 2004. Sería trianual sólo temporalmente hasta 2007. Desde entonces, la Copa está programado para ser un evento cuatrienal como el Euro a excepción de un conmemorativa Copa América que se disputará en Estados Unidos el próximo año, para conmemorar el centenario del evento.
Aquí hay algo para tomar nota. Como he dicho en blogs anteriores, a veces es más difícil para un equipo para ganar un campeonato continental de lo que es ganar la Copa del Mundo. Brasil ha ganado ocho Copas pero el país que ha ganado la mayoría es Uruguay con un total de 15 incluyendo la última Copa América en 2011. Argentina ha ganado catorce. Los países que nunca han ganado la Copa del Mundo como Colombia, Bolivia, Paraguay y Perú han ganado una Copa América. En realidad, un total de siete países han ganado la Copa. Ningún país fuera de la CONMEBOL ha ganado una Copa, pero México ha sido finalista en dos ocasiones.
País anfitrión Chile nunca ha ganado la Copa: uno de los tres países de la CONMEBOL, que nunca lo han hecho. Han sido finalista cuatro veces, pero que están esperando ganar por primera vez en la historia de este año. El ganador de la Copa América de este año representará a la CONMEBOL en la Copa Confederaciones 2017 en Rusia. Así que hay un poco de presión adicional aquí.
Así que sin más preámbulos, aquí está mi crítica de los equipos del Grupo A. Número entre paréntesis son los ranking de la FIFA de mayo 2015:
Chile (16): Bueno, Chile es sede de este año. De hecho, es un buen momento ya que Chile está viviendo uno de sus mejores épocas en el fútbol. Chile es realmente un país de América del Sur desde hace mucho tiempo para una importante victoria internacional. Ha sido finalista de la Copa de cuatro tiempos: son uno de los únicos tres países CONMEBOL nunca han ganado la Copa. Su mejor resultado en la Copa del Mundo fue tercero en 1962 que se organizó. Sin embargo esto podría ser su competencia como cualquier cosa puede suceder en el fútbol. Han tenido algunas buenas jugadas desde la Copa del Mundo donde fueron expulsados por Brasil, una vez más. Ellos todavía se enfrentan a una dura rivalidad con Brasil, ya que perdió a ellos en un amistoso 1-0 de marzo. Otros resultados incluyen amistosas relaciones con México y Bolivia, una derrota por 2-1 a Uruguay y victorias sobre Perú y Venezuela. Pero también incluyen las pérdidas a Irán y Uruguay. Sin embargo el fútbol es un juego de sorpresas y que sólo podría hacerlo si juegan bien.
México (22): México es el gigante dormido del fútbol. Un país lleno de talento, pero a la espera de su gran avance. El último Mundial no ayudó porque perdieron su ronda de 16 partido contra los Países Bajos con una nota polémica. Una nota interesante: desde que la Copa América ha permitido a los invitados de la CONCACAF para jugar a partir en 1993, México ha calificado cada vez. México podría tirar una sorpresa como el primer país no CONMEBOL para ganar la Copa. Han tenido un gran 2015 con triunfos sobre Ecuador y Paraguay, pero también han tenido una pérdida para los Estados Unidos en abril. México podría ser la gran sorpresa de este Grupo y posiblemente todo el torneo.
Ecuador (34): El siglo 21 sin duda ha sido bueno para el Ecuador. Nunca se clasificaron para la Copa del Mundo durante el siglo 20, pero este siglo ha dado literas Ecuador en tres de las cuatro Copas del Mundo. El éxito de la Copa América es una historia diferente, ya que han fallado para avanzar más allá de la primera ronda en las cuatro Copas de este siglo. Su mejor final de Copa siempre es el cuarto lugar acabados en 1959 y 1993. El equipo está lleno de talento, ya que tienen cinco jugadores que juegan en Europa y tres en México. Sin embargo han tenido una rocosa 2015, ya que han perdido a México y Argentina. Chile será otro punto de prueba para ellos.
Bolivia (92): Bolivia es un en-otra vez de nuevo fuera del equipo en términos de éxito. Han jugado en tres Copas del Mundo: la última de ellas en 1994. Ellos han ganado la Copa antes en 1963 como anfitriones y fue subcampeón cuando acogido de nuevo en 1997. Han tenido grandes antes como Luis Cristaldo y Erwin ‘Platini ‘Sánchez, pero su equipo carece de la profundidad que han tenido. La mayoría del equipo juega para los equipos bolivianos o para los equipos europeos célebres menores. Sea cual sea la situación, esta Copa debe ser un encuentro donde los bolivianos aprenden a mejorarse a sí mismos en el camino a la próxima Copa del Mundo.
Mi predicción para este grupo es que México superará con Chile en la segunda. En tercer lugar será Ecuador. En lugar de predecir si el equipo de tercer lugar será el calificador comodín, sólo voy a dejarlo con un tercer puesto de recogida.
Que envuelve mi primer blog de la Copa América. Al igual que los dos siguientes, me limitaré a predecir acabados de grupo y esperar hasta más lejos en el torneo de predecir el eventual ganador de la Copa una vez que el rendimiento de cada equipo da indicaciones cuáles tienen el borde. Más el martes.
As you can tell, I’ve been excited about the Women’s World Cup coming. It was a long time in anticipation. This was actually the last weekend before the World Cup is to begin this Saturday in Edmonton. With it came the Trophy Tour concluding in Burnaby. I had the good fortune to visit that afternoon.
The FIFA Women’s World Cup trophy tour was a tour that happened in twelve cities across Canada including the six cities that have the venues for the Cup. The purpose was to showcase the World Cup encased in glass. The tour also allowed for other things too like a chance to learn more about FIFA’s goals in women’s football and to learn more about the Cup and its 24 years. There were also games and giveaways as well as music and an appearance from the mascot Shueme. The final stop of the journey was Vancouver. The event took place at Burnaby’s Metrotown: the biggest shopping mall in all of Greater Vancouver. Sunday morning was my one free chance I had to go see it. I’m glad I did.
THERE’S ALWAYS A LINE-UP
A week or two ago, I saw something from the Coca-cola web page on the tour saying there tickets through Ticketmaster available. At that time, I instantly thought you needed a ticket to see the trophy. I agreed to a ticket. They came at no cost so I really lost nothing. I arrived at the area in Metrotown where the event was supposed to take place–the lower level where Toys ‘R Us and T&T Groceries are– and I saw the line up. Most didn’t have a ticket. It wasn’t really needed. It may have helped for some getting to see the Cup sooner but it wasn’t needed. For kids too impatient to wait in line, there was a foosball table in the outside area.
I actually forgot my ticket at home so I ended up waiting in line. I arrived at 10:55: five minutes before the event was to begin. I could see volunteers setting up. I could see Shueme in the waiting area. Then at 11am it all began. Music was playing and the line was actually moving faster than I thought. Shueme actually left the event area and was walking around the Metrotown concourse including around the outside foosball table. Yes, they had a foosball table out in case people got too bored waiting. Fortunately she came around where I was standing. I told the volunteer I hope to get a picture with her when she returns to inside. The volunteer actually offered to take the picture right there. It was great.
VIEWING THE CUP
It wasn’t even half an hour of a line up when I finally had the chance to see the Cup. However just before I got in, I saw there was a separate line up for the virtual goalie. I’ll talk more about that later. The exhibit could only have so many people at once so they had to group people: those seeing the Cup, those in the Winners Tunnel who were next in line and those in the waiting area.
The waiting area was there to keep us entertained while we were one step closer to seeing the Cup. There was one section that looked like a dressing room but it had jerseys commemorating past Cup champions. As well as there were pads that had WWC trivia. There was also a DJ spinning music with the official ball, the conext15, on display. Then came the Winners Tunnel. This was the section for those about to see the Cup. In there, people waited for about five minutes. Nevertheless we were treated to a video with scenes from the previous World Cup and even clips from the qualifiers.
Then it finally came to our turn to see the Cup. It was encased in glass and there were already cameras set up so we can have a custom portrait for sharing. Just go to the website and key in the code. I think mine turned out well. Finally of course with Coca-Cola hosting the event, people were treated to a free Coke in a commemorative aluminum bottle. I have mine as a keepsake.
A FUTURE CARNIVAL GAME?
Not everything was about the Cup. Some wanted to try their luck at the Ultimate Goalie. How does it work? First it involves the participant doing a penalty kick into a net smaller than usual. Secondly the goalie is placed right in the middle of the goal post. Successful penalty kicks win a free commemorative shirt. The thing about this goalie is that it’s on a semicircle of 180. What controls the goalie are motion-sensor cameras that are able to detect how fast the ball is going and what direction it’s headed. The computers are programmed to position the goalie at the right angle to stop the shot. This was very smart and very fast. I remember seeing a couple of shots taken that were very fast and she was able to stop it. I took a shot at it and she even stopped mine. Fortunately for me, there were two people that said I delivered a good shot. I’m not over the hill yet! As for the goalie, I would not be surprised if I see that as a carnival game anytime soon. Good luck in trying to win!
I GOT A TICKET!
For a long time I was hoping to get a ticket. For the last few days I was hoping to get a ticket for a certain Round of 16 game. However I wondered if it would be too expensive. Not just because of the price but the ticket processing fee and tax added on. I wanted a second class ticket for that event but thought maybe it’s better I got third class. Glad I waited because just as I was in line to see the Cup, I heard that tickets were 30% off that day. By the time I was done seeing the Cup, I was ready to order my ticket. Yes, there was a bit of a line up for buying it and very often it was a case of families buying tickets together because of discounts for groups. Sometimes it took a family ten minutes or longer to have their order finalized.
Finally it was my turn and I knew what I wanted as I was eyeballing that seat on Ticketmaster the past few days. Knowing what I wanted and where only made me wait five minutes. There was a bit of card trouble at first but I finally got it: a second-class Round of 16 ticket that was originally billed at $75 I bought for just under $62. It was worth it! Now I just have to wait to see if Canada’s playing as one team slated to play is the first-place team of Group A. I’ll be shocked if it’s not Canada!
And there you go: my visit to the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Trophy Tour. It was fun and a bit tiring but it was worth it in the end.
Okay, for those of you just hitting my blog for the first time, below are links to my predictions for each group in the Group Stage: