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Graham Poll’s view of Nani’s red card highlights England, world divide

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Graham Poll is one of the most famous officials in the world. Well, former officials. Nowadays he is the foremost pundit concerning refereeing, his regular columns in The Daily Mail leveraging a career that includes two World Cups, a European Championship, a UEFA Cup final, and over 1,500 matches refereed in England.

Today Poll was quick to go on record on the Nani controversy, where a red card shown to Manchester United’s winger turned today’s match at Old Trafford. Before his foul, United was up 2-1 and had firm control of their match against Real Madrid. Afterward, United gave up two quick goals and were eliminated from Champions League.

Poll’s view on the foul? Well, there are actually two:

The Portuguese winger challenged for the ball with a raised foot and only had eyes for the ball but caught Alvaro Arbeloa. It looked like dangerous play and at worst a yellow card.

Pretty clear, right? Skip down a few paragraphs and you get a more nuanced assessment:

… elite UEFA referees watching will not have been surprised at the red card but the English ones would acknowledge they would not have dismissed a player for the same offence in a Premier League game.

So by an English standard this was a foul, but per the rest of the world — or at least Europe — this was a red card?

(MORE, from Steve: “Big matches do deserve extra caution …”)

Well, yeah. That makes sense. Anybody who follows the European game closely knows of this divide, one which also manifests  in our part of the world. British soccer is far more tolerant of hard tackles and borderline challenges, whereas the continental game is  more likely to take a strict view of what does and does not constitute a dangerous play. Here in North America, where soccer culture maintains deep ties to Britian’s, our reactions often mirror the English’s, but it’s important to remember that’s not only way world soccer looks at these events.

England and Britain have one way at looking at how the game should be played. In situations like these, we’re reminded that view often deviates from how UEFA and FIFA instruct its officials:

However, I understand that the protection of players and ensuring their safety is drummed into UEFA referees at all seminars and with Pierluigi Collina, the European referees’ chief,  sitting in the stand, Cakir will have felt enormous pressure to follow those guidelines.

Emphasis mine. Poll says that calls like today’s are part of UEFA’s guidance. Yet he still calls the play “at worst a yellow card.”

Today’s game may have been in Manchester, but Turkish official Cuneyt Cakir applied the continental standard. But since that standard deviates from the one Britain’s implicitly adopted, we’re going to hear more about this one.

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.