The Set Piece 2.9 – Maize, Beaver Pelt, Liquor and Spice

Welcome back!  The guys return from their holiday break bearing gifts.  Big Sam has returned to the Prem and brought along a show favorite who shimmies his way back to familiar territory.

Pat reveals Diego Costa’s fortune, Devon connects the dots on Eric Wynalda’s long-term plans as US Soccer President and Mario makes sure we give Merica some love on a spicy, liquor-drenched Set Piece
(Explicit Language used)

2018 FIFA World Cup Rundown

Starting with the first qualifying game that took place on March 12, 2015, the berths for the 2018 FIFA World Cup are all clinched, and now with the dust settled. With the Dec. 1 group stage draw inching closer, let’s have a glance at each of the some fun, and already think about who will be vying for the ultimate prize in Russia come next summer.

North/Central America: (Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama)

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Making its debut in the World Cup, Panama will be happy to just be there. Roman Torres (Seattle Sounders), the hero of the team from the last game of qualifying, will be looked at to be one of the leaders alongside keeper Jaime Penedo (Dinamo Bucuresti). But remember, this is their first time at the World Cup, so the pressure and physicality can be a cause for concern. As a new team in the mix, who knows what could happen?

As for Costa Rica, the country stunningly made the quarterfinals in 2014, so why not again? Keylor Navas (Real Madrid) in goal, Cristian Gamboa (Celtic) in defense, and with Bryan Ruiz (Sporting Lisbon) creating scoring chances up top, Los Ticos could look to surprise once again and maybe even make it back to the last eight.

America’s main rival will be interesting to watch next year, but how well can Mexico really do? They have a lot of quality, albeit getting up in age, but the team also have some interesting up-and-comers like Hirving Lozano (PSV) and Raul Jimenez (Benfica). Nothing less than the knockout stage will be acceptable.

Asia: (Australia, Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea)

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Back in the World Cup for the first time since 2006, Saudi Arabia will be hoping to make it to the knockout stage after failing on their last three tries. This team probably won’t break that streak in Russia, so captain Osama Hawsawi (Al-Hilal) will have his work cut out for him in trying to rally his squad.

For the first time, Iran has qualified for the big tournament in back-to-back attempts, although its track record won’t be anything to celebrate, as the country has only recorded one win (against the U.S. in 1998 no less) in 12 World Cup matches. Forwards Karim Ansarifard (Olympiacos) and Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan) will be the main targets for the squad looking to earn a second win.

It may have taken a playoff to gain a berth to Russia, but Australia have made it and are ready to make some noise. Ageless wonder Tim Cahill (Melbourne City) may be 38 come next year, but he’ll still be just as productive as ever. The midfield trio of Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield Town), Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa), and Tom Rogic (Celtic) will be vital for Australia’s chances to make it to the knockout stage for the first time since 2006.

Arguably the best team in Asia, Japan hasn’t had a test in qualifying apart from Australia, so it will be interesting to see how they stack up against bigger countries. Midfield and defense will be key for a squad that relies on possession. Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund), Yuto Yagatomo (Inter Milan), and Hiroki Sakai (Marseille) will be helping to shape the flow of the team in each game.

What will be the difference between South Korea making the knockout round and going home early is Son Heung-min (Tottenham) and Ki Sung-yeung (Swansea City). Both are great in developing plays in the midfield as well as having good attacking prowess (more so Son Heung-min). But like Japan, South Korea will need to rely on being keeping the game compact and playing possession. Hopefully for them, some shades of 2002 can happen, when they made it to the semifinals.

Africa: (Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, Tunisia)

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Back in the World Cup for the first time since 2006, Tunisia will be hoping to advance to the knockout rounds for the first time in five tries, but with possibly one of the weaker countries coming in to Russia next year, captain and goalkeeper Aymen Mathlouthi (Etoile du Sahel) will be one very busy man.

Morocco defeated favorites Ivory Coast for a spot in the tournament, and with the country having missed out on the World Cup since 1998, it will look to snatch a win and maybe make things interesting in whatever group it’s put in. Captain and defender Medhi Benatia (Juventus) will provide the big-tournament experience, while midfielders Sofiane Boufal (Southampton) and Hakim Ziyech (Ajax) will be the ones to spark the offense.

Defender Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli) of Senegal will be a busy man next month. In only the country’s second World Cup and first since 2002, the team have enough talent to compensate for a lack of defensive playmakers other than Koulibaly. The big focal points will come from the English Premier League contingent of Sadio Mane (Liverpool), Idrissa Gueye (Everton), and Cheikhou Kouyate (West Ham). Don’t be surprised to see the team advance out of its group.

Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) will pretty much be the main target for Egypt, and the striker will have plenty of pressure to deliver on the big stage, as Egypt is in the World Cup for just the third time in its history and first since 1990.  Mohamed Elneny (Arsenal) will be his partner in creating opportunities for one of the darling teams in Russia, with some neutrals cheering them on.

The African side most likely to advance out of the group stage and possibly go farther will be Nigeria. The side will be the one team from Africa that most will want to avoid. Rising stars Alex Iwobi (Arsenal) and Kelechi Iheanacho and Ahmed Musa (Leicester City) are still young and more than capable of scoring loads of goals for their country. And with other experienced players coming together, you never know how far the team can go.

South America: (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Uruguay)

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It has taken for Peru 36 years to finally come back to the big stage, and the fans are still probably partying over qualifying. The large gap doesn’t mean that this team will be a pushover, as they certainly have players capable of getting them out of the group stage, with the likes of Jefferson Farfan (Lokomotiv Moscow) and Andre Carrillo (Watford) leading the offense.

One of the dangerous teams coming from South America is Colombia. Very close to making the semifinals last time, the country will have plenty of talent up front with the likes of Radamel Falcao (Monaco), James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich), and Juan Cuadrado (Juventus). With David Ospina (Arsenal) in goal, and a back line that’s young but very talented, watch out for Colombia making it to at least the quarterfinals again.

It’s hard to know what team will show up to Russia next year for Argentina. It’s talent rivals the best in the world, yet almost didn’t qualify for the tournament in the first place. Sure, all eyes will once again be on Lionel Messi (Barcelona) to finally deliver the silverware to the country, and he’ll have a ton of great support up top to do it with Sergio Aguero (Manchester City), Angel di Maria (PSG), and Paulo Dybala (Juventus). However, it’s the midfield and defense that look shaky. It’ll be up to the team to figure out if they can win it all once again, which they certainly can.

Uruguay was the best team in South American qualifying outside of Brazil. When you have the likes of Edinson Cavani (PSG) and Luis Suarez (Barcelona) leading the front line, you’re bound to be a pretty decent squad. The rest of the lineup is quite strong as well, with Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid) leading the defense and Cristian Rodriguez (Penarol) in midfield. With a good mix of young and old on the team, Uruguay can make it to the semifinals and maybe surprise a few by going a step further.

Without a doubt the best country in South America, Brazil will be one of the favorites to make the final next year. Neymar (PSG) and Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City) are just some of the attacking talent the Brazilian team will send to Russia. And if the side can shake off the ghosts of 2014, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them lifting the trophy.

Europe: (Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Iceland, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Serbia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland)

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Serbia is always a team that makes things tough for its opponents, and some of the players could be crucial for the country’s chances next year. Branislav Ivanovic (Zenit Saint Petersburg) alongside Aleksandar Kolarov (Roma) and Nemanja Matic (Manchester United) will have to carry a team that has few experienced players, and hope for a result or two.

Italy was supposed to defeat Sweden in the UEFA playoffs for one of the last World Cup spots, but the script was changed, and now the Swedes have a lot of momentum going to Russia. This team doesn’t have much in terms of talent, with Mikael Lustig (Celtic), Victor Lindelof (Manchester United), and Sebastian Larsson (Hull City) being the leaders here. But, there is someone who can show up if called upon, someone who wasn’t a part of the qualifying campaign due to injury but can still be a force to be reckoned with. It’s the one and only Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Iceland brought in a legion of new fans in last year’s Euro 2016, with the team making it to the quarterfinals, and now neutrals will once again look to the World Cup debutants and go along with the awesome ‘viking clap.’ This team isn’t the most skilled, but the passion and determination they have will be in droves Don’t be surprised to see Gylfi Sigurdsson (Everton) and company make it to the knockout stage.

Denmark will be relying on Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) to lead the team, but outside of him and Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester City) in goal, the talent level drops. However, team spirit is always a factor, and Denmark could get a result that makes the difference between going home early or continuing on.

Having done well in qualifying, Switzerland will be looking to continue that momentum to Russia. The team does have some fine players in defenders Ricardo Rodriguez (AC Milan) and Stephan Lichtsteiner (Juventus), and midfelders Granit Xhaka (Arsenal) and Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke City). However, making it out of the group stage might be the team’s ceiling.

If the group it’s selected in is nice enough, Poland could definitely make a case for being in the Round of 16 next year. Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) will need to be scoring goals, and the rest of the squad can be quite good based on its experience in big matches.

Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona), Luka Modric (Real Madrid), and Ivan Perisic (Inter Milan) will be key for Croatia if they want to make it out the group stage, and the squad can certainly do it. While squad depth could be an issue, the team could make a good run to the quarterfinals, provided that Mario Mandzukic (Juventus) can lead the team in goals.

Never underestimate the the perk of being the World Cup host, although it can very depending on the team. South Korea made a stunning run to the semifinals in 2002, but South Africa was sent packing early in 2010. Russia will need its fans to be as boisterous as can be. Keeper Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow) will have a busy time next year, so the country will hope to do its citizens proud.

England could be a dark-horse in Russia, but you just never know with this team. Usually packed with talent, the team never seems to live up to expectations. The country next year will once again have superior players, with Harry Kane and Dele Alli (Tottenham) and Raheem Sterling (Manchester City) leading the way. But can this team finally gel and go far in the tournament? They certainly can. But like Argentina, it’s a toss-up on how they will really do.

Another dark-horse in Russia next year, Belgium will have arguably one of the best squads in terms of depth. From Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea) in goal, to Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham) in defense, to Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), and Eden Hazard (Chelsea) up front, this team is scary, and come the knockout rounds. They can give the best teams a run for their money.

They did win Euro 2016 last year, but Portugal isn’t exactly the favorites to win the World Cup, despite having some quality players. This is without a doubt Cristiano Ronaldo’s (Real Madrid) team, and he’s the glue of the side, like how Messi is to Argentina. Portugal can certainly make the quarterfinals with the players they have, but anything above that will be a challenge.

After an embarrassing World Cup in Brazil four years ago after winning the previous edition of that, Spain will be looking to bounce back in a big way. The forward position will be lacking in depth, but it’ll be the midfield area where Spain will be riding on to win games. Isco (Real Madrid) and Andres Iniesta (Barcelona) will be the leaders, and David de Gea (Manchester United) will be one of the best keepers in Russia. No early exit this time for Spain, and making the semifinals isn’t out of the question too.

The amount of talent and depth that France will have come next year is astounding, so much so that a theoretical ‘B’ team could be dangerous. The forwards of Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid) and Kylian Mbappe (PSG) are just some of the attacking talent at the side’s disposal, and each part of the field will be covered by very experienced players. A semifinal berth is the minimal expectation for the country.

Like France, the reigning World Cup champions Germany are loaded on talent and depth. Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich) will be back from injury, and Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich) and Timo Werner (RB Leipzig) will be looking to score loads of goals. The midfield is where the talent shines, with anyone from Mesut Ozil (Aresnal), Toni Kroos (Real Madrid) looking to shine. Germany have made the semifinals in the last three World Cup’s, so another berth in the final four shouldn’t be questioned.

Soccer Report: World Cup Group D, Big House Matchup

Valeron by Pepitapepa123 , via Wikimedia Commons

Valeron by Pepitapepa123 , via Wikimedia Commons

In the latest edition of the Soccer Report on SRD, Kevin Liddy and Knox Cameron discuss the FIFA World Cup Group D teams including Uruguay, Costa Rica, England and Italy. The guys also touch on the match between Manchester United Vs. Real Madrid at the Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.

Soccer Report – April 19, 2014  /  12 Minutes

THE SOCCER REPORT: World Cup, Group of Death and More

In this episode of the Soccer Report, Knox Cameron and Kevin Liddy discuss the FIFA World Cup drawing, who the group of death may be and the weakest of the bunch.

The Soccer Report on SRD (12-11-13) – 9 minutes