Category Archives: Futbol

Great football for a great price

For those of you who have not subscribed to the NBC Sports Gold Premier League package, I would highly recommend it. For just $49.95, you get every Premier League match not shown on NBC or NBC Sports Network. If you’re not a fan of the “Big Six” clubs–Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur–it is a lifeline. I should know; Leicester City is rarely on television in the United States even after winning the championship in 2015-16.

That’s all–$49.95 for a whole season of excellent football. Compare that to the ridiculous price you’d have to pay for NFL Sunday Ticket, plus the subscription to DirecTV.

Advertising over.

Liverpool won 2-0 at Crystal Palace yesterday to keep pace with Chelsea, Manchester City, Tottenham, Bournemouth and Watford atop the Premier League with six points. Manchester City leads everyone due to a vastly superior goal differential of plus-7, thanks to a 6-1 thrashing of Huddersfield Town Sunday at the Etihad Stadium.

Meanwhile, on the south coast, Manchester United was defeated 3-2 at the AMEX Stadium by Brighton & Hove Albion, sending Red Devils fans into collective apoplexy. Fans are calling for Jose Mournihino’s head and it could get ugly if United plays poorly at Old Trafford this Monday vs. Tottenham. United won its first match at home vs. Leicester, but looked pretty pedestrian.

I’m not suggesting United is not going to finish in the top seven and miss out on Europe. No way. But the door is definitely open for Bournemouth, Watford, Everton, Crystal Palace and Leicester to make noise and take one of the European spots, especially with United in turmoil and Arsenal still trying to find its footing under Unai Emery.

Huddersfield is minus-8 on goal differential and sits at the foot of the table. I pegged the Terriers for relegation prior to the season, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, since they played Chelsea and Manchester City. If they were minus-8 against, say, Southampton and West Ham, then it would be time to panic. West Ham is also in the drop zone right now, and maybe I had the Hammers too high prior to the season and Watford too low. Southampton, my third pick to be relegated, is about as expected, with one point from matches vs. Burnley and Everton.

Leicester outplayed United and lost, but got outplayed by Wolves and won at the King Power. That’s football. Jamie Vardy isn’t making the trip to St. Mary’s, thanks to the red card he received in the 66th minute vs. Wolves for what was termed a terrible challenge.

I’m at Buffalo Wild Wings in Salina for the first time since April 5. I was in town to get my hair cut–Amber is back at Sport Clips after giving birth to her baby boy August 6–so I figured I would stop in and test my knowledge.

Just saw an advertisement hyping college football on ESPN starting in nine days. NO THANK YOU. I’m sure it will be the major topic of discussion tomorrow morning with Crista.

Why would anyone in their right mind pay $500 to $1,000 just for the opportunity to pay $500 to $1,000 to purchase season tickets? Besides, college football is so freaking predictable. Two of the four playoff spots are already taken by Alabama and Clemson, and you can count legitimate contenders for the other two on one hand.

I’m now wondering why the heck did I even consider going to Baton Rouge for the LSU-Georgia game in October? WHY?

Random Saturday stuff

(I began this post Saturday in Minsky’s. It’s now Tuesday and I’m finally getting back to it. I’ll complete my thoughts here, then post again with an update).

I stand by my decision not to watch college football this season. I should have done this a long time ago. I won’t miss spending Saturdays in some packed sports bar watching people scream their lungs out over the exploits of 18- to 22-year old children.

I heard Zach Smith the lady beater is also a pervert. Ordering sex toys and having them sent to the Ohio State football office? Taking a picture of your genitals in a White House bathroom and holding it next to a towel with the presidential seal? Words cannot describe how disgusted I am hearing about this piece of fecal matter. If Urban Meyer is allowed to coach again, then shame on Ohio State. But I don’t care, I won’t watch.

Speaking of fecal matter, the man in Colorado who has been charged with killing his pregnant wife and two daughters qualifies. Big time. He’s the male version of Susan Smith, the woman in South Carolina whom in 1994 claimed her toddler sons were kidnapped by a black man, only to confess days later she actually rolled her car into a lake and drowned them.

Colorado does have the death penalty, as much as leftist Governor John Hickenlooper has tried to get rid of it. Hopefully this piece of scum will be convicted and sent to death row. Barring that, he should be

Hy-Vee sucks. No Boar’s Head cold cuts. Instead Hy-Vee sells some crap I don’t like. Price Chopper doesn’t sell it, either. So I have to traipse back into Kansas to go to Hen House. The closest location to Missouri now that the one on 64th Street is closed is in Fairway off Shawnee Mission Parkway. I’ve become more familiar with the area by going to Joe’s and the salon for my back waxing, so I didn’t get too lost today going to the one in Fairway.

I’ve got two pounds of mortadella and two pounds of capicola to ferry back to Russell, plus cheese. Expensive cold cuts, but so, so good. And still cheaper than eating at McDonald’s or Sonic in Russell, or Taco Bell in Hays, and especially Buffalo Wild Wings.

The closest place that sells Boar’s Head is Dillon’s in Salina, at Ohio and Cloud. I have bought it there often, but since I’m in KC, it isn’t going to take up much space to haul it 250 miles west. The bread I like was on sale at Hen House, too, so I bought four loaves for the price of three.

I’ve finally learned how to use a drip coffeemaker. When I tried it yesterday morning, it had too much in there, and it was quite strong. My dad told me not to put so much in there, and this morning, it worked great. I’ve invested $170 in my Keurig and the money in the pods, but at least now i have the adapters for ground coffee in that one, plus I can work a regular one in a hotel.

The Chiefs scored more points than the Falcons in last night’s exhibition in Atlanta. Everyone is raving over Patrick Mahomes’ 69-yard bomb to Tyreek Hill late in the first half, because it traveled nearly the whole distance in the air.

Mahomes is being hailed as the best Chiefs quarterback since Len Dawson. Come on. One regular season game vs. a 4-11 Broncos team and an exhibition does not a career make.

The Cardinals outscored the Saints 20-15. Arizona is 2-0 now in exhibitions. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Cards win no more than two when the games count.

Woke up at 0610, just in time to watch English football. The first match of the day in the Premier League, Newcastle United at Cardiff City, kicked off at 1230 British Summer Time (0630 Central). Goalless draw, the first of the 2018-19 Premier League campaign. Cardiff goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, the first Premier League player from the Philippines, stopped a penalty kick in second half stoppage time, the second penalty he has saved this year. If Etheridge keeps it up, he will rival Manny Pacquiao as the most popular athlete in the Philippines..

In the 1500 BST (0900 CDT) matches, Leicester City took advantage of an own goal by Wolverhampton and a brace by James Maddison just before halftime for a 2-0 victory at the King Power Stadium.

In London, Bournemouth gave up a first half penalty to fall behind West Ham, but two goals in seven minutes in the second half powered the Cherries to a 2-1 victory and six points. I’m well aware Bournemouth probably won’t be contending for a spot in Europe, but every point Eddie Howe’s men take against teams not in the top six (Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal, Chelsea) is huge.

The other London match in that window saw Tottenham easily oust Fulham 3-1, meaning the Cottagers are still stuck on zero points, as is West Ham.

In Liverpool, Everton thrashed Southampton 3-1. Nothing unexpected there

Arsenal is also stuck in the starting blocks, thanks to a 3-2 loss to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. The first half featured two goals by each side, but the Blues struck in the 81st minute to keep pace with Tottenham and Bournemouth, with Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool all favored to win their upcoming matches, although Liverpool will be tested by Crystal Palace at Selhurst.

English football fever

The third day of the 2018-19 Premier League campaign is only hours away.

Liverpool hosts West Ham and Burnley visits Southampton at 0730 Central (1330 British Summer time), while Manchester City kicks off its title defense at Arsenal, which plays its first match under new manager Unai Emery. That fixture starts at 1000 Central (1600 BST).

Very few surprises the first two days. The only draw was an exciting 2-2 fixture at Molineux between Wolverhampton, playing its first Premier League match in six years, and Everton, which had to play the final 50 minutes down a man after Phil Jagielka was shown a red card, the first of the new campaign.

I didn’t wake up early enough to catch the Newcastle-Tottenham match. Spurs won 2-1. I watched the Huddersfield-Chelsea match until the Blues scored the first goal; at that point, I figured the Terriers were toast. Indeed, Chelsea rolled 3-0.

I bought the NBC Sports Gold package so I can watch all the Premier League matches which are not televised. My first online match was Bournemouth hosting Cardiff City, with the Cherries winning 2-0 at home over the newly promoted Welsh side.

The other 0900 Central matches were also 2-0. Crystal Palace won at London rival Fulham, spoiling the Cottagers’ return to the top flight after a four-year absence, while Watford, whom I pegged for relegation in my predictions, bested Brighton & Hove Albion 2-0 at Vicarage Road.

Manchester United bested my Leicester City Foxes 2-1 at Old Trafford Friday evening (in Britain; late afternoon here in Kansas). The Foxes were done in by a very early handball (three minutes in) which gave the Red Devils a penalty kick that was converted by Paul Pogba, who played for France’s World Cup championship team earlier this summer. Jamie Vardy did put Leicester on the board in second half stoppage time, but it couldn’t prevent Leicester from falling to 2-7-16 all-time vs. United.

I did two B-52 shots this evening. I don’t have anywhere to be tomorrow.

There are only two “exhibition games” taking place tonight in the NFL, Minnesota at Denver and the Los Angeles Chargers at Arizona. Don’t ask me who’s winning. I don’t care. Remember, the 2008 Lions and 2017 Browns each went undefeated in exhibition games…and winless in games which counted.

The epic showdown between the Orioles and Royals in Kansas City is on the horizon. Baltimore may already have 100 losses.

I’m watching The O.C. all over again. Last Sunday marked the 15th anniversary of its premiere. Right now I’m finishing the episode where there was a rainstorm (“The Rainy Day Women”), where Seth (Adam Brody) gets hung up on the roof attempting to fix the satellite dish at the Cohen mansion; Summer (Rachel Bilson) comes looking for him and they kiss. It’s the final appearance of Lindsay Gardner (Shannon Lucio) and Rebecca Bloom (Kim Delaney), and the beginning of the end of the relationship between Marissa (Mischa Barton) and Alex (Olivia Wilde).

The 15th anniversary of the debut of One Tree Hill is Sept. 23. I will probably have to go through that series all over again, but it will take a lot longer. I will need some valium, or at least four B-52 shots, to get through the episodes with that piece of fecal matter Felix.

As Genesis sang in 1983, that’s all.

Are you ready for some football?

The first full weekend of National Football League exhibition games, aka scrimmages with teams in uniform, began tonight. The Chiefs are hosting the Texans, the Saints are in Jacksonville, and Baker Mayfield made his unofficial debut with the Browns vs. the Giants in New Jersey.

I am not watching any exhibition gridiron football. Wake me up the evening of September 6, when the Falcons and Eagles play for real in Philadelphia.

Besides, the REAL football season kicks off in about 18 hours.

That’s when Manchester United welcomes Leicester City to Old Trafford to kick off the 2018-19 Premier League campaign. Most teams start their seasons Saturday, while a few play Sunday, including Arsenal and Manchester City at London’s Emirates Stadium.

The 20 teams of the Premier League, from Newcastle in the North East of England to Bournemouth, Brighton and Hove Albion and Southampton on the South Coast, plus 16 teams from points in between, will do battle through Mother’s Day.

It’s simple. Teams play 38 total matches, 19 home and 19 away, facing each opponent twice. No playoffs. The winner of the league is determined solely upon the season. The top four teams in the Premier League qualify for the UEFA Champions League of 2019-20, while the bottom three will be relegated to the English Football League Championship, the second tier of English football. The top two teams in the Championship will take their place in the Premier League in 2019-20, while the third through sixth place teams in the Championship face a playoff, with the survivor earning the golden ticket to the top.

Manchester City is the defending champion. Pep Guardiola’s club was thoroughly dominant throughout 2017-18, going 30-7-1 (draws are listed before losses in association football) and becoming the first team since the formation of the Premier League in 1992-93 to finish with 100 points. City earned points 99 and 100 with a goal in the final minute of stoppage time on the final day of the season at Southampton to secure a 1-0 victory.

Manchester United finished second, but 19 points behind its archrival. Tottenham Hotspur held off hard-charging Liverpool for third, 77 points to 75.

Swansea City (33), Stoke City (33) and West Bromwich Albion (31) were relegated to the Championship. Taking their place are Wolverhampton, which won the Championship; Championship runner-up Cardiff City; and Fulham, which defeated Aston Villa in the playoff final.

I don’t consider myself an expert on association football, but I’m going to give it my best shot as to the order of finish:

  1. Manchester City–There’s no reason Pep’s men can’t continue their dominance. Maybe not to the tune of 100 points, but still clearly head and shoulders above the rest.
  2. Liverpool–Jurgen Klopp will have the Reds in contention all season. Momentum from strong transfers and UEFA Champions League final appearance.
  3. Tottenham–Mauricio Pochettino will keep Spurs high up the chart, but still searching for breakthrough.
  4. Manchester United–Jose Mourinhino will feel heat, especially if City comes anywhere close to duplicating last year’s success.
  5. Chelsea–Blues have bounced back and forth between the top and less than impressive finishes. That trend won’t continue. New manager Mauricio Sarri will find the grind of the Europa League and the Premier League to be brutal.
  6. Arsenal–Ditto for Unai Emery, who succeeds the legendary Arsene Wenger in North London. The Gunners should be able to avoid dropping too far, but the Champions League is probably out of reach this year.
  7. Crystal Palace–The Eagles’ obituaries were flowing last September after they lost their first seven games and did not even score a goal. Roy Hogsdon took over and had Palace playing the best football in the Prem outside of Manchester City and Liverpool. Europe is definitely within reach. No relegation worries this year at Selhurst.
  8. West Ham–Manuel Pellegrini’s club will enjoy its best season since moving to London Stadium. The Hammers need to avoid the dreadful starts of the previous two seasons; if they can, European football is a possibility.
  9. Wolverhampton–The Wolves have the best chance of the three promoted sides to succeed. Lots of fun at Molineux on the way.
  10. Leicester City–The Foxes need to stop living off their fairy tale 2015-16 season. It may never happen again, but there’s no reason Leicester should be near the bottom of the table, either, as its has been at points during the previous two campaigns.
  11. Everton–Wayne Rooney is gone. So is Sam Allardyce. Marco Silva is in charge of the Toffees. Goodison
  12. Newcastle–The Magpies somehow finished 10th a year ago, a credit to Rafa Bentiez’s managerial acumen. A similar mid-table finish is likely.
  13. Fulham–Shahid Khan has poured enough money into the Cottagers, just like he has done with the Jaguars, to make Fulham competitive in its first year back in the top flight.
  14. Bournemouth–Eddie Howe is a genius. By all rights, the Cherries should be doomed simply because Dean Court (aka Vitality Stadium) seats less than 12,000, but lo and behold, Bournemouth hasn’t been seriously threatened with relegation the last two years. Impressive.
  15. Burnley–The Clarets qualified for the Europa League by finishing seventh last season, but was it because Burnley was so good or there was a ton of mediocrity mid-table? The latter is probably right. The Clarets will stay up, but it will be a hairy season at Turf Moor.
  16. Southampton–The Saints were fortunate to escape the drop. It will be a close call again. Buckle up at St. Mary’s.
  17. Brighton–Same goes at the AMEX Stadium, where the Seagulls must score more and tighten their back line.
  18. Watford–The Hornets were a sieve last year, yielding 64 goals. Only Stoke (68) gave up more. New manager Javi Garcia faces a long road to hoe at Vicarage Road. Watford may be on borrowed time at the top.
  19. Huddersfield–The Terriers had trouble scoring (28 goals) and stopping the other team from scoring (58), yet somehow did just enough to stay up in their first season in the top flight since Edward Heath was Prime Minister. I don’t see Huddersfield making it to a third year.
  20. Cardiff City–The Bluebirds’ only Premier League season, 2013-14, saw them finish dead last and return immediately to the Championship. History will repeat itself. Neil Warnock performed a miracle in guiding Cardiff to second in the Championship last year, but it is weaker than some of the teams in the second tier, and probably the weakest by far in the Prem. Cardiff shouldn’t approach Derby County’s woeful 2007-08 season which saw it go 1-8-29 and finish with 11 points and a minus-69 goal differential, but it could be close.

We’ll revisit this post throughout the season to see how (badly) I’m doing.

Remember, 1400 CDT (2000 British Summer Time) tomorrow at Old Trafford. Football is back!

The run for riches begins

For 24 English football teams, the road to the golden ticket begins today.

The Championship. the second tier of English football, starts at 2000 British Summer Time (1400 Central Daylight Time), with Reading hosting Derby County in a battle of teams which were once in the Premier League, the richest football league on the planet.

The teams which finish first and second in the Championship over a grueling season of 46 fixtures earn automatic promotion to the Premier League, which means a windfall of anywhere from 150 to 200 million pounds, thanks to the rich television contract the Prem enjoys with broadcasters around the world, including NBC in the United States and Canada (TSN simulcasts the NBC feed in Canada).

The desperation will be especially intense for the five teams which have been relegated from the Premier League to the Championship over the last two seasons: Hull City and Middlesbrough, who were relegated in May 2017 after earning promotion from the Championship the previous season; and Stoke City, Swansea City and West Bromwich Albion, all of whom were relegated three months ago.

When a team is relegated from the Premier League, it receives two years’ worth of parachute payments, anywhere from 70 to 80 million pounds, to help ease the financial drain of relegation.

The bottom three teams in the Premier League are relegated to the Championship each season. The system of promotion and relegation is used in every major football league around the world EXCEPT Major League Soccer, which uses the traditional North American model of fixed franchises. This is a main reason why I do not like MLS.

Notice I listed only five teams in the Championship receiving parachute payments.

The sixth member of that group, Sunderland, was relegated again after finishing dead last in the Championship in 2017-18. The Black Cats are now in League One, the third tier of English football. Sunderland’s Stadium of Light seats almost 49,000, while six stadia seat less than 10,000, and four others have less capacity than Bournemouth’s Dean Court, the smallest Premier League venue.

This has to be embarrassing in the north east of England, especially after Tyneside Derby rival Newcastle finished strong last year in the Premier League under Rafa Benitez and is pegged as a dark horse to grab a spot in European football for 2019-210.

Wolverhampton and Cardiff City earned the golden tickets from last year’s Championship thanks to finishing in the top two. The next four teams were in a playoff for the final spot in this year’s Premier League. Fulham, which plays in London and is owned by Shahid Khan, the same man who owns the Jacksonville Jaguars, defeated former Premier League side Aston Villa in the final.

Villa has more resources than almost all other Championship sides. I’ll pick the Birmingham club to move back to the Premier League for 2019-20 by winning the league. Stoke City will also be back in the Prem come next August, with the Potters taking second. Middlesbrough, which made the Championship playoff but lost in the semis to Villa, will join Newcastle United to give fans in north east England two Premier League sides, further adding to Sunderland’s woe.

Bolton, which barely survived relegation to League One in 2017-18, won’t be so fortunate this time. Goodbye. Joining them on the down escalator will be Hull City and newly promoted Rotterham.

Next week, I will reveal my Premier League predicted table. Right now, I’m not seeing the Prem in Wales come next August…

One of my infrequent posts

Your undisciplined blogger here. I’ve got to do better. I’m making this statement for at least the 481st time on Foots Prints. I failed to follow through the first 480 times.

Sports is kind of in a lull right now. The World Cup ended two weeks ago with France defeating Croatia; the Open Championship ended eight days ago with a command performance by Francisco Molinari, who didn’t crack under the pressure of playing with Eldrick Woods in the final round; and one league of Major League Baseball is about as suspenseful as watching paint dry. Four of the five playoff teams in the American League are known: Red Sox, Yankees, Indians and Astros. The fifth spot will either come down to the Mariners or Athletics. Everyone else? Forget it.

Fortunately, the National League still holds drama. The Brewers somehow are only three games back (in the loss column) of the Cubs despite going 1-7 in Miami and Pittsburgh the week before the All-Star break, and Milwaukee has a comfortable lead as the first wild card. The Marlins, Mets and Padres are all done, and while the Reds are playing better under Jim Riggelman, the early hole they dug under Bryan Price is too much.

I don’t know if the Brewers can hold on to a playoff spot. They got some help in acquiring Joakim Soria and Mike Moustakas, but the injury bug has hit Miller Park hard. Milwaukee would have trouble in a one-game playoff against either Arizona, Atlanta or Philadelphia, and then if the Brewers won, they would have to play the Cubs in the division series.

John Tavares signed with the Maple Leafs. The ex-Islander will make Toronto a dangerous team offensively, but Mike Babcock knows there’s no way teams can win 6-4 in the NHL every night in this era. It isn’t the 1980s, when Edmonton was able to rush the puck up the ice consistently with Gretzky, Kurri, Messier, Coffey and Glenn Anderson and score seven or eight on many nights. Also, Toronto doesn’t have a goaltender anywhere near the caliber of Grant Fuhr to take on 40-45 shots consistently.

If Babcock doesn’t find some help on the blue line, and quick, Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen will die from taking on too many shots, and Toronto will never climb above Boston and Tampa Bay in the Atlantic.

The Bucks? Well, letting Jabari Parker walk wasn’t the problem. DRAFTING Jabari Parker was. If the Bucks were smart, they would have taken Joel Embiid number two overall instead of Parker, and even if Embiid would have been slow to heal from the injuries which plagued him at Kansas, it still would have been much better than Parker. Until the Bucks find help for the Greak Freak, they won’t be making it past the second round of the playoffs any time soon, even if the East is wide open after Boston, Philadelphia and Toronto.

I’ve written off the Arizona Cardinals. I don’t care what their record is. Actually, the worse, the better. They need a lot of help. Josh Rosen isn’t going to be the magic panacea to get them back to the Super Bowl. The offensive line sucks, and it has sucked since the Cardinals were in St. Louis. The running game has been non-existent since Ottis Anderson was in his heyday. I am not confident Steve Wilks is the answer.

I’ve also written off my alma mater’s football team. I just can’t see any better than 7-5. I hope I’m wrong. I’m looking at Miami, Auburn, Georgia Alabama and Texas A&M as games where LSU will be at a decided disadvantage. If the Mississippi State game were in Starkville and not Baton Rouge, I would have to favor State, but it’s a toss-up in Death Valley. The Florida game would be a toss-up in Baton Rouge, but in Gainesville, the Gators have to be favored. LSU is at a decided advantage in Baton Rouge vs. Ole Miss, but the Rebels will treat it as a bowl game since they are on probation. LSU has held the upper hand against Arkansas under Orgeron, but the Razorbacks will be dangerous in November after they learn Chad Morris’ system, especially in Fayetteville.

Forget the football played with a prolate spheroid and on a gridiron.

Football season is still 11 days away. The REAL football season, that is.

The Premier League kicks off August 10 when Leicester City visits Old Trafford to play Manchester United. It’s the second consecutive year Leicester has had to go on the road and play the Friday night game to open the season; last year, the Foxes lost 3-2 to Arsenal at Emirates Stadium. The rest of the league plays either that Saturday or Sunday.

The smart money is on Manchester City to repeat as Premier League champions. Why not? Pep Guardiola has built a machine at the Etihad Stadium, and it is still a step ahead of United and Liverpool, the other two teams which figure to be at the top of the table with City. Chelsea and Arsenal have new managers and the distraction of the Europa League, which forces teams to play on Thursdays before turning around to play league matches on Saturday or Sunday, and that will hurt. Tottenham has a golden opportunity this year with Arsenal and Chelsea a bit down and the excitement of moving into the new White Hart Lane, but will Spurs take it?

I don’t think Leicester will be anywhere near the danger of the drop zone, but I can’t see another Claudio Rainieri-Jamie Vardy miracle, either. Mid-table would be fine with me, maybe seventh and a spot in the Europa League.

Bournemouth probably has no business in the top flight, given it plays in a stadium which seats less than 12,000 has nowhere near the resources of the Big Six of the Premier League, and not as much as Leicester, Fulham and a few others. However, Eddie Howe is a fine manager, and that’s the reason the Cherries are still in the top flight and the likes of Sunderland, Stoke, Swansea, West Brom and Hull aren’t. In fact, Sunderland has cratered into League One, the third division, just two years after competing in the Premier League. OUCH.

Meanwhile, the pressure in Italy’s Serie A is on Juventus, where Cristiano Ronaldo has taken his talents after a long and storied run at Real Madrid. The Turin side is always expected to be at or near the top of Serie A, but this year, the pressure has to be crushing.

The same can be said for Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga. It has been Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and 16 weak sisters in most recent years in Germany, but last year, Dortmund was not only looking up at Bayern, but also Schalke and Hoffenheim. Christian Pulisic, the 19-year old American phenom, has a lot of weight on his shoulders at Dortmund, but it’s a position every MLS player would kill to be in.

I have an appointment in Prairie Village Thursday afternoon to get another treatment on my back. Now I know what to expect.

My dear friend Peggy celebrated a birthday yesterday. I know how old she is, but I won’t tell you. Sorry.

Watching The Price is Right now. WHY DO CONTESTANTS LOOK AT THE CROWD? They don’t know a damn thing. If I’m going to lose, I want to do it my way. I’m sure the contestant coordinators don’t pick the highest IQs, so what help can they be? Also, looking at the crowd wastes time!

Stuck in Russia

France and Croatia play Sunday for the World Cup. Croatia is the second smallest country to ever contest a World Cup championship match. The former Yugoslav state has a population of 4.1 million, equivalent to that of Oregon.

The only smaller country to play in a World Cup final was Uruguay, which currently has a population of 3.45 million, a little less than Connecticut.  However, Uruguay had much less population when it won the first World Cup in 1930 and defeated Brazil in Rio de Janeiro in what turned out to be the deciding match in the 1950 tournament.

It should be noted the current format of a 16-team, four-stage knockout tournament following group play was not formally adopted until 1986. There were numerous different formats tried by FIFA, including a double group stage format in 1974, ’78 and ’82. Only in ’82 did the top two finishers in each group at the second group stage play in a knockout tournament; in ’74 and ’78, the two teams which won their respective groups in the second group stage played for the championship, while the second placed teams in each of the second round groups played for third.

Belgium and England, the teams which lost to France and Croatia, respectively, have not been able to depart Russia since their semifinal heartbreak.

Thank you, FIFA.

The world’s premier sporting event, at least for team sports, still insists on a third place match. I don’t know how much motivation Belgium and England could possibly have after such heartbreak, but FIFA is forcing them to convene tomorrow morning (at least in the United States) on the pitch in St. Petersburg.

What is the use of a third place match? NOTHING. UEFA has eliminated the useless third place matches in its Champions League and Europa League competitions and at the UEFA Cup, held every four years between national sides to determine the continent’s best.

Why can’t FIFA just let the losing semifinal teams go home, lick their wounds and spend the weekend with their families after being away for so long?

Apparently, it’s money.

FIFA will pay the winner of the third place match a prize pool of 20.5 million Euros ($24 million USD), compared to 18.8 million Euros ($22 million) for the loser of the third place match. Why not just give each team losing in the semifinals the same pot and let them go home?

If FIFA insists on a match the day before the final, why not let the host nation play a semifinal (or quarterfinal) loser? That would be a guaranteed sellout and a great way for the host nation to thank their loyal fans and football federation for hosting the world’s largest sporting event.

I would like to see a nation relegated to the third place match just not show up, but I’m sure FIFA would fine that nation a great deal and may not allow it to participate in the next World Cup, so it’s a form of blackmail. Just the same, I would love to see a Kansas high school basketball team tell the Kansas State High School Activities Association to take a hike and not show up for a third place game in a state tournament.

I can dream, but I’m also realistic here, so on we go with the meaningless games, games which many probably would rather not play.

Even worse, if the third place match tomorrow is level after normal time, there will be extra time, and then the infamous shootout if it is still tied after extra time. Yawn. If the third place match is going to be played, it should be limited to 90 minutes. If it ends in a draw, so be it. Find another way to determine who gets the third place money (overall record, goal differential, what have you), but going more than 90 minutes is cruel to two teams who came so close to playing on the grandest stage in team sports but failed.

It’s late. Not that late, but late for me since Crista told me to start going to bed at an earlier hour.

 

Bye-bye Russia…until 2026 or later

The World Cup is taking a two-day breather before the semifinals Tuesday (France-Belgium at St. Petersburg) and Wednesday (Croatia-England at Moscow). For South America, it’s on to Qatar 2022. Uruguay and Brazil, the continent’s final two remaining nations, were knocked out Friday. Uruguay was no match for France, falling 2-0, while Brazil fell behind by two goals to Belgium and could not make up the difference, with the European side prevailing 2-1. Yesterday, England went to halftime with Sweden scoreless, but dominated the second half and won 2-0 to advance to the semifinals for the first time since 1990. The Croatia-Russia match produced plenty of drama. Russia led 1-0 at halftime. Croatia came back to level the score in the second half, and the tally remained that way at full time, forcing 30 minutes of extra time.Croatia took the lead in the first 15-minute extra time period, meaning Russia would have to score in the second 15-minute period or else. Indeed, Russia did score six minutes from the death. Off to kicks from the penalty mark, the method which both nations used to win their round of 16 ties. Croatia prevailed 4-3, and truthfully, it was best for the game that Croatia won. It will make for a stronger tie vs. England. Russia would not have been in the World Cup had it not gained automatic entry for being the host nation. It was ranked 65th in the world by FIFA when the draw for the World Cup groups was held last December, and had slipped to 70th by June 7, the date of the last rankings prior to the World Cup starting a week later. Russia is going to feel good about its football program after this World Cup, but it should not get cocky. Russia beat two equally bad sides, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and was thoroughly dominated by Uruguay in its final group match. It did not win a match in the knockout stage, because draws after 120 minutes officially go down in the record books as draws, with kicks from the penalty mark only used to determine which team advances in the tournament, not for won-loss purposes. I am not a betting man. If I was, I would certainly predict Russia will not be playing in Qatar in four years. Italy and the Netherlands will do all they can to make sure they don’t miss consecutive World Cups. I can never see Belgium, Croatia, France, Germany, England, Spain and Portugal not making it. I like the chances for Denmark and Switzerland to make it to Qatar, and I would have to rank Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Austria, Slovakia, Ireland and Turkey ahead of Russia. That’s 19 countries ahead of Russia. There will be 13 places for UEFA teams in the 2022 World Cup (16 when the field expands to 48 teams in 2026). Therefore, I would not expect Russia to be playing again in a World Cup until 2026, maybe later. I had Brazil vs. Croatia in the World Cup final. One half of that prediction can still come true, and I am going to stick with that. The former Yugoslavian division will be playing in Moscow a week from today for the grandest prize in team sports.On the other side of the bracket, I’m tempted to pick Belgium since it ousted Brazil, but France has looked mighty fine to date. Boy, that should be one heck of a match. I didn’t have either side going past the quarterfinals, but now one will play for the title. I think Belgium is spent after beating Brazil. France hasn’t had to exert nearly as much energy. I’ll go with Les Bleus to make the final for the first time since it won it all at home in 1998.

Another jinx vanquished

There will be no World Cup matches today, fitting since today is the 242nd anniversary of the independence of a nation which cannot fight its way out of a wet paper bag in association football, at least when it counts the most.

It’s even more fitting the World Cup is off today, because  the country celebrating the 242nd anniversary of its independence gained said independence from the country which birthed “the beautiful game”.

One of the constituent countries of the nation where association football (soccer for those snooty Americans) is still alive in the World Cup, thanks to ending a curse which had long haunted it.

England advanced by winning a shootout (kicks from the penalty mark) yesterday over Colombia.

Repeating: England advanced by winning a shootout.

Let that sink in for a few seconds.

It’s the first time The Three Lions have won a shootout in the World Cup since it was introduced to team sports’ greatest spectacle in 1978 (but not put into practice until 1982).

Previously, England had been eliminated in 1990 (semifinals vs. West Germany), 1998 (round of 16 vs. Argentina in a match which saw David Beckham draw a straight red card two minutes into the second half; that England was able to hold Argentina scoreless for 73-plus minutes was amazing) and 2006 (vs. Portugal, with Cristiano Ronaldo burying the winner).

England appeared as if it would win in normal time 1-0, with Harry Kane burying a penalty kick in the 57th mniute after he was taken down in the box rather aggressively.

Colombia played borderline dirty all match, with the manager giving an English player a hard shoulder as they exited the pitch at halftime, and another Colombian player getting away with a headbutt as they jostled in the box on a free kick.

However, Colombia’s Yerry Mina scored the equalizer only seconds from full time, and the match continued. The half-hour of extra time was scoreless, and the groans went up from Newcastle and Sunderland in the North East to Bournemouth and Southampton on the south coast, and all points in between.

The tension had to be most palpable in Sunderland and Liverpool.

English goalkeeper Jordan Pickford is a native of the North East of England. He played for Sunderland before leaving the Black Cats in the summer of 2017 after they were relegated out of the Premier League.

Everton, located in Liverpool and the archrival of the world-famous Liverpool Football Club, won the bidding war for Pickford. However, the Toffees were unable to fully take advantage of having Pickford and Wayne Rooney, finishing well behind Burnley for the final European qualifying spot, and obviously behind the Big Six of the Premier League: Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Arsenal.

FYI, the four most famous residents of Liverpool, two of whom are sadly no longer with us (one at the hands of a bloody murderer) did not care about the Merseyside Derby, the name given to the Liverpool-Everton rivalry. It was reported The Fab Four did not care much for football, at least the kind played with a round ball (Paul McCartney performed during the Super Bowl XXXVI pregame show and Super Bowl XXXIX halftime show).

In fact, when England won the 1966 World Cup at the old Wembley Stadium, Paul, John, George and Ringo were on the last leg of their last concert tour in the United States. And if you think few Americans care about soccer in 2018, the number of soccer die-hards in 1966 may have numbered less than the number of members of United States House (435).

Back to 2018, Pickford and his mates.

The announcers on Fox stated throughout extra time that Colombia was a lead-pipe cinch to advance to a quarterfinal meeting with Sweden. They felt Colombia had enough momentum from the late equalizer to score in extra time, then kept harping on England’s failure in shootouts in the past when it looked like the third shootout of the round of 16 would be a reality.

Surprisingly, English manager Gareth Southgate chose Kane to go first. Many managers save their best kicker for the fourth or fifth round, which is what the United States women did in shootouts in the World Cup finals of 1999 and 2011. In 1999, Mia Hamm, arguably the greatest female association football player to date, went fourth, leaving the heroics to Brandi Chastain and her famous sports brassiere. In 2011, Abby Wambach went fourth, but because the three before her–Shannon Boxx, Carli Lloyd and Tobin Heath all missed, it didn’t matter, and Japan won. More of the blame lies on the shoulders of Hope(less) Solo (now Stevens).

Kane and Marcus Rashford scored for England after Radamel Falcao and Juan Cudrado did the same for Colombia. Luis Muriel scored the third kick for Colombia, but Jordan Henderson’s attempt was turned aside by David Ospina, shifting the edge to Colombia.

The pressure was now on Pickford. If he could not stop Mateus Uribe, the South American side would have a huge edge, knowing it would at the very least go into sudden death.

Pickford got a piece of Uribe’s arching shot. It hit the crossbar anyway, and England’s condition was upgraded from critical to satisfactory. It became completely healed when Kieran Trippler scored to knot it up again.

Carlos Bacca stepped to the mark for Colombia. He went right, and Pickford was spot on, easily stoning the Colombian substitute forward.

Southgate sent Eric Dier onto the pitch in the 81st minute to spell Dele Alli, the Tottenham striker. Dier now was called upon to take the last kick of the regulation round. If he missed, the kicks would go into sudden death. If Dier scored, England would play again Saturday.

Dier went hard and low to his left. Ospina guessed wrong. England was jolly indeed.

England now plays Sweden, a 1-0 victor over Switzerland. The winner of that match plays the winner of Croatia-Russia, which is also Saturday.

Friday’s matches are France-Uruguay and Brazil-Belgium. I picked Croatia, England and Brazil as semifinalists before the knockout round, and I’ll stick with that. I had France playing Portugal, with Les Bleus losing. I’ll pick France to win, though, against Uruguay.

Maybe it was time for England to end its curse. The Red Sox ended the Curse of the Bambino in 2004. The Cavaliers won the 2016 NBA championship, ending Cleveland’s sports curse which spanned 51 1/2 years. The Cubs ended the Curse of the BIlly Goat by winning the 2016 World Series, their first in 108 years. The Astros broke through last year, their 56th season, to win their first World Championship. The Eagles won Super Bowl LII earlier this year, Philadelphia’s first NFL title since 1960. The Capitals won their first Stanley Cup last month, ending a long run of playoff futility.

See? Most bad things will end. The bad news? All good things WILL end sooner or later.

Meanwhile, the Rays and Marlins played 16 innings last night. How depressing. Paid attendance: 6,259. I’d like to know how many people actually went to the game in Miami, and how many were left when it ended at 0040 Eastern.

The Royals and Orioles seem to be racing to the bottom. Both have lost 60 games, and both are so far out of the playoff race they need the Hubble telescope to find the Red Sox, Yankees, Astros, Mariners and Indians. Both are on pace to lose 114 games. Neither will probably lose that many, but both will likely fall short of 60 wins.

The Royals host the Red Sox this weekend. There are only nine more big-revenue home games left on the schedule at Kauffman Stadium: the three this weekend, plus three-game sets with the Cardinals and Cubs.

In case you’re curious, the Royals and Orioles play three in Kansas City Labor Day weekend. I’m sure the ticket office at The K is burning up over ticket sales for that one.

Football frenzy

I watched nearly every minute of the FIFA World Cup the past two days. I tuned into the France-Argentina match after 20 minutes, then watched the full 90 in Portugal-Uruguay, and the full 120 plus in both Spain-Russia and Croatia-Denmark.

France scored three second half goals to overcome a 2-1 deficit, then had to hold on when Argentina scored in stoppage time to cut the margin to 4-3. France held on to win by that score.

Les Bleus will play Uruguay Friday in the quarterfinals. The South American side scored early vs. Portugal and dominated the first half, leading by that 1-0 tally at halftime. The European champions scored just after the one-hour mark to equalize, but Uruguay came right back to regain the advantage. Portugal tried desperately to gain its second goal throughout the final 20 minutes plus stoppage time, but Uruguay did a great job of defending Cristiano Ronaldo and prevailed 2-1.

Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who played his final World Cup match for Argentina, both gone on the same day. However, France-Uruguay will not disappoint.

Speaking of not disappointing, today was something else.

The morning match in Moscow was expected to be a cakewalk. Spain has had issues aplenty since winning the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 European championship, but it was expected to have no trouble with Russia, which took advantage of an ridiculously weak draw in Group A, defeating Saudi Arabia and Egypt before being hammered by Uruguay.

Just before the 12-minute mark, a Russian defender attempted to clear the ball deep in the penalty area, only to knock into the net. Own goal. Spain leads.

With five minutes to go in the first half, Russia had a corner kick. The ball flew into the box and went off the head of a Russian forward and then off the back of the hand of Spanish defender Gerard Pique.

Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers blew his whistle immediately. Pique knew he was busted.

A handball inside the penalty area by the defending team is an automatic penalty kick to the offense. If the handball is determined to be intentional, the offender is shown a straight red card, which means not only does he miss the remainder of that match, but he’s suspended for the next match as well.

Artem Dzuyba stepped to the mark for Russia. He blasted the ball past Spanish keeper David De Gea, and just like that, it was level 1-1.

It stayed that way throughout the second half, with Russia turning back numerous Spanish scoring chances. Kuiper blew his whistle after four minutes of stoppage time in the second half, sending the match to extra time.

In association football, extra time is 30 minutes, played in two 15-minute periods. The entire extra time is played, unlike the National Football League and National Hockey League, where sudden death applies.

From the opening of extra time, it was clear the Russians had one objective: get through the 30 minutes without giving up a goal, which would mean kicks from the penalty mark, or a shootout as Americans like to call it.

The Spaniards completed over 1,100 passes in the match and had nine shots on goal to Russia’s one, yet it did not score again after the early own goal. When the whistle blew to end the second 15-minute extra period, most of the crowd in Moscow cheered loudly.

They had good reason to.

Russian goalkeeper Igor Afkineev became his country’s conquering hero by stopping two Spanish kicks, which combined with a perfect 4-for-4 from Russian kickers, put the host nation into the quarterfinals.

Think about this. Russia, the lowest rated nation out of all 32 entered in this year’s World Cup (70th according to the most recent FIFA rankings prior to the tournament), is one of the last eight nations playing, yet Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, Argentina, Portugal and now Spain are all gone.

Face it. Russia would be nowhere, either, if the host nation doesn’t gain automatic entry into the World Cup. Qatar will make its debut in the 2022 World Cup because of this rule. Canada is on its knees right now hoping FIFA will allow all three hosts (Canada, Mexico and the US) automatic entry in 2026.

Denmark and Croatia kicked off in Nizhny Novgorod about 80 minutes after Spain-Russia ended.

The Danes scored in the first minute, only to yield the equalizer to the Croatians less than four minutes later. We’re in for a barnburner, a high scoring affair, right?

Nope.

Both teams had numerous opportunities to score throughout the remaining 84 1/2 minutes (plus stoppage time) of normal time and the first 24 minutes of extra time.

Then Croatia appeared to have its golden ticket to the quarterfinals.

Marcelo Brazavic took a pass at the top of the penalty area and maneuvered around Danish keeper Kasper Schmeichel, the man who helped Leicester City win the 2015-16 Premier League championship. Nobody stood between Brazavic and the goal, but Mathias Jorgensen hauled him down just before Brazavic could put the ball in the net.

Croatia was awarded a penalty kick. Jorgensen should have been shown a red card for denying the obvious scoring opportunity, but only received a yellow.

In association football, any player may attempt a penalty kick. This is different from hockey, where the player who is denied an obvious scoring opportunity must take the penalty shot; for instance, the Capitals could not select Alex Ovechkin to take a penalty shot if Brooks Orpik is the one taken down from behind.

Croatia selected its best striker, Luka Modric, to challenge Schmeichel. Modric, one of the stars for Real Madrid, is ranked right up there with Ronaldo, Messi and Luis Suarez as one of the world’s best, and the commentators on Fox gave Schmeichel next to no chance to stop Modric from scoring.

Schmeichel, however, has been tested time and again in practice by Jamie Vardy and by some of the world’s best playing for the Foxes, and he showed it, diving to his left and stoning Modric.

The match soon slipped into kicks, and the commentators were now favoring the Danish thanks to Schmeichel.

Schmeichel stopped two of the four kicks he faced, but his Croatian counterpart, Danjiel Subasic, was even more brilliant, denying Denmark three times out of five.

With the shootout level 2-2, Ivan Raktic turned downtown Zagreb into the French Quarter on Mardi Gras day when he blasted the ball past Schmeichel.

I had mixed emotions. Yes, I picked Croatia to win, and I actually have them losing in the final to Brazil. On the other hand, Leicester City is my favorite football team anywhere on the planet, and I would have loved for Schmeichel to be the hero.

It will be Russia vs. Croatia Saturday in Sochi, in the same stadium where the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympics were held.

Kicks from the penalty mark were not introduced to the World Cup until 1978, and it wasn’t until 1982 that it was first used. That year, West Germany defeated France in the semifinals in (ironically) Barcelona. Two World Cup finals have been determined by kicks, Brazil over Italy in 1994 and Italy over France in 2006.

I hate kicks from the penalty mark. Hate it. It’s the equivalent of overtime in high school and college football. Penalty kicks are not real football. It’s whether or not a goalkeeper can guess which way the kicker will go when he takes the kick, and if the kicker doesn’t bungle it by clanging it off a post or the top of the goal, or firing it into the crowd the way Roberto Baggio did for Italy at the Rose Bowl in 1994.

I’ve gone on too long. I’ll save how I would decide a match for another post.

Tomorrow’s fun starts at 0900 with Mexico vs. Brazil, then continues at 1300 with Belgium vs. Japan. I would expect Brazil and Belgium to win, but this World Cup proves nothing is guaranteed.

Oh LeBron is going to sign with the Lakers. That’s all I have to say about that subject.