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Sunderland 4-0 Cardiff: Black Cats lift themselves from the relegation zone with win (video)

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Gus Poyet’s Sunderland revival looks to be nearing completion.

With a massive 3-0 win over fellow relegation candidates Cardiff City, the home fans at the Stadium of Light have seen their team take control of its own destiny in the fight for Premier League survival.

Connor Wickham opened the scoring for the home side with a header just before the half-hour mark, with a controversial penalty and straight red just before halftime dooming Cardiff City.

Both sides started very cautiously, as nervy would be the best way to describe the opening half-hour.

In the first 25 minutes, the biggest highlight was a shot well wide by Don Cowie and a crunching tackle by Lee Cattermole (also, water is wet).

As the clock neared the half-hour mark, however, Sunderland took the best chance thus far and put it in the back of the net.  A corner bounced on its way to the far post, and Wickham was there to nudge Kevin Theophile-Catherine out of the way, getting a head to the ball and sending it back across the face of the goal.

Wickham’s header snuck over the head of Peter Wittingham covering the near post, and the ball nestled into the goal for a 1-0 lead.

Sunderland nearly went two-up less than 10 minutes later when Jack Colback looked to finish a quick break off a long ball but he slashed it just wide right.

It got chippy right before halftime, with Gary Medel, Jordan Mutch, and Santiago Vergini all receiving yellow cards in the final 10 minutes of the first half.

Just before the halftime whistle, a major mistake by Cardiff defender Juan Cala put Sunderland well and truly ahead.  He was dispossessed as the last man back by Connor Wickham, and he in turn held back Wickham, earning himself a red card.

source: Getty Images
Connor Wickham left Cardiff City sprawled flat as a complete two-goal performance put Sunderland easily by the Bluebirds.

The sending off could not be disputed, but referee Phil Dowd also awarded a penalty for the foul despite a long attempt to play advantage.

Replays showed the foul took place well outside the box, but Fabio Borini was strong from the spot for a 2-0 lead on the stroke of halftime.

FIFA rules do state if a last-man foul continues into the box, which it appeared to do, then a penalty should be awarded.

In addition, Dowd waited a full eight seconds before blowing his whistle to end the attempt at playing advantage. Premier League rules state the referee can wait “a few seconds” before deciding to pull back advantage.

The second half was all Sunderland, with John O’Shea coming close to a third for Sunderland, as a brilliant ball from Johnson curled into the box for the defender but even a sublime first touch from O’Shea couldn’t keep it from Theophile-Catherine.

Cardiff offered little, and they were saved from conceding a third by David Marshall in the 72nd minute. The ball bounced around and fell to Colback on the left edge of the box, and he cut across to Borini who slid in for the finish, but Marshall was equal to the task.

The third did finally come in the 76th minute, as substitute Emmanuel Giaccherini put away a perfect through ball from Borini and Sunderland were officially out of the relegation zone.

Wickham picked up a second for his brace in exactly the same fashion as his first, beating Theophile-Catherine off a corner to head the ball into the back of the net.

Kenwyne Jones looked to head in a consolation prize for the visitors, but it went over, and it looks as if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s attempt to rescue Cardiff City from a host of off the field issues could be for naught.

Sunderland are now in 17th position, even on points with Norwich City but ahead on goal difference with a game in hand.  Cardiff are now bottom of the table with 30 points, joined by Norwich and also Fulham, who failed to keep pace with Sunderland by dropping a 2-goal lead to Hull City.

The relegation battle remains heated, with the four clubs just two full points apart, but Vincent Tan’s decision to sack Malky Mackay looks more and more calamitous as they continue to spiral out of control.

LINEUPS:

Sunderland – Mannone; Vergini, Alonso, O’Shea, Brown; Cattermole, Larsson (Giaccherini 73′), Colback (Bridcutt 84′), Johnson (Gardner 84′); Borini, Wickham.

Goals: Wickham 26′, 86′; Borini 45’+1 (pen); Giaccherini 76′

Cardiff City – Marshall; Theophile, Caulker, Cala, Fabio (Jones 64′); Cowie (Zaha 46′), Medel, Whittingham, Dæhli; Mutch, Campbell (Bellamy 74′).

Discipline: Cala (straight red) 45’+1

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.