For Brazil and France, 2006 Looks Like 2002
BERLIN (AP) - Brazil, France and South Korea picked up just about where they left off four years ago.
The defending champion Brazilians won their record eighth straight World Cup match Tuesday night, getting a 44th-minute goal from Kaka to shake off a pesky Croatia 1-0 in Group F.
The French, who won the title in 1998 but went home early last time, failed to score a goal in their fourth straight World Cup match - this time in a 0-0 draw with Switzerland in Group G. South Korea, unexpected semifinalists as co-hosts last time, won away from home for the first time in 15 World Cup matches, beating Togo 2-1 in the same group.
Brazil, trying to win a record sixth championship, got a string of saves from goalkeeper Dida at the Olympic Stadium, while Ronaldo was taken off in the 69th after a below-par performance.
Brazil started well, hogging possession and relying on the defensive midfield pairing of Emerson and Ze Roberto to win the ball back when moves broke down. It faded midway through the first half under tough Croatian tackling.
Croatia limited Brazil to a handful of long-range shots, and team captain Niko Kovac initiated a handful of attacks before going off with an injury in the 40th.
Three minutes later, Cafu picked out Kaka on the edge of the area and the playmaker took one touch to knock the ball past Niko Kranjcar and another to steady himself before sending a left-footed shot past goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa.
"I personally had a good start in the World Cup. I scored a goal, participated in several moves," Kaka said. "The second half was especially difficult, because we had trouble getting organized and suffered a lot on the left side."
The last time the French team scored in a World Cup game was when it beat Brazil 3-0 in the 1998 final. Switzerland also held France to draws in two qualifying games.
"We know that team all too well," France coach Raymond Domenech said. "It's the sort of match we expected. We could have beaten them in the first half. They could have won the match in the second half.
"This was a high-level match from both teams."
Despite being forced to play as a lone striker in Stuttgart, Thierry Henry came close with three shots and a header in the first half, while Zinedine Zidane's deft touches set up the best French moves.
Switzerland, however, almost went ahead in the 23rd minute when Tranquillo Barnetta sent a free kick into the area. But Philippe Senderos and Alexander Frei both failed to get a touch and the ball hit the post.
France lost to Senegal and Denmark at the last World Cup and left after the first round.
Ahn Jung-hwan scored the winning goal in the 72nd minute for South Korea, which faced a team that nearly played in Frankfurt without a coach.
Togo made its chaotic debut at the World Cup with coach Otto Pfister quitting Friday and then returning for the match. The 68-year-old German had left the team because of a dispute between his players and the country's soccer federation over bonuses.
"This situation is definitely very hard," defender Toure Assimiou said. "You're in the World Cup for the first time and then something like this happens."
Mohamed Kader gave the African team the lead in the 31st minute with a shot from 14 yards. But seconds after Togo captain Jean-Paul Abalo was sent off for getting his second yellow card, Lee Chun-soo sent a free kick over the defensive wall and past Togo goalkeeper
Kossi Agassa for the equalizer in the 54th minute.
"I'm so very happy that the South Korean team played here in Europe and won this match," Ahn said.
(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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