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 6

Begin reading from the introduction

Recap on yesterday’s matches.

Re-read the last Group A matches.

Group H – Japan V Wales

Wales open their first World Cup finals game since 1958 against the team they will be expected to battling for third place in the group. Japan lose Daisuke Nagatomo to injury in the 8th minute, but it doesn’t have an impact on their defence, which holds firm. Whether it has an impact on their attack is open to debate, but Wales’ run at Euro 2016 was based on a miserly defence. It’s a point apiece, but both have the two favourites to qualify from the group to play.

Group A – South Korea V Russia

Another game with five goals. However, this one is the first that can accurately be described as a five-goal thriller. Jae-Sung Choe silences the crowd in the 14th minute by putting South Korea in the lead. Shock replaces silence in the 28th minute when Heung-Min Son doubles South Korea’s lead. Suk Hyun-Jun is replaced six minutes later after getting injured, but it doesn’t have an impact on South Korea; in fact, they extend their lead in the 58th minute through In-Jae Myung. With Russia sinking without trace, Alexandr Kokorin scores a consolation goal in the 69th minute. One minute later, it appears as though it could be more than a consolation goal as Vasily Berezutskiy pulls Russia to within one goal. However, they are unable to build on this in the last 20 minutes and although suffering a scare, South Korea hold on to record the victory.

Group H – Belgium V Argentina

The opening round of matches are completed with Belgium and Argentina playing their opening fixture in Group H. They have watched the other 30 teams play their opening game (Russia and South Korea have played two), but finally their campaigns are underway. Belgium make the better start, with Yannick Carrasco opening the scoring in the 8th minute. He adds his second in the 22nd minute and completes his hat-trick in the 30th minute. A Belgium win would not necessarily be a surprise, but few would have predicted them leading by three goals inside half an hour. Things get worse for Argentina in the 38th minute with the dismissal of Nicolas Otamendi. Belgium add a fourth in the 52nd minute, with Carrasco getting the final touch again. Argentina are reduced to nine men on the hour, with Facundo Roncaglia seeing red. Sergio Aguero pulls one back in the 66th minute, but Carrasco adds his (and Belgium’s) fifth in the 75th minute to complete the rout. If Carrasco can keep up that level of goal scoring, he’ll beat Just Fontaine’s record number of goals in a World Cup (13 goals in the 1958 World Cup) in the group stages and finish the tournament with 35 goals (assuming Belgium reach the final or third-placed playoff, which would surely be a formality when scoring at least five a game).

After the opening games in Group H, the table looks like:

Find out what happens on Day 7.

FMM18 World Cup Day 1

Recap on the groups

Group A – Russia V Zambia

The hosts kick off the tournament against Zambia. Hopefully, it’s a good omen for the tournament as the goals flow. Unfortunately for Zambia, they all go to Russia who run out convincing winners. Dzagoev gets the hosts off to a perfect start and Glushkov doubles the lead just before half time. Zobnin extends the lead nine minutes into the second half and two goals in two minutes (Dzagoev and Berezutskiy) ensure a Russian win. Zambia lose Basit to injury with 18 minutes left, but it’s only going to have an impact on future matches by that stage. The goal difference for Russia could certainly be useful if the group becomes tight, whilst the opposite will be true for Zambia. Whilst a tournament full of goals would be welcome, closer matches would be better.

Group A: Spain V South Korea

A game that’s much tighter than the opening game. Diego Costa scores the only goal of the game for Spain in the 21st minute. With 14 minutes to go, Seung-Min Kim receives the first red card of the tournament, dashing South Korea’s hopes of finding an equaliser.

Group A’s opening round of fixtures are complete on the opening day of the tournament.

Find out what happens on Day 2

Russia 2018 – Group A

Group A of the World Cup consists of Russia, Uruguay, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. It should be a group that all teams believe they can qualify from. Russia are the weakest of the top seeds, so the other countries in the group are likely to be happy with the draw. I think Uruguay will qualify as group winners, with second place being fought over. I think that the key game in deciding who joins Uruguay will be Russia V Egypt – Russia will join Uruguay in the Last 16.

Leave a comment with your prediction for Group A.

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

The Group of Death is…

Information about the groups (and my thoughts) can be found here.

After voting, leave a comment with why you voted for the group that you did.

World Cup 2018 Draw

The draw for the 2018 World Cup was made earlier today.

Group A: Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay

I would imagine that Uruguay are happy with their draw and will be favourites to qualify from the group. The other three teams will all believe that they have a chance of qualifying for the second round. I think that Egypt will qualify just ahead of Russia.

Group B: Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran

A group that looks quite straight forward; I would expect the Iberian neighbours to qualify from the group with relative ease.

Group C: France, Australia, Peru, Denmark

France will be favourites to qualify from the group and I expect them to do so. The other three teams will fancy their chances, but I think Denmark will finish as group runners-up.

Group D: Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria

An interesting looking group. The firepower of Argentina should see them through. The expectation would be for Croatia V Nigeria to be the game that decides who joins Argentina in qualifying from the group, but underestimating Iceland is never a wise idea… Having said that, I think Nigeria will qualify along with Argentina.

Group E: Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia

It’s difficult to see Costa Rica progressing from the group, but the same was said at the last World Cup and they qualified as group winners. Brazil will win the group and I think they will be joined by Switzerland.

Group F: Germany, Sweden, Mexico, South Korea

The Group of Death! Germany will be favourites to progress as group winners, something I am sure they will be keen to achieve as the runners up are likely to face Brazil in the second round. A strong case can be made for the each of the other three teams, but I think Germany will be joined Mexico.

Group G: Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England

A group that looks straight forward on paper, but (as the cliche goes) football is not played on paper. Belgium and England will be strong favourites to progress from the group. However, for all their talented players, Belgium seem to struggle as a team. England find it difficult to break down sides that defend deep and look for either a draw or a goal on the counter. I would expect Tunisia and Panama to play quite defensively against Belgium and England. I think the two European sides will progress, but not necessarily as easy as some are predicting.

Group H: Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan

A group that appears to be quite open. An argument for any combination progressing could be made, but I think Poland and Colombia will be the two sides to make it to the second round.

Leave a comment and let me know who you think will qualify from each group.

England 1-1 Russia

Despite dominating for much of the game (and certainly the whole of the first half), England conceded a stoppage time goal to record a draw in their opening fixture of Euro 2016. Hodgson selected a 4-3-3 formation of Hart; Walker, Cahill, Smalling, Rose; Dier, Alli, Rooney; Lallana, Sterling, Kane. Hodgson has often been criticised as a defensive-minded coach, but this was an attacking selection. England controlled the ball for long periods of time and should have had the game won by half time, but the final ball was lacking or the finishing was wayward. Russia started the second half better, but England were able to get back into the game and finally scored through an Eric Dier free kick from 20 yards. It looked as though it would be the winner until Russia scored their equaliser deep into stoppage time.

The attacking selection worked very well in the first half, but the team faded in the second half, with Lallana in particular noticeably becoming less involved. Sterling too often ran into dead-ends and when he did produce a cross, there was little to trouble the Russian defence. Kane continued on corners and delivery was generally poor. Hodgson was slow to make changes – replacing Sterling and Lallana could have helped bring back some of the energy that had been on display in the first half. Hodgson’s first change was to bring on Wilshere to help retain the ball after the goal and Rooney was taken off. I would have kept Rooney on; he had played well in the midfield and also had lots of experience (particularly in tournament football), which was lacking in the rest of the team. The England camp were keen to say there were lots of positives (and there were), but delivery in the final third and finishing need to be more clinical. England next match is against Wales, who currently top Group B, on Thursday.

What changes, if any, would you make for Thursday’s match against Wales and what would be your starting 11? I would start with a 4-4-2 diamond of: Hart; Walker, Cahill, Smalling, Rose; Dier, Alli, Wilshere, Rooney; Kane, Sturridge.

Euro 2016: Group B

The four countries in Group B are England, Slovakia, Russia and Wales. When the draw was made, it was seen as a good draw for England, with understandably much of the focus being on the England V Wales match on June 16th. Despite being seen as a good draw for England, I think it will be a tougher group than initially thought, particularly with the order of the fixtures. England’s first game is against Russia, who often start tournaments very well. The game against Wales was always going to be a tough one because of the rivalry between the two countries and Slovakia will provide the final test; with the potential of three teams going through from a group, there is likely to be plenty to play for and Slovakia should certainly not be underestimated, as a 2-1 victory over Spain in qualifying and a recent 3-1 victory over Germany (in very wet conditions in the second half) demonstrated. Despite the tests, I think England will be able to qualify from a keenly contested group. I would expect Russia to have enough to join England in qualifying for the group, although if Wales remain tight in defence and Bale produces some magic going forward, they could pose a great threat.

Predicted final table:

1. England
2. Russia
3. Wales
4. Slovakia

Question Time: 12/2/15

The first question was about tax avoidance and whether it is morally acceptable. Armando Iannucci made the point that some businesses had got off lightly in avoiding tax in the past. Sarah Wollaston said that there is a moral obligation to pay tax and that avoidance and evasion were different things, with evasion being an aggressive attempt to avoid paying tax. Ed Davey used facts to show how well the government has done in recouping tax money, whilst saying how wrong it was. Chris Bryant argued that more people are tackling benefit fraud than tax evasion and pointed out that not everyone does it. Suzanne Evans agreed that not everyone does it and that political parties spend too much money. A member of the audience hit upon the key point, saying that this has only become an issue due to the election. Tax evasion has been tackled, but more still needs to be done. As it moved onto party political funding, the parties all looked to score points off of one another and the money received from their donors.

The second question asked if the West is appeasing Russia. Ed Davey said that the sanctions were sufficient and the efforts of Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande were the right way to go about things. He also looked to score points off UKIP by arguing that Britain’s position is enhanced by being in the EU. Suzanne Evans argued it is common sense instead of appeasement, with Russia’s forces being far larger. She also said that the EU had provoked Putin. Chris Bryant said that the EU has not provoked Russia, but that there has been appeasement of Russia. Sarah Wollaston described it as bullying and that no-one would want to be involved in a conflict with Russia and that as a result, sanctions are the way forward. The questioner said that the actions of the West may have been seen as appeasement by the Russians. Armando Iannucci agreed with sanctions, citing that those imposed on Iran have seen success in opening negotiations; he suggested extending the sanctions.

The third question asked about Labour’s pink bus ahead of the election. I think it’s a very strange idea that only a pink bus can be selected to encourage women to become involved in politics. My view on the pointlessness of it seemed to be reflected across the panel, although Chris Bryant argued that pink is just a colour and that lots of women did not vote in the last election. The argument also touched on lowering the voting age to 16 and getting young people to vote.

The fourth question asked if A&E patients with trivial injuries should be charged. Sarah Wollaston said no and that it would not raise much money, whilst putting people at risk. Suzanne Evans agreed with her and outlined some UKIP proposals for the NHS ahead of the election. Armando Iannucci argued that they could be fined, but they would still have to be treated. The questioner said that his question was based around people taking responsibility for themselves as opposed to saving or raising money. Ed Davey was against fines, arguing that people could be educated about other options; this was immediately tackled by an audience member, who said that getting an appointment to see a GP is difficult and they often refer to A&E. Chris Bryant argued that there were lots of different aspects causing problems in A&E.