2018 World Cup Pre-Tournament Betting Tips

It’s the return of the World Cup betting tips!!! Four years ago I predicted like a mad man and made tons of money on my £1 bets! That’s right…I’m the sort of guy who risks it all! Continue reading “2018 World Cup Pre-Tournament Betting Tips”

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2018 FIFA World Cup Preview

The biggest sporting event in the world rumbles its way into town as Russia hosts the World Cup. 32 nations take on the biggest challenge of beating the other 31 so as to grasp that sexy golden piece of gorgeousness. Continue reading “2018 FIFA World Cup Preview”

World Cup Last 16 Review.

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There weren’t that many goals in the last 16 of this World Cup compared to the group stage but my god was there tense excitement.  All but one of the games went down to the last minute, with nail biting action and scintillating extra times.  Yes an incredible five (five!) games went to extra time and possibly even more incredible was that for the first time ever all eight of the group winners progressed to the quarter finals.

Personally I got 6/8 of the matches correct, with the two ties I got wrong oddly enough being the two games which went to penalties (Brazil-Chile and Costa Rica-Greece).

Brazil-Chile

I thought Chile would take this because Brazil have looked mediocre throughout the tournament so far.  I wasn’t wrong; another mediocre performance from Brazil saw them through.  Yes you can sit and talk about the Hulk goal (which was a great decision) and the penalty that they should maybe have had but so far Brazil have shown nothing to say that they are good enough to win this World Cup.  This game in particular showed that their over reliance on Neymar is critical, and if he doesn’t show up they struggle, they struggled mightily in this game.  If he is injured (as it looks like he is) then you wonder how much of an impact he is likely to have in the next number of games.  There is no doubt he will play but how well he plays is a different question.

Chile were unlucky, but that is the way of penalties.  It is hard to criticise them because they put in a great performance but their penalties were piss poor.  To miss 3/5 is inexcusable and two of those three were especially poor.  You have to feel sorry for Jara though because his penalty is so close to being perfection, but those are the margins of winning and losing sometimes.

Colombia-Uruguay

Colombia for me have so far been the best team of the tournament.  I haven’t seen them play a bad game and they were the only team in the last 16 to win comfortably.  They were my outsiders for the tournament and I have to say it looks like a great choice so far.  Everyone seems to have shown up for them for this World Cup; Rodriguez, Martinez, Yepes, Cuadrado, Ospina, and heck I could name the whole team.  They are real dark horses; let’s hope the moment doesn’t get too big for them.

Uruguay were poor, they clearly intended to defend the entire match and hope for penalties but a moment on genius scuppered that plan.  I feel sorry for them because the whole Luis Suarez thing can’t have been ideal preparation for this match and I was not at all shocked when they put in a fairly limp display.

Holland-Mexico

I think Holland have looked good so far this World Cup but once again they looked weak at the back.  The shining light for Holland is that Robben is playing out of his mind so far; Robben is playing like a man possessed and has carried his team to an extent to this point.  You also have to give it to Van Gaal who is playing out a tactical masterpiece, constantly changing personnel and formation yet still getting the required results.  You can’t help but admire his decision to hook RVP for Huntelaar in this game, something that weaker managers wouldn’t have dreamed of doing, and it worked, Huntelaar scored the winner and set up the equaliser.  The Dutch team isn’t anything special on paper (beyond a couple of stars) but Van Gaal has them playing as a team and with belief which if you add that with special talent you could see them going all the way.  Costa Rica awaits…I’m sure the Dutch are pleased.

Poor Mexico they played so well in the first half and held on for so long after scoring but in the end quality prevailed.  Mexico’s biggest mistake was not pushing for a second goal when the Dutch looked vulnerable, yes it is easy to say that now after they’ve lost but they ended up playing into their opponents hands by inviting pressure.  Maybe Mexico will feel hard done to because a lot of people think the winning penalty was soft but at the time it looked like a stonewaller and Holland should have had a couple earlier on.

Costa Rica-Greece

What I love about the Costa Rica story is that it says that a team like Scotland could go to the World Cup and get to a quarter final even if they are lacking in quality.  Up until the red card Costa Rica were slightly the better side but they were very lucky to get through this tie.  However sometimes you need luck rather than quality (the Greeks had neither) and the Costa Rican’s had barrels full of luck (especially in extra time) and defended like their lives depended on it (who knows maybe they did, it is Costa Rica after all).  I can’ see them getting any further than the quarter finals but Costa Rica is your classic World Cup fairytale.

Greece will never get a better chance of getting to the quarter finals, after snatching a late goal to send the game to extra time they couldn’t find a way past Navas who played unbelievably.  They deserved to win the game in the end but you have to take the immense chances that they were gifted by the Costa Rican defence.  Mitroglou is the last minute in particular needs to do so much better than he actually did, he choked and scuffed his shot because he was too busy worrying about being clattered by the keeper.

France-Nigeria

This was a weird game for France because although I have no doubt that they deserved to win, they very much struggled in doing so.  A lot of the games followed the same pattern of the favourites struggling in the first 60 minutes but then taking control of the game as it went deeper into the game.  I think France are looking good and they aren’t overly reliant on any one player which should put them in a good position going forward, their clash against Germany is set up to be a belter.

Nigeria will be pleased with their World Cup, making it through the group stages was their aim and they achieved that.  I thought they put up a good fight against France and Enyeama in particular was outstanding.  It is something for them to build on for the future.

Germany-Algeria

First things first Germany more than deserved to win this match, not that you’d know based upon the biased media we get here in Britain.  Beyond that Germany just had an off day, it felt like everything that they did just wasn’t going to come off but in the end their quality prevailed.  I have a few concerns for Germany moving forward; why is Mesut Ozil still playing first team?  He has been awful so far.  The German defensive line worries me, they have now been ripped to bits by two African teams simply with pace, if Algeria had more quality about them they would have taken advantage of one of their many favourable counter attacks.  Finally it concerns me that Germany have limited options up front, Klose can’t start and play a whole match so Muller is the only option, I think it was a mistake to not replace Reus with another attacking player (they called up Mustafi).  Germany aren’t a one man team, they have several quality players who have been deep in tournaments previously, so it isn’t all doom and gloom but after struggling against Algeria you have to be concerned.

Algeria will have just been happy to have made it to the last 16 and they did themselves proud with a good performance against the Germans.  I’m sure they will look back at this game and curse the amount of counter attacks which they wasted by not having enough quality in the final third.  Beyond the first 15 or so minutes how many saves (not running off his line like a maniac clearances) did Neuer actually have to make?  Not many.

Argentina-Switzerland

Argentina won and probably deserved to win but my god are they a one man team.  I thought Argentina would be so much better than this, they really look so poor.  If Switzerland were more clinical they would have won this match, Argentina’s defence was far too open.  I can’t see this team winning the World Cup unless Messi goes shit crazy and become the Leo Messi of a few years ago, the problem is Messi’s a small guy I’m not so sure he can pull 10 other guys along for an entire tournament.

Switzerland will be disappointed that they didn’t take their chances and will possibly be more disappointed with how poorly they defended the Argentina goal in extra time.  It is one of those things where you don’t want to go out of the competition with regrets, Argentina were there for the taking, I don’t know how Switzerland can’t have any regrets.

Belgium-USA

So many of these games saw the more favoured team struggle to put the less favoured team to bed and this was another one.  Belgium were a lot of peoples tip (I don’t think you can describe 5th favourites as an outsider) for the tournament, but I don’t see it.  Yes they have good players, but their play seems too industrial, they seem to lack flair and creativity, which is odd when you look at some of their players.  I actually think they will match up very well against Argentina but they need to be more clinical or they won’t be going any further.

USA USA USA USA….oh L…..Well it was a good run whilst it lasted and it lasted longer than I’m sure most people (myself included) thought it would but this American team of ordinary players can hold their head high and be pleased with their performance at this World Cup.  Tim Howard was immense in this game but he was let down by Besler on the first goal, the guy sold the jerseys by getting mugged by Lukaku on the halfway line then playing like a six year old in the box and chasing the ball rather than facing up like he was supposed to.  To be fair Lukaku when he came on looked like the equivalent of an 18 year old joining a game for 10 year olds; bigger, stronger and faster than everyone else on the pitch.  USA should be pleased with their performance, who knows in twenty years they could be serious contenders.

So there it is eight games, all very close, five extra times and two penalty shootouts, yet no shocks which is very odd.  That leads me to believe that we will receive a shock in the last 16, here’s the ties:

Germany v France

Brazil v Colombia

Holland v Costa Rica

Argentina v Belgium

I find it highly unlikely that there will be no shocks for two rounds running, so where do you think the first shock of the knockout rounds will occur?  Leave a comment and share with the internet community!

You can find all the latest bm23sportsreviews updates and betting tips on Facebook and Twitter, all support is greatly appreciated, thanks.

Who Should Win the Ballon d’Or?

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FIFA have announced their nominees for the prestigious Ballon d’Or, and it is no shock to anyone that the three men who made the final cut are Franck Ribery, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

The Ballon d’Or is an unusual award, as it does not follow the football calendar (like most other awards) but rather the actual calendar year.  The problem however is that the second half of the year doesn’t seem to gain any consideration when the winner is being decided.  This has thrown up some right stinkers in the past, such as Fabio Cannavaro, who only won the award because Italy won the World Cup.

You would think that going from twenty three players to three would be a difficult task, quite the opposite, making you wonder why FIFA go through the farce of naming twenty three players when it is clear which three they are going to make finalists in the first place.

In a list of twenty three there are always going to be players who you look at and think ‘how the hell did they make the list?’  I’m thinking of guys like Eden Hazard, Yaya Toure and Xavi (among others); who really look out of place on a list of the year’s best players.

This year’s list continues the blatant biasness that FIFA (and UEFA) have shrouded themselves with in regards to La Liga.  This is the first year in 4 years where a player playing outside of La Liga has actually made it into the final shortlist for the Ballon d’Or, and don’t get me started on the ridiculous team of the year they put out last year (Marcelo the best left back in the world?  Fuck off).

Anyway on to the real nominees:

 

Leo Messi

The greatest player of his generation has won an incredible four Ballon d’Or’s in a row; however he hasn’t actually deserved to win four in a row.  For instance Wesley Sneijder should have won the award in 2010, a year where he was pivotal to Inter winning the Champions League and Holland making the World Cup final, yet somehow he didn’t even make the top three (go figure).  You could also sit and argue that either Iniesta or Xavi were more deserving of some of the awards as well, although it is hard to distinguish between the three, and Messi gets the headlines.  It sounds like I’m being harsh on Messi, but I don’t mean to be, he is a remarkable talent; however when people call a player who has never consistently performed at international level the greatest player ever, you become harsh.

Messi has made 46 appearances for his club and country this calendar year, and has scored a remarkable 45 goals (39 Barca & 6 Argentina).  I would talk about assists but it is incredibly hard to garner respectable and accurate statistics, although from what I have seen he is below both Ribery and Ronaldo in this category.  Messi was also an integral part of the La Liga winning Barcelona side which romped to the title with relative ease.

What can’t be ignored with Messi though is the lack of games that he has actually participated in.  46 appearances for club and country are figures of a player who has not played enough football to truly be considered for this position.  You also have to wonder if Messi was really needed in the Barcelona team that won the league, because they would probably have won it anyway, although granted not as easily.  Messi’s case is also hurt by his poor performances when crunch time struck in the Champions League and he was left wanting.

 

Cristiano Ronaldo

Always the bridesmaid and never the bride (except that one time before the divorce).  Ronaldo would be considered the greatest player of his generation if it weren’t for one little Argentinian who has outperformed him consistently the past few years.  Ronaldo previously won the Ballon d’Or five years ago after an excellent season with Manchester United, but despite improving vastly as a player he hasn’t had a sniff at one since (he must hate Messi).

Ronaldo has notched up an incredible 68 goals in just 57 appearances (58 Real & 10 Portugal), that’s a 1.18 goal per game average. Sit and think about that for a moment, it has been an incredible year for Ronaldo.  Similar to Messi it is hard to judge assists because statistics for a calendar year aren’t very reliable, but the general consensus is that he has more than Messi but less than Ribery.  Ronaldo single handedly dragged a very average Portugal team to the World Cup at the expense of Sweden, with two incredible performances where he took the game by the scruff of the neck and showed what a quality player he is.  On top of that Ronaldo is the one shining light in what is (by Real standards) an average Real Madrid side, yes there are good players there but without Ronaldo this team wouldn’t come close to challenging Barca or even Atletico.

Ronaldo however has two major negatives against him; firstly he was part of a team that won absolutely nothing of note last season, and didn’t even really come close to doing so either, and secondly that Cristiano Ronaldo is a total arse.  Even Ronaldo’s biggest fans can’t deny that the guy doesn’t do much for himself in the likability category.  Smug, arrogant and petulant, the total opposite of Leo Messi.

 

Franck Ribery

For years Franck Ribery has threatened to be a world class player, and it is not until recently that he actually managed to accomplish that.  This is Ribery’s first nomination for the Ballon d’Or and the first Bundesliga player to be nominated since Oliver Kahn in 2002.

There is no point on going through Ribery’s individual statistics because they are nowhere near as good as either Messi or Ronaldo (although as mentioned he is the top assister of the three).  The best way to measure Ribery is what he has accomplished with Bayern Munich.  Bayern won the Bundesliga in imperious fashion, at no point looking like a team that wasn’t going to win the league.  Bayern also deservedly won the Champions League against bitter German rivals Borussia Dortmund and added onto that was the German cup to complete a remarkable treble.

The one thing that I would say about Ribery that makes me think that he shouldn’t even be on this list, is that he isn’t even the best player at Bayern, never mind the world.  Ribery just happens to play in what is by far the most stacked team in the world, and it isn’t that he is outstanding but rather the team is outstanding.  Players like Philipp Lahm, Arjen Robben, Manuel Neuer or Thomas Muller would all be just as good nominations but don’t play as glamorous a role as Ribery so therefore don’t get the nod (especially in the case of Neuer and Lahm).

 

Who should the winner be?

I think it is quite an easy decision really, one player this calendar year has been head and shoulders above the rest, and that man is Cristiano Ronaldo.  Ronaldo has from beginning to end had a special season, and if anyone doubted that he deserved to win the award this year they weren’t doubting after he dragged Portugal through to the World Cup (I thought he should have won it prior to this anyway but this confirmed it).  Ronaldo should be picking up his second award for being the World’s Best Player, and it will be well deserved.

As far as the other two are concerned; Messi should come second although I doubt he will, because many people will see Ribery as the answer because of the season Bayern have had.

 

What do you think of the Ballon d’Or, and the nominations?  Do you think Ronaldo deserves to win it?  Leave a comment, and don’t forget you can find all of the latest bm23sportsreviews updates at Facebook and Twitter.

Is World Cup Qualification Fair?

For me the World Cup is the pinnacle of football.  It is where great players become legends, and where the dreams of an entire nation are achieved.  World Cup’s are just special.  Even when the quality of the matches isn’t the highest, you still tune in because you know that it won’t happen again for another four years, so you must appreciate it whilst you can.

As great as the World Cup is, you can’t help but think every time it comes around that some of the teams who are competing don’t really deserve to be there.  However they have come out of a weak continental qualification system and find themselves in a position that could have went to a more deserving team.  So the question that must be asked, is World Cup qualification fair?

For the World Cup in 2014 in Brazil there will be 13 European teams, 5.5 South American teams, 5 African teams, 4.5 Asian teams, 3.5 North American teams and 0.5 Oceanic teams (0.5 depend on inter conference play-off matches).  If you compare this to the top 32 teams according to the FIFA World Rankings there are 20 European teams, 6 South American teams, 3 North American teams, 3 African teams and no Oceanic or Asian teams.  I personally am not a fan of the World Rankings and don’t feel they truly show an accurate picture of the best teams in the world (Switzerland aren’t the 7th best team in the world for instance), however FIFA clearly believe that their calculation formula is correct.  Based on those rankings as they currently stand, seven teams who deserve to be competing at the very top level will not be able to because they play in the most competitive set up (Europe).  Is that fair?  Don’t people want to see the most competitive and the best able teams play in the world’s greatest competition?  The answer is yes, however that is not what will happen in Brazil 2014.

The FIFA World Rankings do however not represent the true best 32 teams in international football.  The biggest example of this is that the highest ranked Asian team is Japan at 44, which would make them as good as Wales, a team that finished 5th in their World Cup qualifying group.  The natural thought is that Japan are much better than Wales and therefore should really be ranked more highly, but in their two most recent games (both friendlies) they lost to both Serbia and Belarus, two European teams that didn’t even come close to qualifying for the World Cup.  Maybe it is harsh on Japan to judge them on friendlies, but other top Asian teams like Australia (who got beat 6-0 by France, a team not guaranteed to make the World Cup) and South Korea (who were recently beaten at home by Croatia, another team not guaranteed to make the World Cup) have both performed as poorly.  When you consider these facts, it makes the ranking seem more accurate than they first appeared.

The one big issue for the Asian teams, as well as teams not from Europe and South America, is that their competitive matches aren’t worth as much as those from the two big continents.  This means that they are naturally at a disadvantage when it comes to the rankings system, and it doesn’t truly represent where they are.  It also has the counter effect of South American teams being over represented at the top of the rankings because of their large number of qualification games (16 this time because of Brazil automatically qualifying but usually 18).  It becomes clearer the issue smaller football continents have in catching up to the big ones when you look at how rankings are calculated for a match, points from a match*importance of match (competitive/friendly)*strength of opposing team*confederation strength.  The first two don’t change (although importance of match hurts Brazil’s ranking due to them automatically qualifying), but the last two are why countries out with the big two struggle to make it to the top of the rankings.  Not only do the matches within their own confederation get discounted but also the opponents that they play in competitive matches (the most lucrative way of making points) aren’t worth as much as those from UEFA or CONMEBOL because they are generally ranked at a lower level.  Essentially if you don’t play in the big two confederations you are going to struggle to set yourself a high World Ranking under the system that FIFA currently runs.

Despite the fact that according to the World Rankings the World Cup won’t showcase the 32 best teams, but rather most of the best teams in the world.  The word that FIFA will use and best describes the situation is parity.  FIFA want every continent to have a number of teams competing in the World Cup, rather than it being dominated by the European and South American teams.  Would it truly be a World Cup if the not every continent had a chance to have teams qualify?  It is a fair point, and parity in these situations is a good thing for two different reasons.  Firstly because it allows countries that would struggle in more competitive qualification campaigns a chance to qualify and secondly because it helps to spread the game to every corner of the world, by selling that World Cup dream.

With parity and the quality of the teams within a confederation being taken into consideration to decide how many places each confederation receives in  the World Cup, it is interesting when you actually take a look at the numbers.  Europe has 13/53 (24.5%), Asia has 4.5/43 (10.5%), Africa has 5/52 (9.6%), North America has 3.5/35 (10%), Oceania has 0.5/11 (4.5%) but the biggest issue is that South America has 5.5/10 (55%).  What makes it worse is that the South American play-off team faces the Asian play-off team, almost certainly a guaranteed 6th place for CONMEBOL members (Uruguay [6th in world] against Jordan [70th in world]).  The issue isn’t that South America doesn’t deserve to have more teams proportionally than Asia or Africa (for instance) in the World Cup, but rather they shouldn’t have so many teams in comparison to Europe (Europe would have 19 if they had the same numbers proportionally as South America).  60% of teams qualifying for the World Cup isn’t parity when the next closest doesn’t even reach a quarter.

It is too easy for certain teams to qualify and therefore they manage to qualify for every tournament despite if they are actually good enough.  Nations such as the USA, Japan and Mexico qualify every tournament even if they don’t really deserve to play in the World Cup.  The worst example of this is Mexico, who despite having a dreadful campaign will still qualify for the World Cup, because they go into a play-off against New Zealand, hardly what can be called as an even match up.  The same can be said about the South American play-off game against their Asian counterpart (the 6th best team in South America is always going to be too good for the 5th best team in Asia).  It is for these uneven reasons that Australia left the OFC and joined the AFC, because they knew that by doing so it was an almost certainty that they would make every single World Cup.  This, in comparison to the European qualification where a couple of slip ups can cost a nation a place at the dance, and is even more prevalent in the African qualification where the greatest competition is found and the highest turnover of nations qualifying from tournament to tournament is found.

The question which was asked at the start of the piece was is the World Cup qualifying fair?  The answer is a resounding no.  The tournament doesn’t represent the best 32 teams in the world; it is too easy for certain nations to qualify and the qualifying system doesn’t show true parity.  It is easy to point out the several issues with the qualifying system, but to be honest the teams that benefit from the unfair nature of qualification aren’t realistically going to challenge for the World Cup, and those who miss out also are unlikely to actually challenge for the trophy.  Only a handful of nations are capable of winning the World Cup; however it isn’t about winning for many nations but rather making it to the dance, and that is where the qualification system is the most unfair.

There is no perfect answer about how many qualifications places each confederation has, but it is fair to say that the current system isn’t correct.  In a perfect situation CONCACAF (N. America) and CONMEBOL (S. America) would merge together, and so would OFC (Oceania) and AFC (Asia).  This would allow for more competitive competition for the America’s and would also solve the problem of the Oceanic confederation requiring a place, even though they are miles behind their counterparts in the other confederations.  FIFA have set a precedent by allowing Australia to move confederations, it is however highly unlikely that they would make such a drastic change (you never know they do some crazy things after all).

Due to that, I think that a fairer and more realistic system would be to have 15 places for Europe, 4 for South America, 2.5 for North America, 0.5 for Oceania, 3.5 for Asia and 6.5 for Africa.  I think by making this slight change, the qualification system becomes much fairer.  UEFA is undoubtedly the confederation which has the largest numbers but also the most depth and it is because of that that they deserve more places.  North America and Asia would both see their quota reduce by one, because currently the quality of the teams in their respective confederations isn’t very strong beyond the first three nations (USA, Mexico & Costa Rica and Japan, South Korea & Australia).  Africa would see their numbers increase by 1.5, because there is stronger depth in the CAF confederation than in the AFC or CONCACAF.  The biggest (or most notable) change is that South America has decreased to 4 (down from 6), this isn’t a quality issue because almost every South American team could compete at the World Cup, but rather to realign the lack of parity that South America receives.  It would still leave South America with the highest percentage of entrants, but in terms of quality CONMEBOL is very strong.  Oceania would stay the same because it is easily the weakest confederation and doesn’t really deserve to have a guaranteed place (which would almost always go to New Zealand).

The other alternative would be to increase the number of teams in the World Cup from 32 to 64.  FIFA have been known in the past to increase the size of the tournament (last time in 1998 [from 24 to 32]), and it wouldn’t surprise me if FIFA did exactly this in the future.  However I personally don’t believe it should happen, because it would lower the quality of the competition and also make it too long.  After all the World Cup already lasts a long time (32 days for Brazil 2014) and requires a large amount of stadiums to hold, which would of course limit the countries that could hold the event even further.

When it comes down to qualifying for the World Cup, every nation which does qualify gets a special feeling, and every nation which fails to qualify feels a huge deal of disappointment.  The World Cup is a special competition, and it is the greatest sporting competition in the world.  The qualification system may not be entirely fair, but it isn’t too far off of being so, and when you are dealing with an organisation such as FIFA (an organisation that gave a summer competition to a country that is too hot in the summer to host said competition) not too far off isn’t too bad.

So leave a comment on what you think about the fairness of the World Cup qualification.  Do you think FIFA have gotten it right?  Are you more of a fan of my system?  Or do you not like either?  Also Like bm23reviews on Facebook and follow bm23reviews on Twitter both can be found at the top right hand side of the post.  Thanks for reading.