It’s Canadian tradition during the last Sunday of November. It’s Grey Cup Sunday. This will mark the 105th contesting of this momentous event. Once again, the final is East vs. West. Interestingly it’s like a rematch of the 2012 Grey Cup. It will be the Calgary Stampeders vs. the Toronto Argonauts.
First Time For TD Place; Seventh Time For Lansdowne Field
This will be the first time the TD Place Stadium, which was completed in 2014, will host the Grey Cup. This will be the seventh time for the field. It hosted five times before as Lansdowne Park between 1925 and 1988. It hosted once as Frank Clair Stadium in 2004. The older stadium was able to field more spectators in the past. TD Place normally has a capacity of 24,000 but it will expand to 36,000 for the Grey Cup. Shaw Cable is the main sponsor for the event. Freedom Mobile will be sponsoring the halftime show which Shania Twain is slated to perform.
And Now The Game
For the second straight year, the Calgary Stampeders will represent the West while Toronto will represent the East. It’s easy to predict the Stampeders to win, but don’t forget they were the heavy favorites last year. The Argonauts could pull the same upset the RedBlacks pulled last year.
WEST: CALGARY STAMPEDERS
Last year, the Stampeders led the CFL in game stats and entered the Grey Cup as the clear favorites, only to be surprised by the Ottawa RedBlacks in overtime. That’s considered by many to be the biggest upset in Grey Cup history.
This year, they find themselves in the same position: the best team in the regular season and the favorites to win.
Despite leading the regular season, they did show some weakness in the team such as losing the last three season games. Some say they simply gave it away since they knew they’d be tops anyways. Even their 32-28 win in their West Final against the Edmonton Eskimos would be in question as they had a convincing lead at the start of the final quarter only to give nine points away.
Calgary has their strengths and their weaknesses. Their strengths were the most present throughout the season. On top of that, they won both their games against the Toronto Argonauts. I know there are no guarantees in sport, but it’s hard to see Calgary losing the Cup this time around.
EAST: TORONTO ARGONAUTS
Calgary had the best performance this CFL season. Toronto’s, on the other hand, was nine wins and nine losses. Actually all but one team from the West had better win-loss stats than Toronto. It’s hard to believe Toronto came out on top of the East. That just goes to show how far ahead most of the West was this season.
Many people predicted that the Grey Cup would be an all-West game, but Toronto prevented this from happening by beating the Saskatchewan RoughRiders 25-21 in the East Final. Admit it. We all want the Grey Cup to be an East vs. West affair.
Even Toronto’s win in the East Final showed they do have some issues as they almost gave it away thanks to some strong last-quarter play from Saskatchewan. It took a last-minute touchdown from Cody Fajardo to save the Argos. If they look to win against the Stampeders, they can’t give anything away and play like they’ve never played before this year.
I feel that Calgary will win the Cup 40-15. They’ve been the best team this season. Plus I feel after the shock and humiliation of losing to the RedBlacks last year, I think they will want this more than ever. Plus I feel winning on the RedBlack’s home field will make this extra-sweet.
And there you go. That’s my preview of the 105th Grey Cup. Kickoff is 6pm Ottawa-time Sunday. May the best team win!
Okay, it’s getting closer to crown the winner. First the group play, then the Round of 16 and then the quarterfinals. Now we have four survivors. Three of which have already won the Women’s World Cup at least once. The other having their best WWC ever. It’s time to hold the semifinals to decide the two finalists and the two for the third-place match. Here are my thoughts on who should take the semis:
SEMIFINAL #1 – GERMANY vs. USA
I really doubt FIFA.com has all the stats together on this. For the record, FIFA.com states Germany and the U.S. have met only three times before with the US winning twice. The US has scored a total of 8 goals in those matches with Germany scoring 7. Another website has stats from 11 years back and shows Germany has actually lost to the US three times in the seven times they’ve played each other in that time. The US’ only loss was on penalties. The US’s last actual loss to Germany was 3-0 at the 2003 World Cup semifinals.
The quarterfinal of Germany vs. France was something. Two teams raked both first and third in the world respectably playing a quarterfinal where it took penalty kicks to decide it. Now comes the semifinal and it’s also going to be something. The teams ranked both first and second in the world playing for a trip to the final. Adding to the drama is that both teams are the only ones to win two Women’s World Cups. So how do they stack?
In terms of play, Germany has been the stellar one in terms of scoring but it took France in the quarterfinals to send the message about Germany’s vulnerability. They may be #1 but they’re not invincible. The United States have been consistent en route to keeping their solid record of making the Top 4 of every WWC intact. They haven’t been scoring as big as Germany but they’re not making any losses happen and have only conceded a single goal. However playing to a 1-0 win against China in their quarterfinal may question their ability to challenge Germany in the semis.
This is a toughie. It’s even possible this game could end up being a 0-0 draw after extra time in which Germany would win on penalty kicks. I believe it could be as tight as Germany’s match against France on Friday. However I predict Germany will win 1-0 in extra time. Sure the Americans have the better history against them but Germany is the team that’s been playing with power.
SEMIFINAL #1 – JAPAN vs. ENGLAND
Once again FIFA.com doesn’t provide too many reliable stats. They just mention Japan and England playing head-to-head twice with a 2-2 draw (2007 World Cup) and a 2-0 win for England (2011 World Cup). Actually another website helped me track down a game the two played in 2013 where they drew 1-1.
The Nadeshiko, as the Japanese women are commonly called, are defending champions and they are playing like the champions they’re reputed to be. They’ve had nothing but straight wins. Even if they are conservative in size, they’re showing themselves to be a team strong, ready and full of talent from Homare Sawa, their most capped player on the team, to 22 year-old Mana Iwabuchi who scored the winning goal against Australia. However the play here in Canada has showed that teams are capable of rivaling them. Australia gave an excellent challenge as did ‘lesser’ teams like Cameroon and the Netherlands. I know they haven’t really shown any vulnerability here in Canada but they will have to deliver more against England if they want to make it to the finals.
As a Canadian, I’m not too happy about England beating us in the quarterfinals. However this is a breakthrough for the Three Lionesses as this is England’s first-ever trip to the WWC semifinals. Having their own Premier League sure helps. I’ve often said that the women can teach the men a thing or two about winning. Sure, they’ve never lost to Japan but Japan has a record of strong play and a field with more talent and experience. England is still growing at their own pace. It’s a lot of growth but I don’t think it’s enough to make the World Cup winners. In fact their loss to France in group play is an example of how vulnerable England can get.
I feel Japan will take it 2-1 in extra time.
And there you go. My predictions for the semifinals. Stay tuned to see who two teams will be playing for the Cup on Sunday.
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>
Oh man. If I would have known that yesterday as Woman’s Football Day, I would’ve posted this blog yesterday. Well the start of the Women’s World Cup is getting closer and closer. With it the excitement is building. I just walked into a local grocery store and I saw a display of soft drink cases saluting Team Canada. So upon the building excitement, here’s my look at Group B:
-Germany (1): Germany is like a lot of European countries that’s just slowly starting to accept women’s football. Actually Germany’s more welcoming than most and with good reason. As you know, Germany’s men, The Mannschaft, are on top of the world right now. Germany’s women, the Nationalelf (National Eleven), have a legacy of their own too. They’ve won two World Cups in the past and have won all Women’s Euros except the inaugural in 1993. They’ve even won FIFA’s Women’s Player of the Year these past two years: Nadine Kessler in 2014 and Nadine Angerer in 2013. However they have some imperfections of their own. One is that they’ve only won three Olympic bronzes. The second is that they hosted the last World Cup and were ousted in the quarterfinals on penalty kicks. Penalty kicks? The German men are penalty kick aces with a near-flawless record! That loss also meant they missed qualifying for the Olympics for the first time ever.
However the team really wants to have this World Cup as the one where they can rebound, if not win. The team consists of many members of female teams of the Bundesliga. Yes, the Bundesliga is one of many football leagues that includes female teams: 12 in total. The team looks like they have a very good chance to come out on top. Norway may be its closest threat to take #1 from them. As for winning the Cup, their chances look good too but they’re not perfect. These past twelve months they’ve had wins against Sweden, China, Brazil and England. However they’ve also had losses to Sweden and France. Canada’s the proving point. They have what it takes to win again but they have some weak spots. They will have to rise to the occasion.
-Ivory Coast (67): The Ivory Coast is another one of the eight newbies at this World Cup. The men have already made a name for themselves with three world Cup appearances and churning out big names like Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure. The women hope to follow in their footsteps. They’ve already won a bronze at last year’s CAF Women’s Championships. However it will be hard for me to predict how well they’ll do in the Group Stage since they’ve never played any of the other three countries before. Whatever happens will be a big learning experience for the team.
-Norway (11): Norway is another country that could easily be dismissed as a ‘blast from the past’ in women’s football. Winners of the 1995 World Cup and having won the only Olympic gold not won by the U.S.: back in 2000. They were definitely top when women’s football was starting to emerge but they’ve faded since. Failing to qualify for the 2004 and 2012 Olympics and being ousted in the Group Stage at the last World Cup. However they have shown signs of making a comeback. They were finalists at the last Women’s Euro back in 2013. Here in the Group Stage, Germany looks to be the only team that can beat them and even they have the ability to surprise Germany. Canada is the stage where they seek to redeem their reputation.
-Thailand (29): Thailand is one country which has never landed a men’s team at the World Cup but has landed a women’s team. And for the first time this year. It’s hard for me to predict how well Thailand will do in the Group Stage. The only team they’ve played before was Norway and that was all the way back in 1988. However Thailand has been impressive in their play over the past year. Sure they’ve mostly played Asian teams but they’ve delivered some very impressive wins even though they’ve also lost to China, South Korea and the Netherlands. Like the Ivory Coast, Thailand will also have a learning experience here as this will be their first World Cup.
MY PREDICTION: Without a doubt, Germany will come out on top in this group. Norway will definitely be second. Third will be a hard guess as both Ivory Coast and Thailand lack international experience. I’ll go with Thailand because of their impressive play in friendlies these past few months.
Year Opened: 2010
World Cup Capacity: 20,000
World Cup Groups Hosting: B,E,F
Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16
Of all the six stadiums that are hosting this year’s World Cup, this is the only one that is not a host site for a CFL team. Moncton was included as a host city for one of two possible reasons: either to include participation of a maritime city in the Cup or because Toronto couldn’t be a host city as they’re busy preparing for the Pan American Games later this summer. Whatever the situation, it’s good to have Moncton. This stadium was originally planned to have 28,000 seats in hopes of attracting a CFL team. Instead it was reduced for 10,000 for the current needs of a local football team. It has hosted the World Junior Athletics Championships and three CFL Touchdown Atlantic Games where expansion to 20,000 proved to be successful.
And there’s my focus on Group B. Group C is next and it’s coming hopefully Tuesday.
This weekend will mark the 102nd Grey Cup. Yes, even though us Canadians like celebrating Super Bowl Sunday, we also celebrate Grey Cup Sunday where we salute our own football league and we crown our own champions. Plus an extra excuse to pig out on munchies. Yes, one of the best things about being Canadian is we can hold two football parties in the year.
The 102nd Grey Cup is especially exciting because Vancouver is hosting! Interesting how we only get a three-year wait for hosting the Cup. Well it’s interesting to know the last time we hosted, we started a streak. The streak being consecutive Grey Cups won by the host city. Crazy thing is that we will mark the end of that streak this year because the Lions lost in the playoffs! Yes, a bit of a downer. Besides how did we end up playing for the East division semis anyways?
This year’s Grey Cup is called the ‘Roar On The Shore.’ Lots of festivities are planned to happen even as soon as Thursday. A parade of course will happen Saturday morning. The Cup has Dallas Smith and Nikki Yanofsky planned to sing the national anthem. This is a welcome back for Nikki as she is famous for singing I Believe: the official song of the Vancouver Olympics. The big surprise is that an American band, the Imagine Dragons, are halftime show performers. This is the first Grey Cup in seven years where a non-Canadian act provides the halftime show entertainment. I don’t know about you but I don’t think it’s right having a non-Canadian performer for the halftime show.
This has been a unique year for the CFL. For one thing, the league returned to nine teams as Ottawa came back with a new team, the RedBlacks, and Winnipeg returned to the Western division like they should. Also unique is how many miles ahead the West is over the East. Just look at the regular season stats yourself.
As for the actual game, the West will be represented by the Calgary Stampeders. The East will be represented by the Hamilton TigerCats. One’s a finalist from last year, one’s a finalist from two years ago. One won their last Grey Cup six years ago. The other won their last one fifteen years ago. Both finished their regular season top of their division but one was the top of the league. And both teams’ head coaches have won at least one Grey Cup in the past.
Already it’s fair to say that the Calgary Stampeders are the CFL team of the year. The Stampeders finished the regular season with the best record of all CFL teams with 15 wins and only three losses. Also this looks to be Jon Cornish’s year as he has become one of the biggest standouts of the CFL this year.
Right now it’s hard to find a flaw in them that could cause me to think they’d lose the Grey Cup. Especially since they won their division finals game against the Edmonton Eskimos by a huge margin: 43-18. Particularily remarkable since the Stampeders won both their regular season games against them but by 28-13 and 41-34.
However we should also know there are no guarantees in sport. We should also keep in mind that yes, the Stampeders beat the TiCats in both their regular season games but both wins were close ones: 10-7 and 30-20. We should also keep in mind is that the TiCats’ last loss to the Stampeders would be their turning point to becoming better and more victorious over the remainder of the season. The Stampeders know how to win against the TiCats, no doubt about that. The question is can they deliver on Sunday?
The Tiger-Cats had the misfortune of a tough season opening: they lost six of their first seven games. However they had a big turnaround that started on Labor Day with a win against the Toronto Argonauts and things got better and better for them by winning eight of their last eleven regular season games. They finished the season with nine wins and nine losses like the Montreal Allouetes but they finished at the top of the Western division because of point differentials.
The TiCats showed they can really deliver now as they were able to win the Eastern final against the Allouetes 40-24. And the Allouetes were one of the teams they lost to during their ‘losing streak’ early this season.
No doubt the TiCats are the most improved team of the CFL but the question his have they improved enough to rival the Stampeders? We should keep in mind that Calgary was not only team of the year during regular season but regular season also showed a near-dominance of the West in overall league stats. In face Hamilton may have finished top of the East with nine wins and nine losses but nine wins and losses is also the same stat of the BC Lions: the team that finished fourth in the West. In fact Hamilton has lost at least one game to all five West teams. This lagging behind of the East could become prevalent on Sunday.
THE BIG GAME AND MY PREDICTION
This is going to be a toughie. Sure Calgary beat Hamilton in both regular season games. But Hamilton improved greatly after their second loss to Calgary. However I’m not going to make the same mistake I made with the World Cup semi-final where I predicted Brazil would beat Germany 1-0. I couldn’t have been wronger. So I will trust my instinct and predict the Calgary Stampeders to win 38-20. This will make it the fourth Grey Cup for coach John Hufnagel.
And there you go. That’s my Grey Cup prediction. Funny how Grey Cup is second to Canada Day in terms of Canadian patriotism. Kickoff is 3pm Vancouver time Sunday. Stay toond!
On Sunday November 24th, the 101st Grey Cup will be contested at Mosaic Stadium at Regina’s Taylor Field. The game promises excitement as it will pit the Saskatchewan RoughRiders against the Hamilton Tiger Cats. But what’s in store for this year?
This year’s Grey Cup is not a milestone Grey Cup like last year. And unfortunately for a Vancouverite like myself, BC won’t be playing like two years ago. Nevertheless the game promises excitement. The defending champions will not be returning. Neither will the teams that finished at the top of their division during the regular season be playing. Instead it’s the two underdogs from both divisions.
The game also brings a return to Mosaic Stadium for the third and last time. Mosaic Stadium has previously hosted in 1995 and 2003, back when it was still called Taylor Field. Normally it seats about 33,000 people but it’s expandable to 55,000. As I said earlier, this will be the last year Mosaic Stadium will host the Grey Cup. Back in July of last year, it was decided that a new staudium was needed for Regina and its Roughriders. The new open-air stadium is expected to be completed by 2017 with an estimated cost of $280 million and is planned for Evraz Place. This will make it a break with a 107-year tradition with Taylor Field being home of the Roughriders.
The entertainers at the Cup are expected to please the crowds. The Saskatoon-based group The Sheepdogs are to perform in the pre-game show, Serena Ryder will sing the national anthem and Hedley will be doing the halftime show. The Roughriders will spend $14 million on temporary seating to increase the capacity to 50,000. Corporate boxes and concessions will also be added. A new 60-foot wide LED screen an scoreboard will be added to the northeast end zone while a 55-foot wide LED screen and scoreboard will be brought to the west grandstand. Now time to check out the two contenders:
Being the host city of a Grey Cup has been a lucky thing for its team for the third year in a row. Two years ago when Vancouver hosted, the Lions qualified and won. Last year when the Skydome was hosting, the Argonauts qualified and won. This year luck is on the side of the RoughRiders. The regular season went well with 11 wins and 7 losses, placing them second in the West just behind Calgary at the end of the season. They were able to score a win against every team they played. Even leading into the playoffs, the RoughRiders had the advantage as both teams they faced–the Lions and the Stampeders– they’ve had at least one win against. Their play experience payed off as they beat the Lions 29-25 and beat the Stampeders 35-13.
HAMILTON TIGER CATS
They came in as a team with small expectations and they now find themselves playing in the Grey Cup. This year was adifficult year for the TiCats as they were not only no longer playing in the Ivor Wynne Stadium but were playing in the Alumni Stadium in Guelph as they were awaiting their new home stadium. They actually started their 2013 season off slow winning only one of their first five games. Almost echoing the BC Lions in 2011. However head coach Kent Austin was able to turn things around and they’ve won nine of their last thirteen regular season games. Like the RoughRiders, they too had at least one regular season win against the playoff opponents they faced and they materialized too beating the Alouettes 19-16 in overtime and the defending Grey Cup champion Argonauts 36-24.
THE BIG GAME AND MY PREDICTION
Coming to the game, my prediction is pretty much solid. I predict the Roughriders to win scoring double whatever Hamilton gets. It’s no doubt of the two teams, Saskatchewan has showed the most muscle this year. They have the strongest offence in the CFL and a very strong defence too. On top of it, Saskatchewan has beaten the TiCats both times they played them this season. It’s not to say the TiCats can pull an upset. Underrated teams have come from behind in the past. Plus keep in mind the losses to Saskatchewan were part of the first five games where the TiCats struggled. We have a whole new set of TiCats since so Saskatchewan should take note if they want to win. I still stand by my prediction that the RoughRiders will win but that doesn’t mean they’re not vulnerable.
So there you go. The preview for the 101st Grey Cup. Kickoff is slated for 6:00pm EST which would actually be 5:00pm in Regina. May the best team win!
The Group Stage came and went. The quarterfinals came and went. The semifinals just finished. Now all that remains is the Euro Final to decide who wins the Henri Delaunay Cup. It’s between two teams: Italy and Spain. Both have their strengths. Both have their weaknesses. The question is who will win this year’s Euro?
SPAIN-To start things off, let’s have a look at the defending champion Spain. La Furia Roja has traditionally been known as football’s greatest underachievers: known for being a team loaded with talents players that gets eliminated from major tournaments sooner than most expect. Spain has sure changed a lot since 2008. The first sign of Spain’s new-found consistency came at the 2008 Euro. They won all their games and even survived a penalty shootout against Italy in the quarterfinals to meet Germany for the final. Tradition would have it that Germany would win. Instead Spain won 1-0.Then came the 2010 World Cup. After losing their first match against Switzerland, they really came alive. After that it was all straight wins. Even the knockout round resulted in 1-0 wins for Spain including the final for the Cup against Netherlands in overtime.
Euro 2012 has continued to showcase Spain’s consistency. They started with a 1-1 draw against Italy but won their other Group C matches against Ireland and Croatia. A 2-0 win over France continued their success. It almost came to a halt against Portugal in a scoreless semifinal but penalty kicks gave Spain their ticket to the final.
ITALY-Italy has always been one of Europe’s greats in football. Hard to believe the Forza Azzurri have only ever won a single European Championship. The crazy thing is Italy has its good years and its bad years. When they have their good years, boy does it show. When they have their bad years, boy does it show too. It really showed at the 2010 World Cup when they failed to win any of their Group Stage games and faced an early exit. Ironically the 2010 team was coached by Marcello Lippi: the very coach who coached the Azzurri to the World Cup win in 2006.
Since the World Cup, Italy has been in rebuilding mode. They hired a new coach in Cesare Prandelli. They’ve kept some of their most consistent talent and even scouted out new talent, like young Mario Balotelli. Here at this Euro, they had a lot to prove and prove they did. The Group Stage was not easy however. They drew 1-1 against both Spain and Croatia. It took a 2-0 win over Ireland to guarantee them to the quarterfinals. Over in the quarterfinal against England, it was all theirs. They may have had a scoreless draw but their control of the ball and frequent attempts on goal showed they were ready to perform. It took a penalty kick round—England’s Achilles heel—to give them a berth in the semifinals. In the semi against Germany, they continued to perform well with continued ball control and phenomenal scoring from Balotelli. Italy has been known to be Germany’s Achilles heel and tradition continued with Italy’s 2-1 win. Interesting how Italy has already earned the UEFA berth for next year’s Conederations Cup since Spain has already qualified as the reigning World Cup holders.
Now comes the final. Interesting how we started the quarterfinal with two teams from four groups each, the semis had two teams from two different groups and now the final will have two teams from Group C. And we thought Group B was the Group Of Death. So who will win? Italy or Spain?
Spain looks poised to become the first team to successfully defend their title. Spain is also poised to join Germany as the only other nation to win a total of three Euros. It’s obvious Spain has a lot of strengths as they know how to control the ball well. However their scoring abilities have faded a bit in recent Euro matches. They went all out against Ireland but it was all scoreless against Portugal. They have to be as good at attacking as they are about ball possession. They’ve demonstrated against Ireland and France that they are good at scoring but they have to deliver when it matters. It’s going to be needed against Italy because they’re the team they drew against in the Group Stage.
As for Italy, they were lackluster in the Group stage and but came alive in the quarterfinals and semis. Like Spain, they’ve demonstrated ball control. They’ve also showed they can score well. However like Spain, they also showed that they can hold back in terms of attacking. Their scoreless game against England showed it. Joe Hart turned out to be one tough goalkeeper. If they play as well against Spain as they did against Germany, they could do it.
So what’s my prediction? I believe the game will be 1-1 with Spain winning on penalty kicks. Both teams drew in their Group Stage match. Both have demonstrated great ball control and both have stellar goalkeepers in Gianluigi Buffon for Italy and Iker Casillas for Spain. Both also have good scorers with Mario Balotelli for Italy and Xavi Alonzo and Fernando Torres for Spain. However neither is going to give way during the match and it would have to be penalty kick to decide it, in which Spain has the edge.
So will my prediction of Spain repeating hold true? It’s hard to say. A lot of my predictions have come true. However don’t forget I predicted a Portugal – England final in my article from last week. Anyways may the best team win in Kiev’s Olympic Stadium on Sunday.
On Sunday November 27th, fans of Canadian Football will have all their attention fixed on the newly renovated BC Place Stadium for the 99th Annual Grey Cup. For those unfamiliar with Canadian Football or even the Canadian Football League (CFL), the Grey Cup is to Canadian Football what the Super Bowl is to American Football. This year, the rivalry between East and West over the Cup will be the BC Lions against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
For those non-Canadians unfamiliar with the CFL, the CFL is as much a part of Canadiana as the NFL is to Americana. The Grey Cup has been part of league football in Canada since 1909 but it wasn’t until the CFL formed in1958 that the Grey Cup was a permanent fixture in Canadiana. For the most part, the CFL consists of nine teams except when something goes wrong with one of them. Usually there is at least one city that has problems with their CFL team. In the 80’s and 90’s, it was Montreal. Now it’s Ottawa. But don’t worry. Ottawa will be returning in 2013. Plus there’s talk of possible franchises in the future from Quebec City or Halifax.
For the most part, the CFL has been happy to be Canada’s own football league. For many decades, it didn’t worry about competing with the NFL because it knew it had a very solid dedicated base in Canada. Things became uncomfortable in the late 80’s when the CFL tried attracting new players to the league but couldn’t compete with the big salaries of the NFL teams. In the 90’s, the CFL tried things like offer a $5 million annual salary to Raghib ‘Rocket’ Ismael to join the Toronto Argonauts in 1991. It turned out to a success for that one year. Sure the Rocket and the Argos won the Grey Cup that year but the Rocket’s career went downhill after that. The success of the Rocket led to the CFL to form franchises in cities like Sacramento, Baltimore, Las Vegas and Shreveport. In 1995 Birmingham and Memphis entered the league. The 1995 Grey Cup came as a shocker as the Baltimore Stallions won; the only time an American team won the Grey Cup. After a lot of business issues and bad management from some American teams, the CFL returned to being based completely in Canada since 1996 and we’re happy to keep it that way.
Nowadays, the CFL does not need to seek out ways to try to reach the popularity level or moneymaking level of the NFL. Ever since the CFL stopped its expansion into the US, they were reminded again that they can hold their own with loyal Canadian fans. The CFL has the seventh-highest per-game attendance average of 27,000. Its average may be less than that of Major League Baseball and not even half that of the NFL but it has a higher average than the top soccer leagues of Mexico, Italy, Argentina, France and even Brazil. Yeah, that well-attended.
This year’s Grey Cup will prove to be an exciting match. Firstly because it is held in BC Place with the new roof. Before the 2010 Winter Olympics, there was a demand for a new roof for the stadium as the air-supported ETFE roof had a tear in 2007. The construction of the new roof began after the 2010 Paralympics and was completed on September 30 of this year. During that time, the Lions returned to the dismantled Empire Field and played in a stadium consisting completely of 25,000 temporary seats. This was quite an experience for me as I saw the Lions’ fourth game of theis season in that temporary stadium. A lot of banging, that’s for sure. As for BC Place’s new roof, it’s more high-tech and doesn’t require so much air pressure to keep it up. The scoreboard is supported by 36 cables connected to its own mast. The top of the Stadium consists of lighted glass. Looks great from the outside, but now that people couldn’t call BC Place ‘The Marshmallow’ anymore, what could they call it? My pick for the name would be ‘The Crown’. Anyways in the very first year of BC Place being ‘The Crown’, it appropriately hosts the Grey Cup this year. This year the race for the Grey Cup has narrowed the field down to its East and West contenders: the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the home team BC Lions. Here’s a wrap-up on how the two stack up:
If one would say at the beginning of the CFL season that the Lions would be in the Grey Cup, most would be laughing. The start of the regular season for the Lions was depressing and even frustrating for fans. The first five games were straight losses. Even I attended the fourth game, against Hamilton, and witnessed the loss. Their sixth game was a win against Saskatchewan only to follow it us with a loss against Edmonton. After that, it was like a miracle turnaround. Eight straight wins propelling themselves to the top of the CFL. There was only one loss after the sixth game, and that was against Hamilton in their 16th game in the regular season. By finishing atop the West Division, they only had to wait until the Division Finals to play their first and only playoff game against Edmonton, in which they won 40-23.
Overall, the 2011 Lions have had an excellent season with 11 wins and 7 losses. They became the first team in CFL history to lose their first five games only to end regular season on top of the CFL. Many teams they lost to at the start of the season they were able to beat in matches later in the season. The only two teams the Lions did not win against this season were the Hamilton TiCats and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. This may come as an Achilles heel for the Lions as they will face Winnipeg for the Cup, and Winnipeg beat Hamilton en route to their East division berth for the Cup. However it may not be a glitch as we should remember that the two losses to Winnipeg came in its first seven games of the season. The Lions have sure changes since then and they could be ready for Winnipeg this time.
Also a bit of Grey Cup trivia. This year’s Grey Cup may come in the first year of BC Place’s new roof but BC Place hosted the Grey Cup in its opening year: 1983. Like this year, the Lions played in the Cup. Unfortunately they lost. Actually of the three times BC both played in and hosted the Grey Cup, only once were they the Cup winners. Something to think about for Sunday.
WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS
The Bombers finished atop the East Division with 10 wins and eight losses. Sounds impressive at first but while the Lions started their regular season weak and ended strong, the Bombers started strong and ended weak. They started off impressively winning all but one of their first eight games of regular season. However there was a surprise turnabout as the Bombers would only win three of the last ten games of regular season. They were known for their strong defence but many of their top defencemen were injured later on in the season. By finishing atop the East division, their only playoff game was the division Final against Hamilton which they won 19-3. If their strength from the beginning of the season has returned to form, then they should be able to beat the Lions for the Cup. It may not be 100% as some of their top defencemen are too injured to play in the Grey Cup. If Winnipeg’s defence is still strong, it will be decided in the play for the Cup.
One additional note. While Winnipeg had its own challenges on the playing field, its biggest news this season was of the loss of their Assistant Coach Richard Harris. Harris collapsed at the CanadInns Stadium on Tuesday, July 26 and died that afternoon. He was 63. He was promoted to Assistant Coach this season after being their Defensive Line Coach since 2006. This also came as a loss for the Lions too as he was their Defensive Line Coach from 2011 to 2004. Surely Coach Harris will be on the minds of the Bombers when they play the Grey Cup on Sunday.
For me, it’s hard for me to pick who will win or who I should cheer for. I was born in Winnipeg and lived there most of my life. However I’ve made a home for myself in Vancouver these past ten years. BC has only won the Cup five times compared to ten for Winnipeg, but Winnipeg hasn’t won the Cup since 1990 while BC’s last won the Cup five years ago. Anyways I decided not to cheer for either team and let the game decide the better team. Anyways, Go Bombers! Go Lions! May the best team win!