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Game on: Lineups, talking points as Brazil kicks off 2014 World Cup against Croatia

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Our reward for surviving J-Lo and Pitbull? Actual World Cup soccer. Congratulations, folks. Not only is that opening ceremony done, but Brazil 2014 is here, with the tournament favorites kicking off the competition at 4:00 p.m. Eastern against Croatia.

That tournament favorite is Brazil, of course. The reigning Confederations Cup champions will start their tournament amid a sea of trademark yellow at the new Arena Corinthians, hoping to manage building expectations that the 2010 quarterfinalists will win the country’s sixth World Cup.

Here are your starting lineups, talking points, and predictions:

[ MORE, Previews: Brazil | Croatia | Group A ]
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Starting lineups

Brazil: César, Alves, Silva, Luiz, Marcelo; Paulinho, Gustavo; Hulk, Oscar, Neymar; Fred

Croatia: Pletikosa; Srna, Corluka, Lovren, Vrsaijko; Brozovic Kovacic, Modric, Rakitic; Perisic Olic, Jelavic

Talking points

1. Let’s get this started …: The first game of a 64-match, month-long journey is here, and it’s about dang time. For some, the countdown to today’s kickoff began at minute 120 of Spain’s win over the Netherlands four years ago. Even for some more patient souls, the window from the end of the European season to today’s game was too long. Give us back our soccer!

Now we can slam that window shut. We can close all those preview tabs, and yes, we can stop worrying about whether this World Cup will need to be moved.

Soccer, people. Actual soccer, on its biggest stage. The World Cup is minutes away.

2. … and started right: Brazil right back Dani Alves emphasized the need to win decisively. Obviously, in the standings, a 1-0 win with a stoppage time goal will do, but for a team that has accrued such high expectations, a decisive win over a plucky non-contender may delay more pressure. Brazil and its fans will feel a lot better if this is an easy one.

3. South America vs. Europe: Perhaps you’ve heard, but a European team hasn’t won a World Cup on South American soil. You may have also heard that the World Cup hasn’t been waged on the continent since 1978, and statistics being the bummer they are, this factoid looks like more of a “gee, don’t know” that a hard-fast rule. Why can’t evidence just stay of this?

Regardless, the hypothesis is still out there: European teams won’t be strong in Brazil. Croatia’s matchup against a favorite is unlikely to prove the case either way, but if the ball movement is there, players seem as quick as normal, and there’s not major drop off in the second half, we’ll know a little more about the European hypothesis (though only a little). 

Expectation: Brazil wins easily

One blogger’s prediction: Expectations are met

Shakhtar Donetsk 2-2 Sevilla: Gameiro, Vitolo give two-time champs an edge

Shakhtar Donetsk’s Facundo Ferreyra, left, competes for the ball with Sevilla’s Mariano during semifinal first leg of the Europa League soccer match, between FC Shakhtar Donetsk and Sevilla at Arena Lviv stadium in Lviv, western Ukraine, Thursday, April  28, 2016. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky
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Vitolo scored a goal then drew a penalty, and Kevin Gameiro converted the chance as Sevilla picked up a pair of road goals in a 2-2 draw with Shakhtar Donetsk on Thursday in the first leg of the clubs’ UEFA Europa League semifinal.

Marlos had a goal and an assist for Shakhtar Donetsk, with Taras Stepanenko scoring Shakhtar’s other goal.

Sevilla has won the last two tournaments, and hosts Thursday’s second leg with an advantage toward reaching a third.

[ MORE: Watch full Premier League match replays ]

Gameiro set up that oh-so-pivotal road goal in the first 6 minutes, sliding the ball to Vitolo for his left-footed finish between the legs of Andriy Pyatov.

But the Ukranians weren’t slow to respond, and Shakhtar netted twice before halftime. First Marlos scored a left-footed of his own from Yaroslav Rakitskiy in the 21st minute, and then Marlos turned provider for Stepanenko’s headed finish in the 35th.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Villarreal strikes late to take first leg on Liverpool in Europa League semis

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.
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Denis Suarez found Adrian Lopez in the third minute of stoppage time to lift Villarreal to a 1-0 home win over Liverpool in Thursday’s first leg of their UEFA Europa League semifinal.

There wasn’t much enjoyable about the match for either side until late, but Liverpool looked set to head to Anfield in search of a win. Now they’ll need more.

[ MORE: Watch full Premier League match replays ]

The timing was off early for Mexican attacker Jonathan dos Santos and Congolese striker Cedric Bakambu, and Simon Mignolet made a couple collections to get into the flow of the match.

Liverpool answered with a dangerous chance in the fifth minute, but Joe Allen‘s only alley was a pass directly to keeper Sergio Asenjo.

Roberto Soldado knifed a bouncing shot wide of the far post in the 11th minute, and would later curl a shot around Kolo Toure that didn’t finish its dramatic bend inside the field of play.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

The Yellow Submarine had the best of possession, but the Reds were stout in defense with the exception of some slips on the wet turf.

Roberto Firmino was the most dangerous Liverpool attacker, saved off the woodwork just over an hour into the match.

There wasn’t much threat coming from either camp before Mignolet made a terrific save on Bakambu in the 87th minute.

And Alberto Moreno sprung a near 60-yard run past the Villarreal back line, but couldn’t put his left-footed blast on net

Liverpool: Tribunal rules record payment due to Burnley in Ings case

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 26: Danny Ings of Liverpool fends off Alan Hutton of Aston Villa during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Aston Villa at Anfield on September 26, 2015 in Liverpool, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images)
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The Premier League has a new compensation record, as Burnley has received close to $12 million for Liverpool’s signing of Danny Ings after a tribunal’s ruling.

Ings, 23, was a transfer rumor mill mainstay but stayed through his contract at Turf Moor, earning the right to go anywhere on a free transfer.

[ MORE: Agbonlahor quits as Villa captain ]

But clubs have to pay compensation when signing players who are under the age of 24, and Burnley will get money from Liverpool.

From the BBC:

Burnley chief executive David Baldwin said: “This is an unprecedented record payment for training compensation and not a transfer fee.

“As the initial fee decided by the committee represents almost double the previous record for a tribunal, this fully justifies our decision to press ahead with what we felt was a fair reflection of the part Burnley played in Danny’s development.”

The Clarets will also receive 20 percent of any sell-on fees should Ings move to another club, and Bournemouth stands to make a small percentage as well. The Cherries sold Ings to Burnley in 2011.

Agbonlahor quits as captain of relegated Aston Villa

Leicester City v Aston Villa - Premier League
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BIRMINGHAM, England (AP) Gabby Agbonlahor has quit as Aston Villa captain and apologized for his off-field conduct.

The forward was pictured in a newspaper with what look like nitrous oxide – or laughing gas – canisters on the same night that Aston Villa’s relegation was confirmed after losing to Manchester United this month.

Villa announced that Agbonlahor’s suspension from the club has been lifted, while he has been fined.

[ MORE: Alli’s season is over ]

Agbonlahor wrote on his Instagram account: “I am stepping down as club captain with immediate effect, as I do not deserve to carry out such a role anymore … it hurts to have lost it.”

Agbonlahor is Villa’s longest serving current player and their record English Premier League goal-scorer, having netted 73 times since his debut in 2006.