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The Beautiful Game’s Russian Blemish?

 

2018 world cup poster

(The official poster for the 2018 World Cup in Russia spotlights former Soviet goalie and esteemed Ballon d’Or winner Lev Yashin, courtesy of FIFA World Cup’s Facebook page)

And the 2018 World Cup groupings are…

  • Group A: Egypt, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Uruguay 
  • Group B: Iran, Morocco, Portugal, Spain
  • Group C: Australia, Denmark, France, Peru
  • Group D: Argentina, Croatia, Iceland, Nigeria
  • Group E: Brazil, Costa Rica, Serbia, Switzerland
  • Group F: Germany, Mexico, South Korea, Sweden
  • Group G: Belgium, England, Panama, Tunisia
  • Group H: Colombia, Japan, Poland, Senegal

Way Too Early Predictions of the Group Winner & Runner-Up are in bold.   

Instant Reaction: There’s no “Group of Death” and the 2018 World Cup in Russia will showcase a seemingly underwhelming collection of the (supposedly) best 32 national soccer teams in the world. Without any matches even occurring, one of the major stories related to next summer’s competition is the group of prominent nations that won’t stepping onto soccer’s biggest, brightest stage.

Slightly Longer Reaction: Despite some of soccer’s most notable nations and their leading star players and, in some cases, burgeoning international soccer brands noticeably absent (the United States with Christian Pulisic, Italy with Gianluigi Buffon, Netherlands with Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder, Chile with Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sánchez, Austria with David Alaba and Wales with Gareth Bale), a World Cup provides the ideal opportunity to elevate the sport’s next big name who presently flies beneath the radar focused almost exclusively on Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Manuel Neuer. Think back to 2010 and 2014 with Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben of the Dutch and Uruguay’s sniper and FIFA’s 2010 World Cup Golden Ball winner (tournament’s best player) Diego Forlán.

Who’s going to deliver a World Cup performance akin to Diego Forlán or Arjen Robben? Watch out for Poland’s Robert Lewandowski, France’s tank Paul Pogba and its talented youth movement, Argentina’s Paulo Dybala, Brazil’s speedster on the flank Douglas Costa and Germany’s Joshua Kimmich and Thomas Müller, for starters.

*Also, keep an eye on the fundamentally sound players for Japan regarding ball control. Trust me.

Insanely Early World Cup Final Prediction: How about Germany vs. Argentina, a repeat of the 2014 World Cup Final that so the Germans lift soccer’s greatest trophy? I may go back-and-forth several times in the next few months for giving Germany or France the advantage in a potential game to reach the final that would be determined by a razor-thin margin, as of right now.

When was the last time a World Cup Final featured the same two national teams in consecutive cycles? Glad you asked. It was 1986 and 1990 between, that’s right, Argentina and West Germany. Argentina won in 1986 and West Germany hoisted the golden trophy to the soccer gods in 1990. Furthermore, West Germany was the runner-up to Itlay in the 1982 World Cup.

Crazy Early and Stressful World Cup Champions Prediction: Argentina (see paragraph above for intriguing precedent occurring again)

More importantly, this could be Messi’s last best chance to win a World Cup for his legacy (he’s 30-years-old), which could be the special “it” factor for Argentina against its toughest opponents in Russia next summer. Cristiano Ronaldo (will be 33-years-old next summer) has that incentive too, but Portugal’s squad may or may not be equipped to string together a magical World Cup title run.

We’re only a couple weeks six-and-a-half months from the thrilling, world-class opening June 14 match of the 2018 World Cup in Russia that will feature global superpowers host Russia and Saudi Arabia. Remember that slightly underwhelming dynamic surrounding this World Cup mentioned earlier in this blog post?

There’s just no concealing it.

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KD with the KO?

118-113.

“I gave it everything I had both mentally and physically, so obviously I’m drained right now, I’m ready to get home.”
–Lebron James, after Game 3 of the NBA Finals

It’s not surprising that Lebron James, the favorite son of Akron, OH/the Cleveland area, is exhausting all that he has for his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. What is surprising is that his Energizer bunny-like effort has not translated to any wins in the championship series versus the stacked (under statement) Golden State Warriors.

And, for Cavs fans, the possibility of a 4-game sweep increased greatly last night. Not simply because the Warriors have a 3-0 series advantage, but because of one person:

Kevin Durant/KD.

The Golden State Warriors are playing great basketball. However, the Cleveland Cavaliers (truthfully) have a squad equipped to handle and defeat the Warriors. True story. But that’s regarding last year’s Warriors team that the Cavs defeated 4-3 for the NBA title.

If the first three games in the 2017 NBA Finals has revealed anything, it’s that Kevin Durant is the prized x-factor and the one player the Cavs have no answer for. Not only does Mr. Durant score a lot of points, block a lot of shots and generally influence Cleveland’s play in myriad ways, but he simultaneously takes pressure off of his teammates (who may be struggling) and stretches the Cavs defense far too thin for 4 quarters.

Odds are very, very high that the Golden State Warriors will win this year’s NBA championship. And Cleveland’s personnel deficit against Kevin Durant is proving to be too costly thus far in this series. Still, the Cleveland Cavaliers came back from being down 3-1 to win the series 4-3 in last year’s NBA Finals. The question is whether the Cavs can strategically figure out how to minimize Kevin Durant’s impact on the court.

Stopping Kevin Durant seems unlikely, but anything is possible. And yes, that sentiment that “anything is possible” does include a chapter in which a professional sports team in Cleveland won a league championship in the 21st century with a surreal, magic run. If a 3-1 series comeback was magical, how would a 3-0 series comeback be described?

Thanks to the 2016 NBA Finals, people in Cleveland, OH have a legitimate reason to dream such wild things. And that’s part of the underlying magic of sports:

Why not?

Cleveland Rocks!

It’s unanimous: The Cleveland Cavaliers are the NBA Champions!

Favorite son LeBron James, who was forgiven for “taking his talents to South Beach” based on his personal letter rededicating himself to his hometown and the people in northeast Ohio, led the Cavaliers to Cleveland’s first professional championship since 1964 (more than half a century) by making NBA Finals history.

The Cavs beat the Golden State Warriors (regular-season record 73 wins) in game 7 in Oakland 93-89 in dramatic fashion. At 92-89, LeBron attempted to put an exclamation point on the title and went for a spectacular dunk with around ten seconds left, but was fouled by Draymond Green and fell awkwardly.

Not again…

Akron’s superstar was on the court, curled up in agonizing pain having fallen on his right wrist (shooting hand). This ending was almost “too Cleveland.” After missing his first free throw, he managed to put in his second shot to give the Cavs a four-point lead. Stephen Curry had a chance to put up a 3 with about four seconds left, but nobody fouled him and he missed anyways.

The voice of Al Michaels popped into every fan cheering for Cleveland and answered in booming fashion, “Yes, I do believe in miracles!”

LeBron James was his MVP-self (third player ever to earn triple-double in game 7 of an NBA Final), Kyrie Irving proved he’s the best point guard in the NBA, Kevin Love showed up on the boards when it mattered, Tristan Thompson was a beast down low, J.R. Smith hit clutch shots on the perimeter and Richard Jefferson was a force off the bench.

For the first time in NBA Finals history, a team trailing 3-1 came back and won the championship. That statistic alone will keep the people of Cleveland smiling for generations.

“You remember the time when…”

For so many reasons, that was the only way Cleveland should have and could have won the NBA title. With their backs against the wall, the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the basketball giants in the Golden State Warriors with three-straight wins (twice in Oakland).

We all witnessed Cleveland’s hometown king raise an entire city from a place of heartbreak and lifelong struggles to renewed belief and an almost incomprehensible victory that extends far beyond sports.

The Drive.

The Shot.

The Fumble.

The Curse.

Last night, today and tomorrow, Cleveland will be known for The Win.

Congratulations to my fellow Ohioans with connections to Cleveland!  

We Believe You Won More Than a Game

On July 5, 2015, the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) made a declaration of independence of their own from the rest of the competing teams as the clear champions in women’s soccer after dominating Japan 5-2 in the 2015 World Cup Final. Carli Lloyd sprinted out of the gates for a spectacular hat trick in the opening 15 minutes. Earning their third title and first since the unforgettable penalty kick shootout victory in 1999, the USWNT made a statement to the world and inspired young girls everywhere.

Fittingly, the women were treated to a ticker tape parade earlier today in New York City, a first for a women’s sports team.

(Robert, Deutsch, USA TODAY Sports)

(Robert, Deutsch, USA TODAY Sports)

(Robert, Deutsch, USA TODAY Sports)

(Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY Sports)

It was a beautiful moment for the beautiful game.