World Cup 2022: My Prediction For The Final, And Third-Place Playoff Too

I always say about the World Cup after month of play, there’s only one nation still smiling in the end! It’s been unusual to see World Cup matches as winter has been approaching. The time zones didn’t help too much. Nevertheless I made every opportunity to enjoy games at cafes and other viewing places. I also had my share of entertainment with the 442oons videos.

It’s crazy that World Cup 2022 already felt like a circus. I think every World Cup becomes a bit of a circus. Throughout this World Cup, talks of endless corruption, the corruption of the nation of Qatar, questions about matches being fixed or some referees having prejudices. Possibly one of the best things about the match for the Cup is not just to reward the winner, but the fact that all this will end. I remember before the start of one World Cup final, I thought to myself that all the craziness is over. What happened, happened. What didn’t happen, didn’t happen. And now all that should matter is who will win the Cup.

Onto the World Cup finals, it’s interesting that the two teams playing have a few notable things in common. Both have won the World Cup twice before. In both cases, their first World Cup win was when they were host nation. Both played in the very first World Cup in 1930, and one of the teams was even a finalist. Both teams have a striker who has amassed a total of five goals this World Cup, and both teams lost a group stage match here in Qatar. Without further ado, here are my reviews of the last two matches of World Cup 2022:

THIRD-PLACE PLAYOFF REVIEW:

The third-place match will take place on Saturday December 17th in Khalifa International Stadium in Al-Rayyan: a suburb of Doha. One team is looking to make this its third Top 3 finish. The other is looking to make it their first Top 3 result ever. Both teams didn’t get a defeat until their semifinal match. Both teams are also the same two Group F teams that rivaled each other in their first group play match. This is the second consecutive World Cup in which the bronze-medal match is between two group play rivals!

Past Head-To-Head Results:

Croatia and Morocco have met only twice before. Besides the scoreless group play match here in Qatar, the only other time was back in 1996. That too ended in a draw. The score was 2-2.

CROATIA

They’ve only existed as an independent nation since 1991 and they’ve gotten as far as the World Cup semifinal or further a total of three times. It’s no wonder why I call Croatia “The little nation that can.” Since their independence, they’ve qualified for the World Cup six times out of seven attempts. Three of those times they’ve made it to the semifinals or further. The first was in 1998:their very first World Cup. Last World Cup, they made it to the final. Sometimes you wonder what’s the secret to The Blazers? Me, I can’t answer. One thing I have to say is that Croatia is one team low on arrogance, big on play!

Croatia has been getting a lot of attention for the overall play of Luka Modric, the scoring of Ivan Perisic, and the eye-catching fashion of Ivana Knoll! At the last World Cup, Croatia was known for great play as well as good luck. They opened with three wins in group play and then followed with penalty kicks in both their Round of 16 match and quarterfinal. Their semifinal was a win against England, but France ended their dream in the final 4-2.

At thins World Cup, the Croatian team has changed, but it’s also kept some similarities. In group play, they had two scoreless draws and a 4-1 win over Canada. In their Round of 16 match and their quarterfinal, history repeated itself and they bagged wins on penalty kicks. It was in their semifinal against Argentina where their luck finally ran out.

Croatia has shown a lot with their play from midfielder Luka Modric and from striker Ivan Perisic. Worthy of credit to the team’s success is goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic. He’s one of the younger goaltenders of the tournament at 27, but he has done an excellent job in keeping Croatia alive, having only allowed in three goals before their match with Argentina. They could just be the team that has what it takes to clinch another Top 3 finish.

MOROCCO

It happens every World Cup. There’s always one team that has modest expectations before the competition but ends up going further than expected. Last World Cup, it was a case where Croatia and Belgium achieved their best-ever results. This year, it’s a case where Morocco is the “Cinderella story” of Qatar 2022. Nevertheless it’s wrong to dismiss Morocco’s success as a complete “Cinderella story.”

Morocco has to be one of the top African nations to adopt a football culture. They competed in their first World Cup in 1970. When they returned in 1986, they became the first African team in World Cup history to advance past the opening round. Returning to that success or taking it further has been a struggle. They qualified for the 1994 and 1998 World Cups, but went out in the group stage. Despite claiming a second-place in the African Cup of Nations in 2004, they had to wait until 2018 for their return to a World Cup. Even then, they were ousted with a draw and two losses.

When they arrived in Qatar, nobody knew what to expect of the Atlas Lions, but they delivered. They started with a scoreless draw against Croatia and then delivered a surprise 2-0 win over Belgium. A 2-1 win over Canada placed them at the top of Group F. Their Round of 16 match against Spain went goalless, but penalty kicks were the trick as they sunk three while Spain couldn’t sink one! The quarterfinals paved the way for a 1-0 win over Portugal. Their win made history as they became the first African nation to qualify for the World Cup semifinals. It was France that ended their quest for the Cup at 2-0.

Having Morocco in the semifinals was a big boost for African teams. Especially since none of the African teams of 2018 qualified for the knockout round. It’s hard to pinpoint how Morocco became so successful this tournament. I made the claim it could be since they’re a Sahara nation, they have better knowledge of how to play in a desert climate. Recently I’ve credited it to manager Walid Reguagui. Since he was hired four months ago, their semifinal loss to France is Morocco’s first loss since he was hired. Maybe that’s the secret. Others give credit to the great defensive play and the goalkeeping of Yassine Bounou. Bounou has only conceded three goals and a penalty kick this Cup. Whatever the situation, they had what they needed and they could just do it again on Saturday.

My Final Verdict: This is hard to tell. Both teams have played well. Both have been able to deliver when they needed to. Croatia has scored six while Morocco has scored five. Croatia however has conceded a total of six goals while Morocco has conceded a total of three. Both teams have a star player that may be absent. From Croatia, Mario Mandzukic because of his red card while assistant coach. From Morocco, Romain Saiss because of an injury sustained in the tournament. I think it will be a tight game but I expect Croatia to win 1-0 in added extra time.

THE FINAL

Can you believe it? After 28 days and 63 matches, there will be only one match left! This is the moment for a team to claim to their nation the world’s biggest bragging right! The final will be held in Lusail Stadium. One team aims to be the first South American team to win the World Cup in 20 years. The other team aims to be the first team in 60 years to successfully defend the World Cup.

Past Head-To-Head Results: France and Argentina have dueled each other a total of twelve times. Argentina have won six times including during the 1978 World Cup. France have won three times. Their last match was in the 2018 World Cup Round of 16 where France won 4-3.

ARGENTINA:

La Albiceleste knows about World Cup finals. This is Argentina’s sixth time to the World Cup final. Only three other nations have achieved six of more appearances. Argentina was even a finalist in the very first World Cup in 1930. Getting back to the finals was a real struggle. They didn’t return to the finals until 1978, which they hosted and won. Then in the 1980’s emerged a great player by the name of Diego Maradona. He helped captain Argentina to their second win in 1986. He retuned in 1990 to try and make it two in a row, but the team lost to Germany 1-0. From 1990 onwards, it was a struggle for the team to get back to the final. Early in this century, a young player named Lionel Messi was dazzling the world with his club play. Whenever the World Cup happened, he and the team would fall short. Then in 2014, they made the finals for the first time in 24 years. Unfortunately like in 1990, they lost to Germany 1-0.

Trying to get back to the finals has not been easy. In 2018, they had a disastrous run. They finished second in their group with a win, a draw and a loss, and then went out in the Round of 16. After the 2018, they hired Lionel Scaloni, who played for Argentina at the 2006 World Cup, as their new manager. Since his hiring the Argentine team has shown a lot of positive changes. Its most notable change was when they won the 2021 Copa America..

Here at the World Cup, Argentina got off to a rough start. The 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia isn’t the first shocking opener Argentina’s delivered at the World Cup, but they knew they had to get themselves in order if they wanted to advance well. They succeeded with 2-0 wins over Poland and Mexico. In their Round Of 16 match against Australia, they dominated play as they won 2-1. In their quarterfinal against the Netherlands, they endured a game marred with frequent carding from a referee to a 2-2 draw. Penalty kicks kept them alive. In their semifinal match against Croatia, they dominated to win 3-0.

Throughout this World Cup, people have been constantly talking about “This is Messi’s last chance.” or “This will finally be Messi’s” No kidding there’s a lot of attention on Messi. In fact winning the Cup will make the difference between Messi being remembered as The Best Ever or The Best Never. Nevertheless we should remember the success of Argentina isn’t just Messi. There’s also the goaltending of Emiliano Martinez and young player Julian Alvarez rising to the occasion. Argentina has the right mix of youth and experience for the team and it just might pay off in winning the Cup on Sunday.

FRANCE:

Success for Les Bleus has been like a yo-yo. Like Argentina, France has been there at the very start back in 1930. They themselves would have difficulty establishing themselves as a football power. Even when they hosted in 1938, the team was out in the quarterfinals. It wasn’t until 1958 that they finished in the Top 3 for the first time. During the 60’s and 70’s, it was a case of either failing to qualify or out in group play. It was in the 1980’s when France saw a spark of improvement. Led by Michel Platini, the team finished fourth in 1982 and third in 1986. Just after, they followed with two failures to qualify. Then in 1998, France hosted and the team performed brilliantly en route to winning their first-ever World Cup.

It hasn’t been easy for France to return. At the 2002 World Cup, they were out in the group stage without even scoring a single goal. In 2006, they were runner-up to Italy. In 2010, the team revolted against the coaches and their federation and they went out in the group stage. Then in 2014, there emerged a new French team coached by 1998 player Didier Deschamps. The team featured a lot of young promising talents and they finished in the quarterfinals. That was just the warm-up as they’d go on to make the finals of Euro 2016 and win France’s second World Cup in 2018. Staying on top wouldn’t be easy. France was reminded of that when they bowed out of Euro 2020 in the Round of 16.

France was often reminded of the alleged curse of the defending champion. At the beginning of 2022, it was still in question how France would do after they endured three losses in Nations League play. Any questions France were given, they were answered in Qatar. They won their first two games of group play 4-1 against Australia and 2-1 against Denmark.The win against Denmark was a boost as they lost to them earlier this year. The 1-0 loss to Tunisia didn’t set their confidence back much, if any. After group play, it’s been nothing but wins for France as the won their Round of 16 match against Poland 3-1, their quarterfinal match against England 2-1 and their semifinal against Morocco 2-0.

The success of the French team has proven this “Curse of The World Cup Winner” is a myth. Mind you it was uncertain at first. And now they appear poised to repeat as World Cup champions. Only twice before has the reigning World Cup champion successfully defended its title: Italy in 1938 and Brazil in 1962. The World Cup team had a lot of notable players from 2018 like Paul Pogba and Samuel Umtiti left off and Karim Benzema benched because of injury. Nevertheless the team has delivered excellently with the striking of Kylian Mbappe and Olivier Giroud and the goaltending of Hugo Lloris. They’ve shown they won’t give up their World Cup title easily.

My Final Verdict: A lot to think about. Argentina’s group play loss came in the opener. France’s came after they were guaranteed qualification. Argentina has scored twelve goals while France has scored thirteen. Argentina has conceded five goals and so has France. This will be an extremely tight match. I think this is a match where it would go to a 1-1 draw and Argentina winning on penalty kicks. I’m sure it will be that tight!

And there you have it. My review and predictions for the third-place match and the World Cup final. This will definitely be one World Cup we will never forget.

World Cup 2022: Semifinals Predictions

The funny thing about this World Cup tournament is that with FIFA’s app, I’ve been making predictions for each game’s final score. Only three have I got the score absolutely bang on. Of course there are many I wrongly predicted would win. It’s interesting how this whole World Cup is a big circus both inside the field and outside the field. Not just the play but the politics, disputes and even brawls. In short, this World Cup is completely unpredictable. I find it weird because I’ve been quite good at making predictions on this blog and it’s come at mixed results. I successfully predicted all the Round of 16 winners, but I only got one quarterfinal winner right.

What can I say about this Cup’s semifinal teams. Before I talk about them, it’s interesting many teams that delivered some of the biggest wins in the Round of 16 lost their quarterfinal match! As for the semifinalists, two are from Group F. Two are from different groups. Only one team has won their knockout matches without even needing added extra time. While one team qualified with nothing but matches that went to penalty kicks. Two teams are renowned for their goal scorers, while the two others owe most of their credit to their goalkeepers. Two are finalists from the last World Cup. Two have won the World Cup in the past. One has made it to the semis for the first time ever. Two teams have lost one group play game while the two Group F teams have not had a defeat. This is only the second World Cup where the semifinal teams come from three different continents.

Without further ado, here is the look at the four teams that qualified for the two semifinals and my prediction for each one:

SEMIFINAL #1: ARGENTINA vs. CROATIA

Head-To-Head Stuff: Croatia and Argentina have played each other five times in the past; two of those games in the World Cup. Croatia has won twice and Argentina have won twice. For World Cup play, their first meeting was in 1998 group play. Argentina won 1-0. The second was group play of the last World Cup. Croatia won 3-0.

Team-By-Team Analysis:

ARGENTINA

For almost fifteen years when you think of Argentina, one name comes to mind: Lionel Messi. No doubt about it Messi has shone over the sport like no other player. Despite his accolades in club play, he has consistently been denied major international prizes like the Copa America and the World Cup. A common reminder that one player does not make the whole team. Argentina has a lot of talented players, but it’s always been a struggle to get them all together and win one of the biggest tournaments. They qualified for the final of the 2014 World Cup, but lost to Germany. In the two years after that, they qualified for the final of the Copa America both years and lost finals on penalty kicks. The failure of falling 4-3 to eventual champions France in the 2018 Round Of 16 added further insult to the injury.

Since the pandemic, Argentina has shown a change of play. Last year they won the Copa America and it became Messi’s first major international trophy ever. On to World Cup action, Argentina had the misfortune of losing 2-1 to Saudi Arabia. La Albiceleste knew they needed nothing but wins to qualify and they delivered with 2-0 wins in both games. They topped Group C and were one of five teams to top a group in Qatar with two wins and a loss. They won their Round Of 16 match against Australia 2-1 and won their quarterfinal against the Netherlands on penalty kicks after a 2-2 draw and a load of yellow cards. One highlight of the match was Lionel Messi scored the tenth World Cup goal of his career.

CROATIA

Croatia should be seen as the little team that can. They’re a nation of under 5 million that competed in six World Cups since their debut in 1998. They’ve made the Top 4 for the third time this very tournament! Returning back to the World Cup semifinals wasn’t easy. Shortly after play resumed after the pandemic, Croatia endured a lot of UEFA Nations League losses. They only made it as far as the Round Of 16 at Euro 2020, and they even struggled to resume winning during World Cup qualifying.

Things made a big improvement after their early Euro exit. Since then, they’ve only lost a single Nations League match and more than made up for things in World Cup qualification. In their play here in Qatar, the group stage was a case where they had scoreless draws against Morocco and Belgium and a 4-1 win over Canada. That big win was what they needed to qualify second in Group F. In their Round of 16 match against Japan, they drew 1-1 but won on penalty kicks. Their quarterfinal against Brazil also ended in 1-1 and again penalty kicks gave them the win. Top play has come from striker Ivan Perisic, midfielder Luka Modric and goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic.

My Final Verdict: This is hard to judge. Sure, Croatia won against Argentina in 2018 group play, but both teams were different teams in 2018. Back then Croatia won all three of their group stage games while Argentina had a win, a draw and a loss. Looking at the World Cup 2022 stats, Argentina has scored a total of nine goals while Croatia has only scored six. Croatia however have only conceded three goals while Argentina has conceded five. Croatia has never lost here in Qatar while Argentina had their shock loss to Saudi Arabia. On top of it, Argentina have picked up a lot of yellow cards from their card-crazy quarterfinal against the Netherlands and they might not want to risk their best players. Looking at all the facts, I have to say I predict Argentina to win 1-0 in added extra time.

SEMIFINAL #2: FRANCE vs. MOROCCO

Head-To-Head Stuff: France and Morocco have faced off against each other 11 times in the past, but never played each other at the World Cup before. Morocco’s only win came in 1963. France won seven times.

Team-By-Team Analysis:

FRANCE

Many of you remember my story of France’s long road of recovery from their embarrassing collapse in 2010 to winning theWorld Cup in 2018. It’s one thing to get to the top but it’s another to stay on top. After the World Cup win, France was still very skillful for the rest of 2018 and 2019, winning eleven of their sixteen games and only losing two. Things changed after the pandemic. They still managed to win many games but they showed sings of weakness. Especially during Euro 2020 when they topped their group with a win and two draws, but went out to Switzerland in the Round of 16 on a penalty shootout. 2022 also showed weakness in France as they lost three Nations League games including one match to Croatia: their opponent in the 2018 World Cup final. Many were suspecting France would become yet another casualty of the ‘curse of the defending World Cup champion.’

Here in Qatar, France had a lot to prove and they proved it. They were the first team to qualify for the knockout stage after a 4-1 win over Australia and a 2-1 win over Denmark. With that, they could afford to lose 1-0 to Tunisia and still top Group D. In their Round of 16 match against Poland, they won in convincing fashion 3-1. In their quarterfinal against England, the game was a controversial one with France winning 2-1. In addition, Kylian Mbappe is the World Cup 2022 scoring leader with five goals.

MOROCCO

Morocco is a team that deserves more respect than you know. Although they’re not the first African nation to compete in the World Cup, they’re the first team to qualify via a direct African berth back in 1970. They didn’t qualify again until 1986 and when they competed, they became the first African nation to qualify past the preliminary group stage. Their Round of 16 finish from 1986 would remain Morocco’s best result ever for a long time. They would return to the World Cup in 1994, 1998 and 2018, but would go out in group play. Over the next four years, Morocco would continue to have frustrations with team play and their coaches. French coach Herve Renard who coached the 2018 World Cup team would resign after the team’s Round of 16 exit at the 2019 African Cup of Nations. Bosnian coach Vahid Halilhodzic would step in his place right after. Morocco’s ouster in the quarterfinals of the 2021 African Cup of Nations and Vahid’s fallout with star player Hakim Ziyech would cause him to be fired in August 2022. More than three months before the World Cup!

Placed in Halilhodzic’s place was Walid Reguagui. Reguagui would be the first Moroccan since 2016 to coach the team. Things looked promising as Morocco won two for their friendlies before the World Cup and tied the third. Here in the World Cup, it’s nothing but up. Morocco opened with a scoreless draw against Croatia, but would go on to a surprise 2-0 win over Belgium and a 2-1 win over Canada. In their Round Of 16 match, they would have to go against Spain: one of their Group B rivals from World Cup 2018. The match went scoreless, but Morocco won the penalty kick match 3-0. Their win made them the fourth African team to play in the World Cup quarterfinals. In their quarterfinal, they were up against Portugal: another Group B rival from 2018! The goal from Youssuf En-Nesyri was fluky, but it was enough for Morocco to win 1-0. The win made Morocco the first African team to qualify for a World Cup semifinal!

My Final Verdict: This is tough to call. Morocco hasn’t lost a World Cup game yet while France had a surprise loss to Tunisia. France has scored a total of eleven goals compared to the five Morocco has scored. However, Morocco has only conceded one goal in World Cup play while France has conceded one goal per game. You can thank Montreal-born Yassine Bonnou for that record. Also worth keeping in mind Morocco will play one man down thanks to a double-yellow card on Walid Cheddira during their match against Portugal. I’d predict the win to France 2-0.

And there you have it. Those are my predictions for the two semifinals. It should make for some interesting play. This whole World Cup has been a case of surprises and upsets so expect the unexpected here too.

World Cup 2022: Group Stage With One Game To Go

Many of you may ask why do the final games of the World Cup group play for each group happen simultaneously? It’s a controversy that goes back to the first round of group play at the 1982 World Cup. For a long time, I thought it was the 1978 Cup but it’s 1982.

The first round of group play at Espana 1982 was just like at this World Cup; four in a group and the top two advance. With 24 teams in 1982, they were divided in six groups of four. Group 2 had West Germany, Algeria, Chile and Austria. In the opening match West Germany lost to Algeria 2-1 while Austria beat Chile 1-0. For the second matches, West Germany won big over Chile 4-1 and Austria beat Algeria 2-0. The third matches were held a day apart. Algeria played Chile and won 3-2.

With a day to go, West Germany and Austria knew Algeria’s final results: two wins, a loss, five goal scored, five conceded. Austria had two win, three goals scored, none conceded. West Germany had a win and a loss, five goals scored, three conceded. For West Germany and Austria to qualify to the next round, West Germany would have to win 1-0 or 2-0 to advance along with Austria. In the match the next day in El Molinon Stadium in Gijon, Spain, West Germany did beat Austria 1-0 and both progressed to the next round. Three teams with two wins and a loss, but West Germany’s and Austria’s better goal differentials helped them advance.

It was right there in the stadium that thousands of people suspected something. Especially since the lone goal from Horst Hrubesch in the tenth minute was pretty lacklustre and Friedrich Koncilia appeared to put a weak effort into stopping. The mostly Spanish crowd was infuriated, West German fans even were angered, and FIFA investigated it to see if any match fixing. In the end, they could not find any evidence to prove that the match was fixed between the two. Nevertheless the match, one of many shockers and scandals of Espana 1982, would be remembered as the “Disgrace of Gijon.” In addition, FIFA instituted a new rule that each World Cup group’s final matches of group play all be held simultaneously. Simultaneous play of final group matches even happens at the Euro, Copa America, CONCACAF Gold Cup and World Cup qualifiers.

Now onto Qatar 2022 and the tenth time the final matches of group play will be played simultaneously. With one game left to play, three teams have already qualified for the knockout stage, two teams are already out of all chances, and twenty-seven teams will need Game 3 to decide who’s among the other thirteen to advance. In this blog, I’ll break down each group’s action and give the details of which team needs what to qualify for the knockout round. Teams that have already qualified are in bold and links to my original blogs are in the headings.

Group A:

It started with a win for Ecuador over hosts Qatar. Then followed with a win for Netherlands over Senegal. Senegal won against hosts Qatar, then Netherlands and Ecuador had a 1-1 draw. As of now, none of the teams have guaranteed qualification. The Netherlands and Ecuador can make qualification happen if they just draw in both their games. Senegal will face Ecuador in their third game. Winner definitely qualifies. Ecuador can afford to draw but this is a must-win game for the Senegalese to qualify. The only way the Netherlands can’t qualify is if they lose to Qatar and the Ecuador/Senegal game ends in a draw, and I bet that won’t happen.

As for Qatar, it’s over. They are now the second host nation to not advance past the opening round of a World Cup. Netherlands and Ecuador have a win and a draw each which means even if Qatar win against the Netherlands, which I doubt would happen, it will be too much too late.

Group B:

Sometimes it happens in a group with a World Cup group with a single game to go, all four still have chances to qualify. That’s how it worked out with the play. England opened strong with a 6-2 win over Iran. The US and the Welsh drew 1-1 thanks to goals from American star Tim Weah and Welsh sensation Gareth Bale. In Wales vs. Iran, goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey got the Cup’s first instant red card in the 86th minute. That may be what allowed Iran to score two goals in stoppage time and give them their biggest World Cup victory ever! The England-US game was expected to be a tough rivalry, but it ended in a scoreless draw. That’s how it all makes game three to be a free-for-all.

England has the easiest chance to qualify. Even if they lose to Wales, the loss will need to be 3-0 if they’re to fail to advance. Iran could qualify with a draw, but they shouldn’t take chances as it may be possible Wales wins and qualifies based on goal differentials. Don’t forget Iran’s loss to England was by four goals. Both Iran and Wales have goal differentials of -2. The US need nothing less than a win to qualify. Wales not only needs a win over England to qualify, but for a draw to happen in the Iran-US game. If a winner happens in that game, Wales victory over England will have to be a three-goal differential like 3-0 or 4-1. It’s that tight!

Group C:

Of all groups here in Qatar, this group has the most shockers. Nobody expected Argentina to lose to Saudi Arabia 2-1. Saudi Arabia was so elated by the win, a national holiday was declared! The Mexico/Poland match resulted in a scoreless draw: one of five scoreless draws in Qatar 2022. Game 2 became a case for teams to want to play like they meant it. Poland made up for its lackluster opener by defeating Saudi Arabia 2-0. Argentina, disappointed with their loss in what should be called the “Saudi Surprise,” knew they had to defeat Mexico to regain their reputation. And they did 2-0.

All four teams have a chance of qualifying. Poland in the top spot has it easiest because they could just simply draw against Argentina and it would be enough to qualify, but they know the Albiceleste are hungry to redeem themselves, so they don’t want to take any chances. Speaking of Messi and the boys, they could draw against Poland, but could face elimination if Saudi Arabia defeats Mexico, so you can bet the Albiceleste will want to make this a win. As for the Saudis, they too can’t take chances against Mexico. Don’t forget they had a win at the last World Cup, but also had two losses and failed to advance. A draw would be too risky with goal differentials coming into play, plus who knows how the Argentina/Poland game will go? So a win against Mexico will be needed. Mexico, in last place, still have a chance if they win against the Saudis and Poland beats Argentina. If Argentina wins or draws against Poland, Mexico will need a win of either 3-0 or 4-1 to make it in. Slim, but still possible.

Group D:

It’s widely considered that there is a curse of the World Cup champion. Four of the previous five World Cups, including the last three, have seen the defending champion end their World Cup run in the group stage. Here in Qatar, France ended all concern of the curse by winning their first two games and becoming the first team to guarantee qualification! They opened with a 4-1 win over Australia and followed it up with a 2-1 win over Denmark, and that secured it. They ended the curse! Funny thing is they appear to have started it in 2002 when they not only were ousted, but failed to score a single goal! Even if France loses against Tunisia, they will still qualify.

All of the other three teams still have a chance. Second in the group is Australia. After their 1-4 loss to France, they knew they needed to win their next game against Tunisia to be in contention, and they did it: 1-0. For the Australia/Denmark match, it’s a case of whoever wins qualifies. While Denmark needs nothing short of a win to qualify, Australia could qualify simply by drawing, but they could be ousted if Tunisia defeats France and goal differentials come into play. A win against France and the Australia/Denmark game being a draw is Tunisia’s only chance of qualifying for the group stage. Also if Denmark wins over Australia, Tunisia’s win over France will have to be 2-0 or 3-1 to have that chance. Although I don’t think France will have them win, anything is possible.

Group E:

Group E is another case where all four teams still have chances to qualify for the knockout round. Group E is another group that had surprises. First was Japan’s win over Germany 2-1. Then came the huge win of Spain over Costa Rica: 7-0. Then Costa Rica won over Japan 1-0 and Spain drew against Germany 1-1. Although it’s not guaranteed, Spain has the best chances of qualifying even if they lose. It could be a case they lose to Japan and Germany wins their game, but their big win over Costa Rica puts them in an excellent position to qualify.

Japan looks like the team that can best qualify if they draw, but their chances are slim because of Spain’s huge win. A win over Germany will solidify. Same with Costa Rica. They will need to win over Germany if they want to advance because of the huge loss they had to Spain. Their win against Japan was a boost, but goal differentials will have an impact in qualifying. Germany is the nation where a win is absolutely critical. The Mannschaft are the only team in this group without a win. They will not only need to win against Costa Rica, but hope that the Japan/Spain game results in a draw or Spain winning because if Japan wins, Japan and Spain will have the advantage with goal differentials. That’s the World Cup for you.

Group F:

At first it appeared that Group B would be the “Group Of Death” of the Cup. Seems like almost every group has become like a Group Of Death and Group F is no exception. The first matches started with Morocco and Croatia in a scoreless draw and Belgium defeating Canada 1-0. How about that? The first games end and there’s only a single goal! Then in the second matches, Morocco surprised Belgium 2-0– Morocco’s first World Cup win since 1998 — and Croatia dominated over Canada 4-1.

Three teams still have a chance at qualifying. Although both Morocco and Croatia have a win and a draw, Croatia have the best chances of qualifying because of their goal differentials. Either team can qualify by simply drawing, but it may not be something they’d want to do because of the opponents they’ll face. Belgium knows it will need a win if they want to stay alive. That loss to Morocco really set them back and they can’t afford to take chances since Morocco will be taking on Canada.

Canada is the second team in this World Cup to be eliminated after the second game. They lost 1-0 against Belgium but impressed the world with their strong play and strong defense. In their match against Croatia, they opened strongly with Alphonso Davies delivering what is so far the fastest opening goal of the World Cup. Over time, the Croatians poured it on and exposed the weaknesses in Canada and they lost 4-1. Even before the World Cup, I knew Canada’s chances of qualifying were slim. Nevertheless, I wasn’t too worried about qualification because Canada will be co-hosting the next World Cup. I figured this would be a learning experience for the team as the team consists mostly of young players while teams like Belgium and Croatia consist of well-seasoned players. I wish Canada all the best for 2026.

Group G:

Before Monday, November 28th, France was the only team assured qualification with one game to go. At the end of Monday, two more were added, and both are lusophone nations! You can imagine that the nation football fans would most have their eyes on would be Brazil. Brazil did not disappoint. They opened their World Cup with a 2-0 win over Serbia, thanks to two second-half goals from 25 year-old Richarlison. Their second match was against Switzerland and it was a single goal from Casemiro in the 83rd minute that gave Brazil their victory 1-0. Even if they lose to Cameroon on Friday, they’re guaranteed in there.

The three other teams in Group G also have chances to be the other team to advance. Switzerland has the best chances as they had a 1-0 win over Cameron and their loss to Brazil leaves them with even goal differentials. In fact if Switzerland wins over Serbia and Brazil loses to Cameroon, they can take the top spot of Group G if their win is 2-0 or 3-1! A draw against Serbia is too risky because if it so happens that Cameroon beats Brazil, Cameroon could advance because of better goal differentials thanks to their 3-3 draw to Serbia. Actually both Cameroon and Serbia will need wins to have any chance of advancing. Serbia has the slimmest of chances to qualify with a loss, a draw, three goals sores and five conceded. If they win against Switzerland and Cameroon draws, they can be the team that advances. Even in football, the slimmest of chances are still possible.

Group H:

Four short hours after Brazil became the second team to qualify to the knockout stage, Portugal became the third! It all started in their first match against Ghana. After a scoreless first-half, Portugal won 3-2 and Cristiano Ronaldo made history as the first player to score a goal in five World Cups! A win against Uruguay thanks to two second-half goals from Bruno Fernandes booked them qualification to the Round of 16! Even if they lose to South Korea on Friday, they’re still going!

Any of the other three Group H teams can become the second team to qualify, but their play in the third game will finalize who’s the one. Both matches on Friday are of intrigue. The South Korea/Portugal match because both have Portuguese head coaches, with South Korea’s playing in the 2002 World Cup. The Ghana/Uruguay game because…well, if you saw the 2010 World Cup quarterfinal, you’ll know why Ghana has an axe to grind with Luis Suarez!

Of the three still waiting, Ghana is the one with the best chances. To think before Qatar 2022 began, Ghana was seen as the team with the least odds of winning the Cup and was the team in Qatar with the lowest rank on FIFA’s list: 61st. They may have lost in their opener to Portugal, but their 3-2 loss sent the message not to underestimate the Black Stars. Then against South Korea, they clinched a 3-2 win! A win against Uruguay will solidify qualification. Ghana could qualify if they draw, but they better hope South Korea doesn’t beat Portugal. I’ll bet they don’t want to chance it. As for South Korea and Uruguay, both are in a case where they will need nothing less than a win to qualify. Not only would South Korea need Ghana to draw to qualify, but the Taegeuk Warriors have to win 2-0 or 3-1. Uruguay have it toughest of all as they haven’t even scored a single goal yet. They’ll have to win 2-0 or 3-1 over Ghana and just hope Portugal either beats South Korea or draws against them in order to advance.

And that’s my breakdown of the qualifying chances of the teams of the World Cup right now. These next four days will finalize everything. No wonder I call the final games of the group stage a test of nerves.

WORK CITED:

WIKIPEDIA: Disgrace of Gijón. Wikipedia.com. 2022. Wikimedia Foundation Inc.
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disgrace_of_Gijon>

UEFA Euro 2020: My Prediction For The Final

Will Italy win for the second time? Or England for the first?

Fifty matches, 140 goals, eleven venues and eleven countries. And an event format current UEFA president Aleksandar Cerefin says is too troubling and won’t happen again. I didn’t have a problem with it. Despite it, now the field is narrowed down to the two for the Cup: Italy and England. For Italy, this will be their fourth time playing for the Cup. Their one win came in 1968 and it came after two hugely controversial semifinals. For England, this is their first time ever qualifying for the final! Yes, I find it hard to believe too. Ever since 1996, they’ve been singing ‘It’s Coming Home’ in hopes they win whatever big trophy they’re chasing and now is more chance than ever! For this, I will do my review of Italy vs. England and make my prediction.

Head-To-Head Stats:

Italy vs. England isn’t normally one of the bigger rivalries in football. Italy’s more legendary rivalries are with Germany, Brazil, eastern neighbors Croatia, Spain and France in recent years. England has bigger rivalries with Germany, Argentina and northern neighbors Scotland. Italy and England have played each other 27 times. Italy has won ten times while England has won eight. The last time Italy played England, it was a March 2018 friendly and it ended in a 1-1 draw.

Team Breakdown:

ITALY: It’s hard to believe a team with one of the biggest football legacies of four World Cups has only won a single Euro. It was all the way back in 1968, and after both semifinals consisted of major controversies. In fact Italy’s case was they played a scoreless draw against the Soviet and there wasn’t a penalty kick system like we have now. So a coin-toss was used to decide Italy’s win! Since 1968, they have made it to the final twice: in 2000 and 2012. The Forza Azzurri have always been one of the most dazzling teams in the world, but they can also end up being one of the most unpredictable teams too. There have been many times in tournaments when even if they didn’t win, they would go further than expected. However there are times when Italy has delivered below pre-event expectations. That has especially been the case after they won the World Cup in 2006. However it was right after their failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup that it was aware there had to be changes not only in the team, but the Italian football system.

Since their World Cup failure, they have a new head of the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) Gabriele Gravina and a new coach in Roberto Mancini. Ever since Mancini took hold of the Italian team, the Azzurri have only lost two games with the last loss being in September 2018. They capped hugely successful, 2019 with straight wins. 2021 was also hugely successful with straight wins until the Euro semifinal where they drew 1-1 against Spain. Their win on penalty kicks is a victory for them as Italy is one of the weaker teams at penalty kick rounds. Italy came to this Euro with a lot to prove and prove they did. The final is another opportunity for them to prove themselves. They showed they can score well and that they have good defense. However even coach Mancini admits that England is a stronger team. He even warned his team to be cautious of players like Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling. That could be their one glitch as they may not be able to fend off England’s star strikers. Another is Emerson Palmieri as the replacement goalkeeper. He plays in the Premier League with Chelsea and some England players may be familiar with his weaknesses. Nevertheless, Italy can rise to the challenge and possibly win their second Euro over in Wembley Stadium.

ENGLAND: Hard to believe this is the first-ever Euro final England has made it to! It’s just as surprising as their one World Cup, which was won in 1966 in old Wembley Stadium. Euro 2020 would be poetic if they won their first Euro in the new Wembley Stadium. Yes, it does seem like England’s win of the 1966 World Cup has made them a one-hit-wonder in football. England has almost always fielded the national team with the most talent and the most skill combined. However its inability to go far on the international stage has almost always seems to be the team not being able to come together and play as a team unit. That often seems to be the case. Ever since their World Cup win, the best England has done at the World Cup was two fourth places. Also the best they ever did at Euro was a third place.

2016 appears to be the turning point. This was after England came off possibly its most dreadful performance as a national team with Roy Hodgson. It involved an out in the Group Stage at World Cup 2014 and an out in the Round of 16 at Euro 2016. After Euro 2016, the English team hired Gareth Southgate as the manager. A former national team player himself, Southgate was coach of the national under-21 team at the time. It turned out to be the best move for England. Southgate’s England squad made it to the semifinals of World Cup 2018: the first time since 1990 and only the third time even England make the Top 4 at the World Cup.

Then Euro came. The current English team consists of some of the best veterans and many top rising talents. All but three play for Premier League teams with one playing for Atletico Madrid and two playing for Germany’s Bundesliga teams. England and Southgate had a lot to prove to the eyes of the world here at the Euro 2020 and boy have they been proving it. It the Group Stage, their only non-win was a scoreless draw against Scotland, but their other two matches were wins of 1-0. In the Round of 16, they beat their common rival Germany 2-0. They would show dominance in their quarterfinal against Ukraine by winning 4-0. The semifinal was the first Euro 2020 where England conceded a single goal. Despite it, England was able to recover and win the semi 2-1 in added extra time to qualify for their first-ever Euro final!

England overcame a lot of ‘team demons’ in order to get where they are now. Back at the 2018 World Cup, they won their Round of 16 game against Colombia on penalty kicks. That was the first time ever in four tries that England won a World Cup match on penalty kicks. Even here in Euro 2020, winning over Germany, a team they commonly lose to in major tournaments, shows how much team chemistry between England has improved over Southgate. However England does have their imperfections. You can look at their semifinal win, for starter. The controversy of a fan flashing a laser pointer to the eyes of Danish goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel as Harry Kane was about to make his penalty kick has given their win a tarnish. The English team has been fined by UEFA for this. Another case, as far as play goes, is that Italy has been noticed to have better midfielders than England. That could hurt England during some key moments. Whatever the situation, Wembley Stadium tonight is their chance to tell the world ‘It’s Coming Home’ instead of ‘It’s Coming To Rome.’

My Final Verdict:

This is a tough call and this is a game that could end up as a draw even at the end of added extra time. However I feel I will have to predict England to win this 2-1.

And there you go! That is my focus on the Euro 2020 final and my prediction. You can bet there will be a ton of excitement over in Wembley Stadium and lots to look forward to. Can excitement and national pride repeat itself 55 years later? Only time will tell!

UEFA EURO 2020 Revised Quarterfinal Predictions

The field has been narrowed from 24 to eight. For most, like myself, not the eight we expected!

Normally I don’t concoct a blog of quarterfinal predictions of a major football tournament if it has a Round of 16. Normally I predict the winners of the Round of 16 matches, then make quarterfinal predictions based on my picks of Round of 16 winners and leave it at that. However those that read my blog of my Round of 16 guesses are undoubtedly laughing at how I only got three right. That explains my rewritten predictions for the quarterfinals. I feel they deserve a redo. So here goes my predictions:

Switzerland vs. Spain – Here is the big irony. Switzerland beat out reigning World Cup holders France on penalty kicks to qualify, and Spain beat out World Cup 2018 finalists Croatia in added extra time to qualify! Additional irony is both teams here had Round of 16 matches that ended with 3-3 after regulation time! Interesting!

This is Switzerland’s first-ever win of a knockout game at a Euro ever, and their first in a major tournament since the 1938 World Cup. For Spain, they’re in familiar territory as they’ve won three Euros and a World Cup in the past. Also in the 22 times the two countries played each other, Switzerland has only won once. Switzerland could come alive in soring prowess like they did against France, but I will predict Spain to win here.

Belgium vs. Italy – Two different teams. One is the result of years of teamwork and perfecting that has taken them to the rank of #1 in FIFA’s World rankings. The other is a fresh team with a history of a legacy that’s making a comeback after failing to qualify for the most recent World Cup. Both teams have one thing in common. They both all have straight wins in this Euro tournament.

This is the one quarterfinal lineup I predicted correctly! Hard to choose. The goal scored by Austrian Sasa Kalajdzic was the first goal Italy conceded not just in Euro 2020 but since their match against the Netherlands in October! Belgium only conceded one goal in Euro 2020 in their group game against Denmark. It’s tough to pick a winner in a quarterfinal of two teams with straight wins in this Euro. I know Italy has beaten Belgium more often in head-to-head matches but I pick Belgium because they are the powerhouse of the moment and this Italian team is a rising power.

Czech Republic vs. Denmark – Another quarterfinal of teams that surprised in their Round of 16 match. Most people would have touted the Netherlands over the Czech Republic. However the Czechs delivered a surprise win of two goals. Also many would have predicted Wales to beat Denmark as they have the more lauded players. Denmark surprised them with four goals!

It’s interesting in these past two games, Denmark scored four goals each game. Their group match against Russia was do or die for them to qualify and it became a case where the Danish Dynamite finally exploded! The Czechs are also a team that appear to be showing their best traits in only their most recent games. For this match, I will predict Denmark because they’re best at pulling surprises. Also if this is a possible draw, which is quite likely with the head-to-head record, I think the Danes will take it in penalty kicks.

England vs. Ukraine – Tuesday was a case where the eventual winners were not the favorites going into their Round of 16 matches. England has been known in recent decades of losing to Germany. How easy we forgot they beat Germany to win the 1966 World Cup. And in the old Wembley Stadium. However it was a case of one of the best English teams ever against a struggling German team and it resulted in a 2-0 win! And in the new Wembley Stadium. Their first win of a knockout game since Euro 1996, which England hosted! And current coach Garreth Southgate was a player for the team back then!

For Ukraine, Sweden had the bigger expectations to win considering they topped their group with two wins and a draw, while Ukraine squeaked in with just a win and two losses. Anything can happen in a match. The game drew 1-1 after regulation and then in the stoppage time of added extra time, Ukraine’s Artem Dovbyk scored the winning goal!

England have not yet conceded a goal during the Euro 2020 tournament. Ukraine have lost games during Euro 2020, but have also delivered some surprise moments. In football, anything can happen. England have won four of the seven head-to-head matches while Ukraine has only won once. I will have to go with England on this. Even though they won’t be in their home country for this quarterfinal, it won’t rob them of their luck.

And there you have it. My revised predictions of the Euro 2020 quarterfinals. Interesting that the quarterfinals is the last round that will have the teams play in alternating cities and countries. The semis and finals will all be held in Wembley. Stay tuned for some exciting play!

Oscars 2019 Shorts Review: Animation, Live-Action and Documentary

Cinema

This year marked another year I was able to see the Oscar-nominated shorts in the Animation and Live-Action categories. This year was also the very first year I was able to see the nominated Documentary shorts. That’s my Oscar milestone for this year. Here are my reviews of the films:

LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILMS

Two films are set in Middle eastern countries. One is set in Central America. One is set in Belgium while one is set in New York City. Three are dramas from start to finish. One starts as a comedy, but ends in dramatic fashion. One is a comedy from start to finish. Here are my thoughts on the live-action shorts nominees:

Brotherhood: dirs. Meryam Joobeur and Maria Gracia Turgeon – This is a story set in Tunisia. Two brothers are awaiting their older brother Aladinne to return from Syria. The father Muhamad appears to be looking forward to this. The brother returns. However he reveals Aladinne’s now married to a teenaged Syrian woman who is pregnant. The father is suspicious of Aladinne, fearing he may have joined ISIL in Syria. Muhamad makes a phone call Over time though, truths come out from both Aladinne to his other brothers over by the beach and to Muhamad though the wife. Including the truth about her pregnancy. The ending will leave one asking questions.

This is a relevant story as it is a situation that’s possibly happening in families in the Middle East now. It leads one thinking which brotherhood Aladinne is part of: his blood brothers or the ‘brotherhood’ of a terrorist group. It’s a story that gets one thinking. That’s why I predict it as my Will Win pick.

Nefta Football Club: dirs. Yves Piat and Damien Megherbi – The film begins with two men in the hills of Algeria who lost a donkey. It then leads into two brothers on a motor bike arguing over who the best footballer is. Then to a group of boys playing in a nearby football club. The boys get into an argument where the out-of-bounds is as there are no lines. The younger brother has to stop to urinate. After he’s finished, he notices the stray donkey who has earphones tuned into Saharan music. The older brother notices bags of cocaine with the donkey. The older brother decides to sell it but keep it secret. The two men are baffled. Especially one man who put the music onto Hadel instead of Adele. The older brother tries to sell it but something goes wrong. The ending will leave all surprised, and delighted.

This short was actually the last of the five that were shown. Knowing how the previous four had dark or tragic stories, you will expect something terrible or tragic to happen. You might even anticipate a social message out of this. I think those of us watching all needed some comic relief! It will make you glad this film is last in running order. End on a positive note.

The Neighbors’ Window: dir. Marshall Curry – Alli and Jacob are a middle-aged couple with two preschool-aged children and expecting a third soon. They live in a block of apartments in New York. They notice there is a young couple that moved into the apartment right across from them. Their window is a view to their apartment and they notice the two naked and making love. Did they forget to put up the drapes already? Three months pass. Alli gave birth to their third child. Jacob works from home and has a perfect view to watch the couple from the window as he works. That gets on Alli’s nerves. During Christmas, the Alli and Jacob have a family Christmas while that couple have a big party. Soon Alli becomes the voyeur. She notices the man has a bald head. Jacob thinks she shaved it. Soon it becomes evident he’s sick as he can be seen from his bed. Eventually Alli and the woman connect, but through unfortunate circumstances.

This is a film of a story where time elapses over eighteen months. It starts simply as a story of two voyeurs. Then it leads into a story of a couple who get reminded how much they miss their young-and-stupid days when they see those two having fun. The fun ends when sadder truths become obvious. I think the point of the story is to remind us of our own judgementality and even how prone we are to compare ourselves to others and making ourselves feel inferior without knowing the truth. It speaks volumes.

Saria: dirs. Bryan Buckley and Matt Lefebvre – The film begins in an orphanage one day in March 2017 in Guatemala. The fifty-one girls are woken up by the leader. The leader acts as the teacher. Before classes Saria learns that her sister has fallen in love with a male from the orphanage named Appo. During class Saria says a comment of defiance. This angers the teacher so much, she commands her to the guard who has her raped and beaten. Ximena learns from Saria that she and Appo have a plan to escape and walk to the United States for freedom. The opportunity arises when the girls hold a protest over the dirty and unsafe conditions of the orphanage. During police action, Saria and Ximena make their escape with Appo. However it’s a hopeless cause as the police have then cornered by dogs. Appo decides to throw himself to the dogs for the girls’ safety. All the 51 girls are brought back into a single room with just mattresses and the woman guarding. Two girls plan an escape by using fire, but it fails as the guard ignores them all.

This is a story based on real events. There was a protest over the conditions of the orphanage on March 7, 2017 and there was a planned escape. The girls were locked in that room and there was an escape plan that involved fire. The guard, who was a female, ignored them all until after ten minutes. 41 girls died. There were only ten girls who survived and they exposed the story. It’s not meant to be a true story. Instead it gives the girls who were victims characters and personalities. It exposes a truth of what’s happening in Guatemala while also reminding us these orphan girls were girls with hopes and dreams. I like the humanistic approach to the story. That’s why I call it my Should Win pick.

A Sister: dir. Delphine Girard – The film begins inside a car. The man is driving and the woman appears to be a passenger making a phone call to her sister. The film then goes to the emergency call centre. A woman is picking p this very call. She sorts out the confusion. It’s evident the woman in the car is making an emergency call and disguising it to look like it’s a call to her sister. The woman on the other end tries to work with her and even poses as the sister when the man talks on the line. This sets up for a climactic, but positive, end.

This is a film that keeps the viewer in the moment. There’s what one knows at the start and then what one knows as time goes on. At the same time, it puts the viewer in the intensity of the situation. You know it’s an abduction but the last thing you want is the worst. Throughout the film it’s a case of scenes of the woman and the man in the car and the woman at emergency control. It’s a story that will get you interested once you fully understand it and then keep you in the intensity of the story until the end.

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM

Interesting how not a single nominated short is 3D computerized animation. Even the computerized ones are 2D. The 3D ones are all stop-motion. All of them are unique in the stories they have to tell and the styles of animation they display.

Dcera (Daughter): dir. Daria Kashcheeva – The daughter watches her ailing father from his hospital bed. Suddenly a bird crashes through the window of the room. That still bird reminds her of the time she saw a dying bird and tried to get her father to resuscitate it. He was too busy cooking. She was in tears, but it inspired her to make a bird mask. She then remembers the time she was on a subway to a festival where she had to wear red makeup. She refuted and left the subway. He has the mask she made and decides to wear it. Then the film flashes to the present. He’s not in his bed. She then notices he slept with the mask she made. She goes to meet up with her father, who is being taken to surgery. Suddenly he becomes all better and the bird that crashed through is alive, just like that bird in her childhood.

I think the motif of birds can be interpreted in one of two ways: either the girl loves birds or she want to be free as a bird in her life pursuits. The story is told with marvelous artistry through stop motion on knit dolls and paper eyes. The animation style makes the artistry of the film and magnifies the beauty of the story.

Hair Love: dirs. Matthew Cherry and Karen Rupert Toliver – A young African-American girl in an apartment wants to style her hair just like the woman in the YouTube video styles it. The man, a neighbor, however tries to style it differently. The girl leaves crying. It isn’t until he sees the drawing and learning that the woman in the instruction video is the girl’s mother that he agrees to do it that way. He watches and does her hair at the same time, and the result is perfection. Then he takes the girl to see her mother in the hospital, in a wheelchair, and bald from chemotherapy.

This is a story that starts as being entertaining during the first half. Then you see the human moments at the very end of the story. The story goes from fun to touching deep down inside with surprising results. This is definitely a heart-warmer for anyone. You have to be hard-hearted not to like it. It will touch anyone who has gone through cancer or knows someone close who is going through cancer. That’s why I give it my Will Win pick.

Kitbull: dirs. Rosanna Sullivan and Kathryn Hendrickson – The film starts with a black stray kitten going throughout the neighborhood. He finds an area near a house full of boxes and wood blocks to make his own shelter. He also learns the owners own a big vicious dog and they keep him chained outside. The dog first wants to make food out of the kitten, but the kitten shows the dog he stands his ground and can fight vicious when provoked. Soon the kitten notices the dog is being abused by the owner. The kitten then sends the message to the dog that he can help him find a way out. Then the two plan their escape together. Soon the dog’s wounds heal and they find themselves adopted by an interracial couple.

This is a film from Pixar that was on the Disney+ channel. I find it surprising that Pixar created a 2D story! Usually they do 3D, but I still like it nevertheless. I’ve seen stories in animation before of how the cat and the dog go from enemies to the best of pals. This is unique as it tells that story with the theme of interracial relations. I admire how they do that in this story. It makes for a story that crosses from the humorous to the serious. However it still ends on a happy note, as we all hope it will.

Memorable: dirs. Bruno Collet and Jean-Francois le Corre – A painter gets into an argument with his wife, or so it appears. It turns out he has either dementia or Alzheimers and his wife has died. The conversations he has with his wife are in his mind. He still continues to paint, but it’s not easy to do. Then one day he decides to do a simple painting of simple unattached strokes. The strokes come alive and it’s in the shape of his wife. They even speak with her voice. It’s like she’s alive through the painting. The two share one dance together and it’s a dance full of color.

This is a dark story. However it’s told in touching form and even through a positive tone through the animation. This animation style is claymation and brush-stroke on glass. It’s like the story about the painting is trying to be like paintings themselves. It’s as much about the style in which the story is told as it is about the story. I make this my Should Win pick because this is the most unique and colorful of the nominees.

Sister: dir. Siqi Song – This is a story told by an adult male of how he experienced his baby sister: when she was born and when she was growing up. Boy did she have bratty behavior. Then you learn this is just a story of his. The sister he was supposed to have was aborted because of China’s One-Child policy. The story is just his story of how he fantasizes of what his baby sister would have been like. Somehow the film ends on a positive note.

Some would rush to dismiss this story as pro-life propaganda. I won’t state my stance but I don’t consider this propaganda. Keep in mind the sister was aborted because of China’s One-Child policy. The abortion was not the mother’s choice. The story is told in a unique way as it’s told through stop-motion animation and through knitted dolls. I have seen similar animation. At first I didn’t think an Oscar-nominated film could come through this style of animation, but it does here. I find it unique for the animator to tell a dark story with some humor into it. It’s worth admiring.

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT

Some of you may ask why haven’t I seen the Documentary Shorts in past year? It’s hard to say. Money? Lack of interest? Time? Those were the most likely reasons. However I did have the time and money this year, and I made myself interested in them. So here are my thoughts of this year’s nominated documentary shorts:

In The Absence: dirs. Yi Seung-jun and Gary Byung-seok Kam – This is a story that focuses on the sinking of the Sewol ferry off the waters off the coast of South Korea on April 16, 2014. 304 people of the 476 on board perished. Most were high school students. The documentary shows a lot of film footage from the day of the accident which includes news footage, rescue footage and footage from passenger smartphones. The film includes hearing dialogue between the Coast Guard, the transportation office and President Park Geun-hye. The film also includes footage of the inquiry and of footage when the Sewol was raised out of the sea three years later.

This film is good in letting the moments of the accident tell the story as well as expose a lot of ugly truths that people already knew. The film showcases the root of the problem: negligence on many parts. It shows the negligence and lack of action of the coast guards, the negligence of the transportation board, the negligence of the captain who instructed passengers to stay in before he escaped, and the negligence of the government. There are some interviews with parents of fatalities, survivors, and volunteer divers who dove to bring bodies up. I liked how this film used a combined set of video, film and audio to expose the truth of the matter. It also proved insightful as I believe this is the first disaster I know of leading to the overthrow of a world leader. That’s why I pick it as my Should Win pick.

Learning To Skate In A Warzone (If You’re A Girl): dirs. Carol Dysinger and Elena Andreicheva – The film shows girls in Kabul, Afghanistan who attend a school privately after boys leave the school. This is in an area of Afghanistan that is strongly against girls going to school. Not only do they go to school, they also learn skateboarding at a park called Skateistan. The film interviews the young girls about their family background, what they like about school and what their ambitions are. The film also interviews the teachers and instructors throughout the whole year.

This is an excellent documentary reminding us of the threats women in Afghanistan still face. However it also shows us the hope of a better tomorrow. The film shows the girls as they learn the five basics of skateboarding over time. It also shows how their skateboarding lessons aren’t simply for fun. They’re life skills along with their education for a better tomorrow. The film includes the interviews as well as footage of the girls at school and at their skateboarding lessons. The film also includes audio of news stories of bomb blasts in Kabul reminding us that they still face threats to their future. The film then ends with an image of hope. Overall an excellent short documentary, which is why I make it my Will Win pick.

Life Overtakes Me: dirs. John Haptas and Kristine Samuelson – This film is of a dark subject matter: Resignation Syndrome. It’s a coma-like psychological problem that mostly happens in children and is common in Sweden. The film shows three children who have suffered this syndrome for many months. All lay in bed most of the time and are fed by tubes and syringes. The film also shows how the families work to resuscitate the child out of the illness by giving them exercises and taking them out in the open. The film allows the parents to tell the stories of what led them to flee their countries. The film also includes doctors showing their insights into the problem.

This film is good at exposing a problem that exists in many countries but is rarely talked about. It presents the examples and even shows how the syndrome happens most when the parents are facing a distressful situation regarding their refugee status. The film shows the children and their families in one time setting and the follow-up many months later. Two of the children show progress in their recovery while the other shows that her sister is showing signs she will soon suffer from it too. The main child at the start is given a third filming where she’s seen fully recovered. The film also presents a puzzling situation of why Sweden is the country with the highest rate of of Resignation Syndrome. This is a very insightful informative film that ends with a ray of hope.

St. Louis Superman: dirs. Smriti Mundhra and Sami Khan – The film opens with Bruce Franks Jr. talking with his son who’s about to turn five. The son was born on the same day African-American Michael Brown was shot to death by a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri: a suburb of St. Louis. That event shapes Bruce into joining the St. Louis chapter of Black Lives Matter. That also made Bruce run as a State Representative and win. As Bruce is now a lawmaker and judges laws being passed in state congress, Bruce now has a new battle as he seeks to have passed laws labeling youth violence as a public epidemic and having Christopher Harris Day on June 7: the day in 1992 Christopher, his nine-year-old brother, was shot by someone using him as a human shield.

The film is a telling of Bruce’s life. It shows him as a congressman, a lawmaker, a rapper by night, an activist, a youth leader, and a family man. It showcases the many battles he goes through with getting his bill passed both by debate through the opposition and even other African-Americans who see him as a conformist to ‘the system.’ This film is also a ray of hope and a reminder at even in the days of Trump’s America where there appears to be a lot of ignorance and red tape, that efforts for the better can happen and that the marginalized can have a hope for a better future. Excellently done.

Walk Run Cha-Cha: dirs. Laura Nix and Colette Sandstedt – The film begins with a Cha-Cha lesson taught in a dance hall in a Los Angeles neighborhood. The students are Asian and middle-aged and the teachers are Ukrainian emigres Maksym Kapitanchuka and Elena Krifuks. The film focuses on the couple Paul and Millie Cao. Paul and Millie first met each other in Vietnam back in the 1970’s. Communism took over and both had to leave for the United States, albeit six years apart. They’ve become successful professionals but have taken dance as a way to rediscover themselves. Maksym and Elena even work with them privately for a competition dance.

This is a story where we get to learn about a couple and their life experience about what brought them to the United States. We learn about their love back home, their loss of connection as both left Vietnam at different times, their families who also emigrated to the United States to their dance number. This film reminds us that for many, dance is more than just a hobby or an activity. It’s a chance for one to rediscover themselves. The film doesn’t end with the Caos in a competition. Instead it ends with their performance to a cover of We’ve Only Just Begun. Even though the two were reunited decades earlier, the film makes the dance performance look like the two are truly reunited at that moment. Not just a delight to watch, but insightful.

It’s interesting watching the documentary nominees for the first time. They all tell a lot in their limited time. Even for those that focus on a certain issue, it makes its point very well in that time. It even adds the human element to add to their point. Usually I’m skeptical to documentary films because all too often, it shows an issue through one side and one side only. You can thank Michael Moore for that suspicion of mine. However I was impressed with what I saw. It was hard to detect them as one-sided. They all made their point well.

And there you have it! Those are my reviews and predictions of the short films nominated at this year’s Academy Awards. It should be interesting to see the winners. Also it will be interesting to see how far these directors go in the future.

2019 Grey Cup Preview

Grey Cup

Sunday November 24th will be the 107th contesting of the Grey Cup: Canada’s big day of football. This will be another contesting of East vs. West, as it should be. This time East is represented by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and West will be represented by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

FIFTH TIME FOR CALGARY

This Grey Cup will mark the fifth time Calgary’s McMahon Stadium will host the Grey Cup. The stadium opened in 1960 and has undergone two renovations and four expansions. In addition to four previous Grey Cups (the last one being in 2009), the Stadium has also hosted the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 1988 Winter Olympic Games of Calgary and was part of the Ozzy Osbourne-led 2008 Monsters Of Rock tour. It normally seats 35,400 but can be expanded to 46,020. The CFL was originally planning to have the Grey Cup located to October two years ago, but that plan didn’t go through.

The four-day Grey Cup festival in Calgary started back on November 20th and is to continue until Saturday November 23rd. It will be centred in downtown Calgary and leading to McMahon Stadium. There will be forty festivities and events including a family-friendly festival, pancake breakfast and traditional team parties. There will be a special Grey Cup rodeo at the Stampede Corral and the Fusion Music Festival. The anthem will be sung by Lindsay Kelly with the Calgary Stampede Showband and the half-time show will have Keith Urban.

And Now For The Game

As I mentioned at the beginning, it will be Hamilton Tiger-Cats vs. Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Basically a rematch of the 1984 Grey Cup! The TiCats are the heavy favorites as they led the 2019 Season, but Winnipeg has been a team of surprises. Can they surprise at the Grey Cup too?

WEST: WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS

Winnipeg BB

Winnipeg is the surprise of the Grey Cup. At the very end of the 2019 CFL season, Winnipeg was third in the West, but the rankings were very tight as Winnipeg was 11 wins and 7 losses while group-topper Calgary was 13-5.

Before the playoffs, started, the chances for Winnipeg looked glum as they lost four of their final six games, including Calgary 33-37. Calgary would be Winnipeg’s opponent in the first playoff game. This appeared to be Calgary’s for the taking as the Bombers lost both regular-season games against them, but Winnipeg pulled an upset with 35-14. For the Western final, they had to face Saskatchewan; another team that beat them in both regular-season games. Winnipeg seized control in the first quarter and maintained good enough attack and defense to deliver a 20-13 win.

Winnipeg has not won a Grey Cup since 1990. Here in the Grey Cup, they will be facing yet another team they lost to in both their regular-season games against them. They could pull off an upset if they start with Zach Collaros and Andrew Harris. Keep in mind Collaros led Saskatchewan to a win over Hamilton. So there’s plenty of chance for an upset over here. However it’s about having the right lineup at the start and the team to deliver.

EAST: HAMILTON TIGER-CATS

Hamilton TC

This year has been Hamilton’s year. They led the regular season with fifteen wins and three losses. They only had to play the Eastern final game in order to qualify for the Grey Cup and they did so in brilliant fashion: winning 36-16.

Like Winnipeg, Hamilton has had a long wait since their last Grey Cup: back in 1999. Hamilton beat Winnipeg in both regular-season games against them. Hamilton showed brilliant play in their win against Edmonton. Hamilton can do it again against Winnipeg. They have some of the best talent in the CFL. However some of their best players like Brandon Banks and Tevin Mitchell are injured. Winnipeg could use that as an advantage.

FINAL PREDICTION

Hamilton has been the team that’s been the most on all year and they show no signs of letting go. Winnipeg, on the other hand, appears to have arrived like never before at the playoffs and could carry their streak of success to a Grey Cup win. However I will have to go with my best instincts and pick Hamilton to win 35-19.

So there you have it. There’s my prediction for the 107th Grey Cup. However it will all be decided in McMahon Stadium on Sunday. Anything can happen.

2019 FIFA WWC: My Prediction for the FINAL, And Third-Place Playoff Too

ettie

I have to say this Women’s World Cup has been excellent. It won’t break the attendance record set by Canada back in 2015 but it has already surpassed the 1 million mark. The support for the teams has been outstanding with the various football federations shouting their support and some of the biggest male football stars supporting their teammates. Play has also been excellent as there’s American Alex Morgan and England’s Ellen White chasing the golden boot with six goals each. Also there’s only been four expulsions: only one of which was an instant red. So this is a Women’s World Cup France should be very proud of.

THIRD-PLACE Playoff:

Few people are willing to make a prediction for the Third-Place playoff, or the match I call the ‘bronze medal match.’ However I’m one who is willing. Here’s how I look at it:

Head-To-Head Stats:

England and Sweden have faced off against each other 24 times before in the past. Sweden has won thirteen times, England won three times and they drew eight times. Their last match against each other was on November 11, 2018 which Sweden won 2-0.

Team-By-Team Analysis:

England fixedEngland: Women’s football has really grown a lot since England finished third at the last Women’s World Cup. The team they fielded looked like one that could pose the best challenge to the United States. Unfortunately it was not to be as the US beat them 2-1. To add insult to the injury, the US’s Alex Morgan appeared to do a tea-sipping gesture after scoring the winning goal. Many have taken this to be an insult to the English.

It’s difficult to say if England will win. They will have a lot of their top stars like Ellen white and Lucy Bronze ready to play for the game, but Millie Bright won’t be after her double-yellow red card. Phil Neville knows that he will have to get his team ready for the match on Saturday. England have already gotten this far. Perhaps they can give their team one last feat.

Sweden FixedSweden: Before the semifinal, I’m sure most of you predicted Sweden to beat the Netherlands. I mean Sweden had the clout. They’ve been to every Women’s World Cup since it began in 1991. They’ve finished in the Top 3 three times before. They’ve even beat the Netherlands way more often than they lost to them. However things did not go according to plan. Before the match, Fridolina Rolfö received a second yellow card during the match against Germany which meant she will miss the next match. The Netherlands turned out to be a more formidable opponent than they expected. Regulation play resulted in no score. Then there was the goal from Jackie Groenen in the 99th minute. Then there was the shocking injury to Kosovare Asllani where she was carried off on a stretcher.

Sweden came to the tournament with a lot of energy. They won big and were able to rebound after a loss to the United States. Their trip to the WWC semifinal was not easy as they overcame teams like Canada and Germany that had bigger expectations. However they were brought to a halt by the Netherlands in the semifinals. They could win the third-place match or they could lose it. It depends if their players are all in top condition and they attack more than they did on Wednesday.

My Prediction: England have the star strikers, while Sweden has a strong team unit. Sweden will have a one-woman advantage in this game after Bright’s expulsion. Asllani may not be recovered from her injury, but Rolfö can be brought back in play. I will predict Sweden to win 2-0.

THE FINAL

FIFA WWC

This is it. The final for the Women’s World Cup. One team has been their four of the previous seven times and won three times including the last contest in Canada. The other team is only competing in its second Women’s World Cup and won its first-ever knockout match right here in France. So this is quite the quantum leap for the team. So here’s the low-down:

Head-To-Head Stats:

The USA and the Netherlands have met only seven times before. The only time the Netherlands won before was their first meeting all the way back in 1991. The last time the two squared off against each other was in 2016.

Team-By-Team Analysis:

United_States_SoccerUnited States: The United States is the team that is most expected to win this Women’s World Cup. They’re the defending champs from 2015. They’re ranked #1 in the World. They have some of the biggest stars in women’s football who are seen as trailblazers. However they have also earned naysayers too. It all started when they won 13-0 against Thailand and celebrated after each goal. Many thought it was disrespectful. Then Megan Rapinoe made headlines for taking a knee during the play of the Star-Spangled Banner. She followed that by saying she won’t be going to the White House to a reporter. Most recently, Alex Morgan made England fans mad when she celebrated her game-winning goal by doing a tea-sipping gesture. Despite the negative press, they’ve delivered each time. They’ve won all their games, scoring 24 goals and only conceding three.

The only barrier I can see the US would have en route to winning the Cup is them being overconfident. They’ve played very well: better than any other nation. However they showed in their Round Of 16 game against Spain they could give it all away. They won 2-1, but on two penalty kicks from Rapinoe. They did come back in the QuarterFinals against France winning 2-1. However they should not go to the Final thinking they’ll roll over the Netherlands. The Netherlands has surprised all their major opponents here in France. For the US to win, they have to be on the ball and take the Netherlands seriously.

Netherlands FootballNetherlands: Before Women’s Euro 2017, people did not expect much of the Netherlands. Why should they after they finished in the Round of 16 in Canada 2015 and failed to qualify for the Olympics? However they surprised everybody by winning all their games and would win the final by beating Denmark 4-2. This made it the first Women’s Euro since 1993 that Germany didn’t win! Here at this Women’s World Cup, expectations were good but not that big. Canada was expected to top Group E, but the Netherlands did it by winning all their games, including beating Canada 2-1. Then in the Round of 16, they were pitted against Japan whom they lost to in Canada 2015. This time the Netherlands won. They were pitted against Italy in the quarterfinals and won 2-0. Then came Sweden who was more expected to win the game. It started with nil-nil after regulation, but a goal from Jackie Groenen in the 99th changed it all. Now it’s the Netherlands in the final.

What can I say? The Netherlands have silenced their critics. Especially those who dismissed their win at the Women’s Euro as host-country luck. These past six matches show that the Netherlands have earned their place in the WWC Final. However the United States team has more seasoned players and have consistently shown to be a stronger team unit with more know-how of the game than the Dutch players. Now don’t get me wrong. I think the Netherlands can win against the USA, but they will have to play like they’ve never played before, both as individuals and as a team unit, and take advantage of any American weak-spots once they find them.

My Prediction:

I hate to side with the majority so instantaneously, but I think the United States will win this 4-1. I hate to peeve off Oranje fans, I could be wrong, but the Netherlands simply making it to the final already shows how much women’s football has improved there.

And there you go. That’s my prediction for the Final of the Women’s World Cup, as well as my prediction for the third-place match. To think it will all be decided by Sunday. What a month it’s been!

 

 

2019 FIFA WWC: My Predictions For The SemiFinals

Womens Cup

It does seem odd that I post my predictions for the semifinals on Canada Day, especially since Canada is out of the tournament. In fact the two teams that Canada lost to in France, Netherlands and Sweden, are squaring off in the second semi-final! Sometimes I think that sends a message of how good Canada was as a team; that the teams they lost to got this far. We shouldn’t forget that both teams beat other top teams in the knockout rounds too; Netherlands beat 2015 finalist Japan in the Round of 16 and Sweden beat 2016 Olympic champs Germany in the quarterfinal. Other top teams like Australia, Brazil, China and France are out too. Pele always says: “Football is a box of surprises.”

WWC SemisAnyways enough of who are out of the tournament and let’s focus on the four that are still standing. The US is the only one of the four that have won the Women’s World Cup in the past, two have been to the semis at least once before, and one team is there for the first time ever. Three have won all of their games in this WWC while one had a loss in group play to a team that’s also in the semifinals. Both semifinal matches will take place at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais in Lyon: the same venue that will hold the final for the Cup. So here’s a look at the four teams in both semifinals and my predictions:

SEMIFINAL #1: England vs. U.S.A.

Head-To-Head Stats:

The only time the US and England met head-to-head at the WWC was back in 2007 which the US won 3-0. No doubt after that, England decided to get better. In the past five years, the two meet five times before: four of those times at the new She Believes Tournament. Of the five times, England won once while the US won three times. Their last meeting was at this year’s She Believes Tournament. England won the tournament, but drew against the US 2-2. The US was the only team England didn’t defeat.

Team-By-Team Analysis:

EnglandEngland: This makes it only the second time England has reached the semifinals of the Women’s World Cup. The only other time was back in 2015. England’s appearance in the semis allows Great Britain to qualify a women’s team to the Tokyo Olympics. England won all their games in the Group Stage with Scotland being the only team to score a goal against them. England especially wanted to get revenge on Japan whom they lost to back in 2015. England continued looking like a tough team to beat with 3-0 wins against Cameroon in the Round of 16 and Norway in the quarterfinals. England have been earning their strong share of supporters like Wayne Rooney, Prince William, various BBC personalities and even the public with chants of “It’s coming home!” Many English who never cared about women’s football in the past are now paying attention!

England have been looking like a strong opponent all tournament. However they do have their imperfections. They’ve lost to major opponents early in tournaments. Also they’ve had losses to top-ranked teams in the past 12 months. England will have to be on-target if they’re to win here in France.

United_States_Soccer

United States: In all eight Women’s World Cups, the United States has been present. In all eight Women’s World Cups have they made it as far as the semifinals. In the Group Stage, they appeared invincible in their 13-0 win against Thailand and continued looking impressive with a 3-0 win against Chile and a 2-0 win against Sweden. Then in the knockout rounds, the US appeared to lost its edge after a 2-1 win over Spain in the Round of 16: both goals being penalty kicks delivered by Megan Rapinoe. Also it was Rapinoe who made the most controversy when she took a knee during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner and even said in an interview about a White House-dinner if the team wins “I’m not going to the ******* White House.” It was an intense three days between the whole fiasco and their game against France. The team had since stood with Rapinoe and what she said. What happened against France was the team responded with a 2-1 win: both goals scored by Rapinoe.

The US came as the team with the most expectations to win and has been one team that has best delivered so far. However this World Cup is all about endurance and who is the strongest at the end. The US went all out in the Round of 16 but appeared to give way when they played against Spain. They can’t afford to do that in their semifinal against England on Tuesday. Not after how well England has been playing. Don’t forget they went easy at the 2016 Rio Olympics and found themselves out without a medal.

My Prediction: Last time England played the US, it was this year in February and the result was a 2-2 draw. I anticipate the game will be a 1-1 draw with the United States winning on penalties.

SEMIFINALS #2: Netherlands vs. Sweden

Head-To-Head Stats:

This is the first time the Netherlands and Sweden will meet on the Women’s World Cup stage. They met once before at the Women’s Euro in 2017 where host-nation Netherlands beat Sweden 2-0 in the quarterfinals en route to winning the championship. In total, Sweden has beat the Netherlands more often in the 21 previous times that they met: ten times in total. Six times the Netherlands won while five games ended as draws.

Team-By-Team Analysis:

Netherlands Football

Netherlands: Isn’t that something how a team that has only competed in their second Women’s World Cup is now in their first-ever semi finals? Actually the Netherlands’ woen’s team was not taken too seriously until they qualified for their first Women’s Euro in 2009. There they finished third and showed that the women’s team has a lot of promise ahead. Back when they made their WWC debut in Canada 2015, they finished in the Round of 16 losing 1-2 to eventual finalists Japan. However the Leeuwinnen have really taken off in success. Back in 2017 when they hosted the Women’s Euro, they won! They would also continue their winning way by topping the 2018 Algarve Cup (based on stats). The Netherlands would be the team that toughed it out in the FIFA playoff rounds for qualifying for this Women’s World Cup.

The Netherlands have overcome a lot to be in this semi. They were successful in winning all their games in the Group Stage, got revenge on Japan 2-1 in the Round of 15 and beat Italy 2-0. They have overcome a lot to prove their Euro win was no fluke. However they have had a history of losing out to key opponents. They’ve lost to teams like Spain, Norway and Poland in the last eighteen months. The Netherlands have done very well together, but they will have to be on if they are going to beat Sweden in the semifinal.

SwedenSweden: While Netherlands are rookies at being in the WWC semifinals, Sweden have been there before. Three times to be exact with the last time being a third-place finish in 2011. Like the US, they’ve also competed in every Women’s World Cup. Here in France, they’ve been showing a lot of great team play and a lot of great play together. That has helped them in every game and even surpass major favorites like Canada and Germany. The one thing about Sweden is that needs to continue its team strength or else it will fall apart. And it has fallen apart in major tournaments in the past, like WWC 2015 and Euro 2017. This game could be Sweden’s triumph or Sweden’s choke.

Sweden are a team that know how to rebound when you least expect it. At the 2016 Olympics, they received their biggest defeat in the team’s history by losing to Brazil 5-1 in group play only to draw against them in the semifinals and defeat them in penalty kicks. Sweden would go on to the gold-medal match, but lose to Germany. The funny thing is it’s at this very Women’s World Cup where they got their revenge on Germany: in the quarterfinals with a 2-1 win. Here’s another thing to chew on: Sweden lost in the quarterfinals of the 2017 Women’s Euro to the Netherlands. Will they get revenge here? And if the US win their semi, will Sweden get revenge for group play by beating them in the final?

My Prediction: Sweden may have won against the Netherlands more often, but Oranje have won their last two meetings. Netherlands may ave won all their games, but Sweden have performed better as a team. I predict Sweden to win 2-1 in added extra time.

And there you have it. Those are my predictions for the 2019 Women’s World Cup semifinals. Hard to believe the final is just six days away! May the best team win!

 

 

World Cup 2018: My Prediction For The Final, And Third-Place Playoff Too

Final

I know most of my picks for the Group Stage panned out while some didn’t. I know I was very good at predicting the Round Of 16 and QuarterFinals but was off a bit. Also I know I got both SemiFinals wrong. Nevertheless I’m not worried. If the BBC’s Mark ‘Lawro’ Lawrenson can have a 52% success rate and still keep his job, I’m pretty comfortable right now.

Anyways the last two big matches will be contested this weekend. Here are my reviews of the two big matches:

The 3rd-Place Match for the bronze medal will be contested Saturday the 14th in Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg. The Final for the Cup will take place at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

THIRD-PLACE PLAYOFF REVIEW:

The 3rd-Place Match for the bronze medal will be contested Saturday the 14th in Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg. Often you wonder who normally wins the 3rd-Place Match? The team who most feels they have one last thing to prove? Or the team that’s the least disheartened? Whatever the situation, it should make for an interesting match. Especially since both teams met in the Group Stage in Group G. Here’s my review of both teams.

Past Head-To-Head Results: England and Belgium have squared off 22 times before. England won 15 times and Belgium won only three times including here in Russia 1-0 in group play. They drew four times in the past. As for World Cup play, their other two games were a 1990 Round-of-16 win for England and a 4-4 draw in 1954.

BelgiumBelgium: The Red Devils should be admired. They are a collection of marvelously talented players in their own right coming together to give Belgium one of their best World Cup performances ever, if not the best. They proved to be a top challenger for the final, but the goal from France’s Unmiti in the 51st minute ended their World Cup dreams. Nevertheless the Belgian team here have the chance to give Belgium it’s best-ever World Cup finish. Belgium’s best finish ever was 4th in 1986. Here’s the chance for them to win a 3rd-place match. An excellent chance to revive the #RedTogether spirit.

They have the advantage since they met England in group play and won 1-0. They can do it again. However they did show vulnerability in their game against Japan when they trailed 2-0 with 25 minutes to go. They did do an excellent job of coming back to win. However their luck ran out when they faced France. Their top players are still in excellent form in this ‘marathon’ of a competition, but they have to function together if they want to win this.

England fixedEngland: They came in 2018 with a new team and a new determination based on past humiliations. They came with a fairly young coach with experience playing in a World Cup. They came from the various teams of the Premier League with a lot of established talents and a lot of young rising talents. They came with the hope of winning England’s first World Cup since 1966. They delivered one of their best group stage showings in years. They delivered England’s first-ever win of a World Cup game on penalties after losing the previous three. They came with their fans chanting It’s Coming Home (in reference to the Euro 1996 theme song). Then it ended in the semifinal against Croatia. They began strong with a goal from Kieran Trippier in the 5th minute. However they were losing it after Ivan Perisic equalized in the 68th minute. It was Mandzukic in the 108th minute that took the match for Croatia and brought an end to the #ItsComingHome phenomenon.

However the 3rd-Place Match can give England one last thing to prove. This is only England’s third time to the Top 4 of the World Cup. The team has done an excellent job of putting their Premier League differences aside and play as one unified team. Gareth Southgate has done an excellent job of coaching and has successfully help Team England overcome many past adversaries and many weaknesses the team had for a long time. That gives England an advantage leading into the match. However England hasn’t fully overcome their habit of choking at big events. Sure their finish here will be their biggest since 1990, but they can blow it if the team don’t come together and deliver the same play they delivered over this past month. This was no ordinary Three Lions here in Russia 2018. This was a new Team England that had a lot to prove and did prove a lot.

My Final Verdict: I know Belgium beat England in the group stage, but this is a new match. The game will go to the team that has the best team tactics and functions as one. I’ll say it will be Belgium winning 2-0.

THE FINAL

Whos Next
Which team will be next?

I know for my review, you will see me repeating a lot of what I wrote for my SemiFinal review. There’s a purpose. Because all they went through will be coming to this moment. Making it to the final is no easy journey. It’s also not just about having a great team of assembled talent. It’s about having your team together, it’s about them delivering each and every time, it’s the ability to protect from racked up injuries to players, it’s the ability to endure mentally… basically it’s a month-long marathon. A game of survivor.

The World Cup has all these games to basically narrow it down to the very two to play in the Final to decide the Cup.  Of the two teams that made it, one made it to the Final twice before and won 20 years ago, while the other is playing in the Final for the first time ever. So without further ado, my review of the World Cup Final:

Past Head-To-Head Results: Croatia and France have played each other five times in the past. Both teams drew twice. France has won the other three games, including the 1998 World Cup semifinal 2-1.

FranceFrance: France is a nation whose football greatness really only started to take off in the early 1980’s. It was in Mexico 1986 that France got its first-ever Top 3 finish. They would fail to qualify for the next two World Cups, but would host in 1998 and would go on to win. Some say France’s team of 1998 was the best World Cup team since Brazil in 1970.

They’ve had a lot of ups and downs since. In 2002, they suffered the ‘curse of the defending champion‘ and not only failed to advance past the group stage, but failed to even score a single goal. They would come back in 2006 and appeared to be on their way to a second World Cup, but Zidane’s head-butt to an Italian player and subsequent red card in extra time in the Final marked the end of their chances right there. Then the disastrous 2010 which I talked about in my Semifinal write-up.

However it was the 2014 World Cup that showed a ray of hope for the French team. They were out in the quarterfinals to eventual champions Germany, but the team showed a big improvement and promise for the future with young players like Pogba and Griezmann. France played host to Euro 2016. There they delivered the best showing of all teams en route to the Final for the Cup. Unfortunately they lost to Portugal 1-0 in added extra time.

Here in Russia, Les Bleus has delivered the best showing of all teams.  They may have had the only 0-0 game of the World Cup so far, but all their other games were wins including all their knockout games, and all in regulation time. The #FiersDetreBleus phenomenon has taken them this far. France appears to have the best chances with players like Pogba, Griezmann, Giroud, Payet, young gun Mbappe and their goaltender Hugo Lloris who claims the loss at Euro 2016 really changed him. They look like the team that best has what it takes to win. However they could easily just let it go the same way they did in Euro 2016. If you remember their Round-Of-16 game against Argentina, they conceded three goals. They’re lucky they scored four to win. They all have to be together as a unified unit ready to play hard if they want to win the biggest match of their lives.

CROATIA footballCroatia:

“Everybody cheers for David. Nobody cheers for Goliath.”

-Wilt Chamberlain

Croatia comes to the World Cup final as the underdogs. They also come as the first country with a population of under 5 million to qualify for a World Cup final since Uruguay back in 1950. They come as the biggest underdog story in decades. Already the hashtags of #Vatreni , #FlamingPride and #BudiPonosan have been big hits. However it was very hard and with a lot of heartache. It started with a 3rd-place finish in their first World Cup back in 1998. It was finally a chance for Croatian football to define their identity now that they were free from Yugoslavia. However it was a struggle since. The next four World Cups were cases of a failure to qualify in 2010 and out in the Group Stage the other three times. After the 2010 World Cup failure, Croatian football was about to make a comeback. They may have been out in the Group Stage in 2014, but there was promise shown by players like Ivan Perisic, Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Mario Mandzukic.

Croatian football unfortunately was also given a big black eye in the last few years thanks to the irreverence of certain fans. Certain Croatian fans were known to shout racist slurs, wear Nazi symbols, and cause violent incidents during matches. The most noticeable was during the Euro 2016 match against the Czech Republic where flares were thrown onto the field. The Federation HNS and the National Team paid the biggest price by facing sanctions and fines from both FIFA and UEFA including having to play ‘closed’ matches. However after Euro 2016, Croatia has made strides to get tougher with fan behavior.

Here in Russia, The Blazers, or Vatreni, were brilliant in group play as they won all three of their games. Their biggest luck came in the Round of 16 against Denmark and the QuarterFinals against hosts Russia as they drew 1-1 and 2-2 respectively, only to win both in the penalty shoot outs. Then came their semifinal against England. The game went into 1-1 in regulation only for Mandzukic to deliver the game-winner in added extra time. There have been calls from many for Croatia to be disqualified since that match, but the alleged controversies have been proven false.

And to think Yugoslavia never qualified for a World Cup final ever in its existence! Croatia comes with the least star-studded team here in this stage of the World Cup. The key to Croatia’s success is for players like Modric, Perisic, Rakitic, Lovren, Mandzukic and Danijel Subasic to play as one functioning team. Many can easily dismiss Croatia’s success because of luck in the knockout rounds, but truly it is the team unity of the players that have got them this far. Croatia however has shown weakness of their own. The fact that they won two of their knockout matches in penalty shootouts shows they can come short on delivery. Whatever they’ve been holding back or just not delivering on in past games, it won’t work against a team like France. Croatia has a strong midfiled, but France’s midfield has proven more this Cup. Croatia’s team will have to play a lot harder if they want to win the Cup. If they do win the Cup, they will do it through their first-ever victory over France, at the very least.

My Final Verdict: Both teams have been performing well and with a great sense of team unity, but I have to pick France to win 3-1. It’s not just in terms of past performance, but also because of the brilliance of the players individually as well. Plus the fact the referee for the match will be an Argentinean won’t help Croatia too much.

And there you go. My look at the teams playing for both the match for the bronze medal and the Final to win the World Cup. Let’s sit back and watch history be crowned.