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FIFA WC 2018 – Quarter Finals

The quarter-final matches are set, without Spain, Argentina, and Portugal who exited in the round of 16. Belgium almost went out against Japan but recovered from a 2-0 deficit to win 3-2 in riveting action. England needed penalty kicks to get past Columbia.

One thing I have advocated for a long time is that possession statistics aren’t very meaningful in predicting or determining the outcome of games. What matters most, in my opinion, is scoring chances generated and goals. Spain.s 75% possession against Russia and Germany’s 75% possession against Korea are good examples. Finally, the soccer experts in media are catching on and are heralding the end of possession soccer. In my opinion possession soccer that involves a lot of square and back passes allows the opponents to set up defensively, win the ball, and counter quickly. The teams used to playing possession soccer will have to find new strategies to beat these counterattacking teams. I have always advocated that one or two touch soccer with quick runs and passes, switching point of attack, etc. is the way to go, even for highly skilled teams. You have to find ways to get the defense off-balance. We offer an entire practice book to fast transition play and attack.. Competitive Pro Practices – Fast Break Soccer.

Looking ahead to the quarter finals, on one side of the draw we have:

France v. Uruguay and Brazil v. Belgium, the winners meeting in the semi-final. There are three previous world cup winners.

On the other side we have Croatia v. Russia and Sweden v. England, one previous world cup winner. It is nice to see that a new face will make the final out of this group (I include England since they haven’t been in the final since 1966).

The games are getting tense, the action is exciting. Enjoy !!!

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Soccer WC 18 – Germany Exit and Next Round

In my last blog I mentioned that power houses Brazil, Argentina and Germany were at risk of being eliminated. Brazil had no trouble defeating Serbia to move on. Argentina struggled against Nigeria and needed an 86th minute goal to secure their spot in the next round. Germany suffered a huge upset loss to Korea and were eliminated, the first time Germany exited in the first round in modern times. The other team that needed a good deal of fortune to move on was Portugal, drawing Iran 1-1 with Iran missing a golden opportunity late in the game that would have eliminated Portugal and send Iran through top of their group.

So what happened to Germany?

When the defending champion exits this early it is worth some analysis. Having watched all games and being very familiar with German soccer, here are my thoughts and coaching lessons:

In simple statistics they couldn’t score. Two goals in three matches is not typical of German output, especially being shut out by Mexico and Korea. Germany had plenty of attempts at target but most of them weren’t of enough quality to score. In the last game they fired 28 shots at Korea’s net but only four were good opportunities. Of these three were headers by central defender Hummels.

To me the problem started before the world cup with team selection. Leaving speedster and Premier League young player of the year Leroy Sane out was a mistake, as was leaving striker Wagner out in favour of Gomez. 2014 winners Kramer, Schuerrle and Goetze were left off the squad as well. The latter two didn’t have stellar seasons, but neither did Oezil, Khedira, Mueller, Draxler, or even Boateng (injury). But they did made the team. Coach Loew stuck with these five in the starting line-up for the Mexico game and was rewarded with uninspired attacking plays and a shaky defense.

He left Oezil and Khedira on the bench against Sweden and the team performed better. Brandt brought on inspired play as a sub and Reus played on form. Why he brought Oezil and Khedira back against Korea remains a mystery.

The play did not flow as freely as it did in 2014 hence the lack of quality chances. Tactically there were issues as well. Both outside defenders attacked in possession sometimes joined by a central defender, leaving only one or two back against quick counters. Mexico exposed the weakness and Loew did not adjust and was punished again by Sweden and Korea.

With Khedira off form Kroos was left alone in the holding midfield. He had to defend and orchestrate the attack. Too easy to neutralize by the opposition. Mueller, Oezil, and Draxler were off as well and far too slow in combination play, thus starving speedy forward Werner.

The coaching lesson is that at this level you must be willing to adjust quickly. I have no doubt that Loew and his staff analyzed everything after the Mexico loss and they did move in the right direction against Sweden. Leaving Khedira and Oezil off in favour of Reus and Gundogan. Late in the game he brought on Brandt and Gomez again with Werner playing more on the wing. That paid off with Reus scoring and Werner setting up both goals. The defense was still shaky and Mueller was invisible. That should have provided some clues on how to progress against Korea.

A formation change to 3-5-2 with Suele, Hummels, and Ruediger as center backs would have solidified the defense. The midfield could have been Brandt-Kroos-Reus-Gundogan-Kimmich, with Werner and Gomez up front. That still would have left Draxler, Goretzka, and Mueller as possible strong subs.

But instead the formation and tactics stayed the same, Oezil and Khedira started, the defense played up and the game mirrored the Mexico game. Regression, not progression.

So coaches, don’t make decisions based on player potential, history, or loyalty. Make decisions based on facts, match analysis, and courage to change.

The Knockout Rounds

This is where the excitement starts and with the groups having surprise results, the round of 16 has some intriguing games and the bracket is a bit skewed.

Left side of bracket:

France v. Argentina and Uruguay v. Portugal, the winners playing each other in quarter final 1.

Brazil v. Mexico and Belgium v. Japan, the winners playing in quarter final 2.

The quarter final winners play in semi-final 1.

Right side of bracket:

Sweden v. Switzerland and England v. Columbia, the winners playing in quarter final 3.

Spain v. Russia and Croatia v. Denmark, the winners playing in quarter final 4.

The quarter final winners playing in semi-final 2.

To me it looks like left side of the bracket has many pre-tournament favourites and a combined 10 world cup wins plus the current Euro champion Portugal. It will be tough battles all the way through.

On the right side we have one pre-tournament favourite, Spain, and a combined two world cups. It is exciting to know that one of Sweden, Switzerland, Columbia, and England will be in the semi-final. Switzerland and Columbia have never made it there and Sweden and England not for a long time.

I can see Brazil v. Portugal and Spain v. England semi-finals, but with all the surprises we have seen it could also be Belgium v. France and Sweden v. Croatia.

Enjoy the excitement !!!!

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SOCCER WC 18 – Match Day 2 Review

Having completed match day 2 some groups have been clearly decided while others are still wide open, with some powerhouses (Argentina, Germany, Brazil) still fighting for survival.

Group A

Russia and Uruguay are through, not unexpected although Egypt with super star Salah was given an outside chance before the tournament. But they and Saudi Arabia will head home.

Group B

Favourites Spain and Portugal are in the driver’s seat. The only thing to create an upset would be a surprise Iranian win against Portugal in the last game. Although Morocco is eliminated, an unlikely win against Spain with an Iranian result against Portugal could give Spain a problem.

Group C

France is through and Denmark is in good position to advance as well. Australia is alive and needs a win against Peru coupled with a Denmark loss to France to have a chance to move on by virtue of goal difference.

Group D

Croatia is assured of a spot in the round of 16. After that it gets messy (or Messi?). Nigeria will advance with a win over Argentina. Argentina must win and hope that Iceland doesn’t pull off an upset over Croatia. Iceland still has a chance but must beat Croatia and hope for an Argentine win or tie.

Group E

The only thing we know for sure is that Costa Rica is eliminated. Brazil and Switzerland are leading the group with Serbia trailing by a point. As long as Brazil (v. Serbia) and Switzerland (v. Costa Rica) don’t lose their last game they advance. A Serbian win against Brazil will put Serbia through and likely knock Brazil out. A Switzerland loss to Costa Rica and a Serbia tie will put them on 4 points each and bring goal difference into play.

Group F

The only group in which everyone is still alive, even Korea with zero points. Mexico (v. Sweden) needs a tie to guarantee advancement. Germany needs to beat Korea by two goals to guarantee advancement. Sweden needs to beat Mexico by a bigger goal difference than Germany beats Korea to advance. That would knock Mexico out. Korea can advance with a win against Germany and a Sweden loss to Mexico.

Group G

Belgium and England are Through, Panama and Tunisia are out.

Group H

The only certainty is that Poland has been eliminated. Anyone of Senegal (v. Columbia), Columbia, or Japan (v. Poland) winning will advance.

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SOCCER WC 18 – MATCH DAY 1 REVIEW

We have finally arrived at the 2018 world soccer summit. I hope you’re enjoying the matches in person or on TV. The first game in each group has been played and we would like to offer a brief summary and some coaching insights.

Big Upsets

The biggest upset without a doubt has been Mexico’s 1-0 win over defending champion Germany. That is if you’re not the Mexican team or coach. My insider information says that Mexico had prepared a game plan for each game six months ago. They have updated it as they watched Germany prepare for the tournament.

Another big upset was Iceland tying Argentina 1-1. Iceland seems to have picked up in the World Cup where it left Euro 2016. Playing disciplined defense with quick and precise counter attacks. And they had opportunities to even win the game. How does a nation of 330,000 covered in snow most of the year compete with a power house like Argentina? By declaring soccer their national sport some 15 years ago and focussing all their resources on player and team development, and building the necessary infrastructure to play year round.

My last big upset is Switzerland tying Brazil 1-1. Brazil started strong but went to sleep in the second half. There is no explanation for this one.

Smaller Upsets

Iran beating Morocco was not expected. Japan’s win over Columbia is a surprise from a strict result perspective, but Columbia being down to 10 men and 1-0 after three minutes explains a bit of the result. And Senegal’s win over Poland is not a total shocker but Poland’s talent, especially top striker Lewandowski, should have assured Poland of a result.

Near Upsets

Some of the heavy favourites were stumped by brilliant game tactics, total commitment, and some bad luck – but they won their games. In this category belong England’s 2-1 win over Tunesia in added time, Sweden’s 1-0 win over Korea, France’s 2-1 win over Australia, and Uruguay’s 1-0 win over Egypt without Salah.

So nine of the sixteen first match day games provided some unexpected events. And that is the beauty of the beautiful game – you just never know. So keep watching.

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Champions and Europa League Semis set

After some dramatic quarterfinal rematches the semi-finals are set.

Champions League

After a 2-1 win at Sevilla FC Bayern coasted to a 0-0 tie at home to qualify. The same can be said about Liverpool who skillfully administered it’s 3-0 home win against Manchester City with a 2-1 away win at Man City.

There was drama in the other two quarter finals. Roma beat the odds and after a 4-1 first leg loss at Barcelona was sure to exit the competition. But in a brilliant home return match they downed the star studded Spaniard 3-0 to advance on away goals. An even more improbable feat happened in the Real Madrid -Juventus return match. After winning 3-o at Juventus Real looked like a shoe in to advance. But brilliant tactics with a bit of look had Juventus ahead 3-0 in Madrid. The game looked to go to overtime when the referee awarded a highly questionable PK in Real’s favour on the last attack of the game. Ronaldo scored and Juventus was elimnated.

The semi finals have FC Bayern hosting Real on April 25, a game many have hoped for as the final.

The other semi has Liverpool hosting Roma on April 24.

My fearless prediction calls for a Bayern-Liverpool final.

Europa League

The quarter-final pattern was similar to the CL. Arsenal maintained a strong 4-1 home victory at Moscow and the 2-2 tie assured their advanced. Not surprisingly Atletico Madrid overcame a 1-0 away defeat with a 2-0 home win against Sporting Lisbon.

The drama happened in the other matches. Leipzig extended a 1-0 home win by scoring early at Marseille to go up 2-0. This meant Marseille had to score three goals to advance, which they did before the first half was over. Leipzig replied to make it 3-2 meaning Madrid had to score again. They scored twice for a 5-2 win and a trip into the next round.

Even more improbable was Salzburg vs. Lazio. Down 4-2 coming home Lazio needed to win by 2 goals to advance. But Lazio scored first going up 5-2, meaning Salzburg needed four more goals. And they got them in minutes 56, 72,74,76 to book their spot in the semi finals.

Here Marseille will take on Salzburg and Arsenal will play Atletico. My fearless prediction calls for a Salzburg –  Atletico final.

Watch as many games as you can, it’s a great lead up to the World Cup.

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UEFA Soccer Nations League

The draw for a brand new competiiton, the UEFA nation’s league has just been completed. Here is what this league is all about (adapted from http://www.uefa.com/uefanationsleague/index.html#/)

What is the basic format?

  • The format of the UEFA Nations League will feature promotion and relegation. The 55 European national teams have been divided into four leagues (A-D)in accordance with UEFA’s national association coefficient rankings on 11 October 2017.
  • League A includes the top-ranked sides and League D includes the lowest:

League A

  • Teams will be split into four groups of three, with the group winners then contesting the UEFA Nations League Finals (semi-finals, third-place match and final) in June 2019 to become the UEFA Nations League winners. One host country will be appointed in December 2018 from among the finalist teams.
  • The four teams that finish bottom of their groups will be relegated to League B for the 2020 edition.
  • The top four ranked teams that do not qualify for UEFA EURO 2020 will enter a play-off in March 2020, with one finals place on offer.
  • GROUP 1

    •  Germany
    •  France
    •  Netherlands

    GROUP 2

    •  Belgium
    •  Switzerland
    •  Iceland

    GROUP 3

    •  Portugal
    •  Italy
    •  Poland

    GROUP 4

    •  Spain
    •  England
    •  Croatia

League B

  • Teams will be split into four groups of three.
  • The four group winners are promoted to League A, with the four sides that finish bottom relegated to League C for the next competition to be played in 2020.
  • The top four ranked teams that do not qualify for UEFA EURO 2020 will enter a play-off in March 2020, with one finals place on offer

GROUP 1

  •  Slovakia
  •  Ukraine
  •  Czech Republic

GROUP 2

  •  Russia
  •  Sweden
  •  Turkey

GROUP 3

  •  Austria
  •  Bosnia and Herzegovina
  •  Northern Ireland

GROUP 4

  •  Wales
  •  Republic of Ireland
  •  Denmark

League C

  • Teams will be split into one group of three and three groups of four.
  • The four group winners are promoted to League B, with the four sides that finish bottom relegated to League D for the 2020 edition.
  • The top four ranked teams that do not qualify for UEFA EURO 2020 will enter a play-off in March 2020, with one finals place on offer.

GROUP 1

  •  Scotland
  •  Albania
  •  Israel

GROUP 2

  •  Hungary
  •  Greece
  •  Finland
  •  Estonia

GROUP 3

  •  Slovenia
  •  Norway
  •  Bulgaria
  •  Cyprus

GROUP 4

  •  Romania
  •  Serbia
  •  Montenegro
  •  Lithuania

League D

  • Due to a decision of the UEFA Executive Committee, Armenia and Azerbaijan cannot be draw in the same group.
  • The four group winners are promoted to League C for the 2020 edition.
  • The top four ranked teams that do not qualify for UEFA EURO 2020 will enter a play-off in March 2020, with one finals place on offer.

GROUP 1

  •  Georgia
  •  Latvia
  •  Kazakhstan
  •  Andorra

GROUP 2

  •  Belarus
  •  Luxembourg
  •  Moldova
  •  San Marino

GROUP 3

  •  Azerbaijan
  •  Faroe Islands
  •  Malta
  •  Kosovo

GROUP 4

  •  FYR Macedonia
  •  Armenia
  •  Liechtenstein
  •  Gibraltar

When will the UEFA Nations League take place?

The UEFA Nations League will take place as follows:

  • The UEFA Nations League group games will be held over six matchdays, during the ‘double-headers’ in September, October and November 2018. The UEFA Nations League Finals competition for the teams that win the four groups within the top division is scheduled for June 2019.
  • For the UEFA Nations League Finals, the group winners of UEFA Nations League A will play in a knockout format (semi-finals, third-place match and final) in June 2019 to become the UEFA Nations League winners. One host country will be appointed by the UEFA Executive Committee in December 2018 from among the finalist teams.
  • The play-off matches will be staged in March 2020 (see below).

Will qualifying for the UEFA EURO change?

 How the play-offs for UEFA EURO 2020 work

The changes to UEFA EURO qualifying will make it more streamlined. The equation is now simple: ten groups with the top two teams in each group qualifying automatically, and the other four places being awarded to European Qualifiers play-off winners, in which the 16 group winners of the UEFA Nations League will be in contention.

The UEFA EURO 2020 qualifying draw will be made after the completion of the UEFA Nations League and allow for the four UEFA Nations League Finals participants to be drawn into groups of five teams.

But the key principle of the qualifiers remains: that every team can play every team.

  • The European Qualifiers for UEFA EURO 2020 commence in March 2019. There will be two matchdays in each of March, June, September, October and November 2019. In total, there will be five groups of five teams and five groups of six teams (ten groups in all) playing over ten matchdays (the same number as now). The winner and runner-up in each of the ten groups will qualify automatically for the UEFA EURO 2020 final tournament (June 2020).
  • The last four EURO places will be won through the European Qualifiers play-offs, which will take place in March 2020 and which will be contested by the 16 UEFA Nations League group winners.
  • If a group winner has already qualified via the European Qualifiers, then their spot will go to the next best-ranked team in their league. If a league does not have four teams to compete, the remaining slots are allocated to teams from another league, according to the overall UEFA Nations League ranking.
  • Each league will have a path of its own and each path will feature two single-leg semi-finals and one single-leg final. The winner of each path will win a ticket to UEFA EURO 2020.
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Pep Guardiola – The Best Soccer Club Coach Ever?

There have been long club winning streaks in the top European soccer leagues, and Pep Guardiola (currently Manchester City) has been involved in a few of them. Here is a quick overview:

ENGLAND

It is 16 straight victories and counting for Manchester City.

Under Pep Guardiola, City has won every league game since snatching a 2-1 victory over Bournemouth on Aug. 26 thanks to Raheem Sterling’s goal in the seventh minute of injury time.

A 2-1 win at fierce rival Manchester United on Dec. 10 made it 14 in a row, a record for a single English top-flight season, and beating Swansea three days later gave City the mark for consecutive victories in any English league.

Having beaten Tottenham 4-1 on Saturday, City now faces Bournemouth, Newcastle and Crystal Palace — teams currently lying in the bottom seven of the league — to round off 2017.

SPAIN

Fittingly, Guardiola set a record of 16 straight wins in the Spanish league while coaching Barcelona in the 2010-11 season. Real Madrid equaled that mark under Zinedine Zidane in 2016.

Barcelona went on to win its second Champions League title under Guardiola that season, in addition to its third consecutive Spanish league.

 

GERMANY

In the 2013-14 season, when Bayern Munich dominated the Bundesliga like never before to clinch the title in March, the team did so on the back of 19 consecutive wins culminating in the 3-1 victory at Hertha Berlin that sealed Guardiola’s first German championship.

Bayern was unbeaten at the time and had racked up 25 wins from its 27 games. The streak started on Oct. 19 and ran through March 25.

 

ITALY

Inter Milan holds the Serie A record at 17 straight wins, established during the 2006-07 season under Roberto Mancini.

 

FRANCE

Defending champion Monaco holds the record for consecutive league wins with 16, starting in late February and crossing over into early this season.

 

In every league Guardiola has coached he has set the record. I haven’t always been a fan of his questioning some player selection and tactical decisions in key games. These decisions came in Champions League games and potentially cost titles. But there is no doubt that he has taken top teams and delivered better season results than his predecessors. In watching Manchester City games this season it is also commendable that Guardiola has moved away from his “carved in stone” possession and ball control/circulation style. I am seeing a good balance of fast transition soccer, vertical play and ball circulation. Even at his relatively young age, Guardiola is certainly amongst the best club coaches in history. It would be interesting to see him coach a national team.

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European Soccer Transfer Fees Skyrocket

With the close of this summer’s transfer period in Europe a new record was set.

Just looking at the top five leagues (England, Italy, France, Germany, Spain) an astonishing $ 5.2 billion USD was spent, and that is for only one of the two annual transfer periods. The five-year growth in these five leagues is exactly 100%, starting with $ 2.6 billion in 2013.

The breakdown by league in 2017 is as follows:

  1. England: $ 1.8 billion
  2. Italy: $ 1.2 billion
  3. France: $ 0.8 billion
  4. Germany: $ 0.7 billion
  5. Spain: $ 0.7 billion

A single player record was set by Paris St. Germain acquiring Neymar from Barcelona for $ 262 million. That more than doubled the previous record $ 120 million Man United paid for Pogba in 2016. Ronaldo at $ 110 million in 2009 looks like a bargain, even adjusted for inflation.

These transfer fees are fuelled by foreign ownership money flowing into clubs, mostly from China, the Middle East, and the USA. There is a financial fair play system that is supposed to keep this escalation in check. The system is intricate but in essence it requires clubs to spend no more than $ 45 million more on transfers than they take in over the past three years. I am not sure how that is supposed to help as it only enforces a difference, not any maximums.

The result is that the clubs who attract the most money are buying the “best” players. The players take a significant share of the fees and huge salaries. Most important, player agents are making exorbitant commissions. Will buying expensive players win championships? Not in my opinion. It still takes good coaching, team chemistry, and 11 players on the field supporting each other. How much does the potential money from transfers play in the players’ heads? Will a player really support a Neymar so that Neymar’s value and income increases further?

The other side effect is a whole new economy in soccer. Clubs can make more money through transfer fees than through ticket and merchandising sales. Some examples:

In 2016 Borussia Dortmund paid $ 18 million for Ousmane Dembele and sold him for $ 120 million to Barcelona in 2017. That’s more profit on one deal than the club made in the past five years combined through soccer operations.

This year Dortmund paid $ 8 million for 17-year-old talent Jadon Sancho to Man City. The strategy is to develop Jadon and then generate a transfer fee of $ 100 million or more in three or four years.

And lastly, clubs are recruiting and developing local talent in the hope of hitting a future transfer jackpot.

So while the fans are cheering their team and enjoy high quality soccer on the pitch, club management are focusing on growing transfer fees, or growing soccer players’ value. At some point we need to wonder about the purpose of soccer. Is it sport or corporate business? Can it really be both?

 

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FIFA Soccer World Cup 2018 QUALIFIERS

Soccer World Cup 2018 is going into the final qualification games. Here is an update as of 5 September 2017:

UEFA (Europe – 14 Teams)

Qualified: Russia (host), Belgium

Virtually qualified: Switzerland, Portugal, Germany, Northern Ireland, England, Spain, Italy

Notable nations at risk: Netherlands

Notable nations not qualified: Hungary, Czech Republic, Austria

CONMEBOL (South America – 4 Teams + 1 Play-Off Chance)

Qualified: Brasil

Virtually qualified: none – tight race between Uruguay, Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Ecuador

Notable nations at risk: Argentina, Chile

Notable nations not qualified: none

CONCACAF (Central/North America – 3 Teams + 1 Play-Off Chance)

Qualified: Mexico

Virtually qualified: Costa Rica

Notable nations at risk: USA

Notable nations not qualified: none

CAF (Africa – 5 Teams)

Qualified: none (only five group winners qualify)

Virtually qualified: Tunisia, Nigeria

Notable nations at risk: Morocco, Senegal, South Africa, Ghana

Notable nations not qualified: Cameroon, Algeria

AFC (Asia – 4 Teams + 1 Play-Off Chance)

Qualified: Iran, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia

Virtually qualified: Australia & Syria will be in play-off to determine who will play 4th place CONCACAF team

Notable nations at risk: Australia

Notable nations not qualified: China

OCEANIA (1 Play-Off Chance)

New Zealand will play the 5th place team from South America in a play-off. That could be Argentina !!!

The draw for the 2018 tournament groups will be December 1, the tournament will run in 2018 from June 14 to July 15.

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World Soccer Update July 2017

As noted earlier this year the summer of 2017 is full of international soccer competitions. Here is a summary of results and progress to date.

U 21 Mens EURO

Spain defeated Italy 3-1 in semi-final #1 and Germany defeated England 4-3 on penalty kicks after a riveting 2-2 extra time tie. In the final Germany played a disciplined defensive game to hold on to a 1-0 lead and win the championship.

Confederations Cup

After battling to a goalless draw after 120 minutes Chile defeated Portugal 3-0 in penalty kicks in one semi-final. In the other Germany’s team of FIFA 2018 prospects ran over Mexico’s A-Team 4-1. The final was a group stage rematch between Germany and Chile with Germany emerging victorious 1-0.

U 19 Mens EURO

Portugal defeated Netherlands 1-0 and England defeated Czech Republic 1-0 in the semis. England went on to win the tournament 2-1 against Portugal.

Concacaf Gold Cup

With the group stage completed the tournament is set for the quarter finals. The match-ups are:

Costa Rica v. Panama

United States v. El Salvador

Mexico v. Honduras

Jamaica v. Canada

Although ranked lowest in FIFA (100), watch out for Canada to provide some upsets.

Women EURO 2017

Group stage play started this weekend. Look for Germany to run the table all the way to the finals.