By Jay Mwamba
France kicked off last Friday as favorites to defend the World Cup they won with a masterful 3-0 destruction of Brazil in Paris four years ago.
But after a shock 1-0 loss to Senegal in the opening match of the 2002 finals, Les Bleus face Uruguay in Busan tomorrow needing a win to stay alive in Group A.
Midfielder Papa Bouba Diop (30th) scored the goal that was heard around the world, as an African team once again pulled off a stunning upset in the opener, 12 years after Cameroon beat then defending champs Argentina at Italia ’90.
“We have realized our dreams,’ ” Senegal coach Bruno Metsu said. “We are very happy with this incredible feat.”
His French opposite graciously conceded defeat. “There’s nothing miraculous about Senegal’s win,” Roger Lemerre said. “The team was very well organized. I knew that Metsu had cooked up some plan.”
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The French will attempt to regroup against Uruguay, although playmaker Zinedine Zidane, who missed the Senegal match because of a thigh injury, remains doubtful.
It’s a crunch match for the Uruguayans as well after their 2-1 defeat by Denmark last Saturday.
Jon Dahl Tomasson, once rejected by Newcastle United, bagged both Danish goals against Uruguay in Ulsan. He struck the winner in the 83rd minute after Dario Rodriguez (47th) had canceled out his earlier effort (45th).
The Danes battle Senegal in D’gu tomorrow for the Group A leadership.
England failed to break their 34-year-old Swedish jinx in the “Group of Fear.” They had goalkeeper David Seaman to thank for a 1-1 draw in Saitama, despite taking a 24th minute lead through a Sol Campbell header from a David Beckham corner.
Niclas Alexandersson (59th) equalized for the Swedes after a botched clearance by Danny Mills. England have not beaten Sweden since 1968.
Beckham played for an hour in his first game back since breaking a bone in his left foot eight weeks ago. The English skipper is, however, expected to go the distance in Sapporo on Friday against Argentina, who went tops in Group F after edging Nigeria 1-0 on a Gabriel Batistuta header (63rd) in Ibaraki.
Sweden meet Nigeria in Kobe on the same day.
The Argies were installed as 4-1 favorites to lift the Cup by London bookies William Hill following France’s unexpected demise against Senegal. French odds were in turn lengthened to 5-1 from 3-1.
Raul (44th), Juan Valeron (74th) and Fernando Hierro (87th) got Spain off to a flying start in Group B. They hammered Slovenia 3-1 in Gwangju with Sebastijan Cimirotic (82nd) getting a late consolation for Slovenia.
Also in Group B, Manchester United’s Quinton Fortune converted a last-minute penalty to cap a dramatic South African comeback in a 2-2 tie with Paraguay in Busan.
South Africa had trailed 2-0 to goals by Roque Santa Cruz (39th) and Francisco Arce (55th) before Estanislao Struway’s own goal (63rd) threw them a lifeline.
Paraguay clash with Spain in Jeonju tomorrow, while South Africa and Slovenia meet in D’gu on Saturday.
Italy’s Australian-bred forward Christian Vieri gave the Azzurri a winning start in Group G by hitting both goals (7th, 27th) in a 2-0 decision over Ecuador in Sapporo.
Mexico also collected full points from their Group G tussle with Croatia in Niigata, courtesy of a Cuauhtemoc Blanco penalty on the hour. Croatian defender Boris Zivkovic became the first player to be sent off in the 2002 finals after fouling Blanco to concede the spot-kick.
Third at France ’98 on their World Cup debut, Croatia will be eliminated unless they avoid defeat against Italy in Ibaraki on Saturday. Mexico could clinch a second round berth with a win over Ecuador in Miyagi on Sunday.
Like their qualifying adventure, Brazil’s start against Turkey in modest Group C was marked by high drama.
The four time champs fell behind on the stroke of half time to Hasan Sas’s scorcher, came out of the locker room to tie the game through Ronaldo (50th), and needed a dubious penalty to see off the nine-man Turks 3 minutes from time, in Ulsan.
Rivaldo converted the spot kick, awarded by Korean referee Kim Young Joo when he spotted Aston Villa defender Alpay Ozalan tugging at the jersey of Ronaldo’s replacement Luisao.
But the initial infringement occurred outside the box. Ozalan was ejected, and joined moments later in the showers by Hakan Unsal, who was the victim of Rivaldo’s theatrics after the Turkish midfielder kicked the ball at his shins.
Brazil could advance to the Round of 16 with another win over Bora Milutinovic’s China in Seogwipo on Saturday, while Turkey attempt to make amends against Costa Rica in Incheon on Sunday.