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Stoke City 3-5 Liverpool: Wild match sees Stoke comeback and Reds brilliance as Liverpool take spoils (video)

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A frantic, back-and-forth match saw Stoke shoot themselves in their foot twice early, come back from two goals down, and concede a penalty early in the second half which Steven Gerrard converted for the win.

Finding themselves 2-0 down thanks to a bit of bad luck and a lot of bad defending, a ferocious Stoke side roared back to draw level at the break, with Peter Crouch and Charlie Adam on target.

However, Raheem Sterling won a soft penalty, Gerrard finished, and Luis Suarez revitalize his relationship with Daniel Sturridge to seal the win.

An early bit of fortune saw Liverpool ahead inside the opening five minutes, and started off a tough day for Stoke City.

Liverpool defender Aly Cissokho took a “why not” shot from distance as both teams settled into the match, and the shot was going comfortably wide.  But it smashed into Stoke defender Ryan Shawcross who had little time to react, and the ball redirect past Jack Butland into the net.

As the match progressed, it became a physical battle, with a number of thumping 50/50 airborne challenges.  A 20th minute spell of pressure by Stoke City backfired, and only resulted in a counter-attack by Liverpool leading to a shot for Philippe Coutinho that blazed over the bar.

Stoke built momentum though, and they seiged the Liverpool defense in the 26th with a beautiful spell of pressure involving a pair of corners.

The home side however gifted the visitors their second goal, and made things incredibly difficult for themselves going forward.  A poor header backwards from Marc Wilson allowed Luis Suarez to chase the otherwise lost cause, and when the ball came to Shawcross the pressure from Suarez caused him to bungle possession.

Suarez cooly took the ball and finished between the legs of a confused Butland for a 2-0 lead and the Uruguayan’s 21st goal of the season in just 16 matches.

source: Getty Images
Liverpool capitalized on an early gift from Stoke City’s defense.

But the home side wouldn’t quit, knowing they’ve only done themselves harm, and pulled one back before halftime.  With Suarez defending Marko Arnautovic, the winger whipped in a cross and Peter Crouch connected with his head, directing from some way out past Simon Mignolet.

It’s the first headed goal for Stoke City all season, leaving just West Ham without a headed goal this Premier League season.

And directly after, Stoke completed the frantic comeback. Jordan Henderson was caught in possession deep in Liverpool’s own half, and Charlie Adam pounced on the loose ball, slicing through the defense and unleashing a powerful shot into the top corner for the equalizer at 2-2.

On a day when refereeing decisions have already been brought to the forefront at St. James Park, Liverpool benefited from another contentious decision. A penalty was given by referee Anthony Taylor after Raheem Sterling had a breakaway but failed to get clear of Marc Wilson.  With Wilson defending tightly, instead of attempting to cut inside Sterling went to ground and won the penalty.

Gerrard finished the penalty low and hard for a renewed Liverpool lead. Replays also showed the officials may have missed a handed ball by Sterling in the buildup to the goal.

Nevertheless Liverpool were ahead again as the game continued to fizz back and forth.

Stoke kept up the attack, but Luis Suarez killed Stoke off.  With his early-season strike partner Daniel Sturridge on as a substitute, the two rekindled old brilliance.  The English international brought the ball up from the Liverpool half, cut back at the top of the box, and flicked on for Suarez who finished strongly at a tight angle.

Stoke pressed for another miraculous comeback, as Jonathan Walters slid a shot past Mignolet in the final five minutes with the keeper screened by his defender. It wasn’t enough though, as Sturridge swung the final swipe of the blade with a brilliant late goal as the rain came down.

After some holiday stumbles, Liverpool are back above cross-town rivals Everton and into the top four.

GOALS:

Liverpool – Suarez 32′, 71′; Gerrard 51′ (pen); Sturridge 88′
Stoke City – Shawcross (og) 5′; Crouch 39′; Adam 45′; Walters 85′

LINEUPS:

Stoke City – Butland; Cameron, Shawcross, Wilson, Pieters; Walters, Nzonzi (Ireland 81′), Adam, Whelan, Arnautovic; Crouch.

Liverpool – Mignolet; Johnson, Cissokho, Skrtel, Toure; Lucas, Gerrard, Henderson; Sterling, Coutinho (Sturridge 66′), Suarez.

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.