ROUND 1, DAY 1
U.S. President Barack Obama vs. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper
We know the U.S. commander in chief has game. But with his mind on the Middle East, his upcoming Latin America trip, and the partisan meltdown in Congress, can he bring it against the Northern Avenger? Harper's poll numbers have been slipping lately, but with Canadian economic forecasts looking mighty sunny, keep an eye out for an upset.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy vs. German Chancellor Angela Merkel
There's a long history of bad blood between Europe's big two, though they've been able to work together lately. Neither is in top fighting form at the moment: Sarkozy's government has been embarrassed by its handling of the revolutions in North Africa, while Merkel's position as Europe's de facto economic leader looks shakier than ever. Expect mile-a-minute showboating from the gregarious Frenchman while Merkel's governing style often emulates her country's soccer team: technically skillful but agonizingly dull.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi vs. British Prime Minister David Cameron
Berlusconi limps into the tournament facing an array of charges ranging from bribery to paying for sex with teenagers. On the other hand, given that he's survived half a dozen scandals in the past year, even one of which would have ended the career of a lesser politician, it might not be wise to bet against the Teflon Don. Cameron was strong out of the gate with bold cuts to Britain's social services and defense budgets, but has lately faced stiffer-than-expected opposition in going after university tuition and the National Health Service -- a sophomore slump may be setting in at 10 Downing Street.
South African President Jacob Zuma vs. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard
This Southern Hemispheric showdown between two canny political operators pits the South African veteran with a checkered past against Australia's upstart, carbon-taxing, Tilda Swinton look-alike. Zuma has surprised many critics by sticking with market-friendly policies aimed at continuing South Africa's impressive economic growth, but he's been a little too friendly with regional strongmen like Muammar al-Qaddafi and Robert Mugabe for the liking of many. Gillard ousted her boss, Kevin Rudd, in a party shake-up last summer, but is still a largely unknown quantity in international politics. A tossup.