Monthly Archives: July 2015

More milestones and thank yous

Thank you to everybody who has read this blog for the last month, and especially the last few days. The following milestones have been accomplished in July:

75 views today alone (July 30)
At least 200 for the month
370 for the year (and counting, hopefully)

Along with the United States, visitors are listed from the United Kingdom, Belgium, Thailand, Germany, South Africa, and Ecuador. I try to spread this blog to as much of a worldwide audience as possible. It’s because of the beautiful citizenry of the world that makes me keep writing.

So: Thank you. Danke. Bedankt. Merci. ขอบคุณ. Gracias. Dankie.

It does mean a lot to have people from all over the world read this. Hopefully, I will be able to have this continue. Keep reading, and I’ll keep writing.

Best from the writer.

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Penultimate

On what is supposed my final full day at my current place, I feel a growing longing to stay. But the world only spins forward. Sometimes, you have to be willing to try new things. It’s been three good years here. But at the same time, I hope it’ll be good at the next place. I write this largely to let you know that I’ll be okay. I’m not sure how fast Internet access can be set up (hopefully soon), but if I’m offline for a few days, we’re doing our best to get it set up. The calm is always a good thing in this case. Hopefully, I can remain calm in these next few days.

Here’s to the next chapter. After Monday’s interview, it’ll become easier.

All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go….

As busy (and humid) as it was today, I feel like we got a lot accomplished. My parents came back from vacation to help me clean out the apartment. I may have several busy days ahead of me still, but I feel a lot calmer now. I can’t help it. I’m a dweller. Living in the moment is something I’ve never been very good at. At this time, I’ve done practically everything I’ve been able to do, or needed to do. I also went to rehearsal tonight, and now with some things rescheduled, I can rest a little easier for the time being.

Three years of apartment living condensed into the living room.
Three years of apartment living (most of it, anyway) condensed into the living room. 

Thus, by the end of the weekend, one chapter of my book I’ve authored will close. Even if it’s up the road, it’s a new adventure. Before putting your whole foot in, perhaps you put it in one toe at a time.

Adieu to you and you

In two days’ time, I will be moving into a new apartment. By foot, it’s not even ten minutes away, on the same street. But I’m still nervous. We’ve been packing for most of the day, and I still have a few things left to do. We’ll make it work. The heat and humidity plays a factor, but it’s always tough to leave a place. As Holden Caulfield says in Catcher in the Rye: “I don’t care if it’s a sad goodbye or a bad goodbye, but when I leave a place, I like to know I’m leaving. If you don’t, you feel worse.”

My sentiments exactly, Holden.

Two more days until the big day. More deep breaths and rest are needed. One step at a time.

The beginning of the fanaticism – a retrospective of 2002

I had seen other World Cups played before, but the first one I significantly remember was Korea/Japan 2002. I had seen various games of USA ’94 and France ’98, but I wasn’t into soccer that much until a little later, and didn’t understand the big competitions (such as the UEFA Champions League) until 2002. This was the one that really catapulted me into the fandom that continues to this day. I was not quite fifteen at the time of its start.

This was a World Cup that was different in many ways. First, it had never been hosted by two nations. Second, a lot of powerhouse teams fell in the group stage. It was a swan song for some, a coming out party for others. It also saw the triumphant comeback of an idol who had dealt with suspicious circumstances, and the fifth star in a brilliant crown.

Group A
France came in as the defending champions. Roger Lemerre’s side had a lot of expectations in front of them, especially with what was supposed to be an easy group, with newcomers Senegal and Uruguay, who hadn’t made it in since 1986. Uruguay had advanced to the round of 16 that year, but it was best remembered for its ugly tactics. In the final group game against Scotland that year, Jose Batista set a record that still stands – the fastest red card in World Cup history, being sent off after only fifty-six seconds for a bad tackle on Gordon Strachan. The final team in that group was Denmark, who had made the quarterfinals in 1998 and was in France’s group four years earlier. But the opening match quickly proved a harbinger of things to come. Coming in without an injured Zinedine Zidane, France also had some horrible luck, hitting the post or crossbar on no fewer than three occasions. In the 30th minute of the opening match, after some sloppy defending from Youri Djorkaeff and a bad pass from Emmanuel Petit, Senegal’s Papa Bouba Diop received the ball from El Hadji Diouf. He shot, which was saved by Fabien Barthez, but the rebound was parried back to Diop, who didn’t miss a second time. And just like that, Senegal had a 1-0 lead, a lead it would hold on to. Denmark would beat Uruguay 2-1 in a game that was better than expected. Clearly, luck was not with the French in their next match, as they earned a listless 0-0 draw with Uruguay. After 25 minutes, France’s Thierry Henry was sent off, which meant that they would need a miracle against Denmark, who earned a 1-1 draw with Senegal. To try and salvage something, France rushed back Zidane, in hopes he could ignite the fire. For somebody who had scored a sublime goal in the UEFA Champions League Final barely three weeks earlier, it was one match two many. Two quick goals doomed France, and their humiliation was complete: the worst performance ever by a defending champion – one point, no goals, and last place. In the final match in Group A, arguably the best of the tournament, Senegal took a 3-0 lead by halftime, only for Uruguay to mount a furious rally, making it 3-3 with two minutes to play. Needing a win to get into the next round, Uruguay pressed for the winner, before Richard Morales narrowly missed in stoppage time. A draw was enough for Senegal, who finished second in group A behind Denmark.

Group B 
Spain, who had a history of underachieving in the World Cup, came in as one of the favorites. I’m not a fan of theirs, but I do think that this was ironically their best team I’ve seen, even better than the 2010 squad that won the whole thing. Spain quickly made work of debutantes Slovenia, 3-1. South Africa and Paraguay played to an exciting draw, which would later have ramifications as the group wore on. A late equalizer from Quinton Fortune helped South Africa salvage a 2-2 draw. Spain defeated Paraguay, 3-1, and South Africa earned their first World Cup win over Slovenia, albeit in a very poor game. In the final match, South Africa took Spain to the finish, but a 56th minute goal from Raul gave Spain a perfect nine points in the group. Paraguay came in needing not only to win, but to win by at least two goals. Although Carlos Paredes was sent off within twenty-two minutes, they rallied from a 1-0 halftime deficit to earn their victory, 3-1, with Nelson Cuevas’ second goal proving the margin. Spain won the group, and while South Africa and Paraguay both had a goal differential of zero, and four points each, Paraguay advanced on the second tiebreaker, goals scored (scored six, allowed six versus five-five for South Africa).

Group C
Brazil, who had performed weakly in the ’98 finals, felt they had a lot to prove, particularly Ronaldo, who had played poorly under mysterious circumstances against France in the final four years prior. Led by Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Cafu, and Roberto Carlos, the Brazilians were strong favorites to go far. But against Turkey, in for the first time since 1954, they fell behind right before halftime as Hasan Sas put them ahead. But Brazil’s nerve tightened, and Ronaldo leveled the score five minutes later. After Alpay Ozalan was sent off with four minutes to play, Rivaldo hit the winner within a minute. But he’s remembered for something more notorious in this match. As he prepared to take a corner during stoppage time, Hakan Unsal tapped the ball to him, hitting him on the shin. Rivaldo went down clutching his face, diving so blatantly that it’s a shock that the referee missed it. But miss it he did, and Unsal received a second yellow and was sent off. Turkey fell 2-1 and finished with nine men on the pitch. Debutantes China played against Costa Rica, but after two goals in four minutes, Bora Milutinovic was unable to save China from defeat. Milutinovic, who had coached three separate teams to the round of 16 in each of the last three World Cups (Costa Rica, United States, and Nigeria, respectively), soon found himself overmatched against Brazil, who quickly dispatched them 4-0. Just like the previous draw, it would come down to goal difference in the final game, as Costa Rica and Turkey had a 1-1 draw. Brazil would doom Costa Rica, as a 3-0 lead after thirty-eight minutes proved too much to overcome. Despite a great attacking game from both sides, Brazil won handily 5-2. Turkey was able to take second after a 3-0 win over China, who lost all three matches and scored no goals against nine.

Group D 
Co-hosts South Korea came in with a chip on their shoulder. Never before had a host failed to get out of the first round. But this was clearly a different World Cup, as the Koreans dispatched Poland 2-0. In arguably the biggest upset of the tournament, the United States, who had finished dead last four years earlier, upset Portugal 3-2, going up 3-1 at halftime and surviving an own goal. American goalkeeper Brad Friedel would come up huge in the next game, and in retrospect kept their hopes alive. He saved a clutch penalty, and USA earned a 1-1 draw with South Korea. Controversially, when Ahn Jung-hwan scored the equalizer, he celebrated by miming a speed skater, a reference to the controversial disqualification in the Winter Olympics several months earlier that handed the gold medal to Apolo Ohno. Portugal kept their hopes alive with a 4-0 win against Portugal. Pauleta landed a hat trick in that game. With Poland eliminated, they took a shock 2-0 lead on the U.S. in the final game, and the Americans began to panic. But the South Koreans had some luck – and controversy – on their side. Not for the first or last time, South Korea would be the benefactor of several questionable calls. Not to take away from the great side they had, though. Portugal had two players sent off, and after Beto was ejected in the 66th minute, Park Ji-Sung hit the winner for South Korea. The USA lost 3-1 in the other game, but despite a -1 goal differential, it was enough to get them through. They would play in the round of sixteen, and Korea won the group.

Group E 
For all of their previous prowess, this was considered one of the weakest German teams ever in the World Cup. Fortunately, they had a beneficial draw, and they showed their prowess in a thrashing of Saudi Arabia, 8-0. Six of the eight goals came from headers. It was a sign of things to come for Saudi Arabia. Cameroon and Ireland played to a 1-1 draw. For Ireland, it was a morale boost after captain Roy Keane was sent home after an argument with manager Mick McCarthy (Slovenia’s Zlatko Zahovic was also sent home after the first group game against Spain after an argument with his manager, Srecko Katanec). In their next match, Germany were on the verge of victory when Robbie Keane (no relation) hit an equalizer to keep Irish hopes alive. Cameroon had a  chance to progress after beating Saudi Arabia 1-0, with Samuel Eto’o scoring the winner. In the final group game, Germany beat Cameroon 2-0, but this game is mostly remembered for a compulsive referee from Spain, Antonio Lopez Nieto. A record sixteen yellow cards were issued, including two reds, on a night when the conditions in Shizuoka were rainy and slippery. Ireland, needing to win by two clear goal, got their win with goals from Damien Duff, Robbie Keane, and Gary Breen. Ireland had scraped through.

Group F 
Only nine goals were scored in this group, which quickly became the Group of Death. Sweden had finished third in USA 94 but failed to qualify four year later. They played England to a 1-1 draw, in a match where neither side were at their best. Argentina, probably the group favorite, ended up winning 1-0 over Nigeria, but it was unconvincing with Gabriel Batistuta’s goal coming with less than thirty minutes to go. Nigeria, who had made the round of sixteen in each of the last two World Cups, were eliminated in the first round as they fell 2-1 to Sweden, although a Julius Aghahowa goal gave them a lead. But Henrik Larsson scored twice, including once from the penalty spot, to give Sweden the victory they needed. In the most high-profile game of the group stages and perhaps the whole Cup, the old rivals Argentina and England played each other. Four years prior, David Beckham had been sent off for a bad challenge on Diego Simeone. Many of England’s supporters hung him in effigy. But after Michael Owen won a penalty (which may have been a dive, to be honest), Beckham won back the heart of his countrymen, giving them a clutch goal from the penalty spot. It was enough to upset Argentina 1-0. Now in a “win or bust” mentality, Argentina went into full fledged panic mode, and heart were broken when Anders Svensson scored after 59 minutes. A Hernan Crespo goal gave them hope, but it proved too little too late. Another big team went home before the knockout stages. With England unsure of advancing, they played Nigeria in the searing 94-degree heat of Osaka. It ended 0-0, and both teams earned a point and earned a measure of respect. Sweden won the group by virtue of more goals scored.

Group G 
This was a tough group, with Mexico beating Croatia 1-0 on a Cuauhtemoc Blanco penalty on the hour mark. Croatia, who had finished third in France, managed to save face by beating Italy 2-1 under very controversial circumstances. At least two Italian goals were disallowed for offsides, according to rumors. Italy had beaten Ecuador 2-0 with Christian Vieri scoring twice inside the half-hour. With the group wide open, Ecuador earned their first points with a 1-0 win against Croatia, who needed a win to give themselves a chance. A 1-1 draw was enough to earn Italy second place, with Mexico taking first.

Group H 
Japan, the other co-host, managed a 2-2 draw with Belgium in a very good game. Marc Wilmots scored first, but Japan leveled within through minutes through Takayuki Suzuki. After Junichi Inamoto gave Japan the lead, it looked that it would be enough. But with fifteen minutes left, Peter Vanderheyden hit the equalizer. It was the only international goal that he would score, but it was a big one. Russia beat Tunisia 2-0 to take the group lead. Belgium made it five consecutive draws with a 1-1 uninspiring draw with Tunisia, with both goals coming within seventeen minutes. Japan moved into the lead with a second goal by Inamoto. In the final game of what was one of the weaker groups, Belgium turned on the gas against Russia, needing a win to advance. Playing their hearts out, Johan Walem hit a free kick to give the Belgians an early lead. After Vladimir Beschastnykh equalized on 52′, Belgium re-took the lead with twelve minutes to go, when Wesley Sonck beat Ruslan Nigmatullin. There’s an image of a magazine I have that shows Sonck doing a cartwheel. Wilmots scored four minutes later to make him the all-time leading scorer for the Red Devils at the World Cup as of this writing. It was a needed goal, too, because Dmitri Sychev would pull one back with two minutes to go. Luckily, the Belgians held on and advanced. A comfortable 2-0 win saw Japan win the group.

Round of 16
The knockout stages started with a very drab game between Germany and Paraguay. The poorest game of the tournament ended with a late Oliver Neuville goal, and somehow, one of the worst German teams in history made it through again to the quarterfinals. After overachieving against France and Uruguay, Denmark’s luck ran out, as three goals in the first half sent England in, including one from Emile Heskey, often used as the fall guy for many of their failures. Everybody can have their day. One June 16, my fifteenth birthday, Senegal continued their magical run. In the last tournament to use the golden goal rule, Senegal received two strikes from Henri Camara, after Sweden’s best chances were ruined through a missed pass from Zlatan Ibrahimovic. I watched the Spain-Ireland game from a hotel in Cincinnati (we went to a Reds game that day- they lost, by the way). Another Robbie Keane late strike gave Ireland hope, their chances for the quarterfinals was wasted through Kevin Kilbane. Spain went on to win 3-2 on penalties. Both Belgium and the United States played the following day. Brazil were the better team, but it must be said that Belgium got incredibly unlucky. Wilmots was believed to have scored early on, but Jamaican referee Peter Prendergast disallowed it, ruling that he was pulling on Roque Junior (it was the other way around). Later, Prendergast admitted he had missed the call but couldn’t change it. Fantastic saves from Marcos couldn’t keep the Belgians in the game, and after a deflection from keeper Geert De Vlieger, Rivaldo scored at 67 minutes. Twenty minutes later, Belgium’s dream died through a Ronaldo goal. But all wasn’t lost for the Belgians – they did win the FIFA Fair Play award (fewest cumulative yellow and red cards). Hey, it’s something. Earlier that day, archrivals Mexico and the United States met each other. Despite Mexico having more shots and more time of possession, two United States goals shockingly pushed them into the quarterfinals. In the final games, co-hosts Japan had their dream end with a 1-0 defeat to Turkey. Umit Davala’s twelfth minute strike was enough. South Korea-Italy was one of the most controversial games of the Cup. Ecuadorian referee Byron Moreno would later be indicted for corruption in his league matches. Italy took the lead through Vieri, but several blown calls hurt the Italians. With just over two minutes left in regulation, Seol Ki-hyeon scored the equalizer. It also must be said that Vieri missed a wide open net just a minute later. Francesco Totti was controversially sent off for diving in extra time, and with the match minutes away from penalties, Ahn put one past Gianluigi Buffon. In the aftermath, he would be fired from his club Perugia for knocking the Italians out. But what else was he supposed to do?

Quarterfinals 
England and Brazil played in the first quarterfinal. The best game of the knockout stages started with a Michael Owen goal. But as the heat increased, England seemed too content to lay back, and paid the price when Rivaldo scored before halftime. Five minutes later, Ronaldinho scored off of a brilliant free kick to give Brazil a 2-1 lead. Ronaldinho was later sent off seven minutes later, rendering him out of the semifinals. It would prove to be enough, as Brazil advanced to the last four. In the U.S.’s best performance, they were denied a penalty on a Torsten Frings handball. Granted, Mexico should have been awarded one in the previous game, and that one wasn’t called, so perhaps things balanced out. Nevertheless, America outplayed the Germans, but a Michael Ballack strike was enough to send them through, despite the world writing them off.

South Korea’s controversial run continued. Spain had derided Italy’s issues in their papers, but quickly changed their tune after this game. Spain had two goals disallowed, and had several controversial offside calls go against them. After 120 minutes of scoreless football, South Korea’s nerves held and they advanced 5-3 on penalties. The final quarterfinal would be settled in the 94th minute, when Ilhan Mansiz scored the final golden goal in World Cup history to knock out Senegal, who became only the second team from Africa to make the quarterfinals.

Semifinals 
Brazil and Turkey played a rematch of their first group stage game. It was a slow game, and Brazil didn’t have their best game, but early in the second half, Ronaldo was able to put the winner past Rustu Recber. Germany, written off before the tournament, ended South Korea’s heroic run, with Michael Ballack hitting the winner fifteen minutes from time. Unbelievably, this would be the first time that Brazil and Germany had played each other in the World Cup.

Third place match 
Although many doubt the relevance of this game to this day, this was an excellent game. Hakan Sukur, whose form had previously deserted him, set a record by scoring the fastest goal in World Cup history, after only eleven seconds. South Korea leveled eight minutes later, but Turkey were up 3-1 after thirty-two minutes. A late goal gave Korea a triumphant fourth place finish, and they returned home as heroes. Surprisingly, Turkey have not returned to the World Cup since this match.

Final 
Up until this match, Oliver Kahn had been a rock in the German goal. But the one mistake he did make led to disaster. The final was played in Yokohama, and after a scoreless first half, Ronaldo pounced on a mistake by Kahn to put Brazil ahead in the 67th minute. Twelve minutes later, Brazil’s title was sealed through Ronaldo’s brace. Although Germany attempted a heroic comeback, Brazil held on to win their fifth World Cup, still the most to date. Germany would regroup and twelve years later get their coveted fourth title.

Analysis 
It was a fun way to celebrate the summer before starting high school. I ended up serving as co-manager of my high school soccer team; that year, they won their fifth of seven consecutive sectional titles. Although I was a freshman that year, and wasn’t officially a player, the guys took me to their hearts, and many of those friendships have lasted to this day. I’ve continued that love since then. Not only was it a tournament for upstarts, but the quality was better than expected, and still lingers on in my mind.

2018 FIFA World Cup – CONCACAF Third and Fourth Round analysis

With the draw having been finalized, here is my analysis for CONCACAF (North America), Rounds 3 and four.

Byes to Fourth Round

Mexico and Honduras (Group A)
Costa Rica and Panama (Group B)
United States and Trinidad and Tobago (Group C)

Third Round Matchups – to be played between August 31 and September 8, 2015

Match 1 – Curacao vs. El Salvador 
Curacao is more of a baseball nation than a soccer nation, but they are starting to develop. They are led by former Dutch international Patrick Kluivert, who played on three semifinal teams with the Netherlands – FIFA World Cup 1998 in France, and Euro 2000 and 2004. A goal on the away leg in Havana from Papito Merencia pushed them in on the away goals rule, and into the third round.

El Salvador is trying to get back to the level that they were at in the 1970s and 1980s. They made the World Cup twice, but subsequently lost all three games, including a 10-1 shellacking against Hungary (incidentally enough, Belgium was drawn into their group both times). The first leg in Round 2 against Saint Kitts and Nevis ended in a 2-2 draw in Basseterre, which both goals allowed coming in a four minute span. When they returned to San Salvador, they were 1-0 up inside two minutes, and emerged with a 4-1 victory. I think that El Salvador is not quite where they want to be, or should be, but it’s getting there.

Who should advance: El Salvador. 

Match 2 – Canada vs. Belize 
Before the draw was officially announced, I made unofficial predictions as to who would play whom. This is one of two that I got right. Canada is another sport that is known for other sports, but I really think this round is theirs to lose. This would create an interesting dynamic in Round Four against bigger teams like Mexico – it would form a potential Group of Death.

Belize is one of the smallest countries in North America, and one of the newest- once called British Honduras, Belize only gained independence in September 1981. The Jaguars, as they are named, haven’t had success historically in qualifying tournaments, but pulled out a slight upset against the Dominican Republic, 2-1 and 3-0 on both legs. Still, I think their run ends here, because the competition is only going to get better.

Who should advance: Canada 

Match 3 – Grenada vs. Haiti 
The other of the two match-ups that I predicted correctly, Grenada is an interesting team to watch. They pulled off what was probably the upset of the region so far, winning 2-1 on aggregate against Puerto Rico. This is potentially a toss-up. Haiti has been better recently, but Grenada has won big matches in big moments to get to where they are. I could see their upset run continuing.

Haiti had a respectable showing in the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup, making the quarterfinals before losing to Jamaica. They narrowly lost to the U.S. in the group stage, in a year where the Americans were underwhelming. Haiti has deserved to pick itself back up for a while. Hopefully, their players can inspire a nation.

Who should advance: Haiti, by a small margin 

Match 4 – Jamaica vs. Nicaragua 
My issue with Jamaica is that we never know which version will show up. They lost all three matches in the Copa America (to be fair, all three of them were 1-0 matches), but are appearing for the first time in the Gold Cup Finals, upsetting the U.S. 2-1. The winner of that final will play the U.S. in a playoff for the Confederations Cup berth. They were great in the previous round for Brazil 2014, but once they got to the Hex, they fell apart, finishing in last place. Still, I think this match-up favors them.

Nicaragua has made it on merit so far in this tournament, managing to make it out of the first two rounds. The quality of the opposition hasn’t been as strong, though, and like Curacao, they’re more of a baseball nation than anything. I think this pairing doesn’t favor them this time around.

Who should advance: Jamaica 

Match 5- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines vs. Aruba 
The Vincentians are the team I’ve been rooting for in this round – why, I don’t know, but there’s something about them that I admire. They had an exciting 6-6 aggregate with Guyana, advancing on the away goals rule. This is a potential toss-up, and both sides could keep it close.

I haven’t seen much of Aruba’s play, so I’m guessing a little bit on their play. They did get a little lucky, in that they technically lost their second round pairing 3-0 to Barbados originally, but Barbados was subsequently disqualified for fielding an ineligible player. This is a hard call.

Who should advance: Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 

Match 6 – Antigua and Barbuda vs. Guatemala 
Antigua and Barbuda came in as one of the highest-ranking teams in round two, with some very strange circumstances surrounding their match-up with Saint Lucia in that round. Because there was no suitable ground in Castries in which to play the game, Antigua’s stadium in North Sound hosted both legs, even though it was supposed to be a home-and-home. They rallied from a 3-1 defeat on the first leg to win 4-1 and advance. Defensively, they’re a little vulnerable, and against a team like Guatemala, it could be a long way back.

Guatemala has been up-and-down for much of its history. They weren’t as dominant against Bermuda as they arguably should have been, and have never made it to the big stage. They will undoubtedly want to shed that status, and this pairing helps them, I think.

Who should advance: Guatemala

Fourth Round predictions
Group A 
Mexico 
Honduras 
El Salvador 
Canada 

Group B 
Costa Rica 
Panama 
Haiti 
Jamaica 

Group C 
United States 
Trinidad and Tobago 
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 
Guatemala

Analysis

Author’s note: this section is based on predictions only. If I get these wrong, I will do an updated analysis.

Group A: Mexico is still the top ranked team in this group, but they’re still in a state of flux from previous qualifying, and are also battling injuries. It’s always tough to play at Estadio Azteca, though, and they certainly use that to a home-field advantage. It’ll be an interesting dichotomy if El Salvador and Canada advance, because of the geographic implications of it. Both of the U.S.’s border countries would be drawn together. But the interesting match-ups would be El Salvador and Honduras. In qualification for Mexico 1970, the two played each other in qualifiers (El Salvador won, by the way). But because of the political disagreements from each country, this led to a 96-hour war called the “Football War.” For ten years afterwards, neither team played each other in any matches. There has been a ceasefire ever since, but there is still existing tension. On another note, Honduras has some interesting questions in front of them – has their time passed them by? They struggled in the Gold Cup, although that was a tough group. Still, you can’t help but wonder if age and injuries are beginning to catch up with them. With Canada having a chip on their shoulder, and El Salvador seemingly on the rise, this is a tougher group than most imagine. I think Mexico tops the group, with Honduras narrowly sneaking second.

Who should advance: Mexico, Honduras

Group B: Does this feel like a Group of Death to you? Depending on which teams advance from Round Three, it certainly could be that way. With Costa Rica coming off of a quarterfinal berth in Brazil, there is higher pressure on them now. Panama wants its chance to prove that it can win on the highest stage, falling in heartbreaking fashion on the final day of the Hex in 2013. Jamaica is organized and play well in the back, even if they don’t quite have the dynamic player up front that they will need in this round. Still, they have an underdog status to them that they have used to ruthless effect before. One of these teams must be eliminated, and it feels like Haiti will finally have their luck run out. After Costa Rica, I have the pressure getting to Panama, and Jamaica will narrowly edge them out for second.

Who should advance: Costa Rica, Jamaica

Group C: Of all three groups, this is probably the easiest. The United States underwhelmed in the Gold Cup this year, losing in a shock upset to Jamaica and then falling to fourth after Panama beat them in a penalty shootout. This time, the United States likely has to navigate Trinidad and Tobago, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Guatemala. Not that the U.S. should underestimate any of them. Trinidad and Tobago won its group in the Gold Cup, although the way the tournament is organized is, to be fair, an inexact science. The other two teams have underdog statuses that have been embraced by a lot of people, and their fans will be rooting them on against the big teams. That may help them steal a game or two. I think the United States advances, but they can’t afford to get complacent, especially because in a tournament they were not only favored in but hosting, they were above-average, which isn’t going to cut it at this level.

Who should advance: United States, Trinidad and Tobago

Hexagonal (Fifth and final round – in order of ranking)
Costa Rica
Mexico
United States
Honduras
Trinidad and Tobago
Jamaica

Now to play the matchups next month. We’ll see what happens.

Inhale. Exhale.

In five more days, I will be relocating. Don’t worry, I’m not leaving town, or at least not right now. Moving is always a complicated process, especially given the fact that in my case, I don’t have a car. It’s easy to lose confidence, but I’m trying to remain upbeat in my case. One way or another, I will get moved into my new apartment. This is going to be a strange time, with a lot of commitments coming up – a psychology lab where I will be paid, several rehearsals, finishing as much of moving and cleaning as I can, hopefully having my parents come over to help me out with final preparations. Deep breaths are a must at this point. Somehow, some way, I’ve got to remain confident. Again, easier said than done with me, but if I dig down deep enough, I can find it in there.

Until around August 23 or so, the nerves ratchet up. After move-in, the next steps will be taken for the Peace Corps. It’s only an interview, but it’s as close as I got last year. The fact that I have a potential position and place this time around, and I have less to lose (at least in my opinion), means that I like my chances. I’m not guaranteeing anything. But can you blame me for wanting this? If I get it, I know it will be difficult. But I wonder if in this case, the spectrum perspective can actually help me. As long as you go in with respect for the customs, there’s no reason why it can’t be a pleasant experience.

As my great theatre teachers and classmates would say: inhale, exhale. Repeat as necessary. And remember that the tortoise beat the hare.

2018 FIFA World Cup qualification – CAF

A breakdown of Africa’s qualification zone for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, with theoretical wins.

First Round (winners in BOLD.)
Somalia vs. Niger
South Sudan vs. Mauritania
Gambia
vs. Namibia
Sao Tome and Principe vs. Ethiopia 
Chad vs. Sierra Leone
Comoros vs. Lesotho
Djibouti vs. Swaziland
Eritrea vs. Botswana 
Seychelles vs. Burundi
Liberia vs. Guinea-Bissau
Central African Republic vs. Madagascar
Mauritius vs. Kenya
Tanzania
vs. Malawi

Second Round
Niger vs. Cameroon
Mauritania vs. Tunisia
Gambia vs. Guinea
Ethiopia vs. Congo
Sierra Leone vs. Egypt 
Lesotho vs. Ghana 
Djibouti vs. Nigeria 
Botswana vs. Mali
Seychelles vs. DR Congo
Liberia vs. Cote d’Ivoire
Madagascar vs. Senegal 
Kenya vs. Cape Verde
Tanzania vs. Algeria 
Sudan vs. Zambia 
Libya vs. Rwanda
Morocco vs. Equatorial Guinea
Mozambique vs. Gabon 
Benin vs. Burkina Faso 
Togo vs. Uganda
Angola vs. South Africa

2018 FIFA World cup preliminary draw – OFFICIAL RESULTS

Beginning at 11:00 am EDT, here (finally!) is the preliminary draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. The games have not happened yet, but this is who will play whom. I will break down further continents at a later time.

AFC Second Round
In progress as of June 2015
Note: Indonesia disqualified

CAF First Round 
(Matches to be played in between October 5 and 13, 2015)
Note: Zimbabwe disqualified

1. Somalia vs. Niger
2. South Sudan vs. Mauritania
3. Gambia vs. Namibia
4. Sao Tome and Principe vs. Ethiopia
5. Chad vs. Sierra Leone
6. Comoros vs. Lesotho
7. Djibouti vs. Swaziland
8. Eritrea vs. Botswana
9. Seychelles vs. Burundi
10. Liberia vs. Guinea-Bissau
11. Central African Republic vs. Madagascar
12. Mauritius vs. Kenya
13. Tanzania vs. Malawi

Second Round 
Winner Match 1 vs. Cameroon
Winner Match 2 vs. Tunisia
Winner Match 3 vs. Guinea
Winner Match 4 vs. Congo
Winner Match 5 vs. Egypt
Winner Match 6 vs. Ghana
Winner Match 7 vs. Nigeria
Winner Match 8 vs. Mali
Winner Match 9 vs. DR Congo
Winner Match 10 vs. Cote d’Ivoire
Winner Match 11 vs. Senegal
Winner Match 12 vs. Cape Verde
Winner Match 13 vs. Algeria
14. Sudan vs. Zambia
15. Libya vs. Rwanda
16. Morocco vs. Equatorial Guinea
17. Mozambique vs. Gabon
18. Benin vs. Burkina Faso
19. Togo vs. Uganda
20. Angola vs. South Africa

CONCACAF Third Round 
(Matches to be played in between August 31 and September 8, 2015)

1. Curacao vs. El Salvador
2. Canada vs. Belize
3. Grenada vs. Haiti
4. Jamaica vs. Nicaragua
5. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines vs. Aruba
6. Antigua and Barbuda vs. Guatemala

Fourth Round
Group A 
A1 Mexico
A2 Honduras
Winner Match 1
Winner Match 2

Group B 
B1 Costa Rica
B2 Panama
Winner Match 3
Winner Match 4

Group C 
C1 United States
C2 Trinidad and Tobago
Winner Match 5
Winner Match 6

CONMEBOL Preliminary Draw 
1. Colombia
2. Chile
3. Paraguay
4. Argentina
5. Brazil
6. Ecuador
7. Venezuela
8. Bolivia
9. Peru
10. Uruguay

OFC First Round
(Matches to be played from August 31 to September 4, 2015)

American Samoa
Cook Islands
Samoa
Tonga (host of first round)

Second Round- OFC Nations Cup 
(Between May 28 and June 12, 2016)

Group A 
1. Tahiti
2. New Caledonia
3. Winner Round 1
4. Papua New Guinea

Group B 
1. New Zealand
2. Solomon Islands
3. Fiji
4. Vanuatu

UEFA First Round
(Between September 4, 2016 and November 14, 2017)

Group A
A1 Netherlands
A2 France
A3 Sweden
A4 Bulgaria
A5 Belarus
A6 Luxembourg

Group B 
B1 Portugal
B2 Switzerland
B3 Hungary
B4 Faroe Islands
B5 Latvia
B6 Andorra

Group C 
C1 Germany
C2 Czech Republic
C3 Northern Ireland
C4 Norway
C5 Azerbaijan
C6 San Marino

Group D 
D1 Wales
D2 Austria
D3 Serbia
D4 Ireland
D5 Moldova
D6 Georgia

Group E 
E1 Romania
E2 Denmark
E3 Poland
E4 Montenegro
E5 Armenia
E6 Kazakhstan

Group F 
F1 England
F2 Slovakia
F3 Scotland
F4 Slovenia
F5 Lithuania
F6 Malta

Group G 
G1 Spain
G2 Italy
G3 Albania
G4 Israel
G5 Macedonia
G6 Liechtenstein

Group H
H1 Belgium
H2 Bosnia-Herzegovina
H3 Greece
H4 Estonia
H5 Cyprus

Group I 
I1 Croatia
I2 Iceland
I3 Ukraine
I4 Turkey
I5 Finland

Inter-continental playoffs 
4th place CONCACAF vs. 5th place AFC
OFC vs. 5th place CONMEBOL

88th Academy Award updates – July 24, 2015

Only for acting and directing.

Best Actor in a Leading Role
1. Johnny Depp – Black Mass 
2. Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant 
3. Michael Fassbender – Macbeth
4. Tom Hanks – St. James Place 
5. Eddie Redmayne – The Danish Girl 

Alternates: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Walk or Snowden); Bill Murray (Rock the Kasbah); Ethan Hawke (Regression); Jake Gyllenhaal (Southpaw); Bradley Cooper (Adam Jones)

Best Actress in a Leading Role
1. Marion Cotillard – Macbeth
2. Jennifer Lawrence – Joy 
3. Rooney Mara – Carol
4. Carey Mulligan – Far From the Madding Crowd 
5. Natalie Portman – Jane Got a Gun

Alternates: Meryl Streep (Ricki and the Flash); Charlize Theron (Dark Places); Nicole Kidman (The Secret in Their Eyes); Julianne Moore (Freeheld); Emma Watson (Regression).

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
1. Kevin Bacon – Black Mass
2. Bradley Cooper – Joy 
3. David Dencik – Regression 
4. Cillian Murphy – In the Heart of the Sea 
5. Christoph Waltz – Spectre

Alternates: Ethan Hawke (Ten Thousand Saints); Tom Hardy (The Revenant); Tim Roth (The Hateful Eight); Jason Clarke (Everest); Benedict Cumberbatch (Black Mass).

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
1. Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hateful Eight 
2. Sienna Miller – Black Mass 
3. Emily Mortimer – Ten Thousand Saints 
4. Ellen Page – Freeheld
5. Amy Ryan – St. James Place 

Alternates: Mamie Gummer (Ricki and the Flash); Cate Blanchett (Carol); Ellen Burstyn (The Age of Adaline); Melissa Leo (Snowden); Julie Walters (Brooklyn).