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We’re coming up on crunch time. By the end of Thursday, half of the teams in the World Cup will be eliminated. Let’s look at how things stand in each group – who will go through, and who will face the chop.

In Group A, Cameroon are out of the picture. They do have the potential to cause an upset, though, since the other three teams are very close together – Brazil and Mexico on four points apiece and Croatia right behind them on three. If somehow Cameroon were to beat Brazil by two or more goals, and Croatia and Mexico tied, Brazil would be eliminated.

In all likelihood, though, that won’t happen. I expect Brazil to get a win today, and then it comes down to whether Croatia can be the first to put a ball past the magnificant Memo Ochoa in the Mexican goal. Croatia need a win to join Brazil in the round of 16, Mexico can go through with a tie.

Personally, though, I’m betting on Croatia to find a way through, and progress in second. For this group, I’m standing by my original prediction of Brazil – Croatia – Mexico – Cameroon.

Group B provided the biggest shock of the tournament so far, with Spain being eliminated after only their second game. Sadly, but expectedly, Australia went with them. At this point, it’s just a matter of who goes through first and whom second. A tie will see the Netherlands through in first, whereas Chile have to win. I’m betting on the Oranje to come out on top, though, for a revised projection of Netherlands – Chile – Australia – Spain.

And so to Group C, where Colombia have already booked their passage, but any of the others could still join them. Ivory Coast are the next best placed, and a win over Greece will see them through regardless of the other result. Solid wins for both Ivory Coast and Japan could even be enough for Ivory Coast to claim the top spot – but I don’t see Japan prevailing over Colombia, so I’m going to call this one as Colombia – Ivory Coast – Japan – Greece.

*sigh* England are out. Group D offered up a surprise package in Costa Rica, who were widely expected to prop up the group, and are instead three points clear at the top with qualification to the next round already sealed. Italy and Uruguay are facing off tomorrow for the right to join them, which means at least one more footballing powerhouse will be getting an early flight home.

At this point, I think Italy are the more likely of the two, and the only question is whether they can score enough goals AND have England beat Costa Rica in order to move top. That doesn’t seem likely to me, so I’m giving my revised prediction as Costa Rica – Italy – Uruguay – England.

Group E has been unexpectedly entertaining, with France romping to two large wins and scoring eight goals in the process, a tally matched only by the Netherlands so far. It is still mathematically possible for Ecuador and Switzerland to take the two qualifying spots, but it would involve Ecuador beating France by at least four goals and Switzerland also beating Honduras by a similar margin. The latter seems possible, but the former is a tall order. I’m revising my original prediction and calling this as France – Ecuador – Switzerland – Honduras.

There is a possible wrinkle for the ages developing in Group F, where a 1-0 win for Argentina over Nigeria and another 1-0 win for Iran over Bosnia would leave the middle of the group so tightly tied that Iran and Nigeria would literally have to draw lots for the privilege of progressing to the next round.  Neither of those scorelines are all that unlikely, based on the results so far. I’m confident in calling an Argentina win, and thereby top spot in the group. Bosnia are eliminated at this point, and so it’s very much down to whether Iran can prevail over them. If either of those scorelines above is 2-0 rather than 1-0, that single goal would be enough to send Iran through. Lots at stake here, and I’m going to call this (also rather revised) as Argentina – Iran – Nigeria – Bosnia.

Group G has produced some truly amazing moments already – last night, in the 93rd minute, the USA were headed for an historic victory over #4-ranked Portugal to seal their own progress. They were sadly denied by a last-minute goal, but are still very much in the running, level on points with top-placed Germany.

A tie between Germany and the USA will see both teams through, and you could perhaps forgive the Germans if they did one final favour for a former World Cup hero of their own, USA boss Jürgen Klinsmann. Ghana and Portugal will be fighting to push their way up into second place, and while Ghana have by far the easier task of it based on goal difference, they would both be relying on the USA to lose as well as getting a win themselves.

My prediction – ultimately revising only the bottom two – is Germany – USA – Ghana – Portugal.

And last but not least, Group H sprung a surprise, with Algeria notching four goals, matching their all-time best tally at a single World Cup over the last two games. Two more goals in the next game against Russia would see Algeria eclipse their total goals scored in all previous World Cups combined. Belgium, favoured to win the group, have laboured to notch up wins over both Russia and Algeria, but those wins will see them through to the next round. They face South Korea next. The right results could see any of the other three joining Belgium in the round of 16, but I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that Algeria will get the job done with at least a tie, making it Belgium – Algeria – Russia – South Korea.

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Group F! This could be an interesting one indeed. Not in terms of who wins – I think that’s probably pretty well locked up – but second could prove to be a mighty battle.

Here are the teams:

argentina

Argentina, boasting the awe-inspiring forward line of Messi, Aguero and Higuain, will inevitably score goals. While there are some defensive questions, you can usually rely on the Albiceleste to score more than they concede, and I think they will get out of their group with not only first place but maximum points.

nigeria

The Super Eagles of Nigeria will once again be trying their luck against Argentina, having faced them several times in previous tournaments. The war-torn nation has seen a greal deal of tragedy of late, and indeed one of the players on the Nigerian team barely escaped the bombing of his hometown shortly before leaving for Brazil. Expect a determined display from Nigeria, but they may struggle this year.

bosnia

Bosnia-Herzegovina are making their first appearance at a World Cup. This team is built predominantly around Manchester City hitman Edin Dzeko and Roma playmaker Miralem Pjanic, but  they aren’t by any means a two-man team. There’s certainly a lot of danger throughout their starting XI, and I think they might just make it into second place.

iran

Rounding out the group is Iran, who remarkably scored more goals in qualifying than any other nation at the tournament. Their World Cup record is spotty at best, with just a single win – against the USA in 1998. Nevertheless, as the #1 ranked team in Asia, they have the quality to spring a surprise.

Predicted group standings:

Argentina
Bosnia
Nigeria
Iran

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So the US is preparing to attack Syria because the Syrian government, which is supported by the Russians, used chemical weapons on the rebels, except that as it turns out it was the Syrian rebels who used chemical weapons, but accidentally not on the government, because they didn’t know how they worked when they were provided to them by the Saudis, who are one of the US’ few allies in this, just like France, who are determined to be on the non-surrendering side of a conflict for once, but are therefore opposed by Britain, which supported the US in Afghanistan and Iraq and therefore pissed off the Iranians, who are really more looking for an excuse to attack Israel than anything else, and in the meantime North Korea is wondering why suddenly nobody’s paying any attention to it any more, not having realised that in the classroom of world politics North Korea is the kid in the corner who has found something unexpectedly wonderful in his own nose.

So if anyone was still unclear on the giant Rube Goldberg machine which is foreign relations, it should all make sense to you now and you can decide who to support in the firm and comfortable knowledge that you’re right. You’re welcome.

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Proving that there’s more than one place where the far-right hardliners know how to rig an election, the handy victory supposedly scored by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in his re-election bid looks decidedly fishy.

It’s not the result that bothers me, it’s the sound of millions of hopes being ruthlessly crushed by the ruling elite. I have issues with any kind of theocratic regime, but one whose grip on power is so tenuous that it cannot withstand honest competition and debate is just a pitiful sight.

There may yet be a re-count, but will that also be rigged? Time will tell.

In the meantime, props to Mousavi’s supporters for speaking out and for the millions of people flooding Twitter and Flickr with coverage that the Iranian state wouldn’t allow the international media to get directly.

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