Baker’s Perfect Entrance in Browns Win – Week 3 Preview and Predictions

Another crazy NFL week has past and now we are onto week 3 with number one draft pick, Baker Mayfield, finally entered the affray of the NFL, as he overturned a 14-0 deficit against the New York Jets last Thursday night, whilst giving Cleveland it’s first win after 635 days. Meanwhile troubled former Cleveland Brown’s wide receiver Josh Gordon was traded to the New England Patriots.

Baker’s Perfect Entrance

Baker Mayfield did not flinch when called upon to replace the injured starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor last in the second quarter. Whilst the offence really struggled with Taylor, the entrance of Mayfield provided a massive boost as the offence seemed to click, this is very much surprising considering Mayfield has had very limited if even any reps with the starters in practice.

The number one draft pick of 2018, completed 17 of his 23 passes for 201 yards as he helped Cleveland outscore the Jets 18-3 after his introduction. Cleveland had not won in 635 days so it was the perfect arrival for the Texas native and former Heisman Trophy winner.

It was an impressive win however the opportunity was perfect due to the number 3 pick Sam Darnold struggling for the New York Jets and the Browns having a collectively better defence, running back and wide receiver. So credit must be given to Baker as with Taylor I don’t think this would have happened but the Jets were the perfect opponent.

Browns head coach Hue Jackson said that he will ‘look at the tape’ to decide who will be his starting quarterback for the week 4 match up against the Oakland Raiders.

 

Can the Patriots help put Gordon’s career back on track?

Gordon who has only appeared 11 times in 4 seasons due to various drug and outside of the sport issues, was given plenty of last chances by the Cleveland Browns off the back of his break-out 2013 season whereby he went to the pro bowl with his statistics for the season being – 87 receptions for a league high 1,646 yards and 9 touchdowns.

Gordon’s issues include violating the NFL substance-abuse policy many times causing many suspensions and a driving under the influence charge. Gordon had applied to be reinstated to the league in 2015 and 2016 but both were denied due to failing a drugs test.

If anything for sure is that the Patriots, led by the great Bill Belichick, will not hesitate on getting rid of Gordon if he continues to cause harm to himself and the team. However the upside of Gordon could be monumental as he has the nickname ‘Flash’ for a reason. It’s certainly been the storyline of the week and Patriots QB Tom Brady has come out and said that he does not want to set expectations for the Texas native.

Gordon will need to be like the flash in adapting to the New England offensive playbook whereby many players have struggled with its complexities which are driven on its schemes and quick tempo. New England do not have a ‘number one’ wide receiver and Gordon would be the closest thing to replacing the loss of Brandin Cooks who was traded to the Los Angeles Rams in the recent off-season.

Gordon’s arrival in Boston has attracted some comparisons to Hall of Fame and former Patriot wide receiver Randy Moss due to his ‘persona’ and ‘issues’. However I do not see the close comparison and just that they are both extremely talented. Moss went onto be all time great and although he was not the easiest to get along and did have some issues off the pitch it was not to Gordon’s lengths. Gordon has shown many times at relapse and for the sake of himself I hope he at least gets better even if that means he does not return to the field. However as a Patriots fan, I hope he can contribute greatly and if anyone is to get the best out of him it will be Tom Brady. Fingers crossed.

Predictions

Week 1 – (9-6-1)

Week 2 – (10-5-1)

Overall – (19-11-2) 59.4% Correct

Last Thursday

New York Jets 17-21 Cleveland Browns

Sunday

NO Saints @ Atlanta Falcons

San Francisco 49ers @ Kansas City Chiefs

Oakland Raiders @ Miami Dolphins

Buffalo Bills @ Minnesota Vikings

Indianapolis Colts @ Philadelphia Eagles

Green Bay Packers @ Washington Redskins

Cincinnati Bengals @ Carolina Panthers

Tennessee Titans @ Jacksonville Jaguars

Denver Broncos @ Baltimore Ravens

New York Giants @ Houston Texans

Los Angeles Chargers @ Los Angeles Rams

Chicago Bears @ Arizona Cardinals

Dallas Cowboys @ Seattle Seahawks

New England Patriots @ Detroit Lions

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

AFC Championship Rematch – Week 2 Preview and Predictions

After game week one my predictions were mixed so I will be hoping to have a better set of predictions this week.

Week 2 throw’s up some top tier match-ups which include New England travelling to Jacksonville which will attract lots of attention to due it being a rematch of the AFC Conference match last season, whereby the Patriots came from behind in the 4th quester to win 24-20 and head off to the Superbowl. Both teams recorded wins and will aim to go 2-0 at the TIAA Bank Field.

A key match up will be Jacksonville’s cornerback Jalon Ramsey who, as I mentioned in my last post, has been voicing his opinion and said that the patriots tight end Robert Gronkowski who will be a first ballot hall of fame candidate has really bad games when put up against cornerbacks. So it will be interesting to see who lines up across from Gronkwoski and if Jacksonville will double team him as teams usually do and I think if Brady can use Gronkowski in motion (moving him before the play starts), Brady can assess the defence as he dictates the play behind the line of scrimmage.

Jacksonville maybe without first round draft choice running back Leonard Fournette who limped out of week 1’s opener against the New York Giants. The jaguars are primarily a run first team so losing their key piece would be a blow. Against a New England defence which already looks steps above last season’s and as they seem to have much more depth and the return of outside linebacker Dont’a Hightower is a big bonus as he missed the back end of last season and he was a key defensive cog which really hurt New England. Either way, both sides of the turf it will be an interesting game to watch. Like the last game, even if the Jaguars get a lead I expect Brady to work out the very good Jaguars defence in a one score game and 4th quarter comeback.

Predictions

Week 1 (9-6-1)

Week 2 (Prediction in Bold)

Carolina Panthers @ Atlanta Falcons

LA Chargers @ Buffalo Bills

Minnesota Vikings @ Green Bay Packers

Cleveland Browns @ NO Saints

Miami Dolphins @ New York Jets

Kansas City Chiefs @ Pittsburgh Steelers

Philadelphia Eagles @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Houston Texans @ Tennessee Titans

Indianapolis Colts @ Washington Redskins

Arizona Cardinals @ LA Rams

Detroit Lions @ San Fran 49ers

Oakland Raiders @ Denver Broncos

New England Patriots @ Jacksonville Jaguars

New York Giants @ Dallas Cowboys

Seattle Seahawks @ Chicago Bears

Last Thursday

Baltimore Ravens 23-34 Cincinnati Bengals

This Thursday

New York Jets @ Cleveland Browns

NFL Sunday’s are back! – Week 1 Preview and Predictions

NFL Sunday’s are back as we get to see a majority of the new look teams in action for week 1.

Jacksonville Jaguars vs New York Giants

Odell Beckham Jr, returns from injury and big new contract alongside number 2 draft pick Saquon Barkley for the New York Giants against the Jacksonville Jaguars led in part by the very vocal Jalen Ramsey who has had his fair share of comments about OBJ and his quarterback Eli Manning. Ramsey a former top 5 pick, labelled the New York Giants receiver a premier player, and he was nowhere near as boastful as he was in an ESPN story by Mina Kimes or the piece in GQ magazine in which he was critical of numerous NFL quarterbacks, including saying Beckham is the reason for Giants quarterback Eli Manning’s success.

Ramsey also went on to say that

“Football is a team game. Eleven guys out there for us, 11 guys out there for them. We going to have to come together and do what we gotta do to try and get a win. I’m going to try and do my part…. It’s 11 versus 11. It’s not me vs. him all game. I’ll be on him a fair amount; I’m sure other guys will be on him too.”

Odell vs Ramsey has been a headline but I believe that Jacksonville have a better cornerback in A.J Bouye who I think will take most of the snaps across from OBJ, but nevertheless I am sure Ramsey will be talking his usual trash from the Jacksonville secondary. Barkley’s impact will be one to watch for as he is an explosive running back but against a top Jaguars defence it will be tough for him, I expect the Jaguars to edge this encounter.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs Cleveland Browns

The new look Cleveland Browns who will start Tyrod Taylor at quarterback instead of number one pick Baker Mayfield who continues his NFL education, will play division rival the Pittsburgh Steelers.. Cleveland seem to have wiped there slate clean after an awful few years and will look to write a different story this season.

The Steelers have had their fair share of woes this offseason with the drama of star running back Le’Veon Bell’s dramatic holdout situation. Bell has been holding out from the preseason and training camp, refusing to report for the $14.5 million franchise tag after he and the Steelers in July failed to agree on a new contract. Bell is looking for a deal that pays him as the best running back and doesn’t want to play on one he feels is below market for his skills. Bell looks likely to lose $852,000 for every week he misses, but by holiday out could easily make that back and much more in a major deal next offseason and due to missing game weeks he is preserving his body and keeping his touch count low, therefore meaning that he could extend his career and achieve a large contract which for running backs in their later years is rare.

Even without the great Le’Veon Bell Pittsburgh who have won their last 6 games against their division rival should prevail, with offensive talent of Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger.

 

My Predictions (in bold) for Week 1

Thursday

Atlanta Falcons @ Philadelphia Eagles – Lost

Sunday

Buffalo Bills @ Baltimore Ravens

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cleveland Browns

Cincinnati Bengals @ Indianapolis Colts

Tennessee Titans @ Miami Dolphins

San Francisco 49ers @ Minnesota Vikings

Houston Texans @ New England Patriots

Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ New Orlean Saints

Jacksonville Jaguars @ New York Giants

Kansas City Chiefs @ Los Angeles Chargers

Washington Redskins @ Arizona Cardinals

Dallas Cowboys @ Carolina Panthers

Seattle Seahawks @ Denver Broncos

Chicago Bears @ Green Bay Packers

New York Jets @ Detroit Lions

Monday

Los Angeles Rams @ Oakland Raiders

I am planning to aim to preview the midweek game and then two games for the weekend, including my predictions. Thanks for reading!

NFL Returns – Philadelphia Eagles vs Atlanta Falcons Predictions

A new season approaches and after 214 days football is back, with the reigning Super Bowl champions, the Philadelphia Eagles against the explosive Atlanta Falcons in Philadelphia, and this was a play-off match up last year when the Eagles edged the Falcons 15-10 on the same ground.

The Eagles defeated the New England Patriots in Minneapolis on the 4th February earlier this year to capture their first Super Bowl to cap off a 17-2 season led by head coach Doug Peterson, despite losing their franchise quarterback during the regular season.

As mentioned, Philadelphia are without former 2nd overall pick Carson Wentz as he continues his recovery from his ACL injury, sustained in the back end of the 2017 season. Therefore the Eagles will by led by the recent Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles, so not too bad. However I was surprised that during the major free agency quarterback shake up that nobody gave the Eagles a tempting offer for the Super Bowl MVP in the past offseason. Foles was incredible in the Super Bowl and will look to stamp his mark on the 2018 season Eagles but will face a tough prospect in the Matt Ryan led Falcons with weapons such as Julio Jones, who in his last 4 games against the Eagles has 100+ reviving yards in each of those games which is a Philadelphia record.

By looking at least seasons statistics we can see that the Foles led Eagles averaged nearly a touchdown less points per game (24.5) to the Wentz led Eagles (31.1). Although the Eagles were the only team last year to have 3 players with 8+ receiving touchdowns. (Jeffery 9, Agholor 8 and Ertz 8)

As first games of the season go this is a great match up and to lead the league into the new season I hope it is an explosive one and I have the Falcons out-gunning the Eagles for an upset road win against the Defending Champions. I think that Julio Jones will stretch the field early to provide Atlanta the time to implement their ground game with Devonta Freeman, who since he entered the league in 2014 have the joint top amount of touchdowns from scrimmage for a running back. (Tied with Mark Ingram)

Prediction – Atlanta to win by at least a TD.

Aiming to get at least a few briefly detailed previews each week and a list of my initial predictions, then hopefully keep score.

England World Cup – Player Ratings

England crashed out of the 2018 World Cup to Croatia last Wednesday evening, in a tournament which brought back some sporting national pride but left us wondering ‘What if..?’

Goalkeepers 

 

WC-01Jordan Pickford – 8

The only blemish on his World Cup debut was conceding the goal to Adnan Januzaj against Belgium in the third group game in group G. Pickford is not the tallest goalkeeper in the world at 1.85m, and was just off the former Manchester United player’s late effort and was criticised for the ‘mistake’, I think it is harsh to call it that but I guess people need something to complain about. On the positive side, Pickford was stunning in England first ever World Cup penalty shoot-out and his solid shot-stopping and passing range was excellent. There certainly is no doubt in England’s number one after this tournament.

Defenders

 

WC-05John Stones – 7

Stones started the tournament with his customary passing from the back and trusting his ability, it was a great sight to see although maybe scaring a few fans in the process. He grabbed two goals against Panama which was a highlight but was at fault for Croatia’s extra time winner in the semi-final which certainly put a dampener on his tournament. Overall Stones can be happy with his contribution and aim to be a more consistent figure for the Manchester City back line and develop his skills as a leader, next season.

 

WC-07

Harry Maguire – 9 

The standout man in the English defence, Maguire announced himself on the international stage and made himself a household name after his great consistency, solid defence and great arial presence. Maguire will certainly attract big money moves to big clubs that include Manchester United, who have been rumoured this morning to table a bid for the former Sheffield United player. Maguire was calm in possession and was England’s greatest threat in the air, therefore set-pieces and especially corners he was even more dangerous and effective. It certainly will not be his last international tournament and maybe a move is on the horizon.

 

WC-08

Kyle Walker – 6

Playing out of position in a major tournament is no easy feat, and Walker who traditionally is a right back was assigned the role of right centre back and although his pace solved some of the experience issues, his positioning caused him to give away a silly penalty against Tunisia and furthermore was caught out in the Croatia game. Although his passing was a solid utility to the english defence as they positively continued to build and pass around the back which was great to see, although giving some fans heart attacks in the process. He look more comfortable at centre back than actual central defenders like Phil Jones but Pep Guardiola certainly will not be playing there in the future for Manchester City next season.

 

WC-09

Ashley Young – 6

We nearly had Ashley Young as the left-wing back of England lifting the World Cup….that would have been mental and a sight to see! I was surprised Young was given the nod in front of Rose but as usual Young gave the role plenty of effort but did not have any stand-out games or moments but was a decent option and utility. Maybe Young needed Fellaini? Maybe then football would have come home!

 

WC-10

Kieran Trippier – 9

I was initially sceptical of the idea that Kieran Trippier should be the right-wing back for England at a World Cup but he has well and truly been a stand out performer and changed my opinion on him. Once again he was England’s biggest creator as he created 5 chances in the Columbia game and many against Tunisia and Panama. Trippier has proven to be a solid commodity at not only defending but attacking with his delivery and set-piece speciality and his crucial penalty which swayed the momentum in the shoot-out was exceptional. He created the most chances in the tournament ahead of world-class players such as Neymar etc. To top off the tournament he scored a scintillating free-kick against Croatia but ultimately fell short but has certainly raised his stock and the man from Bury is certainly the first name on everyone’s England team sheet!

 

WC-11

Danny Rose – 6

Rose was second choice to Ashley Young at the left-wing back role and when he appeared he appeared to be a shadow of the 16/17 Spurs left back and this obviously could be to do with his injuries and comments about Tottenham during the season but for such a sort after left back, I did expect more from him. With the left back position in world football being a fairly weak position it could have been a good opportunity to put himself in the conversation.

 

Midfielders

WC-12

Jordan Henderson – 7

Henderson’s performances at this World Cup have surprised me as I thought we was going to be exploited more in the central midfield role while only being assisted by Lingard and Alli but Southgate constructed the formation to give Henderson as much protection as possible. Henderson played very well in England’s games but found himself ‘found out’ and ‘out of his depth’ opposite the great midfielder that is Luka Modric, who even by his exceptionally high standards is having a great tournament fresh off his Champions League triumph for Real Madrid over Henderson’s Liverpool in May.

 

WC-13

Jesse Lingard – 7

JLingz, what a man! Lingard is one of the compelling reasons why I enjoyed watching England this summer, as not only is he a player for my favourite team but he plays with his personality on show and that represents energy, movement and cheeky bits of flair. His passing was something of note whereby he was comfortably averaged above 90% in all his appearances and outshone, the more accomplished and accepted, Dele Alli, which included a stunning goal against Panama. Lingard was an indispensable for the Three Lions and proved a key link between the midfield and attack, I would not have made that prediction (would anyone have) 12 months ago, so it is great to see! His tireless running all tournament maybe caught up on him by the Croatia game but apart from that he was very good indeed, plenty to be proud about for the United player.

 

WC-14

Dele Alli – 5

The most overrated English player in the starting eleven? Yes. Dele Alli is a good player but took a step backwards last season and for me was lucky to start for England this tournaments, the lack of depth and competition in that role does not help as maybe that would push the former MK Dons player on. From game 1, Alli did not look match fit and the running of Lingard, Sterling and Henderson did cover for the spurs star. Alli is no doubt ,a very talented individual but was overshadowed by the emergence of Jesse Lingard. Compare their career’s 12 months ago to now, Lingard has come on leaps and bounds while Alli has treaded water.

 

WC-15

Eric Dier – 5

Dier since the 2016 European Championships in France, has taken a step back for me and his substitute involvement for me was pointless and an emphasis on the lack of depth England have in the central midfield department. I could have put a wardrobe in central midfield and it would offer me the same qualities. Wooden, Slow, turning circle of a bus.

 

WC-16

Ruben Loftus-Cheek – 6

He did not get enough game time for me, as a 6’3 physical attacking midfielder he could have been used more effectively by Southgate instead of bringing on Vardy. I am glad that Loftus-Cheek has broken into the England side but will need to keep working to cement his space and challenge Lingard and Alli for that starting eleven position. I assume he will at some point need to permanently move away from Chelsea to progress and I think he should this summer to obtain at least 30+ appearances and proves his quality in the Premier League for the second season in a row.

 

WC-17

Fabian Delph – 5

Delph appeared a few times during the campaign and offered not a lot to the England side apart from his versatility to do a job at left-wing back and maybe the inclusion of a better passer of the ball such as Jack Wilshere or Jonjo Shelvey would have given Southgate a better option, especially in the Croatia game. Delph flew back for the birth of his child and to be honest, that was his most talked about action over the tournament.

 

Forwards

WC-04

Harry Kane – 7

Harry Kane got the job done and led the line fantastically for England and won the Golden Boot, however part of me is just thinking ‘I would have put my house on Harry taking one of those 2 golden opportunity against Croatia, it would have put England up 2-0 and one foot in the World Cup Final’, but we all know what happened after. It is tough to put blame on Kane but if it was a player such as the heavily criticised Raheem Sterling, he would have been hung out to dry by the media for not passing, in that moment. Kane converted 3/3 penalties in normal time, one in the shoot-out and an injury-time winner against Tunisia. Furthermore he appeared to lead the line against Columbia on basically one leg and held up the ball phenomenally. However with only one goal in his final 4 more competitive games, Kane has his critics. A matter of what if..

 

WC-03

Raheem Sterling – 6

Raheem receives a very harsh reputation due to the media onslaught and to be truthful we all know why it happens. It would not happen to Harry Kane, it would not happen to Frank Lampard etc. To consistently ridicule the man for living his life, the reason is racism. He could save a family from a burning building and the headline would be ‘Raheem Sterling out at 1am’. Double Standards.

Onto Raheem’s performances as a supporting striker to Harry Kane, he showed plenty of effort but the final product and lack of conviction showed especially against Sweden whereby a goal would have done his confidence the world of good. His final third decision-making again was not great but he influenced the ‘press’ with Jesse Lingard very well and his pace caused teams to have a deep defensive line, creating space for players such as Lingard and Alli to operate.

 

WC-18Marcus Rashford – 6

Started only against Belgium whereby it was his poorest performance in an England shirt and missed a great chance to level the cores against the fellow semifinalists. However, his bigger impacts came off the bench whereby he frightened and stretched defence’s late in games and was a main reason why England got the deserved winner against Tunisia in their opener. Surely will not be his final international tournament appearance but will want to be a starter before the 2020 European Championship. He gave England an option on the wing but did not look as threatening through the middle, is this due to Mourinho’s reluctance to play him there?

 


Jamie Vardy – 5

WC-19Vardy at 31 has played his final World Cup and maybe able to squeeze himself into the 2020 European championship spot but as his pace fades and injuries catch up with him maybe it is time to divert away from the Leicester City forward. Vardy only offered the opportunity to chase long balls over the top and that limited England’s tactics. Although Vardy has the great story and does possess quality it is not enough to be a valuable back up to Harry Kane.

 

Manager

Gareth Southgate – 7

WC-02He rekindled the support of the England national side and restored some national pride in the tournament and brought people all over the country together, that is certainly not an easy job. We all know the positives of this World Cup, whereby we reached our first semi final since 1990 and it was amazing to even have the chance of a World Cup final! However the two issues I have are the game management in both the Columbia and Croatia games, against Colombia the lack of substitutions around the 60-70th minute led to the Columbian’s being able to take control in the last ten minutes and force and equalizer and the tie was in the balance until we won on penalties. Furthermore, against Croatia from the second half onwards England looked a shadow of themselves (first half) and the game as we all know slipped away. I feel that key subs, which definitely include Ruben Loftus-Cheek would have altered the result and the way we lost the game in extra time. However, what a great ride we’ve had and Southgate, although not everyone’s number one choice for the job has proven he is on the right road for success and I look forward to the side’s performance in the 2020 European championships.

 

p.s It’s coming home

+ I did not mention all the players, just the one’s that needed to be commented on. Thanks for reading!

England beat Columbia (4-3) 1-1 in Rollercoaster Penalty Shoot-out!

For the first time in England’s history, they (WE) have won a World Cup penalty shoot-out. They beat Columbia 4-3 on penalties after it finished 1-1 after extra time in Spartak Moscow, in Russia.

Change in Fortune?

Photo 04-07-2018, 02 06 18

Jordan Pickford and Eric Dier were the heroes as England just got over the line against Columbia in their first penalty shoot-out win since Euro 96’. Penalties loomed after a 1-1 scoreline after extra time, and if you don’t know already, England and penalties are not a good mix. England penalty losses include World Cup 90’, Euro 96’, World Cup 98’, Euro 04’, World Cup 06’ and Euro 12’. In a way, maybe winning on penalties was better than closing out the game at 1-0. By that I mean that, we now cannot be stopped by the mentality of the England curse that ‘oh no it’s penalties, we always lose these’, we should take the positive momentum that if we face them again we can be comfortable that we’ve been here before and can do this. A positive mentality is key and to put the ‘penalty ghost’ behind us is a step in the right direction.

Sir Gareth?

Photo 04-07-2018, 02 06 58

Gareth Southgate missed the decisive penalty in Euro 96 against Germany at Wembley Stadium. Such a beautiful sense of redemption for Gareth Southgate to become the first England manager to EVER win a World Cup penalty shootout. So far, England fans all over the globe have been proud of the efforts so far and if we can go further surely he could be due a knighthood? Alright maybe that’s a bit far, but credit for the changes behind the scenes and evident culture change is due for the Englishman.

Southgate Lucky?

Photo 04-07-2018, 02 07 02

However, Southgate should be not without his criticism as I think that England would have avoided penalties if he adapted and made substitutions earlier as it was evident that players such as Dele Alli who wasn’t fit, should have been replaced earlier and Jordan Henderson needed more help due to his fatigue setting in around the 70th minute as our intensity dropped and this could have been worse than escaping with a penalty victory. Southgate’s approach to rotate against Belgium in the final group game looks great now but could have come under fire if the side lost to Columbia due to the idea that this side of the bracket is more open. I think even if we had lost tonight that he made the correct decision and now that we edged Columbia we should carry this momentum onto Saturday and keep this positivity going.

Alli Dropped?

Photo 04-07-2018, 02 18 11

Dele Alli for me was not good enough and we all know he has the talent but on the back of his injury in match day one against Tunisia, and did not look match fit at all and should have been subbed as he did not produce much at all. In my opinion, I wouldn’t start Dele Alli in the next game against Sweden on Saturday. I think that the link up between Alli, Sterling, Lingard and Kane was okay for first 30 minutes and that’s when we played our best but after that the link up play looked poor and maybe to mute Sweden’s Emil Forsberg the addition of Eric Dier to help Jordan Henderson would be a good tactical decision.

Trippier proving his worth

Photo 04-07-2018, 02 18 31

I was initially sceptical of the idea that Kieran Trippier should be the right-wing back for England at a World Cup but he has well and truly been a stand out performer and changed my opinion on him. Once again he was England’s biggest creator as he created 5 chances in the Columbia game and many against Tunisia and Panama. Trippier has proven to be a solid commodity at not only defending but attacking with his delivery and set-piece speciality and his crucial penalty which swayed the momentum in the shoot-out was exceptional.

 

Notable Performances 

Harry Kane led the line exceptionally and practically played the final 20 minutes on one leg and still thundered his penalty in the shoot-out home and that made him the perfect 4 for 4 in this world cup. Kane had little assistance but was great at keeping possession and was fouled 9 times, the most since Alan Shearer in World Cup 98′ against Tunisia.

Harry Maguire was once again great as he was a calming towering presence on the ball and was efficient in possession. Maguire is not only solid at the back but a threat offensively and very nearly scored for the 3 Lions. An incredible turn around for the Leicester City man who surely will be receiving inquests from big teams after this tournament as he was previously at the European Championships with his friends in France, 2016.

Jordan Pickford made a stunning save from Columbia’s Mateus Uribe was not even given a second look before allowing the dangerous Columbian’s convert from the corner but Henderson leaving his man, Yerry Mina, was the fault from the set-piece. Pickford then made a stunning save from Carlos Bacca to help England record their 2nd penalty shoot-out win in 8 attempts.

Story of the Game

Photo 04-07-2018, 02 06 13

England dominated for 80 minutes and were rewarded with a Harry Kane spot kick in 57th minute, but fell under the mentality of ‘playing not to lose’, rather than the successful ‘playing to win’. Columbia aimed to ‘kick their way to the quarter finals’ as they could Harry Kane 9 times and picked up 6 bookings (felt like more) in a rough last 16 tie. England transformed from being on the front foot to wanting to rarely touching the ball in the oppositions half. After the Yerry Mina goal, Columbia dominated the first half of extra time but failed to create a clear chance and England balanced the extra time out in the 2nd half, with Danny Rose going close in the closing stages. Penalties were to decide the competitions 3rd last 16 tie and England disputed missing initially composed themselves and a key miss and Jordan Pickford save, gave Eric Dier the opportunity to beat Arsenal’s David Ospina from 12 yards. I honestly couldn’t believe that we had this opportunity after the Jordan Henderson miss but thankfully Dier found the back of the net just…as it was not a great penalty but as long as it counted, that is all that matters. The definition of stress does not define that game as the rollercoaster of emotions was only something sport can produce and it was bloody epic.

Semi-final at Stake

Photo 04-07-2018, 02 06 51

Sweden are England’s quarter final opponents and is a tie that England approach as favourites, in this Samara Arena. Sweden edged Switzerland in a close contest and Sweden will aim to hit England on the counter attack due to Sweden’s 4-4-2 approach and they will aim to frustrate England, as Sweden have reached this stage we should not underestimate the fellow European side. We should hope to carry on our positive momentum onto this 2nd knockout tie.

Reaction to My World Cup Predictions – Group E, F, G, H

Group E

Photo 30-06-2018, 02 58 24Brazil like France, lethargicly won their group and the attacking forces for him, such as Neymar and Gabriel Jesus were overshadowed by Barcelona’s Phillipe Coutinho who is having a great World Cup so far, Brazil looked so much more comfortable when playing through Coutinho than Neymar. In my opinion, Brazil seem to force the ball to Neymar on the left-wing therefore starving the right hand side and becoming predictable and Neymar seems to be playing for himself and not for the team, this is evident that when the game is not a contest Neymar is sprinting all around the pitch trying to get ‘his goal’, I understand that he wants the individual accolades but he needs to not become a detriment for his national side. Neymar is surrounded by talent but needs to utilise them, if Brazil are to progress and lift a 6th World Cup in Russia.

Costa Rica were eliminated by matchday 2 after a 2-0 defeat to Brazil looked solid due to the impressive Navas in-goal but lacked the attacking game changer to propel them into the last 16, they picked up a point against 2nd place Switzerland who were guaranteed a place in the knockout with a Serbia loss to Brazil in matchday 3.

Photo 30-06-2018, 02 59 07

Serbia, I thought were unlucky in their second game with Switzerland whereby they were denied a clear penalty for them Xherdan Shaqiri to score a late winner for the Swiss and turn out to be a crucial event in which sent the Serbians home. Serbia also had chances against Brazil whereby a victory would have sent them through, while trailing 1-0 due to a goal from Paulinho they started the second half well and dominated and saw Brazil stumble but the South American outfit survived and counter punched with a Thiago Silva header to then cruise to a 2-0 victory. Certainly plenty of positives for Brazil but they did look vulnerable at times in this group and will look to sharpen up in the upcoming games.

Prediction – Result

1. Brazil – Brazil

2. Serbia – Switzerland

3. Costa Rica – Serbia

4. Switzerland – Costa Rica

 

Group F

The reigning World Cup Champions out? Germany finished BOTTOM of Group F and exited the World Cup in dramatic fashion, after they lost 2-0 to South Korea. Mexico initially edged the sloppy Germans 1-0 in a game that if Mexico had a better final ball they’d have won by far more than a single goal, whilst Sweden beat South Korea in the opening game of group F.

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Mexico impressed by making it 2 wins out of 2 against South Korea despite a great goal from Son, and a Toni Kroos 95th minute stunning free kick saved Germany from further embarrassment as they edged Sweden 2-1. Mexico youngster Lozano put in 2 great performances and started the cycle of rumours around his name, so that story is certainly one to keep an eye on. Sweden changed their attitude from ‘trying to win’ and led 1-0 to ‘trying not to lose’ and as they caved Germany finally found a way past the Swedish side.

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Sweden produced the perfect professional performance as they topped group F with a 3-0 win over previously flawless Mexico, while the Germans looked once again off the pace and were frustrated by South Korea who leap-frogged the German side to 3rd in the group with the 2 late goals. It seems as if Joachim Löw put too much trust in the 2014 side that won the tournament with such players as Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller who looked off the pace and past their prime. Furthermore Timo Werner, the youngster from Bundesliga had a nightmare and finished without a goal and it was maybe a tournament too soon for him. Either way, we all know the Germans will be back but as an Englishman I did enjoy the result!

Prediction – Result

1. Germany – Sweden

2. Mexico – Mexico

3. Sweden – South Korea

4. South Korea – Germany

 

Group G

Group G had the biggest divide in the terms of good and poor teams in a single group, England and Belgium obtained maximum points after two games as they defeated both Tunisia and Panama with equal goal difference, 8 for and 2 against.

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Therefore meaning that Belgium and England headed into the final game with the groups top and second seed to be decided, a talked about topic is that is ‘seems’ that the second seed would have an easier route to the final, so the question of dropping the game and finishing 2nd was better overall. Both teams drastically put out weaker sides and an Adnan Januzaj goal won the game for the Belgians, therefore completing the table as I predicted as Tunisia edged Panama to close it out.

England’s Harry Kane leads the golden boot race with 5 goals, with Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku having 4 goals. Other good performance’s have come from England’s Jordan Henderson, Jesse Lingard and John Stones, while Belgium have had a strong performance from Eden Hazard against Tunisia in matchday 2.

Both teams will be content with their confidence building starts and progression to the next round, whereby Belgium face Japan and England face Columbia.

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Funnily enough in my World Cup sweepstake with my friends I have both Belgium and England so with them both looking promising and being placed in the opposite sides of the breviary maybe they can meet in the final to get me some money!! Counting on England?!? Yeah maybe not.

Prediction – Result

1. Belgium – Belgium

2. England – England

3. Tunisia – Tunisia

4. Panama – Panama

 

Group H

Group H started with Japan beating a 10 man Columbia be without star man James Rodriguez starting, 2-1. While Senegal beat Poland, Poland really did disappoint me and I felt they could push Columbia for the top spot but I was dramatically proven wrong as they were eliminated after two games. The service to starman Robert Lewandowski maybe was a problem but for what I saw of Poland all the side was poor including Lewandowski.

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Japan while looking poor did qualify as they edged Senegal to second place through their disciplinary record which came down to yellow cards, which a cruel way for the African side to be eliminated therefore meaning that no African side has made it to the World Cup last 16 this year.

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Japan, Columbia and Senegal could all qualify on the final day and from an England standpoint whereby we’d play one of those sides I would have wanted to avoid Columbia initially as if James Rodriguez is fit, alongside the impressive Juan Quintero and Juan Cuadrado could cause problems and then Senegal would be a difficult game due to the pace that they have in Liverpool’s Sadio Mane. Japan didn’t look that impressive but got the job down in group H as they qualified second despite a final group game loss to the already eliminated Poland side.

Prediction – Result

1. Columbia – Columbia

2. Poland – Japan

3. Senegal – Senegal

4. Japan – Poland

 

My Predictions

So only the one prefect group out of all 8, that is pretty disappointing but the World Cup always throws up some surprises. I called 13 out of the last 16, which is not too bad with 6 correct group winners. Hopefully I can improve my predictions in the next round!