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.
One neat thing about FIFA’s World Cup section is that it not only lists the game times in your time zone, but it also lists the networks that will broadcast the games in your country. I was surprised to see all the Canadian channels listed by the game times! Definitely makes things convenient! Crazy thing for all of us living in cities like Vancouver, Seattle and Los Angeles is that most of the games start at 05:00, 08:00 and 11:00 our time. I’m sure a morning beer won’t hurt.
Now on to my next group to review:
-Belgium (3)- The Red Devils sure have been ranking very high these past few years. You can attribute that to brilliant play within UEFA matches and world Cup qualifying. However they’re hoping to make a big impression on the world stage. Before the last World Cup, they had a high ranking back then but got as far as the quarterfinals. That’s actually a respectable achievement since it’s their best finish since their fourth place in 1986. However Belgium feels they have more to prove.
Belgium has a strong team. Leading the Belgian team are defenders Jan Vertonghen and Vincent Kompany, midfielder Marouane Fellaini and strikers Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard. Interestingly, almost half of Belgium’s team plays for the Premier League. Belgium again delivered in World Cup qualifying with nine wins and a draw. Their last defeat came in a friendly against Spain in September 2016. Looks like Belgian fire could pay off over in Russia.
-Panama (55)- So you may wonder how did a team with an outside shot like Panama qualify for the World Cup? Simple. With just the final game in World Cup qualifying, the US needed to simply tie Trinidad and Tobago to join Mexico and Costa Rica in qualifying. Instead the US lost 2-1 while Honduras beat Mexico 3-2 and Panama beat Costa Rica 2-1. That’s sport. What’s rightfully yours will go to someone else if you’re not there. And Los Canaleros are the ones laughing!
It’s their first World Cup. Interestingly many of the players on the team play for MLS. Only five play for European teams. Interestingly, two for Belgian teams. So far this year they scored a win against Trinidad and Tobago, but lost to Switzerland and Denmark. Whatever the situation, Russia 2018 will be a great experience for Panama.
-Tunisia (21)- One thing about Les Aigles de Carthage is that they keep on trying. Tunisia has participated in four World Cups but have not yet made it past the group stage. Their only World Cup win was in their debut year of 1978. Tunisia is hoping this is the year in which they finally progress to the knockout stage.
Most of the player play for Tunisian clubs or French clubs. A good percentage of the team’s players are 25 and under. Their coach Nabil Maâloul has coached many club team and national teams in the Middle East. Tunisia’s play has been very impressive in this past year. They won against Iran and Costa Rica and even drew against Portugal.
-England (12)- England has had a reputation of being a top team that excels in underachieving. However it was the last World Cup where they took it to a new low by failing to advance past the group stage for the first time since 1958. A Round-of-16 elimination at Euro 2016 did not help much either. After Euro 2016, they have been coached by Gareth Southgate who played at the 1998 and 2002 World Cups. His experience is expected to help the team do much better this time, if not win.
No doubt England has an easier group this time. Not like last World Cup where they were in the ‘group of death.’ If you ask me, I think they were just underconfident. This year’s team is led by rising newcomer Harry Kane who is already the captain at just 24! England’s last defeat came via France 3-2 and that was exactly a year ago. Since then, they won against the Netherlands 1-0 and Nigeria 2-1 and drew against teams like Italy, Brazil and Germany. Chances are they can finally deliver on their greatness.
And that’s my summary of Group E. Now my prediction for which two I think will progress. Drum roll, please! My predictions are for Belgium and England.
As we’re getting closer to the last group, I’ll be reviewing the two biggest stadiums for the Cup. Meanwhile this will be the last stadium spotlight where I focus on a stadium that seats less than 50,000.
NIZHNY NOVGOROD: Nizhny Novgorod Stadium
Year Opened: 2018
World Cup Groups Hosting: D, E, F, G
Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16 and a Quarterfinal
This new stadium cost $290 million to build. The stadium is inspired by two key elements of the region: water and wind. It adds a new vibe in an area with a lot of classic buildings without compromising the area’s classic feel. The biggest features the stadium has to offer are extra spaces for people with disabilities as well as accessible elevators and special navigation. The stadium also features top safety features like alarm and public alert systems, metal detectors and indicators of hazardous liquids or explosives. The arena is designed for multifunctional use. It will serve sports events and entertainment events and even exhibitions and expos. The arena grounds will include a park, futsal fields and tennis courts. The stadium will also be the home venue for FC Olympiec Nizhny Novgorod.
BONUS FEATURE: 2018 Mascot – Zabikava
Yes, what’s a review of the World Cup without a focus on the mascot? Most sports events which Russia hosts has a bear as the mascot. The World Cup decided to go with something different: a wolf. Actually it was online voting that decided what the mascot would be. The tiger and the cat were the other two rivals.
Zabivaka was introduced on December 4, 2016. Zabivaka is Russian for ‘the one who scores.’ He was designed by a University Student who was inspired by Disney images to create the wolf mascot. There has been some disapproval. The disapproval of some being how Zabikava appears to wear ski goggles. They’re actually supposed to be ‘sports goggles’ to ‘protect his eyes as he runs really fast.’ He not only has his own page at the FIFA site but also his own Facebook page as well.
And there you go. My review of Group G along with another stadium review and a look at the mascot. One last group to go.
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:
Wales (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.
Slovakia (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 (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 (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.
Here are my reviews of the other groups:
It took 50 matches to round the 24 contenders to the two finalists for the Women’s World Cup on Sunday. It was decided to be the United States and Japan, same as at the 2011 WWC. It was an interesting match where the game ended 1-1 in regulation and 2-2 after extra time. Penalty kicks gave Japan the win. Anyways Japan have a chance to repeat or the USA can get their revenge and their third Women’s World Cup in the process. However I will make my prediction here for who I feel will win the final.
Third-Place Match: Germany vs. England
Of course I have to make a prediction for who I think will win the bronze medals. We have two teams that are broken-hearted and you can’t blame them. Germany was ranked #1 in the world and sure played like it during the tournament until they got to the semifinals. There the Americans came alive and had their best win over the Germans 2-0. Especially biting for Celia Sasic as she has been the WWC’s top scorer and miss a penalty during that game. The German team was hoping for this World Cup to be the one where they can make a comeback. Even though it’s a big improvement over their quarterfinal exit from four years ago, the loss still bites.
I don’t think I need to explain the frustration England is going through. This World Cup was to be the WWC where the Three Lionesses finally came of age and they did in their quarterfinal win against Canada. Cheers came from all over including the most lauded male players in England. In their semifinal against Japan, they appeared like they had the advantage as they did most of the attacking and shooting. Then just in injury time in the second half came the heartbreaking own-goal from Laura Bassett. That ended it for them as Japan would win 2-1 and become the finalist instead.
Head-to-head play undoubtedly favors Germany as England has never won against Germany in their seven previous matches. Their last duel together was a year ago and Germany won 3-0. However anything can happen and this game could go to whichever team is the least disheartened.
As heartbroken I am for Bassett, I will have to say that Germany will take it 3-1. The Germans just have that much of an advantage.
The United States- What can I say? The Americans have been the best performers of the Cup so far. They may have drawn against Sweden but they’ve had convincing wins elsewhere. Their wins have mostly been conservative but they’ve known how to deliver each time. It was their 2-0 win against Germany however where the Americans were finally starting to show their brilliance.
It’s not to say they’re a 100% bet to win the World Cup. We shouldn’t forget the US lost to Japan at the last World Cup final on penalty kicks. Also the two tied 1-1 in their most recent duel last year. It’s all up to the Americans to deliver.
Japan- Until 2011, the furthest Japan ever got at a WWC was a single quarterfinal. 2011 changed everything as they became Women’s World Cup champions. Nadeshiko has continued their success since with an Olympic silver medal and a Women’s Asian Cup victory. Here they appear on fire as they’ve won every single match they’ve played in Canada.
However there’s one thing about Japan people have noticed. They’ve noticed that they’re not always all together. In fact some even noticed some errors in their game against England. A lot of people are saying Japan’s just lucky. They will have to perform solidly and strongly in the final if they want to repeat as Women’s World Cup holders. Also in terms of head-to-head stats, Japan has lost to the US more often than won.
Okay this is going to be a tight one but I think the USA will win 2-1 in extra time. Actually it could be possible the US’s winning goal could be during injury time after 90 minutes or even in the last five minutes of regulation. Do you know how many game-winning goals have been scored here in Canada either after the 85th minute or in injury time?
And there you have it. My predictions for who will win the Women’s World Cup and the bronze medals. Now all I have to do is find a place to see the game. Can you believe tickets for the final were sold out months ago?
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.
Okay. I just have one last group to go. But before I head into it, I’ll give you the links to my other Group reviews for those that missed:
And now here is my last group review for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup:
-France (3): France is one team loaded with talent and prowess but still looking for their first big break in a major international competition. The highest ‘Les Bleues’ have ever finished at a World Cup or an Olympics is fourth and they’ve never made it past the quarterfinal of a Women’s Euro.
No doubt they come to this World Cup with something to prove and the hopes of finally proving it here and now. France has been very impressive in their play these past two months. They’ve only lost to the United States. This could be their year.
-England (6): England is one of those countries that has constantly seen football as a man’s game leaving the women getting the short end of the stick. That was made evident in the 2003 movie Bend It Like Beckham. Things have gotten better as many Premier League teams have their own women’s teams like Everton, Aston Villa, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool to name a few. They even have their own league, the WSL. Heck, even Prince William gave the national team a royal send-off before they left for Canada. However as they improve, so does women’s football as a whole and they struggle to show their greatness. They’ve only gotten as far as the quarterfinals in the World Cup. The ‘Three Lionesses’ did however make the finals of the 2009 Women’s Euro.
Play for the national team has been a struggle in recent years. They failed to advance past the group stage of the 2013 Women’s Euro. They also suffered a blow knowing that there won’t be a Great Britain team for the 2016 Olympics remembering the difficulties getting Great Britain teams were for London 2012. So it’s no wonder they’ll be looking for Canada for glory. They did however win the Cyprus Cup back in March where they beat Canada in the final as well as Finland and Australia. The last eighteen months have also been consistent for England as they’ve won most of their matches, losing only to France, Germany and the U.S. Their reputation can increase after this World Cup which will be a plus because at last year’s World Cup, the men failed to advance past the group stage for the first time since 1958. Trust the girls to give England that well-needed upper.
-Colombia (28): Colombia is an emerging nation in women’s football. They competed in their first World Cup in 2011 and they’ve finished second in the last two Copa America Femininas. They even have a berth in the 2016 Olympics upon their second-place finish at last year’s Copa and with winners Brazil automatically competing as host nation.
However ‘Las Cafetaras’ are still relatively inexperienced in terms of international play. The only UEFA team they’ve ever won against is Wales and they’ve never won against Mexico. They have some good talent that even plays in American and European leagues but they still have along ways to go to contend for bigger things. Nevertheless it’s all uphill from here. It would be interesting to see how far they go over time.
-Mexico (25): Mexico is one team on the move in women’s football. They’ve competed in two previous World Cups and one Olympics. They’ve been runner-up at the CONCACAF Cup twice and medalists at the Pan Am Games three out of four times.
‘El Tricolor’ have a talented line-up with no less than twelve players playing for American or European leagues. This is the team that is most likely to pull an upset as they have drawn against England in their last meeting. Their qualifying chances are very good. They could also progress well but they have a mixed record from the past twelve months. They’ve won against Italy, Czech Republic and Colombia but lost to Canada, U.S., Costa Rica and South Korea. Nevertheless whatever happens in Canada, El Tricolor have a bright future.
I feel France will take the top spot in this group. I feel England will most likely be second but Mexico could surprise. Mexico will definitely be third at the least.
Year Opened: 1983
World Cup Capacity: 54,500
World Cup Groups Hosting: C,D,
Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16, Quarterfinals, Final
The stadium was built with the intention of being a highlight during Expo 86.It consisted of a unique air-supported dome until 2010. Highlights of its use have primarily been CFL games and concerts. Noteworthy use in the past include Vancouver Canadians baseball games, the Pope’s visit in 1984, and ceremonies venue for the 2010 Winter Olympics and Winter Paralympics.
Vancouver however has a special liking to the sport of football. BC Place’s first ever event in June of 1983 was actually a soccer match starring the Vancouver Whitecaps who were then part of the NASL. The Whitecaps have had a loyal following over four decades and whatever name changes over the years and their transfer to the MLS five years ago were met with open arms. The Whitecaps have since gone on to be the fifth-most attended team of the MLS. It’s no wonder with this kind of football support Vancouver was easily chosen as a venue for the 2015 Women’s World Cup. One noteworthy item: all the tickets for the final at BC Place are sold out.
And there you have it. My last Women’s World Cup group review. More WWC blogs to come like my experience at the Trophy Tour, tournament analyses and my own experience at a Round of 16 game (Yes, I have a ticket!). The Cup all beings in Edmonton on Saturday the 6th!
It’s questionable which of the eight World Cup groups of this year should be called the ‘Group Of Death.’ Most people are saying it should be Group D, and with good reason. It consists of three countries that have won at least one World Cup and all three are still strong today. It’s a shame there will be at least one of those World Cup winners packing once all the Group Stage matches are done.
So here’s my rundown of the Group D teams:
-Uruguay (6)- If any country has to be the comeback story of football, it’s Uruguay. Uruguay dominated football in the 1920’s and won the first ever World Cup in 1930. Uruguay also shocked home country Brazil in 1950 by beating them 2-1 in the Maracanazo, which I will write about in a later blog. Since then, Uruguay’s prowess withered over time. It was like their fourth-place finish in 1970 was the end of it all. It would take four more World Cup appearances where the highest they got was the Round of 16 before there was a turnabout in the last few years. And it was over at the 2010 World Cup where Uruguay sent the message they’re back with their fourth-place finish. Further success continued with a win at the 2011 Copa America, qualifying their under-23 team for the Olympic Games, and finishing fourth at last year’s Confederations Cup. They’ve also had good play in friendlies with wins against, Italy, France and Japan. Nevertheless they did struggle during World Cup qualifying during the first half. They just have to be together in Brazil if they want to write another chapter to their new legacy.
-Costa Rica (34)- Costa Rica seems like the odd one out in this group. The other three have won World Cups in the past and the furthest they ever made it was the Round of 16 back in 1990. Maybe so but Costa Rica can deliver. They have had wins against Mexico and the U.S. last year. They’ve had their notable losses too. Whatever the situation, this can be a good learning experience for Costa Rica. They’ve never won against any of their Group D rivals but win, lose or draw, this can provide excellent growth for the team. They have good guidance through Colombian coach Jorge Luis Pinto and have talented players like Fulham’s Bryan Ruiz, Costa Rica’s top goalscorer Alvaro Saborio and rising newcomer Joel Campbell who plays for Arsenal. Don’t underestimate Costa Rica.
-England (11)- It’s always the same old story for the Three Lions. England often has the finest combined talent assembled for a football team no matter what tournament they enter. However they don’t always play like a functioning team and they often come up shorter than expected. And don’t get me started on penalty kicks. 2014 will define the TriLi’s even further. They have the goods to do well. They have an excellent coach in Roy Hodgson who took on England just two months before Euro 2012. They have top players like captain Steven Gerrard, vice-captain Frank Lampard, phenom Wayne Rooney and rising young star Jack Wilshere. Since Hodgson took over as coach, England has been impressive despite being ousted in the quarterfinals of Euro 2012 thanks to, you guessed it, penalty kicks. They’ve won or drew most of their matches. Even their losses– to Sweden, Chile and Germany–were not that big. So will England arrive here in Brazil? It will all be decided with the whole world in their wake.
-Italy (9)- The Azzuri are traditionally a stellar team. Only Brazil and Germany have finer World Cup legacies. However things really took a stump at World Cup 2010. They entered the tournament as the reigning Cup holders and left at the end of the Group Stage. The irony being they had the same coach that led them to win the 2006 World Cup. Italy has since hired Cesare Prandelli as their new coach and he has given them an excellent turn-around. The tournament where Cesare proved himself and the new Azzuri was Euro 2012. The Euro was won by Spain but Italy did make it to the finals. That was enough to send the message that Italy was back and playing with the winning style the Azzuri has the reputation for. Italy also finished third at last year’s Confederations Cup and qualified for the World Cup easily. However Italy has shown some glitches in recent play. They beat Mexico and tied Germany but have lost to Argentina, Brazil and Spain. Italy is seeking redemption in 2014. No doubt they have the ability. It’s just a matter of them delivering.
And now my prediction. I predict the two advancers from this group will be Uruguay and Italy.
After doing three spotlights where I’ve spotlighted two stadiums, I can finally spotlight only one here. However it’s one of the biggest and will be a major stage here at the World Cup.
Year Opened: 1965
World Cup Capacity: 62,547
World Cup Groups Hosting: C, D, F, H
Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16 (A1 vs. B2) & a semi-final
This is another of Brazil’s classic football stadiums. It was 25 years in the making and opened up in 1965. The stadium is considered one of the best football stadiums in the world. The stadium once held over 132,000 people for a soccer match back in 1997. Many other big soccer matches and big concerts have been held in the stadium. There was some redevelopment to the stadium in the years leading to the World Cup. Now fans can enjoy better access to the arena. The stadium was also one of the venues for the Confederations Cup. After the World Cup the stadium will return to being homes to Atletico Mineiro and Cruzeiro.
MEET THE MASCOT FULECO
Since I only have one stadium to focus on, I thought I’d give a focus to the mascot. Normally choosing a mascot for a major sporting event is not an easy thing and it wouldn’t be an easy thing for the World Cup. Some like Striker in 1994 and Zakumi in 2010 were well-received. Some like Goleo in 2006 were questionable since the lion is representative not of Germany but more England and the Netherlands. And then there are even food-based mascots like Naranjito the Spanish orange from 1982 and Pique the jalapeno pepper from 1986.
Brazil went with a three-banded armadillo who camouflages himself as a soccer ball. Brazil held a vote on the mascot’s name and the most votes went for Fuleco: a mix of the words Ful–from Futebol (football)– and eco from Ecologia (ecology). The name should suit as Fuleco is representative of football spirit and is of an endangered species. Fuleco has a cheerful and appealing personality. He’s a proud, confident Brazilian armadillo. He does not talk but he’s very curious and extroverted, adventurous and loves to explore wherever he goes. Like all Brazilians, he has a big heart and is hospitable. Unlike his other armadillo friends, he’s very sociable. He loves to dance to music, especially Brazilian samba music, and likes keeping up to date with his family.
Brazil has given Fuleco a positive response. Within two days after Fuleco’s announcement, 89% of Brazil knew who Fuleco was. A recent survey of appeal revealed that Brazilians gave him average appeal score of 7.3 out of 10. Already he’s destined to be one of the best World Cup mascots ever.
And there you go. That’s my take on group D, another World Cup venue and the mascot Fuleco. More World Cup stuff to come.
A Field In England is intended to be a historical drama/dark comedy. This makes for a unique and daring combination but does it work?
The story is set in the British Civil war of the 1600’s. Whitehead, an alchemist’s assistant, flees from his strict commander and meets a deserter from his own side and two other deserters from “the enemy’s” side. They all try to leave the war behind in search of an alehouse. Meanwhile they have a stew made with the mushrooms they found along the ground. Along the way they meet with an Irishman whom Whitehead had been sent to hunt down for stealing his master’s documents.
The Irishman however tries to get control over the group by letting them know of a treasure in the ground underneath. Whitehead is able to locate the area while the other three are digging or supervising. The exhaustion if digging takes its toll on the two diggers as they get into a fight and one is shot by the one supervising. After all the others run off, the one who did the supervising must now do the digging himself where he learns there’s nothing more than a skull. The Irishman then shoots him and then goes after Whitehead and the one surviving deserter. The two manage to escape and head back to the camp. However one of the deserters originally thought to be dead returns only to get embroiled in a shooting with the Irishman. After an ensuing shootout between the others, Whitehead is the one left standing and he buries the four. After burial, he returns to the hedgerow he originally deserted and finds the three soldiers still standing.
The thing about this movie is that it often appears clueless. All too often I’m sitting there in the theatre wondering what the point of the movie is or what the point of certain scenes were. Was his point about the British Civil War? Was his point about the warring factions: the Royalists and the Roundheads? Was it about the attitude the deserters shared? Was it to be experimental as noted by the many bizarre images? Was it another case of Ben Wheatley getting into his violence obsession? I was left very confused. The violence and even the alleged sodomy part really had me questioning. Even the special visual effects like the exploding sun and the strobe images had me wondering if Wheatley was trying to be experimental in his work.
I will admit that this is just my judgment from watching as I am unfamiliar with Ben Wheatley’s work. He has established a reputation in England with seven years of film making and video making under his belt. He is also primed and ready for the mainstream as he has already been slated to make an American-made film Freakshift and a sci-fi series for HBO in the future. Nevertheless I’ve been left assuming that A Field In England, which is directed by Wheatley and written by his wife Amy Jump, is an experimental picture for Wheatley. I saw nothing in the storyline involving any facts or factoids about the British Civil War and more of a focus on torture, violence and hallucinations. Even the language used in there didn’t sound like talk that would be used from the 17th Century but contemporary times.
The film has already received some acclaim. It has already won a Special Jury Prize at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival and was a Crystal Globe nominee at that festival. It has also made its round of film festivals and has already been released on DVD.
A Field In England appears to be more of a trip of psychedelia and violence than historical documentation or historical fiction. The best I myself can classify this film is an experimental work.