FC Internazionale Milano v Juventus - Serie A

Italy: Perfection becomes elusive as Inter, Juve draw; Napoli sits top

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Italy had only given us two matches to judge Inter Milan and Juventus, so it was difficult to know what to expect ahead of the season’s first Derby d’Italia. The Bianconeriperfect through two rounds, had lived up to their status as preseason favorites, while Internazionale, perfect and un-scored on through two games, had been surprisingly convincing early in Walter Mazzarri’s tenure. If this Nerazzurri side was for real, Inter could only give Juventus their first blemish but also establish themselves as surprise contenders in Serie A.

But Inter was not the only team off to a surprisingly strong start. Roma are also perfect and un-scored upon through two games, their own new coach (former Lille boss Rudi Garcia) making an immediate impact. Fiorentina and Napoli had also failed to drop points, and while their starts may not have been surprises in the strict season, they did round out a strong pack at the head of the table, one which sparked hopes Serie A could provide a new level of intrigue this season.

Inter’s start Saturday at the San Siro fit that theme. Mazzarri’s side may not have taken complete control of the match, but they quickly established that Juventus were not going to dictate affairs. For a team that finished ninth last season, being able to go toe-to-toe with the two-time champions was validating. That they went to halftime having created more chances was threatening.

That threat manifest in the 73rd minute, with the Ricky Alvarez revival playing another, unexpected show. The most maligned player from last year’s squad, Alvarez is experiencing a resurgence that rivals Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey’s, except the Argentine attacker is three years older. But in both cases,  young players thought to be key parts of their clubs’ futures started to hear doubts only to see 2013-14 start with multiple game breaking performances.

The highlights start with Alvarez’s latest contribution, setting up countryman Mauro Icardi for Inter’s only goal.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mD5OtC4JUgM]

Juventus’s immediate response — and the fact they nearly took full points minutes later — left the defending champions feeling confident with a 1-1, and with good reason. If Inter truly becomes a fringe contender, and everything we’ve seen so far says they will, then Juventus’s 1-1 result on the road is a good one. Perhaps it runs counter to the invincible Juve meme that’s fostered over the last two years, but that’s for the fans. In terms of results, this was a good one for the Old Lady.

source: Getty Images
Walter Mazzarri finished a four-year run at Napoli with a second place finish. In his first season at Inter, the 51-year-old has led to Nerazzurri to seven points in three games, including Saturday’s draw against Juventus. (Photo: Getty Images.)

The only doubt worth some thought is how Conte’s team continues to match up against Mazzarri’s setups. Juve’s won three of their last eight meetings with Mazzarri’s Napoli, and while the Partenopei only won two of those games, they were one of the few (only?) teams in Italy able to consistently complete with Juve (taking the 2012 Coppa Italia from them). The three central defenders, wing back-formation (which went through different looks) that Mazzarri employed was thought to be part of that, able to match Conte’s similar set up. With Inter taking a result in their first Derby using Mazzarri’s approach, those suspicions will only grow.

With the draw, however, both teams are left chasing Napoli and potentially Roma, should the Giallorossi win at Parma on Monday. Do so, and they join Rafa Benítez’s team at 3-0-0, Mazzarri’s successor keeping his side perfect with a 2-0 win over 10-man Atalanta. Fiorentina, the league’s other perfect side coming into this weekend, conceded late, allowing visiting Cagliari to take a point out of the Artemio Franchi.

Elsewhere in Italy: Milan needed two goals in the last 10 minutes, including a 97th (!) minute penalty conversion by Mario Balotelli to scrounge a 2-2 draw at Torino. Kaka started but left the game after 70 minutes, his team down 2-0 … Lazio bounced back from their thrashing at the hands of Juventus to post a 3-0 at home against Chievo … Alessandro Diamanti and Antonio Di Natale traded late goals as Udinese drew Bologna, 1-1… Genoa routed Sampdoria 3-0 in the Derby della LaternaLivorno and Verona each posted 2-0 home wins over Sassuolo and Catania, respectively.

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.