Thursday, July 3, 2014

World Cup Quarter Finals 2014

We are looking at a very open World Cup this time around. The round of 16 games in my opinon were very disappointing. The goal average dropped significantly and late scoring was very prevalent. I'm not saying there wasn't drama, just that most of it came late in games, and the tight matches may continue in the Quarter finals, where surely the tension for players becomes even more palpable. Strangely the renowned big gun teams are not firing as they should be, yet they still find themselves in serious contention for the crown. My feeling is that we may be looking at a first time winner this year, and very likely a first time European win on South American soil.

France vs Germany;

France. I have to confess that I haven't seen a full game that they have played yet, but results speak for themselves. They flogged Switzerland 5-2 yet the Swiss took Argentina all the way. A unified French team is a difficult team to beat and they have a World Cup winner at the helm in Didier Deschamps. They have been playing good Football for some time now and the 6-0 whitewash of the Socceroos last year in a friendly was ample evidence of that. They have serious depth in their squad, and so far have had a fairly cruisy time of it in this tournament, having most of their games won fairly early on in the piece, and are yet to go to extra time. They will be fresher than their opponent coming into this (important given the heat and humidity), and will be high in confidence.

Germany are always incredibly hard to beat in World Cup games, but I'm not sure that they are playing as well as they need to be. They struggled to beat Algeria to get to the Quarter finals and although their entry to the knockout stage was never really in doubt they didn't quite impress as much as expected. They haven't won a major tournament at Senior level in the new millennium, and whilst they might be due, it might also be a sign that their soccer super power status is starting to wane. Coach Joachim Loew needs to find a spark somewhere amongst his ranks, and soon, though he does have a bonefide star in his team called Thomas Muller. What a player this guy is! A prolific goal scorer from midfield in the past, he is now doing the same playing as a centre forward. He gets through an unbelievable amount of work, and is capable of catapulting this team into the final with his endeavours.

The latest word is there is a bit of sickness around the German camp (Flu supposedly). Even not being aware of that I really do favour France to win this one, but not overly confident it will be in normal time. You would think the longer the game goes on the better chance they will have (excepting panalties!), given they finished their match in normal time as opposed to Germany, who had to play extra time in their round of 16 encounter.
France to progress.

Brazil vs Colombia

Brazil have largely failed to flatter in this tournament and appear to be a shadow of the team that won the Confederations Cup in Brazil last year. I find that a bit odd because we have the same players running around with only Neymar is performing at a consistently high level. And by the end of 120 minutes against Chile he looked absolutely shot to pieces physically. Quite amazing he was able to stand up and deliver a decent penalty which helped his team progress. Hulk showed signs of coming good in that last match against Chile which is a positive, and just maybe the penalty shootout last time out will have been the wake up call the whole team needs to go on with the job.
A defeat  would be deemed unacceptable to their own population, so the pressure is well and truly an issue. On the plus side they are playing at home in a Quarter final and can channel the vocal support inside the stadium into a positive energy.

Colombia are probably the best Footballing side (from a purists point of view) left in the tournament. If there was a best team in the sense of up an coming players, this is it. And they are without their main striker Rademal Falcao who was expected to be vying for top scorer in this tournament, had he not been seriously injured before it even started.  Similarly to France this Colombian side find themselves in a Quarter final having expended far less emotional and physical energy (easier transition through Group, easier round 16 match) than their opponents. James Rodriguez can do no wrong right now and another goal or 2 here would make him almost a shoe in for the Golden Boot (what a great turn of phrase!). 
It is significant that their coach is Jose Pekerman because he also managed the Argentinian 2006 World Cup squad. For mine they were far and away the most attractive team to watch in that tournament, and to this day I am still amazed they didn't go on to win the trophy, especially given their dominance over the host nation Germany for the majority of their Quarter Final clash. Somehow they managed to lose that match on penalties. Once again Pekerman finds himself at the helm of a super ' Footballing' side facing the hosts in a Quarter final. But he is Argentinian and would probably like nothing more than beating the arch enemy to make a semi final in Brazil The worry for mine is why on earth Colombia sat back and invited pressure against Uruguay in the last 20 minutes of their round of 16 clash. They should have been more positive given the talent they have on display, and were perhaps a bit lucky not to concede late, which would have made things interesting. If they are going to be tentative in this match they will be made to pay I suspect. On the positive side they showed they could soak up pressure defensively for 20 minutes, which could augur well for them in this match.

I don't think there is a lot in this matchup but purely on what I have seen I do lean the way of Colombia. They are the ' new kids on the block' and look like they are here to stay, yet to be fully tested, and still appear to have a lot in reserve. They also have some phenomenol crowd support, so Brazil won't have a mortgage in that area. Colombia to progress but it might not be in regular time.

Argentina vs Belgium

Argentina are not looking like an obvious World Cup winner to me. They might be a better drilled side than the 2010 edition coached by Diego Maradona, but they are not a patch on the excellent footballing side that graced the 2006 tournament in Germany, where they got to this stage before bowing out to the hosts. What they do have though is one Lionel Messi and several other top grade players who could start to make their presence felt in the 2nd half of this tournament. Their defence is a concern, and the goalkeeper looks suspect which is why it is so hard to see them winning the title this time around. Tomorrow they face a miserly Belgian defence, whereas against Switzerland pre game it would have seemed a goal feast was plausible. Switzerland did come into that game off a convincing win though and had their tails up a bit. The 2 goals they scored late against France wouldn't have hurt the confidence either, albeit still a thrashing in that match 2-5. Getting a late win against that Swiss team won't hurt the confidence of the Argentinians who will probably fancy their chances of going all the way.

Belgium have made it this far which hasn't surprised anyone in reality. I've got to say I expected to see a much more potent and attractive outfit than what has been on display though. They were never really going to get beat against the US but failed to put a very 'flat' team to the sword in regular time. They missed chance after chance that day and will be coming up against a far more formidable outfit here, maybe not defensively, but certainly in  other areas of the pitch.
Romelu Lakaku could be their big hope. After falling out with the coach early on he was the one player to make a difference against the US coming on in Extra time. Surely had he played from the start Belgium would have finished that game off a lot earlier? How pivotal could his absence in that game have been, given they were taken to extra time and are now not as fresh? A sense of Dejavu here too because Belgium met Argentina in the semi finals in 1986, only to be hunted down by Maradona. This time their nemesis is likely to be another champion player in Lionel Messi. On the other hand revenge might be sweet!

I'm expecting this to be another tight encounter that just might go to extra time. Like the 2 games preceding it there is no way you can be overly confident of a prediction. I just think Argentina might edge it with Messi in their sid,e and they do look to have a more potent attacking force. If Belgium had been as impressive in that regard coming in to this game I would be leaning their way, but unless Lukaku can steal the limelight here I think Argentina will progress.

Netherlands vs Costa Rica

This looks to be the 'gimmee' game of the Quarter Final round, not just on reputation but merely on the 'mechanic's of how both teams have arrived here.

Netherlands looked to be in a lot of trouble deep into their game against a cagey Mexican outfit, who from memory didn't get into the Dutch penalty area throughout the whole match. Despite that they were able to shock the Dutch with a long range shot, and looked like they could shut out the Europeans until their defensive resolve was broken twice late on. That is the admirable thing about this Dutch team. On 3 occasions out of their 4 World cup matches this tournament they have come from behind to win. No other team has had to show that resolve yet, and when they have needed to come up with the goods they have done so with some ease. Tactically they have had to adjust in every game, and done so admirably. Substitutes have been utilised to maximum advantage and they have 3 or 4 game breakers to call on if required. Robben has run rampant all tournament and although Van Persie didn't have his best game against Mexico he is a relatively fresh player, having missed the game against Chile & he was taken off late last time. Young Memphis Depay is yet to fully realise his potential but is very capable of doing so from this point and Coach Van Gaal might be acutely aware of that. Right now the Dutch look to be the team to beat in the tournament, and this looks to be their easiest assignment yet given their opposition toiled for 120 minutes in their round of 16 clash.

Costa Rica have exceeded all expectation. They got through a very tough Group but that did seem to show against Greece in their last match. It was a poor spectacle in realiaty though not without late drama. The Dutch look a far sterner outfit to overcome and I just can't seem them doing it. The biggest thing in their favour might be they have very little to lose, and generally teams in that category play with a lot more freedom and can express themselves. Whether they will have the energy necessary to do so is the big question mark here. So much of that has already been used up against players with arguably more class, and at this stage of the tournament it is very likely to be a decisive factor that their opposition can expose.

Netherlands should win this one within the 90 minutes. If they can't do that then my opinion of them is grossly inflated. I'm not expecting that to be the case.

So summing up my Semi Final Matchups would be;

France vs Colombia
Netherlands vs Argentina.

Hoepfully that prediction comes to fruition.

Friday, April 25, 2014

A-League Semi Finals 2013-2014

Two mouth watering clashes this weekend that will decide who plays in the ultimate game next weekend.

On paper it would seem that match will be between Brisbane Roar & Western Sydney Wanderers which would end up at Suncorp Stadium next week. Not only did they finish 1-2 on the table, being the only two teams left in the semi-finals with a positive goal difference. They also had last week off to freshen up, and neither team had to travel to Asia during the week for Asian Champions League games, as did their respective opponents Melbourne Victory & Central Coast Mariners.

There is no doubt in my mind that neither MV or CCM will upset either of the home teams this weekend if they don't improve their performances of last week, despite both winning. Melbourne Victory in particular were second best against Sydney FC, and Central Coast were hardly convincing against an Adelaide United team that has proved rather 'toothless'  the last month or so.

Despite my negativity about both the outsiders there are still definite reasons both can win, and to be honest I find it very difficult to suggest that either games will be won by the favoured teams in normal time. Given that assumption if you want to have a bet on both those teams I would take the $1.83 available on Sportsbet for it being being the Grand Final matchup.

Western Sydney Warriors v Central Coast Mariners (Saturday 6.30pm Parramatta Stadium);

This is last years Grand Final replay and CCM will be hoping the result there of 0-2 is a good omen for them in regards to repeating the dose. This CCM side barely resembles the team of last season though and this will be their first final in charge for coach Ian Moss.

WSW come off an emphatic 5-0 win on Tuesday night against a weak Chinese side which enabled them to reach the round of 16. They are the only 1 of our 3 teams in Asia to progress this year past the group stage, though both CCM and Melbourne Victory took it right to the wire, with MV very unfortunate to miss out on getting there on goal difference. WSW also have the advantage here of having an extra day to rest and prepare with CCM having played Wednesday night and having to travel to Asia and back.

WSW also come into this match winning three of their last four games, and three in a row. CCM have won two of their last four matches, both in the A-League, but lost their two midweek games in Asia. So they don't come into this game in the best of form and also have the fatigue factor to deal with.

It is very hard to dismiss them entirely because they harbor such resilience and team spirit, which has been evident many times in the last few seasons. Being the underdog will definitely suit them as they are likely to soak up a lot of pressure and will most likely plot a counter attacking style of play, employed so successfully against Brisbane two weeks ago. That wasn't the case against Adelaide last week where they were the home team and only just edged the possession stats against their opponents. Obviously playing away from home is rarely an asset but it just might suit them here playing in front of a big vocal crowd and spoiling the party, as they did last season in the Final.

WSW do hold all the aces though and are most likely to win. I think one of the big reasons for their recent improvement has been the return to form of Youssouf Hersi, who was their key player last season I believe. Up front young Juric has strung a few games together now and he is just about ready to be a match winner. This team lacked a good central forward last year which ultimately might have cost them the A-League title. They have good depth in their ranks, and their squad of players has been well utilised this season, thus any player can be called on here to play their part if required. That helps when you have been playing a lot of matches in a short time. They might also use last years final loss as motivation, so complacency need not be an issue.

WSW should win this match but I'm not entirely convinced it will be in normal time. Surely though they triumph if it goes the extra (time) distance, given what CCM have had to endure re travel this week? Their $1.70 or thereabouts win quote is way too short for my liking, and well short of the $2.10 average required, so I personally will sit this one out

Brisbane Roar v Melbourne Victory (Sunday Suncorp Stadium 5.00pm)

There are many positives here for Brisbane, least of all the factor that MV have not beaten them at this venue since the 2009-2010 A-League season. They come off a two week hiatus which should be a positive given the three games MV have had to play in that period. They also come off a loss to CCM at Suncorp which should be the wake up call needed for them to produce their best. I say the two week break should be a positive but on the other hand MV are battle hardened and have improved massively the last month or so, unbeaten in four games, winning three of them.

The other problem I see for Brisbane is conversely one of their greatest assets in controversial but prolific goal scoring striker Besart Berisha. He has been in and out of the team all season and to my mind the team hasn't played their best football when he has been present. That is largely due to his lack of game time and having to fit back into a team that has had to play differently in his absence. No doubt he is a big game player and just might have a blinder here, but I just see his presence as a possible negative, especially given he hasn't played at this level for a month or so. I doubt that Brisbane would start him on the bench so they will be dearly hoping he is on song. Quite ironic too that he will play for MV next season, a factor I don't expect will weigh on his mind.

Melbourne Victory are under little pressure here because they aren't expected to win. That is a little odd because they are arguably the best performed side coming into the finals series, and have improved more the past month or so than any other team. The ACL has really steeled this team rather than left them vulnerable, after what was a very creditable draw in Asia the other night with four of their best players missing. They have a lot to play for here not having progressed in Asia and to get back to that competition this year they have to win the title. They played Tuesday night so have an extra day break compared to CCM in the other semi and have the luxury of calling on Mark Milligan, James Troisi, Gui Finkler & Pablo Contreras who didn't travel during the week. All four have been in great form of late and Milligan is inspirational as captain and Troisi has been their best finisher this year. Finkler has been their go two man late in games scoring some crucial goals and has been very good from set pieces. Contreras had been pretty woeful at the back for large parts of this season but has really found his best form when required.

I just think there is enough there to suggest an upset is on the cards and the odds are definitely right for an away team playing a penultimate finals match.

From a betting viewpoint I'm not sure what to suggest here but I'm keen to take MV to win in some form. They are $5.25 on Sportsbet to win in Normal Time or you could take the $3.98 no bet option and recoup your funds, if it is a draw at the end of 90 minutes (+ injury time). If Melbourne Victory do win that is still better odds than the $3.75 price that you need to take historically about an away team win. Sportsbet are also offering $4 about a draw in this match which is better than the average offer for that bet type, but still slightly shy of the $4.10 average required. In this case $4 could be deemed adequate though given the semi final status.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A-League Round 9

I may be only previewing the one match this weekend with a view to investing at value;

Brisbane Roar $1.60
Draw $3.75
Newcastle Jets $5.25

Once again here we see Brisbane Roar at a very short quote at their home of Suncorp Stadium. It isn't warranted though because they haven't managed to establish anywhere near the consistency of the past 2 seasons, and find themselves languishing near the bottom of the table, certainly not a familiar place for them to be. They have only scored 6 times in their past 5 matches (4 in one game) and have conceded far too many (10) in the process.  And they have  lost 2 of their last 3 home matches.
Defensively they could have major problems with Captain Matt Smith and fellow defender Ivan Franjic away on Socceroos duty. That is a massive hole to fill and one of the replacements could be Matt Jurman who hasn't been in great form of late.

Added to that this has to be the most bizarre matchup in the A-League with this fixture only providing 1 win for the home side (Brisbane) in 11 games. Even worse, only 2 others have been drawn with a total of 8 losses. Interestingly 6 of those have been 1-0 losses! Coincidentally when looking at the reverse fixture in Newcastle it is an almost identical situtation with the home side (Newcastle) winning only 1 of 12 with 4 draws and 7 losses.

Newcastle are probably the only A-League team this week to field a full squad unaffected by call ups to National duty. They have had no trouble scoring so far this year but also have struggled to plug the gaps at the other end of the park . You'd have to say that they are far better placed coming into this fixture than on most other occasions in the past few seasons, and with a better and more experienced squad. So they should come North feeling very confident of taking the 3 points especially after their fighting performance of last week, coming from behind to snatch a 3-3 draw against Melbourne Heart, also on the road.

At $5.25+ they are tremendous value of causing an upset here. A draw is a big possibility but once again the $4.10 required (only approximately 25% of Soccer games world wide are drawn) isn't offered as yet and is highly doubful to be.

Newcastle Jets 1-0 is being offered @ $13 so that too might be worth a speculator.