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2014 World Cup team preview: Switzerland

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Getting to know… Switzerland: Mainstays in and around the World Cup, Switzerland made the last 16 in 2006 but lost in a penalty shootout to Ukraine after not conceding a goal the entire tournament. In 2010 they went out in the group stages despite beating eventual champions Spain 1-0 in their opening game. Switzerland have now qualified for six-straight major tournaments and with a young squad brimming with confidence, this World Cup has the potential to be a breakout tournament for the No. 8 team in the world. The furthest the Swiss have gone at the World Cup is making the quarterfinals three times in the opening six tournaments, the last time being in 1954 when they hosted the showpiece event.

Record in qualifying: Switzerland breezed through qualifying and were unbeaten in 10 games, keeping an impressive seven clean sheets. They weren’t in a strong group but you can only beat what’s in front of you. Seven wins from 10 and there only competition being Iceland and Slovenia means that their World Cup warm up games over the past six months have been hugely important in preparing them for this summer.

What group are they in? They are in Group E alongside France, Honduras and Ecuador. Switzerland are the top seed and will be expecting to make it through to the last 16. Ultimately the French and Swiss will battle it out for top spot but they will have intense competition from their Central and South American opponents.

Game schedule:

15 June, 12:00, Brasilia – Switzerland vs. Ecuador

19 June, 16:00, Salvador – Switzerland vs. France

25 June, 16:00, Manaus – Honduras vs. Switzerland

source: AP
The Swiss could shock everyone this summer.

Star player: Gokhan Inler

Captain of Switzerland and the heart and soul of the team, Inler played a pivotal role at the last two major tournaments for the Swiss. He sits in front of the back four and break up the play superbly, which allows the speedy wingers to pile forward and gives Switzerland a solid foundation to build off. Inler’s pedigree at Napoli and Udinese in Serie A is proven and his experience will be vital.

Manager: Ottmar Hitzfeld

The Bayern Munich legend will step down after the tournament after doing a wonderful job with the Swiss. Hitzfeld has been in charge since 2008 and his tactical nous has turned Switzerland into a well organized team who are extremely hard to break down. Clean sheets galore and an astute tactical acumen are his trademark and make no doubt about it, the Swiss side is a lot better than everybody thinks. That is down to Hitzfeld.

Secret weapon: Xherdan Shaqiri

A tricky winger who has great pace and does the unexpected, Shaqiri has had a frustrating season at club level. The Bayern Munich man is behind Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery in the pecking order after his big money move from Basel. Shaqiri is Switzerland’s main attacking threat and a real live wire in and around the box. The 22-year-old has scored eight goals in 32 appearances and is alongside Switzerland’s young attacking core (none of the five strikers are over the age of 24) Shaqiri will show plenty of defenders a clean set of heels this summer.

Prediction: The Swiss have been surprised packages towards the top of the FIFA World rankings for a number of years now. Many would suggest that is no fluke. Well organized and extremely hard to beat, Hitzfeld has introduced plenty of exciting youngsters into his side and they could cause a few shocks in Brazil after their impressive qualifying campaign. Expect them to battle it out with Ecuador for the second spot behind France in Group E.

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.