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 (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 (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.
-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 (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.
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
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
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.
Summer 1993 is a unique Spanish film for its depiction of childhood. It’s also a unique story about a girl that’s semi-autobiographical.
The story begins with a young six year-old girl named Frida who’s recently orphaned. She has lost both her parents to AIDS with her mother dying in the summer of 1993. The whole family including the mother is hugely concerned for Frida’s well-being. Her mother’s brother Esteve agrees to take care of her. Frida is taken to their mountainside pueblo in the Catalan Pyrenees to like with him, his wife Marga and 3 year-old daughter Anna.
It’s taking a long time for Frida to get adjusted to her new surroundings. She feels like a misfit in the town and very rarely socializes with anyone else. On top of it, she feels uncomfortable around the chickens. AIDS isn’t spoken around her and her family. When in conversation, they simply refer to it as ‘that illness.’ It does become apparent what ‘that illness’ is when Frida cuts herself and her family panics.
She also misses her mother, but doesn’t know how to grieve about it. Every day, she goes to the tiny grotto near the farm and prays to her mother. There’s even a time she places a pack of cigarettes to her mother by the Madonna. That’s the best way Frida knows how to grieve.
Over time, Frida appears to be developing a friendship to Anna; possibly even a sisterhood. It would become apparent Frida’s acting out when she plays a game with Anna in the woods only to leave Anna behind. Anna is found, but with a broken arm. The family is infuriated with the way Frida is acting, feeling she has no morals. Unknown to Esteve and Marga, Frida hears it all. Frida starts feeling like she’s unloved and decides the thing to do is to run away. It’s there as the family comes to search for her that Frida is reminded that she is loved. It becomes a turning point for her as she now feels like an accepted person at home and in the community.
This isn’t your typical film from Spain. Usually most fans of ‘arthouse’ film think of Pedro Almodovar when the word Spanish film comes to mind. Here, Carla Simon is not aiming to be the artist Pedro Almodovar is reputed to be. This film is actually autobiographical of Simon. She herself lost her mother to AIDS in the summer of 1993. Her father died some time before. The summer of 1993 was the first summer she spent with her new family. Basically Simon wanted to send a message with this film: “With the movie, I wanted to express the fact that children can suffer a thing so cruel but they are still able to understand death. That we have to talk to them about death, because a six year-old child can understand. The question/thing/issue is how they manage their feelings. We talk also about children’s ability to adapt, how they can survive and keep going, and the fact that children are more able than adults.”
It wasn’t mentioned whether Frida’s actions in the film mirrored Carla’s actions in real life. However Frida did exhibit a lot of common behavior traits common in children that have lost a parent at their young ages. The film shows how Frida goes from being a child who exhibits behavior relatives don’t know what to make of to soon belonging to a family and even grieving at the end.
Carla Simon directs and co-writes with Valentina Viso a story that’s intriguing, but also very natural and without overdoing the drama. It plays the events out as they come without trying to grab hold of attention. All the better for it. On top of it, the story is shown through the child’s point of view, which makes it that more autobiographical. Young Laia Atrigas does a very good job of playing Frida. She does a no-nonsense job of playing a six-year old girl and doesn’t try to be cutesy. She just does what she needs to do. The adult actors in the film, especially David Verdaguer and Bruna Cusi, also do a very good job in their parts as the concerned but confused foster parents. The film is set very well in its Catalan settings with scenes in both the pueblo and in the Catalan village. The film gives the feel of being in Catalonia. The film also included something noteworthy of the time as we see Frida wearing a T-shirt with Cobi: the mascot of the 1992 Summer Olympics from Barcelona.
A bit of trivia. Summer 1993 is Spain’s entry this year in the Academy Award category for Best Foreign language Film. It is the second film in the Catalan language to be submitted as Spain’s entry in that category. The first ever is Black Bread.
Summer 1993 is a story about a young girl’s change of surroundings and how she responds to it. It’s autobiographical depiction works well as it plays out in a no-nonsense fashion. The better for it.
WORK CITED: Zorita, Kristina. “Interview With Director Carla Simon” European Women’s Audiovisual Network. 6 March 2017<http://www.ewawomen.com/en/events/interview-with-director-carla-simon.html>
I’m lucky to be living in Vancouver. It’s one of the few cities one can be able to see the nominated shorts in a big-screen theatre. Gives me a chance to review them myself and even make a should-win pick for myself. This year is quite an array of nominees in both animation and live-action. So without further ado, here are my thoughts on the nominated shorts:
-Blind Vaysha (Canada/France): dir. Theodore Ushev- This is a unique 2D animation story of a Bulgarian folk-tale. A story of a girl with one eye that can see the past and one eye that can see the future and cannot live in the present. The story also shows the attempts of others to fix Vaysha’s blindness. The linocut-style animation, however, was unique and had a lot of style and flare to it.
The story doesn’t really end. Instead the film ends asking the audience their perspective. It has a unique narrative point and I get why it’s done that way, but I often wonder if the film ended on the right note.
-Borrowed Time (USA): dirs. Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj – At first you’ll think this is a family-friendly story at the beginning but soon learn it’s not such as you move on. It’s a dark Western story of a man returning to the spot of a family tragedy from his childhood. The hurt comes back from it and he decides to do something drastic but something happens.
I have to admire Pixar animators Coats and Hamou-Lhadj for making a brief departure from their traditional family fare and doing something more mature under Quorum Films. No, it’s not R-rated like Pear Cider And Cigarettes but it’s dark enough to be adult. I think this short is most likely to upset my pick for the winner.
-Pear Cider and Cigarettes (Canada): dirs. Robert Valley and Cara Speller- Now this is a refreshing R-rated alternative. It sometimes reminds you of a Grand Theft Auto video game or the film Waltz With Bashir. However it is a personal story from director Valley. It’s a story that makes you wonder how far would you go for a friend? Especially if that friend is selfish, conniving, irresponsible and manipulative?
It’s a story that entertains and charms and even gets you to hate Techno too. Sometimes I wonder why was he friends with that jerk? I don’t know if it’s because it was set in Vancouver or because it was an R-rated alternative but it won me over and I make it my Should Win pick.
-Pearl (USA): dir. Patrick Osborne- This is the first VR short to be nominated for an Academy Award. A musician and his daughter travel in a hatchback with a song as a bond between the two. We see the two age, the daughter mature into a musician of her own and have her own version of the song. The viewer gets a 360 degree view of the whole 5-minute story.
Looks like something Richard Linklater would do. Actually it might remind you of Waking Life. An excellent short that’s entertaining and will touch you too. Might even make you go to iTunes and download No Wrong Way Home.
-Piper (USA): dirs. Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer- This is the short shown before Finding Dory. A baby bird looking for food on the beach with her mother looking on and guiding her. Pixar does it again by delivering a clever, charming, and entertaining short with the dialogue absent and the animation as detailed to a tee as it gets. It’s excellent, but it’s something we’ve come to expect from Pixar even with their shorts. Nevertheless this is my Will Win prediction.
And those are my thoughts for the Animated Shorts up for the Oscar. A lot of styles of animation between Canadian and American companies. All five were very entertaining. We’ll see who wins.
LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILMS
This year there are no films with English as the language of the majority. All five are from European countries. Here’s the rundown:
-Ennemis interieurs (France): dir. Selim Azzazi – A man from Algeria seeks to be a French citizen but the interrogator at immigration has big questions for him about meeting with a group of Algerian men back some years ago which led to him being arrested and imprisoned for two years. The interrogator keeps insisting he answers but he’s very reluctant to do so. Even to the point of neglecting his chances of French Citizenship. Why? What will make the man give his answers?
It’s a story that appears boring at first but grows with intrigue with each minute and with each new detail. The interest builds over time. It even makes you wonder why is he withholding the names of the other men? Feelings of brotherhood? Fear of retaliation from them? Also this may be about an incident in the past but it’s very relevant, especially with the Paris bombings happening in November 2015. This is my Will Win pick.
-La Femme et le TGV (Switzerland): dirs. Timo von Gunten and Giacun Caduff – Elise is a woman who wave her Swiss flag at the passing TGV train to Zurich every time it passes her house at 6 in the morning and 6 in the evening . After that she bicycles to her job at the town patisserie. It’s her daily routine for 30 years; a routine she doesn’t want to change. One day, she comes across a letter that was thrown to her by a man who goes on that daily TGV. He’s a man from France looking for work. The two develop a friendship only by mail and packages. Over time she hopes to meet this man. Then one day the train stops coming. It’s changed route? How will she deal with the change? Will she ever see the man?
It’s a charming comedy that has you engaged with the character (based on a person who has existed and did wave her Swiss flag at passing TGV trains). Gets you thinking about the woman. Is she an eccentric? Is she naive? Lonely? Unpredictable ending but a happy one.
-Silent Nights (Denmark): dirs. Aske Bang and Kim Magnusson – Inger is a young Danish woman who helps at the Salvation Army during the day and looks after her ailing mother at night. Kwame is a Ghanian immigrant who came to Denmark for a better future and to support his wife and children at home. However he’s been left homeless and makes money from recycling.
They both meet as Kwame agrees to help. The two develop a mutual friendship and even progress into something more. However it’s put to the test when Kwame steals money from the charity to pay for his daughter’s malaria treatments. Even though Kwame is banned for life, Inger forgives him and still loves him. Then Inger’s mother dies and she learns about Kwame’s family in Ghana just as she learns she is pregnant. It’s over between the two. However Inger sees Kwame one last time where she gives him advice, and something else.
It’s obvious that this story is about the immigrant situation in Denmark and the difficultly of the times for all. It presents both Inger’s side and Kwame’s side. However it’s more. It’s about a love that’s true. Inger loves Kwame so much, she’s willing to forgive him for all the terrible things he did. It makes the choice she makes for her and her baby look like the right thing. This is my Should Win pick.
-Sing (Hungary) dirs. Kristof Deak and Anna Udvardy – Zsofi is the new girl at a school. She most looks forward to singing in the choir. However on her first rehearsal, the instructor talks of a choir competition where the prize is a performance in Sweden. She also tells Zsofi her voice is not ready for the choir and tells her to lip sync. Along the way, Zsofi finds a friend in star singer Liza. The two become good friends. However Liza notices Zsofi not singing but others. When she brings this up with the instructor, she not only admits it but tries to convince the children it’s the right thing for the competition. All of which leads to a surprise ending and the ending you think is right.
Often I question what the point of this film is. Is it about competitiveness to the point the ‘lesser’ singers are not allowed to sing for the sake of the big prize? Or is it a reminder of Hungary’s past communist regime; of how those that fit in are allowed to and those that don’t aren’t, but make like everything’s okay? Even the choir director could remind you of a communist dictator on retrospect. Whatever the point, the story was entertaining and sweet. Reminds you of the joys of childhood and the right thing paying off in the end.
-Timecode (Spain) dir. Juanjo Gimenez – It starts as a check for a woman on a security job during the day. One day she learns of a broken car light. Upon viewing the video of what happened, she sees the worker before her dancing before hitting the car. She decides to give him a dancing video of her own. Video after video follows. Then on their last day, magic happens.
At first you think the man is something eccentric but this story builds into something that ends on a bizarre note. A very good film.
And there are my thoughts on this year’s nominated shorts. Now remember both categories are the hardest to predict the winner. For example, last year the consensus of critics ranked Stutterer the least likely to win Best Live Action Short and it won. Even Annie wins for Piper and Pear Cider and Cigarettes are not a guarantee that either will win.
With my shorts predictions out of the way, I just have my main predictions for all the categories to deliver. But not before my last Best Picture summary. Coming up tomorrow morning.
One thing about the VIFF is that you will have the opportunity to see shorts films whether it be a short shown before a feature or a segment of shorts assembled together. They pack a lot of entertainment value for something brief in length. The first shorts segment I was lucky to see was Teen Trouble. It consisted of seven different shorts situated in seven different countries all with a teen-related subject and boy were they entertaining:
-I Love Anna (Finland)- 12 year-old Finnish boy Santeri has always had a crush on Anna: the local farm girl. Anna likes Santeri too. One night Anna’s parents are away and she has to look after her little sister. This could be Santeri’s chance to take it to new levels.
The quality of this short is that it takes you into the excitement of the moment as it progresses without any added music score. It adds to the excitement of the moment. Another added quality is it will remind you of when you fell in love for the first time or even of your own sexual curiosities when you were that age.
-Fabrizio’s Initiation (Argentina)- Sexual feelings many years later. Only Fabrizio is now a 15 year-old Argentinian boy who has been in a relationship with Nadia for over a year. Their chances of doing it for the first time are constantly interrupted. However Fabrizio’s friends derive a plan to make it work by conniving the village elder into giving them his car and fixing it up for the moment. Will this finally be it? The film ends with a surprise in more ways than one.
This is a humorous short about the constant pressure of losing your virginity for the right moment and trying to make it right. Hey, it’s not always prom night! It also will remind you of your own teenage love and of all the stuff you tried to do behind your parents’ back.
-The Law Of Moments (UK)- The lessons of Isaac Newton younger sister Mal studies from physics class play into this drama. Mal and Lucy are teen sisters who lost their closeness as older sister Lucy got involved with partying. It’s been of concern to Mal as she sees Lucy and her mother constantly fighting. One night, Mal goes to the farm to see what kind of crowd she’s hanging with. It’s not pleasant at all. Mal goes to help Lucy only for things to end not as it should.
Here we go from comedy to drama. This is a good story that shows the end at the beginning and how it came to be. The addition of Mal’s physics lesson as well as her childhood memory of her and Lucy on the see saw add style to the story line. Very creative.
-Three Minute Warning (UK/Palestine)- This possibly the darkest short of the segment. Palestinian teen girl Miriam has to look after her mother who has a leg problem. It’s a daily thing which includes cooking for her mother and even assisting her to the bathroom and it robs her of the carefree life most teenage girls have. One night a warning bomb– a bomb sent three minutes before the real bomb is to hit its target– hits their apartment. Miriam has to help her mother make the escape while all the others leave them behind. It’s hopeless and it sets up for the heartbreaking ending.
No doubt Palestinian director Iqbal Mohammed has something to say in this short. It was very well-told and will leave you infuriated with the political situation in the Middle East today.
-On The Roof (Spain)- Five Barcelona teen boys love to go to the top of their apartment balcony to spy on sunbathing women during the summer. Bonus points if they’re topless. One day they go to check out a topless sunbather. One boy, Adrian, spots a naked man showering. He also learns something of himself he never knew. One of Adrian’s friends senses his attraction and reacts with hostility. He even senses it on the youngest of the friends and pressures the young boy to take a photo of the bather standing on the top ledge. Adrian stops and volunteers to do it. The end comes with a surprising result but nothing dreadful.
This short focuses on a teen boy’s discovery of his same-sex attraction which catches him by surprise and causes hostility among one of his friends. The short also focuses on teen male machismo which naturally approaches same-sex attraction with hostile discomfort. A reminder of some of the difficulties gay teens go through.
-Winds Of Furnace (Mexico)- A young Mexican teen boy faces a daily responsibility of looking after his grandmother. One day, two of his friends come to his house with a van they stole. The three go out to have fun in their neighborhood. However you know something will go wrong when they take a body found in the van and dispose of it. It’s the case as a van driven by a cartel crosses their paths and shoots one of the friends. This leads to a vicious chase where the boy fires a gun at the cartel. The ending ends with you thinking this is what’s meant to be.
This short didn’t have its subtitles on at the time so it was hard to make sense. However it was a good story of peer pressure taken to the extreme with the potential for dangerous consequences. The heat of the moment left you wondering if he would be killed by the end. I’m sure a lot of boys in Mexico have gone through this temptation. It’s good to see he was possibly the one who didn’t get killed.
-Aeris (Canada)- A young rising teen snowboarder is seen as a possible future great in the sport. However, the 19 year-old suffers a broken leg during competition requiring plates, screws and months of healing. Months later, she goes snowboarding with her friends to see if she still has it and to get her competitive drive back. This proves difficult as she encounters fans on the mountain and even the fear of her broken leg returning if she tries another jump.
This may be the least heavy short of the seven but it does feature a pressure: a personal pressure young rising phenoms in sport know all too well. It makes for a good snowboarding story. It even gets you fearing for her as well as she questions whether to make that big jump.
In summary, all seven shorts were very good and had a lot to say about teen life in the humorous moments, the tense moments and even tragic moments. All definitely gave an image of what it’s like to be young.
Teen Trouble was an impressive selection of shorts. Anyone can be entertained by something in the selection.
Wow! Euro 2016 is not even a week away. Fast notes about the ten stadiums staging the Euro. Six were venues of the 1998 World Cup. The other four are new stadiums that opened anywhere from back this January to four years ago. Glad to see this Euro isn’t that big of an expense. Although five of the ‘older’ stadiums did need upgrades for this event. Anyways here’s my look at the Group D teams:
Turkey (13): Turkey is a team known for its infrequent successes. It has competed in three Euros and two World Cups. It finished third in the 2002 World Cup–its first World Cup since 1954– and hasn’t qualified since. Turkey didn’t qualify for the 2004 Euro but finished in the semis in 2008 and didn’t qualify for 2012. Turkey’s back now. All but six players play for Turkey’s Super Lig, three play for German teams and captain Arda Turan plays for Barcelona. The team has done very well in play the past year and a half including wins against the Netherlands, Czech Republic and Sweden. Their only loss came to England two weeks ago and the score was 2-1. Turkey is one team that shouldn’t be underestimated.
Croatia (23): Croatia has a reputation of being world class ‘minnows’ that will surprise you when you least expect it. However Vatreni has struggled to regain their strong reputation they had back in the late 1990’s. In fact the team’s play has been mostly quiet news. However they still should not be underestimated. They may have lacked a standout moment for the team in recent major tournaments but they’ve continued to exhibit consistent play. They may lack a standout superstar but they function excellently as a team unit. Since World Cup 2014, they’ve regained the consistency they’re known for. They’ve had wins against Russia, Israel, Norway and Bulgaria and have even drawn against Italy. The team has only had two losses in that time: against Argentina and Norway. In this group, their toughest opposition will be Spain as they’ve only won against them once in the last 25 years. In that same time, they’ve never lost to Turkey and the Czechs. Euro 2016 is another time for the team to prove themselves once again.
Spain (6): We’ve talked about England trying to recover from its 2014 World Cup embarrassment. England’s not alone. Spain entered the Cup as the reigning holders only to lose their first two Group games which meant their elimination as Group play concluded. Like England, La Roja didn’t drop their coach: Vicente Del Bosque. Their road to redemption did have a struggle for the remainder of 2014 as they lost three of their six 2014 games after the Cup. Spain did have challenges bringing in new players who aren’t as well seasoned as their veterans still on the team. However Spain were very good in qualifying for the Euro and their only loss in 2015 came to the Netherlands. This past week they scored big wins against Bosnia (3-1) and South Korea (6-1). No doubt they will be coming to France with something to prove.
Czech Republic(29): The Czechs are an enigma in football. Since the divorce of Czechoslovakia in 1992, the team has qualified for every Euro even being finalists in 1996 and semifinalists in 2004. However they’ve only qualified for one World Cup: back in 2006 and they were out in Group Stage. Their play since the 2014 World Cup has also been enigmatic. They’ve lost to the United States, Slovakia, Iceland, Turkey, Poland and Scotland. However they’ve also won against Iceland, the Netherlands, Serbia and Russia. France will be another chance for the team to prove themselves.
Prediction: This is a tough one because both teams have a lot of strengths but they also have a lot of very noticeable weak spots. You could call this a ‘group of death.’ I predict Spain to top it with Croatia second and Turkey third.
And there are my thoughts for Group D. Next up my review of Group E.
Here are my reviews of other groups:
I’ll admit I had no intention of posting a preview blog about the final. I was just content with watching the performers and playing ‘armchair judge’ for my own leisure. Besides I intended for my detailed blog of the ESC to be my only blog about it.
However that all changed last night as I was on Youtube and the ESC channel watching video after video of the night’s semi-final performances. Hey, when the show’s on live at noon your time, that’s your resort. That all changed after I added comment after comment with many of the videos. And that’s what inspired me to do this preview of the final for the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest.
For this preview, I’ve decided to post my opinions about the performances in the semi-finals. I will be judging the performances of both the competitors from the semis as well as those from Sweden and the Big 5 whom I will call ‘automatics’ because they automatically have their berths in the Final and their performances in the semis are simply a dress rehearsal for the Finals.
I felt it best that I place my judgements mostly on their semi-final performances. A lot of people have based their judgements from the song’s official music video released on YouTube months before the Contest. The videos are very telling in terms of how well each song will do however I feel the performances in the semis are more telling as it gives a good sense what their live show will be and even how together they are as a performer. Sure the semi won’t tell it all but it will tell it most. I do feel that the song is the key thing to base a judgement on. No matter how big of a show you put on, the song and its content is unavoidable. However I will consider showmanship as a performer will still have to make the song entertaining and eyecatching. Simply put, I will give top kudos to those performances who deliver best.
I will also start with my first section where I give opinions of the performances that have qualified for the final. I will then give my personal picks for who I would give the biggest point to if I were a jury. Note I will not be making predictions like I normally do. I will be giving my preferences and opinions. I’m not familiar with the music tastes of most European countries nor am I familiar with jury tastes. So here goes:
- Hungary: Freddie ‘Pioneer’ – Very good song with a very dramatic opening. Freddie has very good vocals in singing the song. The song is far from boring. It will catch your ears. A deserving finalist.
- Croatia: Nina Kraljic ‘Lighthouse‘ – Nina came to Stockholm in hopes of breaking Croatia’s bad-luck spell of missing out in the finals since 2009. She did exactly that. As for her performance, you’ll think her outfit at the beginning is ridiculous but that’s part of adding drama or theatrics to the song. I’m cool with that as long as it’s done right. Her performance was very good and deserving of her final berth.
- Netherlands: Douwe Bob ‘Slow Down‘ – This is one of my delights of the night. I’m impressed to see how the Dutch know how to do bluesy rock or rockabilly. The Dutch did it before in 2014 with ‘Calm After The Storm‘ and they do it again here. Best song of the evening that delivers as a great alternative after so many techno numbers. Stage show is minimal but it works for the song instead of against it. I ranked it my 3rd place of this semi.
- Armenia: Iveta Mukuchyan ‘LoveWave‘ – It’s not the best of the night but it’s still good and a deserving finalist. Very good song with good vocals. I felt the stage show was a bit iffy. Otherwise very deserving nonetheless.
- Russia: Sergei Lazarev ‘You Are The Only One‘ – What can I say? For me that was the show of the first semi and my #1 pick for that night. It didn’t have the same song quality the Netherlands had but still an entertaining song with the most entertaining stage show of the evening. Definitely an eye-catcher and it will not surprise me if this song is a top contender for the win on Saturday.
- Czech Republic: Gabriela Guncikova ‘I Stand‘ – Not exactly a song that stands out too much. Nevertheless Gabriela did sing it well and perform it well on stage. what it lacks in catchiness, it makes up for in its consistency and professionalism. A very deserving finalist. Especially since this is the first time in five tries a Czech performer qualifies for the final. Great job!
- Cyprus: Minus One ‘Alter Ego‘ – You’d think with this being Cyprus, it would be ethnopop, right? Actually this is a hard rock song high in energy. I could even feel the energy of the song while watching it. Great song and great performance which was one of my favorites of the night. I feel it should do strong on Saturday.
- Austria: Zoe ‘Loin d’Ici‘ – This was my surprise of the night. I like it when a song goes beyond my expectations. At first you’d think a number too sweet would come off as saccharine to you. However this is one ‘sweet’ song that actually did everything right and even charmed me. Excellent stage show that tried mimicking what was in her video. However if anyone had doubts about her song while watching her video before the Semi, I think her performance in the semi increased her chances of winning. It was better than the video. I consider this my 2nd place of the semi.
- Azerbaijan: Samra ‘Miracle‘ – Once again a case of an Azerbaijani singer performing a song written by Swedes. This is one of only two semifinalists whom I did not have on my list of my ten ‘finals picks.’ The song was good but I’ve seen better performances by Azerbaijani acts in past ESCs. I think 2013’s ‘Hold Me‘ is their best ever. Also the back-up dancers did a real tacky job of dancing. That’s all I can describe about it. Their dancing was tacky. Nevertheless Samra was dressed well and she did sing her song very well despite t not being much of a song. I just feel it didn’t deserve to be in the semis.
- Malta: Ira Losco ‘Walk On Water‘ – Once again a case of a stageshow that was hard to swallow thanks to backup dancing. Ira did her song very well. However the dancer on stage just plain came off as ridiculous and irritating. It actually turned me off the song. This is the other finalist from the first semi that I felt didn’t deserve it.
- Latvia: Justs ‘Heartbeat‘ – The biggest thing about the song is its arresting instrumentation. The stage graphics fit the song very well and Justs delivers the song in style and with the right moves you’d expect from a male pop singer. Justs does it solo without backup singers or backup dancers and does it with style. I ranked it the best performance of this semi because it grabs your attention from the very start and won’t let go.
- Poland: Michal Szpak ‘Color Of Your Life‘ – This is a good ballad delivered very well from Michal. Its style really stands out. Michal delivered it very professionally despite missing a note near the first chorus. The biggest glitch I feel has to be the vintage military jacket he wears on stage. I don’t think it fit the performance that well. Especially since Justs that was on just before him came on stage with a leather jacket. Backup violinists and stage graphics blended well with the performance.
- Israel: Hovi Star ‘Made Of Stars‘ – This is an excellent ballad delivered very well with excellent singing from Hovi. I almost thought he was doing a cover of an Adele song. The stage graphics added excellently to the song. However the two dancers on the spinning hoop had me questioning whether they were worth it or not? Do they add or subtract? Because Hovi delivers well in a no nonsense performance.
- Serbia: Sanja Vucic ZAA ‘Goodbye‘ – It’s both a ‘Balkan Ballad’ and a power ballad. Excellent vocals full of emotion and a set up back-up singers that add to the drama and power. Might bring back memories to some of 2007 winner ‘Molitva’ but it holds its own. The male backup dancer didn’t add but he didn’t subtract from the performance either. If there’s one weakness, it’s her stiff black dress. Overall an excellent package and I rank it second-best of this semifinal.
- Lithuania: Donny Montell ‘I’ve Been Waiting For This Night‘ – A powerful song with a lot of energy and Donny knows how to deliver it vocally. However I didn’t like how he added Michael Jackson-like dance moves to his performance. I feel it did not fit the song at all. Maybe the front flip near the end helped but the dancing didn’t. This is one of two from this semi that qualified for the final that didn’t make my personal Top 10.
- Australia: Dami Im ‘Sound Of Silence‘ – A very powerful ballad delivered excellent by Dani. I also have no problem with the dress since it was meant to fit the song. However I’m not too happy about some of the stage choices she was given such as sitting on that platform until after the second chorus. She does walk around after that and deliver the song well but I don’t think she was given enough movement.
- Bulgaria: Poli Genova ‘If Love Was A Crime‘ – Many people felt Poli was robbed of a finals berth five years ago with ‘Na Inat‘ but she finally gets it here. I’ll admit this is not that much of an attention-grabber of a song. Nor were a few of her dance moves the best. Nevertheless Poli delivered the song well and gave it its energy and made it enjoyable to hear. It’s very good for the most part.
- Ukraine: Jamala ‘1944‘ – This is the first song at the ESC with Crimean Tatar lyrics. This is probably the most political song at this Contest. She has a song with a message and she delivers it with emotion in the song. The wailing at the end of the song is a big plus and especially shows off her vocal abilities. However political songs are touchy grounds at the ESC. They welcome it as long as it’s subtle. I feel this is deserving of its finals berth.
- Georgia: Nika Kocharov and Young Georgian Lolitaz ‘Midnight Gold‘ – The number starts with a lot of potential with some exciting rock instrumentation and fitting stage graphics. However it goes downhill when the singer delivers vocals with notes that don’t seem to fit the song. I don’t know if he did it for creative purposes but his choices don’t really fit at all. Can’t complain about the instrumentation as it’s the best part. However this is the second qualifier to the final from this semi that I felt didn’t deserve it. Actually I ranked it second-to-last of this semi.
- Belgium : Laura Tesoro ‘What’s The Pressure‘ – At last! A song that makes you wanna get down! Laura delivers a funky, feel-good energetic number that delivers all the best qualities of a pop number including vocals, dancing and even trying to get the crowd involved. I ranked this the third-best of this semi.
- France: Amir ‘J’ai Cherche‘ – Good song, has a lot of energy, very good singing, but it comes across as rather boring. I don’t know what it is but when I saw Amir perform, I felt like there was something missing. I don’t know how this will fare on Saturday.
- Spain: Barei ‘Say Yay!‘ – Now this is one number I feel will go far. A very good song that is full of energy and has good potential of being catchy. Also she performs excellently on stage. She dances like she’s in control and delivers the song as she should. I question her dress, especially with the 03 on it. However I feel she will be great on Saturday night.
- Sweden: Frans ‘If I Were Sorry‘ – Sweden has one of the best success records at Eurovision. This number however is very questionable. Frans delivered a boring performance where the background tries to make the song interesting by flashing key words. He does sing the song well but his accent is too thick to comprehend some of the lyrics. I think he might score well in the popular vote because of his teen idol status but I don’t think he’ll score well with the judges.
- Germany: Jamie-Lee ‘Ghost‘ – I have to say a good song and Jamie-Lee is a very good singer. However her outfit was too over the top. I’m cool with a weird outfit done for theatrical purposes such as Nina Kraljic’s outfit during the opening of ‘Spotlight’ but that was too ridiculous like Alice In Wonderland went through a flower garden. The backup singers had on sensible clothes and the trees that shot laser beams worked good but that outfit is dumb and works against her performance. However the outfit will make her win the Barbara Dex award.
- United Kingdom: Joe & Jake ‘You’re Not Alone‘ – I have to say it’s a very good song with a very good performance. The two sing the song very well and add to the young energy of the song. It’s hard to find something to dislike about this number, especially since it’s very low in gimmicks. I think the one cheesy thing was probably the jumping near the end. One thing we have to keep in mind is that ‘no nonsense’ performances like these are great but they face the obstacle of winning attention from both televoters and the juries. Nevertheless I do wish the best for both of them. Especially since the UK used to have quite a Eurovision legacy and the 21st century has been very unkind to them with only two Top 10 finishes.
- Italy: Francesca Michielin ‘No Degree Of Separation‘ – Italy rarely disappoints. They’ve mostly delivered some top notch performances to the Contest over the years, even in the last few years. And this year’s entry is a delight too. 21 year-old Francesca Michielin is already a seasoned pro. You’ll notice it as she sings the song consistently and with feeling. Adding the feeling to the song is a big plus. A big minus to the song however is all those stage props and stage graphics. I don’t know if they were trying to reflect a theme or emulate the music video but I feel it went too far and they were distracting from the song. This could work against her performance which holds its own without all the added stuff.
So those are my thoughts for the qualifiers. As for the ‘also-rans’:
Semi-Final 1: I know I said Malta and Azerbaijan didn’t deserve to be in the final. In their place should be Iceland and Moldova. They did their performance better. Finland’s Sandhja was good but came off as flat. That’s not good especially when you’re first up. Greece must have forgotten the golden rule of rap acts at Eurovision: rap acts go nowhere, even if it’s mixed with ethnopop. It’s a shame because I usually like the Greek numbers. San Marino’s Serhat had a style but I didn’t see it as enough to qualify for the final. Estonia came off as ridiculous in his stage antics and his voice. Montenegro’s number sounded like a mashed-up song and Bosnia’s on-stage theatrics made me wonder if it was really necessary for the song.
Semi-Final 2: If I were to trade Georgia and Lithuania from the finals, I’d put in Ireland and Macedonia. Ireland was full of energy and delivered well. Macedonia was also excellent, especially in her vocal range. Switzerland had a good song but it all fell apart with all the on-stage props and moves she was given. Belarus had potential but I thought the face stripes were dumb. Slovenia was good but the singer delivered awkward stage poses that worked against her. The Danish vocal trio came across as rather boring. Norway delivered a song that alternate from one tempo and mood of the verses to a different tempo and completely different mood in the chorus. It didn’t really mix well. And Albania had good potential but I feel her chances were marred by lousy backup singers.
Overall I have to say this is a mostly good set of performers for this Contest. There is a bit of the eccentric in some elements but it’s nothing compared to the ‘freak shows’ of five years ago or even ten years ago. I think the freakiest moments will come from Germany and Italy. I guess the country’s are now getting the message that doing something super-eccentric or super-gimmicky doesn’t pay. I didn’t notice too many off-key moments and those that did recovered well.
Like I said, I don’t know enough about European music tastes to make predictions. So instead I’m giving my personal Top 10. Eurovision style, of course:
- Poland, 1 point.
- Australia, 2 points.
- Spain, 3 points.
- Cyprus, 4 points.
- Netherlands, 5 points.
- Belgium, 6 points.
- Serbia, 7 points.
- Austria, 8 points.
- Latvia, 10 points.
- And my personal 12 points goes to…Russia!
So there’s my summary of the 2016 Eurovision finalists and their semifinal performances. I’m glad I don’t have to be a jury member because it’s a headache ranking them. Mind you anything can change on Saturday. They may go off key or something may malfunction or the energy that was there in the semi may not be there in the final. Even things like performance order can play a factor. How ironic how Belgium who ended the second semifinal will open the final? Ending the final will be Armenia. Whatever the situation, I wish all the performers the best and the winning performer’s country to get ready to host next year!
I’m sure that when some of you hear me talk about a controversy about this World Cup, it’s about the recent bombshell about the arrests of FIFA members. It’s not. I’m going to save that for another blog just like I’m saving the topic of women’s football for a separate blog. In this blog, here’s my review of Group E with another stadium focus and another issue focus:
-Spain (14): This will be Spain’s first Women’s World Cup. Spain’s women are relatively inexperienced to major competition. They’ve never played in an Olympics before either. Nevertheless ‘La Roja’ do have some accolades like a third-place finish at the 1997 Women’s Euro and a quarterfinals finish at the last one in 2013. They’ve also had an impressive play record in the past two years with only a single loss to Norway in 2013 and wins against Italy, the Czech Republic and Belgium. Spain may just be a future power in women’s football.
-Brazil (7): When women’s football started making a name for itself in the 1990’s, it was North America and Asia that were the leaders. Countries from South America and most European countries still thought of football as strictly a man’s game and had lackluster women’s teams to show for it. Since then the continents have been taking women’s football more seriously. If there’s one country that has shown the most progress, it’s Brazil.
The Brazilian men without a doubt have the biggest legacy of any football country. The Brazilian women have really made strides to become one of the best in the world these last 15 years. They were finalists at the 2007 World Cup and achieved 3rd place in 1999. They also have two Olympic silver medals and have won the Copa America Feminina all but once. They even produced a player that can be called ‘The Female Pele,’ Marta, with five FIFA Women’s World Player Of The Year awards.
Even though Brazil has become one of the best in the last couple of decades, they still have some noticeable ‘weak spots.’ For starters, they’ve never won against England or France. Secondly, they lost to Germany twice this year. Nevertheless Brazil has been impressive these past twelve months. They’ve ties the U.S. and they’ve had wins against China, Sweden and Switzerland. Canada will be both another proving point for Brazil and a learning experience for Rio 2016.
-Costa Rica (37): Another of the two debut teams of this Group E. True, Costa Rica have never played in a world Cup or an Olympics before but they are a team whose cred is growing slowly but surely. They’ve been impressive during the CONCACAF Women’s Gold Cup with three semi-final finishes and were finalists at the last one in 2014.Despite their lack of experience on the world stage, they do have a promising team with four players playing for either American professional teams or American colleges.
I know I’ve talked a lot about countries here to learn. We shouldn’t forget women’s football is still growing, especially in continents where play has been denied a lot in the past. We should keep in mind Costa Rica is the first Central American country to qualify for the Women’s World Cup. Like the other ‘learning’ teams, Costa Rica really has nothing to lose and everything to gain.
-South Korea (18): South Korea’s men are the tops of Asian countries in football. South Korea’s women have long been relegated to second-fiddle to China and Japan but they’re seeking to improve over the years. They’ve never qualified for an Olympics and they’ve made only one previous World Cup appearance back in 2003. However they have some accolades of their own like four semi-final finishes at the AFC Asian Cup and bronze medals at the last two Asian Games.
Their play has been 50/50 this year as they beat Russia and tied Belgium but lost to Canada and Scotland. 2015 should help boost the team for a brighter future.
MY PREDICTION: I predict Brazil to win Group E with South Korea coming in second. Third-place was a tough prediction. I predict Spain, based on their experience. Mind you anything can happen.
Year Opened: 1978
World Cup Capacity: 56,302
World Cup Groups Hosting: A,C,D
Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16, Quarterfinal, Semifinal, Third-Place
The Stadium was opened in 1978 in time for the Commonwealth Games Edmonton hosted. Since then it has served as the venue for the Edmonton Eskimos football team and occasionally the FC Edmonton soccer team. The Stadium is the biggest of the six hosting matches for the FIFA World Cup which explains why Canada’s first two Group Stage matches will be held here. The stadium has undergone two renovations: the first in 2001 in time for the World Athletic Championships which included a new scoreboard, an enlarged concourse and a new track. The second in 2008 which experienced a reconfiguration and a turf replacement. Outside of their main sports teams, the stadium has hosted many concerts and has also hosted many soccer friendlies for both Canada’s men’s and women’s teams.
THE TURF ISSUE
The World Cup may be building in excitement but hard to believe a year ago there was a controversy brewing with threats of boycotts. The reason was because all six stadiums will be using some form of artificial turf. why does it matter? Many believe artificial turf makes players more prone to injuries. 50 players protested the use of turf on the basis of gender discrimination. Seems odd to me to think that getting them to play on turf is a form of discrimination. Keep in mind it’s FIFA regulation that the men’s World Cup matches all be contested on grass.
There was even a lawsuit claiming FIFA would never have the men play on ‘unsafe’ artificial turf and is a violation of the Canadian Human Rights Charter. The suit filed in October 2014 in Ontario even pointed how FIFA demanded stadiums in the United States to replace the artificial turf with grass even if it meant extra millions in expenses. The lawsuit had supporters like Tom Hanks, Kobe Bryant and U.S. men’s team goalkeeper Tim Howard. FIFA’s head of women’s competitions Tatjana Haenni made it firm: “We play on artificial turf and there’s no Plan B.” The lawsuit was eventually dropped in January of this year. All the stadiums have kept the turfs they had.
Despite its firm stance, FIFA has not hesitated to discuss the issue. In fact FIFA.com did an interview with Professor Eric Harrison. Harrison, who was assigned by FIFA to inspect the pitches of the six stadiums between September 29th to October 8th of last year, was given a Q&A about his findings, the various football turfs and even injury rick. He gave his answers on why Canadians stadiums have artificial turf (Canada’s extreme weather conditions), the various turfs classified by FIFA and if there’s any difference int he frequency of injury (Harrison claims there’s no real difference). For the complete interview, click here.
And there you go. My focus on Group E and bonuses. That only means one last group to review. Coming Sunday.
FIFA.com Staff. “Harrison: Football Turf is Integral to Canada 2015” FIFA.com. 23 October 2014<http://www.fifa.com/womensworldcup/news/y=2014/m=10/news=harrison-football-turf-is-integral-to-canada-2015-2461003.html>
WIKIPEDIA: 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Wikipedia.com. 2015. Wikimedia Foundation Inc.<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_FIFA_Women%27s_World_Cup>
It was something nobody saw coming. Spain entered this World Cup as the reigning champions. Ever since their win of the Cup, they’ve had an impressive record with winning Euro 2012, Runners-up to Brazil at the 2013 Confederations Cup, and an impressive streak of 39 wins, eight draws and six losses in the games they’ve played since World Cup 2010.
However something went wrong in their game against the Netherlands on June 13th. At first, it looked like Spain would command an early lead with a penalty goal scored by Xabi Alonzo in the 27th minute. Then things turned for the worse as the Netherlands, whom Spain played against in the 2010 World Cup final, came back first with a goal from Robin van Persie in the 44th minute, followed by four more goals from the Netherlands including a second from van Persie and two from Arjen Robben. The score 5-1 was Spain’s biggest loss in a World Cup game since 1950.
Coach Vicente Del Bosque reassured fans that Spain will be ready in their next two games. Spain’s next opponent was Chile in the Maracana Stadium. Chile already had beaten Australia 3-1 in their World Cup opener. You’d expect Spain to be hungry for a win after their big loss to the Netherlands. However things went completely unexpected for Spain. Chile’s Eduardo Vargas drew first blood by scoring in the 20th minute. Then just before the first half was about to end, Charles Aranguiz gave Chile another goal to give them a 2-0. There was no more scoring in the second half. As the final whistle blew, Chile not only won the match against Spain but found themselves advancing to the Round of 16 through acquiring their second win. Just hours earlier the Netherlands won their match against Australia 3-2. With that being their second win, the Netherlands were guaranteed a spot in the Round of 16 too. Spain found itself with two losses and with only one game left in the Group Stage, all chances of qualifying for the Round of 16 had fallen out of their hands.
Spain’s situation is actually not that uncommon for a defending World Cup champion. Of the nineteen defending champions in the history of the World Cup, only two have successfully defended their title: Italy in 1938 and Brazil in 1962. An addition two were successful enough to make it to the finals. If you want the full details of how defending World Cup champions have fared, here’s the chart:
As you may have noticed in the chart, five defending champions in the history of the World Cup have failed to advance past the opening Group Stage, with Spain being the latest. The craziest thing about this is that Spain’s incident is actually the third time in the past four World Cups that the defending champion would face the end of the road in the Group Stage.
Seeing a defending champion of a major sports event falter is very common in sport. I’ve seen it happen many times before in terms of the professional sports scale and even in the Olympic arena. The World Cup is no stranger to that, obviously. I myself witnessed the struggle of the defending World Cup holder first in 1990 when Argentina lost to Cameroon 1-0. Cameroon finished on top in their group while Argentina finished third and was able to qualify to the Round of 16 because the World Cup consisted of 24 countries and third-placers were eligible for wild card berths. Argentina then came alive after that and went on to qualify for the finals. The second time I noticed was back in 1994 when Germany was the defending Cup holder. For the record, Germany is the team I cheer for at the World Cup. They too had an excellent record of consistency. Then it was their quarterfinal against Bulgaria. they scored first but Bulgaria came back to win 2-1. Bulgaria went on the semifinals while Germany packed sooner than expected.
I’ve watched many more World Cup since and I’ve payed close attention to how the defending champion would do. It’s interested that of the eighteen times the defending champion competed at the World Cup, only twice were they successful to repeat. Even now seeing how Spain is the fifth defending Cup holder ever and the third in the past four Cups to be eliminated in the Group Stage makes me wonder if there’ starting to be a curse with the defending Cup holder. I mean it’s no question the defending Cup holder would face the pressure to win. You have the World spotlight and the adoration of a nation behind you. Not to mention your #12 ranking on FIFA’s chart at stake too. It’s easy to see in situations like those in which the reigning champions would falter. Sometimes it could be overconfidence. The team might think they’re #1 and sometimes forget to play well and pay for it in the end. Or it could be that the team was not all there mentally. That could happen. Even though Del Bosque has been coach of Spain since 2008 and hugely responsible for its success, it is possible for even the best teams to falter.
Whatever the situation, Spain will return back home after they play Australia in what will be their last Group Stage game. They may play badly or they may play spectacularly as if they have one last thing to prove. Whatever the situation, Spain will have to regroup and train again as a national team from scratch. It’s highly likely Del Bosque will be dropped as head coach. Who will replace him is a big question right now. Spain’s first chance to prove itself after the World Cup will be September 4th in a friendly match against France whom themselves choked in 2002 as defending Cup holders.
Winning the World Cup may be everything for the football players in Brazil. However for those that win on July 13th, it could be a bad omen for the next World Cup. I don’t want to get superstitious but it is tempting right now.
UPDATE: For my 2018 update, click here.
The funny thing about the World Cup group draws is its unpredictability. They try to make things easier by designating seeded teams from all the others to give better parity only to end up with a crazy combination. Group B has a combination crazy enough to have the very first match a rematch of the exact World Cup final from 2010! Also just as surprising is that Group B has four teams that are very talented but it’s not enough to call it the ‘Group Of Death.’ I think there was more than one ‘Group Of Death’ for this World Cup. It’s a wonder why Group B didn’t get that label.
Despite these oddities, Group B is loaded with talented teams and should make some exciting play. Here’s my rundown of the Group B teams:
-Spain (1)- Now seems to be ‘The Reign of Spain.’ Spain has always been known to be full of football talent but the team hardly ever came together at World Cup tournaments of the past, often performing below people’s expectations. This would cause Spain to be known as ‘football’s greatest underachievers’ for a long period of time. This all changed when Vicente del Bosque was appointed coach of Spain’s national team in 2008. Since then, Spain’s magic came about. It all started with winning Euro 2008, then surprising everybody including their compatriots with a win of the 2010 World Cup. Spain’s long-awaited legacy continued with a win at Euro 2012 and becoming the first team ever to successfully defend their European Championship. Spain’s success continued as they played without a loss until the finals of the Confederations Cup where they lost to Brazil 3-0. Spain continues to be brilliant only losing one game since, 1-0 to South Africa. Spain just recently beat Italy 1-0 in a friendly. They appear poised to repeat in Brazil. It’s the next month that will define things.
-Netherlands (15)- While Spain is no longer ‘football’s greatest underachievers,’ the Netherlands have the misfortune of being seen as the greatest team in the world to never have won a World Cup. Three times a finalist, never a winner. Oranje is waiting for that day to prove themselves the best in the world. However it will come a t a challenge. Back during Euro 2012, the Netherlands performed one of the biggest chokes in their history by losing all three of their Group Stage matches. 2013 was a year they really wanted to make up for things and they did well by not losing a game. However failing to win all four of their friendlies since World Cup qualifying including a 2-0 loss to France shows that they might not be ready for this World Cup. This is unfortunate for head coach Louis van Gaal as he would like to leave team Netherlands on a positive note. Nevertheless it could be that Oranje is just ‘playing possum’ and may come alive in Brazil.
-Chile (13)- Chile is another team full of talent that has yet to prove itself in a big way. The team that is affectionately called ‘La Roja’ by its compatriots and supporters have only gone as far as 3rd at the World Cup, and that was back in 1962 when they hosted it. In recent years, Chile has been better at its consistency. They’ve qualified for the 1998 and 2010 World Cups and finished in the Round of 16, the only other two times they’ve made it past the Group Stage. Chile has had a great play record since 2013 in both friendlies and World Cup qualifiers. They’ve shown they can challenge some the best teams in the world, if not defeat them. They beat Uruguay 2-0 in a World Cup qualifier last March, tied Spain 2-2 in a September friendly and even beat England 2-0 in a friendly in November. However they have lost to Brazil 2-1 back in November and lost to Germany 1-0 this March. Most people are predicting Spain and Netherlands to be the two advancers from Group B. There could be a Chilean surprise.
-Australia (59)- The Socceroos were the surprise of the 2006 World Cup. Their 2006 advance to the Round of 16 led them to be transferred from Oceania’s continental federation to Asia’s. However their prowess has taken a bit of a dip. They didn’t advance past the Group stage in 2010 and have struggled in play for the Asian Cup. The 2013 and 2014 play seasons have been unimpressive including 6-0 losses in friendlies against both Brazil and France. In 2014, they’ve had a 4-3 loss to Ecuador and a 1-1 draw to South Africa. 2014 could be a further learning experience for Australia.
So now my prediction for the two advancers from Group B: Spain will definitely advance but it will be tight between Netherlands and Chile in which I feel Chile will be the one moving on.
More stadiums in focus. Like the stadiums focused in my Group A review, these two will also host four matches, all in the Group Stage. And both with host a Group Stage match for Group B. I also want to remind you that in my Stadium Spotlight, I won’t completely compliment the stadiums. In fact I will make aware of some of the glitches, especially since glitches in the construction and/or upgrades of stadiums have made big news leading up to the World Cup. And these two have been two of the ‘bad news bears.’ So without further ado:
Year Opened: 2014
World Cup Capacity: 42,968
World Cup Groups Hosting: B, C, F, H
There’s been a lot of concern of the readiness of many of the stadia set to stage the World Cup. Cuiaba is one stadium that’s been causing some of the headaches. One of the headaches happened back in October when a fire caused structural damage, which has since been repaired. In fact Cuiaba needed a second World Cup warm-up match on April 28th to prove its readiness. FIFA was pleased this time around. Nevertheless it didn’t guarantee the stadium was 100% ready. Work returned to the stadium shortly after and on May 9th, a worker was killed when he was electrocuted while working on the installation of a telecommunications network. Work was halted temporarily after his death.
Ready or not, Arena Pantanal will be the stage for four Group Stage games. After the World Cup, the Arena is to be reduced in capacity and to be the home venue for both Cuiaba and Mixto Esporte Club.
Year Opened: 1999
World Cup Capacity: 41,456
World Cup Groups Hosting: B, E, F, H
Not all World Cup stadium problems are about the new stadiums. Existing stadiums have had their own problems too in terms of renovations or upgrades. Curitiba’s Arena da Baixaba is one stadium that had its issues. The stadium had plans for upgrades like extra seats and a retractable roof. The stadium suffered a setback in October 2013 as work was suspended on the orders of a Brazilian labor tribunal due to numerous and serious safety breaches. An extra headache came in January 22 of this year when FIFA’s General Secretary visited the Arena and said Curitiba could be dropped if significant improvements in the renovations didn’t take place within a month. FIFA decided to keep Curitiba the following month. Recently there was some good news about the Arena. Valcke visited the Arena again on May 22nd and this time he praised it for being a ‘top-class’ venue.
The venue is expected to have its seating reduced once again to its usual 30,000 and return to being the host venue for Atletico Paranaense.
So there you have it. Another Group Stage group summary and two more stadiums in the spotlight. More World Cup reviews coming.
So 2014 has the World Cup and 2012 had the Euro. I guess that means 2013 will be devoid of big-time international soccer excitement, right? Wrong! 2013 is the year of the Confederations Cup, an eight-team competition held in Brazil. It’s good and important for a lot of reasons.
A TOURNAMENT GROWS IN SIGNIFICANCE:
The Confederations Cup is more of an intercontinental competition than international. Six of the eight teams that are competing here have earned their berth by winning their respective continent’s confederation championship. The only exceptions being the World Cup winner and the host country. That’s how the Confederations Cup is contested.
The idea of having a soccer competition of the best of the continents was an idea that evolved over 21 years. Actually the first attempt at such a competition came not with the participation of FIFA. It came through the royal family of Saudi Arabia through a competition called the King Fahd Cup. The first King Fahd Cup was contested in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia over five days in October 1992 and consisted of Saudi Arabia, which was the Asian Cup holder at the time, CONCACAF Gold Cup winner USA, African Cup Of Nations holder Ivory Coast and South America’s Cop America holder Argentina who won the Cup. The King Fahd cup was contested once more in 1995 and expanded to six teams: five continental cup winners and host Saudi Arabia.
By 1997, FIFA became involved and the King Fahd Cup had been renamed the Confederations Cup. This is the turning point with the Cup being contested the year before the World Cup and with the competition consisting of the eight teams through the qualifying format that still exists today. There were however two exceptions as two second-place teams from their continent’s championships competed: Czech Republic because Euro winners Germany declined to participate and United Arab Emirates because the hosting Saudis had already qualified as hosts. This would also be a new standard for the Cup that if one of the continental cup holders already earned their berth as either host nation or World Cup holder, the runner-up team would be given the continent’s berth.
After the 1997 tournament, the Confederations Cup would be contested bi-annually and in a different country every year. The 2001 tournament featured a unique twist as the host countries were Japan and South Korea, the host of the following year’s World Cup. That would be the norm from now on in which the Cup held the year before the World Cup would be hosted by the World Cup host nation(s). Six of the stadiums that were to be for the World Cup the following year were the sites for the Confederations Cup.
The Confederations Cup would continue being a bi-annual competition. Germany, the host nation of the 2006 world Cup, would continue the tradition by hosting the 2005 Confederations Cup with five of the venues for the following year’s World Cup used for this event. Since 2005 in Germany, the Confederations Cup has become a quadrennial event and seen as a warm-up event for the following year’s World Cup. South Africa used it to prepare for their hosting of the World Cup and you can be sure Brazil will do the same here. Six venues that will participate in next year’s World Cup including the legendary Maracana stadium will stage this competition. You could say the Confederations Cup has really grown a lot in the last decade.
WITH THE WORLD CUP A YEAR AWAY…:
You can be sure with the Cup being contested, the media will be paying close attention to how prepared Brazil is for this event and how ready they will appear to look with the World Cup just a year away. Already the media has paid high attention to Brazil’s troubled preparations for the World Cup. FIFA and even local critics have complained of construction delays and cost overruns. Few infrastructure projects were completed and even the 3G network couldn’t work properly. Even the official musical instrument of the World Cup was a failure as fans of losing teams would throw it on the field. Only two of the six stadiums participating in the Confederations Cup were completed by December and two cities were almost axed from hosting. In fact delays have caused FIFA to make an exception in their pre-World Cup demand that the host country hold three major competitions.
It’s not to say it’s all bad. Tickets for the World Cup and the Confederations Cup were a success. Also a record number of volunteers for both the Confederations Cup and World Cup signed up. Even exports from Brazil look optimistic as Brazil anticipates to export $1 billion from this Cup. Brazil has openly vowed it will be ready for the World Cup and even FIFA believes they’re confident Brazil will be ready. There’s only one year to go.
TEAM BY TEAM ANALYSIS:
Now enough talk about hosting the tournament. Let’s move onto the teams and see how well they stack up for this. All but two teams are winners of their respective country’s continental championship. The two exceptions are Brazil who qualifies as hosts and Italy which was runner-up at Euro but qualified since the winner Spain already qualified as World Cup winner. Here’s how they pare up group by group with their current FIFA ranking in brackets:
-Brazil (22)- You’d think a country like Brazil with a legacy and depth of talent would enter the competition as the favorites but it’s actually not the case. Brazil first surprised everybody at the 2010 World Cup with a quarterfinal loss to the Netherlands. They surprised soccer fans even more by being ousted in the quarterfinals of the 2011 Copa America. Brazil just wasn’t Brazil. Lately Brazil has been making some changes like bringing back coach Luis Felipe Scolari who helped coach Brazil to the 2002 World Cup. Their play has gotten better in a slowly but surely pace. They may have tied Italy 3-3 three months ago but just last week they won a friendly against France who has been traditionally considered Brazil’s ‘Achilles Heel.’ The Confederations Cup could be a turning point for Brazil and send a message how much their team has improved and how far they would have to go to win the World Cup. I’m sure the world will be watching.
-Italy (8)- If you remember last year’s Euro, you’d remember it for Italy’s comeback as much as for Spain’s win. Italy was a team that was direly in need of improving after the 2010 World Cup and their qualification for the finals shows how far they came. Their play in World Cup qualifying matches have also been excellent. However they’re not immune to choking as noticed in a 2-2 friendly against Haiti. Nevertheless this tournament can also send a strong message to Italy how their team looks en route to the World Cup.
-Mexico (17)- Mexico has always been considered the ‘sleeping giant’ of soccer. The team has always been loaded with talent and skill but they have yet to prove themselves in a big way at a major tournament. They may be the current CONCACAF Gold Cup holders but even now with World Cup qualifying for the CONCACAF they still find themselves third in the standings with the USA leading. This group being the ‘group of death’ in the Cup could also pose a challenge. Nevertheless Mexico could pull one of the big upsets of the tournament. We also shouldn’t forget Mexico won the gold medal in London. It’s a given in any tournament to never count Mexico out.
-Japan (32)- If there’s one continent that has grown the most in terms of soccer play in the last two decades, it has to be Asia. And Japan has to be one of its strongest examples of accelerated success. Nevertheless Japan finds itself in a tight situation here in the Cup against three teams known for their legacies and their consistency of play. But don’t count Japan out. They’re the first team to earn a World Cup 2014 berth on play by already leading their AFC qualifying group by a huge margin. Plus they’ve won three of their six matches in 2013. So if any team can most give the biggest surprise at the Cup, it’s Japan.
-Spain (1)- How about that? Spain has gone in five years from being ‘soccer’s greatest underachievers’ into the top team in the world. Two straight Euros and a World Cup. They sure have come out of their shell and they come to the Cup as the favorites to win. Heck they haven’t had a single loss not just in 2013 but 2012 too. They look to have an easy Group Stage play but play in the semis and possible finals could make things more challenging for Spain. Just because a team is #1 and undefeated for two years doesn’t mean their infallible. We shouldn’t forget they lost to the USA in the semis at 2009’s Confederations Cup. Here could be yet another achievement in Spain’s recent legacy or a sudden reminder of their own weaknesses. Only the next two weeks will tell.
-Uruguay (19)- Uruguay has to be the comeback story right now. It seemed as though Uruguay’s soccer legacy was a thing of the past. Their prowess from the 30’s to the 50’s captured the imagination of the world. However it was their fourth place finish at the 1970 World Cup that appeared to mark the end of Uruguay’s greatness. However recent years has seen Uruguay make a comeback with a fourth-place finish at the 2010 World Cup and the win of the 2011 Copa America. But before you can shout out that Uruguay was back in a big way, it hasn’t been completely easy. They currently stand fifth in the standings of World Cup qualifying play for the CONMEBOL. Nevertheless while their play against South American teams have been a bit of a struggle, their play against other international teams have been quite impressive. This tournament can also send a message to the Uruguayan team in terms of what they need to do to qualify for the World Cup.
-Nigeria (31)- Nigeria has always been one of the top African teams. They look impressive in world Cup qualifying right now. The big question is their international play. Not much is known and past international and World Cup play has not given to impressive results. One result that did send a strong message was a 2-2 tie against Mexico two weeks ago. Nigeria could prove to be a stronger team here than most experts think.
-Tahiti (138)- Usually the OFC Nations Cup goes to either Australia or New Zealand. Last year it went to little Tahiti! Tahiti has become the least populous nation ever to win a continental championship. Here at the Cup, Tahiti’s biggest victory is just simply qualifying. Not much is expected since all the other teams have stronger depth in talent and international experience. In fact Tahiti is the only team at the Cup that doesn’t have a chance in even qualifying for the World Cup as the Oceania contestant for a berth against a CONCACAF team is New Zealand. Nevertheless the Cup can be a valuable learning experience for Tahiti. They’ve had hardly any international experience outside of Oceania. Now’s their chance to experience play against some of the best teams in the World. Despite their meager chances of qualifying for further play, Tahiti is probably the only team at the Cup with nothing really to lose and everything else to gain.
So there’s my rundown of the eight teams for the Confederations Cup. I’m not going to hazard predictions until the Group play is done and the semifinal berths have been decided. In the meantime stay tuned to see who will win the 2013 Confederations Cup. And stay tuned to see how ready Brazil appears to be for hosting next year’s World Cup. Both should be interesting to see.