At halftime: Early goal has Brazil in charge of Colombia in chaotic match – FOLLOW LIVE

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Story of the half: Brazil had struggled coming into this match, failing to live up to their designation as tournament favorites.

That didn’t apply today. On the heels of a chill-inducing a cappella national anthem, the hosts burst out of the gates into a blistering start.  They pressured the Colombian defense plenty, and earned a goal inside the opening 10 minutes.

Thiago Silva bagged his first international goal on home soil by scoring a sixth-minute tap-in on a corner, and a sloppy Colombia had little response.

Brazil used a hard, physical strategy to keep Colombian superstar James Rodriguez down, and with much of the possession the hosts had most of the chances on goal.

Tactics then went out the window around the 20th minute, as players just flew forward and back without any direction or instruction, the game exploding open on both ends and providing confusing yet entertaining play. Defenders took goal kicks, referees let everything go, players shot from every place on the pitch, and pigs flew over the stadium…you get the picture.

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Goals:

7′ – The first real chance fell to Brazil, who started bright, and they cashed in. Fernandinho released Neymar with a great through ball, and it earned Brazil a corner. Neymar’s ball flew in long to the back post over everyone jumping to connect, but Thiago Silva made a run to the back post, beating  converted an easy tap-in.

Other key moments:

11′ – Colombia nearly had their response to the early goal.  Brazil failed to clear an attack, and Juan Cuadrado picked up a loose ball at the top of the box. He dribbled into space and lashed a shot to the near post, but it went just wide of the post.

17′ – A defensive mistake leads to a chance for Hulk, but he was marshalled wide enough that his shot had no angle on goal and it ended up cleared without harm.

20′ – Again Brazil pummeled Colombia’s goal. A one-two between Neymar and Hulk released the striker, but again his shot came from a tight angle. The rebound fell to Oscar outside the box and he sent home a piledriver destined for the top corner, but a diving save from David Ospina ended the threat.

25′ – A weird moment saw James Rodriguez called for a foul, and the players got into it a bit. While the referee tried to break up the kerfuffle, Brazil decided to take the quick free kick, and the referee somehow allowed it, leading to numbers for Brazil, but it came to nothing.

38′ – The referee came into question again when a Colombian free kick at the edge of the box resulted in nothing because Neymar and Thiago Silva quite clearly broke the wall and charged the ball before it was kicked, but the referee let it go.

LINEUPS:

Brazil – Julio Cesar, T. Silva, Luiz, Maicon, Marcelo; Fernandinho, Paulinho, Oscar; Fred, Neymar, Hulk.

Goals: Silva 7′

Colombia – Ospina; Zuñiga, Zapata, Yepes, Armero; Sanchez, Rodriguez, Cuadrado, Guarin, Ibarbo; Gutierrez.

Key players:

Thiago Silva – Not only did he score Brazil’s goal, but he was a rock at the back, locking down Colombia’s attack in the few moments they had opportunities. He had seven clearances, five more than any other Brazilian, a pair of blocks, and distributed 16 passes out of the back, failing with just two.

Pablo Armero – Colombia tried hard to thread the ball down the left flank, with little success. Armero was the main component in that attempt, but struggled mightily. He gave away three of his 10 pass attempts, threw four of nine throw-ins away, and completed just one of his three crosses.

Fernandinho – The lock to Brazil’s defensive door, Fernandinho served his purpose well. Moving back into Luiz Gustavo’s normal holding midfielder role with the starter’s yellow card suspension, Fernandinho was superb at halting Colombia’s attempts forward and instantly converting them into Brazilian counter-attacks.

Numbers to know:

6 – players for Brazil with at least 15 completed passes. Colombia has one.

2 – blocks for Thiago Silva. All other 21 outfield players have two combined (one by Neymar on that ridiculous 38th-minute free kick).

38% – The amount of possession Colombia had in the first half, completing just 75% of their passes.

Questions for the second half:

Can Colombia defend with offense? Pinned back and forced to defend much of the first half, the Colombians had precious few chances on the attack despite their usual attacking flair.

Will Brazil continue to push forward or sit back? We’ve seen plenty of teams take a one-goal lead and shut up shop this World Cup, with mixed results. It would behoove Luis Felipe Scolari to continue his assault on the Colombian goal, but it will be very tempting to pull off one of his strikers for another midfielder.  It could come back to haunt him if he does allow Colombia more chances on net.

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.