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World Cup Today: Germans and Portuguese and Yanks, Oh my!

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WORLD CUP TODAY: MONDAY, JUNE 16

You may not be aware of this fact, so please read these words carefully to avoid the repercussions of shock: the United States begins its 2014 World Cup this evening with a match against Ghana.

Before we get to the Group of Death, how about a hand for Sunday’s competitors? Switzerland used a stoppage-time goal to complete its comeback over Ecuador, France took advantage of some typical Honduras physicality to win 3-0 over its 10-man CONCACAF foes, and Lionel Messi was Lionel Messi to lead Argentina past Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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MATCH 13: GERMANY VS. PORTUGAL
Location: Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador
Time: Noon ET
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

Cheater’s guide: Much of the match — and Portugal’s tournament — rides on the health of Cristiano Ronaldo, arguably the best player in the world. Even if Germany tasked with facing a healthy CR7, the Portuguese will have deal with perhaps the deepest team in the entire tournament. Germany has a history of winning, while Portugal has been inconsistent at best but did manage a 4th place finish in 2006.

What they’re saying:
Portugal coach Paulo Bento on Cristiano Ronaldo: “Having the best player in the world in our squad does not make it mandatory for us to win the World Cup. I have said this before to the people of Portugal. There have been times when we have had the world’s best player and not even qualified for the World Cup.”

History:
Portugal has only beaten Germany once in their last 10 match-ups, the win coming in the 2000 European Championships. Overall, Germany boasts the advantage at 9W-5D-3L.

Premier League players:
Germany: Per Mertesacker (Arsenal), Mesut Ozil (Arsenal), Andre Schurrle (Chelsea), Lukas Podolski (Arsenal),
Portugal: Nani (Manchester United)

RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly

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source: APMATCH 12: IRAN VS. NIGERIA 
Location: Arena da Baixada, Curitiba
Time: 3pm ET
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

Cheater’s guide: Some are looking at this match as a breather in between the two intense Group G matches, but Nigeria will look to pick up three points to put some heat on Bosnia and Herzegovina in the perceived battle for second place in Group F. A win for Iran would be a major moment for the nation, whose only World Cup win is their 1998 win over the United States.

What they’re saying:
Nigeria head coach Stephen Keshi: “For the Iran game we have to be focused. We have to concentrate and do our job. We’re not going to take Iran lightly because they’re not going to take us lightly. So we have to go out with everything that we have. This squad is probably a year-plus old, it’s a new team. Most of the players are young.

“In two years’ time we can be much better. I pray that Vincent Enyeama, [Joseph] Yobo and [John] Obi Mikel will bring all their experience. Youth is good, but if we can combine youth and experience that will be great for us.”

History:
Nigeria beat Iran 1-0 in a January 1998 friendly.

Premier League players:
Iran: None
Nigeria: John Obi Mikel (Chelsea), Victor Moses (Chelsea), Peter Odemwingie (Stoke City)

Major League Soccer players:
Iran: Steven Beitashour (Vancouver Whitecaps)
Nigeria: None

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source: Getty ImagesMATCH 14: GHANA VS. UNITED STATES
Location: Arena das Dunas, Natal
Time: 6pm ET
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

Cheater’s guide: If the US has “dos a cero” against Mexico, Ghana has “2-1” against the United States. The Americans look to kick off their World Cup by exorcising previous tournament demons in a “must-win” if progressing to the knockout rounds is going to happen. Ghana is confident of making it three tournaments in-a-row against the USMNT.

What they’re saying:
United States attacker Clint Dempsey: “Ghana is a good team. They’ve done well in the past two World Cups, but at the same time, anytime you come to a World Cup, it’s always a fresh slate. You need to prove to the rest of the world that you’re a quality side and that you’re developing the game in your home country and moving in the right direction.

“I think our preparation has been very good. We’re excited about the opportunity to play against Ghana, which is a top team. But at the same time, if we play with the best of our ability, we have the quality to go far in this tournament, and that’s what we’re focused on.”

History:
Ghana has defeated the United States in two matches, both at the World Cup and both by 2-1 score lines.

Premier League players:
Ghana: None
United States: Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Tim Howard (Everton), Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City)

Major League Soccer players:
Ghana: None
United States: Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders), Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles Galaxy), Matt Besler (Sporting KC), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Graham Zusi (Sporting KC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

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.