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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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!

Reaction to My World Cup Predictions – Group A, B, C, D

Group A

Group A produced a predictable result with the heavy favourite in the group, Uruguay winning all three matches without conceding and that is largely to do with the immense Diego Godin at the back who dominated all three games and was a class above the rest. Luis Suarez started poorly against Egypt but found the net twice in his last two group games.

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Russia with the power of the nation emphatically won their first two matches against Saudi Arabia (5-0) and Egypt (3-1) which gave the hosts a qualified birth into the knockout rounds, as predicted they came in 2nd and fell to an experienced Uruguay in the final game.

 

Surprisingly Saudi Arabia edged out a poor Egypt side in the final group game to claim third place after two defeats. I predicted that Egypt would have given Russia a close run for second place but the injury to Mohammed Salah in the Champions League final certainly restricted his impact and Egypt’s chances suffered as a result of it.

Prediction – Result

1. Uruguay – Uruguay

2. Russia – Russia

3. Egypt – Saudi Arabia

4. Saudi Arabia – Egypt

 

Group B

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Spain started their group with the ‘game of the tournament’ against Portugal in a 3-3 draw, which saw Spain play well but moments of brilliance from Cristiano Ronaldo and a blunder from David De Gea only restricted them to a point. It seemed more that Portugal had won the game after the clutch free-kick from Ronaldo 2 minutes from time and celebrations occurred after the final whistle.

Supposedly the other two teams in the group Iran and Morocco would be push overs after Iran edged a 1-0 victory in matchday 1. However both sides then gave the European sides tough games but the experience showed as the European sides edged them 1-0 in matchday 2, therefore eliminating Morocco.

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The final group game could have ended Ronaldo’s wonderful tournament who had 4 goals in 2 games, if Iran won however Portugal just about…survived the scare against Iran and Spain dramatically moved above Portugal and topped the group, with a 2-2 draw against Morocco. However, what I find disgusting is the decision to give Iran a penalty after a horrific VAR call, which ends up dislodging Portugal from the number 1 spot and moves them significantly into the harder bracket! Obviously if Ronaldo has scored the penalty to put them 2-0 up, it would have locked up the number one spot in group B. Ronaldo should be praised for his great two performances but criticised for his poor last game whereby he also risked also being sent off, out of stupidity.

Prediction – Result

1. Spain – Spain

2. Portugal – Portugal

3. Morocco – Iran

4. Iran – Morocco

 

Group C

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France have gone about their business and scraped 2 wins and a mind numbing draw against Denmark. France initially edged out an energetic Australia 2-1, whilst Denmark edged Peru 1-0. France once again edged Peru 1-0, but made it 2/2 win in group C. Paul Pogba and N’golo Kante put in great performances but the frontline of Griezmann, Mbappe, Dembele have failed to grab all the headlines and France look certainly better with Giroud up top and that seemed to suit Griezmann better, due to his club system wehreby he usually is the supporting striker beside a taller more focal point of the attack so leading the line by himself does not suit his strengths. Therefore it is no surprise that he thrives in the system Atletico Madrid system.

Peru were unlucky to fall to Denmark and then France, however beat Australia in their final group game which included a goal from captain Paolo Guerrero, who was only able to play in the tournament after a tribunal overturned a 14-month drug ban. Peru although were eliminated after matchday 2, will be pleased to have at least one win to their name and finish 3rd in group C.

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Australia started well in games 1 and 2, but looked flat in-game 3 whereby they still had a chance at qualification. Australia seemed to lack that prominent talent in attack that could for example have one shot and one goal, that sort of telnet could have seen them into the latter stages in this tournament.

Denmark have gone about their business quietly and went into the final group game with 4 points after edging Peru 1-0 and drawing 1-1 with Australia to then play out a bore draw against the French. Not a lot of quality on show but anything attacking wise comes through Christian Eriksen who I highlighted in my group C preview. He will have to standout in the latter stages of this tournament for Denmark to shock a few people and advance in the knockout rounds.

Prediction – Result

1. France – France

2. Denmark – Denmark

3. Australia – Peru

4. Peru – Australia

 

Group D

Group D produced it’s fair share of excitement and shocks. Argentina struggled and only just progressed whilst Croatia dominated and swept all opponents. Argentina initially struggled against Iceland and drew 1-1, which included a poor Lionel Messi who missed a penalty and failed to score in his 12 attempts on goal and seemed reluctant to share possession of the ball. Croatia defeated Nigeria with a solid 2-0 win, which included a Luka Modric penalty.

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Croatia vs Argentina was the standout game in the group D and Croatia demonstrated a professional performance which made Argentina look very poor, Modric and Rakitic ran the show while Messi and co, looked on in shock. The 3-0 victory, which easily could have been more, demonstrated that Croatia should be taken seriously at all costs and sent Argentina into turmoil. Funnily enough earlier in the day I predicted that Croatia could easily ‘do a job’ on Argentina as the South American outfit looked poor and disjointed previously, it seems as if Messi is now the manager as Jorge Sampaoli has well and truly lost the dressing room! Nigeria then beat Iceland 2-0 to close out matchday 2.

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Argentina sat bottom of the group and needed to beat Nigeria in their final group game, finally Lionel Messi entered the World Cup and scored a sublime goal to put the Argentinian’s a goal to the good until Victor Moses levelled from the penalty spot and Argentina were once again heading out but the unlikely hero that is Manchester United’s Marcos Rojo strike sent Argentina 2-1 in the 83rd minute. Ighalo missed two great chances for Nigeria and Higiuan who has history with missing important chances (World Cup Final 2014) missed a sitter as Argentina scraped through in dramatic circumstances. Messi was quiet in the second half but they finally found their goal to send a disappointed Nigeria home in dramatic fashion, in group D. Meanwhile Iceland fell to a much rotated Croatia side 2-1, meaning that Croatia and Argentina progress to the last 16.

Prediction – Result

1. Argentina – Croatia

2. Croatia – Argentina

3. Iceland – Nigeria

4. Nigeria – Iceland

Team of Match Day 2 – Modric, James, Lingard

Keylor Navas (Costa Rica)

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Navas against Brazil kept the favourites out just until injury time in the second half before being beaten twice just as the game needed, however that does not take away the Man of the Match performance from the Costa Rica goalkeeper, who I feel is very much under appreciated at Real Madrid. Navas made 7 saves, 3 saves which also includes 5 clearances as Costa Rica tried to stop the tricky Brazilian attack and Navas kept this from being a crushing defeat.

 

John Stones (England)

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John Stones helped England record a 6-1 victory against Panama, as it confirmed their last 16 spot. England look very dangerous from corners and broke free for a free header in the first 10 minutes and guided it home with precision and then doubled his tally before the half ended by nodding in Raheem Sterling’s saved effort after a clever free kick routine. Stones was also calm in possession and looked comfortable in the back three alongside Kyle Walker and Harry Maguire. Stones will vertically face tougher days and opponents in an England shirt but a World Cup is not a bad place to score your first International goals. Funnily enough John Stones now has more World Cup goals than Wayne Rooney.

 

Yerry Mina (Columbia)

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Alongside Stones is the Colombian Yerry Mina, who helped his side comfortably beat Poland. Mina was acquired by Barcelona this January and gave his side the lead in a key contest in group H. He also had the task of marking the Polish superstar that is striker Robert Lewandowski and he did a stellar job which includes a crunching tackle on the halfway line which left Lewandowski on the floor and Mina leading the attack after cleanly stripping the ball. It will be interesting to see how he develops and gets on in Columbia’s must win game against Senegal. 3 of Yerry Mina’s columbian goals have been headers.

 

Kenneth Omeruo (Nigeria)

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Omeruo had a standout game was his Nigerian side beat Iceland 2-0 to keep a last 16 spot in their hands, heading into a crucial game against the struggling Argentina. I previously didn’t have any knowledge on Omeruo and he is currently signed by Chelsea and has been sent out on loan in typical Chelsea standard. Omeruo was outstanding at the back and commanded the Nigerian defence calmly, he won all of his tackles in that game and made 50 passes. Hopefully we get to see more of him but against a line-up of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and co, it will certainly be a test.

 

Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic (Croatia)

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Modric is the heartbeat of one of the most inform teams in the tournament as they demolished Argentina with relative ease. I made a prediction with a few mates that Croatia would get the job done but how professionally and surprisingly comfortable shocked me. Modric pulled the strings alongside his La Liga rival, Ivan Rakitic as they moved Argentina all over the place and exploited the space. Modric is at least in the top 2 central midfielders in the world alongside Paul Pog…I mean Toni Kroos, and his talent were on full display as he found his second World Cup goal this tournament with a rocket outside the box, similar to the goal he scored against Manchester United in the Champions league which kick-started his slow start in Spain. Modric glides around the pitch with ease and outclassed Argentina from start to finish.

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He was aided by Barcelona’s Rakitic who was also marvellous and for me had a better game than Modric, he constructed just but all of the Croatia attacking possessions with his incredible passing on show. His positioning is also something to point at with his ease to find space similar to Andreas Iniesta and that was shown as he tapped Home the third to send Argentina into turmoil. Croatia are probably the most inform team at the moment and these two will be at the centre of the great moments moving forward.

 

Eden Hazard (Belgium)

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Hazard turned up to the World Cup party with a great performance as they punished Tunisia with ease as Hazard was given too much space and easily took to punishing them. Hazard picked up 2 goals and an assist in a 5-2 route that should have been more, if it wasn’t for some poor finishing that may alter the final group game mindset against England. Hazard showed his top-tier form that we don’t always see as he can an inconsistent attacking player at times, however when he is on it he can tear any defence apart. His low centre of gravity means he glides across the turf and the clever run to go beyond Lukaku gave defenders no chance as his pace and run was enough to be found by a teammate for him to easily slot home. Hazard changes Belgium from a talented team into a real contender when in the groove.

 

Jesse Lingard (England)

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Lingard helped England demolish Panama 6-1 in the second match day in group G. Lingard was a standout performer and my man of the match, especially in the first half as he found pockets of space with his great attacking positioning and this was shown for his stunning goal. He gave Raheem Sterling the ball and quickly relocated to space to arc and effort in off the crossbar and give his side a 3-0 lead in Nizhny Novgorod. Lingard also the 3rd best pass accuracy in Russia for England and considering he’s an attacker and constantly under pressure this 95.1% is very impressive compared to John Stones’ 97.6% and Kyle Walker’s 96.3%. Lingard in the past year has transformed his career as he is now a starter in both club and national side, as his end product has dramatically improved making him undroppable. Lingard’s ability to link the midfield and attack together makes him a sure pick on the starting eleven for Southgate and is performing miles above Dele Alli. JLingz doing absolute bits in Russia!

 

James Rodriguez (Columbia)

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James after the stunning 2014 World Cup has to wait for his first start in the 2018 World Cup until the second game due to injury and had to perform in a crunch game for Columbia. Similarly to Lingard, he makes the team tick and James was astonishingly good as he picked up 2 assists with two delightful deliveries for Yerry Mina and Juan Cuadrado, that second being spectacular. James has had a difficult spell after his breakout World Cup and rekindled some form in his past season in Germany but he was back to his best against Poland, and sent his teammate Robert Lewandowski home. With Rodriguez in this form, means Columbia are a team England desperately want to avoid in the last 16. World Cup James Rodriguez is certainly a game changer.

 

Ahmed Musa (Nigeria)

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Ahmed Musa brought back memories of FIFA 13 as his scorching pace exploited Iceland and he grabbed a brace to give Nigeria a chance of getting through group D. Musa had a great game and is now Africa’s their 3rd highest scorer in World Cup history and will have Roger Milla and Asamoah Gyan in his sights. Nigeria face Argentina in a key match to see who qualifies and funnily enough Musa has previously scored 2 against Argentina in the last World Cup so will history repeat itself?

 

Romelu Lukaku (Belgium)

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Big Romelu once again doing the business as he grabbed two more World Cup goals to draw level with Cristiano Ronaldo and a goal behind Harry Kane in the World Cup Golden boot. Lukaku was the first person to score multiple braces in back to back World Cup game since Diego Maradona in 1986. (Then Kane does the same thing the next day!) Lukaku at the age of 25 is Belgium’s major tournament leading goal scorer and national team leading goal scorer. Furthermore, Lukaku’s performance had it all with his tucking away his chances with ease and helping his teammates by creating space for them and that is apparent for Hazard’s second. Lukaku also has the most goals in the World Cup (when excluding penalties) and has been very efficient and with the service of Dries Mertens, Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard, there is surely more to come from Lukaku.

 

My Team of Match Day 2

 

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Notable absentees

Harry Kane – How can I leave a hat-trick hero off my team of match day 2? I felt Lukaku produced a better overall performance whilst Kane did slot his penalties away well he was fortunate for his 3rd, which he deflected in. Unlucky to miss out.

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Juan Quintero – He once again scored for Columbia taking his tally for 2 in 2 and was exceptional but the successful return of James Rodriguez takes the headline. With his contract running out, he may have engineered himself a European move? One to watch for sure, only 25!

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If I can stay on top of things, hopefully I can produce a team of match day 3 and team of the group stage post at some point.

Cheers,

Reaction to my NBA Predictions

A post long over due, a brief reaction to my Eastern Conference, Western Conference and NBA Finals predictions in the past NBA season.

 

Eastern Conference Finals 

(2nd Seed) Boston Celtics 3-4 Cleveland Cavaliers (4th Seed)

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This was a thrilling tie, whereby home court was held be each side until the final game in Boston whereby the Celtics only connected on 7/39 3 point shots (17.9%) and fell 87-79 to the Cavaliers. LeBron once again had a great series with 35 points, 15 rebounds and 9 assists in-game 7. I predicted the Cavaliers in 6 (4-2), so a 7 game series was not too far off my original prediction. LeBron was once again near perfect apart from some glimpses of tiredness, however the Cavaliers progressed.

 

Western Conference Finals 

(1st Seed) Houston Rockets 3-4 Golden State Warriors (2nd Seed) 

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The Durant-Warrriors faced their biggest test so far and Durant was inconsistent and was bailed out by great performances from Klay Thompson and Steph Curry for the Warriors to progress in 7. The injury at the end of game 5 whereby the Rockets had just gone up 3-2 to Chris Paul was a significant turning point, as golden state where able to overturn 2 10+ point defects in-game 6 and 7 to escape Houston with yet another Western Conference Finals. The Warriors clutched up, however they rode their luck as Houston had that major injury and shot woefully in-game 7 from 3, whereby Houston shot only 7/44 (15.9%) and missed a record 27 3 pointers in a row and this led to the Warriors 101-92 game 7 victory. I again predicted a game 6, for the Warriors so once again I wasn’t far off.

 

NBA Finals 

Golden State Warriors 4-0 Cleveland Cavaliers 

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A no contest from game 2 onwards which was disappointing to see. The JR Smith mistake broke the internet as he thought Cleveland led at the Oracle but sent his team to overtime, whereby thy lost despite the heroic 51 point game from LeBron James in-game 1. If Cleveland had stolen that game, the series would have been way more interesting but LeBron simply didn’t look the same after that game and regardless of injury or not, his level dropped and for a person in the GOAT conversation, that simply cannot happen in my opinion. I predicted the Warriors in 5, but again I was a game off with it ending in a sweep (4-0). In addition, I had Steph Curry picking up his 1st Finals MVP but after a horrific game 3 he through that chance away and Kevin Durant was found his form in that game collected his 2nd Finals MVP. Even if Curry had shot average in that game I belive he would have won Finals MVP due to some of his momentum changing party 3 pointers which were breathtaking. The Finals was a let down after that exceptional game 1, and it is left to ponder who will stop these Golden State Warriors? And where will LeBron James go to in the off-season?

World Cup – Bracket Predictions

I decided to make some predictions on the groups (posts on my the website) and decided to briefly outline my bracket, I aim to make some predictions to the actual games when the match-ups are decided as I am sure we will see some unexpected teams cause some interesting ties.

My Predictions 

Winners – France

Best Player – Antoine Greizmann

Golden Boot – Antoine Greizmann

England’s Progress – Quarter-Finals

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