Brazil begin quest for title in style
Kaka scored the lone goal in 43rd min to lead his side to 1-0 win over Croatia. Schedule | Teams | Results | Photos | Gamesindia Updated: Jun 14, 2006 09:15 IST
Brazil opened its attempt for a record sixth World Cup title on Tuesday with a 1-0 win over Croatia in Group F. Kaka scored in the 43rd minute with a 20-metre shot into the top right corner of the goal, turning the whistles of Brazil's previously frustrated fans into cheers and songs.
However, Brazil goalkeeper Dida made a string of saves at the sold-out Olympic Stadium and striker Ronaldo was substituted after a below-par performance, suggesting the defending champions will have to improve if they are to reach the final on July 9.
The win still gave Brazil three points and confirmed its status as favourite to easily advance into the next round. Croatia, which reached the semifinals in 1998, must now get points from Japan and Australia to revive its chances.
Brazil had a bright start, hogging possession and relying on the defensive midfield pairing of Emerson and Ze Roberto to win the ball back when moves broke down. It faded midway through the first half under tough Croatian tackling and rarely convinced after. While Brazil has a record five titles, Croatia is in just its second World Cup and the disparity in experience appeared to show early on.
Still, Croatia largely limited Brazil to a handful of long-range shots, most from or prompted by fullbacks Roberto Carlos and captain Cafu.
Urged on by Croatia's vocal fans - who outnumbered their Brazilian counterparts in the 72,000 crowd - captain Niko Kovac initiated a handful of attacks before going off with what appeared to be a rib injury in the 40th.
Three minutes later, Cafu picked out Kaka on the edge of the area. The AC Milan playmaker took one touch to knock the ball past Niko Kranjcar and another to steady himself before placing a left-foot shot past Croatia goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa.
Croatia continued to attack after halftime and could have forced a draw that would have left Australia - which beat Japan 2-1 on Monday - as the group's leader.