So Easy A Dog Could Do It … And She Did

Cal's Corner, Extra Time, News, World Cup

With the 2018 FIFA World Cup Round of 16 about to start, I decided that instead of writing an article previewing the matchups that I would let my dog make some random choices.

In all honesty, this is the best way to do it.

With this World Cup being so unpredictable, as well as filled with late goals and superb drama, I felt as if this would allow for fans, like you, to kick back and relax with a video rather than reading a lengthy Knockout stage preview.

Gone are my predictions of Egypt in the semifinals, Panama drawing with England and Russia finishing last in their group.

Now, it’s just good old random predictions.

Made by a dog. A cute dog. I mean look at that face.

IMG_1082

Juuuuuuuuuuuuussssst one quick prediction for old time’s sake.

Okay, here it goes: Russia beats Spain, 2-1. Golovin the game-changer as they beat an unconvincing Spanish side.

Alright, done now.

As always, enjoy and chat me in the comments.

 

– Cal

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World Cup 2018: Group D Match Recap — Nigeria vs. Argentina

Extra Time, News, World Cup

Argentina, powered by star forward and captain Messi, advanced to the Knockout Rounds with a 2-1 victory over Nigeria in the last game of Group D play. 

Heading into the last day of play in Group D, only one thing was certain: that nothing was certain.

Games kicked off simultaneously with Dark Horse side Croatia having already sealed their spot in the Knockout Rounds, while Argentina, Nigeria, and Iceland all vying to join them there.

Thus the match between Argentina and Nigeria became arguably the most important match of the group.

Nigeria only needed a draw to seal a spot in the next round, while Argentina would advance with a victory and an Iceland defeat. Everything was setup for a great match, and both teams delivered.

To begin the game, the Argentine team was on the front-foot and looked like it had a more clear tactical plan than last time out, with most of the attack filtering through talisman Lionel Messi on the right side.

Head coach Jorge Sampaoli’s plan appeared to involve getting runners ahead of Messi, who had struggled so far in the World Cup, to help carry the weight of a nation that sat on his shoulders alone.

Nigeria looked more than happy to sit back and absorb the Argentinian attack in the early stages, as the Nigerians defended stoutly and looked to capitalize on counter attacks and defensive mistakes

Argentina’s first opportunity of the game fell to Argentina’s left fullback Nicolas Tagliafico, who received a palpable ball after making a great run from the left. However, Tagliafico’s contested shot from the top of the box trickled well wide.

Nigeria’s first chance came just minutes later, when a long offensive throw-in came into the box. After several chaotic attempted clearances by the Argentine defense, the ball fell to Nigerian striker Ahmed Musa.

Musa, the Leicester City hitman, turned and fired a shot, but it was seen comfortably high and wide.

For all of Argentina’s intricate spells in possession, it was a Route One approach that would ultimately give Argentina the lead.

Midfielder Ever Banega picked up the ball in the middle of the pitch before spraying an a lofted through ball over the top of the Nigerian defense. A brilliant touch saw Messi collect the ball off his chest and fire a right footed shot past keeper Francis Uzoho.

It was a much needed goal for both player and country, as Messi finally opened his scoring account for the 2018 World Cup, after single handedly dragging his Argentine teammates there.

It also left Nigeria chasing the game, which surely suited Sampaoli’s side.

Argentina nearly found the second goal of the night in the 25th minute, and it again came through Messi.

Messi, the catalyst for the Argentinians, slipped in Gonzalo Higuain who was starting in place of Manchester City star Sergio Aguero. Higuain tried the first-time chip over a charging Uzoho, but the keeper made a crucial save to keep the score as is.

Again the lead was nearly doubled just 10 minutes later, when Angel Di Maria found himself bearing down on goal with two defenders chasing. Di Maria, the tricky winger, was cynically brought down by Leon Balogun just outside the box, but the referee elected to only give a yellow card as opposed to a red.

It was a bold call from Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir, as he adjudged Balogun to not have denied a clear goal scoring opportunity, and he certainly heard the reactions to the decision from the massive Argentine crowd on display.

Argentina’s ensuing free kick was inches away from giving the South Americans a needed insurance goal, as Messi saw his far-post free kick clatter off the post and away. 

Nigeria had a few half-chances to find an equalizer as the half wore down, but the best chance fell to Balogun after his header from a Kelechi Iheanacho cross fell comfortably into the hands of Argentina’s starting keeper Franco Armani.

However, a Nigerian side, which was beaten back into their own final third all first half, found new life in the second half. Five minutes after play resumed, the Nigerians also found a goal, thanks to some rather poor defensive mistakes from Argentina.

A long throw from Musa was poorly dealt with, as three Argentine players attacked the ball with no Nigerian pressure, and the ball bounced out of play.

On the ensuing corner, Balogun was needlessly brought down by Javier Mascherano in the box. Some may argue that the call was “soft,” but Mascherano nevertheless had the Nigerian player wrapped up, something referees have been strict about all tournament.

Nigeria’s talisman Victor Moses stepped up and calmly slotted the penalty past Armani to level the score.

A 1-1 draw would have been enough to see Nigeria through to the next round, so it was no surprise that Argentina sprung into desperation mode and continued to forge the way forward in attack. 

Nigeria had an excellent chance to provide the death blow in the 65th minute, when Musa laid off a pass for teammate Wilfred Ndidi who stood 25 yards from goal. However, the midfielder saw his well-struck shot flash just over the bar.

Argentina nearly gifted another goal in the 75th minute, and again it came from a defensive mistake.

A deflected cross traversed into the box, with defender Marcos Rojo misjudging a header and the ball falling into his own arm. Nigerian fans and players alike appealed for handball, but a Video Assistant Referee review saw the referee wave away the call.

Armani, with seven minutes remaining, made what would be the most important save of the game for Argentina.

Nigerian forward Odion Ighalo broke through into the box and went one-on-one with the River Plate keeper, but Armani made himself big and sprawled out to make a crucial save.

Argentina broke the stalemate with four minutes remaining, producing a moment of magic that lifted an entire nation.

Gabriel Mercado, one of three defensive players left on the pitch for Argentina, found space on the right flank and put a sublime cross into the box. Rojo found himself on the end of the cross, and the center back calmly struck a side-footed volley into the bottom corner with the deftness of a striker, sending the Argentine fans into hysteria.

Rojo’s goal lifted Argentina into the next round to complete the “Great Escape.”

However, the Argentines will have a massive task on their hands in the Round of 16 when they take on France.

Though fans saw a rejuvenated and motivated Argentina team against Nigeria, there are still plenty of problems in the squad, namely defensive errors and a questionable relationship between coach and players.

Argentina’s victory left a Nigeria side feeling hard done, after a fair showing by the Super Eagles in the tournament. I, for one, am looking forward to a 2022 World Cup with them in it.

My Man of the Match

Lionel Messi

It was tough to choose a Man of the Match today, as there was no real standout player for either side.

However, fans saw a different side of Leo Messi today, as the Argentine embraced the captain’s armband and seemed motivated to survive the group. His effort and leadership was essential to Argentina’s success, not to mention his goal was a thing of beauty.

Full Time Stats:

Nigeria  Shots — 8 Argentina

Nigeria 35%  Possession 65% Argentina

Nigeria 20  Fouls — 15 Argentina

Nigeria Yellow Cards Argentina

Nigeria Red Cards — 0 Argentina

World Cup 2018: Group D Match Recap — Argentina vs. Croatia

Extra Time, News, World Cup

Dark Horse Croatia shook up Group D with a 3-0 victory over Lionel Messi and Argentina.

It is no secret that the weight of an entire nation lies on the shoulders of one man.

Lionel Messi, arguably the greatest footballer of all time, entered the match with Group D leaders Croatia on the heels of a missed penalty in a disappointing opening draw with Iceland, and in dire need of a goal and win for his national team.

Croatia, on the other hand, was in good spirits and flying high.

A win against Nigeria in Croatia’s opening game saw them move to the top of Group D, and world class midfielders Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic looked to continue their solid form against FIFA’s fifth-ranked team.

Thus the stage was set for the biggest match of the group, and the game hardly failed to disappoint.

Croatia began the game by exploiting the space on the outside of Argentina’s three center backs, with the South American side choosing to start with a back three, leaving the team vulnerable after dispossessions in the midfield.

And, sure enough, just four minutes in, that was exactly what happened.

Croatia’s Ivan Perisic boomed down the left-hand side for Croatia, before firing a low shot that Argentina keeper Willy Caballero did well to push wide.

Argentina had, perhaps, the next best opportunity through the opening quarter, when Messi sprung Eduardo Salvio down the right-hand side.

Salvio, the S.L. Benfica winger, crossed a dangerous, low-bearing ball into the box, and Maximiliano Meza nearly slotted Argentina in front had it not been for a brilliant block from Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren.

Croatia continued to find success down their own right flank, as Ante Rebic looked dangerous a number of times in the opening quarter of the game against Argentina defender Nicolas Tagliafico.

Lovren nearly turned villain from hero in the 30th minute, when he was muscled off a hopeful ball by Argentine striker Sergio Aguero.

Aguero’s ensuing shot was blocked from just outside the six-yard box, and the ball rebounded to midfielder Enzo Perez at the top of the box. Perez, looking at a wide open net, pulled his shot wide.

Croatia almost capitalized on Perez’s missed opportunity three minutes later, but Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic produced a shocking miss of his own.

Mandzukic’s late run was picked out by teammate Sime Vrsaljko at the back post, but he failed to make contact and put the open header past Caballero.

Aguero nearly broke through the Croatian defense before the half, but a well-timed sliding tackle from Vrsaljko kept the forward from breaking the deadlock.

Minutes later, Croatia nearly went ahead when Modric picked out Rebic with a splitting through ball. Rebic cut back and fired a shot just over the bar, electing to go for goal rather than slide a pass to his open teammate Perisic, who was floating inside the box.

Much like the first, the second half began in rather dull fashion. But Croatia soon found the break though, albeit in unconventional fashion.

Caballero received a back pass from defender Nicolas Otamendi, but instead of putting his foot through it and sending the ball downfield, the Argentine keeper opted to attempt to chip over the head of a loosely pressing Rebic.

It was a dreadful mistake, as the ball floated right to the winger, who buried the uncontested volley past a diving Caballero.  Yes, it was a fantastic bit of technique and composure from Rebic, but questions must be asked about the decision from Caballero.

Argentina seemingly kicked into another gear, as a 64th minute through ball sent substitute Gonzalo Higuain clear to the byline. Higuain squared for Meza, but Croatian keeper Danijel Subašić did well to save the low shot.

Croatia nearly doubled its lead in the 66th minute when Rakitic lofted a brilliant switch for Perisic, who crossed low to Mandzukic. Mandzukic fired the first-time effort just wide in what amounted to another missed chance.

Argentine substitute Paulo Dybala got his first taste of action in the 72nd minute, but fired well-over from inside the box.

Then, eight minutes later, Croatia provided the dagger through a wonder strike from Modric.

Modric picked up the ball about 25 yards out from Argentina’s goal. He then created a half-yard of space, before unleashing a rocket past Caballero that iced the game for the Eastern European side.

But the real icing on the cake came for Croatia when Rakitic spearheaded a counter attack forward and forced a save from Caballero, with the rebound falling to substitute Mateo Kovacic.

Kovacic calmly floored Caballero with a fake shot before squaring back to Rakitic for the tap-in.

In my opinion, the 3-0 scoreline showed two things.

First, this Croatian team is for real, as the Croatians dominated the midfield to clinch a spot in the Knockout Rounds. Modric and Rakitic were outstanding once again, with the pairing of Lovren and Domagoj Vida shutting down a star-studded attack.

Tactically, Croatia looked like a team with a clear plan in attack, too.

Second, Argentina are in trouble. Deep, deep trouble. And the blame will go many ways after this game, as it deservingly should.

Messi ghosted throughout the pitch for 90 minutes, while Caballero is a disaster in net. And the defense? Somehow it was the best part of manager Jorge Sampaoli‘s team that looks hapless tactically.

Another thing is also clear: all eyes will be on Iceland vs. Nigeria tomorrow, as a victory for Iceland would all but eliminate Argentina from the tournament.

My Man of the Match

Ivan Rakitic

Rakitic was everywhere today, and the FC Barcelona midfielder finally got his deserved goal to cap off the win.

Before that, however, Rakitic was an expert in spurring almost every one of Croatia’s attacks alongside fellow MOTM candidate Luka Modric. His ability to spread the play and control the tempo was on full display this game, not to mention he was incredibly strong in defense against Messi and Co.

Full Time Stats:

Argentina 10 — Shots — 14 Croatia

Argentina 57% — Possession — 43% Croatia

Argentina 16 — Fouls — 22 Croatia

Argentina 3 — Yellow Cards — 4 Croatia

Argentina 0 — Red Cards — 0 Croatia

World Cup 2018: Group H Match Recap — Poland vs. Senegal

Extra Time, News, World Cup

In Group H, Senegal powered past Poland on Tuesday, to win its opening game 2-1. 

OK, so I was very wrong about Group H being predictable. Already there have been two shocking upsets served to turn this group right on its head, and it is certainly now the group to watch in this World Cup.

Poland vs. Senegal was a game thought to be decided by individual performances from both sides’ stars.

Poland striker Robert Lewandowski was out to prove why the Polish were rightfully pegged as one of the favorites to reach the Semi-Finals of the tournament, while Liverpool midfielder Sadio Mane was ready to carry the Senegalese in just their second ever World Cup.

However, neither players took the game by the scruffs of their necks.

Expectedly, the game began with both teams trading spells of possession in the opening 10 minutes. Both teams tried to exploit the space behind the opposing set of center backs, with Senegal floating balls over the top toward strikers M’Baye Niang and Mame Diouf.

Poland found considerably early success playing down the flanks and through wingers Jacub Blaszczykowski and Kamil Grosicki, with the latter having a few half chances fall to him in the opening 15 minutes.

Senegal had the first clear chance of the game, as defender Youssouf Sabaly intercepted a ball in his own defensive third and sprung Niang, who fired wide from just inside the box.

Overall, the first 25 minutes of the game consisted of half chances, as each team pushed for a breakthrough. Lewandowski and Mane were kept quiet for the most part, apart from a teasing half-volley from Lewandowski that Senegal keeper Khadim N’Diaye saw comfortably wide.

A scrappy game produced a workman’s-like goal in the 38th minute, with Senegal finding the unexpected breakthrough.

Niang shook off a strong aerial challenge from Poland’s Lukasz Piszczek before finding Mane 25 yards from goal. Mane cleverly slipped in midfielder Idrissa Gana Gueye who fired a low shot, which appeared to be headed wide of Poland keeper Wojciech Szczesny’s goal.

However, the ball took a nasty ricochet off of Polish defender Thiago Cionek and beat Szczęsny at his near post.

Senegal almost doubled their lead through a set piece a few minutes later, as Sabaly nodded a Senegalese corner ball just over the bar.

In the second half, it was the losing side that started on the front foot, as a tactical change from Polish manager Adam Nawalka saw Poland switch to a five-man defensive setup, pushing Arkadiusz Milik wide to give Lewandowski more support.

Nawalka’s shrewd tactical change immediately paid dividends for the Polish, as their star striker won the ball back at the halfway line, skipped past a defender, and won a free kick 25 yards away from goal.

Nothing amounted from the free kick, but it was clear the Polish were benefitting from the new formation, with longer spells of possession. 

However, despite Poland’s dominance, it was Senegal who found the next goal.

Niang later went off the pitch with an apparent injury, and while the Senegalese striker waited on the sidelines to re-enter the game, Polish midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak looped an awkward clearance in the direction of his own keeper.

In the moment, the play appeared to be dead. Appeared to be. 

Yet the fourth official made the interesting decision to let Niang back onto the pitch as the ball was played back, and the striker raced in behind, gathered up the loose ball, and took a touch past the charging Szczęsny before slotting home on the open net.

It was, of course, a controversial decision to let Niang back onto the pitch. Usually, the fourth official will avoid providing a clear situational advantage to one side. However, Niang was sprung clear, because he was allowed to come on in the midst of a potential breakaway.

Poland had their chances to get back into the game, and Milik should have done better with his chance at the near post that came from a low cross from Piszczek. Instead, the Polish forward pulled his shot wide and the chance was gone.   

Milik was eventually replaced by budding star Dawid Kownacki who made an immediate impact, forcing a save from N’Diaye after a cross from Maciej Rybus from the left flank.

Poland got a goal back with four minutes remaining in the game, again through an interesting decision from the referee.

Poland won a free kick in the Senegal half, and the referee allowed Grosicki to take the free kick before Senegal defense was set. Grosicki swung the ball in, and it was Krychowiak who nodded the ball into the far corner, after winning the free kick moments earlier.

Krychowiak’s goal set up a chaotic end to the match, with Poland throwing numbers forward. However Senegal put out fire after fire, and the Africans completed the second consecutive upset of the group.

My Man of the Match:

Khadim N’Diaye

Full Match Stats:

Poland 10  Shots — 8 Senegal

Poland 59%  Possession 41% Senegal

Poland 8  Fouls — 15 Senegal

Poland  Yellow Cards 2 Senegal

Poland — Red Cards — 0 Senegal

World Cup 2018: Group H Recap — Colombia vs. Japan

Extra Time, News, World Cup

In true FIFA World Cup 2018 fashion, Japan stunned Columbia 2-1 on Tuesday, in the opening game of Group H.

Wow. I called Group H ‘predictable’ before the tournament started, but it seems that these teams are doing everything in their power to prove me wrong. Colombia was defeated 2-1 by Japan today, in the inaugural match in Group H, which was a thriller.

Most of the pre-match chatter involved the surprise decision by Colombian coach Jose Pekerman to leave star player James Rodriguez on the bench.

Pekerman cited a lingering calf injury that Rodriguez has been struggling with all season, but it was still a surprise to see the breakout Bayern Munich star on the bench to start the 2018 World Cup.

Predictably, the first few minutes of the game started as many thought it would, with Colombia creating offensive chances through possession and Japan sitting back and absorbing pressure.

Yet three minutes in, all notions of a “typical” match were thrown out the window.

After a good spell of Colombian possession, which was spearheaded by a bright start from Colombian winger Juan Cuadrado, Japan won the ball back before sending a hopeful clearance up the field towards striker Yuya Osako.

Osako displayed great upper-body strength to out-muscle Colombian and Tottenham Hotspur center back Davison Sanchez before firing a low shot on Arsenal fringe keeper David Ospina.

Ospina’s well-timed save from close range forced the ball back to the top of the box, where it fell to Japan’s captain Shinji Kagawa. Kagawa fired a first-time effort on the open net, only to see the ball cynically blocked by the right arm of Colombian midfielder Carlos Alberto Sanchez.

VAR, which is being utilized for the first time at this World Cup, was not needed, with the infraction spotted by the referee, who gave the penalty and issued the second fastest red card in World Cup history to Sanchez.

Kagawa stepped up and slotted the ball home from the spot, to give Japan an early and stunning 1-0 lead over the favorites to win Group H. However Colombia, though a man down, did not go down quietly.

Striker Radamel Falcao saw a pair of chances fall calmly into the arms of Japanese goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima before Pekerman made a questionable decision to replace Cuadrado in the 31st minute with holding midfielder Wilmar Barrios.

Just after, Osako had a second clear chance of the game for Japan, as the ball fell to him just outside the six yard box. However, Osako wasted the chance, slicing the ball well wide as he appeared to be caught between two minds.

Colombia got a deserved goal back at the brink of half time, as Japan were rather complacent after going up a goal.

Another hopeful clearance was played upfield, this time from the Colombians, and Falcao won a controversial free kick at the top of Japan’s box.

Up stepped Juan Quintero for Colombia, who produced a moment of World Cup magic for the match favorites as he channelled his inner Ronaldinho and slid a low shot underneath the wall to beat Kawashima at his near post. 1-1 with 45 minutes to play.

Japan, who certainly did not take advantage of having an extra man, came out firing at all cylinders in the second half. Colombia’s tired legs showed, and Japan were clearly more confident possession.

Perhaps the best chance of the second half fell to Takashi Inui, who found himself free on his right foot inside the Columbia box. Inui fired a low shot, which looked to have Ospina beat, but a fantastic block from Sanchez sent the ball just wide.

Rodriguez finally made an appearance at the hour mark, replacing the goal scorer Quintero, and the budding Bayern star started brightly, finding space and forcing Japan momentarily back.

But it was not the Columbians’ day, as minutes later Japan got the goal it had been pushing for.

Japan’s Hiroki Sakai earned the Japanese a corner in the 71st minute. Substitute Keisuke Honda swung a teasing ball into the box, trapping Ospina on his line and allowing Osako to rise up and nod the ball off the far post and in.

It was a brilliant goal from a player who had created oodles of chances for Japan on the day, and it put the Japanese deservedly ahead.

Naturally, it was then crunch time for Colombia, and while the Columbians were able to create a few half chances through set pieces (I’m sensing a theme this World Cup), they were unable to find an equalizer.

Japan held off Columbia for the remainder of the game, taking advantage of their own man advantage and recording an ever-important opening game victory.

Japan’s victory comes on the heels of Mexico’s stunning upset of reigning World Champions Germany. It’s a result that, in my opinion, is not only the most surprising result of the group, but also the tournament thus far.

My Man of the Match

Yuya Osako

Final Stats

Columbia 8 — Shots — 14 Japan

Columbia 39% — Possession — 61% Japan

Columbia 15 — Fouls— 9 Japan

Columbia 2 — Yellow Cards — 1 Japan

Columbia 1— Red Cards — 0 Japan