Fri, May 26, 2006 - Page 16 News List

World Cup sides sweat in prep matches

FINAL STRETCHParaguay, Ecuador and Costa Rica had disappointing starts to their World Cup preparations, although Australia imbued home fans with confidence


Indian soccer enthusiasts apply the final touches to a sand sculpture representing Brazilian football star Ronaldinho in Calcutta yesterday, some two weeks ahead of the start of the FIFA 2006 Soccer World Cup in Germany. Every four years when the World Cup comes around, India puts aside its obsession with cricket to follow the soccer spectacle with the rest of the world. Television viewership in India for past World Cups has been known to surpass that of soccer powerhouses like England, Brazil and Argentina even though the country has never figured in the premier event.


World Cup preparations started slow for Paraguay and Ecuador. They were even slower for Costa Rica. Paraguay and Ecuador allowed second-half goals and had to settle for draws on Wednesday to begin their final run to Germany, while Costa Rica allowed a goal in each half and fell 2-0 to a Catalonia select side.

Ecuador held a lead for only three minutes, disappointing an overwhelming partisan crowd of 52,425 in New York in a 1-1 draw with Colombia.

Playing with four of its regulars on the bench and in what appeared to be an experimental 4-3-3 formation, Ecuador took the lead in the 52nd minute when Segundo Castillo ran onto an attempted clearance attempt by Haydee Palacio and drove a shot from the edge of the area.

Colombia responded three minutes later when Elkin Soto received a ball at the top of the Ecuadorean area and launched a left-footer that beat keeper Christian Mora inside the right post.

"I believe that we are not biting enough up front," Ecuador manager Luis Fernando said. "I think we need to work on that. We need a lot of work on that aspect."

Frode Johnsen scored his second goal of the game in the 61st minute and Norway rallied to tie Paraguay 2-2 in Oslo.

Johnsen also scored in the 22nd minute, heading the ball past Paraguay goalkeeper Justo Villar. Paraguay captain Carlos Gamarra equalized with another header three minutes into the second half, and Nelson Haedo Valdez put Paraguay ahead in the 54th after a long pass from Edgar Barreto.

In Terrassa, Spain, Francisco "Piti" Medina, who plays for second-division Spanish team Ciudad de Murcia, gave the Catalonia select team the lead in the eighth minute and Roger Garcia added a penalty in the 65th minute.

Like several other Spanish regions including the Basque Country, players native to Catalonia occasionally gather to compete in friendlies against international teams although don't compete in official competitions.

Costa Rica, which was without injured defender Gilberto Martinez, made little impact in the match before a crowd of 8,155 at Olympic Stadium.

Several other friendlies were played across Europe involving teams that did not qualify for the World Cup.

In Genk, Belgium, Carl Hoefkens scored in injury time to give Belgium a 3-3 draw against Turkey and extend the unbeaten run of coach Rene Vandereycken to four games.

In a match between two teams which failed to make the World Cup finals, Turkey often had the better of play and led 2-0 after 27 minutes on goals by Necati Ates and Hasan Kabze.

Belgium equalized before halftime on an own-goal by Ibrahim Toraman and a header by Wesley Sonck. Tuncay Sanli restored Turkey's lead in the 75th.

In Dublin, Ireland, Manuel Iturra scored his first international goal and Chile won a 1-0 over Ireland, which suffered its first loss under new manager Steve Staunton. Chile had most of the possession and scored in the 49th minute when, after Kevin Kilbane miskicked a clearance attempt as the ball bounded in the penalty area, Iturra knocked in a loose ball past goalkeeper Shay Given from 6m.

In Budapest, Hungary, Szabolcs Huszti and Imre Szabics scored a goal each to give Hungary a 2-0 win over New Zealand in Peter Bozsik's debut as coach.

Steady rain forced a slow game at Ferenc Szuzsa Stadium, and neither team had too many scoring chances.

Australia gave 95,000 home fans a rousing World Cup send-off with a 1-0 win over European champions Greece in a football friendly at the Melbourne Cricket Ground yesterday.

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