Hawks Game 4 reactions: All takes welcomed

In between the lines

What a difference a half of basketball can make. The Sixers seemed to be cruising along on their way to a 3-1 series lead, ready to validate that game one was a fluke. At that point, they had outright won or split 11 of the 14 quarters in the series. Then they let a desperate Hawks team tie up the series.

Mr Pessimistic (aka every Philadelphia dad) will tell you that this proves they need a more traditional closer and more players with an overall ability to create their own shot. They will also say that clearly Embiid is too injured to carry this team through playoffs and that Doc is no better than BB. The Ben haters will be out in full force, the Dwight bashers will tell you he cost us critical points and the George Hill search party should be kicking off. They let an Atlanta team shoot horrible from the field and still win. Yet another year of not reaching the ECF is ahead…

But then there’s glass half full guy, they are more rare, but do indeed exist. These Hawks are very strong at home and needed a historically bad half from Jo to eek out a must-win game. Tobi still played very strong (so strong that it would have made too much sense to let the ball find him down one with 15 seconds to go). Jo was clearly bad and something was not right, but he still fought his way to 20 boards and a helluva effort. Three games left and two are in Philly so we got this…

Where’s the truth? Sports imitating life here- it’s somewhere in the middle. It still seems more likely than not that the Sixers win this series, and their reward will be either a hobbled Nets team or a perplexing Bucks team.

The best from online

Dave Chappelle always makes me feel better. And so does the Vinsider.

The bottom line

Turning to Master Yoda here- “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

There’s fear alright- Jo appeared to have no legs and championship aspirations and that’s a really scary thought. It’s then easy to be furious that he is putting his best year together so this happens while the Nets are wounded. Why wouldn’t you hate this whiny Hawks team and hate that garbage injuries always seem to happen to us? Let’s not even talk about suffering.

Forgetting Master Yoda, have no fear about this Game 4 loss as we will bounce back thanks to our own Thy-master, Jo and Ben- officially named today three of the top defenders in the Association. And if there truly is a problem with Jo’s health moving forward, well at least we know how to do suffering the right way in Philly.

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Hawks Game 3 reactions: Jo and Ben versus (all of) Atlanta

In between the lines

There was a LOT to feel good about with this game. And that’s accounting for the angst and nerves related to injury scares with Danny (calf, end result of boot), Tobi (dumb cameraman) and Jo (any time he makes a slight grimace). The defense was absolutely stifling in a few stretches, a very encouraging scene with a likely battle looming with Brooklyn. Tisse should be commended tonight, you will gladly have him use all six of his fouls against Trae, especially if he is able to hit a three and throw down a few dunks along the way.

Trae was essentially a non-factor. This was one of the quietest 28-point efforts I have ever seen. In fact, he was the game’s high scorer, but he also had 10 of his points in the last 7 minutes after the game was decided. Instead, the best offense of the night goes to the dynamic duo of Jo and Ben. Coming out of halftime, they tortured the young Hawks D and it seems that they could have legitimately had their way against them 2v5.

I was prematurely frustrated when Jo came back in around the seven minute mark up by 20. Doc proved right there as the Hawks still had some fight. However, there is no excuse for him to be on the court with less than one minute in what was a 16-point win. While Doc may have been sending a message that he does not plan to take this Atlanta squad lightly, he definitely shouldn’t be taking any extra wear and tear on a torn meniscus lightly either.

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Another day, another swing and miss by Stephen A. “[Atlanta], the future you have been waiting for, has finally arrived.” If Game 3 is any indication of the future for this Hawks franchise, I guess that sometimes it is better to live in the past. The poor Hawks fans had a tough night as the biggest thing they had to cheer about was when Embiid came up gimpy- stay classy Atlanta.

The bottom line

The Sixers are clearly the better team and appear fully motivated to prove this to everyone the rest of the series. Tell your mom, your neighbor, that Celtics fan at your gym, and definitely tell Stephen A. Let’s also check-in with the wins remaining to a Championship tracker. 10 (as of tonight), then 9-8 to eliminate the Hawks, Seventy-Sixers.

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Tuesday’s Top Twelve: Most Hateable Active NBA Players

I think it’s a good time to bring back one of our old regular features, Tuesday’s Top Twelve.  We were appropriately afraid that “Top Ten” lists would get too trendy, so we do Top Twelve.  We were not appropriately afraid of posting these on non-Tuesdays, but whatever.

So, as the Sixers finished off the Wiz and are now getting ready for the Hawks and, possibly, the Nets, it’s probably time to talk about what really matters – how hateable some of these guys are.  As you may remember the wrinkle of this regular feature, these lists are not opinion; they are fact and inarguable (tongue-in-cheek, folks, tongue-in-cheek).

So, without further ado, these are the Most Hateable Players in the NBA.

Considered:  RoCo (love you, Dave!), Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Love (only for this), Zach Lavine, Blake Griffin, any Plumlee brother, the entire Ball Family, Andre Drummond, Andrew Wiggins, “The Zinger,” Daniel Theis, and any former Duke player whose last name starts with a “B,” and any former Duke player whose last name does not start with a “B”

12). Rudy Gobert – This one is tough for me because I really appreciate how Gobert handled everything back in March.  So, I am a Gobert defender, but I have to be objective here since this list is factual, and it’s really hard to forget this:

See the source image

Like I alluded to, I think he owned his mistake, sincerely apologized, and seemed to be very earnest about how he realized how stupid he had been and whatnot.  And, I really appreciate that.  He was just VERY immature.  But, ya know…COVID…so, he’s gotta be on this list.

11). Russell Westbrook – To quote Doogan:  “Westbrook:  19 pts, 21 reb, 14 ast, 3-19 from the field, you weirdo.”  But, he’s a weird dude with a weird game that is, somehow, simultaneously over- and under-appreciated.  His numbers are RIDICULOUS – (22 ppg, 12 rpg, 12 apg this year), but he is such an enigma.  And, he is notorious for stat-padding, which is HIGHLY hateable.  He is also kind of weirdly aggressive and kind of strange in the “heat of battle,” which leads to hateability.  While I could hear arguments to be higher,  I love his competitive fire, and he is obviously one of the best pure athletes to ever play the game, so he’s certainly fun to watch.   This seems like the right spot because, who knows anything for sure with Russ?!?

10). LeBron James – To be honest, for the best and most visible player in the world to only be #10 on this list is kind of a feather in LBJ’s cap.  And, I have a lot of LeBron defending in my past.  But, there are some things that cannot be ignored.  The “King James” thing may have been a marketing creation, but it was annoying.  “The Decision” was kind of an innocent mistake, but it

Image result for lebron the decision

happened.  And, now this new LA chapter in his life where he seems to want to be some sort of Renaissance Man or Business Mogul or whatever it is he’s trying to make us think he is now is not helping.  Plus, he seems to have an opinion on EVERYTHING nowadays…which doesn’t help.  So, ya…hateable.

9). Draymond Green – This another one that is just an homage to “objectivity” because I enjoy Draymond, the player, and probably don’t hate Draymond, the dude, as much as I should.  But, the point remains that he is a dirty player with an ugly jumpshot who played on a BS team that was easy to hate.

8). Chris Paul – This one might be more personal because I simply can’t stand Chris Paul, but objectively, the dude is hateable, so he belongs on this list.  He always has a punchable look on his face, is quietly one of the dirtiest players in the league, and always seems to just be kind of a d*ck.  He’d be higher on my personal list, but I’m beholden to fact here, so #8 is where he falls.

7). Kevin Durant – Part of me feels bad for Durant because he seems like a decent dude deep down, but wow is this dude sensitive!  The rabbit ears, the “if you can’t beat them join them” mentality, the crazy fake Twitter accounts, the ridiculous feud with Michael Rapaport (where he seemed to be quite bigoted), and even the weird pink backpack in college.  Weird isn’t hateable, for sure.  In fact, I like weird.  And, sensitive is probably a positive trait if it doesn’t manifest itself in insecurity and hatred.  But, this dude just seems like kind of a mess, and not totally in a sympathetic way – very much in a hateable way.

6). Donovan Mitchell – The evidence for Mitchell’s hateability isn’t quite as vast as some of the guys who are ahead of him on this list, but he’s only been around and barely relevant for a couple of years.  I’d say that Mitchell’s “hateability upside” is elite – he’s just still kind of an untapped talent of hatebility.  But, already, he’s been a total baby (trying to keep this relatively clean for the kids out there) about multiple things (the Rookie of the Year, the Gobert Covid thing, every single time he drives the lane…), so he still clocks in here at #6, so good on him.  Sky’s the limit, Donnie – you have a shot at the GOAT.

5). Grayson Allen – The only reason he isn’t at or near the top of this list is because he just isn’t all that good and, therefore, kind of irrelevant.  But, his hateability totally transcends his mediocrity…which is quite impressive, to be honest.  First of all, his name is Grayson.  Second, he’s very “Florida.”  Third, he’s some rich kid who went to a very expensive elementary, middle, and high school whose mission statement is:

“Providence School prepares its students to be boldly Christian and unquestionably academic servant leaders who change the world.”

Fourth, he went to Duke.  Fifth, at Duke, he decided that he would just start randomly tripping people during games.  And, then when it got national attention, he did it AGAIN!  This guy has ELITE hateability that is only held back by his lack of basketball ability.

4). James Harden – Where to start with Harden.  Again, I generally like “weird,” but this dude is the bad weird.  The weird where he just doesn’t give a crap.  For all the heat LeBron and Durant got for forming “super teams,” Harden seems to get a pass.   Plus, the dude’s penchant for strip clubs and insane parties and getting fat.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hold partying or getting fat against anyone (I’m no hypocrite), but this dude seems to take it a little far – if you are to believe anything you read.  But, it’s also his on-court stuff.  His illegal stepback jumper.  His ridiculous leg motions to “draw a foul.”  And, his absolute aversion to playing any defense whatsoever.  It also doesn’t help that there are people trying to defend his defense by saying absurd things like “he’s actually really good if you look at the advanced stats of him in the post and blah blah blah.”  No, the dude SUCKS on D because (a) he’s not good enough and (b) he doesn’t care AT ALL.  Oh, and F that beard.  Highly hateable!

3). Trae Young – Like Mitchell at #6, Young is both the present and the future of hateability.  He’s still very inexperienced and has played in exactly one playoff series, but this dude is going places.  And, he’s got the rare combination of (a) actual hateable things, like his punchably cocky SMUG looks (b) shallow hateable things, like his hateable hair or lack thereof, and (c) totally hateable game where he has puts up empty numbers (a la Westbrook) and plays ABSOLUTELY NO DEFENSE (a la Harden).  He’s the total package of hateability and could be heading for loftier heights as his career goes on.  Good luck, Trae, we’re all rooting for you!

See the source image

2). Steph Curry – It is really, REALLY hard for me to make a list of hateability and not have Steph as #1, but that should tell you just how tough the competition is right now.  Steph defines one of the world’s worst personality traits – SMUG!  He might be the most punchable athlete on the planet right now, and it doesn’t help that everyone loooooves him.  Sure, his offensive game is great and REALLY fun to watch, but that almost makes him more hateable because I find myself liking to watch him and then I see him be him and I hate myself for liking it.  And, maybe the worst part is that he’s got a lot of things working AGAINST his hateability – he’s been an underdog, he’s fun to watch, he seems media savvy and whatnot.  Which undergirds the whole hateability argument because we should LOVE him…but, we don’t.  We definitely don’t.  Smug…

1). Kyrie Irving – In no surprise to Kyrie himself, Kyrie ends up as #1 on a list.  Any list.  And, since no one can do Kyrie justice but Kyrie, I’ll let him make the case in his own words:

“Basketball isn’t a game; it’s an art form.  You master the fundamentals so you can forget ’em, so you can improvise and just concentrate on what really matters:  getting buckets.”

“I knew that I didn’t need LeBron, but he needed me.”

“No alarm clock needed.  My passion wakes me up!”

“I want to be on the cover of ‘GC.’  That’s my personal goal.”

“If you’re very much woke, there is no such thing as distractions.”

“I went to my agent and told them, ‘I want to be on another Disney show.’”

“I don’t leave home without my Skullcandy Crushers.  I don’t leave home with my Bible, without my phone, and without my computer.”

“Multiple Bentleys isn’t making anyone ‘financially set.’”

“Draft day is a hectic day, especially for draftees and, more or less, for management.”

“I do not talk to Pawns.  My attention is worth more.”  [then, after getting fined for not talking to the media]  “I pray we utilize the ‘fine money’ for the marginalized communities in need, especially seeing where our world is presently.  I am here for Peace, Love, and Greatness.  So stop distracting me and my team, and appreciate The Art.  We move different over here.”

“‘Grease is an awesome movie.  I wish they’d make a new one, more for our time.  The graphics are terrible when you look back on it.”

If you want more, just google “kyrie a**hole.”  You’ll get all the evidence you need.  Congrats, Kyrie, you win again!  You the smartest, coolest, and wokest dude in the 21st Century that actually believes that the Earth is flat…literally.

NOTE:  If the NBA seeds hold, the Sixers will be facing SEVEN of these guys during the playoffs.

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Not My Phanatic?

With Opening Day right around the corner, there will be plenty of roster-related and wins projections articles to digest. However, something different is on my mind at the moment.

The world changed in early 2020. We were so naïve. It couldn’t happen in our backyard. We’re talking about the best of the best; too big to fail. What could possibly force us to make sweeping changes to the red, white and blue… and green mascot. I mean, we’re talking about the best mascot in sports- the Phillie Phanatic.

First of all, let’s get this out of the way- the Phanatic is the best mascot. Not just in the MLB, not just in North American sports, but in the history of professional activities. Do I have an above-average knowledge of the pantheon of professional mascots? Nope, but it doesn’t matter.

If you try to award any other mascot with the crown- you’re not just wrong, you’re stupid. Who else could it possibly be?

The San Diego Chicken? We are talking about a chicken, next…

The Canadiens’ Youppi!? The exclamation point is part of his official name. Uh yeah, I don’t want grammar anywhere near my sports.

Wally the Green Monster wouldn’t even make it as a Sesame Street cast member.

Mr Met? Stop, you’re embarrassing yourself.

Et tu, Brute? It’s absolutely not Brutus of Ohio State.

How about the Phoenix Suns Gorilla? Sorry, but if you are a mascot in a city where sports is about the 100th priority, you are eliminated.

Feel free to keep trying, but you’re wasting your time.

Back to it, we are only about one year removed – from what has admittedly felt like thirty years in reality – from hearing that the Phanatic was no longer going to be the Phanatic. In a move to get ahead of a legal battle over the Phanatic’s ownership rights, the Phillies played Darwin and forced overnight evolution.

As a quick side note- this story got buried as we battled the early stages of a pandemic. Which was a huge PR break for the Phils, since our city’s natives are not the most forgiving bunch. Potential fan backlash could have factored into the upcoming legal proceedings. While it’s not clear how the reactions would have went, the window for visceral reactions is gone and it’s now largely an afterthought within our collective ADHD attention span.

I’m not concerned about the legal battle here (visit the Google for more). What I really want to talk about is how they changed the lovable goofball that we all grew up watching. This version has a star-struck look in his eyes, has bleached its fur, sports new kicks, has these odd scales and is displaying an interest in being slightly more healthy. You might not notice it much when you see him, but looking at a before and after side-by-side might be enough to make your inner child cry. At minimum, it just feels… wrong.

Your brain can’t place it, but it’s there. Something is not quite right. Like Uncanny Valley in aesthetics, Philadelphians and New Yorkers getting along, preferring cats to dogs, that hazy feeling after too long of a midday nap or why you are so deeply compelled to dispel any Wawa slander.

Perhaps it’s not that important in the long run, but it sort of is. The Phanatic has been part of the fabric of Philly since the late 70s and is well-known outside of sports. There was something wholesome about the creature, co-existing alongside the rest of the creatures in the stands. In other words, the legitimate ‘fanatics’ belittled by national pundits that are too lazy to form a self-realized narrative.

He was always there through the bad times, which are plentiful in Philly sports fandom. We projected our optimism onto him and he gladly embraced it. The Phanatic brings equal joy to a nine month old and a ninety year old. In a world that keeps changing and where new is sold as better, this green furball provided consistency.

Now because of a dispute over money, we were handed a modified Phanatic. It would be easy to say this is not my Phanatic.

But here’s the thing, he’s not my Phanatic, and he’s not yours either. Creators Bonnie Erickson and Wayde Harrison don’t own this creature. Nor do the Phillies. I also don’t think that David Raymond or “best phriend” of the Phanatic Tom Burgoyne would claim ownership rights.

The Phanatic is all of ours. Neither his appearance nor arguments over his copyright change what he means to the City. He’s a treasure and, despite Nicholas Cage’s best efforts, Philadelphia always protects its treasures.

He’s the manifestation of a city that is overly passionate, not often enough victorious and always misunderstood. He is the most likeable thing from a city that is anything but likeable, but I think we would rather have it that way. Sure no one like us, but we don’t care.

So as we get ready to ‘play ball’ once again, remember who has been around longer than anyone on the field or in the front office- our dear Phanatic. As Jerry Seinfeld once said, “we’re rooting for the clothes,” and he’s been wearing the jersey longer than anyone.

Hold up, Jerry is one of the biggest Mets fans out there, so maybe we can co-exist with Mets fans? Well, probably not, but with the weather warming up and a return to the diamond, anything is possible.

Go Phils!

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Euro Cup – Day 12

Group C:
Germany v. N. Ireland
Poland v. Ukraine

Not really much of interest here with these final Group C games.  Northern Ireland could get to the magic number 4 points with a draw vs. Germany.  Even though they were impressive in beating Ukraine 2-0, I just don’t see it happening.  Expect Germany and Poland to move on and the other two to pack it on home.

Germany 2, N. Ireland 0
Poland 1, Ukraine 1

Group D:
Spain v. Croatia
Czech Rep. v. Turkey

Spain/Croatia is a great match-up but tempered somewhat because both teams have already reached the 4 point total, at least.  But there does appear to be a real advantage to winning the group, which Croatia could do by beating Spain.  The group winner here will get a third-place team in their first knock-out game, while the second-place team will get Italy, who will be a tough out, of course.  You could probably argue that finishing third with four points in this group could be a preferable route to seeing Italy in the Round of 16.  Croatia needs to hope its players and its fans can regain their composure after the flare-throwing, protest thing that marred their draw vs. the Czechs, but they are with out Luka Modric for this one, as he’s out with an injury.

Speaking of the Czechs, their tournament appeared all but over when they were down 2-0 in the 2nd half vs. Croatia.  Their equalizer in extra time of that game means all they have to do is knock-off what appears to be a dysfunctional Turkey team to get to the 4-point plateau.

Spain 0, Croatia 0
Czech Rep. 2, Turkey 1

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Euro Cup – Day 11

Wales v. Russia

The magic number in this group stage is really 4 points.  If you get to 4 points, you’re almost certainly through to the knock-out stage.  With three points, it will most likely come down to goal differential.  So, for this game, that means Wales needs a draw and Russia needs a win to feel safe about advancing.  I don’t think it’s in Russia’s nature to chase the game in the way they will need to here, and I’ll say that leaves them exposed to counter-attacks led by the speedy Gareth Bale.  Wales moves on and the Russians and their hooligan fans go home.

Prediction: Wales 2, Russia 1

England v. Slovakia

England is the only team in this group already sitting on those 4 points.  Does that give manager Roy Hodgson the green-light to continue tinkering with his line-up here?

In England’s win over Wales, it was easy to credit Hodgson’s substitutes, as the two goals were scored by subs.  Still, he deserves credit for making a double-switch at halftime, that involved inserting two strikers in Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge.  It would be a shock if he didn’t start this game with two strikers, and with Raheem Sterling as the attacking midfielder left out of the line-up.  The question is, which two strikers?  Obviously, Vardy and Sturridge had great impact, but does Harry Kane get left out?  Sturridge would seem to be the third option of the three, but he was the one that really had the best impact in that last game.  I’m really not sure which two he will go with, but it would be hard for me to leave Sturridge out after what he did against Wales.

For Slovakia, Marek Hamsik has absolutely been one of the best players of the tournament.  Even though he’s 28-years-old and not a young buck, I would be surprised if some big clubs don’t get on the phone to Napoli to try to pry him away in the coming months.  The Slovaks need a draw to get to their four points.

Prediction: England 1, Slovakia 1

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Euro Cup – Day 10

Romania v. Albania

The first of our final group stage games here, as Group A will wrap things up with the only two games of the day, both at 3 PM.  Are these two eastern European countries under-rated, or are France and Switzerland over-rated?  We won’t find out until the knock-out round, I guess, but although these teams come into this with 1 point combined, they’ve both been impressive.  They both took mighty France to the brink, with a tie game until the very late stages in each.  And they both played right with Switzerland, as well.

There was a lot of talk coming into this tournament about how some third-place teams being able to advance would effect the tournament.  As far as I can tell (which might not be totally right), 4 points basically guarantees an advance to the knock-out stage.  Even with just three points and 0 goal differential, you’re probably getting through.  So, for this game?  A Romania win should advance them through.  Albania is probably done no matter what, with 0 points and a -3 differential, but it tells you something that they’re not eliminated already.  They both know they’re going home with a draw, which tends to make for some exciting games.

Prediction: Romania 1, Albania 1

France v. Switzerland

It was an interesting line-up switch by French coach Didier Deschamps to put two of his top-rated players, Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann, on the bench to start their game vs. Albania.  Of course, when your midfield is as loaded as theirs, there’s always going to be some top players left out of the starting line-up.  But it seems like he was trying to send a message to Pogba about how he wants him to play, and Griezmann was most likely left out because he’s pretty fatigued from a long season at Atletico Madrid that just ended in the Champions League final on Memorial Day weekend.

In any event, it will be interesting to see if they’re back in against Switzerland.  Even though Griezmann came on and scored the game-winner vs. Albania, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the bench to start again, because if you want to get him rest this is a good time, as they’ve already clinched a spot in the knock-out stage.  Whether or not Pogba is back in there is probably more interesting, because if he’s not that might mean Deschamps has decided to go away from him for the remainder of the tournament.

Switzerland has all but locked up a spot in the knock-out stage, as well, with four points through their first two matches.  But both of these teams have failed to impress thus far and could grab some momentum with a strong performance here.

Prediction: France 2, Switzerland 0


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Euro Cup – Day 9

Saturday, June 18th:

Ireland v. Belgium (Group E)

Ireland was actually pretty impressive in their first game, as they outplayed Sweden despite just coming away with one point.  Sweden didn’t have a single shot on goal, with their only goal coming on an own goal.  Fullback Robby Brady had a great game, threatening in attack up the left-side throughout the game, and the “Irish Messi”, Wes Hoolahan, had a beautiful goal and some other good chances.

The Belgians, meanwhile, turned in a performance that would’ve been surprising if we weren’t getting used to their underachieving.  One of the questions of the first group of matches was: are the Belgians actually this inept in attack or are the Italians actually that good defensively?  We’ll start to get some answers here.

The Belgian coach, Marc Wilmots, has taken a lot of criticism for that aforementioned underachieving, and it’s not hard to see why.  The game announcer questioned his line-up decisions, both defensively and in attack.  He suggested that Dries Mertens should probably be starting and I have to agree with that.  Marouane Fellaini, with the big fro, is a good player who can play in different roles.  His size, strength, and skill mean he can play as a striker or as a defensive midfielder.  Wilmots played him in the “#10” role in the middle of the attacking midfield.  I don’t like him there.  He doesn’t move well enough and doesn’t have the ball-control or creativity to make things happen there.  They need to take him out of the line-up, move De Bruyne or Hazard into that role, and put Mertens on the wing.

Prediction: Belgium 2, Ireland 0

Iceland v. Hungary (Group F)

Two lightly-regarded teams here that turned in fairly shocking performances in their first game.  Many considered Hungary to be the worst team in the tournament and now they have a real chance to take 6 points from their first two games.  Both of these teams have the advantage of set rosters that played together a ton over the last two years, if not more.  While some other teams have star players sitting out qualifying matches because they play so many extra games in the Champions League, domestic cups, etc, these players are all there getting used to playing together.  And now either team can all but clinch a spot in the knock-out round with a win here.

Prediction: Iceland 2, Hungary 2

Portugal v. Austria (Group F)

The opposite side of the coin from the Iceland/Hungary game: the two favorites in this group that had bitterly disappointing results.  Austria may have been exposed as fraudulent with their 2-0 defeat by Hungary.  I also haven’t been much of a believer in this Portugal team, and their draw against Iceland didn’t change that.

Austrian attacking midfielder Zlatko Junuzovic is now out with an injury, so it will be interesting to see if they move David Alaba up into an attacking role.  Maybe that change will be good thing for them, as he came closest to scoring for them in the first game, banging a shot off the post in the first minute of the game.

Prediction: Portugal 1, Austria 0


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Euro Cup – Day 8

Friday, June 17th:

Italy v. Sweden

What a performance by the Italians in their win over Belgium.  We knew the defense would be the strength of the team, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better performance from a defense than the Italians had against Belgium.  Not only did they hold the high-powered Belgian attack without a goal, but defender Leonardo Bonucci created the winning-goal with an incredible pass from deep in the field to Emanuele Giaccherini.  Italy plays three central defenders instead of the normal two, which makes it important that one of them is a guy like Bonucci, who can contribute to the attack with passes like that.

I still think there’s a ceiling to how far Italy can go in this tournament because of the lack of quality in front of that defense, but I wasn’t overly impressed with Sweden in their draw vs. Ireland and it looks like Italy has a good chance to win this group now.

Prediciton: Italy 1, Sweden 0

Czech Republic v. Croatia

Luka Modric scored an incredible goal to win Croatia’s first game but, like Dimitri Payet for France, would’ve been considered the best player on the field even if you took away their great goals.  Modric plays deeper in the field than Payet though and, even down to his floppy hair, is probably the closest thing in the world right now to Italy’s Andrea Pirlo in his prime.  Slight of build but just always around the ball and making the link-up play to seamlessly go from the defense to the attack, while doing some defending and attacking himself.  Every time the ball started moving up the field for Turkey, you were just waiting for Modric to appear and do something with it, and there he’d be.

The Czechs stayed tied with Spain until the 88th minute in a solid opening performance.  I haven’t changed my mind about them: they’re a solid team with good experience but lacking the talent to be anything more than that, and they find themselves in a tough group.

Prediction: Croatia 2, Czech Republic 1

Spain v. Turkey

Spain’s late goal in 1-0 defeat of the Czech Republic was certainly not enough to convince any doubters that they are back in championship form, but the defense was as good as advertised, as the Czechs managed just one scoring chance and, other than that, didn’t seem at all close to a goal at any point.

As I watched that game, it seemed that the key to Spanish chances in this tournament might rest with David Silva.  Two of the four attacking players starting for them are Alvaro Morata and Nolito, who are both decent but not a whole lot can be expected.  Another is Andres Iniesta, who played like the star that he is in the first game.  The fourth is Silva, who has had stretches over the last couple years for Man City where you would consider him the best attacking midfielder in the league.  That player was missing in the first game and a decent amount late in the EPL season.  We know they will defend, but Iniesta can’t be the only one working some magic in the Spanish attack.  They need Silva, also.

For Turkey, it looks like Arda Turan is far from his best form, and that spells doom for them.

Prediction: Spain 2, Turkey 0


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Euro 2016 – Day 7

Thursday, June 16th:

England v. Wales

This one obviously has the intrigue of the two British nations going against each other.  As if England wouldn’t have virtually all of the pressure on them in this match-up already, they now come into this one following the disappointing draw to Russia, while Wales is top of the group after their defeat of Slovakia.

All-time, England has 66 wins, 21 draws, and just 14 losses vs. their Welsh neighbors.  They’ve only played four times in the last 30 years, with England winning all four and Wales failing to score a single goal.

This English team has a ton of talent but you can question how prepared they are mentally.  They’re heavily relying on young, inexperienced players and their captain, Rooney, is not exactly known for his level-headed leadership.  Coming into this one following the Russian draw, what happens if Wales takes the lead?  How do they respond?

Prediction: England 2, Wales 1

Ukraine v. Northern Ireland

Here’s a ridiculous statistic: N. Ireland didn’t touch the ball a single time in Poland’s half of the field for the entire first half of that game.  Only after Poland scored early in the 2nd half did they make any effort to get forward and look for a goal.

They can’t afford to be so defensive here, because they absolutely need a win, with Germany awaiting in their final group game.  Actually, a draw here could spell doom for both teams, because Ukraine won’t want to go into their Poland game needing a win to advance.  That has the potential to make for an exciting game from two otherwise uninspiring teams.

Prediction: Ukraine 2, N. Ireland 0

Germany v. Poland

Not on the level of England/Wales, but a rivalry game here, nonetheless, between these two countries that share a 300-mile-long border.  A little surprising that they’ve only played each other twenty times ever, with 13 German wins, 6 draws, and a lone Poland victory.  But, that Poland win came in October 2014 and in their four contests in the last five years there’s one win for each and two draws, so anything is possible.

Polish star Lewandowski will be going up against a bunch of his Bayern Munich teammates here.  As for the Germans, they’ve opted for Mario Gotze over Mario Gomez at striker, which didn’t produce any goals in the first game.  We’ll see if they stick with him.  We’ll also see if center back Mats Hummels plays after missing the first game with injury.  His replacement, Shkodran Mustafi, actually scored a goal, but isn’t as good a defender.

I’ll go out on a limb and call a Polish upset here.

Prediction: Poland 2, Germany 1

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