Titleholders Brazil beat Croatia but lack sparkle

14th June 2006, Comments 0 comments

14 June 2006, BERLIN - Brazil opened their campaign for a sixth title when they beat Croatia 1-0 in the Berlin Olympic Stadium on Tuesday.

14 June 2006

BERLIN - Brazil opened their campaign for a sixth title when they beat Croatia 1-0 in the Berlin Olympic Stadium on Tuesday.

South Korea, semi-finalists in 2002, woke up from a nervous, mistake ridden start to beat 10-man Togo 2-1 and go top of Group G after France were held 0-0 by Switzerland in a tame draw.

The Koreans face the French on Sunday in Leipzig in a match that could decide who qualifies for the next round.

In Berlin Kaka's 44th-minute screamer lifted Brazil to a 1-0 victory over Croatia in their Group F match, but the five- time champions generated little magic and a lumbering Ronaldo was pulled off in the second half.

With 70,000 fired-up fans packing Berlin's Olympic Stadium, the match was drifting into a lull when Brazil broke it open with an explosive move helped by a rare lapse in Croatia's iron defence.

Cafu slipped down the right wing and centred low to Kaka, who shook off two hesitant Croats and drilled a shot with his weaker left foot into the net from the edge of the area, bringing the entire Brazilian bench to its feet in jubilation.

The victory saw Brazil establish a new World Cup record of eight consecutive wins, breaking the seven-win record they shared with Italy.

Kaka admitted that Brazil did not play as well as they can. "We really did not have an easy time. We were not particularly creative today," he said. "We moved too little, failed to open enough spaces."

France, who became the first defending champions to go home without scoring a goal in 2002, made an unconvincing start.

The French, with Zinedine Zidane at the heart of everything without playing to his best, never found a way through the Swiss defence and Thierry Henry was isolated up front.

The Swiss could even have won but Fabien Barthez stopped Daniel Gygax's point-blank header with his legs and Tranquillo Barnetta's free-kick hit the post. Only Eric Abidal's desperate lunge prevented Alex Frei from pushing the rebound over the line.

But Vikash Dhorasso fired a good chance beyond the far post when put through by substitute Louis Saha.

French coach Raymond Domenech said he was confident that the 1998 champions would go through.

"The next match is Korea and we have to give it everything. But we're used to being in these sort of situations. I think we have the players to get us through," he said.

Fussy Russian referee Valentin Ivanov booked eight players, including Zidane for taking a free-kick too quickly, but he missed Henry's shot hitting Swiss defender Patrick Mueller on the arm in the penalty area.

The last goal France scored at the World Cup finals was Emmanuel Petit's 90th minute strike that sealed the host's 3-0 victory against Brazil in the 1998 final - they have since played 360 minutes without scoring, including all of their games at the 2002 cup.

South Korea struggled to beat 10-man Togo whose German coach Otto Pfister had returned after walking out when players boycotted training over unpaid bonuses last week.

Lee Chun Soo cancelled out Mohamed Kader's first-half strike on 54 minutes when he curled a free-kick around the wall and past an out- of-position Togo keeper Kossi Agassa.

Second-half substitute Ahn Jung Hwan, who scored the extra-time winner against Italy in the 2002 Round of 16, beat Agassa for the winner with a dipping cross-shot in the 72nd minute.

English referee Graham Poll sent off Jean-Paul Abalo for bringing down Park Ji Sung as he twisted clear on the edge of the box for the free-kick that led to the Korean equaliser. It was his second yellow card.

And Ahn was pleased with the way things turned out as the Koreans began to find some sort of form in the second half.

"It was more important that the team won than I scored. At first things did not work out very well, but then (Dutch coach Dick) Advocaat's tactics were very good and we could all find our way," he said.

Togo's defeat means all four African debutants at the World Cup, including Angola, Ghana and Ivory Coast, have lost their opening matches.


Subject: German news

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