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Fred, Neymar lead rout of Spain, claim Brazil’s third straight Confederations Cup

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From a tournament that began with doubts, Brazil have claimed silverware, handing Spain their most embarrassing loss since the Furia Roja were recognized as the world’s preeminent soccer power. With two goals from Fred and another from Neymar, the Confederations Cup hosts handed the world champions a 3-0 telling loss, one that not only casts doubts on the state of Spain’s hegemony but also announces Brazil as a legitimate contender for next year’s World Cup.

That status looked out of reach two weeks ago, before FIFA’s quadrennial World Cup warmup started. Brazil had recently changed coaches, going back to Luiz Felipe Scolari after the mixed results of the Mano Menezes era. The result was an untested team still looking for an identity; a team that was still thought to be a step behind Spain and the world’s other elites.

Yet any suspicion this would be a typical Spain match was dispelled when Brazil took a shock lead in the second minute, a defensive breakdown allowing Fred to open the scoring while face-down in Iker Casillas’s six-yard box. A looped cross from Brazil’s right fell between defenders Gerard Piqué and Álvaro Arbeloa, with Fred going to ground while trying to compete for the cross. When neither Spanish defender was able to clear the ball, the cross fell to the Brazilian number nine, who was able to get his right foot onto it before Casillas could smother the ball.

The goal spurred Brazil on to an inspired first 25 minutes, when high pressing after turnovers threw the Spaniards off their game, the teams sharing possession for much of the half. Spain’s attempts to calm the game and resume their normal monopoly of the ball were disrupted by the Brazilians’ intensity, with the Seleçao nearly doubling their lead in the 28th minute while Fred failed to convert an open chance near the spot.

Near halftime, Spain almost equalized when Pedro, open in the right of the area, slid a ball past Julio César from 14 yards out. Brazilian defender David Luiz, however, lunged to complete spectacular clearance, preserving the home side’s lead as the world champions appeared to ascend into the match.

That ascent was quelled three minutes later when Neymar, fed to the left of Casillas, blasted a left-footed shot near post and into the top of goal, Casillas bending back and watching as the power of the shot carried Brazil to a 2-0 halftime lead.

In the 47th minute, Fred put the match away, queuing the assured, composed celebrations of teammates and coaches as he slid Brazil’s icing inside Casillas’s left post. Confidently jogging away from goal with a right hand to his ear, collecting the praise of a rabid Maracana crowd, Fred failed to portray his team’s role of surprised upstart. Instead, having had intermission to consider what the team had accomplished, the former Lyon man took his goal with a favorite’s confidence, jogging to the corner flag in triumph of his second score.

Whatever hope Spain maintained was vanquished in the 55th minute as Sergio Ramos, surprisingly attempting his team’s conversation after Jesus Navas drew a penalty, pulled his shot wide left of César’s goal. Fourteen minutes later, when Neymar drew a red card from Gerard Piqué, Spain suffered the indignity of finishing with 10 men.

Cruising through the last 20 minutes of a decided match, Brazil gave onlookers a chance to consider what’s to come. The soundtrack of the Marcana’s crowd told the story of a team who’d carried doubts into the tournament yet ultimately inspired their skeptical and fractured fan base. While protests and demonstrations proceeded outside the stadium, deriding the state of Brazilian social politics, the scene inside the venue spoke to the nation’s sporting potential. At next year’s World Cup, they’ll be more than hosts. Brazil will be threats, if not favorites, to claim a sixth World Cup.

Spain, in contrast, suffered their greatest embarrassment since 2008, when their victory at the European Championships ushered in this era of Spanish dominance. Whether that era ended with tonight’s loss, their worst in 28 years, remains to be seen, but La Roja’s vulnerabilities are clear. Whereas before this tournament it would have been difficult to justify seeing anybody but Spain as World Cup favorites, now the world’s former preeminent soccer power has affirmed a place in the discussion.

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.

Emre Can back in the Liverpool side ahead of Europa clash vs. Villarreal

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 14:  Emre Can of Liverpool battles for the ball with Idrissa Gana of Aston Villa during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Liverpool at Villa Park on February 14, 2016 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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Emre Can has recovered from an ankle injury and will be in Liverpool’s squad for their Europa League semifinal against Villarreal on Thursday night.

The German international has not played since April 14 when he was forced off in the Reds’ wild 4-3 win over Borussia Dortmund.

[ MORE: Liverpool prepping for Villarreal ]

Giving his team update on Wednesday, manager Jurgen Klopp said Can is back in the team, although captain Jordan Henderson is still out. The Reds enter the second leg trailing 1-0 on aggregate.

Another positive note out of Melwood was the return of Danny Ings to first-team training. The 23-year-old striker signed with Liverpool last summer, but managed just eight appearances before having his season end to a torn ACL in October. Ings is still far away from his full return, but it was a good sight to see him back on the pitch and making progress in his recovery.

Disappointed Pellegrini rues lack of offense in Man City’s loss to Real

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 04:  Sergio Aguero of Manchester City reacts during the UEFA Champions League semi final, second leg match between Real Madrid and Manchester City FC at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on May 4, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images )
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Manchester City put in an uninspired performance against Real Madrid on Wednesday, losing the match 1-0 and falling out of the UEFA Champions League.

[ RECAP: Real Madrid 1-0 Man City ]

The match was decided by just one goal, but the scoreline was flattering to City as they failed to create any kind of real chances at the Bernabeu. Over the two legs, City managed just two shots on target.

While City were wildly disappointing in the second leg, manager Manuel Pellegrini did not think the match was that one-sided, saying both teams struggled on the attack.

I am disappointed because I think that was a very close game with two teams who did not create many chances. The two teams were working with no-one making a difference.

It is not the best thing changing a defender very early but I don’t think we had any problems in defence, we had problems creating, same as Real Madrid. They did not create many chances.

Real Madrid was not in top form, but they still could have scored three or four goals on Wednesday. Joe Hart had to come up with some big saves to keep things close, as the England goalkeeper was by far City’s most valuable player throughout the tie.

[ MORE: Liverpool preparing for Europa League match vs. Villarreal ]

The absence of David Silva through injury certainly hurt City’s attack, but there was very little service moving forward from the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Yaya Toure. The poor play in the midfield left Sergio Aguero stranded alone up top, nearly invisible in the second leg.

Without service, Aguero was forced to track back to try and find the ball himself, leaving City no options to hit on the counter. For a tie between two of the most expensive teams in the world, neither side was truly impressive, but City surely disappointing.