Repeat or Revenge for the Struggling Proteas!

2nd Test: Sri Lanka vs South Africa

In a spell of action which shocked most sports betting fans, the Proteas were bowled out for a meagre 73 as the hosts sealed a 278-run victory.

If you studied the us tips or the Sri Lanka vs South Africa betting odds, such a convincing victory simply wasn’t expected.

Now in the second and final test, can South Africa make amends or are Sri Lanka on course for another field day?

Welcome to Colombo!

Talking Points

Sri Lanka player Dilruwa nPerera leaves the field after his team defeats sports betting's closest rival South Africa

Sri Lanka player Dilruwan Perera leaves the field after his side beat South Africa

Dilruwan Perera and Rangana Herath effectively cleaned up in the second session of the first test to which the build-up had been full of talk of the spin challenge and a ball-tampering controversy.

The Proteas, however, were once again undone by the spin, with Perera taking six wickets and Herath scooping up the remainder.

It was left to Lakshan Sandakan to take the final wicket of Tabraiz Shamsi as the tourists were bowled out for 73.

The main talking points now surround whether there could be a repeat or if South Africa can bounce back from what was an embarrassing defeat—one which saw them fail to register 200 runs across two innings, their lowest total since readmission.

Although the bowling unit gave a decent account of themselves—Kagiso Rabada was able to take seven wickets in the match—there are naturally concerns around the batting unit after not one of the batsmen managed to cross the 50-mark.

With a playing surface in Colombo said to be similar to that of Galle, it will be fascinating to see how South Africa adapt and if they can be more resilient.

Management will also have noticed the Sri Lankan batsmen were more comfortable facing seam than they were against the ‘twins of spin’, Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi.

Shamsi was a potential doubt for this test after briefly leaving the squad for personal reasons, but the wrist-spinner is now back and will undoubtedly start.

Nonetheless, the hosts will again be without regular skipper Dinesh Chandimal who was banned after being found guilty of ball-tampering.

He will also miss the first four one-day internationals against the Proteas.

Of course it wasn’t just Chandimal who was punished.

Coach Chandika Hathurusingha and manager Asanka Gurusinha were all given eight suspension points by an independent Judicial Commissioner following a marathon six-hour hearing over video link on the eve of the first test—a ruling which made their performance over the following days even more impressive.

All three had already pleaded guilty to a level three offence of “conduct that is contrary to the spirit of the game.” That after refusing to take to the field on the third day of the second Test against West Indies, after umpires informed Chandimal he had been charged with ball tampering.

They will be eligible to return to the team for the fifth and final ODI in Colombo on August 12, with a one-off T20 at the same venue two days later; however, the scene for the summer will likely have been firmly set by that time.

In Chandimal’s absence, it’s likely Dimuth Karunaratne will be the key man for hosts in the second test once more, particularly in such prolific form. The opening batsman hit 158 not out and 60 in the respective first-test innings, although it should be noted he will need support from others.

Another talking point is provided by the comments of South Africa skipper Faf du Plessis who spoke out against the toss system after his side’s crushing setback in Galle.

History

Until Galle last week, South Africa had a slight upper hand. Indeed, of the 12 previous tests between the sides in Sri Lanka, South Africa had won three and lost four.

The most recent head-to-head encounters between the nations in this format came in South Africa a year and a half ago, over the Christmas/New Year period in 2016/17. The Proteas secured a clean sweep back then, winning all three encounters comprehensively.

The Proteas were last in Sri Lanka in 2014 when they triumphed in a two-match series 1-0. After a first test victory—also in Galle—by 153 runs, they drew the second match in Colombo.

What are the odds?

Sports betting continues in Test Series as South African captain Fuf du Plessis lead his team vs Sri Lanka in 2nd match

South African cricket captain Fuf du Plessis speaks during a press conference ahead of their first test cricket match against Sri Lanka

As the action turns to the Sinhalese Sports Club, Sri Lanka are slight favourites with 1X2 odds on them available at 2.00 and South Africa priced at 2.70. You can also get the draw at 4.00 which has a certain attraction.

The us Asian Handicap sports betting options follow a similar path, with Sri Lanka priced at 0.00 @ 1.71 and the South African tourists 0.00 @ 2.17.

It’s certainly all to play for!

Disclaimer: Odds are correct at time of publish.

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How Can the Gunners Improve Their Arsenal Post-Wenger?

Where do you even begin with the direction Arsenal should take moving forward in this transfer window?

It hasn’t been long since Arsene Wenger, the Gunners’ long-time manager, stepped down and ended a long, successful era of Arsenal football. However, every Arsenal supporter knows that the Frenchman hasn’t succeeded in the latter years of his reign.

Those days are long behind them, however, as they look forward to a new future. Fans are looking for the latest bit of Arsenal news over the summer window as they anticipate Unai Emery’s maiden voyage in the Premier League.

The club has already seen a bit of a roster shuffle ever since the summer took over. There were some interesting additions and losses that have made the current look of the squad an interesting one indeed.

However, the window is still far from over and there is over a month left of football before Emery can finalise the composition of his squad. Making key acquisitions can immediately transform his squad into instant title contenders, and he must make his moves here.

However, we must look at what Arsenal lost this summer in order to understand which players the Gunners should get in the window.

Key losses and possible departures

There haven’t been many losses among the Arsenal ranks. However, Arsenal are currently experiencing a drain of midfield talent.

They lost both Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere, important players in Arsene Wenger’s teams during the early half of the 2010s, have left the Emirates for Villareal and West Ham, specifically.

Arsenal News: Last June 19, 2018.  Midfielder Jack Wilshere announced his departure from Arsenal due to his contract expiring at the end of June

Jack Wilshere controls the ball during a Europa League match between Arsenal and AC Milan

While it’s very understandable that Cazorla was let go of the club for a free, it is a huge miss that they weren’t able to tie Wilshere down to a new contract before selling him off to the Hammers. They could have made a killing with the man who was left out of a very successful England squad in Russia given his performances for Arsenal when healthy.

While they have lost Per Mertesacker to retirement, they still have enough talent to supplement their back line. However, it seems like their keeper pool will take a hit: Petr Cech is linked to a return to Stamford Bridge while David Ospina is linked to a Mexican club.

Of course, rumours about Aaron Ramsey’s possible departure from the club will also leave the club with too many defenders and too few men to operate in the midfield. Moreover, Wenger had a lot of problems finding the perfect defensive line:  the Gunners allowed the most amount of goals in the Top Six of last season’s Premier League with 51 conceded goals.

With that being said, these key signings could alter their future football results for the better.

Benjamin Pavard, VfB Stuttgart

Many of France’s faithful supporters had no idea who this young defender from a mediocre Bundesliga side is when players such as Dimitri Payet and Moussa Sissoko are not named to the World Cup squad.

However, he made sure that everyone knew who he is after that brilliant strike against Argentina. He quickly made himself a darling among French fans and Arsenal fans after his superb defending helped Les Bleus lift the World Cup trophy a second time.

Of course, Emery must make a compelling offer quick: almost every big club will be after the young Stuttgart star. He must make his decision quick or he will see the 22-year-old defender sold as quickly as the many Juventus shirts donning Cristiano Ronaldo’s name.

If they want to get a keeper, however, Danijel Subasic is a worthy pick-up. The Monaco keeper played a sublime tournament in Russia, making many key saves.

Andre Gomes, Barcelona

Andre Gomes had a great debut season with Barcelona in 2016/17 but quickly found himself out of a regular spot in the Barcelona rotation over the past twelve months. It’s likely that he will have to leave Camp Nou if he wants to play more regular team football. He will have no shortage of suitors after a quality showing for Portugal during the World Cup.

Football Results: Andre Gomes struggled in Camp Nou, scoring only 3 goals in his 78 appearances

Andre Gomes fights for the ball against Saul Niguez

He will fill up the gaping hole left behind by Cazorla and Wilshere in the creative role. Without the pressure of playing behind Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta, Gomes will likely thrive in the central role, supplying through passes and lobs to either Alexandre Lacazette or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Given the midfield shortage the Gunners are experiencing, signing Gomes would be a masterstroke of an acquisition. While the man struggled to find a home in Barca, he should be able to flourish again under the less glaring lights of the Emirates.

Bernard, Without Club

Bernard is currently without a place to call home, but the Brazil international has proven his worth with the quality of play he showed for Shakhtar Donetsk. In his 95 league appearances for the Ukranian club, he has scored 14 goals and netted 24 assists.

The months following the January window showed just how much they missed the attacking talent of Alexis Sanchez on the wings. For Emery and Arsenal, finding a player of equal quality and gravitas as the Chile international would help them return to the lofty spots of the Champions League.

Sure, it would be nice to get a more famous name with the numerous Marco Reus and Ousmane Dembele highlights circulating the internet. However, both would probably too expensive for the North London club to acquire with the number of key players they also have to acquire.

Arsenal might be big favourites to snag Bernard, but they have huge rivals for his signature in Liverpool. It will be interesting who will get him in the end. Nevertheless, the Premier League will be blessed with the presence of another top football talent.

 

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Spotlight: The Best Premier League Players of FIFA 2018

Premier League was No.1 again, at least when it comes to the number of players sent at a World Cup.

For the sixth consecutive time, the English top flight had the largest representation in the quadrennial tournament. There were 107 players from the Premier League who featured for their national teams in FIFA 2018, with England’s squad even composed purely of players from the said domestic league.

Sure enough, most of the standout performers in the FIFA competition were from the English Premiership,  but we here at us pick only the five best Premier Leaguers that undoubtedly stood out the most in the month-long event.

Eden Hazard, Chelsea

If there’s one player who deserves the Golden Ball award besides Croatia’s Luka Modric, it’s Belgium’s speedy and electrifying forward Eden Hazard.

He ended up winning the Silver Ball, the award for the second-best player in the tournament, but it can be argued that he was just as pivotal for Belgium as Modric was to Croatia. Had the Red Devils reached the final, it’s possible that he’d be chosen as the best player of the World Cup.

It was a fruitful FIFA 2018 campaign for Belgium as they finished in the top 3 of the tournament

Belgium captain Eden Hazard celebrates his goal alongside Dries Mertens during their third-place match against England

Hazard’s statistical contribution also speaks volume of how crucial he was in leading Belgium to their best outing in the World Cup. He scored three goals and turned provider twice, finishing as the team’s second-highest scorer and joint-top assist man (along with Kevin De Bruyne).

The 27-year-old was also fun to watch throughout as he used his burst of speed and flawless running on the ball to destroy the opposition’s defence. If you want proof, you don’t have to look further than his performance against Brazil in the quarter-final at Kazan Arena where he broke up the rhythm of Selecao’s play multiple times.

Jordan Pickford, Everton

Thibaut Courtois and Hugo Lloris, perhaps, should have been on this list instead of England’s Jordan Pickford. After all, Courtois was the best goalkeeper of the competition while Lloris anchored the defence of the new World Cup champions.

However, considering the surprise factor, we have to go for Pickford this time.

Seriously, who would have thought that the Everton keeper would be in contention for the best keeper of the tournament?

Pickford had his best moment in the penalty shootout against Colombia, producing back-to-back monster saves to propel the Three Lions to their first ever World Cup shootout win. The 24-year-old then followed it up with a clean sheet against Sweden, eventually ending the tournament with a total of 17 saves.

Romelu Lukaku, Manchester United

Harry Kane brought home the Golden Boot, thanks to his three penalty goals, but Romelu Lukaku was probably the best striker in the competition—or at least the most entertaining.

Lukaku, put simply, was a beast in the World Cup. Often criticised for his lack of creativity and imagination of his movements, the Manchester United man proved his doubters wrong by providing a physical threat and showing intelligence on his runs.

He scored four goals to bag the Bronze Boot award, but his presence for Belgium was what was important. In fact, in their comeback win against Japan, his clever movements drew two defenders and allowed Nacer Chadli to fire home the winner.

Meanwhile, against Brazil, he was a consistent threat on the counter and eventually produced one of the best FIFA 2018 highlights when he assisted De Bruyne for a two-goal lead.

N’Golo Kante, Chelsea

Chelsea midfielder N'Golo Kante was one of the best Premier League players during FIFA 2018

French midfielder N’Golo Kante challenge Argentina star Lionel Messi for the ball during their round-of-16 clash in the World Cup

If there’s one thing we learned in the World Cup, it’s that N’Golo Kante is a lucky man! Imagine winning the Premier League title in 2016 and 2017 then winning the World Cup in 2018.

Nevertheless, it wasn’t luck that brought Kante to the biggest show on earth. It’s hard work. And he did his part to help the France national team defy the FIFA 2018 odds and bag the nation’s second World Cup trophy.

There’s a reason why his teammates chanted his name when they returned to Paris and visited France president Emmanuel Macron.

Kante was the driving force behind France ‘s success, virtually stopping all the opposing attackers that he guarded. He had more than 50 interceptions throughout and was even credited for stopping Lionel Messi in their clash with Argentina.

Christian Eriksen,  Tottenham Hotspur

Heading to the World Cup, Christian Eriksen was already looked upon as the hope of the Danish team. And boy did he live up to the hype!

He was at the centre of the Denmark offence and defence, and he did well in setting up the tempo of the team in every game. They may not have scored plenty of goals, finishing with just three in four games, but Eriksen has proven that he can lead the team.

He scored one goal and assisted on the other as Denmark made it past the group stage, second behind France in Group C. It’s a pity though that he failed to convert his penalty in their Round of 16 shootout again Croatia.

 

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The Swede’s Smell of Success at FIFA 2018

They were never expected to light up FIFA 2018…and sure enough, they didn’t.

Yet, when you consider the us odds, the FIFA 2018 predictions and the fact Janne Andersson’s side arrived in Russia without a win in six games, without a goal in 337 minutes (nearly four games worth) and without national hero Zlatan Ibrahimovic, perhaps the Scandinavians’ road to the quarter-finals should be considered an unqualified success.

Not only was there no Ibrahimovic, but there was also no cult hero or a player at the calibre of Zlatan—one of the most decorated and iconic players of the modern game and scorer of 62 goals in 116 games for his country. There was even no Henrik Larsson who have gone before them in recent years.

However, the nation which began the tournament 24th in the world rankings found themselves two wins from a first final since 1958.

In many ways, the fact expectations were not particularly high may have had a positive effect of easing the pressure on Sweden.

When they were drawn with France and Holland in their qualifying group, they weren’t even expected to progress.

However, they beat Les Bleus, finished second in their group and went on to eliminate 2006 world champions Italy in the play-offs.

After reaching Russia the hard way, being drawn in a group which included the reigning world champions Germany and Mexico seemed another obstacle they may struggle to overcome.

But overcome they did, topping their group and reaching the last eight for the first time in 24 years—edging Switzerland in a game in which neither team impressed in attack but both were tough to break down.

That seemed to be the core strength of the set-up.

A fierce work ethic, a solid defence, obdurate at times, and the ability to play without pressure.

Emil Forsberg has been outstanding in Russia after leading Sweden to FIFA 2018 Quarter-finals

Sweden’s Emil Forsberg celebrates after scoring a goal during their FIFA 2018 round of 16 match against Switzerland

The combination of dogged defending, a tactical discipline, even a reliance on penalties in the group stages, may not have always been pretty to watch but it was effective, and the national team seemed to win back the hearts of many Swedish people.

They were helped by goalkeeper Robin Olsen from Copenhagen whose opening game shut-out was a fifth consecutive clean sheet which stretched back to October 2017.

Indeed, the number one kept three clean sheets at the 2018 World Cup, a joint-record for a Swedish goalkeeper in tournament history. Only Ronnie Hellstrom (1974) and Karl Svensson (1958) have the same number of clean sheets for Sweden.

Back home, the nation became embraced in a grip of complete World Cup fever.

Many Sweden fans found it difficult to find replicas of national football shirts at home thanks to the team’s success.

As well as selling out the national team shirts in stores and online, millions watched the FIFA 2018 highlights and the matches live in front of the TV, at times bringing parts of the entire country to a standstill.

It may have been summer but the nation’s favourite Christmas tree, spruce trees, was more popular than ever.

Not even a fine—would you believe it was connected with their kit and socks?—could dampen the spirits.

Perhaps, the overall approach and lack of what Ruud Gullit once called ‘sexy football’ also created a false sense of security for opponents, or at least for some opposing pundits.

It could not last and, perhaps most surprisingly of all, it was England (previously the archetypal nation of the 4-4-2 formation and predictability) who made Sweden come unstuck in the very same way many opponents have done to their them in previous years.

The speed and mobility of England’s attacking players proved tricky for the Swedes to handle, and they were very much second best in the quarter-final.

While they did cause England problems of their own, Sweden’s attacking on-field limitations were glaringly obvious.

There was not a Larsson or an Ibrahimovic this time. Instead, who they had was one frontman who plays his football in the United Arab Emirates and another who does not even play regularly for his club side Toulouse.

Striker Marcus Berg, Sweden’s leading scorer in qualifying with eight goals in 11 matches, failed to find the net in Russia despite starting all five games.

Ola Toivonen produced a deft lob to stun Germany, but that was as much as the strike pairing delivered in more than 450 minutes of football.

Sweden, however, return home as a nation playing to its strengths. Overachieving with what it had and lasting longer than the likes of Germany, Spain and Argentina who, while possessing more talented individuals, could not match the collective offered by Sweden.

And it’s clearly catching on.

Even Prince Oscar was caught imitating the World Cup heroes as he was seen trying his hand at football in adorable pictures during celebrations for his mother Crown Princess Victoria’s birthday!

If Sweden can find a gem of a player in the next four years, who knows how far they can go.

 

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Did Brazil Blow it at FIFA 2018?

They’re everyone’s favourite team, the yellow and green icons of world sport, stirring passion and delighting fans across the globe with a unique brand of swashbuckling football.

Brazil arrived at FIFA 2018 as the team we all wanted to watch but, yet again, they left having entertained the whole world…but empty-handed. The South American giants haven’t won the World Cup since 2002 and that must be starting to annoy them a little.

Here at us, we love teams who play the beautiful game and the Selecao certainly does that. But in the recent past Brazil teams have always shown some fallibility, no more infamously than in a 7-1 humiliation by Germany in their own backyard in 2014.

That must have hurt and it will have taken some getting over. But I believe coach Tite has guided his team to a place where they can now cope.

Brazil’s failure to beat Belgium in the quarter-final was a mild surprise rather than a shock. The Samba boys were always going to be big FIFA 2018 news but come on, they went out to the third-best team in the world, according to FIFA rankings. It was a defeat which denied us a Brazil vs France semi-final and that surely would have been an amazing World Cup decider.

The best in South America

After the sacking of his predecessor Dunga, Tite took the helm at Brazil in 2016, at which point their qualification campaign was all at sea. But once he had his feet under the table they didn’t look back, storming through the tough South American group at a canter, and dumping a talented Chile side out in the final game.

FIFA 2018 News: Neymar and Brazil exited World Cup at the hands of Belgium

Neymar reacts after being tackled during game vs Mexico in World Cup 2018

The new coach has been credited with a renaissance in Brazil picking the young Gabriel Jesus and freeing up Neymar to express himself. He has rebuilt the side and its confidence, and in the process won back the support of those passionate fans who shed so many tears back in 2014. The nation has rediscovered its love for the game.

Jesus has been a revelation and will only get better, while his Manchester City team-mate Fernandinho provides the defensive midfield nous, enabling Willian and Philippe Coutinho the freedom to express their undoubted talent.

Alisson has established himself as one of the best goalkeepers in the world and is reported to be the subject of a bid from Liverpool to take him from Roma to the Premier League.

The best in the World?

The Selecao was joint favorites to win the World Cup, with France, at initial FIFA 2018 odds of 5.00, but those dropped as they made the last eight with relative ease.

As Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi move through their thirties, there could be a place for a new world number one. France’s teenage wonder kid Kylian Mbappe has staked a claim but, on his day Neymar can be masterful. But was the PSG man at his very best throughout the tournament? If you are going to come out on top of the world then you need your best players to be at 100 per cent.

Neymar gave us some wonderful moments of skill, but for many, the abiding memory will be of his rolling around under the nose of the referee when tackled, and his tears of joy, and then despair.

But what can you do? Neymar is Neymar. You get the whole package, a highly strung individual on the edge of greatness. If he reaches anything near the consistent levels of the likes of Messi then he could become a legend on the Copacabana Beach!

QATAR

FIFA 2018: Brazil failed but they still have strong chance to eclipse 2014 nightmare in 2022

Brazil suffered their biggest loss in history at the hands of Germany in their own soil in 2014

It’s time for Brazil to look forward now and no longer backwards. The hideous memory of massacre at the hands of Germany in front of their own fans at the 2014 Brazil World Cup has, to a degree, been consigned to the history books.

But, though they fade, some the scars will remain until the Selecao is top of the world again.

They have the vision, guile and strength in midfield and an exciting front line; but in defence, the dependable trio of Marcelo, Thiago Silva and Filipe Luis are all over 30 and Tite needs to settle on his replacements for the 2022 World Cup.

Brazil is a football nation and will always have world-class talent on the conveyor belt, and in Qatar they will be a force to be reckoned with. But then, among a group of teams which is improving, so will France.

It isn’t getting any easier but if Tite introduces more youth in defence in the next couple of years and the stars are aligned in 2022, then it could be Brazil’s year.

Either way it’ll be fantastic to watch.

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Spotlight: La Liga Players Who Stood Out in World Cup 2018

The World Cup 2018 is over, and it’s time to acknowledge the players who stood out the most in the quadrennial affair.

La Liga was well represented in the FIFA event, with 81 Spanish top-flight players named to their respective national teams for the World Cup. In fact, all La Liga teams have at least one player going to Russia—an unprecedented feat in the competition.

Even more remarkable, 11 La Liga stars were involved in the final between France and Croatia, more than any other league in world football.

However, while all the players did their country and the league proud, there are a few names that truly shined the most. us names five footballers that stood out among all the La Liga players that featured in the tournament.

Luka Modric, Real Madrid

It would be blasphemous not to include Croatia’s Luka Modric on this list. He’s the best player of the tournament, after all.

The Real Madrid midfielder propelled Croatia to an unlikely run in the final, helping them beat Nigeria, Argentina, Iceland, Denmark, Russia and England in defiance of the World Cup 2018 odds.

Modric’s spectacular showing in the competition earned him the Golden Ball award. He finished with only two goals and an assist, but it was his tireless work for the Croatians that helped them to a record-setting finals berth.

His vision is unmatched as he ceaselessly created opportunities for his teammates, all while taking advantage of the opponents’ defensive lapses.

Although there were criticisms about his performance in the final after France shut him down, there’s no doubt he was the most consistent and effective player throughout the month-long affair.

Ivan Rakitic, Barcelona

Ivan Rakitic stepped up for Croatia during the World Cup 2018 in Russia

Croatia midfielder Ivan Rakitic dribbling past a Russian defender during World Cup 2018 quarter-finals

Well, we can’t have Modric and not include his midfield partner Ivan Rakitic, right?

Rakitic may not be the best player for Vatreni, but he is just equally important for the team. The Barcelona star started in six out of their seven games and was never substituted out in all of those matches—proof of how significant he was for the Croatian squad.

The only game that he didn’t start was in their no-bearing and final Group G match against Iceland, with the team all but secured a ticket to the knockout rounds.

Rakitic scored only one goal, but he stepped up for the team when it mattered most. In their back-to-back penalty shootouts against Denmark and Russia, the 30-year-old  shrugged off the nerves and scored the winning penalty.

Denis Cheryshev, Villarreal

For La Liga fans, there’s probably no other player who surprised them the most than Villarreal’s Denis Cheryshev.

Sure, he scored an own goal in their group stage defeat to Uruguay, but fans shouldn’t forget that this is the same man who scored two goals in the opening game against Saudi Arabia to jumpstart Russia’s surprise journey to the knockout rounds.

He scored in three of their five games and was a consistent threat up front. He was also pivotal for Russia in sending Spain packing from the World Cup, converting the team’s final spot kick in the Round of 16.

Philippe Coutinho, Barcelona

Brazil failed to win it all this year despite high expectations, but at least they know their future is bright with the ascension of Philippe Coutinho as a reliable secondary option behind Paris Saint-Germain star Neymar.

Here’s an interesting statistic: out of Brazil’s eight goals in the competition, the Barcelona winger was directly involved in four—two goals and two assists. We don’t have to say that that’s 50 percent of the team’s scoring, right?

Put simply, Coutinho was the one who made the Brazilian team click. He’s not only fast and creative but also clever without the ball, which he all showed this past month.

Coutinho may have failed to give Brazil the World Cup 2018 results they wanted, but it’s clear their qualification to the knockout rounds wouldn’t have been possible without him.

Philippe Coutinho hailed as Brazil's best player in the World Cup 2018

Brazil midfielder Philippe Coutinho celebrates after scoring the opening goal during their Group E match between against Costa Rica

As Brazil icon Roberto Carlos said in the heat of the tournament: “Everyone speaks about Neymar, but Coutinho is proving that he’s also a ­massive player for Brazil too. When all the defenders focus on Neymar, he pops up and decides matches.”

Antoine Griezmann, Atletico Madrid

To say that Antoine Griezmann was the key for France’s World Cup win would be an understatement. His Bronze Ball and Silver Boot honours speak volume on his contributions to the team and it isn’t an exaggeration to say that the final would have ended differently without the Atletico Madrid star.

Save for his controversial dive that resulted to a free kick (that resulted to Mario Mandzukic’s own goal), Griezmann was fun to watch and can be described as one of the top three strikers of the 2018 showpiece.

Griezmann, with four goals and two assists, ended the World Cup raising beliefs that he can win the Ballon d’Or.

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World Cup 2018: What Might have been for Uruguay

Was Uruguay the biggest ‘what if’ story of World Cup 2018?  There were a few candidates for sure. But Oscar Tabarez’ team has every right to wonder.

At World Cup 2018 odds of 29.00, pre-tournament, the Charruas looked like excellent value as they breezed through Group A. It’s been 68 years since Uruguay won the World Cup and they might well have been thinking this was their biggest chance, but they won’t be the only team kicking themselves.

What about Spain? The 2010 champions never really got firing consistently after the shock dismissal of their coach two days before they kicked off. But they looked brilliant against Portugal before stuttering through their group and then failing to beat a limited Russia side, before losing in a penalty shootout.

England was 20 minutes away from a World Cup final for the first time since 1966, and had Golden Boot winner Harry Kane squared a simple pass to make it 2-0 against Croatia, rather than trying to score from a tight angle…who knows?

Even Japan may feel a case of ‘what ifs’ when they were so close to pulling off one of the biggest shocks in World Cup 2018 results, if not the biggest. 2-0 up against Belgium with time running out in the Round of 16 clash, they were hit by a wave of Red Devilment and eventually lost to the last kick of the game.

World Class at both business ends

Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani was the best tandem but as a team, Uruguay only reached quarterfinals in World Cup 2018

Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani lead Uruguay to a quarterfinals finish in World Cup 2018

But Uruguay hadn’t lost their coach and they had something England and Japan certainly didn’t; world-class pairings at either end of the pitch.

Our us tips included a very close look at Uruguay before a ball was kicked and we focused on the most dangerous strike partnership in the competition. Edinson Cavani top scored in Ligue 1 last season and was in sensational form in the South American qualifiers, and in Barca’s Luis Suarez he had an equally lethal partner.

Only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo scored more goals in La Liga than Suarez last season, and he’s a brilliant supplier as well as a scorer. The telepathy and killer instinct of this frightening partnership was on show in the Round of 16 win over Portugal when the two combined beautifully before Cavani finished for his first of two goals.

At the other end of the pitch Diego Godin pushed France’s Raphael Varane close for the mantle of best defender in Russia, and alongside him was young Jose Gimenez, as he had been at Atletico Madrid in a season in which the La Liga runners-up conceded a miserly 22 goals. And Gimenez popped up to score the late winner in Uruguay’s opener against Egypt with a great header.

Partnerships up and down the pitch make for a successful team and Uruguay had two of the very best.

Beat France and win the Cup?

Did Oscar Tabarez's side performed well in World Cup 2018?

Oscar Tabarez was the second oldest coach in World Cup 2018

At 71 Oscar Tabarez was the second oldest coach at Russia 2018. Suffering from a debilitating illness he always cut a dignified figure, bringing a more cultured edge to his Uruguay team than some of those from the past. Yes, they could mix it of course and there was steel running throughout the team but, at times, they played beautiful football.

In his 12 years in charge, he has guided this small South American nation, with a population of little over three million to great heights, reaching the World Cup semi-final in 2010 and winning the Copa America in 2011. He has seen his team come of age but has also introduced young talent, epitomised by 20-year-old Juve midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur who is tough in the tackle but can find his front two with an array of great passing skills.

Did he think his team was good enough to win Russia 2018?  Well, they glided into the knockout phases, winning all three without conceding a goal and then eclipsed Ronaldo and a dangerous Portugal side to reach the quarters.

They had the better of much of the first half in their clash with France and, of course, there’s no disgrace in losing to the eventual winners. The Charruas were well in the game until midway through the second half and you have to feel sorry for keeper

Fernando Muslera. Antoine Griezmann fired a hopeful shot from distance straight at him but the poor goalie somehow spilled the ball into the net.

Had they beaten France, they would have faced Belgium, richly talented but famous for choking, and then Croatia, an equally small nation but with a modest track record.

You never know. It might just have been Uruguay’s year, but if I was Muslera I probably wouldn’t think about it too much.

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How Can Tottenham Take it to the Next Level?

The Spurs need to make radical changes if they want to compete for English football’s top prize.

Over the past few years, Tottenham have shown they are capable of competing in the top four of the league. In fact, in the last three seasons, they finished inside the top three and went as high as second in the 2016-17 campaign.

However, while they are at that level where they can be considered heavyweights, winning a trophy still seems to be out of reach. And if there’s one thing we learned about Tottenham in recent years, it is that they are still pretenders rather than contenders.

As the new season nears, us takes a look at the key players the Spurs need to sign and what else they must to do to elevate them among the few true elite clubs in England.

Key Players to Sign

Of course, the top priority for Tottenham is keeping Harry Kane a Spur for a long time. With Cristiano Ronaldo leaving Real Madrid, there’s a possibility that the La Liga giants could make a move for the England skipper.

Money talks in football, and the Lilywhites might not be able to retain the World Cup 2018 Golden Boot winner if Real Madrid come calling.

Besides Kane, though, the Spurs also need to improve the depth of their squad and add more scoring. Sure, they scored 74 times in the Premier League last season, but 30 of those goals came from Kane who finished second in scoring in the competition.

The Spurs must move on from being a one-man team and create a squad that can contend even when their best player is out.

Paulo Dybala is among the favourites to lift the betting odds of Spurs

Juventus’ Paulo Dybala celebrates after scoring the winning goal in a Serie A match

Anthony Martial and Paulo Dybala are interesting choices for the club should they choose to add more firepower.

Martial—according to recent Premier League news—wants to leave Manchester United, and it could be the perfect chance for Tottenham to pounce on the highly-rated striker.

The 22-year-old is a versatile attacker who mesmerized Red Devil fans with his dribbling skills, wonderful flicks and solid passing. He is not afraid to take on defenders, a quality perfect alongside a player like Kane who can easily draw defenders.

Dybala, on the other hand, is a mercurial talent who can change the flow of the game and even shift the Premier League betting odds for Tottenham. Ronaldo’s move to Juventus opened the door for a possible Dybala exit, and Tottenham should capitalise on the opportunity.

The Argentine, at 24 years old, is already a lethal scorer. He led Juventus with 22 goals last season as the Serie A giants won a seventh straight Scudetto.

At the back, World Cup standout performer Benjamin Pavard is a suitable replacement for Toby Alderweireld who is reportedly seeking a move out of the North London club.

The Frenchman drew the interest of Manchester City as well, thanks to his ability to move to the defensive midfield role. However, Tottenham could offer him the opportunity of playing a more significant role.

Other players that Tottenham should keep an eye on are Barcelona’s Andre Gomes and Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale. They may not be the best choices but both are talented pieces that could work well under the right system.

Change of Mindset

Well, we could talk all day about the players Tottenham should sign to turn them into a trophy-winning club. But that will all be useless if they don’t change their ways of playing it cheap, literally.

Tottenham don’t want to spend! And that’s a recipe for a mediocre and trophy-less team.

Last summer, the Spurs used just £61.4 million, putting them behind the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United, Everton and Liverpool in terms of spending. Nonetheless, in a time that the value of players is continuously rising, that won’t cut it.

If the Spurs want to win, they need to invest and fight other clubs in all fronts. Manchester City were the biggest spenders in 2017 with an outlay of £217.3 million, and they were rewarded with the Premier League title.

Winning comes with a price. Tottenham have to accept that fact and pay it.

Managerial shakeup

Aside from backing the club financially, another thing that the Tottenham brass should consider is changing their manager.

There’s no doubt Mauricio Pochettino did a great job with the Spurs, and he can be proud of the work he has done at Tottenham. He has been instrumental in the development of players like Kane, Eric Dier and Dele Alli to name a few.

However, no matter how good he is in developing players, he isn’t a winner. Since taking over the club in 2014, he is yet to win a trophy.

Mauricio Pochettino  headlines the Premier League news  as he is yet to deliver a trophy for Tottenham

Mauricio Pochettino reacts during the Champions League match between Juventus and Tottenham Hotspur

He could argue that the club lacks in financial support, but there are managers in other leagues who have guided their own spendthrift teams to cup trophies.

Zinedine Zidane and Diego Simeone are potential replacements for Pochettino. Zidane is a proven winner and will certainly be eager to prove his managerial abilities with a club like Tottenham where he can be credited for any success.

Simeone, meanwhile, is no longer new to managing a team against bigger-spending rivals. He has a proven track record at Atletico Madrid, having won the La Liga and Copa del Rey titles despite strong competition from Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid. Oh, and he has also won a Europa League title!

Pochettino is a very good coach, but being very good is not enough in a results business like football.

 

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World Cup 2018: The End of an Era or the Start of Something?

From the remarkable story before a ball had been kicked (Julen Lopetegui being sacked as coach by Spain for surreptitiously negotiating with Real Madrid) to the final controversy itself (the extremely harsh, I would say disgraceful decision to award France a penalty), World Cup 2018 provided drama from start to finish.

Whatever World Cup 2018 highlights grabbed your attention—and there were plenty—us followers will surely all agree on one collective aspect.

The perfectly balanced dribbling of Eden Hazard, the quality and imagination of Kevin de Bruyne’s passing, the sheer power and pace of Romelu Lukaku, the menace of Thomas Meunier, the commanding figure of Toby Alderweireld, the calmness of Jan Vertonghen, and the athleticism of Thibaut Courtois.

Eden Hazard anchored Belgium's "Golden Generation" perfectly as they finish top three in the World Cup 2018

Eden Hazard celebrating his “nail in the coffin” goal against England to win the third place honour in the World Cup

That’s seven players (I could have named a few more in the Belgium class of 2018). The country’s so-called ‘golden generation’ who, hopefully, aren’t finished yet.

World Cup 2018 odds suggested they may well reach the semi-finals but, in many ways, they achieved even more.

After a slow start, they eased past minnows Panama and Tunisia, had too much quality for England, came from two goals down to beat Japan in a breathtaking comeback and then produced arguably the most impressive team showing over the month-long festival of football to defeat mighty Brazil.

They were unceasingly compelling, undoubtedly classy.

For me, the image of Lukaku falling to his knees and raising his hands skyward at the full-time whistle after that victory was the photograph of the tournament.

That they were unfortunate to go out to France in the semi-final will remain a personal disappointment for manager Roberto Martinez, his French assistant Thierry Henry, and their legions of fans.

Yet, they bounced back with too much class for England for the second time and their quality was proven as the final individual accolades were announced.

Courtois deservedly won the Golden Glove as the best keeper in the tournament and surely, alongside David de Gea and Manuel Neuer, is now one of the top three in the world.

And then there was his teammate for both club and country, Hazard.

Voted runner-up to Luka Modric, though he probably should have won the Golden Ball as the tournament’s top player for his influence and mesmeric dribbling skills.

Certainly, Belgium’s collective efforts were recognised back home as they were greeted by tens of thousands of fans at the picturesque Grand Place in Brussels.

All 23 members of Martinez’s squad were in attendance as they were personally congratulated by King Philippe and Queen Mathilde.

The pictures told their own stories as supporters climbed street signs, traffic lights—literally anything they could get a grip of—to catch a glimpse of their heroes as an open-top bus parade made its way through the Belgian capital.

The sheer joy amongst players and fans alike showed a country united as they concluded their best ever World Cup.

Now Euro 2020 looks an ideal step for a side in their prime to perhaps go further, with or without Henry who, after giving up his television commitments, has hinted he wants to take the step from number two to manager.

World Cup 2018 has been and up and down ride for Henry as his nation won the tournament but his team finished third

Roberto Martinez and first assistant coach Thierry Henry talking during a Belgium training session

Of course, seven of this 23-man squad are in their 30s and by the time of the next World Cup, optimism may have to be tempered by the fact Kompany will be 35, Vertonghen 34, and Hazard and De Bruyne in their 30s. However, they will still have Lukaku, Courtois and Yannick Carrasco who should all be in their prime by then.

Then there are the players who only featured sporadically at this tournament.

Youri Tielemans only featured for 97 minutes throughout the tournament, the majority of them in the party meaningless group encounter with England, but has been described by Martinez as someone who represents the future of Belgium. Meanwhile, the likes of defender Zinho Vanheusden and Francesco Antonucci are tipped for big things.

After six wins from seven, the Diables Rouges should be upbeat after their first ever podium finish and a generation that finally did live up to the hype—the individuals who had sizzled at club level finally achieved heights on the international stage.

Midfielder Axel Witsel went further by saying Belgium were the ‘most attractive team to watch at the tournament’ and it was hard to argue.

This was a very good tournament for Belgium, but can the next one be great or was this the pinnacle?

That is the key question.

Is this the end of an era or the start of a new one?

One interesting statistic to ponder:

seven of the past nine nations to have finished third at a World Cup have failed to qualify for the next European Championships.

Surely, Belgium won’t follow that path, right?

 

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Fans Fall Back in Love with England at World Cup 2018

England fans will look back at World Cup 2018 with great fondness, not only did the Three Lions reach the last four for the first time since 1990 but also did it with a smile and with a sparkle in their boots.

Gareth Southgate’s young team did more than enough to reignite the passion of a nation, whose fans have become more engaged by domestic matters than international in recent years. And their successful route to the semi-final should also lift them up from their current FIFA ranking of 12th.

England's accomplishment in World Cup 2018 has to be credited to Gareth Southgate

Gareth Southgate takes England football to new heights of greatness

Southgate has brought a professional air of calm to the head coaching job and has made the ‘impossible task’ look possible. And boy has he wowed us with his sartorial elegance, becoming so famous for his waistcoat that UK retailer Marks and Spencer has reported record sales of the garment—even Harry Potter star Emma Watson has taken inspiration from the gaffer!

It all bodes pretty well for the future and England fans hope football will finally come home in two years time at Euro 20.

Not so great expectations

Few experts, pundit or even fans expected England to progress beyond the quarter-finals in Russia. The World Cup 2018 odds reflected that as well, pitching them in at around 15.00.

Talk among football fans in England was gloomily focused on whether they could be bothered to watch all the games. But as always, once the first whistle blew, the flames of patriotic fervour took hold, fanned by a surprisingly breezy football team.

Long-suffering England fans have become used to disappointment—the underachievement of the golden generation of Beckham, Gerrard, Terry, Ferdinand, Lampard and Rooney and the inevitable exit on penalties, usually to Germany!

But this time, it was different. The young Lions exceed expectations and even won a penalty shootout!

Brave new dawn

By the time this fantastic tournament neared its climax, the England coach, team and nation believed they could reach the final, and it looked a reality for the first hour of the semi-final with Croatia. But striker Mario Mandzukic put paid to that as the unlikely became impossible in extra time.

So how did such a huge transformation happen?

It looked like the same old story as injury time in the opening fixture against Tunisia approached. Having dominated the game, England were pegged back at 1-1 before Captain Marvel Harry Kane stepped up to nod home the winner. It was ecstasy and relief in equal measures and England were on the way.

Of course, skipper Kane has been big World Cup 2018 news as he’s picked up the Golden Boot with six goals. He’s the first Englishman to do this since Gary Lineker in 1986—owing much of his success to a manhandling defence as England hammered Panama 6-1 in the second game.

Kane bagged a hat-trick, two brilliantly struck penalties and a fluke deflection, and England could easily have had five as Panama bizarrely played more rugby than football.

Harry Kane carries England to the World Cup 2018 semi-finals

Harry Kane applauds English supporters after the World Cup 2018 semi-final match between England and Croatia

Even when a much-changed side lost to Belgium’s second string, the excitement didn’t wane. In fact, many believed it was a masterstroke by Southgate as the Three Lions landed on the apparently kinder half of the draw.

And so it seemed after penalty shoot-out delight against Colombia was followed by a superbly serene win against Sweden. However, an experienced and highly talented Croatia side was a step too far.

Losing to Belgium in the third-place play-off was no surprise and the England players can hold their heads up high. They were welcomed home as heroes but, as former player and respected pundit Gary Neville said, they were pretty close to becoming legends.

Kieran Trippier was the standout player for many. He defended with vigour and his raids down the right flank and brilliant deliveries were a constant source of assists and a delight to watch. The Spurs man capped off a fine tournament with a sublime free-kick goal in the semi-final.

Jordan Henderson was a colossus in midfield and keeper Jordan Pickford answered many of his critics with a string of spectacular saves.

But the players give the credit to their boss, a man who many of them have worked with for years, as Southgate grew with them through coaching the successful under-21 team.

And that makes a lot of sense.

What next for the young Lions?

It’s onwards and upwards for Gareth’s boys.

They may well feature more prominently in the us tips for Euro 2020, where they’ll have the advantage of playing some games in front of a passionate England support gloriously reconnected in Russia.

They’ll be two years older and that might help them against the likes of Belgium and Croatia.

But then the equally young champions France will be two years older too.

Maybe a final?

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