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2018 World Cup Group Stage: Draw Time

World Cup Draw

It’s right there on FIFA’s website on how much it took to determine the 32 qualifiers for next year’s World Cup: thirty months, six confederations, 209 teams, 868 matches played, and 2454 goals scored. All 31 available berths up for grabs were decided by November 15th. December 1st was the day to decide the four teams for all eight groups for the World Cup.

Qualifying for the World Cup is already enough of a battle. The respective continent’s confederations contested their matches and conducted their own qualifying format for deciding their qualifiers for the World Cup. There were even two countries that qualified via a ‘wildcard’ berth where they’d have to play a team from another continent twice. The thirty-two qualifying countries were all decided more than two weeks ago. The qualifying rounds made a lot of news for those that qualified, but those that didn’t got a lot of news of their own too. The second-round qualifying matches for the CAF saw two of Africa’s best-ever teams–Nigeria and Cameroon– pitted against each other. Only one can qualify and it ended up being Nigeria. Another surprise was the Ivory Coast being surprised by Morocco and Ghana being overtaken by Egypt. Asia didn’t have many surprises, but Qatar finished last in the Second Round group. Not good since they will be hosting in 2022. The CONMEBOL almost saw the non-qualification of Argentina, but they recovered to win their last game and qualify. Instead the most shocking non-qualifier was 2015 and 2016 Copa America winner Chile which was third the day before the final game for all teams.

The biggest shockers in qualifying came from the CONCACAF and Europe. On the last day of CONCACAF qualifying, all the USA needed to do to qualify was beat Trinidad and Tobago in their last game. It was something they could do as Trinidad would finish last of the Final 6. Instead the USA lost 2-1. That was enough for them to kiss their qualification chances goodbye as Panama beat Costa Rica 2-1 to qualify and Honduras beat Mexico 3-2 to earn a berth in the interconfederation playoff against Australia. Europe had some of the biggest shockers as The Netherlands didn’t even qualify for a UEFA playoff round and Italy thwarted their playoff against Sweden losing 1-0 the first game and a scoreless draw the next. Russia 2018 will be the first World Cup since 1958 in which Italy didn’t qualify and only the third World Cup ever with Italy absent!

Now enough of this World Cup’s also-rans. On with those that qualified. Twenty of the 32 teams for Russia 2018 played in Brazil 2014. Brazil makes it 21 for 21. All former World Cup winners except for Italy will be present. The team with the longest absence making a return to the World Cup stage in 2018 is Peru whose last World Cup appearance was back in 1982. There are only two countries that will make their World Cup debut in Russia: Iceland and Panama. Iceland is especially noteworthy as it has become the first nation with a population of less than 1 million to qualify for a World Cup! Actually there aren’t even half a million people living in the nation of Iceland so that makes it even more remarkable.

Now onto the draw. The draw was held Friday at 18:00 Moscow time at the Kremlin. Legends from all eight countries that have won the World Cup in the past were present: Laurent Blanc, Diego Maradona, Gordon Banks, Cafu, Miroslav Klose, Fabio Cannavaro, Diego Forlan and Carles Puyol. Gary Lineker was host of the event and Russian legend Nikita Simonyan was also part of the event, Vladimir Putin was defintely in attendance, an d the Igor Moiseyev Ballet provided the performance before the draw.

Now onto the actual drawing. In the past, FIFA has organized the pots to give appropriate correlation with continents and availability. FIFA wants the eight groups of four to be a case of no more than two European teams and only one team of the other confederations. There are fourteen European teams (UEFA) including host Russia, five South American teams (CONMEBOL), three teams from North and Central America and the Caribbean (CONCACAF), five African teams (CAF) and five teams from the AFC (Asia and Australia).

FIFA wants to create better parity among the groups for this World Cup. FIFA doesn’t want a case of two or three top-ranked teams in a group as only two can advance past the Group Stage. We all remember the dreaded Group D of 2014 which consisted of three top-ranked teams. This time around FIFA decided to break the draw into four pots of eight. The pots are all based on the teams’ FIFA World Ranking as of October 2017, regardless of continent. The only exception being Russia as the host nation is always automatically in Group A. Here’s how the pots break down with their confederation listed and their ranking in brackets:

POT 1:

  • Russia – UEFA (65)
  • Germany – UEFA (1)
  • Brazil – CONMEBOL (2)
  • Portugal – UEFA (3)
  • Argentina – CONMEBOL (4)
  • Belgium – UEFA (5)
  • Poland – UEFA (6)
  • France – UEFA (7)

POT 2:

  • Spain – UEFA (8)
  • Peru – CONMEBOL (10)
  • Switzerland – UEFA (11)
  • England – UEFA (12)
  • Colombia – CONMEBOL (13)
  • Mexico – CONCACAF (16)
  • Uruguay – CONMEBOL (17)
  • Croatia – UEFA (18)

POT 3:

  • Denmark – UEFA (19)
  • Iceland – UEFA (21)
  • Costa Rica – CONCACAF (22)
  • Sweden – UEFA (25)
  • Tunisia – CAF (28)
  • Egypt – CAF (30)
  • Senegal – CAF (32)
  • Iran – AFC (34)

POT 4:

  • Serbia – UEFA (38)
  • Nigeria – CAF (41)
  • Australia – AFC (43)
  • Japan – AFC (44)
  • Morocco – CAF (48)
  • Panama – CONCACAF (49)
  • South Korea – AFC (62)
  • Saudi Arabia – AFC (63)

As you can tell by the pot arrangements, they’re trying to make the contest as balanced as possible. In addition, FIFA knows the top seeded teams are Team 1 in each group–host nation being Team A1– but FIFA still wants a drawn ball in all cases to make it official, even drawing the order of the last group team drawn. That explains all those red balls at the beginning of the draw; to make defaults official. Confederation rules still apply as far as maximums per group. Pot 1 had six UEFA teams and Pot 2 had four. It could have been a case where four groups could have reached their maximum two for UEFA teams by the time Pot 2 was all drawn out. Instead it was just two groups with UEFA berths completed. Drawing teams and placing them in the right groups was not as hard and tedious as I had anticipated. In the end, all eight groups had their teams drawn and allotted with only minor complications which were sorted out with ease:

GROUP A:

  • Russia
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Egypt
  • Uruguay

GROUP B:

  • Portugal
  • Spain
  • Morocco
  • Iran

GROUP C:

  • France
  • Australia
  • Peru
  • Denmark

GROUP D:

  • Argentina
  • Iceland
  • Croatia
  • Nigeria

GROUP E:

  • Brazil
  • Switzerland
  • Costa Rica
  • Serbia

GROUP F:

  • Germany
  • Mexico
  • Sweden
  • South Korea

GROUP G:

  • Belgium
  • Panama
  • Tunisia
  • England

GROUP H:

  • Poland
  • Senegal
  • Colombia
  • Japan

So those are the groups for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. It makes for some interesting analyses. The draw usually tries to make for the host nation to have an easy time qualifying to the knockout phase. Russia has a good group with only Uruguay looking to be a real threat to them. Group B is most interesting not because of the challenge of the teams, but of the geography: Spain, Portugal and Morocco! The draw was aimed so that there could be better parity among ranked teams, but there are possibilities of a ‘Group Of Death’ or two. First bet is Group D; Croatia and Iceland are underdogs that can cause a surprise, and Nigeria meet Argentina for the fifth time out of six World Cups. The second potential Group Of Death could be Group F with Germany and Mexico plus possible upsets coming from either Sweden or South Korea.

And there you go. That’s the Final Draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The teams now have six months to prepare themselves and be among the top two to advance. Lots of excitement guaranteed.

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2017 Confederations Cup Preview

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The 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup will take place in Russia one year before they are to host the World Cup.

With the World Cup just a year away, that means this year will have the FIFA Confederations Cup. Back in 2013, I did a focus on the Confederations Cup and why it’s an important tournament. This year’s Confederations Cup is important as well. Not just because the Cup is a growing tournament but also for the host country of Russia.

Russia is already a country controversial enough with the way they do politics. Hosting next year’s World Cup is also considered controversial as there’s question on how Russia won their bid and FIFA’s process in achieving the victories for both Russia for 2018 and Qatar for 2022. All I can say in this matter is I don’t have the research on that and things will have to sort themselves out over the year’s time leading up to the World Cup.

While the World Cup will be contested in twelve stadiums in Russia next year, this Confederations Cup will be contested in four stadiums. All four being ‘fresh’ stadiums which are either just now breaking ground or have broken ground only within the past five years:

  • Otkrytiye Arena, Moscow – This will be one of two stadiums in Moscow that will stage the World Cup. Located in the Tushino area of Moscow, this stadium is the home venue for Spartak Moscow. Completed in 2014, this stadium seats just over 45,000 people.
  • Krestovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg – This 68,000-seat stadium may have just broken ground this year but it took ten years to complete. Problems from construction management to changing contractors to problems with its conditions have plagued the stadium and its construction but it will finally be ready for the Confederations Cup. Built on Krestovsky Island, the stadium is also the host venue for the football team FC Zenit.
  • Kazan Arena, Kazan – Completed in 2013, this 45,000-seat stadium has the largest outside screen in Europe. The stadium has hosted events like the 2013 World Student Games and the 2015 World Aquatics Championships. The stadium is also the home venue for Russian Premier League team Rubin Kazan.
  • Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi – Remember the $51 billion Sochi Winter Olympics? This is the host stadium which hosted the ceremonies and held the Olympic flame. Determined not to have it become a ‘white elephant,’ the stadium is now the home venue for Russian Professional Football League team FC Sochi. In addition, it will also host six World Cup games next year.

The tournament begins Saturday the 17th. There will be eight teams. Six are winners of their continent’s respective championship, Germany qualified as winner of the World Cup and Russia qualifies as host nation. Here’s how the teams stack up. FIFA rankings for June 2017 are the numbers in brackets:

GROUP A:

Russia Fixed-Russia (63): Russia is an enigma in football right now. The team has a lot of talent but constantly misses in delivering in major tournaments and qualifying events. Such examples include qualifying for three World Cups since the USSR dissolved and failing to qualify for the knockout round each time. Another example is the Euro tournament: semifinalists in 2008 but out in the Group Stage in 2012 and 2016. Trying coaches from other countries like Guus Huddink and Fabio Capello have delivered sub-par results.

Russia has yet to prove its current team since Euro 2016. The team consists of a Russian coach and all but one of the lineup for the Cup play for teams in the Russian Premier League. 2017 has not been the best to Russia as they lost 2-0 to the Ivory Coast and drew 3-3 against Belgium and 1-1 against Chile. They did however score a 3-0 win against Hungary. Remember that football is a box of surprises as Pele always says and Russia could end up surprising everyone here.

NZL-New Zealand (95): New Zealand can be either a very good team or a bad team. It qualified for the 2010 World Cup and drew in all of its games. However it hasn’t made much of an impact since. The current line-up of the all-blacks only features one player that plays for a team in a major European League (France’s Ligue 1). The Kiwis have been dominant against teams from Oceania but have struggled against teams from other continents such as a 1-1 draw against the US and losses to Belarus, Northern Ireland and Mexico. If they don’t go far here, they can always learn in time for next year.

Portugal Fixed-Portugal (8): Portugal is a team of surprises. The team went from lackluster group play in Euro 2016 to becoming Cup champions. Portugal has since maintained its reputation as one of the best teams in the world with excellent play in World Cup qualifying and continuing to win most of their games. However they have had some notable losses such as a 2-0 loss to Switzerland in September and a 3-2 loss to Sweden in March. Portugal can either be very on or very off here in Russia. The next two weeks will decide their fate.

Mexico-Mexico (17): Mexico has always been seen as the leader of the CONCACAF. They hope to take it even further by proving themselves among the best in the world. However it’s come at a struggle as they’ve ended their last six World Cups in the Round of 16. Mexico have had a lot of good wins in the last 12 months to teams like Ireland, Iceland and Costa Rica and even had a 1-1 draw against the US. However they’ve had a 2-1 loss to Croatia and a 7-0 loss to Chile at the Copa America. The World Cup may be one year away but now is a good chance for Mexico to prove itself on the world stage.

Prediction: This is a tough one but I predict the two qualifiers to the semis to be Mexico and Portugal, but don’t count out a possible surprise from Mother (?) Russia.

GROUP B:

Cameroon-Cameroon (32): Cameroon have been one of the most consistent African teams. However their play in the last two decades have been far from their glory days in the early 90’s. The team has worked hard to become better and more consistent since the embarrassment of the 2014 World Cup where they finished dead last. The current squad has many players from many leagues. The team hasn’t had the best chances at proving themselves since. In the past twelve months, they’ve either won or tied every game, but they’ve all been against African teams. The Confederations Cup is a chance for them to prove themselves and where they stand.

ChileChile (4): We can have a long discussion about the ‘sleeping giants’ in football waiting for their big moment to arrive. Chile would be one of them. They have been underestimated in the past and have even gone out in the Round Of 16 in the past two World Cups; and to Brazil both times. However Chile has seized the moment at both the 2015 and 2016 Copa Americas by winning their first-ever Copas. Chile now wants to prove its greatness on the world stage, but they have had an up-and-down period since Copa 2016. They’ve had wins against Uruguay, Colombia and Iceland, but they’ve also had losses to Romania and Argentina and even drew against Russia 1-1 just a week ago. Chile will have to seize the moment if they want to prove themselves further.

AustraliaAustralia (48): Since Australia was switched from the Oceania federation to the AFC after their Round of 16 surprise at World Cup 2006, bigger and better things were anticipated from them. Instead it’s been the opposite with losing in the Group Stage these past two World Cups. Australia hopes to put itself back as a powerhouse. However they’ve had a mixed bag of results in the past twelve months ranging from a 1-0 win against Greece to a 4-0 loss to Brazil. Anything can happen here in Russia and Australia could possibly find itself among the frontrunners.

Germany fixed-Germany (3): The current holders of the World Cup appear to be the heavy favorites to win here. They’ve maintained a consistency even with new members added to the national team ever since. However they’ve had their difficulties too. The semifinal loss at Euro 2016 showed they still have some elements of team unity and other glitches to work on. Since Euro, Germany have not had a loss. They’ve had wins against England and the Czechs but have also drawn 0-0 against Italy and 1-1 against Denmark. They have what it takes to win the Cup here. They just have to deliver.

Prediction: Long shots can pull surprises but I’m going to go with my best instincts and predict Germany and Chile to be this group’s two qualifiers.

And there’s my look at the confederations Cup and the competing teams. Winner to be decided on Sunday July 2nd. Possible more blogs to come, depending on how many hits I get with this.

2015 FIFA WWC: My Semifinal Predictions

WWC SemisOkay, 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

Head-To-Head Stuff:

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.

Breakdown:

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.

MY VERDICT:

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

Head-To-Head Stuff:

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.

Breakdown:

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.

MY VERDICT:

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.

2015 FIFA WWC: Predictions For The Round of 16 And Quarterfinals

Womens CupThe Group Stage has been contested over the past two weeks. Some results did go as widely predicted and some were surprises. Who thought Cameroon would come second in their group? Who thought Colombia would beat France? And who thought Group D would be that close? A group with three teams in FIFA’s Top 10 would be a tough group. Whatever the situation, the 24 at the beginning had to be reduced to 16 and now that it’s decided, it’s off to the knockout rounds.

Round of 16

First off the Round of 16. It’s not like the men’s World Cup where it’s just the Top2 from the group that qualify. This WWC is now going to the format of the men’s World Cups from 1986 to 1994 where it’s the Top 2 plus the four best third-place teams. Ah, nothing makes any real sense. Whatever the situation, here are my predictions with my winner prediction bolded:

China (Group A 2nd) vs. Cameroon (Group B 2nd): This is a hard one to predict since neither team have played each other in the past. China is performing well especially for such a young team–for the record no Chinese player is older than 26– but Cameroon have been pulling some surprises. They won 6-0 against Ecuador, beat Switzerland and was the only team to score a single goal against Japan. I will have to predict Cameroon to win this match because of the excitement they’ve been delivering in their performances.

USA (Group D Winner) vs. Colombia (Group B/E/F 3rd): Colombia has been one of the surprises of the Cup so far but I believe this is where their magic will come to an end. The US are tops on talent and experience. Colombia have accomplished a lot here but they’re still growing as a team while the US is among the top in the world. So that’s why I predict the US for an easy win.

Germany (Group B Winner) vs. Sweden (Group A/D 3rd): If there’s one Round of 16 match that can deliver a surprise, it’s this match. Both teams are raked in FIFA’s Top 5 and both are capable of surprising the top countries. As for past stats, they’ve played each other three times before with Sweden winning twice and Germany once. However Germany has been playing brilliantly and powerfully and Sweden has drawn in all three of their games. That’s why Germany is my pick for this match but in extra time.

France (Group F Winner) vs. South Korea (Group E 2nd): There’s not too much to build upon in terms of past results. They’ve only met once before with France winning 1-0. However I would have to make my judgment upon the teams’ game play here. France was excellent but did expose their weaknesses with their 2-0 loss to Colombia. South Korea is a team still learning and playing. With that in mind I will have to pick France.

Brazil (Group E Winner) vs. Australia (Group D 2nd): How about that? Brazil was the first team to clinch #1 in their group after only two games. Shows that Marta and the girls are on target. Australia are also phenomenal as they’ve been playing with consistency by winning against Nigeria and drawing against Sweden. May make FIFA want to rethink their current #10 status. However even though Australia want this to be the World Cup where they finally win a knockout game, I don’t think the Matildas will win here. Brazil has played them eleven times and won seven. I have to go with Brazil on this one.

Japan (Group C Winner) vs. Netherlands (Group A/F 3rd): Another pair that will meet together for the first time at this World Cup. This is actually easier to predict. Japan has been dominating while the Netherlands are learning and getting better over time. However I don’t think they will have enough to defeat the defending Cup champions. I believe Japan will take it.

Norway (Group B 2nd) vs. England (Group F 2nd): One thing about the Three Lionesses is that some people on Twitter are saying they can teach the men a thing or two. England has been brilliant this tournament but Norway has proven themselves great performers too. Their ‘blast from the past’ thing seems to be just a myth and are able to prove themselves again. Predicting this game won’t be easy especially since they’ve only played each other once before and Norway won 2-0. For this, I will have to go with England in extra time. Norway has shown improvements over time but I don’t think it will be enough here.

Canada (group A Winner) vs. Switzerland (Group C 3rd): I will have to be frank and honest here. I’m happy of Canada’s progress but judging by their play over the past few days, I don’t think they’re playing like they deserve to win the Cup. They will really have to step up their game if they want to win the World Cup or even progress further. Basing a prediction on head-to-head play only adds to the confusion. Wikipedia says they’ve played each other four times with Canada winning three while FIFA says they’ve never played head-to-head ever. As for Switzerland, they’re getting better. This is their first World Cup and they’re improving. However I don’t think they’re at the same level of play as Canada. That’s why I predict Canada to win this match. And Canada better win! Because that’s the Round of 16 game I’m seeing!

Quarterfinals

Updated: June 24, 2015

I was going to leave my original predictions for the quarterfinals but seeing the number of hits this post has been getting has caused me to change a couple of matches. So here are my predictions for the quarterfinals:

Germany vs. France: If you think Germany’s Round of 16 match against Sweden will be a nailbiter, the nailbiting won’t be over yet as I believe they will face France in the quarterfinals. However Germany has been next to dominant while France has shown in their loss to Colombia their reputation of choking at big meets. That’s why I’m leaning towards Germany.

China vs. USA: China is a former great country in women’s football seeing to make a comeback. It appears their ‘young team’ has paid off because they have made it to the quarterfinals. However this is where I feel their comeback will stop. The US is more experienced, more familiar with being a dominator, and they know how to deliver. That’s why the US is my unanimous pick for the win here.

Australia vs. Japan: Australia are the surprise of the tournament. Everyone thought Brazil would be the team in the Round of 16 but Simon seized the moment. However this is where the Matilda’s magic will end. I’m going to have to side with Japan on this one not just of how they’re doing now but of the last four years of head-to-head play. Australia and Japan have met many times but only won one game and that was back in 2010.

Canada vs. England: Okay, both team played well but both showed weaknesses. England may have lost to France but they won against Mexico and Colombia. Canada won against China but drew their two other games. I feel this will be a tight match that will draw down to penalty kicks which will be won by, believe it or not, England. Hey, the English men may have a reputation of being complete rubbish at penalty kicks but the lasses may tell another story.

And there you go. Those are my WWC predictions so far. I have no plans to make any more WWC predictions until the semi-finals. Stay tuned until then!

2015 FIFA WWC: Group Stage With One Game To Go

Womens CupToday is now a rest day at the FIFA Women’s World Cup. All 24 teams are now moving away from the stadiums they’ve played their first two group games and preparing for their final group game. Sixteen teams will move on after this game, eight will be heading home. Third-place teams still have a chance but it depends on how well they all stack up as only the best four of the six can go through. Here is a group-by-group breakdown of those who made it (with countries who are guaranteed to advance in bold), those who will be leaving soon and those who still have a chance:

Group A

Canada leads but without a doubt they lack the dazzle they’ve been known to have. A 1-0 win over China and a scoreless draw over New Zealand may assure them first place right now but they’re not impressing the home crowd. Canada could still likely qualify even if they lost to the Netherlands but I don’t think they’d want to do that. China was able to get itself in after its win against the Netherlands. Actually both China and the Netherlands are tied as they both won 1-0 and lost 1-0. Their play in the next game will decide their fates. New Zealand still has a chance of qualifying after that scoreless draw against Canada but they need nothing less than a win against China if they’re to do so. This group is anyone’s game right now.

Group B

Norway’s win over Thailand was not a surprise. Neither was Germany’s win over the Ivory Coast but the score was definitely a surprise. For the record, the 10-0 score is not the most lopsided victory at the FIFA WWC. That was achieved by Germany in 2007 in a Group Stage match against Argentina: 11-0. Germany and Norway drawing was a surprise. It’s not uncommon to see teams drawing after they feel they have a comfortable enough lead. Both Germany and Norway are likely to win their next games as neither Thailand nor the Ivory Coast seem like a challenge to either of them. Thailand could still have a chance if they draw against Germany but that’s unlikely. That would have to draw down how they’d rank against the third-place teams. Ivory Coast doesn’t appear too likely to qualify as they will play Norway next.

Group C

Japan is definitely progressing. Their two wins secured it for the defending Cup champions. They will highly likely come in first as their last match of group play will be Ecuador and it looks most likely to be a win. Both Switzerland and Cameroon have lost to Japan but they were able to profit off of play against Ecuador. Switzerland had it best with their 10-1 win on Friday. If they both tie in their final game, both will qualify because of goal differentials to their advantage. The win of course would decide the second place team in the group. Of course Ecuador is out. As I said in my group blogs, there are some countries that don’t have a chance of progressing or winning and this World Cup is their opportunity to learn and hopefully grow in the years to come.

Group D

As you probably read in my blog, I had a feeling this group would be the ‘Group Of Death’ and it has already delivered some surprises. The first being the 3-3 draw between Sweden and Nigeria. The second being the scoreless draw between the U.S. and Sweden. The U.S. will qualify no matter what happens against Nigeria. All three other groups’ fates will be decided in their final game. As of now, all three have a chance. Nigeria could get in if they beat the Americans. Australia could qualify upon a draw against Sweden but Sweden needs nothing less than a win to qualify.

Group E

Brazil is already guaranteed to finish top of their group with their two wins against South Korea and Spain. Even if they lose to Costa Rica, which highly won’t happen, they have enough game points to finish on top. Neither of the other teams have even a single win and that means second and third is anyone’s game. Costa Rica could still qualify if they tie Brazil though that may not be too likely but if they do, they would have to rely on the third-place team rankings to see if they made it. They have an advantage over teams that would have a win and two losses because of even goal differentials. South Korea and Spain both still have a chance but either team has to win if they want to qualify. A draw won’t cut it as there are at least four third-place teams with at least a win.

Group F

This is another group with surprises. At first I thought Colombia didn’t have a chance of qualifying but right now they’re the Group F team that’s assured of advancing. It was their 2-0 win over France that did it. That leaves favorites France having their fate decided in their game against Mexico. England however received an advantage after their 2-1 win over Mexico. That kept them in contention of qualifying with their match against Colombia to decide it. Both France and England can advance by simply drawing against their opponents but there’s no question they’d want to win with their reputations as women’s football leaders in Europe at stake. Mexico however needs nothing less than a win in order to advance. They’re lucky as their goal differential is actually quite small. Nevertheless it’s interesting to see that this group best demonstrates the progress of women’s football in countries of Europe and Latin America.

And there you go. That’s what’s needed in terms of advancing to the Round of 16 starting on Monday. I’m sure it will be crazy shifting your attention from one game to the other but don’t worry, the other will eventually get replayed.

My World Cup Experience: FIFA Fan Zone

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You can understand with the WWC happening here in Vancouver, there would be a ton of excitement. And rightly so. Fortunately for the city, we are one city getting the FIFA Fan Zone. On Monday, I thought I’d check the Fan Zone out for myself.

Usually when there are special things like these, I go alone before I go with friends to see what it’s like. Such was the case when I went to the FIFA Fan Zone two days ago. It’s located at Landwill Park: a concrete parking lot big enough to host downtown events. It was also the sight of events held for the Vancouver Winter Olympics five years ago. It’s located nearby BC Place which will host nine matches including the Final for the Cup.

HAVE A COKE AND A SMILE

The Zone has Coca-Cola as a major sponsor. As such free Cokes were given out to people in commemorative World Cup bottles. Coca-cola was the most noticeable sponsor at the Fan Zone but it wasn’t the only one. There was also a special photo stage from Adidas where one can get a picture of themselves kicking a soccer ball in a multitude of locations. There was also Hyundai asking people what kind of fan they are with a whole bunch of questions ending with entry into a contest to win a Hyundai.

It wasn’t only the big brand names advertising there. There was also a Canadian online security system which featured a photo op to have you as the goalkeeper and asked what kind of defender you are in promotion of their online service. There were local vendors selling food. There was also the BC Sports Hall of Fame promoting their place. They also had a sample of the turf being used at BC Place during the World Cup. It looked like real grass but felt like silicon.

GAMES, GAMES, GAMES

The mini-field is an ideal place for small children to simply play football or learn new skills.

The mini-field is an ideal place for small children to simply play football or learn new skills.

The biggest thing you’ll notice at the Fun Zone is the games featured at the Fun Zone. Remember I told you about the Ultimate Goalie? She’s back and she still performs as well as she did back at Metrotown. Included especially for the Fun Zone is a child drop-off area where children can practice football skills on a mini-field.

There were some new games this time around. There was also a dribbling game. It was a case of a mat of eight circles where one lights up at any time. You’re to dribble the ball to touch that circle. Once you get it there, you get 10 points and have to dribble to the next lit-up circle. You have to get a certain number of points to win a prize. I tried it and I didn’t!

Goalkeeper Challenge allows the player to virtually block the ball with their hands.

Goalkeeper Challenge allows the player to virtually block the ball with their hands.

There were also video games involving performance. One was a penalty kick game called Kickpoint. No goalkeeper there but when you kick the ball to the next, the area it hits is of a certain pointage as displayed on the computer. Hit the area with big points and you win a prize.

Then there’s the chance for the player to be the goalkeeper in the video game called Goalkeeper Challenge. However there’s no controller. This is a body scan game where the game corresponds with the player’s arm and hand movements. However they have to be in the right catching position as they will have to try to catch the virtual ball kicked at them.

SIT BACK, RELAX AND CHEER

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The Fan Zone is the place to sit back, relax and cheer you team on in a well-shaded area.

The games are mostly fun for children. The Fun Zone is especially there for the fan. The Zone has a wide canopy where people can watch games on a Jumbotron. It’s a good opportunity to kick back, relax or even cheer loudly.  Alcohol consumption is fine in the Fan Zone but the Zone includes a lounge area which serves special drinks.

At the time, they were actually showing the U.S. vs. Australia game instead of the games being contested at BC Place. Games are already scheduled well in advance so even on the days matches are played simultaneously, there will only be one broadcast match. One thing’s for sure. Every game Canada plays will be broadcast there.

MORE THAN FUN AND GAMES

FIFA's Live Your Goals campaign to expand women's football was a major feature at the Fan Zone.

FIFA’s Live Your Goals campaign to expand women’s football was a major feature at the Fan Zone.

Sure there are a lot of fun and games at the FIFA Fan Zone. However the Fan Zone also takes the time to focus on women’s football. The locker room-style setting where one learns of the history of the Women’s World Cup returns to the Fan Zone after good views at the trophy tour. The ‘Live Your Goals’ program that I talked about in my blog about women’s football is there for promotion. It has a goal and a vision of expanding football especially in developing countries and other countries where football has been traditionally seen as a man’s game. As mentioned in my former blog, it plans to increase the number of girls and women playing football from 30 million to 45 million before the start of the 2019 WWC in France.

MORE DAYS TO COME

Special note to Vancouver residents is that the Fan Zone is not open every single day of the WWC. It is definitely open on days when Team Canada is scheduled to play and whenever Vancouver is hosting a game. Below is the schedule for other days when the Fan Zone will be open:

  • Friday June 11 – 12 noon to 9 pm
  • Monday June 15 – 12 noon to 8 pm
  • Tuesday June 16 – 12 noon to 8 pm
  • Sunday June 21 – 12 noon to 8 pm
  • Tuesday June 23 – 3 pm to 10 pm
  • Saturday June 27 – 12 noon to 8 pm
  • Wednesday July 1 (Canada Day) – 12 noon to 8 pm
  • Saturday July 4 – 12 noon to 5 pm
  • Sunday July 5 – 12 noon to 8 pm

Musical performers are slated to perform on the days it’s open.

As for my visit, it was nice to see what it was like to be there. It would be neat to see a game but especially if it was crowded. I know it will be during the finals or during games where Team Canada plays. I was also able to see a ‘freestyle footballer’ as she demonstrated her foot juggling skills with the football. That’s something that has been growing lately: freestyle football. I saw people get their faces painted to cheer on their teams. I saw a news crew from Switzerland interview a couple of Swiss fans. It was nice.

If you’re in Vancouver, go and visit the FIFA Fan zone when you have a chance. Good for families, good for young ones who want to cheer on their team, good for anyone.

Canada 2015 Shows How Far Women’s Football Has Come

The Women's World Cup only started 24 years ago.

The Women’s World Cup was contested for the first time only 24 years ago.

The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup starts today. It will be a competition between 24 countries and broadcast to billions worldwide. An enormous event and a huge celebration of the sport but it was a long time coming.

ITS ROUGH BUT HOPEFUL START

Back in the early centuries when football was just invented and games were being played for leisure, women were welcomed participants. There was even the British Ladies Football Club founded in 1894 but was frowned upon by the predominantly male society and received no financial support. Men saw it as a threat to the ‘masculinity’ of the game. A stigma that surprisingly still exists today.

An English women's football team from 1920. Hard to believe the FA banned them for decades!

An English women’s football team from 1920. Hard to believe the FA banned them for decades!

Women’s football saw an increase during World War I and the men were off and fighting. However women’s football received a blow in 1921 when the Football Association (the FA), outlaws the play of women’s games on FA-associated pitches. Despite that, the English Ladies Football Association was formed after the ban was instituted.

It wasn’t just England that looked down upon women’s football. Many other countries would look down too. Once again the stigma of the ‘masculinity’ of the game. Even Brazil had a case where women’s football was growing up to 40 teams in the 1940’s until it too was banned. The ban wasn’t lifted until 1979.

WOMEN’S FOOTBALL  GAINS STRENGTH

You can’t keep the desire down. The FA’s ban on women was eventually dropped in 1971 shortly after the Women’s FA was founded in 1969. In North America while soccer was starting to grow in popularity around the beginning of the 1970’s, girls teams were organized along with boys teams. That may explain why the US and Canada do well. In the 1980’s, women’s national teams were formed like the U.S. team in 1985 and the Canadian team in Winnipeg on Canada Day 1986 (July 1st). Japan became the first country to have a female semi-professional league: the L-League founded in 1989 that still exists today.

A WORLD CUP AND OLYMPIC GOLD EMERGE

As women’s national teams were emerging, FIFA knew they had to do something to encourage the competition but were reluctant to give women their own World Cup. In fact FIFA organized the FIFA Women’s Invitational Tournament in Taiwan in 1988. It was actually a test to see how successful of a competition it would be. Contested over two weeks, it was a success and weeks later, FIFA approved implementing a Women’s World Cup competition.

The 1991 US women's World Cup team: the first ever Women's World Cup winners.

The 1991 US women’s World Cup team: the first ever Women’s World Cup winners.

The first FIFA Women’s World Cup was held in China back in 1991. FIFA was still reluctant to call it the World Cup so it was called the 1st FIFA World Championship for Women’s Football for the M&Ms Cup. Twelve countries competed in six venues across the country. Ticket sales were a success with a total of over 50,000–an average of almost 20,000 per match–and the U.S. won the Cup with their teammate Michelle Akers the highest scorer of the tournament with 10 goals.

The success of the 1995 tournament helped paved the way for further World Cup competitions and women’s football being added to the Olympic program starting in 1996. The 1995 World Cup in Sweden however was met with lackluster success as ticket sales were only above 112,000: a sign that women’s football had a long way to go in Europe. Things looked a lot more positive with women’s football contested at the Atlanta Olympics the following year. Despite having only eight teams playing for the gold, ticket sales totaled almost 700,000 including 76,489 for the final which the U.S. won.

Brandi Chastain's shirtless celebration from USA 1999. One of the most iconic images of the Women's World Cup.

Brandi Chastain’s shirtless celebration from USA 1999. One of the most iconic images of the Women’s World Cup.

It’s no wonder the U.S. hosted the next World Cup in 1999. The U.S. really did an intense job of marketing the event and it paid off. Ticket sales totaled over 1.2 million– more than double that of China 1991 and ten times that of Sweden 1995– and the Rose Bowl Stadium was sold out for both the third-place match and the final for the Cup with 90,185 each.

The Women’s World Cup would have continued success over the years. Even if none of the successive tournaments have broken the attendance record of USA 1999, they’ve still given impressive results such as the 1.156 million who saw games in China in 2007. The 845,000 tickets sold during Germany 2011 showed Europe’s increasing welcoming of women’s football even though the top male continents like Europe and South America still lag behind that of Asia and North America.

PRESENT AND FUTURE

Despite the increase of fanfare and support in women’s football, it’s still lagging behind in terms of parity with the men’s sport. It’s not like tennis, golf, athletics or swimming where female athletes are almost on par with the men. Nor is it like figure skating or gymnastics where the women actually steal the show from the men. There are many countries that still see football as a ‘men’s sport’ and the women are given lackluster attention. There was even a row last week when EA sports video games announced in their FIFA 16 game, women’s players would be included for the first time. There were a lot of sexist tweets on Twitter, overshadowing the 98% of tweets that were positive and welcoming of women’s inclusion in the game.

Nevertheless great strides have been made over the years. Since the 1990’s there have been women’s continental tournaments like the Women’s Euro and the Copa America Feminina. Professional leagues in Europe like the Bundesliga, Premier League and France’s Division 1 have included a women’s league and top men’s team have included women’s braches of their team. England even contests the FA Women’s Cup annually. Women’s football is still supported well with high school teams and NCAA college teams. The MLS has also included female branches of teams. In Brazil, Marta has become a beloved athlete of the country and has even received welcome from other male players like Pele and Neymar whom describes Marta as ‘craque’ (Portuguese for phenomenal).

FIFA also has a special section of their organization focusing on women’s football dedicated to improving the game and its availability to young girls and women around the globe. Every World Cup since 1995 there has been a symposium on women’s football and this year’s symposium is slated for Vancouver from July 3rd-5th. This year FIFA included campaigns such as the Live Your Goals social media campaign through the #LiveYourGoals hashtag. Another FIFA campaign is the ‘No Barriers’ campaign through video commercials. Its goal is to increase the global number of young girls and women playing football form 30 million to 45 million by the 2019 Women’s World Cup.

There’s no question man’s football has no further to go. It’s already universal and the most popular sport in the world. Women’s football is still growing but never before has the future of women’s football looked more ambitious and more promising.

WORKS CITED:

WIKIPEDIA: Women’s Association Football. Wikipedia.com. 2015. Wikimedia Foundation Inc.<Women’s Association Football>

Oxenham, Gwendolyn. “Pele With A Skirt: The Unequal Fortunes Of Brazil’s Soccer Stars” The Atlantic. 4 June 2015<Atlantic Article: Neymar and Marta>

My World Cup Experience: Trophy Tour

As you can tell, I’ve been excited about the Women’s World Cup coming. It was a long time in anticipation. This was actually the last weekend before the World Cup is to begin this Saturday in Edmonton. With it came the Trophy Tour concluding in Burnaby. I had the good fortune to visit that afternoon.

120The FIFA Women’s World Cup trophy tour was a tour that happened in twelve cities across Canada including the six cities that have the venues for the Cup. The purpose was to showcase the World Cup encased in glass. The tour also allowed for other things too like a chance to learn more about FIFA’s goals in women’s football and to learn more about the Cup and its 24 years. There were also games and giveaways as well as music and an appearance from the mascot Shueme. The final stop of the journey was Vancouver. The event took place at Burnaby’s Metrotown: the biggest shopping mall in all of Greater Vancouver. Sunday morning was my one free chance I had to go see it. I’m glad I did.

THERE’S ALWAYS A LINE-UP

A week or two ago, I saw something from the Coca-cola web page on the tour saying there tickets through Ticketmaster available. At that time, I instantly thought you needed a ticket to see the trophy. I agreed to a ticket. They came at no cost so I really lost nothing. I arrived at the area in Metrotown where the event was supposed to take place–the lower level where Toys ‘R Us and T&T Groceries are– and I saw the line up. Most didn’t have a ticket. It wasn’t really needed. It may have helped for some getting to see the Cup sooner but it wasn’t needed. For kids too impatient to wait in line, there was a foosball table in the outside area.

Meeting with mascot Shueme made the wait in line easier.

Meeting with mascot Shueme made the wait in line easier.

I actually forgot my ticket at home so I ended up waiting in line. I arrived at 10:55: five minutes before the event was to begin. I could see volunteers setting up. I could see Shueme in the waiting area. Then at 11am it all began. Music was playing and the line was actually moving faster than I thought. Shueme actually left the event area and was walking around the Metrotown concourse including around the outside foosball table. Yes, they had a foosball table out in case people got too bored waiting. Fortunately she came around where I was standing. I told the volunteer I hope to get a picture with her when she returns to inside. The volunteer actually offered to take the picture right there. It was great.

VIEWING THE CUP

Here I am with the Women's World Cup!

Here I am with the Women’s World Cup!

It wasn’t even half an hour of a line up when I finally had the chance to see the Cup. However just before I got in, I saw there was a separate line up for the virtual goalie. I’ll talk more about that later. The exhibit could only have so many people at once so they had to group people: those seeing the Cup, those in the Winners Tunnel who were next in line and those in the waiting area.

The waiting area was there to keep us entertained while we were one step closer to seeing the Cup. There was one section that looked like a dressing room but it had jerseys commemorating past Cup champions. As well as there were pads that had WWC trivia. There was also a DJ spinning music with the official ball, the conext15, on display. Then came the Winners Tunnel. This was the section for those about to see the Cup. In there, people waited for about five minutes. Nevertheless we were treated to a video with scenes from the previous World Cup and even clips from the qualifiers.

Then it finally came to our turn to see the Cup. It was encased in glass and there were already cameras set up so we can have a custom portrait for sharing. Just go to the website and key in the code. I think mine turned out well. Finally of course with Coca-Cola hosting the event, people were treated to a free Coke in a commemorative aluminum bottle. I have mine as a keepsake.

A FUTURE CARNIVAL GAME?

That's the virtual goalie, controlled by motion sensors that make the split-second decision of which angle to block the shot.

That’s the virtual goalie, controlled by motion sensors that make the split-second decision of which angle to block the shot.

Not everything was about the Cup. Some wanted to try their luck at the Ultimate Goalie. How does it work? First it involves the participant doing a penalty kick into a net smaller than usual. Secondly the goalie is placed right in the middle of the goal post. Successful penalty kicks win a free commemorative shirt. The thing about this goalie is that it’s on a semicircle of 180. What controls the goalie are motion-sensor cameras that are able to detect how fast the ball is going and what direction it’s headed. The computers are programmed to position the goalie at the right angle to stop the shot. This was very smart and very fast. I remember seeing a couple of shots taken that were very fast and she was able to stop it. I took a shot at it and she even stopped mine. Fortunately for me, there were two people that said I delivered a good shot. I’m not over the hill yet! As for the goalie, I would not be surprised if I see that as a carnival game anytime soon. Good luck in trying to win!

I GOT A TICKET!

For a long time I was hoping to get a ticket. For the last few days I was hoping to get a ticket for a certain Round of 16 game. However I wondered if it would be too expensive. Not just because of the price but the ticket processing fee and tax added on. I wanted a second class ticket for that event but thought maybe it’s better I got third class. Glad I waited because just as I was in line to see the Cup, I heard that tickets were 30% off that day. By the time I was done seeing the Cup, I was ready to order my ticket. Yes, there was a bit of a line up for buying it and very often it was a case of families buying tickets together because of discounts for groups. Sometimes it took a family ten minutes or longer to have their order finalized.

Finally it was my turn and I knew what I wanted as I was eyeballing that seat on Ticketmaster the past few days. Knowing what I wanted and where only made me wait five minutes. There was a bit of card trouble at first but I finally got it: a second-class Round of 16 ticket that was originally billed at $75 I bought for just under $62. It was worth it! Now I just have to wait to see if Canada’s playing as one team slated to play is the first-place team of Group A. I’ll be shocked if it’s not Canada!

And there you go: my visit to the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Trophy Tour. It was fun and a bit tiring but it was worth it in the end.

GROUP RECAP

Okay, for those of you just hitting my blog for the first time, below are links to my predictions for each group in the Group Stage:

2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup: Group F Focus

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:

GROUP F:

France fixed-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 fixed-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

-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-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.

MY PREDICTION:

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.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT

-VANCOUVER: BC Place StadiumBC Place

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!

2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup: Group E Focus

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:

GROUP E:

Spain Fixed-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-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-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.

Korea-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.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT

-EDMONTON: Commonwealth StadiumEskimos

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.

WORKS CITED:

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>