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World Cup 2018 Preview: Group D

The funniest thing about Group D is that Argentina and Nigeria are paired up again! Of the six times Nigeria has qualified for the World Cup, 1998 remains the only time they never had to face Argentina in the group stage! However it was Croatia that was with Argentina in that group stage. So much ridiculous trivia here! Actually one other legitimate piece of trivia is Group D features one of two teams making their World Cup debut. So for more on Group D, here I go:

argentina-Argentina (5)- Argentina is one team at this year’s World Cup with the most accolades. Two World Cups, five World Cup finals appearances, fourteen Copa Americas, and legendary players like Mario Kempes, Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi. La Albiceleste however has garnered a reputation in the last few years of being a team of near-misses. They lost in the finals of the 2014 World Cup and four of the last five Copa America finals. This is especially biting for Lionel Messi. He’s had a career full of feats and achievements. However ever since he became part of the national team since 2005 at the age of 18, a major international trophy has been the one thing he’s never been able to win.

Argentina have been in struggle since the last World Cup. They’ve gone through three coaching changes and almost missed qualifying for the World Cup. It was nothing less than a win needed for their eighteenth-and-last qualifier match against Ecuador to get them in, and they did: 3-1. As for their World Cup chances, they look quite iffy. They have the talent with the likes of Messi, Javier Mascherano (who has more international caps than Messi), Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero. However they lack a strong defense. Their flaws have been exposed in the last two years upon losses to Spain 6-1 and Group D opponents Nigeria 4-2. However Argentina has delivered good wins like 1-0 against Russia, 1-0 against Brazil and 2-0 against Italy. World Cup 2018 is another test for the Argentinian team. Also Russia could be the place where Messi will either become the ‘best ever’ or the ‘best never.’

Iceland-Iceland (22)- Iceland is the team that keeps on surprising the world. Two years ago, they became the first team from a country with a population under 1 million to qualify for a European Championships, and they made it to the quarterfinals, beating England in the process! This time they become not only the first team from a country with a population under 1 million to qualify for a World Cup, but the first from a country under 500,000!

Iceland surprised everybody not just by qualifying for the World Cup, but topping their qualifying group in the process. Iceland proved the fire is still there after Euro 2016. However it appears the fire may have faded since the World Cup qualifying. Iceland’s only wins since have been against two Indonesian teams. They’ve since had to endure losses to Mexico, Peru, Norway and the Czech Republic. Chances are Icelandic fire can come back once they start play in Russia.

Croatia ficed-Croatia (18)- Croatia is a team that has had a lot of hard luck over the past few years. There is less news copy about the playing prowess of the team and more copy about the team’s fans’ obnoxious behavior. And don’t get me started about the Euro 2016 game against the Czechs! Mind you, Vatreni is a team loaded with talent worth noticing.

The Blazers are coached by Zlatko Dalic who has come off of coaching mostly club teams in Croatia and the Arabian Peninsula. The team boasts of top players like midfielder Luka Modric, striker Mario Mandzukic and defenseman Vedran Corluka. Croatia has done well playing against European teams and even won against Mexico 1-0. However they’ve also lost to Peru 2-0  and Brazil 2-0 just recently. Croatia have what it takes to once again move to the knockout round and hopefully go far. World Cup 2018 could be the place where they’re finally back.

Nigeria-Nigeria (47)- Nigeria may not be one of the three African teams that have gone as far as the quarterfinals at a World Cup. However the Super Eagles the only African team that has made it past the group stage in three World Cups. That’s a feat in itself along with three Africa Cup of Nations wins and four more Cup finals appearances.

The current team is coached by German Gernot Rohr who has been coaching African teams for the past eight years and features a wealth of talent young and old. Seven of the teams’ players play for teams in the Premier League. The team features forward Ahmed Musa (who plays for CSKA Moscow), midfielder John Obi Mikel and defenseman Elderson Echiejile. Sure, Russia 2018 may become the fifth time out of Nigeria’s six World Cup runs where they have to face Argentina in the group stage, but they have an advantage; they won in a friendly against the Argentines back in November: 4-2. However they’ve had some noticeable losses this year against Morocco 4-0, Serbia 2-0, and England 2-1. However they could all come together in Russia 2018 and go further than they ever had.

Now that I’m done summing up the teams, it’s time for me to predict the two I think will advance to the Round of 16. It’s a tough challenge, especially since all four have noticeable strengths and weaknesses, but I predict it will be Argentina and Nigeria. However don’t be surprised if it ends up the second qualifier is Iceland. Remember they beat Croatia in World Cup qualifying.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT

These past three reviews, I’ve reviewed two stadiums at once. I’ve already reviewed six out of the twelve so I’ll save my next double-review for Group H as I will review the stadiums staging the finals and semis. Save the best for last, right? So here’s my first solo stadium review for this World Cup:

VOLGOGRAD: Volgograd Arenavolgograd

Year Opened: 2018

Capacity: 45, 568

World Cup Groups Hosting: A, D, G, H

Volgograd Arena may be one of the stadiums that’s brand-spanking new for Russia 2018, but it’s on familiar ground. The Arena’s ground is on what used to be the ground for Central Stadium which was opened back in 1962. It was the age of the stadium, FIFA demands and the ability to change capacities that led to the new Volgograd Arena. Its original expense was to be 10 billion Russian Rubles, but ended up being 17 billion Rubles, or $275 million US, in the end.

It has a unique shape where it’s shaped like an overhead truncated cone. The large roof, which rests over a cable frame, resembles a bicycle-wheel pattern through steel-wire cables. The stadium will have many features available to fans like navigation and information support, information, a storage room, and audio visual commentary for those with sight impairment. After the World Cup, the stadium is to be the host venue for local team FC Rotor Volgograd and host a fitness centre.

And there you have it again. Another World Cup group review. And another stadium review. More to come in the ten days leading up.

 

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VIFF 2013 Review: The Priest’s Children (Svećenikova Djeca)

Kresimir Mikic (right) plays a priest with a plan in The Priest's Children.

Kresimir Mikic (right) plays a priest with a plan for his island in The Priest’s Children.

The Priest’s Children is the first film from Croatia in four years to play at the VIFF. The question is does it have what it takes to entertain? And also how would it fare for a film coming from Croatia?

The story is about Don Fabijan: a weary village priest. But he’s not just any weary priest. Don Fabijan was to be the next priest in line at the church on a Dalmatian island. However it’s not just about filling the shoes of a veteran priest who has become like a father figure to the islanders. It’s also dealing with the village’s declining population. The past year there were no births and eight deaths. There was even fear from the villagers that the island might be taken over by immigrants from Africa and China.

So Don Fabijan decides to do something in cooperation with Petar the news agent. He decides to pierce the condoms He sells. Every one. The scheme works well but limited. Yes, sex is more delightful but not as many babies have come. It’s then he decides to take it one step further by getting Marin the town chemist to substitute the birth control pills with vitamins. Soon the birth rate gets better and even marriages are performed. The island even attracts news attention from across the nation and visitors from around the world.

Unfortunately schemes do backfire. Even though the scheme is approved by everyone inside and even the bishop, problems arise. One woman is carrying a baby of her boyfriend who recently died in an accident. His parents lock her up to prevent her from getting an abortion. One baby is found abandoned at Marin’s doorstep. A father grows hostile upon marriage and fatherhood. Even a suicide among the villagers. The scheme had caused great strife amongst the village and major stress among the priests in the end. Don Fabijan himself has to confront the wrongs of the scheme. This paves the way to an ending of humorous but touching resolve.

One thing film festivals like to do is showcase films that put envelopes. I don’t know if this film would push a lot of envelopes upon release in North America but I’m sure this film would raise eyebrows in the director’s home country of Croatia. We shouldn’t forget that Croatia’s a highly-conservative country. It has a lot of mainstream traits in its society common with most of Europe but the country still holds tight to its Roman Catholic roots and still looks at the Church quite highly for the most part. Bresan steps on a lot of touchy ground here when he focuses on the Church, its anti-birth control message, even its scandals in other countries and the subject of Croatia’s declining population and national feeling of xenophobia. It’s a wonder how Croats would take to that film. It’s also a wonder how Catholics will take to such a film.

There’s also question about how such a film would boost the Croatian film industry. We should not forget that Croatia has been a nation independent of Yugoslavia for 22 years and is a country of 4.5 million people. It has an entertainment system that’s capable of holding its own inside Croatia but not well enough to cross over. In fact I heard one Croatian rock singer once say that there’s no current rock scene in Croatia.

As for film, Croatia’s okay for producing entertainment for their own country but there hasn’t been a film style or signature director that is able to give a signature definition to Croatian film. Vinko Bresan is one director that has been able to make a name for himself in Croatia with some crossover success in other countries. Two of his films were Croatia’s official entry for the Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language Film category. For the record, no Croatian film has ever been nominated in that category nor has it made the nine-film Shortlist before nominations. He has received recognition for shelling out films that break taboos of society, especially Croatian society. His films range from comedies like 1999’s Marshall Tito’s Spirit and 2009’s Will Not End Here to dramas like 2004’s Witnesses. His films have done very well at the Croatian box office and have also won international awards at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, the Pula Film Festival and Witness was even a nominee for the Golden Bear at the 2004 Berlin Film Festival.

As for The Priest’s Children, this film earned a nomination at Karlovy Vary. It doesn’t hold the same buzz as some of Bresan’s more celebrated works as far as awards go. As for seeing the film myself, I found the film humorous, has some edginess and even looked like one that could rattle cages. However there were many comedic elements that I’ve seen in films past. Also I didn’t notice anything in terms of its edginess or its distinctiveness that really stood out. The acting was goos from actors like Kresimir Mikic, Niksa Butijer and Marija Skaricic but nothing that really stood out. I will sum the film up as good for Croatia but not really one to take film to a new level or make a big statement.

The Priest’s Children is a humorous film that’s entertaining but not too original and doesn’t really stand out too much. Nevertheless it is an added boost to the developing Croatian film industry and Croatia’s developing arts scene.