Reviewing Russia 2018

The World Cup has finished with France lifting the trophy for the second time. Below are my thoughts about the tournament; leave a comment with your thoughts.

Game of the tournament: Spain 3-3 Portugal. The second day of the tournament and the first evening game was an absolute cracker. It started off quickly and the game got better and more absorbing as it continued. A good game early on can help set the tone for the tournament and this match lived up to its billing.

Goal of the tournament: Pavard. A fantastic strike from the French right-back in their Last 16 game against Argentina. He was outside the area, cut across the ball and it flew into the top corner giving the goalkeeper no chance. Not bad for a first international goal!

Player of the tournament: Eden Hazard. A constant threat whenever he got the ball. No matter how many players tried to close him down, he seemed to be able to either find a way through or a pass to take them out of the game. The key player in an side full of attacking talent.

Tournament overachievers: Russia. The lowest ranked side at the tournament made the Quarter-Finals, helped no doubt by strong support. A big victory in the opening game set them on their way, with the highlight being getting past Spain in the Last 16. Their run came to an end when they met their competitors for overachievers, Croatia.

Tournament underachievers: Germany. Germany won the World Cup in 2014; three years later they won the Confederations Cup with many of their stars not taking part. Things looked ominous for the rest of the world when their stars returned, but getting out of a tough group was not achieved as they fell at the first hurdle.

Moment of the tournament: England win a penalty shootout. A bit of bias here, but England had been the better side for much of the match. When extra time ended, the ending seemed inevitable, especially when Henderson’s penalty was saved. Four penalties later, up stepped Eric Dier to win it. Not a great penalty, but it went in. England had finally won a penalty shootout at the World Cup!

Comedy moment of the tournament: Michy Batshuyai. England and Belgium had both won their first two matches, making the last group stage game a playoff for who would top the group. Both sides made plenty of changes and Adnan Januzaj put Belgium in to the lead in the second half. As the Belgian players ran off celebrating, Batshuyai picked the ball out of the net and looked to kick it into the crowd. He succeeded in kicking the ball into the post and it rebounded into his own face.

Best thing about the tournament: Referees letting games flow. Tournaments tend to see a focus on certain things by officials and a flurry of cards, especially in the opening games. This didn’t happen at the World Cup, with players being encouraged to get back up. Players being allowed to decide games was very welcome and kept the flow of games going.

Worst thing about the tournament: Penalties. Some debatable penalties given by VAR (and others not given) and how long it took to take a penalty; the team who had conceded it seemed to spend forever debating it and putting off the penalty taker, with Colombia taking things a step further by roughing up the penalty spot. Just let them get taken please.

FMM18 World Cup Day 31

Read from the introduction.

Re-read the third place playoff between Belgium and South Korea.

It’s the final day of the tournament and there’s one game; the biggest game in world football. Re-read how Portugal and Italy reached the World Cup Final.

World Cup Final: Portugal V Italy

The current European champions take on the four-time winners on a warm, windy day in Moscow. The last three World Cup Finals have required extra time to settle the argument, with the previous two seeing no goals scored in normal time. The Final follows the pattern of the last two, with neither side able to find a goal. Ten minutes into extra time, there’s a goal; Portugal’s talisman Cristiano Ronaldo puts the European champions twenty minutes away from their first ever World Cup and the completion of a European/World Cup double. Italy go in desperate search of an equaliser and get one with eight minutes to go as Andrea Belotti pulls the Italians level. The seconds and minutes tick away and it’s going to penalties, something that the Italians have fond memories of from the 2006 World Cup Final. 120 minutes are on the clock and the referee is checking his watch. Italy have one final chance to win the game without requiring penalties and it falls to Belotti. He scores! In the final minute of extra time! Portuguese players slump to the floor, whilst the Italian team pile on to Belotti as the bench erupts. The game kicks off after fairly lengthy Italian celebrations, but Portugal have no chance to equalise and force penalties. Italy are champions of the world for the fifth time.

FMM18 World Cup Day 30

Read from the introduction.

The penultimate day of the tournament sees one game; re-read how Belgium and South Korea ended up in the penultimate match.

Third Place Playoff – Belgium V South Korea

Both sides need to pick themselves up after a two-goal Semi Final loss. The Third Placed Playoff is often described as the game that no-one want to be in and for Vincent Kompany, he’s only involved for three minutes before injury forces him to leave the field. Belgium shrug off the loss of Kompany and take the lead through Yannick Carrasco with 26 minutes on the clock. Belgium don’t add to their lead in the first half, but maintain it going into the break. They double the lead within a minute of the second half kicking off; Carrasco adds his and Belgium’s second. The situation is looking desperate for South Korea, but looks to become impossible in the 74th minute when Mousa Dembele adds Belgium’s third goal. Thomas Vermaelen is sent off in the 75th minute in another blow to the Belgium defence, but the ten men see out the victory to claim third place.

Find out what happens on Day 31.

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.

FMM18 World Cup Day 29

Read from the introduction.

There are no games today, so lets look at how Italy reached the final.

Group E: V Australia, 5-0 (Andrea Belotti (3), Claudio Marchisio, Leonardo Bonucci)
Group E: V Chile, 4-0 (Claudio Marchisio, Andrea Belotti, Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Petagna)
Group E: V Northern Ireland, 1-1 (Marco Veratti)
Last 16: V England, 1-0 (Andrea Petagna)
Quarter Final: V Argentina, 1-0 (Andrea Belotti)
Semi Final: V South Korea, 3-1 (Andrea Belotti, Roberto Gagliardini, Alessio Romagnoli)

Find out what happens on Day 30.

FMM18 World Cup Day 28

Read from the introduction.

There are no games today, so lets take a look at how Portugal have reached the final:

Group C: V Ghana, 5-0 (Andre Silva (3), Joao Mario, Andre Gomes)
Group C: V USA, 1-0 (Andre Silva)
Group C: V Ukraine, 0-5
Last 16: V Colombia, 1-0 AET (Andre Silva)
Quarter Final: V Iceland, 3-1 (William Carvalho, Raphael Guerreiro, Adrien Silva)
Semi Final: V Belgium, 2-0 (Joao Mario, Cristiano Ronaldo)

Find out what happens on Day 29.

FMM18 World Cup Day 27

Read from the introduction.

Re-read the Quarter Final matches for South Korea and Italy.

Semi Final – South Korea V Italy

18th June 2002, Daejeon World Cup Stadium, the Last 16 – South Korea knock out Italy in a controversial match. Now there’s a chance for Italy to gain revenge and secure a place in the World Cup Final. For South Korea, there’s the chance to appear in their first World Cup Final. Portugal await the victors. There’s no slow start to this Semi Final as Seung-Woo Lee puts South Korea into a sixth minute lead. Surely, albeit less controversially, history won’t repeat itself? The South Korean lead lasts until the 24th minute, when Andrea Belotti pulls Italy level. The scores stay level until the 38th minute, when a Roberto Gagliardini goal gives Italy the lead. Two minutes before the break, Kyung-Min Ryu is replaced by South Korea due to injury. The second half is less action-packed, with only one further goal being added; Alessio Romagnoli gives Italy a two-goal cushion in the 76th minute. There’s no way back for South Korea, especially after Heung-Min Son is dismissed in the 83rd minute.

Find out what happens on Day 28.

FMM18 World Cup Day 26

Read from the introduction.

Re-read the Quarter Final matches for Portugal and Belgium.

Semi Final – Portugal V Belgium

The opening Semi Final pits a team full of attacking players in Belgium against a team in Portugal with arguably Europe’s best ever player in Cristiano Ronaldo. It’s a big game for both nations, with neither having ever reached the final before. Nerves at this stage of the tournament are to be expected and it’s a relatively slow start. Danilo Pereira limps off injured for Portugal in the 39th minute, forcing them to make a change. The change instantly results in a goal – Joao Mario breaks the deadlock in the 40th minute to put Portugal into the lead. As the game progresses, Belgium’s urgency becomes greater. With ten minutes to go, Ronaldo ensures that the game is wrapped up for Portugal and that they will get the chance to play for the biggest prize in football.

Find out what happens on Day 27.

FMM18 World Cup Day 25

Read from the introduction.

There’s still one day to go before the first Semi Final. The Semi Final matches are:

Portugal V Belgium
South Korea V Italy

Who will make the final and who will lift the trophy?

Find out what happens on Day 26.

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 24

Read from the introduction.

There are no matches today, but plenty of thoughts following the Quarter Final matches. Although France and Argentina were knocked out, losing to Belgium and Italy respectively doesn’t make it too much of a shock. Portugal beating Iceland would have been expected by most people, even though Iceland have made pulling off shocks a habit. A Quarter Final of South Korea against Ukraine was surprising, with South Korea’s progression giving them a chance to better their 2002 tournament.

Find out what happens on Day 25.

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.

FMM18 World Cup Day 22

Read from the introduction.

Recap on the previous day of games.

Re-read how the teams won their Last 16 matches.

Quarter Final – South Korea V Ukraine

It would have been a brave person who bet on the opening Quarter Final match being between South Korea and Ukraine. Victory over Denmark secured Ukraine’s place, whilst South Korea pulled off one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history by beating Brazil. Hyun-Jun Kang goes off injured for the South Koreans in the 33rd minute. If it has an impact on them, it’s not a negative one – Sung-Yeung Ki puts them into the lead five minutes later, a lead they take into the break. They keep the lead throughout the second half, but are unable to add to it, so Ukraine are always in the game but unable to find a goal.

Quarter Final – Iceland V Portugal

Iceland were surprise Quarter Finalists at Euro 2016, whilst Portugal were surprise winners. The two meet in the Quarter Finals of the World Cup after Portugal beat Colombia and Iceland beat Russia in the Last 16. Birkir Bjarnason puts Iceland into the lead in the 18th minute. The score remains 1-0 at half time and Iceland are half way to claiming another prized scalp. Things don’t get any better for Portugal at the start of the second half as Fabio Coentrao leaves through injury in the 46th minute. Three minutes later, the scores are level; William Carvalho pulls Portugal level. Andre Silva leaves in the 52nd minute, joining Coentrao on the injury list. The third goal of the game comes in the 66th minute and it goes the way of… Portugal. Raphael Guerreiro is the man who puts Portugal into the lead. Atli Hrafn Andrason becomes the third player of the game to be forced off via injury in the 73rd minute as Iceland suffer this time. With time running out and Iceland throwing bodies forward in search of an equaliser, Adrien Silva puts the tie beyond doubt with Portugal’s third in the 86th minute.

Find out what happens on Day 23.

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 21

Read from the introduction.

Another day with no football. The Quarter Finals start tomorrow. The matches comprising the Quarter Finals are:

South Korea V Ukraine
Iceland V Portugal
France V Belgium
Italy V Argentina

It looks as though the top half of the draw is easier than the bottom half.

Read what happens on Day 22.

FMM18 World Cup Day 20

Read from the introduction.

It’s the first day without football and a chance to reflect on what has happened, particularly in the Last 16. The two favourites, Brazil and Germany, have exited the tournament. Germany’s exit at the hands of Argentina was perhaps understandable as two heavyweight clashed, but Brazil’s exit to South Korea was surprising to put it mildly. The tournament now seems wide open with the two favourites out, so who will go on to win the World Cup?

Find out what happens on Day 21.

FMM18 World Cup Day 19

Read from the introduction.

Recap on yesterday’s action.

Re-read the final games in Groups G and H.

Last 16 – Germany V Argentina

The final day of games in the Last 16 kicks off with a repeat of the 2014 final. And the 1990 final. And the 1986 final. As well as quarter finals in 2006 and 2010. So they’re familiar foes, albeit not this early in the tournament (excluding the group stage meetings in 1958 and 1966). The motivation for Argentina is avenging their loss four years ago (but can anything make up for losing the World Cup Final?), whilst for Germany it’s becoming the first team to retain the title since Brazil in 1962. Things go Argentina’s way in the first half and they take a 1-0 lead into the dressing rooms courtesy of a Sergio Aguero strike in the 26th minute. The second goal is always the crucial one and Lucas Biglia adds it with 20 minutes to go. Germany lose Tom Zeise to injury in the 73rd minute as they bow out surprisingly early.

Last 16 – Belgium V Uruguay

The final Last 16 match also sees a clash between a European and South American team, with Group G winners Uruguay taking on Group H runners-up Belgium. The Last 16 matches have been close, low-scoring affairs and this one proves no exception. Abel Hernandez is forced off with injury in the 33rd minute for Uruguay, but neither side is able to force a breakthrough before half time. Or full time. It takes 103 minutes for the scoring to be opened – Thomas Meunier being the man to find the back of the net and put Belgium into the lead. The lead lasts for 11 minutes before Diego Godin levels for Uruguay, taking the game all the way to penalty kicks. Belgium are immaculate from the spot and progress, winning the shootout 5-2.

Find out what happens on Day 20.

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.

FMM18 World Cup Day 17

Read from the introduction.

Recap on yesterday’s action.

Re-read the final matches in Group C and D.

Last 16 – Portugal V Colombia

After topping Group D, Colombia find themselves taking on Portugal in the Last 16. The first half is relatively quiet, although Portugal lose Joao Moutinho to injury in the 39th minute. The second half also produces no goals, so it’s the first game of the tournament to go to extra time. Andre Silva provides the breakthrough in the 100th minute and it’s enough for Portugal to progress through to the Quarter Finals.

Last 16 – Denmark V Ukraine

Topping Group C has resulted in Ukraine finding themselves against Denmark for a place in the Quarter Finals. Denys Garmash puts the Ukrainians into the lead into the 40th minute. It’s enough to not only give them the lead at half time, but also enough to see them through to the Quarter Finals as Denmark are unable to find a way past the Ukrainian defence.

Find out what happens on Day 18.