2018 FIFA World Cup Rooting Preferences – Knockout Stage


After an exciting, weird, and sometimes disappointing group round, the knockout round of the 2018 World Cup in Russia begins tomorrow.  Following up on my picks for group play, here are my picks for the knockout rounds of the tournament.  Remember these are more wishes of what I’d like to see happen than predictions of what will actually happen.  I tend to favor the underdog, so these things are not likely to pass.

Let me know who you think will win this year’s World Cup trophy, and who you want to win it most (if that’s different) in the comments!

ROUND OF 16

June 30 – Uruguay vs. Portugal

I’m kind of partial to both sides, but I’ll lean toward Portugal since they’ve never won a title.

EDITED 7/3: It’s Uruguay, I’m ok with that.

June 30 – France vs. Argentina

Seems kind of early for a matchup of these powerhouses, and I like both of them, but I’ll go for Argentina for Messi’s sake.

EDITED 7/3: Messi needs better teammates.

July 1 – Spain vs. Russia

It will be nice to see a classy side like Spain bounce the hosts out of the tournament.

EDITED 7/3: This was a huge shocker!

July 1 – Croatia vs. Denmark

Hmm…no strong feelings on either team and neither are really a powerhouse nor an underdog.  I guess I’ll go with Denmark since Copenhagen is such a great city for biking, but if anyone has a good argument for Croatia, let me hear it.

EDITED 7/3: Well, Croatia has been the surprise of the tournament so good for them.

July 2 – Belgium vs. Japan

I’ll be pulling for Japan here as the last surviving representative of Asia.  Sadly there will be no one from Africa to root for as well.

EDITED 7/3: Hah, I forgot I picked Japan and was actually rooting for Belgium while I was watching it.  What an exciting game for both sides! Belgium is my favorite surviving side from Europe.

July 2 – Brazil vs. Mexico

No offense to Brazil, but I’m pulling for our neighbors to the south, and based on what I saw in group play, I think that they could pull it off.

EDITED 7/3: The result here was not surprising.  Brazil seems to have the best chance of a non-European side winning the Cup, but they’re not new and exciting either.

July 3 – Sweden vs. Switzerland

Hmm…another match that doesn’t promise to be exciting, but I’ve enjoyed Sweden’s play thus far.

EDITED 7/3: Well, bully for Sweden.

July 3 – Colombia vs. England

Colombia all the way! Perhaps one of the most fun teams to watch and a South American underdog who’ve been bubbling under for some time. And what better team to user England out the door?

EDITED 7/3: The team I most wanted to win lost to the the team I most wanted to lose.  What a bummer!

QUARTERFINALS

July 6 – QF #1: Portugal vs. Argentina

Every tv station in the world is rooting for Ronaldo vs. Messi.  I expect that if Argentina makes it this far, Messi won’t be able to carry the team any further, and Portugal will get a deserved win.  Doesn’t necessarily mean that Ronaldo is better, although that is the conclusion every sports pundit will make.

EDITED 7/3: Uruguay vs. France

Leaning toward Uruguay, but like elements of each side.

July 6 – QF #2: Mexico vs. Japan

Sticking with Mexico here.

EDITED 7/3: Brazil vs. Belgium

Cheering for fancy beers and peeing boys.

July 7 – QF #3: Spain vs. Denmark

Spain will win this, although I’ll root for Denmark to be the final surviving Scandanivian side.

EDITED 7/3: Sweden vs. England

Lets go Sweden! <clap, clap, clapclapclap>

July 7 – QF #4: Sweden vs. Colombia

Colombia may my favorite remaining team, so this is easy.

EDITED 7/3: Russia vs. Croatia

Croatians must have some score to settle with the former Soviet Union, right?

SEMIFINALS

July 10 – SF #1: Portugal vs. Mexico

This would be an interesting, albeit unlikely, matchup.  I’ll give Portugal the nod.

EDITED 7/3: Uruguay vs. Belgium

Should probably go with Uruguay as the last non-European side in this scenario, but I’m really liking Belgium.

July 11 – SF #2:  Denmark vs. Colombia

Still with Colombia.

EDITED 7/3: Croatia vs. Sweden

Keep the Croatian win streak going

THIRD PLACE

July 14 – Mexico vs. Denmark

El Tri for Third Place!

EDITED 7/3: Uruguay vs. Sweden

Uruguay gets the bronze.

FINAL

July 15 – Portugal vs. Colombia

Colombia all the way!

EDITED 7/3: Belgium vs. Croatia

The biggest victory since Waterloo!

After writing this out, I know how ridiculous this all looks, but hey, if it actually happens…

Video Replay in Sports


This year the FIFA World Cup is using video assistant referees (VAR) to correct or confirm questionable calls made by the referee on the field.  VAR has already played an instrumental role in several matches, including both of Monday’s Group B games where the referee reviewed plays in the 90th minute of Spain vs. Morocco and Iran vs. Portugal.  One of the joys of soccer that distinguishes it from other team sports is that the clock never stops and excepting the oddity of stoppage time, 90 minutes on the clock is generally close to 90 minutes of real time. So it’s a bit of a drag to see the referee staring at a video monitor for several minutes at the height of a game.

FIFA is not the first sporting body to adopt video replay review. The NFL started using replay review in 1986, adopting their current system in 1998, and many other sports leagues have followed suit. Major League Baseball began using instant replay on a limited number of types of plays in 2008 and then expanded it to greater usage in 2014.  Obviously, it can be very exciting when a call is reversed in favor of your team, especially in a big game, but these instant replay reviews can be interminable, delaying the game and sucking momentum from the action while the officials watch the clips over and over. (I speak for myself in not enjoying reviews, as my son enjoys going to the MLB sight to watch reviews from various different games).

Now, I’m not a Luddite opposed to the use of technology.  There is a place for replay reviews and I’m certain many games in the past would’ve been improved if umpire’s miscues were overruled. Who can forget these famous blown calls in MLB history, all of which were followed with apologies from the umpires in post-game interviews?

1996: Derek Jeter awarded a home run in a playoff game when a fan reaches over the wall to catch the ball.

1999: Jose Offerman called out despite Chuck Knoblauch failing to tag him.

2010: Armando Galarraga’s perfect game is ruined when the umpire inexplicably calls a base runner safe.

(Note that 2 of these 3 plays benefit the Yankees in line with the statistic that 66% of blown calls in MLB history favor the Yankees)

I think there is a place for video replay review when an umpire or a referee makes a call that anyone watching the game on tv (or after an initial replay) is glaringly wrong.  I don’t think it benefits the game when “too close to call” plays are analyzed for several minutes at multiple speeds from different angles to see if the point of a baserunner’s spikes poked the base milliseconds before or after a fielder brushed his uniform with the lace of his glove.

So I propose that all of these sports should use video replay review with a time limit.  The referee would have 30 seconds or 45 seconds tops to watch a replay and confirm or overturn a call.  If a decision cannot be reached in that time, the call on the field stands.  I think that would bring the full benefit of video technology to making sure that sporting games are free of the most glaring errors with out falling down the rabbit hole of full-on forensic analysis of a play that drains that urgency from a game.

On the other hand (pun intended), if there’s no statute of limitations on video replay reviews, I’d like VAR to go back to 2002 and evaluate this play.

2018 FIFA World Cup Rooting Preferences


The FIFA World Cup starts today.  I’ve been finding it hard to find the enthusiasm I usually have this year partly because corrupt FIFA is holding the tournament in corrupt Russia.  (Finding out that North America will be getting a share of that corruption, er, soccer excitement in 2026 takes away the sting a little bit).  Of course it also sucks that the USA failed (miserably) to qualify, and my backup squads in Ireland and the Netherlands are also staying home.

With that it mind here is who I’ll be rooting for in each group (I’m not event going to make an attempt to predict the outcome for this thing):

Group A – Egypt is the natural underdog here, appearing in their first Cup in 28 years with their superstar Mohamed Salah.  I also have a fondness for Uruguay, who tend to punch above their weight in the soccer world.

Hoped for outcome: Uruguay, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Russia

Group B – No strong feelings in any direction here.  I’ve come to appreciate Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal through reading children’s biographies.  I also like to see African teams succeed.

Hoped for outcome: Portugal, Morocco, Spain, and Iran.

Group C – Peru emerged from the tough South American qualifying group for their first World Cup in 36 years and thus the natural feel-good story for this group.  I also have a fondness for Australia as the antipodean counterpart of the US national team.

Hoped for outcome: Australia, Peru, France, and Denmark.

Group D –  OMG, how can you root for anyone but Iceland!  I’m also hoping Lionel Messi can do something good in what is likely his final World Cup.

Hoped for outcome: Iceland, Argentina, Nigeria, and Croatia.

Group E – Costa Rica won hearts and minds, if not quite enough games in 2014.  Let’s hope they bring the CONCACAF Thunder in 2018! And may Brazil atone for their embarrassment versus Germany.

Hoped for outcome: Costa Rica, Brazil, Switzerland, and Serbia.

Group F – I know I’m supposed to hate Mexico, but, screw it, I’m rooting for Mexico.

Hoped for outcome: Mexico, South Korea, Germany, and Sweden.

Group G – Panama qualified for their first World Cup at the USA’s expense, so they’d better make it worth it.  No strong feelings on the rest of this group, but it seems deserving for England to make an early Brexit.

Hoped for outcome: Panama, Belgium, Tunisia, and England.

Group H – Colombia was another exciting team in 2014 that I’d like to see go farther this year.

Hoped for outcome: Colombia, Senegal, Japan, and Poland.

 

And if any of this comes to pass, I’ll be the most surprised.

Are you watching the World Cup this year? If so, who are you rooting for?  Let me know in the comments!

The World of Soccer


A lot has happened since my last soccer update.

First, there was the draw for the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup.  The USA were drawn in Group C with Korea DPR, Sweden, and Colombia which looks like a tough group.  I expect the USA will probably advance, but I could see a scenario where they finish behind Sweden and North Korea as well.  Group A with the  hosts and two-time defending champions Germany, Canada, France, and Nigeria looks like a tough group as well.

The bigger news for many people was the announcement of the hosts for the men’s World Cup in 2018 and 2022.  I find myself have mixed reactions to the whole thing.

On the one hand, I was really hoping the World Cup would return to the US (and to a lesser extent I would have liked the Netherlands & Belgium to get a chance to host).  The USA, England, and some other bidders seemed much better prepared to host a World Cup than Russia and Qatar.  On the other hand, it’s good that countries that have never hosted the World Cup before to get a chance. And the World Cup is going to have great attendance and be a great success no matter where it is held.  Experienced fans will travel anywhere in the world, and new fans from those regions will have a chance to see the games. On the other hand, there seems to be a lot of evidence of corruption in how FIFA awarded the bids.  Yet, corruption or not there is some virtue in the World Cup going from South Africa to Brazil to Russia to Qatar, about as four different places in the world as I can imagine and sign that this is a truly global event. Yet Qatar hasn’t yet built the stadiums and it could be 120 degrees in the summer.  Building a dozen new stadiums and air conditioning them doesn’t seem very economical.  But the plans for Qatar’s systems call for solar power of the air cooling system and the stadiums will be dismantled and donated to developing nations after the World Cup. Still it seems that countries with lots of money are being awarded as hosts rather than countries with a true love of the game.  So what, they have the money, let them spend it on creating a great stage for the world’s greatest sporting event.  Let the US spend money on player development.  Let developing nations spend on more important things than soccer. But Russia is a bastion of racism against black players and Qatar discriminates against Israelis and homosexuals.  This is a tough one to rationalize, but there is a case to be made for the World Cup being a way of pushing a progressive message through in these countries. So, I don’t know what to think, but I’m not going to worry about it too much.

Here are the games I’ve watched the past two weeks.

Barcelona 5:0 Real Madrid (29 November 2010)

Deep inside I have no real reason to hate Real Madrid or to support Barcelona, but damn if this wasn’t a satisfying result in the first El Classico I’ve ever watched.  It helped that Real’s Cristiano Ronald was a total brat in pushing Barça  Pep Guardiola for no apparent reason, while Barcelona played a beautiful game of passing and possession.  The goals for lovely too, my favorite being David Villa’s second goal through the keeper’s legs and then gently bouncing into the net.

Chelsea 1:1 Everton (4 December 2010)

After the Blues poor form through November and coming off a 1:4 home loss to West Brom, a trip to Stamford Bridge didn’t look to promising.  Luckily Everton put in a good performance against (an admittedly slumping) Chelsea strong on possession and attacking in the second half.  Jermain Beckford’s header to equalize in the 85th minutes was a lovely sight to see.

Arsenal 2:1 Fulham (4 December 2010)

For a loss to a top side, this was still a pretty impressive game for Fulham.  The goal by Diomansy Kamara in the 29th minute tied the score and Fulham had some good chances to go ahead even as Arsenal squandered some excellent chances of their own.  Unfortunately for Fulham, they were victims of the beautiful footwork and scoring of Samir Nasri and his two amazing goals.

Ajax 1:1 NEC Nijmegen (4 December 2010)

A tense and frustrating match saw Ajax go winless at home for the third straight game.  The disappointing season for Ajax resulted in head coach Martin Jol leaving the team after this game.

Napoli 1:0 Palermo (6 December 2010)

This was a low-scoring game but not for lack of trying as there was lots of end-to-end play with each side attacking well but meeting up with even better defending and some great saves by both goalkeepers.  The game nearly ended in a scoreless tie but for Christian Maggio’s last minute goal in the fifth minute of stoppage time.

Barcelona 2:0 Rubin Kazan (7 December 2010)

Barça finished up Champions League group play (winning Group D) with a pretty easy win over the defensive Russian side.

AC Milan 0:2 Ajax (8 December 2010)

In their first match under their new coach and last match in Champions League play, Ajax had to try to earn a win in hopes of securing a spot in the Europa League.  Unexpectedly, the result was a satisfying road win at Milan with goals by Demy de Zeeuw and an awesome long range shot by Alderweireld.  Milan brought on former Ajax players Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Clarence Seedorf, but didn’t have much fight in them.

Everton 0-0 Wigan (11 December 2010)

Ugh!  The less said about this match the better.  There’s no reason that Everton shouldn’t have won this game dominating play throughout.  To go scoreless defies belief.

Newcastle United 3-1 Liverpool (11 December 2010)

Not teams I would usually watch but I’ve made friends with a NUFC supporter on Tumblr and this game was on the tv at the James Gate pub when I went in for lunch.  I didn’t see the whole match but I did see Liverpool equalize early in the second half and then the impressive goals by Joey Barton and Andy Carroll to give the Magpies a deserved win.

 

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