Tag Archives: Sweden

VIFF 2021 Review: Flee

Flee is an animated documentary of Amin: an Afghani refugee living in Denmark who always felt he had to hide his true past from everyone. Including the man he loves.

Flee was the first time I was able to see an animated film at the VIFF this year. It isn’t just an animated film. It’s part-story, part-documentary that tells a lot about a remarkable story.

The story begins with a man named Amin. He tells the story of his life and his ordeal. He tells it in fluent Danish. He first tells of his story of how he had to flee as his whole family had been killed off. This is a story he also tells his boyfriend Kasper. This is on the verge of Kasper about to buy a house for him and Amin. Meanwhile Amin is undecided whether to accept living with Kasper or accept a teaching job at a university.

The interviewer then takes Amin to a private place. There, Amin can tell the true story. It starts when he reflects of his childhood in Kabul. His biggest memories are of being four in the mid-1980’s and running down the streets with a Walkman with pink earphones in his hand and wearing a dress! However the harsh realities hit Amin and his family in 1989 when Amin turns eight. The Mujahideen have taken over Afghanistan, just two years after the Soviets withdrew from the nation. Their father has been captured and they don’t know what happened to them. Fearing they’ll be next, Amin, his mother, two sisters and brother seek refuge on a plane. The plane takes them in Moscow as the USSR is one of few countries willing to take the family in because of their status.

Life is not very good for the family in Moscow. Even after the fall of communism, they can only do limited work, live in a cramped flat and constantly be harassed by corrupt policeman who heckle them for being different. They know they will have to flee to another country if they are ever able to be free for once. However their only hope depends on human traffickers. They all want to flee to Sweden. The eldest brother is the only one who can work. It is he who will have to provide the money for these trips.

The first trip, which involved being in a car failed and they found themselves back in Moscow. The second trip involved the whole family travelling at once. This involved a long walk through the woods with others right in the coldness of winter. It then led them all to a fishing vessel where they had to hide themselves in the fish trap. The feel of the boat trip was nerve-wracking with the water splashing. Then water started coming in, which involved the passengers coming out of the trap to get the water out. Fortunately a cruise ship discovers the boat. Unfortunately, the cruise ship calls Estonian police to rescue the passengers. That meant back to Moscow.

The long wait is frustrating. The mother is getting older, the siblings including Amin himself are growing and missing out a lot on their future, and the oldest brother is having the frustration of his future being squandered to saving up for these illegal immigration stings. It’s frustrating, but they can’t go on watching Mexican soap operas and being harassed by Moscow police forever. Finally the brother finds a new illegal immigration operation. It’s way more expensive than the ones in the past, but this has excellent chances of working. However this involves each of the family members to go alone.

Amin is to go with one other teen male. The agent gives both boys strict instructions to obey. The trip starts with both of them being inside a van and lying down. During the trip, Amin senses a feeling he has toward the other male. The male gives him his gold chain. Before they board the plane, the agent gives the two plane tickets and passports: Amin for Denmark and the other boy for Switzerland. They all go on a flight to Istanbul. As the flight lands, the agent advises the two to do everything he instructs them to do and once they arrive in their country of destination to tear up the passport and tell officials their story. After the agent leaves, the two depart but not without one final goodbye.

Hours later, Amin arrives in Copenhagen, tears up the passport, and tells his story of being a completely orphaned Afghani refugee. As he’s transported to safety, he looks out the window of the car and sees freedom, but can’t feel it or sense it. He spent years living in a shelter living with various families and pursuing excellent grades in school. Then one day, he receives a phone call. It’s his brother in Sweden. Amin learns his brother found refuge in Sweden from his own trip from the trafficker.

Time would improve for Amin. Soon he’d learn all of his family including his mother had found refuge in various places in Europe with his two sisters also living in Sweden. His life has improved as he has been able to become a strong academic and even had lecturing jobs at American colleges. However he’s still had to keep his true life a secret from his boyfriend and his homosexuality a secret from his family as Afghani culture considers homosexuality to bring shame to the family. One day, when the brother and sisters get into conversation about Amin not being married, he then outs himself to the shock of all. The brother then tells Amin to get into the car. Amin is uncertain and fearful about what will happen next during the car ride. The brother takes him to a gay bar and hands him some money. They knew all along! Inside the gay bar, Amin discovers a freedom he never thought possible. The film then flashes forward two years later showing how Amin’s life has improved.

This is definitely a story about a current hot topic: refugees and illegal immigrants. It’s constantly an issue. As long as there’s political oppression and corruption, there are going to be people fleeing. Refugees and illegal immigrants probably feel they have something to hide about themselves. Even if they become legit citizens of their country, they feel they still have something to hide and they have to lie for their freedom. Roughly they’re still mentally ‘on the run.’ Even the fact that the subject has to tell his whole truth under the pseudonym Amin Nawabi adds to this factor. It becomes evident when Amin first tells the interviewer of his story of his family deceased. Then when he’s in a private room, he tells the truth. It’s also evident how he’s unsure whether to commit to marrying his boyfriend Kasper and instead accept an offer at an American university.

Amin’s story is definitely a story of intrigue. This is a story of a man who pretty much feels he has his ‘life on the run.’ He had to flee his home of Afghanistan with his family and first settle in Russia, only for all to find another nation to live in. This is a case of three attempts and the frustration of wondering if you’ll ever be free. This is about feeling that you have to hide the truth of yourself even though you’re now living in a free country. This is about even hiding a truth about yourself that is forbidden and seen as shame in your home country. I think that’s the point of the story. About hiding things. It starts off as a case that Amin has a lot to hide. However over time, he opens up. Hidden truths about himself no longer become a taboo. It’s a case as we see the story unravel over time just as we get to the part where he outs himself to his siblings.

This is a story of from a life of refuge to a newly discovered freedom. When you look at it, Amin’s freedom in Denmark is the best thing to happen to him. We all see he had to deal with life in Russia along with his siblings. Even without attempts to immigrate, Russia was no place for them. Not as they were constantly being harassed. Afghanistan was no place for them either as their father may had been killed and they would be in pursuit. It’s especially no place for Amin as his sexuality was obvious at a young age. If he had not fled from Afghanistan in his lifetime, he could have been executed for his homosexuality. That really gets you thinking. Especially when we recently heard about the return of the Taliban to power. It’s something how Amin is born in a country with the harshest attitude towards homosexuality and finds himself in one of the first countries to legalize same-sex marriage!

I give top accolades to writer/director Jonas Poher Rasmussen. He’s done films about people’s struggle with homosexuality before. The story does a very good job as it goes from the interview to the re-enactments of Amin’s past. From running down the streets listening to Take On Me to the family forgetting their problems as they watch Mexican soap operas, it does a good job of telling the story while mixing other elements in the background. The images do a great job in capturing the drama of the time. The voice acting was also very good. The animation from Sun Creature Studio did an excellent job of depicting the story in both the present and the past. The addition of the music of the times and of the Mexican soap operas also add to the story.

Flee is a great animated film about a man who feels like he has always had to be on the run. On the run from danger, on the run from authorities, on the run to achieve freedom, and on the run from how he was meant to live and who to love. It’s an eye-opener and a delight to see at the same time.

UEFA Euro 2020: Knockout Round Predictions

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

ROUND OF 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUARTERFINALS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

UEFA EURO 2020: Group Stage With One Game To Go

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

GROUP A:

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

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

GROUP B

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

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

GROUP C

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

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

GROUP D

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

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

GROUP E

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

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

GROUP F

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

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

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

UEFA EURO 2020: Group E and Group F Review

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

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

GROUP E

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GROUP F

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIRD-PLACE Playoff:

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

Head-To-Head Stats:

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

Team-By-Team Analysis:

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

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

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

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

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

THE FINAL

FIFA WWC

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

Head-To-Head Stats:

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

Team-By-Team Analysis:

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

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

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

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

My Prediction:

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

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

 

 

2019 FIFA WWC: My Predictions For The SemiFinals

Womens Cup

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

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

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

Head-To-Head Stats:

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

Team-By-Team Analysis:

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

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

United_States_Soccer

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

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

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

SEMIFINALS #2: Netherlands vs. Sweden

Head-To-Head Stats:

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

Team-By-Team Analysis:

Netherlands Football

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

2019 FIFA WWC: REVISED Predictions For The Quarterfinals

WWC QF

Did I say that I won’t be doing any predicting until the semifinals? I changed my mind. Normally I would let my predictions I made back on Friday stay as is, but the Round of 16 matched made me rethink a lot of things. Not simply because I got two quarterfinalists wrong — I’ve been wrong in Round of 16 predictions before and shunned them aside — but because of the play of teams in the Round of 16. Here they’re showing more of their strengths and weaknesses and it’s better to tell who will win.

So I will try to make a new set of predictions for the quarterfinals. Interesting how all six teams that topped their group won their Round-Of-16 match. Also interesting how seven of the eight quarterfinalists are European teams. The USA is the only non-European team that won their Round of 16 match. What did it? Jetlag to all those other teams? The same curse on the men’s World Cup that has prevented any non-European team from qualifying for a World Cup semifinal on European soil since 1998? Bad reffing? Or is it because the European teams are simply the most there? You be the judge. Anyways that’s the way it is and here’s how I predict for the quarterfinals:

NorwayNorway vs. England fixedEngland: Already for Norway, this is their best WWC result for them since 2007. They won their match against Australia, but on penalty kicks. They will be hard-pressed against England. Don’t forget it was England who ended Norway’s Women’s World Cup run in 2015 with a 1-2 in the Round Of 16. Don’t forget England looked good in their 3-0 win over Cameroon. I will have to go with England here.

France fixedFrance vs. USAU.S.A.: The U.S.A. looks like they struggled in their game against Spain. They won 2-1, but it was on penalty kicks from Megan Rapinoe. They appeared invincible in their 13-0 win over Thailand, but don’t forget football is opponent vs. opponent and results can differ greatly. France may have won 2-1 over Brazil, but it was in added extra time. So they showed some vulnerability here.

France may have won over the U.S. 3-1 in a friendly back in January, but this is a different day and a different meet. I think the U.S.A. will win, but in added extra time.

Italy ficedItaly vs. Netherlands FixedNetherlands: Italy, in its first Women’s World Cup in 20 years, but won their first-ever knockout round game against China 2-0. This is also the Netherlands’ first time ever winning a knock-out match at the WWC, and it was up against Japan: last year’s finalist. Both teams also looked great in their group play. Netherlands won all their games while Italy only lost to Brazil.

This is a tight call between the ‘Cinderella team’ of the tournament and the 2017 Women’s Euro winner. Don’t forget both teams will already have their best-ever result at the Women’s World Cup. I will have to say Italy as they’ve won over the Netherlands in head-to-head competition more often.

Germany fixedGermany vs. Sweden FixedSweden: Isn’t that something that this quarterfinal looks like a rematch of the 2016 Olympic final? Germany is one of five teams entering the quarterfinals with straight wins. Sweden’s only loss came to the U.S.A. in group play. Germany was very convincing in their 3-0 win against Nigeria. Sweden may have won against Canada 1-0 but they proved the can be a strong team.

I predict it will be Germany that wins as they have appeared the strongest. Also because they haven’t conceded a single goal in the tournament. And also Germany has won against Sweden more than they’ve lost in head-to-head competition.

And there you have it. My new predictions for the quarterfinals. Funny how watching play gives you second-thoughts. Right now I’m tempted to predict that the WWC final will be the U.S.A. vs. Germany. But it’s wrong to jump the gun. So let the play decide!

World Cup 2018 Preview: Group F

I just bought the official guide to the World Cup. It gives a lot of fact and figures and trivia. Some World Cup trivia facts are worth knowing, like who scored the most goals or who achieved the fastest red card. Others, not really. Anyways enough of that. Let’s get back to reviewing the World Cup. Today it’s Group F:

Germany fixed

-Germany (1)- Germany appear to be the clear favorites after their World Cup win in 2014. There doesn’t seem to be anything that appears to hinder them. However the defending champion teams have had a history of bad luck at the World Cup. The last time a team successfully defended their World Cup was back in 1962. The last time the defending champion made it to the final was in 1998. Also let’s keep in mind that three of the last four defending champion teams were ousted in the group stage. Germany looks like one team that won’t let it happen. The last time Germany finished outside the Top 8 was all the way back in 1938. However don’t rely on statistics.

Anyways the Mannschaft have been playing very well since their win in 2014. Upon the retirement of many vets after the Cup, coach Joachim Loew has had to train some new talent. They won the Confederations Cup for the first time ever last year. They also got as far as the semifinals at Euro 2016. However they did expose a weakness in their quarterfinal win against Italy when three of the players missed penalty shots: uncharacteristic for a team with a near-perfect record. Germany has delivered a lot of impressive wins like 6-0 over Norway, 4-1 over Mexico and 2-1 over Chile. However Germany ‘s 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia is its first win since World Cup qualification. They even lost 1-0 to Brazil and 2-1 over Austria. Chances are they could just come alive again at the World Cup. They’ve always been together at every World Cup and I’m sure Russia 2018 will be no exception.

Mexico

-Mexico (15)- Mexico is frequently seen as a sleeping giant in football. They’re a team loaded with talent waiting for their big breakthrough. Sure, they’ve qualified for the knockout stage in every World Cup they’ve played in since 1986, but 1986 was the first and only time Mexico won a knockout game. You can bet Mexico’s hoping to finally get their breakthrough.

El Tricolor have had ups and downs these past four years. They won the 2015 CONCACAF Championship but finished third in 2017. They also finished fourth at last year’s Confederations Cup. However at the last two Copa Americas, the best they could do was the quarterfinals. Their track records this past year has been good. They’ve had good wins like 3-0 against Iceland, 1-0 against Poland and 3-1 against Ireland. They even delivered a strong 3-3 draw against Belgium. However they’ve had some noteworthy losses such as 1-0 against Croatia and 4-1 against Germany. Anything is possible in 2018 and Mexico could rise to the occasion.

Sweden Fixed

-Sweden (23)- If there’s one team that can cause an upset, it’s Sweden. During World Cup qualifying, the Top 2 teams from UEFA’s Group A were expected to be France and the Netherlands. France did come out of top, but Sweden finished ahead of the Netherlands on goal differentials. Sweden was drawn to play against Italy for the playoff berth. I’m sure everyone expected Italy to win it. However a goal from Jakob Johansson in the 61st minute of the first game and a scoreless second game meant Italy will miss out on the World Cup for the first time since 1958. Never underestimate the Swedes.

You can bet the Blagult will be ready. The big shock is that Jakob Johansson who delivered the berth-winning goal will not be in Russia. Neither will its superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic as he retired from the national team after Euro 2016. Now the most capped man on the Swedish team is Hull City’s Sebastian Larsson. Since 2017, Sweden has delivered notable wins such as 3-2 against Portugal, 2-1 against France, and of course their 1-0 surprise over Italy. However they’ve had some notable losses like 2-0 against the Netherlands, 2-1 over Chile and 1-0 against Romania. However never rule Sweden out. If they can upset the Netherlands and Italy in qualifying, they could create an upset in Russia 2018.

Korea

-Korea Republic (South Korea) (61)- There’s no doubt that South Korea is the top team in Asia. It has a record of consistency with qualifying for every World Cup since 1986. They come to Russia hoping to make a good impression, but most experts don’t have too high of expectations for them. Which is surprise since they were finalists at the last Asian Cup and even won last year’s East Asian Cup. I think they get the ranking because they didn’t win a game at the last World Cup. Actually no AFC team won a single game at the last World Cup.

Most of the lineup plays for Korea’s K League 1. Only four play for European teams. Since 2017, the team has had some remarkable wins like 2-1 over Colombia and 4-1 over Japan. However the team has had some noteworthy losses like 3-1 to Bosnia, 4-2 to Russia and 3-2 to Poland. Chances are South Korea could rise to the occasion again. They just have to prove it in Russia.

And those are my thoughts on Group F. As for predicting which two will move onto the knockout round, I think it will be Germany and Mexico. Those are my best hunches.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT

Just four more stadiums to go. As we get closer, the stadiums will get bigger. Interesting how the World Cup will show us big cities in Russia we never knew about. In fact I never knew about this city until I learned of the stadium.

Rostov-On-Don: Rostov Arena

Rostov at night

Year Opened: 2018

Capacity: 45,000

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

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16

The most interesting thing about the stadium is that soon after ground broke, five shells from World War II were found in June 2013 and they were in near-perfect condition! The stadium is noteworthy for its irregular shape of roofing and stands. Its lighting at night is definitely a spectacle to watch. The stadium is part of major city development of Rostov-on-Don. This is the first project built on the southern bank of the Don River. Built close to shopping and dining areas, the stadium will serve as a focal point for investments and new developments. After the Cup, the seating will be reduced to 42,000 and will serve as the home venue for FC Rostov.

And there’s my summary of Group F. Only six more days to go. And two more groups and three more stadiums for me to review.

UEFA Euro 2016: Group E Focus

UEFA-Euro-2016-Live

A lot of you are wondering if a Canadian like me is getting into the fanfare of Euro 2016. Actually I am, though not on a huge basis. I do go the the UEFA website and go to the fanzone area. Yes, I go to the Panini online sticker album. I’m also going into the Hyundai predictor too. I’ll do both match predictor and bracket predictor. I just do it to have fun and who knows? I might win something. In the meantime, more predicting happening. Here’s my rundown of Group E:

BelgiumBelgium (2): This seems to be the time for the Red Devils. They’ve shown a level of consistency and team play that has taken them to the top of FIFA’s World Rankings for the first time ever back in November 2015. What Belgium needs now is a landmark accomplishment. They have achieved third-place and a runners-up finish at the Euro before but that was all the way back in 1972 and 1980 respectively. Also their best World Cup result was a fourth place back in 1986. This is their first Euro since they co-hosted back in 2000. Back then the team wasn’t all there and it took a long time to get off the ground. Their first signs of success came around World Cup qualifying which led them to a quarterfinals finish in Brazil in 2014. Since the 2014 World Cup, Belgium has further extended its reputation of consistency winning twelve of their seventeen matches since. Notable opponents they’ve beaten in that time are France, Italy,Switzerland and Norway. Their only losses came to Portugal and Wales. No doubt they will come to France with something to prove and possibly have their best Euro ever.

Italy ficedItaly (15): Italy is traditionally one of the maverick countries of football. However every maverick country of football have their moments of big glory and their downtimes too. Now seems like the downtime for Azzurri. Their defense isn’t as strong. It’s not like the unbreakable defense they had back in the 90’s. Another thing Italy is missing is their consistency. Sure they were finalists at the last Euro and they finished third at the 2013 Confederations Cup. However they still have the frustration of failing to advance past the Group Stage of the last two World Cups. Their play since World Cup 2014 have had ups and downs of their own. Italy’s wins since include the Netherlands, Norway and Scotland. On top of that, they qualified for the Euro top of their group and without a loss. However they have had losses to Portugal, Belgium and Germany in the meantime. Euro 2016 could either be a time of redemption for them or a time of disappointment. It’s all in their hands.

Ireland fixedRepublic of Ireland (31): Ireland is a team that has moments of success in spurts. They’ve gone as far as the quarterfinals at the World Cup, back in 1990, but have never made it past the group stage in the two Euros they’ve played in. At the last Euro, they exited with the worst result of all teams losing all three games and a goal differential of -8. The team has rebounded considerably especially after being ranked 67th by FIFA back in 2013. Notable wins include Switzerland, Germany and the United States. They’ve only endure three losses: to Scotland, Poland and Belarus. They’ve also had some noteworthy draws to the Netherlands, Slovakia, England and Bosnia. It’s possible the Green Army could be one of the surprises here in Euro 2016.

Sweden FixedSweden (36): Sweden is a team struggling to get their greatness noticed. Sure, they have a star player in Zlatan Ibrahimovic but they have a talented full team too. Their recent results have not been the best as they failed to qualify for the last two World Cups and exited the last two Euros in the Group Stage. Interesting trivia fact: Sweden has never won a knockout game at the Euro. Since the 2014 World Cup which they sat out, they’ve had a mixed record. They’ve had wins against Denmark, Iran, Finland and Wales as well as draws against Russia and Norway. They’ve also had losses to France, Turkey, Austria, Russia and Finland. They will have to come together in France if they want to go further.

Prediction: Okay, now it’s time to predict the group. No doubt about it, I predict Belgium to top it. I predict Italy to be second and Ireland to take third.

And there are my thoughts on Group E. Predictions for Group F coming soon.

UPDATE:

Here are my reviews of other groups:

2016 Eurovision Song Contest Final Preview

eurovision2016euro

I’ll admit I had no intention of posting a preview blog about the final. I was just content with watching the performers and playing ‘armchair judge’ for my own leisure. Besides I intended for my detailed blog of the ESC to be my only blog about it.

However that all changed last night as I was on Youtube and the ESC channel watching video after video of the night’s semi-final performances. Hey, when the show’s on live at noon your time, that’s your resort. That all changed after I added comment after comment with many of the videos. And that’s what inspired me to do this preview of the final for the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest.

For this preview, I’ve decided to post my opinions about the performances in the semi-finals. I will be judging the performances of both the competitors from the semis as well as those from Sweden and the Big 5 whom I will call ‘automatics’ because they automatically have their berths in the Final and their performances in the semis are simply a dress rehearsal for the Finals.

I felt it best that I place my judgements mostly on their semi-final performances. A lot of people have based their judgements from the song’s official music video released on YouTube months before the Contest. The videos are very telling in terms of how well each song will do however I feel the performances in the semis are more telling as it gives a good sense what their live show will be and even how together they are as a performer. Sure the semi won’t tell it all but it will tell it most. I do feel that the song is the key thing to base a judgement on. No matter how big of a show you put on, the song and its content is unavoidable. However I will consider showmanship as a performer will still have to make the song entertaining and eyecatching. Simply put, I will give top kudos to those performances who deliver best.

I will also start with my first section where I give opinions of the performances that have qualified for the final. I will then give my personal picks for who I would give the biggest point to if I were a jury. Note I will not be making predictions like I normally do. I will be giving my preferences and opinions. I’m not familiar with the music tastes of most European countries nor am I familiar with jury tastes. So here goes:

SEMIFINAL 1:

  • Hungary: Freddie  ‘Pioneer’ Very good song with a very dramatic opening. Freddie has very good vocals in singing the song. The song is far from boring. It will catch your ears. A deserving finalist.
  • Croatia: Nina Kraljic ‘Lighthouse‘ – Nina came to Stockholm in hopes of breaking Croatia’s bad-luck spell of missing out in the finals since 2009. She did exactly that. As for her performance, you’ll think her outfit at the beginning is ridiculous but that’s part of adding drama or theatrics to the song. I’m cool with that as long as it’s done right. Her performance was very good and deserving of her final berth.
  • Netherlands: Douwe Bob ‘Slow Down‘ – This is one of my delights of the night. I’m impressed to see how the Dutch know how to do bluesy rock or rockabilly. The Dutch did it before in 2014 with ‘Calm After The Storm‘ and they do it again here. Best song of the evening that delivers as a great alternative after so many techno numbers. Stage show is minimal but it works for the song instead of against it. I ranked it my 3rd place of this semi.
  • Armenia: Iveta Mukuchyan ‘LoveWave‘ – It’s not the best of the night but it’s still good and a deserving finalist. Very good song with good vocals. I felt the stage show was a bit iffy. Otherwise very deserving nonetheless.
  • Russia: Sergei Lazarev ‘You Are The Only One‘ – What can I say? For me that was the show of the first semi and my #1 pick for that night. It didn’t have the same song quality the Netherlands had but still an entertaining song with the most entertaining stage show of the evening. Definitely an eye-catcher and it will not surprise me if this song is a top contender for the win on Saturday.
  • Czech Republic: Gabriela Guncikova ‘I Stand‘ – Not exactly a song that stands out too much. Nevertheless Gabriela did sing it well and perform it well on stage. what it lacks in catchiness, it makes up for in its consistency and professionalism. A very deserving finalist. Especially since this is the first time in five tries a Czech performer qualifies for the final. Great job!
  • Cyprus: Minus One ‘Alter Ego‘ – You’d think with this being Cyprus, it would be ethnopop, right? Actually this is a hard rock song high in energy. I could even feel the energy of the song while watching it. Great song and great performance which was one of my favorites of the night. I feel it should do strong on Saturday.
  • Austria: Zoe ‘Loin d’Ici‘ – This was my surprise of the night. I like it when a song goes beyond my expectations. At first you’d think a number too sweet would come off as saccharine to you. However this is one ‘sweet’ song that actually did everything right and even charmed me. Excellent stage show that tried mimicking what was in her video. However if anyone had doubts about her song while watching her video before the Semi, I think her performance in the semi increased her chances of winning. It was better than the video. I consider this my 2nd place of the semi.
  • Azerbaijan: Samra ‘Miracle‘ – Once again a case of an Azerbaijani singer performing a song written by Swedes. This is one of only two semifinalists whom I did not have on my list of my ten ‘finals picks.’ The song was good but I’ve seen better performances by Azerbaijani acts in past ESCs. I think 2013’s ‘Hold Me‘ is their best ever.  Also the back-up dancers did a real tacky job of dancing. That’s all I can describe about it. Their dancing was tacky. Nevertheless Samra was dressed well and she did sing her song very well despite t not being much of a song. I just feel it didn’t deserve to be in the semis.
  • Malta: Ira Losco ‘Walk On Water‘ – Once again a case of a stageshow that was hard to swallow thanks to backup dancing. Ira did her song very well. However the dancer on stage just plain came off as ridiculous and irritating. It actually turned me off the song. This is the other finalist from the first semi that I felt didn’t deserve it.

SEMIFINAL 2:

  • Latvia: Justs ‘Heartbeat‘ – The biggest thing about the song is its arresting instrumentation. The stage graphics fit the song very well and Justs delivers the song in style and with the right moves you’d expect from a male pop singer. Justs does it solo without backup singers or backup dancers and does it with style. I ranked it the best performance of this semi because it grabs your attention from the very start and won’t let go.
  • Poland: Michal Szpak ‘Color Of Your Life‘ – This is a good ballad delivered very well from Michal. Its style really stands out. Michal delivered it very professionally despite missing a note near the first chorus. The biggest glitch I feel has to be the vintage military jacket he wears on stage. I don’t think it fit the performance that well. Especially since Justs that was on just before him came on stage with a leather jacket. Backup violinists and stage graphics blended well with the performance.
  • Israel: Hovi Star ‘Made Of Stars‘ – This is an excellent ballad delivered very well with excellent singing from Hovi. I almost thought he was doing a cover of an Adele song. The stage graphics added excellently to the song. However the two dancers on the spinning hoop had me questioning whether they were worth it or not? Do they add or subtract? Because Hovi delivers well in a no nonsense performance.
  • Serbia: Sanja Vucic ZAA ‘Goodbye‘ – It’s both a ‘Balkan Ballad’ and a power ballad. Excellent vocals full of emotion and a set up back-up singers that add to the drama and power. Might bring back memories to some of 2007 winner ‘Molitva’ but it holds its own. The male backup dancer didn’t add but he didn’t subtract from the performance either. If there’s one weakness, it’s her stiff black dress. Overall an excellent package and I rank it second-best of this semifinal.
  • Lithuania: Donny Montell ‘I’ve Been Waiting For This Night‘ – A powerful song with a lot of energy and Donny knows how to deliver it vocally. However I didn’t like how he added Michael Jackson-like dance moves to his performance. I feel it did not fit the song at all. Maybe the front flip near the end helped but the dancing didn’t. This is one of two from this semi that qualified for the final that didn’t make my personal Top 10.
  • Australia: Dami Im ‘Sound Of Silence‘ – A very powerful ballad delivered excellent by Dani. I also have no problem with the dress since it was meant to fit the song. However I’m not too happy about some of the stage choices she was given such as sitting on that platform until after the second chorus. She does walk around after that and deliver the song well but I don’t think she was given enough movement.
  • Bulgaria: Poli Genova ‘If Love Was A Crime‘ – Many people felt Poli was robbed of a finals berth five years ago with ‘Na Inat‘ but she finally gets it here. I’ll admit this is not that much of an attention-grabber of a song. Nor were a few of her dance moves the best. Nevertheless Poli delivered the song well and gave it its energy and made it enjoyable to hear. It’s very good for the most part.
  • Ukraine: Jamala ‘1944‘ – This is the first song at the ESC with Crimean Tatar lyrics. This is probably the most political song at this Contest. She has a song with a message and she delivers it with emotion in the song. The wailing at the end of the song is a big plus and especially shows off her vocal abilities. However political songs are touchy grounds at the ESC. They welcome it as long as it’s subtle. I feel this is deserving of its finals berth.
  • Georgia: Nika Kocharov and Young Georgian Lolitaz ‘Midnight Gold‘ – The number starts with a lot of potential with some exciting rock instrumentation and fitting stage graphics. However it goes downhill when the singer delivers vocals with notes that don’t seem to fit the song. I don’t know if he did it for creative purposes but his choices don’t really fit at all. Can’t complain about the instrumentation as it’s the best part. However this is the second qualifier to the final from this semi that I felt didn’t deserve it. Actually I ranked it second-to-last of this semi.
  • Belgium : Laura Tesoro ‘What’s The Pressure‘ – At last! A song that makes you wanna get down! Laura delivers a funky, feel-good energetic number that delivers all the best qualities of a pop number including vocals, dancing and even trying to get the crowd involved. I ranked this the third-best of this semi.

AUTOMATICS:

  • France: Amir ‘J’ai Cherche‘ – Good song, has a lot of energy, very good singing, but it comes across as rather boring. I don’t know what it is but when I saw Amir perform, I felt like there was something missing. I don’t know how this will fare on Saturday.
  • Spain: Barei ‘Say Yay!‘ – Now this is one number I feel will go far. A very good song that is full of energy and has good potential of being catchy. Also she performs excellently on stage. She dances like she’s in control and delivers the song as she should. I question her dress, especially with the 03 on it. However I feel she will be great on Saturday night.
  • Sweden: Frans ‘If I Were Sorry‘ – Sweden has one of the best success records at Eurovision. This number however is very questionable. Frans delivered a boring performance where the background tries to make the song interesting by flashing key words. He does sing the song well but his accent is too thick to comprehend some of the lyrics. I think he might score well in the popular vote because of his teen idol status but I don’t think he’ll score well with the judges.
  • Germany: Jamie-Lee ‘Ghost‘ – I have to say a good song and Jamie-Lee is a very good singer. However her outfit was too over the top. I’m cool with a weird outfit done for theatrical purposes such as Nina Kraljic’s outfit during the opening of ‘Spotlight’ but that was too ridiculous like Alice In Wonderland went through a flower garden. The backup singers had on sensible clothes and the trees that shot laser beams worked good but that outfit is dumb and works against her performance. However the outfit will make her win the Barbara Dex award.
  • United Kingdom: Joe & Jake ‘You’re Not Alone‘ – I have to say it’s a very good song with a very good performance. The two sing the song very well and add to the young energy of the song. It’s hard to find something to dislike about this number, especially since it’s very low in gimmicks. I think the one cheesy thing was probably the jumping near the end. One thing we have to keep in mind is that ‘no nonsense’ performances like these are great but they face the obstacle of winning attention from both televoters and the juries. Nevertheless I do wish the best for both of them. Especially since the UK used to have quite a Eurovision legacy and the 21st century has been very unkind to them with only two Top 10 finishes.
  • Italy: Francesca Michielin ‘No Degree Of Separation‘ – Italy rarely disappoints. They’ve mostly delivered some top notch performances to the Contest over the years, even in the last few years. And this year’s entry is a delight too. 21 year-old Francesca Michielin is already a seasoned pro. You’ll notice it as she sings the song consistently and with feeling. Adding the feeling to the song is a big plus. A big minus to the song however is all those stage props and stage graphics. I don’t know if they were trying to reflect a theme or emulate the music video but I feel it went too far and they were distracting from the song. This could work against her performance which holds its own without all the added stuff.

So those are my thoughts for the qualifiers. As for the ‘also-rans’:

Semi-Final 1: I know I said Malta and Azerbaijan didn’t deserve to be in the final. In their place should be Iceland and Moldova. They did their performance better. Finland’s Sandhja was good but came off as flat. That’s not good especially when you’re first up. Greece must have forgotten the golden rule of rap acts at Eurovision: rap acts go nowhere, even if it’s mixed with ethnopop. It’s a shame because I usually like the Greek numbers. San Marino’s Serhat had a style but I didn’t see it as enough to qualify for the final. Estonia came off as ridiculous in his stage antics and his voice. Montenegro’s number sounded like a mashed-up song and Bosnia’s on-stage theatrics made me wonder if it was really necessary for the song.

Semi-Final 2: If I were to trade Georgia and Lithuania from the finals, I’d put in Ireland and Macedonia. Ireland was full of energy and delivered well. Macedonia was also excellent, especially in her vocal range. Switzerland had a good song but it all fell apart with all the on-stage props and moves she was given. Belarus had potential but I thought the face stripes were dumb. Slovenia was good but the singer delivered awkward stage poses that worked against her. The Danish vocal trio came across as rather boring. Norway delivered a song that alternate from one tempo and mood of the verses to a different tempo and completely different mood in the chorus. It didn’t really mix well. And Albania had good potential but I feel her chances were marred by lousy backup singers.

Overall I have to say this is a mostly good set of performers for this Contest. There is a bit of the eccentric in some elements but it’s nothing compared to the ‘freak shows’ of five years ago or even ten years ago. I think the freakiest moments will come from Germany and Italy. I guess the country’s are now getting the message that doing something super-eccentric or super-gimmicky doesn’t pay. I didn’t notice too many off-key moments and those that did recovered well.

Like I said, I don’t know enough about European music tastes to make predictions. So instead I’m giving my personal Top 10. Eurovision style, of course:

  • Poland, 1 point.
  • Australia, 2 points.
  • Spain, 3 points.
  • Cyprus, 4 points.
  • Netherlands, 5 points.
  • Belgium, 6 points.
  • Serbia, 7 points.
  • Austria, 8 points.
  • Latvia, 10 points.
  • And my personal 12 points goes to…Russia!

So there’s my summary of the 2016 Eurovision finalists and their semifinal performances. I’m glad I don’t have to be a jury member because it’s a headache ranking them. Mind you anything can change on Saturday. They may go off key or something may malfunction or the energy that was there in the semi may not be there in the final. Even things like performance order can play a factor. How ironic how Belgium who ended the second semifinal will open the final? Ending the final will be Armenia. Whatever the situation, I wish all the performers the best and the winning performer’s country to get ready to host next year!

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