Russia 2018 – Quarter-Finals

Uruguay V France

The French put in their best performance of the tournament in beating Argentina in the Last 16, whilst Uruguay eliminated Portugal. Two very good teams in a game that could go either way, but I think the French have a bit of extra quality and it will be enough to get them past Uruguay and into the Semi-Final.

Brazil V Belgium

Brazil have been improving through the World Cup and knocked out Mexico in the Last 16; it seems as though everyone is still waiting for the promise of the Belgian team to deliver a performance that they should surely be capable of with the players at their disposal. The Last 16 tie against Japan saw them have to claw back a two-goal deficit and score the winner with the last kick of the game. Giving up two goals against Brazil would surely end their tournament. I expect Belgium to play better than they did against Japan, but it will not be enough and Brazil will progress.

Sweden V England

The Swedes saw off Switzerland in the Last 16 with a 1-0 victory and England finally won a penalty shootout in eliminating Colombia. England are expected to progress with ease, but Sweden beat Italy over two legs to qualify and topped a difficult Group F, with their only loss being to Germany with a goal deep in stoppage time. It won’t be an easy game for England, but I think they will progress to the Semi-Final.

Russia V Croatia

Russia produced the shock of the Last 16 in knocking out Spain, whilst Croatia struggled against Denmark; both sides required penalties to progress. It’s difficult to imagine Croatia struggling again, especially as Russia are unlikely to get players forward to push the Croatian wide players back; it will be a big ask for Russia to keep their shape and soak up pressure again, especially as the Croatian possession is likely to have more attacking intent than some of the Spanish possession had. I expect Croatia to knock out the hosts.

My predicted Semi-Finals:

France V Brazil
England V Croatia

FMM18 World Cup Day 16

Read from the introduction.

Recap on yesterday’s action.

Re-read the final round of matches in Groups A and B.

Last 16 – Iceland V Russia

Russia’s reward for topping Group A is to take on World Cup debutants Iceland in the Last 16. If Russia had any preconceptions about this being an easy route to the Quarter Finals, Iceland correct them through Jon Dadi Bodvarsson putting the Icelandic team in the lead in the 13th minute. It appears to act as a wake up call to Russia, who hit back almost immediately – Dmitry Poloz equalises in the 17th minute. The equalising goal doesn’t appear to discourage Iceland from their task and Hordur Magnusson puts Iceland back in the lead in the 26th minute. The score remains at 2-1 going into half time. As the second half progresses, Russia need to attack more to at least take the game into extra time. With sixteen minutes to go, Viktor Karl Heimisson is forced to go off injured. As with conceding an equalising goal earlier, Iceland remain focused on their task. Alexandr Kokorin goes off injured in the 86th minute as the hosts run out of ideas and exit the tournament and Iceland progress to the Quarter Finals like they did at Euro 2016.

Last 16 – South Korea V Brazil

After topping Group B as expected, Brazil find themselves against South Korea. Sung-Yeung Ki scores in the 9th minute to put the South Koreans into the lead, a situation that perhaps not many outside the South Korean camp would have thought likely. Their task is now very simple – prevent the Brazilians scoring for the next 81 minutes. The first step is to reach half time in the lead, which they manage to do. Three minutes into the second half, Brazil lose Bernard to injury. Brazil continue to look for the equaliser, but the South Korean defence is resolute and the five-time champions are surprisingly eliminated by the South Koreans in the biggest shock of the tournament so far.

Find out what happens on Day 17.

Russia 2018 – Last 16

Check out how accurate my predictions for the Last 16 were.

France V Argentina

Neither team have been at their best so far, but I think France are the better team and will beat Argentina.

Uruguay V Portugal

Uruguay are showing signs of growing into the tournament and are favourites, but Portugal are very different to beat and in Ronaldo, have a player who can turn a game in a moment. I think Uruguay will progress in extra time.

Spain V Russia

Home support has undoubtedly helped Russia, but they struggled in their first big test of the tournament and I think Spain will be too strong for them.

Croatia V Denmark

Croatia impressively topped a tough looking Group D and I expect them to advance against a Denmark side that progressed as expected.

Brazil V Mexico

A tough Last 16 draw for Mexico, but also for Brazil; Mexico beat the 2014 champions in the group and if they play like that again, Brazil could exit the tournament much earlier than expected. However, I expect Brazil to have too much for Mexico.

Belgium V Japan

Group H was an open group and Japan were able to qualify from it. I predict they won’t advance any further and Belgium will record a comfortable win.

Sweden V Switzerland

Sweden qualified from the tough Group F as winners and should not be underestimated, while Switzerland gained a credible draw against Brazil in Group E. A match that I predict will go to penalties, with Switzerland progressing.

Colombia V England

Any joy for England about being in the ‘easier’ side of the draw seems premature, with Colombia posing a stern test. Colombia’s loss in the group stages was a 2-1 loss in a game in which they played with 10 men for 87 minutes. It may require extra time, but I think England will progress.

My predicted Quarter-Finals

France V Uruguay
Spain V Croatia
Brazil V Belgium
Switzerland V England

FMM18 World Cup Day 12

Start from the introduction.

Re-read yesterday’s action.

Recap on the previous games in Group A and Group B.

Group B – Iceland V Brazil & Tunisia V Costa Rica

Going into the final matches, the Group B table looks like:

Brazil are, as everyone expected, safely through to the knockout stages. They will finish as runners-up if they lose to Iceland, who only require a draw to ensure qualification to the knockout matches. They could still qualify even if they lose, but Tunisia would either need to record a big win or hope that Brazil record a big win over Iceland.

Tunisia start well and take the lead in the 10th minute through Saber Hraiech. Costa Rica lost Christian Duarte to injury in the 32nd minute. At half time, Tunisia are leading 1-0, whilst Brazil V Iceland are drawing 0-0. Tunisia have 45 minutes to rescue their campaign and set out accordingly. Saber Hraiech grabs his (and Tunisia’s) second in the 48th minute as bodies start to flood forwards in search of goals. Yohan Benalouane adds a third in the 62nd minute, before a quickfire double from Housem Maamria (77th and 81st minute) puts Tunisia into a commanding lead. Aymen Abdennour also scores in the 81st minute and Tunisia’s approach changes; they need to ensure they don’t concede, whilst hoping Brazil can find a way past the Icelandic defence. Even a 1-0 victory for Brazil will see Tunisia qualify at the expense of Iceland. All eyes turn to the other game, but it finishes goalless in a result that suited both Brazil and Iceland.

As expected, Brazil have qualified unbeaten and as group winners and are joined by debutants Iceland.

Group A – Spain V Russia & South Korea V Zambia

Going into the final matches, the table looks like:

Spain are topping the group, but depending on results could miss out on qualification on goal difference. However, the most likely outcome seems to be one of South Korea or Russia missing out. The hosts are currently in the stronger position, but they have to play the group leaders, whilst South Korea take on a Zambian side that has leaked eight goals in two games…

Dennis Glushakov puts the Russians ahead after 9 minutes of their game against Spain. The South Korean, who know they need goals, score in the eleventh minute. Dennis Glushakov doubles his tally and Russia’s lead in the fifteenth minute, strengthening their position and putting the second qualification spot in doubt. Fedor Smolov goes off injured after 18 minutes, but it has little impact on their performance with the crowd cheering them on. Goals remain important for South Korea and Heung-Min Son doubles their lead in the 21st minute. At half time, Russia lead Spain 2-0 and South Korea are beating Zambia by the same scoreline. Sixteen minutes into the second half, Jae-Hoon Na adds a third for South Korea. It’s becoming very clear that if Spain are to qualify, they need to find two goals. South Korea add a fourth through Heung-Min Son in the 80th minute; it boosts their goal difference, but has little impact on the group. Spain V Russia is the match to watch if things are going to change in the group, but Spain are unable to find a goal.

It’s a tight finish to the group with three teams finishing on six points. The hosts have qualified as group winners, whilst South Korea have snatched second. Spain have surprisingly failed to qualify from a group that they would have expected to at least qualify from and probably win. Even more surprising is that they were topping the group going into the final game.

Find out what happens on Day 13.

FMM18 World Cup Day 7

Read from the start of the tournament.

Recap on yesterday’s games.

Re-read the opening matches in Group A and Group B.

Group B – Iceland V Costa Rica

Costa Rica performed above expectations in the 2014 World Cup and Iceland did the same at Euro 2016. Oscar Duarte is injured in the 8th minute and replaced by Costa Rica. The scoring is opened by Iceland through Kristofer Ingi Andrason in the 25th minute; the lead is doubled by Jon Dadi Johannsson a minute later. Johan Berg Hreidarsson is sent off in the 56th minute, which appears to give Costa Rica a way back into the game. There are goals after the sending off. Three of them. Aron Gunnarsson in the 72nd minute, Atli Hrafn Andrason in the 79th minute and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson in the 82nd minute as a three-goal ten minute salvo from Iceland gives them a 5-0 victory.

Group A – Zambia V Spain

Zambia’s loss in the opening game make this a must-win game for them, whilst Spain can put themselves into an incredibly strong position in the group if they win. It starts well for Spain as Juan Mata puts them in the lead in the 6th minute. Stephen Kandi needs to be substituted for Zambia a minute later due to injury. Gerard Pique adds Spain’s second goal in the 25th minute and puts them in complete control. James Aborah scores for Zambia in the 49th minute to bring them back into the game, but Dani Carvajal’s goal in the 72nd minute restores Spain’s two-goal lead. Any thoughts Zambia had of completing an unlikely comeback are ended in the 82nd minute with the sending off of Sol Kone.

After two group games, Group A looks like:

Group B – Brazil V Tunisia

Iceland have certainly laid the gauntlet down to Brazil with their earlier demolition of Costa Rica. The floodgates are expected to open against Tunisia, but it never materialises. Aymen Belaid is injured for the Tunisians in the 73rd minute and Fernandinho scores the only goal of the game in the 77th minute. It’s another win, but not by the margin many would have expected.

The Group B table now looks like:

Find out what happens on Day 8.

FMM18 World Cup Day 2

Recap on the groups

Recap on yesterday’s games.

Group B – Costa Rica V Brazil

The heavily-fancied Brazilians open their campaign against Costa Rica, who performed above expectations at the 2014 World Cup. There’s no fairy tale opening match for Costa Rica; Dalbert opens the scoring 13 minutes in and Fernandinho guarantees the win one minute after half time. Joel Campbell limps off with 8 minutes to go, which could have an impact on Costa Rica’s remaining two group games.

Group B – Tunisia V Iceland

Brazil are the strong favourites in the group, with second place up for grabs. Tunisia open the scoring 5 minutes in through Barratli. Abdennour is replaced by the Tunisians in the 19th minute due to injury, but the change doesn’t seem to impact the Tunisians who double their lead in the 32nd minute as Harbaoui scores. With time running out and Euro 2016 surprise package Iceland staring defeat in the face, Bjarnason score twice in 4 minutes to secure a point. Tunisia, leading 2-0 with 12 minutes to go, will definitely see it as two points dropped. Iceland started their unexpected Euro 2016 run with a draw…

The opening round of fixtures for Group B are complete.

Group C – Ukraine V USA

The third and final game of the day sees the start of Group C. Besedin puts Ukraine in to the lead after 36 minutes. Pulisic draws the Americans level in the 68th minute, but the equaliser seems to wake the Ukrainians up and Ordets and Besedin both score to give Ukraine a valuable win.

Find out what happens on Day 3.

Russia 2018 – Group E

The four teams competing in Group E are Brazil, Costa Rica, Serbia and Switzerland. Brazil are one of the tournament favourites and will be expected to top the group, which I think they will do. This leaves one qualifying spot for three teams. Costa Rica surprised many at the last World Cup by qualifying (and as group winners) from their group, a feat I don’t expect them to repeat at this World Cup. The key match in determining who will join Brazil will be Serbia V Switzerland and I predict Serbia will join Brazil in the Last 16.

Leave a comment with your prediction for Group E.

Read my predictions for Groups A, B, C, D, F, G, H and the knockout matches.

Sporting shocks

Following Japan’s 34-32 victory over South Africa in the Rugby World Cup, BBC Sport has been asking about top sporting shocks. I think that Japan’s victory is the biggest shock that I can remember, but here are some others that I can think of:

Lennox Lewis V Hasim Rahman

Lewis was the heavyweight champion of the world going into this fight in April 2001 and was expected to retain his belt against Rahman, a virtual unknown. Rahman was only fighting because Mike Tyson had been suspended and was a way of keeping the champion busy. However, Rahman had not read the script and knocked Lewis out in the fifth round and became the champion. The rematch in November 2001 saw Lewis fully prepared and he regained the title with a knockout victory in the fourth round, but the result in April had definitely been a shock.

Telford Tigers 8-3 Peterborough Phantoms

I think this is the game I am thinking of and it happened in January 2009 (although if I am wrong and anyone knows differently, please let me know). The Tigers team at the time was not the greatest and were losing most weeks. Peterborough started well and were leading 2-0 at the end of the first. The result looked to be certain, with the only question being what the losing margin would be. I can’t remember if the Phantoms made it 3-0 or not, but I do remember the Tigers producing an outstanding 2 periods of hockey to demolish the Phantoms 8-3, with power forward James Knight helping himself to 4 goals. A great and completely unexpected comeback.

The 2012 Ryder Cup

After two days, America were in a 10-6 lead over Europe (they had been leading 10-4 at one point on the Saturday) and only required 4.5 points to win the Ryder Cup. Europe dominated the singles matches on the final day and the final score saw Europe winning 14.5 to 13.5, with the result being known as ‘the Miracle at Medinah’.

Manchester United 0-0 Exeter City

The third round of the FA Cup in the 2004/05 season saw non-league Exeter City travel to Manchester United. Even with Manchester United naming a weakened side, they were still expected to win comfortably against their opponents, especially as they had home advantage. Despite dominating the game, Exeter stuck ruggedly to their task and claimed a memorable draw. For the replay at Exeter, Sir Alex Ferguson named a much stronger side who won 2-0, but the draw at Old Trafford arguably ended the Manchester United careers of several players who started that day.

Liverpool 3-3 AC Milan (Liverpool win 3-2 on penalties)

The final of the Champions League saw Liverpool take on AC Milan in Istanbul. Milan scored in the first minute through the highly unlikely figure of Paolo Maldini and they extended that lead with two further goals in the second half. Convinced the game was over, some Liverpool fans were seen leaving at half time. However, 3 goals in 5 minutes in the second half saw Liverpool level the scores before going on to claim victory in the penalty shoot-out. A shock result, especially after the half time score; also, Italian teams are famed for being defensively sound, so for one of them to blow a 3-0 lead made it an even bigger shock.

Manchester United 2-1 Bayern Munich

A shock result because of the dramatic way that it happened; Munich were winning 1-0 in the 90th minute following a 6th minute goal by Basler and were moments away from lifting the trophy. However, Manchester United levelled in stoppage time through Sheringham and then took the lead and victory with a further goal in stoppage time from Solskjaer.

Denmark 1992

A complete shock at Euro 92, as Denmark beat Germany 2-0 in the final. Whilst that result was a shock, the bigger shock was that Denmark were there at all; they had not qualified for the tournament and only knew they were competing 11 days before the tournament started, replacing a banned Yugoslavia following the civil war there.

Brazil 1-7 Germany

Germany beating Brazil is perhaps not a shock, but the emphatic nature of the scoreline coupled with it being in the semi-final of a World Cup being hosted in Brazil made it arguably one of the most shocking results in perhaps not only the history of the World Cup but of football history itself.

Greece 2004

A highly unfancied Greek side somehow claimed victory at Euro 2004, managing to grind out results. Greece’s victory was arguably more shocking than the Danish victory of 1992 as the Greek side did not appear to have any standout players, relying instead on a strong, disciplined defensive game. It was rarely pretty, but highly effective.

Germany 1-5 England

Qualifying for the 2002 World Cup saw Germany and England in the same qualifying group. Whilst not the strongest German side ever, they claimed victory in the final match at the old Wembley (which resulted in Kevin Keegan resigning as England manager). The return fixture in Germany saw them take an early lead, before 5 English goals saw a shocking scoreline. I can remember the general sense of disbelief after the game.

I have only included shocks that I can remember seeing or having read about, thus not including other notable sporting shocks from the past.