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.

How will USMNT line up versus Costa Rica?

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Saturday brings a first look at the United States men’s national team in 2020, though Gregg Berhalter’s bunch won’t look anything like its best self.

The Yanks have an almost exclusively MLS roster for the match, with Hobro’s Christian Cappas, Wolfsburg II’s Uly Llanez and unattached 17-year-old Bryang Kayo in the fold.

Many of Berhalter’s best MLS stars won’t be in Carson either for the 3:55 p.m. ET Saturday kickoff. Jordan Morris, Jozy Altidore, and Michael Bradley are the biggest names.

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Ronald Gonzalez’s Ticos will be similarly hampered, although more of Costa Rica’s A-side play in MLS and domestically.

We’ll leave the breakdown of the visitors for a later date, but who will rep the U.S. in Saturday’s Starting XI?

The travel roster includes keepers Sean Johnson, Bill Hamid, and Matt Turner, as well as defenders Aaron Long, Walker Zimmerman, Reggie Cannon, Julian Araujo, Chase Gasper, Justen Glad, Mark McKenzie, and Sam Vines. Listed midfielders Sebastian Lletget, Jackson Yueill, Brenden Aaronson, Cappis, Kayo, and Brandon Servania are joined by forwards Gyasi Zardes, Paul Arriola, Jonathan Lewis, Jesus Ferreira, and Ulysses Llanez.

Goalkeeper is anyone’s guess, but Johnson’s got the most run of the three during the Berhalter era. The younger Turner or more accomplished Hamid may step in there.

It would be surprising to see any other center backs besides Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long given what we know of Berhalter and his respect for regulars. Reggie Cannon should start at right back and it’s between Chase Gasper and Sam Vines for the left. We’ll choose Vines out of intrigue.

Jackson Yueill, Paul Arriola, Sebastian Lletget, and Gyasi Zardes are safe bets to start, and this would seem a spot to give Jonathan Lewis more than subs’ run. That leaves one spot, and we’re pegging Brandon Servania to be the one chosen of four midfielders aged 17-20.

There’s also the matter of whether FC Dallas striker Jesus Ferreira will be internationally cleared to play Saturday. We sure hope he will be!

How do you think Berhalter will line them up?


How Berhalter may go

Johnson

Cannon — Zimmerman — Long — Vines

Yueill — Servania

Arriola — Lletget — Lewis

Zardes


What we’d like to see

Turner

Cannon — Zimmerman — McKenzie — Vines

Yueill — Cappis — Servania

Arriola — Ferreira — Lewis

Watch our transfer deadline day show from 6-8 p.m. ET on Jan. 31, live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com.

Report: Sheffield United in ‘advanced talks’ for $22M Norway star

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Sheffield United is ready to add one of the game’s brightest young talents to its blossoming Premier League side.

Norway midfielder Sander Berge is the name, and he’s been linked with Liverpool amongst others over the past few months.

Berge turns 22 next month and already has 20 caps for Norway in addition to 113 senior appearances for Genk in Belgium and 43 more for Valerenga in his home country.

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The defensive midfielder has chipped in six goals and four assists. He won the Belgian Super League with Genk last year and has a career-best four goals so this season.

It shows what success brings to a club, as Sky Sports reports that Berge turned down a move to Bramall Lane in the summer.

The fee is said to be $22 million, which isn’t small but completely reasonable given his stature for club and country.

This may move may join the Lys Mousset purchase as one of the Blades’ smartest bits of business, especially as Chris Wilder‘s men look for success on multiple fronts. Their success as a newly-promoted side is one of the great stories of the European season, and a place in Europe would be a fantastic achievement.

From The Yorkshire Post:

“It is going well, no doubt about it,” Wilder said. “On the Premier League front and in the Cup. You probably would not think it, but the win at Millwall has given me an enormous amount of pleasure in confirming, not even seeing, what my team is about. Players have come in with the likes of the skipper (Billy Sharp) and other players who are really driving it forward and want to produce individual performances and the atmosphere is good.”

Watch our transfer deadline day show from 6-8 p.m. ET on Jan. 31, live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com.

Espanyol identify 12 fans who racially insulted player

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BARCELONA, Spain — Spanish club Espanyol says it has identified 12 fans who racially insulted an Athletic Bilbao player in the Spanish league last weekend.

Espanyol said on Monday in a statement that nine of the fans were club members and would face punishment that could include suspension or a full-time ban.

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It said a report of its analysis of the video images of Saturday’s game at RCDE Stadium were sent to authorities.

The club reiterated its “categorical condemnation of any displays of violence and racism.”

The fans made monkey noises directed at Athletic forward Inaki Williams, who is black. Television images showed Williams confronting the section of Espanyol fans who taunted him after he was substituted late in the game in Barcelona.

The Spanish league said it will seek a partial stadium closure for Espanyol and will raise the incident with the Spanish soccer federation’s competition committee, which handles disciplinary issues.

Transfer rumors: West Ham want $44M midfielder, Barca eyes Rodrigo

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West Ham United is being linked with a big transfer splash, and it’s not even a striker.

Uruguayan midfielder Nahitan Nandez is the man in question, and West Ham is reportedly tempting Cagliari with a $44 million offer this January.

Nandez, 23, arrived from Boca Juniors for less than half that fee this summer, and has chipped in a goal with three assists for Tommaso Giulini’s sixth-place Serie A side.

He’s got 31 caps for his national team, and is averaging 1.5 tackles per match with Cagliari. Nandez is also averaging a key pass and 1.1 successful dribbles per league outing.

Football-Italia says that Cagliari will try to tie Nandez to a new deal with a $44 million release clause if the move to West Ham is unsuccessful.

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Meanwhile Barcelona’s pursuit of a Luis Suarez replacement isn’t limited to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, according to Marca.

Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu admits that Valencia striker Rodrigo Moreno is interesting his coaches.

“We don’t talk about players from other teams. But [Rodrigo’s] name is on the table of the coaches, and a replacement will arrive. I do not know whether it will be from Barcelona B or from outside. I like many players.”

The Spaniard has eight goals in 21 caps, and turns 29 in March. Rodrigo has four goals and 10 assists in 23 matches across all competitions this season.

Valencia beat Barcelona this weekend to send the Blaugranas three points back of La Liga leaders Real Madrid.