Japan's Keisuke Honda, right, takes on the Greek defense during the group C World Cup soccer match between Japan and Greece at the Arena das Dunas in Natal, Brazil, Thursday, June 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)

Man advantage no help as Japan held to 0-0 draw by Greece

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Fifty-two minutes with a man advantage wasn’t enough. Despite seeing Greece midfielder Kostas Katsouranis sent off in the 38th minute, Japan was unable to break through the Greek defense on Thursday at Arenas das Dunas, relegating Group C’s bottom two teams to a 0-0 draw in Natal.

Japan had two clear chances in the second half but were unable to steer a pair of close range opportunities on goal. Come the final whistle, Greece goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis has only been called on to save four shots, two of which came from long-range free kicks. In the opposite goal, Eiji Kawawshima also made four spots, helping Japan register its first point of the tournament.

With the Asian champions scheduled to face group favorites Colombia on Tuesday in Cuiabá, Japan has a number of reasons to rue tonight’s missed opportunity. Greece, on the other hand, can hope an upset over the Ivory Coast on the same day in Fortaleza will help secure an unlikely place in the knockout round.

[ RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly ]

Japan dominated possession in the first half, but to very little effect. Despite holding the ball 75 percent of the time, the Samurai Blue only registered one shot on target, a total that matched their far more defensive opponents. Come intermission, neither team had shown an ability to consistently create opportunities.

Japan’s possession did contribute to another potentially decisive outcome. In the 38th minute, booked for a challenge in midfield, Katsouranis was sent off, earning his second yellow card 11 minutes after his first caution. The 34-year-old midfielder also forced head coach Fernando Santos to burn his second substitution of the half, the first going after starting striker Kostas Mitroglou had to be removed in the 35th minute.

Out of half time, Japan’s control temporally waned, with Greece nearly scoring in the 60th minute off a corner kick. Eight minutes later, the Samurai Blue had their best chance of the match when Atusto Uchida played a ball through the six-yard box for Yoshito Okubo. Although the attacker put his far post chance into the stands, Uchida nearly replicated the feat three minutes later when he put a ball wide of the opposite post. Japan had regained control of the game, but they were still unable to test Karnezis.

At the other end of the field, Greece made one last play to steal full points, with an 81st minute corner giving Georgios Samaras a chance to head his side in front. After the Celtic forward was unable to steer his shot on goal, Greece was left holding out for their first point of the competition.

With it, the former European champions preserved a route to the final 16. Defeat Ivory Coast on Tuesday, and Greece needs only a Colombia result against underdog Japan to make its first knockout round. Japan, on the other hand, must beat Colombia to have any chance at moving on.

Lineups

Japan: Kawashima, Uchida, Konno, Yoshida, Nagatomo, Yamaguchi, Hasebe (Endo 46′), Honda, Okubo, Okazaki, Osako (Kagawa 57′)

Goals: None.

Greece: Karnezis, Holebas, Sokratis, Manolas, Torosidis, Katsouranis, Maniatis, Kone (Salpingidis 81′), Samaras, Mitroglou (Gekas 35′), Fetfatzidis (Karagounis 42′)

Goals: None.

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.

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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.