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Africa Cup of Nations: Final product fails scoreless Angola, Morocco

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The surface shows a match that looks similar to the Cup of Nations’ opener, but as opposed to the 0-0 South Africa played out with Cape Verde, Saturday’s second match continually teased goals. From Morocco’s strong start to the last chance generated by Angola, Group A’s second game could have had multiple goals. But with neither team able to convert, Angola and Morocco ended scoreless, both teams entering into the four-way tie at the top of their group.

It was the first time the Cup of Nations has opened with two scoreless draws, surprising consider the quality of play. This wasn’t the stodgy match many saw take place between South Africa and Cape Verde. A flowing game that saw each team able to take shots at the other’s defense never produced that final piece of execution needed to break through.

At the onset, the game looked set to play out like the opener, with Morocco’s early energy leading to a period of control. Dominant play using the Lions’ speed advantage on the flanks allowed Morocco to continuously get into the final third, with an early chance for Mounir El Hamdaoui nearly giving them an early lead.

But Morocco could never crafted a quality final ball, leading all their attacks to lose steam in front of goal. After their defense adjusted and Angola started winning more midfield battles, the Antelopes came into the match. By the end of the period, Angola was controlling the game, generating a number of set piece chances before the halftime whistle.

After Moroccan star Younès Belhanda came on in the second half (a lack of fitness confining the Montpellier midfielder to the bench at the opening kickoff), the Lions seemed to have the midfield maestro that could take utilized their attackers. But just as in the first half, the end product never arrived.

A late ball overhit for forward Youssef El-Arabi was emblematic Belhanda’s half. What could have been a chance that took three crucial points for Morocco turned into an easy scoop for Angolan keeper Lama, El-Arabi left to cut of his run as a through ball ends for naught.

The Antelopes had their own late chance when Mateus targeted Manucho with a near post cross from the byline. Or perhaps the ball was trying to find substitute Guilherme. Both made the same run, both arrived at the same time, and while the cross seemed destined for Manucho, Angola was left with nothing as the two attackers threw each other off.

While for much of the second half each side seemed capable of scoring, the final whistle left Morocco wondering how their effort never found a goal. From the opening whistle they outran the Antelopes, but their fluidity through the middle third became bogged down as they approached goal. Even after Angola came into the game, their speed out of their half meant they were one well-executed counter away from taking full points.

Perhaps that’s why Angola showed signs of relief after the match, their players quickly turning the to crowd to clap to their fans as multiple Moroccans sat on the field. For a team that has ambitions to go far in the tournament, the Angolans came precariously close to giving another team full points.

Because they had their own chances at the end, Gustavo Ferrin’s players may convince themselves they outplayed Morocco, but Angola should not feel comfortable with how close they came to letting Morocco control this match.

EARLIER: Cape Verda takes point from hosts South Africa

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.