Philadelphia Eagles hoping to end Tom Brady dynasty in Super Bowl LII

As the biggest game in American sport nears, Arab News looks ahead at where the Super Bowl could be won. (Eagles' Nick Foles L / Patriots' Tom Brady R - AFP)
Updated 04 February 2018

Philadelphia Eagles hoping to end Tom Brady dynasty in Super Bowl LII

LONDON: As the biggest game in American sport nears, Arab News looks ahead at where the Super Bowl could be won for Nick Foles’ Philadelphia Eagles or the New England Patriots led by Tom Brady...

Playing up to the 'underdog' status
It says something about the Super Bowl pedigree of New England when one of the best teams to come out of the NFC East in recent memory are considered the underdogs, but that has not stopped this Eagles team on their first run at the big game since 2005 — when they lost to the Patriots. While the pressure will be heaped on them by their own fans and those in success-starved Philadelphia, the rest of the world does not give Doug Pederson’s team a chance against the Patriots juggernaut. That should work to their advantage as they look to avenge their agonizing defeat in 2004’s showpiece.

Trust Nick Foles
Having been out in the quarterback wilderness for a while, it would make for a remarkable story if stand-in QB Foles can defy the odds and clinch the Vince Lombardi trophy for this Eagles set-up. Having played second-fiddle to the unstoppable Carson Wentz all season, he more than rose to the task of stepping in when Wentz made Philly wince, tearing his ACL in Week 14. Foles has not looked back since and has thrown five post-season touchdowns on the way to tonight’s Super Bowl. With all eyes on Tom Brady, Foles might just have the freedom to play the game of his life, which he will need to do considering the opponents.

Don’t waste Red Zone chances
The demolition of the Vikings in the NFC Championship game showed just how potent this Eagles attack can be once it starts clicking. Their third-down conversion percentage was third-best in the NFL during the regular season, but in the post-season it has been other-worldly with 16 successful conversions out of 27 attempts. Moving the chains and keeping the scoreboard ticking not only keeps Brady off the field but also puts him under pressure when he is on it, so when they get the chance these Eagles have to convert.

Strong defensive line
We have been treated to some slick offense from Doug Pederson’s team, but it is on their defensive prowess they must rely if they want to pull off the upset. In fairness, this has been the best Eagles defense for a generation. They have allowed the fewest rushing yards this season and the least amount of time to opposing quarterbacks in the pocket — which have both helped Philadelphia record the fourth-most takeaways during the regular season. What’s more, the strength in depth of the roster means the likes of Fletcher Cox and Vinny Curry will be fresh and ready to go come kick-off.

'Fan Power'
They must have one of the worst reputations not only in American Football but American sport in general. Yet, Philadelphia’s fans could have a say in whether or not their team wins the Super Bowl. In a sport where home-field advantage counts for a lot, we can expect the US Bank Stadium in Minnesota to have a distinctly Eagles feel. Not since February 2005 have the Philly faithful seen their team in a Super Bowl and so we can expect them to outnumber their New England counterparts who, while hoping to see their team clinch a sixth title, definitely have a “been-there-done-that” air about them. If it is a close game, expect the raucous Eagles fans to play a part in wrecking Patriots’ play calling.

Tom Brady
It really is as simple as saying the Patriots quarterback’s name — it strikes fear into defenses across the league. Now 40, Brady has laid claim to being the best to ever play the game and will be going for his sixth Vince Lombardi trophy this evening. He has won the most post-season games as a quarterback ever and unless there is a miraculous performance from an Eagles player, he will be named the league MVP for the third time in his career. Stopping Brady is the key for the Eagles, but for the Patriots it will be about giving “TB12” as much time on the field as possible.

Bill Belichick’s play calling
If Brady is the face of this Patriots trophy train, then Belichick is the mastermind behind it all. Widely regarded as one of the greatest coaches in American sport, the quiet, sometimes gruff 65-year-old will have to get his play calling spot on to outfox the exuberance and enthusiasm of the Eagles. And encouragingly for Patriots fans, Belichick and his coaching team are the masters of making in-game changes to their tactics. Two weeks ago, there was not a flicker of panic on Belichick’s face in the AFC Championship game despite going behind to the Jaguars early. “The Hoody”, as he’s affectionately known by Boston media, tweaked his game plan and the Patriots dominated the second half to win 24-20. Expect similar touchline wizardry if the Eagles get an early lead.

Solid offensive line
The Patriots offensive line is nothing special, but it is a well-molded collection of talent. And more importantly, has been playing together for a long time, with the back-ups just as adept at filling in when first-choice players are injured. The Patriots lost Marcus Cannon in the mid-season, and there were LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming at right tackle to step in during his absence. With the Eagles’ threat, they probably will not keep Brady completely untouched, but if they play to their strengths they will cause problems.

Special teams supremacy
Too many teams pay little attention to the “third phase”, but the Patriots’ devotion to getting the special teams right has been a big part of their continual success. It was in pinning opponents back from the kick-off or punts where the Patriots really showed their class this year, by limiting their opponents to the worst starting field position in the whole of the NFL. So while the defensive unit might not be as strong as Philadelphia’s, it is likely the Eagles offense will have further to go to score. Special teams do not usually win you a game, but they definitely could make things tough for the Eagles.

Rob Gronkowski’s fitness
Arguably the best tight-end the sport has ever seen, “the Gronk” did not play the second half of the AFC title game after a helmet-to-helmet hit from Jacksonville Jaguars’ safety Barry Church. But this week he declared himself fit and “ready to roll” in the Super Bowl, and that is music to the ears of New England fans. Gronkowski led the team in receiving during the regular season with 69 catches for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns. However, you can be sure that if there are any signs that he is not back to his all-conquering best, the Eagles will pounce and make life difficult for him. He needs to be on top form for the Patriots to click.

ARAB NEWS PREDICTS: Despite Brady, Belichick and all the talk of legacy and dynasties, I have a feeling the Eagles will have one last sublime performance left in them, and on the biggest stage of them all. In a tense affair, I am going for the Eagles by 7 points.

Italy beats China 2-0 to reach World Cup quarterfinals

Updated 38 min 34 sec ago

Italy beats China 2-0 to reach World Cup quarterfinals

  • Italy will play either Japan or the Netherlands on Saturday in Valenciennes
  • China had only allowed one goal in its three group stage games but the talented Italian attack broke down the vaunted defense

MONTPELLIER, France: Valentina Giacinti and Aurora Galli scored and Italy earned its first appearance in the quarterfinals of the Women’s World Cup since 1991 after beating China 2-0 on Tuesday night.
Giacinti created and finished off her 15th-minute opener before Galli’s long strike put the result beyond doubt four minutes after halftime at the stiflingly hot Stade de la Mosson.
Playing in its first World Cup in 20 years, Italy has proven to be one of the revelations of the tournament by making the final eight after winning its group ahead of Brazil and Australia.
Italy will play either Japan or the Netherlands on Saturday in Valenciennes.
China had only allowed one goal in its three group stage games but the talented Italian attack broke down the vaunted defense.
Galli scored after coming on to replace striker Cristina Girelli, who walked off the field late in the first half with an apparent leg problem.
But it was Giacinti who was a force in the early stage of the match.
While Girelli and Barbara Bonansea had combined for five goals in the group phase, Giacinti had yet to score in the tournament.
She threatened on two other occasions Tuesday before finally finding the back of the net. She thought she had struck an early goal but it was ruled offside. Another shot swerved wide of the post after Bonansea intercepted a poor pass by a Chinese defender.
Giacinti then produced the chance that led to her opening goal. After pressuring to win a ball near the touchline, she raced down the flank and found Bonansea, who waited to find left back Elsa Bartoli joining the move. Bartoli’s shot was blocked by China goalkeeper Peng Shimeng, only for Giacinti to pounce on the loose ball and drive it home.
China midfielder Wang Yan did manage to make Italy goalkeeper Laura Giuliani palm her effort over the bar in the 28th minute.
But Peng then had to dive to parry a powerful strike from Valentina Bergamaschi as Italy looked close to a quick second goal against a China team that couldn’t handle its press and its trio of attackers.
Once China settled down and eliminated sloppy passes, the action tilted momentarily to the other half. Forward Li Ying gave Bartoli fits with her dribbling and she made the Italian defenders work with her dangerous crosses.
Italy suffered a bigger blow when it lost Girelli in the 39th.
She was replaced by Galli, who surprised Peng with a right-footed strike that went skimming over the turf and beyond the goalkeeper’s reach.
It was Galli’s third goal of the tournament. She got two in a 5-0 rout of Jamaica, also as a substitute.
China pushed for a goal to spark a comeback, but center backs Sara Gama and Elena Linari kept Giuliani from having to make any significant saves.
Italy has scored nine goals in its three wins in the tournament.
The Italians also maintained their stingy defense with a second clean sheet. Both goals they have conceded so far came on penalties.
China went home with just one goal scored.