FC Zenit St. Petersburg v PFC CSKA Moscow - Premier League

The ‘no good and racist’ Zenit fans just won’t shut up

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Zenit fans are mad at the media for distorting their racist, homophobic manifesto, apparently making the understandable mistake of describing its racism and homophobia.

In the words of the great Brian Fontana: “Take it easy, Champ. Why don’t you sit this next one out, stop talking for a while.”

On Monday, Zenit’s largest supporters group (Landscrona) posted a letter on its website saying the absence of black players is important to the club’s Eastern and Northern European roots, also claiming “sexual minorities” should not be signed by the club.

Steve already covered it here but according to Landscrona, he and the rest of the media are doing a hit job on the well-intended fan group.

Per ESPN FC:

The new statement read: “Unfortunately, it has become clear to us why many players refuse to speak to journalists. There have been numerous out-of-context headlines, distorted quotes and labels applied that go beyond reasonable limits.

“We once again strongly reject any accusations of racism. [The manifesto] does not mention anywhere that we believe that the people of certain countries and religions do not have the right to play for Zenit.”

The new statement quotes a line from the manifesto stating that European players should be prioritised and adds: “THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT IT IS A TABOO. To sign players from Latin America, for example, only makes sense if there has first been an honest, professional effort to sign a player from Russia, or Europe.

“We, as the most northerly club of all the major European cities, have no mental association with Africa, just as we have no association with South America or Austalia or Oceania. We have absolutely nothing against the people of these or any other continents, but we want a Zenit team primarily made of players who share our spirit and mentality.”

The language is softer, and to a lot of people, this is would be similar to selective policies employed by some otherwise aggrandized clubs (Athletic Bilbao) if we didn’t have reason to suspect this is just coded hate.

But this reframing is still ridiculous on a basic, human level. It’s one thing to recognize a natural affinity to things to which you’re connected, but to imply people in St. Petersburg have “no mental association with Africa” is insane.

There’s a clear, obviously, perhaps excessively mundane connection Russians have to Africans. They’re all people. I don’t have deep roots with anybody in Ghana, but it’s not too difficult for me to recognize our basic commonalities.

And once you think along those lines, it becomes very difficult to see why a club in Russia should (as the fans suggest) draw a huge circle around St. Petersburg and say “people within this area represent what Zenit is about.” That’s not to say there aren’t compelling reasons to want players with legitimate connections to the club to be brought into the team, but Zenit fans are extending those connections to Finland and Belarus.

Not to mention they’re now being incredibily disingenuous about their motives.

From Christopher Samba, the Congolese defender who left Blackburn for Anzhi Makhachkala last season:

“I’m not surprised,” Samba said, according to BBC Sport. “Everybody knows Zenit supporters are no good and racist. They are living in another century. It’s a sad day for Russian football. In this time we have different communities and countries that constitute teams. If they can’t accept that then they are never going to progress.

“It’s really sad. It’s slowing down the process of Russian football being a better league. I hope the Russian federation do the necessary to sanction it.”

Zenit’s a club with major ambitions, as evidenced by their purchases of Axel Witsel and Hulk. But thanks to their fans, they may soon be the most-hated team in the world, and while management tries to distance the club from the extremists, right now the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Zenit is hate.

Europa League draw: Man Utd learns fate

Manchester United's Henrikh Mkhitaryan, center back to camera, celebrates scoring the opening goal with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, 2nd right, and other teammates during a Europa League round of 32 second leg soccer match between Saint Etienne and Manchester United at Geoffroy Guichard stadium in Saint Etienne, France, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)
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The travel is tricky, but Manchester United’s draw for the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 could’ve been much worse.

The Red Devils are off to Russia to face FC Rostov in the next round of the UEL competition.

[ MORE: Spurs sent packing ]

In another draw that leads you to question whether there’s anything random about it all, United and lone La Liga representative Celta Vigo drew winnable matches against Russian clubs, Roma has a tantalizing match against Lyon, and an all-Bundesliga match hits the docket.

Heck, we’ll even see an all-Belgian tie between Gent vs. Genk.

And in a draw which will have many glued to their sets, USMNT left-sided man Fabian Johnson will help Borussia Monchengladbach against German rivals Schalke. The first leg comes five days after the pair face off in Bundesliga play.

The Round of 16 legs will be played March 9 and 16.

UEFA Europa League Round of 16

Rostov vs. Manchester United
Celta Vigo vs. Krasnodar
Copenhagen vs. Ajax
Olympiacos vs. Besiktas
Lyon vs. Roma
Schalke vs. Borussia Monchengladbach
APOEL Nicosia vs. Anderlecht
Gent vs. Genk

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?