World Cup 2022 Preview: Group B

Interesting to note that the draw for the nations in each group took place just as three nations were yet to be decided! On April 1st, the draw for the groups had just as a European berth and two intercontinental berths were not yet decided! They all eventually be decided by the end of June. I state this here because the team of that undecided European berth is in this very group.

Group B is widely considered to be this Cup’s “Group Of Death.” All four are jam-packed with talent and are currently ranked in FIFA’s Top 20. In addition, some anticipate this group will have the most politically heated matches as Iran has strained relationships with the UK and the United States. It will all be determined in Qatar. So here’s the rundown:

GROUP B

-England (5): This is quite the time for the English national team. Ever since Gareth Southgate was made coach of the England national team after Euro 2016, the team has been playing like a team unit not seen for decades. At the last World Cup, they made it to the semifinals. At Euro 2020, they made it to the final for the first time ever! However the final exposed a common weakness England still has: penalty kicks!

The Three Lions lineup for the World Cup has the return of veterans Harry Kane, Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling. It includes young rising talents too like Bukayo Saka and Jude Bellingham. All but three players are Premier League players. Since Euro 2020, they’ve had a mixed bag of results. They’ve won against Albania, Switzerland and the Ivory Coast. They’ve drawn in both their games against Germany. They’ve also had a draw and a loss to Italy. They’ve also lost to Hungary twice. Qatar will put England again to the challenge.

-Iran (20): This is Iran’s sixth World Cup and they’re still seeking their first trip to the knockout round! Iran almost had the chance at the last World Cup (where they were also in Group B) but their results of a win, a draw and a loss couldn’t stack up against Spain and Portugal. Here in Qatar, you can bet Team Melli will do what they can to break new ground.

The team is coached by Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz. He has coached the team to both the 2014 and 2018 World Cups. After the 2019 Asian Cup where Iran made the semifinals, the team went through two more European coaches before returning to Queiroz this September. Most of the team plays for clubs in the Persian Gulf Pro League. In the last year and a half, their wins have come against United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, they drew to Senegal and they’ve lost to South Korea and Algeria. Qatar just might be their best World Cup showing ever. They just have to make it happen.

-United States of America (16): The 20th Century had the US team looking like a joke in football. Then in the 21st Century, the US were showing how far they progressed by advancing to three knockout stages out of four World Cups. Then disaster struck before 2018 as they failed to qualify. Things changed for the US as they named Gregg Berhalter as their head coach and acquired former US team members Earnie Stewart as Sporting Director and Brian McBride as General Manager.

The squad for the World Cup has not officially been determined as of press time. The US team has a mix of players from the MLS and from various European Leagues. It’s highly likely the team will consist of their big names like DeAndre Yedlin, Kelly Acosta and Christian Pulisic. They’ve had recent notable wins against Mexico and Morocco, notable draws against Uruguay and Saudi Arabia, and losses to Costa Rica and Japan. 2022 looks to be the arena for redemption and a new chapter for the American team.

-Wales (19): Of all teams that are returning to the World Cup here in Qatar, none have had a longer wait than Wales. They only played in one previous World Cup back in 1958, where they made the quarterfinals. Since then, Wales have failed to qualify. It almost appeared Gareth Bale would be one of the best players ever never to compete in a World Cup. Then The Dragons qualified in the European playoffs of qualifying, won their semifinal against Austria and then won their final against Ukraine!

Wales is not a one-man team. Besides Bale, Wales also has star defender Chris Gunter and goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey. The squad mostly play in clubs with the Premier League and have been coached by Welshman Rob Page for two years. Their recent results put their status in question. Before qualifying, they’ve had wins against Belarus and Austria, and draws against Belgium and Czechia. Since qualifying, they had a draw and a loss against Belgium and additional losses to the Netherlands and Poland. It may sound tough, but all that will matter will be their play in Qatar.

My Prediction: It is a bit crazy having to make a prediction in what people call the “Group Of Death.” Nevertheless, I have a feeling that the qualifiers from this group will be England and the United States. Frankly any combination of teams would make sense at this point.

And there you go! My thoughts and predictions for Group B. Whatever the outcome is, I anticipate this will have the closest football of the whole tournament.

2016 UEFA Euro Semifinals: Preview And Predictions

Euro Semis

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.

Team-By-Team Analysis:

PortugalPortugal: 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.

WalesWales: 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.

Team-By-Team Analysis:

Germany FootballGermany: 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.

FranceFrance: 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.

 

 

UEFA Euro 2016: Group B Focus

UEFA-Euro-2016-Live

Here I am with my second review of the Euro 2016 Groups. One thing I won’t do for this tournament is review the stadiums like I did for the World Cups of 2014 and 2015. I prefer to restrict it to World Cups. Group reviewing is something I won’t stray away from. So without further ado, here’s my review of Group B:

WalesWales (24): This is Wales’ first ever Euro. They may have played in a single World Cup back in 1958 but this will be their first Euro. Some will say this is thanks to star player Gareth Bale but you could say it’s more thanks to coach Chris Coleman. Besides there are four other players on the team with more career caps than Bale.

The Dragons may not have the biggest combined talent but they can prove to be a surprise such as winning against Belgium and tying against Bosnia and Northern Ireland. However they will face a tough Group B. They’ve played Slovakia twice ever winning once and losing the other time. They’ve never won against Russia in the four times they’ve played them and they’ve lost to England more often than they’ve won against them. It will have to take the right play and right team unity if they want to get far.

SlovakiaSlovakia (32): This is Slovakia’s first ever Euro. They’ve competed at the 2010 World Cup before but never a Euro. Slovakia doesn’t have too many players on its national team playing for too many major leagues but they play very well as a team. In the past two years, they’ve had wins over Spain, Ukraine, Switzerland, Czech Republic and most recently Germany. They’ve also lost to Spain and Belarus. Leading to Euro 2016, their chances in Group play are iffy. The Falcons have always lost to England, have a win and a loss against Wales and have mixed results against Russia. France will be the grounds where they will take another step in defining themselves.

England fixedEngland (10): What do you do after your team has possibly their most humiliating result in World Cup play ever? Surprisingly England still kept coach Roy Hodgson after World Cup 2014. The Three Lions has since delivered excellent play since winning all but four of their games and losing only twice, to Spain and the Netherlands. Notable wins since include Germany and France. Hey, humiliation can be one helluva motivator.

The big question is can they continue their success streak into Euro 2016 all the way to the win. England has always had the reputation of bringing the most talented players to a major tournament but lacking the necessary team unity to win. They’ve shown since World Cup 2014 that England can play as a united team, and play very good. They will come to France with a lot of young talented players as well some of the young players of World Cup 2014 that have become well-seasoned over time and some older experienced veterans like Wayne Rooney. Euro 2016 will write another chapter for the team.

Russia FixedRussia (27): If there’s one team that’s struggling to make a name for itself, it’s Russia. Ever since the fall of the USSR in 1991, Russian football has struggled to get a reputation. It’s fallen out during the Group Stage in each of the three World Cups they’ve played. They’ve had better success at the Euro with a semifinals placement in 2008 but they’ve been Group Stage each of the three other times including the last Euro.

They want to deliver an excellent performance at this Euro especially with the fact they will host the 2018 World Cup. They want to send a message to the world they’re a force to be reckoned with. One thing Russia has returned to is hiring their own as head coach. In the past they hired foreign coaches like Guus Huddink and Fabio Capello to get their team in action. Now they have Leonid Slutsky who also coaches CSKA Moscow. All but one of the players are part of the Russian Premier League. They have a mixed record in the past two years. They have notable wins against Sweden and Portugal. They’ve only had three losses but to Austria, Croatia and France. Euro 2016 will not only be the arena for them to prove themselves once more but also to prepare en route to the big one in 2018.

Prediction: England has the most consistency. I think they will come out on top. Russia will come in second and Slovakia will come in third.

And there are my thoughts on Group B. Review of Group C up next.

UPDATE:

Here are my reviews of the other groups: