World Cup Group Stage – Match Day 2 Review

Given their form running up to the World Cup, who would have thought that Russia could muster a win let alone two but that’s what they did. The second game saw them take on Egypt and Mo Salah. Having beaten Saudi Arabia 5-0, one maybe had thought that Egypt might prove hardier opponents. The first half drab but the second half picked up. The Russian opening goal had deflected off the knee in bizarre fashion and into the net. It was probably something that summed up Egypt’s plight so far. Two further goals in three minutes from Cheryshev and Dzuyba and it was game over for the African nation even with the penalty from Mo Salah.

Uruguay secured their passage into the knock out stages with a solitary goal against Saudi Arabia via Luis Suarez. A far from convincing win for the South Americans and they will need to step up if they want to progress in the knockout stages.

Group B saw a quieter second round of games, Portugal beat Morocco with a goal from none other than Cristiano Ronaldo who netted after four minutes. Portugal were top and their star man was top scorer. It also finished a bad week for the Moroccans, who had seen their World Cup bid for 2026 rejected and now eliminated from the 2018 competition. Portugal’s time at the top was short lived as Spain came through with a win against Iran. A hard fought win against a tough Iran side who had already opened their tournament with a win against Morocco. Costa’s 54th minute goal put the Spaniards on top of the group having had a better disciplinary record.

Group C saw France take control with a solitary goal to beat Peru 1-0 and qualify for the knock out round. It wasn’t easy for Les Bleus as Peru gave the 1998 World Cup winners a run for their money. Chances were there but minimal were converted and the South American nation had slightly more possession. Possession counts for nothing unless you use it, but the fortune wasn’t with Peru. They were eliminated.

Australia drew with Denmark in another game featuring VAR. The Danes had gone in front early on with Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen netting after 7 minutes. Mile Jedinak converted the penalty after Yussuf Poulsen’s handball. It was a point that meant that the Green and Gold nation were still within a chance of qualifying for the knock out stages. They might need to step up in the final game but will though need France to beat Denmark.

Well what a match day two is was for Group D. Argentina went into the game needing to get a result against Croatia, but for a second game in a row, the South American nation looked far from it’s past line ups that had seen it reach several finals. Croatia grabbed their first win against South American opposition in five attempts yet had started not so greatly as they finished. Argentina conceded their first through a blunder by Caballero gave Rebic a chance to put the ball away.  Had the Balkan nation been more accurate in front of goal, they might well have embarrassed Argentina even more. The second goal came in the 80th minute and was game over when Croatia broke away with Luka Modric making it 2-0 with a cracking goal. It was interesting to see the lack of running back from the Argentinian players in the build up. Rakitic made it 3-0 and heads dropped. Messi retired from international football once before, could Messi retire from international football for good, especially as he will be 34 going into the 2022 tournament.

Iceland’s surprise defeat against a better performing Nigeria, gave Argentina hope in making it out of the group. Having lost to Croatia, the Super Eagles knew it was win or bust. Whilst it was goalless in the first half, a double from Ahmed Musa lifted the African nation’s spirits. Crucially though Iceland missed a VAR penalty and going into the third round of group games, the previously doomed looking Argentina, might still have a chance of qualification.

Group E saw Costa Rica eliminated after two late goals from Brazil that in turn put them top of the group on goal difference. With time running out and Brazil still not looking like Brazil, it looked like two draws out of two especially when VAR actually overturned a penalty award. Step up Coutinho in the 91st and Neymar in the 97th minute. When they face Serbia, it will be winner take all. This came after Switzerland came back from 2-1 down to beat Serbia,  thanks to Shaqiri’s runaway 90th minute winner. Serbia though could feel hard done by after an obvious and blatant penalty was not given. The Swiss look favourites to qualify following their win as they complete their group campaign against Costa Rica. There is still a chance that Serbia could qualify given that they wont hold back against Brazil who wont be given the opportunity to waste their chances. Come Wednesday night we shall know who progresses.

Group F saw Mexico move closer to securing qualification with a 2-1 win over South Korea, it would come as no surprise given the Central American nation’s beating of Germany in the group opening game. Hernandez scored the second to reach 50 international goals. It was disappointing for South Korea who to be honest still have a slim chance of progression should they beat Germany and Mexico beat Sweden, but that seems very optimistic.  Their slim opportunity came thanks to Germany who came back from 1-0 down against Sweden to grab an injury time winner. It had been win or bust for the holders Germany. Having lost to Mexico, defeat against Sweden would be devastating and handed the holders a group elimination that was seen at the last World Cup.

Group G saw Belgium trounce Tunisia 5-2. The team that had proved to be difficult against England, were attacked early and were two up after 16 minutes with one each from Hazard and Lukaku. Dylan Bronn gave hope to Tunisia just two minutes later. That hope looked to have disappeared when Bronn went off with an injury in the 24th minute. That hope was then all but crushed when Lukaku netted in first half injury time. Hazard added his second five minutes into the second half to give them a big goal difference. Batshuayi of Chelsea made it five and a plus seven goal difference until Tunisia added a second to still leave the Red Devil’s a strong goal difference.

England had won a hard fought game against Tunisia,  which had they taken early chances might have been a bit clearer result, although it didn’t help that the referee was seemingly thinking he was refereeing a wrestling match. Their game against Panama was completely different. England were all over Panama, when Panama players weren’t fouling England players that is. Thankfully the referee wasn’t taking any rubbish. Southgate’s team finished the first half 5-0 up and points secured. Harry Kane grabbed a third goal to nail a hat trick in a game that saw Man City defender John Stone almost grab a hat trick. England could find themselves disappointed that they conceded as it put them back level on goal difference with Belgium. Thanks to their better disciplinary record, England go into the Belgium game in pole position. Belgium national coach may find enforced changes with fitness checks over Mertens, Hazard and Lukaku.

The final group saw an entertaining game between Japan and Senegal that had seen both sides take the lead at one point in the game. Japan went into the tournament as outsiders to qualify, but found themselves leading the group following their win over Colombia. Senegal had opened with a crucial win and knew that anything other than a defeat gave them a reasonable chance of qualifying. Colombia who had been expected to do well netted their first win of the group over a very disappointing Poland. Lewandowski struggled again and their final game against Poland will see them finish without a win or get a result that could throw open the qualifying. That though may take some doing.

Lets see what Matchday 3 brings us, will there be upsets or last game salvages for the big nations.

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World Cup Preview – Group D Messi drives Argentina but who will follow

It’s Group D and one of the first trickiest ones to decide, well tricky in deciding who goes through with Argentina. The South American nation will naturally be favourites but in a group that consists of World Cup debutants Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria, it may well be very close to call.

Argentina make their 16th finals competition and lost to Germany in Brazil 2014 final. Their final appearance had previously come against West Germany shortly before the German unification. They go into the finals on the backs of mixed friendly performances. They found themselves beating Russia and Italy, but lost against group opponents Nigeria 4-2 and were on the receiving end of a 6-1 drubbing by Spain. That might be enough to make an Argentinian football supporter feel a bit nervous, but the World Cup will be a different kettle of fish they would hope? Of course it would, but there is one not so good omen that lingers for Argentina in the World Cup. Back in 2002 Argentina were drawn in the same group as Nigeria where the South American nation lost in the opening game. This time they meet at the end of the group stage.

Nigeria, looked strong in the World Cup qualifiers winning the group five points clear of Zambia but apart from the African national championship (Not to be confused with the African Cup of Nations)where they got t the final, the post World Cup Qualifying games have not brought much joy. Since March 23rd, they have managed only one win and a draw and four defeats, most recently against the Czech Republic and England.

The Super Eagles appear in their sixth finals and would hope to achieve reaching the  last 16 as they had in 2014 when they were eliminated by France. The Last 16 is the nations best achievement which was their progress in the USA 94 and France 98 tournaments. In the knockout stages they saw  defeat by Italy in 94 and a heavy defeat by Denmark in 98. Should Denmark win their group and Nigeria finish second in theirs, they could once again meet in the last 16. If the African nation are to make it into the knock out stages, then they will certainly have to up their game.

Croatia came second in their qualifying group where they came second to Iceland who are also in Group D. They missed out on winning the group after a penultimate draw at home to Finland and had to play Greece, who they easily brushed aside. They will look to do much better than their 2014 group stage exit, where their only win was against Cameroon. In fact their best performance are in France 98 when they finished second behind none other than Argentina. Could this be a positive omen? Who knows but they will need to be on good form. The post qualification friendlies have like for other nations, brought mixed results. Two defeats against South American opposition in the form of Peru and Brazil, whilst beating Mexico. Their final friendly fixture sees them take on Senegal, who will be a good test as African opponents. They kick off their tournament campaign against Senegal.

Croatia take a strong squad that features 7 Italian based players and four Spanish based player, some of which won trophies this past season. Will this though convert to international glory, who will know. What we do know is that Croatia will meet Nigeria for the first time in their history.

Finally in the group, it is World Cup debutants Iceland. The small island nation came close in 2014 when they reached the playoffs before being eliminated in the playoffs by fellow group nation Croatia. The Icelanders then went on to Euro 2016 where they reached the quarter finals.

It is astonishing that Iceland prior to the World Cup 2014 qualifiers had not won more than 4 games (2002). They will though be hoping that their form going into the finals improves. Prior to their 2-2 draw against Ghana, which the European nation had blown away a 2-0 lead, had lost three straight games and four in eight overall. Defeats against Norway, Peru and Mexico all saw defeats that conceded three goals. Not form or a defence that you want when you are likely to be facing Messi in one game and Mandzukic of Croatia in another.

 

Group Prediction

Argentina take the group, Croatia take second Nigeria 3rd and Iceland 4th in a tight race.

Euro 2016 Last 16 review

The group stages were finally over and it was down to the finer points of tournament football, yes that’s right the knockout stages. With the expanded tournament and four best third place nations joining in on the fun, we would see some interesting matchups and first time records.

Kicking off the knockout stages were Switzerland and Poland. This one seemed like it was always going to be a tight affair. The Swiss managed only two goals as did their opponents. Their defence was even stingier with only the Swiss conceding a single goal out of the two nations, so it seemed inevitable that the two sides would end up going to penalties after seeing one of the goals of the tournament.

Wales and Northern Ireland came face to face in a game where one home nation would be guaranteed in the quarter finals saw a quiet start but then the game got going when the tackles flying in. Gareth Bale was not as busy as he was previously, but it just took one moment for him to make impact and he didnt even score. His cross put pressure, with Kanu-Robson waiting in the centre, on McAuley who in trying to deny the Wales player, could only put it in his own net. It was a terrible way for the Irish to go out having contributed so much, but that is how the game goes.

Croatia faced a Portugal side who looked like they could be there for the taking. Croatia looked like the dark horse of the tournament, whilst Portugal were grateful for the expansion of the group stage qualifiers as they finished third. Sadly though for what seemed like a potential game of the tournament, it turned into a dour affair where the game entered into extra time. The stats showed a disappointing reflection of the match. Croatia had 17 shots and none on target.Portugal had 6 shots and two on target of which one came in the form of the winning goal in extra time. Ronaldo too was also below par again. Whilst Poland only won on penalties, Portugal will have to be better prepared when facing an unpredictable Poland side.

France came back from an early set back to beat the Republic of Ireland. The Irish took an early lead through a penalty and held the lead to half time. The lack of firepower would sadly be the downfall of the Irish. The goal would be the only one of the six that they would get on target. The French however would bounce with two quickfire goals leaving the Irish rocked. The final to Irish hopes would come just a few minutes later when they were reduced to 10 men following Duffy’s red card. Irish eyes may not have been smiling but at least they could go home with some pride.

Germany faced Slovakia  in a game that showed England’s scoring issues when they took apart Slovakia with a 3-0 hammering. The World Cup holder were in fine form and really should have been more. An interchangeable line up dominated possession having just over 60% but unlike other nations they converted that possession into shots and goals. A total of 21 shots with 7 on target. The Germans nette through Boateng, Gomez and Draxler and based on this performance, they look like sure fire favourites.

The pitiful opening performance from Belgium seems a very long time ago and they showed in this last sixteen tie against Hungary that they should not be underestimated although to be honest had the Hungarians taken their chances when it was 1-0, they might have made it a little more difficult for the hotly  tipped Belgians. They shall go home with some pride and positivity as they look towards the Russia 2018 qualifying campaign.

In what was to be an unexpected big nation tie, defending champions Spain fell to a second defeat in a row. Spain seemed out of sorts for a team looking to defend their title and had it not been for David De Gea, it could have been the reverse scoreline from their Euro 2012 final match up. It seems that it could well be the end of the dominant Spain on the international front and when the second goal went in to finish off the game the faces of the Spanish players said it all.

They say about leaving the best till last and they certainly did…from an Icelandic position. England were taking on Iceland in what should have been a win albeit a narrow one. Sadly it was the same old story and an embarrassing exit. Apart from the penalty England barely turned up. We saw Sterling start, misplaced passes, goalkeeping blunders, Harry Kane taking free kicks.

Fair play to the Icelandic team who have impressed and taken the tournament by force. French fans beware of what may come.

My Euro 2016 Group stage predictions – The results

So, at the start of the competition I wrote two blog posts covering the six groups. In these posts I shared my predictions and with the group stages at an end, it’s time to see how well or not so well I have done.

Group A

So this group looked like being quite a reasonable one to predict. The hosts France would top the group with Romania coming second on goal difference. Switzerland would finish third together with Albania finishing bottom. Well what do I know. Turns out France would finish top  of the group. They wouldnt be held by Romania, who would end up finishing bottom. The Swiss would go unbeaten with one win and two draws.

Group B

The group featuring two of the home nations was always going to be an interesting one to watch. The top two in my predictions would see both home nations finishing in the top two with Slovakia finishing third. I wasnt too far wrong, a solid defence by Slovakia denied England a win and top of the group. I did though predict Slovakia finishing third and Russia bottom.

Group C

Thia group saw another home nation representative, this time Nothern Ireland. In a group containing Germany, Poland and the Ukraine, very few would have given them hope of getting anything. For me though the determination would see them get third and thats exactly how it finished. I was spot on with my predictions on places so that was quite impressive.

Group D

This group seemed to be an easy one to predict, Spain would come top with Croatia and the Czech Republic battling it out for second spot…..Turns out it wasnt. It had started well, Croatia and Spain opening with victories followed with a draw between Czech Republic and Croatia. Come the last round though, both Croatia and Turkey both changed the script. The Balkan nation beat the holders to win the group and Turkey decided to find where the opposition goal was. Thanks Group D for literally nothing.

Group E

This saw the Republic of Ireland in amongst Italy, Sweden and Belgium. It looked pretty tricky for the Irish, who would have to be on their top form to progress. Italy won the group ahead of Belgium who started off slowly. After their indifferent opener, they beat Ireland 3-0. Sweden with the mighty Ibrahimovic, continued their Euro finals woe. They came bottom with a point, thanks to the unfortunate own goal from Ireland. The Irish did fulfil one prediction of beating Italy and claiming third spot.

Group F

The final group saw one that was a little drab but actually come the group matches, it turned into something more interesting. I was quite bold in my predictions. For me I tipped Hungary to win with Portugal second. Little did I know that Portugal didnt fancy their shooting boots till late on. The Hungarian side would get the draw against Portugal but also Iceland, who themselves surprise.