Saturday, June 16, 2018

WHEN IT COUNTS: STAMPS COME ALIVE IN FOURTH TO TOP TICATS

It took just over three full quarters but the Calgary Stampeders offence came alive when it counted most, finding pay dirt in the fourth quarter and outlasting the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 28-14 in their season opener Saturday evening at McMahon Stadium.
Despite passing for over 200 yards in the first half it was the Stampeders run game that fueled the home squad in the final frame with Don Jackson and Terry Williams combining for 117 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries in the contest.
The Ticats — who held the lead for a good majority of the game — ran into an active Stampeders secondary down the stretch which shut down Jeremiah Masoli who passed for 302 yards on just under 70% passing.
One of the subplots in this matchup was how the young and inexperienced Tiger-Cats secondary would net out against a veteran-laden Stampeders offence.  Despite scrimmaging from their own seven-yard line to start the game, Calgary pressed the issue early as Mitchell connected twice with Reggie Begelton totaling 70 yards to set up a 23-yard Rene Paredes field goal to open the contest 3-0.
The Stampeders continued to move the ball with ease for the remainder of the first quarter but would lament a few missed opportunities as three overthrows stalled Calgary drives.
Despite being in control most of the opening frame the Stamps would surrender the first major of the game when Masoli helped get his team out of a second-and-long deep in his own end.
Facing pressure, Masoli stepped into a deep throw down the near sideline to WR Mike Jones who had a step on his man and turned a catch-and-run into a 76-yard gain.  On the ensuing play, Masoli went play-action, froze the Stampeders defensive front and scampered 13-yards untouched for the major and a 7-6 Ticats lead heading into the second quarter.
As the second quarter rolled on, it was the tale of two quarterbacks looking to attack in different ways.  Despite some incompletions, Mitchell continued to stretch the field while Masoli took what he could underneath.  Both moved the ball well but could not capitalize once in opposing territory.
The teams traded a pair of field goals before the half with Hamilton holding a slim 11-9 advantage.
Despite each defence forcing drives to come to a halt, both pivots each put up over 200 yards passing in the first half with Masoli completing passes at a rate of 84%.
Masoli continued to operate at a high efficiency when the third quarter began but two consecutive positive possessions ended just past midfield – one by fumble, one by sack.
The Stamps also had challenges gaining traction in the third against a Ticats defence that despite giving up big gains along the ground, took away the deep ball.
Calgary opened the fourth quarter with a 23-yard field goal by Paredes to regain the lead 12-9 before they finally took their biggest lead of the contest. A 39-yard pass interference call on Hamilton’s DB Don Unamba allowed Mitchell to find Kemar Jorden for a 15-yard touchdown with 9:58 remaining.  The five-play, 65-yard touchdown drive was capped off by a Terry Williams run on a two-point conversion to give Calgary a 19-11 lead.
The Tiger-Cats looked to answer and did so with a 43-yard field goal after a pair of completions from Masoli to Jalen Saunders cut the lead to 19-14 with 4:25 on the clock.  Saunders finished with over 100 yards receiving on the day.
The Ticats had an opportunity to make a comeback, taking the ball with 2:33 left and scrimmaging from their 34 yard line.  A pair of Saunders completions put them in Calgary territory Masoli was flished out of the pocket, forced a throw and was picked off by veteran Brandon Smith.
Jackson put the game away shortly thereafter when he took a handoff 44 yards for the touchdown and iced the 28-14 victory.
Hamilton will double dip in Alberta visiting the Edmonton Eskimos in Week 2.  As for the Stampeders, they will get another shot at an Eastern opponent when they visit Toronto for a Grey Cup rematch with the Argonauts.

World Cup Recap for June 16, 2018


Modric-inspired Croatia open with a win

No shots on target, one goal. The statistics at half-time during Croatia's meeting with Nigeria reflected an opening 45 minutes shaded by the Balkan side – but largely dominated by defenders. Ivan Perisic went closest to hitting the target with an effort from 20m after a quarter of an hour, but in the end it was Nigeria's Oghenekaro Etebo who brought joy to the huge Croatian contingent in Kaliningrad, beating his own goalkeeper following a corner.
Cautious in the first half, Nigeria came out with more purpose after the break, only for Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida to keep Odion Ighalo well and truly quiet. In fact, just as the Super Eagles began turning up the pressure on Danijel Subasic's goal, the *Vatreni* (The Fiery Ones) responded by doubling their lead, Luka Modric converting from the spot after William Ekong held Mario Mandzukic in the box. It was no less than Modric deserved after a superb display that earned him the Budweiser Man of the Match award.

This was a difficult match for Croatia, but the Vatreni picked up three points in an excellent opening game for Zlatko Dalic's men. Perhaps they still need to find their rhythm, and perhaps they were not especially impressive, but ultimately they came out on top. There were gaps in the Nigerian defence and Croatia were able to make the most of them.

Nigeria had trouble creating chances, and unfortunate mistakes at set-pieces proved very costly against superior opposition. The Super Eagles lacked imagination up front, and although they were mostly able to frustrate Croatia's talented forwards at the back, it was not enough to secure three points. They now need to overcome Iceland to stave off the prospect of an early exit.

Croatia's captain and playmaker Luka Modric was a decisive presence, taking the corner that led to the opening goal before burying the penalty that gave the Vatreni breathing space. On top of those two crucial contributions, he shone throughout the game with his vision and slick passing.

Croatia ended a run of three games without a victory in their opening fixture at a World Cup. The Vatreni's last win in their first game had been a 3-1 defeat of Jamaica in 1998.

What's next
Argentina v Croatia - Group D, 21 June, Nizhny Novgorod
Nigeria v Iceland - Group D, 22 June, Moscow, Volgograd

Denmark do just enough to edge out Peru

Denmark edged out Peru thanks to Yussuf Poulsen’s second-half goal to join France on three points in Group C of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.
The Peru fans were out in force in Saransk, making their players feel right at home. Suitably inspired, they dominated the first half but could not make the most of the opportunities they created. 
Perhaps the pressure of Peru’s 36-year absence from the world finals weighed heavy on their shoulders, with Christian Cueva missing a penalty just before the break. Playing a more patient game, the Danes were unable to generate any clear-cut chances as the first half ended goalless.
Adopting a more adventurous approach after the restart, Denmark were rewarded when Christian Eriksen’s precise through-ball allowed Poulsen to open the scoring. Though the South Americans piled the pressure on in search of an equaliser, the Danes held firm, with keeper Kasper Schmeichel pulling off some fine stops.
Brimming with confidence, Peru put in a performance that banished memories of their long absence from the world finals. The South Americans created numerous opportunities and missed a golden chance from the spot. Finding themselves a goal behind at the start of the second half, they turned to the talismanic Paolo Guerrero, but not even he could prevent them from falling to a defeat that did not reflect their efforts on the pitch.
Denmark came under a lot of pressure at the start of the match, not least on the right flank, and tried unsuccessfully to bring Eriksen into the game with a series of long balls. Though William Kvist was forced off with injury, they found the goal they were looking for and worked hard to defend it, earning three precious points in the process.
Yussuf Poulsen had a match to remember. As well as being in the right place at the right time to collect Eriksen’s pass and score the only goal of the game, he also defended tirelessly and was Denmark’s hero of the hour.
Hoping to celebrate their World Cup return in style, the Peruvians found luck was not on their side, as their winless run in the competition stretched to seven games.
What’s next
Australia-Denmark | *Group C | 21 June, Samara (Samara Arena)
France-Peru
* | Group C | 21 June, Ekaterinburg (Ekaterinburg Arena)

Iceland thwart Argentina on World Cup debut

The action at Moscow’s Spartak Stadium got off to a thrilling start with the match between FIFA World Cup™ veterans Argentina and debutants Iceland. Despite stamping their authority on the game’s opening stages, La Albiceleste struggled to find space against a deep-lying Icelandic defence. The breakthrough came in the 19th minute when Sergio Aguero fired the ball home on the turn to give Argentina a 1-0 lead. The South Americans’ joy was short-lived, however, as Alfred Finnbogason made history by scoring his country’s first-ever World Cup goal just four minutes later.
Lionel Messi had the biggest opportunity to take the lead in the second half, but his penalty was saved by Iceland goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson. Although Argentina continued to press for a goal, they were repeatedly denied by the Nordic side’s staunch defensive efforts.

While Argentina proved unable to find a win in their opening match, showed some defensive weaknesses and even missed a penalty, this match also provided plenty of encouragement. The team that took to the pitch were spirited with a clear game plan, despite failing to unlock an extremely compact Iceland defence.

Iceland’s plan worked to perfection. The tournament newcomers know the kind of football they need to play to achieve their objectives. They have to be compact and unrelenting. The Icelandic players will not get results by playing Argentina’s brand of attacking football. Ahead of the game, Hallgrimsson urged his players not to give Messi any space, and they did this extremely effectively under captain Aron Gunnarsson’s leadership.

Hannes Halldorsson palmed Lionel Messi’s penalty clear in the 64th minute to secure his team an impressive 1-1 draw against favourites Argentina.

The last Argentina player to wear the No19 shirt at a World Cup before Aguero was Messi on his tournament debut against Serbia and Montenegro in 2006.

What’s next?
Argentina - Croatia – Group D, 21 June, Nizhny Novgorod
Nigeria - Iceland – Group D, 22 June, Volgograd

Own goal sees France edge Australia

The third matchday of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia began with the Group C encounter between France and Australia in Kazan. Although Les Bleus made a bright start, stars Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann were unable to capitalise on their chances. The Aussies gained a foothold in the game after the first 15 minutes, with Hugo Lloris palming their best first-half opportunity clear when team-mate Corentin Tolisso threatened to deflect a free-kick into his own net.
The action then came thick and fast after the interval. After consulting with the video assistant referees (VAR team), referee Andres Cunha awarded France a penalty that Griezmann coolly converted. Samuel Umtiti then handled the ball in the box just a few minutes later, with Mile Jedinak scoring the resulting spot-kick. Didier Deschamps’ side ultimately turned the match back in their favour, thanks to an own goal from Australia defender Aziz Behich.
Both teams will be back in action on Thursday 21 June, when France take on Peru, while Australia will be under pressure against Denmark.

By the end of this match, only one thing was certain: France still have plenty of work to do. Their weaknesses were clear, as they sought to find their rhythm. It was a tough emcounter, and it is difficult to escape the fact that Les Bleus were very lucky to secure all three points in their opening game. Eleven top players do not always make a top team – not yet, anyway…

The Socceroos held their own against their French opponents. They may even have deserved a draw and can certainly be satisfied with their performance. They were well organised and resolute in defence. Coach Bert van Marwijk will be glad that his team delivered what he has been calling for all week. All in all, the boys in green and gold can be proud of how they pushed France all the way.

The French whirlwind was extremely nimble and busy throughout the game, constantly switching positions and popping up both up front and on both wings. Eventually only a foul could stop Griezmann, who then stepped up to convert the resulting penalty himself.

At 19 years and 178 days old, Kylian Mbappe today became the youngest player ever to feature for France at a World Cup. In doing so, he broke the record set by Bruno Bellone, who played for L’Equipe Tricolore at Spain 1982, aged 20 years and 118 days.

What’s next?
Denmark v Australia - Group C, 21 June, Samara (Samara Arena)
France v Peru - Group C, 21 June, Ekaterinburg (Ekaterinburg Arena)