Russia 2018 – 1st Round Of Matches

We’ve had the opening ceremony, tested the VAR and had our chance to run our eyes over every qualified nation at this summer’s World Cup.

We’ve seen drab draws, deserved defeats and a genuine WC classic.

From rampant Russia to the organised Swiss we take a brief look at how each group is shaping up heading into the 2nd week at Russia 2018.

Group A

We all expected the Saudi’s to be making up the numbers in group A and their performance showed that they are still lacking at this level, Russia however surprised even their own. Many articles wrote off the hosts (including ours) but despite the opposition, they did a job on Saudi Arabia and scored some great goals to set the standard for the upcoming matches.

Egypt and Uruguay looked destined for the 0-0 that the Pharaohs arrived for. Leaving most attacking talent on the bench, they wanted to nick a point against Suarez and co. A late header from unlikely centre half Jimenez made Salah’s head drop but ultimately made him feel the pain that his coach’s negative tactics warranted.

Next up – Russia vs Egypt & Uruguay vs Saudi Arabia

Group B

Well well, Iran currently top a group containing the mighty Spain and reigning European Champions Portugal. A draw between the neighbours wasn’t an unsurprising result but Iran sneaking a late win over Morocco certainly was. The Moroccans will have banked on a winning start to give them momentum heading into clashes with the big two.

Spain and Portugal still heavy favourites to progress without incident.

Next Up – Portugal vs Morocco & Iran vs Spain

Group C

It started with France in all of their French ways. A tight 2-1 victory over the battling Aussies aided by both VAR and Goal Line technology, there is more to come from Deschamps men but they’ll need to improve quickly with the dangerous duo of Denmark and Peru to come. Speaking of the latter two, they played out one of the more underrated games we’ve seen. Peru blazed a penalty over the bar at a crucial time and the Danes took their chance when it came. Pardoned captain Guerrero came on to trouble Schmeichel over and over but you got a feeling it just wasn’t their day as the ball trickled past the post and cleared off lines.

Next Up – Denmark vs Australia & France vs Peru

Group D

The mighty Iceland strike again! Fresh from their Euro 2016 heroics, into their 1st World Cup and followed to Eastern Europe by a 10th of their population – they held their nerve better that little Lionel did from 12 yards. Croatia saw off the Nigerian challenge as expected, leaving the door a jar for Iceland to take it to the final game shootout with Croatia.

Next Up – Argentina vs Croatia & Nigeria vs Iceland

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Group E

A Kolarov stunner lit up and otherwise uneventful opener between 2014 surprise package Costa Rica and a potentially dangerous Serbia. Mitrovic spurned a few chances before a wonderful free kick from the skipper captured a crucial 3 points. In the other game, the Brazilian boys were met with Swiss steel. A Coutinho curler was cancelled out by a simple cross / header combination leaving Neymar frustrated and not just with amount of “treatment” he was receiving.

Next Up – Brazil vs Costa Rica & Serbia vs Switzerland

Group F

World Cup shock anyone? Germany 0-1 Mexico

A counter attacking and literally earth moving goal was enough for the Mexicans. A fine solo strike from PSV’s Lozano was enough to spark wild celebration back home, wild enough to register on the Richter scale! Germany huffed and puffed but couldn’t find the elusive equaliser despite 21 attempts and high levels of possession.

The turn up for the books allowed Sweden to take advantage with a narrow victory over South Korea, leaving the World Champions with a lot of work to do and potentially relying on results elsewhere.

Next Up – South Korea vs Mexico & Germany vs Sweden

Group G

Unlike every other group so far this one happened as it was supposed to. Belgium comfortably eased past Panama and Kane scored a double to wrestle 3 points from Tunisia.

This group will go down to the last game to decide top spot with the others fighting it out to go home with some pride.

Next Up – England vs Panama & Belgium vs Tunisia

Group H

We had a fair amount of late drama but this group opened up with plenty. Just 3 minutes in and Columbia were down to 10 men giving Kagawa an easy opportunity to get Japan off and running. A clever free kick deceived all in the wall but even a James-inspired Columbia couldn’t kick on and fell victim to a deadly set piece leaving them deflated and defeated.

Poland have turned themselves into regular qualifiers in the past few championships but you got the feeling they massively underestimated a Senegal squad filled with equally underestimated talent. This game showed that you can have a quality player such a Lewandowski but that can’t match a quality squad such as the Senegalese. They could surprise again just like back in 2002.

Next Up – Japan vs Senegal & Poland vs Columbia

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Russia have already laid a marker with another 3 goals and in turn sending Egypt back to the hotel to start packing.

Roll on the remainder of round 2!

Iceland vs Argentina image sourced from; www.goal.com
Senegal vs Poland image sourced from; www.totalsportek.com

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Russia 2018 – The World is Waiting

The wait is almost over, in just a few days World Cup 2018 will kick off with host nation Russia entertaining Saudi Arabia with the eyes of the other 30 competing countries watching on awaiting their chance to lay down an early marker in the competition.

We’ve looked through the squads, the stats and can provide our tips for the tournament.

Winners

For us it’s proving very difficult to look past Brazil, the 5 time winners boast Neymar, Firmino and Coutinho among their attacking threat. A favourable group draw and their tournament experience will stand them in good stead in Russia.

A tricky qualification was navigated with ease, Tite’s men finished 10, 13 and 14 points ahead of nearest challengers Uruguay, Argentina and Columbia respectively.

Despite them being prone to a big stage wobble in recent times (defeats to France, Holland and the famous 7-1 against Germany) we are backing the South Americans to wrestle back a trophy last won by them in 2002 and end the recent European dominance.

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Dark Horses

It seems like an obvious choice and maybe not even a dark horse shout but the Belgians look in terrifying shape.

A starting XI with a spine of Courtouis, Vertonghen, De Bruyne, Hazard and Lukaku will make any opposition re-evaluate their tactics.

Unbeaten in qualification with 28 points from 30, a record only bettered by current World Champions Germany and scoring a tasty 43 goals over the 10 games proves they are in great form.

A golden generation expected to impress and justify their world ranking of 3.

The only downside for us is the manager. It’s hard to imagine a footballing world where Roberto Martinez can add a Jules Rimet trophy win to his CV.

Belguim-Team

1st Plane Home

Now whilst they may not necessarily need a plane Russia is such a vast country that a lot of players may be taking long trips home after just the 1st week of their own competition.

Injuries mean that CSKA defender Viktor Vasin and key man Zenit St Petersburg’s Aleksandr Kokorin miss out. A late call up for a 39 year old Ignashevich indicate their struggles.

You’d fancy Uruguay to top Group A leaving 2nd place to be fought out by the hosts, an unknown Saudi side and a Salah inspired Egypt. The latter being our picks to sneak into the knockout rounds.

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Surprise Package

Any team that comes through South American qualifying cannot be underestimated. Add into this a victory over the French back in March and you have a side that could surprise and go a long way in this World Cup.

Columbia are the side we are talking about.

Their recently announced squad are littered with players from Munich, Milan and Barca.

James and Falcao will lead Los Cafeteros but will have the likes of Carlos Bacca, Davinson Sanchez and Juan Cuadrado backing them up, not to mention their wild fanbase!

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Top Goalscorer

We feel England could be coming home with a trophy this time around, Harry Kane is in with a great chance of returning with the golden boot to make up for losing his PL crown to Mo Salah.

England should progress through the group with a game to spare and you wouldn’t bet against Kane being on the scoresheet against both Panama and Tunisia.

Goals against the lesser opposition should rid the three lions of any nerves and lead them into the last 16 with a striker bang in form.

Captain Kane could notch 5-7 with relative ease over in Russia.

England v Turkey - International Friendly

Players Destined for the Post Tournament Move

We’ve picked out three to watch throughout the duration of the competition that appear destined for bigger things within the game.

Timo Werner – Germany

The young striker is currently starring for RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga.

In the Germany squad and whilst he may not feature prominently he’ll provide a good option from the bench. A potential replacement for Lewandowski should he leave Bayern as expected.

Leander Dendoncker – Belgium

One of the lesser mentioned Belgian galacticos is the Anderlecht defensive midfielder. Just the 4 caps to his name currently but making the cut ahead of the likes of Nainggolan shows a lot of faith.

Don’t be surprised to see top 10 PL side make a bid in August.

Kahraba – Egypt

Despite the reports Egypt are more than a one man team.

Kahraba is the nickname of 23-year-old winger Mahmoud Abdel-Moneim, who is currently on loan at Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ittihad from Egyptian giants Zamalek. In Arabic, Kahraba means electricity. He is a pacey direct winger and with the groups his nation find themselves in he could prove a vital part in navigating the Egyptians through to the knockout rounds.

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The stadiums are built, the friendlies are over and the stage is well and truly set.

We’re all hoping for a footballing summer to remember from Eastern Europe.

The world is waiting, World Cup 2018, let’s see what you’ve got!

The Brazil 2018 team image is sourced from; www.sportsbible.co.uk/football
The Belguim 2018 team image is sourced from; www.vivaonnews.com
The Russia flag image is sourced from; www.depositphotos.com
The Columbia fans image is sourced from; www.panamericaneworld.com
Harry Kane image is sourced from; www.metro.co.uk
Timo Werner image is sourced from; www.bundesliga.com

Europe vs The World – The Battle of the Best 11

With the World Cup just a few weeks away and with the best players on the planet preparing to lead their respective nations in Russia, we wondered what the best XI’s would look like if it was the EU vs. the rest of the world (ROW).

We have stuck purely to nationality and put aside their club’s locations, this way we get to keep Messi and Ronaldo on opposite sides!

Have a look, cast judgement over our sides and comment on who we’ve missed or who has no place on the pitch?

Europe XI

A strong Premier League spine to our European side with added La Liga flair.

De Gea, Kante, De Bruyne and Kane provide safe hands, phenomenal work rate, creativity and goals.

A defence made in Germany with Munich’s Hummels and Kimmich accompanied by Spain’s Alba and France’s Varane from La Liga.

Kante and new wonderkid – Asensio, in the middle with and amazing trio of Griezmann, De Bruyne and CR7 all in behind Harry Kane. Safe to say that any goal scored against the below World XI will be claimed by the Tottenham man. Now we’ve all seen Ronaldo’s tantrums when someone tries to take a goal from him!

Mentions for players missing out include Ramos, Hazard and the difficult omission of Kieran Tierney!

Onto the best of the rest World XI…..

World XI.jpeg

Perhaps unsurprisingly that the South American superpowers of Brazil and Argentina make up a good proportion of this side.

Roma’s wanted-keeper Allison has the gloves, with an interesting centre half pairing of the reliable Uruguayan Godin and solid Senegalese Koulibaly. Either side of these, there was a no contest in our eyes with Alves and Marcelo, serial winners and are both equally as good going forward as at the back.

The Midfield has been collated to counter balance their opponents. Casemiro and Vidal provide good distribution. Perhaps the most surprising inclusion of Naby Keita could be the key? The box-to-box midfielder who isn’t afraid of a challenge could nullify counter attacks.

Up top it was straight forward. Messi, Neymar and future Ballon D’or winner Mo Salah. Do we need to justify these selections? Thought not.

No Suarez, Cavani, Firmino or Sanchez – we felt they weren’t quite up to level we wanted to put against the Europeans this time.

Now remember that it’s never easy to throw out 22 options and be 100% correct, the teams are open to interpretation and change but we believe they are as close as can be.

Perhaps with all the glamour friendlies that go on pre, mid and post season we will get to see the best each side can offer – go head-to-head for a good cause and for the pure interest of every football fan around the globe.

Team images created with the Footballsilo App.

Scotland Manager – A Nation Awaits, A Nation Expects

Russia 2018 was supposed to be “This Time.” A slogan that the Scottish Football Association decided was suitable for the most recent qualifying campaign, they failed. So who knows what the PR team will come up with for Euro 2020? “Please god! This time, c’mon now it’s our turn” maybe?

Less than a week after the usual high expectation and coming up heartbreakingly short ,the SFA have decide to part company with Gordon Strachan.

There were no excuses because he didn’t have any left to give. Despite the supporting words of other fellow managers in the recent days, Strachan had used up all his lives and had to go.

The 2-2 draw in Slovenia saw the nation miss out on a World Cup playoff place by virtue of goal difference to Slovakia. Of course, the damage was not done in Ljubljana, but earlier in a campaign that had started so poorly.

His departure on the back of a phenomenal 2017 will at least see the Scots climb the world rankings to a respectable position of 29th.

Gordon-Strachan-Image

After nearly 5 years at the helm, Strachan walks away with a win % of 47.5 from his 40 matches in charge. He has a decent record against what you would consider tournament nations, no defeats to the likes of Poland, ROI, Croatia and Denmark, however – like many before him, it was the disappointments of the Georgia’s and Lithuania’s that saw him come up short.

But who can become the first Scotland manager since Craig Brown to get the team over the line?

It is THE question that will preoccupy the minds of Alan McRae, Stuart Regan and other SFA board members, the supporters and the journalists but it’s fair to suggest that with the floundering reputations of those in high profile Hampden positions on the line, it will not be a quick appointment.

Going by the bookies it is a straight decision between David Moyes and recently appointed Interim Manager Malky MacKay for the Hampden hot seat. Most Scots will be dreading either of these men being given a chance. It doesn’t have to be a Scot, especially when the current choices are so poor. Allardyce has ruled himself out, Prandelli has thrown his hat into the ring and they are dreaming if they think they’ll be able to prise Michael O’Neill away from Northern Ireland.

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Scotland need to heed the word from their own national anthem. Flower of Scotland urges them to “be the nation again” and this is exactly what is required. All they have to do is look at other home nations and they’ll quickly realise they are somehow being left behind.

Northern Ireland have recently given international call-ups to players from clubs such as Linfield, Dunfermline, Shrewsbury, Doncaster Rovers and Wigan. In Slovenia, Scotland had the luxury of two Champions League players sitting on the bench.

Wales have a slightly more “premier league” XI than the others, and of course the talent of Gareth Bale to call upon. However a couple of injuries / suspensions and they too are scrambling for replacements.

Strachan’s last excuse was that of “genetics.”

Well Gordon, we’re sorry point this out but the Ireland’s are hardly picking from a freakish gene pool nor have they a single player of anything approaching world class…both O’Neill’s took their teams to the Euros and both have made the play-offs for Russia.

The wait for tens of thousands of Scots to board planes destined for a major tournament continues, 20 years without appearing in World Cups or European Championships is agonising to say the least. The next man has a reasonable squad capable, he just needs to find the right results at the right times.

Gordon Strachan image sourced from; www.thesun.co.uk/sports/football
David Moyles and Malkay Mackay image sourced from; www.thestandard.co.uk

What Happened to the Netherlands?

South Africa 2010 and a resurgent nation with a 100% qualifying record arrive on the grandest stage in football, The World Cup Final. Albeit a game remembered more for unpunished tackles than skill or quality, you had a feeling that we were about to see one of the sports’ most recognisable nations go on and become a major force once again.

Euro 2012 saw a slump of epic proportions and 3 defeats in the group stage – in their defence it was a group-of-death scenario. Losing to Germany, Portugal and Denmark is no disgrace at this level.

They re-grouped and in Brazil finished a respectable 3rd under the guidance of inbound Man Utd manager LVG. Putting 5 past the reigning champions Spain and 3 past the host nation is no easy feat and it has to be remembered they were only denied a 2nd successive World Cup Final by a couple of spot kicks. In all you would have to agree, a major tournament record that most could only dream of.

Fast-forward to current times and in early 2017 this proud footballing nation are in total disarray!

The recent 2-0 defeat at the hands of Bulgaria was described as “the worst Dutch performance in 50 years.”

The Ornaje are currently 4th in their Russia 2018 qualifying group, only looking down on Belarus and usual “whipping boys” Luxembourg.

Head coach Danny Blind has been removed from his position leaving Fred Grim to take temporary charge, has there ever been a more aptly named caretaker manager?

Blind, father of Man Utd defender Daley, had lost 7 of his 17 matches in charge. The former international’s record was a contributing factor to missing out on an inflated Euro 2016 altogether.

Soccer WCup 2018 Bulgaria Netherlands

So what has gone wrong?

Well much-maligned former Man Utd manager Van Gaal got the squad to buy into his “philosophy” and the handover to Guus Hiddink was disastrous, this forced the men in orange to start again.

Take the formation, for example. Normally, the Dutch pride themselves on playing attacking football in a 4-3-3 setup. He implemented a 5-3-2 formation with the preference to play on the counter.

Their most recently named selections were missing the mainstays of Van Persie, Huntelaar, De Jong and Ron Vlaar from recent years. Their defence in particular lacks a leader with real experience, walking yellow card Bruno Martins Indi is their current and most capped centre half.

They are no longer feared on the international stage as the improving nations across the continent catch up to what is a questionable current squad. Unknowns from the Eredivise are only just winning their 1st international recognition’s in their late 20’s, far too late.

Surely we can’t see a nation such as this miss out on a 2nd major tourney in succession?

It is over to The Royal Dutch Football Association to identify a new manager to point Robben & co to Moscow.

Danny Blind image sourced from www.indianexpress.com/sports/football

 

Scotland 2018 – This Time?

Less than 2 months after Portugal were crowned Euro 2016 champions it’s already time to start a new qualifying campaign!

Given the excitement of having 4 home nations make it to France certainly put things into perspective for the Scots who were sitting at home, enviously watching everyone else having the time of their lives across the channel.

The only bright spark in their gloomy summer was Iceland shocking a continent and sending the Auld Enemy home a lot earlier than many had predicted.

The rest of the nearest and dearest Wales, Northern Ireland and ROI are now on a new level, they have tournament experience and are nations carrying a different expectation altogether.

The SFA have come up with the slogan of “THIS TIME.” for Russia 2018 qualifying group F, so is it to be long haul flights to Moscow or further glorious failure?

Scotland-This-Time

Scotland have been drawn with Malta, Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia and England. Even the staunchest supporter sat in the Hampden Park stands will concede that Sam Allardyce’s men will win the group and more than likely, at a canter. We all know where England’s failings lie and it’s not at this stage, in fact they may even be glad of having what should be 2 tough games. This is more than they have had in previous years in the run up to a tournament. A table topping England would leave the Scots fighting for the play off place in the table.

As much as both nations will be looking forward to these games in the calendar this is not where Scotland’s progress will be decided. The trips to Slovenia and Slovakia hold the key… They must not be repeats of Georgia 2007 or 2015!

The SFA have completed the 1st task in ensuring ordering of the fixtures reads well. Playing Malta and Lithuania back-to-back on two occasions gives good opportunity for 6 points at key times in the group. The England games fall in the middle and regardless of the results it should not damage any optimism or derail form, this leaves the BIG finish…

Slovakia at Hampden on 5th October 2017 and Slovenia away a few days later. These are the much heralded 6 pointers, although we think 4 would do and avoiding defeat in either is more than likely going to be a must.

30 points on offer over the next 13 months and we feel a total of 20 needs to be the aim. This is allowing for defeats to England and Slovakia along what we’re sure will be a bumpy road.

Can it be done with what is available we hear you ask? Well let’s throw out a few positives to add to the hope that is always present at the beginning:-

  • Scotland have a new star in Oliver Burke, a recent £13m transfer to RB Leipzig and comparisons to Bale will do for starters
  • Matt Ritchie has been a find, the Newcastle winger has taken to international football like a duck to water, he’ll be a key man
  • Leigh Griffiths is one of the deadliest strikers in Europe, we don’t care what anyone says he should be regarded higher than he currently is
  • They are blessed at left back. Robertson and Tierney = enough said
  • The potential XI below leaves out the likes of Wallace, Maloney, McArthur, McCormack and Rhodes

One major worry for those world -famous passionate fans is at centre half. Berra, Martin, Greer and Hanley can play well but can also provide heart palpitations from Dundee to Dumfries! Perhaps a “we’ll score 1 more than you” attitude may have to be adopted.

The potential Scotland starting XI with everyone fit and suspension free looks like a decent side to us;

Scotland-Starting-11

Let’s also note that wee Gordon needs to be fair with his team selection, just because you have inks to the Old Firm shouldn’t guarantee you a starting place. ALAN HUTTON we’re talking about you!

Difficult decisions are part of his job and this time out he needs to be firmer. Don’t attempt to squeeze Naismith in, if Fletcher isn’t scoring for Sheff Wed then don’t start him or McKay is playing mid-table SPL football then leave him out of the squad.

So let the touch paper be lit in Ta’Qali on Sunday evening and see what Strachan and his troops can deliver this time around.

Qualification gives hero status’ whereas failure leaves the SFA with no option but to begin a search for a new management team.

With good selections, belief and a bit of luck on their side it could very well be all aboard for Russia.

World Cup Finals 2018? Let’s hope so, The Tartan Army deserve a European adventure.

Scotland This Time Image Sourced from SFA Twitter; https://twitter.com/ScottishFA
Scotland Starting 11 Image Sourced from LineUp11 App