Brazil Saving the Armadillo

You know that cute, fuzzy World Cup mascot? FIFA’s got him dirty, too.

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Sometimes criticizing FIFA begins to resemble shooting fish in a barrel, which is a perfect comparison considering soccer’s governing body is about as kind to the animal kingdom as unloading ammunition on a wooden container of goldfish.

The latest mess comes courtesy of Fuleco, that cute and fuzzy armadillo mascot meant to remind the world that Brazil is about two things: football and ecology. Yes, this adorable (?) blue and gold mascot has provided us with our next helping of World Cup controversy.

Fuleco was allegedly designed to sell stuffed animals at $15 a pop bring awareness to the disappearing three-banded armadillo, known in Brazil as the tatu-bola. Instead, The Global Post reports, the mascot is just one part of an embarrassing failure by FIFA to make good on its “go green” claims.

From The Global Post:

But now, as millions around the world tune in to watch the ultimate soccer tournament, critics are claiming that FIFA’s sweet rhetoric on the environment is nothing more than crass corporate greenwashing, and that the organization is doing zip to save the unfortunate armadillo.

“It is not ethical,” says Rodrigo Castro, of Brazilian environmental group the Caatinga Association, whose campaigning was responsible for FIFA choosing the tatu-bola as the tournament mascot over 46 other proposals.

“You cannot exploit the image of an animal that is nearing extinction to make millions and then give nothing back.”

Castro says that a 10-year plan to save the armadillo would cost $12 million, and he had hoped that FIFA would contribute around 15 percent of that amount.

But although Continental Tire, one of the official sponsors of this year’s World Cup, has donated $45,000 toward the Caatinga Association’s tatu-bola project, FIFA has refused to give a single cent to any organization working to save the armadillo.

Well, that’s precious. But but but but… as the article points out, FIFA was able to pony up $25 million for a movie starring Tim Roth as Sepp Blatter. And it seems the whole Fuleco ordeal is just part of FIFA’s environment failings (although perhaps ‘scandal’ would be a better word for a plot Mr. Orange would be proud of).

Chris Gaffney, a Rio-based US academic who studies the impact of major sporting events, says the 2014 World Cup could have been organized at a fraction of the environmental and financial cost, including by making do with existing stadiums.

He even questioned the LEED environmental certification that the 12 host stadiums are receiving for supposedly being energy and water efficient.

“It’s basically a marketing tool because no one is accounting for the environmental costs of destroying existing stadiums and then rebuilding them. The same people that paid for the original stadium [Brazilian taxpayers] are being billed to demolish them and then build new ones.”

Goodness gracious, it isn’t getting better is it? And what impetus would anyone have to believe anything is going to change in the way FIFA operates for the tournaments in Russia, Qatar or 2030 World Cup: Moon. I can just see it now:

“FIFA is happy to announce that, as part of our lasting commitment to scientific exploration, World Cup: Moon will feature a tournament unlike anything the world’s ever seen… though it may have to be played outside of the traditional window, and in space suits.”

Hooray for sports!

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.