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Shipped from Abroad, Euro 2012: Group A’s new, less muddled landscape

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How we’ll remember …

Poland 1, Greece 1: A host nation comes out and dominated for 30 minutes, getting some help from an official with a very short leash. Despite this and a half of exhibiting the capabilities of their Borussia Dortmund-based trio, Poland lets Greece back into the match and, half-way through the second half, needs a substitute goalkeeper to come off the bench to preserve a draw after their one English Premier League player sees red.

Russia 4, Czech Republic 1: This was the day that Alan Dzagoev became known west of the curtain. Two goals from the 21-year-old went a long way to setting up another quarterfinal match up with the Dutch. The star beyond the scoresheet? The Russian Prince: Andrei Arshavin. The Zenit star used Euro’s opening day to remind the world he’s still quite good.

Team of the Day

G: Vyacheslav Malafeev, Russia
LB: Yuri Zhirkov, Russia
CB: Sergei Ignashevich, Russia
CB: Aleksei Berezutskiy, Russia
RB: Lukasz Piszczek, Poland
DM: Igor Denisov, Russia
M: Roman Shirokov, Russia
M: Kostas Katsouranis, Greece
LW: Andrei Arshavin, Russia
RW: Alan Dzagoev, Russia
F: Dimitris Salpingidis, Greece;
Subs: Robert Lewandowski, Poland, Przemyslaw Tyton, Poland; Vaclav Pilar, Czech Republic

Three lessons to take home

1. Goalkeepers wanted – Three of the day’s four starting goalkeepers had horrible days:

  • Wojciech Szczesny misread the ball that led to Greece’s goal (then got sent off);
  • Kostas Chalkias gave himself no chance to stop Poland’s goal; and,
  • Petr Cech got beaten four times, and a couple of the goals were preventable.

If there’s one position that’s most susceptible to big tournament pressure, it’s goalkeeper (though Aleksandr Kerzhakov made his case for striker). Who knows if that happened today.

Cech, in particular, would have wanted to put in a better performance. The last time he played in this competition, his error saw the Czechs out of Euro 2008.

2. Don’t look a gift horse – Poland had so much going for them in the first half and then let up. They completely abandoned building down the right, a tactic Greece never dealt with well. Between that and how the Polish defense was exploited in the second half, the co-hosts seemed naive with their advantages, both on the scoreboard and in manpower.

3. From Russia, with love – The Russian national team and Zenit St. Petersburg raised their country’s profile in 2008. Today, they re-raised it, with a national team that inherited Zenit’s backbone breaking the Czech Republic. The fluidity and directness they showed in attack portrayed a veyr well-prepared team. How much the Czechs contributed to that, we’ll find out on Tuesday.

Group A “Power” Rankings

1. Russia – They’re now more than just Group A favorites. They’re sitting in that second tier of favorites with France.

2. Poland – It’s a disappointing start, but when you ask which of them or Greece is more likely to succeed going forward, Poland at least showed (for 30 minutes) they can be a dangerous side.

3. Greece – They controlled the second half. If you’re a coach preparing for Greece, you spend three days hammering home one message: You can not take these guys for granted.

4. Czech Republic – Get out Roy Hodgson’s ropes and tie that defense together. And while you’re at it, bring somebody who can break up play in transition. It looked like whomever was controlling them put the game on expert mode for the first time.

Crystal Ball – What Needs to Happen

Group A resumes play next Tuesday:

Greece and the Czech Republic face each other in a what, for the Greeks, is must win game. They can’t go into a final match with Russia holding only two points (or less) when Poland and the Czechs play each other to close group play. The Czechs, however, have some major work to do ahead of Tuesday. Based on today’s performances, Greece should feel good about getting full points.

In Tuesday’s second game, Russia takes on the co-hosts. Poland needs to get back to using the right side of their attack and commit to putting pressure on Yuri Zhirkov (and push back Andrei Arshavin). If they do that, Poland will win. If they don’t, Russia will clinch a spot in the quarterfinals. I like Poland’s chances to throw this group back into turmoil.

PST’s Euro 2012 “More Powerful” Rankings

1. Germany
2. Spain
3. Netherlands
4. Russia

5. Croatia
6. France
7. England
8. Sweden

… and PST’s Player of the Tournament Wunderlist

1. Alan Dzagoev, Russia
2. Andrei Arshavin, Russia
3. Roman Shirokov, Russia
ProSoccerTalk is doing its best to keep you up to date on what’s going on in Poland and Ukraine. Check out the site’s Euro 2012 page and look at the site’s previews, predictions, and coverage of all the events defining UEFA’s championship.

Electricity restored at Maracana after some late bills paid

This Feb. 2, 2017 shows Maracana stadium with a dry field in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Stadium operators, the Rio state government, and Olympic organizers have fought over $1 million in unpaid electricity bills and management of the venue. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Rio’s electricity utility has turned the power back on at the famous Maracana stadium after it was shut off for almost a month in a dispute over $1 million in unpaid bills.

The utility on Thursday said power had been restored after the stadium operator paid 1.3 million reals ($430,000) in late bills from November through January. It was shut off on Jan. 26 in the dispute.

The utility said it is still negotiating for 1.8 million reals ($600,000) in unpaid bills from the organizing committee of last year’s Rio Olympics. Rio 2016 organizers still owe millions to companies which helped prepare the Olympics and Paralympics

The stadium has been vandalized over the last month with seats torn out, televisions stolen and the grass field left untended.

VIDEO: FC Dallas youngster Kellyn Acosta unleashes howitzer goal

Arabe Unido goalkeeper Miguel lloyd (1) reaches up to block a shot from FC Dallas as defender Rigoberto Nino (2) and FC Dallas' Kellyn Acosta (23) watch in the first half of a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals soccer match, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017 in Frisco, Texas (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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With FC Dallas taking on Panamanian club Aribe Unido in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League, 21-year-old Kellyn Acosta grabbed a second for the Major League Soccer club 10 minutes past halftime.

It wasn’t just any old goal. It was a STRIKE.

The Texas native trailed the play, and with Roland Lamah shut off in the box by solid man-marking on the ball, Acosta was there to provide an outlet, and he blasted a vicious strike into the top-left corner. The find by Lamah was a smart one with a host of defenders closing in, and his calm demeanor was rewarded as his teammate launched a rocket into the back of the net.

The goal is a fodder for those who believe Acosta, who has played full-back for much of his career, should be a midfielder instead. His positioning and ability to trail the play with deadly accuracy is what makes this goal so special.

Acosta would bag a third in the dying minutes of the game, giving FC Dallas a 3-0 lead to take on the road as they travel to Panama for the second leg on March 1st.

Top Premier League Storylines – Week 26

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 08:  Claudio Ranieri, manager of Leicester City speaks with his players during the break in extra-time in the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round replay match between Leicester City and Derby City at The King Power Stadium on February 8, 2017 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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Well. This weekend’s return of Premier League action was already slated to be an exciting one, but now with today’s enormous bit of breaking news, it has become even more intriguing.

[ WATCH: Previewing every match in Week 26 ]

There’s plenty to discuss at the top of the Premier League table, as Arsenal and Spurs look to heal their European wounds, but it’s what’s at the bottom that has everyone talking today.

How will Leicester City react after the firing of Claudio Ranieri?

Leicester City vs. Liverpool —  3:00 p.m. EDT Monday on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Well. The Foxes had their work cut out for them coming into this match already, but now it has a whole new flavor. Claudio Ranieri has been dismissed just nine months after winning the Premier League title, and sitting just a point off the drop coming into the weekend (and inside the relegation zone coming into the match?) Leicester City will be lead into King Power Stadium by Assistant Manager Craig Shakespeare and First Team Coach Mike Stowell.

Liverpool stopped a five-match winless streak last time out with a quality 2-0 win over Tottenham, but the Reds defense has been leaky all season, and if Leicester is to break its horrid 610-minute goalless streak, it would be here. The Foxes are without a win in five and have not scored a Premier League goal in all of the 2017 calendar year. Can they respond and begin to play for themselves rather than their former manager?

Can Dele Alli and Tottenham bounce back?

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Stoke City — 8:30 a.m. EDT Sunday on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Spurs looked like they had rediscovered their Champions League form with a comprehensive smothering of Championship side Fulham in the FA Cup. Then, they welcomed KAA Gent to Wembley and promptly lost their heads. Dele Alli was sent off for one of the worst challenges you’ll see, and Spurs were vulnerable as a result, crashing out of the Europa League.

Now, Mauricio Pochettino must regroup the squad and get them ready to host Stoke, a team they clobbered 4-0 in the third match of the season. The squad is still healthy, and the loss of European play may actually help them in the long run. Here, however, it provides them with negative form and a short prep time. They need this one badly to solidify a top four place moving forward, can Poch turn it around?

Can Sunderland get a result against surging Everton?

Everton vs. Sunderland — 10:00 a.m. EDT Saturday on NBCSports.com

Hull City hosts Burnley. Crystal Palace welcomes Middlesbrough. With those two fellow occupants of the relegation zone playing at home against lower-half sides, the spotlight is squarely on Sunderland. The Black Cats have a tough matchup, on the road at Everton.

The Toffees haven’t lost a Premier League match since falling to Liverpool in mid-December, and have scored 19 goals in the eight matches since that blemish. With that in mind, Sunderland must get some kind of a result to pull off the bottom of the Premier League table. Can they snatch points at Goodison Park?

EFL Cup final could leave Chelsea well out in front

Chelsea vs. Swansea City — 10:00 a.m. EDT Saturday on NBCSports.com

Chelsea is already eight points ahead of the pack and looks to be the clear favorite to win the Premier League title. It could get even clearer after this week. Manchester United is off, Manchester City is off, and Arsenal is off. Couple that with Tottenham struggling and Liverpool facing a desperate Leicester City side, and it’s entirely conceivable that a win for Chelsea over Swansea City could leave the Blues as far as 11 points clear at the top of the table, albeit a game ahead of some. That would all but wrap things up, wouldn’t it?

Mario Balotelli handed 2-match ban for abusing referee

FILE- In this Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016 file photo, Nice's forward Mario Balotelli, of Italy, reacts during the Europa League group I soccer match between OGC Nice and FC Salzburg, in Nice stadium, southeastern France. Nice striker Mario Balotelli’s teammate Alassane Pleas has confirmed he heard Bastia supporters racially abusing Balotelli with monkey chants during the league match on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Claude Paris, File)
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After being sent off for referee abuse in last weekend’s Ligue 1 win over FC Lorient, Nice striker Mario Balotelli has been handed a two-match ban.

Balotelli earned his second red card of the season in the 69th minute of a 1-0 win that kept Nice within striking distance of the leaders Monaco. It was his second straight red and third sending-off of the season, having already been dismissed in reverse fixture against Lorient after a pair of yellows in the final three minutes of the game.

After the mercurial Italian’s hot start to the season, he has just one goal in the last two months, the third in a 3-1 win over Guingamp. He has not scored a point-winning goal since bagging both in a 2-1 win over Dijon back on December 18th.

Balotelli’s agent, the well-known Mino Raiola, was so frustrated with his client’s continual dismissal problems that he told French media conglomerate RMC Sport that the solution to Balotelli’s problems is to “cut out his tongue.”

“I have already found the solution: you have to cut out his tongue,” Raiola said bluntly. “To play soccer, there is no need for language! In all seriousness, he knows he made a big mistake and he has no excuse. He knows he needs to improve that. He is very sad for him, for the team.”

The suspension leaves Balotelli on the sidelines for tomorrow’s match against 11th placed Montpellier and then on March 4th at 17th placed Dijon. Nice sits in third, level on points with 2nd placed PSG and three back of leaders Monaco.