Greece's Vasilis Torosidis, center, challenges with Ivory Coast's Salomon Kalou, left, and Arthur Boka during the group C World Cup soccer match between Greece and Ivory Coast at the Arena Castelao in Fortaleza, Brazil, Tuesday, June 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Samaras’s stoppage time conversion sends Greece into nation’s first World Cup knockout round

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For Greece, it was history the hard way, but thanks to a stoppage time penalty converted by Georgios Samaras, the former European champions are into their first World Cup knockout round. Beating Boubacar Barry into the right of goal in the 93rd minute, the veteran attacker gave the Greeks a 2-1 win over the Ivory Coast, clinching second place in Group C and a spot in the 2014 World Cup’s second round.

Andreas Samaris’s 42nd minute goal allowed Greece to open the scoring after a turnover deep in the Ivorian half saw the Africans pay for a lackluster opening period. Though a more intense Ivory Coast side initially struggled in the second, Wilfried Bony’s 72nd minute equalizer appeared to put the Ivorians into the knockout round.

With a late penalty called on Giovanni Sio, however, Greece was given their chance to make history. With a confident strike past the diving Barry, Samaras booked the nation’s first spot in the final 16, securing the 2-1 win they needed to take second place.

The result sets up Greece for a Sunday meeting against Group D-winning Costa Rica. For the Ivory Coast, the 2014 World Cup ends with three points and a third place finish, marking the third time in as many finals the Western African nation leaves the World Cup after the opening round.

[ RESULTS: Rodriguez carries Colombia | Costa Rica clinches Group D | Uruguay eliminates Italy ]
[ RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly ]

An initial 25 minutes with little action was defined my Greek misfortune, with injuries to midfielder Patagionis Kone and goalkeeper Orestis Karnezi forcing head coach Fernando Santos to use his first two substitutions. Despite those changes, the Ivorians were unable to make any progress breaking through the Greek defense, with the first chance of the match coming for José Holebas, who put a 19-yard shot off Barry’s crossbar.

Just before intermission, another transition opportunity allowed the underdogs to take a 1-0 lead. Fed into the right of the Ivory Coast’s penalty area, Samaris, who came on after Kone’s injury, allowed Barry to commit low before chipping the keeper from just inside the box. Taking advantage of a Chieck Tioté turnover, Greece quickly produced the game’s opening goal.

At halftime, the Ivorians found the intensity they lacked over the first 45 minutes, but by the hour mark, les Elephants had only generated one shot on target. Bringing Bony for Tioté just past the hour mark, the Ivorians stepped up their pursuit of an equalizer, but with Greece’s counter forcing desperation fouls from Salomon Kalou (62′) and Serey Die (69′), the favorites looked more likely to concede consolation.

In the 74th minute, the inclusion of Bony came good. After a ball played into the left of Greece’s area found Gervinho behind the defense, a pass cut back for the Swansea striker ended up in the back of Patagionis Glykos’s net, the one-timed shot beating the substitute keeper inside the left post to put the Ivornians back on track for the knockout round.

In the third minute of stoppage time, however, les Elephants were knocked off course. After Sio was whistled for taking down Samaras in the penalty area, the veteran forward converted from the spot, beating Barry to put Greece into its first knockout round.

With that one whistle, Ivorian dreams had turned to tragedy, denying the Africans their own piece of World Cup history. With only their second win at a World Cup, the former European Champions have added another big tournament disappointment to the nations’ soccer history.

In the process, Fernando Santos’s team claimed second in Group C, securing an unlikely spot in the tournament’s final 16.

Lineups

Greece: Karnezi (Glykos 24′); Torosidis, Manolas, Papastathopolous, Holebas; Maniatis, Christodoulopoulos, Karagounis (Gekas 78′), Kone (Samaris 12′), Salpingidis; Samaras

Goals: Samaris 42′, Samaras 93′

Ivory Coast: Barry; Aurier, K. Touré, Bamba, Boka; Tioté (Bony 61′), Die, Y. Touré; Kalou, Drogba (Diomande 78′), Gervinho (Sio 83′)

Goals: Bony 74′

Watford “Behind The Badge” airs third installment; Catch up on Episode 2 here

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Catch up on Watford’s look “Behind The Badge” ahead of Sunday’s third episode of the four-part glimpse into one of the Premier League’s promoted sides.

The Hornets sit 11th, currently 7 points clear of relegation danger, and are giving fans a better idea of what’s been going on at Vicarage Road.

[ MORE: Behind the Badge archive

In an exclusive series, NBC Sports followed around the Hornets in a very similar fashion to HBO’s Hard Knocks which joins the preseason camp of one NFL team each summer.

Below is the schedule for the three remaining episodes on Watford, which you can watch on NBCSN and live online via NBCSports.com in the coming weeks, plus a link to watch episode one in full from last week.


First episode: Watch full episode, here
Second episode: Embedded above
Third episode: Sunday, Dec. 11, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Fourth episode: Sunday, Dec. 18, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN

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MLS Cup Final preview: Seattle, Toronto battle subzero temps for first Cup

Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley walks off the field after a training session, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016, in Toronto, for the MLS Cup soccer championship. Toronto hosts the Seattle Sounders on Saturday. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP
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  • First MLS Cup Final for both
  • Sounders all-time 7W-2L-2T
  • TFC joined in 2007, Seattle 2009

It’ll be in the high twenties (-1 Celsius) when Toronto FC and Seattle Sounders kick off the MLS Cup Final on Saturday night in Ontario (Kickoff is Saturday at 8 p.m. EDT).

Combine the visible breath and slight chance of snow with a BMO Field which has been relentlessly loud throughut TFC’s playoff run, and we have the makings of an all-timer.

[ MORE: PST’s MLS Cup roundtable ]

Toronto and Seattle met up at the same venue on July 2, the 1-1 draw perhaps a bit deflated by the absence of Clint Dempsey for Seattle and TFC’s American duo of Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore.

Seattle superstar Nicolas Lodeiro wasn’t there, either, still weeks away from arriving from Boca Juniors.

This is the second MLS Cup Final at BMO Field, after Colorado defeated FC Dallas in 2010. TFC men Drew Moor and Clint Irwin were part of the championship-winning Rapids in that one.

Seattle Sounders forward Jordan Morris greets fans who gathered to send off the team after MLS soccer training, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, in Tukwila, Wash. The Sounders were scheduled to travel to Toronto later Wednesday to prepare to face Toronto FC in the MLS Cup Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Seattle’s Jordan Morris (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

[ MORE: PST’s Michael Bradley interview ]

Toronto will bring star power to go with a challenging formation; While accolades rightly go to Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, and Sebastian Giovinco, the Reds’ 3-5-2 under Greg Vanney features versatile wide men in Steven Beitashour and Justin Morrow.

Seattle is powered through Nicolas Lodeiro, the ex-Boca Juniors playmaker who has been nearly as effective as Giovinco (albeit with a smaller MLS sample size). Goalkeeper Stefan Frei, the ex-TFC man, has been very good at the back, but can the Sounders’ back line handle Altidore and Giovinco?

The metronomes could be the difference. Bradley’s been good for TFC, but Osvaldo Alonso gave an MLS MVP caliber performance this season.

[ MORE: PST talks with Ozzie Alonso ]

What they’re saying

Toronto FC keeper Irwin on the weather: “It’s probably the most difficult part. As a field player, you can move around. You’re warmer, more active. At this point, there’s not much we can do other than bundle up, and I’ll stay moving back there.”

Seattle forward Jordan Morris on Lodeiro“The first thing Lodeiro said to me is, ‘When I get the ball, you just run.’ I think of him like a quarterback.”

Prediction

Look to the engine rooms here. Alonso is a handful and a magnificent passer of the ball. On his day, Bradley is even better. Will it be? Neither player will shirk from pressure. We’re thinking extra time after a 1-1 match. And Toronto’s depth and home field will propel it to a 2-1 win.

Follow @NicholasMendola

Premier League Preview: Leicester City vs. Manchester City

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 29:  Bacary Sagna of Manchester City clears the ball from Riyad Mahrez of Leicester City during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Manchester City at The King Power Stadium on December 29, 2015 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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  • Man City leads all-time 53W-29D-28L
  • Leicester took 4 of 6 pts last season
  • MCFC won previous four

To cure what ails, Leicester City has to knock off one of the top contenders to its Premier League throne: Manchester City (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. EDT Saturday on NBC and NBCSports.com).

There are some advantages for Leicester, though, as Fernandinho and Sergio Aguero are suspended for their red cards picked up the loss to Chelsea. Pep Guardiola used Pablo Zabaleta next to Fernando in the UCL draw with Celtic, and looks set for the same come Saturday.

Leicester rested the majority of its starters in a 5-0 loss at Porto this week, following up a 2-1 setback at Sunderland that left the champs just two points ahead of the 18th and 19th placed clubs in the PL.

What they’re saying

Leicester boss Claudio Ranieri on the task at hand: “I was waiting for a period like this. Now it’s important to react with a big effort together from the team. That is my focus now. We have to be focused on these matches until Christmas Day. We have to get points. We need points and we have to fight. This part of the season is our key moment. I think every match gives us an opportunity. We have to fight. I repeat, we have to fight.”

Man City’s Pep Guardiola on Zabaleta’s positional change“But I think Pablo Zabaleta can play in the middle – he is very experienced and he can play there as he did very well against Celtic. I think in the last years of his career he’ll play more in the middle and it gives us another option.”

Prediction

As much as the injuries hurt Man City, there’s certain harm in the wounded unit that fell 3-1 to Chelsea. We believe the Foxes will strike, but Kelechi Iheanacho has proven more than a suitable fill-in for Aguero. Man City 2-1.

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Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks – Week 15

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Week 15 of the Premier League is here.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ] 

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Click play on the videos below to hear my score prediction and preview of each game.

[ VIDEO: Previews of every PL game – Week 15 ]

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Chelsea 3-0 West Brom – (Sunday, 7 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Liverpool 4-1 West Ham – (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Leicester City 1-3 Man City – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]

Arsenal 2-0 Stoke City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

DON’T TOUCH THIS… 

Swansea City 2-3 Sunderland – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, CNBC) – [STREAM]

Watford 0-1 Everton – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Burnley 1-2 Bournemouth – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Southampton 1-1 Middlesbrough – (Sunday, 9:15 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Man United 1-2 Tottenham – (Sunday, 9:15 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Hull City 2-1 Crystal Palace – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]