Tag Archives: America

The Knockout Rounds Preview

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That certainly was an exciting Group Stage. There were blowouts, shutouts, high scoring games, and low scoring games, and that was all in just Group G. Favorites crapped the bed (looking at you, Spain), underdogs pulled off surprising and unlikely victories (nice job, Nigeria, Greece, Costa Rica) and there was craziness throughout. Luis Suarez even got so hungry during a game that he had a bite of Italian food. Of course, that “Italian food” was really the shoulder of Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini, but still.

In my pool, I came in second, losing narrowly in a competition that went down to the wire. In the end, I ended up losing on that horrible play by Ivory Coast when they fouled someone on Greece INSIDE THE PENALTY BOX, DURING EXTRA TIME, DURING A TIE GAME, WHEN ALL THEY NEEDED TO ADVANCE WAS A TIE!!!!! I mean, how stupid can you get?!?!?! In case you hadn’t noticed, I may be a little bit bitter about that.

Anyways, I figured that, rather than rehashing my picks again, I’d preview each match in the knockout rounds, along with my picks for each game, all the way to the championship game.

Round of 16:

Brazil vs. Chile:

Chile plays a frenzied and energetic style that often leads to high scoring games, either because they score a bunch of goals, or give a bunch of them up. Their game against the Netherlands was huge because the loser had to play Brazil, the favorite to win the tournament, while the winner got to play Mexico, a much easier opponent. Chile lost, 2-0, so here they are.

Brazil didn’t look very sharp in its first two games, but really rounded into form against Cameroon, winning 4-1, showing that they deserved the pre-tournament status as the favorite.

As you know, I like South American teams a lot, but, since both teams are from South America, there’s no advantage for either team. Although I like Chile a lot, I think Brazil has more than enough to beat them.

THE PICK: Brazil

The Netherlands vs. Mexico:
Mexico is a pretty good team. They drew an easy group, and took advantage of it, beating Cameroon 1-0 (should have been 3-0), beating Croatia 3-1, and tying the tournament’s favorite, Brazil, 2-2. Outside of a shaky few months during qualifying, Mexico has been a pretty good team for a few years.

The Netherlands have been one of the surprise teams of the tournament. In the tough Group B with three very good teams, most people (including me) predicted that the Netherlands would be the odd team out. Instead, they won their group in resounding fashion with the maximum nine points. They were the first to show the world that Spain was no longer a very good team, winning 5-1, regressed slightly against Australia, winning 3-2, before easily beating Chile 2-0, to capture first place.

The Netherlands have Robin van Persie, ripped through a tough group, and have been playing very well. Mexico did well in an easy group, and have been playing very well for three games. Although it’ll be closer than expected, the Netherlands should beat Mexico with relative ease.

THE PICK: The Netherlands

Columbia vs. Uruguay

Uruguay beat England and Italy, two good teams, with Luis Suarez. Without him, they lost 3-1 to Costa Rica, a team that is generally not considered to be among the soccer powerhouses of the world. Luis Suarez makes a huge difference for this Uruguay team, and without him, they’re crippled. After the biting incident, FIFA banned Suarez for the next nine matches (and four months), meaning that he’s out for this game, along with the rest of the World Cup.

Columbia ripped through a creampuff group, with a combined score of the three games of 9-2. Because of their easy draw, no one is quite sure how good Columbia is. Uruguay was supposed to be that test, but it seems as though it’s not meant to be. If they advance and Brazil doesn’t get upset by Chile, Columbia should be able to test their mettle against the Brazilians.

With Suarez, Uruguay would be a trendy upset pick to defeat Columbia. Without him, they have next to no chance. Columbia should easily defeat Uruguay.

THE PICK: Columbia

Costa Rica vs. Greece

Greece only advanced because of a brain fart by the Ivory Coast. A Greek player was fouled inside the box in a tie game in extra time, needing a victory to advance. They scored on the penalty kick and advanced.

Costa Rica took advantage of the weakened Uruguay team when they didn’t have Suarez, barely beat Italy, and tied against England. Although they’re probably better than what they were originally assumed to be, they’re still not a great team. Of course, the lucked into an easy matchup, so they’ll continue to seem like a better team than they are.

In the most underwhelming matchup of the knockout rounds, Costa Rica should beat Greece, continuing its Cinderella run for at least another round.

THE PICK: Costa Rica

France vs. Nigeria

Nigeria is not a particularly good team. It was good enough to advance, but that’s largely due to being in an easy group alongside Iran, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Argentina, not because of their own talent.

France, after years of disappointing showings by their national team, destroyed Honduras and Switzerland, 3-0 and 5-2, respectively, before tying Ecuador 0-0 in a game that they didn’t care much about.

France has looked dominant so far and against a weak opponent in Nigeria, they should easily advance.

THE PICK: France

Argentina vs. Switzerland

Switzerland, despite being ranked in FIFA’s top eight, is not a great team. It escaped against Ecuador, was whipped by France, and easily dispatched Honduras. They’re not a bad team per se, but when compared to other teams in FIFA’s top eight, Switzerland is found sorely lacking.

Argentina didn’t play very well in the Group Stage, despite being in an easy group. They won all three games, coming away with the maximum nine points, but never really dominated, only winning each game by a single goal. Still, they have Lionel Messi, the best player in the world, and in the end, that’s really all that matters.

Switzerland will show why it shouldn’t be considered a top eight team worldwide, Messi will continue to be Messi, and Argentina should easily advance.

THE PICK: Argentina

Germany vs. Algeria

Algeria was considered to be the worst team in the tournament but somehow managed to advance because of their easy group. Outside of an explosion against South Korea in which they scored four goals, they have mostly looked like the team people thought they were at the start of the tournament.

Germany was my pre-tournament pick to win it all, and, on the whole, they’ve largely vindicated my prediction. They dominated Portugal (albeit a ten-man one), tied Ghana, and beat the United States.

In a game between one of the best teams in the tournament and one of the worst, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a huge blowout by four goals, but Germany should dominate Algeria with ease and move on to the quarterfinals.

THE PICK: Germany

Belgium vs. United States

The United States have looked very good so far. They beat Ghana, dominated Portugal for most of their game, and played Germany tough. With the rising interest in soccer throughout the United States, they’re going to have the whole country behind them.

Belgium, although it advanced with nine points, did not play well. They won 2-1 against Algeria before winning consecutive 1-0 games against Russia and South Korea. They should have dominated in an easy group, but did not do as well as they should have.

Call me a homer, but I haven’t made an upset pick yet, and I think the United States has a better chance than most underdogs to upset their opponent to advance to the quarterfinals.

THE PICK: United States

The Quarterfinals:

Brazil vs. Columbia

Columbia, although less heralded than Brazil, is a very good team. Unfortunately for them, Brazil is a superior team to them on a neutral pitch. When they’re playing in Brazil, in a stadium with thousands and thousands of Brazilian supporters cheering on their team, I can’t imagine that Columbia manages to overcome the overwhelming home field advantage of the Brazilians.

THE PICK: Brazil

The Netherlands vs. Costa Rica

Here’s where Costa Rica’s Cinderella journey comes to an end: against a superior team that isn’t weakened by injuries that has rolled through its competition so far. It would be a huge upset for Costa Rica to play on an even level against the Netherlands, let alone defeat them.

THE PICK: The Netherlands

France vs. Germany

France has looked like a great team during this World Cup. They’ve looked like they deserve to be in the first tier of favorites, alongside Germany, Argentina, and Brazil, after dominating . However, they have yet to play a team that’s half as good as Germany.

Germany, on the other hand, has played some tough teams in Group G, and despite advancing past Algeria in an easy win, has proved itself worthy of the title “co-favorite”. Their run won’t stop against France, and Germany should continue to advance.

THE PICK: Germany

Argentina vs. United States

The United States have played well so far. They beat Ghana, dominated Portugal before tying them, played Germany tough, and beat Belgium. Still, they have yet to see an individual player as dominant as Lionel Messi, nor a team as good as Argentina (I think that Germany is slightly worse than Argentina). Their run to the championship game should fall short in the quarterfinals against Argentina.

THE PICK: Argentina

The Semifinals:

Brazil vs. Germany

While Columbia is a very good team, it’s clearly not on the level of Brazil. Germany is a different story. Germany, while slightly inferior to Brazil, is an elite team. This is the game where I think that home field advantage will turn out to be a curse for the Brazilians. I talked about this more in The World Cup Preview (go read it), but I believed then and I believe now that both the social and political pressure on the Brazilian team will finally make the team collapse. I figured that the pressure wouldn’t matter against inferior opponents, but Germany is on Brazil’s level. I thought then that the team that beats Brazil would be Germany, in the semfinals, and I still believe that.

THE PICK: Germany

The Netherlands vs. Argentina

Argentina will make it to the semifinals because their quarter of the bracket is the weakest one, alongside the quarter that the Netherlands is in. Argentina is a team that needs Messi to be incredible every game and to be otherworldly against good teams.

On the other hand, the Netherlands has a multifaceted attack, speared by Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie. This attack dominated Group B, winning all three games with a couple of resounding victories. In this game, at least, the Netherlands has the advantage, and will likely be rewarded with a second consecutive trip to the World Cup Finals.

THE PICK: The Netherlands

The Third Place Game:

Argentina vs. Brazil

Both teams rely on an elite attacker (Messi and Neymar, respectively). Both teams are not as deep overall as some other teams. Both teams are South American. There are a lot of similarities between these two sides.

In this potential match, the most important factor is the reaction of Brazil (not the team, the country) to their loss to Germany in the semifinals. Do they support the team? Are they disappointed or angry, further exacerbating the cracks in the team’s foundation? That question will determine the results of this match.

In the end, I’ll have to lean towards Argentina. I think that the Brazilian fans will be devastated by the loss and will blame the team for the government’s lavish spending on hosting the World Cup. Of course, I could be completely wrong as I’m not exactly an expert on the reactions of South American fans to brutal losses to their national soccer team, but this is my column and my picks, so you’re just gonna have to roll with it. Okay? If you disagree or just want to lob insults at me, just head over to the comments section to voice those complaints.

THE PICK: Argentina

The Championship Game:

The Netherlands vs. Germany

The famed home field advantage of the South American teams won’t come into play in this scenario as both teams are from Europe. This scenario will result in the first time a European team wins a World Cup on South American soil.

Germany is deep throughout its roster, with players young and old melding seamlessly into an elite team, the best offensive team in the world, and a member of the Elite Three (no longer the Elite Four after Spain’s demise).

The Netherlands is a little more top heavy than Germany, but still has a relatively even roster. It’s got elite players in van Persie and Robben and was good enough to dominate in a Group of Death and to advance this far in my predictions. Still, I think that for the second straight World Cup, the Netherlands will fall short in the Finals.

THE PICK: Germany

No matter what happens, it’ll be great to watch the best teams in the world go head to head in the battle for supremacy and I, like the rest of the world, can’t wait to see it.

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World Cup Recap: Second Games

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With the USA-Portugal game bringing an exciting close to the second game for each team in the Group Stage, it’s time to look back and see how the picks are doing, as well as pointing out a couple of important storylines to watch that could be huge if the right dominoes fall.

Speaking of the USA-Portugal game… Damn it! That goal with thirty seconds left in extra time… How did the USA not hold them??? I’m writing this ten minutes after the game ended, and it hasn’t quite sunk in. Later on, in the Group G section, I’ll explain the ramifications of the tie.

By the way, if you haven’t already, check out https://sushionsports.wordpress.com/2014/06/13/the-world-cup-preview/ for the World Cup Preview and https://sushionsports.wordpress.com/2014/06/20/world-cup-recap-first-games/ for the recap of every team’s first game to ensure that you’re not totally lost as we head through this article.

Group A:

My Picks:

  1. Brazil
  2. Mexico
  3. Croatia
  4. Cameroon

Brazil 0-0 against Mexico

Croatia 4-0 over Cameroon

After their 0-0 tie, Mexico and Brazil are tied atop the group. This is a big problem. Remember the game that Mexico won, 1-0, against Cameroon? In that game, Mexico should have won 3-0 because of two bogus offsides calls that the referee screwed up. This would normally be fine except for one thing: goal differential. Let’s say Brazil beats Cameroon (very likely) and Mexico beats Croatia (probable). Let’s say that each team wins their game by one goal. In that scenario, Mexico and Brazil would be tied for first place, except that Brazil would win first place because they had a +3 goal differential after beating Croatia by two, tying Mexico, and, in this scenario, beating Cameroon by one. Mexico would have a +2 goal differential because they beat Cameroon by one, tied Brazil, and beat Croatia by one. This would result in Brazil winning the tiebreaker over Mexico and taking first place in Group A. There’s just one problem: if that referee hadn’t screwed up those two offsides calls, then Mexico would have a better goal differential than Brazil, would have, in a huge upset, won the group, and would have faced second place in Group B (the loser of Netherlands-Chile). There would be rioting on the streets of Mexico. Of course, this scenario may not end up happening, but if it did, FIFA would have a lot of explaining to do.

My picks are very likely to be perfect. It’s almost guaranteed that Brazil beats Cameroon, clinching Cameroon last place and giving Brazil the inside track to first place. Croatia needs to win and it moves into second place, while Mexico just needs to hold Croatia to a tie in order to keep second place in order to move on to the knockout rounds.

Group B:

My Picks:

  1. Spain
  2. Chile
  3. Netherlands
  4. Australia

Chile 2-0 over Spain

Netherlands 3-2 over Australia

Well, this group, one of the craziest groups in the World Cup so far (them or Group D), has lost almost all of its’ intrigue. The top two and bottom two spots are decided. Spain and Australia are both 0-2-0, tied for last place, each with zero points. The upcoming game between them is interesting because it’s a chance to see whether or not tiki-taka and the Spanish soccer dynasty are truly gone. It’s understandable that Spain may have gotten worse and moved down a level, and then, accordingly, got destroyed by two superior teams. However, if they lose to Australia, one of the worst teams in the tournament, then it’ll be clear that Spain is done. Those are the stakes for this match.

The other match, between Chile and the Netherlands, has more immediate importance. The winner of the game wins the group. If they tie, the Netherlands wins the group because of goal differential. Assuming that Brazil wins Group A, (as we talked about earlier) the loser of this match will have to go play Brazil, where they’ll be an overwhelming underdog against the best team in the tournament. The loser will get to play Mexico, or less likely, Croatia, a much easier task.

For my picks, it’s quite simple: Spain needs to beat Australia (because if they lose, Australia goes ahead of them, and if they tie, Australia wins on goal differential) to finish third, and the Netherlands cannot lose to Chile; otherwise, they take first place.

Group C:

My Picks:

  1. Colombia
  2. Ivory Coast
  3. Greece
  4. Japan

Colombia 2-1 over Ivory Coast

Greece 0-0 against Japan

Colombia has complete control of this group and will win it unless something crazy happens. For Columbia to come in second, they would have to lose to Japan, Ivory Coast would have to beat Greece, AND the four goal advantage that Columbia has over Ivory Coast would have to be erased. As I said, it’ll take something crazy and pretty much unprecedented for Ivory Coast to win the group. Greece tied Japan so they’re tied for last place with one point apiece. To finish third, Greece needs to win and have Japan tie or lose, or tie and have Japan lose. I suppose that they could also win by three (or one) while Japan wins by one, but that’s highly unlikely. Luckily, Greece is playing Ivory Coast while Japan is pitted against Colombia, so Greece is more likely to tie or win than Japan is. Of course, Colombia is almost guaranteed first place, so they may not be playing as hard as they could, while Ivory Coast will be doing its’ best to lock up a spot in the knockout rounds. This is too confusing. Let’s just continue with Group D.

Group D:

My Picks:

  1. Uruguay
  2. England
  3. Italy
  4. Costa Rica

Uruguay 2-1 over England

Costa Rica 1-0 over Italy

Well, this was a disaster. England flopped, Costa Rica decided to be really good, and Uruguay didn’t have Luis Suarez, only its’ best player, for their match against Costa Rica, which they lost. Costa Rica will almost certainly take first place, barring a historic meltdown. England cannot advance, although they could, potentially, make it to third place, which would at least give me a point. The winner of Uruguay-Italy moves into (almost certainly) second place and will head across the bracket to face (highly likely) Colombia. If Italy and Uruguay tie, Italy moves on, based on goal differential, as they lost to Costa Rica by just one goal, as opposed to Uruguay’s two goal defeat. For Uruguay, their game is a win and in. I’ll be cheering for them desperately. If they win, I salvage a point, Italy will likely move into third place, getting me another three points, and, on top of that, I picked Uruguay to be the runner-up, losing to Germany in the Finals so, although that almost certainly can’t happen anymore (because they’ll be on the same side of the bracket as Germany if they come in second place and Germany comes in first) but at least it’s not as bad as saying that your runner-up pick flamed out in the group stage. Anyways, this is making me sad. Let’s move on to Group E!

Group E:

My Picks:

  1. France
  2. Ecuador
  3. Switzerland
  4. Honduras

France 5-2 over Switzerland

Ecuador 2-1 over Honduras

These picks aren’t too bad. France is almost a lock to come in first. Honduras is almost a lock for last. The intrigue comes with the middle two teams. Switzerland is likely to advance because, although they’re currently tied in points, Switzerland gets to play Honduras, while Ecuador has to play France. Still, if France doesn’t play as hard as they could and Honduras rises to the occasion, then Ecuador could capture second place. Unfortunately for me, although it could happen, it’s not likely. Wow this is a dull group. I don’t have anything else to say. There’s really not much interesting to talk about over here. I suppose we should just talk about Messi and Argentina instead.

Group F:

My Picks:

  1. Argentina
  2. Bosnia and Herzegovina
  3. Nigeria
  4. Iran

Argentina 1-0 over Iran

Nigeria 1-0 over Bosnia and Herzegovina

Argentina has looked startlingly weak this World Cup. They haven’t looked like a member of the Elite Four that I mentioned in the World Cup Preview column. Then again, nor have Spain. Huh. This really has been a weird World Cup. Anyways, Argentina only beat Bosnia and Herzegovina by a goal, and it took a clutch goal by Lionel Messi a minute into stoppage time to escape Iran. They really have not looked sharp. At least they lucked into an easy group like Brazil did, so their flaws aren’t as evident. Of course, look at Spain. They got stuck with a tough group and got destroyed. Brazil and Argentina should be worried that that’ll happen to them too, except on an even bigger stage during the knockout rounds, with the whole world watching. The possible decline of Argentina is a huge factor to watch. Bosnia and Herzegovina (Can I call them B&H for shorthand? Wait… That’s either a camera store or a bagel place. Damn it! The world needs to come up with a good abbreviation for Bosnia and Herzegovina) are eliminated from the tournament after their loss to Nigeria, so I can’t get that pick perfect. It seems likely that Bosnia and Herzegovina and Nigeria will switch places so, at the very least, I’ll gain a point from each of them.

Group G:

My Picks:

  1. Germany
  2. USA
  3. Portugal
  4. Ghana

Germany 2-2 against Ghana

USA 2-2 against Portugal

Let’s start with the game less likely to get me angry: Germany-Ghana. Ghana managed to hold on and tie Germany, keeping them alive, barely. Now for Portugal-USA. Ugh. I watched the game, and watched with pure horror as the shot from Graham Zusi looked to be going wide. Then, as quick as could be, that horror turned to elation as I realized “Hey, wait a second… THAT’S A PASS” before the house erupted with roars of triumph. Of course, none of that compared to the feeling that we had been robbed after Ronaldo made a beautiful pass with thirty seconds left that resulted in a header, slipping past Howard for the deciding goal. Damn it! Anyways, the USA is still in good shape. If they tie or win their game against Germany, then they’re in. If they lose, then it gets trickier. If the United States loses to Germany, then they’ll need for either Portugal to win (as long as it’s not by four goals or more) or for there to be a tie. If Ghana wins, then it gets even trickier. If Ghana wins by more than one goal, they’re in and America is out. If they win 1-0, America is in. If they win 2-1, then the two teams draw lots to see who advances. If Ghana wins 3-2 or higher, then Ghana advances. Regardless, I’ll be cheering for Portugal and the USA, although I’ll try to keep it a secret that I’d actually prefer for there to be a tie or a Germany win. Of course, since Germany is so good, that shouldn’t be much of a problem. No matter how good the United States has looked, they still can’t play with the best teams in the world.

Group H:

My Picks:

  1. Belgium
  2. Russia
  3. South Korea
  4. Algeria

Belgium 1-0 over Russia

Algeria 4-2 over South Korea

Belgium is almost guaranteed to take first place. Other than them, this group is up for grabs. Algeria currently is in second place and has good goal differential, giving them an advantage over South Korea and Russia. If Algeria ties Russia, then they clinch second place. Belgium will still be playing hard to at least get a tie so they can stay in first and avoid (probably) Germany in their first game of the knockout rounds, so South Korea doesn’t have an advantage there. If Algeria loses to Russia and South Korea beats Belgium, then Algeria falls to last place with three points, while Russia and South Korea would be tied for second with four points. Russia has a one goal advantage against South Korea so South Korea would need to beat Belgium by one more goal than Russia beats Algeria by to win the tiebreaker by having scored more goals. Still, they would have to do it against the Belgians, Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, and Thibaut Cortois, so it’s not particularly likely. Russia seems to have the inside track to the second place spot, while South Korea is likely to finish third. Here, at least, my picks seem to be in reasonably good shape.

Anyways, the upcoming games should be incredibly exciting. Each group has its’ two games playing at once so, at about the same time, each group will be decided. I am psyched, and it’ll be great to cheer on Team USA against Germany. U-S-A! U-S-A! Enjoy the games, everybody, and thanks for reading.

World Cup Recap: First Games

 

With Russia-South Korea bringing an end to the first games for every team in the World Cup, I figured that it’d be a good thing to take a quick jaunt through the sixteen games played and to check up on my picks for each group (if you haven’t read about those yet, go read https://sushionsports.wordpress.com/2014/06/13/the-world-cup-preview/. The rules for this pool are outlined near the top of that article so for you to understand this one fully, it might be a good idea to go to that article.). And, another advantage of writing something like this is that it allows people who haven’t been following the World Cup so far to get into it. With that, let’s get started!

Group A:

My Picks:

  1. Brazil
  2. Mexico
  3. Croatia
  4. Cameroon

Brazil 3-1 over Croatia

Mexico 1-0 over Cameroon

Outside of an own goal by Marcelo, Brazil thoroughly dominated their game against Croatia, winning 3-1, while Mexico could have beaten Cameroon 3-0 if not for a couple of bogus offsides calls by the refs, instead beating them 1-0.

My picks are in very good shape. Cameroon looks to be the worst team in the group while Brazil is clearly the class of the group. It seems as though I chose correctly when I took Mexico over Croatia, as Mexico looked a lot better than Croatia did.

My picks seem to be very good. Of course, it’s not gonna stay that way for long.

Group B:

My picks:

  1. Spain
  2. Chile
  3. Netherlands
  4. Australia

Netherlands 5-1 over Spain

Chile 3-1 over Australia

Chile took care of business against Australia, winning 3-1, while the Netherlands utterly destroyed Spain, 5-1, in part due to the early frontrunner for goal of the tournament: Van Persie’s header.

My picks here… Not exactly so great. In a vacuum, I didn’t pick well. The Netherlands are likely going to win the group, with Chile in second, Spain in third, and Australia in fourth. That means I picked badly.

However, everyone picked Spain to be first. If Spain comes in third, then we all get zero points which doesn’t matter in a competition. However, everyone in the pool picked either Chile or the Netherlands to come in second. If the Netherlands comes in first and Chile comes in second, then I earn three points from getting Chile right, but the Netherlands completely wrong. If Chile wins the group and the Netherlands place second, then I get partial credit for each one, only netting me two points. In a nutshell, I’m a Netherlands fan from now until the end of the group stage.

Group C:

My picks:

  1. Colombia
  2. Ivory Coast
  3. Greece
  4. Japan

Colombia 3-0 over Greece

Ivory Coast 2-1 over Japan

Colombia easily beat Greece three-nil, while the Ivory Coast had a come from behind victory to defeat Japan 2-1.

My picks are doing quite well. Colombia showed that it’s easily the best team in this group while the Ivory Coast showed that it can defeat inferior teams but is inconsistent enough that a good team can beat them. The only part I’m not pleased with is the Greece in third, Japan in fourth picks. Japan showed that it isn’t a bad team and that it can play with some good teams, while Greece showed that they’re really bad after getting mashed by Colombia. Still, it’s not a huge problem as of now, because, assuming that Greece and Japan lose to both Colombia and Ivory Coast, their matchup will decide who gets third. Greece will probably need to either win or tie that game because their goal differential right now is -3, compared to Japan’s -1. At least I’m in good shape for now.

Group D:

My picks:

  1. Uruguay
  2. England
  3. Italy
  4. Costa Rica

Costa Rica 3-1 over Uruguay

Italy 2-1 over England

Costa Rica upset Uruguay, 3-1, although Uruguay didn’t have its’ best player, Luis Suarez, while Italy beat England 2-1 in an exciting and competitive game.

I’m not doing well at all with these picks. There’s a decent chance that I don’t get any points at all from this group. As Uruguay has a bad goal differential, it’s behind England in the standings. Its’ only hope for advancement is to run up the score on England in their next match while hoping that the game between Italy and Costa Rica isn’t a tie AND still having to win their game against Italy while hoping that the loser of Costa Rica-Italy either loses or ties, or tying against Italy while hoping that the loser of Costa Rica-Italy loses. Either way, I’m not in the best of shape. England needs the same scenario as played out above (with their opponents switched in for Uruguay’s, obviously) to advance as well.  Italy and Costa Rica each need a win in their last two games in order to clinch their ticket to the knockout rounds, depending on the goal differential.

Group E:

My picks:

  1. France
  2. Ecuador
  3. Switzerland
  4. Honduras

France 3-0 over Honduras

Switzerland 2-1 over Ecuador

France easily dispatched Honduras after a red card forced Honduras to play with ten players, while Switzerland and Ecuador were even throughout their game until a late goal by Switzerland in extra time gave them the victory.

Well, I’m, at least, in pretty good shape in this group. France looks like they’ll be able to run away with the group and Honduras pretty clearly looks like the clear favorite for last place, leaving Ecuador and Switzerland fighting for the group’s second spot in the knockout rounds. Ecuador is at a severe disadvantage in that race after losing to Switzerland. For it to vault past Switzerland, it’ll need to run up the score against Honduras, while hoping France beats Switzerland. Then, assuming that they have a better goal differential than the Swiss, Ecuador just needs to match whatever Switzerland does (i.e. win-win, tie-tie, loss-loss) in order to advance. If they don’t have a better goal differential, they’ll need to have a win to a Swiss tie or loss or a tie to a Swiss loss. If Switzerland manages to tie, or even beat, the French, then Ecuador will have almost no chance at advancing, although if Switzerland beat France, Ecuador would play France in their last game, meaning that they would just have to beat France in order to advance alongside Switzerland.

Group F:
My picks:

  1. Argentina
  2. Bosnia and Herzegovina
  3. Nigeria
  4. Iran

Argentina 2-1 over Bosnia and Herzegovina

Nigeria 0-0 against Iran

Argentina escaped against Bosnia and Herzegovina, winning 2-1, a close scrape for a team that is widely believed to be in championship contention, while Nigeria and Iran combined for a 0-0 tie, the first tie of the tournament, in the thirteenth game. Who says soccer is boring?

Everything is in good shape here. Argentina should run away with the group, Bosnia and Herzegovina (wow, that’s annoying to type) should beat up on the bottom two teams, while Nigeria and Iran will duke it out for third place. For me, all I need is for the top two teams to beat up on Nigeria a little less than Iran so Nigeria will have third place over Iran on the tiebreaker of goal differential.

Group G:

My picks:

  1. Germany
  2. America
  3. Portugal
  4. Ghana

Germany 4-0 over Portugal

America 2-1 over Ghana

Germany walked all over Portugal, winning 4-0, especially after Pepe received a red card, making the Portugese play with ten men. Thomas Müeller got a hat trick for Germany. America beat Ghana 2-1, in an exciting game in which Ghana dominated the flow of play for most of the game. America scored thirty seconds in before a stalemate for more than 80 minutes. Ghana scored to tie it up, but a couple of minutes later, the United States scored to take the lead 2-1 and to eventually win the game.

I’m in great shape in this group. Germany, especially with its’ huge goal differential after its’ 4-0 victory, is a huge favorite to capture the number one spot. America is likely to capture second place after their win and because Pepe’s red card which will keep him out of Portugal’s next game, against the Americans, making the United States more likely to win that game too. Portugal has a horrible goal differential and it’s at a severe disadvantage against the United States (because of Pepe’s absence) so it’ll need to beat Ghana in their third game to capture third place. Luckily for me, that’s a probable outcome as Portugal is a better team than Ghana.

Group H:

My picks:

  1. Belgium
  2. Russia
  3. South Korea
  4. Algeria

Belgium 2-1 over Algeria

Russia 1-1 against South Korea

Belgium dealt with Algeria, 2-1, while Russia let in an embarrassing goal to give South Korea a tie, 1-1.

My picks here are also doing quite well. Belgium has the lead by two points and are likely to take first place. Algeria has zero points and are at a disadvantage against South Korea in the race for third place because of South Korea’s tie with Russia. The gap between Russia and South Korea is smaller than it seemed before the tournament, but there’s still enough of a gap for it to be likely for Russia to take Group H’s second berth in the knockout rounds.

By the way, sorry for this being posted so late. I had finals and all the rest. Now that school’s over, hopefully I’ll have more time to write. Speaking of which, the next article out should be recapping the second game for each team. After that, there’s the NBA draft which I plan on writing a draft diary for. Then there’ll be an article recapping the third game for each team, then one previewing the knockout rounds, and then… who knows?

Anyways, there should be a bunch of great games on over the next few weeks and we’ll all be watching, alongside of the rest of the world.

 

 

The World Cup Preview

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Well, the biggest sporting event in the world is finally here after a long, four year wait. In my opinion, the World Cup is much like the Olympics, with the four year cycle, way too expensive stadiums, and worldwide attention, except that people actually want to watch the World Cup. I thought I’d write a short (warning: it’s really, really, really long) preview of the Cup, starting off with talking about the pool I started and created for the group stages of the tournament before getting to my picks for the aforementioned pool (you can post your picks in the comment section too!). Then we’ll talk about my picks for part of the knockout rounds and a few other things as well. Sound good? I can only assume you’re saying yes, as you’re reading this article and I can’t hear you through your computer screen, no matter how loudly you scream.

So here’s how the pool works. It’s quite simple:

For the group stages: Pick the order of the teams’ finish. For example in Group G, you might choose

1. Germany

2. Portugal

3. America

4. Ghana

For each pick exactly right, three points are earned, and for each pick that’s missed by one point, one point is earned. Outside of that, no points can be earned.

So that’s the pool. My picks later on in the article reflect the parameters put in place.

Now, when I make picks for a pool, I’m serious about doing so. I research, I use online tools, and I watch games. For the picks below, the ones I’m using for my pool, you’ll find my an explanation combining both my reasoning and a very useful online tool from FiveThirtyEight.

For March Madness, FiveThirtyEight made an online, interactive bracket using data and fancy stats, to create winning probabilities for every team in every game.

They used the same principles for the World Cup. Here’s the link to their interactive forecasting model: http://fivethirtyeight.com/interactives/world-cup/. For most teams, I agreed with their assessments. For teams that I didn’t know so much about, I followed their opinion. In a couple of rare cases, I went with my gut, against their predictions, including once that was caused by patriotism. ‘Murica!

Group A:

  1. Brazil
  2. Mexico
  3. Croatia
  4. Cameroon

Brazil is going to advance with ease. They’re at home and lucked into one of the easiest groups. They’re from South America, (which is important to me, as we’ll get to later) home field advantage matters a lot in the World Cup, and they have a very good team. In fact they’re good enough to be in the Elite Four (you’ll see that mentioned a few times throughout the article and I’ll explain later on, closer to the end of it). I suspect that the pressure of a riotous, soccer-crazed nation will get to them, but with this creampuff of a group, I doubt it will affect them in the group stage.

Mexico and Croatia are essentially a tossup for the second spot according to FiveThirtyEight. I picked Mexico as, outside of the recent stretch in which they were so bad that they barely made it into the World Cup, have been very good for years. Also, I suppose, if Mexico advances, then Americans can say “Well, we beat Mexico, so if we weren’t in the Group of Death, (which they really aren’t, as we’ll get to later) then we would have advanced too!” What can I say? I’m just a patriotic American.

Cameroon is clearly a cut below the rest of the group, although, as the gap between them and the Croatia-Mexico level isn’t a chasm, so if a couple of goals and 50-50 calls go their way, they can certainly advance as well.

And yes, I am aware that the Croatia and Brazil have played (Brazil beat Croatia 3-1) but I wrote this long before the game started, so my predictions are untainted by any future knowledge.

Group B:

  1. Spain
  2. Chile
  3. Netherlands
  4. Australia

This is the real Group of Death. Spain is the defending World Cup champions from when they won in 2010. That win is sandwiched between two victories in. the Euro Cup in 2008 and 2012. While their core is getting older, they still have enough left in the tank to remain in the Elite Four and to take this group with relative ease.

Chile is a very good team. In 2010, they were in Spain’s group and advanced to the quarterfinals where they were summarily dismissed by Brazil, 3-0. I’ve always been rather bullish on South American teams, AND in this World Cup, they’re playing close to home, giving them an advantage (although I’m not sure how big that advantage is). FiveThirtyEight’s model also sees them as a lot better than the Netherlands, and even gives them a decent shot to upset Spain to win the group.

The Netherlands were the runner-up in the 2010 World Cup, losing to Spain, 1-0. They’re also getting old, but they haven’t handled it quite as well as Spain has. Robin van Persie is still a beast, although he’s been hindered by injuries as this past year as he scored just twelve goals in 21 games, playing for Manchester United in the Premier League. Between van Persie’s injuries, the growing age of the team, and the tough group, it’s hard to believe in the Netherlands. Of the top three teams in this group, one has to be the odd one out, and I’m betting that it’s going to be the Netherlands.

Australia. Poor Australia. Not a very good team to begin with, they get stuck with three other title contenders? Kinda sucks for them. I’d wouldn’t be surprised if they failed to notch any goals, let alone any points. Well, the consolation for Australia is that at least they’re there at the World Cup. For them, it’s triumph just to have made it. Anything else they accomplish is just gravy.

Group C:

  1. Colombia
  2. Ivory Coast
  3. Greece
  4. Japan

This group one of the most balanced groups, although Colombia is clearly the class of it. It would be a major upset if they failed to make it out of the group stage.

The intrigue comes with the next three teams, the Ivory Coast, Greece, and Japan. The Ivory Coast has historically disappointed in big tournaments, but I think that this year is going to be the year they finally advance, due mostly to their relatively easy draw.

Speaking of draws, it’s impossible to overstate the foolishness of FIFA in continuing with their antiquated method of determining groups. Their methods may seem fine on the surface, but what method would have such disparities between groups as the one between Group A and Group B? Let’s say that Brazil and Spain are equal (which they are normally, although since the World Cup is in Brazil, Brazil has a big home field advantage). Which one is more likely to make it to the knockout rounds: the team with two okay teams and a bad team (all relative to teams in the World Cup) or the team with one very good team, one good team, and one bad team? It’s no contest. It penalizes teams for nothing other than dumb luck! How is that in the spirit of competitive balance and exciting games?
On the flip side, you have the Ivory Coast, which is likely to advance out of the group stage merely because of the group it was handed by FIFA. Then, when they advance, we get to watch them get blown out of the water by the first place team of Group D (which is close to a tossup). Not exactly an exciting game. For the good, of all, FIFA should finally get rid of its’ useless method for determining groups.

A good article that really hashes this out and explains it in detail, along with offering solutions is at http://grantland.com/the-triangle/group-of-fairness-how-the-world-cup-would-look-with-straight-seeding/. Grantland overall is great—I really enjoy it—and it might be worth checking out.

Wow, that was a long tangent. Getting back to business, I don’t know much about Greece or Japan, but the projection model favors Greece by a decent sized margin so I’m going to roll with it.

Oh, and another tangent, this time about the roll part of the sentence: I was once playing pickup basketball with some friends and I set a pick. The other guy says “Sushi, roll!” leading to us having to pause the game so we could all laugh for a bit. It’s great having an awesome name like Sushi.

Anyways, I seem to be always going off topic in my old age, so before I can run off on another tangent, on to Group D!

Group D:

  1. Uruguay
  2. England
  3. Italy
  4. Costa Rica

This is also clearly a Group of Death. You’ve got Uruguay, a team that I’m very bullish on, England, a team that’s rebuilding but still has very good players, Italy, a team who is also pretty good, and Costa Rica, a team that hasn’t been too bad and which solidly beat America, 3-1, only a few months ago.

I picked Uruguay to win the group because, as you know, I like the South American teams. In addition, they’re playing close to home, and they have Luis Suarez. For those of you who don’t pay attention to the Premier League, Suarez scored 31 goals for Liverpool this season, a staggering amount. That’s more than enough for me to take Uruguay.

I have England and Italy in the same tier for this group, the fighting-for-second-place tier, and was leaning towards Italy (because, after all, England is rebuilding) but FiveThirtyEight’s model thought England was almost as good as Uruguay in terms of likelihood to advance and to win the group, so I chose England to advance alongside Uruguay.

Costa Rica, in my opinion, not a bad team in and of itself, got screwed over by the selection process, and, while they may have even advanced in an easier group, will likely find themselves in last place due to the luck of the draw.

Group E:

  1. France
  2. Ecuador
  3. Switzerland
  4. Honduras

While France’s individual players are very good, their results have been highly inconsistent on the national team level. In a weak group, I’m hoping that their talent outweighs their history and that they place first in their group and advance to the knockout rounds. The projection system agrees with me, pegging France’s odds of advancing at just over 80% and their odds of capturing the top spot at nearly 54%.

I chose Ecuador for four reasons: one, the model believes them to be better than Switzerland, two, they’re South American, three, they’re playing close to home, and finally four, because of their easy draw. That’s enough for me.

Switzerland is third. I don’t exactly have a reasoned opinion about it, I just don’t like their chances. I like their chocolate, I like their cheese, I just don’t like their soccer team. So sue me.

Honduras comes in last place. While I’ve already outlined why I chose Ecuador and France to advance, I figured that there was probably a reason that FIFA put Switzerland in the top eight of the world (other than FIFA being based in Switzerland, bribes, or that FIFA isn’t exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer. That pun was unintentional, I didn’t mean to call attention to the fact that they’re bad at the World Cup drawing. Oh wait I just did! Wow, I’m really on a bad crappy joke run, I’d better stop now) so I ended up choosing them over Honduras.

Group F:

  1. Argentina
  2. Bosnia and Herzegovina
  3. Nigeria
  4. Iran

I picked Argentina to take the group for a bunch of reasons. I won’t rehash all of the reasons related to Argentina being located in South America, as you’ve probably memorized it by now and I’d bet that you’re a little sick of it. In addition to those aforementioned reasons, Argentina is in the Elite Four and they have Lionel Messi. I like Messi because he’s a beast, has beautiful passes, (while also scoring plenty of goals) and because, as he’s only 5’’4, he brings hope to smallish people like me.

Departing from the usual order of teams, I’ll talk about the second-place pick last. Why? I’m simply a daredevil, living life on the wild side.

Iran is a tough team to predict. They haven’t played much against international competition so it’s challenging to determine exactly how good they are. Still, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Iran isn’t a good team, and place them firmly in last place.

Nigeria also isn’t a great team. I’m bearish on African teams, partly because they’ve historically not done well in the World Cup, partly because of their lack of competition against elite teams. However, when in doubt, as always, let’s go check out the projection system. The model gives them a 68% chance of failing to advance and sees them to be worse than Bosnia and Herzegovina, so I’m going to trust the math and put Nigeria third.

Finally, we’ve got Bosnia and Herzegovina. They’re a solid team, by all accounts, and as there are two teams clearly a cut below them, they fall into the second spot, almost by default.

Group G:

  1. Germany
  2. America
  3. Portugal
  4. Ghana

Germany, the last member of the Elite Four, (yes, we’ll get to what that is soon) and is a very, very good team. It has exceptional players such as Mesut Özil, Thomas Müller, and Phillip Lahm, their captain. There’s no South American team to upset them. They’re clearly a cut above the rest of they’re group and it’d be extremely surprising if someone other than them took first place in the group.

“Why in the world would you pick America?” you might ask. My answer might be that I’m a red blooded American, who likes guns, gets fat, and expects the government to pay for my problems. Whenever my Yanks take part in a competition, my patriotic pride swells up, and I have to believe in them.

Well, to be honest, none of that is actually true. The real reason why I’m picking America is because of their schedule. America plays Ghana first, and is likely to beat them according to FiveThirtyEight. If they can tie or beat Portugal in their second game, something the projection system gives a 58% chance of happening, then they’ll be in good shape heading into their third match, with Germany.

See, America can’t play with Germany—they’ll just be overwhelmed. America’s only chance is to hope that Germany beats Ghana and Portugal and rests most of their starters and plays its second team instead. If that happens, America would have a decent shot at winning or tying (although, even against Germany’s second team, there’s still a decent chance they might lose), which would push them ahead of Portugal and into the second spot. Of course, this might not play out the way I hope it will, but at the very least I can dream a little, for at least a few days.

Portugal is next. They’re a good team, but a more accurate team name might be “Cristiano Ronaldo and ten other guys”. Ronaldo is an amazing player so I couldn’t put his team any lower than third in this group, but if an opposing team can shut Ronaldo down, Portugal will be in deep trouble.

Ghana, as we all know, has eliminated America in the last two World Cups. Still, I think this’ll be the year that we finally get rid of Ghana for a couple of reasons: one, America has gotten better over the past four years while Ghana has stagnated, and two, Ghana’s in Africa which, as we talked about earlier in the Nigeria section, is generally a no-go for me. In a group with three superior teams, Ghana seems destined to finish last.

Group H:

  1. Belgium
  2. Russia
  3. South Korea
  4. Algeria

Belgium has a few good players, including Thibaut Cortois, the keeper who led Atletico Madrid to a second place finish in the Champions League, Eden Hazard, and Romelu Lukaku. In a weak group, their good players should push them to a first place finish in their group.

The projection model sees Russia as the likely second place finisher, although they have a decent shot to vault past Belgium and into firs placet.

Of the two other teams, South Korea and Algeria, South Korea has about a 40% chance of pulling an upset and advancing to the knockout rounds, while Algeria has about a 20% chance of doing so, deciding the last two spots in this group.

Wow, that was certainly a long-winded explanation and analysis. Now, we’ll move onto a couple of storylines to watch throughout the World Cup.

The Top Heavy Tournament:

Throughout the article, you may have noticed that I’ve referred a few times to the “Elite Four”. You may have wondered what that referred to. Well, now, you’re about to find out! *cue game show music and people happily screaming* When deciding on predictions for tournaments, drafts, and everything else, it’s useful to separate teams and players into different tiers to make it easier to choose between them. In this World Cup, the highest tier consists of Brazil, Germany, Spain, and Argentina. The next tier is just Uruguay, and there are a number of teams in the third tier. Still, as you can see, this years’ tournament is very top heavy. There’s a chasm between the Elite Four and the third tier. Because there’s very little parity, this tournament will not be conducive to Cinderella runs by any third or fourth tier teams. It’s too bad for fans of specific teams, but it’s incredible for fans of soccer. Why? The Elite Four are very likely to meet in the semifinals, meaning that those matches should be competitive and the best soccer in the world. It should be great.

The Many Groups of Death:

It’s annoying how often the term “Group of Death” is used, but even worse are the confusing qualifications to be one. Can there be multiple Groups of Death? Is it just the hardest group? The best team in the group or the teams in the group’s average level? There are so many befuddling and vague requirements to be a Group of Death to make sense of. If you think you have an answer to any of the questions, let us all know in the comments section.

America and Saving Face in the Group of Death:

Speaking of Groups of Death, Group G has been hyped up by the American media to be considered one of said Groups of Death. The question, of course, is why. While America seems to have a harder group than most, it certainly isn’t as hard as Group B (which is why we need clear rules for being a Group of Death like I outlined in the last paragraph). I think that the reason why the American media has decided that America is in the Group of Death is to lower expectations for the team.

To explain, here’s an example of that in every day life. Sometimes, a job of mine at home is to unload the dishwasher. Let’s say I dutifully unload the dishwasher every time that it needs to be done for a month. If I continued doing it, no one would notice it or thank me for it because it’s become expected of me.

Now let’s say that I rarely unloaded the dishwasher. If I unload the dishwasher, since the expectations for me were so low, I’d be praised and what I had done would be appreciated more.

Now apply that to what the media has been doing. They’re setting America up so that if they fail, it’s okay because it’s because they were stuck with in a Group of Death, and if they advance, they’ve exceeded expectations and are worthy of much praise. That’s a lot better than the situation that Brazil has been stuck with.

Pressure on Brazil:

Speaking of Brazil, they have a couple of inherent advantages in this World Cup, outside of the variables that are able to control. One, they have an easy group, as we discussed a while ago. Two, they’re playing at home, which has historically been a boon for whoever gets to host the tournament. Still,  I suspect that home field advantage might prove to be a curse in this year’s World Cup.

Think of the political situation in Brazil: people are rioting in the streets, upset that their government is spending money on a tournament when that money could be used to help get better schools, better housing, and more food. Think of the social situation in Brazil: a soccer-crazed nation is hosting the World Cup and which has a team that’s considered the favorite to win. That’s a lot of pressure on a team. The pressure won’t matter in Group A when they’re playing against inferior competition. The pressure will grow steadily until they finally face a team their equal. If they fall behind against a team as good as them, I suspect that the pressure will get to them and they will lose. That’s why I don’t have them winning the World Cup, although we’ll get to that in greater detail once we reach the knockout rounds.

I’m saving my picks for the knockout rounds until we actually know who’s participating, although I’ll be sure to let you know my picks once the bracket is locked. Right now, my final four teams are Germany, Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay (upsetting Spain in the quarterfinals) with the pressure finally getting to Brazil in the semifinals and Uruguay pulling of another big upset of an Elite Four team, this time Argentina, resulting in a Germany-Uruguay Finals, which I pick Germany to win.

I’m looking to possibly do a pool for the knockout rounds, so if you’re interested, send me an email at sushi.krox@gmail.com or just post in the comments section. If enough people answer, we can have a SushiOnSports pool, which I’ll be sure to write about.

Quick alert about the NBA Finals: the Spurs’ offense has been incredible, and after blowing out Miami last night, 107-86, they look like a lock to win the championship. I’m saving my extended thoughts for another time, probably in a new article after the series is over.

Anyways, enjoy the World Cup action! It should be great!