World Cup Final: France

In this summary – The Rivals compare the pre-tournament outlook on Croatia with how they look coming into the Final and who can have an impact.

In one of the more predictable groups, France’s star-studded roster brings along with it the highest expectations they’ve had in quite a few years.

It’s safe to say they’ve met expectations, but these players could become legends in their country and kick-off an amazing decade in French football if their young core can come together and pull out a win for the French. They’d become heavy favourites to take the next one in 2022.

Antoine Griezmann – Coming off a 19-goal campaign in La Liga where his club finished 2nd place, the striker looks to build on the success he’s had in previous international duties, scoring at a rate of a goal every 2 games. Much more is expected of him this time around as he’ll be looked at as the main man on France’s front line.

His WC: Antoine has kept this pace going on football’s highest stage, chipping in with 3 goals in 6 matches, and doing exactly what he needed to do to get his team to the Final. A world-class player, Greizmann will look to contribute at least one more in Russia to bring the gold back to France and maybe even have his face put on a stamp.

Paul Pogba – Paul Pogba is expected to be the main man in France’s quest to take back their place as giants.

His WC: While Pogba hasn’t been a firecracker on the scoresheet, (0 goals), he’s been the main point man in the middle of the pitch, which is most important. He’s doing his job exactly as he should be. The spine of the French team has been strong to this point, and while he’ll have his hands full with Modric and Rakitic, he’s more than capable of winning that battle.

Kylian Mbappe – At only 19 years old, he was also one of the highest priced transfers on record, falling behind only his PSG teammate, and perennial Ballon d’or challenger, Neymar. While it’s not known exactly how involved he’ll be when the tournament commences, it’s intriguing to think of how potent this offense could be with him included. My prediction is, he’s going to play a lot, and bring it.

His WC: Well, I have to say I was bang on with this one. Mbappe has taken the world by storm, and it looks as if there’s nobody that can stop him. He’s made blazing runs, scored 3 goals from open play, and dazzled audiences. The Croatian defence is going to get a steady dose of Mbappe today, and they’ll be hard-pressed to stop him.


World Cup Final: Croatia

In this summary – The Rivals compare the pre-tournament outlook on Croatia with how they look coming into the Final and who can have an impact.

A squad often underestimated by World Cup predictors, Croatia boasts a midfield full of dominant, Spanish league players, and an attack that has some top class Italian league players – both factors in their dark horse status. After not making it to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa Croatia got back on track in Brazil in 2014 finishing 19th, their best finish outside of their 1998 3rd place finish in France. Can their elite and underrated talent carry them out of a competitive group into elimination games?

They have met expectations and far surpassed them, all at the same time. Coming from a 19th place finish in Brazil, Croatia has put it all together, melding a stout back line with what to me has been the best midfield tandem in the tournament with Rakitic and Modric, and topping it off with the clinical ability of Mandzukic. They’ve all shown up at the right time, and this World Cup may just be Croatia’s time.

Luka Modric – The main midfield man at Real Madrid, Luka Modric will be the heartbeat of everything that Croatia can muster up in Russia. One of the intangible players that every elite team seem to have amidst their midfield, Modric won’t necessarily be filling the score sheet, but his ability to dictate play and create link up passes that free the offence will be his contribution.

His WC: While we were dead on in predicting what Modric brings to this side (not that it’s hard to guess considering the player he is) where we missed out were his goals. Luka has gone on to score twice on his way to the Final and is the favourite to come out of it, win or lose, with the Golden Ball as the World Cup’s best player. He’s become a house-hold name for the fair-weather fan.

Ivan Perisic – Converting 11 goals in Serie A this season, Perisic evened that total with assists showing he can create as much as he can finish. A versatile attacking player who can take control of a game – with the striker options Croatia have, this could be a fun tournament for Perisic.

His WC: And what a fun tournament Perisic has had. He’s played the bulk of Croatia’s games, and contributed 2 goals. A sore spot for him would be missing a few golden chances, but it hasn’t mattered as they’ve made it to the Final anyway. Look for Perisic to atone for his past misses and pot a big one for his country today.

Andrej Kramaric – My dark horse player on a dark horse team, the 26-year-old striker from Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga could be the man to replace long servant and still potent target man and striker Mario Mandzukic.

His WC: Kramaric has definitely done his part for his country this World Cup, playing a total of 314 minutes coming into the final, and scoring 1 goal by his head. One of our dark horses coming into the tournament, he remains in that spot coming into the final where you can look to him to provide his team with a spark.

West Ham World Cup Group Stage Round Up

The World Cup group stage has concluded and for West Ham’s three club players representing there has been mixed success with their personal and team performances. And although there is just one Hammer moving on to the round of 16, there were some performances that deserve some credit.

Javier Hernandez – Mexico: Round of Sixteen
West Ham’s lead striker and fox-in-the-box has looked as authentic as ever for Mexico in their first two match. In their opening match Hernandez fed Hirving Lozano for a fantastic goal putting Mexico ahead and on their way to an unlikely 1-0 over reigning World Cup champions, Germany. He followed up this performance with the game winning goal in a 2-1 victory over South Korea.

Chicharito and his team collectively had a day to forget against Sweden, losing 3-0 in a match that became very interesting. If Germany had not lost to South Korea, Mexico would have not moved on despite their two wins. However the unlikely happened and Germany fell meaning Mexico would advance, finishing second place in the pool.

The emergence of Lozano has been terrific to watch, but all eyes have been on the now veteran, proven, would class striker that leads the team on the front line. Chicharito has inspired viewers from all over the world to support Mexico, not only with his performances on the pitch but with his emotions pre and post game. So proud to be singing his national anthem he has tears streaming down his face while singing along, and so proud of his teammates for beating Germany that again he was overcome with emotions, Chicharito is inspiring the Mexican movement and making Hammers’ fans proud, too.

Cheikhou Kouyate – Senegal: Finished Third in Group H, Did Not Advance to Round of Sixten
West Ham’s enigmatic yet polarizing midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate did not advance passed group play, ending the last hopes of an African nation in the round of sixteen. Senegal were in a competitive group that saw Colombia and Japan move on, while Poland and Senegal missed out.

Despite being named team captain before the tournament, Kouyate did not feature in the first match against Poland, and only came on as a sub against Japan. He did start in Senegal’s final match against Colombia, but Senegal failed to secure a point and were eliminated on fair play points as they were tied for points, goal differential and wins with Japan.

Kouyate looked lively on the ball and was actually tracking play well. He used his height to dominate aerial battles and closed down opponents rather quickly – something devoid of his play in recent games for West Ham. Kouyate’s World Cup hopes ended and unfortunately for West Ham fans Kouyate didn’t show much more than what he did in a lackluster West Ham season.

Lukasz Fabianski – Poland: Finished Fourth in Group H, Did Not Advance to Round of Sixteen
West Ham’s newest member finished strong for his country despite Poland’s surprisingly awful showing in Russia. Fabianski backed up Juventus’ Wojciech Szczesny for the first two matches, which resulted in a combined five goals against on six shots. Fabianski put up a three save clean sheet in his one start for Poland against round of sixteen member .

Fabianski looked great in his game. He made some tough saves that required some theatrical dives, but also commanded his box without hesitation, coming off of his line at ease. West Ham fans should take this performance as a huge positive as the 33 year old keeper looks spry and ready to take the number one job.

Overall it is a mixed bag of performances for West Ham fans to mull over. Chicharito has been one of the faces of the tournament on an unbelievable team. But, on the other hand West Ham fans are forced to say good bye to their other two members of the World Cup prematurely. I guess we’re all Mexico fans now, right?

Do Big Club Struggles Mean a Better World Cup?

An end of game goal from defender Marcos Rojo saw Lionel Messi’s Argentina team through the group stages of the World Cup. A team that boasts Messi, Dybala, Aguero, and Higuain shouldn’t have struggled against Nigeria, Iceland and Croatia but they did. As much as it took a toll on Argentina fans hearts, for neutral viewers this World Cup may be the best in recent memory, and it’s all about the open doors elite teams are leaving the underdogs – or rather the doors the underdog teams for smashing open.

As fun as the round of 16 should be, few days will have as much tension and excitement as June 25th – the day Iran almost topped Portugal and Spain. Group B, the Group of Death was aptly titled but for all the wrong reasons. Spain and Portugal were in hot water on the final day of group play with Iran threatening to not only eliminate one of the two Iberian footballing giants, but win the Group! The football gods would not allow this to happen, however the thrill of a no call red card, or un-disallowed goal made tuning in and switching between the two simultaneous games a thrilling experience.

Like group B, groups E and F are full of potential world class upsets. Group E had bookie favourite to win the World Cup Brazil slotted in alongside Serbia, Switzerland, and Costa Rica. Despite Keylor Navas, Costa Rica was written off from the start, and it was believed that while Brazil would easily grab top spot, the group would have an interesting battle for second place between the Serbians and the Swiss. Fast forward to the final day of group play and we see the likes of Brazil facing a real threat of missing the group stages by losing to Serbia and Switzerland. Although this did not happen, Costa Rica who was out of contention to move on had a terrific final game and fought back to earn a 2-2 draw against Switzerland.

Group F was similarly destructive to “safe” sports bets all over the world and exciting to onlookers around the world. Germany have looked less than their elite selves leading up to this World Cup and started off poorly by dropping all three points against Mexico and needing a stoppage time free kick winner to defeat Sweden. Germany’s disappointment has translated to Mexican and Swedish joy as the unlikely happened. Germany needed to win against South Korea after Mexico put up a shockingly bad performance in a 3-0 loss to Sweden. To shock the work Germany fell 2-0 to South Korea in a result that saw Sweden and Mexico move on to the round of 16 while the defending champions go home.

France has made it through the group stages, but has done so in unimpressive fashion. They narrowly defeated Australia in their opening match 2-1, a close 1-0 win over Peru, and a 0-0 draw with Denmark. No one would have predicted that such a young, talented squad would be challenged when it came to goal scoring. But, the struggles for France meant an underdog team like Denmark were able to shut them down with strong defensive play and escape through to the round of sixteen.

Denmark’s spot through group play is an example of what some might call a symptom of a better World Cup – underdog success. But, It is hard to say “better” since enjoyment is so subjective based off of national support of each viewer. If we look at this World Cup objectively up to to this point it is a more competitive tournament that has made matches that include teams like Iran, Morocco, Sweden, and Switzerland much watch viewing.

Realistically there have only been three big-dogs who have gotten to eat so far – Uruguay, Belgium, and England. Uruguay were tagged as the group A favourites and haven’t disappointed going unbeaten in group play and not yet conceding a goal. Belgium and England reside in group G together and have collectively put up 16 goals (8 a team) against Panama and Tunisia. Sure their competition hasn’t been great, but both teams looked comfortable so far, and just have each other yet to play to determine who takes first in the group. So, a massive accolade to the the less elite ranked teams; you are making this World Cup different and exciting, not the football superpowers.

What Russia 2018 is proving is that the gap between the world elite and the underdog countries is quickly closing. Does this mean it is a better tournament? Maybe not, but more exciting? Absolutely. What this World Cup should be remembered for (so far) is the smaller nations having success on the world stage, upsetting the heavy favourites along the way.

Mexico vs. Sweden is the Match of the Group Stages – 200takes

Mexico and Sweden are both poised for a gritty battle to see who will take top spot in Group F in a match with massive implications. Many underdog teams and outside threats are taking their chances to succeed in Russia 2018; Group F has provided two teams thriving on their underdog status and relishing the chance to make the round of 16.

For Mexico it is all about two guys – the veteran Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, and youngster Hirving Lozano. Chicharito boasts the been there, done that status of his 102 international caps, and the clinical-ness of his 50 goals for his country. Lozano scored the only goal in the first game upset win over Germany. Look for these two players to create an impressive strike force against the Swedes.

For Sweden its is about rock solid defense between Granqvist, Lindelof, midfield control in the hands of Emil Forsberg, and target-man finishing from Ola Toivonen. If the Swedish team can flow from defense through to their tall centre forward they could trouble the Mexican defense who have looked strong.

Nearly too close to call, a draw would incite the most chaos as it would force Germany to have to win their game against South Korea.

Are Russia The Real Deal? – 200takes

Russia have concluded their preliminary group stage play and are officially moving on to the round of 16 on home soil. Russia started their campaign with a bang, smashing Saudi Arabia 5-0 and taking it to Mo Salah’s Egypt 3-1. Despite their strong start Russia flopped against group leader Uruguay in a 3-0 defeat. The 35 minute red card was a massive factor but it was just not Russia’s day.

Sure, Russia drew the “easy” group but that consisted of one of (if not) the best players of last season in Salah, and the tied leader for most goals in World Cup qualifying in Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Al-Sahlawi (albeit in an easier qualifying group). The competition was still on paper world class, so credit has to be given to Russia there.

The disheartening news is that they faced real adversity once in this tournament and crumbled. They conceded a bad free kick and were scored on, hammered in an own goal, and took a red card in the first half alone. When the pressure was on they failed – So my final verdict is that if they score first they are the Real Deal, if not it’ll be early curtains for the home nation against Spain.

Keeper Cho Hyun-woo let Down by Lazy Penalty

In a close match, it comes down to a lazy, mistimed tackle that sees South Korea lose out on a sharing of points against Sweden in their World Cup opener. The real disappointing aspect of this game is that it all fell on Keeper Cho Hyun-woo’s shoulders to keep his team afloat after making an unbelievable save to in the first half and many more throughout the match.

Andreas Granqvist would step up and make no mistake on the penalty, converting in the opposite corner to that of where Cho dove. The Swedish captain went on to celebrate as if the tournament was won, as if the goal wasn’t a penalty, and as if he had scored it in a way that required more talent than the dead-ball gift that it was. Granqvist’s lack of humility of composure if indicative of Sweden’s game in this match.

Constantly crying to referee, demanding penalties, throwing tantrums in the face of the ref for free kicks, and harassing him up and down the pitch, Sweden may have won the match but it was hardly convincing and certainly was not in a manner that they can be proud of. South Korea had been first to many 50/50 balls, yet were punished when someone in blue and yellow would go flailing to the pitch on incidental or secondary contact to the ball.

Sweden not playing a prideful match will hardly matter to them at this point, as anything is currently possible in Group F with Germany losing their opener to Mexico. For South Korea, however there will be an uphill battle ahead of them if they want to make it out of the pool.

Should they collect some points in this match there are two things they need to do: move Heung-min Son to striker, and get more attempts on net. Moving Son to striker will physically adjust his mentality of play, making him feel less inclined to come back down the pitch and bring the ball forward. As South Korea set up their formation was a 4-3-3 with Son as a distinct left forward on the pitch. However, even with a left midfielder and leftback behind him on the pitch Son was constantly tracking back to pick up the ball to try and outlet play away from his end.

If Son is played up top S. Korea will immediately have an upgrade on striker, and any chances that do fall to the centre forward position will be in world class hands (or boots!). The fact of the matter is that Sweden had 15 shots with 5 on target, while S. Korea had 5 without any making it to the keeper. This isn’t good enough, frankly, and with much more challenging matches in their group with Mexico and Germany awaiting their matchups, South Korea needs to change their attack plan.

The lone bright spot in this match was the incredible play of Cho Hyun-woo. He is young, athletic, and was prepared for Sweden’s best in this match. He was left down by his defender and that is truly a shame. The entire team may not have deserved a win in this match but Cho definitely did.