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.

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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.)

World Cup Recap: Round of 16

With me being sick as a dog, I’m trying to play catch up here to I will bundle the Round of 16 games here.

 

Let’s start with France turning up a gear with an exciting 4-3 win over Argentina.

 

The Good: Hello, Kylian Mbappe. No player has risen to prominence faster in the last 18 months than him and it seems to be the bigger the stage, he comes out to perform when needed. Eleven minutes in, he ran through the defense virtually the whole length of the field before Argentina defender Marcos Rojo knocks him down unnecessarily in the box, paving the way for an Antione Grizemann penalty conversion. Minutes before halftime, Angel Di Maria hit a wonderstrike from distance tying the game. Argentina takes the lead off a set piece that Lionel Messi brings down, hits, and Gabriel Mercado deflects the ball past French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. With France on the ropes, defender Lucas Hernandez whips the ball in the box, bounces outside the 18, where fellow defender Benjamin Pavard pivots his body to curve it in the top shelf to tie the game. Then Mbappe gets the the ball after some deflections in the box and hits the ball low and hard to make it 3-2 France. Their third goal in 10 minutes came of the counter where Olivier Giroud passed him the ball on the outside of the 18 and again placed it low and hard to make it 4-2. Argentina pulled one back late, but it wasn’t enough as France move on to the quarterfinals.

 

The Bad: Messi didn’t really show up. The French defense didn’t back down and were able to contain Argentina’s pace of play, mainly through the works of Blaise Matuidi and N’golo Kante. This freed up space for Paul Pogba to make his presence felt offensively for their great counter attack play. The defense also failed him and they gave up all four goals due to France speed. Javier Mascherano was a shadow of his former self and the writing was on the wall. He retired from international duty following the match, and rightfully so. He did more yelling at the refs than stopping France’s offense all game.

 

The Ugly: This is the last time we’ll see one of the five greatest players of all time in their prime. Messi was given peanuts for a team around him. People forget that he had to put on an all-time performance just to get to the World Cup and they still picked this side to win the whole thing. This goes to show you that one man can’t carry it all, but this extends his streak of having never scored in a knockout stage. Will he come back for one more go around in 2022 or will this be the end of a chapter of a player who will be second-fiddle in his own country?

 

Up Next: France moves on to the quarterfinals, Argentina is eliminated.

 

In the second quarterfinal game, Uruguay dispatched Portugal 2-1 in an exciting game to the finish.

 

The Good: Edison Cavani. The tandem of Cavani and Luis Suarez, might be the best striker duo in the tournament and they are continuing to head up. In the seventh minute, Cavani switches the ball across the field to Suarez, who then takes a few touches and squares in up to Cavani on another cross to nail it home and give Uruguay the lead. Pepe was able to tie the game for Portugal in the second half with a great header off a set piece, but Cavani comes in the clutch for the two-time World Cup champions minutes later. Cavani gets a perfect ball passed low and hits it first-time to bend it past Portugal goalie Rui Patricio to clinch the passage to the quarterfinals.

 

The Bad: Cristiano Ronaldo. Like Messi, he didn’t have a great game. He tries to lead his team back, but just wasn’t able to get it done. You could blame it on the extra games he’s had over the last three years with Real Madrid going deep in Champions League play or the fact that he’s getting older, but after the magic of the first two games, he just didn’t have it. Considering the lack of depth of this team, I would say Portugal did the best they could.

 

The Ugly: Social media crushing Ronaldo for assisting Cavani off the field when injured. I get that he wanted to hurry up the game, but it’s not like Cavani refused the offer. Social media has it’s ugly side as a whole, and I can understand the reasoning to a point. We later find out he is really hurt, so that gives kudos to Ronaldo in my eyes.

 

Up Next: Uruguay take on France while Portugal is eliminated.

 

We now discuss Russia’s not-so-shocking upset over favorites Spain on penalties.

 

The Good: Igor Ankinfeev. He was clearly the best of the two goalkeepers on the night. After giving up an early goal, it seems that Spain was returning to form at the right time. Just when they came knocking, Akinfeev was there to keep Russia in the game. Pique’s handball in the box allowed Artem Dzyuba to nail home a penalty to tie the game. Spain recorded over 1000 passes (yes, that’s right) and didn’t really push the pace. Russia hunkered down defensively for the next 80 minutes to bring in to penalties, where Akinfeev came up huge.

 

The Bad: This was coming from a mile away for Spain. When re-picking the knockout stage games, Russia being the hosts against Spain had shades of South Korea 2002 where, along with some controversial calls, allowed the hosts to advance on penalty kicks. You could say there could have been VAR on the Sergio Ramos fall in the box, but I wasn’t shocked they didn’t use it. I’ve said it many times before, if you need a referee decision to help you win the game, you probably didn’t put yourself in a great enough position to win the game.

 

The Ugly: For Russia, this was an ugly win. They got the tying goal and hunkered down defensively. However, Spain had 74% possession, 25 shots on goal, over 1000 passes, and could only get one goal in, which was really an own goal by Russia? I’m sorry, but this team should’ve done more. This can all go on the Spanish FA for firing Julen Lopetuegi two days before the start of the tournament due to having taking the Real Madrid job. The Spanish FA said this was in the best interest of Spanish football, which obviously was the wrong decision. If they had any interest in winning the World Cup, you keep the manager that had not lost a game for you yet. Simple as that.

 

Up Next: Russia move on to the quarterfinals, while Spain is eliminated.

 

In the second penalty shootout of the day, Croatia finishes off daring Denmark.

 

The Good: The first four minutes of the game. Within that time frame, each team scores as Mathias Jorgensen puts one in a minute into the game off a throw in, while Mario Mandzukic scores on a Danish deflection. Kasper Schmichel had a phenomenal game, even stopping Luka Modric’s penalty in extra time to get them to a penalty shootout. Both Schmichel and Danijel Subasic were excellent in net during the shootout, but Ivan Rakitic sealed the game for Croatia with a clutch kick, sending Croatia to the quarterfinals.

 

The Bad: The next 116 minutes. Other than Luka Modric missing a penalty, there wasn’t too much excitement. I expected more from a Croatia side that cruised through their group without any issues and when facing a tougher defensive minded Denmark side, it seemed the quality in the last third of the field was hard to come by. For Denmark, they had only scored two goals up until Jorgensen’s goal, so it looked promising. Seems that was not the case as Subasic wasn’t challenged much until the shootout.

 

The Ugly: For Denmark, I feel bad for Schmichel. Getting player of the match on a losing side has to be a rough experience. He kept Denmark in the game to penalties and his stops in the shootout almost gave them the win, but Subasic was just slightly better in getting his team more stops.

 

Up Next: Croatia takes on Russia in the quarterfinals, while Denmark is going home.

 

We now take a look at Brazil’s 2-0 win over Mexico.

 

The Good: Brazil is starting to look like the team we thought they would, but Mexico made this game challenging. For the first 20-25 minutes, Mexico creates some dangerous opportunities and made Brazil respect their counterattack. Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa also had a stellar game, keeping a clean sheet in the first half. In the second half, Brazil turned on the second gear and some great passing by Willian in the box allowed Neymar to slide in and open the score. Mexico continued to attack, but Brazil was able to ice the game with Neymar’s shot deflected by Ochoa but landed at the feet of Roberto Firmino, who hit it home and landed Brazil a spot in the quarterfinals.

 

The Bad: Mexico’s tactics. Coach Juan Carlos Osorio is notorious for not playing the same lineup in consecutive games and started 39 year old Rafa Marquez at defensive midfield. He tired out at halftime and had to be replaced by Miguel Layun, who should have started to begin with. They were caught out of position twice in the second half and paid for it.

The Ugly: I feel bad for goalkeepers who put on a great performance, but their offense can’t get it done. Ochoa had played Brazil twice in the last two World Cup and has been outstanding, but Mexico can’t seem to generate enough offense to close out the game. Since 1994, Mexico has been bounced out of the last seven tournaments in the Round of 16. Tough ending for a team that started out so great this time around.

 

Up Next: Brazil moves on to the quarterfinals, while Mexico is going home.

 

We now discuss Belgium’s exciting come from behind win over Japan.

 

The Good: This was the best game in 90 minutes of the Round of 16. From the get-go, you had action and free flowing soccer from both teams. Kawashima and Courtois weren’t called upon too much in the first half. Ths second half was the best track meet you’ll ever see. Japan was able to get behind the Belgian defense and Genki Haraguchi nailed home a shot from a tough angle to give Japan the early lead. They were able to double their lead less than five minutes later from a strike from outside the 18 from Takashi Inui. That’s when most thought (myself included), this was over and Belgium’s golden generation choked once again. Then, Jan Vertongen was able to get a header that looked to be sent it in the box, but instead ended in the back of the net. Minutes later, Marouane Fellani was able to make an impact off the bench with a header off  a cross from Eden Hazard, bringing the game level. In the last minute of stoppage, Belgium’s dangerous counterattack game was too strong as Nacer Chadli finished the comeback for Belgium.

 

The Bad: Japan blowing a 2-0 lead. It’s been about 50 years since a team blew a lead that big in the knockout stages, so it was highly unlikely the would come back. Japan should have kept their foot on the gas instead of playing conservatively and not fouling on the last play of the game cost them.

 

The Ugly: How Belgium gave up two goals in that manner. Roberto Martinez, however, was able to make the necessary adjustments and brought on Fellani and Chadli, who scores the tying and game-winning goals. Brazil is a much better team than Japan, so if they go down early, it won’t be a pretty sight for Belgium.

 

Up Next: Belgium takes on Brazil in the quarterfinals, while Japan heads home.

 

Moving on to the last games of the Round of 16, we start with Sweden’s 1-0 victory over Switzerland.

 

The Good: Hard to find a lot from this game that had as almost as many fouls as shots. Yes, Emil Forsberg scored the game winning goal, but it was off a deflection away from Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer’s trajectory. Once they were up, Sweden played their traditional tough defense to hang on for the win.

 

The Bad: Two teams that play similar styles of defense on the same field meant for a slow paced game, which is not what we’ve been accustomed to this World Cup. Both had their opportunities in the second half to take the lead, but it’s on Switzerland not having the consistent talent to really challenge Swedish goalkeeper Robin Olsen.

 

The Ugly: Sweden’s victory. If they look to advance in the competition, they need a full game like they did against Mexico in their 3-0 victory: great offense and suffocating defense. If they do that, this team has the potential to go far.

 

Up Next: Sweden moves on to the quarterfinals, while Switzerland is going home.

 

In the last match of the Round of 16, England finally breaks their penalty curse against Colombia.

 

The Good: England survived their first tough challenge of the World Cup. Harry Kane was able to bury his sixth goal of the tournament after he was brought down in the box by Carlos Sanchez. Colombia was able to tie the game in the dying minutes of stoppage time with a header by Yerry Mina. Colombia had all the momentum throughout extra time, but were not able to put a goal behind Jordan Pickford, who came up huge down the stretch and again during the shootout with great stops, allowing England to move on to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2006.

 

The Bad: Colombia had the opportunities late in the game and extra time to win the game, but Pickford shut them down. If they had James Rodriguez, who was out with a calf injury, this may have changed the game. That being said, Radamel Falcao and Juan Cuadrado were not an effective as in the group stage games.

 

The Ugly: England won an ugly game and broke their penalty kick shootout curse as they won for the first time in World Cup history in this scenario. They had lost all three of their penalty kick shootouts, with the most recent in 2006. If England is to progress, they will need to put together a complete game against Sweden.
Up Next: England takes on Sweden in the quarterfinals, while Colombia heads home.

World Cup Recap: Day 15

I have SO MUCH to catch up on, sorry everyone!

 

Day 15. This is the final day of the group stages. There was some drama remaining as Group H still had three team still available for the final two places in the Round of 16. Group G already clinched Round of 16 places, but the loser between Belgium and England would have the better path to the semifinals, believe it or not. Let’s start with Group G and the two already eliminated teams, Tunisia and Panama.

 

The Good: This was by far the better of the two games in the group today. Tunisia, who had not won a World Cup game since 1978, was looking to break the streak. Meanwhile, Panama was looking to close out it’s inaugural World Cup will a solid performance. There was a some back and forth opportunities through the first half until Jose Luis Rodrguez’s shot was deflected by Tunisian defender Yussian Meriah and Panama took the 1-0 lead. They continued the strong attack to put in a second until halftime. After halftime, it was mostly all Tunisia. They were dominant with two goals in the 20+ minutes of the second half giving them the lead 2-1 for the first time tonight. Panama had their best opportunities at the end ruled offside and shot at the keeper for Tunisia to walk away with their first win at a World Cup in 40 years.

 

The Bad: Panama had no chance in the second half and was worked by Tunisia’s movement with the ball. They simply seemed out of place and unable to keep up with the pace of Tunisia. Roman Torres came off injured, which also didn’t help in terms of their organization in the back.

 

The Ugly: When watching the last half of play, Tunisia could have made the game a whole lot worse for Panama. Considering their last minute loss to England, Tunisia also could have ended up with a point in that game and this Panama game would have meant more to them on the final day instead of a third match they had to play before heading home.

 

Up Next: Both Panama and Tunisia are eliminated from World Cup 2018

 

Moving on, we have the two team that did qualify for the knockout stages in Belgium and England. Whoever actually lost this game was going to be placed in the easier side of the bracket.

 

The Good: That bench players from either side played a game that winning meant playing in a more challenging side of the table for the knockout stages. The teams seems to challenge offensively throughout, and there were close calls for either side that could have put them ahead. It wasn’t until Adnan Januzaj’s goal in the 51st minute that gave Belgium the three points to top the group.

 

The Bad: That this game didn’t mean anything to either team. Other a few dangerous opportunities, the excitement was taken on out of the game due to both teams having won their first two games against Panama and Tunisia.

 

The Ugly: That the loss for England helps them moving forward in the tournament. They have an easier path to the semifinals than Belgium who won the game. That’s the only ugly item of discussion.

 

We wrap up the World Cup with Group H play with Poland’s 1-0 win over Japan.

 

The Good: Poland finishes their World Cup in style with a victory. While they may have not had as much possession at Japan, they clearly were able to make the most of their opportunities. Both teams had their close chances, but great stops by both goalkeepers kept the score knotted up at zero. A 59th minute goal by Jan Bednarek off a great set piece was the difference in in the match. After that, Poland was able to withstand Japan’s organized, yet aggressive style of attack. Poland was close to making it 2-0, but Japan goalkeeper Enji Kawashima was very attentive in keeping it close.

 

The Bad: Japan not being able to score. Being organized defensively keeps the team in games, but the problem is putting it together in the final third. Three of Japan’s all time leading goal scorers in Shinji Okazaki, Keisuke Honda, and Shinji Kagawa were unable to produce and Honda didn’t even come off the bench. Moving forward this team has to find a way to have a consistent option to rely on.

 

The Ugly: The tiebreaker rule that allows Japan to advance. Japan moved on because they were more disciplined that Senegal and received less yellow card throughout the three games. I understand there are little ways to separate the teams, but considering tactical fouls are part of the game, it’s a shame that Japan fell in the Round of 16 this way.

 

Up Next: Japan moves on to the Round of 16 while Poland heads home.

 

Finally, we wrap up the day with Colombia’s 1-0 victory over Senegal.

 

The Good: Colombia is who we thought they were gonna be: a team who can attack in bunches and play strong defense. They tested Senegal early with set pieces, which was a sign of things to come. Due to Colombia strong attack, Senegal’s chances weren’t that great even with the like of Sadio Mane leading the charge. With about 15 minutes left. Colombia was able to capitalize on a set piece with a strong header by defender Yerry Mina, allowing Colombia to jump to the top of the group.

 

The Bad: Senegal only started challenging Colombia’s defense when they were down. Desperate to tie the game, their play started becoming sloppy and inefficient. If they had shown this level of urgency early on in the game, they may have been able to put one past Colombian goalkeeper David Ospina. They were suffocated on defense, which was problem for them to transition out to their offense.

 

The Ugly: Going back to losing out to Japan on a tiebreaker due to yellow card accumulation. There aren’t many other tiebreakers you could go to, but at the same time, they had the ability to win this game and quite frankly didn’t. When you have the chance to control your path out of the group and don’t get the job done, it’s hard to feel that bad that they went out.
Up Next: Japan moves on to the Round of 16 while Senegal is out.

World Cup Recap: Day 14

You’d think that we’ve seen in all. On day 14 of the World Cup we’ve now seen one of the biggest shocks, if not THE biggest in World Cup history. We have four games to get through, so let’s start with Group E’s games with Serbia taking on Brazil in a must-win scenario for both sides.

 

The Good: Brazil finally looks to be in form at the right time. Neymar, who I criticized because of his subpar performance is showing signs of his old self again. Less antics and more of being skilled on the ball early in the game showed Brazil was serious about taking all three points from Serbia. The best player for Brazil right now without a doubt has to be Philippe Coutinho with a fantastic pass over top the Serbian defense where Paulinho poked it over Serbian goalie  Vladimir Stojkovic to open the scoring in the 36th minute. Brazil was able to stop every attack from Serbia in the second half and generate exciting counter attacks throughout. However, it was a set piece off the corner for Brazil that Thiago SIlva headed home to close the game at 2-0.

 

The Bad: Marcelo leaving the game early. The standout left-back was forced to exit 10 minutes into the match due to back spasms. Filipe Luis stepped in and did a solid job, showing the depth of this roster ready to make a deep run.

 

The Ugly: Serbia not capitalizing on their chances. In the second half, they put Brazil on their heels with every attack in the second half. The problem was they just couldn’t get the touch they needed to put it past Brazil’s netminder Alisson. Due to this, they exit the tournament after a solid start against Costa Rica, but poor 2nd half execution offensively send them home.

 

Up Next: Brazil wins the group while Serbia exits the 2018 World Cup

 

Moving on, Switzerland, needing only a point two advance, got it against an already eliminated, but feisty Costa Rica side.

 

The Good: The tie put Switzerland in which is all that matters. What makes this team dangerous to make the semifinals is their potent attack on top of their organized defense. Switzerland scored first through Breel Emobo’s header back into the box for Blerim Dezmaili to strike it home in the 30th minute. Costa Rica, already unable to move on to the next round, wanted to leave Russia with their heads held high and tied the game up on a corner that ended up being headed home by Kendall Waston. Switzerland looks like they were going to win with Josep Dirmic’s hit to the low corner was going to win the game, but a Costa Rica penalty that bounced off Swiss goalie Yann’ Sommer head that came off the bar and went in the back of the net at the end of stoppage time.

 

The Bad: Switzerland giving up late goals. They are a great team defensively, but if they are to get their opponent in the knockout stage, they need to hunker down on that end while finding chances when they can offensively. Costa Rica once again starts off slow offensively and playing from behind isn’t how this team is built.

 

The Ugly: Yann Sommer was unlucky in having the ball hit off the back of his own head on a penalty kick that hit the crossbar first. Because the goal didn’t affect the final standing for Switzerland, I call it unlucky. If they were bounced out of the tournament because of it, then it would be really ugly.

 

Up Next: Switzerland moves on to the Round of 16 while Costa Rica heads home.

 

On the last day of every group, it has brought some level of drama. Group F was the most insane of all the groups because all four teams were still mathematically alive to get a spot in the last 16 of the competition. Let’s start with Sweden taking on Mexico.

 

The Good: Sweden. All of Sweden. After a last minute loss to Germany, the Swedes came out as if they wanted to lock up their last 16 place as quickly as possible. From five minutes in, Sweden already had a dangerous set piece challenging Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa. Mexico had a great shot on Sweden in the next 15 minutes to make this a tough early on. In the second half, Sweden turned on to a second gear after a dangerous cross led to Ludwig Augustinsson smashing it home, making it 1-0. Emil Forsberg was dropped in the box and all the replays showed that. Andreas Granqvist scored the penalty sending it to 2-0 Sweden. Finally, Edson Alvarez scored an own goal nailing the coffin shut on the game and potentially Mexico’s chances at the Round of 16.

 

The Bad: Mexico. All of Mexico. They simply had a letdown game. Yes, they handled the majority of possession, but it just didn’t feel like the same hunger as they last two games was. Giving up a penalty and an own goal spells disaster, even for the best of teams. The team is built to play from the back and develop exciting counterattacks to go ahead, not come from behind. This was the first test of Mexico playing from behind in the competition and failed.

 

The Ugly: Not the Swedish people in the stands, that’s for sure! But seriously, Mexico seemed like a tie was good enough for them, which is not the mentality a team that is looking to win the World Cup should have. Teams looking like that are not ideal for making a deep run in the tournament.

 

Up Next: Sweden tops and the group while Mexico….

 

IS IN!

 

When the day started, of all the matches in the group stage, never in anyone’s wild imagination say the words “South Korea beat Germany 2-0,” but it happened! Germany is gone. Let’s begin with the good.

 

The Good: South Korea lost by only one goal to Mexico and Sweden, so when people thought that Germany, who only won their last game on a last minute free kick by Toni Kroos, I knew this would be a closer game than people thought. However, I did not think it would be THIS close. I have to first give props to the South Korean goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-Woo making some fine saves throughout along with keeping the defense organized. South Korea kept chipping away and in the 90th minute goal by Kim Young-Gwon was originally called offsides. After VAR however, Kroos made an attempt at making it a live ball, allowing the South Korean center back to socre from close range. Son Heung-Min closed the game with an open net goal after Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer went up in the closing minutes of the match.

 

The Bad: Germany switched their lineup against back to some players from the first game along with Niklas Sule getting the start for the suspended Jerome Boateng. Manager Joachim Loew thought that by going with a more experienced side when they needed them most, they could win. This was clearly not the case as many of the same problems from the first game arose for Germany. Timo Werner, who takes over at their new number nine did not live up to the expectations of great German strikers. He simply could put the ball on target throughout the match, squandering so many opportunities for the defending champions.

 

The Ugly: VAR again. South Korea could have won the game anyway, but there’s no doubt it ruined Germany’s chances of winning the match. What makes this even worse is that Germany was so awful that they were still in a position to win. They didn’t deserve to win any of the games and right finished bottom of the group. The last time Germany did not get out of the first round of the World Cup? 1938.
Up Next: Germany and South Korea are both eliminated from the World Cup.

World Cup Recap: Day 13

Day 13. Half the groups have already been decided and what a lucky day it was for Argentina. The day started with dull matches in Group C, but Group D looked to be just as as exciting as Group B yesterday.

 

Let’s start with the 0-0 match between Denmark and France, marking the first scoreless tie of the tournament after 36 games, which is a World Cup record. This also marked the first time these two nations have played in a World Cup together since 1998, when France went on to win the competition.

 

The Good: The draw allowed both teams to qualify onto the Round of 16. France benched most of their star players and allowed their second team to play in a World Cup match. France dominated possession throughout the game, holding Denmark to only one chance on frame.

 

The Bad: Denmark didn’t want to take advantage of a French team putting in their second team. They weren’t able to muster up enough offensive opportunities or take advantage of backup goalkeeper Steve Mandanda’s spills of the ball from close range.

 

The Ugly: France has yet to impress me in the competition and that worries me heading into the knockout stages. Will they be able to generate enough goals that aren’t due to VAR or goal line technology?

 

Up Next: Both move on to the Round of 16.

 

At the same time, Australia had the chance to move on with a win and a Denmark loss, but couldn’t hold up their end, falling to already eliminated Peru 2-0.

 

The Good: Peru finally scored! After a 36 year absence on the World Cup stage, this proved to be a phenomenal moment all the way back in Lima. Andre Carillo scored a beauty in the 18th minute, giving them the early lead. Australia attacked, but wasn’t able to put it in the back of the net against a tough Peruvian back line. In the second half, Peru didn’t relent as Paolo Guerrero was able to get just enough on the ball inside the box to make it 2-0.

 

The Bad: Australia didn’t give up, but wasn’t able to get the final touch to put it past Peru. Peru had been shutout in every game so far, but they played as if they were the team looking to advance.

 

The Ugly: Mile Jedinak. Seems like he accumulating yellow cards like their souvenirs. Today’s nasty tackle could have helped resulted in a red, but thanks to the ref, that was not the case. Otherwise, it was a relatively easy game.

 

Up Next: This was the last game for their 2018 World Cup campaign.

 

Group D was ridiculous with Argentina, Iceland, and Nigeria all with a chance to join Croatia in the Round of 16. Let’s begin with the Iceland-Croatia game.

 

The Good: The fighting spirit of Iceland. They battled a tough Croatia team, who like France, benched many of their star players as they were looking ahead to their matchup in the Round of 16. After a scoreless draw at halftime, Milan Badelj broke the game open for Croatia with a great strike off the bounce cross in the box in the 53rd minute. Iceland never gave up and continued to press on until Gylfi Sigurdsson scored from the penalty strike in the 76 minute giving life to Iceland, needing a win to advance out of the group. Right at the end of the game, Ivan Perisic was able to cool off any hopes of an Iceland comeback by burying the ball in the back f the net, making it 2-1 Croatia.

 

The Bad: This ends a magical run by Iceland, who two summers ago, shocked the world by knocking off England 2-1 in the Round of 16 before bowing out to France losing 5-2. They take this experience and apply it to their World Cup qualifying campaign and make it to their first ever World Cup. Being the smallest nation in the tournament, not much was expected, but they can go with their heads held high after tying Argentina 1-1 and stopping a Lionel Messi penalty will be a fond memory.

 

The Ugly: Marko Pjaca’s hit on Birkir Bjarnason, causing him to bleed out a bit. Most of the Iceland team is beautiful and for that to happen to a gorgeous specimen is truly devastating.

 

Up Next: Croatia moves on to the Round of 16 while Iceland’s World Cup is done.

 

Finally, we wrap up Day number 13 with Argentina’s clutch win over Nigeria, placed them in the last 16 of the competition.

 

The Good: Lionel Messi is off the milk carton! Scoring a goal in the 14th minute allowed Argentina to get the early lead. The captain and leader of this team scoring a phenomenal goal showed why he’s their best and most clutch player when his country needed him the most. Nigeria didn’t go down without a fight and kept attacking new Argentina number one goalkeeper Franco Armani. Nigeria’s challenging finally paid off after Javier Mascherano brought down Leon Balogun in the box with Victor Moses converting the penalty, tying the game at one. With minutes remaining in the match, Gabriel Mercado was able to send a great ball in the box which Marcos Rojo hit first time past Nigerian goalkeeper Francis Uzoho to give Argentina the lead and all three points needed to advance.

 

The Bad: That it takes Argentina, a collection of talent, to be placed in a must win scenario to escape the group and generate another all-time Messi moment. Even then, Nigeria was the better team for huge parts of the the game. They had their opportunities to ice the game, but just couldn’t find the one pass to get them open enough to score on Armani.

 

The Ugly: Argentina qualified. It would’ve been fitting if this group of collective talent wasn’t able to qualify, cementing their legacy as the team with one of the best players of all time, but simply couldn’t get it done. Yes, they advance, but they now play a French side who also hasn’t looked good either. If I’m betting on this game, France should blow out Argentina. Or will Messi begin the miracle run march to the finals?
Up Next: Argentina takes on France while Nigeria bows out of the World Cup.

World Cup Recap: Day 12

We are one step closer to the knockout stages after Groups A and B were decided on the final day and in dramatic fashion for Group B. Let’s cover the four games with the first being Uruguay’s 3-0 win over hosts Russia.

 

The Good: Uruguay winning a convincing game. Uruguay from the get-go wanted to show the hosts who’s the best team in the group and proved just that. They were able to use set pieces and Luis Suarez took advantage with a free kick strike in the 10th minute. Uruguay found their second through a strike and deflection in Denis Cheryshev in the 23rd minute. Igor Akinfeev was the reason Russia didn’t get blown out with acrobatic saves. Finally, Edison Cavani finally captured his first goal of this World Cup off a rebound off another set piece for Uruguay. This Uruguay team is clicking on all cylinders and looks to be coming together at the perfect time before the knockout round.

 

The Bad: Russia was only able to generate one chance on net, which made it a really easy night for Uruguayan goalkeeper Fernando Muslera, who should be recognized as one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament, not having allowed a goal so far in the competition. After offensive explosions against somewhat lesser competition, Russia was simply not able to get it done on that end of the field. Defensively, they simply were able to handle an attack of Suarez, Cavani, and Betancur, who has great opportunities to open the game.

 

The Ugly: Only down 1-0, Russia was starting to hunker down defensively when they conceded an own goal making it 2-0 Uruguay after 23 minutes of play. Russia is a team that if only down one, can still stick to their style of play and will be able to generate chances. Down two goals, it became a more wide open affair allowing Uruguay to attack with ease.

 

Up Next: Uruguay finishes first in Group A while Russia settled for second. Both advance to the knockout stage.

 

Moving on, we have the bottom dwellers of Group A with Saudi Arabia winning 2-1 over Egypt, marking their first win in the competition since 1994.

 

The Good: Both teams already knowing they would not advance, at least played for pride. That makes the game worth watching. The game also allowed for Essam El-Hadary to start in net for Egypt, thus making him the oldest player to play in the World Cup at 45 years old, which give me plenty of time to get in shape for Panama or El Salvador’s national team if needed. Mohamed Salah, amid the controversy surrounding his future with the national team, was able to open the scoresheet for Egypt with a beautiful chip to start the game. Saudi Arabia’s Salman Al-Faraj tied the game following a second penalty call late in the first half (El-Hadary saved the first). A last minute goal by Salem Al-Dawsari gave Saudi Arabia the victory and a feel good takeaway heading home.

 

The Bad: Egypt giving up two penalties in the first half. That really hurt them, especially when the second one was converted to tie the game. Other than Salah’s goal, they weren’t really effective throughout the game.

 

The Ugly: Salah’s controversy leading into this match. Reports surfaced that Salah was debating retiring from the national team after being used for political propaganda after meeting with the Chechnya leader while training during the World Cup. Salah’s is already Egypt’s most talented player and if Egypt wants to have any chance heading into Qatar 2022, they will need Salah back and healthier than ever.

 

Up Next: This ends the 2018 FIFA World Cup for Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

 

Heading to Group B, we had three teams that could advance to the knockout stage. Let’s start with Spain and Morocco’s exciting 2-2 draw.

 

The Good: With Morocco having nothing to play for, they came out looking to upset the 2010 World Cup champions. They came out to a fantastic start following a poor giveaway by Sergio Ramos and Khalid Boutaib finishing the play putting the ball through David De Gea’s legs. Spain, being the resilient team they are, tied the game through their tiki-taka approach with Isco finishing the play. Morocco was able to avoid Spain’s advanced and scored on a fantastic set play by Youssef En-Nesyri, who was just come out minutes earlier. WIth time running out, Spain tied the game through a goal by Iago Aspas, which was originally ruled offsides, but later given after VAR.

 

The Bad: With needing to play their best, Spain hasn’t shown that in any of the three games thus far. Yes, they dominated possession once again, but they were only able to put one more shot on frame than Morocco. I’m not confident that this team can play this well with possession, generate little opportunities, and come out on top in the knockout stage. Diego Costa has to be the focal point and work hard to get his opportunities in the later rounds.

 

The Ugly: Spain saved by VAR. They almost didn’t deserve to get a point out of this, but thanks to VAR, Iago Aspas’ goal was awarded in stoppage time. Again, this Spain side is talented and can still play to a high level. However, when you struggle to beat an opponent that’s already out, this presents a major problem against teams who may want it even more.

 

Up Next: Spain wins the group and will play hosts Russia in the Round of 16. Morocco is eliminated from the competition.

 

The final match of the day showed why this group might be the most competitive as Iran tied Portugal 1-1.

 

The Good: I give huge props to Iran. They looked like a team that truly had the will to make it in the Round of 16. Head coach Carlos Quiroz, who used to manage Portugal at one point, came in with a great game plan and withstood Portugal’s early attacks while being dangerous on their set pieces themselves. However, Iran couldn’t stop Ricardo Quaresma’s beautiful bender past Alireza Beiranvand to give Portugal the 1-0 lead at the half. Iran was able to withstand a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty that was stopped by Beiranvand and tied the game with Karim Ansarifard halfway through the six minutes of stoppage. This was arguably one of the better Iran performances at a World Cup, but just finished a point short of moving on.

 

The Bad: Iran wasn’t more dangerous offensively. When they were on the offensive, they looked just as good as Portugal did. For Portugal, this was flat out disappointing. Like Lionel Messi, Ronaldo missed a penalty to give his team the three points. After Quaresma stepped up, Ronaldo had to be the one to put the game to bed and simply did not. And it could’ve been worse for Ronaldo…

 

The Ugly: Already not playing his best game, Ronaldo and Moretza Pouraliganji were chasing the ball down as Ronaldo elbows the Moroccoan defender, thus bringing in VAR. The ref could have given a red, but because it was during an actual play, he only gave Ronaldo a yellow. Ronaldo should consider himself lucky as a red would have been catastrophic for Portugal heading to the last few minutes of the game down a man.
Up Next: Portugal plays Group A winners Uruguay in the Round of 16 while Iran wraps up their World Cup.

World Cup Recap: Day 11

Day 11 had a lot of goals. This Golden Boot race is starting to become more exciting with each passing day. Let’s kick off with England playing against Panama.

 

The Good: Harry Kane. The England captain has scored in every game since becoming captain and is the third English player to score a hat trick at a World Cup. While some may say it’s the luckiest hat trick of all time, he’s just place in the right positions to make things happen, which is what a striker does. Jesse Lingard shot from outside the box was also a beauty. Even with Panama losing 6-0, they were able to score their first goal in World Cup history by a cross on a free kick to Felipe Baloy. All of Panama rejoiced, which was a wonderful sight to see, regardless of the scoreline.

 

The Bad: Giving up two penalties in the first half. Panama was already playing a more free flowing offense than the Belgium game, but was just not effective on set pieces (see: leaving John Stones wide open for the opening goal of the match).

 

The Ugly: Get your goals how to can get them, but Harry Kane’s third goal could have been called for offsides. Wouldn’t have mattered too much as the game was already out of hand, but again, goals are goals.

 

Up Next: England takes on Belgium for top spot in the group stage while Panama closes their inaugural tournament with also eliminated Tunisia.

 

Moving on, we had an exciting match with Group H leaders Japan and Senegal, each taking a point.

 

The Good: Both teams showed why they won their first game. Senegal is a team with a lot of power, pace, and endurance while Japan showed great resilience with great tactical play and precision. Splitting the points seemed to be the fair result. Sadio Mane scored a strikers kind of goal to kick off the scoring while Keisuke Honda becomes the first Japanese player to score at three World Cups with the tying goal in the 78th minute.

 

The Bad: Senegal clearly was in control of the game and had chance to put it away. If they are to progress, they need to keep up the pace of play for 90 minutes. If the lapse like they did against Japan today, that’s how goals are given up and they may head home soon.

 

The Ugly: Eiji Lawashima. Truly unlucky to try to get the ball out from close range and Sadio Mane was right there. Japan could have taken all three points if not for that error.

 

Up Next: Senegal takes on Colombia while Japan faces Poland.

 

Finally, we wrap up day 11 with Colombia’s dominating 3-0 win over Poland.

 

The Good: After a heartbreaking open loss to Japan, Colombia came out with the urgency that was expected of them. They were able to link great passes in the final third and finally broke open the game with Radamel Falcao’s first ever World Cup goal and James Rodriguez’ insane pass to Juan Cuadrado, who iced the game at 3-0. When these stars are clicking, this is a tough team to beat.

 

The Bad: Poland simply doesn’t have the firepower after Robert Lewandowski. He wasn’t able to get much going and playing three in the back also hurt as Colombia was able to oliberate them on the counter.

 

The Ugly: Poland being finally being put out of its misery. One goal in two games surely isn’t a great showing for a team that was expected to be more competitive.
Up Next: Colombia takes on Senegal while now eliminated Poland takes on a Japanese side looking to advance to the Round of 16.