Women’s World Cup — what we learned on Day 8

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Statistics and analytics are a huge part of sports in the modern age, and rightfully so, but sometimes one comes across that stops you in your tracks and makes you say, “Huh?”

On Saturday, after Spain came within inches (maybe three) of picking up an equalizer in stoppage time against Brazil, it was this: “Last time Brazil conceded a goal in the group stage of a World Cup: 9/27/2003 vs. France.”

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That game was played at RFK Stadium, which is still in existence (barely), and it was Marinette Pichon who equalized in the 92nd minute for France (if you’re an old-timer like me, you may remember her from the WUSA) in her last World Cup appearance. Marta was 17 at that World Cup, and Brazil – whose defense has already been referred to as shaky this year, and whose center backs had a combined 24 caps coming into this World Cup – has eight straight clean sheets in the group stages. Currently, host Canada and Brazil are the only two of the 24 teams at the tournament not to allow a goal.

There surely is some luck involved here, like Silvia Meseguer’s shot with time running out was left by Brazil goalkeeper Luciana, only to see it hit the inside of the post, somehow avoid Luciana, and carom out. I was as critical as anyone about the Brazil defense four years ago at the World Cup when they seemed extremely disorganized, and – while it hasn’t been as bad to me this time around – I’m inclined to say the same now.

But there it is in black and white. Brazil goals conceded in last eight group stage matches: 0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0. Case closed, no?

Perhaps we should give young Rafaelle and Monica their due, they do look very strong and athletic, while their partners on the outside – Fabiana and Tamires – have shown the same strength and an ability to get forward as well. Luciana has had to make exactly two saves in two matches (according to FIFA), and maybe the team in front of her deserves plenty of credit for that as well.

In fact, maybe Brazil deserves a little more recognition historically. The last time they actually lost a group stage match at a World Cup? June 9, 1995 to Germany. Marta had just turned nine and although probably pretty good, was not in the team quite yet.

The United States has a #ScoretoSettle, and don’t we know it by now, but Brazil has had more than its share of disappointment at the World Cup, too. Obviously, four years ago they were seconds from the semifinal only to have it snatched from them by the United States. In 2007, they conquered the U.S. emphatically, but lost to Germany in the finals on a pair of second-half goals. Four years before that, it was Sweden that upended them on their way to the finals.

Women’s soccer history as it relates to Brazil could be much, much different with a little luck at the end of the tournament rather than the beginning. Will they be relegated to the same fate this time around? They are inexperienced, but much has been made of their residency and camaraderie in the lead-up to Canada, so it’s not probably not wise to discount them completely as some have done. They do still have Marta, too, after all.

France have work to do:  France have now played twice, scored only one goal, and somehow sit 3rd in Group F despite beating England in the match that was supposed to decide who finished 1st.  The question for Phillippe Bergeroo and his side is whether the 2-0 loss to Colombia embolden them to start playing for each other or if it will sufficiently shock them to where they are not a serious factor the rest of the tournament.

[ MORE: STUNNER — Colombia upset France, 2-0 ]

It is clear they can defend, attack, and win the midfield battle, but through two matches they have not done enough in the final third nor did they make enough supporting runs while trying to pull a goal back against Colombia.  The knock on France coming in was their lack of experience on the big stage and so far they seem to be playing like they’re not quite ready.  Perhaps they will get their confidence back against Mexico.

– Dan Lauletta

Spain might have gotten off the hook:
Sitting on one point through two games is not an enviable place to be, particularly with a feisty South Korea team remaining for its third game. But the way the group has broken down, Spain will likely finish second with a win (unless Costa Rica beats Brazil). Spain played a very good match against Brazil, especially in the final half hour, but will have to find some way to finish if they want to advance and be a threat from there.

[ RELATED: Kassouf: USWNT’s defense the difference thus far at WWC ]

Starting striker Natalia Pablos had a glorious chance on a breakaway in just the seventh minute, but barely even got a shot off. The same went for Vero Boquete later, and Spain had a few other good build-ups that led to nothing. However, as we’ve seen, sometimes one goal can make a team feel much more comfortable, so we shall see.

– Ray Curren

Mexico disappointing again:  Mexico will not finish as the worst team at this World Cup, but if they fail to beat France they will be out of the event and left to ponder a third World Cup without a trip out of the group stage or even a single victory.  Considering that it was less than five years ago they upset the United States in qualifying and that sending players to NWSL was supposed to bolster the program it has been a disappointing run for Mexico.  They can turn it all around by beating France on Wednesday but they’re not playing like a team ready to put a second straight upset on one of the world’s best teams.

– Lauletta

Speaking of taking advantage of opportunities: Karla Villalobos, who is joined on the Costa Rican roster by her 15-year-old sister Gloriana (who actually has more caps, too), had a wonderful goal and a better celebration in the 89th minute after her goal gave Las Ticas their second straight draw Saturday. Amazingly, Costa Rica has scored on all three shots it has put on target so far at the World Cup, but their results have been far from lucky, Costa Rica had been threatening to equalize for a while before actually doing so.

[ MORE: Equalizer Soccer’s coverage of 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup ]

Even a second-string Brazil will be a tall order on Wednesday, but even so, the days of the United States beating everyone by seven goals in CONCACAF appear to be over, and the third automatic berth from the region going forward (assuming the allocations stay the same) may be Costa Rica’s to lose, not Mexico’s, especially with all the young players on the field for the Costa Ricans.

– Curren

England can actually attack:  Did you see the second England goal? Was that not a lovely display of attacking soccer that ended with Karen Carney heading in an Alex Greenwood cross? You have to wonder what might have happened had they tried that against France.  They are now in position to win the group of they beat Colombia and do not lose any goal differential to France.  One of Mark Sampson’s objectives should be to see if Eniola Aluko can snap out of the funk that dogged her through much of the Mexico match or if he is better off finding an alternative on the left side.

– Lauletta

Colombia has already done plenty:  Colombia and Thailand—maybe Cameroon—are the countries that will have great stories to tell their grandchildren even if nothing else goes right the remainder of the tournament (ironically Colombia’s win might have put Thailand out of the knockout rounds).  Most of their players are not full-time, which makes their win over France something akin to the 1980 Miracle on Ice win for U.S. men’s hockey over the Soviet Union.  They are very likely going to be playing at least one knockout match and actually have a chance to win the group of they can do it again when they play England.  But the biggest gain for Colombia will be if Saturday’s result leads to more support back home ahead of the Olympics and the next World Cup.

– Lauletta

Tough luck for Korea Republic: Korea Republic played well against Brazil and had a few chances to double its lead in the early portion of the second half, but they didn’t do so and paid the price. Their fate now rests on beating Spain, and they showed Saturday they may have the firepower to do it, but Spain is due to score against someone and it might be the Koreans. It also means that either Vero Boquete or Ji Soyun would be eliminated before the knockout stages, which is a shame for two of the world’s best players. But, hey, at least they were here, right?

– Curren

Just how wrong? Revisiting Premier League predictions

Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
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Own it.

That’s how I look at Premier League predictions. When you’re right, be happy about your good fortune. When you’re wrong, raise your hand.

But there’s another level to it: Why was I right or wrong? Did a team let me down, or did I vastly overrate/underrate their potential?

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

Twenty months ago I pegged Burnley to get relegated with an almost record-low amount of points. The Clarets qualified for the Europa League, and I ate my words (even if Sean Dyche‘s men seemingly out-performed every metric on Earth in spite of stats, like some old man claiming Man City wins because of “better chemistry, not talent”).

Cardiff City
Predicted finish: 20
Actual finish: 18

How wrong was I? Not. As much credit as the Bluebirds got for grinding every week, and as much of a difference as the late Emiliano Sala could’ve been to their fortunes, they completed passes at an almost absurdly-bad 63.9 percent rate while having just 39.1 percent of the ball. It was bad.

Huddersfield Town
Predicted finish: 19
Actual finish: 20

How wrong was I? Not. Huddersfield Town managed a league-worst .4 attempts per game from inside the six-yard box, and were one of only five teams to attempt less than six shots per game from inside the 18.

Watford
Predicted finish: 18
Actual finish: 11

How wrong was I? Pretty wrong. Javi Gracia‘s men were strong against bad teams — for the most part — but never sprung another real upset after beating Spurs to go 4-0 early in the season. Record against the Top Six? 1W-0D-11L.

Bournemouth
Predicted finish: 17
Actual finish: 14

How wrong was I? Eh. The Cherries were never really in trouble thanks to a 6-2-2 start, but man did they ride their luck.

Burnley
Predicted finish: 16
Actual finish: 15

How wrong was I? I’ve learned my lesson. Regardless of how much talent appears to be on a Sean Dyche roster, he’s a rich man’s Tony Pulis and should not be doubted.

The face Sean Dyche makes before he fist fights an entire village. Terrifying. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Southampton
Predicted finish: 15
Actual finish: 16

How wrong was I? With respect to Mark Hughes, I thought Saints’ season would come down to when he was sacked and who they identified to replace him. Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s in a good place.

Brighton and Hove Albion
Predicted finish: 14
Actual finish: 17

How wrong was I? A bit wrong, and I pretty much blame Pascal Gross, who back slid from 7 goals and 8 assists in his Premier League debut to just three and three in Year No. 2. The Seagulls didn’t score a single goal from outside the 18.

Wolves
Predicted finish: 13
Actual finish: 7

How wrong was I? It’s not simply about buying players — see: Fulham — but about acquiring hungry players. Raul Jimenez, Diogo Jota, and several others had points to prove, and Jimenez especially made it well.

Newcastle United
Predicted finish: 12
Actual finish: 13

How wrong was I? To be honest, this went about as I expected given the brutal fixture list to start the season. Had I known Miguel Almiron would’ve transitioned so nicely from MLS to the PL, I might’ve had them 10th.

 (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Fulham
Predicted finish: 11
Actual finish: 19

How wrong was I? Very, but to my defense so were most people. On paper, the Cottagers improved more than even Wolves.

Crystal Palace
Predicted finish: 10
Actual finish: 12

How wrong was I? The stats kinda back me up, and it may be worth noting for next season that the Palace’s results didn’t match its performances. Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Luka Milivojevic, and Wilfried Zaha gave them difference makers in all thirds of the field, and it’s surprising they didn’t push a bit higher on the table.

Leicester City
Predicted finish: 9
Actual finish: 9

How wrong was I? Not. The Foxes were pretty infuriating all year. Maybe Brendan Rodgers‘ ego and power will match the player power that’s run the club since they won the title. That said, the inconsistency and tumult shouldn’t be a surprise in a season the club had to deal with its owner dying on a match day.

West Ham United
Predicted finish: 8
Actual finish: 10

How wrong was I? Not really. I thought it would take Manuel Pellegrini some time to put his men together, but I didn’t predict the Irons would get a total of 37 appearances from Andriy Yarmolenko, Jack Wilshere, Manuel Lanzini, and Carlos Sanchez.

Everton
Predicted finish: 7
Actual finish: 8

How wrong was I? It took Marco Silva longer than expected to get his men humming, but think of this: If Jordan Pickford doesn’t give Divock Origi a derby winner, Everton is going to Europe. I know, I know… chaos theory. But still.

Richarlison (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Tottenham Hotspur
Predicted finish: 6
Actual finish: 4

How wrong was I? Like many, I was stunned that Spurs didn’t spend this summer and thought injuries would hurt them. They did, but only to the extent that Tottenham wasn’t able to sustain a title challenge. Spurs rarely gave the ball away, and the only teams that averaged fewer “times dispossessed” than Tottenham’s 9.2 per 90 were teams that never had the ball: Brighton, Cardiff, and Burnley.

Arsenal
Predicted finish: 5
Actual finish: 5

How wrong was I? Spot-on. It was going to take time for the Gunners to come together following a first managerial change in ages, but Arsenal had the offense to challenge for the Top Four. Surprisingly for Arsenal, they averaged just eight dribbles per game, 12th in the PL. Unai Emery had them more cautious than usual.

Chelsea
Predicted finish: 4
Actual finish: 3

How wrong was I? Not. Maurizio Sarri is not for everyone, but he knows how to get results. Granted Gonzalo Higuain was his guy, but he did it without a top striker.

Liverpool
Predicted finish: 3
Actual finish: 2

How wrong was I? Well, considering the Reds had one of the best runners-up finishes of all-time, quite wrong. Mostly, I didn’t expect Mohamed Salah to deliver again and he mostly did (save for a late winter slump).

Manchester United
Predicted finish: 2
Actual finish: 6

How wrong was I? Real wrong. Almost as wrong as United looks for canning Jose Mourinho. The manager needed to leave town, but there was a reason he was playing so packed-in. Ask yourself this: If Ed Woodward gave Mourinho the use of Toby Alderweireld, would Spurs and United be flipped?

Manchester City
Predicted finish: 1
Actual finish: 1

How wrong was I? On point. How good was City? For a club that ranked No. 1 in possession, they were only dispossessed 10.3 times per match. That was the 8th fewest total in the league.

Towsend smash v. Man City win Goal of Season (video)

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Even Vincent Kompany‘s thunderbolt couldn’t stop Andros Townsend from winning the Premier League’s Goal of the Season.

The winner was chosen by a public vote combined with a “panel of experts,” according to Crystal Palace’s web site.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

Townsend walked onto a popped-up headed clearance well outside the 18 and smashed a volley home against Manchester City three days before Christmas.

Palace posted this quote from Townsend, “Everything about the game, the opponent, the strike, it was perfection. I think it was a strike like that needed to beat the champions away from home. I’m thankful it kind of dropped nicely for my left foot, I hit it clean and the rest is history.”

The goals were similar, and Townsend does have a knack for scoring beauties. Perhaps it shows something that beating Man City stands out a bit more to voters and the panel than a defender scoring for the champions. We think Kompany’s was a tiny bit better, but we’ll forgive the voters.

Sky: Chelsea set to appoint Cech as sporting director

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Petr Cech is staying in London.

The longtime Chelsea goalkeeper is set to return to the club as sporting director following Arsenal’s Europa League Final against… well… Chelsea.

Cech, 37, is calling time on his legendary playing career and will not simply be drumming into the sunset.

[ MORE: Man Utd nears $20m signing ]

He’ll return to a club with which he earned 15 trophies including two Champions Leagues. The three-time Best European Goalkeeper also won three trophies with Arsenal.

It would be pretty surprising if Unai Emery selected him over Bernd Leno for the final in Azerbaijan, but Cech is certainly respected worldwide and will be the type of personality to bring some stability to Chelsea.

Will he have to hire a manager, though?

Pulisic “would love to become” like Hazard

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Christian Pulisic has barely spent a couple of days in Chelsea blue, but he’s already got his eyes on one of the club’s icons.

“It is incredible to see what Eden can do,” said Pulisic in an interview with BBC Sport. “He is a guy to look up to and what I would love to become. It is definitely a goal. Any player would be dumb not to want to be in the same team as him.”

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

Pulisic may not get that chance, with Hazard expected by many to join Real Madrid this summer, but he will become the highest profile American in the Premier League when next season begins in August.

The BBC asked the 20-year-old USMNT star about being the flag bearer for American soccer, the golden boy for a nation of young players.

“I don’t want to be looked at as someone who is the youngest to do this or that. I just want to be an established player and someone people respect, who is successful in this league.”

“It is completely new to me and something not a lot of American players have experienced. It is a blessing to be in this position, so I can inspire American kids, to show them we can do it too.”

Pulisic says he’s confident Chelsea can quickly close the gap on Liverpool and Manchester City.