World Cup 2014 Draw

brazil2014The die has been cast and the 2014 World Cup Draw is complete. It will be another year the Men’s US Soccer Team will be eliminated before the World Cup kicks off in Brazil in 2014.  It’s no secret, I am not a fan of American “soccer” but the US has been dealt into the “Group of Death” (Group G) with Germany, Ghana and Portugal. Germany eliminated the US in 2002 and Ghana got them back to back in 2006 and 2010. Germany is currently ranked #2 and Portugal, #5 in the FIFA World Rankings. Ghana, currently ranked #24 took third place in the 2013 African Cup of Nations.

Many eyes and commentary will come from Group G because of 3 quality teams that could come out of this group. I believe it will be Germany and Portugal coming out of the group and moving on. A case could be made for Group D as the Group of Death with Uruguay, Costa Rica, England and Italy. 2010 World Cup and Euro 2010 and 2012 Champions, Spain will be looking to retain their title and the #1 ranking as they are grouped with Netherlands, Chile and Australia.

The host nation, Brazil has a golden path to the knockout stage facing Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon. I am not fooled by their #10 ranking, as they have been playing some great football, most recently defeating Chile 2-1 in November. Another South American powerhouse, Argentina (#3 in the world) probably have the easiest of all groups with Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria.

Group C has #4 Columbia with Côte d’Ivoire, Greece and Japan. Columbia most recently defeated Belgium, 2-0 and drew against Netherlands. Côte d’Ivoire brings the last hurrah for Didier Drogba, now 35, but CIV is loaded with talent. France celebrated when they shocked the football world by making it out of qualifying and now the fooball gods give them a favorable draw in Group E with Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras.

While I like the draw for the Azzurri, I still believe they don’t have enough talent to make it to the finals. Much like Euro 2012, Italy advanced defeated England, then Germany in the semi-finals (2-1), but had nothing left for the finals versus Spain, losing 4-0. Speaking of Spain, I like them to repeat as World Cup Champions. They play on level above most every other team with some of the best players in the world at their core. I do like Brazil, but as the host nations, they have the weight of the county on their shoulders. Brazil at home will be tough to stop. My dark horse this year, Belgium. Although some will argue they are a contender, they have a loads of young talent ready to take the world stage.

Matches begin June 12, 2014 as host, Brazil take on Croatia in Arena de São Paulo, São Paulo.

Fair Play or Replay?

What in life is ever fair? Just ask Ireland about their recent loss in the 2010 World Cup Qualifier playoff match against France. While I am not a fan of the French, their coach they do have some class players on their current squad. Names such as Ribery, Anelka, Gallas and Henry come to mind. Many remember the unfortunate headbutt incident in the 2006 World Cup, which saw a blemish on the final career game of Zinedine Zidane. More recently the blatant hand ball offense by Henry in extra time that helped the ball find the foot of Gallas and eventually the back of the goal has spurred many comments from teams and officials about fair play.

The incident was very unfortunate for Ireland, who deserve a berth in the 2010 World Cup. The possibility of a replaying of the match has already been ruled about by Sepp Blatter and FIFA. More recently the FAI (governing body of football in Ireland) has asked FIFA to include them as team number 33 in a 32 team field for the upcoming World Cup in South Africa. If we start making exceptions to the rules, then one must also look at Costa Rica being the 34rd team in the draw with their controversial loss to Uruguay. Where does the madness stop?

While the event was very unfortunate for both countries, I don’t believe any amount of lobby for their cause will have either nation booking their trip to South Africa. It is interesting to note that FIFA is testing the use of officials positioned behind each goal in the UEFA Europa League. This would make the total of 6 officials now involved in the match. Is this the direction we want to go? Replay always seems to draw criticism. In America we see replay used the NFL and sometimes the footage ends up being “inconclusive” and always the play to stand. Other times there is evidence the official was incorrect in their initial call and the call on the field is overturned.

What would the use of replay in FIFA matches do to the game? Obvious answer, slow the game down and break the flow of the match. Not sure this is something a team wants when on the field. Of course being a team like Ireland or Costa Rica, replay would have corrected incorrect calls and saw both teams making the field of 32 for the World Cup. While I am against replay I do like the idea of adding behind the goal officials, much like we see in hockey. This would provide more eyes on the ball and pitch, as well as blatant or unnecessary fouls in that area of the pitch.

It will be interesting to watch and see the direction that FIFA takes. As I said, I don’t think either nation will end up heading to South Africa, both teams were on the short end of the stick. I guess we can only hope that France makes an early exit in the group stage of the World Cup.

OMFG! My 360 Returns!

After four and a half months and 6 phone calls, I have FINALLY received a XBox360 from UPS. To be honest, I don’t know if it is new, refurbished or they did in fact just replace the DVD-Rom. At this point, I really could care less what the hell they did. OH yeah and for my “trouble” they gave me a ‘1 month free’ of XBox Live! Wow! What customer service and support.

Asked now if I would by a 360, my answer would be ‘no.’ I have not been happy with their product, service or selection of games up to this point. The fact that MS loves to release software and hardware before it’s truly ready goes to show they are only in it for the money. Hmmm, sounds like another company (which I like) that has gone this route as well.

I am all for a company making money, why else would they be in business, but to spend 4 months and 6 phone calls to get what I wanted? Needless to say, the comment card was all negative, then again a company that large I don’t expect it to have any effect on those decision makers.

That leads me to this piece, I went to trade in a few older games at one of those software stores. I brought in PGR3, FIFA 06: RtWC and Madden 07 and I got an incredible $14. That is not a misprint. $14 bucks! LOL! It was fine, they were doing nothing but collecting dust. I did happen to trade them in for a used copy of GWAR2. Why you ask, if I hate the 360 so much? I enjoyed GWAR, it was the first game I bought and really got involved in the SP mode of the game. Still couldn’t hit a damn thing in MP, but I was not a big fan of Live! so the MP aspect didn’t really appeal to me.

As of now, I am back to playing MLB ’07 (The BIGS sucks!), FIFA 07 and GWAR 2. I do see Madden 08 is slated for a release later this month (I think) and FIFA 08 in October. Hopefully EA got Madden right this year because there is no way in hell I am spending $69.99 for a half assed developed game again! Sounds like rental first. You think I would have learned my lesson by this time. Guess not.

Point Blank Review: FIFA 2006

It’s somewhat hard to believe I have already played three different FIFA games on the XBox 360 and we still have two months remaining in the year! Prior to the start of Germany 2006 (that’s the World Cup), EA release FIFA 06: Road to FIFA World Cup, where the goal was to qualify for the cup, but did not include the actually World Cup tourney. In April, EA was back at it and released, 2006 FIFA World Cup. In this version, you had the option to play through the qualifiers or you could start in the group stage of the World Cup.

Last week, EA released a demo of FIFA Soccer 07 that is scheduled for release on November 20 (although EB Games said the date is November 1). I was able to rent and copy FIFA 07 for my XBox a few days ago, in order to get a feel for how the game played compared to previous years and compared to the 360 demo version. As I have previously commented, anticipation was not running very high for another EA Sports game that chugs along due to the extreme graphic content, while the game play suffers (hint: Madden 07).

The XBox 360 FIFA Soccer 07 demo allows you to play a half of footie using one of six world class, club teams including AC Milan, Manchester U, Lyon, Barcelona and others. Hopefully there are more game options available when the full version goes retail. I was rather unhappy with the views you could play from, especially when I am comfortable with the ‘Tele’ view and not any of the dynamic views or end views other may be used to. Thankfully the XBox version had a ‘Tele’ view, so there is hope this too will be included in it’s big brother’s version.

Obviously I would be lying if I said the graphics were horrible. Again, as with other games I have rented or purchased for the 360, the graphics are rather impressive, but then again that is what this next-generation console is supposed to have, right? Unfortunately, up until now it has been the game play that has suffered due to the constant “chugging” of the graphics interfering with the game play. Madden is by far, the worst yet! FIFA did not really suffer much, but there were times you could sense it.

After completing the download, I played a few halves of soccer, checking out the different teams and views (since that was really the only setting you could change). The controls were similar to the previous FIFA games, but after flipping through the instruction booklet that came with the game rental for the XBox, there are more options when it comes to individual moves. None of these I have really ever mastered, nor do I use them much during a game. They are nice to have, but its like FIFA: Street Fighter version, you are double tapping buttons, while hold down the left trigger and then pressing ‘A’ in order to get some move or fancy shot off. Not my idea of fun. But, again, the option is there if you want to use it.

The actual game play seemed a bit “stiff” in terms of movement on the pitch. Players looked good, but it did not feel like the previous two FIFA games I had played on the 360. There was an all new feel I sensed and it did not give me a good vibe. In contrast, the XBox version kicks grass! More on that version in a minute. Player movement was fluid, but there was something about either the controls or the animation of the models that left you with an empty feeling. I do take into consideration this is only a demo and there may be more to offer in the retail version.

I was lucky to rent the XBox version and play it the past few days. And damned if I am not impressed by how it feels and plays. The same game mind you! Like FIFA 05 and FIFA 06, controls are laid out the same, but you do have a a few other options when it comes to how you want the controller set up. The menus are similar in nature as well, you can jump right into a game or take the role of a manager and play your way through a season in many of the popular world leagues such as Serie A, Premiership, La Liga, MLS Bundesliga and others. You can also go the pitch to practice.

As a game developer I have stated many times, until I am blue in the face, “it’s not about the graphics, but the game play.” This statement is true for FIFA, so what, you are not playing on a next-generation console using your 61″ plasma television, but I was quite impressed with the overall look and feel of FIFA 07 for the XBox. the players do have a new look to them, new moves and a uniqueness that is impressive to the final whistle. Of course as with any game, PC or console it does take a bit of practice to master it.

I spent the better part of 3 hours yesterday starting a season using AS Roma from the Italian, Serie A, play in the Manager Mode. Unlike previous versions, not only do you play (or sim) all the games in the league you have different tasks you must complete prior to the end of the season. You also must decide on a sponsor, who will pay your squad accordingly. You then have the “board” who will give you kudos or an ultimatium if you happen to run a streak of bad luck and start loosing. You need to learn to develop young talent and search out potential transfers from other leagues and sign them. On top of all these manager duties you must win, win, win!

Obviously the XBox crew did something right, if I was hooked from the first kickoff and spent nearly 3 hours playing and would have much much longer if I did not have take a nap prior to work. The game was challenging, I think I only had one ‘easy” victory. I even took it on the chin in a close 3-2 lose, a game in which I gave up two goals within 5 minutes of each other and was not able to come back and escape with a draw. So through 8 matches, I am 8-1-1 and second in the league. So, while the graphics are not up to 360 standard, the game play excels again and I am excited I will have a new game for the next 12 months or so.

As for the 360 version, I think I will spend the $5 spot and rent it prior to making the decision to purchase it. I have already been burned 3 or 4 times picking up a highly anticipated title only to be pissed because the game does not live up to its expectations (sorry Madden). So, if you are into footie and want a real kick in the grass, rent or buy FIFA Soccer 07. It truly is on a level all its own. As for the 360 version, I will give it a shot when it comes out in November.

Fútbol or Football

Okay, so the US is a bit backwards when it comes to football, the American version and the international version. Those in the states usually refer to it as soccer and not football, fútbol or “footie.”

This past weekend was the opening weekend for the NFL and while I am a big fan of the NFL and fantasy football, I could just not get into the swing of the games on Sunday. Then again, there were some horrible games on television, maybe that is why. So instead of flipping channels during the early games and settling in for the afternoon affair I tuned the NFL out and the Premiership in!

The what you ask? The EPL. The Premiership, the top league over in England, along with catching two Italian matches. Now I can see many rolling their eyes and saying boring, but it was much more exciting that any of the three NFL games I had to choose from. Sure the scores were rather low scoring, 1-0, 1-1, 2-1, but it was a much more enjoyable product on the field, or in footie terms, the pitch, than was watching the NFL.

Maybe this is where fantasy football as gone, as I don’t care so much about watching the games any longer than I do about my fantasy players performing well enough to score big points. Of course I will also root and cheer for my San Diego Chargers, who in fact, kicked the shit out of “Raidernation!” One nation, my ass! And you Bay Area myopics thought Aaron Brooks was the answer to all your prayers. LOL!

I guess I have the recent FIFA World Cup to thank for the sudden infusion of footie in my life and the fact that Italy, my favorite football nation won the cup. As a kid I played the game, through high school and two years in college. But once out of college, I did not play again, but the love for the game is still there and stronger than ever. So while the NFL is in my blood, the love of the game lies watching footie.