Tag Archives: Italy

2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup Group C Focus

You can’t talk about the Women’s World Cup without bringing up the state of women’s football and its participation levels around the world.

We all know that in international football, men’s football is dominated by countries from Europe and South America with the occasional African surprise while most North American teams (except Mexico) and Asian teams struggle. In women’s football, it’s the opposite. It’s where the North American and Asian teams have their day in the sun while the teams from Europe, South America and Africa are working to catch up. FIFA is putting in the effort to increase participation in women’s football, especially in those countries. I remember during World Cup 2015 there were a lot of exhibits and booths promoting women’s football and aiming for an increase. A country like Canada is an excellent place to promote this because North American and many Asian countries promote football to girls as much as they do to boys. In the future, I think more girls from developing countries will be able to have access to playing football. Also who knows? Maybe Europe and South America will someday reach the standards of Canada, USA, China and Japan? And don’t forget Africa. They could have a WWC breakthrough soon.

Moving on, here’s my focus on the teams from Group C. I find it interesting that two teams that met in a Round of 16 match at WWC 2015 — Australia and Brazil — are meeting this time in the group stage!:

Australia-Australia (6): If there’s one team that knows how to show improvement, it’s the Matildas. In fact they showed it at the 2015 World Cup by beating Brazil in their Round of 16 match: their first ever knockout-game win. Australia made it to the quarterfinals at the Olympics too with their best scoring result. They’ve also been runners-up at the last two AFC Women’s Championships.

Australia has been getting better at dealing with their opponents. In the past twelve months, they’ve won against top ranked teams like Brazil, Japan and South Korea and even drew against England and the US. They’ve also had a loss to the US as well as the Netherlands and France. Australia has a lot to prove and they could just do it here in this World Cup.

Italy ficed-Italy (15): The Azzurre have a long way to go to catch up with the legacy of the Azzuri. They’ve never qualified for the Olympics and the last time they competed in a Women’s World Cup was in 1999. On top of that, the last time they qualified for the quarterfinals of the Women’s Euro was back in 2013. 2017 was a case of out in the Group Stage.

Since qualifying for the WWC, Italy has made a lot of improvements as a team. In fact in 2019, they have not had a loss. They’ve amassed wins against Chile, Mexico, Hungary and Switzerland and draws against Poland and North Korea. Italy is another team whose potential is unknown but could surprise us in France.

Brazil-Brazil (10): Brazil is a team that has experienced a lot of ups and downs over the years. Back in the previous decade, they showed themselves to be a nation on the move by being a finalist at the 2003 World Cup and winning Olympic silver medals in 2004 and 2008. However things have gotten to a downturn. They were eliminated in the quarterfinals of the 2011 WWC and in the Round of 16 in 2015. At the Rio Olympics, they looked like they were well on their way to gold in the Group Stage, but finished fourth.

Even Brazil’s play record in the last twelve months has been questionable. Their only win outside of South American teams has been to Japan. They’ve endured losses to big-name teams like Australia, USA, Canada, France, England, Spain and Scotland. This could mean they’re going through a troubling time right now, or maybe they’re ‘playing possum.’ That will all be decided in France very soon. Also this looks to be Marta’s last Women’s World Cup. Hopefully she’ll have a good ‘last hurrah.’

Jamaica-Jamaica (53): The Reggae Girlz are coming here for their very first World Cup. Remarkable because there have been many years Jamaica wouldn’t enter a women’s football team for the Women’s World Cup, or not even the CONCACAF Women’s Championship. The women’s team have shown a lot of improvement lately as they finished third at last year’s CONCACAF championships.

In the last twelve months, Jamaica has won against Colombia, Cuba, Costa Rica and Chile. They’ve drawn against Panama and South Africa, but they’ve had losses to Scotland, the US and Canada. Whether they go far or lose out in the Group Stage, this Women’s World Cup will be a great place for experience and development of the Jamaican team.

MY GROUP PLAY PREDICTIONS:

I’m tempted to go with my best instincts and pick Australia to top this group, but a surprise as Italy to come in second with Brazil third. That’s how it looks right now. We’ll see how it turns out very soon.

And there you have it. Those are my predictions for Group C of the 2019 Women’s World Cup. Hard to believe I’m halfway done. And I didn’t even publish my first Focus until Friday! What a relief I’ll be completed before the start.

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VIFF 2017 Review: 7 Minutes (7 Minuti)

7 Minutes

7 Minutes is a film about eleven Italian women debating over a labor compromise. It’s a film that gets you thinking.

It’s our impulse that whenever we hear the term ‘Italian film,’ we think of either Life Is Beautiful or something in the spirit of Fellini. 7 Minutes is a completely different film. It’s a film about a serious topic and worth seeing.

The film starts at a textile plant in Italy. There’s been a merger with a big French company. The merger is seen as a threat to 300 female employees as they fear their jobs would be outsourced, and they protest outside. The heads of the Italian company plan to meet with the French CEO Mme. Rochette. However it’s only after Mme. Rochette meets with some of the female protesters that she starts talking with the Italian company.

The heads talk with the CEO in one room. Ten females who are part of the textile section wait in another room expecting anything, even the worst. Bianca is the only woman from the textiles section allowed in the meeting with the bigwigs. She looks onto their discussions in an untrusting matter awaiting their fate.

Finally the news comes to them. No jobs are really in jeopardy. However the eleven including Bianca are given an issue to vote on. They are asked to accept their current jobs as long as they give up seven minutes of their break time. This first seems like a simple thing to vote on; vote ‘yes’ and keep their jobs secure as well as the jobs of the 300 other woman who are now out celebrating. However Bianca is not happy and speaks her disagreement. The others are easier-going and all vote ‘yes’ at first.

However all realize they really need to think this through. They didn’t do it the first time. Some see it as more than a vote on a simple labor issue. Some see it as a test to see how much of a ‘sheep’ to the system they could make of themselves. Others however feel they are justified in voting ‘yes’ and give substantial reasons. Even one worker who’s pregnant feels this vote could affect the future of the daughter she’s carrying inside. A lot of discussion comes of this. We learn it was because of faulty machinery why one ended up in a wheelchair, and was pressured into signing an agreement that it was her fault. we hear from immigrants like Albanian Hira and African Kidal about their own difficulties. Then we hear from Bianca who always got far in the company by playing the system, but now wants to be the courageous one and stand her ground. Then there’s one who’s pregnant and needs to be rushed to the hospital to give birth. Before she leaves, she requests her vote be ‘no.’

Meanwhile time is running out. It’s 4pm. More than five hours have passed and a final vote has not been reached. This is especially infuriating for Mme. Rochette as she has a flight to catch. She becomes impatient and just lets it out on the Italian colleagues in French. However the ten have to come to a vote. Bianca announces her ‘no’ vote and announces she will resign as the labor leader of her group. There is a final vote at the end: five vote ‘yes,’ six vote ‘no.’

This film is very insightful. At first you think this film is about voting over a simple labor compromise, but it’s not. This thing about voting over a seven-minute compromise to their break time would prove to me more than just about that compromise. You’d hear in their conversations that it would be about a lot more. It would be about what other businesses would do. It would be about businesses trying to make other possible compromises in the future. It would even be a test of one’s personal dignity and what they believe in. It’s unfortunate that these women have to vote on this compromise for the sake of hundreds of jobs for other people, but it’s an issue that very common right now and could happen close to home. That’s why this dialogue in the film is so important.

The story isn’t just about the yes-voters and the no-voters stating their case. The story is also about the eleven women involved in the voting. We have eleven women of various different backgrounds. They range in ages from a 60-year old veteran of the place to a 20 year-old newcomer, married or divorced mothers to single women, two immigrants from Albania or Africa, and even a woman disabled from an injury on the job. All of them make their backgrounds and life-experiences known in the film as they all try to reach their final vote. Whenever you hear one of the women state her reason for her vote, what you hear is the story of at least a thousand other women who share her experience. What they say is that valuable.

The film does bring dignity to the six that vote ‘no.’ The film however does not try to make the five women who vote ‘yes’ look like they’re stupid or ‘conformist sheep.’ You just have to hear their stories on why they voted the way they did. The film does keep the dignity of those that voted ‘no,’ but also brought a human side to those that voted ‘yes.’ You’ll see in the film that those that voted ‘yes’ at the very end didn’t do it like they were in a flock of sheep. A lot of heart and soul and a lot of heavy thinking went into their ‘yes’ vote too.

The film is actually based on a stage play by Stefano Massini. I’ve never seen the stage play, but it’s very possible the play was just set in the meeting area with the eleven women discussing the deal. There would have to be some elements needed to bring this play to the big screen and make people want to watch it. I think the element of having the boss from France, Mme. Rochette coming over and holding the meeting adds to it. That scene near the end where she gets frustrated with the long wait and walks out telling off the Italians in French said quite a bit. It had me wondering: “Is that what people in France think of Italians?” It also sent a message of the disconnection between the business hierarchy and workers that obviously exists. Mme. Rochette appears at the beginning to be empathetic with the workers, especially Hira. She appears to be a congenial partner with them especially when she receives the gift of the big mozzarella. However the truth about how she feels gets revealed when the women delay their vote long enough. That doesn’t simply speak of Mme. Rochette, but lots of other CEO’s worldwide. I think a lot of them feel they need to have a disconnection from them in order to make business happen, no matter how cruel.

This film directed by Michele Placido, who co-wrote the screenplay with Toni Trupia and original playwright Stefano Massini, did a very good job in creating an intriguing film where most of the action takes place in one location. Massini’s play on its own is excellent in creating well-dimensioned roles for all eleven women in the play. Placido makes the right additions for the sake of the film while maintaining the importance of the debate as the focal point. The standout actress of the film has to be Ottavia Piccolo. She does a very good job in playing a woman who achieved a lot of success in playing along with the system, but now wants to be the strong one. Piccolo allows her role as Bianca to be a role that speaks as much in silence as she does in dialogue. All eleven women who are part of the voting scene all have roles that are full of volume. Each of the roles represent a woman everyone knows and were well-acted out.

7 Minutes is more than a film about a labor issue being voted upon. It’s also about people in this modern work world, most specifically women, and their feelings coming across as they vote.

 

UEFA Euro 2016: Group E Focus

UEFA-Euro-2016-Live

A lot of you are wondering if a Canadian like me is getting into the fanfare of Euro 2016. Actually I am, though not on a huge basis. I do go the the UEFA website and go to the fanzone area. Yes, I go to the Panini online sticker album. I’m also going into the Hyundai predictor too. I’ll do both match predictor and bracket predictor. I just do it to have fun and who knows? I might win something. In the meantime, more predicting happening. Here’s my rundown of Group E:

BelgiumBelgium (2): This seems to be the time for the Red Devils. They’ve shown a level of consistency and team play that has taken them to the top of FIFA’s World Rankings for the first time ever back in November 2015. What Belgium needs now is a landmark accomplishment. They have achieved third-place and a runners-up finish at the Euro before but that was all the way back in 1972 and 1980 respectively. Also their best World Cup result was a fourth place back in 1986. This is their first Euro since they co-hosted back in 2000. Back then the team wasn’t all there and it took a long time to get off the ground. Their first signs of success came around World Cup qualifying which led them to a quarterfinals finish in Brazil in 2014. Since the 2014 World Cup, Belgium has further extended its reputation of consistency winning twelve of their seventeen matches since. Notable opponents they’ve beaten in that time are France, Italy,Switzerland and Norway. Their only losses came to Portugal and Wales. No doubt they will come to France with something to prove and possibly have their best Euro ever.

Italy ficedItaly (15): Italy is traditionally one of the maverick countries of football. However every maverick country of football have their moments of big glory and their downtimes too. Now seems like the downtime for Azzurri. Their defense isn’t as strong. It’s not like the unbreakable defense they had back in the 90’s. Another thing Italy is missing is their consistency. Sure they were finalists at the last Euro and they finished third at the 2013 Confederations Cup. However they still have the frustration of failing to advance past the Group Stage of the last two World Cups. Their play since World Cup 2014 have had ups and downs of their own. Italy’s wins since include the Netherlands, Norway and Scotland. On top of that, they qualified for the Euro top of their group and without a loss. However they have had losses to Portugal, Belgium and Germany in the meantime. Euro 2016 could either be a time of redemption for them or a time of disappointment. It’s all in their hands.

Ireland fixedRepublic of Ireland (31): Ireland is a team that has moments of success in spurts. They’ve gone as far as the quarterfinals at the World Cup, back in 1990, but have never made it past the group stage in the two Euros they’ve played in. At the last Euro, they exited with the worst result of all teams losing all three games and a goal differential of -8. The team has rebounded considerably especially after being ranked 67th by FIFA back in 2013. Notable wins include Switzerland, Germany and the United States. They’ve only endure three losses: to Scotland, Poland and Belarus. They’ve also had some noteworthy draws to the Netherlands, Slovakia, England and Bosnia. It’s possible the Green Army could be one of the surprises here in Euro 2016.

Sweden FixedSweden (36): Sweden is a team struggling to get their greatness noticed. Sure, they have a star player in Zlatan Ibrahimovic but they have a talented full team too. Their recent results have not been the best as they failed to qualify for the last two World Cups and exited the last two Euros in the Group Stage. Interesting trivia fact: Sweden has never won a knockout game at the Euro. Since the 2014 World Cup which they sat out, they’ve had a mixed record. They’ve had wins against Denmark, Iran, Finland and Wales as well as draws against Russia and Norway. They’ve also had losses to France, Turkey, Austria, Russia and Finland. They will have to come together in France if they want to go further.

Prediction: Okay, now it’s time to predict the group. No doubt about it, I predict Belgium to top it. I predict Italy to be second and Ireland to take third.

And there are my thoughts on Group E. Predictions for Group F coming soon.

UPDATE:

Here are my reviews of other groups:

2016 Eurovision Song Contest Final Preview

eurovision2016euro

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:

SEMIFINAL 1:

  • 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.

SEMIFINAL 2:

  • 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.

AUTOMATICS:

  • 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!

World Cup 2014 Preview: Group D

It’s questionable which of the eight World Cup groups of this year should be called the ‘Group Of Death.’ Most people are saying it should be Group D, and with good reason. It consists of three countries that have won at least one World Cup and all three are still strong today. It’s a shame there will be at least one of those World Cup winners packing once all the Group Stage matches are done.

So here’s my rundown of the Group D teams:

Uruguay-Uruguay (6)- If any country has to be the comeback story of football, it’s Uruguay. Uruguay dominated football in the 1920’s and won the first ever World Cup in 1930. Uruguay also shocked home country Brazil in 1950 by beating them 2-1 in the Maracanazo, which I will write about in a later blog. Since then, Uruguay’s prowess withered over time. It was like their fourth-place finish in 1970 was the end of it all. It would take four more World Cup appearances where the highest they got was the Round of 16 before there was a turnabout in the last few years. And it was over at the 2010 World Cup where Uruguay sent the message they’re back with their fourth-place finish. Further success continued with a win at the 2011 Copa America, qualifying their under-23 team for the Olympic Games, and finishing fourth at last year’s Confederations Cup. They’ve also had good play in friendlies with wins against, Italy, France and Japan. Nevertheless they did struggle during World Cup qualifying during the first half. They just have to be together in Brazil if they want to write another chapter to their new legacy.

Costa Rica-Costa Rica (34)- Costa Rica seems like the odd one out in this group. The other three have won World Cups in the past and the furthest they ever made it was the Round of 16 back in 1990. Maybe so but Costa Rica can deliver. They have had wins against Mexico and the U.S. last year. They’ve had their notable losses too. Whatever the situation, this can be a good learning experience for Costa Rica. They’ve never won against any of their Group D rivals but win, lose or draw, this can provide excellent growth for the team. They have good guidance through Colombian coach Jorge Luis Pinto and have talented players like Fulham’s Bryan Ruiz, Costa Rica’s top goalscorer Alvaro Saborio and rising newcomer Joel Campbell who plays for Arsenal. Don’t underestimate Costa Rica.

England fixed-England (11)- It’s always the same old story for the Three Lions. England often has the finest combined talent assembled for a football team no matter what tournament they enter. However they don’t always play like a functioning team and they often come up shorter than expected. And don’t get me started on penalty kicks. 2014 will define the TriLi’s even further. They have the goods to do well. They have an excellent coach in Roy Hodgson who took on England just two months before Euro 2012. They have top players like captain Steven Gerrard, vice-captain Frank Lampard, phenom Wayne Rooney and rising young star Jack Wilshere. Since Hodgson took over as coach, England has been impressive despite being ousted in the quarterfinals of Euro 2012 thanks to, you guessed it, penalty kicks. They’ve won or drew most of their matches. Even their losses– to Sweden, Chile and Germany–were not that big. So will England arrive here in Brazil? It will all be decided with the whole world in their wake.

Italy ficed-Italy (9)- The Azzuri are traditionally a stellar team. Only Brazil and Germany have finer World Cup legacies. However things really took a stump at World Cup 2010. They entered the tournament as the reigning Cup holders and left at the end of the Group Stage. The irony being they had the same coach that led them to win the 2006 World Cup. Italy has since hired Cesare Prandelli as their new coach and he has given them an excellent turn-around. The tournament where Cesare proved himself and the new Azzuri was Euro 2012. The Euro was won by Spain but Italy did make it to the finals. That was enough to send the  message that Italy was back and playing with the winning style the Azzuri has the reputation for. Italy also finished third at last year’s Confederations Cup and qualified for the World Cup easily. However Italy has shown some glitches in recent play. They beat Mexico and tied Germany but have lost to Argentina, Brazil and Spain. Italy is seeking redemption in 2014. No doubt they have the ability. It’s just a matter of them delivering.

And now my prediction. I predict the two advancers from this group will be Uruguay and Italy.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT

After doing three spotlights where I’ve spotlighted two stadiums, I can finally spotlight only one here. However it’s one of the biggest and will be a major stage here at the World Cup.

-BELO HORIZONTE : Estadio MineiraoBelo Horizonte

Year Opened: 1965

World Cup Capacity: 62,547

World Cup Groups Hosting: C, D, F, H

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16 (A1 vs. B2) & a semi-final

This is another of Brazil’s classic football stadiums. It was 25 years in the making and opened up in 1965. The stadium is considered one of the best football stadiums in the world. The stadium once held over 132,000 people for a soccer match back in 1997. Many other big soccer matches and big concerts have been held in the stadium. There was some redevelopment to the stadium in the years leading to the World Cup. Now fans can enjoy better access to the arena. The stadium was also one of the venues for the Confederations Cup. After the World Cup the stadium will return to being homes to Atletico Mineiro and Cruzeiro.

MEET THE MASCOT FULECO

Fuleco dancing with hosts at the World Cup Draw in December 2013.

Fuleco dancing at the World Cup Draw in December.

Since I only have one stadium to focus on, I thought I’d give a focus to the mascot. Normally choosing a mascot for a major sporting event is not an easy thing and it wouldn’t be an easy thing for the World Cup. Some like Striker in 1994 and Zakumi in 2010 were well-received. Some like Goleo in 2006 were questionable since the lion is representative not of Germany but more England and the Netherlands. And then there are even food-based mascots like Naranjito the Spanish orange from 1982 and Pique the jalapeno pepper from 1986.

Brazil went with a three-banded armadillo who camouflages himself as a soccer ball. Brazil held a vote on the mascot’s name and the most votes went for Fuleco: a mix of the words Ful–from Futebol (football)– and eco from Ecologia (ecology). The name should suit as Fuleco is representative of football spirit and is of an endangered species. Fuleco has a cheerful and appealing personality. He’s a proud, confident Brazilian armadillo. He does not talk but he’s very curious and extroverted, adventurous and loves to explore wherever he goes. Like all Brazilians, he has a big heart and is hospitable. Unlike his other armadillo friends, he’s very sociable. He loves to dance to music, especially Brazilian samba music, and likes keeping up to date with his family.

Brazil has given Fuleco a positive response. Within two days after Fuleco’s announcement, 89% of Brazil knew who Fuleco was. A recent survey of appeal revealed that Brazilians gave him average appeal score of 7.3 out of 10. Already he’s destined to be one of the best World Cup mascots ever.

And there you go. That’s my take on group D, another World Cup venue and the mascot Fuleco. More World Cup stuff to come.

Movie Review: The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza)

Toni Servillo plays an aging journalist/socialite pondering what could have been in the Italian film The Great Beauty.

Toni Servillo plays an aging journalist/socialite pondering how his life could’ve been in the Italian film The Great Beauty.

Just when I thought I saw all the movies I had to see for this year’s Oscar season, I learned The Great Beauty is around for a limited time. Now it wasn’t a serious Best Picture contender but it is a favorite to win the Best Foreign Language Picture category.

The film begins with Jep Gambardella having his 65th birthday party. Jep started his fame by writing a novel only to turn to writing cultural columns and becoming a top socialite in Rome since. He has been a popular fixture in all of Rome with holding the most expensive and most debaucherous parties on his apartment overlooking the Coliseum. The birthday party he has is well-attended and well-celebrated however Jep feels a sense of unfulfillment. The sense of unfulfillment continues after he meets face-to-face with a performance artist he’s about to pan, only for her to tell him off. It continues even further when he meets up with the man who married his first love from back in the early-70’s. He reveals to Jep she just died and she always loved him.

It’s then Jep decides to take a break from the party scene and retreat into a trip of knowledge. He takes in aspects of life in the many places he goes to: weddings, funerals, magic shows, visiting relics of Ancient Rome and the Renaissance, and even viewing the wreck of the Costa Concordia. He discovers from others about their passions and why it matters to them, even if they don’t become rich and famous from it. He visits artworks and learns from them and their lives. He meets with one friend who does a disappearing act with a giraffe. He witnesses the daughter of a rich friend of his paint out her frustration and anger with an abstract painting on a huge canvas. He meets a man whose father took a picture of him every day of his life and has the pictures plastered around a Roman palace. He even meets a 104 year-old nun who has cared for the sick throughout her life and still holds the same amount of faith.

However life does take some changes along the way. He does come into conflict with some of his rich friends when he questions their lives. He gets involved with friction with his mentally-ill son to the point his son commits suicide. His artistic friend decides to leave Rome after 40 years because the inspiration is no longer there. He never learns about why his first love left him as her husband threw away her memoirs.

The film is a very deep film as it reflects on a man who ‘made it’ and cashed out into the world of socializing and column-writing. It focuses on his reflecting on what could’ve been for him. The constant question from others on why he hasn’t written his second book adds to that lingering feel. The memories of him with his first love adds to the wonder of what could have been. Often when he sees the passions of others–whether it be a rich girl painting out her anger, a friend doing a magic trick, or even an elderly nun making every effort to live out her faith– he gets a sense of why people live out their passions. It’s a common theme in which many people feel once they look back on their lives often with regret and that lingering question of ‘what if.’

Paolo Sorrentino did an excellent job of directing and co-writing this original script with Umberto Contarello. I’m not too familiar with Sorrentino’s works but I know that he has a good resume for a young director. Three of his films have been entered into the Cannes Film Festival and two have been nominated for the Palme d’Or including this one, which lost to Blue Is The Warmest Color. He has even done an English-language film with Sean Penn entitled This Must Be The Place. His next productions as Rio, I Love You which is a continuation of the I Love You series of movies and In The Future which is slated to star Michael Caine.

Toni Servillo did an excellent job playing Jep in all of his dimensions. You could really sense the feelings inside of Jep that Tony embodied excellently. The supporting acting was also excellent, especially from Carlo Verdone as Romano and Sabrina Ferilli as Ramona. There were also great performances of significance and scene stealing from Giovanna Vignola as the secretary with Dwarfism and Giusi Merli as the elderly nun still full of spiritual passion. There were other great qualities to the film including excellent cinematography featuring the best of Rome and all of Italy. Another addition to the film was the mix of music from modern to classical. The classical pieces really stood out as they presented many scenes best and added to the theme of the film.

I have to say The Great Beauty adds to the greatness of Italian film that has been prevalent in past years. I know how Italian film really came to the attention with directors like Federico Fellini, Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini coming to exposure many decades ago. Italian film seemed to be continuing towards greatness and influence in recent classic films like Cinema Paradiso, Il Postino and Life Is Beautiful. However it took a bit of a back seat in the past ten years as there hasn’t been a film or director in that time that dazzled the world by storm. Paolo Sorrentino and The Great Beauty looks to change that. Many critics have said it resembles many great Italian films of the past. It has won many awards in film festivals and even beat out Blue Is The Warmest Color for wins at the European Film Awards and the Golden Globes. It looks to be a heavy favorite for the Oscar as there doesn’t seem to be any other film to challenge. Even if there was, it would still rank as one of the top films of the year.

The Great Beauty is an excellent cinematic reflection of an aging socialite. Its deep story set against thematic scenes and beautiful cinematography makes it one worth seeing.

2013 Confederations Cup: More Than A Soccer Tournament

The FIFA Confederations Cup is as much of a pre-World Cup test event as it is a major international soccer tournament.

The Confederations Cup is as much a pre-World Cup test event as it is a major soccer tournament.

So 2014 has the World Cup and 2012 had the Euro. I guess that means 2013 will be devoid of big-time international soccer excitement, right? Wrong! 2013 is the year of the Confederations Cup, an eight-team competition held in Brazil. It’s good and important for a lot of reasons.

A TOURNAMENT GROWS IN SIGNIFICANCE:

The Confederations Cup is more of an intercontinental competition than international. Six of the eight teams that are competing here have earned their berth by winning their respective continent’s confederation championship. The only exceptions being the World Cup winner and the host country. That’s how the Confederations Cup is contested.

The idea of having a soccer competition of the best of the continents was an idea that evolved over 21 years. Actually the first attempt at such a competition came not with the participation of FIFA. It came through the royal family of Saudi Arabia through a competition called the King Fahd Cup. The first King Fahd Cup was contested in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia over five days in October 1992 and consisted of Saudi Arabia, which was the Asian Cup holder at the time, CONCACAF Gold Cup winner USA, African Cup Of Nations holder Ivory Coast and South America’s Cop America holder Argentina who won the Cup. The King Fahd cup was contested once more in 1995 and expanded to six teams: five continental cup winners and host Saudi Arabia.

By 1997, FIFA became involved and the King Fahd Cup had been renamed the Confederations Cup. This is the turning point with the Cup being contested the year before the World Cup and with the competition consisting of the eight teams through the qualifying format that still exists today. There were however two exceptions as two second-place teams from their continent’s championships competed: Czech Republic because Euro winners Germany declined to participate and United Arab Emirates because the hosting Saudis had already qualified as hosts. This would also be a new standard for the Cup  that if one of the continental cup holders already earned their berth as either host nation or World Cup holder, the runner-up team would be given the continent’s berth.

After the 1997 tournament, the Confederations Cup would be contested bi-annually and in a different country every year. The 2001 tournament featured a unique twist as the host countries were Japan and South Korea, the host of the following year’s World Cup. That would be the norm from now on in which the Cup held the year before the World Cup would be hosted by the World Cup host nation(s). Six of the stadiums that were to be for the World Cup the following year were the sites for the Confederations Cup.

The Confederations Cup would continue being a bi-annual competition. Germany, the host nation of the 2006 world Cup, would continue the tradition by hosting the 2005 Confederations Cup with five of the venues for the following year’s World Cup used for this event. Since 2005 in Germany, the Confederations Cup has become a quadrennial event and seen as a warm-up event for the following year’s World Cup. South Africa used it to prepare for their hosting of the World Cup and you can be sure Brazil will do the same here. Six venues that will participate in next year’s World Cup including the legendary Maracana stadium will stage this competition. You could say the Confederations Cup has really grown a lot in the last decade.

WITH THE WORLD CUP A YEAR AWAY…:

You can be sure with the Cup being contested, the media will be paying close attention to how prepared Brazil is for this event and how ready they will appear to look with the World Cup just a year away. Already the media has paid high attention to Brazil’s troubled preparations for the World Cup. FIFA and even local critics have complained of construction delays and cost overruns. Few infrastructure projects were completed and even the 3G network couldn’t work properly. Even the official musical instrument of the World Cup was a failure as fans of losing teams would throw it on the field. Only two of the six stadiums participating in the Confederations Cup were completed by December and two cities were almost axed from hosting. In fact delays have caused FIFA to make an exception in their pre-World Cup demand that the host country hold three major competitions.

It’s not to say it’s all bad. Tickets for the World Cup and the Confederations Cup were a success. Also a record number of volunteers for both the Confederations Cup and World Cup signed up. Even exports from Brazil look optimistic as Brazil anticipates to export $1 billion from this Cup. Brazil has openly vowed it will be ready for the World Cup and even FIFA believes they’re confident Brazil will be ready. There’s only one year to go.

TEAM BY TEAM ANALYSIS:

Now enough talk about hosting the tournament. Let’s move onto the teams and see how well they stack up for this. All but two teams are winners of their respective country’s continental championship. The two exceptions are Brazil who qualifies as hosts and Italy which was runner-up at Euro but qualified since the winner Spain already qualified as World Cup winner. Here’s how they pare up group by group with their current FIFA ranking in brackets:

GROUP A:

-Brazil (22)- You’d think a country like Brazil with a legacy and depth of talent would enter the competition as the favorites but it’s actually not the case. Brazil first surprised everybody at the 2010 World Cup with a quarterfinal loss to the Netherlands. They surprised soccer fans even more by being ousted in the quarterfinals of the 2011 Copa America. Brazil just wasn’t Brazil. Lately Brazil has been making some changes like bringing back coach Luis Felipe Scolari who helped coach Brazil to the 2002 World Cup. Their play has gotten better in a slowly but surely pace. They may have tied Italy 3-3 three months ago but just last week they won a friendly against France who has been traditionally considered Brazil’s ‘Achilles Heel.’ The Confederations Cup could be a turning point for Brazil and send a message how much their team has improved and how far they would have to go to win the World Cup. I’m sure the world will be watching.

-Italy (8)- If you remember last year’s Euro, you’d remember it for Italy’s comeback as much as for Spain’s win. Italy was a team that was direly in need of improving after the 2010 World Cup and their qualification for the finals shows how far they came. Their play in World Cup qualifying matches have also been excellent. However they’re not immune to choking as noticed in a 2-2 friendly against Haiti. Nevertheless this tournament can also send a strong message to Italy how their team looks en route to the World Cup.

-Mexico (17)- Mexico has always been considered the ‘sleeping giant’ of soccer. The team has always been loaded with talent and skill but they have yet to prove themselves in a big way at a major tournament. They may be the current CONCACAF Gold Cup holders but even now with World Cup qualifying for the CONCACAF they still find themselves third in the standings with the USA leading. This group being the ‘group of death’ in the Cup could also pose a challenge. Nevertheless Mexico could pull one of the big upsets of the tournament. We also shouldn’t forget Mexico won the gold medal in London. It’s a given in any tournament to never count Mexico out.

-Japan (32)- If there’s one continent that has grown the most in terms of soccer play in the last two decades, it has to be Asia. And Japan has to be one of its strongest examples of accelerated success. Nevertheless Japan finds itself in a tight situation here in the Cup against three teams known for their legacies and their consistency of play. But don’t count Japan out. They’re the first team to earn a World Cup 2014 berth on play by already leading their AFC qualifying group by a huge margin. Plus they’ve won three of their six matches in 2013. So if any team can most give the biggest surprise at the Cup, it’s Japan.

GROUP B:

-Spain (1)- How about that? Spain has gone in five years from being ‘soccer’s greatest underachievers’ into the top team in the world. Two straight Euros and a World Cup. They sure have come out of their shell and they come to the Cup as the favorites to win. Heck they haven’t had a single loss not just in 2013 but 2012 too. They look to have an easy Group Stage play but play in the semis and possible finals could make things more challenging for Spain. Just because a team is #1 and undefeated for two years doesn’t mean their infallible. We shouldn’t forget they lost to the USA in the semis at 2009’s Confederations Cup. Here could be yet another achievement in Spain’s recent legacy or a sudden reminder of their own weaknesses. Only the next two weeks will tell.

-Uruguay (19)- Uruguay has to be the comeback story right now. It seemed as though Uruguay’s soccer legacy was a thing of the past. Their prowess from the 30’s to the 50’s captured the imagination of the world. However it was their fourth place finish at the 1970 World Cup that appeared to mark the end of Uruguay’s greatness. However recent years has seen Uruguay make a comeback with a fourth-place finish at the 2010 World Cup and the win of the 2011 Copa America. But before you can shout out that Uruguay was back in a big way, it hasn’t been completely easy. They currently stand fifth in the standings of World Cup qualifying play for the CONMEBOL. Nevertheless while their play against South American teams have been a bit of a struggle, their play against other international teams have been quite impressive. This tournament can also send a message to the Uruguayan team in terms of what they need to do to qualify for the World Cup.

-Nigeria (31)- Nigeria has always been one of the top African teams. They look impressive in world Cup qualifying right now. The big question is their international play. Not much is known and past international and World Cup play has not given to impressive results. One result that did send a strong message was a 2-2 tie against Mexico two weeks ago. Nigeria could prove to be a stronger team here than most experts think.

-Tahiti (138)- Usually the OFC Nations Cup goes to either Australia or New Zealand. Last year it went to little Tahiti! Tahiti has become the least populous nation ever to win a continental championship. Here at the Cup, Tahiti’s biggest victory is just simply qualifying. Not much is expected since all the other teams have stronger depth in talent and international experience. In fact Tahiti is the only team at the Cup that doesn’t have a chance in even qualifying for the World Cup as the Oceania contestant for a berth against a CONCACAF team is New Zealand. Nevertheless the Cup can be a valuable learning experience for Tahiti. They’ve had hardly any international experience outside of Oceania. Now’s their chance to experience play against some of the best teams in the World. Despite their meager chances of qualifying for further play, Tahiti is probably the only team at the Cup with nothing really to lose and everything else to gain.

So there’s my rundown of the eight teams for the Confederations Cup. I’m not going to hazard predictions until the Group play is done and the semifinal berths have been decided. In the meantime stay tuned to see who will win the 2013 Confederations Cup. And stay tuned to see how ready Brazil appears to be for hosting next year’s World Cup. Both should be interesting to see.

Euro 2012: It All Comes Down To The Finals

Will Spain win for the third time?
Or Italy for the second?

The Group Stage came and went. The quarterfinals came and went. The semifinals just finished. Now all that remains is the Euro Final to decide who wins the Henri Delaunay Cup. It’s between two teams: Italy and Spain. Both have their strengths. Both have their weaknesses. The question is who will win this year’s Euro?

SPAIN-To start things off, let’s have a look at the defending champion Spain. La Furia Roja has traditionally been known as football’s greatest underachievers: known for being a team loaded with talents players that gets eliminated from major tournaments sooner than most expect. Spain has sure changed a lot since 2008. The first sign of Spain’s new-found consistency came at the 2008 Euro. They won all their games and even survived a penalty shootout against Italy in the quarterfinals to meet Germany for the final. Tradition would have it that Germany would win. Instead Spain won 1-0.Then came the 2010 World Cup. After losing their first match against Switzerland, they really came alive. After that it was all straight wins. Even the knockout round resulted in 1-0 wins for Spain including the final for the Cup against Netherlands in overtime.

Euro 2012 has continued to showcase Spain’s consistency.  They started with a 1-1 draw against Italy but won their other Group C matches against Ireland and Croatia. A 2-0 win over France continued their success. It almost came to a halt against Portugal in a scoreless semifinal but penalty kicks gave Spain their ticket to the final.

ITALY-Italy has always been one of Europe’s greats in football. Hard to believe the Forza Azzurri have only ever won a single European Championship. The crazy thing is Italy has its good years and its bad years. When they have their good years, boy does it show. When they have their bad years, boy does it show too. It really showed at the 2010 World Cup when they failed to win any of their Group Stage games and faced an early exit. Ironically the 2010 team was coached by Marcello Lippi: the very coach who coached the Azzurri to the World Cup win in 2006.

Since the World Cup, Italy has been in rebuilding mode. They hired a new coach in Cesare Prandelli. They’ve kept some of their most consistent talent and even scouted out new talent, like young Mario Balotelli. Here at this Euro, they had a lot to prove and prove they did. The Group Stage was not easy however. They drew 1-1 against both Spain and Croatia. It took a 2-0 win over Ireland to guarantee them to the quarterfinals. Over in the quarterfinal against England, it was all theirs. They may have had a scoreless draw but their control of the ball and frequent attempts on goal showed they were ready to perform. It took a penalty kick round—England’s Achilles heel—to give them a berth in the semifinals. In the semi against Germany, they continued to perform well with continued ball control and phenomenal scoring from Balotelli. Italy has been known to be Germany’s Achilles heel and tradition continued with Italy’s 2-1 win. Interesting how Italy has already earned the UEFA berth for next year’s Conederations Cup since Spain has already qualified as the reigning World Cup holders.

Now comes the final. Interesting how we started the quarterfinal with two teams from four groups each, the semis had two teams from two different groups and now the final will have two teams from Group C. And we thought Group B was the Group Of Death. So who will win? Italy or Spain?

Spain looks poised to become the first team to successfully defend their title. Spain is also poised to join Germany as the only other nation to win a total of three Euros. It’s obvious Spain has a lot of strengths as they know how to control the ball well. However their scoring abilities have faded a bit in recent Euro matches. They went all out against Ireland but it was all scoreless against Portugal. They have to be as good at attacking as they are about ball possession. They’ve demonstrated against Ireland and France that they are good at scoring but they have to deliver when it matters. It’s going to be needed against Italy because they’re the team they drew against in the Group Stage.

As for Italy, they were lackluster in the Group stage and but came alive in the quarterfinals and semis. Like Spain, they’ve demonstrated ball control. They’ve also showed they can score well. However like Spain, they also showed that they can hold back in terms of attacking. Their scoreless game against England showed it. Joe Hart turned out to be one tough goalkeeper. If they play as well against Spain as they did against Germany, they could do it.

So what’s my prediction? I believe the game will be 1-1 with Spain winning on penalty kicks. Both teams drew in their Group Stage match. Both have demonstrated great ball control and both have stellar goalkeepers in Gianluigi Buffon for Italy and Iker Casillas for Spain. Both also have good scorers with Mario Balotelli for Italy and Xavi Alonzo and Fernando Torres for Spain. However neither is going to give way during the match and it would have to be penalty kick to decide it, in which Spain has the edge.

So will my prediction of Spain repeating hold true? It’s hard to say. A lot of my predictions have come true. However don’t forget I predicted a Portugal – England final in my article from last week. Anyways may the best team win in Kiev’s Olympic Stadium on Sunday.

Euro 2012: Now It’s Last Team Standing

Okay. The Group Stage is done and the Last-Team-Standing stage is about to start. The Groups have separated the eight contenders from the eight pretenders. The pretenders are now on their flights home. The contenders move to the quarterfinals where eight will become four. Then the semis are where the four will become two and the final is where the two will decide who wins this year’s Henri Delaunay Trophy. After giving analyses on the ousted teams, I’m glad I can now finally predict the winners. Before I do, here’s a rundown on the contending teams and their demonstrated play at Euro:

Group A winner: Czech Republic-They started out badly with a 4-1 loss to Russia but they came back with wins against Greece and Poland. All I can say is that I’m glad goalie Petr Cech got a wake-up call from Russia otherwise the Czechs wouldn’t have finished #1 in Group A. Actually the whole team woke up after their big loss to Russia. Also great scoring from Petr Jiracek and Vaclav Pilar. As for continuing on, they have to play as well as they did in the last two matches because that match to Russia showed their vulnerability. If they don’t, they could face an early out because of Group B being the Group Of Death.

Group A runner-up: Greece-Another team that was alive one moment and down the next. They drew again Poland 1-1 which turned out to be better than anyone thought. They also lost to the Czechs 2-1. That meant they had to deliver against Russia like they meant it and boy did they ever with a 1-0 victory. That sent them to the quarterfinals. The question is can they go further? As I said with the Czechs, Group B was the Group Of Death so any one of the teams that made it would be a formidable opponent for them. We also shouldn’t forget that they came alive in Euro 2004 when they were the least expected team to win. They could pull an upset again here just as they did against Russia but they have to be dead on and make everything as a team work.

Group B winner: Germany-They’re the team that has it all right now. Excellent team play, smart coaching and straight wins. If one could make a judgment on who’s going to win the Henri Delaunay Trophy upon Group Stage play, I’m sure Germany would be your pick. However don’t forget Germany has been known to choke at World Cups and at Euros past. We shouldn’t forget they even got eliminated during Group Stage in 2000 and 2004. Germany has to remember to do things right and not get overconfident after their Group Stage success or they may be out sooner than they wanted.

Group B runner-up: Portugal-What can I say? Great team play and Cristiano Ronaldo as the highlight. The loss to Germany was the only downside to their Group Stage play. They have the potential to win. It’s just a matter of them doing it. We shouldn’t forget that they could be their own worst adversaries and get an early out, like last Euro when they were stopped at the quarterfinals. Portugal’s strong enough to win the Euro. But are they smart enough to make it happen?

Group C winner: Spain- The team that has been long known as football’s greatest underachievers keep on achieving. If you remember the World Cup, Spain gave a surprise win by winning all the knockout matches 1-0 including the final for the Cup. Here at the Euro, their winning was more spectacular. Nevertheless they did show some vulnerability as they drew against Italy 1-1 and beat Croatia with 1-0. Hopefully in the knockout matches they can deliver on demand because that trick of trying to win 1-0 may just backfire. Some of their rivals may have thing or two up their sleeve. If they want to be the first ever team to successfully defend their Euro, they have to do what it takes.

Group C runner-up: Italy-The Azzuri had something to prove after their disappointment at the 2010 World Cup. They’ve made it through but it wasn’t a strong performance. 1-1 draws against Spain and Croatia and a 2-0 win against Ireland. That doesn’t look very strong for a team like Italy. They now have to start performing.  They have however demonstrated improvement since the World Cup but here in the knockout games they have to play harder. I don’t know if they are still trying to get their power back or if they were just playing conservatively in the Group Stage but they can’t take any chances here.

Group D winner: England-If there was any inability to play as a team, the Red Devils didn’t let it show. A 3-2 win against Sweden and a controversial 1-0 win against Ukraine shows the familiar winning flare of England. However conceding two goals against Sweden and drawing against France highlights their weak spots. They really have to come together in the knockout stage because they could face some tough rivalry from the other teams. Also England has never won a Euro in the past. Now more than ever should they show the world what England is made of.

Group D runner-up: France-Italy wasn’t the only country seeking redemption at the Euro after a disappointing 2010 World Cup. Les Bleus were hoping too and they’re on the right path, if not completely smooth. Their 2-0 win against Ukraine showed they’re on and their 1-1 draw against England showed they’re getting their strength back. But the 2-0 loss to Sweden shows they still have some obvious weaknesses. If they want to win the Euro, they really have to play smarter than in their game against Sweden. Group C was a tough group. Any bad moves or lack of team chemistry and it’s over for them sooner than they wanted.

Okay enough of my summary. Now for my predictions for the quarterfinals, semifinals and final for the Cup:

Quarterfinals:

Czech Republic vs. Portugal – The Navigators will win. Portugal has a competitive edge over the Czech Republic and it shows no signs of slowing down. Even in Group Stage they showed their consistency by finishing second in the Group Of Death.

Germany vs. Greece – The Mannschaft. Germany hasn’t played Greece in eleven years. However Germany is looking very strong and hard for Greece to beat.

Spain vs. France – La Furia Roja will win. It used to be France in the past that had the competitive edge. Now Spain is the team with the strength while France is still in rebuilding mode.

England vs. Italy – England will win with the possibility of penalty kicks. It’s been ten years since England played Italy and it was a loss. Mind you Italy is still in rebuilding mode. The Three Lions have shown they’re on and look very likely to beat the Azzuri to the win.

Semifinals – Assuming my predictions turn out right:

Portugal vs. Spain – Portugal in overtime. Both teams look strong. Spain and Portugal have always had a rivalry with split results. I think Portugal has the edge because Spain has had some iffy plays lately.

Germany vs. England – Oh boy. A rematch of the 2010 World Cup Round of 16. These two have also had a heated rivalry with results split both ways. I think it will be the Three Lions on penalty kicks. Mind you I’m sure England hasn’t forgotten the goal that wasn’t called.

Final for the win:

Portugal vs. England – If my predictions run true and the two actually meet for the final then Portugal will win. Portugal has the competitive edge over England this century and I don’t think it will change here.

 So there you have it. My predictions for the knockout rounds. Don’t forget I’m well-aware that any of the teams I predict to lose could in fact win. It would make some interesting changes. However I’m not putting any money on my guesses and you shouldn’t either!

Euro 2012: With One Last Group Stage Game Left

Go Slavek! Go Slavko!

It’s always that way whether it’s the Euro or World Cup. The Group Stage is always what separates the contenders from the pretenders. The contenders qualify for the quarterfinals and keep playing until the last team is standing. The pretenders pack for home earlier than they hoped. This Euro has told a lot about each of the four teams in each of the four groups. So with the final game for each group’s teams coming up, here’s my team-by-team rundown:

GROUP A

Russia- They have been the class of the group so far with their 4-1 win against the Czechs. But they would soon find themselves humbled by Poland with a 1-1 draw. Even a simple draw against Greece would have them advancing and it would have to take a win from the Czechs or a big win from the Poles to displace Russia from #1. The only way Russia could fail to qualify is if they lose to Greece by at least a -4 goal differential and either team from the other game winning. Otherwise Russia is very comfortable in qualifying.

Czech Republic- Czechs are also comfortable as they could just simply draw against the Poles and still advance. They may have taken a beating from Russia but their win against Greece keeps their hopes alive. Mind you it’s very chancy. Poland has pulled some surprises. If Poland wins, Czechs are packing early. Simple as that.

Poland-If there’s one team in this group that had the most to prove, it was Poland. The team at Euro with the lowest FIFA ranking (65th), they had something to prove and boy have they done it. They haven’t won a game yet but they’ve drawn 1-1 against Greece in the Euro opener and even drawn 1-1 against Russia. The latter is remarkable since Russia had one of the tournament’s biggest winning games so far. Goes to show what a homefield advantage can do. Since Greece and the Czech Republic already have a loss, this puts Poland at an advantage as they face their final Group Stage match against the Czech Republic. Already Poland is ranked 3rd in the group standings. A win, and nothing less, is what it takes for them to qualify for the quarterfinals. Can they do it?

Greece-They drew hosts Poland in the opening game and then lost to the Czech Republic. This is it plain and simple. They need to have nothing less than a win of +3 goal differential against Russia if they are to have any chance at qualifying. The winner of the Poland vs. Czech Republic game will be the one qualifying and Russia already has a 4-1 win. Even if the Poles and the Czechs draw, Czech Republic will be the one moving on if Greece doesn’t win.

GROUP B

Germany- They seem to have it the most comfortable of all teams at this Euro. Two games, two wins. That doesn’t mean they’re completely guaranteed a berth in the quarterfinals. The only ways Germany can fail to qualify is if Portugal wins and Denmark wins either 1-0, 2-1 or with a +2 goal differential. That just shows how tight it is in this Group of Death. There’s no telling what will happen. Even though Germany’s comfortable right now, who know? A simple draw against Denmark can have them qualifying #1 in their group but don’t forget the Danes surprised the Dutch.

Portugal- Portugal started out with a 1-0 loss against Germany and then came roaring back against Denmark with a 3-2 win. Even though Portugal and Denmark have the same win-loss stats and goal differentials, Portugal has the advantage because their win was bigger than Denmark’s 1-0 win. Draws in the next games will help Germany and Portugal advance. The only chance Portugal doesn’t have of qualifying is if the Netherlands wins and both Denmark even so much as draws Germany. Knowing that all final games of the Group Stage are simultaneous, there are no taking chances. And Portugal wouldn’t want to do that.

Denmark-They were the surprise of the group. Lowest ranked of the four but they beat Netherlands 1-0 and give Portugal a strong challenge in their 3-2 loss. They can qualify not just by simply drawing against Germany but if the Netherlands beat Portugal. Otherwise nothing less than a win against Germany is what they need to move on.

Netherlands-The problem with being in the Group Of Death is that even the best teams in the World can face stiff competition and look less powerful than they are. Netherlands is the team that had it the worst here at the Euro. A 0-1 loss to Denmark and a 2-1 loss to Germany. Its only chance of qualifying comes not just in beating Portugal but in Germany beating Denmark. Anything less and the Dutch are packing. This should make for an interesting match. Will the Dutch play hard and well or will it all be in vain?

GROUP C

Spain-Funny how they used to be known as ‘football’s greatest underachievers’ and they sure have been achieving a lot in the last five years. They’ve continued their achieving here with a 4-0 victory against Ireland and a healthy 1-1 draw against Italy. Their lead is comfortable enough that they could still qualify if they lose against Croatia and Ireland draws against Italy. Mind you they could be out if they lose to Croatia and Italy wins. This group may not be as much of a group of death as Group B but they have their own tight statistics that can even cause Spain to be out in the Group Stage. It will all be decided Monday.

Croatia-Like Spain, they too are quite comfortable. A win against Spain means they win the group. A draw against Spain still has them moving on but the draw would have to be at least 1-1 and Italy doesn’t do better than 2-0 against Ireland. A 2-2 draw against Spain would help them qualify provided Italy doesn’t win 3-0. Even if they lose to Spain, Croatia can still qualify if Ireland beats Italy. Mind you I’m sure the Croats won’t want to take any chances.

Italy-After 1-1 draws against Spain and Croatia, this is it. Croatia and Spain both have a win and a draw under their belt. They have to win against Ireland if they are to move on. The real complicated part comes in being #1 in the group. The only way that could happen is if a win of 2-0 and Spain and Croatia have a scoreless draw. A 1-1 draw of Spain and Croatia would mean Italy would have to beat Ireland 4-0 for #1. Yeah, this numbers thing is confusing but for the teams it matters tons. Especially for the Azzuri since they want to recover from their Group Stage ouster form the 2010 World Cup.

Ireland-Simply put, it’s over. A 3-1 loss to Croatia and a 4-0 loss to Spain marks the end of Ireland’s chances completely. This should make it interesting in their game against Italy. Even though it’s over, they could still try to beat Italy for the sake of their own pride. I’ve seen it done before at World Cups where the team that’s out and knows it still makes the effort to win with one last thing to prove. Could Ireland do it? They face a tight challenge from the Azzuri hungry for its first win.

GROUP D

France-If you remember the 2010 World Cup, France’s performance was so dreadful the president of the French Football Association resigned before their last Group Stage game. When you hit rock bottom, all that you can do is rebuild. France’s rebuilt team has obviously paid off here. A 1-1 draw against England and a 2-0 win against Ukraine has France top of the group with one last game to play. The only way France can fail to qualify is if they lose to Sweden and Ukraine beats England. And even then it would have to come down to some tricky goal-scoring numbers to deny France a quarterfinal berth.

England-Like France, they too have a  draw and a win. Unlike France, their win against Sweden was 3-2. Their single-goal differential is what puts them in second. For England to be top of the group, they not only have to win but France would have to lose or draw against Sweden or England’s win would have to be two more goals than a France’s win. England can simply draw against Ukraine on Tuesday and they’d still qualify. A loss to Ukraine would be what would deny England a quarterfinal berth. The only way they could qualify upon losing against Ukraine is if Sweden beats France by at least two goals. Do you think England would want that to happen?

Ukraine-Like co-host Poland, they too had low expectations but surprised everyone with a 2-1 win against Sweden. The excitement died down four days later with a 2-0 loss to France. Plain and simple, Ukraine has to win against England if they want to qualify. The only other option would be drawing and Sweden beating France by at least 3 goals. Knowing that’s an impossibility, you can imagine Ukraine wants to be ready on Tuesday. Three Euro hosts of the past have failed to make it past Group Stage. You can bet Ukraine doesn’t want to be added to that list.

Sweden-Like Ireland, they’re out. Not even a big win against France can help them qualify for the quarterfinals. Their match against France would be as interesting as Ireland’s match against Italy as it could be one last thing for Sweden to prove. Also interesting for Sweden, Ireland or any of the other six countries that get eliminated is to see in the months ahead what changes they’ll be making to their football board, coaching or even player roster as the World Cup qualifiers start just months from now. The teams will want to take from this experience in all their victories and defeats and learn from it in preparation for qualifying for a World Cup berth. Will they improve? Will they still stay the same? Or will they get worse during the qualifying matches? Only time will tell.

And there you have it. A summary of the teams and what they need to do to qualify for the quarterfinals. Nothing is really sacred for any team right now. Even though Germany has the most comfortable qualifying chances, there’s still a slim chance they may be eliminated: slim but still possible. It will all be decided during these next four days. I have to say there’s something about the final Group Stage match. What is it? The simultaneous play? The heat and pressure of qualifying? The sometimes thrilling moments of some games? Whatever it is, they will finalize all the Group Stage play of Euro 2012 and sports history will be paved from then on.