Spain ends Cup opening slump; England can't get past Swedes

Posted: Monday, June 03, 2002

YOKOHAMA, Japan -- Spain finally figured out how to start a World Cup with a victory. England still doesn't know how to beat Sweden anywhere.

The Spaniards broke a 52-year winless spell in World Cup openers, dating back to a 1950 victory over the United States. Goals from Raul, Juan Carlos Valeron and Fernando Hierro lifted the Spaniards over Slovenia 3-1 Sunday night (Sunday morning EDT) at Gwangju, South Korea.

''It wasn't easy, there are a lot of surprises and all games are very close at this level,'' Raul said. ''There is more to come.''

England must hope there are no more meetings with Sweden ahead. A second-half goal by Niclas Alexandersson gave the Swedes a 1-1 tie and stretched their unbeaten streak against the English to 10 games -- 3-0-7 -- since 1968. FIFA does not recognize all of those matches.

''It didn't look good in the first half,'' Alexandersson said of Sweden's one-goal deficit at Saitama, Japan. ''We showed a lot of fighting spirit in the second half, when we came back into the game. We could have won the match.''

Also Sunday, Argentina, the pretournament favorite, edged Nigeria 1-0 at Ibaraki, Japan, while Paraguay and South Africa tied 2-2 at Busan, South Korea.

Gabriel Batistuta, a fixture in the Argentina lineup but questionable to start after a poor, injury-plagued season in Italy, sent an angled header into the net off Juan Sebastian Veron's swinging corner kick in the 63rd minute.

Batistuta moved into a tie for sixth place in career World Cup goals with 10.

''I am not thinking of any records, I don't care about that,'' he said. ''But if I score goals, it means that Argentina gets closer every time to our goal, to win the World Cup.''

At Busan, in a half-empty 53,926-seat stadium, South Africa rallied from two goals down against Paraguay.

Quinton Fortune scored on a last-minute penalty kick after a controversial call. Fortune drove his kick into the top right corner after the referee judged that Paraguay goalie Ricardo Tavarelli pulled down Sibusiso Zuma. Replays indicated the goalie barely touched Zuma when the South African already was on the way down.

Referee Lubos Michel of Slovakia handing out eight yellow cards, four to each team.

Meanwhile, U.S. coach Bruce Arena indicated star striker Clint Mathis might not start in Wednesday's opener against Portugal because of a slow recovery from a torn knee ligament.

''It's been a tough month for him because he was physically behind the other players,'' Arena said.

Arena added that Mathis needs to develop a better work ethic.

Brazil lost captain Emerson, a midfielder, after he

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injured his shoulder and arm during practice while playing goalie.

''He will need four weeks to play football again,'' team doctor Jose Luis Runco said. ''His participation in the World Cup is out of the question.''

The most publicized injury, the torn thigh muscle of French star Zinedine Zidane, is making good progress and the midfielder started running again this weekend. France dearly missed its playmaker in a stunning 1-0 loss to Senegal in the opener.

''He is undergoing treatment, which will be intensified in the next few days,'' team doctor Jean-Marcel Ferret said. France next plays on Thursday against Uruguay.

Yet another England fan was turned back at Tokyo's main airport Sunday, bringing to nine the number sent home because of a history of hooliganism.

The British Embassy says 20 other Britons have been barred from entering Japan for a variety of suspected offenses.

Only after seeing so many empty seats at Saturday's games did Japanese organizers discover thousands of tickets allotted for overseas fans went unsold. As many as 1,000 tickets for every game in Japan are still available, so JAWOC, the local organizing committee, reversed an earlier decision and will sell tickets on game days at ticket centers and over the Internet.

JAWOC has blamed Britain's Byrom Inc. for failing to sell those tickets.

A total of 19,000 seats went empty for two matches Saturday, although some in the Sapporo Dome, a baseball stadium, were not suitable for soccer.

In South Korea, problems with delivery of prepaid tickets and a computer mix-up were blamed for empty seats at Friday's opener and at Ireland-Cameroon on Saturday. Ulsan's 42,000-seat Mansu Stadium was three-quarters full for Denmark-Uruguay, but that was better than the 25,186 spread around the Busan stadium Sunday.

And in North Korea, the isolated populace got a rare glimpse of its rival and neighbor when the Senegal-France opener from Friday in Seoul was televised on delayed tape.

The North's reclusive communist regime has had no diplomatic ties with the South since the 1950-53 Korean War. North Koreans can't watch South Korean television, though the North's broadcasts can be seen in the South.

The broadcast showed North Korean viewers the riches of the thriving South -- a sensitive issue for the North's leaders, whose economy collapsed in the 1990s and still depends on foreign food aid.



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