At halftime: Russia in position to go through; Belgium reduced to 10 — FOLLOW LIVE

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An early goal from Russia’s Aleksandr Kokorin has shaken things up in Group H, where the second place Algerians are in danger of losing their knockout round spot. The group leaders are also having trouble, though after 45 minutes with South Korea, and the 10-man Belgians are still even.

Here’s an update on the final group games at the 2014 World Cup:

South Korea 0-0 Belgium [ FOLLOW LIVE ] 

Goals: None

Other moments: 

25′ – Korea’s early possession edge is starting the wane, giving the Belgians opportunities to generate chances like this one: A ball targeting Marouane Fellaini; knocked out; falling for a lurking teammate. This time that teammate is Dries Mertens, but with an open chance from 11 yards out, the Napoli man lifts it into the stands. Mertens is left jaw-slacken as the score remains 0-0.

29′ – South Korea briefly has Belgium 5-on-4 in transition, but as the Devils back four pulls up near the penalty area, Ki Sung-Yeung lets go of a 24-yard shot the skips toward Thibaut Courtois’s right post. After batting it out for a corner, Courtois has to come up big again, pushing a ball out at his right upright after the ensuring corner.

45′ – Steven Defour is gone. Coming down with his studs on Kim Shin-Wook’s right shin, the Belgian midfielder his given a straight red card, setting up South Korea to play the second half with a man advantage.

Questions for the second half:

  •  Will the result matter to Belgium? Marc Wilmots made big chances to his starting XI for this one, and with Russia up on Algeria in Curitiba, the Red Devils may be destined for first no matter what happens in this one. Even if South Korea scores a goal, will we see the likes of Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne?

Algeria 0-1 Russia [ FOLLOW LIVE ] 

Goals:

6′ – From the middle of the box, Aleksandr Kokorin has given the Russians an early lead, heading Dmitri Kombarov’s cross inside Raïs M’Bolhi’s near post to make it 1-0. Unmarked running into his shot from midfield, the 23-year-old has eased early tensions, giving his team a goal that could send them into the final 16.

Other moments: 

29′ – Igor Akinfeev comes up big, denying Islam Slimani an equalizer. Off a corner from the left side, Algeria flicks a ball across goal, where Slimani puts a 12-yard header toward the upper-right hand corner. Eventually diving into the side netting, Akinfeev is able to push the shot over the bar, his save keeping it 1-0, Russia.

Questions for the second half:

  • Will Fabio Capello pay off? This is the type of the match that can justify the Russian head coach’s hire. His soccer isn’t attractive, but when his team needs to protect a lead, the Italian boss can get results. With a spot in the final 16 on the line, is this where Russia’s huge investment in Capello pays off?

Rio prosecutors launch probe into soccer final violence

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro launched an investigation Thursday into the fan violence surrounding the Copa Sudamericana final between local club Flamengo and Argentine team Independiente.

[ SOURCE: LAFC close to signing third DP, Geraldes of Sporting CP ]

Clashes broke out on the night before Wednesday’s match at Maracana Stadium, and continued throughout the day. There was vandalism inside the stadium during the match and violence afterward, with more than 50 Flamengo supporters being detained over the two days.

The Rio prosecutor’s office said in a statement it would be questioning officials at Brazil’s football confederation, South American soccer’s ruling body, CONMEBOL, and local police about the incidents.

The statement added that “a profound investigation of the facts is needed so we can identify and punish the criminals that disguised as fans to spread chaos, fear and disorder in society.”

Major Silvio Luiz, head of policing for the final, criticized Flamengo’s handling of ticket sales.

Flamengo drew the second-leg match 1-1, and lost the final 3-2 on aggregate. The Copa is the second most prestigious club competition in South American soccer.

Ligue 1 set to use VAR starting in 2018/19 season

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With video replay technology becoming more and more prevalent in soccer across the globe, another major European league has revealed it too will join those ranks.

[ SOURCE: LAFC set to sign third DP with Sporting CP’s Geraldes ]

Ligue 1 has announced that the French top flight will begin to utilize video replay and have a video assistant referee (VAR) starting in the 2018/19 season.

Major League Soccer and the German Bundesliga are just two of the major global leagues to implement the system thus far. In MLS, the technology can be used in four instances; when goals are scored, during penalty situations, when a straight red card is given and during cases of mistaken identity.

French outlet L’Equipe wrote on Thursday that Ligue 1 would also follow a similar structure in what decisions VAR officials will be reviewable.

Spain has also announced that it will introduce VAR in 2018, ahead of the next La Liga season.

Top Premier League storylines — Week 17

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The title is looking more and more like it’s heading to Manchester, so will Tottenham be able to slow the Premier League leaders on Saturday?

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]

 

Here are the four biggest storylines ahead of this weekend’s action.

Can anyone stop the Cityzens?

Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

Nobody has found a way to halt Pep Guardiola‘s side yet this season in PL play, so why would that change this weekend? City remain unbeaten through 17 matches, and while Spurs enter the weekend unbeaten in its last four, Mauricio Pochettino and Co. have their work cut out. The City attack, which has scored 52 goals this season, has shown no signs slowing down during the first four-and-a-half months of play, giving Tottenham a big test defensively. Harry Kane and his 12 goals will surely have a say in the get together, but Spurs has been lacking thus far in another go-to finisher.

Will the Toffees keep rolling under Big Sam?

Everton vs. Swansea City — 3 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

It’s been quite the turnaround recently at Goodison Park, and Everton has the chance to extend its unbeaten streak to six games on Monday. Sam Allardyce has brought life to the Toffees as of late, with Everton scoring 11 goals over the last five matches.

Foxes aim to climb higher, while Palace shoots for safety

Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace — 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Foxes have found their footing this season, and dare I say there are some glimpses of the team that won the title two years ago? Since Leicester’s 2-0 defeat to Man City, the Foxes have looked the part of a top-tier PL side, winning four of five matches, including victories over Tottenham and Burnley. Meanwhile, Palace has made the relegation battle a very intriguing one, as Roy Hodgson and Co. sit just a point inside the bottom three. Amazingly, Palace is unbeaten in seven of its last eight matches, but the club remains in 18th place.

Clarets aim for third consecutive victory

Brighton vs. Burnley — 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBC Sports Gold (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Clarets don’t boast a bonafide goalscorer, but Burnley looks like a well-oiled machine as Sean Dyche‘s side sits on the edge of the top four. Although the side likely won’t be pulling off a Leicester-sided feat in 2017/18, what the Clarets are accomplishing is quite amazing given the squad currently in place. Brighton has gone through its share of struggles recently, going winless in its last six matches, and scoring just three goals in that span. They’ll likely have a hard time breaking past Burnley’s tough backline.

NYCFC busy on Thursday with Abdul-Salaam, Stuver additions

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New York City FC is moving on from the club’s first-ever MLS SuperDraft selection, but they’ll be acquiring a solid defensive piece as the team continues to rebuild at the back.

[ SOURCE: LAFC finalizing deal to make Sporting CP’s Geraldes third DP ]

On Thursday, NYCFC announced a trade sending former 2015 first-round pick Khiry Shelton to Sporting KC in exchange for defender Saad Abdul-Salaam.

Shelton, who spent three seasons with NYCFC, struggled to find playing time under manager Patrick Vieira, particularly once the organization drafted England youth international Jack Harrison in 2016.

Vieira and Co. will be getting back a player also selected in the 2015 SuperDraft in Abdul-Salaam.

With the departures of Ethan White, RJ Allen and Andraz Struna this offseason, the move certainly makes sense for NYCFC, who were severely lacking at the right back position heading into this week.

NYCFC signed Malmo defender Anton Tinnerholm on Wednesday to help improve the backline.

The Eastern Conference side also added goalkeeper Brad Stuver from the Columbus Crew on Thursday, with the 26-year-old presumably serving as the backup to Sean Johnson in 2018.