Aston Villa 0-2 Everton: visitors emerge the victors on various fronts (video)

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Romelu Lukaku vs. Christian Benteke. Tim Howard vs. Brad Guzan. Everton vs. Aston Villa — and it was Everton that emerged victorious. The win moves Everton into third place, although if either Chelsea or Manchester City grab all three points on Sunday, they’ll slip down into fourth. As for the Villa, it’s down to 14th — and it’s time to start evaluating those that stand in front of Guzan.

Everton’s visit to Villa Park was billed as a “Battle of the Belgians”, yet it was the American goalkeepers that received the majority of the attention, in the first half, anyway. That 45 ended scoreless, but not for want of trying. It was Romelu Lukaku who got things started, waiting to get on the end of a cross, but Aston Villa center back Ron Vlaar did just enough to put him off. Less than ten minutes later, on the other end, fellow Belgian Christian Benteke worked his way inside the area. Seamus Coleman gave him a clip, Benteke went a-tumbling and the referee immediately pointed to the spot.

Benteke himself stepped up to take the penalty, with every Villa fan certain their side would be taking an early lead. The big striker sent his strike to his left, but Tim Howard was ready. The American goalkeeper went diving, using his left hand to push the shot up and over the bar. The resulting corner came to nothing, and the match remained scoreless.

Both Americans had to work hard for the rest of the half to ensure the ball remained out of the net. Howard went diving once more to keep a low shot from Benteke out of the bottom corner. On the other end, Brad Guzan need to be at his best to stop a sharp kick from Lukaku.

But Guzan couldn’t keep out Lukaku forever. In the 68th minute, Everton’s Belgian struck gold. Aston Villa’s defense, weakened by injury to Antonio Luna, fell apart, as they could not work out whether to trail Lukaku or substitute Leon Osman (hint: always Lukaku). Lukaku took advantage, directing his shot between Vlaar and Ciaran Clark. Guzan could do nothing to stop the sharp strike, which landed in the bottom left corner of goal.

Howard, however, was content to confirm his standing as America’s number one keeper, refusing to allow an equalizer. After Gabby Agbonlahor forced the Everton man into a fine save in the 75th minute, Villa looked to be out of ideas. So it was really no surprise when Everton got another minutes later. This time it was Osman himself, sending his shot in from the edge of the area after collecting it from Gareth Barry.

Aston Villa: Guzan, Bacuna, Vlaar, Baker, Westwood, Weimann, Luna (Clark 45), Delph, Agbonlahor, Benteke, Tonev (Helenius 77)

Subs not used: Steer, El Ahmadi, Sylla, Kozak, Lowton

Everton: Howard, Coleman, Jagielka, Distin, Baines, McCarthy, Barry, Mirallas (Deulofeu 90), Barkley (Osman 60), Pienaar (Naismith 80), Lukaku

Subs not used: Joel, Jelavic, Oviedo, Stones

Goals: Lukaku 68′, Osman 81′

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Group C wide open as Denmark, Australia settle for draw

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Denmark and Australia settled for a 1-1 draw on Thursday, as this exciting Group C affair had nothing to separate the two nations at the end of 90 minutes.

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As it stands, the Danes lead the group with four points, while Australia earned its first point of the World Cup.

France will meet Peru later on Thursday, with Les Bleus having won its first match and Peru having suffered defeat to Denmark.

The Danes broke through after seven minutes when Nicolai Jørgensen picked out a perfect back-heel pass to Christian Eriksen at the top of the box, before the Tottenham Hotspur attacker volleyed home for a 1-0 lead.

Jørgensen nearly doubled the Denmark advantage in the 24th minute when the 27-year-old had an open header from close range that skewed just wide of the target.

Australia worked its way into the match following the opener, and were awarded a penalty kick in the 37th minute after VAR Mark Geiger altered an initial decision for a handball inside the box.

Mile Jedinak converted the spot kick to level the match at 1-1, giving the Socceroos life.

A dangerous free kick four minutes later almost gave Denmark the lead once again, however, Eriksen couldn’t get a crucial touch on the ball to knock it over the goal line before Ryan collected.

The second half continued with lightning pace from both sides, and Aaron Mooy‘s 71st minute blast came inches away from giving Australia an improbable lead.

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The two nations will conclude Group C play on June 26, as Denmark faces France and Australia takes on CONMEBOL side Peru.

Video: VAR awards Australia penalty, before Jedinak converts

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The Socceroos battled admirably in the latter stages of the first half, and Australia was rewarded for their efforts.

Australia has leveled the match at 1-1 after a Mile Jedinak penalty kick cancelled out Christian Eriksen’s stunning opener in the seventh minute.

After an initial decision to play on by the head referee, VAR Mark Geiger opted to award a penalty kick to the Aussies after Yussuf Poulsen was caught with his hand away from his body on a Mathew Leckie header.

Poulsen was also shown a yellow card for the infraction, which rules him out for Denmark’s group-stage finale against France.

Video: Eriksen volley has Denmark ahead inside 10 minutes

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Denmark is well on its way to another three points on Thursday, and this time it’s Christian Eriksen who has finally broken through at the World Cup.

 MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Eriksen put the Danes in front in the seventh minute after a tremendous volley that gave Australia goalkeeper Maty Ryan no chance at keeping it out.

After a sloppy turnover in their own half, Australia could only watch as the ball fell to Nicolai Jørgensen, who cleverly back-heeled to Eriksen at the top of the box.

The Danes pulled off a 1-0 victory in their first Group C match against Peru, while Australia fell 2-1 to France.

Croatia coach says “we have nothing to lose” against Argentina

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Croatia manager Zlatko Dalic chose his words wisely when discussing their final Group D opponent, Argentina, but his side won’t be backing down when they take on Lionel Messi and Co.

[ MORE: Spain gets win after Iran equalizer called off by replay ]

With three points already in the bag for the European nation, Croatia currently sits atop their group, however, Dalic recognizes the task that lies in front of him and his team on Thursday.

“I didn’t say that Argentina was the easiest opponent,” Dalic said. “I said that this was the easiest game for us. We have nothing to lose. We are playing against one of the best.”

Croatia does have the benefit of having won its first match in group play, which has given the side a decided enthusiasm heading into the meeting.

For Ivan Rakitic — who plays at Barcelona with Messi — he believes there isn’t much he or anyone on his team can say or do to further prepare themselves for the Albiceleste.

“What can I tell them that they don’t know?” Rakitic said. “The world knows. Messi is one of the best players in the world. He will have his moments, clearly. It is up to us to stop him, to play the right way against him, and to enjoy the match and play our best.

“It’s a beautiful thing to play against one of the best teams in the world. We are especially motivated.”

In four all-time meetings, Argentina leads 2-1-1 against Croatia, including a 1-0 victory during the 1998 World Cup in France.

The two teams last met in 2014 following Argentina’s World Cup final defeat to Germany, with Messi and Co. earning a 2-1 victory over Croatia.