Tag Archives: Portugal

UEFA Euro 2020: Knockout Round Predictions

Well the Group Play has just been conducted. There were a lot of surprises and there were a lot of expected results. Whatever the situation, the sixteen qualifiers have all been decided. And after their two days of rest, the Round of 16 starts the knockout part of the Euro en route to deciding the winner of the Cup. So in the meantime, here are my predictions on how I think the games will go:

ROUND OF 16

First off the Round of 16. This is only the second Euro ever to have such a round. One good thing that time around is there isn’t as much huge traveling around from place to place. And here are my predictions with my picks for the winner in bold.

Wales (Group A 2nd) vs. Denmark (Group B 2nd): Wales showed their strength with a win against Turkey and a draw against Switzerland. Their 1-0 loss to Italy showed they are able to rival the best. Denmark is a team that was visibly shaken after the cardiac arrest of Christian Eriksen. However it was in their last group game against Russia that they finally came out of their shell and won. For this match, I predict Wales as they’ve been more consistent in team unity and delivery.

Belgium (Group B Winner) vs. Portugal (Wildcard: A/E/F): Belgium finished third at the 2018 World Cup. Portugal is defending Euro champions. Belgium have shown their dominance since the start of the tournament. Portugal’s biggest success in Euro 2020 play is their 3-0 win against Hungary. However Cristiano Ronaldo keeps on breaking Euro scoring records! This is a tough one. Belgium’s team prowess against Cristiano Ronaldo’s scoring. I will have to go with Belgium to win.

England (Winner Group D) vs. Germany (Group F 2nd): A classic rivalry with landmark moments and moments of infamy such as in both the 1966 and 2010 World Cup. And to make it a bonus, it’s right in Wembley Stadium! This is the only Round of 16 match which has a home team playing!

England has been performing very well as a team and only suffered a scoreless draw against Scotland. Germany show great scoring ability in their games, but their team unity which normally is what takes them far in World Cups and Euros is missing here. Also England is in one of its best eras of team play ever, but their two wins were 1-0: both times scored by Raheem Sterling. A tough one but I’ll go with England in added extra time.

Italy (Winner Group A) vs. Austria (Group C 2nd): Italy came to Euro 2020 with redemption and the chance to show a new Azzurri in mind and they have been excellent. They’ve one all three of their group games scoring seven goals and not conceding one. Actually the last game Italy conceded a goal was against the Netherland way back in October! Austria have reason to celebrate as they achieved their first-ever qualification to the Euro knockout round: one of two Group C teams to make it their first ever. However this is where Austria is going to be brought to an end here. Italy are practically unanimous favorites here, and my pick too.

Netherlands (Winner Group C) vs. Czech Republic (Wildcard: D/F): Like Italy, Netherlands is another powerhouse that failed to qualify for World Cup 2018 and looked to Euro 2020 as a shot of redemption. And like Italy, they won all three of their games. They scored eight goals and conceded only two against Ukraine. The Czechs have also played very well too with Patrik Schick scoring all three of the team’s goals. I’ll predict the Netherlands and their team play.

France (Winner Group F) vs.  Switzerland (Wildcard A/C): France comes out of a tough Group F with two draws and a win that came thanks to a German own-goal. Switzerland has had mixed results but has done a good job in play and scoring. In fact they did a good job scoring in their match against Turkey. France has still shown the better team unity. I predict France to win this match.

Sweden (Winner Group E) vs. Ukraine (Wildcard B/C/D): This marke Sweden’s first time to the knockout round since 2004 and Ukraine’s first time to the knockout round ever! Sweden appeared conservative at first with just having draws but performed very well in their win against Poland. Ukraine is a team that’s unpredictable. It won against North Macedonia. However their 3-2 loss to the Netherlands showed they can contend with the best. Ukraine is a team that can do the unexpected. I predict the win to go to Sweden in added extra time.

Croatia (Group D 2nd) vs. Spain (Group E 2nd): This is a case of both teams playing substandardly their first two games and then pouring it on in their final games. Spain drew against Sweden and Poland, but was spectacular against Slovakia. Croatia first lost to England and then drew to the Czechs, but was brilliant against Scotland. Their win against them here during the Euro is their first victory over the Scots ever! This is a tough one and could be the one Round of 16 match that could be decided on penalty kicks. I’ll go with Croatia.

QUARTERFINALS:

Unlike group play and the England vs. Germany match of the Round of 16, none of the games will have a home team. Here’s my bonus quarterfinal predictions. For each quarterfinal, I assume each prediction I make for the Round of 16 is true, though you know it won’t always be the case. Whatever the situation, here goes:

Belgium vs. Italy – Should this match-up result, it would be interesting. Two teams who won all three of their group games. One team has a reputation for consistency, the other is making a comeback. The Round of 16 games they play in could tell more about them. For now, I think this could go into a draw in which Belgium would win on penalty kicks.

France vs. Croatia – This would be a rematch of the World Cup final. However both teams are not playing as the teams they’re reputed to be. Croatia struggled at first and finally came active in their last group game. France topped Group F, but not without three tough bouts. One important statistic. Croatia has never beaten France in the eight times they’ve played each other. So I’m picking France to win.

Sweden vs. England – This would be exactly like it was during the 2018 World Cup quarterfinals. England have been playing well, but conservatively while Sweden has been delivering better than expected. Despite it, I anticipate that England will take this.

Netherlands vs. Wales – Both teams are unpredictable. Remember that Wales made the semifinals at the last Euro. Netherlands however just qualified for their first Euro knockout stage since 2008. The Dutch have shown their dominance so far and that’s why I think the Netherlands will win this, should this quarterfinal result.

And there are my predictions for the first two knockout rounds. It’s not an easy job as things can change from the Group Stage to the knockout rounds. It should all result in a lot of excitement. And I’ll see you all again in the semis.

UEFA EURO 2020: Group Stage With One Game To Go

To be among the 16 to qualify, it takes two wins to guarantee. The only way it could ever be possible for a team with two wins not qualifying is if all six groups had three teams with two wins and a loss. And that’s extremely unlikely. Whatever the situation, all four teams of each of the six groups have played two games and there are a lot of telling stats. Three have qualified already while twenty others still have the last game as one last chance, and only one is officially out. Here’s how the groups look so far. Those who have already qualified are bolded:

GROUP A:

Italy came to Euro 2020 with the hope of redeeming their reputation in the football world. They delivered 3-0 wins against Turkey and Switzerland to guarantee themselves qualification for the Round of 16. Wales’ 2-0 win over Turkey and 1-1 draw against Switzerland put them in very good chances of qualifying.

For the next game, Italy could lose to Wales and they’d still qualify, but I’m sure they’d want to win or at least draw so that they can keep their #1 status. Wales’ chances of qualifying are healthy, but they would have to win to take the lead in Group A, draw to guarantee 2nd place, or rely on their game stats and goal differentials if they were to lose to Italy. Switzerland will have to win over Turkey if they want to qualify. A draw won’t cut it as game stats and goal differentials decide the four third-placers that qualify. And Turkey will need nothing less than a win for them to have a chance. They’ve lost to Italy and Wales. Only a win against Switzerland will do if they are to have any chance of qualifying.

GROUP B

Many touted Belgium as the team most likely to win Group B based on their third-place finish at the 2018 World Cup. With two wins, they’ve already guaranteed a qualification no matter how bad their game against Finland goes. They haven’t completely guaranteed the #1 spot. If Finland beats Belgium they will be the #1 team as a result of head-to-head play.

With Russia and Finland having a win under their belts, drawing can guarantee a 2nd place for Russia and a 3rd-place for Finland which would have to rely on their wildcard stats to qualify. However I’m sure Neither of the teams simply want to draw in their last matches on Monday. Denmark is in the uncomfortable position that they will need to win against Russia if they are to have any chance to qualify. It would not surprise me if the Danish team has been shaken since the collapse of Christian Eriksen. That’s a shocker he was dead for five minutes. It’s very good fortune that the first aid on the field did all the right stuff to resuscitate him and have him taken to a hospital. Actually since Eriksen’s cardiac arrest, it’s a reminder to us all that living is more important than winning.

GROUP C

Most groups would normally have a simple qualifier if they have two wins by now. Group C has an official first-place with the Netherlands! It was their two wins and big goal differential that did it! And I doubt if they will want to lose to North Macedonia in their last game!

The game of Ukraine vs. Austria will be the game for second-place in the group. If there’s a draw, Ukraine will have the advantage because of bigger scoring. Austria could qualify due to the combination of game results and goal differentials. If both qualify for the Round of 16, or either one, it will be their first time ever at the Euro that they do. As for North Macedonia, they have the misfortune of being the first team eliminated. Even if they win against the Netherlands and by a big margin, it won’t matter because of their head-to-head losses to Ukraine and Austria.

GROUP D

Interesting that Groups A to C already have a qualifier guaranteed while Groups D to F don’t have anything decided and it will take Matchday 3 to not just decide it all but decide anything. If if any team in those groups is guaranteed a Top 3 finish, that still doesn’t completely guarantee them qualification. Focusing on Group D, Both first-matches for the group’s teams resulted in wins, but both second-matches on Friday resulted in draws. That means with two teams having a win and a draw and two teams with a loss and a draw, none of the four have secured qualification and all four still have a chance in their third-matches on Tuesday.

In the match of the Czech Republic vs. England, the winner will naturally claim the #1 spot of Group D. If there’s a draw, the Czech Republic has the advantage with better goal differentials. However I’m sure both teams want to win. Croatia and Scotland both have a win and a draw. Croatia leads because of goal differentials and a draw would solidify Croatia to finish in third place, but that most likely won’t be enough to qualify. The six third-place teams will be ranked by game stats and goal differentials. Only the top four will qualify for the Round of 16, and two draws and a loss will most likely make Croatia one of the two third-place packing sooner than they hoped. So either Croatia or Scotland will have to win and nothing less if they want to secure qualification.

GROUP E

Like Group D, Group E has the difficulty of two draws causing the statistics to remain completely undecided for who will qualify. One thing that is certain is that all four still have chances to qualify and it’s up to Matchday 3 to decide it. Sweden has the best luck so far with a 1-0 win over Slovakia despite their scoreless draw against Spain. Despite the loss, Slovakia is second in ranks thanks to their 2-1 win over Poland. Spain, normally a powerhouse, has just two draws while Poland looks like their still waiting to deliver. They’re lucky they saved themselves against Spain 1-1.

Sweden has the luxury that they can qualify simply by drawing, but I doubt if they want a simple draw. Especially since Poland will be hungry for the win. The winner of Slovakia vs Spain will definitely qualify, but Slovakia will have better qualifying chances if they lose because of their win over Poland. You can be sure Spain want to win this. Attempting to qualify on a wildcard with three draws is pushing it. Possible, but pushing it. Also Poland requires nothing less than a win if they want to qualify. Two draws and a loss has very low chances of cutting it. Plus they’d have the added bonus that is they win over Sweden, they’d overtake Sweden in standings because of the head-to-head result!

GROUP F

Group F looked to be the Group Of Death. However a lot of lopsided play has turned a lot of things around unexpectedly. France is one team that has underperformed. One would usually expect a lot of big play from the team that are the reigning World Cup holders. However their 1-0 win over Germany came thanks to an own-goal from Germany’s Hummels and they drew 1-1 to Hungary. Drawing against Portugal will guarantee them qualification, but they will have to win if they want to prove themselves a worthy winner. Isn’t that something? A rematch of the Euro 2016 final happening in group play?

Germany has had it most interesting. They got a loss to France because of an own-goal, but a 4-2 win over Portugal thanks to two own-goals from the Portuguese! A draw against Hungary will guarantee them qualification, but Hungary won’t make it easy as they will want to win. Despite the loss, Portugal are still in good contention after their 3-0 win over Hungary. They can still qualify if they lose to France, but they would have to rely on goal differentials to see if their stats are good enough for the wildcard berth. Finally Hungary proved themselves strong players by drawing 1-1 against France, but they need nothing less than a win against Germany if they want to qualify. That’s how it is for them with just a loss and a draw.

And there you go. This is how things look right now with the teams of Euro 2020 with only one game to go. Matchday Three will finalize everything to decide the thirteen others who will advance and the seven others who will be packing for home sooner than they hoped. Looking forward to it!

UEFA EURO 2020: Group E and Group F Review

Interesting to note for this year’s qualifying teams, there are only two new teams competing this year: Finland and North Macedonia. Also this year are nine of the ten countries that have one at least one Euro title. Greece is the only former winner that didn’t qualify. The funny thing about football is that any team can win the Euro. There have been surprise victories before when the underdog came out the winner like Denmark in 1992 and Greece in 2004. It’s very possible a country that has never won a Euro before can win here.

Continuing on with my group reviews, I focus on Group E and Group F today.

GROUP E

For this group, this looks to be the most unpredictable. This group consists of two teams that are known for great play, but frequently fall short. It also has two teams that can go further than most people expect them to.

Spain (6) – La Furia Roja are an enigma. For so long they had been known as football’s greatest underachievers. However that all changed around the time of the late-noughts, early-2010’s. During that time, Spain won two straight Euros (2008 and 2012) and finally clinched the World Cup in 2010. After that, Spain lost their winning edge. They were stopped in the Group Stage of the 2014 World Cup and since then it’s been the Round of 16 at both Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup.

Spain have been in a struggle to get their winning ways back. The current team has an all-Spanish team of coaches. Most of the players play for La Liga with six playing in England’s Premier League teams. Since the start of 2020, they’ve only had a single loss, to Ukraine. They would also beat Ukraine in that time as well as Germany, Switzerland and Lithuania. They also had draws against Greece and Portugal. Chances are Euro 2020 could be the domain for Spain to redeem itself.

Sweden (18) – One thing about football is never underestimate the Blågult. After a disappointing Group Stage ouster at Euro 2016, they came back with a World Cup qualifying surprise against Italy in the playoff round and would then go on to finish in the quarterfinals of the Cup. And this is after superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic retired from the national team!

You can thank coach Janne Andersson for the turnaround. Team Sweden’s players play for various leagues around Europe. They arrive at the Euro competition with a set of mixed results since the beginning of 2020. They’ve had losses to France, Portugal and Denmark, but they’ve also had wins against Russia, Croatia and Denmark. Whatever Sweden does here in Euro 2020, they have what it takes to deliver the unexpected.

Poland (21) – Making it to the quarterfinals of Euro 2016 has been Poland’s biggest Euro success ever. This is a team that has finished as high as third at two World Cups and three Olympic medals including gold in 1972. Unfortunately Poland didn’t get the breakthrough they were hoping for at the 2018 World Cup as they were out in the Group Stage. Robert Lewandowski didn’t even score a goal.

The current Polish team consists of players who mostly belong to teams in England’s Premier League and Italy’s Serie A. Poland has had mixed results in its play since the beginning of 2020. They’ve won against Bosnia, Finland and Ukraine, both also lost to England, Italy and the Netherlands. The Euro 2020 arena will be another chance for Poland to prove itself and what it’s made of.

Slovakia (36) – Slovakia is a team that is constantly under low expectations, but will surprise many of their naysayers. They’ve only qualified for a single World Cup back in 2010 and their first-ever Euro was the Euro 2016. In both cases, they progressed past the Group Stage into the Round of 16.

Here in Euro 2020, The Falcons hope to do much better. Their coaching staff is completely of Slovakian coaches and the players play for a wide variety of leagues throughout Europe. Slovakia have had a mixed set of results since the beginning of 2020. They’ve won over Russia, Scotland and Northern Ireland, drawn against Cyprus and R. O. Ireland, and lost to Israel and the Czech Republic. Anything can happen in Euro 2020 and the Slovaks have what it takes to pull a surprise.

My Prediction: For this group, I anticipate that Spain will top it and Sweden will come in second. I have a feeling Poland will come in third but may not have enough to earn the wildcard qualifying berth.

GROUP F

Of all the groups in Euro, this is the group most deserving of the title the Group Of Death. Two of them have won the World Cup in the past ten years, one is the defending Euro champion and the other is a former great looking to reclaim its greatness.

Hungary (37) – The Magyars have been hoping to regain the success their team used to have from the 1930’s to the 1960’s that carried them to two World Cup finals and three Olympic gold medals. For those that don’t know, the Euro began in 1960 and Hungary’s best-ever result is a third back in 1964. For a long time it seemed like their era was long over. However Euro 2016 showed signs of a comeback as the team qualified for the first time since 1972 and made the Round of 16.

The head coach is Italian Marco Rossi whose been hired since the 2018 World Cup. A majority of the players play for teams in the Hungarian league. Since 2020, they’ve only had a single loss to Russia, a single draw to Poland, and wins against Iceland, Serbia and Turkey. Not much is expected of Hungary here but they have what it takes to pull an upset in Euro 2020.

Portugal (5) – Portugal comes to Euro 2020 as the defending champions. They started the Group Stage with straight draws but came on in the knockout round winning all their games en route to the win. Unfortunately, they followed it up at the 2018 World Cup with an ouster in the Round of 16.

Fernando Santos, who coached them at Euro 2016 is still their head coach. Cristiano Ronaldo is their captain, but they also have a lot of other greats with the team like Pepe, Joao Moutinho and Rui Patricio. Since the start of 2020, they’ve only had a single loss, to France. They’ve had draws to Spain and Serbia, and wins against Croatia, Sweden and Israel. Portugal has made it as far as the semi-finals in four of the last five Euros. It’s highly likely the magic of the Navigators will be back in Euro 2020.

France (2) – France is a case of a success story that rose over time. They started after humiliation at the 2010 World Cup. Then became slow-and-steady progression with a quarterfinal finish at the 2014 World Cup to becoming runners-up at Euro 2016 to winning the World Cup in 2018.

Les Bleus is still coached by Didier DesChamps who has coached them since the 2012 Euro. Ironically there are more players on France’s team that play for Spain’s La Liga and England’s Premier League than in France’s Ligue 1! Goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, who is the team captain, plays for Tottenham Hotspur! For play, France has only had a single loss since the beginning of 2020, to Finland. They’ve won against Croatia, Sweden and Wales, but also had both a win and a draw against both Portugal and Ukraine. Euro 2020 could be the stage where France can claim their third title.

Germany (12) – The Mannschaft have always been known as a top contender in football, whether it be the World Cup or the Euro. Their win at the 2014 World Cup kept their reputation of consistency alive. However their reputation took a severe beating at the 2018 World Cup when they were ousted in the Group Stage. That made it the first World Cup in 80 years Germany failed to progress past the opening round. Some say it was because of a team that wasn’t together. Some even say it’s the ‘curse’ of the defending World Cup champion. Germany’s disappointment would continue as they struggled during the first year of the UEFA Nation’s League.

Despite the setbacks, Joachim Low is still the national coach. The current team features some of the 2014 World Cup alumni but mostly consists of a lot of new younger players. A majority of players play for Germany’s Bundesliga. Since the beginning of 2020, Germany have only had two losses: to Spain and North Macedonia. They’ve also drawn against Spain as well as Switzerland and Denmark and they’ve achieved wins over Ukraine, the Czech Republic and Iceland. A recent 7-1 win over Latvia shows the Mannschaft have something to prove. Euro 2020 could prove to be the domain for Germany to redeem themselves.

My Prediction: This is a tough one as even the best teams have shown some visible weaknesses. I predict Spain to top the group with Portugal second and Germany third, but with enough game stats to qualify as a wildcard.

And there you have it. That’s the last of my predictions for Euro 2020. Sure, a lot could be told. However we should remember that lots have changed since the pandemic and that could also mean the prowess of some teams. Those expected to fare well might now here. That’s why whenever I make my predictions, I tell people not to use them for gambling bets! Anyways this should be an exciting month with a lot of exciting play.

VIFF 2018 Review: Djon Africa

Djon Africa

Djon Africa is about a young man, played by Miguel Moreira, who is searching for his father, but discovers a lot more.

What can I say? Illnesses have a lot to do with why I’ve been late in publishing my blogs from the VIFF. However things have been getting better lately. So I can come back at it.

One thing I like about going to the VIFF is I get the chance to see films that are ‘off the beaten path.’ One of which was the Portuguese film Djon Africa which was a good story to watch.

The film begins with a 25 year-old Portuguese man names Miguel. He works construction during the day and is musician Djon Africa by night. He is a bit of a slacker. He was raised by his grandmother and has family roots in the African island of Cape Verde. However he doesn’t feel at home in Portugal. He’s asked about his father and his grandmother often says ‘a bit of a player and a scoundrel.’  One day he goes clothes shopping with his girlfriend and a storeowner suspects him of shoplifting. Racism?

One day he comes across a good amount of money. He makes the decision to travel to Cape Verde in search of his father. The problem is he has nothing to go with. He doesn’t know what his father’s name is, which town he lives in or who his family is, other than a sister who lives in the capital city of Praia. Nevertheless he is determined. During the flight, Miguel already begins envisioning the Cape Verde he knows nothing about by dreaming of the stewardesses dancing in the aisle.

Then Miguel arrives in Praia, the capital city of Cape Verde. Even as he gets off the plane, he notices how more picturesque Cape Verde is in comparison the Lisbon. The first place he goes to do his search is visit his aunt. Unfortunately he hears the bad news from family in mournful prayer that his aunt has been deceased for a year. He learns the aunt has family in Taffaral, but when he gets there, he learns he’s possibly in the wrong Taffaral; Cape Verde has two Taffarals. To make the search more frustrating, Miguel loses a lot of his belongings after a night of getting intoxicated on Cape Verde’s firewater liquor grogue.

During that time of island-hopping from place to place, he comes across the natives in various ways. He comes across a lot of younger girls who have taken aback with his dreads and even call him ‘Bob Marley.’ He comes across a goat-herder Maria Antonia who impulsively gets him to work her land. He agrees. One can sense that Miguel is losing focus in his search for his father and has started falling in love with the country he never knew. Then he gets a phone call from Portugal. It’s his girlfriend back in Lisbon telling him she’s pregnant. The film ends with one final image of Miguel walking the street.

It’s a common story to see sons search for their father. We see it time and time again. However this does have its own way of telling the story. The biggest ingredient is the land of Cape Verde and the people themselves. The people that Miguel come across, the places that he visits, they make for Miguel’s time here and are key to changing him as a person. It’s even people like the farmer who teach Miguel to be responsible. The meeting face-to-face with his father doesn’t happen, but I believe it was the intention of the film to be a lot more than that.

One thing about the film is that it gives a lot of charming images of Cape Verde: of the people, of daily life, of the geography. All of which play a role as it is part of Miguel’s experience in Cape Verde as he tries to find his father. During the time he learns a lot about where his father comes from even though he hasn’t met him face to face. Miguel even learns more about himself.

SPOILER WARNING: DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW THE ENDING: The ending where you see Miguel walking down the street will get you wondering. Especially since it’s after his girlfriend calls Miguel to let his know she’s pregnant. Sure, we simply see Miguel walking down the street, but it does get you wondering. Will Miguel be like his father that he decides to stay in Cape Verde? Miguel has sure come to embrace the island. Also that image where Miguel walks down and an older man in dreads looks back: possibly his father. It may give you the idea that the two may meet someday soon. Maybe it’s best that the movie end there, with the two not meeting and with it being unclear Miguel will return to Portugal for his girlfriend. They say film should leave people asking questions instead of getting answers.

Top notes go to directors Joao Miller Guerra and Filipa Reis. The personal couple are most experienced in making documentaries and short films. Here you can sense that the story is told documentary-style as Miguel learns something new every day and grows as a person. Also worth admiring is the performance of Miguel Moreira. He doesn’t do any over-the-top drama in his acting. His acting is all about growing inside as a person, and we see that in the film. Also deserving high recommendation is cinematographer Vasco Viana. The images of the geography of the land and the people are very key in this personal story of Miguel. Vasco delivers excellent images that help make the story.

Djon Africa may come across as a boring film at first, but it’s a story about personal growth. You have to see it to understand it, as well as understand the ending.

World Cup 2018 Preview: Group B

The funny thing about World Cup draws is the surprises they end up having. The biggest surprise about Group B is how close the countries are to each other! As in 2014, Spain is in Group B. However their Iberian neighbors Portugal is in the same group! Their very first match of the Cup will be another episode in their Iberian rivalry and the first on the World Cup stage! Then there’s Morocco just underneath Spain. And Iran isn’t too many thousands of miles away. Actually I think Group B is the group with the least geographical separation! Here’s my take on the Group B teams:

Portugal Fixed

-Portugal (4): The 21st century has seen the coming of age of The Navigators. Their biggest breakthrough came at the 2016 Euro where they went from drawing all their games to claiming the Cup in the end. This will prove to be an exciting World Cup as many believe this will be Cristiano Ronaldo’s last chance to try to win the World Cup, as he will be 37 by the time Qatar 2022 comes around.

Portugal is more than just Cristiano Ronaldo. There’s striker Ricardo Quaresma, midfielder Joao Moutimho and star defensemen Pepe and Bruno Alves. Portugal looks consistent leading up to the Cup. They’ve had a good record since their Euro win. However they’ve had some notable losses like 3-0 to The Netherlands back in March and 3-2 against Sweden last year. They’ve also had some noteworthy draws such as 1-1 to the US and 2-2 to Tunisia. Portugal could just be able to come back to action here in Russia.

Spain Fixed

-Spain (8): Things have been a real struggle for La Roja after the 2014 World Cup. The most notable being ousted in the Round of 16 at Euro 2016. It bit Spain so badly, Vicente del Bosque was sacked as team coach. They now have a new coach: Julen Lopetegui. He comes off of coaching Spain’s youth teams and Portugal’s Porto team. The change of coaching has worked very well. Spain came on top of the World Cup qualifying group. Spain have also not lost a match since Euro 2016 and even had a spectacular 6-1 win against Argentina back in March. However Spain has had some noteworthy draws like a 3-3 draw to Russia and a 1-1 draw to Germany. Much of that is due to Spain’s set of strikers being young and lacking experience.

Leading to Russia 2018, Spain will be led by captain Sergio Ramos; one of four players on the team with more than 100 caps. Spain’s team consists of all but seven players who play for La Liga. Spain also has a lot of strong midfielders in Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, and David Silva. Along with Ramos, Spain has Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba adding to their strong defense. 2018 can be another stellar year for Spain.

mo-lgflag

-Morocco (42): Nigeria may be most lauded African team but Morocco deserves some credit. They are the first African team to advance past the Group Stage; all the way back in 1986. This will be Morocco’s fourth World Cup and their first in 20 years. They were lackluster in play over the last two decades or they’d just pull a surprise and soon fade away during that time. That has changed since 2016 when they acquired French coach Herve Renard. Renard had coached Zambia to the 2012 African Nations Cup. Ever since Renard helped Morocco qualify for the World Cup, he’s signed with the team until 2022.

Morocco has had an impressive record these past two years. Despite losses like 2-1 to The Netherlands and 1-0 to Finland, they have scored notable wins like 2-1 against Serbia, 2-0 against the Ivory Coast and 3-1 against South Korea. Not too much is expected of Morocco with Spain and Portugal being favorites, but they could pull off an upset in Russia.

Iran

-Iran (36): This is Iran’s fifth World Cup. No doubt they’re hoping this will be their first where they make it past the group stage. Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz has been kept on as manager of Iran since 2011. He’s the coach that has coached the most games involving the national team. Most of the team’s players play for Iran’s Persian Gulf Pro League and Greece’s Superleague. Iran’s victories in the last while have been mostly to Asian teams. However they have drawn 1-1 against Russia and South Korea sending the message that they are capable of more than what most expect. Russia 2018 could just be their moment.

And there’s my look at the teams of Group B. As for who will advance to the Round of 16, I’m going to go with my best hunches and declare Spain and Portugal. However either Morocco or Iran could pull off a surprise.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT

Two ore stadiums added to the mix. Both will host four matches, all in the Group Stage. And both with host a Group Stage match for Group B. So without further ado:

-KALININGRAD: Kaliningrad Stadium

kaliningrad stadium

Year Opened: 2018

World Cup Capacity: 35,212

World Cup Groups Hosting: B, D, E, G

Kaliningrad Stadium is known for its unique location. It’s in the city of Kaliningrad which is part of the tiny Kaliningrad Oblast: a Russian Oblast bordered by Poland and Lithuania and situated over 400 miles west of the Russian mainland! It’s location at the Baltic Sea explains why Kaliningrad Stadium is also nicknamed Arena Baltika.

This new stadium wasn’t cheap. It came at a cost of € 257 million and had lost its original developer when it filed for bankruptcy in 2014. The stadium is located on Oktyabrsky Island and is expected to reduce its capacity to 25,000 after the World Cup. After the World Cup, the Stadium will serve as the host stadium for team FC Baltika Kaliningrad.

-SARANSK: Mordovia Arena

Mordovia

Year Opened: 2018

World Cup Capacity: 44,442

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

Like Kaliningrad Stadium, Mordovia Arena will also be practically fresh for the World Cup. However this World Cup Stadium is more about its design. The design is based on the image of the sun, the main symbol of ancient myths and legends of the Mordovian people. The stadium is situated around the Insar River and is part of a big land development for the city of Saransk. Part of the development includes a new residential neighborhood, a new park, and a space for recreation, public festivities and leisure activities.

The stadium has hotels, fan zones and attractions located within walking distance. After the World Cup, the stadium is expected to reduce its capacity after the World Cup to 28,000 and will serve as the host venue for team FC Mordovia Saransk. The stadium will also be turned into the largest sports, cultural and leisure center in Saransk and Mordovia.

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

2017 Confederations Cup Preview

confederations_cup

The 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup will take place in Russia one year before they are to host the World Cup.

With the World Cup just a year away, that means this year will have the FIFA Confederations Cup. Back in 2013, I did a focus on the Confederations Cup and why it’s an important tournament. This year’s Confederations Cup is important as well. Not just because the Cup is a growing tournament but also for the host country of Russia.

Russia is already a country controversial enough with the way they do politics. Hosting next year’s World Cup is also considered controversial as there’s question on how Russia won their bid and FIFA’s process in achieving the victories for both Russia for 2018 and Qatar for 2022. All I can say in this matter is I don’t have the research on that and things will have to sort themselves out over the year’s time leading up to the World Cup.

While the World Cup will be contested in twelve stadiums in Russia next year, this Confederations Cup will be contested in four stadiums. All four being ‘fresh’ stadiums which are either just now breaking ground or have broken ground only within the past five years:

  • Otkrytiye Arena, Moscow – This will be one of two stadiums in Moscow that will stage the World Cup. Located in the Tushino area of Moscow, this stadium is the home venue for Spartak Moscow. Completed in 2014, this stadium seats just over 45,000 people.
  • Krestovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg – This 68,000-seat stadium may have just broken ground this year but it took ten years to complete. Problems from construction management to changing contractors to problems with its conditions have plagued the stadium and its construction but it will finally be ready for the Confederations Cup. Built on Krestovsky Island, the stadium is also the host venue for the football team FC Zenit.
  • Kazan Arena, Kazan – Completed in 2013, this 45,000-seat stadium has the largest outside screen in Europe. The stadium has hosted events like the 2013 World Student Games and the 2015 World Aquatics Championships. The stadium is also the home venue for Russian Premier League team Rubin Kazan.
  • Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi – Remember the $51 billion Sochi Winter Olympics? This is the host stadium which hosted the ceremonies and held the Olympic flame. Determined not to have it become a ‘white elephant,’ the stadium is now the home venue for Russian Professional Football League team FC Sochi. In addition, it will also host six World Cup games next year.

The tournament begins Saturday the 17th. There will be eight teams. Six are winners of their continent’s respective championship, Germany qualified as winner of the World Cup and Russia qualifies as host nation. Here’s how the teams stack up. FIFA rankings for June 2017 are the numbers in brackets:

GROUP A:

Russia Fixed-Russia (63): Russia is an enigma in football right now. The team has a lot of talent but constantly misses in delivering in major tournaments and qualifying events. Such examples include qualifying for three World Cups since the USSR dissolved and failing to qualify for the knockout round each time. Another example is the Euro tournament: semifinalists in 2008 but out in the Group Stage in 2012 and 2016. Trying coaches from other countries like Guus Huddink and Fabio Capello have delivered sub-par results.

Russia has yet to prove its current team since Euro 2016. The team consists of a Russian coach and all but one of the lineup for the Cup play for teams in the Russian Premier League. 2017 has not been the best to Russia as they lost 2-0 to the Ivory Coast and drew 3-3 against Belgium and 1-1 against Chile. They did however score a 3-0 win against Hungary. Remember that football is a box of surprises as Pele always says and Russia could end up surprising everyone here.

NZL-New Zealand (95): New Zealand can be either a very good team or a bad team. It qualified for the 2010 World Cup and drew in all of its games. However it hasn’t made much of an impact since. The current line-up of the all-blacks only features one player that plays for a team in a major European League (France’s Ligue 1). The Kiwis have been dominant against teams from Oceania but have struggled against teams from other continents such as a 1-1 draw against the US and losses to Belarus, Northern Ireland and Mexico. If they don’t go far here, they can always learn in time for next year.

Portugal Fixed-Portugal (8): Portugal is a team of surprises. The team went from lackluster group play in Euro 2016 to becoming Cup champions. Portugal has since maintained its reputation as one of the best teams in the world with excellent play in World Cup qualifying and continuing to win most of their games. However they have had some notable losses such as a 2-0 loss to Switzerland in September and a 3-2 loss to Sweden in March. Portugal can either be very on or very off here in Russia. The next two weeks will decide their fate.

Mexico-Mexico (17): Mexico has always been seen as the leader of the CONCACAF. They hope to take it even further by proving themselves among the best in the world. However it’s come at a struggle as they’ve ended their last six World Cups in the Round of 16. Mexico have had a lot of good wins in the last 12 months to teams like Ireland, Iceland and Costa Rica and even had a 1-1 draw against the US. However they’ve had a 2-1 loss to Croatia and a 7-0 loss to Chile at the Copa America. The World Cup may be one year away but now is a good chance for Mexico to prove itself on the world stage.

Prediction: This is a tough one but I predict the two qualifiers to the semis to be Mexico and Portugal, but don’t count out a possible surprise from Mother (?) Russia.

GROUP B:

Cameroon-Cameroon (32): Cameroon have been one of the most consistent African teams. However their play in the last two decades have been far from their glory days in the early 90’s. The team has worked hard to become better and more consistent since the embarrassment of the 2014 World Cup where they finished dead last. The current squad has many players from many leagues. The team hasn’t had the best chances at proving themselves since. In the past twelve months, they’ve either won or tied every game, but they’ve all been against African teams. The Confederations Cup is a chance for them to prove themselves and where they stand.

ChileChile (4): We can have a long discussion about the ‘sleeping giants’ in football waiting for their big moment to arrive. Chile would be one of them. They have been underestimated in the past and have even gone out in the Round Of 16 in the past two World Cups; and to Brazil both times. However Chile has seized the moment at both the 2015 and 2016 Copa Americas by winning their first-ever Copas. Chile now wants to prove its greatness on the world stage, but they have had an up-and-down period since Copa 2016. They’ve had wins against Uruguay, Colombia and Iceland, but they’ve also had losses to Romania and Argentina and even drew against Russia 1-1 just a week ago. Chile will have to seize the moment if they want to prove themselves further.

AustraliaAustralia (48): Since Australia was switched from the Oceania federation to the AFC after their Round of 16 surprise at World Cup 2006, bigger and better things were anticipated from them. Instead it’s been the opposite with losing in the Group Stage these past two World Cups. Australia hopes to put itself back as a powerhouse. However they’ve had a mixed bag of results in the past twelve months ranging from a 1-0 win against Greece to a 4-0 loss to Brazil. Anything can happen here in Russia and Australia could possibly find itself among the frontrunners.

Germany fixed-Germany (3): The current holders of the World Cup appear to be the heavy favorites to win here. They’ve maintained a consistency even with new members added to the national team ever since. However they’ve had their difficulties too. The semifinal loss at Euro 2016 showed they still have some elements of team unity and other glitches to work on. Since Euro, Germany have not had a loss. They’ve had wins against England and the Czechs but have also drawn 0-0 against Italy and 1-1 against Denmark. They have what it takes to win the Cup here. They just have to deliver.

Prediction: Long shots can pull surprises but I’m going to go with my best instincts and predict Germany and Chile to be this group’s two qualifiers.

And there’s my look at the confederations Cup and the competing teams. Winner to be decided on Sunday July 2nd. Possible more blogs to come, depending on how many hits I get with this.

2016 UEFA Euro Final: Preview and Prediction

Euro Trophy

Will France win for the third time? Or Portugal for the first time ever?

How about that? What started on the 10th of June with 24 teams will end on the 10th of July deciding which team will win the 2016 European Championship. It took this whole time 50 matches to decide the two teams most worthy to play for the Championship. On Sunday, it will come down to Portugal and hosts France.  The big question is who will win it?

Euro Final

Head-To-Head Stats:

Before I get to head-to-head stuff, I’ll do some finals stats. France has been to the Euro finals twice before and won both times, including when they hosted in 1984. Portugal has been to the finals only once before back in 2004 when they hosted and lost to underdogs Greece. And to think back then it featured a rising 19 year-old by the name of Cristiano Ronaldo. The two have squared off 24 times before. France has won 18 times, Portugal five times and one draw. France’s most recent win over Portugal was 1-0 in a friendly nine months ago. The last time Portugal beat France was all the way back in 1975.

Team Breakdown:

PortugalPORTUGAL: Just a small tidbit of trivia. Two players from Euro 2004 –Cristiano Ronaldo and Ricardo Carvalho– are here in Euro 2016. Also a piece of irony: you know how Portugal lost to Greece in the 2004 Euro final? Well coach Fernando Santos coached the Greek team at the 2014 World Cup. Unlike 2004, Portugal come to the finals as the underdogs. And it’s easy to see why. All three of their Group Play games were draws. Their Round of 16 match against Croatia was won thanks to an extra time goal. Their quarterfinal against Poland was a 1-1 draw which Portugal luckily won on a flawless penalty shootout. They didn’t fully come alive until their semifinal against Wales which they won 2-0.

It’s obvious Portugal has shown some of their weaknesses. Hungary was good at exploiting them during their 3-3 draw. Portugal should consider themselves lucky they were able to score three goals during that match too. Portugal has a lot of strengths too. They have two good strikers in Cristiano and Nani. They have a rising young star in 18 year-old Renato Sanches. They’ve also delivered more goal attempts than France. They’re a team that knows how to attack. Their defense needs to be as consistent as it was during their match against Wales if they want to win the Championship because the French are the highest-scoring team in the tournament. This will make for an interesting final of Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Antoine Griezmann.

FranceFRANCE: No member of France’s Euro-winning squad of 2000 is playing for France now. However the team is coached by Didier Deschamps who was the captain of the Euro-winning 2000 squad and was part of the 1998 world Cup winning squad.

For the most part, this trip to the Championship has been a dream for France. Save their scoreless draw against Switzerland, the French have been the class of the field. They’ve played like a strong team unit and have defended strongly too. They have a star striker in Antoine Griezmann but don’t forget Olivier Giroud and Dimitri Payet. They look like they’re on fire to win France’s third Euro title.

It’s not to say France has weaknesses, though they have hardly been exposed. One thing is that France has had less ball possession in some games. While that doesn’t prove much of a fact for those games, that could be a factor in the final as Portugal also has strikers who know how to score. France has even been contained by the other teams at times, including Albania who kept them scoreless until the 90th minute. Sure, Portugal has slacked off for most of the tournament but they could just surprise France on home turf when they least expect it.

My Verdict: Eventually I will have to predict a winner for the final so here goes. I predict France to win 3-1. They’ve been delivering the most and giving the least away. So I have to go with them. If they do, France would also become the first country to win the Euro twice as host nation. No nation has won even the World Cup twice as host.

Here’s an interesting note. Whichever team wins the Euro will represent Europe in next year’s Confederations Cup in Russia. Already six of the eight berths have been decided. Russia qualifies as hosts, Germany qualifies as World Cup winners, and Australia, Chile, Mexico and New Zealand qualify upon winning their Confederation’s respective championship. Africa decides their winner in February next year. However Sunday will decided which team will represent UEFA next year.

And there you have it. My breakdown and my prediction. So Sunday will answer all your questions. Who will win it? Will France be only the third nation to win a total of three Euros? Or will Portugal become the tenth country to win a Euro? It will all be decided in the Stade de France that night.

 

2016 UEFA Euro Semifinals: Preview And Predictions

Euro Semis

How about that? The past three-and-a-half weeks have narrowed the field from 24 to four. It’s been full of shocking surprises with teams like the Czechs, Swedes and Russians performing well below expectations in the Group Stage. It’s also had unpleasant surprises off the football field with rowdy behavior from Russian, Croatian and Hungarian fans. It’s also had a lot of positive surprises like Wales and Iceland humiliating bigger competition. And now we’re down to four: Portugal, Wales, Germany and France. It’s the semifinals to decide the two teams to play for the final for the Championship. So here’s my rundown of the two Semifinals:

SEMIFINAL #1: PORTUGAL vs. WALES

Head To Head Stuff:

This is one head-to-head scenario where I don’t have much to compare. Wales only once played Portugal all the way back in 2000. Portugal won.

Team-By-Team Analysis:

PortugalPortugal: Portugal has been an enigma at this tournament. They’ve been very successful in making their way to the semifinals but they’ve grazed the bar almost each and every time. One important fact for this Euro: Portugal is the only semifinalist that has not had a single win in regulation time. All three of their group games were draws, their Round of 16 win against Croatia game after a single goal from Quaresma in added extra time, and their quarterfinal win was thanks to a penalty shootout. Even star Cristiano Ronaldo has faced some flack for underplaying. He should be thankful his two goals against Hungary were what Portugal needed to stay alive in the tournament. If Portugal expects to win the semifinal, they will have to come together and play solid. They can’t afford to take it easy or give things away. Not while Wales has been performing while other teams have slacked off.

WalesWales: Two of the biggest Cinderella teams at this Euro have been Iceland and Wales. In fact the Euro 2016 can best be remembered as the tournament where Gareth Bale finally came to prominence in international play. He’s one of only five players here that has scored three or more goals. In addition to Bale, other teammates had moments to shine too like Ashley Williams, Aaron Ramsey and the currently-unsigned Hal Robson-Kanu. In fact the whole team has performed as a solid unit winning matches over teams with bigger clout like Slovakia, Russia and especially #2 ranked Belgium 3-1 in the quarterfinals. Who decides these FIFA rankings anyways?

Wales does have its imperfections. In fact it faced a heated battle against Northern Ireland in the Round of 16 and was only lucky to advance thanks to an auto goal scored by Gareth McAuley: the only goal of the match. In short, Wales have proven themselves able to deliver. However it’s a matter of them all being there.

My Verdict: With no reliable head-to-head stats to base a judgement, I have to base it on the team’s play during the Euro. I predict Wales to win 2-1 in added extra time.

SEMIFINAL #2: GERMANY vs. FRANCE

Head To Head Stuff:

They’ve both faced each other off twelve times ever. France has won six times, Germany four and two draws. Germany’s wins have been one home, three away. France’s wins have been three home, three away. Germany’s last win over France was at the 2014 World Cup quarterfinals. France’s last win over Germany was during a friendly in Paris in November 2015.

Team-By-Team Analysis:

Germany FootballGermany: Germany faced a lot of expectations here at the Euro. They came as the reigning World Cup holders who were struggling to form a new team with new younger talent. They’ve done very well for the most part as they won 2-0 against Ukraine and 1-0 against Northern Ireland. Their big moment came in the Round of 16 when they beat Slovakia 3-0. Remarkable since Slovakia beat them 3-1 in a friendly one month earlier.

This Euro has also been the arena where Germany’s weaknesses have also been exposed. First was the 0-0 draw against Poland in the Round of 16. The second came against Italy in the quarterfinals. It wasn’t simply drawing 1-1 but their three misses in the penalty shootout right during the first five. Usually Germany are the experts at penalty kicks going without a miss in a major tournament since 1982. That was a shock! Had Italy not also had three misses in their first five, it would’ve been the Italians heading to the semis instead.

The German team here in Euro 2016 is very capable of great play and have gone beyond most people’s expectations. However they cannot give anything away while playing against France. Not while France is host nation and playing brilliantly.

FranceFrance: France is one team that has been on a roll consistently. They’ve only had a single draw: 0-0 against Switzerland in the Group Stage. Everything else has been a win: 2-1 over Romania, 2-0 over Albania, 2-1 over Ireland and 5-2 over Iceland. They even have the three highest scorers: Antoine Griezmann with four, Olivier Giroud with three, and Dimitri Payet with three. Having Didier DesChamps, captain of France’s 1998 World Cup winning team, as coach definitely has a lot to do with it.

France have been excellent though they aren’t perfect. The team has definitely risen to the occasion game after game and showed all of Europe they’re ready to win at home. They have not had a single loss in 2016. However they could face the pressure of playing at home. Sure, they may have beaten Germany in a friendly in Paris seven months ago but Germany may have something up their sleeve. Don’t forget Germany did a reversal on Slovakia. Also keep in mind Germany beat France 1-0 in the quarterfinals in Brazil as Des Champs was coaching. Some food for thought.

TRIVIA: The world was horrified on Friday November 13, 2015 when six bombs went off in various areas of Paris. The first attack was at 9:20pm just outside the Stade de France; right while the friendly between France and Germany was taking place. In fact the two explosions can be heard on video replays during the 16th minute and 19th minute of that game, which continued on and France won 2-0.

My Verdict: There’s no one ‘wonderteam’ at this Euro but I think France is the team that most has it together. I think they will win 1-0.

And those are my predictions for the semifinals for Euro 2016. I may be right. I may be wrong. All to be decided Wednesday and Thursday.

 

 

UEFA Euro 2016: Group F Focus

Euro Logos

For my predictions for the previous groups, just click below on the links and you’re there:

Interesting how the next Euro won’t have a single host country. It was decided in 2014 for what will be the 60th anniversary of the Euro to have all the first round matches and knockout games in cities throughout the continent mainly for that celebration. The second reason why was because Europe was, and still is to a certain extent, struggling with an economic crisis. It makes sense as most cities that have agreed to stage part of the tournament will use the stadium already in existence. Only Brussels is planning a new stadium for Euro 2020 and Budapest is planning a new version of their old stadium in time for the tournament. This should prove interesting in how it works out. In the meantime, here are my predictions for Group F:

Portugal FixedPortugal (8): This isn’t simply the time for The Navigators. More like this is the century for them. Back in the 20th century, the team only qualified for two World Cup and two Euros. Now they’ve made every World Cup since 2002. Not to mention every Euro since 1996. The team features legends like Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Alves, Nani and Pepe. The team also shows promise for their youth as they were finalists in the under-21 Euro last year. They team will come to France in hopes of shaking off their embarrassment from the 2014 World Cup of being ousted in the Group Stage. The team brought back Fernando Santos whom coached Greece at the 2014 World Cup. The squad for Euro 2016 features a wealth of talent both old and young. Since Brazil, the team has had a lot of key wins against Argentina, Belgium, Serbia and Italy. They’ve also had some key losses against France, Bulgaria, Russia and England. The players playing their best strengths and the right team chemistry should take them far in Euro 2016, if not win.

IcelandIceland (35): Iceland amazes me. A nation of less than half a million people fielding a football team to be reckoned with. This is their first-ever Euro. They almost qualified for the 2014 World Cup going as far as the knockout stage against eventual qualifiers Croatia and even bringing them to a scoreless draw in the first match. They’ve even reached their highest FIFA ranking of 23rd for three months of last year. The team consist of members that play for a variety of teams throughout Europe across many different countries. Sweden’s Allsvenskan league is the national league with the most members of the national team. In the past two years, the team has had key wins against Turkey, Czech Republic, Greece and the Netherlands twice. However 2016 has shown the team struggle in Friendly play losing four of their seven matches including Norway, Denmark and the United States. France will be the first stage for them to prove themselves on an international level. Don’t count them out.

AustriaAustria (11): Austria is an enigma. The team had their best days in the 1930’s and 1950’s. Since the 1960’s the team’s prowess has declined with only qualifying for four World Cups and giving a dismal showing at Euro 2008 which they co-hosted. Since 2014, the team has shown a remarkable turnaround. In Euro qualifying, they finished top of the group by winning nine of their ten games and only drawing once, even overpowering Russia and Sweden. The current team is coached by Swiss coach Marcel Koller and features players that mostly play for Germany’s Bundesliga. In the past two years, the team has had additional wins against the Czech Republic and Albania. The team has also had losses against Turkey, Switzerland and the Netherlands. I’m sure they hope to show the World what they’re made of in France. Possibly their best team in decades.

HungaryHungary (18): I’m sure Hungary hates being known as a ‘blast from the past’ but it’s easy to dismiss them as that. It’s a long ways since their days of being the ‘Magical Magyars’ back in the 30’s and 50’s which include two World Cup finals appearances and Olympic gold in 1952. Their first signs of their prowess waning came in the 60’s. Despite finishing third in Euro 1964, they only went as far as the quarterfinals at both the 1962 and 1966 World Cups. Since 1966, the team has never made it past the Group Stage at the World Cup with their last appearance in 1986. Their last Euro appearance was in 1972. The demise of Communism led to less focus on Hungarian football talent and an eventual demise in world rankings including a worst-ever FIFA ranking of 86th in 1996. However Hungarian football is making a comeback as there is more funding for football and more development of players happening nationally. They’ve even hired a German, Bernd Storck, as their head coach. Most of the players play for Hungary’s OTP Bank Liga but there are four players that play for teams of Germany’s Bundesliga. They’ve had notable victories in the last two years against Finland, Norway and Albania and some notable draws against Croatia and Greece. They’ve also had some notable losses to Russia and Germany. France could be the stage for them to prove Hungary’s back.

Prediction: Okay, my final prediction for the final group. Predicting Portugal to top it is easy. Predicting the other two is heard because it could be any of the three. I’ll go with Austria second because of their consistency and Hungary third.

And this not only sums up my review of Group F but of all Euro 2016 first round groups. Some of you may wonder why I haven’t predicted the winner of the Euro yet. It’s simple. Because I’ve always had a case on my blog of predicting the groups first and then making predictions for the knockout rounds as the tournament moves on and then then predicting the final just days before it happens. It always was my case. Besides if I went with my group predictions, I’d have a raw idea on who would win the Euro as I mapped them out. I’ve basically mapped out that the winner of the Cup would end up being France. Yeah, that raw. So hang tight right now.

And that wraps it up for all my pre-tournament posting of Euro 2016.24 teams playing, only 16 will still stand after Wednesday the 22nd. It all remains to be decided over the next two weeks. More predictions and write-ups from me coming as the tournament progresses.

World Cup 2014 Preview: Group G

Group D has been most lauded as the ‘Group Of Death’ not just because of three country’s current prowess but because of their past World Cup legacy. Group G could rightfully be called the ‘Group Of Death’ because there are four teams that rank amongst the world’s best and it can be any two of the four making it to the Round of 16. Here’ s my rundown:

Germany fixed-Germany (2)- Brazil may be the country with the biggest World Cup legacy but Germany is a close second. They have stats and feats of their own to brag about too: competed in all but two World Cups, has made the Top 8 every year since 1954, qualified for the final seven times like Brazil and won the Cup three times. The Mannschaft know how to make a power of themselves and create a legacy but they also have their own glitches too. Like there have been two Euro tournaments this century when they failed to advance past the Group Stage. Even in World Cup play within the past twenty years they have lost to underdogs like Bulgaria, Croatia and Serbia.

The current German team is in good hands with Joachim Low who has managed Germany since the 2006 World Cup. He has guided Germany to the 2008 Euro finals and to the semifinals in the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012. Germany also has their stars too like Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, Mesut Ozil, Lukas Podolski, Thomas Muller and Miroslaw Klose who is just one goal short of tying Ronaldo’s World Cup goal record of 15. Germany already shows solid play as they’ve lost only once since Euro 2012, to the U.S. 4-3 and I’ll get to that later. They’ve also had good wins to England, Sweden, France and Chile. However they did have a 1-1 draw against their traditional ‘achilles heel’ Italy. Low and the boys will have a lot of proving to do in Brazil. No doubt they have the talent and skill to do it. It’s just a matter of them delivering.

Portugal Fixed-Portugal (3)- Before this century, Portugal had only competed in two World Cups: 1966 where they finished third and 1986. Ever since the World Cup has expanded to 32 teams in 1998, Portugal has qualified all but once and they’ve shown their talent off in grand style. Their best World Cup performance this century was a fourth-place finish in 2006. Their biggest moment to shine was in Euro 2004 which they co-hosted with Spain and made it to the final.

Even now they show themselves to be a formidable team full of talent like Cristiano Ronaldo, Simao and Helger Postiga. Right after Portugal lost out in the Round of 16 back at the last World Cup, they appointed Paulo Bento who already had a proven record with coaching Sporting CP. Bento has organized the team well and helped guide them to the semis at Euro 2012. Since then, Portugal has had excellent play with key wins against Croatia and Sweden and a big 5-1 win against Cameroon. They’ve only had three losses in that time to Brazil, Ecuador and Russia. Portugal has the consistency and the ability to go at this World Cup. Possibly even make the finals for the first time. Will they deliver? Brazil’s the stage that will decide.

-GhGhanaana (38)- Ghana has proven themselves to be top African team as of late. They made it to the Round of 16 in 2006 and the quarterfinals in 2010. However while most African teams would consider their quarterfinal performance a feat as Ghana was only the third African team in history to advance that far, it was a disappointment as Ghana almost had a sure semifinal berth in their play against Uruguay. Even though the handball by Uruguay’s Luis Suarez was cheating, Ghana were unable to recover from it. We should remember with the World Cup in 2010 in South Africa, African teams had expectations on them unlike previous World Cups and Ghana was the only one of the six African teams to advance past the Round of 16.

Ghana still continues to perform well including fourth-place finishes at the last two African Cups. James Kwasi Appiah is the head coach after being assistant coach during the last World Cup. Gyan is back as captain and AC Milan’s Michael Essien as vice-captain. However Ghana has a lot of proving. They have not won a game against a non-African team in the past two years and their FIFA ranking has dipped a lot in the past four years. It could be either a case of a team in decline or a team that just hasn’t been proven. This World Cup is their proving point.

-UUSA.S.A. (14)- Before this century, the U.S. men’s team was a joke in the football world. When you think the U.S.A., you don’t think football, or ‘soccer’ as they call it. You think baseball, basketball and American football. A last-place finish at the 1998 World Cup sure didn’t help much. This century, the U.S. have really developed a stronger reputation and are seen as a joke way less tan ever. The existence and success of MLS has helped a lot. Making the quarterfinals in 2002 and even finishing #1 in their Group Stage group in 2010 also made the football world see the U.S. men’s football team as an actual contender in world football superiority.

However the last four years has been a yo-yo. For one thing, they had their lowest FIFA ranking (36th) in August 2012. They’ve also endured losses in the lats two years to Brazil, Jamaica, Belgium, Ukraine and Costa Rica. They’ve also had some great wins like 5-1 to Scotland, 2-1 to Mexico, 2-0 to South Korea and 4-3 to Germany (and I’ll get to the juicy bit soon). Part of their recent success has to do with hiring Jurgen Klinsmann who coached Germany in the 2006 World Cup. In addition is the talent and play of players like Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, rising young gun Julian Green and goalie Tim Howard. 2014 looks like to carve another chapter for the U.S.A. and their quest for soccer supremacy that was once considered a long shot.

Note: Spain vs. Netherlands may be the most eagerly anticipated Group Stage match of this World Cup but the second-most should be Germany vs. U.S. A. Why? First because the U.S.A.’s coach Jurgen Klinsmann played for Germany when the last won the world Cup back in 1990. Secondly because while Klinsmann was coach of Germany from 2004 up to the 2006 World Cup, Joachim Low was assistant coach and became head coach after Klinsmann’s departure. Already Germany got a taste of the U.S.A. in a friendly a year ago with the Americans winning 4-3. The rematch in Brazil should be full of intrigue.

And now my prediction for the advancers: I believe it will be Germany and Portugal. The U.S.A. looks like the one most likely to upset.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT Now that I’m nearing the end of my World Cup preview, my Stadium Spotlights are now moving towards stadiums that are more like Brazil’s prized jewels. And this is definitely a grand one. A brand-spanking new jewel for Brazil, especially for its capital city.

-BRASILIA : Estadio Nacional (Mane Garrincha)Brasilia

Year Opened: 1974 World Cup Capacity: 70,042

World Cup Groups Hosting: A, C, E, G

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16 (E1 vs. F2), one quarterfinal & third-place match

The stadium already had a big reputation in Brasilia with it being the stage for home games for Brasilia FC. However the stadium had to be demolished to have a newer bigger stadium in its place in time for the World Cup. Changes involved dismantling the lower tier, retaining the upper tier into the new rectangular bowl, adding a roof and pillars and reducing the size of the field into a football-only field. The changes made the stadium second to the new Wembley Stadium as the most expensive in the world. Nevertheless all the changes were ready by the Confederations Cup and for Beyonce’s concert last September. The venue will continue to be important after the World Cup as they will be home to Brasilia FC and will be a football venue for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

And there you go. Another group review and another stadium spotlight. Last review to come on Sunday.

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