2018 World Cup Day 4 and 5

The 2018 World Cup certainly hasn’t been short of surprises so far, with only France and Belgium of the pre-tournament favourites winning their opening games.

The biggest surprise so far was Mexico’s stunning defeat of reigning World Champions Germany. Mexico were brilliant throughout the game and the Germans couldn’t handle the pace and energy of Mexico’s attacking play.

The German centre backs weren’t helped by the rest of the team’s complete disinterest in helping out in defence, which was perhaps typified by right back Joshua Kimmich attempting bicycle kicks in the Mexican box.

You know things are going badly when Mesut Özil feels the need to track back and it was his… let’s say attempted tackle that Mexico’s Hirving Lozano avoided before smashing the ball past Neuer.

The result obviously went down a storm in Mexico, or should that be earthquake!? Such was the exuberance of the celebrations in Mexico City after Lozano’s goal earthquake detectors were set off!

Mexico gans

The other shock on Day 4 was Brazil’s rather tame draw against Switzerland. Big things are expected of Brazil at this tournament, with the side rejuvenated under manager Tite and with Neymar back from injury.

They do look like they have a better balance of defence and attack than four years ago but they are going to have to show a lot more going forward to prove a threat in this tournament.

One of the teams that I was most looking forward to watching during the World Cup is Belgium. It’s the classic combination of a golden generation of brilliant players, led by a manager who has no clue how to get the best out of them.

You have to commend Martinez for trying to pack every one of their superstars into the starting 11, even if it means playing people in positions they aren’t very effective in.

Kevin De Bruyne is perhaps the best example of this. De Bruyne has publicly stated his disapproval with the way Martinez sets up the team in the past, and it does seem strange to have one of the best creative midfielders in the world playing so deep that he can’t affect the game.

Of course, De Bruyne dealt with this frustration in the manner you’d expect from football’s baby faced petulant beetroot, throwing the toys out of the pram and ensuring that pretty much every pass he played from deep was terrible.

He does have a point though, as when he got forward, his beautiful pass with the outside of the boot for Romelu Lukaku to score Belgium’s second showed us all what Belgium were missing for much of the game.

Belgium did eventually run out comfortable winners but they made much harder work of it than they perhaps should have.

Speaking of which… England also got their tournament underway on Day 5 and what do you know? They actually started the game like a confident team that believed in the system and in each other.

They should have been several goals ahead before Tunisia got their soft penalty and while England laboured in the second half, that winning goal from Harry Kane should only reinforce the players’ belief in what Southgate is trying to do.

This England team doesn’t look anywhere near good enough to actually win the whole tournament but with the favourites labouring, this might just be a year when the surprises keep on coming.

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2018 World Cup Day 2 and 3

The only place to start this little round up of the action from the 2018 World Cup is with Portugal against Spain.

What an incredible game of football that was featuring two of the rarest sights in the game: a mistake by David De Gea and Ronaldo scoring directly from a free kick.

ronaldo

Yes, it actually went in! Image: Sky Sports

It’s heart warming to know that De Gea’s commitment to Manchester United is so strong, that when all of Spain is watching, he chooses to show Real fans what he can do.

And what of Cristiano? Surely the greatest big game player of his generation, capable of the most incredible feats of skill and poise when he wants to make the Spanish tax authority sorry for messing with him.

You’d think that most people would crumble under the pressure of being given a massive fine and a suspended prison sentence but nothing motivates Ronaldo like a bit of adversity, even when it’s of his own making apparently.

Ronaldo’s opponents Spain played very well for a team that has gone through so much over the last week and probably should have won the game. They will be very glad that Diego Costa has managed to actually make an impact for them this time, even if his style is still at odds with the way the team plays.

It’s hard to see anyone other than these two making it out of Group B.

Very Angry Reporters 

Saturday started with a little bit of history when VAR was used for the first time at the World Cup. I think what’s clear about VAR is that nothing else at this tournament will cause Danny Murphy and his fellow proper football men pundits to whine more than this new fangled technology.

I’m not quite sure what the issue is, seeing as how every time it’s been used the referee has come to what is probably the right decision.

Look, I get it, new technology is scary and doesn’t always make things better but so far the refs have used VAR sparingly and only for big decisions. It’s just a shame that getting the right decision means having to listen to Murphy petulantly moan about it.

Argentina also kicked off their campaign on Saturday, but unfortunately for Ronaldo’s fellow tax dodger Lionel Messi, the little genius wasn’t able to have anything like the same impact for Argentina as Ronaldo did for Portugal.

Messi’s penalty miss saw the mighty Iceland mark their first game at a World Cup with a draw against one of the world’s most famous football nations. I wonder if this is a bigger deal in Iceland than knocking England out of the Euros?

Plus my mother thinks the Icelandic players are cute, so could it get any better for them?!

A final observation: So… many… fake… head… injuries…

 

2018 World Cup – Day 1

So here we are. The first day of the 2018 World Cup has come and gone and all of the years of consternation in the media that Russia was selected to host the tournament has been replaced with unbridled excitement.

History will be made, shout the BBC and I’m sure ITV have an equally rousing tagline for their coverage.

What does an abysmal human rights record, state sponsored doping and mass interference in democracy across the world matter when Robbie Williams is in town to open football’s biggest show?

And what a show it’s sure to be. The teams have all arrived, the pundits are in full flow and the sponsors and advertisers are making sure every advert is suitably football themed (words typed as Jermaine Jenas pops up in a Jacamo advert).

CGN_Campaign-sharemoment-caro2

Pundit on BBC, in adverts on ITV, the World Cup exists purely for Jermaine Jenas

Yes, football’s great money-spinner is back in all its glory and I for one can’t wait to spend a month injecting the product straight into my football-starved veins.

And what a way to open this latest iteration of national football’s biggest prize: Russia against Saudi Arabia! Dubbed by Guardian cartoonist David Squires as the Human Rights Derby, FIFA must be delighted that their flagship tournament is going to kick off with two countries so completely in line with FIFA’s guiding principle of inclusion.

Football really is for everyone, say FIFA, and if it’s not, that’s absolutely fine as long as you have lots of money I suppose.

I know, I know, you’re all thinking that I should either stop whining and just enjoy it or just not watch it at all because politics only has a place in football when politicians use the sport to legitimise their tyrannical dictatorships. So yes, lets not worry about it, lets talk about what really matters, the game itself!

Well, much to everyone’s surprise, Russia played really well, albeit against a Saudi Arabia team that didn’t look like it had any idea how to keep possession when there was an opposition team to deal with.

It’s hard to tell which way a tournament will go in terms of how expansive teams will be but lets hope that the rest of the games are as full of great goals and awful goalkeeping as this one.

It’s good for the tournament if the hosts do well (a statement that must be true as it came from the mouth of one of ITVs’ football luminaries) and if Russia can continue this form in their next two games they may just make it out of the group.

All we can hope for now is that the rest of the football is good and that we don’t get any (more) stories of violence and racist abuse (because obviously that’s something we should expect to have to deal with from a world cup host). Hey, you know what, maybe Russia 2018 may just turn out to be OK… I mean Robbie was actually pretty good!

Horizon Zero Dawn, my game of E3 2015

I love E3. Five days of non-stop game coverage, with more announcements and surprises than the mind can comfortably conceive.

What’s more, E3 just keeps getting better, with all of the big publishers showing an amazing variety of games. For every predictable sequel, there was a brand new game or unique looking indy title.

So many incredible games, but the one that stood out to me the most was the new game from Guerrilla Games: Horizon: Zero Dawn.

I was expecting Uncharted 4 to be my game of the show, and for the insane Uncharted fan within, it was, but this will be my forth adventure with Drake and I sort of know what to expect.

I have no idea what to expect from Horizon, not just because it’s a new IP and they showed very little of it, but because it’s being developed by Guerrilla Games, who for the past 10 years haven’t made anything other than Killzone.

Something new

I really enjoy the Killzone games and while Shadow Fall showed that Guerrilla are capable of using a more varied colour palette (not just different shades of brown) an open world third person role playing game is completely new for them.

Despite the lack of colour, Guerrilla’s games have always been graphical powerhouses and the first bit of Horizon we saw looked incredible. No colour is off the table in this post-post apocalyptic world and it looks beautiful.

And then there is Aloy, the game’s protagonist. Killzone games were first-person, and while you saw your character during cut-scenes, you were only really able to build a relationship with his hands, which is what you saw 95% of the time.

Aloy will be played in third-person so you will really get to know her, especially if she is as vocal as she was in what we’ve seen.

Endless possibilities

What has me most excited for this game is how little we know about it. How did humanity come so close to extinction? Who are the tribes and where did they come from? And what the hell is up with the machines that roam the land and that Aloy treats like wild animals to be hunted and respected?

Guerrilla has created what looks like an incredible world that is packed full of questions and that first trailer and piece of gameplay, with that goose bump inducing score has me so excited for the game.

I know it was only a first look but I just cannot wait to find out more.

Back to where it all began

I love my PS4. In it’s short life it has already taken me on many a memorable journey and my games have never looked or played better.

When I got my first game console, the Nintendo 64, I never imagined that one day, sitting under my TV would be a machine capable of creating such detailed worlds and crafting such deep experiences.

Yet as much as I love my PS4 I can’t help but feel that something is missing.

The first time I was ever blown away by a game was when I watched my friend play The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I was so enchanted that it wasn’t long before my parents got me a Nintendo 64 and my own copy of the game.

I finally had Hyrule all to myself to explore and save and to this day, that is still my favourite game of all time. My trusty N64 is still alive and kicking and I try and beat Ocarina every now and again.

Ocarina was followed by Majora’s Mask and that was the last Zelda game I ever played on a console I owned. Which when I think about it is crazy considering how much I love the franchise. It gets worse; somehow, despite my dedication to this medium, the only Mario game I ever played was on a Gameboy.

Nintendo has gone through a tough time in the last few years, but still even thinking about their games creates more wonder and excitement then almost any others. They are games that strive for nothing less than being the pinnacle of perfection to play. The story doesn’t really matter, one way or another the princess will be saved. These are games where gameplay is king.

I think as I have grown up, I have become a bit of a snob; I expect so much from a game; it has to be fun, has to tell an engaging story, has to play well and has to make me feel like it was worth my money.

I want all of those things but more and more I just want a game that is just really good at being exactly that, a game.

I want to be surprised again and to bring back that childhood sense of wonder. What I want is a Wii U. After 15 years I want to return to where it all started.

Nintendo gets a lot of criticism for surviving off just a few franchises, but there is a reason that people keep wanting to go back to them, and after all this time, I do to.

Constant collecting – Far Cry 4

What makes Far Cry 4 so special is it feels like it was developed for only one purpose: to be fun.

Obviously all games are meant to be fun, we wouldn’t spend hours and hours playing them if they weren’t, but this isn’t a game that is trying to tell you a deep complex story, or revolutionise game mechanics. Far Cry 4 gives you the biggest most beautiful playground possible, drops you in the middle of it and gives you all the tools you need to enjoy yourself.

Maybe you want to jump off a mountain, open your wingsuit and take in Kyrat’s beautiful vistas, maybe you want to hunt honey badgers with nothing but a bow, or maybe you want to hop onto the back of an elephant and charge straight into an enemy truck. All of these and so much more are possible in Far Cry 4.

With so much to do, it is probably quite surprising that most of my Far Cry 4 experience so far has involved hunting treasure, and by treasure I mean the hundreds of chests shown with diamond symbols on the game map.

The chests don’t contain anything particularly interesting, just trinkets that can be sold for rupees, so why would someone spend so much time looking for all of them?

Because the clever developers at Ubisoft know that by leaving the chests clearly marked, they would awaken within people like me the compulsion to collect.

Find all the things

Such a strong need to collect every last fake chest filled with fake loot to clear a map of a fake place is probably the kind of thing that used to get people committed.

Now though, developers are cramming collectibles into games specifically because they know that people find it fun.

It helps that Kyrat is such a beautiful place to travel through, but that’s not why I am happy to commit hours and hours to finding every single last chest, mask and journal entry.

It is the sense of completion that I am after, that feeling that I have done everything there is to do, left no corner unexplored and cleaned up the entire map.

The cynical view would be to see collectibles as a way developers try to artificially lengthen their games for those who measure the cost of a game against how long they took to complete it, and while to a certain extent that might be true, for the completionists they really add something to the game.

I’m sure Far Cry 4 has many more exciting chapters left in its story and I’m looking forward to getting to them, I just have a lot of collecting to do first.

Winning is everything

Manchester United’s 1 – 2 win over Southampton has extended their winning run to five games, moved them up to third in the table and was just terrible.

United had three shots at goal, the lowest since Opta started recording these things 11 years ago, and defended and passed the ball like they had never done it before.

But they won, so should I care how they played?

Once upon what feels like such a long time ago, 2012, I would have been far less impressed with that kind of victory, yes we got the win but I didn’t enjoy watching the game.

Now though, I would happily sit through terrible games like Manchester United against Southampton if we take the three points.

What is particularly interesting about this new way of thinking is that it is so at odds with what is happening in much of the Premier League in what I like to call the age of entitlement that we are now living in.

When fans at clubs like West Ham and Stoke are calling for their managers to be sacked, not because of the club’s league position, but because their teams don’t play entertaining football, it really does make you stop and wonder what is going on.

On the other hand, they may just be on to something.

With just a few good signings, West Ham has gone from a team that doesn’t just lump it forward and hope for the best, but where lumping it forward is just one good attacking option. You have to imagine Sam Allardyce now has even more cause to believe he would be treated as managerial royalty had he only be born on the continent as Samio Allardici.

There has also been a significant shift in the Premier League that has seen mid-table clubs play attacking football and pushing themselves closer to the top four and with only 10 points between third and tenth the league certainly feels a lot more competitive (if you ignore Chelsea and City).

Top and bottom                  

The more clubs in the league that play to win games the better and it’s great that fans can push their clubs to play entertaining football, but that mentality can only be enjoyed by certain clubs.

When you look at the bottom of the table, points are all that matter. For Leicester, Burnley, Hull and QPR, it doesn’t matter how well they play as long as they are getting points on the board.

At the top it is a bit different, there is an expectation to win games well, but you have to be able to grind out results and when you are honing in on the title, you can accept a poor performance as long as you get all three points.

Now, I have found a new position: I don’t care how United play as long as they win. Yes, we can be consistently terrible but if it means we qualify for Europe, I’ll take it. Controversial I know, it almost sounds like a football fan with almost reasonable expectations.

If we do end up in the Champions League next season and spend even more money on players, I promise all sense of being reasonable will go out the window.