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Italy, Brazil open with group wins

Posted: Tuesday, June 04, 2002

YOKOHAMA, Japan -- The big boys are asserting themselves early in the World Cup.

Three-time champion Italy needed only seven minutes to score its winning goal Monday. Brazil, trying for a fifth World Cup, didn't get the winner until an 87th-minute penalty kick.

But they won. Among the favorites to win the 32-nation tournament, only defending champion France has an opening loss, the stunner to Senegal last Friday.

The French not only face an uphill struggle just to survive the first round, they also have World Cup history to weigh them down. No team ever has lost its opening game and won the title.

Italy beat Ecuador 2-0 on two goals by Christian Vieri and shared first place in Group G with Mexico, a 1-0 winner over Croatia.

Brazil overcame Turkey 2-1 thanks to a 50th-minute goal by Ronaldo off a cross by Rivaldo, and the late penalty shot by Rivaldo.

Turkey coach Senol Gunes called the penalty an ''injustice.''

South Korean referee Kim Young-joo ruled defender Alpay Ozalan pulled down Luizao inside the penalty box. He ejected Ozalan and awarded the penalty kick.

''It happened three meters outside the penalty area, he just fell on the penalty line,'' Gunes said. ''Of course, we are not in a position to judge the referee, but it was an abnormal decision.''

Gunes had promised that Turkey, appearing in its first World Cup in 48 years, would surprise Brazil. It did with Hasan Sas' goal on a sharply angled shot in first-half injury time.

Rivaldo could face disciplinary action from FIFA if it determines he faked an injury late in the game. Near the end of the game, Turkey's Hakan Unsal kicked the ball at Rivaldo as he prepared to take a corner kick. The ball struck him in the thigh, but he collapsed holding his head -- and Unsal was ejected.

Still, Rivaldo said Brazil deserved the victory.

''We allowed a silly goal and had to run twice as hard to turn it around, but I was confident we would,'' said the star forward, struggling to regain his form after a knee ligament injury.

Injuries also have plagued Ronaldo, who now is reasonably healthy for the first time in 2 1/2 years.

Hundreds of Turkish fans fought with supporters of Brazil in a Berlin street brawl after the game. The fighting erupted around a giant TV screen in a plaza. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Vieri, Italy's scoring leader in the 1998 World Cup, quickly got back in stride, scoring in the seventh minute off Francesco Totti's cross.

For emphasis, he scored again 20 minutes later. His first shot, partially blocked by Ecuador goalkeeper Jose Cevallos, was on its way into the goal when he kicked it again from inches away.

''There are more goals on the way,'' Vieri said. ''The boys tried hard to get me a third goal, but it doesn't really matter. We're going to improve on this.''

For Mexico, Cuauhtemoc Blanco scored on a 61st-minute penalty kick while Croatia's Boris Zivkovic, who tripped Blanco as he raced into the penalty area, picked up the first red card of the tournament.

''I dedicate the goal and the victory to my grandmother,'' Blanco said. ''I had promised that.''

Blanco's grandmother, Maria del Refugio, died last week in Mexico City.

While opening losses have been bad in the World Cup, ties have not been much good, either. That bodes ill for England after its 1-1 draw against Sweden. Only two teams have opened with ties and won the World Cup -- England in 1966, and Italy 20 years ago.

Spain and two-time champion Argentina started perfectly on Sunday with victories. Three-time champion Germany opened with a win on Saturday.

A local governor in Japan threatened to sue British-based ticketing agency Byrom, Inc., for losses if too many seats are empty on game days.

Problems of late ticket deliveries and unsold tickets have plagued the World Cup in its first week. To avoid possible security problems with disgruntled fans, Japanese organizers originally decided not to sell tickets on game days. But they now have reversed plans in hopes of getting rid of tickets they realized belatedly had not been sold.

In Seoul, South Korea reportedly ordered its World Cup organizers to demand compensation from Byrom, Inc., for its problems.

Some of the empty seats, a FIFA spokesman said, resulted simply from lack of spectator interest.



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