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.
Belgium: 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: 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.
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.
France: 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.
“Everybody cheers for David. Nobody cheers for Goliath.”
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.
This is the match neither of the two teams wanted to play but really have no other choice. Doesn’t it make you wonder who wins the Third-Place Match at the World Cup? The team that’s the least disheartened? Or the team that most feels they have one last thing to prove? A neat bit of trivia: the third-place match is the one World Cup match that has never come down to a penalty shootout and went into extra time only once in the World Cup’s history. Whatever the situation, the two semifinal losers will duke it out for one last World Cup shot in the Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha.
I don’t think very many people make predictions for the third-place match. Maybe they do. Whatever the situation, I thin I’ll make a prediction for Saturday’s game. First a rundown of the two teams. Starting with past head-to-head results.
Past Head-To-Head Results: Netherlands and Brazil have squared off eleven times before: Netherlands won three, Brazil three and five draws and both teams have scored a total of 15 goals against each other. The World Cup has been the stage for four of those previous rivalries. First was in 1974 during second-round group play which the Netherlands won 2-0. Second time was in the 1994 quarterfinals where Brazil was the victor that time 3-2. Third time was the following World Cup in the semifinals where they tied 1-1 only for Brazil to win in a penalty shoot out. Fourth time was at the last World Cup in the quarterfinals where Brazil pretty much gave it away with an own-goal and Oranje won 2-1. So what does the fifth World Cup rivalry look like?
NETHERLANDS: Here’s a team that’s struggling to get their first World Cup win. Three times the bridesmaid (1974, 1978 and 2010), never the bride. Here in 2014, they were brilliant in the group stage winning all their games and humiliating defending champions Spain 5-1. They continued to look good with their 2-1 win over Mexico in the Round of 16. However there was a sign they would struggle when they played to a scoreless draw against Costa Rica in the quarterfinals. Hey, don’t underestimate Costa Rica’s defense. Fortunately their replacement goalkeeper Tim Krul was the right choice as he blocked two Costa Rican penalty kicks to help Netherlands advance to the semifinals.
Then their semifinal against Argentina. Netherlands had slightly more ball possession while Argentina had five attempts on target compared to three from the Dutch. Nevertheless it was awfully bleak for a game like that. The two were just tough rivals. So after 120 scoreless minutes, it took penalty kicks to decide. This time head goalkeeper Cillessen was kept in. However the penalty kicks from Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder were no match for Argentina’s Sergio Romero. It only took a four in a row from Argentina to take them to the final.
So now that the Dutch are out of contention for the Cup, will they win this match? They have played one third-place match before back in 1998 to Croatia and lost 2-1. They have shown in plays against Argentina and Costa Rica that they can control the ball and they can control their opponents, even when they don’t score. They showed in their 5-1 win against Spain they can really seize the moment and challenge a top rival. However the fact they haven’t scored a goal since the Round of 16 really makes me question if the ‘Orange Magic’ has faded. Also who knows how hungry Brazil is? And I’ll get to them later. If they want to win, they should maintain the same control they had during the field play time they had. Also Cillessen should be on guard. Until the penalty shoot out against Argentina, he has only conceded four goals this World Cup. Natherlands has the ability but do they have the hunger?
BRAZIL: To be honest, there were actually bigger humiliations at this World Cup than Tuesday’s Mineirazo. Like defending champs Spain losing 5-1 to the Netherlands and then 2-0 to Chile to be out of the running. Or how about England failing to win a game for the first time since 1958? Even Italy being ousted in Group Stage for the second World Cup in a row is a pretty big embarrassment. Nevertheless Tuesday’s 7-1 loss to Germany right in front of a home crowd as World Cup host nation really bruised the nation’s football ego. A nation that had the biggest World Cup legacy had their current teams weaknesses exposed by Germany on a home stage and in front of the eyes of the World. And they still have to fight one last time.
No doubt this was a team that was showing signs of struggle. Coach Scolari knew the difficulties he had to deal with and team psychologist Regina Brandao really had to work with the team. The setbacks of Neymar getting his back broken and Thiago Silva being banned from the semifinal match was sure to almost everybody this would set Brazil back, but nobody expected a disaster like this.
Now that the third-place match is ahead, there may be question if Brazil will be ready physically. Neymar of course won’t be there. Thiago Silva can be eligible to play again which should be crucial as he was critical to their defense. Also the question if Fred will be on the roster especially after his bad play during the game. Also there is the big question of whether Brazil will be there for the game mentally. You can bet that between Tuesday and Saturday, Brandao will have to work better than she ever has. Of all current players on Brazil’s team, it’s probably Julio Cesar that would probably be the one most hurt mentally. He’s the one that let those seven goals in.
There have been big-name athletes and teams that would have to perform right after a humiliating performance. Some would be the all-or-nothing type and deliver half-heartedly and then there are some that would deliver for pride and come out shining despite losing it all. That’s what it would come down to with Brazil’s play on Saturday. Brazil has played three third-place matches in past World Cups and won two but this is a different third-place match for the team. We know how hurt they are but how will they deliver on their last shot for glory?
Prediction: Okay, you all know what my pick is. I’ll tell you who I think will win and who I want to win. I think it will be the Netherlands 2-1. I think Brazil might not have recovered from Tuesday’s match psychologically. Though I could be wrong. Actually I hope I’m wrong because I want Brazil to win for pride. In fact I sent the Brazilian team a tweet: “Finish the way a true athlete would and WIN ON SATURDAY!”
Update (11 July): Actually I did some thinking in the past 24 hours and even did some reading. And I didn’t let statistics get in the way, even though World Cup host nations have played the third-place match four times before and won three times. Actually I based my opinion on team attitude. That is a critical factor for the third-place match. And my new prediction is Brazil 2-1. The Netherlands lacks motivation. Coach Louis Van Gaal sees the game as pointless, Wesley Sneijders said the only match that matters is the one for the Cup and Arjen Robben has appeared equally disinterested. However the Brazilians are very motivated for this match. And rightly so. Scolari has encouraged the team to play the match out for pride and the honor of the Brazilian team. I’m sure after the embarrassment on Tuesday, that is the motivation they will need. Even the teammates agree, and Thiago Silva is eligible to play again. Go Brasil!