UEFA Euro 2012: Opening Day!

8 Jun

It’s Euro 2012 opening day in Warsaw, Poland. Today kicks off a tournament that could be considered one of the top tournaments in soccer. I would put it just a bit behind the World Cup, but the excitement is more than on par with it.

I’m currently sitting on my couch watching the opening ceremonies that are always so awkward for me to watch, and a few different thoughts and predictions are working through my head.

The opening match today is one between co-host country Poland and Greece in Warsaw. Obviously the opening match always has a ton of energy, and you can hear it in the crowd that is nothing but a sea of red and white ready to cheer on the Polish side. The Greek side seems to be well represented, but will certainly be overpowered by the Polish energy in the building.

Opening day is always very tense, and usually games are played very tight. I expect to see something to the tune of a 1-1 draw, just to get things off and running. I don’t see Poland going very far in this tournament, and I consider them to be the worst team in Group A. Greece has taken on an attacking style lately, which I’m sure will prove well for them on this opening day, and they have always played tight defense historically. Poland is starting in a 4-2-3-1 with Greece going with an attacking 4-3-3.

We shouldn’t forget that Greece came out of nowhere to win this tournament only two editions ago in 2004, and could make some noise here and go on a run if they get out of the group stage which I expect them to do. Poland hasn’t reached the knockout stages of a major tournament since the 1986 World Cup. As I write, the game just kicked off.

Later in the day, the power of Group A will play each other, a match between Russia and Czech Republic. Both of these teams have the man-power to do well in this tournament, but I have a feeling that one of these teams will not be able to advance, should their match not finish to a draw. The strategy of the group stage is very important, and both sides will be very interested to see how this Poland v. Greece match plays out.

The culture that surrounds this tournament is always a pleasant and enlightening background to the exciting play on the pitch. This Euro 2012 tournament seems a little different to me. So much of the attention has been centered around the racism issue in co-host countries Poland and Ukraine, most recently yesterday as fans who attended the Netherlands practice session in Krakow were making monkey noises and chants at the Netherlands’ black players Nigel de Jong and Gregory van der Wiel. All of this just days after BBC released a “Panorama: Euro 2012: Stadiums of Hate” video that highlighted the violence and discrimination around Polish and Ukrainian club soccer.

I sincerely hope that this is where the racism issue begins and ends as opening day starts today, and we never have to hear about it again. I would like to think that BBC sensationalized this racism issue in Poland and Ukraine, but it will be a sad few weeks for these host countries if it continues and is put in the spotlight worldwide.

Finishing up, Poland took a 1-0 lead in the 17th minute with a header by Lewandowsky, finishing off a cross from Blaszczykowski.

HAPPY EURO 2012!

Preview: Stanley Cup Final

30 May

If you’re one of the people who predicted this Devils/Kings match-up, raise your hand.

Put your hand down, liar.

Both of these teams had tough roads to the Final, with the Devils having to take care of the top-seeded Rangers and a surging Philadelphia Flyers team a round before that. More impressive however, would be the dismantling of the number 1, 2, and 3-seeds by the Los Angeles Kings, going 12-2 so far this postseason.

How They Match Up:

The Devils have the luxury of rolling four lines, and getting quality playing time from everyone on the ice. Los Angeles has to match up with anyone that the Devils put on the ice. They won’t be able to only pay attention to Kovalchuk, Parise, and fresh off injury Travis Zajac, a middle-man that the Devils have been missing for a while that can make a significant contribution centering the Devils’ top line. With a legend in net in Martin Brodeur, the Devs can be confident in their hall-of-fame backstop to get the job done. If anything can get it done for the Devils, it will be the fact that they can out-work any team that they’re playing against for 60 minutes or longer if needed.

The Kings will have to rely on their star power. Thankfully for them they have a ton of it. Kopitar, Richards, Brown, and Carter are always a threat to score from anywhere on the ice. Jonathan Quick, who will get my vote for the Vezina Trophy, is as reliable as anyone in the net, and can easily steal a game if the Kings’ sticks go stale. Their forecheck is ruthless, and will prove to be a tough test for the Devils defensemen and their defensive zone tactics. They have the ability to break down anyone in an instant. Also of note, the Kings have not lost on the road yet this season, and the Prudential Center is not one of the rowdiest buildings in the league, to put it nicely.

Special teams will certainly be a factor in the Final, and will contribute to gigantic momentum swings as the games and series go on. The Devils’ special teams hasn’t been anything special this post-season, and their penalty kill comes in at a less-than-stellar 74.2% this postseason. The Kings’ powerplay has only been scoring at a rate of 8.1%, so I guess those two factors are a wild card, because it seems like anything is possible when that situation arises.

More interesting is the fact that the Devils’ powerplay has been scoring at 18.2%, while the Kings have put up a 91.2% PK. The Kings’ penalty kill is something that New Jersey will have to figure out quickly, all without getting scored on themselves. The Kings have scored five shorthanded goals in the playoffs. Penalties happen, and I think it will play a big part in giving us our Stanley Cup winner.

My Prediction: Devils in 7.

This series has all the tools needed to give us a dramatic series that goes the distance. In the end, the Devils will have their fourth Cup in team history because of their depth and their ability to systematically tire you out and take advantage of you in opportune times. I hope Mike Bolt is bringing soap; the Cup is spending its summer in the Dirty.

Dufner Showing No Signs of Cooling Off

26 May

I’m beginning to finally learn what it means to be a ‘slow-starter’. I can thank Jason Dufner for that.

35-year-old Dufner didn’t have the most glorious start to his professional career that began in 2000. He started his career on the Nationwide Tour, and spent his time there until 2006, with one year being played on the PGA Tour in 2004. From 2006 to 2008, Dufner struggled to keep his Tour card until 2008, where he retained conditional status, and finally broke through to stay on the PGA Tour from 2009 until now.

That history now means precisely, zilch.

Fast forward to now and 164 starts on the PGA Tour later, and Dufner picks up his first win at the Zurich Classic in New Orleans in a playoff over Ernie Els. Finally, the monkey was off his back, the elephant was out of the room – you get the point. Dufner found a new habit: winning. Although he finished T68 at The PLAYERS after his maiden win, Dufner won for the second time in three weeks with a birdie on the 72nd hole of the HP Byron Nelson to win the match outright, which would’ve gone to a playoff had he missed.

**Just so this doesn’t go unnoticed, Dufner took some time to get married the Sunday in between the Zurich and PLAYERS. I’m going to give him a free pass for the T68. I don’t think my mind would necessarily be in ‘golf mode’ after a wedding like this.**

Today, after round 3 of the Crowne Plaza Invitational, Dufner holds the 54-hole lead by one shot over 2007 Masters Champion Zach Johnson. Barring some sort of other-worldly round by someone in the field, it will essentially be a match play event between Dufner and Johnson, who are -15 and -14 respectively. Third place sits at a meager -7.

If Dufner can hold off Johnson for the win, it will mean back-to-back wins for him, and his third win in four starts. This will also mean back-to-back second place finishes for Johnson, who will most likely show more emotion on the 72nd green than Dufner will, who I have yet to see crack a smile.

Maybe this week will be different. Putting on that plaid jacket has to make even the most straight-faced people laugh, right?

Busy Week For Golf

24 May

Many of the top players in the world will be competing this week, but they’ll be doing it on the opposite sides of the Atlantic.

The European Tour is hosting the BMW PGA Championship at the Wentworth Club- considered to be the biggest tournament of the year. The tournament is hosting the top 3 players in the world of Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood. Being this a Ryder Cup year, players will be looking to win this major tournament to boost themselves up in the Ryder Cup standings.

Player I’m Watching: Matteo Manassero.

Matteo has been playing well as of late, racking up 4 top-10s over his last 5 tournaments. At age 19, he will be a force to be reckoned with for years on the European Tour, but the young blood in golf is looking to make their presence known as soon as possible. Having already made a few appearances in professional team golf, most recently playing for the Seve Trophy, Manassero could be the young blood that Europe needs to take the Ryder Cup in American soil.

Stateside, we will be watching the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial at Colonial Country Club. The PGA Tour has really been paying attention to marquee groupings lately, and they certainly didn’t take a week off of that focus this week. For Thursday and Friday the past three PGA Tour winners (Jason Dufner, Matt Kuchar, Rickie Fowler) will be playing together and getting a lot of attention. Each player in the group is looked at in a very different light around the golf-watching public, so this group should appeal to everyone, and give the commentators much to talk about.

Who I’m Watching: Harris English.

Talk about a kid who reeks of confidence right now. At only 22 years of age, English has already made over $500,000 in his rookie season. Coming off of an absolutely absurd 60-63 in British Open qualifying, English really has his game going right now and could do major damage at Colonial. Hate to say it Tiger fans, but golf is very quickly becoming a young man’s game, and we’re starting to get a good look a the bright futures many of the teenagers and twenty-somethings have ahead of them.

BMW PGA Standings

Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial Standings

Place Your Bets! NFL Over/Unders are Here!

24 May

Cantor Gaming in Las Vegas gave me, and other people like me a chance to smile on Wednesday by releasing their lines and odds on NFL season win totals. Football season is the best time of the year for fantasy sports and betting in my eyes, and this release only has my mouth watering more for this season to start. For fun on this blog, I will be picking five games every week, and for these season win totals, I will make my pick for every team. I don’t consider myself a professional, but I HAVE had decent success during football season. As Jay-Z said “I ain’t pass the bar, but I know a little bit”. That is your disclaimer.

And for your viewing pleasure, your 2012-2013 NFL season win totals!

Team Wins Over Return on $100 Under Return on $100
New England 12.0 -120 $83.33 -110 $90.91
Green Bay 12.0 -125 $80.00 -105 $95.24
Philadelphia 10.0 -135 $74.07 105 $105.00
Houston 10.0 -140 $71.43 +110 $110.00
San Francisco 10.0 +105 $105.00 -135 $74.07
New Orleans 10.0 -125 $80.00 -105 $95.24
Baltimore 10.0 -110 $90.91 -120 $83.33
Pittsburgh 10.0 -125 $80.00 -105 $95.24
Detroit 9.5 105 $105.00 -135 $74.07
San Diego 9.0 -130 $76.92 EVEN $100.00
Denver 9.5 -110 $90.91 -120 $83.33
New York Giants 9.5 -110 $90.91 -120 $83.33
Chicago 8.5 -135 $74.07 105 $105.00
Atlanta 9.0 105 $105.00 -135 $74.07
New York Jets 8.5 -115 $86.96 -115 $86.96
Dallas 8.5 -125 $80.00 -105 $95.24
Kansas City 8.0 -120 $83.33 -110 $90.91
Cincinnati 7.5 -130 $76.92 EVEN $100.00
Miami 7.5 -110 $90.91 -120 $83.33
Carolina 7.5 -125 $80.00 -105 $95.24
Buffalo 7.0 -110 $90.91 -120 $83.33
Seattle 7.0 -110 $90.91 -120 $83.33
Oakland 7.0 -110 $90.91 -120 $83.33
Tennessee 7.0 -130 $76.92 EVEN $100.00
Arizona 7.0 -110 $90.91 -120 $83.33
Washington 6.5 EVEN $100.00 -130 $76.92
Minnesota 6.0 EVEN $100.00 -130 $76.92
St. Louis 6.0 -120 $83.33 -110 $90.91
Tampa Bay 6.0 -110 $90.91 -120 $83.33
Indianapolis 5.5 +105 $105.00 -135 $74.07
Jacksonville 5.5 +105 $105.00 -135 $74.07
Cleveland 5.5 EVEN $100.00 -130 $76.92

I will be making my picks in the coming weeks. Chew on this for a little bit. Let me know what you think of these!

Hamels/Harper Now A Non-Story

24 May

PHILADELPHIACole Hamels didn’t hit any Washington batters this time, and the Nationals hitters barely touched Hamels.

Hamels pitched eight scoreless innings, finishing up by retiring Bryce Harper on a grounder as the Philadelphia Phillies snapped a season-long four-game losing streak Wednesday night with a 4-1 victory over Washington.

Hamels (7-1) didn’t allow a hit until Danny Espinosa doubled with one out in the sixth. The left-hander won his seventh straight decision, allowing four hits and striking out eight.Hamels faced Washington for the first time since intentionally hitting the 19-year-old Harper on May 6. The incident sparked a firestorm, with Hamels earning a five-game suspension and Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo getting fined for his critical comments of Hamels.

Complete domination by Cole Hamels. There’s no doubt that he is one of best pitchers in the league this season, but there’s no doubt in my mind headlines would be reading “Hamels Can’t Handle Harper and the Nationals” if the Nationals win this game, regardless if Harper goes 1-4 or 4-4. The MLB is looking for all of the stories it can possibly conjure up right now having to compete with the NBA Playoffs and Stanley Cup Playoffs. Consider this possible storyline shut down now.

Furthermore, I’ll have to check my sources on this one, and I know this is late, but since when do pitchers get suspended for hitting batters AFTER the game? I am almost positive this is the first time I have ever seen this (someone comment on the last time this happened). If Hamel’s doesn’t say “Welcome to the Major Leagues” in his post-game interview, there is a 1500% chance that he doesn’t get suspended for hitting Harper. Busch league suspension if you ask me. It’s part of the game. Let players talk. Thank God this won’t be a story anymore.

Devils Squeak By In Game 5, Take 3-2 Series Lead

24 May

If Game 5 proved anything to us, it was that the best team on the ice doesn’t always win the game. The Devils were able to ride a hot first period to a 5-3 victory against the New York Rangers Wednesday night in Madison Square Garden. Despite being outshot 28-17, the Devils were able to take advantage of an early struggle by Henrik Lundqvist and slipped three pucks past him before the ten-minute mark of the first period. The Devils wouldn’t lose the lead after that, although maybe they should have.

What was described by Devils captain Zach Parise as the team’s worst performance of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, anyone watching the game, or playing the game for that matter, would be crazy to argue with him. After the three goal start, the Devils got a little too comfortable and let the Rangers itch their way back to a 3-3 game early in the third period. The Rangers clearly dominated the middle three-quarters of game, but a strong game from the Devils fourth-liners would prove to be the difference in the game. Ryan Carter stuck the fork in the Rangers with a late goal assisted by Stephen Gionta (who also scored the first goal of the game) to move themselves within one win of joining the red-hot Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Story of the Game: Devils 4th line.

The Bernier-Gionta-Carter trio were the story of Game 5 by combining for 4 points (2G, 2A, +4), as well as providing valuable minutes to ensure that the skill players were fresh every time they stepped on the ice. It’s a testament to these players that Devils coach Peter DeBoer has the confidence in them to put them on the ice in pressure situations and get the job done. It seems that the Devils are relying on all 18 skaters to give the team the chance at another Stanley Cup.

What to watch for: Game 7.

The Rangers have had a tendency to provide us with drama over the course of this year’s playoffs, so don’t be surprised if they push this series to game 7 back at the Garden. The Rangers previous two series have gone to game 7, each being decided by one goal. If the Devils aren’t able to close it out at home, expect a drama-filled barn burner in game 7.