Thursday, April 28, 2011

WCP Cup 2011 - The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

We've wrapped up a great tournament. Let's go over some of the things that made WCP Cup 2011 a memorable one (and it was memorable).

The Good - El Salvador managed to take Republic of Ireland to shootouts in a semifinal that many thought could be a blowout.
The Bad - The men's and women's finals featured the exact same teams as 2010. No mix-up in teams made it less interesting.
The Ugly - Ireland destroyed pretty much everyone except for El Salvador. Even in the final the score flattered Laos.

The Good - Group D provided a steady diet of very good games that always meant something for the outcome of the pool.
The Bad - Neither of the teams coming out of Group D sniffed the final or showed they could contend with Ireland.
The Ugly - Scotland ended up getting mercilessly pounded in every game. Yikes.

The Good - Sudan surprised everyone with a strong showing in the tournament opener against Laos and a great win against El Salvador.
The Bad - Nobody really remembers about Sudan because they lost to Colombia(!) and didn't advance out of the group.
The Ugly - Judging by their two best games, Sudan had a legit chance to challenge Ireland on pure athletic ability. We'll never know.

The Good - If you were a player, coach or manager, you got into every game for free.
The Bad - If you were a fan you paid $7 per day and $10 to watch the final.
The Ugly - I'm 99% certain that prices will go up again next year. So get ready.

The Good - The referees during the Group Stage were consistent and called things like they were meant to be called.
The Bad - There were some heated games in the playoffs that maybe could've been handled better.
The Ugly - Teams and players blaming the referees for losing. Suck it up - nobody wants to hear it.

The Good - The blogs that operate (with or without the support of the organizers) provided an entertaining and enlightening look at the games on a nearly daily basis.
The Bad - Things sometimes got a little heated between blog owners and tournament organizers.
The Ugly - People who go on the blogs to attack the blog owners anonymously. Congratulations, you're officially a coward with no sense of self or an appreciation for originality or freedom of expression. The lowest form of blog commenter, and yes, there are many low forms.

Monday, April 25, 2011

2012 WCP Cup in Regina - Starting Early

We've just wrapped up a great tournament that was an undeniable success. And for a nice change, the WCP Cup organizing committee has released some interesting details for the 2012 WCP Cup tournament that I'll post before I really start to rehash everything throughout this week. The (scant) details are below:

2012 Team Registration: Friday September 9th, 2011.
2012 WCP Cup Draw: Friday October 14th, 2011.
2012 WCP Cup Schedule Release: Tuesday November 15th, 2011.

2011 WCP Cup All-Star games (all divisions) TBA Summer 2011.

Also appearing in 2012 - Masters showcase game and 18-and-under boys division.

What this means is stuff is going to be happening all summer. Not sure how they'll hold an all-star game with regular men's leagues and holidays happening, but it should be interesting. Also not sure who would pick the teams - an impartial jury of online commentators? I can only wish.

Also, if you didn't start planning and talking about your roster at the cabaret - or if you don't remember your night at the cabaret - then better start now.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Ireland 3, Laos 0 - Recap

Ireland are the champions again and deservedly so. They beat Laos handily, despite the fact that the Laos keeper played a great game and stopped a ton of great chances. Laos attempted to play the same style as El Salvador in the semifinals, and it worked for a while. But then one bad miscue at the back and suddenly David Brown had his first goal of the game and the score was 1-0 for Ireland at half.

Laos pushed a tiny bit more to begin the second half and Ireland capitalized immediately. A cross low into the box was put away fantastically by David Brown as he slid along the ground and redirected it in. The third Ireland goal came as Mike Collins and Jay Tomchuk conducted a nifty give-and-go along the right wing that allowed Jay to walk into the box and roof a rocket over the Loas keepers hands. Laos never really threatened to score. Ireland wins 3-0.

Ireland vs Laos - Finals Preview

It all comes down to one final game for all the glory. Or all the misery. Such is the final game that the team which doesn't win will be brooding about it the entire year, while to the victor go all the spoils. In 2010 it was Laos which managed the win in penalty kicks and got the prestige for the entire year. Ireland lost and went on a player-recruiting binge that has made them an insanely formidable opponent. Laos has advantages, so does Ireland - we'll see who is the best tonight.

Last year I predicted that Ireland would own Laos and I'm hesitant to say the same thing again. However, it's hard to ignore how Ireland has dominated opponents, with the exception of El Salvador. Laos hasn't lost this tournament, but every time it gets a victory it seems closer than it probably should have been. It's difficult to pick a team for champion when you've already said they didn't deserve to win the tournament opener.

I'm going to have to take Ireland in a game that I hope is closer than I think it will be. I hope its exciting, clean and has plenty of goal-scoring chances for both teams. Ireland will win 4-2.

Friday, April 22, 2011

2011 WCP Cup Semifinals - Recap

Ireland 2, El Salvador 1 (PK) - This was a treat to watch from a technical and strategic point of view. El Salvador knew it didn't have a chance to outscore Ireland so it focused on defense from the outset. And it worked. El Salvador shut down David Brown up front and for the most part limited chances from Ireland's numerous other scoring threats. The mix-up that allowed the Ireland goal wasn't so much bad as it was expected - everyone figured Ireland would get at least one of those goals. Props to Ireland for continuously attacking and never taking its foot off the pedal. In the second half and in OT Ireland had at least six high-quality, close-range chances and just couldn't get a break and beat a red-hot El Salvador keeper.
Then shoot-outs. Jay Tomchuk had his first Ireland shot saved and I thought it was all over. But then Jonah stopped two of the next three El Salvador attempts and it was all but assured that ROI would win. That fate was sealed when Adam Rolfe missed the fifth ES shot; two feet wide. It was a great effort for El Salvador but ROI took care of business.

Laos 4, Poland 3 (OT) - So much more entertaining than the first semifinal because both teams played a high-energy and attacking style. It didn't hurt that goals came pretty often so it always seemed like Poland was playing catch-up. And to its credit, Poland always did manage to tie it up, even after one of their strikers got a red card with about 10 minutes to play in the second half. Both keepers made some great saves in this one and there were some fantastic goals from both sides as well. Laos deserved to win this one after Boun managed to pot home a bouncing ball in the box about two minutes into overtime. Considering how great Poland had played defensively all tournament - for them to lose on a goal like that was pretty surprising.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

2011 WCP Cup Semifinals Preview

One round down, only two more to go. We've established that Ireland is a powerhouse, Laos is a legit title defender, El Salvador can play disciplined defensive soccer and Poland is on a mission to prove they can win the big one. Tonight will show which of these teams has the talent to make it to Saturday's final pairing.

Ireland vs El Salvador, 8 p.m. - While El Salvador played much better than I thought they would against France, it's going to be a herculean task to knock off Ireland right now. Their offense is a force to be reckoned with and I'm not sure any other team in the tournament has the personnel to pull off whatever successful strategy is required. I hope El Salvador can shoot the lights out to make this thing close because Ireland will not be denied the net, but I really don't see it happening. Ireland wins 5-2.

Poland vs Laos, 10 p.m. - This game will be incredibly close and hard-fought. Poland is a superb defensive team and has won six straight games in convincing fashion. Laos is the defending champion that always finds a way to win the important games. Both have superb goaltenders and both have shown to be a little shaky when it comes to striker play. I think its a toss-up and whichever team prevails will have done so by beating an equally strong opponent. Because I've got to take a winner I'll choose the team I think wants it more by virtue of never having been to the show. Poland wins 3-2.

2011 WCP Cup Quarterfinals - Recap

Laos 3, Greece 1 - Greece finally fell back to earth after riding on the clouds of overachievement for five games. Laos controlled this game completely after Greece scored the opening goal off of a free kick, and it was only a matter of time before the Laosians put it away. Greece gave a complete effort so give them credit, but I don't think there was any doubt that Laos was going to win it. I predicted 4-2 for Laos.

Ireland 7, Canada 2 - I think Dave Brown scored five goals for Ireland and near the end of the game he wasn't even trying to score any more. This was over in everyone's minds after about five minutes and it was really over when the score was 4-0 with 11 minutes gone. I feel Canada's pain - Norway got crushed by Ireland too - and the Irish are going to be a tough stop for El Salvador. I predicted 6-1 for Ireland.

El Salvador 1, France 0 - I didn't see much of this game because I was preparing for my own game. From what I did see, it looked to be evenly matched and a pretty defensive game. I definitely saw the free kick in the second overtime by Shawn Riggs of El Salvador. If you're going to win in the last minute, there's not much better way to do it than with a beautiful free kick around the wall and into the top corner. I predicted 3-1 for France.

Poland 3, Norway 0 - I already rehashed this in my game recap.

Poland 3, Norway 0 - Recap

It ends again. And again, it sucks. Props to Poland which kept it together and got another gritty win. I said it would come down to a lucky bounce either way and that's what happened.

Norway got the best chance for either team in the first half when Andrew Baulin burst through the middle and fired a low screamer at the Poland keep. The keeper got contact, but the ball took a hard bounce behind him. So hard that it somehow managed to bounce over the crossbar and behind the net. You've got to be lucky to be good and that was lucky.

Poland's first goal came with 11 minutes left in the game when a low shot deflected off of a Norway defender and past the helpless keeper. Two more goals for Poland came in quick succession as Norway tried in vain to push. For two defensive teams, that's how it was going to play out for one side or the other. Good luck to Poland the rest of the way.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Poland Preview - Wednesday 10:30 p.m.

The moment of reckoning has arrived. Is Norway legit, or just another Greece, waiting to get bounced in the quarterfinals? That's what tonight's 2011 WCP Cup game against Poland will decide. I think Poland has already proven they belong, but Norway still needs that one big win.

And I honestly think we've got the chops to do it. Yes, the Ireland game was bad, but Ireland is going to make everyone look bad sooner or later. Poland is a different team, with a different style, and significantly different players. If any team plays to Norway's advantage, it's Poland. Mind you, the Poles probably think the exact same way about Norway.

This will be a defensive game first and foremost. Poland has a strong back line and Norway does too when it isn't getting destroyed by set pieces. Both teams can keep shooters from getting open looks and walking into the box. Both teams also have a strong midfield presence that doesn't get pulled out of position and usually doesn't take bad fouls.

What it's going to come down to is which team gets the lucky bounce after working its ass of for the entire game. Poland hasn't had that happen to it yet and Norway can't seem to get any. I'm crossing my fingers that this is the one game where the tables get turned. Norway will win this one 3-2.

2011 WCP Cup Quarterfinals Preview

It's finally here. The one day of the entire WCP Cup tournament that absolutely positiviely guarantees that every game will be entertaining. It might start late at night, it might end early Thursday morning, but all four games will be good - so get there early and don't miss anything. I took a shot before the tournament began, but here are my actual quarterfinal predictions now:

Game 1 - Laos vs Greece, 7:30 p.m.: Both teams are undefeated. Both teams aren't quite as good as their record might suggest. Laos should've lost to Sudan, but instead won; and Greece somehow managed four wins and a tie while looking like a mediocre Div 3 team the entire time. This will depend on how many of Laos' Saskatoon players participate - and I think it will be all of them. Laos has more skill, has the playoff experience and also is the defending champion. Greece is confident, fearless, and definitely has something to prove. Laos won't make the mistake of playing cautious like France did. Laos wins this 4-2.

Game 2 - Ireland vs Canada, 8:30 p.m.: Ireland has a very, very good team. They can score goals from all positions - plus have the defense to back it up. Canada is a defensive team which hasn't shown much offensively except against a weak Jamaica squad. I believe Canada is good, just not Ireland good and it will show in this matchup. Just like how Ireland tooled Norway, Ireland is going to tool Canada. Goals will come early and often. Ireland wins 6-1.

Game 3 - France vs El Salvador, 9:30 p.m.: Probably the most fun game of the night to watch. Both teams are goal-scoring capable, both have good midfielders and strikers, and both have decent goaltenders. I think what this might come down to - in a game otherwise based on skill - is the strength advantage that France possesses. El Salvador got undeniably muscled when it played a bigger and stronger Sudan team and I can easily envision that happening here to. France can tackle strong and there are too many players on El Salvador who can't match that type of physical play. France wins 3-1.

Game 4 - Poland vs Norway, 10:30 p.m.: Two teams that play the exact same style - defensive and team-first. There are no individual stand-outs on either squad but each operates exceptionally well as a unit. Both have good goaltenders, but everything will depend on how their defenses perform in front of them. I expect hard tackles, few shots and lucky bounces to decide who scores. Norway is due for lucky bounces after experiencing zero in its last game. Norway wins 3-2.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

2011 WCP Cup Group Wrap-ups

It's been 17 days and finally the group stage of the 2011 WCP Cup is finished. While some groups wrapped up their playoff berths early, others took until the very last Sunday to finish their business. Here are the Group wrap-ups.

Group A: In my preview I figured that El Salvador would get first in this pool based by beating Laos. What I never anticipated was that the group would actually come down to which squad performed best against upstart Sudan. While Laos eked out a 2-1 win, El Salvador succumbed to a 6-3 loss. Luckily for both, the Saturday night contest wasn't do-or-die because Sudan went and choked away a 2-1 loss to Colombia.
Finish: 1. Laos; 2. El Salvador.

Group B: Ireland and Norway went out and handled business early. The two were the class of the group and didn't let any of the other teams get going in the first four games. First place came down to a showdown between the two which Ireland easily won. Not quite what I thought would happen in my group or game preview, but I did accurately predict the order of finish. Sierra Leone also had three impressive wins.
Finish: 1. Ireland; 2. Norway.

Group C: Greece came out and won its first game against Nigeria 4-2. That was unexpected. Then Greece went and also beat Botswana, Italy, and Afghanistan. Crazy. But not as crazy as Greece also tieing France 4-4. Wow. Yes, Greece is one of the teams going through to the quarterfinals, the same team that hadn't one a game in two straight years. On a side note, France didn't lose either and finished first because of goal differential - but that was expected.
Finish: 1. France; 2. Greece.

Group D: This was the Group of Death. Even after each team had played three times it was still unclear whether or not anyone but Scotland was out yet. Poland started off with three clutch wins and ultimately took the group at 5-0. Canada started off strong against Jamaica but then faltered against Poland. Jamaica started off poorly, but surprisingly beat Germany. And Germany didn't do much of anything, but ultimately fell only one goal short (needed a 2-1 win over Canada instead of 1-1 tie) of advancing in secon place. I thought it would come down to Poland, Germany and Canada, and I picked Germany instead of the Canucks. Good for Canada taking care of business.
Finish: 1. Poland; 2. Canada.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Ireland 8, Norway 2 - Recap

Prediction: 4-4 Tie

This was ugly and embarassing. Ireland scored early and often and Norway couldn't get it together at the back to defend set pieces. It looked like Norway would give up 15 minutes in, but at least we semi kept it together and put in an effort in the second half.

The positives to take away for the quarterfinals - besides set pieces, the defense and mid didn't play too bad. Kept good shape and kept containment. When playoffs roll around it'll be all about focus and a good kick in the ass like that is the best reminder that you can never relax against very good teams. Also, when Norway finally started shooting, plenty of good chances resulted in the second half.

That's the most I'm going to dwell on that game. Its best for all Norway players and fans to forget it and move on because there are more important things immediately ahead. Props to Ireland, they're a powerhouse.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Ireland Preview - Sunday 5 p.m.

This game is going to be fun. Means nothing for either team for quarterfinals security and not much in terms of favourable crossover potential either. Group D looms, and whichever teams finish first or second will be formidable opponents.

The question I was asked probably 20 times on Saturday night is - Will Norway try against Ireland? Every time I answered the same thing: of course we will, why wouldn't we? We're 4-0, they're 4-0. They're a good team, we're a good team. They don't like us, we don't like them.

Ireland can score goals, there's no denying that fact. But Norway's entire strategy has always been about defense first. If we let Ireland score early then it will turn into an embarrassment, and I HATE being part of those games. The one thing to watch for will be whether or not it gets chippy. Even one bad challenge could set this game off. Nobody wants to let a meaningless game get dictated by the other team and if anyone decides to take liberties then I expect immediate retribution.

This will be a fun game to watch: 4-4 tie.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Group A up in the air

So Group A of the 2011 WCP Cup comes down to El Salvador vs. Laos on Saturday night at 10 p.m. That's right, the playoff hopes for three teams will all depend on the last game of the best day of the tournament. I'm excited and worried at the same time. On the one hand, its a fantastic bookend to Canada vs Ukraine, 7 p.m.; Jamaica vs Poland, 8 p.m., and Afghanistan vs Nigeria, 9 p.m. On the other hand, the game will likely only start at 10:30 at the earliest and there's a good chance I'll be too inebriated to fully appreciate it.

At stake for Laos: Laos is sitting pretty right now. Thanks to starting 4-0, the Laosians are guaranteed a spot in the quarterfinals, so there isn't quite so much pressure. The problem is, thanks to the Greece tie of France, the Group C finishing order will still be up in the air, so Laos won't know if it wants to finish first or second in Group A. I'm guessing France finishes first in Group C because of goal differential, so no way does Laos want to slip into second place with a loss to El Salvador.

At stake for El Salvador: This is a can't lose game. If El Salvador wins, it finishes first in Group A based on head-to-head with Laos. If ES ties, it finishes a comfortable second and will cross over to face France. If ES loses, it's out because of the 6-3 loss to Sudan. Both teams would likely finish (Sudan still has a final game on Monday night against N. Ireland) with nine points, but because of the head-to-head, Sudan would take second place.

At stake for Sudan: El Salvador has to lose for Sudan to make it through. Thanks to Sudan's choke job against Colombia, the Sudanese now have no control over their tournament fate. They played well, but the chances of advancing to the quarterfinals are slim. Plus, while I doubt it will happen, there's still the possibility Sudan loses its final game on Monday night.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Thanks for Showing Up! - 2011

This is another column I may have to make into an annual tradition. Just like Norway being in the playoffs for 2010 and 2011, I'm sadly going to have to say goodbye to the teams in Group B, just like I did last year to Jamaica, El Salvador, Afghanistan and Scotland. With no further ado:

Dear Serbia, Portugal, Sierra Leone, and England,

Thanks for showing up and better luck next year! Don't hang your heads, Norway and Ireland were the better teams and deserved to advance. My advice:

Serbia - Keep playing hard and focus on your younger players. The team needs more speed and more attacking creativity if you want to win some games. There's no doubt this was a rebuilding year, so put in a team next year and hope for a better result.

Portugal - A tough tournament because of the turnover in players from 2010, but nothing to be ashamed about. Felipe moved on, but he was undeniably the heart of your team and you need to find someone else to carry that torch now. I suggest having an unquestioned captain for 2012, someone younger who is willing to lead by example. You've got good young players, make it their team.

Sierra Leone - A strong tournament considering it was the first time showing. Norway had its best result against you, but ultimately its most frustrating as well. We were constantly antagonized and I actually count that as a positive in your favour. Nobody likes teams that get under their skin, but I think its an identity that can work for you. Keep shooting and next year you can be a defininte challenger.

England - I'm not sure what happened to you. After Norway played you the first game I thought you had a real chance to prove you were better than last year. I suppose that chance still exists, seeing as how you've got Serbia and Portugal left, but the 14-0 loss to Ireland is like a black clowd looming over everything. I'm not saying you pussed out - cause Ireland is very good - but I don't remember any cards being handed out that game. If they're going to keep running up the score, at least let them know you're angry about it.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Group D's Exciting Finish

Group D's coming down to the wire and it's getting exciting. Makes me wish there were two of this exact group. Double D's for double the fun if you will.

Looking at the standings, its fairly certain that Poland will go through. Two games left - against Scotland and Jamaica - means they're getting 12 points at the least. Still not guaranteed to go through (because the teams that could catch are Canada and Jamaica creating a three-way tie at the top - then it's goal differential) but a way better chance than anyone else right now.

I'm going to take a bit of a reach and say that Ukraine and Germany are definitely not going through. Each team still has two games remaining, but Ukraine has two tough ones (Canada and Jamaica) and Germany still plays Canada (and Scotland). If any of those games even ends in a tie then it's likely lights out.

Which leaves Canada and a surging Jamaica. Canada holds the decisive edge because of the head-to-head 5-0 thrashing it gave Jamaica in the opener, but Jamaica gets a slightly relaxed Poland team and possibly demoralized Ukraine squad, while Canada has Ukraine and a never-give-an-inch German team. It's tough either way and I really haven't a clue how it will swing. In my previews I picked Canada as the other contender (besides Germany and Poland) so I guess I have to go with Canada.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Norway in the Playoffs! - 2011

I think I'm going to make this a recurring column topic for the WCP Cup. Just like in 2010, Norway is in the playoffs again. And hey, while we're at it, Norway is also atop the overall standings for the entire tournament - so there's that too.

Of course, making the playoffs didn't come without a ton of hard work. Gritty wins against England, Serbia, Portugal and Sierra Leone were what enabled the Norwegians to advance, and lucky for fans, the matchup on Sunday against Ireland comes at a time when Norway is peaking as a team.

Not gonna lie, making the playoffs already feels pretty darn good. No other team has the luxury of saying that yet (although Ireland, Laos and Poland are well on their way) and I think it would be a shame if I wasted the opportunity to gloat. For everyone who doubted Norway again this year, that's two straight tournaments starting off 4-0. Not too shabby. I'm already looking forward to the playoffs.

Norway 6, Sierra Leone 1 - Recap

I never wrote a preview for this game because I was too tired, but I would have said 5-2. So Norway did better than I expected and in the process went to first place in Group B.

This game was chippy. Both teams came out hard and giving it their all, as it was a must-win for both, and some tackles definitely bordered on dirty. Norway scored early when Josh Gyurek beat his man one-on-one and Justin Slinn followed up with a tip-in. 2-0 Norway after seven minutes. Sierra Leone got one back, but that was the only time they came close to scoring the rest of the game.

Reis Cooper got a hat-trick for Norway to take his goals to seven for the tournament so far, and Justin Sawka added one more. 6-1 for Norway.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Norway 4, Portugal 1 - Recap

Prediction: 4-1 for Norway.

I predicted this one right on the money, but it wasn't nearly as close as I thought it would be. Norway had all of the pressure, way more chances, and generally tried harder. Was pretty boring to watch.

The scoring started off about 12 minutes in when Portugal gave up a free kick at the top of its box. Reis Cooper waited for Portugal to set up the wall, faked a big run-up, but then instead of shooting, passed to Josh Gyurek at the far post, who back-heeled the ball into the net. Five minutes later, another free kick was awarded to Norway in an identical position. Cooper once again ran up to take the kick. This time, instead of waiting for the wall to be set up, he quickly shot the ball into the corner while the defenders were in disarray. 2-0 Norway at the half.

Norway played high pressure to start the second half and two goals came from the strategy right away. First, Grant Wirth forced the Portugal defender to turn over the ball right to the Norway midfield where Cooper collected and ripped a shot into the corner. About a minute later, Jared Ursulan sailed a free kick into the box and David Chisholm ran onto it at the far post and header it in. Dave took a foot to the face on the play, but still scored a beaut. Portugal scored with about 20 seconds left to make the final score 4-1 for Norway.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Poland 2, Ukraine 1

I thought Ukraine was going to pull this Group D matchup off. Ukraine came out and controlled much of the tempo for the first ten minutes of the game. Their ball movement and scoring chances were certainly superior. Ukraine notched the first goal about 15 minutes in and the score was 1-0 at half. Poland started the second half with a sense of urgency, and it seemed the more they pushed, the more Ukraine went into a defensive shell. Meshke scored with about 8 minutes to go to make it 1-1. With about 4 minutes to play, Poland's left back ripped a shot from his own half that was going top corner and was barely saved by Ukraine's keeper. Then that same leftback managed to put a header through Krause's legs with only 20 seconds to play. 2-1 for Poland.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Weekend Games

We're starting off a decent weekend of games tonight when Poland plays Ukraine at 7:30 p.m. An interesting time slot for sure, considering the best games are usually later, but I guess this gives us all the chance to start getting tipsy a little earlier than planned. This game will give us a true sense of both teams. Was Poland lucky to beat Germany? Is Ukraine good or is Scotland just that bad? How will the group look after each plays only their second contest?

On Saturday we get Sudan vs. Colombia at 6 p.m., and Germany vs Jamaica at 7 p.m. The first game will be fun because we'll get to see Sudan for the third time in a week. The second will be interesting because it's essentially a must-win for both teams. Lose, and its highly unlikely you're coming out of Group D. You've got to love it when two legit playoff hopefuls could be eliminated after only two games. Maybe stick around for Botswana vs Nigeria at 10 p.m.

Sunday night is the best of all. From 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. its all entertaining soccer. It goes Sudan vs Austria, Canada vs Poland, Norway vs Sierra Leone, Germany vs Ukraine, France vs Greece and Afghanistan vs Botswana.

Group D could be crystal clear by the end of Sunday. Or it could be completely up in the air. Imagine if Ukraine beats Poland, Germany beats Jamaica and Ukraine, and Poland beats Canada. Wow. We'd have Germany, Canada, Ukraine and Poland all at 2-1. I love it.

Portugal Preview - Saturday 3:00 p.m.

This game is hugely important for both Group B teams. For Portugal, its a must-win after that loss to Ireland on Monday night, and for Norway it's vital insurance for the playoffs. The afternoon timing might be a little weird - I can't remember the last time I played an important game at 3 - but this game should be entertaining.

I think these two teams will match up decently well. Both comprise many players who participated in the Men's 3 division in indoor, and those games were competitive. The advantage that Norway will have is it's Division 2 pick-ups, which are absent from the Portugal roster. Don't underestimate the impact a few key players can make.

I'm hopeful that this will be a breakout game for Norway. As the second half against Serbia showed, Norway has the ability to control less-skilled teams. Now it will be a test to see if it can put a game out of reach early. The midfield battle should be the difference - I'm expecting a few Norway goals from that position. Norway wins it, 4-1.

Actual Result: 4-1 for Norway.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Norway 3, Serbia 2 - Recap

Prediction: 5-0 for Norway.

Another game, another ugly win for Norway in the 2011 WCP Cup. On Wednesday night Norway managed to beat Serbia 3-2, and when I say managed I mean it in the most boring and head-scratching way possible. Norway was clearly the more skilled of the two teams, and yet bad mistakes, missed chances and an overall lack of cohesiveness kept Serbia in it for the full 50 minutes.

Norway came out with slightly more urgency than it had against England in the first game, but that's like saying a turtle is slightly faster than a snail. Norway had some early quality chances that ultimately went nowhere as a pass was missed or a shot flubbed. Then, about 10 minutes in, Serbia sailed a kick-in over the hands of Norway's keeper and into the far corner of the net. Two minutes later it was 2-0 for Serbia after a terrible giveaway in the middle of the field let Serbia's striker walk in, pick his corner, count to five, and methodically slide home a shot into the corner.

And finally Norway woke up. There's nothing quite like being down 2-0 to an inferior team to light a fire under your butt. With about 10 minutes remaining in the first half, Grant Wirth cut in from the left side and found striker Josh Gyurek in the box. Gyurek managed an off-balance shot that handcuffed the Serbian keeper, and Wirth, who had continued his run in, managed to pot the easy rebound. 2-1 for Serbia.

Norway kept up pressure for the remainder of the half but no goals. To start the second half, Norway began to play its high pressure defense which should be a staple against most teams. The results paid off immediately. Justin Sawka picked off a pass in the middle of the field, beat one man and ripped a low left-footer towards the middle of the net. Justin Slinn was standing right where the ball was going and coolly opened up and redirected the shot past the helpless Serbian keeper.

With about 10 minutes to go, Grant Wirth got his second of the game when he forced the Serbian left back into passing the ball to the middle of his own box, right to Gyurek. Josh shot and once again the rebound came right to Wirth's feet where he calmly put it in. 3-2 Norway. The rest of the game saw a little pressure from both teams, but nothing all that noteworthy. I'll be the first to call it a snoozer and I played. A win is a win and Norway is 2-0.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Sudan 6, El Salvador 3

Wowza! What a fantastic game. A Wednesday night at the 2011 WCP Cup and we were all treated to easily the most entertaining game of the tournament so far. Better than Germany vs Poland, better than Greece vs Nigeria, and better than Laos vs Sudan.

Both teams played well. I know it's a three goal spread, but take my word for it that El Salvador actually looked really good on Wednesday. They played fairly well at the back, decent in midfield and very good up front and in the attacking midfield. El Salvador's keeper also had a good game until he was hung out to dry at the end when they were pushing.

But now let's focus on Sudan. So big, so fast and so skilled. And tonight they really showed a flair that was missing in the opener. The Sudanese were taking shots from everywhere, creating chances off of the dribble and displaying some pretty amazing aerial skills. The third goal for Sudan (which notched it a 3-3) was an incredible header from a corner kick. The Sudan guy jumped, easily got more vert than the guy marking him, and put the header perfectly into the corner. The final three goals for Sudan were all impressive. Pretty passing and clinical finishing.

It's important to note that El Salvador did lead 3-1 with about 15 minutes left in the game. All three of El Salvador's goals were nice: a good header, a great pass and shoot, and a rocket from far out. Sudan was just better tonight though. You deserve to win when you can score 5 in a short period of time, whip the crowd into a frenzy, and stake claim as most entertaining game so far.

Serbia Preview - Wednesday 8:30 p.m.

Tonight is a game for Norway to show whether or not it can be an actual contender in 2011. The first game Norway played against England wasn't pretty to watch, but it did have a good result. If the Norwegians can take their effort from that game, improve on it, and rack up some goals-for, then I'm sure they'll be a lot more comfortable going into two games this weekend.

I didn't watch Serbia's game on Sunday, but from what I know of their players this should be a game Norway can take. The key will be to score early because Serbia is able to play a capable defensive game if the score is close. Once the Serbs need to score the midfield should open up, just like it did in the England game for Norway, and that's where the late goals came from.

If Norway can use its speed in the middle to create some good chances then I'm confident a comfortable win will happen tonight. Norway isn't the strongest team at scoring goals, but once its attackers have a few cracks, they usually get at least three. I'm expecting more tonight. Norway wins, 5-0.

Actual Result: 3-2 for Norway.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Greece Group C Favourites?

Greece pulled off its second win in three nights to move to 2-0 and first place in Group C of the 2011 WCP Cup. Are they now the Group C favourites?

Greece's 2-1 win over Botswana was ugly, but no team except Ireland is keeping track of style points right now. Greece gets a lead, keeps playing hard, and focuses a ton of energy on blocking shots and eliminating any quality chances. That's a great recipe for success if you only need to beat four teams to advance. Is France going to be a huge test? Of course. But maybe, just maybe, the Greeks can pull it off.

The other game of Tuesday night featured Austria beating Colombia 2-1 in a heated contest. Both teams played well and provided an entertaining match.

Three Days Gone

It's been three crazy days of the 2011 WCP Cup and I'm finally able to take a second and reflect. Monday night was the first night where things kind of went as planned - no upsets, no surprises, nothing shocking - and so it's time to take stock.

Germany is not as good as they think they are. Poland handled Germany in convincing fashion on Sunday night and if they played again today I'd say Poland would be a heavy favourite. The German strategy of playing strikers high and in the box is an OK one, but when its not working you've got to change things up. I'm not sure the Germans are flexible enough as a team to make it out of the pool.

Jamaica and Nigeria are in trouble. Both teams were disappointing to say the least in their openers. Jamaica had a tough opponent in Canada, but a 5-0 loss is embarassing. I'm thinking the Nigerian 4-2 loss to Greece was worse though. Nigeria had nothing going right, and you could tell as the game went on that Greece's confidence kept growing as it saw its first win in TWO YEARS on the horizon.

Ireland is stacked. Enough said right there. Nine goals in the first game and 10 in the second means you've got something going very, very right. Going to be a tough game when Norway plays them.

Sudan has a chance to make it through. Everything hinges on Wednesday night when Sudan plays El Salvador at 9:30. If Sudan can win - like it should have against Laos - then we're looking at tons of intrigue for Group A. If Sudan loses, then bye-bye possible playoff berth.

Last note: The official scores for the games are an enigma right now. CBC doesn't necessarily have everything correct. I'm going to go through the actual game sheets tonight, because that's the only thing that's certain right now. I'll keep updating the scores every day when possible.

Monday, April 4, 2011

CBC Feature at 6:20 p.m.

CBC is doing a big feature on the WCP Cup at 6:20 p.m., this Monday night (two hours away) during the nightly local newscast. Tune in to the 24:40 mark of this clip and see how the tournament is being promoted by everyone's favourite public broadcaster.

2011 WCP Cup Standings and Results

Playoffs

Group A Final

Group B Final

Group C Final

Group D Final

Playoffs
Quarterfinals
Laos 3, Greece 1
Ireland 7, Canada 2
El Salvador 1, France 0 - OT
Poland 3, Norway 0

Semifinals
Ireland 2, El Salvador 1 - PK
Laos 4, Poland 3 - OT

Bronze
Poland 5, El Salvador 3

Gold
Ireland 3, Laos 0

Group A
Laos 2, Sudan 1
El Salvador 7, Northern Ireland 3
Laos 7, Northern Ireland 2
Austria 2, Colombia 1
Sudan 6, El Salvador 3
Colombia 3, Northern Ireland 2
Colombia 2, Sudan 1
Laos 5, Austria 1
Sudan 5, Austria 2
El Salvador 4, Austria 1
Laos 6, Colombia 2
El Salvador 4, Colombia 0
Austria 2, Northern Ireland 2
Laos 1, El Salvador 1
Sudan 4, Northern Ireland 2

Group B
Ireland 9, Sierra Leone 1
Portugal 3, Serbia 2
Norway 4, England 1
Ireland 10, Portugal 3
Norway 3, Serbia 2
Ireland 14, England 0
Norway 4, Portugal 1
Sierra Leone 3, England 1
Norway 6, Sierra Leone 1
Ireland 10, Serbia 3
England 4, Portugal 4
Sierra Leone 10, Serbia 4
Serbia 4, England 3
Sierra Leone 2, Portugal 1
Ireland 8, Norway 2

Group C
France 7, Botswana 0
Greece 4, Nigeria 2
Afghanistan 4, Italy 2
Greece 2, Botswana 1
France 11, Italy 1
Nigeria 3, Botswana 1
France 4, Greece 4
Afghanistan 8, Botswana 1
Greece 3, Italy 0
Nigeria 5, Italy 2
Greece 4, Afghanistan 1
France 2, Nigeria 0
Afghanistan 6, Nigeria 3
Botswana 2, Italy 1
France 8, Afghanistan 2

Group D
Canada 5, Jamaica 0
Ukraine 5, Scotland 0
Poland 4, Germany 2
Canada 7, Scotland 0
Poland 2, Ukraine 1
Jamaica 5, Germany 3
Poland 3, Canada 1
Germany 3, Ukraine 2
Jamaica 5, Scotland 0
Poland 7, Scotland 1
Canada 2, Ukraine 1
Poland 5, Jamaica 1
Canada 1, Germany 1
Ukraine 5, Jamaica 2
Germany 4, Scotland 2

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Norway 4, England 1 - Recap

Prediction: 6-1 for Norway.

This game was ugly, but ultimately the result was what Norway needed. The first half was a little slow for both squads as it didn't seem like any players could manage to put any sequence of passes together. It went back and forth with no real chances from either side except long shots that the keepers handled fairly easily. Norway managed to grab the lone goal of the half with about 10 minutes remaining when Gordon Smith crossed in  a corner kick that striker Josh Gyurek managed to head home.

To start the second half, Norway came out fairly flat and got taken to task in terms of possession for about seven or eight minutes. England wasn't generating any chances, but they weren't allowing Norway to get anything going either. It seemed like a lot of kick-and-chase from both teams. With about 10 minutes gone, Reis Cooper took a free kick for Norway from just over half that went into a super-crowded box. It went near Gyurek, but he never touched it as the ball ricocheted off a defender and past a helpless keeper. 2-0 Norway.

England managed to grab a goal back a couple of minutes later, but then the game opened up as time dwindled down and Norway started to get many more quality chances. With about seven minutes remaining, Chad Campbell beat his man on the left wing and coolly slid home a shot along the ground into the corner of the net. 3-1 Norway. Then with approximately one minute to go, Justin Sawka made a terrific defensive stop, busted up the field, passed off to Cooper who started a tic-tac-toe with Gyurek in the box to beat the lone defender and keeper. Cooper slid home the insurance for the prettiest goal of the tournament for Norway so far. 4-1 final.

I'll admit that it didn't look like Norway was the best team at times, but for the first game of the tournament those things can happen. Things should be better when Norway goes against Serbia on Wednesday in Group B action.

Greece 4, Nigeria 2

I left the soccer centre on Sunday night in absolute shock. Playing in front of a huge crowd, Greece came out, took care of business at the back and scored some ugly, but well deserved goals against a hapless Nigerian squad. I knew Nigeria was inconsistent, but never in a million years did I think they would lose to Greece. Give the Greeks credit - they play with a ton of heart, they're completely fearless in every single one of their tackles, and they have a keeper who can handle big games. This throws a wrench into what can happen in Group C and I'm looking forward to the rest of the games way more than I initially was. It was only one game, but well done Greece.

Poland 4, Germany 2

This was a great game to watch. Both teams came out flying and it's clear that both are above-average skill level and will contend in Group D. Great job by Poland to capitalize on some tough chances - that was ultimately the difference as Germany couldn't find a way to put the ball in the net until late. Poland's keeper played out of his mind, he seemed to be everywhere in that box, even with Germany having at least one, and sometimes two or three strikers in there trying to get in his way. Germany needs to put the ball in the net if they're going to come out of this pool. At on point the score was 3-0 in favour of Poland. Germany's whole strategy revolves around scoring a lot of goals and the results were sorely lacking on Sunday.

England Preview - Sunday 7 p.m.

We've finally arrived. The first game for Norway in the 2011 WCP Cup is less than 12 hours away and the team is ready to perform. England poses a bit of a challenge as a squad which has a chip on its shoulder because of the 2010 results, but ultimately Norway should prevail.

They key for Norway in this game is to bury the early chances. Since both teams will come out hard (never fails for the first game) Norway's midfield will have to harness its energy and turn it into shots and great runs off the ball. Then it'll be up to the strikers to make sure that those shots and runs find their way into the back of the net.

If this game is still close at half then Norway might start to get a little worried, but I honestly can't see England managing to hang around. Just not enough skill to be a contender this year. Norway takes it, 6-1.

Actual Result: 4-1 for Norway.

Canada 5, Jamaica 0

This became a blowout about three minutes into the game. Jamaica used its patented, "Seven guys forward with only one defender who doesn't usually play soccer" defense to give Canada's Tavis Workman an open look, and he burried the first goal. I think he got at least one more as well, but I'm not sure. Jamaica has some serious issues to work through defensively if they want to make the playoffs. Those issues might not have been so glaring if they could put the ball in the net, but on Saturday night they couldn't sniff that either. For the people who were commenting in my previews that Jamaica is an elite team: I told you so.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Laos 2, Sudan 1

Laos barely avoided a major upset in the tournament opener today. I'm still in disbelief that Sudan only managed one goal - should have been at least four more. Well done to Laos keeper Evan Campbell, who single-handedly kept his team in the game (with a little help from Post 1 and Post 2). Laos is going to need to shore up that back line if they want to advance past the quarterfinals. I'm now officially looking forward to watching Sudan vs. El Salvador on Wednesday, should be a great Group A game.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Pre-Preview: Final

*I'm going to pull the Sports Illustrated and ESPN special and attempt to predict who will win in the quarterfinals, semifinals and final without actually knowing who will advance that far. Regardless, perseverance has been my motto for the week, so I will forge ahead and attempt to work some magic anyways. I've already previewed Groups A, B, C and D so I'll do another playoffs preview with the correct teams right before the playoffs start.*

To recap my quarterfinals and semifinals predictions:
Quarterfinal 1: El Salvador defeats Nigeria, 7-4;
Quarterfinal 2: Ireland defeats Poland, 5-2;
Quarterfinal 3: France defeats Laos, 2-1;
Quarterfinal 4: Norway defeats Germany, 4-2.
Semifinal 1: France defeats Ireland, 4-3;
Semifinal 2: Norway defeats El Salvador, 3-2.

Final: Should feature France vs. Norway (S1 vs S2) in a game that will likely go down as the second-best WCP Cup final ever (right after the 2007 version). France took Norway to task, 5-3, in the quarterfinals of 2010, but another year, another game. Norway brings some hard-earned championship experience to this game and if 2007and 2010 taught us anything, it's that you can't count out the underdog when the final rolls around. Since neither team has changed much in the past year, I expect things to play out in a similar fashion to 2010 - France maintains much of the possession, but also allows Norway to counter-attack at unexpected times. This is the game when I think Norway's new keeper will have his biggest impact. France will get shots, but they won't score early, and that fact will give Norway the momentum it needs. For the second time ever, Norway wins the championship, 4-3.

Pre-Preview: Semifinals

*I'm going to pull the Sports Illustrated and ESPN special and attempt to predict who will win in the quarterfinals, semifinals and final without actually knowing who will advance that far. Regardless, perseverance has been my motto for the week, so I will forge ahead and attempt to work some magic anyways. I've already previewed Groups A, B, C and D so I'll do another playoffs preview with the correct teams right before the playoffs start.*

To recap my quarterfinals predictions:
Quarterfinal 1: El Salvador defeats Nigeria, 7-4;
Quarterfinal 2: Ireland defeats Poland, 5-2;
Quarterfinal 3: France defeats Laos, 2-1;
Quarterfinal 4: Norway defeats Germany, 4-2.

Semifinal 1: Should feature Ireland vs. France (Q2 vs Q3) in an epic rematch of the 2010 semifinal. In that game, David Brown scored a gorgeous, game-winning, turn-around volley that picked the top corner from just over half and sank the French hearts. I remember looking at the centre back for France and seeing his face hung in disbelief as his team was ousted by something that was essentially unstoppable. I'm crossing my fingers for more of that drama in this game, but also that the tables be turned and France gets the win - forcing Ireland players to sit in the stands for the first time during the final. I think France will pull it off in a close one: 4-3.

Semifinal 2: Should feature El Salvador vs. Norway (Q1 vs Q4) in another 2010 Group B rematch. Neither of these teams is a fan of the other and I'm sure El Salvador is salivating at the chance for redemption, the same way Norway is excited for a chance to win all over again and prove (although there's hardly any doubt) that the first time wasn't a fluke. Just like in 2010, I expect Norway's midfield and defense to be the difference-maker and continuously stifle a possession-based El Salvador attack. The game will be close, but there's no reason to go against history: 3-2 for Norway, AGAIN.

Pre-Preview: Quarterfinals

*I'm going to pull the Sports Illustrated and ESPN special and attempt to predict who will win in the quarterfinals, semifinals and final without actually knowing who will advance that far. Regardless, perseverance has been my motto for the week, so I will forge ahead and attempt to work some magic anyways. I've already previewed Groups A, B, C and D so I'll do another playoffs preview with the correct teams right before the playoffs start.*

To recap my predictions:
Group A: 1. El Salvador; 2. Laos.
Group B: 1. Republic of Ireland; 2. Norway.
Group C: 1. France; 2. Nigeria.
Group D: 1. Germany; 2. Poland.

Quarterfinal 1: Should feature El Salvador vs. Nigeria (A1 vs C2) and these two teams will put on a show. El Salvador has some lethal strikers and the prospect of them having a shooting practice on Nigeria's keeper is one to make any fan smile. On the other hand, Nigeria's entire game is based on an offensive mindset and when they get scored on it makes them push all the more. El Salvador's back line isn't elite and there's no way they'll go into a defensive shell so expect plenty of counter-attacking. I'm giving this to ES, 7-4, based on getting the easiest quarterfinals opponent, ala Ireland 2010.

Quarterfinal 2: Should feature Republic of Ireland vs. Poland (B1 vs D2) and I expect something of a snoozer. Ireland has many elite players, including 2010 Poland star Brett Levis, and Poland will be hard-pressed to get any possession in a game that Ireland will take very seriously. Mid-field play will be key to getting chances, as both teams have solid defense and keepers, and Ireland will not lose the middle battles. Once Poland is down, it won't have many options to claw goals back. Ireland takes it 5-2.

Quarterfinal 3: Should feature France vs. Laos (C1 vs A2) and I don't think there's any way France lets the defending champs breathe. France trounced Laos in the group stage in 2010 and then had to watch on the sidelines during the final as Laos beat Ireland in a shoot-out. That would've burned in my craw for a year if it would've been me and I expect this to be a statement game on top of a playoff game. France will score early and get another late and it will only be close because Evan Campbell will do everything except make saves blindfolded. 2-1 for France.

Quarterfinal 4: Should feature Germany vs. Norway (D1 vs. B2) in a matchup of 2010 bitter Group B rivals. Germany will be coming off of two weeks of tough Group D play while Norway will be coming off a huge Group B tie vs Ireland. This will be entertaining because of the history between the two teams, as well as the fact that Norway has an upgrade at keeper from last year. I think fatigue (Germany has two games in the three days prior) will play a major role and give Norway a decided edge in endurance. That, coupled with a sound defensive system, will be all that's needed to keep Germany's scorers silent. 4-2 for Norway.