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: Intro and Group A and Group B Focus

Euro 2020 which starts on Friday the 11th will be a multi-nation event contested in eleven stadiums in eleven countries.

The 2020 UEFA European Football Championships, or Euro 2020, were one of many big sporting events of 2020 that had to be cancelled out because of the pandemic. The Euro was relocated to 2021 in hopes that conditions would improve and that the tournament would be contested. The UEFA Euro will take place in 2021, with the first game to start on Friday, June 11th, but will still keep its original name Euro 2020.

For the 2020 tournament, Michel Platini intended back in 2012 not to have a single host-nation for the tournament’s 60th anniversary. Instead he decided to have multiple host stadiums in multiple nations as a ‘romantic’ one-off event to celebrate the tournament’s anniversary. The event was originally planned for 13 stadiums in 13 nations. It eventually was reduced to 11 stadiums in 11 nations.

The 2020 Euro is the first major multi-nation sporting event to take place since the pandemic started. UEFA wants crowds for the tournament, but is well aware of the precautions they will need to take during this pandemic. This is what led to Aviva Stadium in Dublin to withdraw from the tournament as they couldn’t guarantee spectators could attend. Spain also relocated their site from Bilbao to Seville as there was a bigger guarantee there spectators could attend matches. Also worth noting is that this is the first Euro in which VAR (Video-Assisted Referee) technology will be included.

All stadiums except Puskas Arena will have limited crowd sizes to prevent the spread of the pandemic. However Puskas Arena organizers say it will maintain stadium entrance requirements. One note about the stadiums is that the host country of the stadium would not guarantee their national team’s qualification. Nine of the eleven nations hosting games were successful in qualifying their team for the tournament. Here’s a list of the stadiums for the tournament. Asterisk (*) denoted national team did not qualify:

Final, Semi-Finals, Round of 16 Matches and Group Matches
Wembley Stadium – London, England
Quarterfinal and Group Matches
Baku Olympic Stadium – Baku, Azerbaijan*
Stadio Olimpico – Rome, Italy
Allianz Arena – Munich, Germany
Krestovsky Stadium – St. Petersburg, Russia
Round of 16 Match and Group Matches
Parken Stadium – Copenhagen, Denmark
Puskas Arena – Budapest, Hungary
Johan Cruyff Arena – Amsterdam, Netherlands
Arena Nationala – Bucharest, Romania*
Hampden Park – Glasgow, Scotland
La Cartuja Stadium – Seville, Spain
Group Matches
Friends Arena – Stockholm, Sweden
Millennium Stadium – Cardiff, Wales

And now to get with my common tradition every World Cup or Euro, my group-by-group review of the teams competing at the Euro. For my blogging, I decided to review two groups in each post. Note that this might be harder than in most years: both blogging two groups and making predictions altogether. It’s quite possible the pandemic may have changed a lot of team statures. It’s quite possible teams that didn’t have such a high expectation the first time around could be better this time or teams with a high standing before the pandemic can end up being worse. Anyways here’s my review and prediction with the most recent FIFA ranking in brackets:

GROUP A

Overall Group A is a mixed bag. They have a traditional powerhouse in Italy and three teams that could pull a surprise. It can go any which way.

Turkey (29) – Turkey is a nation with a proud football legacy. They have a third-place finish at both a World Cup and a Euro as their best-ever results. Their current roster is full of good players. Four play for England’s Premier League, four for French teams, four for Italian and one each in Spanish and German leagues. However Turkey’s success has been known to have a yo-yo effect. They do very well in the years leading up to the Euro but struggle during the year before the World Cup. That may explain why they’ve only qualified for three World Cups.

These past two years, Turkey has played very well only losing to Hungary. They’ve drawn against top-ranked teams like Germany and Croatia and even won against the Netherlands in World Cup qualifying. Chances look good that the Crescent-Stars could defy all expectations this Euro and come out better than most expected.

Italy (7) – The Azzurri have normally been one of the most admired and most feared football teams in the world. Their reputation took a beating during the 2018 World Cup qualifying when they failed to qualify for the tournament. Russia 2018 was only the third World Cup ever where Italy was not present! The coach was subsequently fired and the President of the Italian Football Federation resigned in response.

Here in Euro 2020, the Azzurri come as a team with a lot to prove. All was not lost to Italy in 2017. The same year they failed to qualify for the World Cup, Italy’s under-20 men’s team finished third at the Under-20 World Cup. Their last loss came to Portugal in September 2018. Italy had an excellent 2019 in Euro qualifying winning all of their games. Their biggest win was 9-1 over Armenia. They’ve also proven themselves with wins over teams like the Netherland, Poland and the Czech Republic in recent years. Italy knows it has a lot to prove and Euro 2020 is the perfect domain for the new Italian team to prove itself.

Wales (17) – Many people the success of team Wales due to Gareth Bale. However the success is a team effort. In fact Bale isn’t the most capped member of the current Welsh team. Defender Chris Gunter is. Also goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey has more caps than Bale. Eighteen players play for the Premier League and one plays for Juventus. Back at the last Euro, The Dragons surprised everybody when they became semifinalists. And that was their first-ever Euro! However their prowess at the Euro didn’t carry over for World Cup qualification.

It’s interesting Cardiff is one of the Euro 2020 venues but team Wales won’t play any of their Group games there! Recently Wales has shown a mixed bag of results in terms of their play. They’ve achieved wins over Mexico and the Czech Republic. However they’ve also had losses to England, Belgium and France. This group looks to be a good group for Wales to play in and their chances to advance are good. Euro 2020 will give them the chance to prove themselves again.

Switzerland (13) – Switzerland has always been a team that is full of talent but doesn’t seem to reach high. These last twenty years, they qualified for the last four World Cups, but the furthest they ever got was the Round of 16. 2016 was the first Euro Switzerland made it past the Group Stage, but it ended at the Round of 16 match against Poland there.

Switzerland’s play since World Cup 2018 has been mostly up and down. They’ve had wins against Iceland and Belgium, but they’ve had losses against England, Portugal, Spain and 2022 World Cup host nation Qatar. They have had a great 2021 winning all five of their pre-Euro matches. Euro 2020 can be an exciting time for team Switzerland to prove what they have.

My Prediction: Judging how things look, I predict Italy to top the group with Wales coming in second. I anticipate Turkey to be third and to be a wildcard qualifier.

GROUP B

It’s easy to assume certain teams of Group B will do better than others, but don’t be too fooled. Surprises could come and the big favorites may not come out on top.

Denmark (10) – Denmark is known for mixed success. One quadrennial, they’re there. Another quadrennial, they’re in a slump. They failed to qualify for Euro 2016 but they were successful in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup where they made the Round of 16. The current team consists of six members in the Premier League, seven players in Italy’s league and four in Germany’s Bundesliga.

Since 2020, Denmark’s only lost games came to Belgium. They’ve won against England and Sweden and even drew against Germany. Their biggest win was 8-0 over Moldova. Chances look good for The Red And White to be able to prove themselves. They may not have the same form as they did when they won in 1992 but Denmark could have their best result since.

Finland (54) – Many regard Finland as one of the least successful football teams in all of Europe. Finland is the biggest European nation never to qualify for a World Cup. This will be the very first Euro Finland has ever qualified for. The players play for various leagues throughout Europe and in the MLS.

The current Finnish team will surprise you. Since the start of 2020, they’ve had wins against Greece, Sweden and France. 2021 however has been a difficult year for them. They haven’t had a single win and have lost to Switzerland, Finland and Estonia. Finland comes to Euro 2020 as possibly the biggest underdog. However anything can happen during the total 270 minutes of Group Stage play.

Belgium (1) – Possibly the biggest change of football in the last ten years has to be the mega-success of team Belgium. The 2010’s saw a turnabout where The Red Devils went from delivering substandard play to suddenly performing as one of the best team units in the world. With players like Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne and Vincent Kompany, Belgium wen from underachievers to a third-place finish at the 2018.

As for Euro, Belgium’s best result is runners-up in 1980. Belgium definitely want to do better than the quarterfinal finish they had at the last Euro. Belgium have continued their winning ways since the World Cup. They’ve had wins over teams like Switzerland, Russia and England. England is also the only team they lost to, during a Nation’s League match in October 2020. Euro 2020 is a good chance for Belgium to show Europe what they’re made of. Possibly even clinch their first-ever win.

Russia (38) – Russia’s abilities and prowess as a team was always very questionable leading up to the 2018 World Cup which they were host nation. During the World Cup, Russia sent a message to the world just how good their team really is by finishing in the quarterfinals. All but four of the team’s current players play in the Russian Premier League. The other four play in leagues in France, Spain, Italy and Turkey.

Since 2020, Russia has had a mixed bag of results. They’ve won against Serbia and Hungary. However they’ve also endured losses to Sweden, Serbia and Slovakia as well as draws to Turkey and Poland. In football anything can happen. And Russia could just end up going further in Euro 2020 than most people expected.

My Prediction: I’m tempted to say Belgium will top this group with Denmark being second. I expect Russia to be third, but I don’t know if their stats will hold up for their qualification.

And there you have it. That’s my first review of the groups for Euro 2020. More reviews of the groups coming your way. Remember that the tournament is just three days from starting!

VIFF 2019 Review: Mr. Jones

Gareth-Jones
Mr. Jones is about journalist Gareth Jones, played by James Norton (left) who seeks to expose a tragedy in Ukraine the USSR is determined to hide from the outside world.

I was interested in seeing Mr. Jones at the VIFF as it’s based on a topic of my interest: the Holodomor or Ukrainian famine of 1932-1933. It’s an intriguing story with a relevant message for today’s world.

In 1933, Gareth Jones is a 28 year-old Welsh journalist who is very good at getting stories. He was the first foreign journalist to fly with Hitler and Goebbels at the start of Hitler’s regime while working as an advisor for British statesman Herman Lloyd George. During the time, he discovered of Hitler’s intentions to wage war. His story fell to deaf ears in the press and his job as advisor is dropped due to budget cuts. Despite being dropped, George gave Jones a letter of recommendation. He hopes to use it to go to the USSR to find an investigative journalist. Before he does, he gets a phone call from a friend named Paul Kleb in the USSR. He talks of how the economy is booming in Russia, but he is about to tell of something terrible happening in Ukraine… and then he gets disconnected.

Jones arrives in Moscow. His trip is regulated from start to finish: what he does, how long he stays and where he goes. That’s how things are in the USSR. In fact his job as a foreign journalist is under heavy scrutiny by national officials during his stay and no foreign journalist is allowed outside of Moscow. He arrives at the hotel in Moscow of New York Times bureau chief Walter Duranty. Duranty welcomes him and introduces him to his assistant Ada Brooks. Jones is expected to be in the USSR for seven days but he can only stay at the hotel for two days. Duranty offers Jones to stay and partake in the late-night partying. At the parties is all kinds of debauchery from prostitutes to heroin shooting to even homosexual advances. Jones wants none of this as he knows Paul Kleb was killed in Ukraine and has to find out why.

Jones finds a train headed to Eastern Ukraine. He breezes past security to stow away on it. When he arrives in Ukraine, he steps off to see the farmed grains loaded onto trucks by the Soviet army, but people dead in the snow and farmers starving. He tries to get answers. He goes to soldiers putting the bagged grain in a truck. He asks in English where it’s going, but is suspected as a spy. Soldiers go out chasing and shooting after him. Fortunately, Jones is able to evade the pursuit. He comes across some children who sing a haunting song to him of the death and starvation happening around him. He goes to a house which is in a photograph he holds, but sees the residents dead in their beds. Jones goes into a town where he sees the Soviet army take the dead bodies in the snow and pile them in a sled to be buried in a mass grave. They even take a baby that’s alive and still crying. Jones goes into a house where he is able to find living residents. They give him something to eat, which appears to be meat, and from Kolya. He soon learns they’re staying alive by cannibalism, and Kolya is a famine fatality.

Soon Jones is captured by Soviet forces. The Communist government commands him to be silent by using the lives of six British auto workers as hostages. Jones tries to plead with Walter Duranty to expose the truth of what’s happening, but Duranty is ‘in bed’ with the Soviet regime. Duranty has a habit of writing of the ‘Worker’s Revolution’ in the USSR like he romanticizing it. In fact Duranty has the reputation of being known as ‘Our Man In Moscow.’ Ada however is more supportive towards Jones and believes he has to get the story out. This can’t be hidden and knowing that Jones is to be sent back to the UK, she encourages him to make the truth known.

Back in the UK, Jones can’t get any British paper to buy into his revelations of a man-made famine. The government either doesn’t want to believe it, or fear it will jeopardize diplomatic relations with the USSR. This upsets Jones as he knows this must be stopped. The events upset him so much, he can’t stop himself from breaking down in tears in his hometown. However he has an opportunity to talk to William Randolph Hearst while at a newspaper office. Hearst, however is extremely busy and will only allow Jones thirty seconds to state his case. However when he mentions of the death of Paul Kleb, that grabs Hearst’s ear and makes Hearst want to hear everything Jones saw. Finally the story ‘Famine In Ukraine’ makes the front page of the New York Times. Jones is defamed. He is not allowed in the USSR again. Duranty is also defamed, but never had his Pulitzer Prize rescinded. Nevertheless George Orwell is caught in the intrigue of Jones’ pursuits and it inspires him to write ‘Animal Farm’ published ten years after Jones was shot to death.

I’ll admit any story about the Holodomor catches my interest. I’m of Ukrainian ancestry. My great-grandparents arrived in Canada around the 1890’s-early 1900’s. They came here long before World War I even started, before Ukrainian land was annexed as part of the USSR and before the Holodomor. This film showcases the Holodomor and is possibly one of the best cinematic depictions of it, but the Holodomor is not the biggest theme of the film. The biggest theme of the film is about censorship in the USSR at the time. All the censorship that happened in the film is an example of the censorship that happened in the USSR since it began after World War II until it broke down in the mid-80’s to when it dissolved in 1991. All news was censored. Nothing but good news was to be published in Soviet newspapers and whatever negative news could not hit either Soviet news nor news to the outside world. Phone wires were tapped and letters were opened and investigated by authorities before it reached the mailboxes of the citizens or outsiders. Even speaking negative words of the Communist government would get one a jail sentence. The Soviet media promoted propaganda to glorify itself and its Communist system and vilify the capitalist system in the United States.

As seen through Gareth, the Soviet system was also restrictive to outsiders. The system decided if a person from an outside country could visit, where they could go and stay and for how long. There were already six British autoworkers who were treated like hostages at the time and threatened with death to have the UK comply to their demands. You can understand just what Jones had to face in order to get the truth out.

Gareth had good reason to pursue the story. It’s not just trying to find out why Paul Kleb died, but Ukraine had personal interest to him as his mother taught English in Ukraine in the 1890’s. Gareth even had barriers in journalism to overcome once he had his story. He had top journalist Walter Duranty to deal with. Duranty had a big reputation at stake and kept insisting that the Holodomor isn’t happening. It isn’t until Jones meets with William Randolph Hearst that he finally gets a willing ear. The big feud between Duranty and Jones shows how even in what is supposed to be the ‘free world,’ there is still a lot of truths that are suppressed or even denied. Seeing all that goes on can make one wonder if this is happening today in what is supposed to be free countries. If we are really getting this freedom of speech or if we’re getting a lot of concocted stories.

This film is great in making a point about journalism and getting the truth out. There are a lot of truth even in today’s world that need to be exposed, but are covered up. The film does a good job in making a moment of past history, and the journalistic feuding surrounding it, make for a relevant message for today. Even the fact that Gareth was shot to death in 1935 while investigating a story in Chinese territory bordering Russia (which many consider to be a Soviet plot of revenge) reminds us of how many journalists risk their lives to uncover truths.

The film was very good at making its point. However the story didn’t seem to be heading on a straight path. There were times when moments that only deserved a certain time, like all the debauchery at Duranty’s hotel party, was slowed down and given more screen time than necessary. Even the moments of the journalistic feuding and political feuding appeared to take too long. The moments involving Jones witnessing the Holodomor in Ukraine were given the best screen time and the best on-screen depiction. It showed a lot of brutal honesty of the Holodomor, including that of cannibalism. It may have taken over less than half the screen-time, but it was done in excellent detail and gave the right haunting feel to this moment of tragedy.

Veteran director Agnieszka Holland teams up with emerging writer Andrea Chalupa to bring this story to the big screen. The story is one of great personal interest to Holland as she is well-knowledged of the Holodomor. Holland also has renown for her depictions of the Holocaust in some of her films. She does a very good job in directing the story, even if there are some moments of irrelevance or moments drawn out longer than they should be. James Norton does a good job in his portrayal of journalist Gareth Jones, but his part could have been developed more. Most of the parts didn’t have too much development and could have had more done with it. Nevertheless, Peter Saarsgard was able to make Walter Duranty hateable on the big screen. Vanessa Kirby was able to make her role of Ada gain more dimension over time.

Mr. Jones is about more than just about the Holodomor. It’s also about the topic of censorship that is just as relevant now with the ‘freedom of speech’ we’re led to believe we have in the ‘free world.’

2016 UEFA Euro Semifinals: Preview And Predictions

Euro Semis

How about that? The past three-and-a-half weeks have narrowed the field from 24 to four. It’s been full of shocking surprises with teams like the Czechs, Swedes and Russians performing well below expectations in the Group Stage. It’s also had unpleasant surprises off the football field with rowdy behavior from Russian, Croatian and Hungarian fans. It’s also had a lot of positive surprises like Wales and Iceland humiliating bigger competition. And now we’re down to four: Portugal, Wales, Germany and France. It’s the semifinals to decide the two teams to play for the final for the Championship. So here’s my rundown of the two Semifinals:

SEMIFINAL #1: PORTUGAL vs. WALES

Head To Head Stuff:

This is one head-to-head scenario where I don’t have much to compare. Wales only once played Portugal all the way back in 2000. Portugal won.

Team-By-Team Analysis:

PortugalPortugal: Portugal has been an enigma at this tournament. They’ve been very successful in making their way to the semifinals but they’ve grazed the bar almost each and every time. One important fact for this Euro: Portugal is the only semifinalist that has not had a single win in regulation time. All three of their group games were draws, their Round of 16 win against Croatia game after a single goal from Quaresma in added extra time, and their quarterfinal win was thanks to a penalty shootout. Even star Cristiano Ronaldo has faced some flack for underplaying. He should be thankful his two goals against Hungary were what Portugal needed to stay alive in the tournament. If Portugal expects to win the semifinal, they will have to come together and play solid. They can’t afford to take it easy or give things away. Not while Wales has been performing while other teams have slacked off.

WalesWales: Two of the biggest Cinderella teams at this Euro have been Iceland and Wales. In fact the Euro 2016 can best be remembered as the tournament where Gareth Bale finally came to prominence in international play. He’s one of only five players here that has scored three or more goals. In addition to Bale, other teammates had moments to shine too like Ashley Williams, Aaron Ramsey and the currently-unsigned Hal Robson-Kanu. In fact the whole team has performed as a solid unit winning matches over teams with bigger clout like Slovakia, Russia and especially #2 ranked Belgium 3-1 in the quarterfinals. Who decides these FIFA rankings anyways?

Wales does have its imperfections. In fact it faced a heated battle against Northern Ireland in the Round of 16 and was only lucky to advance thanks to an auto goal scored by Gareth McAuley: the only goal of the match. In short, Wales have proven themselves able to deliver. However it’s a matter of them all being there.

My Verdict: With no reliable head-to-head stats to base a judgement, I have to base it on the team’s play during the Euro. I predict Wales to win 2-1 in added extra time.

SEMIFINAL #2: GERMANY vs. FRANCE

Head To Head Stuff:

They’ve both faced each other off twelve times ever. France has won six times, Germany four and two draws. Germany’s wins have been one home, three away. France’s wins have been three home, three away. Germany’s last win over France was at the 2014 World Cup quarterfinals. France’s last win over Germany was during a friendly in Paris in November 2015.

Team-By-Team Analysis:

Germany FootballGermany: Germany faced a lot of expectations here at the Euro. They came as the reigning World Cup holders who were struggling to form a new team with new younger talent. They’ve done very well for the most part as they won 2-0 against Ukraine and 1-0 against Northern Ireland. Their big moment came in the Round of 16 when they beat Slovakia 3-0. Remarkable since Slovakia beat them 3-1 in a friendly one month earlier.

This Euro has also been the arena where Germany’s weaknesses have also been exposed. First was the 0-0 draw against Poland in the Round of 16. The second came against Italy in the quarterfinals. It wasn’t simply drawing 1-1 but their three misses in the penalty shootout right during the first five. Usually Germany are the experts at penalty kicks going without a miss in a major tournament since 1982. That was a shock! Had Italy not also had three misses in their first five, it would’ve been the Italians heading to the semis instead.

The German team here in Euro 2016 is very capable of great play and have gone beyond most people’s expectations. However they cannot give anything away while playing against France. Not while France is host nation and playing brilliantly.

FranceFrance: France is one team that has been on a roll consistently. They’ve only had a single draw: 0-0 against Switzerland in the Group Stage. Everything else has been a win: 2-1 over Romania, 2-0 over Albania, 2-1 over Ireland and 5-2 over Iceland. They even have the three highest scorers: Antoine Griezmann with four, Olivier Giroud with three, and Dimitri Payet with three. Having Didier DesChamps, captain of France’s 1998 World Cup winning team, as coach definitely has a lot to do with it.

France have been excellent though they aren’t perfect. The team has definitely risen to the occasion game after game and showed all of Europe they’re ready to win at home. They have not had a single loss in 2016. However they could face the pressure of playing at home. Sure, they may have beaten Germany in a friendly in Paris seven months ago but Germany may have something up their sleeve. Don’t forget Germany did a reversal on Slovakia. Also keep in mind Germany beat France 1-0 in the quarterfinals in Brazil as Des Champs was coaching. Some food for thought.

TRIVIA: The world was horrified on Friday November 13, 2015 when six bombs went off in various areas of Paris. The first attack was at 9:20pm just outside the Stade de France; right while the friendly between France and Germany was taking place. In fact the two explosions can be heard on video replays during the 16th minute and 19th minute of that game, which continued on and France won 2-0.

My Verdict: There’s no one ‘wonderteam’ at this Euro but I think France is the team that most has it together. I think they will win 1-0.

And those are my predictions for the semifinals for Euro 2016. I may be right. I may be wrong. All to be decided Wednesday and Thursday.

 

 

UEFA Euro 2016: Group B Focus

UEFA-Euro-2016-Live

Here I am with my second review of the Euro 2016 Groups. One thing I won’t do for this tournament is review the stadiums like I did for the World Cups of 2014 and 2015. I prefer to restrict it to World Cups. Group reviewing is something I won’t stray away from. So without further ado, here’s my review of Group B:

WalesWales (24): This is Wales’ first ever Euro. They may have played in a single World Cup back in 1958 but this will be their first Euro. Some will say this is thanks to star player Gareth Bale but you could say it’s more thanks to coach Chris Coleman. Besides there are four other players on the team with more career caps than Bale.

The Dragons may not have the biggest combined talent but they can prove to be a surprise such as winning against Belgium and tying against Bosnia and Northern Ireland. However they will face a tough Group B. They’ve played Slovakia twice ever winning once and losing the other time. They’ve never won against Russia in the four times they’ve played them and they’ve lost to England more often than they’ve won against them. It will have to take the right play and right team unity if they want to get far.

SlovakiaSlovakia (32): This is Slovakia’s first ever Euro. They’ve competed at the 2010 World Cup before but never a Euro. Slovakia doesn’t have too many players on its national team playing for too many major leagues but they play very well as a team. In the past two years, they’ve had wins over Spain, Ukraine, Switzerland, Czech Republic and most recently Germany. They’ve also lost to Spain and Belarus. Leading to Euro 2016, their chances in Group play are iffy. The Falcons have always lost to England, have a win and a loss against Wales and have mixed results against Russia. France will be the grounds where they will take another step in defining themselves.

England fixedEngland (10): What do you do after your team has possibly their most humiliating result in World Cup play ever? Surprisingly England still kept coach Roy Hodgson after World Cup 2014. The Three Lions has since delivered excellent play since winning all but four of their games and losing only twice, to Spain and the Netherlands. Notable wins since include Germany and France. Hey, humiliation can be one helluva motivator.

The big question is can they continue their success streak into Euro 2016 all the way to the win. England has always had the reputation of bringing the most talented players to a major tournament but lacking the necessary team unity to win. They’ve shown since World Cup 2014 that England can play as a united team, and play very good. They will come to France with a lot of young talented players as well some of the young players of World Cup 2014 that have become well-seasoned over time and some older experienced veterans like Wayne Rooney. Euro 2016 will write another chapter for the team.

Russia FixedRussia (27): If there’s one team that’s struggling to make a name for itself, it’s Russia. Ever since the fall of the USSR in 1991, Russian football has struggled to get a reputation. It’s fallen out during the Group Stage in each of the three World Cups they’ve played. They’ve had better success at the Euro with a semifinals placement in 2008 but they’ve been Group Stage each of the three other times including the last Euro.

They want to deliver an excellent performance at this Euro especially with the fact they will host the 2018 World Cup. They want to send a message to the world they’re a force to be reckoned with. One thing Russia has returned to is hiring their own as head coach. In the past they hired foreign coaches like Guus Huddink and Fabio Capello to get their team in action. Now they have Leonid Slutsky who also coaches CSKA Moscow. All but one of the players are part of the Russian Premier League. They have a mixed record in the past two years. They have notable wins against Sweden and Portugal. They’ve only had three losses but to Austria, Croatia and France. Euro 2016 will not only be the arena for them to prove themselves once more but also to prepare en route to the big one in 2018.

Prediction: England has the most consistency. I think they will come out on top. Russia will come in second and Slovakia will come in third.

And there are my thoughts on Group B. Review of Group C up next.

UPDATE:

Here are my reviews of the other groups:

 

VIFF 2012 Review: Hunky Dory

Minnie Driver urges her students on in Hunky Dory.

How often has a movie about a high school musical been done before? Now that Hunky Dory is out, does it add anything new or is it the same old schtick?

It’s the summer of 1976 in a small Welsh town. A young teacher, Vivienne, gets together with her drama group students to arrange to put on a play. As anticipated, it’s a Shakespeare play: The Tempest. Not as anticipated, she wants to put a twist on it by adapting the popular music of the time to it.

It’s difficult enough to arrange as it is but Vivienne and the students face other difficulties along the way. First Vivienne puts the students under a demanding rehearsal schedule that demands much of their time and in sweltering heat. Secondly the students have problems of their own: Stella is undecided between loving Davey or the boy at the disco; Evan is struggling to accept his homosexuality while he currently has a girlfriend; Kenny is pressured by his brother to join a gang of skinheads; the band face tensions of their own; and Davey, the central teen, faces the lures of Stella and Vivienne while dealing with the pressures of a broken home. Thirdly Vivienne faces a lot of dissent from many people in the school, especially Mrs. Valentine and Mr. Cafferty. She does find relief with the volunteering of the headmaster. Fourthly a fire happens and all the play’s props are burned to a crisp. The movie leads to a somewhat predictable ending but it also gives an epilogue detailing what has happened to the students since. It left me wondering “Did this really happen?” I’ve been known to question movies that are ‘based on a true story’ or ‘inspired by true events.’

I’ll have to admit this is not original stuff. This is a common scenario of a music teacher putting on a new twist to a play, people in the school unhappy and even offended with it and teenage conflicts during and between rehearsals along the way. How often have we seen that before? One quality that the story has is that the problems the students went through along the way were very common and realistic to the problems teenagers go through and continue to go through today. Romantic love triangles, the pressures of joining a gang, learning of one’s homosexuality, starting a band and tensions happening along the way, those are all common teenage problems that occur decade after decade. The young cast did a very good job of making them look real and relatable.

Another thing the film did very well is remind us of the charm of 70’s music. Yes the film gave you the feel you were watching a Glee episode but seeing the young people sing and perform songs from David Bowie, Roxy Music, 10cc, ELO, The Byrds this movie brings the charm back and reminds you why those songs charmed the teens then and continue to charm today. In fact the film’s title is the title of a 1971 album by David Bowie and one of the songs from it, Life On Mars, is the first song in the film where the students are performing or rehearsing.

Minnie Driver did a good performance where she was able to display her singing skills along with her acting, but I’ve seen better overall acting from her in the past. This movie actually belonged to supporting ensemble of actors playing the teenagers in the movie. The movie was about them growing up and dealing with their own personal issues while rehearsing for the musical and they did a very good job of it. They also did a good job of acting like Welsh teens from the 70’s. The one of the teens that stood out was Aneurin Barnard as Davey, the one caught in the middle of the play, family tensions and a possible liaison with Vivienne. The only adult actor to steal the movie away from the teens had to be Robert Pugh who goes from your typical stodgy headmaster to siding with Vivienne in the end. Marc Evans is not too experienced with directing features as he is with television and documentaries but he does a good effort in this movie, if unspectacular. Scriptwriter Laurence Coriat brings in some depth in what could have been another run-of-the-mill high school musical script. The music was very good and very professional. Overall all actors did a good combined job of acting and singing.

I didn’t originally plan to see Hunky Dory that day: the Sunday before Canadian Thanksgiving. I meant to see Late Quartet but tickets for volunteers were finished and I had to wait in the Rush Line as my last chance. I did secure a ticket for Hunky Dory just in case I was out of luck. Sure enough, I was out of luck for Late Quartet. Despite missing Last Quartet, I’m quite content in seeing Hunky Dory that Sunday night.

Hunky Dory has done the film festival circuit and is due for big screen release anytime soon. IMDB shows the movie listed as released on March 2, 2012 in the UK and Ireland. Wikipedia says that it will be released by Universal Pictures in the US and 20th Century Fox around the rest of the world. This would make it the first British independent film secured by a major studio. I thought Billy Elliot was. Whatever the stats, the purchase by those two companies should boost the box office outcome of Hunky Dory in the future.

Basically Hunky Dory is not meant to take film making or music making in any new directions. It’s the same story redone and made to look different. Nevertheless its purpose it appears is to entertain the crowd and it does just that. Fans of musical movies or shows like Glee or High School Musical will like it.