With the World Cup just a year away, that means this year will have the FIFA Confederations Cup. Back in 2013, I did a focus on the Confederations Cup and why it’s an important tournament. This year’s Confederations Cup is important as well. Not just because the Cup is a growing tournament but also for the host country of Russia.
Russia is already a country controversial enough with the way they do politics. Hosting next year’s World Cup is also considered controversial as there’s question on how Russia won their bid and FIFA’s process in achieving the victories for both Russia for 2018 and Qatar for 2022. All I can say in this matter is I don’t have the research on that and things will have to sort themselves out over the year’s time leading up to the World Cup.
While the World Cup will be contested in twelve stadiums in Russia next year, this Confederations Cup will be contested in four stadiums. All four being ‘fresh’ stadiums which are either just now breaking ground or have broken ground only within the past five years:
- Otkrytiye Arena, Moscow – This will be one of two stadiums in Moscow that will stage the World Cup. Located in the Tushino area of Moscow, this stadium is the home venue for Spartak Moscow. Completed in 2014, this stadium seats just over 45,000 people.
- Krestovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg – This 68,000-seat stadium may have just broken ground this year but it took ten years to complete. Problems from construction management to changing contractors to problems with its conditions have plagued the stadium and its construction but it will finally be ready for the Confederations Cup. Built on Krestovsky Island, the stadium is also the host venue for the football team FC Zenit.
- Kazan Arena, Kazan – Completed in 2013, this 45,000-seat stadium has the largest outside screen in Europe. The stadium has hosted events like the 2013 World Student Games and the 2015 World Aquatics Championships. The stadium is also the home venue for Russian Premier League team Rubin Kazan.
- Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi – Remember the $51 billion Sochi Winter Olympics? This is the host stadium which hosted the ceremonies and held the Olympic flame. Determined not to have it become a ‘white elephant,’ the stadium is now the home venue for Russian Professional Football League team FC Sochi. In addition, it will also host six World Cup games next year.
The tournament begins Saturday the 17th. There will be eight teams. Six are winners of their continent’s respective championship, Germany qualified as winner of the World Cup and Russia qualifies as host nation. Here’s how the teams stack up. FIFA rankings for June 2017 are the numbers in brackets:
-Russia (63): Russia is an enigma in football right now. The team has a lot of talent but constantly misses in delivering in major tournaments and qualifying events. Such examples include qualifying for three World Cups since the USSR dissolved and failing to qualify for the knockout round each time. Another example is the Euro tournament: semifinalists in 2008 but out in the Group Stage in 2012 and 2016. Trying coaches from other countries like Guus Huddink and Fabio Capello have delivered sub-par results.
Russia has yet to prove its current team since Euro 2016. The team consists of a Russian coach and all but one of the lineup for the Cup play for teams in the Russian Premier League. 2017 has not been the best to Russia as they lost 2-0 to the Ivory Coast and drew 3-3 against Belgium and 1-1 against Chile. They did however score a 3-0 win against Hungary. Remember that football is a box of surprises as Pele always says and Russia could end up surprising everyone here.
-New Zealand (95): New Zealand can be either a very good team or a bad team. It qualified for the 2010 World Cup and drew in all of its games. However it hasn’t made much of an impact since. The current line-up of the all-blacks only features one player that plays for a team in a major European League (France’s Ligue 1). The Kiwis have been dominant against teams from Oceania but have struggled against teams from other continents such as a 1-1 draw against the US and losses to Belarus, Northern Ireland and Mexico. If they don’t go far here, they can always learn in time for next year.
-Portugal (8): Portugal is a team of surprises. The team went from lackluster group play in Euro 2016 to becoming Cup champions. Portugal has since maintained its reputation as one of the best teams in the world with excellent play in World Cup qualifying and continuing to win most of their games. However they have had some notable losses such as a 2-0 loss to Switzerland in September and a 3-2 loss to Sweden in March. Portugal can either be very on or very off here in Russia. The next two weeks will decide their fate.
-Mexico (17): Mexico has always been seen as the leader of the CONCACAF. They hope to take it even further by proving themselves among the best in the world. However it’s come at a struggle as they’ve ended their last six World Cups in the Round of 16. Mexico have had a lot of good wins in the last 12 months to teams like Ireland, Iceland and Costa Rica and even had a 1-1 draw against the US. However they’ve had a 2-1 loss to Croatia and a 7-0 loss to Chile at the Copa America. The World Cup may be one year away but now is a good chance for Mexico to prove itself on the world stage.
Prediction: This is a tough one but I predict the two qualifiers to the semis to be Mexico and Portugal, but don’t count out a possible surprise from Mother (?) Russia.
-Cameroon (32): Cameroon have been one of the most consistent African teams. However their play in the last two decades have been far from their glory days in the early 90’s. The team has worked hard to become better and more consistent since the embarrassment of the 2014 World Cup where they finished dead last. The current squad has many players from many leagues. The team hasn’t had the best chances at proving themselves since. In the past twelve months, they’ve either won or tied every game, but they’ve all been against African teams. The Confederations Cup is a chance for them to prove themselves and where they stand.
–Chile (4): We can have a long discussion about the ‘sleeping giants’ in football waiting for their big moment to arrive. Chile would be one of them. They have been underestimated in the past and have even gone out in the Round Of 16 in the past two World Cups; and to Brazil both times. However Chile has seized the moment at both the 2015 and 2016 Copa Americas by winning their first-ever Copas. Chile now wants to prove its greatness on the world stage, but they have had an up-and-down period since Copa 2016. They’ve had wins against Uruguay, Colombia and Iceland, but they’ve also had losses to Romania and Argentina and even drew against Russia 1-1 just a week ago. Chile will have to seize the moment if they want to prove themselves further.
–Australia (48): Since Australia was switched from the Oceania federation to the AFC after their Round of 16 surprise at World Cup 2006, bigger and better things were anticipated from them. Instead it’s been the opposite with losing in the Group Stage these past two World Cups. Australia hopes to put itself back as a powerhouse. However they’ve had a mixed bag of results in the past twelve months ranging from a 1-0 win against Greece to a 4-0 loss to Brazil. Anything can happen here in Russia and Australia could possibly find itself among the frontrunners.
-Germany (3): The current holders of the World Cup appear to be the heavy favorites to win here. They’ve maintained a consistency even with new members added to the national team ever since. However they’ve had their difficulties too. The semifinal loss at Euro 2016 showed they still have some elements of team unity and other glitches to work on. Since Euro, Germany have not had a loss. They’ve had wins against England and the Czechs but have also drawn 0-0 against Italy and 1-1 against Denmark. They have what it takes to win the Cup here. They just have to deliver.
Prediction: Long shots can pull surprises but I’m going to go with my best instincts and predict Germany and Chile to be this group’s two qualifiers.
And there’s my look at the confederations Cup and the competing teams. Winner to be decided on Sunday July 2nd. Possible more blogs to come, depending on how many hits I get with this.
All Of A Sudden is a story of a crime mystery that leaves you wondering what the truth is.
The film begins with a party with many adults. A man named Karsten sees a woman named Anna at his home. He gives her a cupcake with a candle and sings her Happy Birthday. Then she gets sick. Karsten runs to the town clinic to seek help but it’s closed. Upon returning home, it’s too late. She’s dead.
His parents offer him relief at their home along with his girlfriend Laura. Unfortunately more information unfolds. Anna’s widower has Karsten charged with wrongful death. A video from a smartphone of Judith–one of the friends of Laura and Karsten–shows Karsten talking to Anna at the party just shortly before her death. Karsten is constantly questioned about why he left to run to a medical clinic instead of calling emergency. Because of the turn of events and sudden findings, Karsten is demoted at his job and Laura leaves him feeling she’s betrayed. Karsten’s relationship with his parents even becomes heated.
One day Karsten just leaves for a hike just to get away from it all only to be found by his best friend with the news. Anna’s husband has dropped the charges. Karsten is shocked and wonders why. He confronts her husband Andrej to find out why. Only Karsten knows why, much to Andrej’s disappointment. Karsten goes back to his job and demands he be returned to his original position or else he will sue. Karsten meets with Judith ‘intimately’ only to set the record straight with her and the video. Finally it looks like Karsten has his life back together.
The most unique thing about this film is how it tells the story. It presents the events as they unfold and it tosses the opinions from others around Karsten. It’s almost as if you’re a part of the situation yourself and you’re led to draw your own conclusions. I’ll admit that when I first saw this, I was ready to draw my conclusion that he was responsible for this. He appeared criminally negligent. Like why did he run to the clinic when he could have called 911 instead? Did he do it to hide from Laura that he was with another woman at the time? They’ll leave you questioning. Even that video Judith took of Anna during the night with Karsten will leave you guessing.
Just as unique about it is how it took that one break, when Andrej decides to drop the charges, that Karsten becomes a changed person. He first comes across as a man who’s all together at the beginning. Then he comes across as a victim, like the world is against him. Then after this sudden reversal, Karsten soon becomes a man who settles the score with those who did him wrong. It’s like a complete change of character and traits I didn’t see in Karsten before. In order to make such a major change of character, the actor had to make this work. I feel Karsten’s change of character came off well. It was drawn out longer than I feel it should have but it worked.
In retrospect I think this story of Karsten and Anna can come across as any crime story. Any situation can lead one to believe certain things. Any set of facts you know and facts you don’t know can cause you to draw your own conclusions. Anyone in the same situation like Karsten can easily be preyed upon by others. No surprisingly the victim in all this can easy ask themselves: “Why is the whole world against me?” However it just takes that one change of fortune for a person to become a changed person the same way it happened to Karsten. I guess that’s the trick of the film. It takes Karsten’s story and shows how it’s so much like many situations before it.
Turkish-German director Asli Ozge writes, directs and edits a very good thought-provoking film. Without a doubt, the film belonged to Sebastian Hulk. This was Karsten’s story and the whole film rested on Hulk delivering the performance of Sebastian in the right manner. Hulk did a very good job of acting without having to be overdramatic. There were also excellent performances by Julia Jentsch as the girlfriend struggling with the situation and Luise Heyer as two-faced Judith.
All Of A Sudden is a unique story. It presents a before-and- after story that will lead one to draw their own conclusion. It really makes you think.
This is actually my favorite group of the six because I’m 3/4 Ukrainian, 1/4 German. Plus I like Poland because Poland and Ukraine have a lot in common, especially in their language. Nevertheless this should make for an exciting group with a lot of rivalry. So here’s my review of Group C:
Poland (27): Poland may have a good World Cup legacy with seven appearances and two third-place finishes but they lack a Euro legacy with competing in only the last two and going out in the Group Stage both times. Last Euro was especially embarrassing since they were co-hosts and didn’t win a game. Since then the White Eagles has gotten better. And it’s not just with Robert Lewandowski becoming a star striker for Bayern Munich. It’s the whole team that has been performing consistently. In fact the team even scored their first ever win against Germany in October 2014 during Euro qualifying. They’ve had other notable wins in the past two years against Ireland, Czech Republic and Serbia. Their only loss in the past two years came to Germany when they got their Euro qualifying revenge last September. Before I even give my predictions, I can already say I know Poland will advance to the Round of 16 at the very least. Poland could be the team most likely to cause a surprise.
Northern Ireland (26): This is Northern Ireland’s first ever Euro. They’ve played in three World Cups before and even made the quarterfinals in 1958 but no previous Euro. The team may not have a George Best right now but they appear to be getting stronger in recent years. Five players play for the Premier League and they’ve scored notable wins against Hungary and Greece. Their two losses to European teams in the past two years were to Romania and Scotland. France could be another proving ground for the team.
Germany (5): You think that since they’ve won the World Cup in 2014, they should be top of the world, right? Well one of the reasons why they won the World Cup is because they had the most team unity and best team chemistry of all. No standout superstars, just one functioning team. And that’s how it should be. However three of its top players from World Cup 2014–Per Mertesacker, Phillipp Lahm and Miroslav Klose–retired immediately after. This led to dealing with a new team format since then and also into developing new national team players. Manuel Neuer, Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil, Andre Schurrle and Mario Gotze and still part of The Mannschaft but they’re also added some new younger talent too.
With the changes to the team, they’ve gone through some ups and downs. They qualified for the Euro top of their group. They’ve had some notable wins against Poland, Spain, Scotland and their traditional ‘Achilles heel’ Italy. However they’ve also had some notable losses to Argentina, Poland, the U.S., France, England and most recently Slovakia. However Germany has a habit of coming alive when they most need to so it’s not right to dismiss them quite yet. Plus Euro 2016 could be the grounds for a lot of the new younger players to come of age. Only time will tell.
Ukraine (22): Ukraine is a team that either gets better or keeps on learning over time. They first arrived as a team at the 2006 World Cup where they made the quarterfinals. However they’ve struggled to qualify for a World Cup since. They played in their first Euro in 2012 as co-hosts going out in the Group Stage. The current team mostly plays for teams in the Ukrainian Premier League. The current team has a lot of good talent like veteran Anatoliy Tymoschuk and rising great Andriy Yarmolenko. In the past year, the team has had some notable wins over Wales, Romania and Slovenia. Their only loss in 2015 came to Spain. In their history, they’ve either won or tied Northern Ireland, had mixed results against Poland and never won against Germany. Chances they could be on at Euro 2016.
Prediction: I think Germany vs. Poland will be a draw game and both teams will have the exact game results in all of group play. But I think Germany will come out on top over Poland because of goal differentials. Third place in this group will go to Ukraine.
And there you go. My thoughts on Group C. My thoughts on Euro 2016’s Group D coming soon.
Here are my reviews of other groups:
I’ll admit I had no intention of posting a preview blog about the final. I was just content with watching the performers and playing ‘armchair judge’ for my own leisure. Besides I intended for my detailed blog of the ESC to be my only blog about it.
However that all changed last night as I was on Youtube and the ESC channel watching video after video of the night’s semi-final performances. Hey, when the show’s on live at noon your time, that’s your resort. That all changed after I added comment after comment with many of the videos. And that’s what inspired me to do this preview of the final for the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest.
For this preview, I’ve decided to post my opinions about the performances in the semi-finals. I will be judging the performances of both the competitors from the semis as well as those from Sweden and the Big 5 whom I will call ‘automatics’ because they automatically have their berths in the Final and their performances in the semis are simply a dress rehearsal for the Finals.
I felt it best that I place my judgements mostly on their semi-final performances. A lot of people have based their judgements from the song’s official music video released on YouTube months before the Contest. The videos are very telling in terms of how well each song will do however I feel the performances in the semis are more telling as it gives a good sense what their live show will be and even how together they are as a performer. Sure the semi won’t tell it all but it will tell it most. I do feel that the song is the key thing to base a judgement on. No matter how big of a show you put on, the song and its content is unavoidable. However I will consider showmanship as a performer will still have to make the song entertaining and eyecatching. Simply put, I will give top kudos to those performances who deliver best.
I will also start with my first section where I give opinions of the performances that have qualified for the final. I will then give my personal picks for who I would give the biggest point to if I were a jury. Note I will not be making predictions like I normally do. I will be giving my preferences and opinions. I’m not familiar with the music tastes of most European countries nor am I familiar with jury tastes. So here goes:
- Hungary: Freddie ‘Pioneer’ – Very good song with a very dramatic opening. Freddie has very good vocals in singing the song. The song is far from boring. It will catch your ears. A deserving finalist.
- Croatia: Nina Kraljic ‘Lighthouse‘ – Nina came to Stockholm in hopes of breaking Croatia’s bad-luck spell of missing out in the finals since 2009. She did exactly that. As for her performance, you’ll think her outfit at the beginning is ridiculous but that’s part of adding drama or theatrics to the song. I’m cool with that as long as it’s done right. Her performance was very good and deserving of her final berth.
- Netherlands: Douwe Bob ‘Slow Down‘ – This is one of my delights of the night. I’m impressed to see how the Dutch know how to do bluesy rock or rockabilly. The Dutch did it before in 2014 with ‘Calm After The Storm‘ and they do it again here. Best song of the evening that delivers as a great alternative after so many techno numbers. Stage show is minimal but it works for the song instead of against it. I ranked it my 3rd place of this semi.
- Armenia: Iveta Mukuchyan ‘LoveWave‘ – It’s not the best of the night but it’s still good and a deserving finalist. Very good song with good vocals. I felt the stage show was a bit iffy. Otherwise very deserving nonetheless.
- Russia: Sergei Lazarev ‘You Are The Only One‘ – What can I say? For me that was the show of the first semi and my #1 pick for that night. It didn’t have the same song quality the Netherlands had but still an entertaining song with the most entertaining stage show of the evening. Definitely an eye-catcher and it will not surprise me if this song is a top contender for the win on Saturday.
- Czech Republic: Gabriela Guncikova ‘I Stand‘ – Not exactly a song that stands out too much. Nevertheless Gabriela did sing it well and perform it well on stage. what it lacks in catchiness, it makes up for in its consistency and professionalism. A very deserving finalist. Especially since this is the first time in five tries a Czech performer qualifies for the final. Great job!
- Cyprus: Minus One ‘Alter Ego‘ – You’d think with this being Cyprus, it would be ethnopop, right? Actually this is a hard rock song high in energy. I could even feel the energy of the song while watching it. Great song and great performance which was one of my favorites of the night. I feel it should do strong on Saturday.
- Austria: Zoe ‘Loin d’Ici‘ – This was my surprise of the night. I like it when a song goes beyond my expectations. At first you’d think a number too sweet would come off as saccharine to you. However this is one ‘sweet’ song that actually did everything right and even charmed me. Excellent stage show that tried mimicking what was in her video. However if anyone had doubts about her song while watching her video before the Semi, I think her performance in the semi increased her chances of winning. It was better than the video. I consider this my 2nd place of the semi.
- Azerbaijan: Samra ‘Miracle‘ – Once again a case of an Azerbaijani singer performing a song written by Swedes. This is one of only two semifinalists whom I did not have on my list of my ten ‘finals picks.’ The song was good but I’ve seen better performances by Azerbaijani acts in past ESCs. I think 2013’s ‘Hold Me‘ is their best ever. Also the back-up dancers did a real tacky job of dancing. That’s all I can describe about it. Their dancing was tacky. Nevertheless Samra was dressed well and she did sing her song very well despite t not being much of a song. I just feel it didn’t deserve to be in the semis.
- Malta: Ira Losco ‘Walk On Water‘ – Once again a case of a stageshow that was hard to swallow thanks to backup dancing. Ira did her song very well. However the dancer on stage just plain came off as ridiculous and irritating. It actually turned me off the song. This is the other finalist from the first semi that I felt didn’t deserve it.
- Latvia: Justs ‘Heartbeat‘ – The biggest thing about the song is its arresting instrumentation. The stage graphics fit the song very well and Justs delivers the song in style and with the right moves you’d expect from a male pop singer. Justs does it solo without backup singers or backup dancers and does it with style. I ranked it the best performance of this semi because it grabs your attention from the very start and won’t let go.
- Poland: Michal Szpak ‘Color Of Your Life‘ – This is a good ballad delivered very well from Michal. Its style really stands out. Michal delivered it very professionally despite missing a note near the first chorus. The biggest glitch I feel has to be the vintage military jacket he wears on stage. I don’t think it fit the performance that well. Especially since Justs that was on just before him came on stage with a leather jacket. Backup violinists and stage graphics blended well with the performance.
- Israel: Hovi Star ‘Made Of Stars‘ – This is an excellent ballad delivered very well with excellent singing from Hovi. I almost thought he was doing a cover of an Adele song. The stage graphics added excellently to the song. However the two dancers on the spinning hoop had me questioning whether they were worth it or not? Do they add or subtract? Because Hovi delivers well in a no nonsense performance.
- Serbia: Sanja Vucic ZAA ‘Goodbye‘ – It’s both a ‘Balkan Ballad’ and a power ballad. Excellent vocals full of emotion and a set up back-up singers that add to the drama and power. Might bring back memories to some of 2007 winner ‘Molitva’ but it holds its own. The male backup dancer didn’t add but he didn’t subtract from the performance either. If there’s one weakness, it’s her stiff black dress. Overall an excellent package and I rank it second-best of this semifinal.
- Lithuania: Donny Montell ‘I’ve Been Waiting For This Night‘ – A powerful song with a lot of energy and Donny knows how to deliver it vocally. However I didn’t like how he added Michael Jackson-like dance moves to his performance. I feel it did not fit the song at all. Maybe the front flip near the end helped but the dancing didn’t. This is one of two from this semi that qualified for the final that didn’t make my personal Top 10.
- Australia: Dami Im ‘Sound Of Silence‘ – A very powerful ballad delivered excellent by Dani. I also have no problem with the dress since it was meant to fit the song. However I’m not too happy about some of the stage choices she was given such as sitting on that platform until after the second chorus. She does walk around after that and deliver the song well but I don’t think she was given enough movement.
- Bulgaria: Poli Genova ‘If Love Was A Crime‘ – Many people felt Poli was robbed of a finals berth five years ago with ‘Na Inat‘ but she finally gets it here. I’ll admit this is not that much of an attention-grabber of a song. Nor were a few of her dance moves the best. Nevertheless Poli delivered the song well and gave it its energy and made it enjoyable to hear. It’s very good for the most part.
- Ukraine: Jamala ‘1944‘ – This is the first song at the ESC with Crimean Tatar lyrics. This is probably the most political song at this Contest. She has a song with a message and she delivers it with emotion in the song. The wailing at the end of the song is a big plus and especially shows off her vocal abilities. However political songs are touchy grounds at the ESC. They welcome it as long as it’s subtle. I feel this is deserving of its finals berth.
- Georgia: Nika Kocharov and Young Georgian Lolitaz ‘Midnight Gold‘ – The number starts with a lot of potential with some exciting rock instrumentation and fitting stage graphics. However it goes downhill when the singer delivers vocals with notes that don’t seem to fit the song. I don’t know if he did it for creative purposes but his choices don’t really fit at all. Can’t complain about the instrumentation as it’s the best part. However this is the second qualifier to the final from this semi that I felt didn’t deserve it. Actually I ranked it second-to-last of this semi.
- Belgium : Laura Tesoro ‘What’s The Pressure‘ – At last! A song that makes you wanna get down! Laura delivers a funky, feel-good energetic number that delivers all the best qualities of a pop number including vocals, dancing and even trying to get the crowd involved. I ranked this the third-best of this semi.
- France: Amir ‘J’ai Cherche‘ – Good song, has a lot of energy, very good singing, but it comes across as rather boring. I don’t know what it is but when I saw Amir perform, I felt like there was something missing. I don’t know how this will fare on Saturday.
- Spain: Barei ‘Say Yay!‘ – Now this is one number I feel will go far. A very good song that is full of energy and has good potential of being catchy. Also she performs excellently on stage. She dances like she’s in control and delivers the song as she should. I question her dress, especially with the 03 on it. However I feel she will be great on Saturday night.
- Sweden: Frans ‘If I Were Sorry‘ – Sweden has one of the best success records at Eurovision. This number however is very questionable. Frans delivered a boring performance where the background tries to make the song interesting by flashing key words. He does sing the song well but his accent is too thick to comprehend some of the lyrics. I think he might score well in the popular vote because of his teen idol status but I don’t think he’ll score well with the judges.
- Germany: Jamie-Lee ‘Ghost‘ – I have to say a good song and Jamie-Lee is a very good singer. However her outfit was too over the top. I’m cool with a weird outfit done for theatrical purposes such as Nina Kraljic’s outfit during the opening of ‘Spotlight’ but that was too ridiculous like Alice In Wonderland went through a flower garden. The backup singers had on sensible clothes and the trees that shot laser beams worked good but that outfit is dumb and works against her performance. However the outfit will make her win the Barbara Dex award.
- United Kingdom: Joe & Jake ‘You’re Not Alone‘ – I have to say it’s a very good song with a very good performance. The two sing the song very well and add to the young energy of the song. It’s hard to find something to dislike about this number, especially since it’s very low in gimmicks. I think the one cheesy thing was probably the jumping near the end. One thing we have to keep in mind is that ‘no nonsense’ performances like these are great but they face the obstacle of winning attention from both televoters and the juries. Nevertheless I do wish the best for both of them. Especially since the UK used to have quite a Eurovision legacy and the 21st century has been very unkind to them with only two Top 10 finishes.
- Italy: Francesca Michielin ‘No Degree Of Separation‘ – Italy rarely disappoints. They’ve mostly delivered some top notch performances to the Contest over the years, even in the last few years. And this year’s entry is a delight too. 21 year-old Francesca Michielin is already a seasoned pro. You’ll notice it as she sings the song consistently and with feeling. Adding the feeling to the song is a big plus. A big minus to the song however is all those stage props and stage graphics. I don’t know if they were trying to reflect a theme or emulate the music video but I feel it went too far and they were distracting from the song. This could work against her performance which holds its own without all the added stuff.
So those are my thoughts for the qualifiers. As for the ‘also-rans’:
Semi-Final 1: I know I said Malta and Azerbaijan didn’t deserve to be in the final. In their place should be Iceland and Moldova. They did their performance better. Finland’s Sandhja was good but came off as flat. That’s not good especially when you’re first up. Greece must have forgotten the golden rule of rap acts at Eurovision: rap acts go nowhere, even if it’s mixed with ethnopop. It’s a shame because I usually like the Greek numbers. San Marino’s Serhat had a style but I didn’t see it as enough to qualify for the final. Estonia came off as ridiculous in his stage antics and his voice. Montenegro’s number sounded like a mashed-up song and Bosnia’s on-stage theatrics made me wonder if it was really necessary for the song.
Semi-Final 2: If I were to trade Georgia and Lithuania from the finals, I’d put in Ireland and Macedonia. Ireland was full of energy and delivered well. Macedonia was also excellent, especially in her vocal range. Switzerland had a good song but it all fell apart with all the on-stage props and moves she was given. Belarus had potential but I thought the face stripes were dumb. Slovenia was good but the singer delivered awkward stage poses that worked against her. The Danish vocal trio came across as rather boring. Norway delivered a song that alternate from one tempo and mood of the verses to a different tempo and completely different mood in the chorus. It didn’t really mix well. And Albania had good potential but I feel her chances were marred by lousy backup singers.
Overall I have to say this is a mostly good set of performers for this Contest. There is a bit of the eccentric in some elements but it’s nothing compared to the ‘freak shows’ of five years ago or even ten years ago. I think the freakiest moments will come from Germany and Italy. I guess the country’s are now getting the message that doing something super-eccentric or super-gimmicky doesn’t pay. I didn’t notice too many off-key moments and those that did recovered well.
Like I said, I don’t know enough about European music tastes to make predictions. So instead I’m giving my personal Top 10. Eurovision style, of course:
- Poland, 1 point.
- Australia, 2 points.
- Spain, 3 points.
- Cyprus, 4 points.
- Netherlands, 5 points.
- Belgium, 6 points.
- Serbia, 7 points.
- Austria, 8 points.
- Latvia, 10 points.
- And my personal 12 points goes to…Russia!
So there’s my summary of the 2016 Eurovision finalists and their semifinal performances. I’m glad I don’t have to be a jury member because it’s a headache ranking them. Mind you anything can change on Saturday. They may go off key or something may malfunction or the energy that was there in the semi may not be there in the final. Even things like performance order can play a factor. How ironic how Belgium who ended the second semifinal will open the final? Ending the final will be Armenia. Whatever the situation, I wish all the performers the best and the winning performer’s country to get ready to host next year!
The Oscar-nominated short films were back in theatres again. However this year I only had the chances to see the live-action one day and the animated another. I have no problem writing separate reviews for both. So here’s my take on the live-action shorts:
–Ave Maria (Palestine/France/Germany): dirs. Eric Dupont and Basil Khalil – Five nuns pray at a convent in a ‘war-zone’ area of Palestine. Then they hear what sounds like an explosive car crash. One tries to help despite the fact they are under a vow of silence. What happened was a car driven by Jewish residents accidentally crashed into the Virgin Mary statue. They try to help but there are conflicts with the nuns’ vows of silence and the family’s strict adherence to the Sabbath and with kosherisms. Not to mention they don’t want to be noticed by Arab residents in the area.
The film does focus on the religious tensions in Palestine but in a humorous way. All of this takes place in the area of the convent. However it’s funny how something as little as a car crash and people trying to seek out help can lead to such religious conflicts. That may have been the least of problems in Palestine but even then it just shows the humor of the whole situation and of how in the end it’s all about doing the right thing. I feel the film’s mix of humor while conveying a social message is why I predict it Will Win the Oscar.
–Shok (Kosovo/UK): dir. Jamie Donoughue – A car driving on a Kosovo road stops at an abandoned child’s bicycle. But why would a grown male from the car leave the car to look at the bicycle? And why would he ride it soon after?
The answer flashes back to the mid-90’s. Two Kosovar Albanian boys Petrit and Oki are the closest of friends. They frequently go to school riding on the bicycle Oki bought after a year of selling almonds. Petrit wants a bike of his own but feels he can get it by selling drugs and rolling papers to Serbian soldiers who’ve taken over the area. He feels it could also prevent them invading their village despite news stories of other areas of Kosovo being invaded. He even tells Oki he’s safe with him.
However Petrit’s promise and ‘business’ is put under heavy question during one of his ‘deals’ as a Serbian soldier wants Oki’s bicycle. It’s not the lost bicycle Oki’s angry about but the fact Petrit is willing to do something dangerous and dishonest for money and it threatens their friendship. They reconcile after Petrit is willing to take an assault from a soldier after Albanian books are found in Oki’s bag and Petrit claims them as his own. Unfortunately the invasion of their village eventually comes and with it the tragic end of the friendship of Oki and Petrit.
Of all five shorts, this is the one that still stayed with me long after I left the theatre. This is a story based on true events. I easily remember the war in the Balkans, especially the bloodshed in Bosnia, back in the 90’s. It dominated the news that decade. The war in Kosovo just years after the war in Bosnia ended was another example of the tyranny and I remember that as well. It does leave you feeling it was unfair of what happened to Oki. He was the smart one. He was the one who kept Petrit’s head on straight. But he was the one killed. Also that end scene where we see a grown-up Petrit still haunted by the war more that fifteen years later reminds you that war still haunts even as time passes and even if Kosovo did get its independence. My cousin once said: “No country’s freedom came without some amount of bloodshed.” True, but the bloodshed still leaves people with a trauma not even independence can solve. That’s why I pick Shok to be my Should Win pick.
–Eveything Will Be Okay (Austria/Germany): dir. Patrick Vollrath – The film starts on a simple note. A man named Michael goes to see his daughter Lea for visitation. His ex-wife and new boyfriend don’t have a problem with that at all so we think it will just be a fun day of the two of them without incident. It starts on a fun note as he buys her a big Playmobil toy and promises to taker her to the fair afterwards. However things get a bit suspicious as the two go to a photo booth where he gets Lea to have a photo of her own and takes to a passport office for rush processing. Things get even fishier when Michael sells his car and they take a cab to the airport. Soon we get what’s going on. It’s a miracle the flight to Dubai was cancelled but they have a replacement flight the next morning. Despite Lea wanting to go home, Michael is insistent on taking her and for her to cooperate. It’s by the luck of Lea making a phone call to her mother overnight that they’re able to prevent an abduction from happening. But not without a struggle.
This is a film of a scenario that happens all too often. A broken marriage and children caught in the middle even to the point of them being abducted. This is something that happens all over the world. However the story is not just about the child caught in the middle but the parent who’s hurting and feels that the child is being taken away from him. The film leaves you wondering if Michael suffers from a mental illness or if he’s just a hurting person. It leaves you feeling that way of a lot of parents from failed marriages. Is that why they abduct their children? The film also leaves you relieved that the flight was cancelled and that Lea was able to make that phone call to her mother in the early morning. Not as many children are as lucky.
The best quality of the film is that it helps the audience live the moment. We don’t know what’s really happening at first but we soon get a better understanding of what’s happening as time goes on. Even as they go to the fair and ride the bumper cars, we still can’t take our mind off of what we suspect will happen. And as time moves on, what we suspect is exactly what’s happening. In addition that scene which we think is the end where the police, Lea’s mother and the hotel personnel try to stop the heist ends up being a scene where a new conflict begins. Michael still struggle to hang onto Lea. That’s another quality of the film where right where we think it’s all over, it’s not and a new struggle begins. On top of that the film’s story is shown without any musical score which adds to the intensity of the drama.
This is a film of a story of an incident that happens all too often in our world. The film’s best qualities are the story unfolding quietly as time unfolds and the unexpected twists in the drama.
-Stutterer (UK/Ireland): dirs. Benjamin Cleary and Serena Armitage – Greenwood, a twentysomething London male with a stutter finds life difficult. His stutter is so severe, it causes problems when calling customer service. He has a job as a typographer but his social life is limited to him with his father. Often he fakes himself as death to try and avoid conversation. His thoughts however are perfectly coherent.
Despite his social flaws and his speech problem, he has developed an online relationship with a woman named Ellie. That works excellently and they keep the relationship going for six months despite never meeting face to face. However the day comes when Ellie would like to meet Greenwood for the first time. He’s in a crisis of what to do and abandons her at first but agrees to do so the next day despite being nervous as hell. The ending will surprise you.
This is a charming story. It takes you into the person’s feelings as well as their insecurities. You learn of Greenwood’s stutter and of what he’s really thinking and easily see the barriers he has to face. You learn about Greenwood the person and hope that in the end he does win Ellie. The ending will delight you. Very clever short film.
–Day One (USA): dir. Henry Hughes – Feda is a young woman just hired by the U.S. Army to act as interpreter. She’s in her 30’s and admits to her colleague who also speaks Arabic that she’s never been married and has no children. Her operation on Day One involves dealing with an enemy bomb maker the army is about to arrest. The operation involves a lot more. It also involves bring his fatherless niece to safety. It also involves dealing with his wife who’s about to give birth.
As if trying to deliver the baby isn’t stressful enough, there’s the fact the baby’s hand is hanging out. The doctor tests for a pulse from the baby and assumes there isn’t one. Feda is given orders to cut the deceased baby’s limbs so that the mother doesn’t bleed to death. Even before Feda attempts the first cut, she notices the hand move. The baby’s alive. There is a sigh of relief but there’s the new stress of making sure the baby’s born right and the mother not bleeding to death. The film ends on a sad but hopeful note.
Just like Everything Will Be Okay, it captures the drama of the moment and allows the audience to capture the intensity as the events are slowly unfolding. The various twists and turns in the story also adds to the continuous drama. The happy ending we all hope for doesn’t happen but it does end with a moment of hope, especially for Feda.
In conclusion, I feel Shok should win the Oscar because of how it’s a story that stays with you long after you leave the theatre. It was creative and it told a story that will touch you deep down inside. I still remember hearing a couple of people in tears after Oki was shot. However I don’t know if the Academy will pick a short that’s all too serious. I think they might want to go for a story leading more to the humorous side. I think Ave Maria with its mix of humor and social awareness will take the Oscar. I think the Academy would prefer a film like that.
And there are my thoughts for this year’s five nominees in the category of Best Live Action Short Film. Winners to be decided on the big night. Also click here for my reviews of the animated shorts.
Tough Love is a film that tells a story of a life no one would want to have but turns out shining in the end.
The film begins with 59 year-old Andreas Marquardt heading a karate school in Berlin. He’s a former World champion and he enjoys teaching young children. Parents are very trustworthy of him despite his past. It’s after this introduction that we learn of his shady past.
Andreas was born in Berlin in 1956. His father was abusive to the point he poured a bucket of cold water on him on a winter’s day when he was an infant. His mother divorced his father but that didn’t prevent his father from abusing him again. One time his father taught him how to handshake and squeezed his hand so hard he broke three of Andreas’ bones. Abuse wasn’t just with his father. He lived with his mother and grandparents. His mother would ask him to do sexual favors that were, in a word, unspeakable.
It’s not to say, Andreas was devoid of a proper parent figure. His grandparents played that role. At sixteen, Andreas finally moved out on his own. He pursued a job of pimping as a way to provide a living and pay for his karate training. He also took a job at a funeral home as a way to hide his pimp money from the taxman. One day in the late 70’s, there was a 16 year-old girl who would change his life. Her name was Marion. At first Andreas asked her to do sexual favors and even be one of his hookers under his wing. She agreed however had the feeling she would win his love one day.
This would go on for many years. Marion would continue to work for Andreas but also try to win his love. There were two instances like a Christmas and a breakfast in bed that Marion tried to send him the message of her love but Andreas reacts violently to it and insists she works the business. Later on, Marion takes the witness stand against her father for sexual abuse. Andreas is in the stands and he is surprised to see how her abuse story almost mirrors his own. He’s even given a wake-up call when he sees Marion lying on the streets one night after nearly being beaten to death.
However Andreas’ problems don’t end there. Eventually the police do catch up with his antics and he is arrested in 1994 and put into prison for four years. Marion is able to run a gym that he owns and even sends him a message outside the prison walls that she’s on his mind. Another incident leads Andreas to an additional four years in prison. During that time, he sees his mother for the last time and tells her off just weeks before she dies. Once released from prison, Andreas begins a change of heart and leaves the prostitution business behind. The one thing of it that wasn’t left behind was Marion. It became clear to him she was his soul mate. To this day Andreas doesn’t miss his pimping business.
The thing with this film is that it appears like it’s trying to be both a documentary and a live-action drama. It flashes from Andreas talking of his shady past, in which he also wrote a book on in which this film is based, to the past being acted out by actors. It may have been done before but it’s a question on whether it was done right. I know the director Rosa von Praunheim also included some other creative choices like images of furniture painted on the walls of the setting rather than actual furniture props. I feel that was presented well. I don’t know if the images of furniture worked with this film.
Another choice that had me wondering was if it was a smart choice not to have the actors playing Andy and Marion–Hanno Koffler and Luise Heyer– age. As you probably saw, the actors don’t age chronologically as the timeline passed over the 25 year span. I just wonder in von Praunheim had that as a point to the film.
One choice of von Praunheim’s in which I give her credit for is making the audience Andy during the childhood drama scenes instead of hiring an actor to play Andy. Like how we see Andy’s father looking at us as he gives Andy his bone braking handshake or how his mother looks at us as she’s molesting him or eve oralizing him. Yes, I’m sure people don’t like seeing those kinds of images of children abused whether in fiction or real life. I think it was decided to have the audience be Andy instead for the sake of the sensitive nature. It had to be told but it had to be made watchable.
One thing I think von Praunheim is trying to do in the film is not just tell Andy’s story but also to show how this story is all too common. We hear the story all the time of children who are sexually abused by their parents or other people and they grow up to make the bad choice of going into jobs of ill repute. It’s a story we see all too often. Even seeing what his mother did to him makes you think that where he got his misogyny from. I myself believe that a lot of misogynist men probably adopted that attitude or a hatred toward women from an unhealthy home life. Including Andy’s feelings into the film adds to the theme. You can see in his face why he can’t forgive his parents for what they did to him. Hard feelings run deep. You could easily see in the drama why Andy has feelings to his grandfather when he dies but none to his mother.
However there are times I think of this film to be as much about Marion as it is about Andreas. Andreas became a shady person but it was Marion who felt love for him from the start and knew she would be his one day. It was surprising she was willing to make a prostitute for him of herself during that time. It’s also very unfortunate she had to deal with the verbal and physical abuse from Andreas all those years. Most people would say it would be foolish for a woman to stay with such an abusive man. Even I would want Marion to leave him. However she saw something in him that she knew he was worth loving and worth staying with. The film left me convinced Marion was a godsend to Andreas. The film even left me thinking as well this may be Andreas’ love letter to Marion.
The film does an ambitious job of trying to mesh drama pieces and interview pieces to both make the story come alive and tell the facts. Even taking Andreas back to key places in his life like the prison or the street corner of his arrest or even the cemetery grass area where he scattered his mother’s ashes is another ambitions technique too. I will admit I did question the choices and even the frequency as it goes from drama to documentary. However I would find it hard for me to make better choices. Hanno Koffler and Luise Hayer were good choices to play Andy and Marion. They did well in their roles but they could have aged physically as the time line progressed. Katy Karrenbauer was good as Andy’s mother. She made you want to hate her.
Tough Love tells a story of a life damaged, of a life causing hurt and of a life redeemed, and of the woman that saw the beauty inside the beast. It’s a story that mixes documentary-style interviewing with drama to deliver a story that’s dark and ugly but ends on a beautiful note.
It took 50 matches to round the 24 contenders to the two finalists for the Women’s World Cup on Sunday. It was decided to be the United States and Japan, same as at the 2011 WWC. It was an interesting match where the game ended 1-1 in regulation and 2-2 after extra time. Penalty kicks gave Japan the win. Anyways Japan have a chance to repeat or the USA can get their revenge and their third Women’s World Cup in the process. However I will make my prediction here for who I feel will win the final.
Third-Place Match: Germany vs. England
Of course I have to make a prediction for who I think will win the bronze medals. We have two teams that are broken-hearted and you can’t blame them. Germany was ranked #1 in the world and sure played like it during the tournament until they got to the semifinals. There the Americans came alive and had their best win over the Germans 2-0. Especially biting for Celia Sasic as she has been the WWC’s top scorer and miss a penalty during that game. The German team was hoping for this World Cup to be the one where they can make a comeback. Even though it’s a big improvement over their quarterfinal exit from four years ago, the loss still bites.
I don’t think I need to explain the frustration England is going through. This World Cup was to be the WWC where the Three Lionesses finally came of age and they did in their quarterfinal win against Canada. Cheers came from all over including the most lauded male players in England. In their semifinal against Japan, they appeared like they had the advantage as they did most of the attacking and shooting. Then just in injury time in the second half came the heartbreaking own-goal from Laura Bassett. That ended it for them as Japan would win 2-1 and become the finalist instead.
Head-to-head play undoubtedly favors Germany as England has never won against Germany in their seven previous matches. Their last duel together was a year ago and Germany won 3-0. However anything can happen and this game could go to whichever team is the least disheartened.
As heartbroken I am for Bassett, I will have to say that Germany will take it 3-1. The Germans just have that much of an advantage.
The United States- What can I say? The Americans have been the best performers of the Cup so far. They may have drawn against Sweden but they’ve had convincing wins elsewhere. Their wins have mostly been conservative but they’ve known how to deliver each time. It was their 2-0 win against Germany however where the Americans were finally starting to show their brilliance.
It’s not to say they’re a 100% bet to win the World Cup. We shouldn’t forget the US lost to Japan at the last World Cup final on penalty kicks. Also the two tied 1-1 in their most recent duel last year. It’s all up to the Americans to deliver.
Japan- Until 2011, the furthest Japan ever got at a WWC was a single quarterfinal. 2011 changed everything as they became Women’s World Cup champions. Nadeshiko has continued their success since with an Olympic silver medal and a Women’s Asian Cup victory. Here they appear on fire as they’ve won every single match they’ve played in Canada.
However there’s one thing about Japan people have noticed. They’ve noticed that they’re not always all together. In fact some even noticed some errors in their game against England. A lot of people are saying Japan’s just lucky. They will have to perform solidly and strongly in the final if they want to repeat as Women’s World Cup holders. Also in terms of head-to-head stats, Japan has lost to the US more often than won.
Okay this is going to be a tight one but I think the USA will win 2-1 in extra time. Actually it could be possible the US’s winning goal could be during injury time after 90 minutes or even in the last five minutes of regulation. Do you know how many game-winning goals have been scored here in Canada either after the 85th minute or in injury time?
And there you have it. My predictions for who will win the Women’s World Cup and the bronze medals. Now all I have to do is find a place to see the game. Can you believe tickets for the final were sold out months ago?
Okay, it’s getting closer to crown the winner. First the group play, then the Round of 16 and then the quarterfinals. Now we have four survivors. Three of which have already won the Women’s World Cup at least once. The other having their best WWC ever. It’s time to hold the semifinals to decide the two finalists and the two for the third-place match. Here are my thoughts on who should take the semis:
SEMIFINAL #1 – GERMANY vs. USA
I really doubt FIFA.com has all the stats together on this. For the record, FIFA.com states Germany and the U.S. have met only three times before with the US winning twice. The US has scored a total of 8 goals in those matches with Germany scoring 7. Another website has stats from 11 years back and shows Germany has actually lost to the US three times in the seven times they’ve played each other in that time. The US’ only loss was on penalties. The US’s last actual loss to Germany was 3-0 at the 2003 World Cup semifinals.
The quarterfinal of Germany vs. France was something. Two teams raked both first and third in the world respectably playing a quarterfinal where it took penalty kicks to decide it. Now comes the semifinal and it’s also going to be something. The teams ranked both first and second in the world playing for a trip to the final. Adding to the drama is that both teams are the only ones to win two Women’s World Cups. So how do they stack?
In terms of play, Germany has been the stellar one in terms of scoring but it took France in the quarterfinals to send the message about Germany’s vulnerability. They may be #1 but they’re not invincible. The United States have been consistent en route to keeping their solid record of making the Top 4 of every WWC intact. They haven’t been scoring as big as Germany but they’re not making any losses happen and have only conceded a single goal. However playing to a 1-0 win against China in their quarterfinal may question their ability to challenge Germany in the semis.
This is a toughie. It’s even possible this game could end up being a 0-0 draw after extra time in which Germany would win on penalty kicks. I believe it could be as tight as Germany’s match against France on Friday. However I predict Germany will win 1-0 in extra time. Sure the Americans have the better history against them but Germany is the team that’s been playing with power.
SEMIFINAL #1 – JAPAN vs. ENGLAND
Once again FIFA.com doesn’t provide too many reliable stats. They just mention Japan and England playing head-to-head twice with a 2-2 draw (2007 World Cup) and a 2-0 win for England (2011 World Cup). Actually another website helped me track down a game the two played in 2013 where they drew 1-1.
The Nadeshiko, as the Japanese women are commonly called, are defending champions and they are playing like the champions they’re reputed to be. They’ve had nothing but straight wins. Even if they are conservative in size, they’re showing themselves to be a team strong, ready and full of talent from Homare Sawa, their most capped player on the team, to 22 year-old Mana Iwabuchi who scored the winning goal against Australia. However the play here in Canada has showed that teams are capable of rivaling them. Australia gave an excellent challenge as did ‘lesser’ teams like Cameroon and the Netherlands. I know they haven’t really shown any vulnerability here in Canada but they will have to deliver more against England if they want to make it to the finals.
As a Canadian, I’m not too happy about England beating us in the quarterfinals. However this is a breakthrough for the Three Lionesses as this is England’s first-ever trip to the WWC semifinals. Having their own Premier League sure helps. I’ve often said that the women can teach the men a thing or two about winning. Sure, they’ve never lost to Japan but Japan has a record of strong play and a field with more talent and experience. England is still growing at their own pace. It’s a lot of growth but I don’t think it’s enough to make the World Cup winners. In fact their loss to France in group play is an example of how vulnerable England can get.
I feel Japan will take it 2-1 in extra time.
And there you go. My predictions for the semifinals. Stay tuned to see who two teams will be playing for the Cup on Sunday.
Oh man. If I would have known that yesterday as Woman’s Football Day, I would’ve posted this blog yesterday. Well the start of the Women’s World Cup is getting closer and closer. With it the excitement is building. I just walked into a local grocery store and I saw a display of soft drink cases saluting Team Canada. So upon the building excitement, here’s my look at Group B:
-Germany (1): Germany is like a lot of European countries that’s just slowly starting to accept women’s football. Actually Germany’s more welcoming than most and with good reason. As you know, Germany’s men, The Mannschaft, are on top of the world right now. Germany’s women, the Nationalelf (National Eleven), have a legacy of their own too. They’ve won two World Cups in the past and have won all Women’s Euros except the inaugural in 1993. They’ve even won FIFA’s Women’s Player of the Year these past two years: Nadine Kessler in 2014 and Nadine Angerer in 2013. However they have some imperfections of their own. One is that they’ve only won three Olympic bronzes. The second is that they hosted the last World Cup and were ousted in the quarterfinals on penalty kicks. Penalty kicks? The German men are penalty kick aces with a near-flawless record! That loss also meant they missed qualifying for the Olympics for the first time ever.
However the team really wants to have this World Cup as the one where they can rebound, if not win. The team consists of many members of female teams of the Bundesliga. Yes, the Bundesliga is one of many football leagues that includes female teams: 12 in total. The team looks like they have a very good chance to come out on top. Norway may be its closest threat to take #1 from them. As for winning the Cup, their chances look good too but they’re not perfect. These past twelve months they’ve had wins against Sweden, China, Brazil and England. However they’ve also had losses to Sweden and France. Canada’s the proving point. They have what it takes to win again but they have some weak spots. They will have to rise to the occasion.
-Ivory Coast (67): The Ivory Coast is another one of the eight newbies at this World Cup. The men have already made a name for themselves with three world Cup appearances and churning out big names like Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure. The women hope to follow in their footsteps. They’ve already won a bronze at last year’s CAF Women’s Championships. However it will be hard for me to predict how well they’ll do in the Group Stage since they’ve never played any of the other three countries before. Whatever happens will be a big learning experience for the team.
-Norway (11): Norway is another country that could easily be dismissed as a ‘blast from the past’ in women’s football. Winners of the 1995 World Cup and having won the only Olympic gold not won by the U.S.: back in 2000. They were definitely top when women’s football was starting to emerge but they’ve faded since. Failing to qualify for the 2004 and 2012 Olympics and being ousted in the Group Stage at the last World Cup. However they have shown signs of making a comeback. They were finalists at the last Women’s Euro back in 2013. Here in the Group Stage, Germany looks to be the only team that can beat them and even they have the ability to surprise Germany. Canada is the stage where they seek to redeem their reputation.
-Thailand (29): Thailand is one country which has never landed a men’s team at the World Cup but has landed a women’s team. And for the first time this year. It’s hard for me to predict how well Thailand will do in the Group Stage. The only team they’ve played before was Norway and that was all the way back in 1988. However Thailand has been impressive in their play over the past year. Sure they’ve mostly played Asian teams but they’ve delivered some very impressive wins even though they’ve also lost to China, South Korea and the Netherlands. Like the Ivory Coast, Thailand will also have a learning experience here as this will be their first World Cup.
MY PREDICTION: Without a doubt, Germany will come out on top in this group. Norway will definitely be second. Third will be a hard guess as both Ivory Coast and Thailand lack international experience. I’ll go with Thailand because of their impressive play in friendlies these past few months.
Year Opened: 2010
World Cup Capacity: 20,000
World Cup Groups Hosting: B,E,F
Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16
Of all the six stadiums that are hosting this year’s World Cup, this is the only one that is not a host site for a CFL team. Moncton was included as a host city for one of two possible reasons: either to include participation of a maritime city in the Cup or because Toronto couldn’t be a host city as they’re busy preparing for the Pan American Games later this summer. Whatever the situation, it’s good to have Moncton. This stadium was originally planned to have 28,000 seats in hopes of attracting a CFL team. Instead it was reduced for 10,000 for the current needs of a local football team. It has hosted the World Junior Athletics Championships and three CFL Touchdown Atlantic Games where expansion to 20,000 proved to be successful.
And there’s my focus on Group B. Group C is next and it’s coming hopefully Tuesday.
Okay, the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil ended two weeks ago. After 64 matches over a total of 32 days, the winner of this year’s Cup has been determined and crowned. Meanwhile there were a ton of surprises, delights, disappointments and shocks along the way. With it over, the 32 teams had their experience for another tournament with Germany coming out as the winner.
The German players are of course celebrating with the whole country. All the players however are now taking a break from their international teams and are mostly focusing on the upcoming club play. But the crazy thing about the end of the World Cup is the reminder that the next one is four years away. And the focus shouldn’t begin the year before the World Cup begins but as soon as international team play resumes again, like as early as this September.
Anyways here are my cheers, disappointments and neutrals for this year’s World Cup teams. Also I may offer some unprofessional advise of my own for them for World Cup 2018:
Germany- Germany did it! After 24 years, they found themselves back on top with their fourth World Cup. Germany owes its success to a restructuring of its program following their disappointing Group Stage exit during Euro 2000 with innovative focusing on their youth system. It has obviously paid off, and with a team full of young players. Nine of which including five-time goal scorer Thomas Muller were under the age of 25. Germany has an additional 12 players under 25 that have been called up to represent Germany internationally in the past twelve months. So there’s no doubt that Germany has a future in football.
This comes especially handy as World Cup captain Philip Lahm has announced his retirement from international play and 36 year-old scoring sensation Miroslav Klose has left a big question mark for World Cup 2018. Another recent question mark is coach Joachim Loew announcing his plan to step down as head coach of Germany after Euro 2016. Whatever the situation, it’s going to take the same team unity that gave Germany its success here in Brazil. Yes, they have the Cup now and they should celebrate but the celebrating will have to stop soon and they will have to get their team focus back. Let’s not forget rival countries could be copying Germany’s success method soon to give themselves their own success. Four years may come sooner than you think.
Argentina- Most teams believe you should only truly be happy if you win the World Cup. Argentina may have won it twice before but they should also be happy as this is only their fifth time ever in a World Cup final. The disappointment of not winning the Cup will bite for a while but Argentina and all thirty other teams that didn’t win the Cup will have to focus again. Coach Alejandro Sabella announced the day before the World Cup final he would step down as coach of Argentina. Nothing whether it be of Sabella’s resignation or a successor signed on has been confirmed as of yet. A successor will have to be found in time before international play resumes, with a September 3rd friendly rematch of the World Cup final in Dusseldorf.
The line-up will also be in question. The youngest player of Argentina’s World Cup roster, Marcus Rojo, was 24. Sure veterans like Gonzalo Higuain, Lionel Messi, Sergio Romero and Angel di Maria look like they may be strong enough to play for World Cup 2018 at ages 30-31 but Argentina will have to look to its younger talent for its future and especially pay close attention to their national age-group teams for potential rising stars if they want to win in Russia.
Netherlands- They didn’t make it to the final this time around. Nevertheless this is a big improvement from a team that in recent World Cups have become to be known as the Dirty Dutch. Back in 2006, their Round of 16 match against Portugal resulted in the most carded game in World Cup history with sixteen yellow and four red cars between the two teams. Then in 2010, the Dutch again made World Cup infamy by helping make the final between Spain to be the most carded World Cup final ever with fourteen yellow cards and one red. Even I considered it the ugliest World Cup final I’ve ever seen. This year, the Dutch did amass eleven yellow cards in total but no red. Also none of their matches resulted in more than six cardings. Quite the difference.
This World Cup they not only had to focus on their play behavior but also on their world ranking. We should remember the Netherlands had a big disappointment in Euro 2012 with losing all their Group Stage games. They did the right thing in hiring Louis van Gaal. However van Gall has since resigned and has brought back Guus Huddink who led them to the 1998 semifinals. We’ll see how that works out in the future.
Colombia- Here in 2014, Colombia finally had its breakthrough with its best ever performance, breaking through to the quarterfinals for the first time. Extra icing on the cake was James Rodriguez being the only player at the Cup to score six goals. Excellent since the team is full of young talent including six players born in the 1990’s. Colombia has a lot of potential to go further in the future but it’s going to take the right guidance and the right team chemistry in the future. However coach Jose Pekermans should now congratulate himself for a job well-done and a Colombian comeback well overdue.
Costa Rica- Hands down Costa Rica was the Cinderella team of the tournament. The World Cup ‘minnows’ that went further than anyone expected. Their Cinderella success however should not be dismissed as luck. They were in the toughest of the eight groups being paired up against past World Cup winners like Uruguay, Italy and England and they came out on top without a loss and leaving the others wondering what went wrong. They followed it up with a Round of 16 win against Greece on penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw and even bringing the Netherlands to a scoreless draw in their first-ever quarterfinals before losing on penalty kicks. So a team from a small country in Central America is deserving of nothing short of respect, especially for proving itself a tough adversary to some of the biggest powers in football. The future looks very good since six of the players are under 25. However recent news is that Jorge Pinto has stepped down as head coach. We have yet to see if Costa Rica can take it as far, if not further, with a new coach. Only time will tell.
Belgium- This World Cup is the comeback of Belgium for their first World Cup appearance since 2002 and their best World Cup finish since 1986. Signing on Marc Wilmots, who played for Belgium in three World Cups, as coach in 2012 was the best thing for the team as it helped propel the team to achieve World Cup qualification in 2013 in convincing fashion and go straight wins at the World Cup before falling 0-1 to Argentina in the quarterfinals. There’s no doubt that Wilmots will be kept as coach; he’s actually assigned to stay as coach until 2018. The team also shows promise of continued success as seven members of the World Cup roster are under 25. These next four years will define how further Belgium can take their new-found success. Anything can happen in the next four years but for now, the Red Devils are back!
Chile- Not too many people would consider going as far as the Round of 16 worthy of a ‘cheer’ but Chile deserve it. It’s not just advancing past the Group Stage for the fourth time in their ninth World Cup appearance but also bringing Brazil to a 1-1 draw in the Round of 16 before succumbing to a penalty shoot out. The simple draw showed that Chile is a team competent enough to expose Brazil’s weak spots on a World stage. Chile just keeps on getting better and better. However you can bet they not only want to qualify for the next World Cup but hopefully not meet up with Brazil in the knockout stages. It must be annoying having Brazil bring their World Cup trip to an end after happening all four times they’ve advanced. Chile has a bright future and next year they’re hosting the Copa America. Another chance to improve over time.
Algeria- Another ‘cheer’ for a Round of 16 team has to go to Algeria. After three previous World Cup appearances being eliminated in the Group Stage, it took a 4-2 win against South Korea and a 1-1 draw against Russia to help Algeria advance for the first time ever. Even though they lost to eventual World Cup champions Germany 2-1 in extra time, they gave them a great challenge keeping the game scoreless in regulation time. Algeria along with Nigeria made World Cup history by making this the first World Cup where two African teams advanced past the group stage. The team shows promise for the future as eight players are under 25. One thing is that Algeria’s coach Vahid Halilhodzic has stepped down since the World Cup and has been replaced by Frenchman Christian Gourcuff who is very experienced in club coaching but will be a national coach for the first time. Only the next four years will tell.
Goal-Line Technology- There were new technologies introduced at this World Cup. The most notable one being one that was a long-time coming: goal-line technology. This came through popular demand as a goal from England in a Round of 16 match against Germany that was shown on countless replays to be a legitimate goal wasn’t counted. For years, FIFA president Sepp Blatter was against goal-line technology, believing calls should be done by ‘a man, not a machine.’ At last year’s Confederations Cup, goal-line technology was finally introduced. Here at the World Cup was featured the Goal Control system consisting of fourteen high-speed cameras with seven directed to each of the goals and data sent to an image-processing centre to accurately determine if a goal or not. A watch owned by referees only that vibrated if a legit goal was also part of the technology. It proved to work at it was necessary to declare France’s second goal against Honduras. That you Blatter for finally doing something right!
France- You may feel that a country like France that has won the World Cup in the past should do better than the quarterfinals. That may be true but their finish should be respected as well. If you remember World Cup 2010, France was the team that collapsed the biggest as infighting with the players, federation and the head coach led to the team to just fall apart. France has since rebuilt itself hiring Didier Deschamps, captain of France’s World Cup-winning 1998 team, after Euro 2012 and the results have been successful. France was successful in the group stage winning their group, winning their Round of 16 match against Nigeria 2-0 before losing to eventual champions Germany 1-0 in the quarterfinal. A major factor of France’s comeback is not just with Deschamps’ guidance but with its wealth of young talent. Nine players on the World Cup roster were under 25 and Paul Pogba won the FIFA Young Player award and Raphael Varane an additional nominee. Their future looks bright but the next four years will tell the tale.
Mexico- Up to 1986, the only times Mexico ever made it past the group stage what when they hosted. Since 1994, they’ve made it past the group stage every World Cup they’ve been in including this one.Mexico continued to impress in this World Cup by winning against Croatia and Cameroon as well as bringing Brazil to a scoreless draw. Mexico also gave Netherlands a great play in the Round of 16 and could have tied or possibly won in extra time had that controversial dive from Arjen Robben not happened. Mexico is on the right track with coach Miguel Herrera. A relief since they went through a multitude of coaches before sticking with Herrera just before qualifying for the Cup. The team also appears in good shape with a good amount of young players. However it will take consistent play from them to qualify again and possibly have their best World Cup ever in 2018.
United States- It seems like with every World Cup, it’s another chapter for the American national team. With each passing quadrennial, the US is being taken more and more seriously. Hiring former Germany coach Jurgen Klinsmann was a huge boost to the team. Even with Landon Donovan being dropped from the 2014 line-up, the US accomplished a lot of feats. Firstly, they became the second consecutive American team to advance past the group stage. Second there’s Clint Dempsey scoring in the first 30 seconds against Ghana: the fasted goal of the 2014 World Cup and the fifth-fastest World Cup goal ever. Third there’s goalkeeper Tim Howard who made sixteen saves against Belgium, the most ever in a recorded World Cup game. Fourth there’s 19 year-old Julian Green whose goal against Belgium made him the youngest goal-scorer at the 2014 World Cup.
The U.S. shows potential for World Cup 2018. Seven members of this World Cup’s team are under 25 and Klinsmann plans on staying on as coach. However with the World Cup being held in Russia, they have to overcome their ‘Europe Curse.’ It’s a fact that the U.S. has never won a World Cup game held in Europe. It’s very possible that the curse can be broken as they’ve become a lot more competent since Germany in 2006. Russia will be another proving point for the Americans.
Nigeria- None of the African countries here got further than the Round of 16. Nigeria deserves some acclaim. Firstly because their trip to the Round of 16 made them the first African team to achieve that in a total of three World Cups. Secondly for playing with dignity for their country while the Nigerian Football Federation was under FIFA investigation as many top members are to be prosecuted in Nigeria’s high court which would mean Nigeria’s national teams could be banned from playing. Thirdly for playing in a Round of 16 match against France where the American referee appeared to show favoritism to France possibly resulting in their win 2-0. The ban has been lifted a few days ago and the federation’s membership has not been determined. However this will be questionable how Nigeria’s teams will do in the near future. Hopefully a controversy like this should not appear during international play or even World Cup qualifying as controversies in the past have led to teams being banned from upcoming World Cups.
Bosnia-Hercegovina- Bosnia may have expired in the group stage but they actually have nothing to apologize for. This was their first ever World Cup. Sure they did well in qualifying for their World Cup berth but you should remember Bosnia is a very young team. They’re a team that had to recover from a brutal war that ended in 1995. Bosnia is already very experienced in playing against European teams but they lack experience playing against teams from other continents. In fact they’ve only ever played against 22 non-European teams. Bosnia is a team that will grow in knowledge and experience over time. The World Cup was an excellent learning experience for them and they can only get better over time. Also it’s easy to feel for Bosnia after the disallowed goal by Dzeko which could have been a draw and allowed Bosnia to advance past the group stage. I’m confident they will have their time.
Ecuador- It may not be easy being the only South American team that didn’t advance past the group stage and sure, Ecuador did do it in 2006. Nevertheless Ecuador did deliver a performance worth admiration. Firstly for competing in the honor and memory of their teammate Christian ‘Chucho’ Benitez. Secondly for delivering a great effort that included winning against Honduras, bringing France to a scoreless draw and scoring first during their loss to Switzerland. It’s not fair to call Ecuador’s performance in 2014 as the ‘Enner Valencia show,’ despite how great he was. The team itself did an excellent job as a whole. Nevertheless the national team is awaiting a new coach in preparation for the next World Cup and for next year’s Copa America.
Croatia- Ever since Croatia finished third at the 1998 World Cup, they’ve been struggling since to prove they’re no World Cup ‘minnows.’ 2014 was another continuation of the struggle as they only won one game: against Cameroon 4-0. The other games to Brazil and Mexico were both 3-1 losses. However this is the big improvement since 2006 back when they had a single draw and two losses. Croatia will be keeping coach Niko Kovac and the team possesses a lot of good young talent. Also Croatia is familiar on the European circuit but has only played sixteen teams from other continents. Croatia should get better over time.
Brazil: As Host Country- There was huge debate whether Brazil was doing a good job as host country. Construction of venues and infrastructure were behind schedule and of huge concern to FIFA. The expense of $14 billion was also a huge concern and much of the heat was placed on President Dilma Rousseff. However when the World Cup started, it was the party it was hoped to be. Games were very well-attended if not filled to capacity. The FIFA Fan Fests set up in cities’ locations just outside host venues drew huge crowds. Even the final at the Maracana was well-attended despite Brazil not qualifying. The Brazilian tourism authority reported that the Cup generated $15 billion in incoming tourism money which will be used to create 1,000,000 additional jobs.
Brazil: As Host Team- I am not going to go into the number of ignominious records Brazil set during their last two games of the World Cup. Enough is enough. We should remember last World Cup’s hosts South Africa failed to advance past the Group Stage. And Germany had a substandard team when it hosted the World Cup back in 2006 but was able to go as far as the semifinals.
Brazil has always had successes throughout the decades. They have also had their ruts over the years but would find a way to shine through over time. To put it subtly, the biggest thing Brazil’s losses proved is that it needs to change its ways to get back on top. This will require not only an improvement of the national team, whether it being hiring new members or improving members kept on, but also of the whole Brazilian Football system. It’s not to say it can’t be done. Back in the 70’s and 80’s, Brazil had to deal with the fact their best players were offered big money to play for European clubs and that would cause problems in the team unity. Brazil was able to overcome it in the 90’s and early 2000’s. Now it’s dealing with the new situation of young talents taken and trained by those clubs at an early age: an increasingly common and increasingly global practice over the years. This is a new challenge to the Brazilian team. I’m sure there are more challenges ahead like newer training methods and newer talent spotting. I’m confident Brazil will be back on top but it will have to take the right moves to make it happen.
Spain- If you thought Brazil’s big loss was a shocker, how about Spain’s ouster from the Group Stage. This comes after an impressively stellar record of wins and losses over the four-year period between the two World Cups. Even coach Vicente del Bosque couldn’t answer how a team that consistent can suddenly choke at the World Cup. Whatever the situation, del Bosque has not been dropped as coach. Most of the team from the World Cup are still members of the national team. The team however will have a lot of proving to do in the wake of their debacle. The friendlies start again in September and Euro qualifying will start around that same time. Competing as world champion is one thing but competing after such a humiliation is another. Only time will tell if Spain will come back.
Uruguay- The disappointment shouldn’t come simply because of the insane actions of one man. The disappointment should come upon the struggle to play after. Uruguay is not just Luis Suarez. It’s also Diego Forlan, Diego Lugano and Edinson Cavani. In the meantime, we’ll see what happens to ‘Chewy Louie’ and his ban. Will his ban hurt him as much as many experts predict? We’ll also see how well the national team does as a whole. Oscar Tabarez is going to be staying on as coach. In the meantime, it’s still great to see a comeback form one of the classic greats.
Cameroon- I usually would have at least one good thing to say about every team at the World Cup, even the worst, but not in the case of Cameroon. It finished last amongst the 32 countries and for good reason. It’s not just simply because they’ve really headed downhill since their quarterfinal finish in 1990 but they did it here in very violent fashion. The most noticeable was during their 4-0 loss to Croatia. There was Alex Song elbowing Croatian Mario Mandzukic in the back and getting a red card for it. There was also the infighting of Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Benjamin Moukandjo. In the end, they lost all three of their games and their only goal came in their last match against Brazil. No doubt if Cameroon want to get their winning form back, they should definitely improve and restructure their team. However there has not yet been any word of whether coach Volker Finke will be kept or dropped. Only time will tell.
Italy- It was a shock at first when Italy, the defending Cup champions, failed to win a game and advance past the Group Stage. It was a shock again this time around when Italy again failed to advance. And this comes two years after Italy made the finals at Euro 2012 and just a year after finishing third at the Confederations Cup. It’s not to say Italy is now fading in terms of their greatness. Mario Balotelli has become the latest new star of the Azzuri. And there are seven total players under 25 on the national team. It’s just a matter of restructuring the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) so that they can bring back Italy’s winning ways. Right now they have to find a new coach as Cesare Prandelli has resigned since the World Cup.
England- It’s interesting Group D was the ‘Group Of Death’ with three powerhouse teams and one ‘minnow’ who surprised them all. However it came as a shock that of all the countries, it was England that would succumb to the pressure biggest. Here in Brazil, England had what could be rightfully called their worst-ever World Cup performance. No question that the English team will have to improve over the years. One surprise is that Roy Hodgson has been kept on as coach. It’s interesting that while some countries that performed poorly have either dropped their coach or had them resign, there are countries like England and Spain that are keeping theirs.
Also there’s another possible factor to England’s poor performance this time around. A friend of mine mentioned that England had a team with a lot of young inexperienced players. That was a good point since England had eight players in their lineup born in the 1990’s and even two under the age of 20. It’s a wonder if they formed their 2014 team with World Cup 2018 in mind. Whatever the situation, the federations and coaches should know that any team formed for any World Cup is expected to deliver during that World Cup and not simply learn for the sake of the next.
Portugal- If any country has had a bigger-than-ever success run in this new century, it’s Portugal. Before the 21st century, it only qualified for the 1966 and 1986 World Cups. Portugal has since qualified for all four World Cups in this century including finishing fourth in 2006. However Portugal found itself back in 2014 where it started in 2002: conking out in the Group Stage. Sure enough it was thanks to a 4-0 blitzkrieg from Germany. What it is about Portuguese-speaking teams getting a blitzkrieg from Germany this year? Whatever the situation, it was enough for Portugal to miss out on the second Group G berth for the knockout round to the U.S. upon goal differentials. However the big disappointments were not just the play but also the violent conduct of Pepe against Germany’s Thomas Muller and the egotism of Cristiano Ronaldo. Even Ronaldo’s game-winning goal against Ghana came too much too late.
The future of Portugal’s team comes in question as Paulo Bento will be kept on as coach. Also only three players on the World Cup team were under 25. That won’t be good as their star player Cristiano Ronaldo will be 33 come the next World Cup. Portugal has to work on its future if it wants to continue its winning ways.
Russia- You’d figure that after being dropped by England in 2010, Fabio Capello would have it easier coaching Russia to World Cup success, right? Actually not so as Russia not only failed to advanced past the Group Stage but failed to win a game. That was the first time as the Russian Federation that they failed to do so. This is especially frustrating after the critical final game against Algeria who advanced. Russia had to deal with spectators carrying laser pointers which are not allowed at FIFA games. Whatever the situation, Russia really have to train well for 2018 as they will host the next World Cup. Capello has not been dropped as of yet so it may be possible Russia will continue with him. However they will have to make things work. Already Russia had to deal with two Dutch coaches in the six years before hiring Capello. They might even have to rethink the hiring of foreign coaches as Russia have been criticized about the team being moulded ‘Italian style’ not just with Capello but two assistant coaches also from Italy. They also have to focus on their young talent too. Already their World Cup team had seven players under 25. Whatever happens, the world will be watching in 2018.
The Asian Teams- It’s not just that none of the Asian teams were able to make it past the group stage.This World Cup is the first since 1990 where not a single team represented under the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) were able to win a single game.Even Australia, which transferred to Asia’s confederation after being ruled too big for the Oceania Football Confederation, lost all their games. This is not just a case where all four teams need changes in their nation’s federation but the AFC needs revamping too in order to make the Asian countries a challenger on the World football scene again.
Brazil’s Construction Crews- I’m glad I’m writing this after talking to a Brazilian yesterday. The laxed construction works of Brazil is common place mostly because of corrupting and bribery which cause buildings to finish later than they should and also most triple their originally-estimated expense. Here Brazil’s stadiums took up a significant chuck of the $14 billion price tag. That can be blamed for it. Also to blame can be FIFA for placing such demands on Brazil. However Brazil itself can be blamed for the laxed time it took to finish the stadiums. Some were only completed within hours of their first World Cup contest. And the problems didn’t even stop there. There came with the infrastructure around it that was supposed to help not only the stadiums but the cities to make things easier in the future. That proved the opposite for Belo Horizonte as a piece of freeway collapsed just two days before the Mineirazo. Two people were killed and 23 others were injured. And now there’s the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio coming up and construction crews are so behind–IOC representatives are claiming Rio facilities are only 10% completed– the IOC is thinking of moving the Games to another city if preparations don’t improve. Did Brazil’s presidents know what they were in for when they had so many events to host from 2013 to 2016? All I can say is I hope all this construction doesn’t end up making white elephants out of the finished products or else Dilma will have a lot of explaining to do.
Well the next World Cup is four years away. No doubt the 32 teams will be focused on qualifying and hopefully winning the Cup. Teams that did not qualify also have goals and plans of their own. In the meantime, I wish all national football teams best of luck in qualifying and hopefully winning.