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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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Mês de Ouro do Futebol!

(The Title is, “Soccer’s Golden Month!” in Portuguese)

90+ minutes, 32 national teams, 22 players on the pitch, 3 misguided referees (depending on who you’re cheering for) and one ultimate winner.

The beautiful game, for which it’s known universally across all cultures and languages, will once again step onto the world’s stage starting today at 4:00 p.m. ET for its biggest tournament: The World Cup. Having visited Los Angles in the summer of 1994 for my birthday when the United States hosted this magnificent sporting spectacle, I was fortunate enough to visit the Soccer Fest at the LA Convention Center. There, I saw something I’ll never forget. Despite being protected by thick transparent glass, its shining glory could not be contained. Golden in every way stood The FIFA World Cup ™ Trophy. Gazing in a moment of surrealism and, ironically, clarity, I had but one goal in life: to hoist that trophy above my head as a champion of the world wearing the red, white and blue.

20 years later (and one month from now) and one national team (which, sadly will not include me) will have the honor of fulfilling that very exercise. It will be historic, powerful and rewarding in every way imaginable. Fans will remember this moment forever. Stories will be told and, if one’s lucky, will be given the permanent tag of a national legend in his country.

So, what teams should we be watching a little more closely than others? What players will stand-out with stellar performances?

I’m glad you asked.

Teams to Watch (in no particular order):

Brazil – They’re the hosts in a futebol-rich culture with a young superstar in Neymar (22) who is looking to provide his fellow Brazilians with a few Pelé flashbacks/comparisons. Are they the best team? Debatable. But expect them to make some noise well beyond the group stage, both on the pitch and in the streets with a party or two…

Portugal – Cristiano Ronaldo, Pepe, and Nani are three of the players on a team that finally shined for a few games internationally at the 2012 UEFA Euro 2012 tournament. They’re fast, athletic and dangerous. Plus, Ronaldo is at the top of his game right now. As mentioned before on this blog, the slogan this team should have on the side of their bus is: “We Have a Star Player Named Ronaldo Who Speaks Portuguese Playing at the World Cup in Brazil…I Mean, C’mon.”

France – Franck Ribéry  With Ribéry ruled out of the competition with an injury, so go France’s chances to advance far in the tournament. Unfortunate for them, but likely true.

Argentina – There are infinite discussions about Neymar and Brazil’s chances for a return to World Cup glory. However, recall that Lionel Messi is still searching to cement his legacy as an elite footballer beyond his ridiculous club statistics and silly awesome performances at Barcelona. A World Cup hosted by a neighboring South American nation…It’s almost a perfect situation.

Germany – Neuer, Lahm, Hummels, Boateng, Schweinsteiger, Özil, Müller, Kroos, Götze, Podolski and Klose. Elite, veteran leadership coupled with a dynamite youth movement. Damn (or Verdammt). Enough said.

Belgium – This team could very well become the trendy pick/fun team to follow at the 2014 World Cup. Think Uruguay in South Africa four years ago…

Uruguay – Two names: Luis Suárez and Diego Forlán.

Holland – They will have (arguably) the best offensive/attacking set of players in Brazil in Robin Van Persie, Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben, Dirk Kuyt and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. Conversely, their defense will be young without a tremendous amount of experience (beyond a few of the defenders from Feyenoord). Still, Louis Van Gaal is their manager, so this orange Lion may roar with surprising purpose and confidence in the jungles of Brazil…

Spain – Yeah, they only won the World Cup in 2010 with a squad that features many of the same players who stood before the globe as soccer’s biggest champions in South Africa. How soon people forget as Spain has garnered very little fanfare going into Brazil. Their first game versus the Dutch (FYI- a 2010 Final rematch) will be telling in terms of the team’s initial momentum in trying to reach peak form again.

Players to Watch (in no particular order):

Arjen Robben (Holland)

Diego Forlán (Uruguay)

Fernando Torres (Spain)

Eden Hazard (Belgium)

Philipp Lahm (Germany)

Iker Casillas (Spain)

Lionel Messi (Argentina)

Wesley Sneijder (Holland)

Neymar (Brazil)

Mario Götze (Germany)

Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)

Gonzalo Higuaín (Argentina)

Michael Bradley (United States of America)

Robin Van Persie (Holland)

Manuel Neuer (Germany)

Mix Diskerud (United States of America)

Before any kickoffs, what teams will likely make the final?

Again. I’m glad you asked!

A Projected 2014 World Cup Final:

Germany versus Argentina

And (as of right now) it’s looking like the 2014 World Cup Champion will be…

Argentina

In picking the winner of the 2014 World Cup, a meeting with a marketing professional yesterday provided me with a unique perspective to use for this prediction. It stemmed from a phrase she used repeatedly, “leadership through guidance.” Regarding soccer, it’s not necessarily just about star power, but evaluating what team has the players and coaching staff to translate their vision into beautiful soccer on the Brazilian pitch in moments of chaos, clarity and some unexpected confusion.

Bottom line: It’s going to be a fun, wild and all-around b-e-a-utiful month of world-class soccer and partying in Brazil.

É Kickoff Time!