Defending champs roll ahead

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Defending champs roll ahead


Australia couldn't duplicate its come-from-behind magic against defending champion Brazil in Group F, while Japan and Croatia will face an uphill battle to reach the next round after a tedious, scoreless draw.
Brazil became the seventh team to qualify for the round of 16 early yesterday, Korean time, as it defeated Australia 2-0. The victory was Brazil’s ninth consecutive in the World Cup. The five-time champions haven’t been eliminated from the first round since 1966.
After some decent chances in the scoreless first half, the Brazilians got on board in the 49th minute when Ronaldo, after taking a pass from Ronaldinho near the half line, flicked the ball sideways to a charging Adriano, whose left-footed shot went through the legs of defender Scott Chipperfield and inside the near post.
Ronaldo, who got some unflattering headlines for his poor play last week, was jeered by Australian fans for clumsy errors in the opening half, including his missing the ball inside the box in the 37th minute. However, he still showed glimpses of the skills that made him a three-time FIFA World Player of the Year.
In the third minute, he controlled the ball on his chest near the edge of the penalty area and lobbed one over his head for Kaka, whose volley went inches wide of the net. And on the first score, Ronaldo froze two Aussie defenders with his famous step-over moves.
Substitute Fred rounded up the scoring by banging home a rebound off Robinho's shot, which hit a post.
“We’re going to improve with every game. The World Cup is a marathon, not a sprint,” Ronaldinho told Associated Press. “Brazil is capable of playing nice soccer and the team is getting stronger with every game.”
The “Socceroos,” who defeated Japan last week with three goals in the last eight minutes of the match, had chances. Marco Bresciano was in the clear down the left, but his shot deflected off a last-second tackle in the 55th minute. Moments later, Mike Sterjovski had his 25-yard volley graze the crossbar.
Two minutes later, Harry Kewell had an open net after Brazilian keeper Dida mishandled a high ball, but he sent the ball above the bar with his left foot.
“We’re quite disappointed; we’re very frustrated the way the game turned out,” Australian defender Lucas Neill told The Associated Press, “but we always knew it was going to come down to the last game [against Croatia on Friday]. So, it’s still in our hands.”
Indeed, Australia will advance with a win over Croatia. That’s because both Croatia and Japan, after their 0-0 tie, still only have one point apiece in the group standings.
The match was quiet for the first 20 minutes, with no significant chances for either team. In the 22nd minute, Croatia got the game’s first opportunity when Dado Prso was brought down in the box by Tsuneyasu Miyamoto for a penalty. However, Japanese goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi was up to the task, diving to his left to turn away Darijo Srna’s kick.
Croatia continued to press: on the ensuing corner, Niko Kranjcar’s header went into the side of the net. Just five minutes later, Kranjcar's rocket of a turnaround shot from just outside the box rattled off the crossbar.
For the rest of the game, however, neither side sustained much offensive pressure.
“After the game, we were disappointed, but the atmosphere in the dressing room was extremely positive,” said Croatian defender Josip Simunic, on FIFA’s World Cup Web site. “We’re looking forward to the game against Australia and hopefully we’ll have better luck in that match.”
To advance to the next round, both Croatia and Japan must beat their next opponents, Australia and Brazil, respectively, and hope the goal differential tiebreaker works in their favor.

by Yoo Jee-ho
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