The most entertaining World Cup in memory is now down to the final four.
No Germany. No Brazil. No Spain. No Argentina. No USA. OK, that last one was no surprise, but the rest of the aforementioned teams are World Cup heavyweights. And the 2018 host, Russia, is out.
Anyone who follows soccer would have included at least two, but probably three of the top teams in their final four, but this World Cup has produced a final four of France, England, Belgium and Croatia. France has one title to its name from 1998, when the tournament was held in France. England won its only cup in 1966. Belgium and Croatia have never won a WC. So this year’s final is wide open.
On paper, France appears to be a slight favorite with such world class players as Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann, Oliver Giroud, Hugo Lloris and emerging superstar Kylian Mbappe. These players are from the world’s best leagues and have a wealth of experience on the big stage.
Their opponent in the first semifinal, set for 2 p.m. July 10 eastern time in St. Petersburgh, is Belgium. Belgium is a talented team with established stars — Eden Hazzard, Ramelu Lakaku, Kevin De Bruyne, Thibaut Courois, Axel Witsel, Dries Mertens and Vincent Kompany. It should be a tightly contested match that could be decided by penalty kicks.
The other semifinal match pits England, which has the second-youngest roster in the cup, against Croatia. England’s squad is talented, starting with current World Cup scoring leader Harry Kane, supported by star players Dele Ali, Jesse Lingard, Raheem Sterling, Jamie Vardy, Ashley Young and Marcus Rashford.
All are “futball” household names, but England hasn’t had much success since 1966. This is their best tournament since 1990 and arguably a great chance to grab the World Cup.
The Brits take on Croatia at 2 p.m. July 11 in Moscow, with Croatia the underdog, although they boast two world class players in midfielders Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic.
According to oddschecker, France is the favorite at 2-1, while England checks in at 11-4. Belgium slots in at 14-5, while Croatia sits with 5-1 odds.
The finals will be broadcast to the world at 11 a.m. July 15 from Moscow, when I’m hoping to see a Belgium vs. England final.
It’s then four more years for another cup.
Key Royale golf slows for July 4
It was a quiet July 4 holiday at the Key Royale Club in Holmes Beach, but the men did make it to the course July 5 for a four-man scramble. The team of Herb Clauhs, Gary Duncan, Lex Halakan and Peter Murley combined on a 4-under-par 28 to earn clubhouse bragging rights for the week.
The week that was at the Anna Maria City hall horseshoe pits was dominated by the walkers. The July 4 games saw Jay Disbrow post the lone 3-0 pool-play record and was the day’s outright champ.
Two teams battled for the championship during July 7 action after both teams managed 3-0 records during pool play. Steve Doyle pulled away late in the match for a 21-13 victory over Neil Hennessey and Gary Howcroft.
Warmups begin at 8:45 a.m. every Wednesday and Saturday at the Anna Maria City Hall pits, followed by random team selection.
There is no charge to play and everyone is welcome.