Andrey Arshavin, Henrikh Mkhitaryan

Borussia Dortmund punish slack Zenit Saint Petersburg in 4-2 Champions League win

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Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund traveled to Russia and came back with a massive 4-2 win in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League last 16 tie with Zenit Saint Petersburg on Tuesday.

Dortmund struck twice through Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Marco Reus in the first five minutes to stun Zenit, but the Russian team fought back in the second half as Oleg Shatov pulled a goal back to make it 2-1. But less than five minutes later Robert Lewandowski punished some slack marking to make it 3-1, however a penalty kick from Hulk in the 68th minute made it 3-2 in an enthralling contest at the Petrovosky stadium.

However just when you thought Zenit were about to clinch an unlikely draw to take with them to Germany next month, Lewandowski popped up to make it 4-2 and clinch a crucial away win for last season’s Champions League finalists. The win means that out of five UCL last 16 games played so far, the away side has won on every occasion.

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In the third minute Dortmund went ahead as Reus ran past Zenit defender Lombaerts in the box and instead of going down the German international squared the ball to Mkhitaryan who slotted home to make it 1-0.

Then just 70 seconds later Dortmund went 2-0 up as Italian left back Domenico Criscito was caught of position and Reus punished him with a low strike into the bottom corner to stun the home crowd. With the Russian league on a winter break, Zenit have been without a competitive game since December and that showed early on with some lackluster defending.

source: AP
Zenit battled hard, but Dortmund always had the edge.

That trend continued throughout the first half as in the 18th minute Robert Lewnadowski raced clear but saw his shot saved by Lodygin as Dortmund threatened to increase their lead before the break. In the 29th minute Reus worked some room on the edge of the box and clipped a right footed shot just wide of the far post.

Zenit did rally and steadied the ship slightly after that disastrous start which saw them go 2-0 down within the opening five minutes, but Dortmund went in 2-0 up at the interval without having to force the issue at all.

After the break Zenit, predictably, improved as Brazilian striker Hulk tried twice to get in behind with clever runs across the defense. In the 56th minute Zenit were back in the game as Hulk’s run opened up the chance for Rondo to shoot twice and his second effort cannoned off the post but fell straight to Shatov who hammed the ball home to make it 2-1.

But less than five minutes later Dortmund regained their two-goal advantage as Lewandowski played a great one-two with Tomasz Piszczek and the Polish international swept home to make it 3-1 to the away side.

However just when Zenit looked to be down and out, they were handed a lifeline as Viktor Faizulin was brought down in the box and Hulk smashed in the penalty kick to make it 3-2 in the 68th minute. But just two minutes later Zenit switched off again as Tymoshchuk gave the ball away and Lewandowski was played in to hammer home his second and Dortmund’s fourth to make it 4-2.

The rest of the  game played out with Zenit trying to get back into the match, but Dortmund held firm and now take a 4-2 advantage into their second-leg at the Westfalenstadion in March.

LINEUPS

Zenit Saint Petersburg: Lodygin; Criscito, Lombaerts, Luis Neto, Anyukov (Smolnikov, 82) Fayzulin (Kerzhakov, 84), Witsel; Arshavin (Tymoshchuk, 15), Shatov, Hulk; Rondon

Goal: Shatov (56′), Hulk (68′)

Borussia Dortmund: Weidenfeller; Piszczek, Sokratis, Friedrich, Schmelzer; Kehl, Sahin; Grosskreutz (Durm, 90), Mkhitaryan (Aubameyang, 70), Reus (Hofmann, 85); Lewandowski

Goals: Mkhitaryan (3′), Reus (4′), Lewandowski (61′ & 71′)

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.