Croatia Stuns England, and the 2018 FIFA World Cup Is Theirs for the Taking

Coratia's mario-mandzukic 2018
Mario Mandzukic celebrates after scoring Croatia’s winning goal in their upset, comeback win against England

“Little” Croatia didn’t get the memo. Little Croatia didn’t read the script. And Little Croatia, the little country across the Adriatic Sea from Italy (see, sports and a geography lesson to boot!) that was carved out of former Yugoslavia (and a history lesson), is on its way to its first World Cup Final in only 27 years of existence. And along the way, Team Croatia defeated Argentina and host Russia. Unbelievable.

England was on its way to not just the World Cup Final, but to a victory in the World Cup Final. It was a fait accompli, or so they thought. Until Croatia got in the way with a come from behind, goal in extra time-turnaround win. It was an upset for the ages. England wasn’t supposed to lose. And Croatia wasn’t supposed to win. And that’s how the ball bounces in this summer of surprises.

And here’s the theological twist: what have people, or even you yourself, said that you couldn’t do? What seemingly insurmountable, unachievable, or impossible feat have you been told just can’t happen in your life? Write it down. The Biblical examples are endless. Abraham and Sarah had their promised baby boy late in their retirement years. So did Zacharias and Elizabeth. The woman with the issue of blood was cleansed after being sick for so long, and the widow from Nain had her son raised to life again. It can happen!

So write it down. Write what you are believing God for down. Put a magnet on it and stick it on the refrigerator. Write it in on a post it and stick it on your mirror. This way, every day, you can remind yourself of what you are believing God for. And then remember Croatia in the FIFA 2018 World Cup. Because if Croatia can pull off the improbable, you can too.

And if “little” Croatia defeats France in the final on Sunday, they will forever be the upstart that pulled off the upset that we will be talking about for ages to come. And, when your miracle comes to pass, we’ll be talking about you too.

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Belgium Beat Brazil? YES!

Belgium Defeats Brazil In a stunner, Belgium defeated heavily favored Brazil and advanced to the “Final Four” of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. And I watched in absolute horror as Brazil out shot Belgium 27 – 10 and still lost. Shots on goal sailed high and went wide as one scoring opportunity after another went by the wayside.  Brazil had their chances, but still couldn’t get it done. The Boys from Brazil outplayed, out passed but couldn’t outscore the brothers from Belgium, and it was a sight to see. 

And herein is the 2018 World Cup life lesson: sometimes the favorite does not win, and sometimes the best team is not the better team.  And sometimes there will be an upset, not a comeback.

Four years ago Brazil lost AT HOME in the 2014 World Cup to Germany 7-1, and that was a gut wrencher. I saw that match too (ya gotta know which games you just HAVE TO watch). This time out, the Boys from Brazil, namely Neymar and company, were supposed to avenge the blood of their 2014 brothers, but the Russian soccer gods would have none of it. Yes this game is spiritual. How else can you explain the Brazilians missing shot after shot on goal, and then the Belgium’s, with just five measly shots on goal, winning the game with two goals, one of which was an own goal.

This is why we love sports. This is why we learn life lessons from the games. And this is why we believe in upsets, comebacks and turnarounds. I TOLD you to watch this one! So much for the commentary; here’s the play by play from Rob Harris, NBC Chicago:

“Belgium reached the World Cup semifinals for the first time in 32 years by holding off five-time champion Brazil 2-1 Friday, sending Neymar home without living up to the expectations of being soccer’s most expensive player. Belgium scored the decisive goal on a counterattack just after a corner had been taken by Neymar. Romelu Lukaku surged forward with the ball and Kevin De Bruyne put it in the net to give Belgium a 2-0 lead in the 31st minute.

‘This was the biggest test for us,’ De Bruyne said. ‘Brazil was so strong in attack.’

The opener came after a bit of good fortune. Fernandinho’s trailing arm inadvertently helped Belgium captain Vincent Kompany’s header land in his own net in the 13th minute.

As Belgium lost cohesiveness in the second half and Brazil’s changes stirred the team, substitute Renato Augusto reduced the deficit in the 76th with a header.  But it was too late for Brazil to muster an equalizer as efforts to force the game into extra time were thwarted by Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

For the third time in a World Cup — after 1982 and 2006 — the semifinals will feature only European teams. Belgium and France will meet in St. Petersburg on Tuesday. The next day in Moscow, it will be either England or Sweden against either Russia or Croatia. The other two quarterfinal matches will be played Sunday.”

So who do we route for now? Go Croatia!

Kawhi Leonard: Demand A Trade

Kawhi Leonard

LeBron James has opted out of his contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers. This means that the King is now an unrestricted free agent. While this is not a big surprise, what happens next could be.  The Sixers, yes the Philadelphia 76ers, are in the LeBron James sweepstakes. Reportedly, the Sixers can pretty reasonably create the cap space to just sign him outright, but that’s not the big news either. Here’s the skinny from CBS Sports staff writer, Brad Botkin:

“Where this really gets interesting is Philly has a very attractive package to offer for Leonard, with reports out there that the Spurs could be interested in a deal involving Dario Saric and Robert Covington. San Antonio would clearly prefer to trade Kawhi to the East, even if they’ve predictably backed off their stance of ruling out a trade with a team from the Western Conference, and if he were to end up in Philly, if the Sixers could live with the risk of him being a potential one-year rental, suddenly James joining Philly would become his only real chance to play on a super team next year.

Imagine the possibilities of a lineup including James, Kawhi, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Yes, James would have to play off the ball more as Simmons is not equipped at all to do so with his inability to shoot outside 10 feet, but from every other perspective, this is a juggernaut. Defensive versatility. Playmaking everywhere. This would be an incredible team. Keep an eye on this.”

So, it seems that Kawhi, who has done well in San Antonio under the reigning dean of NBA coaches, Greg Popovich, is “demanding a trade.” Not overtly or vehemently, but he seems to want out of San Antonio nonetheless.  So what’s the spiritual lesson to be learned here?”

If you are not victorious in any and every situation in your life, you should demand a trade. If your situation is not to your liking, demand a trade. Is the job stressful? Demand a trade!  Is your money funny?  Demand a trade. Is your current station or status in life not working?  Demand a trade. You might not get out of the situation, but you can demand that your situation improves and gets better than it is.

A better situation is what we all strive and struggle for and want and wish for, right? An improved and enhanced life and lifestyle should always be the aim and ambition of our hearts. So, in prayer, beseech and believe Heaven to trade your stress and strain for a bigger and better and higher and healthier situation than the one you’ve got right now.  Stop settling for the mild and mediocre. Stop accepting less that what you deserve. Stop letting the abundant life that Jesus promised slip away. Just trust Him.

And demand a trade.

It’s Time To Be A Philly Fanatic, a.k.a., Baseball Anyone?

It’s officially time to watch baseball fanatically! Just don’t be like the Phillies mascot who injured a female fan by nailing her in the face with a hot dog shot out of the hot dog cannon. Sheesh.

It’s officially summertime so that means that the boys of summer now get to take center stage. The NBA just crowned the Golden State Warriors again and the surprising Washington Capitals finally captured Lord Stanley’s Cup, after a very long chase. So all that remains is baseball.

What’s that you say? The World Cup is being played in Russia? Seriously? So why didn’t the good ole US-of-A get invited? Huh? They didn’t qualify? Really? I thought Trump and Putin were buddies?

Anyway, it’s now time to pay attention to baseball. What’s that you say? The WNBA is playing their summer league season? Like I said, it’s time to pay attention to baseball and the boys of summer (no offense to the basketball ladies, but the WNBA just doesn’t do it for me).

Anyway, back to baseball. The Evil Empire New York Yankees and their bitter rivals, the Boston Red Sox, are at again, going at it, neck and neck, tooth and nail, and it’s fun to watch — the standings that is. I mean, it’s just June and we have a pennant race! And that’s not the only one.

My Philly Phillies just whipped and whupped the presumptive National League favorite to go to the World Series, the Washington Nationals, 12 – 2, and reclaimed second place in the East! Whoop whoop! So there! Here’s what one ESPN writer had to say about my Phillies:

“In the opener of a three-game set in D.C., the Phillies trounced the Nationals 12-2, in the process leapfrogging them for second place in the NL East. Philly is now 8-3 in its past 11 games, while Washington is 3-8 in its past 11. Even though the division rivals will square off twice more this weekend, not to mention 13 more times after that, and even though there’s over half a season still left to play, the upstart Phils sent a clear message on what turned out to be a Freaky Friday: They’re not planning on going away anytime soon.”

And there are other races worth watching too, like the National League Central with Milwaukee and the Cubbies going head to head and the National League West with Arizona and the Dodgers going neck and neck. And did I mention it’s still June? Pennant races aren’t supposed to start untill late August or mid September. Man!

So, here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to go to the TV, take the remote, tune in to the guide (remember the actual TV Guide that came with the Sunday paper? My little sister and I used to fight over it all the time, but then again she had it memorized) — err, where was I?

Oh yeah- it’s time to watch, and pay attention to baseball!

Go Phillies!

Why Aren’t You Watching The World Cup?

So the reason you’re not watching the 2018 World Cup is what again, exactly? This is the WORLD CUP! It only comes around once every four years. So what’s the problem?

Ok, ok, ok, so let’s fess up. I’ll stop being so hard on you because I’m not watching the World Cup either. Why am I not watching the 2018 World Cup? Here’s my list of excuses:

Number One: To my horror, I found out that the US Men aren’t in it. They’re not? Nope. (Please excuse me while I argue with myself). I mean, I was about to turn on a game (I mean match) and I went to my ESPN App to see when the good ole US of A was playing, and I said to myself or to the App, I’m not sure which, “Where’s the USA?” But low and behold, the US isn’t playing. They’re not. Here’s how one sports reporter put it:

“With the World Cup about to kick off, a lot of Americans are about to commence the quadrennial tradition of following international soccer. However, once you start paying attention to the coverage (or maybe you already have if you’re not a casual fan), you may notice something off. No one is talking about the United States. The reason is simple, so don’t overthink it: The United States didn’t qualify for the World Cup in Russia this year.”

Whaaaat? Seriously?

“So how did this happen after the United States made it to the round of 16 in 2014? What happened in four years that caused the United States to fail to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1986? Thirty-two teams qualify, so just what the blank happened?”

I kept reading the article and my head got foggy. So no USA men’s team this time around.

Number Two: We just got finished with the NBA Finals and the Washington Capitals historic Stanley Cup Championship win. So I’m exhausted and need a sports break.

Number Three: I don’t know who to route for. I mean, I’m not touting for the home team, right? So who else is there to cheer for, Nigeria? No offense, but I saw that their fans were banned from bringing live chickens to their games? Seriously?

Oh well. Let’s watch. Let’s watch the USA-less World Cup. Let’s just tune in for the love of the game.

From Repeat to Three-peat? Who is Going to Stop the Golden State Warriors?

Curry-Durant

 Houston said they would. They had Chris Paul teamed with James Harden, and they were up 3-2 in the Western Conference Finals. Then Chris Paul went down with a hamstring injury, and he DNPed in Games 6 and 7. No matter, the Rockets couldn’t hit the side of a barn, and missed twenty-seven three pointers in a row in the Game 7 loss at home.

LeBron said he could. King James once again carried a team of nobodies and no accounts to the NBA Finals only to find out once again that you can’t beat the Warriors without balanced scoring and more than a little luck on your side. What’s that? We don’t believe in luck? Well then it must have been Providence, right?

The Cavaliers were leading the Warriors in Game 1 ON THE ROAD at the Oracle in Oakland when a charge call was reversed and LeBron was called for a block. Durant hit both free throws and gave Golden State back the lead. But don’t blame the loss on the referees. The Cavs had a chance to win in regulation when JR Smith inexplicably dribbled out the final 4.7 seconds of the clock, forcing overtime. George Hill missed the free throw that would have given Cleveland the lead. But JR grabbed the offensive rebound and could have made a point blank layup to win the game. Say it aint so.  

So Houston couldn’t. And LeBron and the Cavaliers couldn’t.

Now the Golden State Warriors are, once again, the NBA champions after they defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers in a clean four-game sweep of the 2018 NBA Finals. The series was far closer than the series outcome would suggest, as the Cavaliers took Game 1 at Oracle Arena to overtime and led for much of Game 3 in Cleveland, but Golden State’s overwhelming talent behind Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green was just too much for the Cavaliers to handle. This is the third championship in four years for the Warriors, and it leaves not only the Cavaliers, but the rest of the league with plenty of question marks.

2018 NBA Finals - Game Three
CLEVELAND, OH – JUNE 6: Stephen Curry #30 and Draymond Green #23 yell and celebrate with Kevin Durant #35 after Durant scored 43 points in Game Three of the 2018 NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers  at Quicken Loans Arena.

The Warriors appear primed for a run of dominance that should span for at least another few years, potentially bringing their championship total into the range of Magic Johnson’s Los Angeles Lakers or Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. The rest of the NBA’s players will do whatever it takes to prevent that from happening, and it all starts with LeBron James. His free agency will dictate who Golden State’s greatest rival is next season, and he likely has already formed his own ideas on how to beat this Warriors juggernaut. https://origin-assets.247sports.com/ContentGallery/Golden-State-Warriors-defeat-Cleveland-Cavaliers-to-win-NBA-championship-and-players-respond-on-Twitter-118908129So who’s going to stop Golden State? No one. They can only beat themselves. And no one can stop you when you make up your mind that you’re going to get the job done and you lean on Heaven for help.

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Hey Everybody! 

My book Upsets, Comebacks and Turnarounds is now available on Amazon.com!  Please check it out and let me know what you think.   If you like the blog, you’ll love the book. AND a dear friend featured me on his new, insightful and thought provoking Podcast, SPORTS360.  Jeff and I discuss the book, how we connect with God through sports, my Philly teams, and the intersection of sports and spirituality. Check it out on YouTube.com.