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

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).


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


Germany over Brazil, Argentina over Italy.


Germany over Argentina.



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

* * *


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!!!


No. 16 Villanova vs. No. 23 Albany: With or without Bednarczyk, can Wildcats rebound?


No. 16 Villanova vs. No. 23 Albany: With or without Bednarczyk, can Wildcats rebound?

No. 16 Villanova (5-2, 3-1) vs. No. 23 Albany (4-2, 1-2)
Villanova Stadium, Villanova, Pa.
Saturday, 3:30 p.m.

Fresh off a rare loss, Villanova looks to get back on track during its homecoming game against another nationally ranked foe. Here’s a look at the matchup:

Scouting Villanova
The Wildcats saw their five-game winning streak snapped in resounding fashion as they were shut out for the first time since 2004 in a 23-0 loss to Richmond. Sophomore quarterback Zach Bednarczyk left the game in the second quarter with an injury, a big reason why the Wildcats finished with just 222 yards of total offense. But despite the final score, Villanova’s defense played well again with Austin Calitro and Rob Rolle each hitting double digits in tackles. The unit is ranked fifth in the FCS in scoring defense (16.3 points per game) and sixth in total defense (237.9 yards per game) and has scored four defensive touchdowns.

Scouting Albany
After winning their first four games, the Great Danes lost their next two, a 36-30 triple-overtime heartbreaker to Richmond followed by a 20-16 setback to Maine. Sophomore quarterback Neven Sussman led Albany with 187 passing yards and 75 rushing yards. But for the season, their offensive strength has been with sophomore running back Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks, who’s second in the CAA in rushing, averaging 105 yards per game. Albany’s defense is only behind Villanova in points allowed per game (19.3) in the CAA, but interestingly enough is last in total defense (420.2 yards per game). The Great Danes lead the league in turnover margin (plus-15), led by linebacker Michael Nicastro and safety Mason Gray with three interceptions apiece.

Series history
Villanova has only played Albany twice, beating the Great Danes, 48-31, in 2014 and steamrolling it, 37-0, last season. 

Storyline to watch
The big question going in is whether Bednarczyk will play with Villanova saying it will be a game-time decision after the QB suffered a concussion last week. If he can’t go, Adeyemi DaSilva will get the start in his place after replacing him in the second quarter vs. Richmond. DaSilva is a promising player but Bednarczyk was coming into his own this season and his absence would naturally be a difficult one. Of course, the Wildcats have been through this before with Bednarczyk taking over as the starter last season when star John Robertson went down with an injury of his own.

What’s at stake?
Villanova still has a chance to win the CAA but probably can’t afford a second loss in the league. And of course, there’s nothing better than winning in front of a homecoming crowd.

A lot depends on whether Bednarczyk can play … but even if he doesn’t, the Wildcats’ dominant defense may be enough to get the job done. 

Villanova 20, Albany 17

Anthem singer at Sixers-Heat game kneels during performance

Anthem singer at Sixers-Heat game kneels during performance

MIAMI — A woman performing the national anthem before an NBA preseason game in Miami on Friday night did so while kneeling at midcourt, and opening her jacket to show a shirt with the phrase "Black Lives Matter."

The singer was identified by the Heat as Denasia Lawrence. It was unclear if she remained in the arena after the performance, and messages left for her were not immediately returned.

Heat players and coaches stood side-by-side for the anthem, all with their arms linked as has been their custom during the preseason. Many had their heads down as Lawrence sang, and the team released a statement saying it had no advance knowledge that she planned to kneel.

"We felt as a basketball team that we would do something united, so that was our focus," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Throughout all of this, I think the most important thing that has come out is the very poignant, thoughtful dialogue. We've had great dialogue within our walls here and hopefully this will lead to action."

The anthem issue has been a major topic in the sports world in recent months, starting with the decision by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to not stand for its playing. Kaepernick cited racial injustice and police brutality among the reasons for his protest, and athletes from many sports -- and many levels, from youth all the way to professional -- have followed his lead in various ways.

"All I can say is what we've seen in multiple preseason games so far is our players standing for the national anthem," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in New York earlier Friday, at a news conference following the league's board of governors meetings. "It would be my hope that they would continue to stand for the national anthem. I think that is the appropriate thing to do."

The NBA has a rule calling for players and coaches to stand during the anthem.

Heat guard Wayne Ellington often speaks about the need to curb gun violence, after his father was shot and killed two years ago. He had his eyes closed for most of the anthem Friday, as per his own custom, though was aware of Lawrence's actions.

"At the end of the day, to each his own," Ellington said. "If she feels like that's the way she wants to stand for it, then more power to her."

Making a statement in the manner that Lawrence did Friday is rare, but not unheard of in recent weeks.

When the Sacramento Kings played their first home preseason game earlier this month, anthem singer Leah Tysse dropped to one knee as she finished singing the song.

Tysse is white. Lawrence is black.

"I love and honor my country as deeply as anyone yet it is my responsibility as an American to speak up against injustice as it affects my fellow Americans," Tysse wrote on Facebook. "I have sung the anthem before but this time taking a knee felt like the most patriotic thing I could do. I cannot idly stand by as black people are unlawfully profiled, harassed and killed by our law enforcement over and over and without a drop of accountability."