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.

Brazil-Team.png

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.

Russia-Flag-Image

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!

Columbia-Fans-Image

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.

Timo-Werner-Image

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

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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

England Manager – The FA have chosen

Precisely 25 days since Roy Hodgson sat in a post match press conference telling all of Europe that his time was up as manager of the England team, they have found his successor.

Just over 3 weeks since FA CEO Martin Glenn told everyone “we’re going to harness opinion and wisdom from the wider part of the game, it’s really important that we get this right. It’s really that we get England into a situation where we can build on the strength that we’ve got. I think we’ve got a lot of strength in this squad and taking it forward with the view to the World Cup in Russia. It’s important that we make the right decisions. So we will be canvassing opinions from former managers, current managers, clubs and players to make sure we get wisdom on to this area” to name their man.

It taken less than a month of “looking abroad”, “looking for the best person for the job” and “not ruling out a foreign manager.” To get as far as Sunderland…and appoint Sam Allardyce.

Mr Glenn himself has declared that he is “not a football expert” and whilst that is acceptable he is clearly attempting to rid himself of full responsibility if this goes wrong.

Sam-Allardyce-Image

Now it’s is obviously difficult to predict just how Big Sam will fare in the Wembley hot seat but it is at this stage easy to cast our opinion.

England have settled for what was available at the level they are currently operating on and off the pitch, mediocrity!

Having a look at the positives:-

  • Yes, England will be a more organised unit
  • Yes, England will be harder to beat
  • Yes, he may actually have the bravery to drop under performers not matter which club they play for
  • Yes, he may pick players that suit him and not sponsors or reputations (James Tomkins anyone?)
  • Yes, you would imagine “yes” is not a word he will utter to the top brass at the FA’s every request

Surely though…these are the basics of football management?

Is he even qualified for the job of National Manger?

  • No major trophy win
  • No trophy win since 97-98 (3rd division title)
  • A mere 33.6 PL win %
  • A total of 5 games managed against European opposition (1 win)

England’s failing have been in the cup competitions, they qualify relatively unchallenged from the seeded groups pre any major tournament. You just have to look at the 100% record pre France.

Taking a look at Bolton, Newcastle, Blackburn and West Ham under Allardyce’s command in the last 10 years hardly provides optimism.

Other than 2 League Cup Semi Final appearances where his sides have conceded a bucket load, he is a 3rd round exit specialist, bear in mind that most of these clubs would have entered at this stage and you have a manager who struggles to navigate through knockout football.

Club

Season League Cup FA Cup

Bolton

2006-07 3rd Round

4th Round

Newcastle United

2007-08 3rd Round

3rd Round

Blackburn Rovers

2008-09

N/A

5th Round

2009-10

Semi Final

3rd Round

SF – Conceded 7 to Villa over 2 legs

2010-11

3rd Round

N/A

West Ham

2011-12 1st Round

3rd Round

2012-13

3rd Round

3rd Round

2013-14

Semi Final

3rd Round

SF -Conceded 9 to City over 2 legs

2014-15

3rd Round

5th Round

Sunderland

2015-16

3rd Round

3rd Round

Manchester-City-Semi-Final-Image

Sam Allardyce it has to be said, is a fire fighter and perhaps that is just what the FA need to extinguish the flames created by a group of over-paid, under-performing multi-millionaires at Euro 2016.

There will be a good indication of his credentials very early on in his reign. England are arguably in their toughest qualifying group for a number of years with Slovakia, Slovenian and Auld Enemy Scotland to contend with.

However much the majority of the media dress this up as a fantastic appointment i.e. “how it’s just what England need” and with the  backing from the likes of Sir Alex and Jose etc etc. But let’s be honest…

IT’S ONLY SAM ALLARDYCE!

Sam Allardyce image sourced from; www.thetelegraph.co.uk
Manchester City Club Semi Final image sourced from www.thetelegraph.co.uk