“Congratulations to Korea for the win, for Sweden and Mexico for the qualification. It’s difficult to explain. The way we played we didn’t deserve to go through.”
-Germany coach Joachim Loew
Many of you may remember during the last World Cup, I posted a blog about the challenges the defending World Cup champion faces. Sometimes it seems like bad luck. After Germany’s game against South Korea, my look at the defending Champion deserves an update.
In the 20th Century, only Italy in 1950 and Brazil in 1966 were among the defending champions that failed to make it past the Group Stage. In the 21st Century, there was France in 2002, Italy in 2010 and Spain in 2014.
Then came Germany here in 2018. Germany was the most impressive team at the 2014 World Cup and deserving of their victory. The team appeared to have many a great retire from the national team over time like Miro Klose, Per Mertesacker and Phillipp Lahm just after their World Cup win, Bastian Schweinsteiger right after Euro 2016, and Lukas Podolski in 2017. Nevertheless their reputation of consistency would continue to be as they would continue to do very well in tournaments, if not win. There was the semifinal finish at Euro 2016. There was winning their first ever Confederations Cup in 2017. They even won FIFA team of the year in 2014 and 2017 as well as the Laureus award for Team Of The Year in 2015. It appeared that the years were kind to team Germany as well as with the new talent that was coming along. Including Joshua Kimmich who won German Player Of The Year in 2017. Germany’s Olympic team in Rio which consisted mostly of men under 23 won the silver medal. It also appeared Head Coach Joachim Loew was continuing to make the right decisions and Germany’s football system which went through an overhaul in the early 21st Century was continuing to pay off big time.
Even in friendly play, Germany did very well, but they also had notable defeats like 4-2 against Argentina seven weeks after the World Cup, 2-1 against the US in June 2015, 3-2 against England in March 2016, and 3-1 against Slovakia in May 2016. 2017 looked like a good year for Germany as they topped their World Cup qualifying group easily and they didn’t even lose a dingle friendly. Their draw for the World Cup didn’t appear to threaten their World Cup status as their mix with Sweden, South Korea and Mexico appeared to be a group they could advance with after playing.
Then the 2018 year began. They drew against Spain 1-1 in their first friendly in March. Their next friendly, against Brazil four days later, they lost 1-0. They would lose to Austria in a friendly 2-1 on June 2nd and then win 2-1 in a friendly against the Saudis on June 8th. It was apparent the team chemistry that gave Germany the winning edge in 2014 wasn’t there.
The World Cup squad of 23 for the German national team was announced on June 4th 2018: two days after their loss to Austria. Manuel Neuer, goalkeeper for the 2014 team, was back and was captain of the team, as were eight other members of Germany’s 2014 team. There was also Mario Gomez who was part of Germany’s 3rd-place World Cup team of 2010. Marco Reus, who had to be replaced just before the 2014 World Cup because of an ankle injury, finally got his World Cup moment in 2018. There were some notable differences about the make-up. Four members of the 2014 team had 100 caps or more. None of the 2018 team had that. Three of the members were part of Germany’s silver medal-winning performance at the Rio Olympics in 2016. There were the ‘reliable’ veterans like Ozil, Muler, Neuer, Khedira and Boateng. As for the new players, there were talents like 26 year-old Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, 22 year-old Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Julian Brandt, and defenders like 25 year-old Antonio Rudiger from Chelsea and 23 year-old Joshua Kimmich from Bayern Munich as well as 22 year-old striker Timo Werner who scored three goals during the 2017 Confederations Cup.
There were also some notable members of the German national team who were left off the World Cup squad like Shkodran Mustafi who was part of the 2014 team and Mario Gotze who scored the goal that won Germany the World Cup. Gotze had been going through a metabolic disorder since March of last year and it may have caused his dismissal from the national team.
Then the World Cup started. Their first opponent was Mexico right in Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. There were talks of struggles with the team chemistry since the Cup started, including with their team-based training in Moscow, but it appeared to be nothing to worry about. Mexico was a team where their last defeat to them was in 1985. They even beat them in the semis at the Confederations Cup last year. However sport is not about the past; it’s about now. Vet Neuer was chosen to be goaltender, Kimmich and the relatively inexperienced Marvin Plattenhardt were the only two ‘new’ players chosen as defenders, the two midfielders were vets Kroos and Khedira, and Werner was the only ‘new’ defender of the four. Substitutions also caught people’s eyes as ‘new players’ Plattenhardt and Werner were among those substituted and two vets along with ‘new player’ Julian Brandt were the substitutes. Germany had 60% of the ball possession, 25 of 37 attempts, nine attempts on-target and nine off-target, eight of the nine corner kicks, 88% pass accuracy, but the one goal was scored by Hirving Lozano of Mexico in the 35th minute.
Germany’s 1-0 loss soon got people talking. This was Germany’s first loss of a Group Stage opening match in yay so long. There was even talk about how the German team lacked organization, lacked chemistry. Some claimed Loew was ‘separating’ the team between the tried-and-true vets and the newer players. More scattering of players than setting a build of play. Germany still however had two more games. Their next match was Sweden in another Olympic Stadium: Fisht in Sochi. Neuer was back as goaltender, but this time there was more presence of newer players, especially among defenders. Even two of the three substitutes were new players like Brandt and Ilkay Gundogan. However it appeared to be another struggle for Germany, especially after Ola Toivonen scored after the 32nd minute. It did, however, appear that Germany was beginning to find their groove again as Marco Reus evened the game up at the 48th minute. However it was starting to look like Germany was going to choke again. Then came the miracle of stoppage time. It was Toni Kroos delivering a successful free kick in the 5th minute of stoppage time to give Germany their winning goal. Despite their 2-1 victory, there were still naysayers, pointing out how Germany did so little with so much. Germany had ball possession for 71% of the game and 16 goal attempts, but only five attempts on-target. They also had five of the seven offsides. Also Jerome Boateng received two yellow cards– in the 71st and 82nd minutes– en route to a red-card dismissal and Germany to play one man down for the remainder of that game and against the following game against South Korea.
Then came Game 3 against South Korea at Kazan Arena. Germany had to win if they wanted to qualify as Mexico already had two wins. No doubt Germany appeared to be there. They had 70% ball possession, had nine corner kicks, and delivered 17 shots, but only six were on-target. Germany appeared to deliver a lot of good attempts at goals, but young goalkeeper Cho Hyun-woo was on that night. It was definitely frustrating for Germany as they knew they had to win to stay alive. Sweden was beating Mexico 3-0 so a win was needed to qualify. It did not happen. This time, it was South Korea that took full advantage of stoppage time with a goal by Kim Younggwon in the 93rd minute giving Korea the lead and a goal by Son Heungmin in an empty net in the 96th minute that meant it was the end for Germany. That was only Germany’s second loss to South Korea after their fourth time playing each other.
It’s tough to decide what lead to Germany’s demise. It may be the coaching staff’s overtrusting of its senior players and not giving the newer players a fair chance. Especially after vets like Neuer, Ozil and Thomas Muller all performed below expectation. Some say there was lack of unity or lack of a game plan. There was enough on the field to notice that. Some say the coaching tactics of Joachim Loew that was successful in the past finally ran out here. Loew himself was shocked at the loss and Germany’s early dismissal, however he did not deny any of his misdoings or the team’s misdoings.
Quotes from Loew after the game:
“I think we prepared well for the tournament. We were ready and we knew that all teams will be desperate to beat us, but we haven’t showed for it.”
“It wasn’t only Ozil, a number of other players didn’t perform as they normally would. I take responsibility for that and stand up for that, but I thought it was a good team.”
Interesting to note that Loew signed a contract to stay on as coach of the national team until 2022. Loew has been coach of the German national team since 2006. However he has made it evident that he will voluntarily step down. He made his disappointment obvious, but he said it will take hours to digest.
One thing about the loss is that it gave Germany some embarrassing statistics like the second World Cup ever and first time since 1938 that Germany failed to move past the 1st round, first time for Germany to fail to qualify after opening Group Stage play, and the third defending champion in a row to be eliminated after the Group Stage.
That last statistic continues to be biting. This is the fourth time in five World Cups this 21st century and the third consecutive time the defending champion is out after the Group Stage. I’ve never considered it bad luck to be defending World Cup champion, but the statistics are strongly pointing the way to it. It was never this way in the 20th century. They may have had some bad statistics at the following World Cup, but it was very rare to be out in the Group Stage. Now it’s more common than ever with Germany being the sixth ever and third-consecutive. It’s tempting to think bad lack, but one has to study teams to know why they perform poorly time after time. This is something new and shouldn’t be, but this is tempting.
The defending World Cup champion. The definition continues.
I just bought the official guide to the World Cup. It gives a lot of fact and figures and trivia. Some World Cup trivia facts are worth knowing, like who scored the most goals or who achieved the fastest red card. Others, not really. Anyways enough of that. Let’s get back to reviewing the World Cup. Today it’s Group F:
-Germany (1)- Germany appear to be the clear favorites after their World Cup win in 2014. There doesn’t seem to be anything that appears to hinder them. However the defending champion teams have had a history of bad luck at the World Cup. The last time a team successfully defended their World Cup was back in 1962. The last time the defending champion made it to the final was in 1998. Also let’s keep in mind that three of the last four defending champion teams were ousted in the group stage. Germany looks like one team that won’t let it happen. The last time Germany finished outside the Top 8 was all the way back in 1938. However don’t rely on statistics.
Anyways the Mannschaft have been playing very well since their win in 2014. Upon the retirement of many vets after the Cup, coach Joachim Loew has had to train some new talent. They won the Confederations Cup for the first time ever last year. They also got as far as the semifinals at Euro 2016. However they did expose a weakness in their quarterfinal win against Italy when three of the players missed penalty shots: uncharacteristic for a team with a near-perfect record. Germany has delivered a lot of impressive wins like 6-0 over Norway, 4-1 over Mexico and 2-1 over Chile. However Germany ‘s 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia is its first win since World Cup qualification. They even lost 1-0 to Brazil and 2-1 over Austria. Chances are they could just come alive again at the World Cup. They’ve always been together at every World Cup and I’m sure Russia 2018 will be no exception.
-Mexico (15)- Mexico is frequently seen as a sleeping giant in football. They’re a team loaded with talent waiting for their big breakthrough. Sure, they’ve qualified for the knockout stage in every World Cup they’ve played in since 1986, but 1986 was the first and only time Mexico won a knockout game. You can bet Mexico’s hoping to finally get their breakthrough.
El Tricolor have had ups and downs these past four years. They won the 2015 CONCACAF Championship but finished third in 2017. They also finished fourth at last year’s Confederations Cup. However at the last two Copa Americas, the best they could do was the quarterfinals. Their track records this past year has been good. They’ve had good wins like 3-0 against Iceland, 1-0 against Poland and 3-1 against Ireland. They even delivered a strong 3-3 draw against Belgium. However they’ve had some noteworthy losses such as 1-0 against Croatia and 4-1 against Germany. Anything is possible in 2018 and Mexico could rise to the occasion.
-Sweden (23)- If there’s one team that can cause an upset, it’s Sweden. During World Cup qualifying, the Top 2 teams from UEFA’s Group A were expected to be France and the Netherlands. France did come out of top, but Sweden finished ahead of the Netherlands on goal differentials. Sweden was drawn to play against Italy for the playoff berth. I’m sure everyone expected Italy to win it. However a goal from Jakob Johansson in the 61st minute of the first game and a scoreless second game meant Italy will miss out on the World Cup for the first time since 1958. Never underestimate the Swedes.
You can bet the Blagult will be ready. The big shock is that Jakob Johansson who delivered the berth-winning goal will not be in Russia. Neither will its superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic as he retired from the national team after Euro 2016. Now the most capped man on the Swedish team is Hull City’s Sebastian Larsson. Since 2017, Sweden has delivered notable wins such as 3-2 against Portugal, 2-1 against France, and of course their 1-0 surprise over Italy. However they’ve had some notable losses like 2-0 against the Netherlands, 2-1 over Chile and 1-0 against Romania. However never rule Sweden out. If they can upset the Netherlands and Italy in qualifying, they could create an upset in Russia 2018.
-Korea Republic (South Korea) (61)- There’s no doubt that South Korea is the top team in Asia. It has a record of consistency with qualifying for every World Cup since 1986. They come to Russia hoping to make a good impression, but most experts don’t have too high of expectations for them. Which is surprise since they were finalists at the last Asian Cup and even won last year’s East Asian Cup. I think they get the ranking because they didn’t win a game at the last World Cup. Actually no AFC team won a single game at the last World Cup.
Most of the lineup plays for Korea’s K League 1. Only four play for European teams. Since 2017, the team has had some remarkable wins like 2-1 over Colombia and 4-1 over Japan. However the team has had some noteworthy losses like 3-1 to Bosnia, 4-2 to Russia and 3-2 to Poland. Chances are South Korea could rise to the occasion again. They just have to prove it in Russia.
And those are my thoughts on Group F. As for predicting which two will move onto the knockout round, I think it will be Germany and Mexico. Those are my best hunches.
Just four more stadiums to go. As we get closer, the stadiums will get bigger. Interesting how the World Cup will show us big cities in Russia we never knew about. In fact I never knew about this city until I learned of the stadium.
Rostov-On-Don: Rostov Arena
Year Opened: 2018
World Cup Groups Hosting: A, D, E, F
Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16
The most interesting thing about the stadium is that soon after ground broke, five shells from World War II were found in June 2013 and they were in near-perfect condition! The stadium is noteworthy for its irregular shape of roofing and stands. Its lighting at night is definitely a spectacle to watch. The stadium is part of major city development of Rostov-on-Don. This is the first project built on the southern bank of the Don River. Built close to shopping and dining areas, the stadium will serve as a focal point for investments and new developments. After the Cup, the seating will be reduced to 42,000 and will serve as the home venue for FC Rostov.
And there’s my summary of Group F. Only six more days to go. And two more groups and three more stadiums for me to review.
This is actually my favorite group of the six because I’m 3/4 Ukrainian, 1/4 German. Plus I like Poland because Poland and Ukraine have a lot in common, especially in their language. Nevertheless this should make for an exciting group with a lot of rivalry. So here’s my review of Group C:
Poland (27): Poland may have a good World Cup legacy with seven appearances and two third-place finishes but they lack a Euro legacy with competing in only the last two and going out in the Group Stage both times. Last Euro was especially embarrassing since they were co-hosts and didn’t win a game. Since then the White Eagles has gotten better. And it’s not just with Robert Lewandowski becoming a star striker for Bayern Munich. It’s the whole team that has been performing consistently. In fact the team even scored their first ever win against Germany in October 2014 during Euro qualifying. They’ve had other notable wins in the past two years against Ireland, Czech Republic and Serbia. Their only loss in the past two years came to Germany when they got their Euro qualifying revenge last September. Before I even give my predictions, I can already say I know Poland will advance to the Round of 16 at the very least. Poland could be the team most likely to cause a surprise.
Northern Ireland (26): This is Northern Ireland’s first ever Euro. They’ve played in three World Cups before and even made the quarterfinals in 1958 but no previous Euro. The team may not have a George Best right now but they appear to be getting stronger in recent years. Five players play for the Premier League and they’ve scored notable wins against Hungary and Greece. Their two losses to European teams in the past two years were to Romania and Scotland. France could be another proving ground for the team.
Germany (5): You think that since they’ve won the World Cup in 2014, they should be top of the world, right? Well one of the reasons why they won the World Cup is because they had the most team unity and best team chemistry of all. No standout superstars, just one functioning team. And that’s how it should be. However three of its top players from World Cup 2014–Per Mertesacker, Phillipp Lahm and Miroslav Klose–retired immediately after. This led to dealing with a new team format since then and also into developing new national team players. Manuel Neuer, Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil, Andre Schurrle and Mario Gotze and still part of The Mannschaft but they’re also added some new younger talent too.
With the changes to the team, they’ve gone through some ups and downs. They qualified for the Euro top of their group. They’ve had some notable wins against Poland, Spain, Scotland and their traditional ‘Achilles heel’ Italy. However they’ve also had some notable losses to Argentina, Poland, the U.S., France, England and most recently Slovakia. However Germany has a habit of coming alive when they most need to so it’s not right to dismiss them quite yet. Plus Euro 2016 could be the grounds for a lot of the new younger players to come of age. Only time will tell.
Ukraine (22): Ukraine is a team that either gets better or keeps on learning over time. They first arrived as a team at the 2006 World Cup where they made the quarterfinals. However they’ve struggled to qualify for a World Cup since. They played in their first Euro in 2012 as co-hosts going out in the Group Stage. The current team mostly plays for teams in the Ukrainian Premier League. The current team has a lot of good talent like veteran Anatoliy Tymoschuk and rising great Andriy Yarmolenko. In the past year, the team has had some notable wins over Wales, Romania and Slovenia. Their only loss in 2015 came to Spain. In their history, they’ve either won or tied Northern Ireland, had mixed results against Poland and never won against Germany. Chances they could be on at Euro 2016.
Prediction: I think Germany vs. Poland will be a draw game and both teams will have the exact game results in all of group play. But I think Germany will come out on top over Poland because of goal differentials. Third place in this group will go to Ukraine.
And there you go. My thoughts on Group C. My thoughts on Euro 2016’s Group D coming soon.
Here are my reviews of other groups:
Well it’s getting closer and closer. We’re down to the last four countries standing. Tuesday and Wednesday will decide Sunday’s finalists for the World Cup. It’s a pair of interesting pairings as both look like rematches of a World Cup final from the past. And in both cases, both teams have played each other well to give a sign who has the advantage. So without further ado, I’ll look into the two semifinals and make my predictions.
SEMIFINAL #1 – BRAZIL vs. GERMANY
Brazil and Germany have played each other 21 times. Brazil has won 12 of those times, Germany 4 and drawn 5 times. They have played each other only once in the World Cup: in the 2002 Final which Brazil won 2-0. Brazil has scored 39 total goals against Germany and Germany has scored 24 against Brazil.
Brazil: Oh yes, the pressures of being the host nation. Many times it’s been a plus as six host nations would go on to win the World Cup. However it can backfire and sometimes the host nation can miss. Even teams like Italy and Germany that have won World Cups in the past–even once before as host country– would miss. Brazil has performed very well in play and has delivered stellar wins such as 3-1 against Croatia and 4-1 against Cameroon. They have also shown their weak side with a 0-0 draw against Mexico and a 1-1 draw against Chile where they advanced after penalty kicks.
Their most recent match-up against Colombia ended with a good win of 2-1 but it was not without incident as Neymar had been injured terribly in the back. He was even carried of in a stretcher and is currently hospitalized at his home near Sao Paulo. Doctors say his spinal cord is broken but he is expected to make a full recovery within six weeks. They also said had it been an inch higher, he would have been paralyzed permanently. Not to mention Thiago Silva amassing two yellow cards and out of the semifinal.
With Neymar out and recovering and Thiago Silva sitting the semi out, Brazil is trying to get its team ready against Germany. Even Sports Illustrated have spoken about what Brazil needs to do. Brazil will face more pressure to win but it’s not to say they don’t have what it takes to do it. They have David Luiz, Hulk and Fred still active on their team. However David Luiz knows that he will have to step up his defense. Also coach Scolari knows he will have to make a wise choice for a replacement for Neymar. On a positive side, Brazil did demonstrate its defense after Neymar was injured and taken off with impressive results. So it shows it can be done.
Germany: Germany keeps on adding to their record of consistency. Their semifinal appearance here makes it their thirteenth time in their eighteen World Cup appearances they’ve cracked the Top 4. The biggest surprise of it all is that despite Germany’s consistency, they’re one of the least celebrated great teams of the World Cup. Sure, you’ll walk down the street and see a lot of people wearing jerseys of Brazil, Italy, England, Argentina, Portugal, Netherlands and Colombia most of the time but how often do you see one wearing a Germany jersey?
Even now Germany continues to perform well and their achievements go quietly. Thomas Muller scored a hat trick against Portugal but that received less mention than the two-pointers from Neymar, Lionel Messi and James Rodriguez. Some may feel that it’s a bad thing but others, like possibly some Germans, may not feel that way. We shouldn’t forget that Germany has one of the most closely knit teams. Most of the players are less interested in individual glory and more interested in making wins happen. People like Muller, Miroslav Klose, Mesut Ozil and Bastian Schweinsteiger may have what it takes to be stars of the team but they’re top interest is playing.
Their unity as a team has paid off here in Brazil. They won 4-1 against Portugal and 1-0 against the United States. However it’s not to say they’ve had some strugglers here too. They did draw 2-2 against Ghana and had to go into extra time against Algeria after remaining scoreless in regulation. They did however win 2-1 in extra time. However a 1-0 win against France puts their chances of winning the World Cup, if not against Brazil, in question.
The German team appear confident after knowing of Neymar’s injury. Many people have already predicted Germany will win this match because of both Neymar’s injury and Thiago Silva’s expulsion. However it’s too soon to assume things. Brazil has won games before without their best players. Nevertheless this is a golden opportunity for Germany to seize.
My Verdict: Okay. This is a tough call since things can go either way. Some people will think this is a risky call for me but I’ll call it anyways. I think Brazil will win 1-0 in extra time. Brazil has performed well without their best players at times–heck, they won the 1962 World Cup while Pele was sidelined with injuries– but I’m confident they have what it takes to do it and a strong coach like Scolari to lead the way. Also let’s hope the spectators make it there safe and sound after the news of the freeway collapse in Belo Horizonte on Saturday that left two dead and 23 injured. One trivia note: whoever wins will set a World Cup record for the most finals appearances with eight.
SEMIFINAL #2 – ARGENTINA vs. NETHERLANDS
Head-To-Head Stuff: Argentina and the Netherlands have squared off against each other eight times in the past including three times during World Cup matches including the 1978 final for the Cup. Argentina was host that year and won in extra time 3-1. Surprisingly this was the only time Argentina has defeated the Netherlands. The Netherlands have won four times including a 1998 World Cup rematch in the quarterfinals 2-1 and there have been three draws. Netherlands has scored 13 goals against Argentina while Argentina have scored six against the Dutch.
Argentina: Argentina have not played as spectacularly as they have been known to do. They have won all their games but all their wins have been at a margin of just one goal: 2-1 against Bosnia, 1-0 against Iran, 3-2 against Nigeria, 1-0 against Switzerland and 1-0 against Belgium. Already this makes it the fifth time Argentina has made it as far as the Top 4 at the World Cup. This is especially relief for them since the last time they made it past the quarterfinals was back in 1990. Argentina has been known to have a spectacular flavor about them but it appears missing this time around. One thing that is not missing is spectacular play from Lionel Messi. He came as one of the superstars with high expectations and he has delivered with a total of four goals and even delivered excellent supporting play. There has also been excellent supporting play from Gonzalo Higuain.
Here in Brazil, Argentina will have to pick up their game if they want to win. Sure, conservative play has paid off in the past like for Spain at the last World Cup. However it can be a risk as who knows how much the opposing team can score. And the Netherlands already delivered a big win with 5-1 against Spain. If Argentina want to have their first win against the Netherlands since the 1978 World Cup final, they have to pick it up and have all their players deliver more than what they delivered in the past.
Netherlands: The Netherlands is considered by many the greatest team never to have won the World Cup. Three times the bridesmaid including the last World Cup, never the bride. Before this World Cup, not much was expected of Oranje. They had a disappointing Euro 2012 and they appeared like they hadn’t proven any improvements. However Louis van Gaal had a message to send the world. The team had already been made up of a lot of young players–nine of which were born in the 1990’s–and had top veterans like Wesley Sneijder, Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben. Boy did they prove a lot starting with their 5-1 win over defending cupholders Spain, a 3-2 win over Australia and a 2-0 win over Chile. They also continued well with a 2-1 win over Mexico in the Round of 16. Their 11 goals have made them the top scoring team of the Cup so far with both Robben and van Persie scoring three goals each and 20 year-old Memphis Depay a strong favorite for the Cup’s Young Player award.
However with all their spectacular play, they were given a reality check when they drew 0-0 against Costa Rica in regulation. Much to the teams relief, they won the penalty shootout 4-3 after substituting goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen with Tim Krul. If the Netherlands want to win en route to their fourth World Cup final, they should not rely on the facts that they’ve beaten Argentina more often. They should know Argentina can deliver when they have to. Also Argentina is better conditioned than the Netherlands at playing in the hot climates as seen in many games this World Cup.
My Verdict: I have to go with Argentina on this with the score 2-1. They haven’t been as spectacular as the Netherlands but they’ve been showing a lot of team unity and have delivered whenever they’ve had to. Also they know how to play hot weather better than the Netherlands.
Well that wraps up another set of predictions. I like how a lot of you like the predictions I’ve been making with the Group Stage and the first knockout games. All that’s left to predict is the final. Stay tuned Friday.