World Cup Group Stage- Matchday three What the VAR?

What a start to the final round of games as Group A’s highly anticipated Russia v Uruguay turned out to be a storming win for the South American’s. The hosts were in some way playing their hardest opponent and combined with resting a player or two, were seemingly found out. It didn’t help that Igot Smolnikov received his marching orders after his second yellow card after just 36 minutes. Suarez had put his side up after 10 minutes and a Cheryshev own goal made it 2-0 after 23. It was always going to be difficult for the hosts, who of course had already qualified but the  90th minute goal from Cavani, meant they would face the winner of Group B. In the other game, Mo Salah saw his side denied a point after Al Dawsari scored the winning goal in the dying seconds. It meant Egypt were going home with no points having gone in with so much hope. Whether Salah’s pre tournament injury had a psychological effect who knows, but if reports are true, we may have seen the last of the talented star for the last time.

So Group B, was far from over, Iran Spain and Portugal were all still with a chance of getting out the group. Iran just had to beat Portugal, who would miss out whilst Spain would go through with a win or draw. It was a night of VAR controversy in the Portugal game that didn’t see anything much until Ricardo Quaresma put Portugal in front just before half time. Meanwhile in the first half of the other game, Morocco seemed to be really intent on getting a result in their final game albeit too late. Maybe had their shooting on goal been a bit better, they might have been with a chance of progression. Boutaib had put the North African nation in front on the quarter of an hour but didn’t see that lead last as Isco levelled.

Spain looked average and against any other team they might have been really forced to pay. Pique had luck on his side following a rash challenge, where luckily he had got the ball and then a handball. Spain had De Gea to thank on several occasions (something that Man Utd fans will come to recognise)

Second half was when it all got a bit tasty in the Portgual. As it had stood, Portugal were winning the group with Spain second. In the Portugal game Ronaldo was fouled in the area and the referee turned it down only to review it and award the penalty. Up stepped Cristiano Ronaldo, it would surely be 2-0 but the low struck penalty was saved by the keeper. VAR requests were pleaded for and ignored until Ronaldo got caught up with an Iranian and seemed to strike him with a flailing arm. It was a red card review and after another long wait the referee reviewed it. It never really looked like a red and would have been harsh and the ref only produced the yellow card. It was though in the dying minutes that the biggest controversy. Sardaz Azmoun had knocked down the cross from the wing and hit Cedric who went to head the ball only for it to bounce off the arm. It was far from intentional but the referee and the ref turned it down. He did though choose to review it. Surely he would stick to his original decision… well no he actually changed his decision and awarded the penalty. The Portuguese were rightly angry and it could have been even worse had Iran converted their shot on goal. That would have seen Iran go through at Portugal’s expense.

In the other game Morocco took the lead again when El-Nesyri fired home to leave Spain 2-1 down and thus give Portugal the advantage. The late penalty for Iran would change all that and then in the 90th minute Spain thought they had levelled and it was disallowed by the ref who then rightly overturned his decision.

Group C saw three of its nations in with a chance but that ended when Peru grabbed their first win of the competition to beat Australia. In the other game between Denmark and France, it finished 0-0 in what was the first of the tournament and one that saw both teams booed off at full time.

Argentina faced a tricky evening as they Nigeria, it was win or bust for the South Americans as a changed Croatian line up took on Iceland. Croatia had qualified, but Iceland had to win and hope for the best. Argentina took on a Nigeria side that had played well against Iceland.

Argentina got the goal they needed in the 14th minute when Lionel Messi put the ball in the back of the net just as the Barca Messi would. Argentina continued to attack and the Nigerian’s were standing strong keeping everything out. Their resolve paid off as they levelled early in the second half. Mascherano joined the hug and throw an opponent to give away a penalty. Victor Moses stepped up and converted the kick in style. That penalty was sending Argentina home and when the camera panned to Maradona, the disgraced footballer was in tears (oh diddums). That penalty was sending the 2014 finalists on an early trip home. The other game had seen Croatia take the lead, despite the changes, the Balkan nation were still going for the win. Iceland were putting the shots in and came close in the first half and maybe had they scored, it might have changed the game for them. Croatia though got the opener through Milan Bedij early in the second half. The Icelandic nation though weren’t giving up, maybe hoping that they might just somehow make it out the group stages. That hope came when Lovren handled the ball to give a penalty away. Siggurdsson converted.

It was now game on could Croatia stand fast or would Iceland overcome. In the Argentina game, time was running out, Nigeria were heading through but 4 minutes from time that all changed as Marcus Rojo volleyed home to break Nigerian hearts. For Iceland hope was back on. Another goal from the team that beat England, would see them grab second ahead of Argentina. Those hopes were crushed in the 90th minute when Peresic struck home and Croatia were finishing with 100% record and three group wins for the first time. The whistle went at the Argentina game and we were treated to scenes of pathetic moronic behaviour by Maradona. It’s no wonder people dislike him an Argentina.

The holders Germany went into the game against South Korea knowing that they had to win irrespective of the Mexico v Sweden game as anything less would enable the Scandinavian side to take second place. Germany would even qualify regardless if they beat South Korea by two or more goals. Mexico faced Sweden knowing a win would secure them a place in the next round, but defeat could possibly send them on  an early flight back.

Germany surely wouldn’t struggle against South Korea, but they did as they failed to convert their chances along with some key defending from the Koreans. Neither side could break the deadlock, but with Mexico and Sweden also deadlocked, it was still advantage Germany. Sweden though could consider themselves unlucky to not have a penalty following a Hernandez own goal.

It was advantage Sweden in the 50th minute when Augustinsson volleyed home. Having been denied at the end of their game against Germany, they weren’t going to be denied twice. Just past the hour, it was 2-0 with a Granqvist penalty. Mexico were now at risk of elimination with the other game still goalless and a threat from Germany. Mexico looked far from the side that had played in the opening game where they had taken Germany apart. Things got worse for the Latin American side as they went 3-0 down when Alvarez put the ball in his own net.

All eyes were now on the Germany game and for all their shots, they couldn’t convert. Time was running out and it was now in injury time. For Germany it was about to be their worst nightmare. The last time they had gone out in the group stage was in 1938, now they could add 2018. Kim Young-Gwon struck home off a corner which at first was ruled out for off side. VAR though showed it to be not offside. For Manuel Neuer, who hadn’t played much before the tournament, he probably wish he hadn’t been picked. He spilled the ball but luckily recovered. That was that for him though as time ran out Germany searched for an equaliser, Neuer, went forward but left himself stranded  as Ju- Se-Jong launched the ball finding Son Heung-Min who put the ball in the back of the net.

It was hard to believe that the Germans were going out, not only having won in Rio but hammered Brazil 7-1.

Brazil went into the group knowing that a win would send them into the group stages. Serbia only needed to win but failed to take the opportunities that would be presented to them. The South American’s though took those chances with Paulinho netting in the first half and Thiago Silva in the second half to steer them to top spot.

Switzerland who looked like possibly missing out before the late winner, knew that a draw for them would take them through to their third finals in four attempts. Having been unlucky to concede two late goals in injury time against Brazil, Costa Rica were hoping to go out with some pride. They had a number of chances and  could consider themselves unlucky not to put one or two past the Swiss, so when the European nation broke the deadlock, it seemed that it would be game over especially with the Swiss dominating the possession although if it was game over, Joel Campbell had no intention of giving up. Costa Rica would pull level through Kendall Waston when he headed home a Campbell corner. The Swiss looked like taking all three points when Drmic struck in the 88th minute, but Costa Rica were awarded a penalty only to see the decision overturned for offside. Los Ticos did get a penalty in injury time and not overturned. Bryan Ruiz though struck the crossbar bouncing out to ricochet off the back of Yann Sommer’s head. It was only a point in the end, but the Swiss were through setting up a tie with Sweden.

Colombia came through their group with a second half goal that was enough to beat Senegal, who looked initially to be the only African nation to get to the knock out stages and the 2-2 draw against Japan would prove costly. This was because Poland’s 1-0 win over a disappointing Japan put them level on points and identical records and that meant one thing, the disciplinary record. Yes the yellow cards added up and Japan had 4 to Senegal’s 6.

England and Belgium faced off knowing who their opponents would be at the end of the game. Southgate and Martinez made changes and in turn made for an average game. The deadlock was broken early into the second half as Januzaj’s bending shot beat Pickford The Three Lions had their chances and Rashford should have put his chance away. It didn’t seem to bother England although chances remained few and far between. The whistle went and it was over. Belgium would now face Japan on Monday whilst England would have an extra day facing Colombia.

The group stages now over and now the Last 16 is about to kick off. The big games are here and it will be no second chances.

 

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Champions League Final – Liverpool’s Road to Kiev

Saturday night sees the Champions League final in Kiev’s between Liverpool and Real Madrid in what looks certain to be a classic in the making. The 63rd final sees Liverpool go in as the underdogs despite having knocked out the likes of Man City and Roma whilst playing some quality football along the way.

Liverpool started their journey back in August with a play off tie against German club 1899 Hoffenheim. A 2-1 in Germany and followed it up with a 4-2 win at Anfield,  the tie being over after 21 minutes when Liverpool cruised to a 5-1 aggregate lead.

The Reds found themselves in the Group stage in with the likes of Sevilla, Maribor Branik and Spartak Moscow. The Reds had a good chance of progression with the Spanish club Sevilla being the club most likely to cause some uncomfortable moments. Sevilla indeed deny Liverpool a win as they took two points off the Merseyside club over the two ties.

Apart from a third draw at Spartak, the Reds dominated the group sticking a total of 23 goals past their opponents, a total only bettered  by Paris Saint Germain who had netted 25.

The first knock out stage saw Liverpool drawn against Porto. A Liverpool team that waste now minus Brazilian playmaker Phillipe Coutinho. It was thought that the Reds might suffer without him, but it seemed not to be. The Reds stormed to a 5-0 win in Portugal. The dynamic trio of Mane (3) Salah and Firmino secured the result in Portugal.

Next up for the Anfield club was an all English tie as Liverpool were drawn against Premier League leaders Man City. It was one of the ties that stood out and one that could see either side go far.  The two clubs had already produced 13 goals in the two league ties including an outstanding Liverpool performance at Anfield. So when the two sides met at Anfield in the first leg, wow what a tie that would turn out to be. Klopp’s team crushed City and by half time it seemed game over. Not even the departure of Salah with a possible injury could hinder the reds. The tie was certainly looking like a Reds win but the  game was not over, but given this competition and these two teams, anything could happen.

A week later the Etihad was to host the second leg knowing that anything could happen. City needed a an early goal and they did, Jesus struck early and set the game up. The Reds were up against it in the first half and a second goal would have made things very interesting and shortly before half time City were denied a legitimate goal. It was 1-0 at half time. The second half began with Guardiola sent to the stands.

Liverpool needed something and in the 56th minute they got it. Mane looked like he was felled, but as everyone looked to the ref, that Egyptian wonder Mo Salah took hold of the ball, took it around Ederson and poked it over Otamendi. It was significant and it made it 4-1 on aggregate. After the Premier League game, anything was still possible. Liverpool had conceded goals from being 4-1 up and at the same time they hadn’t beaten an English club away from home in the European Cup.  The visitors had the edge and the tide had seemingly turned. In the 77th minute it was good night City as Firmino capitalised on a City defensive error to make it 2-1 and totally game over. The Five time winners were through and into the semi finals. The next opponents were going to be tough and the Reds found themselves paired with  AS Roma, the team that had come back shocked Barcelona. It was another Anfield first leg and 90 minutes of tantalising football.

Tantalising football was most certainly the case. Liverpool didn’t change a thing tactically against Roma. Having watched Barcelona overcome, Liverpool knew that they Roma weren’t to be taken lightly. For all the talk, it seemed that Roma were the rabbit in the Liverpool headlights. Klopp’s team were running rings around their Italian opponents and should have taken the lead much earlier than they did in the 36th minute. Mane had missed a couple of opportunities but they were forgotten when Mo Salah struck with the first of two quality goals. The Egyptian was facing his former club, but he was certainly not being kind to his former employers. Salah made it 2-0 on the stroke of half time.

The Italians of course were still not out of it even when the Reds went 3-0 up through Mane. The Senegal player finally hit the score sheet. If the home fans were ecstatic at 3-0, they were delirious five minutes later when Firmino scored the fourth. Anfield was rocking and Roma could have been almost 10 down but five it would be when Firmino added goal number two.

Could the first half missed opportunities cost Liverpool in the second leg as Roma stunned Anfield with two late goals one of which was dubious penalty. Things were looking interesting now going into the Rome second leg. Liverpool knew of the risks that Roma could spring but the visitors grabbed an early goal through Mane. Advantage Merseyside, the aggregate score was now 6-2. That soon became 6-3 when a Lovren clearance hit James Milner square in the head and went in.

Liverpool were still in charge of the tie and didn’t really need to do anything stupid.There was no need to worry as Liverpool were back in front on the night and 7-3 ahead on aggregate as Gini Wijnaldum bagged his first ever goal away from  home.  Roma hadn’t just received a bloody nose, but they were on the canvas. Could they recover. They hit shot after shot, but couldn’t break through in the rest of the first half. Roma needed one hell of a team talk, the best half time team talk they needed.

The comeback looked certain to start as Dzeko bagged a leveller to make it 2-2  an 7-4 on aggregate. Could Roma repeat their Barca comeback? Surely not. The Italians were doing their utmost to get back in but it seemed all in vain as time started to run out. Nainggolan though netted Roma’s third of the night and fifth of the tie. Could they do it, could they burst the Red’s bubble? They would come close as Nainggolan converted another fortuitous penalty, it came at the death and all too late, with the ball in the back of the net, the referee blew his whistle and brought the game to a close. A thirteen goal thriller and probably one of the best ties of the knockout stages.

Liverpool were heading to Kiev for a Champions League final, the second European final under Klopp. On 26th May will it be Champions League number 13 for Real or trophy number 6 for Liverpool. Which ever way it goes, we are in for an exciting final.

FA Premier League Predictions – Week 24

It’s Thursday once again and that can only mean one thing, Premier League predictions.  Last week sadly wasn’t one of the better weeks as I only managed to predict three correct results out of ten. No correct scores last week although some teams did throw a spanner in the works. Everton continued to struggle and instead of the 2-2 draw with Spurs, the blue half of Merseyside was left with a 4-0 thrashing. Chelsea seem to be going through a rough patch and having expected them to beat Leicester at home, the Foxes to their credit, grabbed a point and a clean sheet.

Having tipped Watford to beat the struggling Southampton, the Saints nearly came away with a win but were denied by the handball goal from Doucore right at the end. It’s a shame Doucore wont received any retrospective punishment,

In the only results I did get correct, I called Liverpool beating Man City 3-2, it was in fact 4-3 but I guess City conceding 4 might have been a bit of a push. David Moyes seems to be rallying West Ham at the moment and having predicted a 2-0 win, they actually managed to put 4 put past the hapless terriers. I was close with Man Utd beating Stoke,they netted three whilst I had predicted a 4-0 thrashing.

So lets get on with this weeks round

  1.                                          Arsenal  2-1  Crystal Palace    Gunners shoot down Eagles
  2.                                        Brighton  1-2  Chelsea                Blues back on track
  3.                                         Burnley   1-1  Man Utd              Clarets hold United
  4.                                         Everton   2-0  West Brom         Toffees win in January
  5.                               Leicester City   2-2  Watford              Foxes hold Hornets
  6.                                       Man City   3-1   Newcastle Utd  City too good for Magpies
  7.                               Southampton   1-2  Tottenham         Saints in trouble
  8.                                      Stoke City   2-1  Huddersfield     First win for Lambert
  9.                                Swansea City   0-4  Liverpool           Reds march on again
  10.                                     West Ham   2-0  Bournemouth    Hammers on a roll.

 

Some interesting predictions this week, basing it general form although I might be kidding myself with Burnley holding United and Watford drawing. That one depends on which Watford turns up mind you. Chelsea should win, you would like to think, that is unless they are making a complete hash of things like they did against Norwich, having two players sent off and having to get through via penalties, but hey thats football.

World Cup Qualifying – UEFA Group E-I

So welcome to part two of the UEFA World Cup Qualifying round 7-8. This time we feature groups E-I which include the likes of England, Scotland, Spain, Italy, Poland and Denmark. Let’s kick off though.

Group E

With the likes of Denmark, Romania and Poland all aiming for qualification for Russia 2018, it was always going to be a close call in who would claim top spot and who would be hoping their second place would be enough to gain a play off spot.

Romania looked the strongest  starting with an unbeaten three game run, albeit with a home win draw against Montenegro together with a 5-0 away win against Armenia and a surprise away draw in Kazakhstan. Their of qualification received a serious blow as they lost both home and away to Poland meaning the draw at home to Denmark, left them with a lot to do going into round seven and eight.

Denmark who had missed out in 2014 due to a poorer second place record, were looking to make it into the finals. They had a nervy start which saw them reaching a record of 2-2. They had a lot to do and they seemed destined to do it. A draw in Romania was followed up with a win away to Kazahkstan which was crucial going into round seven and eight, which included a home tie against Poland, who they lost away to earlier in round.

Poland who failed to qualify in 2014 no thanks to drawing four games, were looking strong with the hitman Robert Lewandowski leading the Polish line. The Munich striker was hot on form hitting two hat tricks in two separate games. Poland in this round were looking unbeatable going into these rounds.

Round seven saw Poland travel to Denmark odds on to win and move a step closer to qualification whilst Montenegro travelled to Kazahkstan and Romania hosted Armenia. It wasn’t going to go by the book in this round as the Danes pummelled the Poles 4-0 whilst Montenegro scored a win and Romania scraped a 1-0 win at home to Armenia.

Round 8 saw Denmark travel to Armenia whilst Montenegro hosted Romania and Poland hosted Kazahkstan. The Danes bagged a 4-1 win whilst Montenegro bagged a solitary goal to win 1-0. Poland were back on track with a 3-0 win which kept three points gap between them and the chasing pack. For Denmark and Montenegro they were level on points, goals scored and conceded. They were separated purely on the result between them which saw Montenegro win 1-0.

The final two rounds will have a key outcome of the group.  Round nine should see Poland beat Armenia making qualification virtually guaranteed. Montenegro and Denmark face off in which the winner will surely take second spot. In the final round Poland host Montenegro and are likely to be favourites. Depending on result of the Montenegro/Denmark result, the outcome between Denmark and Romania could see the Danes get through and claim a playoff spot.

Group F

This group featured double home nation representation as the auld enemy were paired up. England would have gone into qualifying the favourites to qualify in a group that consisted of Slovenia and Slovakia as the other more likely nations hoping to make it to Russia 2018.

Despite the wins and the luck along the way, England found themselves going into round seven and eight, with 14 points, Slovakia had 12 with Slovenia on 11 and Scotland on 8. It had looked bleak for Scotland going into round seven. The Scots though had not given up despite the difficult task and points difference.

Chances of winning the group were slim to nil for Scotland, especially with England who were facing a trip to Malta. England netted a 4-0 win in Valetta thus securing  The Tartan Army faced a trip to Lithuania needing to avoid the last minute equaliser scenario. A draw would have seriously hampered the Scots chances. Thankfully they bagged a 3-0. Slovakia and Slovenia were facing off and the Scots were hoping that the two qualification rivals would finish in a draw. It was looking that way until the 81st minute when Miha Mevlja put the ball into his own net. This left England on 17 points Slovakia 15, Scotland and Slovenia on 11.

Round eight saw something that would not happen very often, Scottish fans cheering on an England victory. The reason being that England were hosting Slovakia at Wembley. The Scots themselves were playing Malta whilst Slovenia were playing Lithuania. England went down early and Scots might have thought their rivals might be doing it on purpose but they came back to win 2-1. Scotland had to do their bit as well and that was easy as they  beat opponents Malta 2-0. Slovenia pasted a 4-0 win against Lithuania which could prove crucial come the end of the group stage if they are tied with either Slovakia or Scotland for second place.

Rounds nine and ten will see the play off spot in Scotland’s own hands. The Scots host Slovakia and travel to Slovenia. The trouble for Scotland is that Slovakia host Malta, which will give them 18 points meaning that dropped points for Scotland would mean game over. Fortunately for Scotland and Slovakia, England take on Slovenia which should see three points for the three lions.

The final two rounds should be interesting and wouldn’t be interesting to see all the home nations at a World Cup finals.

Group G

This one was that saw two footballing giants Spain and Italy drawn together with Albania and Israel providing the best supporting act nominations as it were in Group G. The first meeting between Italy and Spain had seen a point a piece and were going into round seven, only goal difference separated the two with Spain on +18 and Italy +14. Whoever won at the Bernabeu, would ultimately seal the group, especially with the fixtures in round nine and ten. Unfortunately for Italy, the Spaniard’s would have the advantage as they would win 3-0. The reason why it was bad news was that in round eight, they travelled to Liechtenstein and netted an 8-0 win. This gave Spain plus 29 with Albania and Israel left to play. Italy in their next tie managed a 1-0. The Italian’s losing mean that Albania and Israel could boost their slim hopes of a play off place.

Albania hosted Liechtenstein and got three points with a 2-0 win.  other in round seven in a one goal affair. They missed out closing a gap as they drew their next game away to Macedonia. A victory would have seen them close the gap to four points. Israel’s hopes of a play off were blown away when they lost both games, including one against Italy.

Rounds nine and ten see Spain face Israel and Albania and Italy also facing Albania alongside Macedonia. Italy could still win the group, but it would need Albania and Israel to take points off Spain whilst getting points off Albania themselves. Italy mind you would have to win their games to have a chance which should be the case seeing as the only nation to take points off them is Spain. It would appear that Italy would be heading for a play off, but they would be more than likely seeded.

Group H

This was always going to see one nation guaranteed to qualify and that was Belgium. It was just a matter as to who would take up second spot and a possible play off match. Going into round  seven and eight, Belgium had a four point gap over second placed Greece and a further point ahead of Bosnia.In round six Belgium and Greece had met and played out a draw although the Greeks could consider themselves unlucky not to take three points from the group leaders, that would have closed the gap to one point. Gibraltar came close to scoring their first point in their match against Cyprus, but were denied by a late winner.

Round seven saw Belgium host Gibraltar where the visitors suffered a 9-0 thrashing. Greece hosted Estonia but couldn’t breakthrough and had to settle for another draw which looked likely to hamper their qualification hopes.point. Bosnia though missed a great opportunity to move second when they went down 3-2 to Cyprus in Nicosia.

Round eight saw Belgium qualify for the finals as group winners with a victory over Greece, who themselves saw another chance to maintain a hold on the play off spot disappear. This allowed Bosnia to move second when they scored a 4-0 win away to Gibraltar.

So what now for the final two rounds. For Belgium, they can relax and enjoy themselves and can have a hand in who takes second place. Round nine sees the group leaders Belgium travel to Bosnia, where the hosts have yet to concede a goal. This could bode well for Bosnia in their quest although at the same time, Belgium have only condeded one on their travels. Greece travel to Cyprus which should favour the visitors. They will of course need to focus on their own game and not worry about what’s happening elsewhere.

Final round sees Greece with an advantage as they host Gibraltar. A big win would be crucial if they were to somehow finish on the same points as Bosnia. Bosnia though travel to Estonia, who they had previously beat 5-0. A repeat of this would give them a huge goal difference.

So who will be hoping to take a spot in the playoffs? Well that will depend on how Bosnia  do,, if they beat Belgium then they are home and dry. Given their record against the teams in 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th, they may struggle to get a playoff compared to Greece’s record. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens.

Group I

The final group in the UEFA qualfying zone and it’s one that is very much undecided. It’s a battle between Turkey, Croatia, Iceland and Ukraine and going into rounds seven and eight it was the case of very much all to play for. Croatia lead the group ahead of Iceland on goal difference, with both on 13 points whilst Turkey and Ukraine worth on 11 and also separated by goal difference.

So, to round seven and Iceland looked favourites when they travelled to Finland. Their hosts had only managed to gain one point previous, although that was a win denied ten minutes from time against Kosovo. Unfortunately for Iceland, their hosts finally decided that they might make and effort and gain some pride. A solitary goal in the 8th minute was enough to hamper Iceland’s hopes.

Croatia though were not making any mistakes in Round 7 as they hosted Kosovo. It was again a solitary goal that separated the two nations, coming from Domagoj Vida in the 74th minute. The final game of the group saw the two rivals Ukraine and Turkey coming together at the Metalist. Both on 11 points and whoever lost could possibly see their hopes of automatic qualification disappear. A first half double from Yarmolenko kept the hosts hopes of taking the group still very much alive. It Come the end of round 7, Croatia were on 16 points, Ukraine 14, Iceland 13 and Turkey 11.

Round Eight saw another topsy turvy round. Key games saw Iceland host Ukraine and Turkey host Croatia as Finland played Kosovo in the game between the two eliminated nations. A victory for Croatia, would have given a little breathing space and a healthy 19 points. It wasn’t to be as Cenk Tosun grabbed the only goal of the game in the 75th minute. Iceland hosted Ukraine, both needing a win, especially for the hosts having had the surprise defeat whilst Ukraine with a win could go top. It was back to normal for the hosts as they won 2-0, leaving the group positions the same as it were going into the two rounds albeit the points changing. One thing of note is that Iceland Ukraine and Turkey all have a plus 4 goal difference going into the final two rounds. Iceland and Ukraine have the same goals for and against record.

The final two rounds of games could be very interesting in seeing who finishes where. Croatia host Finland in round nine but travel to the Ukraine in the final game. Croatia had won the first tie, but given the way the results have gone, it would not be a certainty. Iceland could eliminate Turkey with a win in round nine, especially if Croatia win their tie. There could be a twist though, with Ukraine likely to beat Kosovo, the final game between Ukraine and Croatia, could well be a winner takes all. Two wins for the Ukraine would see them on 20 points, with Croatia on 19.

The not so beautiful game – The treatment of Sulley Muntari

Yet again football in Italy has failed to properly deal with the racism issue. This time Pescara midfield Sulley Muntari was the victim in a Serie A game between his club Pescara and Cagliari. Having received abuse, the Ghanian and former Portsmouth player went over to the fans who he had identified as those ones shouting racist chants. Having confronted the racists, I chose not to call them fans as decent football supporters don’t result to such levels, Muntari spoke to the referee. Thinking that the referee would deal with the matter, he was surprised to be on the receiving end of a yellow card. What was he given the yellow card for? dissent. I mean come on, if a player gets punished for reporting racism to a match official, then we are in trouble. Naturally the player walked off the pitch letting the game carry on.

It is appalling but yet not surprising to see the Italian FA failing to deal with the racism problem once more. We have seen time and time again that the racism problem raises its dirty head once more. Another example of failure to deal with racism is the treatment of Mario Ballotelli. The football enigma has been often a victim to the disgusting racism with the n word and monkey taunts. On one occasion was seen to be crying whilst on the bench having been on the receiving end of abuse. The response by his manager, Clarence Seerdorf and his players? Nothing to do with racism, but his passion for the game causing him to get upset.

What it needs is for a ban of some sort by either UEFA or FIFA on the Italian Football Association to make them realise that they need to take things more seriously. Handing out fines will simply not do.

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.