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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The USMNT is doomed? Try again.

Remember the halfway point?

Sadness. . .

Last night the United States faced their final game of FIFA World Cup qualifying. Win and go to Russia. . . or lose and go home.

The opponent was Trinidad and Tobago, two small islands from the Caribbean whose backup goalkeeper is still in college. A winnable game? Yes. Did they win? No, they played like they didn’t care. Clint Dempsey didn’t break the goalscoring record. Christian Pulisic’s heroics didn’t rescue the United States. Small, lonely T&T knocked off the land of “fake news”.

Naturally people are bound to overreact, and of course I get to rip this apart. A common phrase sweeping around the Internet is “the USMNT are doomed!” Clint Dempsey will be 38 in four years. Michael Bradley will be 34. Tim Howard will be ancient. How could we possibly recover?

Look at the players coming up through the youth system. Club Brugge’s Ethan Horvath has proved himself a decent shot stopper for one of the Belgian Pro League’s finest sides. He’s only 22. We don’t have to talk about 19 year old Pulisic. We can mention Darlington Nagbe, a 27 year old energetic playmaker that burst onto the scene last summer, and should fill Bradley’s shoes.

Remember the name Weston McKennie. The lively 19 year old midfielder is making waves in the Bundesliga, and Schalke 04 have rewarded him with a five year contract extension. He’s appeared in six of Schalke’s eight games since the end of preseason, and is creating chance after chance for Leon Goretzka and Co.

I can’t wait to see him play alongside Pulisic in the red, white, and blue. Both will be 24 when Qatar rolls around, and even Gedion Zelalem might take strides at mighty Arsenal. To everyone who thinks the USMNT are doomed:

McKennie — Nagbe — Pulisic

 

 

Look out.

Gold Cup 2017: Predicting Semifinals

At last the four best teams have done their jobs. Some have smashed their way through to the semifinals, and some merely survived. This is where it gets harder to predict.

Costa Rica vs. United States

This is going to be a simply thrilling Saturday night in Phoenix. On one hand you have the sleeping American giant, fresh off absolutely dominating El Salvador. Then you have Los Ticos, who just barely scraped through against Panama. However, El Salvador is hardly on Panama’s level.

Costa Rica is missing four key players to injury, and star goalie Keylor Navas has not been allowed to come to the Gold Cup as he is in Real Madrid’s squad for the club’s preseason tour. The US are also without players that play for a European clubs, as Christian Pulisic, Fabian Johnson, and John Brooks are not able to come. The Americans should be able to get through to the final, as they can exploit Costa Rica’s lack of healthy wingers and second-string goalkeeper. Pick: USA

Mexico vs. Jamaica

Mexico brought their B-team to this Gold Cup, as many players including Hirving Lozano and Carlos Vela were subject to CONCACAF’s international playtime restrictions as they had taken part in the Confederations Cup recently. It hasn’t hindered El Tri yet as they face a full strength Jamaican team that made the final in 2015. Mexico’s midfield presence should dominate Jamaica, and the high press they’ve been utilizing should cause problems. Pick: Mexico

 

So what did you think of my predictions? Let me know in the comments below! Be sure to like and follow if you enjoyed!

 

Upon Further Review: Gold Cup 2017 Group stage/QFs

Welcome back to Upon Further Review, where today I review my CONCACAF Gold Cup group stage and quarterfinal predictions. Here goes.

Group A contained the likes of Costa Rica, Canada, French Guiana, and Honduras. I predicted Costa Rica to top the group. The Ticos did so without a loss. I then said Honduras would finish second with Canada third. The teams swapped positions in real life unfortunately. Everyone would’ve anticipated French Guiana to finish bottom and they did so. However, the hilarious drama created by the French overseas department fielding the ineligible Florent Malouda brought a smile to many fans.

Group B consisted of Panama, Nicaragua, the United States, and island Martinique. Go right down the line as I correctly predicted the USA to top the group with Panama, Martinique, and Nicaragua following.

Group C was the most obvious outcome of them all.I predicted Mexico to top the group and Jamaica second. The final spots were a toss-up and I got them right, putting El Salvador third and Curaçao fourth.

The first quarterfinal featured an intensely boring game between Costa Rica and Panama where Los Ticos did as I predicted, vanquishing the bronze medalists of 2015.

Second and third quarterfinals. US and Mexico win comfortably. Next.

Finally, Jamaica and Canada faced off in the quarter everyone wanted to see. An early goal from Shaun Francis opened the scoring. Jamaica doubled their lead in the 50th minute before Junior Hoilett gave Canada hope 11 minutes later. No further goals were scored and Jamaica moves on, completing my perfect sweep of the quarters.

Group stage score: 10/12.

Quarterfinals score: 4/4

 

Semifinals predictions will be out later today.

 

Reviewing my Confederations Cup predictions!

Hello and welcome back to After the Whistle! Today I review my Confederations Cup predictions from before the tournament was played out.

My Group A prediction:

1. Portugal

2. Mexico

3. New Zealand

4. Russia

Review: 

I predicted that group almost perfectly, as Portugal and Mexico advanced to the semis. Russia actually finished above New Zealand, though.

 

My Group B prediction:

1. Germany

2. Chile

3. Australia

4. Cameroon

Review: 

Spot on.

 

Semifinals predictions: Chile over Portugal, Germany over Mexico

Review: Chile did indeed defeat Portugal, albeit on penalties. Germany thrashed Mexico 5-1. Two for two.

 

Final prediction: Chile over Germany

It was looking good until this. Germany actually defeated Chile 1-0 behind the easiest goal Lars Stindl has ever scored. The German juggernaut defeats another South American team 1-0 in a major tournament final.

 

Results: Eight correct and three wrong, 8/11, for a percentage of 72%.

 

Confederations Cup 2017 Predictions!

The 2017 Confederations Cup is here! Let’s take a look at the qualified teams and how they got here.

Germany: 2014 World Cup winners

Russia: 2018 World Cup hosts

Cameroon: African Cup of Nations winners

Portugal: Euro 2016 winners

Chile: 2015 & 2016 Copa America winners

Australia: Asian Cup winners

Mexico: 2015 Gold Cup winners, defeated USA in a playoff

New Zealand: OFC Nations Cup winners

But enough of that. Here’s what you came to see. My predictions for how this thing will shake out.

Group A

Fourth place: Russia

Quite frankly, it’s hard to see the hosts even getting a point. They may be buoyed by the passionate home crowd, but a squad whose best players are Alexander Korkorin and Artem Dzyuba won’t go places.

Third place: New Zealand

Led by free-scoring striker Chris Wood, (no, seriously. He scored 27 goals for Leeds last year) New Zealand has a squad almost entirely made up of English Premier League and Championship players. They managed an impressive 1-1 draw against the United States last October. They’re not pushovers, and will probably beat Russia.

Second place: Mexico

Eliminating New Zealand will be Mexico. El Tri has had a nearly flawless start to World Cup qualifying, and stars Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Carlos Vela, and 21 year old wonderkid Hirving Lozano spearhead a deadly strike force.

Group winners: Portugal

The champions of Europe roll in with a stacked squad. Euro 2016 hero Eder was cut from the squad after a less than inspiring season with Lille, but the big stars are all there. Cristiano Ronaldo, Pepe, and new Manchester City signing Bernardo Silva will lead Portugal to the top of the group.

 

Group B

Fourth place: Cameroon

Manager Hugo Broos led Cameroon to a surprising win in the African Cup of Nations, employing a fast-paced, risky style of soccer. It won’t pay off against stronger opposition.

Third place: Australia 

The Socceroos haven’t been beat in Asian World Cup qualifying this year. They are on a roll, led by goal threat Tommy Juric and lockdown defensive midfielder Aaron Mooy. They should dispatch the Cameroonians, but face a daunting task against a Chile and Germany.

Second place: Chile

The South American champs are simply loaded in Russia. Arsenal star Alexis Sanchez will spearhead a deadly attack, and Arturo Vidal is no slouch in midfield. They should comfortably qualify for the knockout stage.

Group winners: Germany

You knew this was coming. Complain all you want about the weakened side they’ve sent to Russia. They left Mesut Ozil, Marco Reus, Manuel Neuer, and Toni Kroos at home. So what? Julian Draxler, Emre Can, Jonas Hector, Marc André ter Stegen, and Leon Goretzka are all bound for Russia. There’s more incredible players too. Shkodran Mustafi. Max Meyer. Time Werner. The Germans should win this group comfortably.

 

Semifinal: Chile defeats Portugal

Chile would come into this matchup set on nothing less than victory. Ronaldo and Silva will keep it close, but Alexis Sanchez will expose the lack of defensive talent Portugal has outside of Pepe.

Semifinal: Germany over Mexico

A year ago, Mexico was thrown out of the Copa America by Chile, to the tune of 7-0. It won’t be that bad, and Hirving Lozano’s speed and skill will cause problems for right back Matthias Ginter. It still won’t be enough, as the German side is simply too good.

Final: Chile over Germany

This is my classic risky Finals pick. Why, you ask, would the reigning world champions lose here? Germany does feature a slightly weakened side, and that is all Chile needs. Gary Medel will shield the defense, allowing Arturo Vidal to get forward and play through balls to the feet of Sanchez, who doesn’t miss.

What I’d Do #8: FRANCE

I’m bored. FIFA Hybrids is dead. There’s not been much news in the sports world lately. What to do?

5 minutes later. . .

BAM!! Number eight is here. Not Star Wars #8, unfortunately. The What I’d Do series is back! Today, off the backs of a 3-2 win over England, France finds its way into After the Whistle. The team is actually one of the youngest in the world. Les Bleus, as their fans fondly nicknamed them, are simply overflowing with young talent. In fact, Koscielny and Lloris are the only players in the starting eleven above 25. 25!

 

In goal is the aforementioned Hugo Lloris. While I’m an Arsenal fan, I still have to e include him in the team despite how much I despise him. Reasons? The next best goalie is Stephane Ruffier, who refuses to play internationally. After that, France has Steve Mandanda. Not pleasant.

At left back, starting a trend of terrific young AS Monaco players is 22 year old Benjamin Mendy. Mendy has represented France at literally all levels. He played 32 times for the under-17s before being promoted to the U19s, winning 12 caps in two years. Due to turning 20, Mendy was forced to move to the U21s. He assisted five goals in nine games before Didier Deschamps called him up to the senior side.

In the center back positions, first is Laurent Koscielny. Arsenal’s first choice CB at club level, Koscielny has played for France 42 times since his international debut in 2011. He was a rock in defense in France’s run to the Euro 2016 final.

The other center back is Raphael Varane. The 24 year old starred at second tier French club RC Lens before getting a big money move to Real Madrid in 2011. Since then, Varane has won 42 caps for the international team.

At right back is Djibril (JIB-rill) Sidibe. Sidibe is another in a long list of players that had breakout seasons for AS Monaco this year. His critics point to his Sergi Roberto-esque forays forward as detrimental to the team. On November 22nd of 2016, Sidibe cemented his place in France anyways. Monaco was having trouble against Tottenham in the UEFA Champions League. In the 48th minute, Sidibe equalized; heading home Mendy’s cross. He then assisted Thomas Lemar (more on him later) five minutes later to give Monaco the win.

At left center midfielder, oh boy is this controversial. Instead of Blaise Matuidi, Hatim Ben Arfa, Corentin Tolisso, or Adrien Rabiot, I’ve included Paul Pogba. It’s an understatement to say Pogba was Juventus’ best player last year. Manchester United thought so, and broke the world transfer record, paying the Italians nearly £100 million to bring him to Old Trafford.

At right center midfielder, who else but N’Golo Kante? Leicester signed him from Caen in 2015, leading to a move to Chelsea. The rest is history.

At left midfielder, make a wild guess. It’s Thomas Lemar. The 21 year old had one of the best seasons in Monaco’s history, scoring 14 goals and assisting 14 more. Lemar even won UNFP Player of the Month in November 2016.

In he other side of midfield, welcome Ousmane Dembele to the international team. The 20 year old Borussia Dortmund phenom has been terrific this year, scoring 10 goals in 49 games for the German giants. He recently burst on to the international stage, scoring the winning goal for France against England. His spot is further cemented by the fact that the next best French RM is Moussa Sissoko. Hmm.

Right striker is Antoine Griezmann. If you haven’t heard of this guy, look him up. Since 2014, Griezmann has scored 60 goals in 111 games for Atlético Madrid. He also won La Liga Player of the Year in 2016, beating out Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Nice.

At left striker is the fan favorite, Kylian Mbappe-Lottin. The things this 18 year old has achieved are downright phenomenal! This year, he scored 26 goals in 44 games for Monaco. That’s a better goal ratio than Messi. Mbappe scored in every single Champions League knockout stage match Monaco played. He is the first player in history to do that. Let me remind you, he’s only 18! To round up his 2016-17 accolades, he was included in the UEFA Champions League Team of the Season, the Ligue 1 TOTS, and won the UNFP Young Player of the Year.

And lastly, something that you all have wanted, I’ll show you the impact of the last season on FIFA Ultimate Team. The bottom of the top image shows the highest rated cards the French have, starting from the back. Hugo Lloris got a 94 rated(!) Premier League TOTS. Koscielny still has his basic 85. Varane was awarded with an 86 Team of the Group Stage (TOTGS) card. Sidibe had an 83 TOTGS card. Lemar grabbed a 91 Ligue 1 TOTS card. Pogba has a 92 inform. Kante has a 92 EPL TOTS. Dembele has a 91 Bundesliga TOTS. Griezmann has a 95 La Liga TOTS. Mbappe has an 89 Ligue 1 TOTS. (Stagger breathing, pants like a dog)

The quality of these French players is simply astounding. The squad is so good, they are a legitimate World Cup winning contender. I’m not kidding.

And finally, kudos to the people who read this whole thing! Please leave a like if you enjoyed, and goodbye!