Tag Archives: football

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 Grey Cup Preview

105th-Grey-Cup-Festival

It’s Canadian tradition during the last Sunday of November. It’s Grey Cup Sunday. This will mark the 105th contesting of this momentous event. Once again, the final is East vs. West. Interestingly it’s like a rematch of the 2012 Grey Cup. It will be the Calgary Stampeders vs. the Toronto Argonauts.

First Time For TD Place; Seventh Time For Lansdowne Field

This will be the first time the TD Place Stadium, which was completed in 2014, will host the Grey Cup. This will be the seventh time for the field. It hosted five times before as Lansdowne Park between 1925 and 1988. It hosted once as Frank Clair Stadium in 2004. The older stadium was able to field more spectators in the past. TD Place normally has a capacity of 24,000 but it will expand to 36,000 for the Grey Cup. Shaw Cable is the main sponsor for the event. Freedom Mobile will be sponsoring the halftime show which Shania Twain is slated to perform.

And Now The Game

For the second straight year, the Calgary Stampeders will represent the West while Toronto will represent the East. It’s easy to predict the Stampeders to win, but don’t forget they were the heavy favorites last year. The Argonauts could pull the same upset the RedBlacks pulled last year.

stampedersWEST: CALGARY STAMPEDERS

Last year, the Stampeders led the CFL in game stats and entered the Grey Cup as the clear favorites, only to be surprised by the Ottawa RedBlacks in overtime. That’s considered by many to be the biggest upset in Grey Cup history.

This year, they find themselves in the same position: the best team in the regular season and the favorites to win.

Despite leading the regular season, they did show some weakness in the team such as losing the last three season games. Some say they simply gave it away since they knew they’d be tops anyways. Even their 32-28 win in their West Final against the Edmonton Eskimos would be in question as they had a convincing lead at the start of the final quarter only to give nine points away.

Calgary has their strengths and their weaknesses. Their strengths were the most present throughout the season. On top of that, they won both their games against the Toronto Argonauts. I know there are no guarantees in sport, but it’s hard to see Calgary losing the Cup this time around.

Toronto ArgosEAST: TORONTO ARGONAUTS

Calgary had the best performance this CFL season. Toronto’s, on the other hand, was nine wins and nine losses. Actually all but one team from the West had better win-loss stats than Toronto. It’s hard to believe Toronto came out on top of the East. That just goes to show how far ahead most of the West was this season.

Many people predicted that the Grey Cup would be an all-West game, but Toronto prevented this from happening by beating the Saskatchewan RoughRiders 25-21 in the East Final. Admit it. We all want the Grey Cup to be an East vs. West affair.

Even Toronto’s win in the East Final showed they do have some issues as they almost gave it away thanks to some strong last-quarter play from Saskatchewan. It took a last-minute touchdown from Cody Fajardo to save the Argos. If they look to win against the Stampeders, they can’t give anything away and play like they’ve never played before this year.

My Prediction

I feel that Calgary will win the Cup 40-15. They’ve been the best team this season. Plus I feel after the shock and humiliation of losing to the RedBlacks last year, I think they will want this more than ever. Plus I feel winning on the RedBlack’s home field will make this extra-sweet.

And there you go. That’s my preview of the 105th Grey Cup. Kickoff is 6pm Ottawa-time Sunday. May the best team win!

Brazil’s Olympic Legacy

Brazil Olympic

Brazil’s athletes have won a total of 108 Olympic medals in 14 sports.

 

Whenever an Olympic Games happens, I usually publish a blog relating to the host city or the host country. In this case, I’ll be focusing on Brazil’s past Olympic success and it has a lot. Brazil has won a total of 108 Olympic medals: 23 of them gold. That ranks them 33rd for all-time medals at the Summer Olympics. That’s also the most of any South American nation.

OFF TO A START

The very first Olympic Games Brazil sent an Olympic team to was the Antwerp Games of 1920 and they debuted with a bang, literally. Brazil won a gold, silver and bronze in various shooting events. The gold going to Guilherme Paraense in the rapid fire pistol event.

After the Antwerp Games, Brazil’s Olympic results consisted of woes up to World War II. They sent a 12-athlete team to Paris in 1924, a 67-athlete team to Los Angeles in 1932 which I will focus later on, and a 73-athlete team to the Berlin Games of 1936. All of which resulted in not a single medal won. Nevertheless there were some rays of hope. The biggest being from swimmer Maria Lenk. Just after finishing out of the final at her event in Berlin, she would set a world record in her event. She made history as the first Brazilian swimmer ever to hold a swimming world record. The Maria Lenk Aquatic Centre which was built for the 2007 Pan Am Games and will host three aquatic sports for Rio 2016 was named in her honor.

HARD TIMES FOR 1932

One of Brazil’s most famous Olympic stories is not exactly a positive one. It involved their Olympic team in 1932 as the world was going through the Great Depression at the time. Brazil was also hit hard during the Great Depression and their Olympic team were also feeling the heat. In order to raise funds for the team, the athletes would sell coffee beans at every port their ship, the Itaquicê, would dock at. Once the shipped docked at San Pedro, the authorities at the Port Of Los Angeles charged Brazil $1 for each athlete they let off the ship. The Brazilian team first let off the athletes with the best medal chances and swimmer Maria Lenk who would become the first Brazilian female to compete at the Olympics. However it wasn’t all over. The Itaquicê then sailed to San Francisco to sell more beans to fund the other athletes. It was successful enough to give the water polo, rowing and athletics athletes enough funds to compete. However the lack of funds meant 15 athletes could not live out their Olympic dreams and thus sail back to Brazil on the Itaquicê. The best result for the team was a 4th place in rowing.

SLOW BUT SURE IMPROVEMENTS

Adhemar

Brazil’s first Olympic great: triple-jumper Adhemar Ferreira da Silva.

After World War II, Brazil would get better in sports at the Olympic Games but it would mostly go unnoticed for decades. The biggest notice came in the men’s triple jump. Even before the Helsinki Games in 1952, Adhemar Ferreira da Silva held the world record in the men’s triple jump. In Helsinki, winning was an ease for da Silva as he won by almost 10 inches and set a new world record in the process. Da Silva would repeat as Olympic champion in 1956. Da Silva would prove himself to be one of the greats of triple-jumping as his career would not only include two gold medals but he’d also break the world record five times in his career. Da Silva would prove to be inspiring to Brazil as there would be two other male triple jumpers who would win Olympic medals and break the world record too.

Unfortunately for Brazil, Da Silva would prove to be Brazil’s only Olympic champion up until 1980. With the exception of a silver in the triple jump in 1968, Brazil’s Olympic teams after World War II would come home with nothing but bronze in that meantime. Sure they’d always have at least one medal but a single silver and the rest bronze was pretty much it from 1960 to 1976. It’s not to say it was all bad as Brazil would expand its abilities to win medals in other sports like basketball, swimming, sailing and judo.

A BREAKTHROUGH IN 1980

The boycott of the Moscow Games in 1980 may have kept other nations at home but Brazil didn’t cave into the pressure. Their participation at the Moscow Games boosted its sporting confidence. The team won its first gold medals since Da Silva: two in sailing. These Games would later open the doors to Brazilians in sailing as success would continue. Brazil has won a total of 17 medals in sailing: six of them gold. The team in 1980 would also win bronzes in swimming and triple-jumping.

1980 would prove to be a boost of confidence to their Olympians as more success would follow. Los Angeles in 1984 would be the stage for Joaquim Cruz as he won gold in the 800m: Brazil’s first gold in a running event. Brazil would also win an additional five silver and two bronze at those Games. Possibly making amends for 1932. Medals came in judo, volleyball, sailing, swimming and their first-ever men’s football medal: a silver. Up until 1984, professionals weren’t allowed to compete at the Olympics which meant Brazil could only send ‘diluted’ teams to the Olympics which kept them out of the medals. Professionals were allowed to compete at the Olympics for the first time in 1984 and it opened the floodgates to Brazil–although not completely– to send better football teams to the Olympics. Dunga was part of the silver medal-winning 1984 team.

The Seoul Games of 1988 would give Brazil additional success as the team would win a total of six medals including their first ever gold in judo to Half-Heavyweight Aurelio Miguel Fernandez. This would open the doors to other judokas of Brazil as Brazil has won a total of 18 Olympic medals in judo including three gold. Brazil having the biggest Japanese diaspora outside of Japan may have a lot to do with it. Additional medals came in sailing, football (featuring greats Bebeto, Careca and Romario) and athletics. One noteworthy medalist was sprinter Robson da Silva. He’s considered to be the best South American sprinter ever. His bronze in the 200m in Seoul came just five days after running in the 100m dash: considered by most to be “the dirtiest race in Olympic history.” Robson was actually one of two with the most justifiable cases of being clean athletes. I like what he’s always said: “Sure I didn’t dope and I didn’t win all that much, but I sleep well every night.”

1992 would only be a case of three medals in three different sports but it was still a good showing for Brazil as it was their second Games where they returned home with two golds: in man’s volleyball and in judo. The volleyball gold would be key as it would pave the way for future success for the Brazilian team at the Olympics.

1996 AND THE BRAZILIAN BREAKTHROUGH

As Brazil’s economy would grow over time, so would their athletic prowess. Ever since the 1996 Games in Atlanta, the Brazilian Olympic team would always leave each of the last five Games with at least ten medals or more. In fact 70 of the 109 total medals Brazil has won before the Rio Games were won in the previous five Summer Olympic Games. Atlanta was the very first sign of the Brazilian sports boom. The nation won a best-ever total of 15 medals including 3 gold. The introduction of beach volleyball led to Brazil taking the top 2 spots in the women’s category. They also had continued success in sailing, judo, football (featuring Ronaldo) and swimming but they also won their first ever equestrian medals as well as their first medals ever won by female athletes.

Scheidt Grael

Sailors Robert Scheidt (left) and Torben Grael show off their gold medals from Athens 2004. They are Brazil’s most medaled athletes. Both men have won five medals each, including two gold.

2000 was a case where Brazil didn’t win a single gold medal but still left Sydney with a total of 12 medals. Success continued in swimming, track, volleyball, judo, equestrian, sailing and volleyball. They sure made up for their no-gold disappointment in Athens in 2004 with five golds of their ten medals: their most golds ever. Actually it was originally four golds but a bizarre doping situation led to five. In equestrian show jumping, Rodrigo Pessoa finished second to Ireland’s Cian O’Connor. However it was later revealed months later that the doping sample from O’Connor’s horse went missing and was finally tested in November of 2004 resulting in a positive test. That bumped Pessoa up to Olympic champion: Brazil’s first ever equestrian gold medalist. Bizarre but glad it was finally set straight. Another example of Brazilian sportsmanship came in the men’s marathon. Vanderlei de Lima was leading the race when out of nowhere, an Irish defrocked priest hounded him and disrupted his run. Fortunately de Lima was able to get back to running and finish third. When he received his bronze medal, he was also given the de Coubertin award for fair and courageous play.

2008 in Beijing saw their Olympic prowess taken another step further as they won three golds and a best-ever 16 medals. First-ever golds for Brazil came from swimmer Cesar Cielo Filho and long jumper Maurren Maggi in women’s athletics. This was also the first Olympics where both the men’s and women’s football teams won medals: silver for the women and bronze for the men. London 2012 was another increase in the medal haul with a best-ever 17 medals including three gold. The women’s volleyball team repeated as Olympic champions but the biggest gold-medal surprise came from gymnast Arthur Zanetti on the rings as he won Brazil’s first-ever gymnastics medal: gold on the rings. The team also won three medals in boxing–their first since 1968–and Yane Marques became the first Brazilian to win a modern pentathlon medal when she won silver.

A footnote to ad: Brazil has competed in every winter Olympics since the Albertville Games of 1992. Their best result is a ninth in snowboarding back in 2006.

No kidding Brazil wants to give their home country something to be proud of. They will field a team of 465 athletes in 29 sports and they hope to give Brazil its best-ever medal total. The men’s football team has brought Neymar–who was part of Brazil’s silver medal-winning team in 2012– on the squad. Marta is back on the women’s squad. And a unique situation in sailing where two of Torben Grael’s children–Marco and Martine– are competing in the sailing events.

As the athletes in Brazil compete in Rio de Janeiro, they will compete with a sense of pride. They will also compete having a set of heroes they’ve grown up admiring and idolizing and hopefully create new heroes for the next generation. The stage will be set.

DISCLAIMER: I know the Olympics have been going on for a week and a half and Brazil has won a lot of medals but I chose to exclude the results in Rio for the sake of keeping this blog ‘evergreen.’

WORKS CITED:

WIKIPEDIA: Brazil At The Olympics. Wikipedia.com. 2016. Wikimedia Foundation Inc.<Brazil At The Olympics>

WIKIPEDIA: Brazil At The 1932 Summer Olympics. Wikipedia.com. 2016. Wikimedia Foundation Inc.<Brazil at the 1932 Summer Olympics>

Rio 2016: Seven Canadians To Watch

Canada Olympic

I admit I’ve come to accept it after the Sochi Olympics. Since the late-90’s Canada has become a winter sports superpower but field a very good Summer Olympics team. In past Olympic Games, both Canada’s summer and winter teams were on the same levels. Very often the summer team would outperform the winter team. That has changes since the late-90’s as you can tell by the medal totals with each Games.

However it’s not fair at all to say our Summer Olympic team is lousy. Here in Canada, we have a lot to deliver. The 2015 Pan Am Games and the recent World Championships in various sports have shown we have a lot of athletes in contention. Sure we only won a single gold out of our 18 medals back in London but we have a solid team this year. Sports Illustrated predicts Canadians to win a total of seventeen medals including four gold.

Anyways you saw my focus on foreign contenders in Rio yesterday. Without further ado, here are the seven Canadians of focus:

Brianne Theisen-Eaton – Athletics: The last time a Canadian woman won a gold medal in track and field was in 1928 and that was the very first Olympics track and field events for women were contested! Canada was one of the best countries in women’s track and field in 1928 winning two of the five events and two additional medals. Yeah, what has happened since? Well the drought could very well be over. When Brianne Theisen graduated from high school, she went to the University of Oregon and it was the best decision. She represented Canada in London and finished 11th. She would later marry American decathlete Ashton Eaton and she’s been on a roll since finishing second at the last two World Championships. She also won the Goetzis HypoMeet this year with a points total that’s the highest of 2016 and has propelled herself as the favorite. She will face stiff rivalry from defending Olympic Champion and reigning World Champion Jessica Ennis-Hill and Worlds bronze medalist Laura Ikauniece-Admidiņa of Latvia. 2016 could just be Brianne’s year. Also look to see if Brianne and Ashton become the first married couple since the Zatopeks in 1952 to both win athletics golds in the same games.

Shawnacy Barber – Athletics: Canada is not known for its pole vaulters. Our last Olympic entry was back in 1992. Our only two medals in the men’s event came all the way back in 1908 and 1912. That can all change thanks to New Mexico-born Shawn Barber. He didn’t qualify for London at the tender age of 18 but his talent was obvious that year as he already broke the Canadian record. He has improved in both his vaulting heights and his competitive consistency over the years and even won the World Championship last year. He even vaulted six metres for the first time ever during an indoor meet this year. He will face challenges from defending Olympic champion Renaud Lavillenie of France, American newcomer Sam Kendricks and even home-country threat Thiago da Silva. Whatever the situation, Barber is sure to deliver.

Brooke Henderson – Golf: Here in Rio there won’t be any new sports on the program but there are two sports that were part of the Olympic program in the past that were cancelled out. The two returning sports are Rugby, albeit in Sevens format, and Golf. Golf was contested at the 1900 and 1904 Olympics. The last Olympic gold in golf was won by a Canadian: George Lyon. Professionalism may have a lot to do with that. Since there’s now no such thing as ‘amateur’ anymore, it seems right that golf returns especially since it’s international enough. Canada has a strong shot at winning through 18 year-old Brooke Henderson. Already displaying a combination of talent, drive and youthfulness that has best been seen in the past through Se-Ri Pak and Nancy Lopez, Henderson has already won three LPGA events. Her last two– the KPMG women’s PGA Championship and the Cambia Portland Classic–came this June and propelled her to 2nd-place World ranking. She’s a heavy favorite to win in Rio but she will face challenges from World #1 Lydia Ko of New Zealand, latest American great Lexi Thompson and last year’s British Open winner Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand. Win or lose, Brooke has a bright future ahead of her.

Mark de Jonge – Canoeing: Until 2008, there were the 500m and 1000m events in flatwater canoeing for men. In 2012, the program replaced the 500m events with 200m sprints. That has worked for the advantage of Canadian kayaker Mark de Jonge. The Calgary-born Dalhousie grad won bronze in London the first Olympics it was contested. Since then, de Jonge has moved up in the ranks from silver at the 2013 Worlds to gold at the 2014 and 2015 Worlds. De Jonge will face challenges from France’s Maxime Beaumont and Sweden’s Peter Menning who finished second and third to him respectively last year. It could just well be de Jonge’s moment here in Rio.

Rosannagh MacLennan – Trampolining: Ever since trampolining has been introduced to the Olympic program in 2000, the Canadian team has left each Olympics with at least one medal. The women’s event has always had a Canadian medalist with Karen Cockburn winning 2000 bronze, 2004 silver and 2008 silver. In London, Rosie MacLennan became Canada’s first ever Olympic champion in trampolining. Rosie also had the bizarre distinction as being Canada’s only Olympic champion at those Games. Rosie has since won the 2013 World Championship and finished second the following year. She found herself out of the medals in 2015. She plans to return to her winning form in Rio but she will face the rivalry of 2015 champ Li Dan of China and two Belarussians: 2015 bronze medalist Tatiana Piatrenia and Hanna Harchonak. 2016 will be the arena for her to prove herself on top again.

Brittany MacLean – Swimming: Canada is known for its medal-winning swimmers. Sports Illustrated predicts Canada to win no medals. However one that could prove SI wrong is distance freestyler Brittany MacLean. The Etobicoke native who swims for the University of Georgia has a reputation in the distance freestyles with a 7th place finish in the 400 in London. However she was too injured in the 2015 season and had to miss out on the Worlds. This year, MacLean has the 6th-fastest time in the world in the 400 free and the 4th-fastest in the 800 free. Sure the distance freestyles are where Katie Ledecky is all the talk but Brittany MacLean just could win Canada’s first Olympic medal for a female swimmer since 1996. That feat could also be achieved by backstroker Kylie Masse or butterfliers Penny Oleksiak or Noemie Thomas. Actually Canada has its strongest women’s swim team in a long time. While the men’s team could only qualify ten swimmers. Looks like it’s the girls’ turn to shine.

AND ONE TEAM:

Canada’s Women’s Soccer Team: I’ll admit I didn’t review them when I did my pre-Olympic preview for London. And good reason why not. Back at the 2011 WWC Canada lost all three of their Group Stage games. However the turnabout the team made under the new coach John Herdman was evident as the team left the Olympics with the bronze medal. Their performance won the hearts of so many Canadians, I referred to them as ‘Our Girls.’ Canada has continued to show consistency with a quarterfinal finish at the 2015 WWC. Since then, the team have won most of their games losing only to Brazil, Denmark, USA and France. Canada won this year’s Algarve Cup and 19 year-old defender Kadeisha Buchanan was named the best player of the tournament. They’re not expected to win a medal in Rio but the team could just surprise the world again like they did four years ago.

And there you have it. My review of Canadian athletes to look out for in Rio. Notice that I reviewed the four Canadians Sports Illustrated predicts to win gold? Whatever the situation, I’m sure they’ll do our country proud.

 

Rio 2016: Fourteen To Watch

London Flame

The Rio Olympics is coming our way. Of course the media being what it is, it chooses to focus on all the bad news with the bad construction problems and the Zika virus and the slow ticket sales. The story of the Russian track team being systematically doped added to the fire and has led to scrutiny of the whole Russian team in recent weeks. However there have been tales of woe before past Olympic Games and they’ve gone off excellently so it would be fair to give Rio a chance. So without further ado, here’s my focus on thirteen to watch–eight individual athletes, a duo, and four teams:

Rio 2016

The Rio 2016 logo features three characters in the Brazilian colors in a triple embrace resembling Sugarloaf mountain.

-Katie Ledecky/USA – Swimming: You all thought Michael Phelps would be the top swimmer of focus in my blog, right? Wrong. He will be looked into in a focus on another swimmer later in my blog but now the swimmer of top focus here is the US’s next big swimming sensation: Katie Ledecky. As a 15 year-old, she competed in London as the youngest member of the US Olympic team. She won gold in the 800m freestyle and broke the American record along the way. Since then, she has become a distance freestyle ace with world records in the 400, 800 and 1500m freestyles along with World Championship golds in those events as well as the 200 free. She is poised to win gold in the 200, 400 and 800 freestyles in Rio: a feat only achieved once before by American swimmer Debbie Meyer in 1968. Katie can even add a bonus gold with the 4*200m free relay. Her chances are good as her best time in the 800 this year is 12 seconds faster than the second-best and her top 2016 time in the 400 is 1.5 seconds faster than that of American teammate Leah Smith. However the 200 will be her toughest event to win as Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom’s 2016 best is less than .1 faster than Katie and just .12 behind her is Italy’s Federica Pellegrini: 2008 Olympic champion who finished fifth in London. Nevertheless it will be a brave attempt from the 19 year-old.

-Simone Biles/USA – Gymnastics: Women’s gymnastics has become a complicated sport ever since it was revolutionized by ‘pixies’ like Olga Korbut and Nadia Comaneci. It seems a gymnast’s career at the top is very short. It’s very hard to develop consistency especially with time encroaching. However one gymnast who can beg to differ is 19 year-old Simone Biles. She has shown a consistency in World gymnastics not demonstrated since Ludmilla Tourischeva back in the 70’s. In the past three World Championships starting in 2013, Biles has won fourteen medals including ten gold. She has also won the last three World all-around titles. Biles appears invincible but she does face rivalry from her own teammates Gabby Douglas (defending champ from London) and Laurie Hernandez as well as Russia’s Angelina Melnikova. Rio could just be the arena to crown her greatness in the sport.

-Ashton Eaton/USA – Athletics: There have only been two decathletes who have won back-to-back Olympic gold medals: The US’s Bob Mathias and the UK’s Daley Thompson. Ashton Eaton looks poised to become the third. He first burst onto the scene at the 2011 Worlds as a 23 year-old when he finished second behind his American teammate Trey Hardee. Hey, the US is known for their decathletes as they have won a total of 28 medals including thirteen gold. The following year, Eaton beat Hardee at the US Olympic Trials with a world record points total. Eaton went on to win gold in London as well as the last two World Championships. Eaton appears invincible having the year’s best result at the US trials but he does have rivals in Germany’s Arthur Abele and Canada’s Damian Warner who finished behind Eaton in second at the Worlds. Rio could just be the arena for a great to deliver.

-Usain Bolt/Jamaica – Athletics: What can I say? The ‘Lightning Bolt’ has proven himself to be the biggest thing in athletics since Carl Lewis. He has an unmatched streak at dominating sprinting in major events. It all started when he won the 100, the 200 and the 4*100 relay in Beijing in 2008 all in world record time. Since then every Olympics or Worlds he entered, he’d leave with golds in all those events each time with the exception of the 100 in 2011 where he received a false-start disqualification. Already people are ruling Bolt to achieve the triple-triple here in Rio. However it’s not 100% guaranteed. Bolt had to pull out of the Jamaican Olympic trials because of a pulled hamstring injury. He has since recovered well and even won a major 200 in London a few weeks ago. However the 100m has three runners that have a faster year’s best than Usain. Topping the list is 2004 Olympic champion Justin Gatlin. The 200m features four runners who ran a faster time this year than Usain’s 2016 best. Topping that list is American LaShawn Merritt: 2008 Olympic 400m champion. Win or lose, chasing Olympic history will make for an exciting show from a legend.

-Mo Farah/Great Britain – Athletics: Seven male distance runners have won both the 5000m and 10000m runs in the same Olympics. However one–Finland’s Lasse Viren– has done it twice back in 1972 and 1976. Mo Farah, A Somali who moved to the UK when he was eight, appears poised to duplicate Viren’s feat. Farah’s last loss of a major 5000 or a 10000 came at the 2011 World Championships. Since then he has taken gold at the 2012 Olympics and both the 2013 and 2015 World Championships in both events. There will be rivals trying to block his path like Ethiopian Muktar Edris, American Galen Rupp, his Portland training partner, and Kenyans like Caleb Ndiku, Paul Tanui and Geoffrey Kanworor. Whatever the situation, Farah’s pursuit will be one to watch.

-Cate and Bronte Campbell/Australia – Swimming: Admit it. You get intrigued when you see a pair of sibling athletes either competing together or against each other. Enter the Campbell sisters from Australia who are at the top of the world in sprint freestyle. 24 year-old Cate is the one with Olympic medals–two bronze in 2008 and a relay gold in 2012–along with 100 free gold at the 2013 Worlds. 22 year-old Bronte won the 2015 World Championship in the 50 and 100 free with Cate winning silver in the 50 and bronze in the 100. However Cate that this year’s fastest times in the world in the 50 and 100. Bronte has the second-fastest in the 100 and fifth-fastest in the 50. Ah, don’t you wish sibling rivalry was this civil? However the Malawi-born Campbell sisters are not alone at the top. They will face challenges from Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom who also made the 2015 Worlds podiums in both events and 2012 Olympic champion from both events Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands. The Rio stage should provide for some fun drama. And after all that rivalry, the two could just team up for a gold in the 4*100 free relay!

-Laszlo Cseh/Hungary – Swimming: All eyes will be on Michael Phelps. He may have won it all with 22 medals over three Games including 18 gold but he’s making a comeback after a troubling time since London which included his second DUI arrest. Who’s also worth looking at is 30 year-old Hungarian Laszlo Cseh. When Phelps won six golds and two bronze in Athens, Cseh won 400 individual medley bronze. While Phelps won eight golds in Beijing, Cseh won three silvers. While Phelps won four golds and two silvers in London, Cseh won 200 IM bronze. In all cases, Phelps was the Olympic champion. Here in Rio, we have a different scenario. We have Phelps trying to get back his old form while Cseh appears to be in the best form of his life. Cseh has the world fastest times this year in both the 100 and 200 butterflies. Cseh is a heavy favorite for the 200 but he does face rivalry from Phelps, American Tom Shields and Poland’s Konrad Czerniak in the 100. Cseh has never been called ‘Phelps’ Shadow’ in his career but Rio could become the first Olympic arena to finally beat Phelps and win Olympic gold.

-Majlinda Kelmendi/Kosovo – Judo: 75 nations competing in Rio have never won an Olympic medal. Two nations–Kosovo and South Sudan– will be making their Olympic debut. Kosovo’s team will consist of eight athletes in five sports. Leading the team is 25 year-old judoka Majlinda Kelmendi. Back in 2012, Kosovo was not officially recognized by the IOC and Kelmendi opted to compete for Albania. Since then Kelmendi has won gold at the World Championships in the lightweight category in 2013 and 2014. She missed out on the 2015 season because of an injury but is poised for a comeback in time for Rio. She has already won this years’ European championship. She faces rivalry from Japan’s Misato Nakamura and Brazil’s Erica Miranda. Whatever the outcome, be sure she’ll do her country proud. She will also be the flagbearer during the opening ceremonies.

FROM THE HOST NATION:

Rio 2016

Vinicius, seen left with Rio Paralympic mascot Tom, is the 2016 Olympic mascot. Vinicius is a mix of Brazil’s mammals. Both mascots are to represent Brazil’s diverse people and culture.

Of course there is to be some focus on athletes of the host nation. I make it a priority as it makes some of my favorite Olympic moments with athletes winning gold or a medal in front of their home crowd. And in Rio, Sports Illustrated predicts Brazil to win 20 medals including six gold. The most medals Brazil has won in a single Olympics is 17 back in London. The most golds, five in Athens in 2004.

Focus on the two teams later. Here are the duo and individual of focus:

Isaquias Queiroz and Erlon Silva – Canoeing: Brazil has won Olympic medals in thirteen sports but canoeing isn’t one of them. In recent years, Brazil has fielded a canoeing duo who have emerged at the top of the world in the 1000m event. Isaquias won the Worlds in 2013 and 2014 in the individual 500m. Erlon was part of the bronze medal-winning 200m pair in 2014. However both were competing in events that won’t be contested in Rio. Leading to last year’s Worlds, the two were paired together and trained for the 1000m pairs event. They entered that event at the Worlds and won. They will face challenges from the duos of Hungary and Poland. They could just make Brazilian Olympic history here in Rio.

Fabiana Murer – Athletics: Brazil is not expected to win any medals in athletics, according to Sports Illustrated. Overlooked must be pole vaulter Fabiana Murer. She’s a 2011 world champion and she finished second at last year’s World but is known for Olympic choking. In 2008, she finished 10th. In 2012 she failed to qualify for the finals. 2016 looks to be a good year for Murer as she set a new South American record back in July. However she faces challenges from London Olympic champion Jennifer Suhr of the US, last year’s World champ Yarisley Silva of Cuba, last year’s World bronze medalist Nikoleta Kyriakopolou of Greece and American Sandi Morris who’s the only vaulter to have a higher 2016’s best than Murer as of now. Whatever the situation, the home country has her back.

TEAMS:

Refugee Olympic Athletes Team: In the past, you had to have some citizenship ties in order to compete at the Olympic Games. Refugees in the past have been overlooked as they were believed to have bigger problems than sports to deal with. Some would have to wait many years to represent the nation they’ve been adopted into. At the last Olympics in London, some refugees participated as Individual Olympic Athletes. IOC president Thomas Bach has taken note of the current worldwide refugee crisis by trying to break barrier for refugee athletes who want to compete at the Olympics. In March of this year, Bach announced his intention to create a team of refugees to compete in Rio taking into account the athletes’ sporting ability, personal circumstances and United Nations-verified refugee status. A $2 million fund created by the IOC was used to help train the athletes for Rio. At these Olympics, there will be ten athletes competing as Refugee Olympic Athletes. Five are runners from South Sudan who reside in Kenya. One is an Ethiopian marathoner who sought refuge in Luxembourg. Two are Congolese judokas living in Brazil and two are Syrian swimmers who have sought refuge in Belgium and Germany. They may not have much of a medal chance but they will already achieve victory by just competing at the Olympics.

United States Women’s Football Team: If there’s one team that one can call the class of the field, it’s the American women’s football (soccer) team. The US Women have won three of seven Women’s World Cups and four of the five Olympic gold medals. Those who saw last year’s Women’s World Cup know about how well the American women continue to play brilliantly. Here in Rio, fourteen women from last year’s WWC squad are part of the Olympic squad including stars Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd and Hope Solo. There are also four newcomers including Mallory Pugh and Crystal Dunn. Since their WWC win, the team has won all but three of their matches since, losing only once to China 1-0 in a friendly back in December. WWC finalists Japan may not have qualified but it’s not to say the US won’t face some tough rivalry from China, France and even hosts Brazil. Nevertheless if they’re as brilliant together in Rio as they were in Canada last year, magic can happen again.

TRIVIA: Being WWC-holder is actually bad luck for the Olympics. In the previous five Olympics, no team that was the WWC-holder at the time has won Olympic gold. They’d make the Olympic podium, yes, but never the top step. Can the US break this bad-luck spell?

FROM THE HOST NATION:

Brazil’s Olympic Volleyball Teams: Football may be Brazil’s #1 sport. It’s safe to say volleyball is Brazil’s #2 sport. Ever since the men’s team won Brazil’s first ever court volleyball medal, Brazil has been on a roll winning a total of nine Olympic medals including four gold. They’ve also won 11 of the 30 Olympic medals awarded in Beach Volleyball including two gold medal-winning duos. Brazil is expected to dominate here. In beach volleyball, Brazil’s pairs won five of the six medals with only the men’s silver conceded to a Dutch pair. Brazil is not as dominant in court volleyball at the Worlds but the teams have what it takes to deliver as the women have won Olympic gold back in 2008 and 2012. Here in Rio, the women will face tough competition from the US and China who finished ahead of them at the 2014 Worlds. The men appear heavy favorites to win but they will face challenges from 2012 Olympic champs Russia and 2014 Worlds champs Poland. It could be possible the home crowd’s cheering could propel them both to win gold.

Brazil’s Olympic Football Teams: You’d figure Brazil, a country that has won a total of five World Cups, would have at least one Olympic gold in football, right? Wrong! It’s all because of eligibility rules in football over the years. Before 1984, footballers couldn’t even make a penny off their sport if they wanted to compete. That would allow the Eastern Bloc countries to field their best for the Olympics and propel them to the podium while World Cup-winning countries like Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Italy could only field ‘diluted’ teams to the Olympics which would finish in a shabby ranking or not make the Olympics at all. Brazil was able to qualify for six Olympics in that period but failed to win a medal.

In 1984, the Olympic door was open to professionals despite some restrictions or two. In 1992, professionals as long as they were 23 or under could compete. Since 1996, each squad had to have all but a maximum of three footballers under 23 with the other three being anyone they wanted. The opening of the floodgates to pros has boosted Brazil’s men’s team as they’ve qualified for six of the eight previous Olympic competitions and have stood on the podium five times. What they want here in Rio is to stand on the top step for the first time. In London, Brazil fielded a kit featuring a 20 year-old Neymar Jr. and won silver with Mexico taking the gold. Here in Rio, Neymar is back and the other 17 members of the Olympic squad are part of pro teams from Brazil, Spain, France and Italy. The Olympic squad may have finished third at the 2015 Pan Ams but the team has been consistent in friendly play over the last two years losing only to Nigeria back in March. Most of all, the team wants to return the football spirit to the country that left the nation broken-hearted at the 2014 World Cup and achieving shabby results at the last two Copa Americas. Whatever the situation, Brazil may just lift the spirits of their country.

Oh, did you think I’d forget the women’s football team? I didn’t. Women’s football isn’t as restrictive as the men’s competition. Every woman that competed at last year’s WWC is eligible to compete in the Olympics. As for Brazil’s women’s team, they have two Olympic silvers from 2004 and 2008. However they have had difficulties in the last major tournaments with losing in the quarterfinals at the 2012 Olympics and losing to Australia in the Round of 16 at the 2015 WWC. The team has since had their ups and downs with losses to the US, France, Canada and New Zealand they’ve trained hard under coach Vadao and have had mostly wins. Stars Marta, Formiga and Cristiane will be there. Hopefully the Brazilian women will be as victorious as their men and these Olympics here could be the arena for it.

And there you have it. Some of the athletes who to look out for at the Rio Games. Remember the gold medal does not go to the hardest worker, the most deserving, the most talented, the one with the most pre-Olympic accolades or even the best athlete. The gold goes to the one that’s the most there. And Rio will be the arena to decide the Olympic champions. These seventeen days will allow the athletes to “live their passion.” My review of Canadians to watch was printed the following day. Just click here.

2016 UEFA Euro Semifinals: Preview And Predictions

Euro Semis

How about that? The past three-and-a-half weeks have narrowed the field from 24 to four. It’s been full of shocking surprises with teams like the Czechs, Swedes and Russians performing well below expectations in the Group Stage. It’s also had unpleasant surprises off the football field with rowdy behavior from Russian, Croatian and Hungarian fans. It’s also had a lot of positive surprises like Wales and Iceland humiliating bigger competition. And now we’re down to four: Portugal, Wales, Germany and France. It’s the semifinals to decide the two teams to play for the final for the Championship. So here’s my rundown of the two Semifinals:

SEMIFINAL #1: PORTUGAL vs. WALES

Head To Head Stuff:

This is one head-to-head scenario where I don’t have much to compare. Wales only once played Portugal all the way back in 2000. Portugal won.

Team-By-Team Analysis:

PortugalPortugal: Portugal has been an enigma at this tournament. They’ve been very successful in making their way to the semifinals but they’ve grazed the bar almost each and every time. One important fact for this Euro: Portugal is the only semifinalist that has not had a single win in regulation time. All three of their group games were draws, their Round of 16 win against Croatia game after a single goal from Quaresma in added extra time, and their quarterfinal win was thanks to a penalty shootout. Even star Cristiano Ronaldo has faced some flack for underplaying. He should be thankful his two goals against Hungary were what Portugal needed to stay alive in the tournament. If Portugal expects to win the semifinal, they will have to come together and play solid. They can’t afford to take it easy or give things away. Not while Wales has been performing while other teams have slacked off.

WalesWales: Two of the biggest Cinderella teams at this Euro have been Iceland and Wales. In fact the Euro 2016 can best be remembered as the tournament where Gareth Bale finally came to prominence in international play. He’s one of only five players here that has scored three or more goals. In addition to Bale, other teammates had moments to shine too like Ashley Williams, Aaron Ramsey and the currently-unsigned Hal Robson-Kanu. In fact the whole team has performed as a solid unit winning matches over teams with bigger clout like Slovakia, Russia and especially #2 ranked Belgium 3-1 in the quarterfinals. Who decides these FIFA rankings anyways?

Wales does have its imperfections. In fact it faced a heated battle against Northern Ireland in the Round of 16 and was only lucky to advance thanks to an auto goal scored by Gareth McAuley: the only goal of the match. In short, Wales have proven themselves able to deliver. However it’s a matter of them all being there.

My Verdict: With no reliable head-to-head stats to base a judgement, I have to base it on the team’s play during the Euro. I predict Wales to win 2-1 in added extra time.

SEMIFINAL #2: GERMANY vs. FRANCE

Head To Head Stuff:

They’ve both faced each other off twelve times ever. France has won six times, Germany four and two draws. Germany’s wins have been one home, three away. France’s wins have been three home, three away. Germany’s last win over France was at the 2014 World Cup quarterfinals. France’s last win over Germany was during a friendly in Paris in November 2015.

Team-By-Team Analysis:

Germany FootballGermany: Germany faced a lot of expectations here at the Euro. They came as the reigning World Cup holders who were struggling to form a new team with new younger talent. They’ve done very well for the most part as they won 2-0 against Ukraine and 1-0 against Northern Ireland. Their big moment came in the Round of 16 when they beat Slovakia 3-0. Remarkable since Slovakia beat them 3-1 in a friendly one month earlier.

This Euro has also been the arena where Germany’s weaknesses have also been exposed. First was the 0-0 draw against Poland in the Round of 16. The second came against Italy in the quarterfinals. It wasn’t simply drawing 1-1 but their three misses in the penalty shootout right during the first five. Usually Germany are the experts at penalty kicks going without a miss in a major tournament since 1982. That was a shock! Had Italy not also had three misses in their first five, it would’ve been the Italians heading to the semis instead.

The German team here in Euro 2016 is very capable of great play and have gone beyond most people’s expectations. However they cannot give anything away while playing against France. Not while France is host nation and playing brilliantly.

FranceFrance: France is one team that has been on a roll consistently. They’ve only had a single draw: 0-0 against Switzerland in the Group Stage. Everything else has been a win: 2-1 over Romania, 2-0 over Albania, 2-1 over Ireland and 5-2 over Iceland. They even have the three highest scorers: Antoine Griezmann with four, Olivier Giroud with three, and Dimitri Payet with three. Having Didier DesChamps, captain of France’s 1998 World Cup winning team, as coach definitely has a lot to do with it.

France have been excellent though they aren’t perfect. The team has definitely risen to the occasion game after game and showed all of Europe they’re ready to win at home. They have not had a single loss in 2016. However they could face the pressure of playing at home. Sure, they may have beaten Germany in a friendly in Paris seven months ago but Germany may have something up their sleeve. Don’t forget Germany did a reversal on Slovakia. Also keep in mind Germany beat France 1-0 in the quarterfinals in Brazil as Des Champs was coaching. Some food for thought.

TRIVIA: The world was horrified on Friday November 13, 2015 when six bombs went off in various areas of Paris. The first attack was at 9:20pm just outside the Stade de France; right while the friendly between France and Germany was taking place. In fact the two explosions can be heard on video replays during the 16th minute and 19th minute of that game, which continued on and France won 2-0.

My Verdict: There’s no one ‘wonderteam’ at this Euro but I think France is the team that most has it together. I think they will win 1-0.

And those are my predictions for the semifinals for Euro 2016. I may be right. I may be wrong. All to be decided Wednesday and Thursday.

 

 

UEFA Euro 2016: Group C Focus

Super Victor

Meet Super Victor, mascot of Euro 2016.

This is actually my favorite group of the six because I’m 3/4 Ukrainian, 1/4 German. Plus I like Poland because Poland and Ukraine have a lot in common, especially in their language. Nevertheless this should make for an exciting group with a lot of rivalry. So here’s my review of Group C:

Poland fixedPoland (27): Poland may have a good World Cup legacy with seven appearances and two third-place finishes but they lack a Euro legacy with competing in only the last two and going out in the Group Stage both times. Last Euro was especially embarrassing since they were co-hosts and didn’t win a game. Since then the White Eagles has gotten better. And it’s not just with Robert Lewandowski becoming a star striker for Bayern Munich. It’s the whole team that has been performing consistently. In fact the team even scored their first ever win against Germany in October 2014 during Euro qualifying. They’ve had other notable wins in the past two years against Ireland, Czech Republic and Serbia. Their only loss in the past two years came to Germany when they got their Euro qualifying revenge last September. Before I even give my predictions, I can already say I know Poland will advance to the Round of 16 at the very least. Poland could be the team most likely to cause a surprise.

Northern IrelandNorthern Ireland (26): This is Northern Ireland’s first ever Euro. They’ve played in three World Cups before and even made the quarterfinals in 1958 but no previous Euro. The team may not have a George Best right now but they appear to be getting stronger in recent years. Five players play for the Premier League and they’ve scored notable wins against Hungary and Greece. Their two losses to European teams in the past two years were to Romania and Scotland. France could be another proving ground for the team.

Germany fixedGermany (5): You think that since they’ve won the World Cup in 2014, they should be top of the world, right? Well one of the reasons why they won the World Cup is because they had the most team unity and best team chemistry of all. No standout superstars, just one functioning team. And that’s how it should be. However three of its top players from World Cup 2014–Per Mertesacker, Phillipp Lahm and Miroslav Klose–retired immediately after. This led to dealing with a new team format since then and also into developing new national team players. Manuel Neuer, Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil, Andre Schurrle and Mario Gotze and still part of The Mannschaft but they’re also added some new younger talent too.

With the changes to the team, they’ve gone through some ups and downs. They qualified for the Euro top of their group. They’ve had some notable wins against Poland, Spain, Scotland and their traditional ‘Achilles heel’ Italy.  However they’ve also had some notable losses to Argentina, Poland, the U.S., France, England and most recently Slovakia. However Germany has a habit of coming alive when they most need to so it’s not right to dismiss them quite yet. Plus Euro 2016 could be the grounds for a lot of the new younger players to come of age. Only time will tell.

Ukraine FixedUkraine (22): Ukraine is a team that either gets better or keeps on learning over time. They first arrived as a team at the 2006 World Cup where they made the quarterfinals. However they’ve struggled to qualify for a World Cup since. They played in their first Euro in 2012 as co-hosts going out in the Group Stage. The current team mostly plays for teams in the Ukrainian Premier League. The current team has a lot of good talent like veteran Anatoliy Tymoschuk and rising great Andriy Yarmolenko. In the past year, the team has had some notable wins over Wales, Romania and Slovenia. Their only loss in 2015 came to Spain. In their history, they’ve either won or tied Northern Ireland, had mixed results against Poland and never won against Germany. Chances they could be on at Euro 2016.

Prediction: I think Germany vs. Poland will be a draw game and both teams will have the exact game results in all of group play. But I think Germany will come out on top over Poland because of goal differentials. Third place in this group will go to Ukraine.

And there you go. My thoughts on Group C. My thoughts on Euro 2016’s Group D coming soon.

UPDATE:

Here are my reviews of other groups:

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: Intro and Group A Focus

Canada will host the sixth edition of the FIFA Women's World Cup.

Canada will host the sixth edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

The FIFA Women’s World Cup is coming and Canada is to be the host nation. This is to be an exciting time for both the country and the sport of women’s football.

This marks the first time Canada has ever hosted a World Cup. Canada has hosted past soccer tournaments for FIFA like the 1987 U-16 World Championships, 2002 U-19 Women’s World Championships, 2007 Men’s U-20 World Cup and last year’s U-20 Women’s World Cup. It’s up to the challenge. And a new challenge for the Women’s World Cup as this year the number of competing teams have been expanded from 16 to 24.

Throughout the next two weeks, I will be doing an analysis of each first round group and even making judgments on who I think will come out on top, come second and even come third. I don’t think I’ll predict the wildcard advancers as that will be too tricky. I’ll just limit to a third-place prediction. The number in brackets below is the FIFA Women’s Ranking for May 2015.

GROUP A:

Canada

Christine Sinclair will captain possibly Canada's greatest women's soccer team ever. They already have an Olympic bronze to their feats.

Christine Sinclair will captain possibly Canada’s greatest women’s soccer team ever. They already have an Olympic bronze to their feats.

-Canada (8): The Women’s World Cup is where Canada can show off its football prowess. Our men have only qualified for a single World Cup all the way back in 1986 which leaves us cheering for whoever during the World Cup; most of the time the country of our ethnic background. As for our women, the only World Cup they didn’t qualify for was the inaugural one back in 1991. Canadian women have an impressive resume of their own such as two CONCACAF Championships and an Olympic bronze medal from 2012. In fact their bronze was Canada’s favorite memory of those Olympics. Even I remember the excitement I felt and even referred to them as ‘our girls.’ Naturally so since soccer is probably the team sport in Canada with the most female participation. Even more than hockey. In fact this World Cup should make Canada proud as it is one nation that has one of the best instances female participation in soccer. Heck, our female stars like Christine Sinclair and Melissa Tancredi are bigger household names than our male stars!

However it’s not to say the women are looking for their own World Cup glory. This may be our sixth World Cup but Canada has only advanced past the Group Stage once back in 2003 where they finished fourth. In fact Canada lost all three of their Group Stage matches at the last World Cup back in 2011. Things changed after Canada recruited English coach John Herdman after he finished coaching New Zealand. After that, he helped guide Canada to gold at the Pan American Games and the bronze in London.

Canada’s chances to qualify to the knockout rounds are not only great but they also have good chances to come out on top. They beat China in their last game. They’ve won against New Zealand in six of their ten meetings and won against the Netherlands in ten of their eleven meetings. They also look good to win their Round of 16 match but things look to get tougher around the quarterfinals. Nevertheless this World Cup is anyone’s game. Women’s football has progressed to the point that there are now many equals at the top rather than one to rule them all. Canada could just provide the surprise.

China-China, People’s Republic of (16): Is it too soon in women’s football to call China a ‘blast from the past?’ It’s easy to dismiss it as one. The ‘Steel Roses’ have an Olympic silver medal from its first Olympic contest in 1996 and were runners-up to the Cup in 1999 where they lost to the US on penalty kicks. China hosted the World Cup twice during the very first in 1991 and in 2007. However they had a recent setback when they did not qualify for either the 2011 World Cup or the 2012 Olympics. Even their dominance of the AFC Asian Cup in the 90’s have faded and even finished out of the medals for the first time back in 2010. Nevertheless China are determined to comeback. They had good moments such as beating many top Asian teams last year and even winning against Argentina 6-0. However Argentina was their last win back in December of 2014. Right now it’s safe to say China’s in comeback mode but it will take a lot of effort for them to come back. A lot has changed in women’s football since their glory days of the 90’s.

NZL-New Zealand (17): How ironic is it that John Herdman’s team from the last World Cup is pitted against Canada in the Group Stage? This will be the fourth World Cup for the ‘Football Ferns’ however they have yet to establish themselves. They have not made it past the Group Stage in their three appearances. They haven’t even won a World Cup game yet. They did make it to the quarterfinals at the London Olympics showing improvement already. This World Cup looks to be one where the women want to show how much they’ve improved. They may have had recent losses to the bigger countries like the U.S., Japan, France and Norway but they have tied Brazil and Spain and even won against Denmark. This World Cup is another proving point for them. Also with the potential of three teams from each group advancing, chances look better than ever.

Netherlands Fixed-Netherlands (12): The Netherlands is one of eight teams competing in their very first World Cup here in Canada. The women, whom like the men are also called ‘Oranje,’ do not have a legacy but they have developed a reputation in recent years. In 2009, they qualified for their first-ever Women’s Euro and finished third. Even though they still lack the experience of the other three teams in Group A, they should look at this as a learning experience. It’s even possible the Netherlands will be a top challenger in the future. They could even cement their name here. They have never won against Canada and have more losses than wins against China and New Zealand but they have won their most recent meetings with both teams. Netherlands could pull an upset.

NOTE: This Women’s World Cup will act as a meet for European teams to earn berths for the 2016 Summer Olympics. The top three European teams here qualify for Rio.

MY GROUP PLAY PREDICTIONS:

This looks to be Canada’s best World Cup. The team looks in good shape, especially with Christine Sinclair as captain. I strongly believe they’ll come out on top. It’s harder to predict second or third. It can go to any of the other three. For this group, I predict China to be second and the Netherlands to be third.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT:

Okay, just like I did with the men’s World Cup from last year, I will again do a Stadium Spotlight.  One good thing about this World Cup is you remember how during last year’s men’s World Cup the groups were ‘scrambled’ across stadiums during the group play? The women’s are more organized as the teams of all six groups will be allocated in the same stadium during their first two games. It’s only the third game for all teams where they’ll go to a different stadium. The other good thing about this World Cup is that no new stadiums were required to be built. Whatever new stadiums build or renovated were done so for the sake of its current purposes. Only two stadiums are less than five years old. And the first of the two will be focused in this blog:

WINNIPEG: Winnipeg StadiumWpg Stadium

Year Opened: 2013

World Cup Capacity: 40,000

World Cup Groups Hosting: A,B,C,D

This stadium was actually opened just two years ago. It was needed because the 50+ year old Winnipeg Stadium was long past its prime. Actually it was to be opened in 2012 but construction delays pushed opening to the following year. The stadium, which is actually anmes as the Investors Group Field, is home to the Canadian Football team Winnipeg Blue Bombers and will actually host the Grey Cup in November this year. The new stadium was also the stage for concerts by Taylor Swift, Paul McCartney, Beyonce and Jay-Z and have One Direction coming in July. They even held their first soccer match in May 2014: a women’s match of Canada vs. the U.S.

And there’s my first preview of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Five more preview blogs to go before it all begins Saturday June 6th in Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium.