Will a South American team win the World Cup?

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Will a South American team win the 2014 World Cup? The short answer: yes.

The long answer? Yes.

Ok, it’s not a certainty that a team from South America will wind up hoisting the trophy. There are no certainties when it comes to international soccer, except for the fact that when Brazil is involved, commentators will inevitably mention “samba.” But the continent has hosted the World Cup four times, with a South American country winning each time. South American nations have also won all three tournaments played in North America.

Of course, it can also be argued that this sort of split is sure to disappear with time. In the past, players weren’t used to such extensive travel. It was difficult to adjust to foreign conditions, foreign foods, foreign temperatures. But now that the vast majority of the world’s best players are hopping planes every couple weeks, and many associations have the means to begin preparations early in custom-built training camps, the home-continent advantage might soon be a thing of the past.

Still, the chances of this Cup going to a South American team are still rather high. Of FIFA’s top ten teams, four of them are from the continent. The rankings system may be a bit flawed, but the talent is still evident.

Ecuador
La Tri may have beaten Uruguay to the final automatic qualification spot, but they’re still the weakest side on the continent. Oh, and in Switzerland and France, they’ve got two very tough sides to beat should they want to make it out of Group E (they can probably make it past Honduras, however). Their strength lies in their wingers – Jefferson Montero and Antonio Valencia – but wide play alone isn’t going to cause Ecuador to make a deep run.

Uruguay
Wait, are Uruguay really the fifth-worst side in South America? Perhaps not. But they head to this tournament with fifteen of the same players that went to South Africa, and their age is starting to show. If Luis Suárez isn’t fully fit, it’s difficult to see the 35-year-old Diego Forlán shouldering much of the scoring burden. They’ve still got Edinson Cavani, but the forward had a rather poor season at PSG. Basically, they’re relying on dramatic goals from Suárez to gloss over a lack of shininess elsewhere.

Chile
Attacking, free-flowing, fun-loving soccer. This Chile side also features two world-class players, in Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal and Barcelona forward Alexis Sánchez.  This side has its own weaknesses in defense, but it’s certainly capable of pipping Netherlands to second place in Group B. In fact, their style could even catch the heavily-favored Spain off guard. They’re not one of the most talked-about teams on the continent, but they should be.

Colombia
Colombia’s odds of lifting the World Cup diminished significantly with the news that Radamel Falcao wouldn’t be making the trip to Brazil. But to count out los cafeteros would be foolish. They’ve still got an incredibly talented creator in Monaco’s James Rodríguez, and Teófilo Gutiérrez, of River Plate, is rather good at scoring. Colombia should still be tipped to make it out of the group, and could very well find themselves in the quarter-finals.

Argentina
Argentina have a shaky defense and a goalkeeper that made all of three appearances for Monaco this season. Why are they being named as one of the sides most likely to win the tournament? Here are four reasons: Ángel di María, Sergio Agüero, Gonzalo Higuaín and Lionel Messi. Coach Alejandro Sabella has Messi playing the best he ever has for the albiceleste, putting to rest the worry that Messi would never be good for his country. And when the Barcelona man combines with the rest of that attack…well, who needs a defense?

Brazil
Don’t underestimate home-field advantage. The host team has won the tournament six times: Uruguay ’30, Italy ’34, England ’66, West Germany ’74, Argentina ’78, France ’98. And Brazil have lifted the Cup five times: ’58, ’62, ’70, ’94, ’02. Put those two together and you have an easy equation for predicting that Brazil will win in 2014. Plus, the Seleção have an incredibly talented squad, one that’s ready to attack without mercy. If Neymar’s at his best, it’s likely Brazil will be unstoppable.

Then again, the last time the World Cup came to town, in 1950, Brazil needed only a draw to emerge as World Champions. They ended up losing to Uruguay.

Wasteful Poland snatches late 2-1 win at Montenegro

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Poland was in control for much of the game, but failed to finish in front of net until Borussia Dortmund full-back Lukasz Piszczek found the winner with eight minutes to go as the visitors increased their lead at the top of World Cup qualification Group E.

Robert Lewandowski put Poland in front five minutes before halftime with a brilliant free-kick that left Montenegran goalkeeper Mladen Blozovic completely baffled, but Montenegro looked sturdy at the back for much of the game and dangerous on the counter. They’d hit just past the hour mark as Stefan Mugosa headed in to level the score.

Lewandowski had a pair of massive chances in the second half, but couldn’t get either to go down as Blozovic was there to turn him away, and Montenegran defenders cleared off the line as well. Luckily for Poland, they had Piszczek who burst down the right to beat Aleksandar Sofranac, and he produced a stunning finish looped over the closing Blozovic from a tight angle, dinked off the far post, and into the back of the net.

That would do it for Montenegro who had little attacking ability outside of their countering abilities, and with Poland happy to ease out the clock, the hosts didn’t have enough.

The win pushes Poland six points clear at the top of Group E, a sizeable lead with five matches remaining. The battle for the second-place spot is tight, with Montenegro still in command on seven points, level with Denmark but ahead on goal differential. Armenia and Romania are even with six points each.

Netherlands manager Danny Blind fired after Bulgaria loss

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The Netherlands are in real trouble, and the manager has paid the price.

The Dutch national team has parted ways with Danny Blind the day after a 2-0 loss to Bulgaria left the Dutch fourth in their World Cup qualification group halfway through.

The move garnering all the headlines from Saturday’s loss was Blind’s decision to start 17-year-old defender Matthijs de Ligt. The Ajax youth product, who has just two Eredivisie starts to his credit, made two crucial errors and yanked at halftime, but the damage had been done. Spas Delev scored twice in the opening 20 minutes for Bulgaria, and that was all the home side needed as the Dutch offered little in front of goal.

Blind was also criticized for not getting Memphis Depay on the field as they chased the game. The Netherlands held 74% possession, but could only manage 3 shots on target. Depay has been in good form since his January move to Lyon, with five goals in his 10 Ligue 1 appearances.

This decision was something Blind saw coming. He told national broadcaster NOS immediately after the Bulgaria loss, “I blame myself. It can’t go on like this. Things have to change.”

“I need to think about [my future]. I do not throw the towel in here. I’m incredibly disappointed, especially since I had a good feeling about this match. It makes sense that I put myself in front of the mirror.”

However, the problems for the Dutch go far deeper than Danny Blind. They missed out on Euro 2016 largely thanks to the failed 2nd tenure for Guus Hiddink. His assistant Blind took over, but the results have been equally as poor. The Netherlands sit fourth in UEFA World Cup qualification Group A, with losses to Bulgaria and France plus a draw with Sweden. It’s not over for them though, as they sit three points back of a second place spot with five matches to go, and three of those five at home.

With the Netherlands still yet to play their friendly against Italy this coming week, former goalkeeper Fred Grim takes over on an interim basis. Grim collected 101 caps for the Netherlands, and has served as the Netherlands U-21 manager for the last two years. Before that, he took charge of his first full managerial job as head man of Dutch 2nd-tier club Almere City.

Defoe walks out Bradley Lowery, scores in England win

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Jermain Defoe’s friendship with terminally-ill Bradley Lowery has been special to watch unfold, and the Sunderland striker brought his little buddy to Wembley today.

Then he notched a match-winner.

Lowery walked Defoe out onto the field in a replica England kit before Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Lithuania, and then Defoe scored his 20th goal for country.

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It was his first since 2013, the last year Defoe was called up for the Three Lions.

Here’s the goal, which was followed by a second-half Jamie Vardy tally as England stayed atop Group F with a 2-0 win over Lithuania.

Two Russian soccer fans stabbed in Serbia

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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) Two Russian fans have been hospitalized with serious injuries after being stabbed following a friendly soccer match between Red Star Belgrade and Lokomotiv Moscow.

Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said Sunday police were looking for the knife-wielding perpetrators who attacked a group of Lokomotiv fans in downtown Belgrade late Saturday.

Serbian media reports said the Russian fans were attacked by supporters of Red Star’s rival Partizan Belgrade.

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The match, which Red Star won 2-1, was meant to promote Serbia’s traditional friendship with Russia.

Stefanovic says “nobody should think they could hurt the Serbian-Russian friendship” with such attacks.

Serbia has seen a surge of fan violence inside and outside stadiums. In 2009, a French football fan was fatally beaten in Belgrade.