Tag Archives: Netherlands

VIFF 2016 Review: All Of A Sudden (Auf Einmal)

all-of-a-sudden

Sebastian Hulk plays a man accused and his world falling apart in All Of A Sudden.

All Of A Sudden is a story of a crime mystery that leaves you wondering what the truth is.

The film begins with a party with many adults. A man named Karsten sees a woman named Anna at his home. He gives her a cupcake with a candle and sings her Happy Birthday. Then she gets sick. Karsten runs to the town clinic to seek help but it’s closed. Upon returning home, it’s too late. She’s dead.

His parents offer him relief at their home along with his girlfriend Laura. Unfortunately more information unfolds.  Anna’s widower has Karsten charged with wrongful death. A video from a smartphone of Judith–one of the friends of Laura and Karsten–shows Karsten talking to Anna at the party just shortly before her death. Karsten is constantly questioned about why he left to run to a medical clinic instead of calling emergency. Because of the turn of events and sudden findings, Karsten is demoted at his job and Laura leaves him feeling she’s betrayed. Karsten’s relationship with his parents even becomes heated.

One day Karsten just leaves for a hike just to get away from it all only to be found by his best friend with the news. Anna’s husband has dropped the charges. Karsten is shocked and wonders why. He confronts her husband Andrej to find out why. Only Karsten knows why, much to Andrej’s disappointment. Karsten goes back to his job and demands he be returned to his original position or else he will sue. Karsten meets with Judith ‘intimately’ only to set the record straight with her and the video. Finally it looks like Karsten has his life back together.

The most unique thing about this film is how it tells the story. It presents the events as they unfold and it tosses the opinions from others around Karsten. It’s almost as if you’re a part of the situation yourself and you’re led to draw your own conclusions. I’ll admit that when I first saw this, I was ready to draw my conclusion that he was responsible for this. He appeared criminally negligent. Like why did he run to the clinic when he could have called 911 instead? Did he do it to hide from Laura that he was with another woman at the time? They’ll leave you questioning. Even that video Judith took of Anna during the night with Karsten will leave you guessing.

Just as unique about it is how it took that one break, when Andrej decides to drop the charges, that Karsten becomes a changed person. He first comes across as a man who’s all together at the beginning. Then he comes across as a victim, like the world is against him. Then after this sudden reversal, Karsten soon becomes a man who settles the score with those who did him wrong. It’s like a complete change of character and traits I didn’t see in Karsten before. In order to make such a major change of character, the actor had to make this work. I feel Karsten’s change of character came off well. It was drawn out longer than I feel it should have but it worked.

In retrospect I think this story of Karsten and Anna can come across as any crime story. Any situation can lead one to believe certain things. Any set of facts you know and facts you don’t know can cause you to draw your own conclusions. Anyone in the same situation like Karsten can easily be preyed upon by others. No surprisingly the victim in all this can easy ask themselves: “Why is the whole world against me?” However it just takes that one change of fortune for a person to become a changed person the same way it happened to Karsten. I guess that’s the trick of the film. It takes Karsten’s story and shows how it’s so much like many situations before it.

Turkish-German director Asli Ozge writes, directs and edits a very good thought-provoking film. Without a doubt, the film belonged to Sebastian Hulk. This was Karsten’s story and the whole film rested on Hulk delivering the performance of Sebastian in the right manner. Hulk did a very good job of acting without having to be overdramatic. There were also excellent performances by Julia Jentsch as the girlfriend struggling with the situation and Luise Heyer as two-faced Judith.

All Of A Sudden is a unique story. It presents a before-and- after story that will lead one to draw their own conclusion. It really makes you think.

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2016 Eurovision Song Contest Final Preview

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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!

2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup: Intro and Group A Focus

Canada will host the sixth edition of the FIFA Women's World Cup.

Canada will host the sixth edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

The FIFA Women’s World Cup is coming and Canada is to be the host nation. This is to be an exciting time for both the country and the sport of women’s football.

This marks the first time Canada has ever hosted a World Cup. Canada has hosted past soccer tournaments for FIFA like the 1987 U-16 World Championships, 2002 U-19 Women’s World Championships, 2007 Men’s U-20 World Cup and last year’s U-20 Women’s World Cup. It’s up to the challenge. And a new challenge for the Women’s World Cup as this year the number of competing teams have been expanded from 16 to 24.

Throughout the next two weeks, I will be doing an analysis of each first round group and even making judgments on who I think will come out on top, come second and even come third. I don’t think I’ll predict the wildcard advancers as that will be too tricky. I’ll just limit to a third-place prediction. The number in brackets below is the FIFA Women’s Ranking for May 2015.

GROUP A:

Canada

Christine Sinclair will captain possibly Canada's greatest women's soccer team ever. They already have an Olympic bronze to their feats.

Christine Sinclair will captain possibly Canada’s greatest women’s soccer team ever. They already have an Olympic bronze to their feats.

-Canada (8): The Women’s World Cup is where Canada can show off its football prowess. Our men have only qualified for a single World Cup all the way back in 1986 which leaves us cheering for whoever during the World Cup; most of the time the country of our ethnic background. As for our women, the only World Cup they didn’t qualify for was the inaugural one back in 1991. Canadian women have an impressive resume of their own such as two CONCACAF Championships and an Olympic bronze medal from 2012. In fact their bronze was Canada’s favorite memory of those Olympics. Even I remember the excitement I felt and even referred to them as ‘our girls.’ Naturally so since soccer is probably the team sport in Canada with the most female participation. Even more than hockey. In fact this World Cup should make Canada proud as it is one nation that has one of the best instances female participation in soccer. Heck, our female stars like Christine Sinclair and Melissa Tancredi are bigger household names than our male stars!

However it’s not to say the women are looking for their own World Cup glory. This may be our sixth World Cup but Canada has only advanced past the Group Stage once back in 2003 where they finished fourth. In fact Canada lost all three of their Group Stage matches at the last World Cup back in 2011. Things changed after Canada recruited English coach John Herdman after he finished coaching New Zealand. After that, he helped guide Canada to gold at the Pan American Games and the bronze in London.

Canada’s chances to qualify to the knockout rounds are not only great but they also have good chances to come out on top. They beat China in their last game. They’ve won against New Zealand in six of their ten meetings and won against the Netherlands in ten of their eleven meetings. They also look good to win their Round of 16 match but things look to get tougher around the quarterfinals. Nevertheless this World Cup is anyone’s game. Women’s football has progressed to the point that there are now many equals at the top rather than one to rule them all. Canada could just provide the surprise.

China-China, People’s Republic of (16): Is it too soon in women’s football to call China a ‘blast from the past?’ It’s easy to dismiss it as one. The ‘Steel Roses’ have an Olympic silver medal from its first Olympic contest in 1996 and were runners-up to the Cup in 1999 where they lost to the US on penalty kicks. China hosted the World Cup twice during the very first in 1991 and in 2007. However they had a recent setback when they did not qualify for either the 2011 World Cup or the 2012 Olympics. Even their dominance of the AFC Asian Cup in the 90’s have faded and even finished out of the medals for the first time back in 2010. Nevertheless China are determined to comeback. They had good moments such as beating many top Asian teams last year and even winning against Argentina 6-0. However Argentina was their last win back in December of 2014. Right now it’s safe to say China’s in comeback mode but it will take a lot of effort for them to come back. A lot has changed in women’s football since their glory days of the 90’s.

NZL-New Zealand (17): How ironic is it that John Herdman’s team from the last World Cup is pitted against Canada in the Group Stage? This will be the fourth World Cup for the ‘Football Ferns’ however they have yet to establish themselves. They have not made it past the Group Stage in their three appearances. They haven’t even won a World Cup game yet. They did make it to the quarterfinals at the London Olympics showing improvement already. This World Cup looks to be one where the women want to show how much they’ve improved. They may have had recent losses to the bigger countries like the U.S., Japan, France and Norway but they have tied Brazil and Spain and even won against Denmark. This World Cup is another proving point for them. Also with the potential of three teams from each group advancing, chances look better than ever.

Netherlands Fixed-Netherlands (12): The Netherlands is one of eight teams competing in their very first World Cup here in Canada. The women, whom like the men are also called ‘Oranje,’ do not have a legacy but they have developed a reputation in recent years. In 2009, they qualified for their first-ever Women’s Euro and finished third. Even though they still lack the experience of the other three teams in Group A, they should look at this as a learning experience. It’s even possible the Netherlands will be a top challenger in the future. They could even cement their name here. They have never won against Canada and have more losses than wins against China and New Zealand but they have won their most recent meetings with both teams. Netherlands could pull an upset.

NOTE: This Women’s World Cup will act as a meet for European teams to earn berths for the 2016 Summer Olympics. The top three European teams here qualify for Rio.

MY GROUP PLAY PREDICTIONS:

This looks to be Canada’s best World Cup. The team looks in good shape, especially with Christine Sinclair as captain. I strongly believe they’ll come out on top. It’s harder to predict second or third. It can go to any of the other three. For this group, I predict China to be second and the Netherlands to be third.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT:

Okay, just like I did with the men’s World Cup from last year, I will again do a Stadium Spotlight.  One good thing about this World Cup is you remember how during last year’s men’s World Cup the groups were ‘scrambled’ across stadiums during the group play? The women’s are more organized as the teams of all six groups will be allocated in the same stadium during their first two games. It’s only the third game for all teams where they’ll go to a different stadium. The other good thing about this World Cup is that no new stadiums were required to be built. Whatever new stadiums build or renovated were done so for the sake of its current purposes. Only two stadiums are less than five years old. And the first of the two will be focused in this blog:

WINNIPEG: Winnipeg StadiumWpg Stadium

Year Opened: 2013

World Cup Capacity: 40,000

World Cup Groups Hosting: A,B,C,D

This stadium was actually opened just two years ago. It was needed because the 50+ year old Winnipeg Stadium was long past its prime. Actually it was to be opened in 2012 but construction delays pushed opening to the following year. The stadium, which is actually anmes as the Investors Group Field, is home to the Canadian Football team Winnipeg Blue Bombers and will actually host the Grey Cup in November this year. The new stadium was also the stage for concerts by Taylor Swift, Paul McCartney, Beyonce and Jay-Z and have One Direction coming in July. They even held their first soccer match in May 2014: a women’s match of Canada vs. the U.S.

And there’s my first preview of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Five more preview blogs to go before it all begins Saturday June 6th in Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium.

World Cup 2014: Third-Place Match Prediction

Like it? That's an Italian wine bottle shaped in the World Cup. I got it back in 1990 when Italy hosted, and finished third.

Like it? That’s an Italian wine bottle shaped in the World Cup. I got it back in 1990 when Italy hosted, and finished third.

This is the match neither of the two teams wanted to play but really have no other choice. Doesn’t it make you wonder who wins the Third-Place Match at the World Cup? The team that’s the least disheartened? Or the team that most feels they have one last thing to prove? A neat bit of trivia: the third-place match is the one World Cup match that has never come down to a penalty shootout and went into extra time only once in the World Cup’s history. Whatever the situation, the two semifinal losers will duke it out for one last World Cup shot in the Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha.

I don’t think very many people make predictions for the third-place match. Maybe they do. Whatever the situation, I thin I’ll make a prediction for Saturday’s game. First a rundown of the two teams. Starting with past head-to-head results.

Past Head-To-Head Results: Netherlands and Brazil have squared off eleven times before: Netherlands won three, Brazil three and five draws and both teams have scored a total of 15 goals against each other. The World Cup has been the stage for four of those previous rivalries. First was in 1974 during second-round group play which the Netherlands won 2-0. Second time was in the 1994 quarterfinals where Brazil was the victor that time 3-2. Third time was the following World Cup in the semifinals where they tied 1-1 only for Brazil to win in a penalty shoot out. Fourth time was at the last World Cup in the quarterfinals where Brazil pretty much gave it away with an own-goal and Oranje won 2-1. So what does the fifth World Cup rivalry look like?

Netherlands FootballNETHERLANDS: Here’s a team that’s struggling to get their first World Cup win. Three times the bridesmaid (1974, 1978 and 2010), never the bride. Here in 2014, they were brilliant in the group stage winning all their games and humiliating defending champions Spain 5-1.  They continued to look good with their 2-1 win over Mexico in the Round of 16. However there was a sign they would struggle when they played to a scoreless draw against Costa Rica in the quarterfinals. Hey, don’t underestimate Costa Rica’s defense. Fortunately their replacement goalkeeper Tim Krul was the right choice as he blocked two Costa Rican penalty kicks to help Netherlands advance to the semifinals.

Then their semifinal against Argentina. Netherlands had slightly more ball possession while Argentina had five attempts on target compared to three from the Dutch. Nevertheless it was awfully bleak for a game like that. The two were just tough rivals. So after 120 scoreless minutes, it took penalty kicks to decide. This time head goalkeeper Cillessen was kept in. However  the penalty kicks from Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder were no match for Argentina’s Sergio Romero. It only took a four in a row from Argentina to take them to the final.

So now that the Dutch are out of contention for the Cup, will they win this match? They have played one third-place match before back in 1998 to Croatia and lost 2-1. They have shown in plays against Argentina and Costa Rica that they can control the ball and they can control their opponents, even when they don’t score. They showed in their 5-1 win against Spain they can really seize the moment and challenge a top rival. However the fact they haven’t scored a goal since the Round of 16 really makes me question if the ‘Orange Magic’ has faded. Also who knows how hungry Brazil is? And I’ll get to them later. If they want to win, they should maintain the same control they had during the field play time they had. Also Cillessen should be on guard. Until the penalty shoot out against Argentina, he has only conceded four goals this World Cup. Natherlands has the ability but do they have the hunger?

Brazil FootballBRAZIL: To be honest, there were actually bigger humiliations at this World Cup than Tuesday’s Mineirazo. Like defending champs Spain losing 5-1 to the Netherlands and then 2-0 to Chile to be out of the running. Or how about England failing to win a game for the first time since 1958? Even Italy being ousted in Group Stage for the second World Cup in a row is a pretty big embarrassment. Nevertheless Tuesday’s 7-1 loss to Germany right in front of a home crowd as World Cup host nation really bruised the nation’s football ego. A nation that had the biggest World Cup legacy had their current teams weaknesses exposed by Germany on a home stage and in front of the eyes of the World. And they still have to fight one last time.

No doubt this was a team that was showing signs of struggle. Coach Scolari knew the difficulties he had to deal with and team psychologist Regina Brandao really had to work with the team. The setbacks of Neymar getting his back broken and Thiago Silva being banned from the semifinal match was sure to almost everybody this would set Brazil back, but nobody expected a disaster like this.

Now that the third-place match is ahead, there may be question if Brazil will be ready physically. Neymar of course won’t be there. Thiago Silva can be eligible to play again which should be crucial as he was critical to their defense. Also the question if Fred will be on the roster especially after his bad play during the game. Also there is the big question of whether Brazil will be there for the game mentally. You can bet that between Tuesday and Saturday, Brandao will have to work better than she ever has. Of all current players on Brazil’s team, it’s probably Julio Cesar that would probably be the one most hurt mentally. He’s the one that let those seven goals in.

There have been big-name athletes and teams that would have to perform right after a humiliating performance. Some would be the all-or-nothing type and deliver half-heartedly and then there are some that would deliver for pride and come out shining despite losing it all. That’s what it would come down to with Brazil’s play on Saturday. Brazil has played three third-place matches in past World Cups and won two but this is a different third-place match for the team. We know how hurt they are but how will they deliver on their last shot for glory?

Prediction: Okay, you all know what my pick is. I’ll tell you who I think will win and who I want to win. I think it will be the Netherlands 2-1. I think Brazil might not have recovered from Tuesday’s match psychologically. Though I could be wrong. Actually I hope I’m wrong because I want Brazil to win for pride. In fact I sent the Brazilian team a tweet: “Finish the way a true athlete would and WIN ON SATURDAY!”

Update (11 July): Actually I did some thinking in the past 24 hours and even did some reading. And I didn’t let statistics get in the way, even though World Cup host nations have played the third-place match four times before and won three times. Actually I based my opinion on team attitude. That is a critical factor for the third-place match. And my new prediction is Brazil 2-1. The Netherlands lacks motivation. Coach Louis Van Gaal sees the game as pointless, Wesley Sneijders said the only match that matters is the one for the Cup and Arjen Robben has appeared equally disinterested. However the Brazilians are very motivated for this match. And rightly so. Scolari has encouraged the team to play the match out for pride and the honor of the Brazilian team. I’m sure after the embarrassment on Tuesday, that is the motivation they will need. Even the teammates agree, and Thiago Silva is eligible to play again. Go Brasil!

World Cup 2014: Semifinals Prediction

Last 4Well 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

Head-To-Head Stuff:

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.

Team-By-Team Analysis:

Brazil FootballBrazil: 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.

Brazil's chances of winning the World Cup have been under huge question after Neymar's devastating back injury in Friday's match against Colombia.

Brazil’s chances of winning the World Cup have been under huge question after Neymar’s devastating back injury in Friday’s match against Colombia.

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 FootballGermany: 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?

Germany's feats, like Thomas Muller's hat trick, often go underexposed.

Germany’s feats, like Thomas Muller’s hat trick, often go underexposed.

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.

Team-By-Team Analysis:

Argentina FootballArgentina: 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 FootballNetherlands: 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.

World Cup 2014 Preview: Group B

The funny thing about the World Cup group draws is its unpredictability. They try to make things easier by designating seeded teams from all the others to give better parity only to end up with a crazy combination. Group B has a combination crazy enough to have the very first match a rematch of the exact World Cup final from 2010! Also just as surprising is that Group B has four teams that are very talented but it’s not enough to call it the ‘Group Of Death.’ I think there was more than one ‘Group Of Death’ for this World Cup. It’s a wonder why Group B didn’t get that label.

Despite these oddities, Group B is loaded with talented teams and should make some exciting play. Here’s my rundown of the Group B teams:

Spain Fixed-Spain (1)- Now seems to be ‘The Reign of Spain.’ Spain has always been known to be full of football talent but the team hardly ever came together at World Cup tournaments of the past, often performing below people’s expectations. This would cause Spain to be known as ‘football’s greatest underachievers’ for a long period of time. This all changed when Vicente del Bosque was appointed coach of Spain’s national team in 2008. Since then, Spain’s magic came about. It all started with winning Euro 2008, then surprising everybody including their compatriots with a win of the 2010 World Cup. Spain’s long-awaited legacy continued with a win at Euro 2012 and becoming the first team ever to successfully defend their European Championship. Spain’s success continued as they played without a loss until the finals of the Confederations Cup where they lost to Brazil 3-0. Spain continues to be brilliant only losing one game since, 1-0 to South Africa. Spain just recently beat Italy 1-0 in a friendly. They appear poised to repeat in Brazil. It’s the next month that will define things.

Netherlands Fixed-Netherlands (15)- While Spain is no longer ‘football’s greatest underachievers,’ the Netherlands have the misfortune of being seen as the greatest team in the world to never have won a World Cup. Three times a finalist, never a winner. Oranje is waiting for that day to prove themselves the best in the world. However it will come a t a challenge. Back during Euro 2012, the Netherlands performed one of the biggest chokes in their history by losing all three of their Group Stage matches. 2013 was a year they really wanted to make up for things and they did well by not losing a game. However failing to win all four of their friendlies since World Cup qualifying including a 2-0 loss to France shows that they might not be ready for this World Cup. This is unfortunate for head coach Louis van Gaal as he would like to leave team Netherlands on a positive note. Nevertheless it could be that Oranje is just ‘playing possum’ and may come alive in Brazil.

Chile-Chile (13)- Chile is another team full of talent that has yet to prove itself in a big way. The team that is affectionately called ‘La Roja’ by its compatriots and supporters have only gone as far as 3rd at the World Cup, and that was back in 1962 when they hosted it. In recent years, Chile has been better at its consistency. They’ve qualified for the 1998 and 2010 World Cups and finished in the Round of 16, the only other two times they’ve made it past the Group Stage. Chile has had a great play record since 2013 in both friendlies and World Cup qualifiers. They’ve shown they can challenge some the best teams in the world, if not defeat them. They beat Uruguay 2-0 in a World Cup qualifier last March, tied Spain 2-2 in a September friendly and even beat England 2-0 in a friendly in November. However they have lost to Brazil 2-1 back in November and lost to Germany 1-0 this March. Most people are predicting Spain and Netherlands to be the two advancers from Group B. There could be a Chilean surprise.

Australia-Australia (59)- The Socceroos were the surprise of the 2006 World Cup. Their 2006 advance to the Round of 16 led them to be transferred from Oceania’s continental federation to Asia’s. However their prowess has taken a bit of a dip. They didn’t advance past the Group stage in 2010 and have struggled in play for the Asian Cup. The 2013 and 2014 play seasons have been unimpressive including 6-0 losses in friendlies against both Brazil and France. In 2014, they’ve had a 4-3 loss to Ecuador and a 1-1 draw to South Africa. 2014 could be a further learning experience for Australia.

So now my prediction for the two advancers from Group B: Spain will definitely advance but it will be tight between Netherlands and Chile in which I feel Chile will be the one moving on.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT

More stadiums in focus. Like the stadiums focused in my Group A review, these two will also host four matches, all in the Group Stage. And both with host a Group Stage match for Group B. I also want to remind you that in my Stadium Spotlight, I won’t completely compliment the stadiums. In fact I will make aware of some of the glitches, especially since glitches in the construction and/or upgrades of stadiums have made big news leading up to the World Cup. And these two have been two of the ‘bad news bears.’ So without further ado:

-CUIABA: Arena PantanalPantanal

Year Opened: 2014

World Cup Capacity: 42,968

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

There’s been a lot of concern of the readiness of many of the stadia set to stage the World Cup. Cuiaba is one stadium that’s been causing some of the headaches. One of the headaches happened back in October when a fire caused structural damage, which has since been repaired. In fact Cuiaba needed a second World Cup warm-up match on April 28th to prove its readiness. FIFA was pleased this time around. Nevertheless it didn’t guarantee the stadium was 100% ready. Work returned to the stadium shortly after and on May 9th, a worker was killed when he was electrocuted while working on the installation of a telecommunications network. Work was halted temporarily after his death.

Ready or not, Arena Pantanal will be the stage for four Group Stage games. After the World Cup, the Arena is to be reduced in capacity and to be the home venue for both Cuiaba and Mixto Esporte Club.

-CURITIBA: Arena da BaixabaCuritiba

Year Opened: 1999

World Cup Capacity: 41,456

World Cup Groups Hosting: B, E, F, H

Not all World Cup stadium problems are about the new stadiums. Existing stadiums have had their own problems too in terms of renovations or upgrades. Curitiba’s Arena da Baixaba is one stadium that had its issues. The stadium had plans for upgrades like extra seats and a retractable roof. The stadium suffered a setback in October 2013 as work was suspended  on the orders of a Brazilian labor tribunal due to numerous and serious safety breaches. An extra headache came in January 22 of this year when FIFA’s General Secretary visited the Arena and said Curitiba could be dropped if significant improvements in the renovations didn’t take place within a month. FIFA decided to keep Curitiba the following month. Recently there was some good news about the Arena. Valcke visited the Arena again on May 22nd and this time he praised it for being a ‘top-class’ venue.

The venue is expected to have its seating reduced once again to its usual 30,000 and return to being the host venue for Atletico Paranaense.

So there you have it. Another Group Stage group summary and two more stadiums in the spotlight. More World Cup reviews coming.

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.

Euro 2012: Anyone’s Game

Mascots Slavek and Slavko can’t wait for Euro 2012 to begin!

The World Cup is definitely the most exciting and anticipated football/soccer tournament in the World. Next in line would have to be the UEFA European Football Championships, or the ‘Euro’. Like the World Cup, it takes place once every four years. Also like the World Cup, it is a contest of the last team standing to win the Cup. This year’s Euro will take place in two countries: Poland and Ukraine from June 8th to July 1st. This is the first time the two countries have hosted a soccer tournament this huge. The draw for the First Round groups were decided back in December and people have made predictions which country will win the championships. This is not easy as it involves group play in the first round and the second round being the last team standing.

For my part, I won’t predict the winner. What I will do is give an analysis of each country group by group in terms of what to expect in terms of current skill and even possible surprises (FIFA ranking of May 2012 in brackets):

GROUP A

-Czech Republic (26)-The Czech Republic always has a talent-loaded team each time they make a tournament like the World Cup or Euro. It’s just a matter of them being on the ball. Since Czechoslovakia split up in 1992 and the Czech Republic has fielded its own team, it has participated in all four Euros since and their performances include being a finalist in 1996 and a semifinalist in 2004. They’ve also been known to lose out early as in the other two Euros and their only World Cup appearance in 2006 where they started strong but racked up a lot of injuries. Lately they’ve been looking strong as they’ve won or drew five of their last six friendlies. Will they go the distance at Euro or will they lose out early? It’ll all be determined in Poland.

-Greece (14)-In the past, Greece’s football team was never thought of as much. Greece’s team of today is a lot different that their team of twenty or even ten years ago.  Never underestimate Greece as they are very capable of pulling a surprise. They were the team at the 2004 Euro that was least expected to win and they won. They do have an Achilles Heel and it’s evident as they tied 1-1 in friendlies against Belgium and Slovenia this year. Nevertheless they could prove to be a very formidable opponent this year. Knowing that the nation of Greece has been going through a lot of violent rioting and huge economic turmoil this past year, a win of the Euro could lift the spirits of the country.

-Poland (65)-Poland’s international prowess is always in question. They’ve qualified for seven World Cups in the past and even finished 3rd twice yet only qualified for one other Euro: the previous one. They currently have the lowest FIFA ranking of all the teams at this year’s Euro but were able to tie Portugal and defeat Slovakia, two countries with higher rankings, in recent Friendly play. Being in the weakest of the first round groups–this is the only group without a team in FIFA Top 10– could be an advantage, as well as playing home field. A surprise could await.

-Russia (11)-Russia has always been known to have a strong football team even after the breakup of the USSR back in 1991. Nevertheless acquiring big achievements has always been a challenge for them. They’ve qualified only two World Cups in 1994 and 2002 and failed to advance past the first round both times. They’ve also had lackluster showings at Euros until they had a breakthrough in 2008, qualifying for the semifinal. There’s no question Russia wants to do well here. The next World Cup is two years away and they’ll host the World Cup right after in 2018. They’ve even acquired coach Dick Advocaat to get their team ready. They’re already looking strong as they beat Denmark and Italy in friendlies this year. Hopefully this Euro could write a new chapter for their team.

GROUP B

-Denmark (10)-Denmark is a country that has really come alive in the last 30 years. They’ve qualified for four World Cups and even made it to the quarterfinals in 1998. Their Euro achievements have been better as they qualified for seven Euros including winning in 1992 and qualifying for the semifinals in 1984. They are a strong team as they’ve won friendlies against Portugal and Sweden last year but they also lost to Russia months ago. Nevertheless they could pull a surprise. Don’t forget that their winning 1992 Euro happened as they were a replacement team for Yugoslavia. Also don’t forget this is a tight group: the group most called the ‘group of death’. All four countries ranked in FIFA’s Top 10 which means any two of them can qualify for the quarterfinals and even Denmark has a good shot. It’s all a matter of who delivers.

-Germany (2)-The Mannschaft are always considered heavy contenders and this Euro is no exception. However they too are known for choking big at Euro. They’re the only country ever to win the Euro three times and they even made the finals three other times.  However thy have failed to move past the first round in 2000 and 2004. Being in the ‘Group Of Death’ could go either way for Germany. They’re always at their most consistent during World Cup play and they showed in the 2010 that they’re still a strong team. However they’ve lost their two friendlies of this year: against Switzerland and France. Will they show the strength they’re known for at Euro 2012 or will they face an early out? Anything’s possible here.

-Netherlands (4)-Netherlands has what it takes to win; no doubt about it. However they could face an early out. We shouldn’t forget at the last Euro, the Orange were eliminated in the quarterfinals by Russia. This Euro could provide for some interesting results. They’re already known for consistency at the Euro as they’ve always made it past the First Round since 1980. They’ve since won in 1988 and made three semifinals. Since the 2010 World Cup where they made it to the finals, they’ve been ranked #1 in the World back in August 2011. Could they return as champions? It’s possible as they’ve won their last three friendlies but they did lose to Germany in a friendly in November 2011. It can go any way here.

-Portugal (5)-If any country seems to have come from nowhere to become a major force in the soccer world, it has to be Portugal. Before the 90’s it’s had successes in the past with a third at both the 1966 World Cup and 1984 Euro. Nevertheless they would rarely qualify for those events. Starting in the 90’s, Portugal’s football prowess has grown tremendously. They’ve qualified for the past three World Cups and even came in fourth back in 2006. They’ve also qualified for every Euro since 1996 where they even made it to the semifinals in 2000 and finals in 2004 when they were co-hosts. They have the power and the talent to perform well at Euro 2012. Nevertheless they do have an Achilles Heel as they’ve played to scoreless draws in friendlies against Poland and Macedonia this year and even lost to Turkey recently. Will The Navigators excel or will they choke? It’s all in their hands.

GROUP C

-Croatia (8)-Ever since the collapse of Yugoslavia, Croatia has proven themselves to be the little country that can. The Blazers have been able to qualify for four of five Euros and three out of four World Cups including a third-place finish in 1998. The team of that World Cup is known as Croatia’s “Golden Generation”. However the country has been in a struggle ever since most of the Golden Generation have retired. They have had their ups and downs in the past twelve years. This year’s team hopes to revive the successes of the Golden Generation but it won’t come without a fight. Recent friendly results include ties to Ireland and Norway and a loss to Sweden. Nevertheless Croatia could just deliver here and make this their best ever Euro.

-Italy (12)-The Azzuri’s Euro record is just as impressive as its World Cup record as it has won once in 1968, finalists in 2000 and semifinalists in 1980 and 1988. But it too has a habit of choking. The last two Euros have been dismal for them. And they choked badly at the 2010 World Cup. Not pleasant at all when you’re defending Cup champions. They have worked hard to improve its reputation since and even hired a new coach: Cesare Prandelli. It hasn’t been completely easy. Their friendly play these past twelve months have been a mixed bag: they won against Spain and Poland but lost against Ireland, Uruguay and the USA. Will Italy play like the Italy we’ve always known them to be or will they struggle again? It all starts June 11th in Gdansk.

-Republic Of Ireland (18)-Ireland is actually better at qualifying for the World Cup than it is at qualifying for the Euro. It has qualified for three World Cups but only one Euro: way back in 1988. It has the lowest ranking of the four teams of this group but it could pull a surprise. In fact it tied Croatia and beat Italy in friendly games within the last 12 months. Ireland also drew 1-1 against the Czech Republic. Besides Euro wins from Denmark in 1992 and Greece in 2004 remind us not to count the little guys out. So don’t count Ireland out.

-Spain (1)- Spain has always been referred to as ‘football’s greatest underachievers’. They have an excellent team full of talent and capable of winning, but often lose out early in the tournament. Last Euro was a big turnaround for La Furia Roja as they won it. They also went on to win the World Cup in 2010. Finally the greatest underachievers were achieving. They could continue their achievements or they could go back to being the Spain the football world knows. Another important thing to take note of is no winning team has successfully defended their title at the Euro. As for Spain, they’ve so far continued to show their strength in friendlies play this past year but they did lose to Italy 2-1 in one match. This Euro will tell another story of Spain and it will either be continued consistency or back to choking. Time will tell.

GROUP D

-England (7)- It’s the same story all over again. The Three Lions always has a team that can boast of some of the best combined talent in the world. The problem is when they get to a major event like Euro or the World Cup, the TriLi’s aren’t the best at playing as a team unit. They almost always lose out too soon. While they’ve only won one World Cup, they’ve never won a Euro. They’ve qualified for the tournament seven times and their best finish was being a semifinalist twice. This Euro could be different if England plays well as a team unit. Their play in friendlies has been very good as they beat Sweden and Spain and only lost to the Netherlands. Will this be England’s first-ever win at the Euro? It will all be decided this month.

-France (16)-Les Bleus are an enigmatic team. They can go all the way or lose out fast. In the past four World Cups, they’ve been champions in 1998, runners-up in 2006 and out in the First Round in both 2002 and 2010. Even the Euro has seen their all-or-nothing play pay off or fall flat. They’ve won the Euro twice, including 2000 as reigning World Cup holders. However they lost out in the first round at the last Euro. This coming Euro will be a chance to prove themselves again as the team has gone through massive reconstruction since their disappointing World Cup in 2010. Can they bounce back? They’ve been looking impressive in friendlies as they’ve beaten the USA and Germany. The 2012 Euro looks like the playing fields for their redemption.

-Sweden (17)-Sweden is a country that has had their ups and downs in the past. They’ve qualified for eleven World Cups where they’ve been finalists once and semifinalists three other times. As for Euro, they’ve qualified for five including this one and their best finish was the semifinals back in 1992. This year’s team has potential to do well. In recent friendly play they’ve won against Ukraine, Croatia and Serbia but also lost to England and Denmark. Will they have it all together at Euro 2012? It’s all up to them.

-Ukraine (50)- Even though they’re co-hosting Euro, this will be the very first Euro the team will have ever played in. Even though they competed at the 2006 World Cup where they made it to the quarterfinals, they have yet to prove themselves amongst the best European teams. Like co-host Poland, they’re the only other country not in FIFA’s Top 30. Nevertheless they could pull a surprise. In their last seven friendlies, they’ve won five and tied Germany 3-3. So they could still prove to be a surprise contender. Homefield could prove to be an advantage. Never has there been a better time to seize the moment.

And there you have it. The summary of each team competing at Euro 2012. There are many heavy favorites but even they have weaknesses that could cause them to lose out even as early as the First Round. There are also teams that have minimal expectations that could perhaps pull a surprise. It all starts with Poland playing Greece in Warsaw’s National Stadium on Friday June 8th, twenty-nine matches in between, and ends with the winner decided July 1st in Kiev’s Olimpiyskiy Stadium. Excitement awaits.