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England Starts on Bad Foot

June 03, 2002|Mike Penner; Grahame L. Jones | From Staff Reports

With England needing 90 minutes of David Beckham against Sweden and nothing less, the most famous foot in Britain balked at about the hour mark Sunday in Saitama, Japan.

What that left England, in a 1-1 World Cup-opening draw, was everything England had feared since that foot was broken seven weeks ago.

In the 24th minute, Beckham curled in a perfect corner and Sol Campbell rose to head the ball powerfully past Sweden goalkeeper Magnus Hedman. England was in the lead and comfortably in control of the match.

But as the second half rolled on and Beckham began to tire, England fell back on its heels. Sweden began attacking in surges, English defender Danny Mills botched a simple clearance and when the ball fell to Niclas Alexandersson at the top of the penalty area, the score was suddenly tied in the 59th minute.

Four minutes later, England Coach Sven-Goran Eriksson substituted Beckham--and soon the rest of the world realized why all of England had been so hysterical about the condition of that fractured metatarsal.

Without Beckham, England looked in disarray--unable to maintain possession, unable to get the ball to striker Michael Owen, unable to do much of anything, including basic defending.

Sweden swarmed, again and again, and only two outstanding saves by England goalkeeper David Seaman kept Teddy Lucic from winning the match for the Swedes.

"I think a draw is a fair result," Eriksson said after his players staggered off the field, still without a victory over Sweden since 1968.

"I have mixed feelings about the result," Sweden Co-Coach Lars Lagerback countered. "We created some good chances in the second half and with a bit of luck we could have won it ... It's an OK result."

Mike Penner

Argentina 1, Nigeria 0--Another African nation tried to take down a tournament co-favorite, but Argentina, unlike France against Senegal, had all of its best attackers on the field against Nigeria--and one, Gabriel Batistuta, at the right place at the right time.

Batistuta's angled header from a 63rd-minute corner provided the difference in Argentina's 1-0 victory at Irabaki, Japan, and moved Argentina alone atop the Group F standings with three points. England and Sweden are tied for second with one point each.

The corner, delivered by Argentine captain Juan Veron, enabled Batistuta to maintain his goal-a-game pace at the World Cup. Batistuta has now scored 10 goals in 10 World Cup games--and has scored in each of the 1994, 1998 and 2002 tournaments.

Still, Argentina Coach Marcelo Bielsa was less than excited. "It should have bigger," he said, referring to the one-goal difference.

Bielsa had a point. The only thing depriving Argentina of a deserved two- or three-goal victory was the exceptional play of Nigerian goalkeeper Ike Shorunmu.

"I think we can do better," said Nigeria midfielder JayJay Okocha. "It was the first game and it wasn't easy. We lost by 1-0, which is not a disgrace. I think we should be proud of it."

Mike Penner

Spain 3, Slovenia 1--Spain got its World Cup off to a confident, if controversial, start Sunday with an impressive 3-1 victory over Slovenia in front of 28,598 fans in Gwangju, South Korea.

Goals by Raul, one minute before halftime, and Juan Valeron, in the 74th minute, put the Spanish in command. But Sebastijan Cimirotic pulled one back for Slovenia in the 82nd minute and it was not until Fernando Hierro netted a penalty kick five minutes later that Spain was safe.

The victory marked the first time in more than half a century that Spain had won its opening World Cup match. The last time it did so was against the United States in 1950.

Slovenia, making its World Cup debut, was left angry by two decisions made by Moroccan referee Mohammed Guezzaz late in the game, first when he denied Slovenia a penalty kick after Milenko Acimovic was knocked down in the box by Spanish defender Miguel Angel Nadal and second when he awarded Spain a penalty for an innocuous challenge on Fernando Morientes by Sasa Gajser.

Hierro scored his 28th goal for Spain as a result of the latter call.

Grahame L. Jones

South Africa 2, Paraguay 2--South Africa left it until the last minute before completing a surprise comeback to tie Paraguay in front of a disappointing crowd of only 25,186 in the South Korean port city of Busan.

Quinton Fortune's goal off a rather generously awarded penalty kick in injury time secured a point for South Africans in the Group B encounter that appeared to be going the South Americans' way.

Paraguay took the lead after 39 minutes when Roque Santa Cruz headed a cross from Francisco Arce past South African goalkeeper Andre Arendse.

In the 55th minute, Arce scored on a superb curling free kick into the upper left corner of Arendse's net and Paraguay, playing without suspended goalkeeper Jose Luis Chilavert, appeared set for victory.

Things came unraveled when Paraguay defender Estanislao Struway accidentally deflected a shot by Aaron Mokoena into his own net in the 63rd minute, and Fortune saved South Africa after referee Michel Lubos of Slovakia ruled that Paraguay goalkeeper Ricardo Tavarelli had fouled Sibusio Zuma and awarded a penalty kick in the 90th minute.

Grahame L. Jones

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