This Sunday will feature the 103rd Grey Cup. The best of the CFL have been narrowed down to two teams and it will all take place in Winnipeg’s Investor’s Group Field. Lots of excitement is planning to happen. As well as a tight showdown expected.
This will be the fourth time ever the city of Winnipeg has hosted the Grey Cup. In each of the three previous times, it was held in Winnipeg Stadium later to be renamed CanadInns Stadium. This marks the first Grey Cup contested in Winnipeg that will be held in the Investors Group field. Just two and a half years since it hosted its first event, the Field is now hosting its first-ever Grey Cup. This would be a far trek for most Grey Cup fans who used to have an easier time traveling to Winnipeg Stadium as it was located close to the city centre. Investor’s Group Field is located inside the University of Manitoba lands in the south of the city. Quite a longer distance for those staying in downtown hotels or even at hotels close to the airport.
The national anthem is to be sung by 26 year-old Quebec singer Bobby Bazini and halftime-show will feature another non-Canadian act this year: Chicago band Fall Out Boy. The game itself will pit the East team of the Ottawa RedBlacks versus the West team of the Edmonton Eskimos. One won their last Grey Cup ten years ago, one will hope to win their city’s first Grey Cup in almost forty years. How do they fare?
Ottawa has been one city that has struggled to keep a team as part of the CFL. The Ottawa RoughRiders were formed in 1876, were part of the founding of the CFL back in 1958 until their demise in 1996. They won eight Grey Cup: five since the founding of the CFL. Their last Grey Cup appearance was back in 1981. Ottawa attempted a return to the CFL in 2002 with the Renegades but they only lasted four seasons. That was mostly because of the shotty conditions of the Frank Clair Stadium that was showing its age. A major reconstruction that started in 2008 would pave the way for Ottawa to have a better stadium and a return to the CFL.
Last year Ottawa returned back to the CFL with their new team the RedBlacks. As what should be expected, they came in last. This year marked a major turn around as they came in the top of the East Division winning 14 of their 20 games. Interestingly enough, it was coached by Rick Campbell, the same coach that coached them during their debut season last year. Their success is not only due to better coaching from Campbell but also due to a trade of one player and the acquisition of four new players through free agency. Back at this year’s CFL draft in May, they were also able to make six selections from the seven-round draft.
Their season actually started off slow as they lost four of their first ten games. their second ten games resulted in only two losses. The only three teams they lost to this year were Edmonton, Toronto and Calgary. By being first in the East, they just had to play the divisional semifinal against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to qualify for the Cup. The RedBlacks’ last two games of the regular season were against the Ti_cats and they won both 12-6 and 44-28 respectively. In the division final, they repeated their dominance over the Ti-Cats by winning 35-28.
Their improvement in a single year has definitely been the talk of the CFL. Even if they don’t win the Cup, their qualification alone is already considered a victory. However of course the RedBlacks will want to win. This is a big question mark because the RedBlacks lost to the Eskimos in both of their regular season games. However both games were held in July and the RedBlacks have changed a lot over the period of four months. Sure, there’s the talk of the Eskimos’ defense but Ottawa’s Henry Burris/Jason Maas offense is what gave Ottawa their success this year. We’llsee if Ottawa can pull the biggest upset of the CFL in a long time.
This is Edmonton’s first time in the Grey Cup final since they won back in 2005. They have a total of 13 Grey Cup wins and 11 losses. Many are predicting this to be Grey Cup #14 for them and with good reason. The Eskimos were the top team of the CFL winning sixteen of their twenty games. Their losses came to Toronto, BC, Hamilton and Calgary but none of their losses happened in Commonwealth Stadium this year. The Eskimos have been lucky to win against all eight of the other teams this year in at least one occasion. Qualifying for the Cup was relatively simple as they just had to win the Division Final to qualify. Their rival were the defending Cup champions the Calgary Stampeders whom the Eskimos lost to on one occasion in regular season but won the second occasion. In the final held in Commonwealth Stadium, it was Edmonton’s for the taking with an early big lead which Calgary couldn’t recover from. The final score: Edmonton 45 – Calgary 31.
This year’s team of the Eskimos acquired five players in the CFL Draft, traded one before the CFL season began and traded four more during the season’s play. The talk of Edmonton is their defense, the best in the CFL with Chris Jones leading the pack. Even though Ottawa has a better offense, Mike Reilly is capable of pulling off a top offense. However we shouldn’t simply dismiss the Grey Cup as Edmonton’s to take. Sure, the Eskimos beat the RedBlacks in both of their regular season meetings, that was four months ago and the RedBlacks have improved big-time. Even Ottawa dominating possession could be a big boost to their offense and deliver an upset to Edmonton. Not even the best team is unbeatable. It could be possible Ottawa can deliver a surprise.
THE BIG GAME AND MY PREDICTION
Thinking about it, I will have to predict the Edmonton Eskimos will win 28-18. Sure, Ottawa’s boost from last to Grey Cup finalist may be the talk of the CFL but I think their Cinderella Story will end here. Edmonton is that stronger of a team and they have some of the best performers of the CFL this year to deliver the win.
And there you go. That’s my Grey Cup prediction. Maybe relying on sabermetrics is a good thing. Kickoff is 5pm Winnipeg time Sunday. Stay toond!
Okay, it’s getting closer to crown the winner. First the group play, then the Round of 16 and then the quarterfinals. Now we have four survivors. Three of which have already won the Women’s World Cup at least once. The other having their best WWC ever. It’s time to hold the semifinals to decide the two finalists and the two for the third-place match. Here are my thoughts on who should take the semis:
SEMIFINAL #1 – GERMANY vs. USA
I really doubt FIFA.com has all the stats together on this. For the record, FIFA.com states Germany and the U.S. have met only three times before with the US winning twice. The US has scored a total of 8 goals in those matches with Germany scoring 7. Another website has stats from 11 years back and shows Germany has actually lost to the US three times in the seven times they’ve played each other in that time. The US’ only loss was on penalties. The US’s last actual loss to Germany was 3-0 at the 2003 World Cup semifinals.
The quarterfinal of Germany vs. France was something. Two teams raked both first and third in the world respectably playing a quarterfinal where it took penalty kicks to decide it. Now comes the semifinal and it’s also going to be something. The teams ranked both first and second in the world playing for a trip to the final. Adding to the drama is that both teams are the only ones to win two Women’s World Cups. So how do they stack?
In terms of play, Germany has been the stellar one in terms of scoring but it took France in the quarterfinals to send the message about Germany’s vulnerability. They may be #1 but they’re not invincible. The United States have been consistent en route to keeping their solid record of making the Top 4 of every WWC intact. They haven’t been scoring as big as Germany but they’re not making any losses happen and have only conceded a single goal. However playing to a 1-0 win against China in their quarterfinal may question their ability to challenge Germany in the semis.
This is a toughie. It’s even possible this game could end up being a 0-0 draw after extra time in which Germany would win on penalty kicks. I believe it could be as tight as Germany’s match against France on Friday. However I predict Germany will win 1-0 in extra time. Sure the Americans have the better history against them but Germany is the team that’s been playing with power.
SEMIFINAL #1 – JAPAN vs. ENGLAND
Once again FIFA.com doesn’t provide too many reliable stats. They just mention Japan and England playing head-to-head twice with a 2-2 draw (2007 World Cup) and a 2-0 win for England (2011 World Cup). Actually another website helped me track down a game the two played in 2013 where they drew 1-1.
The Nadeshiko, as the Japanese women are commonly called, are defending champions and they are playing like the champions they’re reputed to be. They’ve had nothing but straight wins. Even if they are conservative in size, they’re showing themselves to be a team strong, ready and full of talent from Homare Sawa, their most capped player on the team, to 22 year-old Mana Iwabuchi who scored the winning goal against Australia. However the play here in Canada has showed that teams are capable of rivaling them. Australia gave an excellent challenge as did ‘lesser’ teams like Cameroon and the Netherlands. I know they haven’t really shown any vulnerability here in Canada but they will have to deliver more against England if they want to make it to the finals.
As a Canadian, I’m not too happy about England beating us in the quarterfinals. However this is a breakthrough for the Three Lionesses as this is England’s first-ever trip to the WWC semifinals. Having their own Premier League sure helps. I’ve often said that the women can teach the men a thing or two about winning. Sure, they’ve never lost to Japan but Japan has a record of strong play and a field with more talent and experience. England is still growing at their own pace. It’s a lot of growth but I don’t think it’s enough to make the World Cup winners. In fact their loss to France in group play is an example of how vulnerable England can get.
I feel Japan will take it 2-1 in extra time.
And there you go. My predictions for the semifinals. Stay tuned to see who two teams will be playing for the Cup on Sunday.
I’m sure that when some of you hear me talk about a controversy about this World Cup, it’s about the recent bombshell about the arrests of FIFA members. It’s not. I’m going to save that for another blog just like I’m saving the topic of women’s football for a separate blog. In this blog, here’s my review of Group E with another stadium focus and another issue focus:
-Spain (14): This will be Spain’s first Women’s World Cup. Spain’s women are relatively inexperienced to major competition. They’ve never played in an Olympics before either. Nevertheless ‘La Roja’ do have some accolades like a third-place finish at the 1997 Women’s Euro and a quarterfinals finish at the last one in 2013. They’ve also had an impressive play record in the past two years with only a single loss to Norway in 2013 and wins against Italy, the Czech Republic and Belgium. Spain may just be a future power in women’s football.
-Brazil (7): When women’s football started making a name for itself in the 1990’s, it was North America and Asia that were the leaders. Countries from South America and most European countries still thought of football as strictly a man’s game and had lackluster women’s teams to show for it. Since then the continents have been taking women’s football more seriously. If there’s one country that has shown the most progress, it’s Brazil.
The Brazilian men without a doubt have the biggest legacy of any football country. The Brazilian women have really made strides to become one of the best in the world these last 15 years. They were finalists at the 2007 World Cup and achieved 3rd place in 1999. They also have two Olympic silver medals and have won the Copa America Feminina all but once. They even produced a player that can be called ‘The Female Pele,’ Marta, with five FIFA Women’s World Player Of The Year awards.
Even though Brazil has become one of the best in the last couple of decades, they still have some noticeable ‘weak spots.’ For starters, they’ve never won against England or France. Secondly, they lost to Germany twice this year. Nevertheless Brazil has been impressive these past twelve months. They’ve ties the U.S. and they’ve had wins against China, Sweden and Switzerland. Canada will be both another proving point for Brazil and a learning experience for Rio 2016.
-Costa Rica (37): Another of the two debut teams of this Group E. True, Costa Rica have never played in a world Cup or an Olympics before but they are a team whose cred is growing slowly but surely. They’ve been impressive during the CONCACAF Women’s Gold Cup with three semi-final finishes and were finalists at the last one in 2014.Despite their lack of experience on the world stage, they do have a promising team with four players playing for either American professional teams or American colleges.
I know I’ve talked a lot about countries here to learn. We shouldn’t forget women’s football is still growing, especially in continents where play has been denied a lot in the past. We should keep in mind Costa Rica is the first Central American country to qualify for the Women’s World Cup. Like the other ‘learning’ teams, Costa Rica really has nothing to lose and everything to gain.
-South Korea (18): South Korea’s men are the tops of Asian countries in football. South Korea’s women have long been relegated to second-fiddle to China and Japan but they’re seeking to improve over the years. They’ve never qualified for an Olympics and they’ve made only one previous World Cup appearance back in 2003. However they have some accolades of their own like four semi-final finishes at the AFC Asian Cup and bronze medals at the last two Asian Games.
Their play has been 50/50 this year as they beat Russia and tied Belgium but lost to Canada and Scotland. 2015 should help boost the team for a brighter future.
MY PREDICTION: I predict Brazil to win Group E with South Korea coming in second. Third-place was a tough prediction. I predict Spain, based on their experience. Mind you anything can happen.
Year Opened: 1978
World Cup Capacity: 56,302
World Cup Groups Hosting: A,C,D
Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16, Quarterfinal, Semifinal, Third-Place
The Stadium was opened in 1978 in time for the Commonwealth Games Edmonton hosted. Since then it has served as the venue for the Edmonton Eskimos football team and occasionally the FC Edmonton soccer team. The Stadium is the biggest of the six hosting matches for the FIFA World Cup which explains why Canada’s first two Group Stage matches will be held here. The stadium has undergone two renovations: the first in 2001 in time for the World Athletic Championships which included a new scoreboard, an enlarged concourse and a new track. The second in 2008 which experienced a reconfiguration and a turf replacement. Outside of their main sports teams, the stadium has hosted many concerts and has also hosted many soccer friendlies for both Canada’s men’s and women’s teams.
THE TURF ISSUE
The World Cup may be building in excitement but hard to believe a year ago there was a controversy brewing with threats of boycotts. The reason was because all six stadiums will be using some form of artificial turf. why does it matter? Many believe artificial turf makes players more prone to injuries. 50 players protested the use of turf on the basis of gender discrimination. Seems odd to me to think that getting them to play on turf is a form of discrimination. Keep in mind it’s FIFA regulation that the men’s World Cup matches all be contested on grass.
There was even a lawsuit claiming FIFA would never have the men play on ‘unsafe’ artificial turf and is a violation of the Canadian Human Rights Charter. The suit filed in October 2014 in Ontario even pointed how FIFA demanded stadiums in the United States to replace the artificial turf with grass even if it meant extra millions in expenses. The lawsuit had supporters like Tom Hanks, Kobe Bryant and U.S. men’s team goalkeeper Tim Howard. FIFA’s head of women’s competitions Tatjana Haenni made it firm: “We play on artificial turf and there’s no Plan B.” The lawsuit was eventually dropped in January of this year. All the stadiums have kept the turfs they had.
Despite its firm stance, FIFA has not hesitated to discuss the issue. In fact FIFA.com did an interview with Professor Eric Harrison. Harrison, who was assigned by FIFA to inspect the pitches of the six stadiums between September 29th to October 8th of last year, was given a Q&A about his findings, the various football turfs and even injury rick. He gave his answers on why Canadians stadiums have artificial turf (Canada’s extreme weather conditions), the various turfs classified by FIFA and if there’s any difference int he frequency of injury (Harrison claims there’s no real difference). For the complete interview, click here.
And there you go. My focus on Group E and bonuses. That only means one last group to review. Coming Sunday.
FIFA.com Staff. “Harrison: Football Turf is Integral to Canada 2015” FIFA.com. 23 October 2014<http://www.fifa.com/womensworldcup/news/y=2014/m=10/news=harrison-football-turf-is-integral-to-canada-2015-2461003.html>
WIKIPEDIA: 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Wikipedia.com. 2015. Wikimedia Foundation Inc.<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_FIFA_Women%27s_World_Cup>