2014 World Cup

The best night ever in CONCACAF qualifying? How the historic drama unfolded on Twitter …

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A trio of matches in the final night of regional qualifying kicked off simultaneously in Panama City, Panama, in Kingston, Jamaica and in San Jose Costa Rica:

It all started at 9:30 p.m. ET … but it didn’t really start until Panama’s Gabriel Torres (who plays in MLS for the Colorado Rapids) curled a real beauty past U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan. And the night was on!

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And then it was Costa Rica’s turn, as things got worse and worse for Mexico. Remember, this was the sum of all awfulness for Mexico … El Tri trailed while Panama led, which meant Mexico out of the World Cup.

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But Mexico lives! Oribe Peralta bangs one off the underside of the crossbar. It’s Costa Rica 1, Mexico 1 … which means Mexico has the fourth spot and the playoff, for the time being, at least.

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The Mexicans are in it … but their fallen hero, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, is having a Costa Rican nightmare. In fact, his whole final round of World Cup qualifying has been one big bag of nothing.

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And lest we forget about Los Catrachos, who needed only a draw in Jamaica to qualify for their second consecutive World Cup: Maynor Figueroa has scored to put his team ahead of the home team, 2-1. This is getting fun, eh?

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Now it’s halftime at all three spots. The United States is missing six or seven starters, but the backups should be holding up a little better against Panama, the side with all the motivation. Credit to Panama, though. And at least the United States looks better than Mexico … which looks absolutely nothing like a team that deserves to be in the World Cup.

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Thing is, the real craziness is just getting started. Rafa Marquez tries to stomp his way into the World Cup — only a Costa Rican player happens to be on the bottom of this stomping shenanigan. It’s another ridiculous moment from a guy whose career is full of them.

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Not long after, Chicharito answers the growing Chicharito question: he gets a yellow card for a little dust-up off the ball inside Costa Rica’s penalty area:

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Holy Cow! Michael Orozco scores a goal for the United States down in Costa Rica. He’s the same guy that scored a goal last year when the United States beat Mexico at Azteca Stadium, a historic win for Jurgen Klinsmann and his team.

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It would be “Advantage, Mexico.” But almost simultaneously, Real Salt Lake and Costa Rican goal-getter Alvaro Saborio gets free inside the penalty area, heading past a helpless Mexican goalkeeper. And who was waaaay out of position?

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So … uh … wait … who is in the World Cup from our CONCACAF region at this point? … It’s the United States and, uh … so confusing … Can Canada still get in?

Thing is, the madness is just getting started.

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Seriously, at this point Mexico trails to a Costa Rican team with nothing really to play for (having already qualified). And yet, it’s Mexico and not Panama in that fourth-place playoff. SI.com’s Grant Wahl has a good idea (just as we get a little goal-mouth action in San Jose):

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Oh, for the accountants out there, don’t forget about the massive financial implications. Meanwhile, the rest of us are just conflicted:

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Or, are we? Conflicted, that is. More and more, people are suggesting that Mexico doesn’t deserve further World Cup opportunity. After all, Costa Rica looks far more likely to score a third goal than Mexico does to getting an equalizer.

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And then “it” happened. Luis Tejada scores for Panama, which leads the United States, 2-1. So at this point, with about 15 minutes remaining, the CONCACAF automatic qualifiers are the United States, Costa Rica and Honduras, with Panama in position for fourth-place and that playoff against New Zealand. Yes, it is stretching the realms of belief.

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Who doesn’t love them some Andres Cantor, who is alerting Mexico-Costa Rica viewers of the critical happenings in Panama City with an unmistakable urgency:

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And did we mention we love these simultaneous kickoffs for final day. We’re looking at you, Major League Soccer. Make this thing happen! It’s better than ketchup on french fries, sweeter than Vermont maple, more outstanding than … well, you get the idea:

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So it looks like … wait … WHAT? Graham Zusi shatters Panamanian hearts. The home team was riding out a 2-1 win, dreaming the World Cup dream, minding its own doggone business when Zusi puts Mexico back into play in the World Cup.

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Don’t forget, that home-and-away series with Mexico is going to make a whole bunch of TV money here in the United States. Soccer United Marketing, attached to MLS, owns the U.S. rights for Mexico matches.

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It’s still sinking in, even as Aron Johannsson scores another goal for the United States to make the final out of Panama 3-2. But that goal doesn’t really matter for World Cup places. It was Zusi’s tying goal that changed fortunes, setting up this theater of the bizarre, this day the United States kept Mexico alive in a World Cup.

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Well said, sir.

As for the rest of us, the emotions are pouring forth as we all contemplate the best night in CONCACAF qualifying history, the night a bunch of soccer folks fell hopelessly in love. We’ll always have 15-October.

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There really was so, so much more to it all. But that gives you an idea, at least.

We’ll let these two have the last words on a memorable, surreal night:

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.