South Africa's goalkeeper Khune catches ball during opening match of AFCON 2013 soccer tournament in Soweto

Africa Cup of Nations: Cape Verde takes point from first match, draws hosts South Africa

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It wasn’t the glamorous opening for which most tournaments hope, but early response labeling the match dour or poor are exaggerations. At least, they lack some crucial context. We’ve seen the four-team, three-match group format play out often enough to know opening games can be excessively cagey. Most teams end up happy with a point and something to build on, and to a certain extent, both South Africa and Cape Verde can take that view after Saturday’s 0-0 final.

For South Africa, it would be a generous description. Though they are ranked lower than Cape Verde, they were the favorites going into the match. The disappointments on fan faces after the final whistle spoke to those expectations. While the team struggled coming into the tournament, they were still the hosts, and against a team lacking big names and was making their Cup of Nations debut, the vuvuzela-playing supporters at Johannesburg’s half-full FNB Stadium expected a win.

There were points in the second half then it looked like they could get it. Wide attacker Thuso Phala was consistently able to get behind the defense from the right, his speed creating a series of half chances in the second period. Bernard Parker was unable to find a goal.

LATER: Angola, Morocco end where they start

Head coach Gordon Ingesund tried to push his team for full points. He brought on Lerato Chabangu for defensive midfielder Kagiso Dikagcoi at half time. Thulani Serero for Siphiwe Tshabalala should have meant more creativity, while Katlego Mphela for Lehlohonolo Majoro up top gave South Africa a more proven goal scorer.

Though the midfield changes helped the Bafana Bafana maintain more possession, their threat was never truly manifested. South Africa didn’t deserve more than the 0-0 result.

“My players didn’t come to the party,” Ingesund said of his team’s first 45 minutes. “The first half was a complete waste.”

Instead, Cape Verde was the team closer to goals, with Ryan Mendes nearly breaking through multiple times in the first half. Streaking through a South Africa defense that often looked slow and slightly disorganized, Mendes and partner Heldón saw multiple opportunities to make something happen in the home side’s penalty box. But the final ball just never came, and the debutants were left with a series of near chances from sharp angles which never truly tested Itumeleng Khune.

But unlike South Africa, the Verdeans have legitimate reason to be happy after the match. While it wouldn’t have been too much to expect them to win today, it was their first Cup of Nations game, a test that can prove distracting for an inexperienced side. Add in the element of playing the home team in the tournament’s opening match and there were a number of factors that made this anything an atypical contest. Going forward, Cape Verde will be able to draw on this experience.

“I am happy, the players are happy and the technical staff are happy.” head coach Lucio Antunes said post-game.

“Today we [dignified] Cape Verde and left with [our heads] held high.”

Through much of the second half, it looked like Cape Verde could concede and become that wide-eyed team that starts strong but ultimately’s left with nothing to show for it. That didn’t happen, and with their point, the Sharks are a win away from being competitive for a knockout round spot.

A win and a draw would likely send Cinderella through. With Angola and Morocco ahead, it’s not an impossible scenario.

Bayern’s Vidal says “ugly” Atletico not deserved UCL finalists

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 27: Juanfran of Atletico Madrid and Arturo Vidal of Bayern Munich argue during the UEFA Champions League semi final first leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen at Vincente Calderon on April 27, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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Bayern Munich midfielder Arturo Vidal has declared “ugly” Atletico Madrid unworthy finalists in the UEFA Champions League.

Bayern was eliminated in the Champions League semifinal by Atleti on Tuesday, with Diego Simeone’s Spanish side advancing on away goals.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]

However, Vidal believed Bayern were the better team in the second leg, saying Atletico played “ugly football” to get through.

Today ugly football – Atletico – played against the best football in the world. The only time they saw the ball was for the goal.

They are going to be dreaming about us right up to the final. They did not have the ball, they took on the best team in the world, they took their chances and got to the final.

The best does not always win in football, like today. They are not deserved finalists.

Bayern Munich controlled more than 70-percent of possession and had 33 shots compared to Atletico’s nine, but those stats mean little as Antoine Griezmann’s away goal was enough to send Atleti to the final.

[ MORE: Former England striker Joe Cole headed to NASL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies ]

Atletico may not play the most attractive football, but after eliminating Barcelona and Bayern Munich in consecutive legs, it’s hard to argue anyone deserves this more than Simeone’s men.

Europa League preview: Liverpool, Shakhtar look to overcome Spanish foes

VILLARREAL, SPAIN - APRIL 28:  Cedric Bakambu of Villarreal is watched by the Liverpool defence during the UEFA Europa League semi final first leg match between Villarreal CF and Liverpool at Estadio El Madrigal on April 28, 2016 in Villarreal, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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The second leg of the Europa League semifinals kick off tomorrow, with two La Liga sides looking to make it an all-Spanish final.

[ MORE: Premier League Playback ]

Villarreal holds a 1-0 lead over Liverpool, while Sevilla scored two away goals in their 2-2 draw at Shakhtar Donetsk.

Liverpool vs. Villarreal – 3:05 p.m. ET
Villarreal won first leg 1-0

Adrian Lopez’s late winner in the first leg has given Villarreal a slight lead, while the Spanish side did well not to concede an away goal. However, Liverpool have overcome deficits at Anfield before, including their memorable 4-3 victory over Borussia Dortmund in the quarterfinals. Emre Can is back fit for the Reds, as manager Jurgen Klopp will hope his fellow German can help the team to a cup final in his first year in charge.

[ RELATED: Liverpool preparing for another big Thursday night at Anfield ]

Sevilla vs. Shakhtar Donetsk – 3:05 p.m. ET
First leg ended 2-2 draw 

Sevilla are looking to become the first team to win three consecutive Europa League titles as the two-time defending champions face off against Shakhtar Donetsk. Sevilla are in the driver’s seat after scoring two away goals in Ukraine, and will feel confident of advancing to the final with a great home record at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium.

Men in Blazers podcast: Celebrating Leicester’s title with Arlo White

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In the latest Men in Blazers podcast, Rog and Davo celebrate Leicester City’s improbable Premier League title with Leicester’s own Arlo White.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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European police say Russian mafia infiltrating soccer clubs

LISBON, PORTUGAL - NOVEMBER 04:  Sporting Lisbon fans celebrate after their team score a goal during the Portuguese Liga match between Sporting Lisbon and Uniao Leiria at the Alvalade XXI Stadium on November 4, 2005 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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LISBON, Portugal (AP) Portuguese and European police say they have broken up a cell of an important Russian mafia group that allegedly laundered money through European football clubs.

Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, said in a statement Wednesday the group identified EU football clubs in financial distress and infiltrated them with benefactors who brought much-needed cash.

[ MORE: Man City bounced from UCL ]

Once they were in control, the mobsters allegedly laundered millions of euros (dollars) through player transfers, TV rights deals and betting.

Portuguese and European police on Tuesday raided third-division Portuguese club Uniao de Leiria and arrested three key members of the Russian gang. Three other Portuguese clubs’ premises were searched.

Europol said the operation helped identify serious crimes in Austria, Germany, and the United Kingdom, though it gave no details.