World Cup 2022: My Prediction For The Final, And Third-Place Playoff Too

I always say about the World Cup after month of play, there’s only one nation still smiling in the end! It’s been unusual to see World Cup matches as winter has been approaching. The time zones didn’t help too much. Nevertheless I made every opportunity to enjoy games at cafes and other viewing places. I also had my share of entertainment with the 442oons videos.

It’s crazy that World Cup 2022 already felt like a circus. I think every World Cup becomes a bit of a circus. Throughout this World Cup, talks of endless corruption, the corruption of the nation of Qatar, questions about matches being fixed or some referees having prejudices. Possibly one of the best things about the match for the Cup is not just to reward the winner, but the fact that all this will end. I remember before the start of one World Cup final, I thought to myself that all the craziness is over. What happened, happened. What didn’t happen, didn’t happen. And now all that should matter is who will win the Cup.

Onto the World Cup finals, it’s interesting that the two teams playing have a few notable things in common. Both have won the World Cup twice before. In both cases, their first World Cup win was when they were host nation. Both played in the very first World Cup in 1930, and one of the teams was even a finalist. Both teams have a striker who has amassed a total of five goals this World Cup, and both teams lost a group stage match here in Qatar. Without further ado, here are my reviews of the last two matches of World Cup 2022:

THIRD-PLACE PLAYOFF REVIEW:

The third-place match will take place on Saturday December 17th in Khalifa International Stadium in Al-Rayyan: a suburb of Doha. One team is looking to make this its third Top 3 finish. The other is looking to make it their first Top 3 result ever. Both teams didn’t get a defeat until their semifinal match. Both teams are also the same two Group F teams that rivaled each other in their first group play match. This is the second consecutive World Cup in which the bronze-medal match is between two group play rivals!

Past Head-To-Head Results:

Croatia and Morocco have met only twice before. Besides the scoreless group play match here in Qatar, the only other time was back in 1996. That too ended in a draw. The score was 2-2.

CROATIA

They’ve only existed as an independent nation since 1991 and they’ve gotten as far as the World Cup semifinal or further a total of three times. It’s no wonder why I call Croatia “The little nation that can.” Since their independence, they’ve qualified for the World Cup six times out of seven attempts. Three of those times they’ve made it to the semifinals or further. The first was in 1998:their very first World Cup. Last World Cup, they made it to the final. Sometimes you wonder what’s the secret to The Blazers? Me, I can’t answer. One thing I have to say is that Croatia is one team low on arrogance, big on play!

Croatia has been getting a lot of attention for the overall play of Luka Modric, the scoring of Ivan Perisic, and the eye-catching fashion of Ivana Knoll! At the last World Cup, Croatia was known for great play as well as good luck. They opened with three wins in group play and then followed with penalty kicks in both their Round of 16 match and quarterfinal. Their semifinal was a win against England, but France ended their dream in the final 4-2.

At thins World Cup, the Croatian team has changed, but it’s also kept some similarities. In group play, they had two scoreless draws and a 4-1 win over Canada. In their Round of 16 match and their quarterfinal, history repeated itself and they bagged wins on penalty kicks. It was in their semifinal against Argentina where their luck finally ran out.

Croatia has shown a lot with their play from midfielder Luka Modric and from striker Ivan Perisic. Worthy of credit to the team’s success is goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic. He’s one of the younger goaltenders of the tournament at 27, but he has done an excellent job in keeping Croatia alive, having only allowed in three goals before their match with Argentina. They could just be the team that has what it takes to clinch another Top 3 finish.

MOROCCO

It happens every World Cup. There’s always one team that has modest expectations before the competition but ends up going further than expected. Last World Cup, it was a case where Croatia and Belgium achieved their best-ever results. This year, it’s a case where Morocco is the “Cinderella story” of Qatar 2022. Nevertheless it’s wrong to dismiss Morocco’s success as a complete “Cinderella story.”

Morocco has to be one of the top African nations to adopt a football culture. They competed in their first World Cup in 1970. When they returned in 1986, they became the first African team in World Cup history to advance past the opening round. Returning to that success or taking it further has been a struggle. They qualified for the 1994 and 1998 World Cups, but went out in the group stage. Despite claiming a second-place in the African Cup of Nations in 2004, they had to wait until 2018 for their return to a World Cup. Even then, they were ousted with a draw and two losses.

When they arrived in Qatar, nobody knew what to expect of the Atlas Lions, but they delivered. They started with a scoreless draw against Croatia and then delivered a surprise 2-0 win over Belgium. A 2-1 win over Canada placed them at the top of Group F. Their Round of 16 match against Spain went goalless, but penalty kicks were the trick as they sunk three while Spain couldn’t sink one! The quarterfinals paved the way for a 1-0 win over Portugal. Their win made history as they became the first African nation to qualify for the World Cup semifinals. It was France that ended their quest for the Cup at 2-0.

Having Morocco in the semifinals was a big boost for African teams. Especially since none of the African teams of 2018 qualified for the knockout round. It’s hard to pinpoint how Morocco became so successful this tournament. I made the claim it could be since they’re a Sahara nation, they have better knowledge of how to play in a desert climate. Recently I’ve credited it to manager Walid Reguagui. Since he was hired four months ago, their semifinal loss to France is Morocco’s first loss since he was hired. Maybe that’s the secret. Others give credit to the great defensive play and the goalkeeping of Yassine Bounou. Bounou has only conceded three goals and a penalty kick this Cup. Whatever the situation, they had what they needed and they could just do it again on Saturday.

My Final Verdict: This is hard to tell. Both teams have played well. Both have been able to deliver when they needed to. Croatia has scored six while Morocco has scored five. Croatia however has conceded a total of six goals while Morocco has conceded a total of three. Both teams have a star player that may be absent. From Croatia, Mario Mandzukic because of his red card while assistant coach. From Morocco, Romain Saiss because of an injury sustained in the tournament. I think it will be a tight game but I expect Croatia to win 1-0 in added extra time.

THE FINAL

Can you believe it? After 28 days and 63 matches, there will be only one match left! This is the moment for a team to claim to their nation the world’s biggest bragging right! The final will be held in Lusail Stadium. One team aims to be the first South American team to win the World Cup in 20 years. The other team aims to be the first team in 60 years to successfully defend the World Cup.

Past Head-To-Head Results: France and Argentina have dueled each other a total of twelve times. Argentina have won six times including during the 1978 World Cup. France have won three times. Their last match was in the 2018 World Cup Round of 16 where France won 4-3.

ARGENTINA:

La Albiceleste knows about World Cup finals. This is Argentina’s sixth time to the World Cup final. Only three other nations have achieved six of more appearances. Argentina was even a finalist in the very first World Cup in 1930. Getting back to the finals was a real struggle. They didn’t return to the finals until 1978, which they hosted and won. Then in the 1980’s emerged a great player by the name of Diego Maradona. He helped captain Argentina to their second win in 1986. He retuned in 1990 to try and make it two in a row, but the team lost to Germany 1-0. From 1990 onwards, it was a struggle for the team to get back to the final. Early in this century, a young player named Lionel Messi was dazzling the world with his club play. Whenever the World Cup happened, he and the team would fall short. Then in 2014, they made the finals for the first time in 24 years. Unfortunately like in 1990, they lost to Germany 1-0.

Trying to get back to the finals has not been easy. In 2018, they had a disastrous run. They finished second in their group with a win, a draw and a loss, and then went out in the Round of 16. After the 2018, they hired Lionel Scaloni, who played for Argentina at the 2006 World Cup, as their new manager. Since his hiring the Argentine team has shown a lot of positive changes. Its most notable change was when they won the 2021 Copa America..

Here at the World Cup, Argentina got off to a rough start. The 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia isn’t the first shocking opener Argentina’s delivered at the World Cup, but they knew they had to get themselves in order if they wanted to advance well. They succeeded with 2-0 wins over Poland and Mexico. In their Round Of 16 match against Australia, they dominated play as they won 2-1. In their quarterfinal against the Netherlands, they endured a game marred with frequent carding from a referee to a 2-2 draw. Penalty kicks kept them alive. In their semifinal match against Croatia, they dominated to win 3-0.

Throughout this World Cup, people have been constantly talking about “This is Messi’s last chance.” or “This will finally be Messi’s” No kidding there’s a lot of attention on Messi. In fact winning the Cup will make the difference between Messi being remembered as The Best Ever or The Best Never. Nevertheless we should remember the success of Argentina isn’t just Messi. There’s also the goaltending of Emiliano Martinez and young player Julian Alvarez rising to the occasion. Argentina has the right mix of youth and experience for the team and it just might pay off in winning the Cup on Sunday.

FRANCE:

Success for Les Bleus has been like a yo-yo. Like Argentina, France has been there at the very start back in 1930. They themselves would have difficulty establishing themselves as a football power. Even when they hosted in 1938, the team was out in the quarterfinals. It wasn’t until 1958 that they finished in the Top 3 for the first time. During the 60’s and 70’s, it was a case of either failing to qualify or out in group play. It was in the 1980’s when France saw a spark of improvement. Led by Michel Platini, the team finished fourth in 1982 and third in 1986. Just after, they followed with two failures to qualify. Then in 1998, France hosted and the team performed brilliantly en route to winning their first-ever World Cup.

It hasn’t been easy for France to return. At the 2002 World Cup, they were out in the group stage without even scoring a single goal. In 2006, they were runner-up to Italy. In 2010, the team revolted against the coaches and their federation and they went out in the group stage. Then in 2014, there emerged a new French team coached by 1998 player Didier Deschamps. The team featured a lot of young promising talents and they finished in the quarterfinals. That was just the warm-up as they’d go on to make the finals of Euro 2016 and win France’s second World Cup in 2018. Staying on top wouldn’t be easy. France was reminded of that when they bowed out of Euro 2020 in the Round of 16.

France was often reminded of the alleged curse of the defending champion. At the beginning of 2022, it was still in question how France would do after they endured three losses in Nations League play. Any questions France were given, they were answered in Qatar. They won their first two games of group play 4-1 against Australia and 2-1 against Denmark.The win against Denmark was a boost as they lost to them earlier this year. The 1-0 loss to Tunisia didn’t set their confidence back much, if any. After group play, it’s been nothing but wins for France as the won their Round of 16 match against Poland 3-1, their quarterfinal match against England 2-1 and their semifinal against Morocco 2-0.

The success of the French team has proven this “Curse of The World Cup Winner” is a myth. Mind you it was uncertain at first. And now they appear poised to repeat as World Cup champions. Only twice before has the reigning World Cup champion successfully defended its title: Italy in 1938 and Brazil in 1962. The World Cup team had a lot of notable players from 2018 like Paul Pogba and Samuel Umtiti left off and Karim Benzema benched because of injury. Nevertheless the team has delivered excellently with the striking of Kylian Mbappe and Olivier Giroud and the goaltending of Hugo Lloris. They’ve shown they won’t give up their World Cup title easily.

My Final Verdict: A lot to think about. Argentina’s group play loss came in the opener. France’s came after they were guaranteed qualification. Argentina has scored twelve goals while France has scored thirteen. Argentina has conceded five goals and so has France. This will be an extremely tight match. I think this is a match where it would go to a 1-1 draw and Argentina winning on penalty kicks. I’m sure it will be that tight!

And there you have it. My review and predictions for the third-place match and the World Cup final. This will definitely be one World Cup we will never forget.

World Cup 2022: Semifinals Predictions

The funny thing about this World Cup tournament is that with FIFA’s app, I’ve been making predictions for each game’s final score. Only three have I got the score absolutely bang on. Of course there are many I wrongly predicted would win. It’s interesting how this whole World Cup is a big circus both inside the field and outside the field. Not just the play but the politics, disputes and even brawls. In short, this World Cup is completely unpredictable. I find it weird because I’ve been quite good at making predictions on this blog and it’s come at mixed results. I successfully predicted all the Round of 16 winners, but I only got one quarterfinal winner right.

What can I say about this Cup’s semifinal teams. Before I talk about them, it’s interesting many teams that delivered some of the biggest wins in the Round of 16 lost their quarterfinal match! As for the semifinalists, two are from Group F. Two are from different groups. Only one team has won their knockout matches without even needing added extra time. While one team qualified with nothing but matches that went to penalty kicks. Two teams are renowned for their goal scorers, while the two others owe most of their credit to their goalkeepers. Two are finalists from the last World Cup. Two have won the World Cup in the past. One has made it to the semis for the first time ever. Two teams have lost one group play game while the two Group F teams have not had a defeat. This is only the second World Cup where the semifinal teams come from three different continents.

Without further ado, here is the look at the four teams that qualified for the two semifinals and my prediction for each one:

SEMIFINAL #1: ARGENTINA vs. CROATIA

Head-To-Head Stuff: Croatia and Argentina have played each other five times in the past; two of those games in the World Cup. Croatia has won twice and Argentina have won twice. For World Cup play, their first meeting was in 1998 group play. Argentina won 1-0. The second was group play of the last World Cup. Croatia won 3-0.

Team-By-Team Analysis:

ARGENTINA

For almost fifteen years when you think of Argentina, one name comes to mind: Lionel Messi. No doubt about it Messi has shone over the sport like no other player. Despite his accolades in club play, he has consistently been denied major international prizes like the Copa America and the World Cup. A common reminder that one player does not make the whole team. Argentina has a lot of talented players, but it’s always been a struggle to get them all together and win one of the biggest tournaments. They qualified for the final of the 2014 World Cup, but lost to Germany. In the two years after that, they qualified for the final of the Copa America both years and lost finals on penalty kicks. The failure of falling 4-3 to eventual champions France in the 2018 Round Of 16 added further insult to the injury.

Since the pandemic, Argentina has shown a change of play. Last year they won the Copa America and it became Messi’s first major international trophy ever. On to World Cup action, Argentina had the misfortune of losing 2-1 to Saudi Arabia. La Albiceleste knew they needed nothing but wins to qualify and they delivered with 2-0 wins in both games. They topped Group C and were one of five teams to top a group in Qatar with two wins and a loss. They won their Round Of 16 match against Australia 2-1 and won their quarterfinal against the Netherlands on penalty kicks after a 2-2 draw and a load of yellow cards. One highlight of the match was Lionel Messi scored the tenth World Cup goal of his career.

CROATIA

Croatia should be seen as the little team that can. They’re a nation of under 5 million that competed in six World Cups since their debut in 1998. They’ve made the Top 4 for the third time this very tournament! Returning back to the World Cup semifinals wasn’t easy. Shortly after play resumed after the pandemic, Croatia endured a lot of UEFA Nations League losses. They only made it as far as the Round Of 16 at Euro 2020, and they even struggled to resume winning during World Cup qualifying.

Things made a big improvement after their early Euro exit. Since then, they’ve only lost a single Nations League match and more than made up for things in World Cup qualification. In their play here in Qatar, the group stage was a case where they had scoreless draws against Morocco and Belgium and a 4-1 win over Canada. That big win was what they needed to qualify second in Group F. In their Round of 16 match against Japan, they drew 1-1 but won on penalty kicks. Their quarterfinal against Brazil also ended in 1-1 and again penalty kicks gave them the win. Top play has come from striker Ivan Perisic, midfielder Luka Modric and goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic.

My Final Verdict: This is hard to judge. Sure, Croatia won against Argentina in 2018 group play, but both teams were different teams in 2018. Back then Croatia won all three of their group stage games while Argentina had a win, a draw and a loss. Looking at the World Cup 2022 stats, Argentina has scored a total of nine goals while Croatia has only scored six. Croatia however have only conceded three goals while Argentina has conceded five. Croatia has never lost here in Qatar while Argentina had their shock loss to Saudi Arabia. On top of it, Argentina have picked up a lot of yellow cards from their card-crazy quarterfinal against the Netherlands and they might not want to risk their best players. Looking at all the facts, I have to say I predict Argentina to win 1-0 in added extra time.

SEMIFINAL #2: FRANCE vs. MOROCCO

Head-To-Head Stuff: France and Morocco have faced off against each other 11 times in the past, but never played each other at the World Cup before. Morocco’s only win came in 1963. France won seven times.

Team-By-Team Analysis:

FRANCE

Many of you remember my story of France’s long road of recovery from their embarrassing collapse in 2010 to winning theWorld Cup in 2018. It’s one thing to get to the top but it’s another to stay on top. After the World Cup win, France was still very skillful for the rest of 2018 and 2019, winning eleven of their sixteen games and only losing two. Things changed after the pandemic. They still managed to win many games but they showed sings of weakness. Especially during Euro 2020 when they topped their group with a win and two draws, but went out to Switzerland in the Round of 16 on a penalty shootout. 2022 also showed weakness in France as they lost three Nations League games including one match to Croatia: their opponent in the 2018 World Cup final. Many were suspecting France would become yet another casualty of the ‘curse of the defending World Cup champion.’

Here in Qatar, France had a lot to prove and they proved it. They were the first team to qualify for the knockout stage after a 4-1 win over Australia and a 2-1 win over Denmark. With that, they could afford to lose 1-0 to Tunisia and still top Group D. In their Round of 16 match against Poland, they won in convincing fashion 3-1. In their quarterfinal against England, the game was a controversial one with France winning 2-1. In addition, Kylian Mbappe is the World Cup 2022 scoring leader with five goals.

MOROCCO

Morocco is a team that deserves more respect than you know. Although they’re not the first African nation to compete in the World Cup, they’re the first team to qualify via a direct African berth back in 1970. They didn’t qualify again until 1986 and when they competed, they became the first African nation to qualify past the preliminary group stage. Their Round of 16 finish from 1986 would remain Morocco’s best result ever for a long time. They would return to the World Cup in 1994, 1998 and 2018, but would go out in group play. Over the next four years, Morocco would continue to have frustrations with team play and their coaches. French coach Herve Renard who coached the 2018 World Cup team would resign after the team’s Round of 16 exit at the 2019 African Cup of Nations. Bosnian coach Vahid Halilhodzic would step in his place right after. Morocco’s ouster in the quarterfinals of the 2021 African Cup of Nations and Vahid’s fallout with star player Hakim Ziyech would cause him to be fired in August 2022. More than three months before the World Cup!

Placed in Halilhodzic’s place was Walid Reguagui. Reguagui would be the first Moroccan since 2016 to coach the team. Things looked promising as Morocco won two for their friendlies before the World Cup and tied the third. Here in the World Cup, it’s nothing but up. Morocco opened with a scoreless draw against Croatia, but would go on to a surprise 2-0 win over Belgium and a 2-1 win over Canada. In their Round Of 16 match, they would have to go against Spain: one of their Group B rivals from World Cup 2018. The match went scoreless, but Morocco won the penalty kick match 3-0. Their win made them the fourth African team to play in the World Cup quarterfinals. In their quarterfinal, they were up against Portugal: another Group B rival from 2018! The goal from Youssuf En-Nesyri was fluky, but it was enough for Morocco to win 1-0. The win made Morocco the first African team to qualify for a World Cup semifinal!

My Final Verdict: This is tough to call. Morocco hasn’t lost a World Cup game yet while France had a surprise loss to Tunisia. France has scored a total of eleven goals compared to the five Morocco has scored. However, Morocco has only conceded one goal in World Cup play while France has conceded one goal per game. You can thank Montreal-born Yassine Bonnou for that record. Also worth keeping in mind Morocco will play one man down thanks to a double-yellow card on Walid Cheddira during their match against Portugal. I’d predict the win to France 2-0.

And there you have it. Those are my predictions for the two semifinals. It should make for some interesting play. This whole World Cup has been a case of surprises and upsets so expect the unexpected here too.

World Cup 2018: My Prediction For The Final, And Third-Place Playoff Too

Final

I know most of my picks for the Group Stage panned out while some didn’t. I know I was very good at predicting the Round Of 16 and QuarterFinals but was off a bit. Also I know I got both SemiFinals wrong. Nevertheless I’m not worried. If the BBC’s Mark ‘Lawro’ Lawrenson can have a 52% success rate and still keep his job, I’m pretty comfortable right now.

Anyways the last two big matches will be contested this weekend. Here are my reviews of the two big matches:

The 3rd-Place Match for the bronze medal will be contested Saturday the 14th in Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg. The Final for the Cup will take place at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

THIRD-PLACE PLAYOFF REVIEW:

The 3rd-Place Match for the bronze medal will be contested Saturday the 14th in Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg. Often you wonder who normally wins the 3rd-Place Match? The team who most feels they have one last thing to prove? Or the team that’s the least disheartened? Whatever the situation, it should make for an interesting match. Especially since both teams met in the Group Stage in Group G. Here’s my review of both teams.

Past Head-To-Head Results: England and Belgium have squared off 22 times before. England won 15 times and Belgium won only three times including here in Russia 1-0 in group play. They drew four times in the past. As for World Cup play, their other two games were a 1990 Round-of-16 win for England and a 4-4 draw in 1954.

BelgiumBelgium: The Red Devils should be admired. They are a collection of marvelously talented players in their own right coming together to give Belgium one of their best World Cup performances ever, if not the best. They proved to be a top challenger for the final, but the goal from France’s Unmiti in the 51st minute ended their World Cup dreams. Nevertheless the Belgian team here have the chance to give Belgium it’s best-ever World Cup finish. Belgium’s best finish ever was 4th in 1986. Here’s the chance for them to win a 3rd-place match. An excellent chance to revive the #RedTogether spirit.

They have the advantage since they met England in group play and won 1-0. They can do it again. However they did show vulnerability in their game against Japan when they trailed 2-0 with 25 minutes to go. They did do an excellent job of coming back to win. However their luck ran out when they faced France. Their top players are still in excellent form in this ‘marathon’ of a competition, but they have to function together if they want to win this.

England fixedEngland: They came in 2018 with a new team and a new determination based on past humiliations. They came with a fairly young coach with experience playing in a World Cup. They came from the various teams of the Premier League with a lot of established talents and a lot of young rising talents. They came with the hope of winning England’s first World Cup since 1966. They delivered one of their best group stage showings in years. They delivered England’s first-ever win of a World Cup game on penalties after losing the previous three. They came with their fans chanting It’s Coming Home (in reference to the Euro 1996 theme song). Then it ended in the semifinal against Croatia. They began strong with a goal from Kieran Trippier in the 5th minute. However they were losing it after Ivan Perisic equalized in the 68th minute. It was Mandzukic in the 108th minute that took the match for Croatia and brought an end to the #ItsComingHome phenomenon.

However the 3rd-Place Match can give England one last thing to prove. This is only England’s third time to the Top 4 of the World Cup. The team has done an excellent job of putting their Premier League differences aside and play as one unified team. Gareth Southgate has done an excellent job of coaching and has successfully help Team England overcome many past adversaries and many weaknesses the team had for a long time. That gives England an advantage leading into the match. However England hasn’t fully overcome their habit of choking at big events. Sure their finish here will be their biggest since 1990, but they can blow it if the team don’t come together and deliver the same play they delivered over this past month. This was no ordinary Three Lions here in Russia 2018. This was a new Team England that had a lot to prove and did prove a lot.

My Final Verdict: I know Belgium beat England in the group stage, but this is a new match. The game will go to the team that has the best team tactics and functions as one. I’ll say it will be Belgium winning 2-0.

THE FINAL

Whos Next
Which team will be next?

I know for my review, you will see me repeating a lot of what I wrote for my SemiFinal review. There’s a purpose. Because all they went through will be coming to this moment. Making it to the final is no easy journey. It’s also not just about having a great team of assembled talent. It’s about having your team together, it’s about them delivering each and every time, it’s the ability to protect from racked up injuries to players, it’s the ability to endure mentally… basically it’s a month-long marathon. A game of survivor.

The World Cup has all these games to basically narrow it down to the very two to play in the Final to decide the Cup.  Of the two teams that made it, one made it to the Final twice before and won 20 years ago, while the other is playing in the Final for the first time ever. So without further ado, my review of the World Cup Final:

Past Head-To-Head Results: Croatia and France have played each other five times in the past. Both teams drew twice. France has won the other three games, including the 1998 World Cup semifinal 2-1.

FranceFrance: France is a nation whose football greatness really only started to take off in the early 1980’s. It was in Mexico 1986 that France got its first-ever Top 3 finish. They would fail to qualify for the next two World Cups, but would host in 1998 and would go on to win. Some say France’s team of 1998 was the best World Cup team since Brazil in 1970.

They’ve had a lot of ups and downs since. In 2002, they suffered the ‘curse of the defending champion‘ and not only failed to advance past the group stage, but failed to even score a single goal. They would come back in 2006 and appeared to be on their way to a second World Cup, but Zidane’s head-butt to an Italian player and subsequent red card in extra time in the Final marked the end of their chances right there. Then the disastrous 2010 which I talked about in my Semifinal write-up.

However it was the 2014 World Cup that showed a ray of hope for the French team. They were out in the quarterfinals to eventual champions Germany, but the team showed a big improvement and promise for the future with young players like Pogba and Griezmann. France played host to Euro 2016. There they delivered the best showing of all teams en route to the Final for the Cup. Unfortunately they lost to Portugal 1-0 in added extra time.

Here in Russia, Les Bleus has delivered the best showing of all teams.  They may have had the only 0-0 game of the World Cup so far, but all their other games were wins including all their knockout games, and all in regulation time. The #FiersDetreBleus phenomenon has taken them this far. France appears to have the best chances with players like Pogba, Griezmann, Giroud, Payet, young gun Mbappe and their goaltender Hugo Lloris who claims the loss at Euro 2016 really changed him. They look like the team that best has what it takes to win. However they could easily just let it go the same way they did in Euro 2016. If you remember their Round-Of-16 game against Argentina, they conceded three goals. They’re lucky they scored four to win. They all have to be together as a unified unit ready to play hard if they want to win the biggest match of their lives.

CROATIA footballCroatia:

“Everybody cheers for David. Nobody cheers for Goliath.”

-Wilt Chamberlain

Croatia comes to the World Cup final as the underdogs. They also come as the first country with a population of under 5 million to qualify for a World Cup final since Uruguay back in 1950. They come as the biggest underdog story in decades. Already the hashtags of #Vatreni , #FlamingPride and #BudiPonosan have been big hits. However it was very hard and with a lot of heartache. It started with a 3rd-place finish in their first World Cup back in 1998. It was finally a chance for Croatian football to define their identity now that they were free from Yugoslavia. However it was a struggle since. The next four World Cups were cases of a failure to qualify in 2010 and out in the Group Stage the other three times. After the 2010 World Cup failure, Croatian football was about to make a comeback. They may have been out in the Group Stage in 2014, but there was promise shown by players like Ivan Perisic, Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Mario Mandzukic.

Croatian football unfortunately was also given a big black eye in the last few years thanks to the irreverence of certain fans. Certain Croatian fans were known to shout racist slurs, wear Nazi symbols, and cause violent incidents during matches. The most noticeable was during the Euro 2016 match against the Czech Republic where flares were thrown onto the field. The Federation HNS and the National Team paid the biggest price by facing sanctions and fines from both FIFA and UEFA including having to play ‘closed’ matches. However after Euro 2016, Croatia has made strides to get tougher with fan behavior.

Here in Russia, The Blazers, or Vatreni, were brilliant in group play as they won all three of their games. Their biggest luck came in the Round of 16 against Denmark and the QuarterFinals against hosts Russia as they drew 1-1 and 2-2 respectively, only to win both in the penalty shoot outs. Then came their semifinal against England. The game went into 1-1 in regulation only for Mandzukic to deliver the game-winner in added extra time. There have been calls from many for Croatia to be disqualified since that match, but the alleged controversies have been proven false.

And to think Yugoslavia never qualified for a World Cup final ever in its existence! Croatia comes with the least star-studded team here in this stage of the World Cup. The key to Croatia’s success is for players like Modric, Perisic, Rakitic, Lovren, Mandzukic and Danijel Subasic to play as one functioning team. Many can easily dismiss Croatia’s success because of luck in the knockout rounds, but truly it is the team unity of the players that have got them this far. Croatia however has shown weakness of their own. The fact that they won two of their knockout matches in penalty shootouts shows they can come short on delivery. Whatever they’ve been holding back or just not delivering on in past games, it won’t work against a team like France. Croatia has a strong midfiled, but France’s midfield has proven more this Cup. Croatia’s team will have to play a lot harder if they want to win the Cup. If they do win the Cup, they will do it through their first-ever victory over France, at the very least.

My Final Verdict: Both teams have been performing well and with a great sense of team unity, but I have to pick France to win 3-1. It’s not just in terms of past performance, but also because of the brilliance of the players individually as well. Plus the fact the referee for the match will be an Argentinean won’t help Croatia too much.

And there you go. My look at the teams playing for both the match for the bronze medal and the Final to win the World Cup. Let’s sit back and watch history be crowned.

World Cup 2018: Semifinals Predictions

WC2018 Final Four

Hard to believe a little more than three weeks ago, the action was just starting. Now it’s winding down with the biggest action of all getting closer and closer. But before we can have the final on Sunday the 15th, we need the semifinals to decide the two that qualify. In both of the semifinals we’ll have won team that won a World Cup in the past and another team whose best result ever was making it to a past semifinal. All four teams are from European countries and and four never made it past the quarterfinals at the last World Cup. This will be the first World Cup since 1966 that will have a completely different Top 4 from the last.

Here I will do my review of the teams and also make my predictions. I hope I do better here than when I predicted in 2014. And to think I thought Brazil would win over Germany in 2014! After Germany delivered their ‘7-up,’ I sure felt dumb!

Without further ado, here’s a look at the four teams that will be in the semifinals and my prediction for each one:

SEMIFINAL #1 – FRANCE vs. BELGIUM

Head-To-Head Stuff:

France and Belgium have played each other 73 times. France won 24 times, Belgium won 30 times, and 19 were draws. At the World Cup, France faced Belgium only twice in a 1938  match and 1986 in the match for 3rd place, and France won both times.

Team By Team Analysis:

FranceFrance: The current French team is an example of a team that arose from the ‘ruins’ of football. Some of you may remember the 2010 World Cup. If it was not France’s worst-ever performance, it was France’s hardest World Cup trip ever. The trip started on controversy as they had qualified thanks to a fist-aided goal from Thierry Henry in their qualifying playoff match against Ireland. Then at the World Cup 2010, striker Nicolas Anelka was fired from the team after an obscenity-laden dispute with manager Raymond Domenech. A boycott of training from players in response and a lecture from the French sports minister paved the way for France’s eventual loss in their last game. The team returned home in disgrace and the president of the FFF resigned, as did coach Domenech. It would be another six years for Domenech to accept another coaching job.

What happened after would be quite the rebound. They would continue to have difficulty at Euro 2012 by going out in the quarterfinals to Spain 2-0. Then Dider Deschamps, who was part of France’s World Cup-winning team of 1998, assumed the position of head coach and would give France quite the turn-around. The turnaround however was not an overnight success, but more of steady progression. It started at the 2014 world Cup where France bowed out at the quarterfinals after losing 1-0 to Germany, but promise was noticed. The team gave an improved showing of play and Paul Pogba was named Top Young Player of the Cup. Then came Euro 2016 which France was host nation. Until France lost in the final to Portugal 1-0 in extra time, France had delivered the best show of teamwork during the tournament and had the top scorer with Antoine Griezman scoring 6 goals. Olivier Giroud and Dimitri Payet also scored 3 goals of their own.

Excellence has continued for Les Bleus here at the World Cup and they look as one of the teams that can best win the Cup. Kylian Mbappe and Griezmann have three goals each. On top of that, they only conceded four goals. They’ve reached the Last 4 for only their sixth time. France has shown a lot of strength and a lot of team unity. There’s even talk Mbappe may win the Young Player award. It’s hard to pinpoint a mistake this last while. However they were rather conservative in the group stage. They did come alive in a big way in the knockout round but they did concede three goals against Argentina. They were lucky they delivered four. They will be facing a Belgian team that has become one of the more exciting teams of the Cup and will need to deliver.

BelgiumBelgium: Belgium is another example of a team that took a long time to develop. This is only Belgium’s 13th World Cup but many are already calling this team the best Red Devils ever.

In the past, Belgium would only go as far as the group Stage or 1st round at the World Cup. Success for Belgium would come starting in the 1980’s when they made it past the opening stage for the first time in 1982 and then to the semifinals for the first time ever in 1986. Their 4th place finish in 1986 ranks currently as Belgium’s best World Cup finish ever. However they would struggle to repeat as they would find themselves out in the Round of 16 or the Group Stage during the next four World Cups. Then would come failure to qualify for the World Cups of 2006 and 2010, even after they recruited famed Dutch coach Dick Advocaat. They would even face a rock-bottom 66th ranking on FIFA list in 2009. They would miss qualifying for Euro 2012.

Red Devils 2002
In 2002, a Belgian magazine published an article about young rising footballers. Count the number of Red Devils here in Russia!

Then came coach Marc Wilmots who himself played for team Belgium at four World Cups. He brought a new sense to the team. He found talent in players like Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku to name a few and was able to get them to perform well as a team function. They’d go through straight wins in World Cup qualifying and would find themselves ranked 11th on FIFA’s list and a heavy favorite to go well at the World Cup. At the 2014 World Cup, they finished in the quarterfinals which was their second-best result ever. 2015 was their breakthrough year as they hit #1 for the first time ever on FIFA’s rankings. However they would face difficulties as they’d only make the quarterfinals at Euro 2016 losing to Wales 3-1. That’s when they then hired Spanish coach Roberto Martinez. The Belgian team has not lost a game since September 2016 and have come to Russia delivering straight wins to the semifinal.

No doubt they have a lot to win their semifinal against France. Their straight wins have shown for it. However they did show weakness during this World Cup. If you remember their Round-Of-16 match against Japan, they were trailing 2-0 into the 2nd half. It wasn’t until the 69th minute Belgium scored and then go on to win 3-2. That was quite a comeback. And a close call. However Belgium can’t afford to pull stunts like those any longer as they’re getting closer and closer to the Cup. They’re en route to becoming the best Belgian team ever and they need to stay en garde.

My Final Verdict:

Okay, you will now want me to make a prediction for this match. I think it will be a case of the match drawing 2-2 with Belgium taking it in a penalty shoot out.

SEMIFINAL #2 – ENGLAND vs. CROATIA

Head-To-Head Stuff: England and Croatia have squared off seven times before. England won four times, Croatia won twice and one was a draw. This will be the first time England and Croatia will play each other in a World Cup game.

Team By Team Analysis:

EnglandEngland: England has always been a subject of frustration. The Three Lions have only won a single World Cup: back in 1966 when they hosted. They have had difficulties whenever they’ve made it to the knockout rounds as they’d frequently expire in the quarterfinals or face elimination when the game ends up in penalty kicks. In fact England has been 0 for 3 at the World Cup for penalty kick matches. Then there are the embarrassments at the two most recent World Cups by expiring to Germany in a highly controversial 4-1 in the Round Of 16 and then failing to advance past the group stage in 2014. It always seemed like the case where the team is full of talent but they just couldn’t play well as a united team. Possibly they didn’t leave their Premier League rivalry at the door?

Southgate
England coach Gareth Southgate consoles Colombia’s Mateus Uribe after he missed his penalty shot (right). Southgate knows what it’s like to miss a crucial penalty (left; during Euro 1996).

In 2016, right after they lost to Iceland 2-1 in the Round Of 16, they hired a new coach in Gareth Southgate who played for team England at the 1998 and 2002 World Cups. They put in a lot of investment into young rising talent like John Stones and Harry Kane and goaltender Jordan Pickford. The work paid off as England qualified for the World Cup top of their group. Here in Russia, the Three Lions gave their fans a lot of relief as they won two games in group play and qualified for the knockout round. This marked the first time since 2010 they qualified for the knockout round and the first World Cup since 2010 that they won a game. Then came the big test against Columbia. They drew 1-1 against a team that was missing their star James Rodriguez and had to go to penalty kicks. Gulp! Instead they won the shootout 4-3 and their penalty kick curse was finally lifted. This marked their first win of a World Cup knockout match since 2006. The irony being Southgate missed a critical penalty against Germany in the Euro 1996 semifinals, when England was host! Then their quarterfinal against Sweden turned up a win of 2-0. This would mark only the third time England would reach the Top 4 of a World Cup and the first since 1990.

England bring to the semifinals a lot of top players and a better sense of team unity. Some say they may actually have what it takes to win the Cup. However they could also have what it takes to give it away too. Before their 1-1 draw to Colombia, they lost to Belgium 1-0. They will have to play right and not try to give anything away. Especially since they have a lot of rising talent to work with. A second World Cup has never been so close in a long time.

CROATIA footballCroatia: Croatia is another case of a team whose struggle is also paying off here in Russia. Croatia came to be in the early 1990’s after the nation of Yugoslavia fell apart in a brutal civil war. Soon after Croatia declared independence in 1991, they fielded their own national team. However they would have to wait until after the 1994 World Cup for them to play internationally. They played their first World Cup in 1998 and surprised everybody by finishing third, beating out big names like The Netherlands and Germany in the process.

One thing about Croatia’s success in 1998 was that much of it was due to players who used to play for Yugoslavia. After 1998, Croatia worked to develop their own football identity and struggled along the way. They found themselves out in the group stages of 2002 and 2006. Then they’d fail to qualify for 2010. Between 2010 and 2014, they’d undergo two coaching changes. However 2014 showed signs of improvement for Croatian football with the development of talents like Luka Modric, Vedran Corluka, Ivan Rakitic, Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Perisic. The talent was there and they were back on the World Cup scene, but they still had to struggle as they again failed to advance past the group stage in 2014. Further difficulty came when Croatia lost in the Round of 16 at Euro 2016.

Croatia’s struggles were not just on the football field, but in the stands as well. In the past ten years, Croatian fans developed a reputation of being some of the most obnoxious in Europe with incidents like shouting racist taunts, showing off swastikas and throwing flares. The most notable being the game against the Czech Republic during Euro 2016 when flares were thrown onto the field. Sanctions against the Croatian team have come from UEFA and FIFA in the result of the team being fined money, the team losing game points in qualification play, and even the team having to play ‘closed-door’ games for a period of time.

Things have improved greatly for the Croatian team. There has not been a major incident of ‘hooliganism’ since Euro 2016. The team has also played like a strong team unit here in Russia by winning all their group stage games and qualifying for the knockout stage for the first time since their golden year of 1998. In knockout play, the Croatian team have won all their matches in penalty shootouts. This makes it the second time Croatia has made the Top 4 at the World Cup. Croatia has played very well. Especially with a surprise win over Argentina. However they have shown some weak spots in their knockout games. Unique how they’re a team with the least ‘stars’ but have beaten out teams with big names. Their team unity has taken them this far, but they will need it more than ever here in the semis and they have to be on guard if they want to win.

My Final Verdict:

Sure, Croatia has changed a lot since their last game against England in 2009. But England has changed a lot too. The careless mistakes we commonly see from England in major international play are not as present here. I don’t want to rely on sabermetrics completely, but I think England will win 3-1.

And there you have it. My look at the upcoming semifinals and my predictions. We’ll see who the real winners are on Tuesday and Wednesday.