Come for the World Cup predictions, stay for the Brian Dawkins and Jimmy Rollins comparisons

Come for the World Cup predictions, stay for the Brian Dawkins and Jimmy Rollins comparisons

Neymar and the host Brazilians are the odds-on favorites to win the World Cup. (AP Photo)

The talk and hype is FINALLY over. The World Cup is here.

Bracket from 8by8mag.com

Yesterday we gave you all the basics you need to enjoy the 32-team tournament (the feedback on that post was great, so if you have any more tips on where to watch games in the Philly area and beyond, toss it in the comments).

On Monday, we'll focus on the United States, but right now, it's time to give you the must-watch games and a few predictions sure to go terribly wrong.

To get a good look at the whole bracket, click on the image above. I don't pretend to be an expert on many teams in the tournament, but I watch more games than is probably healthy. For a detailed breakdown of each group, this is a solid link.

A reminder: 2 teams advance from each 4-team group. After that, it's a single-elimination bracket for the final 16 teams.

You can pick your bracket against a few 700 Level writers and readers at this link.

 

GROUP A (Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon)

What Happens: Brazil is a 3:1 (or better) favorite in among oddsmakers to win the whole thing, and opens today at 4 p.m. against Croatia. Mexico has been spotty, to say the least, and needed help from the rival Americans just to qualify.

Cameroon's Samuel Eto'o

Jim Thome

Names to Know: Neymar (Brazil), Hulk (Brazil), Daniel Alves (Brazil), Mario Mandzukic (Croatia), Samuel Eto'o (Cameroon), Javier Hernandez (Mexico).

Key Match: Mexico vs. Croatia, June 23, 4 p.m. Obviously the Brazil matches are must-watches, but Mexico-Croatia could decide who finishes second in the group. Assuming neither team got any points from Brazil, the winner of that match could advance.

Philly Comparison: Samuel Eto'o (Cameroon) = Jim Thome. A bonafide individual star, but a player who hasn't had the right pieces around him to see the team success he probably deserves.

Going Through: It was close here with Cameroon, but I'll say Brazil and Croatia.

 

GROUP B (Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia)

What Happens: Spain is the reigning World Cup champ, and begins with the team they beat in the 2010 final: The Netherlands. Chile is scary good, and they are always the third team mentioned. Australia needs a miracle.

Spain's Diego Costa

Kobe Bryant

Names to Know: Andres Iniesta (Spain), Xavi (Spain), Diego Costa (Spain), Arjen Robben (Netherlands), Robin van Persie (Netherlands), Alexis Sanchez (Chile), Arturo Vidal (Chile), Tim Cahill (Australia)

Key Match: Spain v. Netherlands, June 13, 3 p.m. There may be other matches that decide the group's fate, but the rematch of the 2010 World Cup final is an absolute must-watch.

Philly Comparison: Diego Costa = Kobe Bryant. Costa plays for Spain, but is Brazilian through and through. There are a ton of hard feelings in Brazil, especially since the host country could really use a striker like Costa. Like Bryant, many in his hometown/country won't greet him too kindly.

Going Through: The first "big" side to go home will be The Netherlands, as Spain and Chile advance.

 

GROUP C (Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan)

What Happens: Greece is usually boring but is the only team here that defends. Colombia is moody and without its biggest star. And the Ivory Coast always comes in with high expectations but never seems to quite match them. Japan is always a little mysterious.

Ivory Coast's Didier Drogba

Allen Iverson

Names to Know: Carlos Valdes (Colombia), Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast), Yaya Toure (Ivory Coast), Keisuke Honda (Japan), Shinji Kagawa (Japan).

Key Match: Colombia v. Ivory Coast, June 19, noon. There could be a lot of goals in this game, and lots of exciting play in the midfield. Yaya Toure is one of the best midfielders in the world, and as he goes, so go the Ivory Coast.

Philly Comparison: Didier Drogba = Allen Iverson. Like Iverson in his final seasons, Drogba is a once-in-a-generation talent on his last legs who has been an icon for his team for more than a decade. He deserves a championship (that he won't get).

Going Through: For no other reason than a hunch, I'm going to say the loss of star Radamel Falcao hurts Colombia, and the Ivory Coast and Japan find a way through.

 

GROUP D (Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy)

What Happens: England is loaded with young talent that may or may not wilt under pressure. Many experts seem enamored with Uruguay, partially because they're good, but largely for this "home-continent World Cup" thing. I'm not really buying that, but whatever. Italy is flying under the radar, and they're fine with that.

Jimmy Rollins

Italy's Andrea Pirlo

Names to Know: Luis Suarez (Uruguay), Edinson Cavani (Uruguay), Joel Campbell (Costa Rica)* only for this, Wayne Rooney (England), Daniel Sturridge (England), Andrea Pirlo (Italy), Mario Ballotelli (Italy).

Key Match: Many are focused on Saturday's Italy-England showdown, but I'll take Uruguay vs. England, June 19, 3 p.m. I think Italy takes the group, so this game is critical to see who else advances. Plus, you never know if Suarez decides to eat someone's ear.

Philly Comparison: Andrea Pirlo = Jimmy Rollins. A player who is one of the best ever for his team, but might not be fully appreciated until after he's gone. Like Rollins, Pirlo already has a title, and like Rollins, he is likely in his final years. Both Class acts all the way who represented their teams well.

Going Through: Picking England makes me very nervous, but I think Uruguay wilts a bit under the pressure. Let's go with Italy and England.

 

GROUP E (Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras)

What Happens: Switzerland was somehow "seeded" in the draw while France was not. Because of that, it's and odd group where anyone can emerge. Ecuador is not a team to take lightly, while Honduras can be a challenge if you're not patient.

France's Paul Pogba

Mitch Williams

Names to Know: Antonio Valencia (Ecuador), Xherdan Shaqiri (Switzerland), Karim Benzema (France), Paul Pogba (France), Yohan Cabaye (France), Patrice Evra (France).

Key Match: Switzerland vs. France will be important, but I'll try an outlier with Switzerland v. Ecuador this Sunday at 3 p.m. I think France wins the group, and if Ecuador can get three points off the Swiss in the opener, things will get VERY dicey for the peaceful Swiss.

Philly Comparison: Paul Pogba = Mitch Williams. Because a mohawk is just a mullet sticking straight up.

Going Through: I'm just not buying Switzerland, sorry. I'll take France and Ecuador.

 

GROUP F (Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria)

What Happens: Argentina is the tournament's second favorite in many eyes, while Bosnia has some talent and is the likely runner-up in the group. Nigeria has some individual talent, but can they put it together. Iran is a mystery, but can seemingly play some defense.

Bosnia-Herzegovina's Edin Dzeko

Keith Primeau

Names to Know: Lionel Messi (Argentina), Edin Dzeko (Bosnia), Victor Moses (Nigeria)

Key Match: You'll want to watch Argentina and not take your eyes off Messi, but the big one might be Bosnia v. Nigeria, June 21, 6 p.m.

Philly Comparison: Edin Dzeko = Keith Primeau. Like Primeau, Dzeko is rarely flashy, but he always gets it done. He's in the right place when it matters most, and he rarely misses a chance he should finish. He's also pretty good with his head, and there's a Primeau joke in the.... nevermind.

Going Through: I'm not as high on Argentina as some, but they should win the group and it'll be Argentina and Bosnia moving on.

 

GROUP G (United States, Ghana, Portugal, Germany)

[We'll tackle this group on Monday, but for the sake of predictions...]

Going Through: Germany and the United States.

 

GROUP H (Belgium, Algeria, Russia, South Korea)

What Happens: Belgium has become such the sexy darkhorse pick that it's not much of a darkhorse anymore. Algeria and Russia are mysteries and South Korea should bring up the rear.

Belgium's Vincent Kompany

Brian Dawkins

Names to Know: Vincent Kompany (Belgium), Romelu Lukaku (Belgium), Edin Hazard (Belgium).

Key Match: Belgium should take the group easily, so second might hinge on the final matchup of Algeria v. Russia, June 26, 4 p.m.

Philly Comparison: Vincent Kompany = Brian Dawkins. The heart and soul of the team and one of the top defenders in the world, Kompany is the Belgian captain and must keep his younger talented teammates grounded.

Going Through: I admit knowing very very little about Algeria, Russia and South Korea. I'll take Belgium and Algeria to go through.

 

Germany is Steve's pick to win it all

Round of 16:

Brazil over Chile; Ivory Coast over England; Spain over Croatia; Italy over Japan; Bosnia over France; Germany over Algeria; Argentina over Ecuador; United States over Belgium (call me a homer, I don't care).

Quarterfinals:

Brazil over Ivory Coast; Italy over Spain; Germany over Bosnia; Argentina over United States.

Semifinals:

Germany over Brazil, Argentina over Italy.

Final:

Germany over Argentina.

 

 

And now, a few words from our non-soccer guys:

* * *

Enrico:

Italy is going to win. Blue is the best color.

* * *

Andrew Unterberger:

Here's the five countries that I'd most like to see win:
5. Boznia and Hergzegovina (I like names that are two names)
4. Honduras (Solid flag)
3. Australia (Not a lot of Australian things that aren't fairly boss)
2. Greece (Girlfriend is Greek, would be funny to see her family get super-into it, also another solid flag)
1. England (Probably get lots of good songs out of it)

So the England will win because everything I want to happen always does.

* * *

Greg Paone:

I’d just like to preface this by saying I don’t know much about soccer, or futbol, nor do I claim to. I know about the kicking, handballs and Ronaldo’s abs. And that’s about as far as my soccer knowledge stretches.

But it’s the World Cup so of course I’m going to watch. I do honestly find excitement in the world’s most popular sporting event and personally can’t wait for the inevitable moment when FIFA president Sepp Blatter makes an ass out of himself in front of a worldwide audience… again.

As far as my predictions are concerned, I’ll start with the U.S.

That whole “GROUP OF DEATH” thing doesn’t sound too appealing. I hear Germany is quite good at soccer so I see the Germans advancing from atop the group.

From past World Cups, I know Ghana is pretty much the 2002 Tampa Bay Bucs to the U.S. team after crushing the Americans’ dreams of advancing. Not this time, though, as I see the U.S. topping Ghana this go-round and outpointing Portugal to advance to the knockout stage. Seriously, who else does Portugal have outside Ronaldo?

But the dream ends there. The U.S. bows out in the second round to Belgium. Klinsmann was right. The U.S. can’t win.

As for the rest of the tournament, this is all a toss-up for me.

I come from a half-Irish/half-Italian background. Well-placed sources tell me Ireland didn’t qualify this year and I refuse to pick Italy because I don’t get why the Italians wear blue. (Sorry, Enrico. Don’t fire me!)

Gimmie Argentina over host Brazil in the final. Messi – yeah, I know him, too – finally gets Argentina over the hump.

No matter what, I’ll be watching. Go ‘Merica and vivo el futbol!

* * *

The Evster:

If you do not think Brazil is gonna win the World Cup™, you are living a goddamn lie. They are a LOCK to take the trophy. Of the 19 World Cup tournaments ever played, six were won by the host nation, and while I realize that's not a very convincing stat, you can honestly shove your precious stats right into your precious fat face. This sport is not about stats, it's about talent, and joy, and a love for the game, and no one has more fun than the Seleçåo. Then again, Spain is really, really good, and I've never seen any team pop the ball around like they do. Tikki-takka, tikki-takka. It's insane. They could be the best side in the history of the sport. And Germany is just SOLID. So technical, so Schweinsteigery and SO German. But c'mon, you can never count out Italy, right? And ummmmmm, did you forget about a little country called Argentina? THEY HAVE MAYBE THE BEST PLAYER WHO EVER LACED 'EM UP. Seriously, who is going to be able to handle Côte d'Ivoire with Didier Drogba and Yaya? They are a powerhouse. YOU THINK BELGIUM CAN HANDLE THEM? HA! Actually, they might be able to. OMG CAMAROONIANS ARE SO FAST! And don't sleep on the Ukraine! Are they even in it?! The USA can suck my butttttttttttt!!!

 

Villanova stays put at No. 2 for the 3rd straight week

Villanova stays put at No. 2 for the 3rd straight week

Villanova stayed put in the national rankings this week.

The defending champion Wildcats remained the No. 2 overall team in the Associated Press top-25 poll behind 24-0 Gonzaga. The Bulldogs received 59 first-place votes while Villanova received five votes. Kansas, which came in at No. 3, received the other No. 1 vote.

Villanova stayed where they were in the rankings after holding their own with two comfortable road wins, in large part thanks to sophomore point guard Jalen Brunson. Brunson was the big man on campus this week, beginning with a team-high 18 points in a 75-62 win at DePaul on Monday. He followed it up with his first career double-double as he put together a 22-point, 10-assist effort in a blowout win over Seton Hall in Newark on Saturday.

The win over the Pirates meant the Wildcats clinched a share of the Big East regular-season title for the fourth straight year. One win in their last three regular season games or one loss each by Butler and Creighton would hand Villanova sole possession of the Big East crown. 

Therefore, it's only fitting that the Wildcats' next two games are against none other than Butler and Creighton. Butler handed Villanova its first loss of the season back on Jan. 4 at Hinkle Fieldhouse, but the No. 22 Bulldogs now have to travel to Philadelphia for the rematch on Wednesday. The No. 23 Blue Jays then head to the Pavillion for a Saturday afternoon duel. The Wildcats beat Creighton, 80-70, on New Year's Eve in Omaha, Neb. 

At this point last season, Villanova had four losses (two in conference) and had just a one-game lead in the conference. This year, they have much more room for comfort, albeit with a tough week with two ranked opponents ahead of them. 

Behind the top three, which remained static this week, the Pac 12 had three teams ranked 4-6 – Arizona, UCLA and Oregon – in the poll this week. The ACC had six teams in the top 25, including No. 7 Louisville, No. 8 North Carolina and No. 10 Duke. Baylor, which lost to Kansas on Saturday, fell from No. 4 to No. 9. 

Sixers were right to reject Pelicans' reported Jahlil Okafor trade offer

Sixers were right to reject Pelicans' reported Jahlil Okafor trade offer

If the reports are accurate, Bryan Colangelo probably made the right decision not trading Jahlil Okafor last week.

After the Pelicans acquired DeMarcus Cousins early Monday morning in a shocking, post-All-Star Game blockbuster, ESPN's Ramona Shelburne reported several interesting pieces of information regarding the Sixers.

"The Pelicans were very close on a deal for Jahlil Okafor about 10 days ago, offering a similar package except it didn't include [Buddy] Hield," Shelburne wrote

A few hours earlier, she reported on ESPN that the deal for Okafor would have netted the Sixers Tyreke Evans, a protected first-round pick and a future second-round pick from New Orleans.

The protection the Pelicans sought was heavy — they wanted top-20 protection, according to Shelburne.

That just isn't a meaningful enough return, even for a player without a role in Philly.

Why? 

• Evans is a free agent after the season who has had three knee surgeries in the last two years and can't shoot threes. 

• A second-round pick is just a sweetener, so moving on from that ...

• A top-20 protected first-round pick isn't that enticing at all. Of the players selected between 20 and 30 in the last draft, only Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Toronto's Pascal Siakam and San Antonio's Dejounte Murray even have roles. 

In the previous year's draft, the best picks between 20-30 were Bobby Portis and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. 

The year before, Rodney Hood and Clint Capela panned out for their teams, but the eight others selected in that range have done little.

This sort of trade might have worked for the Sixers if they weren't already accumulating some roster depth. They don't need to go search for another late-first-round pick they can hopefully turn into the eighth or ninth guy in a rotation. With players developing like T.J. McConnell, Robert Covington, Richaun Holmes and Nik Stauskas, the Sixers are already building a decent second unit for the future.

There are a lot of people in this city ready to give Okafor away, but doing so just makes no sense for the Sixers. All it would solve is the center logjam and awkwardness, but the value in that New Orleans proposal just wasn't there for the Sixers. 

At this point, it's looking extremely unlikely Okafor is traded before the Feb. 23 deadline. The Blazers were interested but acquired Jusuf Nurkic from Denver instead. The Pelicans were interested but landed Cousins. 

The only team left we've heard connected to Okafor is the Bulls, who don't have much of intrigue to send the Sixers' way.

But still, hanging on to Okafor and trading him after the season, or on draft night, could yield the Sixers a better return than New Orleans was offering. Forget about Evans and forget about the second-round pick — that offer was basically a pick in the 20-30 range for Okafor. 

Not enough. 

The Sixers held out in hopes of New Orleans' making the pick top-10 protected or lottery-protected instead, but Pels GM Dell Demps knew the Sixers didn't have much leverage and thought to himself, "If I'm trading away a potentially valuable draft pick, I want a better player in return."

And so he got Cousins. That's how we ended up where we are today.

The Sixers' future is brighter because their pick swap with the Kings now holds more value, so last night was a win for them even though Okafor remains on the roster.