Liverpool Is 1 Game Away from Champions League Semi-Finals

Liverpool is set to face-off against Man City in the second leg of their Champions League Quarter-Finals matchup at 2:45 PM, ET. The Reds won their opening match against City 3-0 at Anfield and baring a historic collapse, they’ll cruise into the Semis. Now, call me a pessimist, but this would be such a Liverpool move to mess this up.

Both Liverpool and Man City are known for their ferocious attacks, but each team has a health concern up top. Sergio Aguero was forced to miss the first leg of the competition and Mo Salah left the same game in the second half. While I don’t necessarily think Aguero is City’s best player, he does rank first on the team in goals scored in the Premier League with 21. Salah, on the other hand, is without a doubt the Reds’ best player and is almost a shoo-in at this point for Premier League Player of the Year. If I had to guess the two players’ availabilities, I believe that Aguero will start and that Salah will be available on the bench if needed.

Another thing that both teams benefit from is their top-flight managers, Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola. Klopp and Pep are widely regarded as two of the best managers in the world and these two fiery tacticians have breathed new life into these historic squads.

So, how do all these things add up to Liverpool potentially blowing this? First, Man City benefits from playing at home in the Ethiad. Secondly, just in the Premier League, Man City has won by 3+ goals eleven times, including a home defeat of Liverpool by 5-0 earlier in the season. And lastly, Liverpool’s defense is suspect at best. Since they’ve acquired Virgil Van Dijk and made Loris Karius their starting goalkeeper, they’ve been infinitely better, but there are still holes in their back line.

Ultimately, I believe that Liverpool will advance to the next round, but it’ll be close, and there will be plenty of goals. Life as a Reds’ supporter is going to be a stressful one today.

My prediction:

Man City 3 – 2 Liverpool

Liverpool advances 5 – 2 on aggregate

2018 World Cup Groups Drawn

2018 World Cup: Analysis & Predictions

The 2018 World Cup groups were drawn today and I AM HYPE. Like so many other US Soccer fans out there, I’m also pretty bummed that we aren’t going to be participating, but it’s still the World Cup. Don’t give me the “Well, we’re not in it, so I’m just not going to watch it.” You sound like a child and honestly you can get over yourself. Italy, who has been a soccer powerhouse forever, didn’t make it. Netherlands, who made some noise in the last World Cup and is downright scary to face, didn’t make it. So, like I said, get over yourself…we aren’t the only one left out. Yes, I’m going to miss going crazy at bars on match days wearing Red, White, & Blue too, but it’s going to be okay. This is a beautiful event. Root for your favorite league team’s players or pick a dark horse. Just watch the event, okay? Okay.

Now, let’s get down to it. I’m sure if you’re a true soccer fan, then you’ve been watching TV all day and listening to those bozo analyst’s picks and breakdowns, but they’re predictable. Here’s my knee-jerk picks and analysis.

 

Group A: Russia, Uruguay, Egypt, Saudi Arabia

First Reaction:

Is anyone going to say it or am I going to have to? COLLUSION. The average FIFA Ranking in this group is 45, and that’s with Russia’s own 65. In the US, we know a little something about Russia colluding in the things, but seriously? I don’t think that they’ll make it out of the group anyways, but they definitely have a shot. All it takes is one slip up by Uruguay or Egypt and they could squeak by into the Round of 16.

Projected Finishes:

1. Egypt – I think that the top two or even three in this group is a bit of a toss-up, but I’m going with Egypt to win the group for one simple reason; Mohamed Salah. If you haven’t had the chance to tune into a Liverpool game this season, check this cat out. He can play anywhere up front and chances are, he’s putting one in the back of the net EVERY SINGLE GAME.
2. Uruguay – They’ve been here before and I just don’t think they let an opportunity like this slip by. They are favorites to win this group, but I think they finish 2nd.
3. Russia – I want to pick them to advance so badly, but I just can’t do it. I’m absolutely certain that something crazy is going to happen in one of their matches though.
4. Saudi Arabia – They’re lucky to be here.

Bold Prediction:

Mohamed Salah is the leading goal scorer of all groups at the conclusion of group play.

 

Group B: Portugal, Spain, Iran, Morocco

First Reaction:

We have a neighbor battle! I love when things like this happen, because this tournament is more about countries going at it than individual players. That game is going to be crazy to watch.

Projected Finishes:

1. Portugal – Portugal was unfortunately drawn into the “Group of Death” last world cup and didn’t make it to the Round of 16. I think that Ronaldo realizes that this is his last chance to make a World Cup run and handles his business.
2. Spain – Don’t get me wrong, Spain is still a powerhouse, but they’re days of dominance are numbered. If I were them, I would give younger players a shot in this World Cup.
3. Iran – I don’t see Iran moving to the Round of 16, but I also don’t think they’ll go down without a fight.
4. Morocco – They’ll be lucky to scrape out a point in group play.

Bold Prediction:

Cristiano Ronaldo nets a late winner against Spain to secure the group.

 

Group C: France, Peru, Denmark, Australia

First Reaction:

If France doesn’t win this group then it’s going to be an all-time low for that country, and they have had some lows. Besides them obliterating everyone, I think this is going to be a very entertaining group to watch.

Projected Finishes:

1. France – Like I said, France should win this group…easily. They have some firepower up front with Pogba, Martial, Lacazette, and even more. I foresee them winning the group with a solid 9 points.
2. Peru – It’s going to be tight between Peru and Denmark, but I see Peru scrapping by on goal differential. Peru has been held out of this tournament for a long time so I think the country will rally behind the squad and push them through.
3. Denmark – They’ll score 4 points in the group and lose on goal differential.
4. Australia – The game against France is going to be a BLOODBATH.

Bold Prediction:

France finishes the group with 9 points and a +9 goal differential.

 

Group D: Argentina, Croatia, Iceland, Nigeria

First Reaction:

You have to root for a country that has the same population as Corpus Christi, TX, right? I’m all in…LET’S GO ICELAND.

Projected Finishes:

1. Argentina – This one is easy. They have the best player in the world as their captain. They’re winning this group.
2. Iceland – Can I get a Viking Clap? Listen, I know that this is a dark horse pick, but Iceland has heart. They’ll get by the stringiest hair in their Viking beard.
3. Croatia – I think they’re a better team than Iceland, but I’m all in on the Viking train. They barely miss out on the Round of 16.
4. Nigeria – A lot of times in group play, it counts just as much on how you play against the fourth place finishers. Nigeria is a fiery squad and I think they’ll take a point away from either Iceland or Croatia.

Bold Prediction:

Iceland makes it to the Round of 16.

 

Group E: Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia

First Reaction:

Switzerland is a very consistent team, but I think their FIFA Rank of 8 is a little too high. Look for them to get upset.

Projected Finishes:

1. Brazil – With Neymar Jr., Coutinho, and Firmino this Brazil team is as talented as any up front. They’ll be fun to watch going forward.
2. Costa Rica – This Costa Rican team is solid on defense, which will be very important when goal differential comes into play. It’s all about how they hold up against Brazil.
3. Switzerland – Switzerland will miss out on the Round of 16 because they’ll lose worse to Brazil than Costa Rica.
4. Serbia – I don’t see them getting any points in this group.

Bold Prediction:

2nd place comes down to goal differential with Costa Rica squeaking by.

 

Group F: Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea

First Reaction:

If I was Mexico, I would be PISSED right now. I don’t think that this qualifies as a “Group of Death,” because of South Korea’s presence, but it’s certainly top heavy.

Projected Finishes:

1. Germany – The defending champs get the job done and win the group.
2. Sweden – This all comes down to Zlatan Ibrahimovic playing. If he plays they’ll ride him to the Round of 16, and I think he’ll play. Why? Because “Lions don’t compare themselves to humans.”
3. Mexico – Mexico lets the unfavorable group get to their head and don’t make it through.
4. South Korea – Poor South Korea.

Bold Prediction:

Zlatan Ibrahimovic plays and is the leading goal scorer in Group F.

 

Group G: Belgium, England, Tunisia, Panama

First Reaction:

This is the draw that England needed. They missed out on the Round of 16 in the 2014 World Cup, but with this draw, they’ll make it easily this time around.

Projected Finishes:

1. Belgium – Belgium may be the best-rounded team in the whole tournament. They’ll get a tough match from England but ultimately win the group.
2. England – England will focus on getting through rather than trying to win the group. With their fans, they NEED to get through more than anything.
3. Tunisia – I admittedly don’t know much about this Tunisian squad, but I’m always excited to see African teams play.
4. Panama – They’re overmatched in this group, especially at the top.

Bold Prediction:

The top spot comes down to goal differential between Belgium and England.

 

Group H: Poland, Colombia, Senegal, Japan

First Reaction:

Sadio Mane and Senegal are going to ruin someone’s first place finish.

Projected Finishes:

1. Colombia – James Rodriguez and Colombia get right back on track and win the group
2. Poland – Plays solid against all three teams, but ultimately finishes second.
3. Senegal – Sadio Mane shows out against Poland and steals a point, but the African team won’t finish higher than third.
4. Japan – No points for Japan

Bold Prediction:

Sadio Mane edges James Rodriguez as top goal scorer of the group.

 

Round of 16

 

Quarter Finals

 

Semi Finals

 

Final

 

Winner

 

After many years of trying to get back to winning way, 2018 will be the one that brings it all together for this talented French squad. It’s a bold pick, I know. Usually the smart move is to go with the solid team, such as Germany, but I believe this is the year that the youngsters prevail. Any which way this tournament shakes out, I’m sure it’ll be packed with entertainment.

 

USMNT Eliminated from 2018 World Cup Contention: How Did We Get Here?

It’s been 31 years since the last time the U.S Men’s National Team did not qualify for the FIFA World Cup. Over these past 31 years, we’ve seen many leaps forward from what the National Team once was, but since becoming a regular in the World Cup have only advanced past the Round of Sixteen once. Essentially, it’s been 31 years of mediocrity from a country that expects its athletic teams to be on par with the rest of the world.

2002 was the only year the USMNT advanced past the Round of Sixteen and into the Quarterfinals where they were beaten by eventual runners-up Germany. The future was extremely bright for the U.S. Men, they had budding young stars in Landon Donovan and DeMarcus Beasley to pair with veterans like Claudio Reyna. The team seemingly beefed up their squad for the 2006 World Cup, by adding solid defensemen in Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo to the backend and midfielder Clint Dempsey to wing Donovan. That squad didn’t even make it out of group play. The disappointment led to Head Coach Bruce Arena’s termination as USMNT head man at the end of 2006.

Enter Bob Bradley. In 2007, Bradley took over the men’s program and infused excitement across the country for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The team still had the core nucleus of talent that included Donovan, Beasley, Bocanegro, Cherundolo, and Dempsey that Bradley added to with the likes young, speedy Jozy Altidore and Bradley’s own son Michael. With the emergence of a legitimate Goal Keeper in Tim Howard, the USMNT looked to be a legitimate threat to break past the Round of Sixteen again. In group play, things started well. The U.S. earned draws with both Germany and Slovenia in the first two games and went on to beat Algeria to advance to the knockout stage against Ghana. In what was the most watched association football match in American television history, Ghana broke American hearts and dreams with a goal in extra time to defeat the USMNT and move on to the Quarterfinals.

Bradley was signed to an extension through 2014 after the 2010 World Cup but was relieved of his duties in 2011 after another disappointing loss, this time to Mexico in the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup Finals. Early speculation feels as that it was this move, that the struggles we see on the pitch for the USMNT today stem from. The powers that be at the US Soccer Federation pegged former Germany head-man Jurgen Klinsmann to replace Bradley who had originally been assumed as their first choice for the job after 2006. Allegedly Klinsmann was supposed to manage the 2010 World Cup cycle and then Bradley takes over for the 2014 cycle. In hindsight, sticking with Bradley altogether may have been a better option.

Klinsmann’s tenure as USMNT manager a roller coaster at best. The team didn’t record a win in Klinsmann’s first five appearances, but then went on record historic wins in friendlies against world-power Italy and then beating Mexico at Azteca Stadium for the first time ever. In 2013, the team won its fifth-ever Gold Cup title. Later in the year, they secured their 2014 World Cup bid with a 2-0 victory over Mexico. The birth earned Klinsmann a contract extension through the next World Cup.

Then the turmoil started. First Klinsmann cut USA-legend Landon Donovan from the final 2014 World Cup roster, inciting shock and anger among US fans. During the 2014 World Cup, USA survived the “group of death” that featured eventual-champion Germany, Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal, and 2010 heart-breaker Ghana. However, the USMNT’s play wasn’t all too spectacular and only advanced to the Round of Sixteen on goal differential. In the Round of Sixteen, USA took on Belgium in another dream-shattering match. Tim Howard put the weight of the country on his shoulders for 90 minutes, but the Belgians were able to squeak two by the goalkeeper in extra time to end the American hopes. Another disappointing end for the national squad.

With the popularity of the USMNT at an all-time national high, Klinsmann’s job was in no jeopardy at all after the 2014 World Cup loss, especially fresh off sighing that new extension. But then the inconsistency and poor play began. A fourth-place showing in the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup where they were eliminated by Jamaica marked the team’s worst finish in the tournament since 2000. The team then missed out on the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup after losing to Mexico 3-2 in the Rose Bowl during the 2015 CONCACAF Cup Playoff. At the Copa America, the USMNT recovered to finish fourth, their best finish since 1995. However, the final blow for Klinsmann came after the first two games of the final round of qualification for the 2018 World Cup. The USMNT lost back-to-back games to Mexico and Costa Rica to put the 2018 World Cup at serious risk. Klinsmann was immediately replaced as manager and relieved of his duties.

The USSF tabbed familiar face Bruce Arena to try and bring the USA back into World Cup qualification contention. Arena was able to turn things around drawing results in qualification matches against Honduras (6-0), Panama (1-1), Trinidad and Tobago (2-0), and Mexico (1-1). This past July, USA won its sixth CONCACAF Gold Cup defeating Jamaica in the finals 2-1. On the face of it, the team had done exactly what it needed to secure a bid for the 2018 World Cup. They had a 93% chance to earn a bid, all they had to do was win or tie against Trinidad and Tobago or either Honduras and Panama lose. In the biggest game of the qualifying cycle, the USA came out flat and uninspired against a team that had nothing to play for and lost embarrassingly. To make matters worse, both Honduras and Panama pulled off upsets against Mexico and Costa Rica, respectively, to eliminate the USMNT from 2018 World Cup consideration.

There are no excuses for this team anymore. The thought that the USA invests so much more into other sports, whereas countries like Brazil, Germany, and Spain are focusing solely on soccer, therefore the USA can’t compete is completely bogus. The Women’s team certainly isn’t having any problems. If anything, the gap between those soccer-powers and the USA should be closing as interest in basketball in those countries grow and the number of parents in the USA directing their children to soccer instead of football grow. The USSF seems to be the fundamental issue here. Had they let Bob Bradley sort out some of the issues after the 2011 CONFACA Gold Cup Final, perhaps the USMNT wouldn’t be in their current situation. On the outside, looking in.

It’s time to clean house at the USSF. There needs to be a better vision, better focus, and better clarity at the top. The program needs to be moving in one direction, forward. For the past decade, it feels as if the team has been pulled in too many different directions, but ultimately running in place. End that confusion. Reshuffle the deck, and reform the USSF. It’s a critical junction in history for the fate of the USMNT. How they handle these next couple months will determine how relevant this team will be in the coming years.

 

 

Post by: RONGY

 

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