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2019 FIFA WWC: Group Stage With One Game To Go

France 2019

First off I have to say that France has done a very good job as host. All but one match has had an attendance of at least 10,000 people and the crowds have been great and enthusiastic. Also the play has been good too. Only one red card so far, and that was a double-yellow. And now FIFA’s groups page include ‘fair play points’ as stats for deciding group rankings. Understandable since it was fair-play stats that gave Japan the qualifying advantage over Senegal in Group H of last year’s men’s World Cup. In addition, two Brazilian players set WWC feats. Formiga became the first player ever to play in seven consecutive Women’s World Cups and Marta set a record of being the first woman to score in five separate editions of the WWC.

Today all the groups have finished playing their second game of group play. Eight teams have their qualifications for the Round of 16 guaranteed mathematically; two wins are a lock. The sixteen others are still unknown. Some groups went as predicted so far. Others have delivered a surprise or two including a few teams most of us underestimated at the start. These third-games will finalize the group-play standings and who will play who in the Round of 16. The Top 2 in each group will have their berths secure. The third-place teams will have to wait until all groups are done to see if they’re among the Top 4 that advance. And both of each group’s third-games will be played simultaneously for the sake of making the contest fair. Those that already qualified, Game Three is important for them too. They may have guaranteed qualification, but their final standing has not yet been determined. Game Three will determine if they finish first or otherwise. It will also determine which game they play and who their opponent will be.

The one thing is right now all sixteen of the teams that don’t have their qualifications guaranteed yet still have a chance in Game 3 to get one of the remaining eight berths. Even those teams that have two losses so far, they can qualify for the Round of 16 by winning their next game and if their goal differentials hold up well. Here is a group-by-group breakdown of those who made it (with countries who are guaranteed to advance in bold), and what the others need to qualify:

Group A: France did it! They had the pressure as hosts to play well. However they won both their matches against Nigeria and Norway to guarantee qualification. In their match against Nigeria, they could simply draw to guarantee first place in Group A.

Norway and Nigeria both have a win and a loss. The only way either of them can overtake France for 1st in Group A is if they both win their games, which will mean Nigeria will have to upset France. Goal differentials will have to decide the rankings. Nigeria would have to win super big over France if they want to top the group.

South Korea may have two losses but it’s not over for them. They could still qualify if they beat Norway and their goal differentials hold up (like beating Norway by four points), along with the added bonus of Nigeria to beat France. If France beats Nigeria, goal differentials in both games will have to decide if South Korea to make it. Sigh, it’s too tough to explain; it’s all about the numbers. Mind you everything will be decided Monday.

Group B: The group was seen to be Germany’s to dominate and it almost looks like they will do it. Germany is the only team guaranteed to be in the Round of 16 after winning against both Spain and China. A simple draw on Monday against South Africa will keep Germany at the top.

However a first-place for Germany even if they lose to South Africa is not guaranteed. Both of Germany’s wins were 1-0. A loss to South Africa could cause Germany to drop to 2nd depending who wins in China vs. Spain and how big the win is. Right now Spain leads over China in goal-differential stats. Spain has been one of the surprises of the Cup so far with their win against South Africa. The winner of Spain vs. China will of course have the edge in group play here, but a draw will have Spain with the advantage of finishing 2nd and China 3rd. Spain could top with a 1-0 win if Germany loses, but for China to top if Germany loses, the win will have to have a two-goal advantage.

South Africa also still has a chance. They would have to win over Germany as well there would have to be a winner in the Spain vs. China game. Also their goal differentials will have to hold up. They’re not trailing as badly as South Korea in Group A. However the games on Monday will set everything in stone.

Group C: To think the last time Italy qualified for a knockout stage of the Women’s World Cup, it was the inaugural WWC in 1991! Now they’re the Group C team that has already guarantee qualification! That came after their surprise 2-1 win over Australia and their 5-0 win over Jamaica. Italy’s goal differentials are so big, both Brazil and Australia will need a win of at least 3 goals to overtake Italy for first. Italy can simply draw against Brazil for 1st place in Group C.

Australia and Brazil may already have healthy chances of qualifying, but it’s not over for Jamaica. Like South Korea in Group A and South Africa in Group B, they still have a chance to qualify if they win over Australia. However it will have to be a super-big win of having at least a four-goal advantage.

Group D: Two wins is what it takes to guarantee qualification to the Round of 16. England is the team of Group D that already has the two wins. With eight teams having lost both their games, that means Japan qualifies due to their win over Scotland and draw over Argentina: the only draw of the WWC so far. Interesting is that the Argentina-Japan game is the one game that ended in a draw. Argentina surprised everyone when they drew 0-0 against Japan:  the finalist at the last Women’s World Cup. This may have been Argentina’s seventh-ever Women’s World Cup game, but it was also the first time ever Argentina didn’t lose!

The games on Wednesday will decide everything. England and Japan may have qualified but they just need to draw against Japan to top Group D while Japan needs to win. Japan could finish second if they draw but a loss could put them in third place, depending on the result of Scotland vs. Argentina. If Argentina wins, they will get third-place at the very least and a guarantee of qualification. If Scotland wins, they will get a third-place finish since Argentina has 0-1 in goal differentials.

Group E: If two teams have two wins, their Top 2 finish in a group is already guaranteed. The Netherlands and Canada are those two teams in Group E. Their game on Thursday against each other will decide 1st place. The Netherlands can clinch it in a draw due to better goal differentials. Therefore Canada needs to win if it wants to top Group E.

Meanwhile it’s not over for Cameroon or New Zealand. A win for either will give them their chance for a wildcard berth, but goal differentials will have to give them their advantage. One thing’s for sure: with Cameroon ahead in the stats, a draw will rob Cameroon of any chance of advancing as four third-place teams are already guaranteed better finishing stats.

Group F: Group F is like Group E where the Top 2 teams have won both their games. That means Sweden and the United States guaranteed their qualification for the Round of 16 today. The United States really made history in their 13-0 win against Thailand as the most goals scored in a single WWC match. Alex Morgan’s five goals ties her for the record of most individual goals. You can understand why that goal from Thailand’s Kanjana in their 5-1 loss to Sweden meant so much.

The match of Sweden vs. USA is pretty much a competition for a first-place finish of Group F. Simply with their big win against Thailand, the US just needs to draw to finish first; the goal differential is just that wide. Sweden however needs a win and nothing less to finish first.

For Thailand and Chile, it’s like Group E that either one still has a chance. It’s whoever wins in the Thailand vs. Chile match. Even Thailand is not out, although its chances of qualifying are the slimmest of the slim. If they win, it will have to be if there’s a draw in the Cameroon vs. New Zealand game of Group E and a draw in the Scotland vs. Argentina game of Group C. Thanks to that big loss to the US, their goal-differentials are so huge, those two draws on those two games are the only way Thailand can advance if they win against Chile. Chile doesn’t have that bad of a goal-differential situation, but they still need a win and nothing less to have a chance at qualifying.

And there you have it. That’s a wrap-up of what’s needed to finalize everything in the Group Stage of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. It will all be decided from Monday to Thursday. There won’t be a dull moment.

 

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2019 Women’s World Cup Preview Links

France 2019

I only have faint memories of seeing the 1991 Women’s World Cup — the very first Women’s World Cup — on television. Whatever the situation, the Women’s World Cup has grown considerably over the years. So has the sport of women’s football. Canada 2015 definitely had a lot to do with the boost. It had the most attended WWC ever with 1.35 million. France is hoping to boost the sport as well, especially in Europe. Back in 2017, the Women’s Euro in the Netherlands had over 247,000: the most ever for a Women’s Euro. Will France 2019 have a bigger attendance than Canada 2015? They’re aiming for it. They already have almost 1 million tickets sold, last I heard.

The 2019 Women’s World Cup begins today over in Paris’ Parc des Princes at 21:00 Paris time. French singer Jain will be performing at the opening ceremonies. The first match will be France vs. South Korea in front of a crowd of almost 50,000. I know I’ve delivered previews of each group. Here’s a list of all the groups along with the hyperlinks to each group blog along with my predictions of those who will qualify to the Round of 16:

Group A: France, Norway and Nigeria

Group B: Germany and China PR

Group C: Australia, Italy and Brazil

Group D: England and  Japan

Group E: Canada, Netherlands and New Zealand

Group F: USA, Sweden and Chile

Also a couple of little things to preview:

VAR IS BACK

Back in Russia 2018, there was a lot of talk about VAR: Video Assistant Referees. Here in France, VAR is back to assist with the games. The fifteen VAR officials were announced last month.

MASCOT ettie

ettieOf course before the start of a major event, you have to focus on the mascot. The mascot was unveiled a little more than a year ago and her name is ettie. While the Gallic rooster is the national bird of France, ettie is a chickadee. Not just any chickadee, she’s the daughter of Footix: mascot of the 1998 Men’s World Cup that France hosted. FIFA described her as a ‘young chicken with a passion for life and football.’ the name ‘ettie’ is short for étoile: the French word for star and it’s based off of the star Footix received when France won the World Cup in 1998. According to FIFA:

Footix cast his star far into the night sky so it could shine brightly, and after a few years of travelling through the cosmos it came back to him in the form of his twinkling daughter, ettie. Footix knew immediately that ettie was very special, not only because of her sparkling personality that would radiate happiness and joy to everyone she met, but because they shared a real passion for football. After many years of playing football together, Footix realized that ettie was a dazzlingly talented and fearless player.”

And there you go. That’s my post as the Women’s World Cup begins. As things lead on, I will be posting my predictions for the knockout rounds once the contenders are all decided. Stay tuned for a lot of excitement.

Also those of you Canadians who want to relive memories of the 2015 WWC, I’ll repost my blogs of my World Cup experiences:

WORK CITED:

ettie revealed as Official Mascot for FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019. (12 May 2018). Retrieved from <https://www.fifa.com/womensworldcup/news/ettie-revealed-official-mascot-france-2019>

2019 Women’s World Cup Group F Focus

I know I haven’t talked too much about the actual Women’s World Cup event itself. I plan on doing that in my wrap-up blog where I repost the links to my group focuses the day the tournament begins. In the meantime I have one last group to focus on.

The crazy thing about Group F is that it consists of one of the more unknown rivalries: US vs. Sweden. How is it a rivalry? In 2015, the US and Sweden were in the same group and they drew 1-1. At the 2016 Olympics the US met Sweden in the quarterfinal. They drew again at 1-1, but Sweden won on penalty kicks. Now they meet again in Group F. Their game on June 20th should really be interesting. Anyways here I go with my review of Group F:

USA-United States (1): The US seems like they were born to win. They’ve been at all seven previous Women’s World Cups and finished in the Top 3 each time, as well as winning three times including the last WWC in 2015. They’re even household names: Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach, Brandi Chastain, Hope Solo, Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan. However they do have weaknesses. That was exposed by Sweden at the 2016 Olympics. Their quarterfinal loss to Sweden at the 2016 Olympics marked the first time the US women’s team failed to win an Olympic medal.

The last twelve months have been a case of the US showing their continued dominance as they won twenty games, including against Brazil, Australia, Canada, Japan and China. They also had a draw against Japan and Australia as well as England. Their only loss came to France back in January. The United States come to France with the biggest expectations of all teams and they just could do it for a fourth World Cup.

Thailand-Thailand (34): Back during Canada 2015, Thailand came to the Women’s World Cup with some of the lowest expectations. They didn’t advance past the Group Stage but they did score a 3-2 win against the Ivory Coast. They’ve had some continued success as they made the Top 4 of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup for the first time since 1986.

Thailand is a team that wants to grow and get better. However they are going to face some serious challenges. Their play records the last twelve months has not been the best. Their only win this year has been 4-0 against Hungary. They’ve racked up losses against China, Japan, Italy, France and Mexico. It’s part of the struggle to get better. France 2019 is another opportunity for Thailand to learn and improve itself for the future.

Chile-Chile (39): Chile is the fourth and last newbie of the Women’s World Cup teams. They did that by coming second to Brazil at the 2018 Copa America Feminina for the first time since 1991. Their second-place finish also gives them a good chance at qualifying for next year’s Olympics, provided they beat the second-place team from the African trials.

Chile last won games back last year, but their wins were against South Africa and Australia. Since then, Chile has endured losses to Italy, Jamaica, the Netherlands, Colombia and Germany. France 2019 is a good opportunity for Chile to get some good experience. They could even pull an upset win just like Thailand did back in 2015.

Sweden Fixed-Sweden (9): It’s come to be that Sweden has become the US’s ‘Achilles Heel.’ Their record against the US is 7 wins, 11 draws and 20 losses. Sweden has actually had it very good in the last four years. Right after their surprise quarterfinal win against the US, they would go on to win the silver medal. They would also win the 2018 Algarve Cup. However they are fallible as they only made it to the quarterfinals of the 2017 Women’s Euro.

Team Sweden has shown a lot of strength over the last eighteen months. They’ve racked up wins against Canada, Denmark, Norway, England and Switzerland. They only had four losses, but they were against Germany, Portugal, Italy and Ukraine. If Sweden’s on, they could just have their best showing ever here at this Women’s World Cup.

MY GROUP PLAY PREDICTIONS:

You think with the USA in this group predicting would be easy. However I will go with my best hunches and predict the USA to top this group with Sweden second. For third, I will take a chance and predict Chile.

And there you have it. Those are my predictions for Group F. Now that I’ve predicted all the groups, I will give a summary and a reference page of my links just hours before France 2019 starts.

2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup Group E Focus

Of course the group I’m most interested in is the one which Canada’s in. And Canada has some strong challengers like Cameroon, New Zealand and the Netherlands. Just because Canada comes as one of the top-ranked teams, it doesn’t mean they will waltz their way to the Round of 16. However many players of Team Canada are saying they believe this to be their best team ever. Midfielder Desiree Scott agrees: “You’re always going into these major tournaments wanting to win the World Cup, I think all teams want to say that. I can say, personally, I know this World Cup we say we want to win, but it’s the first time in many years that I truly believe we can.”

Whatever the situation, Group E promises excitement as the other three teams have pulled upsets before and are capable of pulling an upset here in France. So without further ado, here’s a look at 2019 WWC’s Group E:

Canada-Canada (5): It was losing all three games at WWC 2011 that really changed the Canadian team. In came coach John Herdman who helped them all become better players and even won Olympic bronze in 2012. They had continued success at the 2015 Women’s World Cup where as host nation, they made it to the quarterfinals and even delivered Canada’s first WWC win of a knockout match since 2003 (which I saw live). At the 2016 Summer Olympics, Canada won bronze again. Canada also won the Algarve Cup that year and last year, they finished second at the CONCACAF championships.

In 2018, John Herdman was moved to the Canadian men’s national team. taking his place is Danish coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller who was assistant coach the previous five years and even coached Denmark’s national team at the 2007 Women’s World Cup. The team has a mix of young and experienced players like captain Christine Sinclair, midfielder Sophie Schmidt, defender Kadeisha Buchanan who won the Best Young Player award at the last WWC, midfielder Julia Grosso, and goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe. Canada has not has a single loss in 2019 accumulating wins against England, Scotland and Norway and drawing against Sweden, Switzerland and Spain. However in 2018, they did have losses to the United States, Germany and France. If Canada’s on here in France, they could  just get Canada’s first Top 3 finish, or even a win!

Cameroon-Cameroon (46): Cameroon come as underdogs to the tournament, but don’t be fooled. Cameroon qualified for the 2012 Summer Olympics and at the previous Women’s World Cup in Canada, they progressed to the Round of 16! At the last three Women’s Africa Cup of Nations, Cameroon has had two runner-up finishes and their most recent being third.

In Cameroon’s games this year, they won against Croatia, but lost to Spain and China. Most of the team’s play has been against Cameroonian clubs and Spanish clubs. Despite being unknown how well they do, Cameroon could pull an upset in France. Plus you can trust the Cameroonian communities in France giving them a big boost in the crowds.

NZL-New Zealand (19): New Zealand is a team that should not be taken lightly. Sure, they have it easy in qualifying with getting the Oceania berth ever since Australia transferred to the AFC. However they’re more capable than you think. They may have never won a game at the Women’s World Cup, but they have won two games at the Olympics and even qualified for a quarterfinal in 2012. They’ve also made the Top 4 of three of the last four Algarve Cups.

These past twelve months, New Zealand has had some good key wins against England, Mexico, Norway and Argentina. However they’ve also had losses to Japan, Australia, South Korea and the USA. However don’t count New Zealand out as a possible contender here in France. They may try for their first WWC win here, but they can achieve a lot more too.

Netherlands Fixed-Netherlands (8): If there’s one team that can prevent Canada from topping Group E, it’s the Netherlands. Netherlands surprised everyone at the previous Women’s World Cup when they not only qualified for the first time, but made it to the Round of 16. At the Women’s Euro in 2017 which they hosted, they won. This was one of only two times Germany didn’t win the Women’s Euro. And to boot, they made it to the final of the 2018 Algarve Cup.

In the last twelve months, the Netherlands has continued to play well. They’ve had wins against Mexico, Australia, Switzerland and Denmark, even draws against China and Switzerland. They’ve also had losses to Spain, Poland and Norway. 2019 can be a new chapter for the Dutch team.

MY GROUP PLAY PREDICTIONS:

I have to go with my best hunches here and pick Canada to top the group with the Netherlands second. The way things look right now, I’m picking New Zealand for third.

And that’s it for my look at Group E. One last group to review before the 2019 Women’s World Cup begins!

WORK CITED:

van Diest, Derek. ‘Canada bringing its best to FIFA Women’s World Cup in France.’ Toronto Sun. 3 June 2019. <https://torontosun.com/sports/soccer/van-diest-canada-bringing-its-best-to-fifa-womens-world-cup-in-france>

2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup Group D Focus

Group D makes for an interesting lot: England and their opponents. First Scotland because I’m sure there’s some rivalry. Plus there’s talk of a possible Great Britain team for women’s football at the 2020 Summer Olympics. But before any talk of possibility, one of the two teams will have to be among the Top 3 UEFA teams at this Women’s World Cup in order to earn an Olympic berth. Then start talking! Also the opponent of Argentina, mainly because of the ‘hands of God’ goal. Hmm. Do qualms of men’s football get transferred to women’s footfall? I can’t say. Then there’s Japan. If you remember at the semifinals at the last WWC, defender Laura Bassett accidentally scored a last-minute own goal in the English net to send Japan to the 2015 final. Bet that still bites.

Anyways it could turn out Group D is not all about England. All four teams have their own qualities. Here’s my review of Group D:

England fixed-England (3): England is a country that has long seen football as a man’s game. The women’s team is changing that and they have made a lot of improvements in recent years. At the last Women’s World Cup, despite Laura Bassett’s costly fumble, they won the bronze-medal match. They made it to the semifinals of Euro 2017 losing to eventual champions Netherlands. This year, they won the She Believes championship in the United States.

The Three Lionesses have had a lot of ups and downs since March 2018. They’ve won matches against France, Spain, Brazil, Denmark and Japan. However they’ve also lost to Sweden, Canada, United States and New Zealand. 2019 could end up being their best Women’s World Cup ever if they deliver each and every time.

Scotland Flag-Scotland (20): Scotland is a team that is just starting to get experience and starting to make a name for themselves. However there are a lot of signs that bigger and better is yet to come. This may be their first WWC, but they had their first Euro in 2017. They didn’t advance past the Group Stage, but they did beat Spain. Also they finished 5th in this year’s Algarve Cup.

Scotland even topped their WWC qualifying group, beating out Switzerland who qualified for 2015. These past twelve months Scotland have had losses to top teams like Canada, Norway and the United States, but they’ve also had wins against Iceland, Brazil and Jamaica. Scotland could end up being one of the surprises of France 2019.

argentina-Argentina (37): Argentina may have one of the most legendary men’s team but football for women is slow to progress. They’ve only been in two Women’s World Cups, 2003 and 2007, and lost all their games. They also lost all their games at their only Olympic appearance in 2008. Argentina’s first win of the Copa America Feminina was back in 2006. There are signs of future improvement as Argentina finished 3rd at the Copa Feminina last year.

In the last twelve months, Argentina’s wins have all been against national teams from South America. They’ve had losses to Australia, South Korea and Brazil. Argentina comes as one team with low expectations. This Women’s World Cup could be a learning experience for them, or they could pull some of the biggest surprises this WWC. Only time will tell.

Japan-Japan (7): A lot of the talk in this group is about England. You should not ignore japan. Japan won the 2011 Women’s World Cup and was a finalist at the last WWC. They also won Olympic silver and two straight Women’s Asian Cups during that time. However they did have some setbacks as they failed to qualify for the 2016 Olympics.

In the past twelve months, Japan’s play has had a lot of ups and downs. They won matches against Brazil, Norway, New Zealand and South Korea. They even had draws against Spain, Germany and the United States. However they’ve also had a loss to the United States as well as to Brazil, Australia and France. This Women’s World Cup will be a chance for Japan to add another chapter to their team’s story.

MY GROUP PLAY PREDICTIONS:

This was not an easy guess. I predict England to top Group D. Second will go to Japan. Third is tough to decide but I feel I best go with Scotland.

And that completes my look at Women’s World Cup Group D. Just two more groups to review. I guess I’m doing better than I thought!

 

2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup Group C Focus

You can’t talk about the Women’s World Cup without bringing up the state of women’s football and its participation levels around the world.

We all know that in international football, men’s football is dominated by countries from Europe and South America with the occasional African surprise while most North American teams (except Mexico) and Asian teams struggle. In women’s football, it’s the opposite. It’s where the North American and Asian teams have their day in the sun while the teams from Europe, South America and Africa are working to catch up. FIFA is putting in the effort to increase participation in women’s football, especially in those countries. I remember during World Cup 2015 there were a lot of exhibits and booths promoting women’s football and aiming for an increase. A country like Canada is an excellent place to promote this because North American and many Asian countries promote football to girls as much as they do to boys. In the future, I think more girls from developing countries will be able to have access to playing football. Also who knows? Maybe Europe and South America will someday reach the standards of Canada, USA, China and Japan? And don’t forget Africa. They could have a WWC breakthrough soon.

Moving on, here’s my focus on the teams from Group C. I find it interesting that two teams that met in a Round of 16 match at WWC 2015 — Australia and Brazil — are meeting this time in the group stage!:

Australia-Australia (6): If there’s one team that knows how to show improvement, it’s the Matildas. In fact they showed it at the 2015 World Cup by beating Brazil in their Round of 16 match: their first ever knockout-game win. Australia made it to the quarterfinals at the Olympics too with their best scoring result. They’ve also been runners-up at the last two AFC Women’s Championships.

Australia has been getting better at dealing with their opponents. In the past twelve months, they’ve won against top ranked teams like Brazil, Japan and South Korea and even drew against England and the US. They’ve also had a loss to the US as well as the Netherlands and France. Australia has a lot to prove and they could just do it here in this World Cup.

Italy ficed-Italy (15): The Azzurre have a long way to go to catch up with the legacy of the Azzuri. They’ve never qualified for the Olympics and the last time they competed in a Women’s World Cup was in 1999. On top of that, the last time they qualified for the quarterfinals of the Women’s Euro was back in 2013. 2017 was a case of out in the Group Stage.

Since qualifying for the WWC, Italy has made a lot of improvements as a team. In fact in 2019, they have not had a loss. They’ve amassed wins against Chile, Mexico, Hungary and Switzerland and draws against Poland and North Korea. Italy is another team whose potential is unknown but could surprise us in France.

Brazil-Brazil (10): Brazil is a team that has experienced a lot of ups and downs over the years. Back in the previous decade, they showed themselves to be a nation on the move by being a finalist at the 2003 World Cup and winning Olympic silver medals in 2004 and 2008. However things have gotten to a downturn. They were eliminated in the quarterfinals of the 2011 WWC and in the Round of 16 in 2015. At the Rio Olympics, they looked like they were well on their way to gold in the Group Stage, but finished fourth.

Even Brazil’s play record in the last twelve months has been questionable. Their only win outside of South American teams has been to Japan. They’ve endured losses to big-name teams like Australia, USA, Canada, France, England, Spain and Scotland. This could mean they’re going through a troubling time right now, or maybe they’re ‘playing possum.’ That will all be decided in France very soon. Also this looks to be Marta’s last Women’s World Cup. Hopefully she’ll have a good ‘last hurrah.’

Jamaica-Jamaica (53): The Reggae Girlz are coming here for their very first World Cup. Remarkable because there have been many years Jamaica wouldn’t enter a women’s football team for the Women’s World Cup, or not even the CONCACAF Women’s Championship. The women’s team have shown a lot of improvement lately as they finished third at last year’s CONCACAF championships.

In the last twelve months, Jamaica has won against Colombia, Cuba, Costa Rica and Chile. They’ve drawn against Panama and South Africa, but they’ve had losses to Scotland, the US and Canada. Whether they go far or lose out in the Group Stage, this Women’s World Cup will be a great place for experience and development of the Jamaican team.

MY GROUP PLAY PREDICTIONS:

I’m tempted to go with my best instincts and pick Australia to top this group, but a surprise as Italy to come in second with Brazil third. That’s how it looks right now. We’ll see how it turns out very soon.

And there you have it. Those are my predictions for Group C of the 2019 Women’s World Cup. Hard to believe I’m halfway done. And I didn’t even publish my first Focus until Friday! What a relief I’ll be completed before the start.

2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup Group B Focus

One thing about football is that there is normally a lot of foregone conclusions on who will win the Cup and who don’t have the best chances. Those are not all guarantees. Even the best teams can bomb out sooner than anyone expected. And I will be getting to that very shortly in my blog. In the meantime, I will be focusing on Group B today. It’s easy to assume one team will win the Cup, but upsets are bound to happen. So without further ado:

Germany fixed-Germany (2): Germany has been seen as one of the best women’s teams consistently. They’ve been in all seven previous World Cups and won twice. In 2016, they won their first Olympic gold medal after three bronzes. They’ve been in the Women’s euro all ten times and won eight. However it’s not to say they’ve had some inconsistencies too. The last World Cup where they finished in the Top 3 was their winner in 2007. Also a year after winning Olympic gold, they were beaten in the quarterfinals of Euro 2017 by Denmark. Even the best have an Achilles heel.

If there’s one thing, Germany has been consistent in play in the last twelve months. They’ve won against Canada, Italy, France and Sweden. They’ve also drawn against Japan and Spain. Chances are if Germany’s on target, they can make this World Cup #3.

ChinaChina, People’s Republic of (15): China is another team that experienced big success when women’s football started establishing itself in the 1990’s. They dominated in the 90’s, but have been set back in recent years. There was even a brief time at the beginning of this decade, they didn’t qualify for either the World Cup or the Olympics. Recent years have shown an improvement with China as they made the Round of 16 at the last World Cup and the quarterfinals at the 2016 Olympics.

China’s last twelve months have had a lot of ups and downs. They’ve had wins against teams like South Korea, Cameroon and Russia. They even tied the Netherlands at the Algarve Cup. However they’ve also had losses to France, Denmark, Norway, Japan and the United States. France 2019 will be the place for them to show the world what they’re made of.

Spain Fixed-Spain (13): Spain’s women’s team is a team just starting to enter the stage of women’s football. In fact their appearance at Canada 2015 was their very first WWC. It was a learning experience for them as they left with two losses and a draw. In the women’s Euro, they did have one semifinals appearance all the way back in 1997. They were able to qualify for the last two Euros and finish in the quarterfinals both times. However the most recent Euro was another case of scraping by as their only win came against Portugal.

In the last twelve months, Spain has shown that they’ve made a lot of improvement. They may have lost to Poland, England and the United States, but they did achieve draws against Canada and Germany, and they also won against Finland, The Netherlands, Switzerland and Brazil. France is the arena for them to prove themselves once more.

South-Africa-flag.jpg-South Africa (49): South Africa is one of four teams making their Women’s World Cup debut. South Africa has competed in the Olympics twice in 2012 and 2016.South Africa has also been runner-up five times in the CAF Women’s Championship.

South Africa will be coming to France with a lot to prove. They’re one of the lowest ranked teams in the world competing in France. In 2019, they have yet to win a game, enduring losses to the United States and the Netherlands. However they did draw against Jamaica and Sweden. It’s quite possible South Africa is just a team that hasn’t proved themselves and France 2019 could be the domain to show how much they can do.

MY GROUP PLAY PREDICTIONS:

This is one of the easier ones to predict. I’ll have to say I predict Germany to top with China in second. I anticipate Spain to take third.

And there’s my take on Group B. I aim to have all my takes on the groups completed by Wednesday. Which means I’m planning Group C’s focus tomorrow. Stay tuned.

2019 Women’s World Cup Intro and Group A Focus

Womens Cup

It does seem like yesterday when Canada hosted the Women’s World Cup. It was the most attended and most viewed Women’s World Cup ever. I also had fun in seeing the exhibits and even a Round of 16 game.

Now it’s France’s turn to host the Women’s World Cup. The television audience is expected to be bigger, the crowds at the stadiums are expected to be bigger, and women’s football as a whole is expected to be bigger. Eighteen of the 24 teams at this year’s World Cup played in 2015 and four will be making their debut this year. Lots of excitement is expected to happen. As for hosting, France has nine stadiums set to contest the matches. All of them are over 20,000 capacity. Three of the stadiums contested matched during the 1998 World Cup and three during the 2016 Euro.

So without further ado, let’s focus on World Cup Group A. FIFA rankings of teams as of March 2019 are in brackets:

France fixed-France (4): France is a team waiting for their first ever major international moment. Their best Olympic finish is fourth in 2012, their best World Cup finish ever is fourth in 2011, and they’ve never made it past the quarterfinals of a Euro ever!

France appears ready to deliver a strong result here in WWC 2019. For their Group A teams, France has won against South Korea and Nigeria in the past, but never played Norway. France however has delivered some excellent results in recent months with wins against top-contending teams like Australia, USA, Japan, China and Brazil. Their only loss this year came to Germany. It looks like France is ready to show the world and this could finally be their chance!

Korea-South Korea (14): South Korea is a team not to be underestimated. Sure, they’ve never qualified for an Olympics, but they did achieve a Round of 16 result at the last World Cup and they have had a third-place finish at the Women’s Asian Cup.

South Korea has had an uneven play records these past twelve months. They’ve endured losses to China, Australia and Sweden. However they’ve had wins against New Zealand, Argentina and Romania. Expectations are low for South Korea here, but don’t underestimate them. They could be one of the big surprises in France.

Norway-Norway (12): Norway was one of the great teams when the Women’s World Cup was starting. They won the second WWC back in 1995 and the second-ever Olympic gold in women’s football back in 2000. Returning to their glory days has been a struggle. The last Olympics they competed in was in 2008. They have finished runner up in the 2013 Women’s Euro only to lose out in the Group Stage in 2017.

Norway has a record these past twelve months of ups and downs. The lost to Australia, Sweden, Japan and Canada, but they’ve also won against China, Scotland, Denmark and 2017 Euro winners The Netherlands. Norway even won this year’s Algarve Cup. Norway could just well be on their way to a comeback.

Nigeria-Nigeria (38): Nigeria leads the pack in terms of African teams in women’s football. They’ve won the CAF Women’s Championship all but two times. Nigeria is searching for its first major international breakthrough. The best they ever did at a WWC was a quarterfinals finish 1999. Their best Olympic finish was the quarterfinals of 2004.

Nigeria has had a challenging year losing to Canada and China, but they’ve also had wins against Slovakia and Romania. Nigeria could be one team that can pull an upset.

MY GROUP PLAY PREDICTIONS:

France looks to be the top team of the group. They will qualify strongly. Norway looks to be the team to come in second. As for third, I’m thinking of going with Nigeria. This can be anybody’s to take.

And there’s my first take on the teams of the 2019 Women’s World Cup. There’s still more to come as we’re leading up.

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.