Tag Archives: Stadium

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

Final

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

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

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

THIRD-PLACE PLAYOFF REVIEW:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE FINAL

Whos Next

Which team will be next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CROATIA footballCroatia:

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

-Wilt Chamberlain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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World Cup 2018 Preview: Group G

One neat thing about FIFA’s World Cup section is that it not only lists the game times in your time zone, but it also lists the networks that will broadcast the games in your country. I was surprised to see all the Canadian channels listed by the game times! Definitely makes things convenient! Crazy thing for all of us living in cities like Vancouver, Seattle and Los Angeles is that most of the games start at 05:00, 08:00 and 11:00 our time. I’m sure a morning beer won’t hurt.

Now on to my next group to review:

Belgium-Belgium (3)- The Red Devils sure have been ranking very high these past few years. You can attribute that to brilliant play within UEFA matches and world Cup qualifying. However they’re hoping to make a big impression on the world stage. Before the last World Cup, they had a high ranking back then but got as far as the quarterfinals. That’s actually a respectable achievement since it’s their best finish since their fourth place in 1986. However Belgium feels they have more to prove.

Belgium has a strong team. Leading the Belgian team are defenders Jan Vertonghen and Vincent Kompany, midfielder Marouane Fellaini and strikers Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard. Interestingly, almost half of Belgium’s team plays for the Premier League. Belgium again delivered in World Cup qualifying with nine wins and a draw. Their last defeat came in a friendly against Spain in September 2016. Looks like Belgian fire could pay off over in Russia.

Panama-Panama (55)- So you may wonder how did a team with an outside shot like Panama qualify for the World Cup? Simple. With just the final game in World Cup qualifying, the US needed to simply tie Trinidad and Tobago to join Mexico and Costa Rica in qualifying. Instead the US lost 2-1 while Honduras beat Mexico 3-2 and Panama beat Costa Rica 2-1. That’s sport. What’s rightfully yours will go to someone else if you’re not there. And Los Canaleros are the ones laughing!

It’s their first World Cup. Interestingly many of the players on the team play for MLS. Only five play for European teams. Interestingly, two for Belgian teams. So far this year they scored a win against Trinidad and Tobago, but lost to Switzerland and Denmark. Whatever the situation, Russia 2018 will be a great experience for Panama.

Tunisia flag-Tunisia (21)- One thing about Les Aigles de Carthage is that they keep on trying. Tunisia has participated in four World Cups but have not yet made it past the group stage. Their only World Cup win was in their debut year of 1978. Tunisia is hoping this is the year in which they finally progress to the knockout stage.

Most of the player play for Tunisian clubs or French clubs. A good percentage of the team’s players are 25 and under. Their coach Nabil Maâloul has coached many club team and national teams in the Middle East. Tunisia’s play has been very impressive in this past year. They won against Iran and Costa Rica and even drew against Portugal.

England fixed-England (12)- England has had a reputation of being a top team that excels in underachieving. However it was the last World Cup where they took it to a new low by failing to advance past the group stage for the first time since 1958. A Round-of-16 elimination at Euro 2016 did not help much either. After Euro 2016, they have been coached by Gareth Southgate who played at the 1998 and 2002 World Cups. His experience is expected to help the team do much better this time, if not win.

No doubt England has an easier group this time. Not like last World Cup where they were in the ‘group of death.’ If you ask me, I think they were just underconfident. This year’s team is led by rising newcomer Harry Kane who is already the captain at just 24! England’s last defeat came via France 3-2 and that was exactly a year ago. Since then, they won against the Netherlands 1-0 and Nigeria 2-1 and drew against teams like Italy, Brazil and Germany. Chances are they can finally deliver on their greatness.

And that’s my summary of Group E. Now my prediction for which two I think will progress. Drum roll, please! My predictions are for Belgium and England.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT

As we’re getting closer to the last group, I’ll be reviewing the two biggest stadiums for the Cup. Meanwhile this will be the last stadium spotlight where I focus on a stadium that seats less than 50,000.

NIZHNY NOVGOROD: Nizhny Novgorod Stadium

Nizhny Stadium

Year Opened: 2018

Capacity: 44,899

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

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16 and a Quarterfinal

This new stadium cost $290 million to build. The stadium is inspired by two key elements of the region: water and wind. It adds a new vibe in an area with a lot of classic buildings without compromising the area’s classic feel. The biggest features the stadium has to offer are extra spaces for people with disabilities as well as accessible elevators and special navigation. The stadium also features top safety features like alarm and public alert systems, metal detectors and indicators of hazardous liquids or explosives. The arena is designed for multifunctional use.  It will serve sports events and entertainment events and even exhibitions and expos. The arena grounds will include a park, futsal fields and tennis courts. The stadium will also be the home venue for FC Olympiec Nizhny Novgorod.

BONUS FEATURE: 2018 Mascot – Zabikava

Zabivaka

Yes, what’s a review of the World Cup without a focus on the mascot? Most sports events which Russia hosts has a bear as the mascot. The World Cup decided to go with something different: a wolf. Actually it was online voting that decided what the mascot would be. The tiger and the cat were the other two rivals.

Zabivaka was introduced on December 4, 2016. Zabivaka is Russian for ‘the one who scores.’ He was designed by a University Student who was inspired by Disney images to create the wolf mascot. There has been some disapproval. The disapproval of some being how Zabikava appears to wear ski goggles. They’re actually supposed to be ‘sports goggles’ to ‘protect his eyes as he runs really fast.’ He not only has his own page at the FIFA site but also his own Facebook page as well.

And there you go. My review of Group G along with another stadium review and a look at the mascot. One last group to go.

World Cup 2018 Preview: Group C

Group C may prove to be one of the groups that’s hardest to predict. Some may appear to be clear favorites or likely to be eliminated at the end, but don’t be so quick to judge. Don’t forget nobody expected Costa Rica to top Group D at the last World Cup. So without further ado, here’s my review of Group C:

France fixed-France (7)- Les Bleus has had a reputation of being an all-or-nothing team. France is never short on talent. The 2014 World Cup saw a lot of young French talent on the rise like Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezman. This World Cup’s team promises a big mix of the old and the new. The team is still coached by legend Didier Deschamps and are poised to perform very well, especially after the strength of making it to the finals of Euro 2016. France’s play since Euro 2016 has been consistent with wins against England and the Netherlands, but they have also lost to Sweden 2-1 and Columbia 3-2. 2018 is an opportunity for France to win their second World Cup. It’s a matter of them all being there and delivering.

Australia-Australia (40)- When Australia made it to the Round of 16 at the 2066 World Cup, people were expecting more to come from the Socceroos. However they haven’t done as well as originally hoped. In fact they’re coming back from three straight losses in 2014. Not everything is down for Australia. They did win the 2015 AFC Asian Cup. Their play is still struggling to show. The only win against a team outside of Asia was against Honduras in a World Cup playoff.

Australia is coached by Bert van Marwijk who coached the Netherlands to the World Cup final. The team consists mostly of players from the Premier League and Australia’s A-League. 38 year-old Tim Cahill leads the team in what will be his fourth World Cup. The team has a good mix of young and old. Australia can provide another surprise again.

Peru-Peru (11)- Ten of this year’s teams at this year’s World Cup had to wait longer than four years to return to the World Cup stage. Peru has had the longest wait of all: 36 years to be exact. Things have changed ever since they’ve been coached by Argentine Ricardo Gareca who was part of Argentina’s World Cup-winning team. The team consists of players whom play mostly for teams in North and South America. The players are a good mix of youth and experience with defenseman Alberto Rodriguez leading. Peru may have the most experience playing against South American teams, but they’ve had three wins this year against European teams like Croatia, Iceland and Scotland. Peru could be the surprise of the Cup.

Denmark fixed-Denmark (12)- The last time the Danish Dynamite made it to the World Cup was back in 2010. There they didn’t advance past the group stage. Since then, they’re recently acquired Norwegian coach Åge Hareide. The team was able to qualify for the 2016 Olympics and finished in the quarterfinals. They’ve done very well having not lost a game since 2016. They’ve had some notable wins against teams like Ireland and Poland and even drew against Germany last year. Denmark’s current lineup consists of players mostly from the Premier League and Spain’s La Liga. Denmark looks poised to be one of the teams from Group C to advance. Russia will be their big test.

Now my prediction for the two that will advance. It’s a toughie but I believe it will be France and Peru that will advance.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT

Two more stadiums. Both in focus are at least five years old. Both were also built to host major events before this World Cup.

-KAZAN : Kazan ArenaKazan Arena

Year Opened: 2013

World Cup Capacity: 45,379

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

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16 & a quarterfinal

Kazan Arena was first build to host the 2013 World University Games. Kazan Arena has also hosted the 2015 World Aquatics Championships. The stadium has the largest outside screen in Europe and the largest LED installed on a football stadium in the World.

After the World Cup, Kazan Arena will be the home venue of team FC Rubin Kazan, replacing the 25,000-seat Central Stadium.

-SOCHI : Fisht Olympic StadiumSochi Fisht

Year Opened: 2013

World Cup Capacity: 41,220

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

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16 (A1 vs. B2) & A quarterfinal

If you remember the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, you will remember this stadium very well. This is where the opening and closing ceremonies took place. You may also remember the hefty price tag of the Sochi Olympics. This stadium cost $779 million to build!

Names after Mount Fisht, the stadium was originally built to be an enclosed stadium, but has stayed an open-air stadium since 2016 in order to conform with FIFA rules. The stadium complex now serves as a training centre and match venue for the Russia national football team.

And there you have it. The four teams of Group C and two more stadiums. Less than two weeks to go!

World Cup 2018 Preview: Group B

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

Portugal Fixed

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

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

Spain Fixed

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

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

mo-lgflag

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

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

Iran

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

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

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT

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

-KALININGRAD: Kaliningrad Stadium

kaliningrad stadium

Year Opened: 2018

World Cup Capacity: 35,212

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

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

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

-SARANSK: Mordovia Arena

Mordovia

Year Opened: 2018

World Cup Capacity: 44,442

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

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

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

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

World Cup 2018 Preview: Group A

It’s a given. Whenever there’s a Euro or a World Cup, I do a rundown of the teams that will be competing. Those of you who remember I did it for the 2014 World Cup, I’m back. As I did for 2014, I will again do a separate blog for each of the eight Group Stage groups. Once again, I will give a preview of the twelve stadiums that will be the stages for this event and save the stadium for the Grand Final for last. Now let’s start with Group A. For the record, my summary of the teams will be done in their drawn World Cup order rather than their FIFA ranking of May 2018. FIFA ranking of that month will appear in brackets.

GROUP A:

Russia Fixed-Russia (66)- Russia had its glory days on the World Cup scene back during the days of the USSR. Since the USSR dissolved in 1992, Russia has qualified for three World Cups but always ended its trip in the group stage. It’s been a frustration. They went through two top ranked Dutch coaches Guss Hiddink and Dick Advocaat and Italian coach Fabio Capello, but would always come up short. Just before Euro 2016, they went back to a Russian coach, Leonid Slutsky, but again fell out in the group stage. Since Euro 2016, they’ve stuck to having a Russian coach. This time it’s Stanislav Cherchesov whose managed Dynamo Moscow and Legia Warsaw in the past.

The Russian team still remain an enigma. Only three of the team’s players play for teams outside Russia. Their recent game results also come into question. They’ve played six games since the Confederations Cup, but only won one: against South Korea 4-2. They’ve since had to deal with losses to big-name teams like Argentina, Brazil and France. The world Cup draw is made so that the host nation doesn’t have that hard of a time to make it past the group stage. Russia’s chances look comfortable as Uruguay appears to be its only tough rival. How far Russia goes is up for the world to see.

Saudi flag-Saudi Arabia (67)- The Saudi team looked like it was heading to better times after they made it past the Round of 16 at World Cup 1994. However the big reluctance to export players to the bigger European clubs has always proved to be the biggest obstacle. The Saudi team would face an exit at the Group Stage during the next three World Cups.

Russia 2018 marks the first World Cup since 2006 with the presence of the Saudi team. All but three of their team members play for Saudi teams. The other three play for La Liga teams from Spain. As for play, Saudi Arabia does not have a very consistent record for the past year. Their biggest win this past year came through Greece. However they’ve also had to endure losses to Belgium, Iraq and Portugal. However anything’s possible in football and the Saudi’s could surprise in Russia.

Egypt-Egypt (46)- This is only the second time Egypt has been to the World Cup. The only other time is in 1990. However Egypt is ready to play well. They’ve hired Argentine coach Hector Cuper to coach the team. The team’s players play for various team in Egypt, Europe and the US. However many consider the heart and soul of the team to be led by 26 year-old Mohamed Salah who as a striker for Liverpool won 2017 CAF footballer of the year. Many see Salah as an emerging great and could boost team Egypt in the future.

Their record leading up to World Cup 2018 is very much in question. Their only wins this past year have come against African teams. Their last win against a team from outside Africa was Bosnia-Hercegovina back in 2014. This year they’ve faced losses to Portugal and Greece. Russia is another proving point for ‘The Pharoahs.’ They may be out in the group stage or they may surprise everyone.

Uruguay-Uruguay (17)- This is the team from Group A that has the most clout. For a long time, Uruguay was seen as a team that was a blast from the past. Their biggest glory days came with World Cup wins in 1930 and 1950 and Olympic gold medals in 1924 and 1928. However a resurgence of Uruguay on the world scene starting with World Cup 2010 has catapulted the team back to the top of the world elite. It started with Diego Forlan and has now transferred to Luis Suarez. Uruguay’s stint at the 2014 ended in disgrace after Suarez was banned from nine games following a biting incident on an Italian player. And to think Chewy Louie was the player that infamously blocked a potential goal from Ghana at 2010.

Since the incident, Suarez has kept his promise of not ever biting another opponent. He has matured a lot as a player since and serves as Uruguay’s top star. However Uruguay is not just Suarez. The team also boasts another top striker in Edinson Cavani, midfielder Cristian Rodriguez and top defencemen Diego Godin and Maxi Pereira. Uruguay can prove themselves to be a top force to be reckoned with here in Russia.

So there’s my review of the first World Cup group. As for predictions, I’ll just settle for predicting the two countries that will advance past the Group Stage right now, and I predict it will be Russia and Uruguay.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT

Once again, I get to focus on the various stadia that are hosting the World Cup. I figure the arenas are worth talking about. Russia will have has twelve stadia that will facilitate for the World Cup including two in Moscow. Only three are older than ten years old. All are situated in the European cluster of Russia. Just like Brazil in 2014, Russia all twelve of the stadiums will hold four Group Stage matches but they will be matches for four different groups. Also just like in Brazil 2014, all six of the Group Stage games for each individual group will again be played in six different stadiums, and not all will be that close by. Once again, a lot of traveling around for the 32 teams in a huge cluster of a country. One of which, they will have to cross the border of Lithuania to play in.

It’s confusing, but no less confusing than Brazil 2014. Here I’ll give you my first taste of my Stadium Spotlight of 2018. Note that each stadium I show in my Stadium Spotlight feature will be a stadium that will contest Group Stage matches for each respective group. These two I will focus on will host Group Stage matches in Group A. So without further ado, here are the two stadiums in focus:

-YEKATERINBURG: Central Stadiumyekaterinburg-world-cup-stadium-1024x576

Year Opened: 1957

World Cup Capacity: 35,696

World Cup Groups Hosting: A, C, F, H

Central Stadium is one of only two stadiums at this World Cup that was built in the 20th Century. Though there’s no doubt they’ve had to undergo extensive renovations over the years including preparations for this year’s World Cup. Actually the arena was a stadium for speed skating. The shift to football and other sports have been the focus since the downfall of the USSR.

The stadium will have 12,000 temporary seats for the World Cup. After the World Cup, it will be the host venue for team FC Ural Yekaterinburg. In addition, there are plans to add a fitness centre and a Valeological centre.

-SAMARA: Cosmos ArenaCosmos Samara

Year Opened: 2018

World Cup Capacity: 42,374

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

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16 (E1 vs. F2) & a quarter-final

Cosmos is one of many stadiums built fresh for this World Cup. It came at a cost of $320 million. The building of the stadium was first meant to be built on an island close to the city, but the intended construction of a bridge, and the public’s uproar over its total expense, led it to be built in the north area of the city.

After the World Cup, it will be the host venue of team FC Krylia Sovetov Samara.

And there you go. My first preview of the World Cup teams and stadiums. Seven more groups and ten more stadiums to review before World Cup 2018 starts. Stay tuned for more.

2017 Grey Cup Preview

105th-Grey-Cup-Festival

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.

stampedersWEST: 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.

Toronto ArgosEAST: 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.

My Prediction

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!

2015 FIFA WWC: My Semifinal Predictions

WWC SemisOkay, 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

Head-To-Head Stuff:

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.

Breakdown:

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.

MY VERDICT:

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

Head-To-Head Stuff:

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.

Breakdown:

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.

MY VERDICT:

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.

2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup: Group E Focus

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:

GROUP E:

Spain Fixed-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-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-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.

Korea-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.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT

-EDMONTON: Commonwealth StadiumEskimos

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.

WORKS CITED:

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>

2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup: Group B Focus

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:

GROUP B:

Germany fixed-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-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-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-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.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT:

Moncton Stadium-MONCTON: Moncton Stadium

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.

2014 Grey Cup Preview

Grey Cup

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.

Grey CupAs 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.

CALGARY STAMPEDERS

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?

HAMILTON TIGER-CATS

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!