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2019 FIFA WWC: My Prediction for the FINAL, And Third-Place Playoff Too

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I have to say this Women’s World Cup has been excellent. It won’t break the attendance record set by Canada back in 2015 but it has already surpassed the 1 million mark. The support for the teams has been outstanding with the various football federations shouting their support and some of the biggest male football stars supporting their teammates. Play has also been excellent as there’s American Alex Morgan and England’s Ellen White chasing the golden boot with six goals each. Also there’s only been four expulsions: only one of which was an instant red. So this is a Women’s World Cup France should be very proud of.

THIRD-PLACE Playoff:

Few people are willing to make a prediction for the Third-Place playoff, or the match I call the ‘bronze medal match.’ However I’m one who is willing. Here’s how I look at it:

Head-To-Head Stats:

England and Sweden have faced off against each other 24 times before in the past. Sweden has won thirteen times, England won three times and they drew eight times. Their last match against each other was on November 11, 2018 which Sweden won 2-0.

Team-By-Team Analysis:

England fixedEngland: Women’s football has really grown a lot since England finished third at the last Women’s World Cup. The team they fielded looked like one that could pose the best challenge to the United States. Unfortunately it was not to be as the US beat them 2-1. To add insult to the injury, the US’s Alex Morgan appeared to do a tea-sipping gesture after scoring the winning goal. Many have taken this to be an insult to the English.

It’s difficult to say if England will win. They will have a lot of their top stars like Ellen white and Lucy Bronze ready to play for the game, but Millie Bright won’t be after her double-yellow red card. Phil Neville knows that he will have to get his team ready for the match on Saturday. England have already gotten this far. Perhaps they can give their team one last feat.

Sweden FixedSweden: Before the semifinal, I’m sure most of you predicted Sweden to beat the Netherlands. I mean Sweden had the clout. They’ve been to every Women’s World Cup since it began in 1991. They’ve finished in the Top 3 three times before. They’ve even beat the Netherlands way more often than they lost to them. However things did not go according to plan. Before the match, Fridolina Rolfö received a second yellow card during the match against Germany which meant she will miss the next match. The Netherlands turned out to be a more formidable opponent than they expected. Regulation play resulted in no score. Then there was the goal from Jackie Groenen in the 99th minute. Then there was the shocking injury to Kosovare Asllani where she was carried off on a stretcher.

Sweden came to the tournament with a lot of energy. They won big and were able to rebound after a loss to the United States. Their trip to the WWC semifinal was not easy as they overcame teams like Canada and Germany that had bigger expectations. However they were brought to a halt by the Netherlands in the semifinals. They could win the third-place match or they could lose it. It depends if their players are all in top condition and they attack more than they did on Wednesday.

My Prediction: England have the star strikers, while Sweden has a strong team unit. Sweden will have a one-woman advantage in this game after Bright’s expulsion. Asllani may not be recovered from her injury, but Rolfö can be brought back in play. I will predict Sweden to win 2-0.

THE FINAL

FIFA WWC

This is it. The final for the Women’s World Cup. One team has been their four of the previous seven times and won three times including the last contest in Canada. The other team is only competing in its second Women’s World Cup and won its first-ever knockout match right here in France. So this is quite the quantum leap for the team. So here’s the low-down:

Head-To-Head Stats:

The USA and the Netherlands have met only seven times before. The only time the Netherlands won before was their first meeting all the way back in 1991. The last time the two squared off against each other was in 2016.

Team-By-Team Analysis:

United_States_SoccerUnited States: The United States is the team that is most expected to win this Women’s World Cup. They’re the defending champs from 2015. They’re ranked #1 in the World. They have some of the biggest stars in women’s football who are seen as trailblazers. However they have also earned naysayers too. It all started when they won 13-0 against Thailand and celebrated after each goal. Many thought it was disrespectful. Then Megan Rapinoe made headlines for taking a knee during the play of the Star-Spangled Banner. She followed that by saying she won’t be going to the White House to a reporter. Most recently, Alex Morgan made England fans mad when she celebrated her game-winning goal by doing a tea-sipping gesture. Despite the negative press, they’ve delivered each time. They’ve won all their games, scoring 24 goals and only conceding three.

The only barrier I can see the US would have en route to winning the Cup is them being overconfident. They’ve played very well: better than any other nation. However they showed in their Round Of 16 game against Spain they could give it all away. They won 2-1, but on two penalty kicks from Rapinoe. They did come back in the QuarterFinals against France winning 2-1. However they should not go to the Final thinking they’ll roll over the Netherlands. The Netherlands has surprised all their major opponents here in France. For the US to win, they have to be on the ball and take the Netherlands seriously.

Netherlands FootballNetherlands: Before Women’s Euro 2017, people did not expect much of the Netherlands. Why should they after they finished in the Round of 16 in Canada 2015 and failed to qualify for the Olympics? However they surprised everybody by winning all their games and would win the final by beating Denmark 4-2. This made it the first Women’s Euro since 1993 that Germany didn’t win! Here at this Women’s World Cup, expectations were good but not that big. Canada was expected to top Group E, but the Netherlands did it by winning all their games, including beating Canada 2-1. Then in the Round of 16, they were pitted against Japan whom they lost to in Canada 2015. This time the Netherlands won. They were pitted against Italy in the quarterfinals and won 2-0. Then came Sweden who was more expected to win the game. It started with nil-nil after regulation, but a goal from Jackie Groenen in the 99th changed it all. Now it’s the Netherlands in the final.

What can I say? The Netherlands have silenced their critics. Especially those who dismissed their win at the Women’s Euro as host-country luck. These past six matches show that the Netherlands have earned their place in the WWC Final. However the United States team has more seasoned players and have consistently shown to be a stronger team unit with more know-how of the game than the Dutch players. Now don’t get me wrong. I think the Netherlands can win against the USA, but they will have to play like they’ve never played before, both as individuals and as a team unit, and take advantage of any American weak-spots once they find them.

My Prediction:

I hate to side with the majority so instantaneously, but I think the United States will win this 4-1. I hate to peeve off Oranje fans, I could be wrong, but the Netherlands simply making it to the final already shows how much women’s football has improved there.

And there you go. That’s my prediction for the Final of the Women’s World Cup, as well as my prediction for the third-place match. To think it will all be decided by Sunday. What a month it’s been!

 

 

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2019 FIFA WWC: My Predictions For The SemiFinals

Womens Cup

It does seem odd that I post my predictions for the semifinals on Canada Day, especially since Canada is out of the tournament. In fact the two teams that Canada lost to in France, Netherlands and Sweden, are squaring off in the second semi-final! Sometimes I think that sends a message of how good Canada was as a team; that the teams they lost to got this far. We shouldn’t forget that both teams beat other top teams in the knockout rounds too; Netherlands beat 2015 finalist Japan in the Round of 16 and Sweden beat 2016 Olympic champs Germany in the quarterfinal. Other top teams like Australia, Brazil, China and France are out too. Pele always says: “Football is a box of surprises.”

WWC SemisAnyways enough of who are out of the tournament and let’s focus on the four that are still standing. The US is the only one of the four that have won the Women’s World Cup in the past, two have been to the semis at least once before, and one team is there for the first time ever. Three have won all of their games in this WWC while one had a loss in group play to a team that’s also in the semifinals. Both semifinal matches will take place at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais in Lyon: the same venue that will hold the final for the Cup. So here’s a look at the four teams in both semifinals and my predictions:

SEMIFINAL #1: England vs. U.S.A.

Head-To-Head Stats:

The only time the US and England met head-to-head at the WWC was back in 2007 which the US won 3-0. No doubt after that, England decided to get better. In the past five years, the two meet five times before: four of those times at the new She Believes Tournament. Of the five times, England won once while the US won three times. Their last meeting was at this year’s She Believes Tournament. England won the tournament, but drew against the US 2-2. The US was the only team England didn’t defeat.

Team-By-Team Analysis:

EnglandEngland: This makes it only the second time England has reached the semifinals of the Women’s World Cup. The only other time was back in 2015. England’s appearance in the semis allows Great Britain to qualify a women’s team to the Tokyo Olympics. England won all their games in the Group Stage with Scotland being the only team to score a goal against them. England especially wanted to get revenge on Japan whom they lost to back in 2015. England continued looking like a tough team to beat with 3-0 wins against Cameroon in the Round of 16 and Norway in the quarterfinals. England have been earning their strong share of supporters like Wayne Rooney, Prince William, various BBC personalities and even the public with chants of “It’s coming home!” Many English who never cared about women’s football in the past are now paying attention!

England have been looking like a strong opponent all tournament. However they do have their imperfections. They’ve lost to major opponents early in tournaments. Also they’ve had losses to top-ranked teams in the past 12 months. England will have to be on-target if they’re to win here in France.

United_States_Soccer

United States: In all eight Women’s World Cups, the United States has been present. In all eight Women’s World Cups have they made it as far as the semifinals. In the Group Stage, they appeared invincible in their 13-0 win against Thailand and continued looking impressive with a 3-0 win against Chile and a 2-0 win against Sweden. Then in the knockout rounds, the US appeared to lost its edge after a 2-1 win over Spain in the Round of 16: both goals being penalty kicks delivered by Megan Rapinoe. Also it was Rapinoe who made the most controversy when she took a knee during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner and even said in an interview about a White House-dinner if the team wins “I’m not going to the ******* White House.” It was an intense three days between the whole fiasco and their game against France. The team had since stood with Rapinoe and what she said. What happened against France was the team responded with a 2-1 win: both goals scored by Rapinoe.

The US came as the team with the most expectations to win and has been one team that has best delivered so far. However this World Cup is all about endurance and who is the strongest at the end. The US went all out in the Round of 16 but appeared to give way when they played against Spain. They can’t afford to do that in their semifinal against England on Tuesday. Not after how well England has been playing. Don’t forget they went easy at the 2016 Rio Olympics and found themselves out without a medal.

My Prediction: Last time England played the US, it was this year in February and the result was a 2-2 draw. I anticipate the game will be a 1-1 draw with the United States winning on penalties.

SEMIFINALS #2: Netherlands vs. Sweden

Head-To-Head Stats:

This is the first time the Netherlands and Sweden will meet on the Women’s World Cup stage. They met once before at the Women’s Euro in 2017 where host-nation Netherlands beat Sweden 2-0 in the quarterfinals en route to winning the championship. In total, Sweden has beat the Netherlands more often in the 21 previous times that they met: ten times in total. Six times the Netherlands won while five games ended as draws.

Team-By-Team Analysis:

Netherlands Football

Netherlands: Isn’t that something how a team that has only competed in their second Women’s World Cup is now in their first-ever semi finals? Actually the Netherlands’ woen’s team was not taken too seriously until they qualified for their first Women’s Euro in 2009. There they finished third and showed that the women’s team has a lot of promise ahead. Back when they made their WWC debut in Canada 2015, they finished in the Round of 16 losing 1-2 to eventual finalists Japan. However the Leeuwinnen have really taken off in success. Back in 2017 when they hosted the Women’s Euro, they won! They would also continue their winning way by topping the 2018 Algarve Cup (based on stats). The Netherlands would be the team that toughed it out in the FIFA playoff rounds for qualifying for this Women’s World Cup.

The Netherlands have overcome a lot to be in this semi. They were successful in winning all their games in the Group Stage, got revenge on Japan 2-1 in the Round of 15 and beat Italy 2-0. They have overcome a lot to prove their Euro win was no fluke. However they have had a history of losing out to key opponents. They’ve lost to teams like Spain, Norway and Poland in the last eighteen months. The Netherlands have done very well together, but they will have to be on if they are going to beat Sweden in the semifinal.

SwedenSweden: While Netherlands are rookies at being in the WWC semifinals, Sweden have been there before. Three times to be exact with the last time being a third-place finish in 2011. Like the US, they’ve also competed in every Women’s World Cup. Here in France, they’ve been showing a lot of great team play and a lot of great play together. That has helped them in every game and even surpass major favorites like Canada and Germany. The one thing about Sweden is that needs to continue its team strength or else it will fall apart. And it has fallen apart in major tournaments in the past, like WWC 2015 and Euro 2017. This game could be Sweden’s triumph or Sweden’s choke.

Sweden are a team that know how to rebound when you least expect it. At the 2016 Olympics, they received their biggest defeat in the team’s history by losing to Brazil 5-1 in group play only to draw against them in the semifinals and defeat them in penalty kicks. Sweden would go on to the gold-medal match, but lose to Germany. The funny thing is it’s at this very Women’s World Cup where they got their revenge on Germany: in the quarterfinals with a 2-1 win. Here’s another thing to chew on: Sweden lost in the quarterfinals of the 2017 Women’s Euro to the Netherlands. Will they get revenge here? And if the US win their semi, will Sweden get revenge for group play by beating them in the final?

My Prediction: Sweden may have won against the Netherlands more often, but Oranje have won their last two meetings. Netherlands may ave won all their games, but Sweden have performed better as a team. I predict Sweden to win 2-1 in added extra time.

And there you have it. Those are my predictions for the 2019 Women’s World Cup semifinals. Hard to believe the final is just six days away! May the best team win!

 

 

World Cup 2018: Group Stage With One Game To Go

Russia 2018

Already in these past eleven days, all 32 teams played their first two games. Already some team’s fates are determined as six teams know they’ve qualified for the knockout round and eight teams know they’re going home after they play their last game. The fates of the remaining eighteen are still unclear and they will have to rely on their play in the last game in order to determine if they’re among the remaining ten to advance or among the other eight that will head home earlier than they hoped. With each group’s games both taking place simultaneously, you can bet each team will need to play like they mean it.

Here is a group-by-group breakdown of those who made it (with countries who are guaranteed to advance in bold), those who will be leaving soon and those who still have a chance. Hyperlinks with each group are to my original review:

Group A: This is as basic as game statistics go about right now. Two teams won both their games which of course means the other two teams lost. The two that won their two games already know they’re advancing. That’s as basic as it gets. This is the only group that has it that way. The two teams that won both their games are Russia and Uruguay. One of two groups that already has decided both of their qualifiers.

Monday’s game of Russia vs. Uruguay will be a case of the final standings. They know they’re qualifying. The game will be about who qualifies as first and second. Russia could finish first by simply drawing. Their goal differential is big enough. Uruguay will have to win if they want to finish first as both their wins were 1-0.

Since Egypt and Saudi Arabia lost both their games, it’s pretty clear in their match against each other on Monday, it will be a game for pride.

Group B: Group B is a group that’s hard to explain. The only definite thing is it’s over for Morocco. As for qualifiers, no definite ones with three teams still having a chance. Portugal and Spain both have the best chances after their 3-3 draw against each other and 1-0 victories in their following games. Both would not only have to win in their games (although they could still qualify even if they both draw), but if both win, goal differential would have to decide 1st and 2nd.

However don’t count out Iran. They may rank 3rd right now with a win and a loss– their win being their first since 1998– but beating Portugal will mean they would qualify. If Spain loses their game against Morocco in the process, Iran could just come out on top! Goad differential would have to decide between Spain and Portugal for the second berth.

What can I say? Game 3 will have to decide it all.

Group C: Right now one team, France, is guaranteed to qualify based on their two wins. Also one team, Peru, is guaranteed to go packing for home after Tuesday’s game, whether they win against Australia or not. Even if Denmark beats France on Tuesday, France still has enough game points to qualify, even if they would finish second and Denmark would win Group C.

The way things are right now, France and Denmark could draw and both teams would advance on game points, even if Australia beats Peru. Australia would still have a chance if they beat Peru and Denmark loses to France. However even as little as a draw against Peru would eliminate Australia’s chances from qualifying. Another case of Game 3 to decide the second qualifier, as well as the final standings of all teams.

Group D: That’s all it took. It just took Croatia’s 2-0 win over Nigeria and 3-0 win over Argentina to have them qualify for the Round of 16 for the first time since their 3rd-place finish in 1998.

Croatia is in a healthy position to finish first in Group D as Iceland would have beat Croatia to have a chance at qualifying. And Croatia is as capable of losing to Iceland as they are to beating them. Both teams won a game against each other in World Cup qualifying. Actually the other three teams all have a chance to qualify, no matter how slim. Even Argentina, despite their big loss to Croatia. Argentina’s big loss does put them at the bottom with the harshest of chances to qualify. They would not only have to beat Nigeria, but Croatia will have to beat or draw against Iceland. Messi’s fourth and possibly final chance at winning a World Cup depends on all that. Nigeria could still qualify with a draw against Argentina, but a win will guarantee them qualifying should Iceland actually defeat Croatia. That’s Game 3 for you. Sometimes chances are not worth taking.

Group E: Group E is a lot like Group B where two teams have a win and a draw, one team has a win and a loss, and one team has two losses which guarantee elimination after Wednesday’s game. The team that’s definitely eliminated is Costa Rica. They may have been the Cinderella story of 2014, but the clock struck midnight here in Russia for them. Even if they beat Switzerland, it’s over.

Any of the other three teams–Brazil, Switzerland and Serbia– can qualify, depending on the results of their games on Wednesday. All three also have chances to get eliminated too. Brazil could draw against Serbia and it would guarantee qualification for them. However Serbia would have to win over Brazil to guarantee qualification on their side. They could still qualify if they draw against Brazil and Switzerland loses to Costa Rica 2-0 or 3-1, but why take a chance? The only way Switzerland could still qualify after losing to Costa Rica is if Brazil loses to Serbia 2-0 or 3-1 as Brazil has an edge with their goal differential. A draw against Costa Rica would guarantee qualification for Switzerland, whether either Brazil or Serbia wins.

Brazil could still qualify if they simply draw against Serbia, but the only way for Brazil to qualify if they lose to Serbia is if Coast Rica beats Switzerland, and as long as their loss to Serbia isn’t that huge of a margin. Whatever the situation, Game 3 will be a case where all three eligible teams will have to play it like they mean it.

Group F: This is the one group where there are no definite qualifiers, but no teams definitely eliminated either. All four teams still have a chance to qualify and it will completely rely on the outcome of the final game on Wednesday. Game 3 could have a case where there are two teams with two wins and a loss with the other two teams having a win and two losses. It could even be a case of one team having three straight wins and the other three teams having a win and two losses and goal differentials deciding the second qualifier. Of course draws could change all that, but right now none of the teams are eliminated and all still have a chance.

Starting with Mexico, they have the best chances of qualifying after their 1-0 win against Germany and 2-1 win over South Korea. However they could be eliminated if they lose to Sweden 2-0 or 3-1 and Germany wins 2-0 or 3-1 to South Korea in the process. That would be the case of three teams with two wins and a loss but one doesn’t qualify. And it has happened in past World Cups.

Germany and Sweden both have a win and a loss as well as two goals for and two against. However Germany leads Sweden for the second-place spot because of the head-to-head result. I have to say that goal by Tony Kroos in the 95th minute was definitely something Germany needed to stay alive and have healthy chances of qualifying to the knockout stage. Otherwise they would’ve risked being the fourth of five defending Cup champions this 21st century that failed to advance. Nevertheless they still risk missing out not just if they lose to South Korea, but even if they draw and Sweden ends up winning over Mexico. It’s still possible Germany will fail to advance past the opening round for the first time since 1938. Like Germany, Sweden would have to win over Mexico to have the healthiest of chances to qualify. Qualifying via a draw could only happen if Germany draws too and Sweden’s draw is bigger: such as Sweden-Mexico 2-2 while Germany-South Korea 1-1. Whatever. It’s too complicated to tell! But they know they need to play like they mean it.

Finally there’s South Korea. It’s easy to think they have the best chances of getting eliminated with losing both games, but they still have a chance, despite it being a slim one. They not only have to win over Germany, but Mexico has to beat Sweden in order for the Koreans to qualify. A slim chance is still a chance possible. And the Koreans could do it since they will have a one-man advantage on Wednesday. The fates of all will be decided that Wednesday. Sure, it was awfully long for me to describe, but the group is that tight right now.

Group G: Group G is like Group A where the two qualifiers are already decided thanks to both England and Belgium scoring two wins and both Panama and Tunisia losing to both teams in the process. This is especially happy for England as the first win was England’s first win of a World Cup match since 2010. Definitely a big upper after a dreadful 2014 showing. The big surprise is that both England and Belgium share the same goal differential with eight for and two against. Their game on Thursday will be just to decide who finishes first and who finishes second. A draw, god forbid, would require the team of the first goal to take first place, or some other FIFA law if the draw happens to be nil-nil. Glad to see no nil-nil draws yet this World Cup.

It may be all over for Panama and Tunisia but their game on Thursday will be for pride. Panama will try to win their first game ever while Tunisia will try to win their first game since their debut in 1978.

Group H: Another group with no definite qualifiers and three teams that still have a chance at qualifying. When I made my predictions, I looked back and wondered if there would be any African teams or Asian teams that would have a chance of making it past the group stage. My predictions didn’t make it look so. However Japan and Senegal are the two teams that have done the best play with a win and a draw each. Japan is especially noteworthy as they delivered the first victory by an Asian team since 2010. The That 2-2 draw where Japan played Senegal was tight. Their games on Thursday will have to decide their final fates. Colombia endured a 2-1 loss to Japan in their first game, but really picked themselves up tonight after their 3-0 win over Poland. That win helps keep Colombia in contention for qualifying. It all depends on their game against Senegal. They would have to win as Senegal has the advantage if they draw. And who knows what will happen in the game of Japan vs. Poland. Both Senegal and Japan have the luxury of qualifying even if they both draw in their final matches.

The only team that has their World Cup fate already decided is Poland. They lost 2-1 to Senegal and 3-0 to Colombia and that means it’s over for them. They could win against Japan for their national pride. If Japan does lose, the only way Japan could qualify is if Senegal beats Colombia. Game 3 is almost always make or break.

And there you have it. This is how qualifying stands for the knockout stage of the World Cup right now. These next four days will seal the fates of all teams not just for who qualifies, but how they finish in their group. Don’t forget it’s not just about getting a berth by finishing in the Top 2. It’s also about the two qualifiers’ group finish as it will decide which game they play in and determine who their opponent will be. Too complicated to explain it all. Still exciting to watch the action unfold.

2018 World Cup Group Stage: Draw Time

World Cup Draw

It’s right there on FIFA’s website on how much it took to determine the 32 qualifiers for next year’s World Cup: thirty months, six confederations, 209 teams, 868 matches played, and 2454 goals scored. All 31 available berths up for grabs were decided by November 15th. December 1st was the day to decide the four teams for all eight groups for the World Cup.

Qualifying for the World Cup is already enough of a battle. The respective continent’s confederations contested their matches and conducted their own qualifying format for deciding their qualifiers for the World Cup. There were even two countries that qualified via a ‘wildcard’ berth where they’d have to play a team from another continent twice. The thirty-two qualifying countries were all decided more than two weeks ago. The qualifying rounds made a lot of news for those that qualified, but those that didn’t got a lot of news of their own too. The second-round qualifying matches for the CAF saw two of Africa’s best-ever teams–Nigeria and Cameroon– pitted against each other. Only one can qualify and it ended up being Nigeria. Another surprise was the Ivory Coast being surprised by Morocco and Ghana being overtaken by Egypt. Asia didn’t have many surprises, but Qatar finished last in the Second Round group. Not good since they will be hosting in 2022. The CONMEBOL almost saw the non-qualification of Argentina, but they recovered to win their last game and qualify. Instead the most shocking non-qualifier was 2015 and 2016 Copa America winner Chile which was third the day before the final game for all teams.

The biggest shockers in qualifying came from the CONCACAF and Europe. On the last day of CONCACAF qualifying, all the USA needed to do to qualify was beat Trinidad and Tobago in their last game. It was something they could do as Trinidad would finish last of the Final 6. Instead the USA lost 2-1. That was enough for them to kiss their qualification chances goodbye as Panama beat Costa Rica 2-1 to qualify and Honduras beat Mexico 3-2 to earn a berth in the interconfederation playoff against Australia. Europe had some of the biggest shockers as The Netherlands didn’t even qualify for a UEFA playoff round and Italy thwarted their playoff against Sweden losing 1-0 the first game and a scoreless draw the next. Russia 2018 will be the first World Cup since 1958 in which Italy didn’t qualify and only the third World Cup ever with Italy absent!

Now enough of this World Cup’s also-rans. On with those that qualified. Twenty of the 32 teams for Russia 2018 played in Brazil 2014. Brazil makes it 21 for 21. All former World Cup winners except for Italy will be present. The team with the longest absence making a return to the World Cup stage in 2018 is Peru whose last World Cup appearance was back in 1982. There are only two countries that will make their World Cup debut in Russia: Iceland and Panama. Iceland is especially noteworthy as it has become the first nation with a population of less than 1 million to qualify for a World Cup! Actually there aren’t even half a million people living in the nation of Iceland so that makes it even more remarkable.

Now onto the draw. The draw was held Friday at 18:00 Moscow time at the Kremlin. Legends from all eight countries that have won the World Cup in the past were present: Laurent Blanc, Diego Maradona, Gordon Banks, Cafu, Miroslav Klose, Fabio Cannavaro, Diego Forlan and Carles Puyol. Gary Lineker was host of the event and Russian legend Nikita Simonyan was also part of the event, Vladimir Putin was defintely in attendance, an d the Igor Moiseyev Ballet provided the performance before the draw.

Now onto the actual drawing. In the past, FIFA has organized the pots to give appropriate correlation with continents and availability. FIFA wants the eight groups of four to be a case of no more than two European teams and only one team of the other confederations. There are fourteen European teams (UEFA) including host Russia, five South American teams (CONMEBOL), three teams from North and Central America and the Caribbean (CONCACAF), five African teams (CAF) and five teams from the AFC (Asia and Australia).

FIFA wants to create better parity among the groups for this World Cup. FIFA doesn’t want a case of two or three top-ranked teams in a group as only two can advance past the Group Stage. We all remember the dreaded Group D of 2014 which consisted of three top-ranked teams. This time around FIFA decided to break the draw into four pots of eight. The pots are all based on the teams’ FIFA World Ranking as of October 2017, regardless of continent. The only exception being Russia as the host nation is always automatically in Group A. Here’s how the pots break down with their confederation listed and their ranking in brackets:

POT 1:

  • Russia – UEFA (65)
  • Germany – UEFA (1)
  • Brazil – CONMEBOL (2)
  • Portugal – UEFA (3)
  • Argentina – CONMEBOL (4)
  • Belgium – UEFA (5)
  • Poland – UEFA (6)
  • France – UEFA (7)

POT 2:

  • Spain – UEFA (8)
  • Peru – CONMEBOL (10)
  • Switzerland – UEFA (11)
  • England – UEFA (12)
  • Colombia – CONMEBOL (13)
  • Mexico – CONCACAF (16)
  • Uruguay – CONMEBOL (17)
  • Croatia – UEFA (18)

POT 3:

  • Denmark – UEFA (19)
  • Iceland – UEFA (21)
  • Costa Rica – CONCACAF (22)
  • Sweden – UEFA (25)
  • Tunisia – CAF (28)
  • Egypt – CAF (30)
  • Senegal – CAF (32)
  • Iran – AFC (34)

POT 4:

  • Serbia – UEFA (38)
  • Nigeria – CAF (41)
  • Australia – AFC (43)
  • Japan – AFC (44)
  • Morocco – CAF (48)
  • Panama – CONCACAF (49)
  • South Korea – AFC (62)
  • Saudi Arabia – AFC (63)

As you can tell by the pot arrangements, they’re trying to make the contest as balanced as possible. In addition, FIFA knows the top seeded teams are Team 1 in each group–host nation being Team A1– but FIFA still wants a drawn ball in all cases to make it official, even drawing the order of the last group team drawn. That explains all those red balls at the beginning of the draw; to make defaults official. Confederation rules still apply as far as maximums per group. Pot 1 had six UEFA teams and Pot 2 had four. It could have been a case where four groups could have reached their maximum two for UEFA teams by the time Pot 2 was all drawn out. Instead it was just two groups with UEFA berths completed. Drawing teams and placing them in the right groups was not as hard and tedious as I had anticipated. In the end, all eight groups had their teams drawn and allotted with only minor complications which were sorted out with ease:

GROUP A:

  • Russia
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Egypt
  • Uruguay

GROUP B:

  • Portugal
  • Spain
  • Morocco
  • Iran

GROUP C:

  • France
  • Australia
  • Peru
  • Denmark

GROUP D:

  • Argentina
  • Iceland
  • Croatia
  • Nigeria

GROUP E:

  • Brazil
  • Switzerland
  • Costa Rica
  • Serbia

GROUP F:

  • Germany
  • Mexico
  • Sweden
  • South Korea

GROUP G:

  • Belgium
  • Panama
  • Tunisia
  • England

GROUP H:

  • Poland
  • Senegal
  • Colombia
  • Japan

So those are the groups for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. It makes for some interesting analyses. The draw usually tries to make for the host nation to have an easy time qualifying to the knockout phase. Russia has a good group with only Uruguay looking to be a real threat to them. Group B is most interesting not because of the challenge of the teams, but of the geography: Spain, Portugal and Morocco! The draw was aimed so that there could be better parity among ranked teams, but there are possibilities of a ‘Group Of Death’ or two. First bet is Group D; Croatia and Iceland are underdogs that can cause a surprise, and Nigeria meet Argentina for the fifth time out of six World Cups. The second potential Group Of Death could be Group F with Germany and Mexico plus possible upsets coming from either Sweden or South Korea.

And there you go. That’s the Final Draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The teams now have six months to prepare themselves and be among the top two to advance. Lots of excitement guaranteed.

Rio 2016: Seven Canadians To Watch

Canada Olympic

I admit I’ve come to accept it after the Sochi Olympics. Since the late-90’s Canada has become a winter sports superpower but field a very good Summer Olympics team. In past Olympic Games, both Canada’s summer and winter teams were on the same levels. Very often the summer team would outperform the winter team. That has changes since the late-90’s as you can tell by the medal totals with each Games.

However it’s not fair at all to say our Summer Olympic team is lousy. Here in Canada, we have a lot to deliver. The 2015 Pan Am Games and the recent World Championships in various sports have shown we have a lot of athletes in contention. Sure we only won a single gold out of our 18 medals back in London but we have a solid team this year. Sports Illustrated predicts Canadians to win a total of seventeen medals including four gold.

Anyways you saw my focus on foreign contenders in Rio yesterday. Without further ado, here are the seven Canadians of focus:

Brianne Theisen-Eaton – Athletics: The last time a Canadian woman won a gold medal in track and field was in 1928 and that was the very first Olympics track and field events for women were contested! Canada was one of the best countries in women’s track and field in 1928 winning two of the five events and two additional medals. Yeah, what has happened since? Well the drought could very well be over. When Brianne Theisen graduated from high school, she went to the University of Oregon and it was the best decision. She represented Canada in London and finished 11th. She would later marry American decathlete Ashton Eaton and she’s been on a roll since finishing second at the last two World Championships. She also won the Goetzis HypoMeet this year with a points total that’s the highest of 2016 and has propelled herself as the favorite. She will face stiff rivalry from defending Olympic Champion and reigning World Champion Jessica Ennis-Hill and Worlds bronze medalist Laura Ikauniece-Admidiņa of Latvia. 2016 could just be Brianne’s year. Also look to see if Brianne and Ashton become the first married couple since the Zatopeks in 1952 to both win athletics golds in the same games.

Shawnacy Barber – Athletics: Canada is not known for its pole vaulters. Our last Olympic entry was back in 1992. Our only two medals in the men’s event came all the way back in 1908 and 1912. That can all change thanks to New Mexico-born Shawn Barber. He didn’t qualify for London at the tender age of 18 but his talent was obvious that year as he already broke the Canadian record. He has improved in both his vaulting heights and his competitive consistency over the years and even won the World Championship last year. He even vaulted six metres for the first time ever during an indoor meet this year. He will face challenges from defending Olympic champion Renaud Lavillenie of France, American newcomer Sam Kendricks and even home-country threat Thiago da Silva. Whatever the situation, Barber is sure to deliver.

Brooke Henderson – Golf: Here in Rio there won’t be any new sports on the program but there are two sports that were part of the Olympic program in the past that were cancelled out. The two returning sports are Rugby, albeit in Sevens format, and Golf. Golf was contested at the 1900 and 1904 Olympics. The last Olympic gold in golf was won by a Canadian: George Lyon. Professionalism may have a lot to do with that. Since there’s now no such thing as ‘amateur’ anymore, it seems right that golf returns especially since it’s international enough. Canada has a strong shot at winning through 18 year-old Brooke Henderson. Already displaying a combination of talent, drive and youthfulness that has best been seen in the past through Se-Ri Pak and Nancy Lopez, Henderson has already won three LPGA events. Her last two– the KPMG women’s PGA Championship and the Cambia Portland Classic–came this June and propelled her to 2nd-place World ranking. She’s a heavy favorite to win in Rio but she will face challenges from World #1 Lydia Ko of New Zealand, latest American great Lexi Thompson and last year’s British Open winner Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand. Win or lose, Brooke has a bright future ahead of her.

Mark de Jonge – Canoeing: Until 2008, there were the 500m and 1000m events in flatwater canoeing for men. In 2012, the program replaced the 500m events with 200m sprints. That has worked for the advantage of Canadian kayaker Mark de Jonge. The Calgary-born Dalhousie grad won bronze in London the first Olympics it was contested. Since then, de Jonge has moved up in the ranks from silver at the 2013 Worlds to gold at the 2014 and 2015 Worlds. De Jonge will face challenges from France’s Maxime Beaumont and Sweden’s Peter Menning who finished second and third to him respectively last year. It could just well be de Jonge’s moment here in Rio.

Rosannagh MacLennan – Trampolining: Ever since trampolining has been introduced to the Olympic program in 2000, the Canadian team has left each Olympics with at least one medal. The women’s event has always had a Canadian medalist with Karen Cockburn winning 2000 bronze, 2004 silver and 2008 silver. In London, Rosie MacLennan became Canada’s first ever Olympic champion in trampolining. Rosie also had the bizarre distinction as being Canada’s only Olympic champion at those Games. Rosie has since won the 2013 World Championship and finished second the following year. She found herself out of the medals in 2015. She plans to return to her winning form in Rio but she will face the rivalry of 2015 champ Li Dan of China and two Belarussians: 2015 bronze medalist Tatiana Piatrenia and Hanna Harchonak. 2016 will be the arena for her to prove herself on top again.

Brittany MacLean – Swimming: Canada is known for its medal-winning swimmers. Sports Illustrated predicts Canada to win no medals. However one that could prove SI wrong is distance freestyler Brittany MacLean. The Etobicoke native who swims for the University of Georgia has a reputation in the distance freestyles with a 7th place finish in the 400 in London. However she was too injured in the 2015 season and had to miss out on the Worlds. This year, MacLean has the 6th-fastest time in the world in the 400 free and the 4th-fastest in the 800 free. Sure the distance freestyles are where Katie Ledecky is all the talk but Brittany MacLean just could win Canada’s first Olympic medal for a female swimmer since 1996. That feat could also be achieved by backstroker Kylie Masse or butterfliers Penny Oleksiak or Noemie Thomas. Actually Canada has its strongest women’s swim team in a long time. While the men’s team could only qualify ten swimmers. Looks like it’s the girls’ turn to shine.

AND ONE TEAM:

Canada’s Women’s Soccer Team: I’ll admit I didn’t review them when I did my pre-Olympic preview for London. And good reason why not. Back at the 2011 WWC Canada lost all three of their Group Stage games. However the turnabout the team made under the new coach John Herdman was evident as the team left the Olympics with the bronze medal. Their performance won the hearts of so many Canadians, I referred to them as ‘Our Girls.’ Canada has continued to show consistency with a quarterfinal finish at the 2015 WWC. Since then, the team have won most of their games losing only to Brazil, Denmark, USA and France. Canada won this year’s Algarve Cup and 19 year-old defender Kadeisha Buchanan was named the best player of the tournament. They’re not expected to win a medal in Rio but the team could just surprise the world again like they did four years ago.

And there you have it. My review of Canadian athletes to look out for in Rio. Notice that I reviewed the four Canadians Sports Illustrated predicts to win gold? Whatever the situation, I’m sure they’ll do our country proud.

 

Canada 2015 Shows How Far Women’s Football Has Come

The Women's World Cup only started 24 years ago.

The Women’s World Cup was contested for the first time only 24 years ago.

The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup starts today. It will be a competition between 24 countries and broadcast to billions worldwide. An enormous event and a huge celebration of the sport but it was a long time coming.

ITS ROUGH BUT HOPEFUL START

Back in the early centuries when football was just invented and games were being played for leisure, women were welcomed participants. There was even the British Ladies Football Club founded in 1894 but was frowned upon by the predominantly male society and received no financial support. Men saw it as a threat to the ‘masculinity’ of the game. A stigma that surprisingly still exists today.

An English women's football team from 1920. Hard to believe the FA banned them for decades!

An English women’s football team from 1920. Hard to believe the FA banned them for decades!

Women’s football saw an increase during World War I and the men were off and fighting. However women’s football received a blow in 1921 when the Football Association (the FA), outlaws the play of women’s games on FA-associated pitches. Despite that, the English Ladies Football Association was formed after the ban was instituted.

It wasn’t just England that looked down upon women’s football. Many other countries would look down too. Once again the stigma of the ‘masculinity’ of the game. Even Brazil had a case where women’s football was growing up to 40 teams in the 1940’s until it too was banned. The ban wasn’t lifted until 1979.

WOMEN’S FOOTBALL  GAINS STRENGTH

You can’t keep the desire down. The FA’s ban on women was eventually dropped in 1971 shortly after the Women’s FA was founded in 1969. In North America while soccer was starting to grow in popularity around the beginning of the 1970’s, girls teams were organized along with boys teams. That may explain why the US and Canada do well. In the 1980’s, women’s national teams were formed like the U.S. team in 1985 and the Canadian team in Winnipeg on Canada Day 1986 (July 1st). Japan became the first country to have a female semi-professional league: the L-League founded in 1989 that still exists today.

A WORLD CUP AND OLYMPIC GOLD EMERGE

As women’s national teams were emerging, FIFA knew they had to do something to encourage the competition but were reluctant to give women their own World Cup. In fact FIFA organized the FIFA Women’s Invitational Tournament in Taiwan in 1988. It was actually a test to see how successful of a competition it would be. Contested over two weeks, it was a success and weeks later, FIFA approved implementing a Women’s World Cup competition.

The 1991 US women's World Cup team: the first ever Women's World Cup winners.

The 1991 US women’s World Cup team: the first ever Women’s World Cup winners.

The first FIFA Women’s World Cup was held in China back in 1991. FIFA was still reluctant to call it the World Cup so it was called the 1st FIFA World Championship for Women’s Football for the M&Ms Cup. Twelve countries competed in six venues across the country. Ticket sales were a success with a total of over 50,000–an average of almost 20,000 per match–and the U.S. won the Cup with their teammate Michelle Akers the highest scorer of the tournament with 10 goals.

The success of the 1995 tournament helped paved the way for further World Cup competitions and women’s football being added to the Olympic program starting in 1996. The 1995 World Cup in Sweden however was met with lackluster success as ticket sales were only above 112,000: a sign that women’s football had a long way to go in Europe. Things looked a lot more positive with women’s football contested at the Atlanta Olympics the following year. Despite having only eight teams playing for the gold, ticket sales totaled almost 700,000 including 76,489 for the final which the U.S. won.

Brandi Chastain's shirtless celebration from USA 1999. One of the most iconic images of the Women's World Cup.

Brandi Chastain’s shirtless celebration from USA 1999. One of the most iconic images of the Women’s World Cup.

It’s no wonder the U.S. hosted the next World Cup in 1999. The U.S. really did an intense job of marketing the event and it paid off. Ticket sales totaled over 1.2 million– more than double that of China 1991 and ten times that of Sweden 1995– and the Rose Bowl Stadium was sold out for both the third-place match and the final for the Cup with 90,185 each.

The Women’s World Cup would have continued success over the years. Even if none of the successive tournaments have broken the attendance record of USA 1999, they’ve still given impressive results such as the 1.156 million who saw games in China in 2007. The 845,000 tickets sold during Germany 2011 showed Europe’s increasing welcoming of women’s football even though the top male continents like Europe and South America still lag behind that of Asia and North America.

PRESENT AND FUTURE

Despite the increase of fanfare and support in women’s football, it’s still lagging behind in terms of parity with the men’s sport. It’s not like tennis, golf, athletics or swimming where female athletes are almost on par with the men. Nor is it like figure skating or gymnastics where the women actually steal the show from the men. There are many countries that still see football as a ‘men’s sport’ and the women are given lackluster attention. There was even a row last week when EA sports video games announced in their FIFA 16 game, women’s players would be included for the first time. There were a lot of sexist tweets on Twitter, overshadowing the 98% of tweets that were positive and welcoming of women’s inclusion in the game.

Nevertheless great strides have been made over the years. Since the 1990’s there have been women’s continental tournaments like the Women’s Euro and the Copa America Feminina. Professional leagues in Europe like the Bundesliga, Premier League and France’s Division 1 have included a women’s league and top men’s team have included women’s braches of their team. England even contests the FA Women’s Cup annually. Women’s football is still supported well with high school teams and NCAA college teams. The MLS has also included female branches of teams. In Brazil, Marta has become a beloved athlete of the country and has even received welcome from other male players like Pele and Neymar whom describes Marta as ‘craque’ (Portuguese for phenomenal).

FIFA also has a special section of their organization focusing on women’s football dedicated to improving the game and its availability to young girls and women around the globe. Every World Cup since 1995 there has been a symposium on women’s football and this year’s symposium is slated for Vancouver from July 3rd-5th. This year FIFA included campaigns such as the Live Your Goals social media campaign through the #LiveYourGoals hashtag. Another FIFA campaign is the ‘No Barriers’ campaign through video commercials. Its goal is to increase the global number of young girls and women playing football form 30 million to 45 million by the 2019 Women’s World Cup.

There’s no question man’s football has no further to go. It’s already universal and the most popular sport in the world. Women’s football is still growing but never before has the future of women’s football looked more ambitious and more promising.

WORKS CITED:

WIKIPEDIA: Women’s Association Football. Wikipedia.com. 2015. Wikimedia Foundation Inc.<Women’s Association Football>

Oxenham, Gwendolyn. “Pele With A Skirt: The Unequal Fortunes Of Brazil’s Soccer Stars” The Atlantic. 4 June 2015<Atlantic Article: Neymar and Marta>

My World Cup Experience: Trophy Tour

As you can tell, I’ve been excited about the Women’s World Cup coming. It was a long time in anticipation. This was actually the last weekend before the World Cup is to begin this Saturday in Edmonton. With it came the Trophy Tour concluding in Burnaby. I had the good fortune to visit that afternoon.

120The FIFA Women’s World Cup trophy tour was a tour that happened in twelve cities across Canada including the six cities that have the venues for the Cup. The purpose was to showcase the World Cup encased in glass. The tour also allowed for other things too like a chance to learn more about FIFA’s goals in women’s football and to learn more about the Cup and its 24 years. There were also games and giveaways as well as music and an appearance from the mascot Shueme. The final stop of the journey was Vancouver. The event took place at Burnaby’s Metrotown: the biggest shopping mall in all of Greater Vancouver. Sunday morning was my one free chance I had to go see it. I’m glad I did.

THERE’S ALWAYS A LINE-UP

A week or two ago, I saw something from the Coca-cola web page on the tour saying there tickets through Ticketmaster available. At that time, I instantly thought you needed a ticket to see the trophy. I agreed to a ticket. They came at no cost so I really lost nothing. I arrived at the area in Metrotown where the event was supposed to take place–the lower level where Toys ‘R Us and T&T Groceries are– and I saw the line up. Most didn’t have a ticket. It wasn’t really needed. It may have helped for some getting to see the Cup sooner but it wasn’t needed. For kids too impatient to wait in line, there was a foosball table in the outside area.

Meeting with mascot Shueme made the wait in line easier.

Meeting with mascot Shueme made the wait in line easier.

I actually forgot my ticket at home so I ended up waiting in line. I arrived at 10:55: five minutes before the event was to begin. I could see volunteers setting up. I could see Shueme in the waiting area. Then at 11am it all began. Music was playing and the line was actually moving faster than I thought. Shueme actually left the event area and was walking around the Metrotown concourse including around the outside foosball table. Yes, they had a foosball table out in case people got too bored waiting. Fortunately she came around where I was standing. I told the volunteer I hope to get a picture with her when she returns to inside. The volunteer actually offered to take the picture right there. It was great.

VIEWING THE CUP

Here I am with the Women's World Cup!

Here I am with the Women’s World Cup!

It wasn’t even half an hour of a line up when I finally had the chance to see the Cup. However just before I got in, I saw there was a separate line up for the virtual goalie. I’ll talk more about that later. The exhibit could only have so many people at once so they had to group people: those seeing the Cup, those in the Winners Tunnel who were next in line and those in the waiting area.

The waiting area was there to keep us entertained while we were one step closer to seeing the Cup. There was one section that looked like a dressing room but it had jerseys commemorating past Cup champions. As well as there were pads that had WWC trivia. There was also a DJ spinning music with the official ball, the conext15, on display. Then came the Winners Tunnel. This was the section for those about to see the Cup. In there, people waited for about five minutes. Nevertheless we were treated to a video with scenes from the previous World Cup and even clips from the qualifiers.

Then it finally came to our turn to see the Cup. It was encased in glass and there were already cameras set up so we can have a custom portrait for sharing. Just go to the website and key in the code. I think mine turned out well. Finally of course with Coca-Cola hosting the event, people were treated to a free Coke in a commemorative aluminum bottle. I have mine as a keepsake.

A FUTURE CARNIVAL GAME?

That's the virtual goalie, controlled by motion sensors that make the split-second decision of which angle to block the shot.

That’s the virtual goalie, controlled by motion sensors that make the split-second decision of which angle to block the shot.

Not everything was about the Cup. Some wanted to try their luck at the Ultimate Goalie. How does it work? First it involves the participant doing a penalty kick into a net smaller than usual. Secondly the goalie is placed right in the middle of the goal post. Successful penalty kicks win a free commemorative shirt. The thing about this goalie is that it’s on a semicircle of 180. What controls the goalie are motion-sensor cameras that are able to detect how fast the ball is going and what direction it’s headed. The computers are programmed to position the goalie at the right angle to stop the shot. This was very smart and very fast. I remember seeing a couple of shots taken that were very fast and she was able to stop it. I took a shot at it and she even stopped mine. Fortunately for me, there were two people that said I delivered a good shot. I’m not over the hill yet! As for the goalie, I would not be surprised if I see that as a carnival game anytime soon. Good luck in trying to win!

I GOT A TICKET!

For a long time I was hoping to get a ticket. For the last few days I was hoping to get a ticket for a certain Round of 16 game. However I wondered if it would be too expensive. Not just because of the price but the ticket processing fee and tax added on. I wanted a second class ticket for that event but thought maybe it’s better I got third class. Glad I waited because just as I was in line to see the Cup, I heard that tickets were 30% off that day. By the time I was done seeing the Cup, I was ready to order my ticket. Yes, there was a bit of a line up for buying it and very often it was a case of families buying tickets together because of discounts for groups. Sometimes it took a family ten minutes or longer to have their order finalized.

Finally it was my turn and I knew what I wanted as I was eyeballing that seat on Ticketmaster the past few days. Knowing what I wanted and where only made me wait five minutes. There was a bit of card trouble at first but I finally got it: a second-class Round of 16 ticket that was originally billed at $75 I bought for just under $62. It was worth it! Now I just have to wait to see if Canada’s playing as one team slated to play is the first-place team of Group A. I’ll be shocked if it’s not Canada!

And there you go: my visit to the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Trophy Tour. It was fun and a bit tiring but it was worth it in the end.

GROUP RECAP

Okay, for those of you just hitting my blog for the first time, below are links to my predictions for each group in the Group Stage:

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

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

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

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

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

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

GROUP A:

Canada

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MY GROUP PLAY PREDICTIONS:

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

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT:

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

WINNIPEG: Winnipeg StadiumWpg Stadium

Year Opened: 2013

World Cup Capacity: 40,000

World Cup Groups Hosting: A,B,C,D

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

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

Brazil’s Football Legacy

Brazil has a football legacy like no other nation and its legendary player Pele is commonly regarded as the epitome of its greatness.

Brazil has a football legacy like no other nation and its legendary player Pele is commonly regarded as the epitome of its greatness.

We all love Brazilian football because at its best, Brazilian football is the paradigm of how we want football to be played. We want it musical, we want amazing skills but we want the kind of friendship and the teamwork also beautifully mixed and working together.

-Alex Bellos, author

Remember back when I did my blog on Russia’s Winter Olympic Legacy I mentioned my naive belief as a kid that if a country had a big sporting legacy, they deserved to host an Olympics? Anyways I would also have that naive belief for hosting the World Cup too. It’s not that embarrassing since every country that’s won the World Cup has hosted in the past. If I thought that now, it would be kind of embarrassing because of how expensive it is.  Whatever the situation, you can’t deny Brazil’s legacy.

BEFORE THERE WAS A WORLD CUP

So the question is how did a British sport like football become almost religion-like in Brazil? Well there are some beliefs but no real conclusion on who first introduced it. Some believe it was introduced to Brazil by a Scottish expatriate by the name of Thomas Donohue. In fact the first ever football match contested in Brazil was played in a pitch marked out by Donohue near his workplace in Bangu back in April, 1894. Some believe it was introduced to Brazil by Charles William Miller, son of John Miller who worked on a railway construction project in Sao Paulo in the 1870’s. Charles not only learned football while studying in Southhampton but when he return home from his studies in 1892, he brought with him some football equipment and a rule book. He introduced it through the Sao Paulo Athletic Club. Miller was a great coach to the team and he was even able to get two English teams to play against the Athletic Club and other teams in Sao Paulo. You could say the rest is history.

Eventually Brazil would get its own national football federation–the Brazilian Football Federation–on June 8, 1914 and their first international match was a match between a team combined team from a club from Rio and a club from Sao Paulo against English club Exeter City shortly thereafter.

A SO-SO START

Those who are into World Cup trivia may know that Brazil has been in every World Cup since it started in 1930. It’s not to say that they began with a bang. In fact the BFF was not the best at organizing national teams for quite a while. In 1930, organizing national teams was a relatively new idea at the time so you can imagine getting a team for the very first World Cup would be through the same thought process today. In fact only thirteen countries, including Brazil, though the inaugural World Cup was worth competing in. Back at the first World Cup, there was only one group of four teams and three groups of three teams. Brazil faced Yugoslavia and Bolivia in their group. They lost to Yugoslavia 2-1 and won against Bolivia 4-0. Despite finishing second, they did not advance as only the #1 team from each group advanced and Yugoslavia finished #1. Their next World Cup, Italy in 1934, was also lackluster as the whole tournament was a last-team standing competition–no First Round group play at all–and Brazil lost its opening match: against Spain 3-1. That ended their World Cup run fast.

However things were really starting to look up for Brazil in France in 1938. Their team was much better and it featured the legendary Leonidas. As in 1934, it was a last-team-standing format from start to finish. Brazil won its opening match against Poland 6-5 with Leonidas scoring a hat-trick and won its quarterfinal against Czechoslovakia. Actually they needed a second quarterfinal to play as they tied the first 1-1. Brazil won the second 2-1. However they were stopped in the semifinals by eventual winner Italy 2-1. Brazil did win the third place match against Sweden 4-2 and Leonidas was the top scorer with 7 goals. Too bad the Golden Foot award wasn’t awarded back then.

Brazil hosted in 1950. I’ll actually save that competition for another blog as I will tell about the infamous Maracanazo and the crazy aftermath that happened since. Few players from 1950 returned in 1954. Brazil was ousted in the quarterfinals by Hungary 4-2.

THE GOLDEN ERA

The era from 1958 to 1970 has to be Brazil’s most treasured because that was when the Brazilian national team was at its best and enchated the world. It all started in 1958 when coach Vicente Feola coached the team and even gave them a list of forty things not to do including smoke in front of journalists. They even brought a psychiatrist to the team. Whatever the situation, Brazil was brilliant in group play with two wins and a draw, winning their quarterfinal against Wales 1-0, their semi against France 5-2 and then winning their final against hosts Sweden 5-2. The top goalscorer may have been Just Fontaine but it was the second-highest scorer–a 17 year-old Brazilian named Pele–that captured the imagination of the world. Even in the group stage, he dazzled crowds with his flare and his goal-scoring ability. Another key note is that Pele wore the number 10 at that World Cup it’s been since common trait that most national teams designate the number 10 to their best players. Pele however won the FIFA Silver Ball award for being the second-best overall player at the World Cup. The winner of the Golden Ball was another Brazilian, Didi, who actually scored a single goal but delivered the best midfield efforts of the tournament.

Pele’s fame grew as did his football playing prowess and the whole Brazilian team garnered fame with him. In Chile in 1962, Pele was back and expected to star again. He did score in the first game but was sidelined with an injury during the second game. That would cause him to miss the rest of the tournament. Nevertheless Brazil performed well as his replacement Amarildo scored three goals and two players, Garrincha and Vava, scored four goals each. Garrincha was considered to be the top player of the tournament. The team also did a noble thing after defeating hosts Chile in the semifinals. They carried the Chilean flag out on the field.

In England in 1966, it appeared success was starting to get to Brazil. They began well with a 2-0 win against Bulgaria that included a goal each by stars Pele and Garrincha but it was all downhill after that with 3-1 losses against Hungary and Portugal. That left Brazil 3rd in the group and out of the tournament: the second of five instances when the defending World Cup champion failed to advance past the Group Stage.

Then came Mexico in 1970. Mario Zagallo, who played for Brazil during its World Cup wins in 1958 and 1962, was assigned coach by the president of Brazil. The president also demanded that many players including the aging Pele be put on the team. Pele first seemed uncomfortable with his role but things changed once the contest started. Brazil won all their Group Stage matches, won their quarterfinal against Peru 4-2, their semifinal against Uruguay 3-1 and then their final against Italy 4-1. Jairzinho was the top goalscorer of the team with 7 goals but it was Pele who won the Golden Ball award for being the best overall player with a performance that included four goals. And to think Pele thought at the beginning he wasn’t good enough for the team. Pele also won the FIFA fair play trophy for not receiving a single yellow or red card. Pele also has the distinction of being the only player to play for three World Cup winning teams. Zagallo made history by becoming the first ever to win the World Cup both as a player and as a coach. Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer is the only other one to do so. On top of that Brazil was given the distinction of being allowed to keep the Jules Rimet trophy for winning the World Cup three times. The 1970 team for Brazil is still considered by many to be the best team ever in World Cup history. The odd irony is that it was only a matter of months until the Jules Rimet trophy was stolen. It was never found.

THE DRY SPELL

After 1970, Pele was no longer part of Brazil’s national team and there was a brand new World Cup trophy that made its debut in 1974 and is the current trophy today. It seems like those marked the end of Brazil’s magic at the time because Brazil would struggle to regain its winning sense. 1974 and 1978 World Cups consisted of not only group play for the opening round but also for a second round for the eight that qualified. The top teams at the end of the second round of Group Play played in the final for the Cup, the second-place teams played for third place and the other four teams headed straight home. In both cases, Brazil came second. Brazil again found itself out of the competition because of second round group play in Spain in 1982. In 1986 started the current format of Group Play and the last-team-standing format that started with a Round of 16. Whatever the situation, Brazil was brilliant in Group Play wining all their games and even winning their Round of 16 game against Poland but drew 1-1 to France in the quarterfinals and then lost the penalty kicks round. 1990 added further insult as Brazil again won all three of their group play games but fell to Argentina 1-0 in the Round of 16.

It was a question to many of why. Was it the format of play? Was it the change of system where Brazilian players were now mostly playing in Europe instead of playing with Brazilian clubs as was the case in Pele’s day? It’s still a wonder.

CALL IT A COMEBACK

These past twenty years have actually seen a resurgence of Brazil’s greatness and even write a new legacy for them. It first started at the 1994 World Cup. This time they came packed with stars like Romario, Bebeto, Taffarel, Dunga and Jorginho. The group were very good, if unspectacular, being very solid in the rounds leading up to the final. The final was a classic rematch against Italy. The game was an unspectacular 0-0 which led to a penalty kicks contest. Brazil won 4-3 and became the first country to win the World Cup four times.

1998 saw the emergence of another young Brazilian with the potential to become a great, Ronaldo. He and the Brazilian team were very good leading up to the final but it was the home country French team that really caught the world’s attention at that World Cup. France has commonly been known as Brazil’s ‘achilles heel’ and they gave Brazil their loss 3-0. Under the guidance of coach Luis Felipe Scolari, Brazil came back in 2002 with the help of the three R’s–Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho– and won the World Cup without a loss. Ronaldo won the Golden Boot award for his scoring of eight goals, the most goals scored in a single World Cup since 1970.

Brazil has continued to maintain a record of consistency since the 2002 World Cup and has continued to produce new stars. Even manager Carlos Alberto Ferreira formed a playing system known as the ‘magic square’ that proved very successful in competitions leading up to the Cup. The ‘square’ appeared to work well in the first rounds of the 2006 World Cup despite the underperforming of star Ronaldinho at the time but they fell in the quarterfinals to their traditional top rival France 1-0. To the surprise of most, Brazil was out in the quarterfinals. Brazil continued to be favored leading up to the 2010 World Cup and even won their ‘group of death’ albeit unspectacularly but fell again in the quarterfinals. This time to the Netherlands 2-1. Further disappointment came at the 2011 Copa America when Brazil lost in the quarterfinals but a major upper came when they won the Confederations Cup against World Cup winners Spain 3-0. Here at this World Cup, Brazil tried to attempt the one football feat they don’t own: winning the World Cup on home soil. They brought Luis Felipe Scolari back to help them win it. They’re also relying heavily on the young great Neymar who has already scored two goals in World Cup play. The remaining three weeks will decide.

Brazil has had a football legacy and it has had its downsides too. You can understand why a country this passionate about football believes that a win of the World Cup is the only acceptable result. You can understand the pressure that the current Brazilian faces leading into this World Cup. You can also understand why a country like Brazil has won more World Cups than any other country and continued to churn out legend after legend. It’s no wonder no country has delivered more football magic than Brazil.

WORKS CITED:

WIKIPEDIA: Brazil National Football Team. Wikipedia.com. 2014. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brazil_national_football_team>

WIKIPEDIA: Football In Brazil. Wikipedia.com. 2014. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Football_in_Brazil>

WIKIPEDIA: Brazil at the FIFA World Cup. Wikipedia.com. 2014. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brazil_at_the_FIFA_World_Cup>

2014 World Cup Group Stage: Luck Of The Draw

The stage was set Friday to decide the eight First Round groups for next year's FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

The stage was set Friday to decide the eight First Round groups for next year’s FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

You could say it took a lot to determine the 32 countries that qualified for the 2014 FIFA World Cup: thirty months, six confederations, 204 countries or teams, 820 matches, and a total of 2303 goals to decide the 31 berths up for grabs. Finally on November 20th, all thirty-one berths up for contention were all decided. However deciding the eight groups of four for the Group Stage was also another tricky matter. Yeah, just when you thought it would get easier.

Yesterday, the eight First Round groups were decided at the Costa de Sauipe resort in Bahia. It was broadcast live around the world. I myself saw the live telecast at 9am my time. The draw to form the eight groups for each World Cup involves a process with a lot of thought: four countries per group with continental separation. That would mean each continent other than Europe would have only one of their countries in a First Round group. Europe by means of fielding thirteen berths this World Cup would have a maximum of two countries per group. That’s always been the case since the World Cup expanded to 32 countries back in 1998.

The respective continent’s confederations contested their matches conducted their own qualifying format for deciding their qualifiers for the World Cup. There were even two countries that qualified via a ‘wildcard’ berth where they’d have to play a team from another continent twice. The thirty-two qualifying countries were all decided more than two weeks ago. Seeded teams which I will talk about later are in italics:

  • Host Nation: Brazil
  • South America: Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Uruguay
  • Europe: Belgium, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Croatia, England, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Switzerland
  • Africa: Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria
  • The CONCACAF (North and Central America, Caribbean): Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, U.S.A.
  • Asia: Australia, Iran, Japan, South Korea

That list of qualifiers does provide for some interesting notes. Australia has played for the Asian confederation (AFC) since 2006 because of its superiority in Oceania’s confederation (OFC). Also Spain, the defending World Cup nation, still had to play qualifying matches as the defending World Cup team no longer qualifies its own automatic berth: a FIFA rule in effect starting with the 2006 World Cup.

Dividing the groups into four teams of appropriate continental separation would include something else involved: a seeded pot. Host Brazil was already allocated to Group A: a FIFA regulation in effect starting with the 2006 World Cup. Each of the other seven groups would have to have one of the teams amongst the Top 7 of FIFA’s World rankings from October 2013. In order from 1st to 7th, they were:

  • Spain
  • Germany
  • Argentina
  • Colombia
  • Belgium
  • Uruguay
  • Switzerland

There always was a seeded pot for drawing groups for the World Cup that would involve a complicated system involving a multitude of ranks, previous World Cup places and other factors. This time around the seeding was just on that one FIFA ranking list. Sure, it was odd to see countries normally not amongst the top seeds like Belgium and Switzerland in the mix but finally creating a seeded pot was that simple.

The pots meant for continental separation amongst the groups were not that easy. One easy element was that Pot 3 consisted of teams from Asia and the CONCACAF: continents that both fielded four berths. As you could tell, the seeded pot consisted of three South American teams and four European teams. That’s where complications and confusions would arise as Pot 2 would consist of Africa and South America. Pot 2 ended up with seven countries since three of South America’s five berths were seeded teams. Pot 4 consisted of the nine non-seeded European teams. So how do you solve this problem of those pots with the continental maximums?

Yeah, explaining continental limits and parities is easy. Making it happen in the groups this year is the hard part. So FIFA under Sepp Blatter decided to make the following procedures to even it up:

  • Draw one European team from Pot 4 and place into Pot 2 for four even pots of eight with the teams assuming the first position of their group.
  • Draw from Pot 1 to decide the first teams for Groups B to H.
  • Draw amongst the four seeded South American teams and place the drawn out team in auxiliary pot  ‘Pot X’ for the sake of continental separation.
  • Place the European team drawn out of Pot 3 with the South American team from Pot X.
  • Draw from the remaining pots to determine the other qualifying teams.
  • After the Pot 1 teams were drawn, draw the positions of the teams of the other three groups as the draw goes group by group.

Yes, it’s hard to make sense. It’s hard to explain. And it’s hard to make it all work out. It’s not like the last World Cup where there were five seeded European teams and you’d easily have a European pot of eight. Nevertheless it was accomplished. The European team from Pot 3 that was drawn out first was Italy. The seeded South American team that was put into Pot X was Uruguay which was already drawn to Group D. That would mean Uruguay and Italy would both be in the same group. The remaining teams would also be drawn out evenly.

So after all that confusion and fretting, all the First Round groups were drawn out. The parity and continental separations took place as FIFA wanted it: maximum two European teams and maximum one team from the other continents in each group. So here are the eight First Round groups for the 2014 FIFA World Cup:

Group A

  • Brazil
  • Croatia
  • Mexico
  • Cameroon

Group B

  • Spain
  • Netherlands
  • Chile
  • Australia

Group C

  • Colombia
  • Greece
  • Ivory Coast
  • Japan

Group D

  • Uruguay
  • Costa Rica
  • England
  • Italy

Group E

  • Switzerland
  • Ecuador
  • France
  • Honduras

Group F

  • Argentina
  • Bosnia-Hercegovina
  • Iran
  • Nigeria

Group G

  • Germany
  • Ghana
  • Portugal
  • U.S.A.

Group H

  • Belgium
  • Algeria
  • Russia
  • South Korea

The group set-ups sure have gotten a lot of people talking. Some people have noticed that some groups are so tightly put together, it’s hard to declare the one group to call the ‘Group Of Death.’ Some are stating it’s Group D with Uruguay, England and Italy. Some are saying it’s Group G with all four of its teams being top contenders. Some are even saying it’s Group B with their very first match—Spain vs. Netherlands—a re-contest of the 2010 World Cup finalists.

Whatever the situation, all 32 teams have to be ready to face their Group Stage opponents and put their best foot forward if they want to advance and be the last team standing that wins the 2014 World Cup. The world will be watching from June 12th to July 13th. I myself will be doing group-by-group reviews on my blog in the weeks leading up to the start. Stay tuned for more action.