Reacting to the 2018 World Cup Draw

The draw for the 2018 World Cup has concluded, with surprises, favorites, and Groups of Life and Death. Italians look away.

Group A: A little help for the hosts

Hosts Russia came out first, as is traditional. Uruguay joined them from Pot 2, with Mo Salah’s Egypt from Pot 3. Saudi Arabia rounded up the first group,

Uruguay are the favorites in the easiest group of the eight. Liverpool midfielder Mohamed Salah and Egypt will contend with Russia for the second spot, and the Saudis appear to pose no threat.

Group B: The Iberian Supergroup

Portugal was the second team out of Pot 1, and are joined by Spain, Morocco, and Iran.

Portugal and Spain are two of the best teams in the tournament, and whoever wins the group will make a deep run in the knockout stage. Iran and Morocco stand little chance of advancing in place of the Iberian duo. That first matchup will be fun.

Group C: France’s to lose

France will bring their young squad up against fellow Europeans Denmark, while Peru and Australia will look to exploit the Danes’ over-reliance on Christian Eriksen.

France should run away with Group C á la 2014 Colombia. Denmark doesn’t seem to be equipped for a World Cup, as Christian Eriksen is the only notable attacking star. However, Mathias Jorgensen and the defense could be difficult to break down. Australia desperately needs answers in the coming year to inject life into the Socceroos’ aging squad. Don’t underestimate Peru, the fifth-placed South American side.

Group D: Stars, old and young

Argentina, Croatia, Iceland, and Nigeria form the most star-studded group so far. Lionel Messi and Argentina look the part of a favorite, while Luka Modric’s Croatia and Gylfi Sigurdsson’s Iceland will battle it out for the second spot. Nigeria doesn’t seem cut out to contend yet, but a promising generation of young talent headlined by Alex Iwobi will get a shot at the world’s finest.

Group E: A challenged favorite

CONMEBOL champs Brazil came out of Pot 1 to face Switzerland, Costa Rica, and Serbia. The two European nations are capable of causing trouble for anyone if given the opportunity, while Costa Rica is a challenge once again. Los Ticos went all the way to 2014’s quarterfinals before bowing out on penalties to the Netherlands.

Group F: A Confederations Cup rematch

The defending world champs face the harshest test of any seeded side. Germany will face CONCACAF champions Mexico, and then turn around to face Emil Forsberg and Sweden. Last year’s Bundesliga assist king leads a dangerous Sweden side. If Mexico and Sweden meet on the final day of the group stage, an electric atmosphere will take shape in Russia.

Group G: European domination

Belgium and England face few tests in Tunisia and Panama, and should advance. In what order, though? Belgium has the talent to beat anyone, but can’t seem to play well together. England. . . well, they’re England.

Group H: 

Disputed top-eight Poland face a tough task. A star-studded Senegal attack including Sadio Mane and Keita Balde Diao will present defensive concerns. Japan might challenge better than in recent years.

The real focus is Colombia. 2014 World Cup’s top scorer James Rodriguez has ignited into one of the world’s finest center attacking mids. Radamel Falcao and Freddy Guarin are very good once again. Jeison Murillo anchors the defense. Colombia is so good, it’s frightening. Los Cafeteros will wreak havoc in the latter knockout rounds in Russia.

The group winners will be. . .

A: Uruguay

B: Spain

C: France

D: Argentina

E: Brazil

F: Germany

G: Belgium

H: Colombia

 

Wait, where’s Italy?

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Premier League Gameweek 5 Roundup

Did Romelu Lukaku become the fourth youngest player to score 90 goals in the PL? Could Arsenal keep up with Chelsea without Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez? How would Tottenham perform in their second game at Wembley? We at After The Whistle answer these and many more, as I put my own twist on why Spurs su—er, the week’s happenings. Have fun.

Southampton 1, Crystal Palace 0 

Water is wet. Snow is cold. Crystal Palace still haven’t scored a goal this year.

Water is wet. Snow is cold. Southampton maintained a clean sheet.

In all seriousness, it was a fairly boring game. A moment of magic from Steven Davis spoiled Roy Hodgson’s debut as Palace manager, as the Saints took home all three points.

Huddersfield 1, Leicester City 1

No goals were scored in the first half of this one, and Laurent Depoitre decided to do something. The defender powered into the Leicester penalty box and fired the Terriers in front. The lead lasted four minutes, as Jaime Vardy equalized from the penalty spot.

Bournemouth 2, Brighton 1

Solly March’s 55th minute strike looked to be the game winner for Brighton. . . until Andrew Surman finished spectacularly 12 minutes later, and Jermain Defoe flipped the result on its head. Jordon Ibe was electric, assisting both goals and running the show for Bournemouth.

Burnley 1, Liverpool 1

A rare inclusion in the squad for Scott Arfield proved to be key, as the left mid buried  a shot in the 27th minute. The lead was short lived, as a wayward Emre Can pass found Mohamed Salah, who controlled it well and stroked it past Nick Pope. No other scores were to be had, though Dominic Solanke had a point blank shot saved.

Newcastle 2-1 Stoke City

Chants of “NEWCASTLE ARE FOURTH!” galloped around the stadium as Matt Ritchie once again ran the show for Newcastle, assisting Christian Atsu and Jamaal Lascelles en route to a defeat of Stoke.

Hey, Xherdan Shaqiri scored. For once.

West Brom 0-0 West Ham

Skip.

Tottenham 0-0 Swansea

Ahaha Spurs dropped points AT HOME to SWANSEA.

AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

Manchester City 6-0 Watford

Watford looked helpless. A Sergio Aguero hat trick led the way to a complete battering of Watford—and Pascal’s FPL team.

Arsenal 0-0 Chelsea

You would expect us to get blown out without Ozil and Sanchez. Wrong! The defense held up quite nicely as Arsenal did their best West Brom impression. Chelsea couldn’t get anything going. Come on you Gunners!!

Manchester United 133439—er, 4-0 Everton

Romelu Lukaku is indeed the fourth youngest player to 90 goals in the PL. Everton met their bogey team and got DESTROYED!

 

That about rounds it up. I’d just like to take the end to welcome ArsenalFan9 ( the aforementioned Pascal) to the After the Whistle team!

Premier League Gameweek 2 Roundup

You readers absolutely smashed that like button last time out. So of course I have to review Gameweek 2, which took place this past Saturday–Monday.

Manchester United 4-0 Swansea   

Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba may have stolen the headlines, but Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s creativity crushed Swansea. The Armenian wizard assisted two of the Red Devils’ four goals, bringing his season tally up to four. The next highest players have two.

Southampton 3-2 West Ham

There goes the vaunted Southampton defense. The Saints went up 2-0, but two goals from Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez equalized before a dramatic last minute penalty converted by Charlie Austin granted Southampton the victory.

Watford 2-0 Bournemouth, Leicester City 2-0 Brighton

The less said about these games, the better. Watford and Leicester dominated and Bournemouth and Brighton were dreadful. Leave it at that.

Liverpool 1-0 Crystal Palace

For most of the game, one would think it was Liverpool who shipped three goals to Huddersfield last week. A last-gasp goal from Sadie Mane carried the Reds to victory, and disappointment reigns for Palace, who had every chance to finish it off.

West Brom 1-0 Burnley

Tony Pulis’ favorite type of victory, isn’t it?

Stoke City 1-0 Arsenal

There are bogey teams. Bayern Munich has Atletico Madrid, Liverpool has anyone who can score, and Arsenal has Stoke. A wonderful strike from debutant Jesé Rodriguez, coupled with a disastrous mistake from the assistant referee on an Alexandre Lacazette goal incorrectly ruled offside, delivered the Potters the three points.

Huddersfield 1-0 Newcastle

The Terriers did it again! Picked against by the world, Aaron Mooy curled in a terrific strike. Disappointment for those fantasy managers that transferred in Steve Mounie (me), but what a start it’s been for Huddersfield!

Chelsea 2-1 Tottenham

There’s the Marcos Alonso we know so well! Harry Kane hit the post twice, but the left back was more clinical, scoring both of the Blues’ goals.

When a left back saves your attack. . .

Manchester City 1-1 Everton

Lovely end-to-end stuff at the Etihad. Wayne Rooney’s 200th goal in the Premier League was cancelled out by a late volley from Raheem Sterling. In all fairness, he shouldn’t have had the chance. A disastrous header from Mason Holgate went straight to the winger’s foot. Dominic Calvert-Lewin looks like a star in the making. The City defense couldn’t deal with his rare blend of speed and skill.

Premier League Gameweek 1 Roundup

Photo courtesy of premierleague.com

 

 

It’s been a long three months, but the Premier League is back with a bang. An entertaining Gameweek 1 featured only one goalless draw, and had its share of surprises.

 

Arsenal 4-3 Leicester

Coming into the first game of the week, Arsenal were missing all of their starting center backs. The result? Sead Kolasinac moved over from wing back, Nacho Monreal was stuck in the center, and poor Rob Holding was the only actual center back playing at center back. For Leicester, Shinji Okazaki surprisingly started alongside Jaime Vardy instead of new signing Kelechi Iheanacho.

As an Arsenal fan, this game was just pure stress. For the neutrals it must have been fantastic. Record signing Alexandre Lacazette put the hosts in front after just two minutes with a sublime header, only to see Leicester pull ahead through Okazaki and Vardy. Right before the break, Sead Kolasinac kind of/sort of/shouldn’t have found Danny Welbeck for the equalizing goal.

In the 56th minute, Jaime Vardy found the back of the net to put Leicester back in front, 3-2. Arsene Wenger immediately decided to throw on Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud. They both scored, Arsenal won, and you all probably watched it anyways.

Watford 3-3 Leicester

Many things are constant in the red half of Liverpool. The first is signing Southampton players. The second? They are really, really bad defenders. Goals from Stefano Okaka, Abdoulaye Doucoure, and a dramatic last-minute equalizer from Miguel Britos offset strikes from Liverpool.

Burnley 3-2 Chelsea

No, that’s not a typo. Sam Vokes (twice) and Stephen Ward propelled Burnley to a shocking 3-0 lead over the defending champions at Stamford Bridge. Alvaro Morata and David Luiz managed consolations for the box score, but one question lingers.

What is going on with the Blues?

Crystal Palace 0-3 Huddersfield

Look at the Terriers! Picked to finish last by the whole world, Steve Mounie’s brace thrusted them to the top of the early table. An abysmal showing by Frank de Boer’s side, especially in defense, certainly opened the door. Mounie ran through it.

Everton 1-0 Stoke

There’s not much to say, is there? Wayne Rooney’s header was the only time Everton weren’t just playing it around the back like they didn’t care, and Stoke obliged them.

Southampton 0-0 Swansea

The Saints had 29 shots. Twenty nine! Only two were on target.

Just. . . just move on.

West Brom 1-0 Bournemouth

Tony Pulis grabbed the most Tony Pulis of victories. A header from Ahmed Hegazi put the hosts in front and West Brom promptly spent the rest of the game trying to send long balls to Jay Rodriguez.

Manchester City 2-0 Brighton

Kevin de Bruyne —> David Silva —> Sergio Aguero goal.

de Bruyne—> Silva—> Lewis Dunk own goal

A typical win at the Etihad. Or in Brighton. Either way, it was BORING.

Tottenham 2-0 Newcastle

Dele Alli and Ben Davies scored in the second half to deliver an away win for the Spurs. Newcastle were content to defend, getting booked left and right. It didn’t work.

Manchester United 4-0 West Ham

West Ham were very poor defensively, and Romelu Lukaku took advantage, scoring two . Nemanja Matic seems to have unlocked Paul Pogba’s center midfield potential, as they dominated the Hammers. Hammered them, in fact.

 

That’s all for today! Next week I will round up Gameweek 2, and the article will likely be out on Tuesday. Until then, don’t destroy your FPL teams 😀😎🙄

Premier League Predictions III: The Top Four

Today I predict the top four of the Premier League. If you missed the first two parts of my EPL predictions, please go back and read them.

Arsenal. Liverpool. Chelsea. Manchester City. Those four teams will make up the top four, starting in the fourth spot with. . .

Liverpool. The Reds bolstered their attacking lineup with the €42 million capture of Mohamed Salah from Roma. The problem is, as Arsenal fans like me painfully learned with Mesut Ozil, attacking players tend to get pushed around for about half a season before they become accustomed to the Premier League’s version of the world’s game. Playing Philippe Coutinho in the center of midfield won’t help their playmaking either.

What is left to be said about last year for Arsenal? Their record 19 year streak of finishing top four was broken and the Gunners will compete in the Europa League this year. Fans changed their tune when Arsene Wenger signed some striker (!) named Alexandre Lacazette. This Lacazette guy is actually very good. Mesut Ozil is going to break every assist record imaginable this—oh wait, he did that two years ago.

Mesut Ozil is going to break all of his assist records this year if Alexis Sanchez stays. Arsenal could finish even higher if not for second-placed Chelsea. When John Terry is your worst departure, you’ve had a pretty solid transfer window. When Alvaro Morata and Tiemoué Bakayoko come in to South London?  Unheard of. Look at what happened to the last five champions of the Premier League. They got off to abysmal starts the year after. Add the fact that Eden Hazard will miss the first month of the season. Chelsea should be on fire late a lá Arsenal 2015, but it won’t be enough to top. . .

Champions Manchester City. Has Josep “Pep” Guardiola finally assembled the team he has wanted at the Etihad? New signings Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker will start on either side of the defense. Danilo won’t even start. Bernardo Silva and Ederson Moraes have been signed to start at right mid and goalkeeper respectively. Considering that Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva are the other attacking midfielders, this side will score goals. Lots of them. In defense, Nicolas Otamendi and Vincent Kompany form a formidable center-back partnership. If they’re healthy.

 

Did you agree with my predictions? Perhaps you thought something different. Let me know in the comments!

Premier League Predictons II: The Europa League race

Yesterday I detailed my predictions for the bottom half of the Premier League table. Today it’s 10-5, the race for the Europa League.

I really like this Newcastle team. Henri Saivet and Tim Krul return from their loans to a side that added Javier Manquillo, Florian Thau—I mean Lejeune, and Mikel Merino. Jonjo Shelvey and Matt Ritchie highlight a midfield that dominated the Championship last year, and that’s just the start. If not for their relative inexperience I would put them higher.

In 9th is West Ham. The Hammers still haven’t replaced Dmitri Payet, and that won’t hinder them to the extreme, but they will be pushed by Newcastle.

In eighth is Southampton. Fraser Forster in goal is never a bad thing, and they won’t be lacking chances in the final third with the likes of Dusan Tadic in the attacking midfield.

Here is where it gets really hard. Chelsea. Arsenal. Manchester City. Manchester United. Tottenham. Everton. Liverpool. All have great squads. All but the Spurs have improved them, and that’s why Tottenham are in seventh. They finished second last year, sure. Their Pythagorean win total placed them at sixth. Mass regression is due, and they’re playing at Wembley. They never do well at Wembley. When all the other top seven sides have boosted their stars and depth, you don’t want to stand pat.

In sixth place, stop me if you’ve heard this before. Perennially underachieving Manchester United won the Europa League last year, and participating in the Champions League this year will be a test for the Red Devils. They lack the squad depth to challenge in the league and in Europe. Despite the signing of Romelu Lukaku, they will still finish sixth.

Look at Everton splashing the cash in the transfer market! Davy Klaassen, Jordan Pickford, and Michael Keane joined early. Then the aforementioned Lukaku left for exactly fourteen times the price Ronald Koeman secured Sandro Ramirez for. Gerard Delofeu’s departure will be a blow, and the squad’s chemistry will suffer for a month or two. However, once they get going, look out!

Tomorrow I will post my top four predictions. As always, leave a like if you enjoyed and your feedback in the comments is appreciated!

Real Madrid 4-1 Juventus: Reviewing the Champions League final

A wild game, to say the least.

Cardiff, Wales was the site of the Final of the most prestigious club competition in the world. It’s also Gareth Bale’s hometown. Bale was left on the bench, though, as Real Madrid cemented their place in history, becoming the first team in 27 years to win the Champions League back-to-back years.

Once the—um, interesting pregame show had been cleared, Juventus almost immediately went ahead when Miralem Pjanic’s 20 yard effort in the 6th minute forced a terrific save from keeper Keylor Navas.

In the 20th minute, Real Madrid made them pay for their attacking play. It was a typical Madrid counter-attack: deadly and not wasting time. Karim Benzema fed Cristiano Ronaldo, who then played a sweet one-two with Dani Carvajal on the wing and made no mistake with the 15-yard finish.

Juventus didn’t roll over and play dead, though. On the stroke of halftime, superb build-up play from the Italian giants led to Mario Mandzukic scoring one of the best goals of the year, a terrific overhead kick that Navas’s outstretched fingers couldn’t reach.

In the second half, however, it was all Madrid. Goals from Casemiro, Ronaldo, and 20 year old substitute Marco Asensio sealed Juventus’s fate, though the Asensio goal wouldn’t have come to be if Juventus hadn’t decided to roll over and play dead. They did and it did.

Leave your suggestions, comments, and other feedback in the comments below! Leave a like if you enjoyed this article, and good riddance—I mean goodbye.