Russia 2018 – The Final

Read my Semi-Final predictions.

And then there were two. France and Croatia. It’s a match that I predicted would happen at the World Cup. It’s just a bit later than I predicted. Either France will lift the World Cup for the second time or Croatia will lift it for the first time. But who will it be?

France have overcome Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium in the knockout stages and won each match inside 90 minutes. They were excellent against Belgium in the semi-final and kept a potent Belgian front line quiet. Croatia overcame Denmark, Russia and England in the knockout stages and all three matches went to extra time, with the first two requiring penalties. England had the better of the first half in their semi-final, but Croatia came into the game more as it progressed and deservedly won.

Which is all very well and good, but who wins? I can’t look beyond France. They’ve been solid when they need to be and have goal threats across the forwards. If the Croatian full backs try to push on as they did against England to pin wide players back, it will leave a lot of space for Mbappe to run into and he will be difficult to catch. If Croatia stay deep, I fancy France to be able to create chances from Giroud knocking balls down and linking up play. I predict a 2-0 victory for France.

Leave a comment with: who you think will win the World Cup Final; why; the score.

Russia 2018 – Semi-Finals

Read my predictions for the Quarter-Finals.

France V Belgium

Two of Europe’s best teams compete for a place in the final. It would be the first final for the French since 2006 and the loss on penalties to Italy, whilst it would be Belgium’s first final. France knocked out Uruguay with a 2-0 victory in the Quarter-Finals and Belgium beat tournament favourites Brazil 2-1. Both teams are full of potential match winners, making it a difficult game to call. I can see extra time being required to separate the sides and the French bench making the difference. France to make the final is my prediction.

Croatia V England

An unlikely Semi-Final, so both teams will be looking to take advantage of being in this situation. It would be a first final for Croatia if they win and England’s first final since… well, you know when! Croatia made the Semi-Final via penalties against Russia, whilst England comfortably saw off Sweden 2-0. Croatia are the better side technically, but they are an ageing team who have required penalties in both of their knockout games. Whoever controls the tempo is likely to end up winning, with England wanting a quicker tempo than Croatia. I think England will make the final.

Leave a comment with your prediction on who makes the World Cup Final.

FMM18 World Cup Day 23

Read from the introduction.

Recap on yesterday’s action.

Re-read the Last 16 games for the teams.

Quarter Final – France V Belgium

Two of Europe’s most star-studded attacking sides meet in the Quarter Final. France beat Northern Ireland 1-0, whilst Belgium required penalties to get past Uruguay. France take an early lead through Ousmane Dembele in the 13th lead. It takes Belgium 21 minutes to draw level, with Romelu Lukaku the man who scores. The teams enter the dressing rooms at half time with the score still at 1-1. Despite a wealth of attacking talent, the second half produces no goals. It takes one minute into extra time for there to be another goal; Radja Nainggolan puts Belgium into the lead in the 91st minute. France have 29 minutes to find an equaliser and extra time produces another goal in the 113th minute. The goal is scored by Lukaku and Belgium progress at the expense of France.

Quarter Final – Italy V Argentina

A Quarter Final clash between two countries with six World Cups between them. Argentina knocked out Germany in the Last 16, winning 2-0. 1-0 was good enough for Italy to progress at England’s expense. Argentina are spoilt with attacking talent, whilst Italy’s defence is as strong as ever. The score is level at half time, with neither team having been able to force a breakthrough. With extra time looking the most likely outcome, Andrea Belotti puts Italy into the lead in the 83rd minute. It’s enough for Italy’s campaign to continue as Argentina bow out.

Find out what happens on Day 24.

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 18

Read from the introduction.

Recap on yesterday’s action.

Re-read the final matches in Groups E and F.

Last 16 – Northern Ireland V France

France’s topping of Group F sees them take on Northern Ireland in the Last 16. France go into the game as strong favourites, but the game is goalless at half time. Northern Ireland are able to repel French attacks until the 69th minute, when Ousmane Dembele fires the French into the lead. France are unable to add more goals, but it doesn’t matter as Northern Ireland are unable to get themselves back into the game. Whilst France were expected to win by more, they’ve scored enough to ensure they progress.

Last 16 – Italy V England

Italy topped Group E and take on England. Gary Lineker welcomes viewers by asking if England can get ‘pasta’ Italy and progress to the Quarter Finals. Italy suffer a blow in the 5th minute when Marco Veratti goes off injured. England suffer a blow of their own in the 14th minute when Raheem Sterling also heads to the dressing room early due to injury. With two minutes to go until half time, Andrea Petagna puts the Italians into the lead. Italy take the lead into half time, but they will have to defend their lead with only 10 men in the second half due to Giorgio Chiellini getting sent off one minute before half time. A man advantage gives England a great chance of progressing to the Quarter Finals, but if there’s one team that can defend a one-goal lead successfully, it’s typically Italy. And so it proves, as England are unable to score against the Italians.

Find out what happens on Day 19.

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 14

Read from the introduction.

Recap on yesterday’s action.

Re-read the previous games in Group E and Group F.

Group E – Chile V Australia & Northern Ireland V Italy

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

Another group in which qualification all but looks certain. Only a good win for Chile and a big loss for Northern Ireland will see Chile pip Northern Ireland for qualification. Italy have qualified and a draw against Northern Ireland will see them top the table, with Northern Ireland joining them as qualifiers.

Chile know they need goals as well as Northern Ireland losing to Italy. The slim chance of qualification becomes slimmer in the 20th minute when Chris Ikonomidis puts Australia into the lead. Italy lose Claudio Marchisio to injury in the 37th minute as their game reaches half time at 0-0, whilst Australia take a 1-0 lead into the dressing room. Italy take the lead in the 51st minute through Marco Verratti, but with the score in the other game, it has no impact on the group and Northern Ireland’s chances of qualifying. Northern Ireland ensure that it will be impossible to miss out in the 61st minute when Craig Cathcart pulls them level. Two minutes after Northern Ireland have equalised, Brad Inman limps off for Australia as they try to hold on to their lead. They’re not successful; Marcelo Diaz levels for Chile in the 76th minute. Any hopes they have of going on a goal spree and qualifying if Italy take the lead is immediately extinguished as Pablo Hernandez sees red.

Italy have, as would have been expected, qualified from the group as winners. Second place was up for grabs and Northern Ireland were able to secure it, three points ahead of Chile who were arguably the favourites to secure the second qualifying spot. It was a World Cup to forget for Australia, who finished bottom of the group.

Group F – England V France & Ivory Coast V Iran

Going into the final round of matches, the table looks like:

A group in which qualification is in no doubt, with England and France having both won their opening games to progress to the Last 16 – all that remains to be settled is who qualifies as group winners. England are currently favourites as they are currently topping the table, so a draw will be enough for them to set up a Home Nations clash with Northern Ireland, whilst a loss to France will mean it will be Italy for England in the Last 16. The other game in the group gives Ivory Coast and Iran a chance to record a victory.

France and England are both aware that topping the group will mean avoiding Italy and France take the lead through Antoine Griezmann in the 28th minute; ten minutes later, Samuel Umtiti doubles the French lead. Assane Gnoukouri puts Ivory Coast into the lead in the 41st minute as they take a 1-0 lead into half time over Iran, whilst France keep their 2-0 lead over England. Eight minutes into the second half, Masoud Nasehi limps off injured for Iran. Seydou Doumbia adds a second goal for Ivory Coast in the 64th minute, before Wilfried Zaha ensures that Ivory Coast will record a victory with a goal in the 78th minute. One minute later, Raphael Varane puts France into a commanding 3-0 lead to ensure they will qualify as group winners.

The group has finished as was expected, with France impressively qualifying without conceding. England join them in progressing to the Last 16, although pre-match triumphalism has been toned down after a heavy final game defeat and satisfaction of qualifying and looking forward to the knockout stages replaces it. Ivory Coast finish third, but didn’t trouble the two qualifiers as much as they would have hoped. Iran finished bottom of a tough group.

Find out what happens on Day 15.

FMM18 World Cup Day 10

Read from the introduction.

Recap on yesterday’s games.

Re-read the opening games in Group F and Group G.

Group F – England V Iran

Following on from a healthy win in their opening game, England take on an Iran side who lost heavily in their opening match. Unsurprisingly, England are heavy favourites and are expected to record a comfortable victory. Marcus Rashford gets England off to a good start when he finds the back of the net in the 14th minute. Harry Kane doubles the lead after 37 minutes and Raheem Sterling completes the scoring in the 69th minute. The more sensible media outlets start to contemplate who England might face in the final, whilst others publish the route the team will be taking when parading the trophy.

Group F – France V Ivory Coast

A good win for France in their opening match and a heavy defeat for Ivory Coast means most pundits have written this one off as only one result. The same pundits are looking rather sheepish at half time when the score is still 0-0, although Ivory Coast lost Max Gradel to injury in the eleventh minute. The second half is one minute old when Serge Aurier receives his marching orders. Surely France will record a win now? They do, courtesy of a quickfire double from Antoine Griezmann and Corentin Tolisso in the 60th and 63rd minute respectively.

After the second round of matches, Group F looks like:

Group G – Germany V Romania

Germany are expected to record a victory over Romania as the Germans look to retain the trophy. Romania hold out until half time, but a German victory is still being predicted. Six minutes into the second half, Nicolae Stanciu stuns everyone by putting Romania into the lead. Germany push for an equaliser, but with time running out, Florin Andone secures a shock win for the Romanians by adding a second in the 90th minute.

Find out what happens on Day 11.

FMM18 World Cup Day 4

Recap on the groups.

Recap on yesterday’s matches

Group E – Australia V Italy

Italy are often associated with cagey single-goal victories. They blow this out of the water with their opening game against Australia. Claudio Marchisio opens the scoring ten minutes in. Andrea Belotti doubles the lead five minute later and Leonardo Bonucci puts the Italians three up inside 23 minutes. Belotti adds a fourth in the 41st minute and completes his hat-trick in the 66th minute to conclude the scoring. Another day, another 5-0 result.

Group E – Chile V Northern Ireland

After Italy’s demolition of Australia, this could prove to be a vital game for both sides. Victory could be a big step towards knockout football, whilst defeat could make things difficult. With so much at stake, perhaps it’s unsurprising that a goalless draw is played out. Chile lose Mauricio Isla to injury in the sixth minute in the only moment of note in the match.

The Group E table looks like:

Group F – Iran V France

It appears to be a tough opening match for Iran. And things only get tougher when Anthony Martial puts France into the lead in the third minute. Martial extends France’s lead in the 31st minute. Alex Delir limps off for Iran in the 38th minute and before they have a chance to readjust, Martial adds his and France’s third one minute later. There’s enough time for Antoine Griezmann to open his account, but with 18 minutes to go when he strikes, it has no impact on the result. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that we don’t see another 5-0 result.

Find out what happens on Day 5.

Russia 2018 – Group C

France, Denmark, Australia and Peru make up Group C. I expect France to qualify as group winners, with the other three teams competing for second. I think that Denmark V Peru will be the key game in determining who joins France in the Last 16. It’s the opening match for the two teams in the group and whoever loses will have to play catch-up. I think that the second qualifier from the group will be Denmark.

Leave a comment with your prediction for Group C.

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

Euro 2016 Semi-Finals

Match 1: Portugal V Wales

The battle of the Galacticos as Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal take on Gareth Bale’s Wales. At least, that’s how the game is being billed in the media. However, there is more to both teams than their star players as has been shown. Ronaldo has had an average tournament, missing a penalty in one match and only scoring a couple of goals, both in the same game. Portugal have drawn all their matches over 90 minutes. Bale has had quite a good tournament, but was not involved in any of the three goals when Wales beat Belgium 3-1 in the quarter-final. They kept Belgium’s chances to a minimum and were incisive when attacking. The loss of Aaron Ramsey to suspension is a big one for Wales and I don’t think they will be able to replace his quality in midfield.

Predicted winner: Portugal

Match 2: Germany V France

The world champions take on the hosts in the second semi-final. Both teams have played well at times and looked very dangerous; they have also struggled at times and looked vulnerable when attacked. Germany had a quarter-final victory like this over Italy, looking excellent around the time they got their goal and then struggling when Italy started to control the game towards the end of the 90 minutes. France dominated the first half of their quarter-final against Iceland, but in the second half showed that they remain vulnerable when the ball is crossed into the area. If France get their quick, incisive passing working, they will create plenty of problems, but Germany’s ability to cross well into the box could go a long way to deciding this match.

Predicted winner: France

Euro 2016 Quarter Finals

Match 1: Poland V Portugal

The first quarter final sees Poland take on Portugal. Poland have played well at times, but struggled at other times. Portugal have been quite subdued and qualified from their group with 3 draws and required a goal deep in stoppage time to win their Last 16 match against Croatia. This is a difficult match to call, as both attacks could cause problems for the other defence, but I think Poland have a more rounded attack, whilst Portugal appear to rely on Portugal

Winner: Poland

Match 2: Wales V Belgium

This appears to be a bit of a mis-match, but the two countries played in qualifying and Wales took 4 points from their games against Belgium. Wales have defended well and Gareth Bale has been a potent weapon for them in attack. Belgium struggled in their opening game against Italy, but have been improving since then and recorded a convincing 4-0 victory over Hungary in the last 16. The Belgium V Hungary game was open and it is difficult to imagine Wales playing an open game against such a strong Belgium attack.

Winner: Belgium

Match 3: Germany V Italy

Germany have looked excellent at times, but struggled in others, especially when pressure has been put on them (Ukraine attacked with purpose for the final 15 minutes of the first half in their group game and Germany seemed to struggle). In contrast, Italy have played well in all their matches (with the possible exception of their final group game against Republic of Ireland when they had already qualified and made plenty of changes) and qualified top from the ‘Group of Death’ (and with a game to spare) and were convincing winners against Spain in the Last 16 – quite an achievement for the worst Italian side ever! This is a difficult match to call and it could go all the way to penalties. The winners of this match will also arguably become favourites for the tournament.

Winner: Italy

Match 4: France V Iceland

Iceland surpassed all expectations in qualifying from their group, never mind beating a lacklustre England in the Last 16 to reach the quarter-finals at their first international tournament. France have impressed at times, particularly against Republic of Ireland in the Last 16 in the second half, where they looked dangerous every time they attacked. The strengths in the French midfield and attack will put a lot of pressure on Iceland’s defence, which has generally played well.

Winner: France

Predicted semi-finals:

Poland V Belgium
Italy V France

Euro 2016: Last 16

With the European Championships having expanded to 24 teams, there is a round of 16 teams.

Game 1: Switzerland V Poland

Switzerland take on Poland in the first knockout game of the tournament. I tipped Poland to be dark horses before the tournament and from what I’ve seen so far, I think Poland will have enough to beat Switzerland and take their place in the quarter finals.

Winner: Poland

Game 2: Wales V Northern Ireland

A local derby in Last 16 is the second knockout match of the tournament. This match is quite a surprise as Wales topped their group (whilst I thought they had a good chance of qualifying, I was surprised that they topped the group) and Northern Ireland qualified from a tough group that included world champions Germany. Both teams seem to have an abundance of team spirit, but I think that the class of Gareth Bale will be enough to separate two quite similar sides.

Winner: Wales

Game 3: Croatia V Portugal

Another surprising match as a result of Croatia beating Spain and topping Group D, whilst Portugal could only manage three draws and finish third in what looked like a reasonably easy group to win. Portugal have an outstanding talent in Cristiano Ronaldo, but he has largely been frustrated in the tournament so far. In contrast, Croatia have an outstanding midfield that can boast Modric and Rakitic and they also have a player who has been one of the best in the tournament so far in my opinion – Perisic. This has the potential to be a close game and I would not be surprised if it went to extra time and possibly even penalties.

Winner: Croatia

Game 4: France V Republic of Ireland

France topped their group as expected, although they required late goals to record their two wins of the tournament so far. Republic of Ireland qualified from ‘The Group of Death’ as one of the best third placed teams following a late goal against Italy. If France do have a weakness, it is their defending of set pieces and if Ireland are to have a chance of progressing, they will need excellent delivery from Brady. Even with excellent set piece delivery, I don’t think it will be enough.

Winner: France

Game 5: Germany V Slovakia

An easy Last 16 tie for Germany? In a Euro 2016 warm-up game, Slovakia beat Germany (in Germany) 3-1 and Germany have only looked good in patches. The German team that will play this match is likely to be stronger than the one fielded in the friendly (Neuer will surely start), but Slovakia have shown they are tough to break down and possess danger when breaking with Hamsik in the side. However, Germany nearly always find a way to progress and I would expect them to do so again.

Winner: Germany

Game 6: Hungary V Belgium

Hungary’s group appeared to be a relatively weak one, but Portugal were expected to top it with Austria in second place, leaving Hungary battling it out with Iceland for third place. However, Hungary were having none of it and not only qualified, but topped the group. This match looks as though it will be a united team in Hungary that is better than the sum of its parts against a team of excellent individual players in Belgium who don’t quite seem to gel as a group. I think a moment of individual brilliance from one of the Belgian forwards will be just enough to see them through.

Winner: Belgium

Game 7: Italy V Spain

The worst Italian team ever (as they were branded before the start of the tournament) qualified top of the ‘Group of Death’ after two games and their reward? Spain, who surprisingly came second in their group after losing their final group game against Croatia. This is a repeat of the Euro 2012 final, which Spain won convincingly (4-0). This Spanish team is not as good as that Spanish team, but they will still have plenty of the ball. However, if there is one team who will not be concerned by this, it is Italy and I think that the Italians will use all of their guile in a game when they will play a counter-attacking style. It will be a tight game, but the Spanish defence has looked weak at times and I think Italy will exploit this with incisive counter attacks.

Winner: Italy

Group 8: England V Iceland

Two surprising runners-up meet in the final knockout match as England surprisingly only came second of their group (despite being unbeaten), whilst Iceland surprisingly qualified automatically from their group (remaining unbeaten in the process). Iceland’s game plan has involved defending resolutely with plenty of men behind the ball, which England have found difficult to play against (as evidenced in the 0-0 draw with Slovakia). England’s pressure is likely to tell in the end, but they will have to ensure that they don’t get careless at the back.

Winner: England

Predicted quarter-finals:

Poland V Croatia
Wales V Belgium
Germany V Italy
France V England

Euro 2016 predictions

My predictions for Euro 2016:

Winners: I predict France will win the tournament. They have a very strong midfield and options upfront and if Payet plays, a very big threat from dead ball situations. There might be a couple of questions over an ageing defence and defending set-pieces, but Lloris is an excellent keeper to be able to call upon. They have gone a while without competitive football, but have what appears to be a relatively easy group to ease them back in to competitive games.

England: I predict England will reach the quarter-finals. They should be strong enough to qualify from the group and qualifying top of the group should give a favourable draw for the last 16. England’s biggest concern is the defence and I think this will be their downfall against good opponents.

Dark horses: I think the tournament dark horses are Poland. They have one of the most dangerous strikers in Lewandowski and Milik is being tipped to be just as good. A goal threat like that is always going to give a team a chance of winning a game and if it’s an open tournament, two excellent strikers could take them a long way.

Leave me a comment with your predictions for the three categories I’ve predicted.

Euro 2016: Group A

Group A is comprised of Albania, France, Romania and Switzerland. As the hosts, I would imagine that the French team will have been delighted with the draw as their three games look very winnable in what looks to be one of the weaker groups at the tournament. France are one of the favourites for the tournament and will be expected to top the group with three wins. The other three teams will all be targeting qualification and with potentially three teams qualifying from the group, all will believe they can achieve this. I would expect Switzerland to be strong enough to ensure qualification as group runners-up, with Albania and Romania battling it out for third spot.

My prediction for the final Group A table:

1. France
2. Switzerland
3. Romania
4. Albania

New Zealand 62-13 France

New Zealand brushed France aside and qualified for the quarter finals with ease, scoring nine tries in the process. New Zealand were able to secure quick ball throughout the game and pose a constant threat to the French defence, with powerful runs drawing defenders in and creating space. In contrast, France were unable to secure quick ball and didn’t appear to have a gameplan, trying several different things (although this could have been caused by the unrelenting pressure from New Zealand). Whatever France tried, New Zealand had an answer for and they laid down a big marker for the teams still in the competition and must be seen as the favourites, despite a tough looking semi-final against South Africa next weekend.

France 9-24 Ireland

Ireland claimed victory in Pool D and top spot with a hard fought victory over France. A couple of early penalties were missed by France, whilst Sexton was accurate with his kicking until forced off by injury. Ireland created one good break, but were unable to hold on to the final pass and lost Paul O’Connell to injury on the stroke of half time. In the second half, Ireland were able to score a couple of tries and secure the victory.

Ireland played well and shut France down effectively and will need a similar effort next week against a good Argentine side, although it looks as though they will be without some key players in Sexton and O’Connell if the injuries are as bad as they look and O’Brien could be cited for a punch off the ball. France will have to show a great improvement (especially in securing ball at the breakdown) if they are to challenge New Zealand next weekend.