Sunday, June 29, 2014

WC 2014: 30th June

France v/s Nigeria. I reckon this will be a tight but open match as both teams are better at attacking their opponents than relying on their defence. France don't have any spectacular players but they seem to play with a purpose under coach Didier Deschamps. Some of their bigger names such as Pogba and Griezman have been relatively quiet in the group stages and they will have to pick up their games if the French are to go far. Nigeria have surprised me with their cohesive play as well and not many teams could have levelled the score twice against a team like Argentina. The Africans can cause the upset if they get the rub of the ball on the day. However, France are worthy favourites and will probably edge this.

Germany v/s Algeria. I can't see the Germans faltering at this stage of the tournament against a team like Algeria. It's true that the qualification of the Algerians has been one of the general feel-good stories of these finals but they showed weaknesses in several areas in their last match against Russia, which the Germans will certainly exploit. The Manshaaft is a well-oiled machine that is getting better with every match and will rely on the likes of Muller and Klose to breach the Algerian defence. They are hard to oppose and I see them advancing quite comfortably.

Qualify: France, Germany

Saturday, June 28, 2014

WC 2014: 29th June

Netherlands v/s Mexico. The market clearly indicates that Holland has most of the favors to go though, although I don't see it being the case. They are a strong team but I feel that they showed chinks in their armor in the previous games; I thought their 5-1 score against Spain flattered their performance a bit, their 3-2 close win against Australia could have gone the other way, and they struggled to break down Chile in their last match, albeit without Robin Van Persie. Mexico opened everyone's eyes after keeping Brazil to a goal-less draw due to a fantastic performance by their keeper Ochoa. They then confirmed their good form by disposing of Croatia in the crucial match for qualification. I think this match is going to be a close match and I will side with the Mexicans; they are riding a huge wave of momentum and playing with extreme confidence.

Costa Rica v/s Greece. Costa Rica are one of the feel-good stories of this World Cup. They topped their by going undefeated against teams like Uruguay, England and Italy. If they play to the level they've been showing, it's hard seeing a team like Greece stopping them. The Greeks can consider themselves lucky to be through the finals, having emerged from a rather poor group and winning qualification on a suspect penalty. They certainly don't have the fluidity of the Costa Ricans and will again rely on a strong defensive display to keep the match tight. Will side with the South Americans here due to their excellent showing in the group stages.

Qualify: Mexico, Costa Rica

Friday, June 27, 2014

WC 2014: 28th June

Brazil v/s Chile. This is the first real test for the Samba boys. Chile are no slouch and they will definitely fancy their chances of an upset if the Brazilians fail to show on the day. I think there is more upside to this Brazil team from what they have shown so far and their play will keep improving as they progress through the knockout stages, so long as they don't get eliminated in the process. Neymar so far has been the star of the tournament and will be a constant threat to a suspect Chile defence. As long as the occasion does not get to the hosts, they should prevail.

Columbia v/s Uruguay. First, good riddance Luis Suarez. Great football player but terrible person to have on the pitch. Let's face it, he'll never learn and probably does not get what the fuss of his actions is all about. Even without Suarez, I actually think Uruguay can win this game. Columbia have been fantastic winning all their 3 matches in an arguably weak group. I just think that they might lack the experience and are not seasoned enough against this take-no-prisoners Uruguayan team. It might take past the 90 minutes but I think that Uruguay will be celebrating in the end.

Qualify: Brazil, Uruguay

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

WC 2014: 26th June

Portugal v/s Ghana. A must-win for both teams if they are to have any chance of qualifying to the next round. Portugal are reeling with a less-than-optimal Ronaldo. Ghana were on the verge of a huge upset against Germany but came up with a honourable draw. A draw does nothing for these 2 teams, so I expect them to go for the jugular. Slight edge to the Africans mainly because of the incapacity of Cristiano Ronaldo.

USA v/s Germany. The main question is whether these 2 teams will play for the draw, as such a result will see both go through. The Klinsmann-Lowe connection is just going to fuel conspiracy theories here and raises shades of the 1982 World Cup when Austria and Germany played to a similar draw result to go through. I can't see Germany lose this game. I firmly believe they will edge this encounter and win the group.

Algeria v/s Russia. I've altered my position on this group; I think Algeria will go through at the expense of the Russians. The market still has the Russians as firm favourites for the game, although I am at a loss to explain why. The Algerians have displayed great commitment and purpose in their first 2 games against Belgium and South Korea. With some luck and experience, they could have beaten the Belgians. On the other hand, the Russians are struggling in the heat. They were leg-less in the final minutes of their last match and will again be physically challenged against the quick Algerians. This might end in a draw or an Algerian win and at the end I see Algeria going through.

South Korea v/s Belgium. A draw will be enough for the Belgians to secure top spot, which might eventually mean avoiding Germany in the next round. Since the result of Germany's group will be decided before this match, it seems a certainty that Belgium will not lose this match once Germany is the confirmed winner of its group. If that is not the case, then the Belgium manager might make a calculated risk for this match and field his second team, who knows? With both teams playing at full potential, it is impossible to oppose Belgium here. As expected, the South Koreans have been woeful in this World Cup. They are definitely a punt to finish last in the group. Belgium to win.

Win: Ghana, Germany, Algeria, Belgium

WC 2014: 25th June

BosniaH v/s Iran. Were it not for the magic of Messi, the Iranians would have secured a historic draw against Argentina in their last game. They are a well-organized group that defends with a purpose and relies on fast counter-attacks. They however, need to win this match to have any chance of going through. That means they will have to play a more open game. Bosnia were disappointing in their last loss to Nigeria. I thought they would secure at least a point out of that match and it is true that Dzeko had the equalizer at the death only for the ball to hit the post. I think the Bosnians will be suffering in the heat and Iran can fancy getting something out of this match provided they take their chances. I can see Iran edging this contest.

Nigeria v/s Argentina. This is the fight for top spot and Argentina will have to be on their guards against a dynamic Nigerian team. The Argies are already qualified and will again be relying on Messi to do the damage. Nigeria will be happy to come away with a point to qualify and they can cause problems to the Argentinian defence which has had its patchy moments in the first 2 matches. This match could very well end up in a draw.

Ecuador v/s France. France are through but will be keen to get top spot by not losing this match while the Ecuadorians need to win to go through. The French have been so rampant in the first 2 matches that it is hard to see them lose this match. Their team seems to be clicking well and the absences of Ribery or Nasri seem to be benefiting them. The Ecuadorians have the potency to score and will fancy their chances for the upset, particularly if they were to score first. Probably France will win this by just.

Honduras v/s Switzerland. As expected, Honduras have been the weakest team in this group and have been conceding by the bucket load. The Swiss have not impressed me at all in this tournament and their FIFA ranking of 6th in the world is just a joke. Although I think they will struggle to break down their opponents, they should eventually win this match and hence their qualification to the next round.

Win: Iran, France, Switzerland
Draw: Nigeria/Argentina

Monday, June 23, 2014

WC 2014: 24th June

Greece v/s Ivory Coast. Ivory Coast were a tad unlucky not to at least draw Columbia in their last game. Gervinho is playing like a striker possessed, and showing flashes of brilliance not seen in Arsenal colors. Provided their defence stays away from defensive lapses, the likes of which caused their un-doing against Columbia, the Africans should win this game.

Japan v/s Columbia. Columbia are assured to go through after winning their first 2 games. They have a couple of brilliant youngsters in this team who seem destined to have a career in the big European leagues. Japan need a win to have a chance of getting through but their main problem is that they are missing firepower on the front lines. I think this will probably end up in another Colombian win as long as the gist of their main team is playing.

Costa Rica v/s England. How patient can I be with this England team so that they finally show up in the win column at these finals? Apparently one more. I actually think they played well against Uruguay but were undone by atrocious defending, which has been cause for concern going into the tournament. Jagielka and Cahill are just not good enough at this level. Plus Gerrard is just Captain Calamity when major things are on the line, in my opinion. Still, since Costa Rica is through, I think England have enough quality, even with their second team, to get something out of this game. England to win this.

Italy v/s Uruguay. The Italians were flat against Costa Rica and Balotelli showed that he's more a liability to his team when not playing his top game. Uruguay will be riding a huge wave of confidence after having beaten England and having Suarez in goal scoring mood. Although Italy would win 8 out of 10 of these kinds of matches, I think that Uruguay will come out on top of this one, mainly because they will revel in the heat. They will win the physical battles, and that should give them the edge over the Italians at the final whistle.

Win: Ivory Coast, Columbia, England, Uruguay

WC 2014: 23rd June

Netherlands v/s Chile. Both teams are through but the dangling carrot here is to win the group so as not to face the winners of Group A, which most probably will go to Brazil. The Chileans will probably go for the all-out win, which is not an impossible task. Although these 2 teams beat Spain, they have shown weaknesses against Australia, so this game is really up for grabs. A negative for Holland is that they will be missing striker Robin Van Persie. Probably a draw is the likeliest result but this match could end up in anyone's hands.

Australia v/s Spain. Who'd thought that Spain could end up last of the group, and they would end up in that position if they fail to beat Australia. Although beaten in their first 2 matches, the Aussies have shown remarkable grit and determination in giving Chile and Holland huge scares; these teams were made to fight for their wins and were it not for some untidy finishing at key moments of those games, Australia could have actually won at least one of those games. Spanish players will be keen to at least beat Australia in order to stop the humiliation extending any further. They will probably field their second team but they have enough quality to win and that's why I am siding with them for this match.

Cameroon v/s Brazil. The Brazilians should win this group by beating Cameroon handily.

Croatia v/s Mexico. The most important match of the day by far as the winner goes through to the next round. I think Croatia has the better team and squad but Mexico players will be better apt to battle in the heat. Without too much confidence, I think the Mexicans will play for the draw in order to go through.

Win: Spain, Brazil
Draw: Netherlands v/s Chile, Mexico v/s Croatia

Sunday, June 22, 2014

WC 2014: 22nd June

USA v/s Portugal. The US took their chances to the full against Ghana and got the 3 all-important points. Whether they can be as efficient against the Portuguese remains to be seen. After their 0-4 drubbing against Germany, Portugal needs to win this match badly or else they will be out. They started well against the Germans until Pepe came up with his usual antics. I see Portugal win this here particularly that Ronaldo will start the match.

Belgium v/s Russia. Both team struggled in their first match and I think that the heat is proving very cumbersome for both. I see this match ending in a draw.

South Korea v/s Algeria. The Koreans were only able to score against Russia in the first game due to the blunder of the Russian goalkeeper. They have a good possession game but the penetration is questionable. The Algerians shocked Belgium in their first match and were undone in the end by 2 late goals. If they can produce the same kind of performance, they can definitely match up with South Korea. I see this match being a low-scoring affair with a draw the likely result.

Win: Portugal
Draw: South Korea/Algeria, Belgium/Russia

Friday, June 20, 2014

WC 2014: 21st June

Argentina v/s Iran. Can anyone see this other than an Argie win?

Nigeria v/s Bosnia H. My opinion of these teams has changed since I watched their first games. I have reason to believe that Bosnia will go through after their solid display against Argentina. Nigeria look like a fully-exposed team and I see Bosnia win this crucial match here.

Germany v/s Ghana. This German team looks like it will go far and I can't see Ghana causing a shock against the European powerhouse. This should be a straightforward win for the Germans.

Win: Argentina, Germany, Bosnia

WC 2014: 20th June

Italy v/s Costa Rica. The Costa Ricans created one of the shocks of the tournament in beating Uruguay but the jury is still out on their real quality. Italy were not impressive by any means against England in their first match but it will be hardly suprising if they get much better as they progress. The Italians will be keen to secure first place once and for all and I see their realism play again as they get the win.

Switzerland v/s France. The Swiss were lucky to win their first match against Ecuador and they seemed to be struggling mightily in the heat. France are a team under the radar and their good 3-0 win in their opening match has put them in a good position to secure top spot of the group. I can see a France win by the minimum margin, although a draw would not be unlikely as well.

Honduras vs Ecuador. Ecuador sprang up a nice mini-surprise by holding the Swiss at bay for such a long time in the first match. They would have gotten a good point had it not been for the last winning kick of the match for the Swiss. Honduras play as rough and physical a team as you can expect. Ecuador have the better team and should win this.

Win: Italy, France, Ecuador

Thursday, June 19, 2014

WC 2014: 19th June

Some quick selections:

Colombia v/s Ivory Coast. I think Colombia was flattered by the 3-0 scoreline against Greece. The Greeks did not take their numerous chances to score. I believe Ivory Coast were a little lucky to beat Japan. If the game is tight, both teams will probably settle for the draw and that is the preferred selection.

Japan v/s Greece. A draw will not suit both teams and they should be going for the jugular in this one. Japan had a much better showing against Ivory Coast than I expected and should at least come out of that game with a point. Their quick play will disturb the Greeks and I see them win this match.

England v/s Uruguay. The loser of this game goes home and I think it will be Uruguay. England played quite well against Italy but the Italian realism won on the day. I think all the talk about Suarez will be moot after this game; I can't see him being 100% fit or sharp for such a match. Based on the poor performance from the South Americans in the first match, England should have too much firepower in this match.

Win: Japan, England
Draw: Colombia/Ivory Coast

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Royal Ascot 2014: Day 2 - Treve to conquer Ascot.

The Prince of Wales' Stakes promises to be a top-class affair regrouping some of the best middle-distance European runners. Fantastic fillies and mares Treve, Dank and The Fugue take on the stronger sex in the shape of Magician and Mukhadram. There is no question in my mind that if favourite Treve runs at her best, she's going to win this race. There's no arguing her quality; I rate her the equal of Zarkava, both possibly being the 2 best middle-distance fillies of the past 20 years. Her dominant Arc victory had to be seen to be believed; no other horse could have put Orfevre to rest like she did. Although she lost her invincibility to the mighty Cirrus des Aigles on her seasonal return, the conditions of that race have been well publicized; she wasn't fully wound up on her debut, Cirrus had the benefit of previous runs and most importantly, his preferred soft ground. I have no doubt that any rematch would see the finishing roles reversed.

It's going to be Treve's first outing on foreign soil. Her connections however, look confident in a winning display. I cannot see any other outcome. The rest will be fighting for the places.

Win: Treve

WC 2014: 18th June

Cameroon v/s Croatia. The loss of Samuel Eto'o will not be arranging things for the Indomitable Lions; they definitely look to be up against it in this group. After their opening day defeat to Brazil, Croatia needs to win this match to have any chance of securing the second spot. I believe they will win this game.

Australia v/s Netherlands. No contest in this one, the Oranje by a mile.

Spain v/s Chile. The Spanish armada has been rocked by their humiliating 1-5 defeat to the Netherlands in the first game. They need to beat Chile to have any chance of qualifying. Chile beat Australia in their first match but somehow showed limitations in defence where a lack of height is of definite concern. I expect Spain to rebound and get the much-needed 3 points here.

Win: Croatia, Netherlands, Spain

Monday, June 16, 2014

Royal Ascot 2014: Day 1

Royal Ascot is always a highlight of the racing calendar and Day 1 on Tuesday sees a programme on the cards.

Queen Anne Stakes. The main question in this race surrounds the fitness of favourite Toronado. The son of High Chaparral is clearly a top-class miler but the fact that he is coming off a layoff of 300 days has cause for concern. Connections don't seem too fazed by the long absence, which in itself can be a worry since very bullish views from the Hannon yard and jockey Richard Hughes have been often off target in the recent past.

I think the main threat to Toronado will be Soft Falling Rain from the de Kock stable. The son of National Assembly should get the good ground he needs to perform at this level. The main worry with SFR is his interrupted preparation leading to the race, which might not see him at the peak of his powers. He could be more apt for a Place spot.

Verrazano, from Ballydoyle, ran a creditable race in finishing 3rd in the Lockinge for his first race on the turf. He should have improved for the run and be in the thereabouts.

Anodin is the dark horse of the race, having been supplemented by french trainer Freddy Head. The full-brother to wonder miler Goldikova came second to Cirrus des Aigles in his last race at 9 furlongs in the Prix d'Ispahan and the connections seem to fancy his chances at the mile distance. His form is pretty exposed, having won only 2 out of his races, and unless he's been a marked improver this year, I cannot see him win this race.

Finally, Tullius has shown decent Group form this year, having come second to Olympic Glory in the Lockinge. He should give another good account of himself but is not good enough to win.

I think it might be worth going with the straight win with Toronado and I also like Soft Falling Rain as an each-way selection and Verrazano as a Place.

St James' Palace Stakes. This is the much-anticipated Round 3 between the Guineas winners Kingman and Night of Thunder. The former thrashed the Hannon colt on their seasonal appearance but Night of Thunder was the deserved winner of the 2000 Guineas. Whether the fact that the field split in two at Newmarket had a major incidence on the result of the race is debatable but nothing looked like stopping Night of Thunder on the day. This race might not be a 2-horse race, with other notable 3-year old's such as Toormore, War Command and Outstrip in there, all of which had their colors lowered at Newmarket. I still think Kingman is the best miler of this generation and is a Win selection.

Win: Toronado, Kingman
Each-way: Soft Falling Rain
Place: Verrazano

WC 2014: June 17th

Belgium v/s Algeria. Got to go with Belgium here, who I fancy should go far in this World Cup. The talent is there for them to make a big impact, they just need to get the cobwebs away in this first game. It might take time for them to wear down this respectable Algerian side but they should get the crucial win here.

Russia v/s South Korea. Although Russia will certainly suffer in the heat, they should be too good for a South Korean team that looks in relatively poor form. It's true that the South Korea have done very well in the recent World Cups and that experience could put them in good stead but I'm expecting the Russians to make it past this round stage under Capello. They should just edge this match.

Brazil v/s Mexico. Brazil struggled to beat Croatia in their opening game and soon enough the daggers were thrown at them. They should be better in the next 2 group matches. Mexico showed great character to beat Mexico after 2 disallowed goals and some pundits even have them beating Brazil. I can't see that happening; beating Cameroon cannot be a reference. This should end in a straight win for the hosts.

Win: Belgium, Russia, Brazil

WC 2014: 16th June

Germany v/s Portugal. Much of the talk before the start of the tournament has been around the fitness of Cristiano Ronaldo. He clearly is nursing an injury and will not be at the peak of his powers for the 3 games in the Group of Death. With or without Ronaldo playing, I think Germany will win this match. I rate the Germans the best European team and expect them to go far in this competition. They will certainly make it through this most-difficult group, and should bag the 3 points against Portugal.

Iran v/s Nigeria. I don't think this Nigerian team is anywhere as good as its national teams in the past and they have been beset with off-field issues regarding appearance fees with officials of their federation. Just like Cameroon. Hardly the best way to prepare, but the Nigerians should be fighting it out with Bosnia for the runner-up position in Group F. For this to happen, they need maximum points against Iran, the weakest team in the group. I don't think that the Iranians are a push-over by any means. They are coached by ex-Man Utd No. 2 Carlos Quieroz and if Nigeria fails to shine on the day, the Iranians could take their chances. This should be a tight game that Nigeria could edge by just.

Ghana v/s USA. Maybe the first draw of the tournament? I don't anticipate many goals in this encounter and like many of their past World Cup games, these 2 teams like the scores to stay close, so this could very well end up in a tied contest.

Win: Germany, Nigeria
Draw: Ghana/USA

Sunday, June 15, 2014

WC 2014: 15th June

Switzerland v/s Ecuador. This might represent a tricky game for the Swiss but I think they will edge this encounter in the end.

France v/s Honduras. France should have too much firepower against a Honduras team that is known more for its physicality than anything else. Probably a match with lots of yellow cards to be shown.

Argentina v/s Bosnia-Herzegovina. Like many, I fancy Argentina to go far in this tournament and they should win this game on their way to winning the group. Bosnia H have Dzeko, but should be over-matched by the powerful Argentinians.

Win: Argentina, France, Switzerland

Friday, June 13, 2014

WC 2014: 14th June

Colombia v/s Greece. The South Americans have a massive hole in the striking department with the loss of Radamel Falcao to injury. However, they should still considered a force in a group that does not look that strong. Greece had to rely on a play-off win against Romania to reach Brazil and I think they will struggle to go past this group. This might end up as the first draw of this tournament.

Ivory Coast v/s Japan. This looks another even match-up with both teams boasting potent attacks but questionable defences. This should be a match with goals and again it would not be surprising to see this one end in a draw as well.

Uruguay v/s Costa Rica. Obviously, how far Uruguay goes in the tournament will depend upon the availability and fitness of Luis Suarez. They must beat Costa Rica to have any chance of going to the knockout stage. They should win this one with or without their superstar striker.

England v/s Italy. I think Italy's odds to win the group and this game are way too low. I think they will have their difficulties in this group; in fact I mentioned earlier that they might not make it past this group. Like so many of previous encounters between these 2 nations, there is a high probability that this match will also end in a draw. If not, I think England can very will win this.

Win: Uruguay
Draw: Columbia/Greece, Ivory Coast/Japan, England/Italy

WC 2014: June 13

Mexico v/s Cameroon. These are the 2 underdogs of the group. Mexico struggled to reach the finals and had to rely on an Intercontinental play-off win against New Zealand to make it. They now seem to be in better hands under coach Herrera than during the labourious qualifying stages. Cameroon are beset by off-field problems with the players and official rowing over bonus payments. This could very well end in a draw and if there is to be a winner, most probably it will be from the Mexicans.

Spain v/s Netherlands. This is a crucial game for supremacy in Group B. Both teams are expected to go through but the runner-up will be up to face the winner of Group A, which in most eventuality would be Brazil. So, this is a must-not-lose match for both teams. The two teams are well-balanced and not far apart, so I think this will end in a draw.

Chile v/s Australia. If Chile have any aspirations to go through, they must beat Australia. They are a strong team boasting top-level players like Vidal and Sanchez and they should have too much power for this Australian team. The South Americans are an outright win selection.

Win: Chile
Draw: Spain/Netherlands, Mexico/Cameroon 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

WC: 12th June. Brazil v/s Croatia

Here we go. Hosts Brazil against Croatia to launch the hostilities.

Many pundits do not think this is a strong Brazil team and that they hold the favourite tag to win the trophy purely because of their home advantage. It's true they no longer have the superstar powers of Ronaldo, Rivaldo or Romario and that Neymar is the only player in the team capable of turning a game around. There are however a few things that I like about this Brazilian team that make them markedly better than their old teams.

First is their defence which is marshalled with supreme confidence by Thiago Silva. The PSG defender is common referred as the best defender in the world and he is as solid in defence as he is dangerous on attacking set pieces. It's true that I am not convinced of the defensive qualities of his defensive partner David Luiz, but Brazil can serenely switch to the offence with Silva holding fort at the back. Julio Cesar in net with Alves and Dante on the flanks makes for a solid back four.

Their second asset is manager Scolari who has won the Cup before. He is one of the best in the business in coaching national teams and Brazil seem to play positively and with confidence with him at the helm. The ex-Chelsea boss has shown he can get a result in truly-testing conditions in his previous managerial stints in Brazil and Portugal.

The rest of the squad contains a homogenous set of players that can play at any elite club; Ramirez, Oscar, Hulk and obviously Neymar have consistently proven themselves against the best in Europe.

So I don't see Brazil faltering and see them reaching the final at least.

Croatia have often been referred as the Brazil of Europe in the past because of their superior individual techniques and beautiful football. Although their team comprises of talented players like Luka Modric and Bayern's Mandzukic, I think they are a touch below the Croatian teams of old with the likes of Zuker, Boban and Prosinecki. They are good enough to get past the group stage but their run should run in the next round.

Whether convincingly or not, Brazil should win the opener on their way to winning the group.

Win: Brazil

Monday, June 9, 2014

FIFA World Cup 2014

The FIFA World Cup starts on Thursday for a month of football nirvanha. This is the Cup every footballer wants to win, every neutral sports fan wants to see. There is nothing like it, this is the zenith of all Cups. Forget UEFA Champions League, Summer or Winter Olympics, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup, World Series, NBA Finals; there is no other championship that comes close to put sports fans in a frenzy like this one, and the winner of tournament is really the world's best.

The fact that the World Cup 2014 will be in the land of samba football Brazil adds more drama to the mix as the hope of a nation lies heavily on the host squad. Here are my thoughts and picks on those teams I think will have an impact and that will make it past the group stages.

Group A. It would be unthinkable if Brazil were not to go past this group. In fact, it would be a shock if they don't win it outright. Cameroon, Croatia and Mexico are no world-beaters and they will be fighting for the second and last qualifying spot. I give the nod to Croatia to follow Brazil to the next stage.

Group B. Spain are the current world champion and are still a force to reckon with. The Netherlands were runners-up to the Spanish team in the last World Cup and deserve the utmost respect with a strong squad having the likes of Van Persie and Robben. Some pundits believe that Chile can spring a surprise but I can't see them past the 2 above. Australia will get at most a point from Chile, nothing more.

Group C. This looks to be a balanced group and my vote goes to Colombia and Ivory Coast. Colombia are a strong balanced team that will be at ease in the South American surroundings and climate. This is kind of a last chance saloon for this Ivory Coast team to forge its reputation as a world-class team. They boast a golden generation with the likes of Toure, Drogba and Kalou but have been most disappointing in being unable to win any major silverware. The current Japan and Greece teams look inferior to their predecessors of previous World Cups, and I think they will struggle to get past.

Group D. Many pundits are thinking Italy should go through based on their history and that Uruguay and England will be fighting it for the last spot. I am not so sure I agree. I think Italy will struggle in this group and although they always prove to be a tough nut to crack in major tournaments, they might not have the proper weapons this time. Uruguay will feel at home and let's not forget that they won the Cup when staged in Brazil in 1950. But what ticks the box in their favour is boasting a wonderful strike force with the likes of Cavani and Suarez. What type of England team shows up remains to be seen but I think Roy Hodgson has the credentials to steer England to the next round. They are not a team that can easily be beaten and can get a result against either Italy or Uruguay on their best day. I see England coming first followed by Uruguay if Suarez if fully fit. If Suarez goes missing for all 3 matches, then Italy are in with a shout.

Group E. I think Switzerland and France will go through in this one. Ecuador could spring a surprise in beating one of the two Europeans, although I am not convinced they will do so. Honduras should end last. I will go for the Swiss to come out on top in front of the French although most pundits will probably have this in the reverse order.

Group F. This should be a formality for Argentina who are deservedly one of the tournament's favourites. It's a toss-up between Bosnia and Nigeria for the second spot. Probably it's going to be the Super Eagles by just.

Group G. A tough group but the Germans should go through on top. They lost Reus, which is a big blow for them. Portugal, the USA and Ghana all have legitimate aspirations for the second spot. The big question will be the disposition of Cristiano Ronaldo for the Portuguese. Without him, they are clearly an average team. It looks like he will play in at least 2 of the group matches, so I will opt for Portugal to go through on that basis.

Group H. Belgium and Russia loom large in this one. No-one in the tournament will want to face Belgium at any stage as they are an extremely-talented bunch that can beat any team on its day. Russia gets the nod for second place because Fabio Capello is a master trainer that can get a result where needed. South Korea seem to be one step behind the old Korean teams and Algeria will find it tough against the two favoured teams mentioned above.

Group A. Brazil, Croatia
Group B. Spain, Netherlands
Group C. Colombia, Ivory Coast
Group D. England, Uruguay
Group E. Switzerland, France
Group F. Argentina, Nigeria
Group G. Germany, Portugal
Group H. Belgium, Russia

Friday, June 6, 2014

Epsom Deby 2014 - Australia to rule the world

All talk about the Epsom Derby has revolved over one name for the past few months; on Saturday, we will finally get to see whether Australia can deliver on the huge burden put on its shoulders since being hailed as the best Flat horse put under the care of the master of Ballydoyle Aiden O'Brien. Should he prove more hype than substance, there are some other smart contenders that can make a name for themselves on Saturday. Here are some of my thoughts on the big race and who I believe are the leading players.

Short favourite Australia was beaten in the 2000 Guineas without a dent to its reputation. For a horse whose pedigree screams for middle distances, his 3rd place finish in the May Classic against this year's best 3 year-old milers only contributed to his growing number of adepts. The skeptics keep throwing the argument that his amazing sprinting sectionals in training might mean that he will not handle the 12 furlong distance of the Derby. I don't buy that. The jaw-dropping sectionals and his staying pedigree seem to indicate a horse having the unique talent to dominate a top-class mile to a mile-and-a-half race. Speed and stamina, isn't that the 2 requisites every trainer is looking for to conquer the Epsom Classic? His pedigree is blue blood all over. By an Epsom Derby winner in Galileo, out of an Oaks winner in Ouija Board, Australia ticks all the right boxes. Only a huge deluge turning the going into extreme heavy might stop him, but on paper and form, this fellow cannot be opposed on Saturday.

The rest will be running for the minor places and the one I like best out of the lot is Geoffrey Chaucer. Also from Ballydoyle, this is a serious colt in his own right. His pedigree page is fantastic, being a half-brother to Shamardal and having Montjeu as sire underlines the fact that the 12 furlong will be right up his alley. His last defeat in the Derrinstown Trial is commonly attributed to the traffic problems he encountered in the straight. There is no doubt in my mind that he will beat the 2 horses that preceded him on that day, notably Ebanoran and Fascinating Rock. With Ryan Moore in the saddle, Geoffrey Chaucer has a top chance of being in the placings on Saturday.

John Gosden is saddling 2 colts for the occasion and I think one of them will land a place. Whether it is the unbeaten Western Hymn or the supplemented  Romsdal, I am not sure. The former is the pick of the stable jockey but you'd feel that if he were a live chance that Romsdal would not have been added to the party. I like the way this son of Halling finished his race into second in the Chester Vase behind Orchestra. I think he will definitely reverse the form with his conqueror that day.

Of the others, I don't think True Story is good enough. There are still question marks regarding his flop in the Dante Stakes but chances are that he might have been over-hyped following a 7-length win in Listed company in the early part of the season.

Kingston Hill is another I think will show his limits despite public confidence from connections. He was well-beaten by Australia in the Guineas and I have doubts whether he will handle the stiff 12 furlongs of Epsom.

At this point, it does not look as though forecast torrential rain will turn this race into a mud-fest. So, Australia must have strong and valid chances for the win. I believe he will have no problem handling the track or the distance or the occasion. Australia will rule the world. For the placings, I will go with Geoffrey Chaucer and Romsdal.

Derby 1-2-3: Australia, Geoffrey Chaucer, Romsdal

Epsom Oaks 2014 - Maktoums in force

Friday's Oaks looks a wide-open affair with a host of live contenders having genuine aspirations to land the fillies' Classic. Out of the pack, I've selected on the following four, from which I believe the winner will come from.

Marvellous is the favourite after her impressive win in the Irish 1000 Guineas a fortnight ago. It will be her first foray beyond a mile and her pedigree seems to indicate that 10 furlongs would be her best distance. She's definitely classy but given her short rest from her last outing, I have huge reservations whether she can land the spoils in this deep field.

Ihtimal is the Godolphin representative that sparkled in Dubai by easily winning the UAE Oaks. She maintained her good form on her return to Britain by finishing a running-on third in the 1000 Guineas. She looks better suited to 10 furlongs but she seems to have the class to last the extra Classic distance. She's more one for the placings than the outright win.

I like Taghrooda's profile in this race. This daughter of Sea The Stars is unbeaten in 2 races and her pedigree seems to indicate that she will have enough stamina to last the distance. There are question marks about the form of her last win in the Pretty Polly Stakes in which she trounced her rivals by over 6 lengths, but there is no doubting that this is a high-class filly.

Tarfasha is the second representative for Hamdan Al Maktoum after Taghrooda. This Teofio filly was impressive on her last win in the Group 3 Blue Wind Stakes at Naas. The manner of her win suggests that stamina will not be problem at Epsom. I like the fact that she ran Geoffrey Chaucer, one of the main contenders for the Derby, to a neck on their debut last year. She should be at the finish.

It's hard to see this race getting out of reach of Hamdan Al Maktoum. With Tafasha and Taghrooda, he has two of the best fillies in the staying division. I will go for Taghrooda over Tarfasha but it will not be surprising if the order were reversed on race day. Ihtimal to come out 3rd will complete the sweep for the Maktoums.

Oaks 1-2-3: Taghrooda, Tarfasha, Ihtimal