Friday, June 22, 2018

World Cup 2018 Russia Update for June 22, 2018: France Continues Roll, Croatia Shocks Argentina

Two games that went more or less according to most projections, and then one major upset on this day in the World Cup.

Who could have foreseen that Argentina would be seriously on the verge of being eliminated from even qualifying for the elimination rounds?

Meanwhile, France and Croatia both punched their ticket to at least the next round. Both sides are in the situation where if they win their next game, they will win their group and thus, apparently, will play weaker teams that did not win their division. That might be true, but as I understand it, my brother said that France will be assured a date with either Portugal or Spain. Scary prospect, either way.

But let us not get ahead of ourselves. We are still in group play, so let's review yesterday's results:

Australia 1, Denmark 1 - Denmark jumped out to an early lead when Christian Eriksen scored in the 7th minute to pull Denmark ahead.    

However, Michael Jedinak tied it when he scored for Australia in the 38th minute.

That was how it ended, with a 1-1 tie. Neither team was eliminated, but neither team advanced. Denmark next plays France, with the winner taking the group. Australia has to hope for Denmark to lose, and then to take care of business themselves byt beating Peru. Australia is winless in their last five World Cup games.

France 1, Peru 0 -  The atmosphere for this game was apparently incredible, due tothe passionate fans of Peru who had traveled thousands of kilometers to get here. Being French, I was pulling for France, yet it seems that Peru deserved better than such a disappointing outcome. They were unable to score a goal in this contest.

France's Kylian Mbappé  scored the game's only goal in the 34th minute, giving France a 1-0 lead that, as ut turns out, would also be the game's final margin. Rather stunningly, France has not allowed a goal from a South American team since a meeting with Brazil all the way back in 1986, a game which they won! They met Brazil three times since 1986, and beat them each time. It should be noted that they had a scoreless draw with the Uruguay team back in the 2002 World Cup, and had yet another one in the 2010 World Cup. Those were the only two contests in each of those two disastrous tournaments that France did not lose.

This win clinched a berth into the second round for France, and eliminated Peru from advancing.

Croatia 3, Argentina  0 - Now we get to the big shocker of the day. Who could have foreseen Argentina not only losing, but getting blown out?

This was Argentina's worst loss at the opening rounds since a 6-1 thrashing at the hands of Czechoslovakia - a country that no longer exists - all the way back in 1958. This also marked the first time that Argentina failed to win either of their first two matches since 1974.

This was Croatia's fifth match against a South American squad in World Cup play, but they had never managed to win any of the games before, losing all of their previous four matches.

The game remained tight throughout the first half, in what proved to be a tough, defensive battle. Both teams went into their locker rooms having failed to score a single point.

But all of that changed when Croatia's Ante Rebić broke though in the 53rd minute.

Argentina seemed to fall apart from there. They were unable to score any goals, and Messi looked entirely unlike himself.

Yet another upset seemed to be brewing, and this was cemented when Croatia's Luka Modrić scored in the 80th minute to give his side a commanding 2-0 lead, with time running out.

Ivan Rakitić added the dagger in the heart with Croatia's third goal in the first minute of extra time to clinch a decisive 3-0 win.

Croatia managed to clinch a spot into the elimination round, while Argentina, rather shockingly, is in big trouble, and need some serious help if they hope to have any chance of advancing to the next round. 

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Last Day of School for My Son

Yes,  today was the last day of school for my son.

No longer a sixth grader.  Onto the seventh grade.

Does he look sad?

World Cup 2018 Russia Update for June 21, 2018: For Once, Games Go According to Plan

No major upsets today, which for this World Cup, is actually kind of surprising, since it has become a regular feature to report on the upsets.

The day opened with Portugal and Morocco, and the game went more or less as one would have expected. Then, Uruguay had a tough time against Saudi Arabia, a team that wanted to redeem itself after getting whipping and humiliated by Russia in the opener. Still, they were only able to make it a close loss, but still a loss.

Finally, Iran and Spain battled. Iran had a predictably tough defensive strategy that bogged the dangerous Spanish offense down. Spain had a difficult time scoring, but once they finally did, the game immediately opened up and became quite exciting.

So, let's take a look at the World Cup games from yesterday:

Portugal 1, Morocco 0- This result was not surprising.

What was surprising, at least to some degree, was how effectively Morocco managed to slow Portugal's dangerous offense down. Indeed, Portugal is currently ranked forth in the world, but they have not really shown that in this World Cup. At least not yet, anyway.

Still, it looked like this was potentially going to be a blowout when Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo scored in the 4th minute, giving Portugal the early 1-0 lead.

Who knew that this would be the sum total of the scoring in this game?

Yes, both teams had some chances afterwards, yet neither managed to convert. Portugal was not able to put up more of a cushion, and Morocco was not able to get the equalizer.

With the win, Portugal is on track to qualify for an appearance in the elimination round. All they have to do, really, is avoid losing their next game. A tie or a win would get them in.

Morocco, on the other hand, are eliminated from any chance at reaching the elimination round.

Uruguay 1, Saudi Arabia 0 - Uruguay tends to play a gritty, defensive style, and so there was a good chance that this game was not going to be one of those high scoring, explosive shootouts.

Still, Uruguay was very determined to win. A win would secure a place in the second round, and would also mean that Russia would clinch a spot in the second round, as well.

Luis Suárez received a lucky break from an error by Saudi Arabia's goalkeeper, Mohammed Al-Owais, who failed to secure the ball after a corner. Suárez simply tapped it in to give Uruguay the 1-0 lead in the 23rd minute.

That was all the scoring that they would need. Saudi Arabia had a few chances, but Uruguay was able to hold them off and secured the win, and clinched a berth in the second round, as well.

After the game, Suárez announced that his wife is pregnant.

For Saudi Arabia, they have only made it past the first round once in their history at the World Cup, back in 1994. They have lost 10 of their last 12 World Cup games, and have not won any of those 12 games.

Spain 1, Iran 0 - Spain was a dynasty in this sport not too long ago. They won the Euro in 2008, then  followed that up by winning their first ever World Cup in 2010 in South Africa. Then, they again won the Euro in 2012, becoming a legitimate dynasty.

And even though that incredible success tapered off a bit over the past few years, they are still a very dangerous and talented side that remains a serious threat for the title.

Yet, the frustration from the Spanish side was clearly visible as they walked off the field for halftime locked in a scoreless tie with Iran. The Iranians had come fairly close to surprise goals during the first half, and would do so again in the second half, and it was all too easy to imagine a scenario where one of th most talented and explosive sides in the sport might find themselves suddenly, shockingly down.

Then, just like that, Spain finally broe through. In truth, it was rather a fluke. A Iranian defender , Ramin Rezaeian, tried to clear a Spanish threat from near the goal, but wound up hitting it right to the knee of Diego Costa, and it ricocheted past Iranian goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand for the first goal of the game during the 54th minute. Spain, despite their earlier frustrations against a very tough defense from Iran, had a 1-0 lead.

Even that still did not appear to be enough, when Saeid Ezatolahi seemed to get a goal for Iran in the 63rd minute. The Iranian players on the field and off the bench flocked to him in a wild celebration at tying the goal, and it was easy to imagine that the Iranian side would revert back to the more defensive minded approach, ending the more open game that they had been forced into when Spain finally broke through. However, the goal was disallowed when it was revealed that Ezatolahi was clearly offside during the penalty kick, and so the goal was rightly taken away from Iran. 

And so, Iran went back to the more open side, desperately trying to find the equalizer. They came close a couple of times, but ultimately, fell just short. Many players collapsed in a mixture of exhaustion and frustration as time expired, and Spain had preserved that narrow one goal lead for the 1-0.

Iran still has a chance to make it to the second round if they follow the same game plan against Portugal and have better luck, although it clearly would have been easier had they managed to pull this one off, or at least would have tied it. But luck was not on Iran's side during yesterday's match. They had an excellent game plan and strong execution, yet sheer bad luck allowed Spain to break through, on a day when they otherwise were unable to overcome the strong Iranian defense. Also, a couple of shots that might have gone in for Iran simply did not, although Spain hung onto the ball for the vast majority of the game.

For Spain, this was a much needed win. It was not pretty, and in fact, was a downright ugly win. But a win is a win, and it earns them three much needed points, after the disappointing tie with Portugal that they had to settle for, on a day when they probably should have won. But they got the three points and earned the win in this one, helping their cause considerably.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

World Cup 2018 Russia Update for June 20, 2018: More Big Upsets

The upsets just keep happening in this wild and crazy World Cup. There is complete chaos thus far with Group H, specifically. The two sides that figured to be the favorites came up empty during yesterday's big matches in Russia.

The home nation's team, however, just keeps rolling. They virtually assured themselves of advancing to the next round with yet another convincing win, this time against Egypt.

So, let's take a closer look at the games from Tuesday, the 19th:

Japan 2, Colombia 1 - This was a result that I could not have foreseen.

Not that Japan is a bad team, or has never done anything impressive. Obviously, they have become regulars here at the World Cup tournament for a reason.

However, Colombia seems to be a team on the rise, and there was considerable buzz around the Colombia side and it's load of talent. They have climbed up the world rankings, and are currently ranked 16th in the world, and thus were expected to make short work out of Japan, a team currently ranked 61st in the world. Some people were expecting them to finally make a deep run into the later rounds in this World Cup. And although that still might happen, they certainly did not get off to the right kind of start in this tournament. 

Japan managed to capitalize on a Colombia mistake very quickly in this game. Colombia's Carlos Sánchez Moreno collected a red card, and thus his side was playing undermanned from almost the start of the game. Meanwhile, Japan's Shinji Kagawa converted a foul into an early 1-0 lead for Japan. Awesome start, and awesome news for Japan, but not so much for Colombia and their fans, obviously.

The Colombia side did not panic, however. They responded more or less calmly, as would be expected of a team with high expectations. Indeed, they kept searching for opportunities, until eventually, Juan Fernando Quintero managed to break through with the tying goal in the 39th minute. It looked like they were going to rally from one man and one goal down to possibly win it, or at least tie it, and things were looking a bit grim for Japan.

But then, in the 73rd minute,  Yuya Osako got a header to the back of the net to put Japan back on top, with time running out.

Colombia pressed, but this time, they were unable to capitalize. Time ran out on them, and they were handed a stunning upset loss to start off on the wrong foot in this tournament.

Senegal 2, Poland 1 - If the result from the Japan-Colombia contest was a shocker, then this game between 8th ranked Poland and 27th ranked Senegal had even stronger seismic activity.

Like Colombia, Poland also had high expectations for this World Cup. They had not qualified for the previous two World Cup tournaments, but had looked strong and been on the rise for years now. This led to some high expectations, much like with Colombia.

This, however, was not the start that they wanted, clearly.

The game was locked in a scoreless tie for what felt like a long time, until Senegal's Idrissa Gueye hammered a shot towards goal that accidentally was deflected off the right leg of Polish defender Thiago Cionek. The misdirection left Wojciech Szczesny helpless as the shot went past him and found the back of the net, giving Senegal a shocking early lead in the 37th minute. They then managed to hold Poland off to take that 1-0 lead into the lockers for halftime.

That was admittedly a bit strange, yet the strangest was yet to come.

How strange could it get? Well, Senegal's M'Baye Niang looked injured at some point, and appeared to be on his way out of the game. His substitute was standing by on the sideline, although the referees never  actually made his replacement official. So Niang kind of just stood there and, at one point, raised his arm to signal that he was in. A very bad, careless pass by a Polish defender went almost straight to him. Then the Polish keeper, Szczesny, made a bad mistake in rushing out of the goalie area to reach him, but Niang just kind of popped it above his head and kept moving forward, while Szeczesny fell. Niang ran to the wide open goal that was yawning right in front of him, with no defenders in sight, and only one behind him. That was how Senegal took a 2-0 lead in the 60th minute, and you sensed that Poland was in real trouble by that point.

After that, there was just a sea of green jerseys vigorously defending Senegal's goal, and Poland was flustered time and time again. They just could not seem to get anything really going on this day. That said, it should be noted that some scoring opportunities were wasted by some careless passes and easily avoidable mistakes. I do not know how often a Polish guy would kick the ball well out of bounds needlessly, or would perhaps kick it right to a defender. It seemed that they made a staggering number of mental mistakes on this day.

Still, they did break through at one point, as Grzegorz Krychowiak gave Poland hope with late header in the 86th minute. The mostly pro-Polish crowd went briefly nuts, although they knew that time was rapidly running out. Senegal was able to milk the clock, and they were accommodated in this regard by more Polish mistakes, ultimately dooming Poland to what truly was a shocking loss.

Russia 3, Egypt 1 - The Russian side looks downright scary at this point.

Fresh off their dominant 5-0 opening game win against Saudi Arabia, the Russians entered their game against Egypt yesterday brimming with confidence. And after a slow start during a scoreless, defensive openeing to the game, the Russians caught fire in the second half.

It did not start in a conventional manner, however. Egypt's Ahmed Fathi accidentally scored an own goal in the 47th minute, giving Russia a 1-0 lead. That was the fifth own goal of this World Cup, and it should be noted that the all-time record for own goals in World Cup history was six in total.

Russia scored a proper goal not too long afterwards, when Denis Cheryshev gave Russia a 2-0 lead by scoring in the 59th minute.

Just minutes later, Russia's Artem Dzyuba scored another goal for Russia in the 62nd minute for a commanding 3-0 lead.

Mohamed Salah, Egypt's star, got his side on the scoreboard in the 73rd minute, giving Egypt just a little ray of hope. Ultimately, though, it was much too little, and far too late, as Russia cruised to yet another easy and decisive win.

The win almost assures Russia will advance to the second round. It will become official later today if Uruguay either wins or ties, although in most scenarios, Russia's dominant performance in these first two games will see them at least cruise to the elimination round without much doubt.

They appear to have a very strong side that is bursting with confidence at the moment. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

World Cup 2018 Russia Update for June 19, 2018: No Major Upsets on Day 5

World Cup action continued yesterday, with some intriguing teams taking the field. Sweden and South Korea both were looking for both respect and three points, as well as valuable experience. Since the other two teams in their division are Germany and Mexico - two of the best side in the sport - it seemed especially important for each team to win this one, to better their hopes for advancing to the next round, although only one could win.

Panama would take the field at a World Cup game for the first time ever. But they would do so as prohibitive underdogs against a loaded Belgian side that is currently ranked third in the world.

Finally, England was taking the World Cup field again, although this was a young team that lacked the familiar faces of previous World Cup. That might not be a bad thing, as prior English teams had bent and even broken under the weight of enormous expectations. They took on a Tunisian side that had only won one World Cup contest in their entire history.

So, let's take a closer look at how these games out yesterday: 

Sweden 1, South Korea 0 - The South Koreans have made a name for themselves in the 21st century in World Cup tournament play, yet they rarely ever seem to get any serious respect. They were hoping to change that yesterday in the game against a Swedish side where literally not one player had any kind of experience in the World Cup tournament.

Both teams had been experiencing some difficulties in scoring, and they both struggled to score during this game, as well. 

Indeed, the two teams remained ocked in a scoreless first half. South Korea had looked good and aggressive during the first five minutes of the game, but then seemed to get bogged down playing defense, and allowing Sweden to possess the ball for entirely too long.

Perhaps it was inevitable that eventually, Sweden would capitalize. Andreas Granqvist, the Swedish captain, was fouled and rewarded with the penalty shot in the 65th minute, and he was able to get it through to give his side the 1-0 lead.

It was all that they would need.

South Korea tried to recover, and late during extra time, they had an incredible opportunity and were close to tying. However, it was too little and much too late, and their opportunities, and hopes to tie it, fell short, giving Sweden the all-valuable win and three points, tying them with Mexico atop the standings in the group, for the time being.

This was also Sweden's first opening game win in the World Cup tournament since defeating Mexico, back when Sweden was the host nation for the World Cup.They also had never lost to South Korea prior to this, and so obviously remain unbeaten against them after this one, as well.

For South Korea, this was the first time since 1998 that they lost the opening match of a World Cup tournament. With Mexico and Germany now looming, things are looking decidedly grim for their hopes to advance. 

Belgium 3, Panama 0 -  Like Sweden, not one player on the Panama side had any experience in World Cup tournament play. Unlike Sweden, however, Panama had never before qualified for the tournament, so this was a historic game for them right off the bat.

And through the first half, Panama was doing what they wanted to do, hanging tough defensively, and looking good through a scoreless first half. Belgium was heavily favored, so they looked visibly frustrated, unable to break through like expected.

In fact, this game resembled the first one on this day, between Sweden and South Korea, with both teams unable to score in the first half, and neither team really showing strong offensive potential.

But all of that changed in a hurry for Belgium. 

Just two minutes into the second half, Dries Mertens hammered the ball into the corner of the goal. It was the breakthrough the Belgium needed, as they appeared visibly more relaxed and confident playing ahead from the point onward. What made it a bit strange was that Mertens had appeared injured and seemed almost to be limping and visibly bothered by a foot injury just moments before his huge goal to put his side ahead.

Belguim never looked back, holding off any Panamanian attack, and then notching a cushion for their lead when Romelu Lukaku scored in the 69th minute, giving the Belgians a commanding 2-0 lead, and making a comeback seem virtually impossible for Panama.

Lukaku broke through again in the 75th minute to ice it for Belgium, ending any slight hopes that the Panamanians had for even making it a close contest. 

A huge and necessary win for Belgium, and an impressive showing, particularly in the second half. Interestingly, Belgium are undefeated in their last ten World Cup group contests, with five wins and five draws. Even more interesting, and a bit strange, is that each of the last 11 goals that Belgium have scored in World Cup games have come during the second half exclusively. 

For Panama, the first half was impressive, but they suffered a bit of a collapse in the second half. Also, the five yellow cards that they received was the most for any team in the World Cup since the Netherlands had seven in a World Cup game in 2010. 

England 2, Tunisia 1 - The English were expected to win, although they appeared more relaxed nevertheless.

Perhaps that was because they did not have huge names and instantly recognizable faces on it, as they had in previous World Cup tournaments.

FOr Tunisia, much like England, they wanted to erase the memory of past failures, and earn some much needed respect for themselves. And a win against England would certainly do that, even if this English side did not feature guys named Rooney or Beckham. 

England's Harry Kane opened the scoring in the 11th minute, and would again score in the 1st minute of extra time right at the end, effectively icing the game for England.

Ferjani Sassi received a penalty kick in the 35th minute, and he was able to convert, tying the game up after England had taken that early lead. They were unable to mount any other goals to give themselves a serious chance to win, however.

This was the first time that England had scored more than one goal in ten tries during World Cup play. 

In 1978, Tunisia was able to win their first ever World Cup game, which was a terrific start. However, they have not won any of their 12 games since, and have lost eight of those contests, including this one to England, obviously. Interestingly  England has never lost to an African team in World Cup competition, winning four times, and tying three other times. 

Beautiful Sunset on A Warm Summer Sunday's Eve in Hillsborough

A couple of evenings ago, while driving from northern New Jersey to Hillsborough following Father's Day with the family, I caught a glimpse of a beautiful sunset out of the corner of me eye.

When I instinctively turned to take a closer look, it was stunningly beautiful. The sun was a perfect, bright orb hanging low in the sky, appearing to hang just above the trees on the far end of a beautiful green lawn.

So, I stopped, and decided to take a picture. It seemed amazing to me, when I took these pictures, that the sun was sinking as fast as it apparently was. Also, the colors were not quite as rich in these pictures as they were when seen with the naked eye.

Still, these pictures have a quality of their own, as they make it appear much darker than it actually was. Usually, it is quite the opposite with cameras.

In any case, just thought I would share them here:

Hillsborough, NJ - June 18, 2018

Monday, June 18, 2018

Happy Birthday to Paul McCartney!

Paul McCartney

Photo courtesy of RV1864's Flickr page - Paul McCartney:

Today marks the 76th birthday of Paul McCartney, who was born on June 18, 1942 in Liverpool, England.

He went on to have some modest success in his musical career.

Hey Paul, you say it's your birthday?

Here is a clip from a concert that I actually was blessed enough to have attended, and which was like a life dream in music come true. This is a clip of Ringo Starr's 70th birthday concert at Radio City Music Hall, with Paul McCartney making a special guest appearance. McCartney was on base, Ringo was on drums, and it was touted as half of a Beatles reunion. It was as close as I'll ever get to actually having seen The Beatles as a band, and again, I felt extremely privileged to have seen such a thing in person!

And here is the entire concert!