Oi Referee, What Was That For?

For any individual who has played sport, there would have been an instance when they were perplexed by a certain decision made by the match official. With a mixture of feelings – anger and injustice to be the most likely – the player in question would likely have approached the official in charge, only to be dismissed with a shrug and a cold-shoulder. If players aren’t given an explanation, then what chance do the fans have?

Well …

That was until a decision was made by the NBA to allow fans to get in touch with NBA officials over Twitter, to ask them any question they have. NBA fans will be able to send their questions over during two live games this week. The first game will be on Monday (Jan. 21), when Golden State Warriors visit the Los Angeles Lakers. The second game will be on Wednesday (Jan. 23) during the San Antonio Spurs and Philadelphia 76ers match-up.

How to get in touch?

Via Twitter, fans will be able to tweet at the account @OfficialNBARefs or use the hashtag #RefWatchParty to garner responses from officials who will be following the games in real time.

Is this a good idea?

I’m a fan of the NBA, and all of the extra-curricular activities that the players are obligated to do. I’d say it’s about time that referees were thrown into the mix, too. It’s no secret that most fans of the league question the integrity and impartiality of those officiating. Although such feelings will still be present, the gains from such a publicity act far outweigh the negatives.

So, can the “World’s Game” learn from other sports?

Personally, I can understand why football referees don’t want to slow up the game. But what I can’t understand is that those same officials are never held accountable for decisions they have made incorrectly. Decisions that have clearly affected the outcome of the game and, in turn, have caused disappointment for a huge group of people – or an entire nation.

Moreover, professional referees are forbidden from addressing the media directly until  they retire. Yet the same geniuses who forbade the referees made it compulsory for the manager of a club to attend press conferences.

Seems fair, right?

Surely it wouldn’t be a bad idea to try something in football that would help eliminate the schism created between officials and the rest …

Having said that, I am very much against the concept of contacting referees via Twitter, as Twitter attracts mindless “trolls” who will just hurl about abuse. (Though admittedly, some referees deserve all the abuse that they get.) If this were the case, the governing body of the sport would surely just shut down the account, and never again entertain such a channel for fans and officials to communicate.

Their reasoning: “We tried it, and it didn’t work!”

Yeah, well the Financial Fair Play (FPP) hasn’t worked either, has it?

Twitter is a no. What else?

Another option could be for referees to speak to the media. After all, it would be a safe environment. The questions would be delivered by a professional sport’s journalist, and the majority of what they are to say would help appease angry players or fans who could then try to understand the official’s point of view.

Win, win and win.

Nigel Owens (one of the best Rugby Union referees) dealing with players.

If this is not possible, then why not mic-up the referees, like they do in rugby and the NHL? In cricket, rugby and NBA, they even mic-up the players, which has led to some amazing moments.

NBA players chatting to one another.

Such a change would allow fans to eavesdrop on what is being said and actually understand what is going on. Eventually, (hopefully) you could begin to see change in football culture. Which, truth be told, is a culture based on bias, abuse, distrust and corruption, from top to bottom.

I realise that one issue this presents is that the language footballers use is atrocious. However, with the referee mic’d-up, the players would be held accountable and fined per F-word. That money could even go to a children’s charity. Even the dumbest footballer would eventually make the connection.

“I say F-word, money go down.”

“I talk nice, money stay.”

Whatever way you look at it, the NBA, NFL, NHL, rugby and cricket have shown that allowing the outside world onto the pitch is both doable and effective. Maybe it’s time for football to take some steps towards allowing the true sufferers of the sport – the fans – a chance to be involved. After all, without the fans, the game wouldn’t exist.

Who Next For Real Madrid?

vienna-reyes-616728-unsplash
Photo by Vienna Reyes on Unsplash

As mentioned several days ago, Julen Lopetegui has been relieved of his duties at Real Madrid. So now, the question on every football fan’s lips is: Who will be the next permanent manager?

As it stands, ex-player Santiago Solari has taken the role as caretaker-manager. This basically means, “You are the manager until we find someone who is actually worthy of the position.” Now, that doesn’t mean that Solari has no chance of being named the permanent manager. Historically, many clubs use caretaker-managers to give themselves a chance to make the right appointment, and then end up giving that individual a full-time position, especially if those in power see a rejuvenated team start to perform.

It is also very important to know that a club like Real Madrid prefers to appoint managers who have grown up with, played for, or been involved with the club in the past. They need people at the club who understand the Madrid way, so they can eliminate the need for a honeymoon period. Solari fits the bill in this instance, as he was the manager of Real Madrid Castilla (Real’s reserve team) and, prior to that, was in charge of the youth team at the club. He also played over 130 games for the club between 2000 and 2005.

When you put these aspects together, Santiago Solari is rightfully the bookies’ favourite to be given the permanent manager role, especially if he can get the team playing well. He will be following in the footsteps of Zinedine Zidane, who was promoted to Real Madrid manager whilst being in charge of the reserve team.

Unfortunately for Solari, I don’t think he has the technical nous or knowledge to be successful at the top of the game, meaning that Perez will need to look elsewhere.

That leads us nicely onto the most obvious candidate … Antonio Conte.

Conte is currently available, which makes him a fantastic target. As Real Madrid will not need to pay any compensation to another club for stealing their manager from them. After forking out a fortune to sack Lopetegui, this might be the best option for them. Plus, it’s not like Conte is a terrible manager. He brings with him a fantastic record, winning five trophies in his three years in charge of Juventus (3x Serie A, 2x Supercoppa Italiana), receiving plaudits as Italy manager, and picking up a couple of trophies in England with Chelsea (Premier League and FA Cup). Conte is a winner, and Real Madrid need to find a way to win.

Yet, Perez will be tentative to go knocking on Conte’s door just yet. Last thing anybody at Real Madrid wants is a manager who will happily criticise the board members in front of the media, or sulk at not getting what he wants (both of which were things that Conte was happy to do regularly before getting the boot from Chelsea chairman Roman Abramovich).

My Italian isn’t up to scratch, so, I can’t verify what he is saying … but going on his facial expressions, he isn’t being very nice…

Other alternatives may include Roberto Martinez (Belgium’s coach), Joachim Lowe (Germany’s coach), or Jose Mourinho (with Manchester United). Unfortunately, those options wouldn’t be of any use to Real Madrid, as they are all tied up in well-paying jobs elsewhere.

So, it comes down to one of two options, as I see it:

Mauricio Pochettino (left) and Arsene Wenger (right)

Perez’s first choice is likely to be Mauricio Pochettino, who would be an exceptional fit for Real Madrid. Pochettino is a manager who has won plaudits wherever he has gone, despite not having any trophies to his name as a manager. Unfortunately for Perez, he is unlikely to get his wishes right now, and would have to wait until the end of the season before finalising any deal for Pochettino. The added bonus for waiting would be that Pochettino would probably be able to convince star striker Harry Kane to come along with him.

The only other possibility for Real could be to hire Arsene Wenger. Wenger has been out of work, by choice, since he resigned as Arsenal’s manager at the end of last season, after 22 years in charge. This opportunity with Real Madrid may be the one that brings Wenger back into management, as it’s a club that has the right tools for him to be successful.

It is important to know that Real Madrid do have time to make the right decision for them, as neither Mauricio Pochettino or Arsene Wenger are likely to be signing a contract anytime soon. Pochettino will not leave halfway through a season; he has clarified that on many an occasion. As for Wenger, he is only likely to join a top team from a top league, and that list is not very expansive. Especially if you rule out that he would unlikely go to Arsenal’s rival team, and all the other major teams are pretty happy with their managers, as it stands.

What will happen then?

For me, one of the following two possibilities will materialise, but it all depends on how Solari gets the team playing.

Option No. 1: Hire Solari until the end of the season and then approach Pochettino. He will very likely take the job. This option would be perfect, knowing that Wenger could be a very likely back-up.

Option No. 2: Approach Wenger now, knowing that he will definitely want a long-term contract. As a result, approaching Pochettino would be out of the question come the end of the season.

Whatever way you look at it, there will be a quality manager at the helm next year. Teams like Real Madrid don’t stay in a slump for too long.

Welcome To My Page!

Hi!

My name is Mehmet. Also known as Galafan (Galatasaray Fan) and now The Sports Gent.

It’s always important to introduce one’s self, as any gentleman would, whether a gentleman of nobility, or one that is self-proclaimed by force. (Or perhaps all other potential names were taken or vetoed by my partner …)

Oh well!

So, firstly, you’re probably wondering who this “Manfriend” character is. That’s me! Yes, I realise I am “The Sports Gent” as well. You see, I have been a guest writer on my partner’s blog, and she asked me to come up with a name and material as it would “help improve (my) writing,” which is vital for me as I want to write a novel in the future. … Keep to the point, Manfriend Gent, or whatever the hell your name was, or is, or …

Erm, where was I??

So, yeah, those posts were my entries on her blog, and I didn’t want to alter them.

BTW, she is an excellent writer (much better than I am), and she has plenty of humorous stories that will definitely tickle some of you. Please do check them out. (No, she didn’t make me do this.)

After months of guest blogging, I have decided to set up my own site and try to “Educate, Elaborate and Evaluate” on or about different sports from all around the world. As an avid fan of all sports, it was only a matter of time before I forced my ideas onto wider society. But first, I want to infiltrate the blogging world.

That’s enough chatter from me. I’m sure there’s some sort of match or competition I should be watching right now!

See you soon.

Manfriend’s Mumblings | Sports Chat: The Ryder Cup 2018

So, do you fancy walking in zig-zags around a field, often searching for a tiny white ball (which is usually hiding mischievously under a solitary leaf, making it almost impossible to spot)?

Well, then you’d love golf, a sport so difficult to play that it can sometimes lead to rage, even more so because of the amount of money you’ll spend to look “the part”.

I guess if you can look like a pro, you can play like a pro, right?

(Of course, then your first ever shot may just send the ball trickling inches off the tee, leaving it a good 30 yards behind the golf club you lost grip of on the swing. You look at the ball, and the club, and you scratch your head.

“How could I be so bad?” you think.

I mean, you look “the part” after all.)

Thankfully, the pros are a little better, and this week will see some of the best in the world go head to head in what is the best team tournament in golf: The Ryder Cup.

When getting set for this tournament, the first thing that was decided were who the captains and vice captains would be. The U.S. captain is chosen by the Professional Golf Association (PGA) of America. They went with Jim Furyk.  He then, in turn, picked a team of vice-captains to aid him. Furyk is an interesting choice, as he is the joint record holder with Phil Mickelson for the most defeats in matches at the Ryder Cup (at a hefty 20). 

Jim Furyk’s opposite number* was chosen by the European Tour’s Tournament Committee, and they went for the equally experienced Dane, Thomas Bjorn.

Both the captains then went on to choose five vice-captains to help them. Basically, they chose their mates. It is important to remember, though, that neither of the captains, or their vice-captains, are able to compete.

So what do they actually do?

Before we get to that, it is important to understand who the players actually playing are and how they are chosen for the team, and what the format of the tournament is.

Let’s start with the American team. 

  • The first eight players are the top eight from the World Points List;
  • The captain picks the remaining four players

And for the European team:

  • Four of the players are the top four in the European Points List;
  • The next four are leaders from the World Points List;
  • And the captain picks the remaining four players.

As for the format:

The Ryder Cup
The Ryder Cup (Photo Courtesy of WikiCommons)

The Ryder Cup is played over three days and follows match-play rules. So, the lowest number of shots taken wins that hole, and the team gets a point. If the competing players hit the same number of shots, then the point is halved and they continue until someone wins, or the match is tied.

Days 1 and 2 will be played on Friday, September 28th and Saturday, September 29th. Both days follow identical schedules, with four games of four-ball, and four of foursome matches. (Not the kind of foursome you might be thinking of, so take your mind out of the gutter …)

To clarify:

In four-ball: Each player plays their own ball, and the lowest score is taken. So, for example, if the American team players score 4 and 5, their overall score is 4.

In foursomes: Each pair plays the same ball by taking alternate shots. One player tees off on all of the odd-numbered holes, and the other on the even-numbered ones.

Day 3 will be played on Sunday, September 30th, and consists of all 12 players playing head-to-head matches against a single player from the opposition side.

The first team to 14.5 points wins. If they are tied at 14 apiece, then the reigning champions – the U.S. –  will retain the trophy.

This is where the captains come in. As you’ve seen, they make the initial four picks, decide on the pairings and on who should tee off on which holes. They then follow their players, giving them continuous advice along the way. Now, this latter role is probably a little silly, as the players competing are often better golfers than the captains. In this matter, you can think of the captain as the broke uncle who keeps trying to give you advice on how to save money.

By this point, I’m sure you’re extremely excited for the competition. I also realize the next sentence may force you to frantically search for the red cross in the top corner, but I’m willing to take the risk.

It’s time now to see how the teams compare.

Nice, you’re still with me!

Dustin Johnson
Dustin Johnson (Photo Courtesy of WikiCommons)

Everywhere you look, the American team has an advantage. They have the best player in the world in Dustin Johnson, and their lowest ranked golfer is Phil Mickelson, who has won many tournaments throughout an illustrious career. He is ranked 25, which is already better than four of the European players.

In terms of team quality: Advantage, America.

What about the rookies?

America has three (Justin Thomas, Bryson Dechambeau and Tony Finau), whereas Europe is giving a debut to five players (Alex Noren, Thorbjorn Olesen, Jon Rahm, Tyrrell Hatton and Tommy Fleetwood). So, not only will Europe have more rookies, but the American rookies, on paper, are much better.

Advantage, America. Again.

Come the end of their careers, most golfers are judged on their success in major tournaments, and there are four of them (US Masters, The Open, The US Open and The PGA Championship). Unfortunately, Europe fall a little short here, too. American team have won a combined 31 majors spread amongst nine players, albeit Tiger Woods won 14 of them. Whereas Europe has 8, split between 5 players. Hmmmm, not looking great.

Advantage America, yet again.

So, does Europe actually stand a chance? Well, the American team always seems to struggle outside of the U.S., and despite coming here with the better team and as reigning champions, there is a sense the Europeans may be able to win on home soil again. In fact, the last time the American team was victorious on foreign soil dates as far back as 1993.

It is also important to know that the venue is Le Golf National in Paris, France, which I’m sure we are all familiar with. (Hold on, I’ll go check Google images, just in case.)

Le Golf National
Hole 15 at Le Golf National, in Paris, France. (Photo courtesy of http://www.gitedudonjon.fr/?page_id_9)

This is a huge advantage for the Europeans, as 11 of the 12 players have finished in the Top Ten of a tournament held here, with two of them winning. In contrast, only three Americans have even competed here, and two of them never made the cut.

To further add to Europe’s claims, they have won three out of the last four Ryder Cups, despite being huge underdogs in a couple of them.  A lot will depend on whether or not the home fans will be vociferous enough to upset the American players and give Europe the advantage that they need. (This is something the American fans always provide whenever the tournament is played across the pond.) Obviously it will be up to the players to provide the fireworks to get the crowd cheering early. That’s something Boo Weekley, (yes, it is a stupid name), did in a not-so-subtle way in 2008.

Thankfully, none of us will ever have to see that again, especially in slow-mo!

Anyway, Advantage Europe!

So who will win?

Despite the U.S. coming over as reigning champions and boasting players who are in-form, I would still have to go with the European team. This is partly due to defiance, as it seems even the European media have written off the home side. More so, I say this because recent history points towards a possible “under-par” performance from the Americans, who are being captained by a player who never really managed to “cut it” at the Ryder Cup. Couple that up with past performances of the Europeans at this course, and it goes a “fair-way” to arguing Europe’s case.

(I won’t lie, I was just reminded by my partner that I first said the Americans were going to win, but after seeing that Boo Weekley video again, I changed my mind.)

Come on Europe! Get in the hole! … No, not like that you dirty #@$$%#@&.

European Flag
The European Flag (Photo Courtesy of WikiCommons)

“Opposite number” is one of those Britishisms, meaning the same as counterpart, or simply opposite. So in this case, the captain for the opposing team.

Manfriend’s Mumblings | Sports Chat: The Champions League 2018

[Hey everyone! Manfriend, here. So, I’m sure people have been worried about my absence, but I decided to take a short break off from blogging after this summer’s awesome World Cup. I wasn’t really sure when to start back up again, but then I got a request from my partner about writing something for the Champions League, so here I am! Let’s get to it.]

The Champions League.

In 1955, what was originally named the European Cup was established. In 1992, the tournament changed its name to Champions League. Today (and in all the years of its history), this tournament is one that excites most football fans around the globe. It is Europe’s No. 1 club competition, and it gives every football club on the continent a “chance” to lift the trophy. Whether you are from one of the big footballing nations, such as, England, Spain, Italy or Germany, or from minnows like Luxembourg or Andorra, as long as you have a recognized domestic league, your clubs have an opportunity to be victorious.

Well, kind of.

Let me explain this thing.

First, how to qualify:

This takes care of itself, really. Every recognized European nation, apart from Liechtenstein (who don’t have a domestic league) will be assigned places in the two European competitions, the other being Europa League, Europe’s second-tier club competition. The allocations are based on the performances of that nation’s domestic clubs over the last five seasons. So, the better your teams perform in Europe, the better your ranking is as a nation, which leads to more spots in the larger competitions. As a result, England and Spain are given four spots apiece, whereas San Marino only get one.

Those allocated spots are filled by clubs who win their domestic leagues or finish in the top four. This all also depends on how many places you have been allocated. For example, the top four teams from England qualify, whereas only the champion from San Marino gets a spot.

On its surface, it may seem unfair. However, it may also be OK. Ultimately, though, the chances are that you will never see that team from San Marino compete, as they have to enter in at the qualification rounds. Think of it as a “getting rid of the trash” round. A nation with one qualifier will need that team to play three to five home and away matches in order to get to the competition proper, while three-quarters of the teams from England qualify automatically for the group stage, with the fourth team having to play just one home and one away tie to make it.

Alas, that’s just how it goes.

(Still don’t get it? Here’s my friend, Wikipedia, to help explain.)

Anyway, once you get to the group stage, that’s when the competition really sets in. Groups are decided with a random draw based on seedings. Once assigned, things kick off!

Eight groups of four teams play in a league format. Each team plays the other three teams both at home and away. The points system is as follows: 0 for a loss, 1 for a draw and 3 for a win. The games are played on a weekly or fortnightly (that’s every two weeks for friends in America) basis, with the top two teams advancing to the knockout stages. The third team drops down to play in the knockout phases of the Europa League. The fourth team is eliminated.

Then there’s a winter break from December to February.

Once we reach the knockout phase, all eight teams who finished first will play the eight teams that finished second, in accordance with another random draw. The games take place at home and away, with the advancing team being decided on by an aggregate score. Winners go into the quarters. The draw repeats, and things go on until there are two left for the final. This year, that match will take place in Madrid.

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Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid, where this season’s final will be held. (WikiCommons)

I realize the Champions League may sound no different to any other football tournament, and that’s partly true. But once again, the drama, talent and unpredictability makes this a great spectacle. The past has seen teams like Nottingham Forest, Aston Villa, Celtic, Red Star Belgrade, Feyenoord and Steaua Bucharest achieve greatness. Unfortunately, these teams will be very unlikely to repeat such triumphs again, as money has taken over. That doesn’t mean, though, that predicting the winner is easy. It’s predicting the country of origin that’s not so difficult. The last time a team from outside the top four nations (England, Spain, Italy, Germany) won was in 2003/04: Porto of Portugal.

Since then, the top four nations have monopolized victory:

  • England took home three, with Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool;
  • Spain nabbed eight, with Barcelona and Real Madrid each winning four times;
  • Italy took two, with AC Milan and Inter Milan;
  • Germany won one with Bayern Munich.

The last time a club outside one of those four countries even reached the final was in 2003/04, when Monaco lost to Porto. This year, the only chance of it happening will be if PSG (Paris Saint Germain) make it (which wouldn’t shock anyone, as they are filthy rich). Money has completely eradicated the “fairytale ending,” yet, as always, I’m excited.

Why?

Just look at the teams that are involved: Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus, Bayern Munich, and the list goes on.

More importantly, my team, Galatasaray from Turkey, are involved again, following some tumultuous years for the club.

champsleague3
Galatasaray fans in London, cheering the team on in a 2004 match against Chelsea. (WikiCommons)

(Much to my partner’s chagrin,) I will be up at 3 a.m. with my club’s colors on, willing the boys on to victory through the screen of my iPad. I hope you will join me and my team from wherever you are, ideally all the way through the knockout phases (but more likely to the end of the group phase.)

The Champions League is exciting, with a caliber of football skill on show that’s no less fantastic than that of the World Cup. Matches can be full of drama. If that isn’t enough to hook you, then maybe you should listen to the best intro music of any sporting event!

I mean honestly, how could anyone not be a fan of the Champions League?


As of this article’s publishing (Sept. 18, 2018), the Champions League is set to begin. Find information on the tournament here. And from our little home in Beijing: Go Galatasaray!

FIFA World Cup 2018 | The Final

Welcome to the World Cup final!

We started with thirty-two nations competing for the World Cup, and only France and Croatia remain. There wouldn’t have been many people predicting this, not even Croatians. No Brazil, who were knocked out by Belgium in the quarters, despite having dominated the game. No Spain, who suffered at the hands of their own lack of ambition. No Germany, who joined the list of reigning world champions that fell at the first hurdle.

As this is likely to be my final World Cup piece – no need for the tears or the patronizing slow clap – I thought it best to wrap up the tournament with a brief look at: the final; who I believe is deserving of the Golden Glove (given to the best goalkeeper) and the Golden Ball (given to the player of the tournament); and my favorite three moments from the tournament.

The Final

fifalast2
Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow: the World Cup Final stadium.

My heart says Croatia.

My head says France.

My heart’s vote isn’t because I like Croatia, necessarily, but more that I’m not one to root for the French team. (Being English and Turkish, I remember that, on their way to the World Cup final, Croatia did eliminate Turkey during the qualifying groups. I can forgive that, though. For now.)

France have an exceptional team, and Didier Deschamps, who won the tournament as a player in 1998, is a great coach, even though he looks confused most of the time. They have many world-class players who could win the game, whereas, Croatia will be heavily reliant on 32-year-old Luka Modric. One other important piece of information: Many of the current French players were part of the squad that lost to Portugal in the European Championships Final two years ago. They were favorites in that game, too, but ended up losing to a goal from Eder. They will be reluctant to let that happen again.

So, let’s say that Croatian team outperforms France. How long could they do that for? The Croats’ energy level will definitely come into question. During the knockout rounds, Croatia has played 120 minutes of football against each of their three opponents, whereas France cruised past Argentina and Uruguay, before a good win against Belgium.

I can even picture the tactics boards prior to the game:

Match Tactics: Croatia

1. Don’t let Paul Pogba control the game.
2. Keep an eye on Giroud, as he likes to run behind the defense.
3. Don’t let Griezman receive the ball between midfield and defense.
4. Watch out for Matuidi’s late runs from deep.
5. Pavard and Hernandez like to go forward. Our wingers need to track them.
6. Make sure you double up on Mbappe, as he is too quick for us.

vs.

Match Tactics: France

1. Stop Luka Modric.
2. Allez Les Bleu! Allez! Allez! (Come on the blues! Come on! Come on!

France will definitely go into the game as favorites. They have world-class players all over the pitch. Players that have improved as the tournament has gone on. On the other side, Croatia is a nation that has always been decent but has never really expected to reach the latter stages of a tournament. The best previous performance was a World Cup semi-final in 1998, which was (ironically) held in France.

A World Cup final. It doesn’t get any bigger than this, especially for players from the Croatian side, who may never experience this again. Some of the older players, like Modric and Corluka might even call it a day after this game, knowing that it would be a great way to end an amazing international career. Obviously they would love to win the tournament, but this game, against a strong and experienced French side, may be one game too far for them.

Prediction:
France 3 – Croatia 0

Golden Glove

I would give it to Hugo Lloris (France), but only just over Jordan Pickford (England). He has been exceptional throughout the entire tournament. Some of his saves have been incredible, and he has lead by example. His save in the semi-final from Toby Alderweireld’s shot was incredible.

Golden Ball

It’s very close for me between Kylian Mbappe and Luka Modric. I would definitely give it to the latter, though. As good as Mbappe has been, he didn’t really do much in the group stages, mainly because he didn’t really have to. Modric, on the other hand, has been the catalyst and mastermind behind Croatia’s success. Without Mbappe, France could still have made it to the final, but without Modric, Croatia wouldn’t have gotten out of the group stages.  I’m confident FIFA will award it to Mbappe, because they like to give it to whoever they like instead of who played well. The 2014 cup was proof of that, when Arjen Robben deserved the Golden Ball, yet Lionel Messi was given it. Shocking …

The Top Three Moments

No. 3

This moment came pretty early on in the tournament. It was the match between Portugal and Spain. This game was my favorite from the entire tournament. There were huge players on show, plenty of goals being scored, and a hat-trick from one Cristiano Ronaldo. This game signaled the start of a fantastic tournament after the dross that we had witnessed on the previous day – and to some extent, the previous two World Cups.

No. 2

England!

They played well, got to the semi-finals and even won a penalty shootout (the latter being something of a rare occurrence. Don’t believe me? Ask any England fan or the England coach, who missed in the 1996 Euro’s semi-final. The same fate followed the national team in the 1998 World Cup, when England was eliminated by Argentina). Unfortunately, as per usual, some England fans, both back home and abroad, took celebrations to a destructive level. I just don’t understand why. I, for one, actually wanted England to do well for a change. The main reason: The memes!

(A few of my favorites)

I have especially loved the “It’s Coming Home!” memes. England fans were using any excuse to tell the whole world that “Football is coming home!” The origin of the statement comes from a song by Lightning Seeds, and featured David Baddiel and Frank Skinner. The original song was created before the 1996 European Championships, and was then re-released with a few alterations before the 1998 World Cup.

This song has just reached Number 1 in the U.K. music charts for the 4th time. Baddiel and Skinner will be financially rewarded again, and probably keep being rewarded every two years, when a major tournament is being played.

Of course, leave it to folks to then take it to a new level:

[Editor’s Note: The memes following England’s defeat have been just as delightful, if a bit of a sore spot. Memes … such a delightful waste of time.]

No. 1:

Sit back, relax, watch and burst into laughter!

Thanks for that, mate!

What a tournament it has been. Full of goals, drama, upsets and VAR. I have seen every tournament since 1998, and this one ranks up there as my second-favorite of all time, after the 2002 World Cup.

For any first-time viewers, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Thank you Russia, for being a great host, contrary to what was expected, and I hope to see you guys again in four years when the tournament is in … wait, what? Qatar? I guess the Brexit vote isn’t the only decision that needs to be revised …


Manfriend has been a hell of a … let’s say, World Cup correspondent for this otherwise sports-less blog. To revisit all his thoughts, predictions and informative breakdowns from this year’s World Cup, read on:

Round of 16
The End of Round 1
Sports Chat: FIFA World Cup 2018

Thanks so much for your insights and incredible hard work. I, for one, am so thankful, if only because I could join football conversations and sound like I knew something about sports.

You’re the best.

FIFA World Cup 2018 | Round of 16

(Author: Manfriend, of course)

After two weeks of non-stop ball chasing, diving, goal scoring and suggestions to the referee to check VAR, we have wrapped up the groups. Many of the big guns have managed to make it through safely, despite not looking overly convincing. That can’t be said for Germany, who got dumped out of the tournament in the group stages for the first time since 1938. And honestly, hardly anyone is sad to see them go. In fact, there’s a word to describe this feeling around the world: “schadenfreude”, (a German word meaning “to take pleasure from someone else’s misery”)

However, nothing was more heartbreaking than seeing Senegal eliminated. Despite playing with heart, they were sent packing because of the FIFA fair play rule introduced to this year’s tournament:

If teams are tied on points, then the team who have received less yellow and red cards would advance.

 This rule led to one of the most farcical ends to a group stage since the famous 1982 World Cup game between West Germany v. Austria, in which a win by one or two goals for the Germans would have resulted in both teams going through. No prizes for guessing what happened. West Germany scored after 10 minutes and then nothing of notable happened for the remaining 80 minutes.

More on that absurd end later.

So, with the round of 16 about to start, the most exciting fortnight of football is upon us. Every coach, player and fan knows that they are FOUR games away from holding up the World Cup – previously known as the Jules Rimet trophy. (Some still referred to it today.)

The Jules RimetTrophy was the original prize for winning the Football World Cup. Originally called “Victory”, but broadly known simply as the World Cup or Coupe du Monde, it was renamed in 1946 to honour the FIFA President Jules Rimet who in 1929 passed a vote to initiate the competition.

Here’s what we can look forward to, and where the game could be won and lost:


Game 1: France vs Argentina

This matchup is one most football fans would have expected later on in the tournament. Personally, I didn’t expect it to happen at all. Neither one of these nations have looked very convincing, so it will be interesting to see if they are able to step it up for this match-up between historically gargantuan forces in the tournament.

The French are definitely going into the game with more confidence, and are the better team on paper. This should be more than enough to beat a lackluster Argentinian side who lack any direction or impetus. If France can neutralize the threat of Lionel Messi – easier said than done – then the game will be their’s to lose. It will be a relatively fast-paced game, and one that neutral viewers will enjoy.

Winner: France
Method:* 90 mins

Game 2: Uruguay vs Portugal

Uruguay will have Diego Godin, Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez, faced with the incredible Cristiano Ronaldo, Ricardo Quaresma and Andre Silva. There will be some amazing players on show.

So, why am I dreading this game?

Well, it’s simple. Uruguay are a disciplined side who prioritise defence over attack. They like to grind out wins by strangling their opponents into submission and stifling out any dangerous attacks that the opposition tries to conjure up.

Portugal won’t be much different, if their Euro 2016 victory is anything to go by. In that tournament, Portugal got through the groups with 3 draws, and didn’t actually win a game in normal time until their 2-0 semi-final victory over Wales. (Not a typo. I did write Wales.)

Don’t expect a goal-fest. The best way to describe this game is with a word that many Uruguayan’s live by: “Garra”. Simply put, it means “guts”, “grit” or “determination”. Both of these teams will show plenty of “garra” for the cause.

Winner: Uruguay
Method: Penalties

Game 3: Spain vs Russia

Spain haven’t really shown any weakness going forward on the pitch, but defensively they look a shambles. Despite having two of the best central defenders in the world – Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique – they are giving away too many chances, and conceding goals at an alarming rate.

Russia have already done better than expected, and will create chances against Spain. The problem is that they will also concede a few goals. If Russia is to have any chance of progressing in the tournament, they have to be more disciplined. All of their players need to perform their roles diligently.

I expect Spain to have too much firepower going forward. Their movement and passing will cut Russia apart. Once Spain score, Russia will push more men forward, turning this game in to a rout. However, if Russia score first, we could be looking at a potential upset.

Winner: Spain
Method: 90 minutes

Game 4: Croatia vs Denmark

What an opportunity this is for Croatia. They have managed to win the “group of death,” and it has left them on the easier side of the draw. The Croats have been clinical against their three opponents, and will now face a not-so-exciting Denmark side. This match will be won in midfield, which will definitely play into the hands of Croatia, who possess the better players.

Denmark’s only chance to progress will be by turning this game into a scrappy affair. They need to be smart, fouling when necessary and making sure the likes of Perisic, Modric and Rakitic don’t get too comfortable on the ball, while trying to muster up a chance to win the game through their star man Christian Eriksen.

Winner: Croatia
Method: 90 mins

Game 5: Brazil vs Mexico

After being taken apart by Sweden, Mexico are lucky to be in the knockout phases at all. If it wasn’t for the most unlikely of wins by South Korea over Germany, this tie could have been a repeat of the devastating semi-final from four years ago. Anyway, let’s all collectively say ‘Auf Wiedersehn’ to Germany. A smug smile is optional but appreciated. If not sure how to. Allow England Legend and broadcaster, Gary Lineker can show you.

Mexico have looked great so far, until their soft underbelly was exposed by one of the weaker teams in the tournament. Ill discipline and frantic decision-making could have cost them heavily. So, why were they so good against Germany and then South Korea, while looking amateurish against Sweden? Simple. Mexico is not a team that have the quality to chase a game. They are set up to hit teams on the counter. They opened the scoring in both of their wins, but got demolished in the game they conceded first in. Brazil will need to be aware of this and play smart football.

If Brazil score first, expect a comfortable win and a possible red card out of frustration for the hot-headed Mexican players. However, if Mexico score first, Brazil could be in for a tough afternoon. In either scenario, I don’t see Mexico winning, unless it goes to penalties, where anything could happen.

Winner: Brazil
Method: 90 mins

Game 6: Belgium vs Japan

Belgium, like many other nations, are referring to their current set of players as their “Golden Generation”. Never in the past have they had so many world-class players: Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens, Toby Alderweireld. The list goes on and on. They have players who don’t even get playing time despite being top stars.

Looks ominous for Japan, right?

Absolutely it does.

So, what can the Japanese do to progress? Do Belgium have a weakness?

Well, many might disagree, but I think they do, in Roberto Martinez, the coach. Some Belgian fans were a little apprehensive at his appointment in the first place, and despite an excellent qualification campaign, and three wins in the group stages, there will still be people who question his tactical nous. Arguably, the greatest thing he has brought to this squad of players is a feeling of togetherness, which they were lacking at the Euros. Yet, if they were to go a goal or two down, that “team spirit” feeling could wear thin, ending in a lot of finger-pointing across the Belgian side.

Could Japan be the team to destroy Belgium’s new-found togetherness?

Very unlikely.

Yes, they beat Colombia, but only because Japan played with an extra man for 87 minutes. Even then, the Colombians were the better side, until they understandably tired in the last quarter of the match. Against Senegal, they played well, but it was Senegal’s inability to finish that allowed Japan to scrape a late and unlikely draw against the Africans. As for the game against Poland, they got outplayed, out-thought and outworked. What was most disappointing was that, while they were losing 1-0, they heard that Colombia had scored against Senegal, which was enough to put Japan through to the knockout stages. What followed was incredible, in a not-great way: Neither Poland or Japan attacked. Poland wanted the win, and Japan to progress. Clearly both teams got what they wanted. But to take that sort of risk, knowing that Senegal needed only one goal to put Japan out, was more stupid than brave. Relying on another nation to do you a favour, especially when you can go and do the job yourself, isn’t anything to brag about.

Colombia won’t be saving Japan during this match. I wonder how they will fare when they have to win by themselves. I suspect not very well.

Winner: Belgium
Method: 90 minutes

Game 7: Sweden vs Switzerland

Sweden. What a team. They were boring against South Korea, naïve against Germany, and magnificent against Mexico. So, what should we expect from them against the Swiss? I genuinely can’t tell you. They have been the most unpredictable side for me this year. I do know, though, that without a world-class striker, their midfield will need to turn up.

Switzerland never look too convincing but always find a way of grinding out results, mostly in part to Xherdan Shaqiri. Sweden will need to keep a very close eye on him and make sure he doesn’t receive the ball near their goal at any time.

This match will be a war of attrition, and could be the second game to end up needing the penalties to decide who advances. I’m considering setting my alarm for two hours after this game kicks off, so I can experience the nail-biting tension of a World Cup penalty shootout, without having to waste over two hours of my life on a game that lacks any real quality.

Winner: Sweden
Method: Penalties

Game 8: Colombia vs England

When the World Cup draw was made, most people would have expected Colombia and England to face each other at this stage of the tournament. This expectation would have been followed by a confident: “Colombia will be too strong for England.”

I’m not sure those same people, myself included, are so confident now.

Colombia have played well, if not excitingly, so far. Their main strength lies with Davinson Sanchez, who has looked fantastic. The 22-year-old is the main reason the South Americans have been able to keep two clean sheets, against Poland and Senegal. He will once again be vital if Colombia are to be successful.

England have impressed, but against two weak opponents, making it very difficult to tell how good they actually are and whether or not they can be listed as one of the contenders. Their final game against Belgium could have given us a good idea, except both the English and Belgians decided to play their fringe players.

Oh well.

This will definitely be an intriguing match-up, with battles all over the pitch. The most important of which will be between the aforementioned Davinson Sanchez and the prolific Harry Kane. Not for one moment are England solely reliant on their talisman, but Kane is currently the sharpest shooter at this summer’s World Cup, hitting the back of the goal 5 times. Keeping him off the score sheet will give Colombia’s attacking line time to get the the goals they will need, and secure their progression in to the quarter finals.

Winner: Colombia
Method: 90 minutes

Nothing beats Knockout football, at the World Cup. No points! No draws! No second chances! Win or go home!


* Here, the method refers to how the match will be won. Will it be wrapped up in 90 minutes? Or will a goal in extra time be the decider? What about on penalties? We’ll find out!

For Manfriend’s previous World Cup articles, read on:

And as always, you can get your own schedule for the events – and all sorts of other World Cup info – here.