Four matches today.
12 noon ET: Colombia vs Greece
Location: Belo Horizonte.
Weather: Not bad at all--70 degrees, 10% humidity.
Villarreal connections:Colombia has ex-Villarreal defenders Cristián Zapata among their 23 players, though he never plays. Greece? Well, Salpingidis scored for PAOK against us in the Europa League once. Does that count?
Transfer targets: Can't think of anyone really.
Prediction: We know what to expect form Greece. Defend, defend, defend, and hope a set piece or counterattack can create a 1-0 victory. Everyone is excited to see Colombia, but this looks like one of those matches (like so many in La Liga!!) where an early goal will make a difference. The longer Colombia struggles--and it may take them some time to get untracked, without Perea and Falcao in the lineup--the more the Greeks will enjoy things. I think Colombia will prevail 2-0, but it will not be easy.
3 PM ET: Uruguay vs Costa Rica
Weather: Hot! Humid! Yowza! (80s temp, 80s % humidity)
Villarreal connections: Uruguay--the two Diegos, Forlan and Godin, of course; also, let's not forget Martín Cáceres, whom we bought in 2007, loaned to Recre, and sold him to Barca for stupid money the next year. He never appeared in a match for us. None from Costa Rica I can think of.
Transfer targets: I keep talking up Sebastián Coates, the gaunt Uruguayan defender, who flamed out at Liverpool, but no one seems to seriously listen. Oh well.
Prediction: When you're a small country and your talent pool is relatively small, it's hard to find emerging talent to replace your aging "golden generation". That's Uruguay's problem; yes, they have Cavani and Suarez (who won't start this match) to supplant Forlán, but relying on Diego Lugano to lead the defense, and Arevalo Rios as the midfield destroyer, illustrates the problem. Still, they should overwhelm the Ticos; Joel Campbell is pretty good though. 3-1 to Uruguay.
6 PM ET: Italy vs England
Weather: Hot and humid, even at night.
Villarreal connections: None.
Transfer targets: None either.
Prediction: Two great footballing nations who seldom face off against each other. Both are fielding teams that have a lot of youth, to go along with the names like Pirlo and Rooney. Late news from the Italy camp is Buffon injured an ankle in practice and may not play--the Azzurri's backup has little experience. Regardless, I expect a very tactical battle. I'm going to be ambitious and say 2-1 to Italy, but it could just as well be a turgid 0-0 draw i suppose.
9 PM ET: Ivory Coast vs Japan
Weather: Rain. Temp in high 70s.
Villarreal connections: None.
Transfer targets: Again, none rumored.
Prediction: This could be the best match of the day, between two teams neutrals like to like. Japan is an attacking side that features Keisuke Honda, a very creative player and free-kick specialist, but while they tend to dominate play, they lack a strong finisher. Ivory Coast features aging stars, with Didier Drogba the key one as far as goals go. ivory Coast will dominate physically, Japan tactically, and neither team has a strong defense. I expect fireworks and a 2-2 draw.