The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: European Football is Back!

European football is in full swing!

 

I’m excited as anyone for all leagues to be back not even a month after the end of the World Cup final and I will talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly of all teams from this past weekend.

 

The Good: Liverpool. Their offense has clearly picked off where they ended up last season. What has been even more impressive is the defense. Virgil Van Dijk was a huge (no pun intended) acquisition in the January transfer window and has made a difference since. In the first two games, they have yet to allow a goal. Some of it may be due to Allison between the posts now, but Van Dijk has clearly become a top three center back in the EPL.

In Serie A, Atalanta was off to a hot start. Scoring the sixth most goals in the league last season, they are off to a great start with a 4-0 thrashing of newly promoted Forsinone. Midfielder Alejandro Gomez, who had a 6 goal, 10 assist output last season, is already one-third to his goal total with a brace and two assists in the victory. Atalanta has a tough season ahead balance domestic and attempting to qualify fr Europa league. Should they progress in the competition, they will have to figure out what’s more important moving forward.

In La Liga, the biggest question is how different would Real Madrid look without Cristiano Ronaldo, who went scoreless in his debut for Juventus. Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, and the young talent surrounding Julen Lopetuegi’s inaugural season at the helm is a tough ask. Bale was up for the challenge, scoring a goal in the second half, leading Madrid to a 2-0 win over Getafe. During the pre-season tour, new signing Vinicius Junior impressed enough for Lopetuegi to keep the 18 year old on the bench for the opener. When will the 45 million dollar Brazilian prodigy make an impact in the Spanish capital?

Moving to Ligue 1, Kylian Mbappe came off the bench for defending league champion Paris St. Germain. After a phenomenal performance and was clearly a game changer against Guingamp, has this become Mbappe’s team, especially after being France’s best player on the way to winning the World Cup this summer?

The Bad: Arsenal has had a tough opening games with back to back losses to Manchester City and Chelsea. Playing a West Ham, who is also off to a rocky start, may help them bounce back. But the worst performance of the weekend has to be Manchester United shocking 3-2 defeat to Brighton and Hove Albion. United has had problems all summer, mostly with the rough relationship between manager Jose Mourinho and captain Paul Pogba. Even with legends criticizing Pogba for his lack of urgency, Mourinho may be the first manager to go if they are not more competitive in all competitions this season.

In Serie A, Inter Milan is the team that is supposed to go toe-to-toe with Juventus for the league crown this season. However, a shock 1-0 defeat to Sassuolo was not the start many were expecting to start the campaign. Sassuolo has had Inter Milan’s number in the last few seasons, so this should not be that big of a surprise, but the team has invested heavily to be more competitive.

The Ugly: La Liga has signed a 15 year deal with Relevent, a company that operates the summer International Champions Cup, which will have one game from the league to be played in the United States. It seems that the players are not happy with this decision. Captains and players met to discuss the change that will go into effect as early as this season, and they have not ruled out a strike. In the hopes to expose the league to various audiences around the world, this appears to have come at the expense of a divided league. No official announcement has been made as to which teams are coming over, but Real Madrid and Barcelona are two of the biggest clubs in world football. Don’t be surprised if one of the two giants comes to play a game in the years to come, if the players don’t go on strike.

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Alphonso Davies to Bayern Munich: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

So, Major League Soccer is a retirement league, eh? Well, a lot of well known players come towards the end of their career to make a paycheck and some make an impact such as Zlatan, David Villa, Bastian Schweinstiger just to name the most recent ones. While that may be true, it seems that MLS is becoming the league that is developing players for European  starting to develop players as 17 year old Vancouver Whitecaps sensation Alphonso Davies moved to German giants Bayern Munich and paid $13 million, which is a league record.

 

Allow me to break down the good, the bad, and the ugly with this historic signing.

 

The Good: This is great for MLS. With the signing, the deal could reach up to $22 million with performance bonuses and includes a sell-on clause, netting the Whitecaps even more should Bayern decide to sell the player down the line. Davies has been a player to watch for the club since he turned pro at 14. His touch on the ball and speed off it allow for the next great North American outfield player to ply his trade in the best leagues in the world. He was named to the MLS All Star team that will play against Italian champions Juventus on August 1st in Atlanta and is the second youngest player ever to make the team, with the youngest being Freddy Adu. It was only a matter of time before European clubs were calling for his services, but Bayern Munich was definitely not the destination many thought heading into the season. With NYCFC’s Jack Harrison making the move to Manchester City for $6 million earlier this year and Matt Mizaga moving from the New York Red Bulls to Chelsea for $5 million in 2016, this is starting to become a league that can develop talent that large European clubs want and for large sums of money.

 

The Bad: Due to the fact that he’s not 18 yet, he is unable to join the club until January 2019. Most players this young that are signed in Europe would be loaned out immediately to play at smaller clubs in Europe to get a taste of higher level competition or play within their academy to gain the experience on their watch. I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s a bad thing, but it does delay his development in some respects. I think playing out the rest of the season is smart because it keeps the Whitecaps in contention as they have dropped four of their last five games and being shutout 2-0 to one of their Cascadia rivals in the Seattle Sounders.  With a tough schedule ahead featuring Minnesota United, NYFC, Portland Timbers, and New York Red Bulls, Davies will help keep them in range of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
The Ugly: For a club as big as Bayern Munich, their big money spending on young talent hasn’t translated as much as you’d think. Only two summers two, Portugal midfielder Renato Sanches was signed after a few solid seasons at Porto and outstanding performances for Portugal at Euro 2016. Since his $41 million dollar transfer to Bayern, he has struggled with lack of playing time and injury have hindered his progress. 2014 World Cup hero Mario Gotze moved to Bayern from rivals Borussia Dortmund in 2013 at the age of 21 and also struggled with injury and wasn’t the best choice for manager Pep Guardiola’s side on occasion and left three seasons later and still 24 years old. Only recently have the likes of Kingsley Coman and Corentin Tolisso, who are 22 and 23 respectively started to pan out for the German champions. This is a club that regularly competes for the UEFA Champions League every season, so when you’re called upon, you have to be ready to be one of the best in the world every time out. This will be a long a trying road for Davies as he awaits moving to Germany next year, but if he keeps up this trajectory, this may be the beginning stages of a blueprint to scouting and developing young talent for Major League Soccer.

Top Five: Champions League Teams 2018-2019 Season

The transfer window still had a month remaining for most leagues, but in the interest of the International Champions Cup, it seems many teams are set with their rosters. There are still moves that can be made in the next month, but for now, here are my top five teams to win next season’s UEFA Champions League.

 

  1. Barcelona – There’s no doubt that this team will be competitive this upcoming season. With a healthy Osumane Dembele and Phillipe Coutinho eligible to play in the competition after having had to sit out last season due to playing with Liverpool already, Barcelona has the best chance to win it all. With Cristiano Ronaldo having left to go to Juventus (who will be on this list later), this team has the depth to win it all because they will most likely cruise to another La Liga title. The question is how much will Lionel Messi have to take on the leadership role left by Andres Iniesta. In a tough spot, that’s when all eyes will be on him once again.
  2. Juventus – Serie A is relevant again, and it’s all because of the move that stunned the football world with Ronaldo moving to Turin. The man that’s likely to be out because of the move is Gonzalo Higuain, so let’s see where he may move in the coming month. If he stays, along with Paulo Dybala and Douglas Costa coming off the bench, this is going to a tough team to beat. The addition of Emre Can from Liverpool gives the team a solid core in the midfield, but their biggest question is in net. How will Wojeich Szczesny handle being the true number one after Gianluigi Buffon left the club after 17 seasons to move to PSG at the age of 40?
  3. Liverpool – the runners up in last year’s competition got a whole lot better after throwing $85 million at former Roma goalkeeper Alisson to make the move from Serie A to the English Premier League. If Mohamed Salah returns to form, Trent Alexander-Arnold gains more experience, and Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane help carry the offense with Salah, they have the best side in England, and that includes Manchester City. Depth is their biggest concern, so if they look to make another deep run, another big signing on the defensive or midfield side would help them combat a competitive league along with European competition. Christian Pulisic anyone?
  4. Bayern Munich – With Real Madrid having knocked the German champions out of the competition four of the last five seasons with Atletico Madrid having knocked out them out the other season, this may be their year to take it all. Robert Lewandowski needs to play to form as he did two seasons ago as he didn’t look quite himself last season and looked lost in their meeting against Real Madrid. Another season for James Rodriguez playing for a team that will make him an important piece to win games will only boost his confidence and young talent in Kingsley Coman, Corentin Tolisso, and Joshua Kimmich look to provide quality when called upon. Their biggest concern is health. Manuel Neuer just came back from injury in time for Germany’s World Cup campaign after having not played almost all season and didn’t look the best while Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery are almost certain to miss time. If they can stay healthy, this team can beat the best.
  5. Real Madrid – There are other team you could put in here such as Manchester City, Atletico Madrid, or Paris Saint Germain. Losing Ronaldo definitely hurt as well. However, Zinedine Zidane stepping down and bringing in Julen Lopetuegi may help rejuvenate the three-time defending champions in their quest for a four-peat for the first time since the Real Madrid teams that won the first five versions of the competition. Up until the World Cup, Spain looked great in their system that at their peak destroyed Argentina 6-1 in a friendly. Granted, Argentina were missing some of their stars, but the potential that his system has will be dependent on how the players buy in to possession football. Isco played great under Lopetuegi for the Spanish national team, so expect him and Luka Modric to be the focal points of the offense. Gareth Bale will look to be the man and build of a great Champions League final performance and Karim Benzema will be the lone striker. This team has two questions. The first is how motivated will they be having been in the last three finals and who will they look to sign with the money received from Juventus for Ronaldo. If they add a superstar on the offensive side such as Harry Kane, Eden Hazard, or even Lewandowski, this team will easily be one of the best in the competition.

The Good, Bad, and the Ugly: Kahwi Out

While writing about the World Cup, there was a huge trade in the NBA that I wanted to write on. Unfortunately, being in the desert didn’t allow me to do it, which is why i’m writing on it now. Here’s my thoughts on the big trade that sent Kahwi Leonard and Danny Green to Toronto in exchange for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poertl, and a protected 2019 first round draft pick.

 

The Good: I’ll be honest, I was shocked the trade actually happened. There were rumors that this was happening in the weeks leading up and even Las Vegas had them as the favorite, which is always telling. As for the good, this upgrades Toronto on paper. They now have the best player in the conference in in Leonard and veteran leadership with championship pedigree in Green. With Boston and Philadelphia looking to get better as their core is more experienced and healthy, Toronto had to make a move to keep up. If Leonard plays up to the top three player that he was two seasons ago, this team has NBA Finals potential. For San Antonio, they were able to get a star player in DeRozan, who still has three years left on his contact, a big in Poertl with potential and a first round pick if it falls out of the top 20. Leonard can’t sit out another season, even if he’s disgruntled because he would give up his free agency if he did so. He has to ball out if he wants to earn the contact and move to LA that he wants.

 

The Bad: What I mentioned for the good is best case scenario. Leonard has the potential to be a cancer in the locker room for a Toronto side that has experienced a taste of a conference finals before. DeRozan is a star, but is liable defensively and can go cold at times. I’m not convinced if he can be the number one option on a team with championship pedigree. Toronto only has a full season to convince Leonard that his future lies north of the border. In giving up the pieces they did, they have to hope everything they do leads to Leonard signing an extension, otherwise, they took the biggest gamble and lost big.
The Ugly: For Toronto, they traded their franchise player that had no indication that he was even on the trading block. According to DeRozan, Toronto officials told DeRozan that he was not going to be traded, and then here we are. Ujiri says there was was some “miscommunication” between what was expected from DeRozan after meeting with officials in Las Vegas. For San Antonio, this ends the saga between the franchise and their star player. For Leonard, his silence initially painted him as a star that kept to himself. Through the drama, his silence became more of a problem as different reports indicated various reasoning for not wanting to return to San Antonio and was not defending himself. San Antonio is a one of the model franchises in the league and had made clear that they will jettison any player who doesn’t wish to compete for championships, even if said player is one of the top three players in the league.

World Cup 2022: Who Will Win?

Today, I feel refreshed and ready to crank out new content. Awesome!

 

Not even a week removed from the 2018 World Cup, the focus shifts to Qatar 2022, which will be played from November 21st to December 18th, a first ever in the tournaments history its being played outside the summer.

 

There’s so many factors that may come up over the next four years, but here are my top five teams to win it all in Qatar.

  1. France – The core nucleus of this team is in their early 20s now, which makes this scary. What makes things scarier is that Kylian Mbappe will only be 23 when Qatar comes around, and he might be the next great player to carry the torch left by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Hugo Lloris may still be in net at 35 since goalies age like fine wine.  Raphael Varane might be the next Real Madrid captain by this time alongside semifinal hero Samuel Umtiti on defense. Paul Pogba will lead the midfield alongside an aging N’Golo Kante. Antonie Grizemann will be 31, but doesn’t take as much of a beating because he plays in La Liga alongside Mbappe, and Ousumane Dembele will be 25. Add a supporting cast of Benjamin Pavard, Thomas Lemar, and Corentin Tolisso along with the likes of Kurt Zouma, Kingsley Coman, Adrien Rabiot, and Anthony Martial and this team will break the curse of defending World Cup champions crashing out of the group stage.
  2. England – Like France, they also have young team and exceeded all expectations by finishing 4th.  Jordan Pickford will be 28 and potentially move to a top four club in this timeframe, which will help in his development. The core of John Stones, Harry Maguire, and Kerian Tripper should still be in the back with Liverpool sensation Trent Alexander-Arnold will be 23 in Qatar. Dele Alli, Jesse Lingard, and Raheem Sterling should also stay in contention for midfield spots while they grow at their respective clubs. Harry Kane will be one of the best forwards in the world by this time. With Marcus Rashford and Ruben Loftus-Cheek in a supporting role, add in Alex Olade-Chamberlain, Nathaniel Chalobah, and Tammy Abraham, and this team has the potential to grow assuming Gareth Southgate continues to grow as a manager as well
  3. Brazil – Brazil is Brazil and when you wear the national team jersey, winning it all is the mission. Alisson and Ederson will be battling it out for years to come, and having a great goalie is always huge for Brazil. The defense does worry me a bit with a 34 year old Marcelo, and 28 year old Marquinhos, and a 33 year old Fagner in the back, but their experience may help for lack of athletic ability. Casemiro and Phillipe Coutinho, and Roberto Firmino will lead the midfield at this point and Gabriel Jesus and Neymar up top is as dangerous of an attack as you will see. Jorge, Arthur, and Rodrigo Cai are names that wil be competing for a spot on this roster in four years time. Add in the potential of Vinicius Junior, who just moved to Real Madrid at 18 and watch out for his development in the coming years. If he lives up to the potential, Brazil should be a team poised to make a final run with this nucleus.
  4. Spain – Assuming there is no chaos with Luis Enrique and looking for a different job post the 2022 World Cup, Spain will be one of the favorites to come out of Qatar as champions. The majority of the 2018 World Cup nucleus will be gone, but Spain doesn’t rebuild, they reload and Luis Enrique will have his pickings at this point. With David de Gea’s disastrous performance at this World Cup, it’ll be interesting if Enrique decides to give Kepa Arrizabalaga some opportunity in net after coaching against him in La Liga Dani Carvajal should have one more run as he will be 30 and may be running alongside Alvaro Odriozola, who just moved to Real Madrid this transfer window. Saul, Koke, Lucas Vazquez, Marco Asencio, and Isco all make a solid midfield. The big question will be up top as to whether Alvaro Morata returns to form by this time or will someone like Inaki WIlliams, Vitolo, or an aging Jose Callejon be the man to take Diego Costa’s spot.
  5. Italy – After missing out on their first World Cup since 1958, this team had already flushed out the old and is in the process of bringing in the new. Gianluigi Donnarumma will be the next great Italian shot stopper for the Azzuri. Leonardo Bonnuci will captain the side at 35 years old alongside Alessio Romagnoli and Mattia De Sciglio. Jorginho will get more looks as well as Alessandro Florenzi in the midfield. Andrea Belotti will probably move from Torino to a bigger club in this timeframe as well. There’s a lot of uncertainty around the side, but the Italian federation will make sure to put out a great side to compete in Qatar. Will former MLS MVP Sebastian Giovinco receive a call-up?

World Cup Recap: Final

After almost six days after the final, I finally get to write a recap!

 

I was in Las Vegas watching at a bar for the final and tried to write a recap there, but there was too much drama and excitement throughout. Here’s my final recap of this World Cup:

 

The Good: The pace of the game. Early on, Croatia looked to attack early and often and had opportunities to challenge France goalkeeper hugo Lloris. After 15 minutes, the game started to shift in France’s direction and they were able to get an early goal from an Antonie Griezmann free kick that was accidentally headed by Mario Mandzukic into his own net. The slight deflection provided France the early lead, but Croatia wasn’t going down without a fight. Ivan Perisic was able to get the ball right on the outside of the box, brought it to his left foot and smashed it past Lloris to tie the game. VAR showed up as Perisic was seen with a handball in the box and Grizemann was able to hit home the penalty.

 

In the second half, it was all France as Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe showed their value with phenomenal strikes to bring the game to 4-1. Mandzukic was able to get one back after Lloris played with the ball too much in the box and brought Croatia within two goals, but it wasn’t enough as France was able to capture their second ever World Cup.

 

The Bad: France has the talent and that goes without question, but you could see in the second half that Croatia was gassed. They had essentially played an extra game with all of their knockout stage games up to the final went into extra time, and two going to a shootout. This may have been a better game had they had fresher legs.

 

The Ugly: Add in Croatia’s legs going out along with two unlucky plays in Mandzukic’s own goal and Perisic’s handball that was called via VAR. I still believe the game would have ended 2-1 as when Lloris poorly handled the ball in the box, it was 4-1. Had the game been closer, Lloris would have been smarter and more focused.
Up Next: France met all expectations and hoists their second ever World Cup, while Croatia finishes the best they ever have in this tournament in second.

Recap: Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Juventus

With Cristiano Ronaldo’s transfer from Real Madrid to Italian giants Juventus, this had created a seismic shift in Europe. Both teams helped each other out, so I will break it down the same way that I have with the World Cup.

 

The Good: This is a good for both sides. For Juventus, they are getting one of the two best players in the last 10 players and instantly makes both Serie A a must watch league and Juventus serious UEFA Champions League title contenders. In order to pay for his high wages, Juventus will have to sell off some players, most notably Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala. This will allow them to meet Financial Fair Play. For Real Madrid, they obtain the largest sum ever ($117 million) for a player over 30 years old. With this amount, they should be able to target some great players in the transfer window. Kylian Mbappe, Neymar, Harry Kane, and Robert Lewandowski, and Eden Hazard are just some of the names who may receive a call from Los Blancos in the coming weeks. One thing to note about Real Madrid president Fiorentino Perez is that if he was ok with releasing Ronaldo, he has something up his sleeve. Before the transfer window has closed, at least one name will be on their way to Madrid this summer.

 

The Bad: News coming out of Italy is that FIAT, one of Juventus’ sponsors, will be footing the bill for the transfer and they are not happy about it. Reports are saying that the workers will be going on strike in protest of this move. With the marketing and sales from jerseys, the club should be able to recoup the funds. Add in money from winning Serie A and a long run in Champions League play, more sponsors will come on to balance out the signing.
The Ugly: The way the Ronaldo saga kept going on over the last few summers. The writing was on the wall after their third Champions League title in a row when in an interview that he said it was a great time in Madrid. Being the best player on the planet and being paid half of what Neymar and Messi are being paid didn’t sit well with Ronaldo and was keen on feeling the love in the wages. On top of that, scoring a beautiful bicycle kick in the quarterfinals and the Juventus crowd applauding the effort allowed him to feel even more respected. Ronaldo will go down as the best player in the history of Real Madrid, but the divorce was fairly ugly. Guess this marriage wasn’t to last.

World Cup Recap: Semifinal #2

What a day!

 

Watching the game during the day, playing some pick-up with former US National Team player Jimmy Conrad, and now writing the second to last World Cup story. Before we go into the recap, I will be writing on Cristiano Ronaldo’s transfer to Juventus tomorrow, so be on the lookout for that. Now, let’s get started with Croatia’s remarkable 2-1 victory over England.

 

The Good: It appeared to look good for England. Five minutes in, Kerian Tripper hit a wonderful free kick to give England the early lead and thought this may be a blowout. Harry Kane has the chance to bag his seventh goal, but banged it off the bar and giving Croatia life. After 30 minutes, you could see the game shift in Croatia’s favor with their stellar midfield, but actually being able to link up and create dangerous opportunities early in the second half. It paid off in the 68th minute as a cross from Sime Vrsaljko led to an Ivan Perisic strike in the box to tie the game. Perisic and Croatia almost took the lead three minutes later, but the ball his the post in the bottom corner to preserve the tie game. In the first  extra time, John Stones almost broke the deadlock, but Vrsaljko was on the line to head it away. Mandzukic was less than half a step away for Croatia to take the lead, but Jordan Pickford came up huge to stop the opportunity 1 v 1. The second extra time brought the game winner as a header from Perisic led to a Mandzukic strike in the box and hit it to the far post past Pickford to give Croatia the 2-1 win and their first ever appearance in a World Cup final.

 

The Bad: England’s tactics 30 minutes on. It seemed that they were unable to keep up with Croatia. It’s as if they were begging for a set piece because that’s how many of their goals were scored this tournament. Gareth Southgate is a great manager to motivate his team and keep his team focused, but needs to understand when to change tactics as he was outcoached on the day. Harry Kane wasn’t his best self either, which was also a huge disappointment for someone who will most likely win the Golden Boot.

 

The Ugly: That England has to play with 10 men for most of the second extra period due to Trippier having a groin injury and they were out of subs. Other than that, England seemed to be sleeping defensively on crosses in the box and on set pieces, which is a problem against a team that will be more physical than you in the air. Finally, all the beer that was spilled from both fanbases was just sad.
Up Next: Croatia heads to their first World Cup final against France on Sunday while England and Belgium meet for the second time in the tournament to battle it out for third place.

World Cup Recap: Semifinal #1

I’m finally caught up! Yaaaaay!

 

France is in the World Cup Final for the first time since 2006 after a 1-0 win over Belgium in the first semifinal.

 

The Good: France have been the favorite to win the World Cup since their shock defeat to Portugal in the Euro final two summers ago. Since then, the young nucelus has mixed in well with the veteran players and are on the verge of their first World Cup title since 1998 when head coach Didier Deschamps was a player and captained the side. Belgium made it tough for them however with a series of strikes that called upon French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris to react. Raphael Varane also made a great stop by deflecting the ball over Lloris almost halfway through the first half. France tried to link up with Kylian Mbappe and Olivier Giroud, but that failed. The story of this tournament had been one thing: set pieces. France was able to capitalize on that as Antoine Griezmann hit a ball to the near post and Samuel Umtiti headed the ball past Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to give France the lead. Minutes later, France’s passing and Mbappe’s cheeky backheel flick almost gave Giroud another goal, but floundered the opportunity. Belgium tried to get one good strike, but France’s defense held strong and they hang on to the one goal victory.

 

The Bad: Belgium’s attack. After the first 15-20 minutes, we didn’t see much action from Kevin de Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, and Eden Hazard. They were ineffective in the final third in large part thanks to France’s defense, but most expected more from the team who had scored the most goals in the tournament so far.

 

The Ugly: Many comments I received following the game was due to France’s time wasting, which was evident through the latter parts of the second half. It’s hard to determine what’s real and what’s not, which is why the referee added six minutes of stoppage time. Then, France wasted some of that time as well. I understand its part of the game, but a team that should this this dominant shouldn’t have to resort to tactics like this.
Up Next: France awaits the winner of the Croatia/England game for Sunday’s final while the loser plays Belgium for third place on Saturday.

World Cup Recap: Quarterfinals

I know, I’m still behind but I’m almost caught up!

 

The quarterfinals brought some of  the same excitement and we are now down to four nations.

 

Let’s start off with France’s 2-0 win over Uruguay.

 

The Good: France didn’t play their best, but didn’t really need it today. Kylian Mbappe and Paul Pogba didn’t have a great game, but Antonie Griezmann and Raphael Varane carried the load for the team offensively. With no Edison Cavani due to injury, Luis Suarez had to carry the load, but simply couldn’t put it together in the final third or on set piece opportunities. A lot of credit had to go to Hugo Lloris, who made some great saves throughout the match. N’golo Kante works hard in the midfield for France and controls how the game will turn out. We still haven’t seen a complete performance from them yet, which is pretty scary to see.

 

The Bad: Even without Cavani, Uruguay was in it until goalkeeper Fernando Muslera mishandled the ball on Griezmann’s strike in the 61st minute and looked like Loris Karius in the Champions League final a month and a half ago. Again, they had their opportunities on set pieces, but couldn’t create an opportunity to put it past Lloris.

 

The Ugly: Edison Cavani is a great person, so I do feel bad that he was injured and unable to play. But on the other hand, many fans of teams other than Barcelona we’re pretty happy Suarez didn’t play well and why Uruguay didn’t advance. I’m known as an Anti-Suarez fan anyway, so I didn’t mind him having a bad game, but Cavani’s injury really robbed us of an opportunity for France to be challenged.

 

Up Next: France moves on to the semifinals, while Uruguay goes home.

 

My knockout bracket was perfect, until Belgium beat tournament favorites Brazil 2-1.

 

The Good: Belgium. They look reallllllly good. It’s hard to make Brazil look average, but that’s what happened. Brazil did have their opportunities to scare Belgium early, but were up for the challenge. Fernandinho having the ball hit off his shoulder and into the back of his own teams net was not how we thought the score would open, but it did. 11 own goals at the World Cup is now a record (Golden Boot runaway winner). Almost 20 minutes later, Romelu Lukaku carved up Fernandinho and Kevin De Bruyne hit a great strike past Brazil goalkeeper Alisson to make it 2-0 Belgium. Many thought Belgium was going to run away with it, but Brazil attacked hard. Thibeaut Courtois came up with many great saves to preserve the lead and deserved Man of the Match honors. Brazil was finally able to break through as Phillipe Coutinho delivered an excellent ball through the air, which was headed home by Renato Augusto to bring Brazil within a goal. But Courtois and Belgium were able to shut out Brazil to make their second semifinal appearance ever.

 

The Bad: Neymar. His stock has fallen dramatically since his move to PSG in the last 12 months. He no-shows against Real Madrid in the Round of 16 of the Champions League, he gets hurt, and has a terrible World Cup where he has been exposed for the player than he is: a player that has to get the calls from the ref for him to be successful. Coutinho was the best player for Brazil this time and should’ve been given the ball more. How he bounces back will remain to be seen as he clearly shouldn’t have played in this tournament and focused on his recovery for next season domestically.

 

The Ugly: I could also go Neymar here, but I won’t. I will go with Fernandinho. Not only do you concede an own goal, but you get burned on the counterattack by Lukaku and Belgium scores their second. He had no clue was he was doing all night. If Casemiro was playing and not suspended due to yellow card accumulation, maybe Brazil would have done better.

 

Up Next: Belgium takes on France in the semifinals, while Brazil is going home.

 

Is it coming home? England thinks so as they punch their ticket to the semifinals with a 2-0 win over Sweden.

 

The Good: England is good. I haven’t been sold on England so far based off who they have played so far, but this might be their most complete game on both sides. Their counterattack game was dangerous throughout, but their set pieces were more impressive. Ashley Young hit Harry Maguire’s head perfectly and with just enough power to open the scoring. Sweden attempted to ramp up the offensive attack, but was stifled by Jordan Pickford, who was the player of the game. Dele Alli hit a wonderful header off a Jesse Lingard cross to make it 2-0 England. Sweden desperately tried to bring one back, but Pickford came up huge over the final 30 minutes to preserve a clean sheet and England is in the semifinals for the first time since 1990.

 

The Bad: I thought Sweden would be able to play a much more free flowing game like they did against Mexico, but England is one tough side to crack. The back line of John Stones, Kyle Walker, and Maguire played exceptional along with Pickford making exceptional stops in the second half. If England win this tournament, Pickford will be a huge reason why.

 

The Ugly: Raheem Sterling hasn’t had the best tournament thus far, but had a wide open shot in the first half where he got behind the defense, but his heavy first touch allowed Sweden goalkeeper Robin Olsen to get a hand on it while the defense scrambled back to force Sterling into a rough shot.

 

Up Next: England moves on to the semifinals, while Sweden is going home.

 

We wrap up the quarterfinal matchups with Croatia’s penalty shootout win over hosts Russia.

 

The Good: That the better team won this game. No offense to Russia, but they were not going to make the game with England competitive. Croatia will. Russia did open up more offensively with a great goal from Denis Cheryshev. Andrej Kamaric tied the game from a cross in the box by Mario Mandzukic just before halftime. While Croatia had much of the possession from the midfield thanks to Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, Russia generated more shots on target in the game. In extra time, Domagoj Vida hit another header inside the box, giving the 2-1 lead to Croatia, but Mario Fernandes was able to tie it up for Russia. In the penalty shootout, Danijel Subasic stopped another one and Fernandes hit it low, hard, but with no accuracy as Croatia moves on to the semifinals for the first time since 1998.

 

The Bad: Russia’s penalties. Fedor Smolov hit a terrible shot that was easily saved by Subasic and Fernandes missed the net entirely. Russian goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev wasn’t able to save Russia this time as Croatia hit their penalties and won. This was the second occasion ever a team won back to back penalty shootouts in a single tournament (Argentina 1990).

 

The Ugly: Croatia’s injuries. Subasic pulled a hamstring before the end of regulation and struggled through the extra period. Other field players had to be subbed off due to injury, which will be a big storyline heading into their matchup with England. How healthy will this Croatia team be and how much energy do they have after playing back to back 120 minute games?
Up Next: Croatia takes on England, while Russia goes home (which is close by since they hosted the tournament.)