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2014 World Cup Team Preview: Australia

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Getting to know… Australia
The Socceroos came into the 2014 World Cup cycle expecting to make an impact in Brazil. Reality has provided a wake up call. After back-to-back 6-0 losses to Brazil and France last year, the FFA fired Holger Osieck and appointed Melbourne Victory manager Ange Postecoglou. Expectations were reset.

With 11 players 23 or younger on his preliminary squad, the Greece-born boss is bringing along in a new generation of talent, with young attackers like Tommy Oar, Matthew Lewkie, Ben Halloran, and Tom Rogic given their chance to augment Tim Cahill. Though they’re unlikely to help Australia meet last year’s inflated expectations, the new core will gain valuable experience for Russia.

Record in qualifying

After taking Asian qualifying by storm ahead of South Africa 2010, Australia came back to earth. Though they went 5-1-0 in third round qualifying, the Socceroos won only three of eight matches in Asia’s final round. The four-point gab between themselves and Japan defined the ground they’ve lost.

Group B

Australia has the worst draw of any team at the 2014 World Cup. Defending world champions Spain and 2010 finalists the Netherlands headline the packet, while the toughest South American team that didn’t get seeded (Chile) ended up in the true Group of Death. Unfortunately, Australia’s hopes are likely to dead on arrival.

Game schedule

Friday, June 13 at 5 p.m. ET: Chile vs. Australia (Estádio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre)

Wednesday, June 18 at 12 noon ET: Australia vs. Netherlands (Estadio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre)

Monday, June 25 at 12 noon ET: Australia vs. Spain (Arena da Baixada, Curitiba)

Star player
Tim Cahill is both the oldest playing on Postecoglou’s preliminary roster and the player most likely to get goals, particularly with a formation change having dropped striker Joshua Kennedy. At 34, this will be the New York Red Bull’s final World Cup, one which could prove demanding as he tries to provide pressure as his team’s one striker. His talents in the air as well as his work ethic could prove valuable for a team that will have trouble retaining the ball against talented opposition.

Manager
Postecoglou is Greece-born, but he’s considered one of Australia’s own. As a five-year-old, he emigrated to Melbourne along with his family and eventually went on to make four appearances as a defender for the national team in 1986.

Ten years later, Postecoglou’s managerial career began. After debuting with South Melbourne, the now 48-year-old went on to run Australia’s U-20s before a brief spell in Greece (Panachaiki). In 2009, he was named head coach of Brisbane Roar, eventually winning back-to-back A-League titles.

Secret weapon
Postecoglou’s transition from the now-retired Mark Schwarzer sparked a competition in goal, one that was eventually won by 22-year-old Mathew Ryan. Coming off his first full season with Club Brugge in Belgium, Ryan has the skillset to succeed at a much higher level, with interest from Spain having already been reported. He’s also a plus-distributor out of the back, something that’s of particular value as Postecoglou tried to implement a more possession-sensitive approach.

Prediction
Australia may not be the worst team at the World Cup, but with the tournament’s toughest draw, they could end up in last place. The Socceroos’ best chance for a point will be against another young, transition squad: the Netherlands. Unfortunately for Australia, Louis van Gaal’s side still has the likes of Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, and Wesley Sneijder. It may be a long two weeks (and a short tournament) for the Socceroos.

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.