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What’s happening in the fashion world?

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It’s easy to claim that one is in love with fashion and clothing. Everyone has experienced that feel-good moment when purchasing that one new outfit which then, in my opinion, easily subsides as soon as another event comes along (and as materialistic consumers we claim we’ve got nothing to wear).

Fashion is part and parcel of our everyday lives and I am one who notes and gives extra attention, not only to the way I look, but also to what’s happening around me. I still have to figure out whether the fact that the fashion industry in Malta is not taken seriously and is only, for the large part, considered as a part-time or as a hobby, is a good thing or not. I’d like to pursue this career and I know I’ve got a lot of ladders to climb (and be knocked off from), but I am hoping it will be worth it.

Personally, what I love about fashion is the combination of arts and fashion all together – with the right amount of creativity and inspiration, none of the pieces would be considered as junk. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure and that’s the beauty of it. Through fashion, as in art, one can easily express his or her ideas and it’s also an exchange of ideas. Ideas are built from other ideas; adding, removing, twisting and turning to best fit one’s personal taste/style.

There are two kinds of fashion, the kind that we get to admire and appreciate like, for instance, the Alexander McQueen (and I mention him because in my eye he was the one who created the unimaginable) which I refer to as the ‘untouchable’, and the fashion for consumers – the type we afford. The rise of interest in fashion throughout the years has made certain brands establish themselves and they have also established the social statuses.

The industry, along with the media, is powerful enough to influence people to purchase and wear the latest trends. Adverts and the online shopping booms have indeed created fashion-hungry consumers, always on the lookout for what’s ‘in’ and for what’s no longer considered fashionable. God forbid we’re seen in the same dress twice or in a dress we bought last year!

Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel

 

But I of course beg to differ. In my opinion, nothing ever goes out of fashion, given that one feels comfortable enough in it and it is one’s style. I am not one that really follows trends, as I dress in what I feel most comfortable and what fits me best. For this reason, my greatest inspiration of all would be Coco Chanel- what a woman! I am not one who dresses as elegantly as that but she most definitely changed the course of women’s clothing and left a huge impact on a lot of people and designers. She herself stated “fashion fades, only style remains” and this is very, very true. The course of fashion is very vast and by the time you afford to get that one item which is so ‘in’ this season, it has already become yesterday’s news. Trying to keep up with all this can be very exhausting (and expensive) whereas keeping up your personal style and adding to it is very liberating and well, unique.

I can’t mention Chanel without mentioning my other icon, who is closer to my age and whom I simply adore: Alexa Chung. She is the prime example of what a simple classic vintage style should be, and it’s no coincidence that we get to see a lot of Chanel on Chung. The laid-back and effortless look that Chung carries goes hand in hand with the exquisite Chanel designs.

Alexa Chung

Alexa Chung

In my opinion, we should all stick to what we genuinely like and admire, and yet appreciate that which isn’t for us but is still considered as beautiful. Clothes should fall into place, just like anything else in life. Why stress and fuss about something which is just so beautiful?

 

Posted in Health & Beauty

Why this was the best World Cup yet

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Following what felt like a whirlwind of matches and goals, Kurt Baldacchino from the popular Facebook page ‘I Quote Football’ gives us an overview of the highlights from this year’s World Cup in Brazil.

Goals – Every football tournament offers memorable goals. And this World Cup provided fans around the world with some jaw-dropping strikes. James Rodriguez’s goal for Colombia against Uruguay is considered by many as the goal of the Cup, but Van Persie vs Spain, Cahill vs the Netherlands, David Luiz vs Colombia, Messi vs Iran, Jermaine Jones for the USA vs Portugal, Shaqiri vs Honduras and Schurrle vs Brazil were all spectacular goals too.

Match standard – It is safe to say that most of this year’s matches were entertaining. Nearly every team tried to play for the win, rather than trying to keep a 0-0 score. Every match had its moments; from the plenty of goals to the dramatically staged falls of players barely touched. Even non-avid football viewers enjoyed watching this World Cup’s matches.

Goalkeepers – The last Cup was surrounded by controversy regarding the ball used, called the Jabulani. In 2014 it was replaced by the Brazuca, and the outcome from a goalkeeper’s perspective was fantastic. Most of the goalkeepers gave stunning performances, especially those from North and South America. Germany’s keeper Neuer was probably the best player of the tournament. Mexico’s Ochoa and his saves against Brazil and the Netherlands and Navas for Costa Rica against the Netherlands also stood out.

Drama – Germany’s goal in extra-time against Argentina in Sunday’s final was without a doubt the most dramatic moment this year. Gotze’s goal came at a time when everyone thought the final would end in penalties. Other remarkable goals that came late in the game included the Netherlands’ penalty against Mexico, Switzerland vs Ecuador, Portugal vs USA, Argentina vs Iran, Argentina vs Switzerland, USA vs Belgium, and Greece vs Ivory Coast.

Surprises – The biggest bombshell was probably Costa Rica topping a group consisting of themselves, Italy, England and Uruguay, then making it to the quarters and nearly to the semis, only to lose by penalties against the Netherlands.  Another remarkable surprise was Algeria’s performance, especially against Germany, as well as improvements from Mexico, Nigeria, Chile and the USA. Upsets on the other hand included Spain’s terrible campaign, and obviously Italy and England both being eliminated in the group stages.

Keylor Navas in action

Keylor Navas’ impressive displays for Costa Rica have seen him linked with a move to Bayern Munich.

Revelations – This Cup served as a showcase for some talented yet not well-known players. Rodriguez, M’Bolhi, Campbell, Manolas, Medel, Navas, De Vrij, Origi and Feghouli all had an impressive tournament.

Veterans – Although considered by many as the weak point in their respective teams, several veteran players had positive campaigns. Colombia’s captain Yepes was perfect in defence, and Marquez was not any less for Mexico. Klose broke Ronaldo’s all-time goal scoring record, while Cesar, Howard, Kuyt, Cahill, and Beasley all maintained good performances. Soon-to-retire Switzerland manager Ottmar Hitzfeld also deserves a mention.

Fans – They are the ones who create the atmosphere and bring elated fun to the stadium. From costumes as Panini stickers, to countless easy-on-the-eye South American spectators; what’s not to love? The Brazilian watermelon man, the Ivory Coast statue and the banter between England fans were great too. Stadiums were always full, and there was constantly an abundance of passionate chanting while national anthems were played. But luckily no vuvuzelas!

The Brazilian 'watermelon man'

The Brazilian ‘watermelon man’

Managers – From social media chitchat after Roy Hodgson’s and Scolari’s tactics, to Capello blaming laser interference by Algerian fans as the reason to Russia’s elimination, managers also had their own shining moments. Herrera of Mexico became an internet sensation with his epic way of celebrating. Costa Rica’s manager said that winning the group was his best day since he got married. Finally, Zaccheroni and Prandelli were this year’s two resigning managers.

Substitutions – Joachim Low carried out perfect substitutions in the final against Argentina. In fact, the goal during extra-time came from substitute Gotze, and he was assisted by Schurrle; another substitute. However, a more unforgettable substitution was made by Dutch manager Louis Van Gaal by substituting goalkeepers for the quarter-final penalty shootout. Van Gaal’s decision turned out to be positive since Tim Krul managed to save 2 penalties, thus eliminating Costa Rica.

Comebacks – The Netherlands made important comebacks during this campaign against Spain, Australia and Mexico. Others were of Belgium vs Algeria, Algeria vs Russia to make it to the last 16, Switzerland vs Ecuador, and USA vs Portugal.

Craziness – The craziest moment was of course Luis Suarez’s bite on Giorgio Chiellini, for which he had to pay serious consequences. Joining it on a lower pedestal were Bruno Martins Indi staring at Diego Costa during a set-piece in Spain vs Netherlands, and Nigeria’s goalkeeper Enyeama shouting non-stop at his team-mates.

Unpredictability – It was one of those World Cups where there were so many teams playing fantastic football that it was impossible to predict early on the winning contenders. In the end, with Germany facing Argentina, and the Germans grasping the cup, it was a truly exciting final.

Social media – It helped football fans greatly in obtaining instant updates and statistics. It also served as a discussion outlet about the matches, being able to follow every team and player with a simple click. World Cup goals and other highlights went viral very quickly, and the level of banter during this tournament was nothing short of brilliant!

Referees – Yuichi Nishimura was a nightmare during the opening Brazil vs Croatia match. But other referees, including Howard Webb in Chile vs Brazil and Italian Rizzoli throughout the whole tournament, deserve to be praised. Rizzoli also refereed Sunday’s final.

Goal-line technology – Finally! This helped referees in making important decisions during moments of uncertainty, the most evident case being Costa Rica’s goal against Italy. Furthermore, the vanishing spray for free-kicks was an interesting addition.

Pundits – Perhaps the Maltese pundits were not ideal, but they all tried their best in covering this World Cup. Foreign channels had a number of very interesting pundits including football stars Thierry Henry, Rio Ferdinand, Alan Shearer, Clarence Seedorf, Fabio Cannavaro and Alex Del Piero.

Records – Klose became the World Cup’s all time top goalscorer with 16 goals, surpassing Ronaldo’s record for Brazil. Howard for USA made 16 saves in one match against Belgium. Colombia’s Mondragón was the oldest player at any World Cup at the age of 43. England were eliminated in the group stages for the first time since 1958. Finally, it was the first time a European team won a World Cup hosted in South America.

Miroslav Klose celebrates after beating Ronaldo's previous record

Miroslav Klose’s goal in Germany’s 7-1 drubbing of Brazil was his 15th World Cup goal, a new record.

Fans and players’ relationship – Luiz gave a Brazil shirt to a young fan, Sulley Muntari walked around the streets of Rio handing out money to the homeless, and the Mexican team played beach football with local children. Most notably, Algeria. players donated their bonus to war victims in Gaza, and Van Persie awarded his third-place medal to a loyal Dutch fan.

Watch Ghana’s Sulley Muntari hand out money to the poor people of Rio.

Posted in Features, Sport

Ministers and a dancing robot at the ICT projects exhibition

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The ICT exhibition showcasing the projects of final year ICT students was held yesterday evening at the new premises of the Faculty of Information and Communication Technology. The 65 projects touched on several fields of ICT including software development, robotics, game development, and social networking.

In an opening speech, the Hon. Chris Cardona, Minister for the Economy, Investment and Small Business praised the Faculty of ICT for its new structure which demonstrates Malta’s capability of standing in line with other developed countries. It is important to him that the Government invests in youth to encourage innovation and creativity and to ensure that employers have a large pool of talent from which to choose from. An example of such governmental support is the Malta Digital Games Fund, aimed at helping companies develop digital games. Indeed, Cardona pointed out that Malta is becoming an important location for the development of gaming which will in turn help boost the country’s economy.

The Hon. Evarist Bartolo, Minister for Education and Employment, spoke of the important role played by the University of Malta in both education and research, the latter of which is a great challenge due to Malta’s relatively scarce resources. Therefore it is important for the Government to channel these resources well, primarily through the University.

Awards were also handed out with last year’s KSU Social Policy Commissioner Tamara Caligari winning the Chamber of Engineers Award for the best ICT students’ project of 2013 and Janice Attard winning the MITA (Malta Information Technology Agency) Award.

This third-generation robot is being used by the Department of ICT for research purposes. Watch it dance to Michel Telo’s version of ‘Au Si Eu Te Pego’ in this video!

Posted in Tech

What exactly have KSU contributed to the collective agreement?

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Mirroring the industrial action taken back in 2009, the ‘University of Malta Academic Staff Association’ (UMASA) has decided to play the same ‘chess/ opening move’ resulting in potential delays in the publication of results due to the failure to come to an accord on an acceptable collective agreement. KSU have subsequently put forward their own amendments to the collective agreement but Andrea Gonzi questions whether the students’ gambit is a comprehensive one.

 

When it comes to agreements and disputes related to academic staff, rarely is the students’ side ever told, that is, unless the publication of results is used as a bargaining tool. Therefore could one blame the surprise on our faces when KSU showed us a 6 page report highlighting their input in the discussions? Although being slightly unambitious, the 4 points that the KSU executive decided to push forward should be considered absolutely necessary in our education system and could improve standards.

Interestingly, the first proposal seemingly takes the side of the academic staff by highlighting that salaries should be maintained or improved. The reasoning given was that failing to do so may encourage staff to ‘…(look) for greener pastures in the private sector, the industry or in foreign universities…’ thus pointing out that students would lose out due to a reduction in high-quality staff.

KSU plays it safe by emphasising that ‘…bettering of the academic’s financial remuneration must never be made at the students’ expense’ and that there should be payment packages that remunerate a ‘… consolidated research effort’.

The second proposal was centered on the quality of the education provided – a point which has been criticised time after time by both students and student organisations alike. The report highlights that lecturers should adopt lecturing methods which consist of using ‘visual media’ and educational technologies such as the ‘Virtual Learning Environment’ (VLE), and ‘Turnitin’. The report also highlights that the former is preferable than the ‘diction of notes’ since it is ‘…perceived as an outdated methodology’.

KSU has also suggested that the ‘Study-Unit Feedback’ become a ‘two way-loop’ and allow lecturers to submit what it terms as a ‘Coursework Feedback’ which would highlight personal improvement opportunities to students.

The 3rd proposal titled ‘Publication of Results’ is arguably the one carrying the most import to students. The report goes on to strongly criticise any delays in publication of results by stating that ‘…there is an established perception that University of Malta is highly bureaucratic, inefficient and less considerate to students’. However it also claims that this minority of academic staff is reflecting on those that are fulfilling their responsibilities.

KSU has proposed that the deadline for the submission of results should be established according to their ECTS weighting and has suggested that results for 1-2 ECTS subjects should be given 2 weeks after the exam. The maximum deadline should be 5 weeks after the exams, reserved for those subjects with a weight 8 or more ECTS. However, in a comment made to Insiteronline, KSU President Gayle Lynn Callus informed us that, due to what seems to be practical reasons, this particular proposal has been rejected.

Although suggesting that the supplementary and semester 2 submission deadlines remain the same, KSU has suggested that the deadlines for semester 1 results be reduced to mid- March. Callus highlighted that the semester 1 exams, which statistically account for the majority of exams taken throughout the University of Malta, have a longer deadline than semester 2 exams and thus KSU was asking for parity between the two. This proposal is set to be accepted.

The final proposal carries miscellaneous proposals ranging from the ‘Intellectual Property Section’ in the agreement to the quality of lectures by lecturers who have surpassed their retirement age.

Overall, the suggestions put forward by KSU, especially those that have to do with the often criticised deadline for the publication of results, are solid and most definitely improve the disadvantaged position of the student. However, there is one crucial suggestion that KSU has omitted entirely. Within the current collective agreement there are no penalties highlighted to staff who breach this agreement and therefore any changes to the agreement could ultimately prove fruitless.

Posted in Features, News

World Cup Team-by-Team Analysis: Group B

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Spain

The reigning European and world champions, Spain are, together with Brazil, the team to beat this World Cup. Boasting world-class players in all positions, Spain are seen as tournament favourites by most people. But it should be pointed out that a European side has never won the World Cup on South American soil, and they were thrashed by Brazil in the Confederations Cup, losing 3-0.

However, the Furia Roja sailed through their qualifying group unbeaten and finished first ahead of France, Finland, Georgia and Belarus. In virtually all of the games, they dominated the midfield (as per usual) and also registered an impressive five clean sheets. However, they struggled to get goals, which is again not surprising, considering that Spain just love to play with a 4-5-1 formation where the sole striker plays as a ‘false nine’ – usually Cesc Fabregas, but Fernando Torres is often thrown into a game in its latter stages.

Brazilian-born Atletico Madrid striker Diego Costa is a doubt for the World Cup, but it can be argued that his style of play doesn’t suit Spain’s notorious tiki-taka possession game. Xavi and Andres Iniesta will once again be pulling the strings in midfield, while Busquests will likely once again play the role of holding midfielder, triggering counter attacks. First-choice Iker Casillas is increasingly looking shaky, with his howler in the Champions League final being self-evident. Sergio Ramos, on the other hand, is in the form of his life and he will be one of Spain’s most important players.

Key player: Andres Iniesta

With Xavi now looking increasingly past his peak, Iniesta will be the lynchpin in this Spain squad, largely courtesy of his flawless passing, dribbling and uncanny ability to read the game. Since he is now 30 years old, this may well be Iniesta’s last World Cup.

 One to watch: Koke

Atletico Madrid’s march to the La Liga could not have been possible without Koke, a dynamic box-to-box midfielder who is not only a dead ball specialist and an excellent passer but is also proficient in the tackle and scores screamers from distance. One of his strengths is his versatility – he can literally play anywhere in midfield, and has even appeared as right-back for Spain against Finland.

Prediction:

Spain should reach the quarter-finals at the very least and will likely make the semi-finals, where they will probably lose to Brazil or Argentina – their loss to Brazil in the Confederations Cup plus recent friendly results point to two things: that Spain can’t really handle the South American heat and that their footballing dominance is waning.

 

Netherlands

Finishing runners-up yet again last World Cup and exiting at the group stage at Euro 2012, the Netherlands have a reputation of infighting, and there’s no sign of this tradition stopping anytime soon, as Man Utd’s Robin van Persie and Galatasaray’s Wesley Sneijder (current and former captain respectively) can’t stand the sight of each other and, reportedly, several other squad members do not see eye to eye. This was, as you might expect, the main reason for their embarrassing exit in Euro 2012. Many are already writing this Netherlands team off and it’s not hard to see why – their squad quality is poor this year compared to past previous sides such as the 2010 World Cup one, with many of their better-known players reaching the 30 age-mark. These include Wesley Sneijder, Bayern’s Arjen Robben and Milan’s Nigel de Jong. The Netherlands have also been drawn in one of the Groups of Death, with Spain, Chile and Australia. Both Spain and Chile will fancy their chances of progessing to the next round, although Australia might find the going quite tough. A further blow was added when two of their best players, Kevin Strootman and Rafael van der Vaart, pulled out of the tournament due to injury. However, their coach Louis van Gaal, recently announced as the new Man Utd manager, is wily, cunning and experienced, and might help his team provide some upsets this summer.

 Key player: Robin van Persie

The talismanic captain and favourite of van Gaal is Netherland’s best chance of progressing to the next stage together with Arjen Robben. Van Persie has struggled this season for Man Utd but has always played well for the Oranje.

One to watch: Memphis Depay

The PSV forward is being currently observed by some of Europe’s biggest clubs after an excellent season. Despite being often deployed as a left winger, Depay is naturally a striker. He specialises in taking the ball past his marker, boasting a 58% success rate in the Eredivisie last season. It is worth noting that he is just 20 and will get even better with age.

Prediction:

Netherlands can just about scrape through the group stage if they play well, but will then face Brazil in the second round. Don’t expect the Oranje to overcome the Seleçao this time round, however.

 

Chile

Coach Jorge Sampaoli has made Chile a formidable team, finishing third in the CONMEBOL qualifying group behind Argentina and Colombia. Under Sampaoli, Chile play exciting attacking football and shift tactics depending on the opposition (they regularly shift from a three-man to a four-man defence) and his only loss since taking over from Claudio Borghi was against Brazil. While Chile’s squad strength hardly compares to that of powerhouses Argentina, Brazil and Colombia, they have two of the best players in the world in Juventus’ Arturo Vidal and Barcelona’s Alexis Sanchez – both coming off excellent seasons for their respective clubs. La Roja also boast several quality players in Santos’ Eugenio Mena, Valencia’s Eduardo Vargas and Juventus’ Mauricio Isla. They enter the tournament in respectable form, garnering impressive performances against England, Germany and Brazil in recent friendlies.

Key player: Arturo Vidal

Is there anything this guy can’t do in midfield? Pressing, marking, tackling, shooting from distance, dictating the tempo – Vidal is similar to Yaya Toure in many respects, and is a dynamo of a box-to-box midfielder and has arguably been Juventus’ most important player these past two seasons. However, his fitness is in doubt and, despite making the squad, might not be at his best.

One to watch: Alexis Sanchez

A right winger or second striker, Sanchez was thought of as a flop for Barcelona in the 2012-13 season but his performances have been impressive this season, even dislodging Neymar from the starting lineup several times. Sanchez is explosive and a wizard in the dribble, bagging three outstanding assists for Chile in their 3-2 win over Egypt.

Prediction:

It is entirely possible that Chile will beat Netherlands to second place in Group B, depending on the latter’s form and team spirit. Vidal’s fitness is under scrutiny and their squad depth is lacking. They could struggle in the second round – and one wouldn’t place bets on them going further.

 

Australia

Expectations are low for the Socceroos, especially as they were unlucky enough to be drawn in one of the Groups of Death together with Spain, Netherlands and Chile. Their qualification was not as straightforward as those in previous tournaments, but their coach Holger Osieck was nevertheless fired after suffering 6-0 defeats against Brazil and France, being replaced by Ange Postecoglou, a home-grown coach. The bad news is that the squad is an ageing one, and veterans such as Mark Schwarzer and Harry Kewell have retired from international football. To add insult to injury, Bayer Leverkusen’s Robbie Kruse – arguably their best player – has been ruled out of the World Cup due to a knee injury. Instead, Australia will look to Tim Cahill, now 34, to provide the goals, despite him being more of an attacking midfielder than a striker.

Key player: Tim Cahill

One of Australia’s best ever players and its all-time top scorer, the ex-Everton man now plays for the New York Red Bulls, and this will almost certainly be his last international tournament. His leadership, experience and goal poaching will be crucial if the Socceroos are to harbour any hopes of somehow making their way out of this group of death.

One to watch: Mitchell Langerak

Borussia Dortmund’s Langerak is the backup goalkeeper to Roman Weidenfeller but is only 25 and has actually only conceded one goal in his 10 appearances for his club. One of Europe’s most underrated keepers, Langerak’s dedication is such that he broke two front teeth when he collided with a goalpost in order to stop Lorenzo Insigne’s free-kick, in his only failed attempt to prevent a goal with Dortmund.

Prediction:

It’s just a case of damage limitation. Australia will in all likelihood be the whipping boys of the group and their target is likely to limit the scoreline as much as possible. Don’t bet against them managing a draw against Netherlands or Chile though.

Posted in Sport

World Cup Team-by-Team Analysis: Group A

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Brazil

As record five-times winners of the World Cup and this year’s hosts, Brazil need no introduction. The Seleçao enter as tournament favourites (when have they ever not?) and Confederation Cup winners – although it is worth noting that incumbent winners of the latter have never won the following World Cup. Their legendary coach Luiz Felipe Scolari (affectionately known as Felipão or Big Phil in Brazil) has an excellent track record, having previously won the 2002 World Cup back when the likes of Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho were part of the squad.

This time around, Brazil can hardly claim to have an attacking prowess even remotely close to the one they had in 2002, but they do have a game-changer in Barcelona’s Neymar – whose technical skills are among the best in the world at the moment. Their main man upfront is Fred, who plies his trade with Brazilian club Fluminense. While hardly comparable to the phenomenal Ronaldo, Fred has emerged as Brazil’s most reliable goalscorer – he scores at crucial moments and in all the big matches, and was the joint top scorer at the 2013 Confederations Cup.

Brazil’s midfield boasts a plethora of world-class players such as the Chelsea contingent of Oscar, Willian and Ramires, Inter’s Hernanes and Tottenham’s Paulinho- the latter has been in indifferent form at his club but never fails to perform for his country. What really stands out for Brazil this year though is their defence – it can be argued that their captain Thiago Silva of PSG is currently the best centre-back in the world, and he is accompanied by Barcelona’s Dani Alves, Marcelo, who played a huge part in winning the Champions League for Real Madrid this year, and the imposing Dante, who plays for Bayern Munich. In goal, Brazil have the unflappable Julio Cesar, who is Scolari’s first-choice goalkeeper despite playing for Toronto in the mediocre MLS on loan from QPR last season.

Key player: Neymar

Fast, skilful and two-footed, Neymar is the most technically gifted player in the squad. He primarily plays as an inside forward, providing chances for his team-mates and his finishing is nothing to sniff at either. However, his critics argue that he goes to ground far too easily and has gained a reputation as a diver.

One to watch: Bernard

Shakhtar Donetsk’s Bernard is a left winger blessed with amazing pace, technique, and flair. Comparable to Neymar in terms of his playing style and only one year younger, Bernard has a great future ahead of him.

Prediction:

Brazil should easily qualify from their group and will likely reach at least the semi-finals. However, this is a nation which attaches huge expectations to the national side and the locals will be expecting them to go all the way and win it. However, whether they will be crowned champions come July is not as foregone a conclusion as most people think. They boast world-class players in all departments but Neymar aside, their attack leaves a lot to be desired.

 

Croatia

Finishing second in their World Cup qualifying group behind Belgium and ahead of Serbia, Croatia possess several world-class footballers in their midst – Real Madrid’s Luka Modric, Sevilla’s Ivan Rakitic (who was largely the reason why Sevilla walked away with this year’s Europa League) and Bayern’s Mario Mandzukic to name a few. Their coach Niko Kovac is an ex-captain of the national side and was a popular choice following the reign of Igor Stimac, who was largely an unpopular figure. Shakhtar’s Darijo Srna is one of the world’s current best right-backs and his likely future successor Srne Vrsaljko of Genoa is a hot prospect who is being followed by some of Europe’s biggest clubs. Croatia can also boast to have one of the most exciting young talents in Inter’s Mateo Kovacic, a playmaker who is equally adept as regista or trequartista.

Key player: Luka Modric

Gifted with amazing vision and creativity, Modric was one of Real Madrid’s best players this season, dictating the midfield with his excellent passing range and was instrumental in his club’s Champions League triumph.

 

 

One to watch: Mateo Kovacic

A similar player to Modric is Kovacic, who is only 20 but has already displaced the much more experienced Fredy Guarin from the Inter starting lineup. Despite appearing in only a handful of games this season, Kovacic is a dazzling dribbler and showed what he is capable of when he provided three assists in Inter’s 4-1 rout over Lazio and dictated the tempo in the following game against Chievo.

Prediction:

Croatia should just about make it to second place, ahead of Mexico and Cameroon, who are certainly no pushovers. However, in the second round they will likely come up against a very talented Colombia side which can prove to be their downfall.

 

Mexico

The Mexicans were hardly impressive in qualification, winning all six fixtures in a straightforward first group but struggling in a relatively more challenging second group (which included USA, Costa Rica and Honduras – hardly world powers) and finishing fourth, just barely making it to Brazil. Coach Miguel Herrera managed to steady the ship after a spate of sackings, and must be credited for managing to see the team through to the World Cup. He tends to go by form rather than reputation, and has not been afraid to axe well-known names such as Man Utd’s Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez and Villareal’s Giovani dos Santos. Striker Oribe Peralta has been the main man during Mexico’s road to qualification, and has even managed to relegate Hernandez to the bench. Their experienced skipper Rafael Marquez is always a reliable option for the defence, and Porto’s Hector Herrera is an aggressive box-to-box midfielder who will probably be pulling the strings in the middle of the park.

Key player: Oribe Peralta

Widely considered to be one of the best strikers not playing in a European league, Peralta (similar to Brazil’s Fred) scores when it matters, and is equally proficient at crafting opportunities for the other squad members. Powerful, fast and with a wicked right-foot shot, Peralta may not be playing outside of Europe much longer.

 

 

One to watch: Javier Hernandez

Scoring 35 goals in 57 appearances for Mexico, Hernandez is not experiencing the best of times, with every chance of him starting on the bench for his country and in addition will very likely be leaving Man Utd this summer after largely being used as a substitute by David Moyes this season, something Herrera recommended. However, you underestimate this striker at your peril and don’t bet against him providing a response to both club and country in Brazil.

Prediction:

Unless Mexico seriously step up their game, they will likely be packing their bags in the group stage this summer.

 

Cameroon

Traditionally one of Africa’s better teams, Cameroon did not impress during their qualification despite finishing top of the group and unbeaten against Libya, DR Congo and Togo. Notably, a 2-0 defeat against Togo was overturned when the latter fielded an ineligible player. They beat Tunisia in the final round over two legs, routing them 4-1 at home. However, they were thrashed by Portugal 5-1 in a friendly back in March, and many are (perhaps unfairly) prematurely dismissing the side’s chances in Brazil. The other teams in their group (bar Brazil) have similar talent pools to Cameroon and it is entirely possible that Les Lions Indomptables will manage a minor upset by edging the group stage.

Key player: Alex Song

The engine of this Cameroon side, Song plays for Barcelona and is accomplished as both a holding and box-to-box midfielder. Seemingly inexhaustible and an extremely hard worker, Song is an absolute powerhouse and he will need to be at his best if Cameroon are to progress to the knockout stages.

One to watch: Joël Matip

Matip is a highly-rated centre-back who plays for German club Schalke 04. He towers over most players at 193cm, and is quite frankly a beast both in the air and on the ground.

Prediction: Cameroon will likely battle it out with Croatia for second place. If they perform to their best there is no reason why they shouldn’t reach the knockout stages.

Posted in Sport