Brazil edge past Croatia

A first-half moment of magic by AC Milan star Kaka gave defending champions Brazil a 1-0 win over Croatia in their opening World Cup Group F match at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin on Tuesday.

Kaka ended a frustrating opening period for the five-times winners when he sent a curling left foot drive zipping past helpless ‘keeper Stipe Pletikosa four minutes before the break for his 11th goal for his national team.

The effort lit up a match which initially had failed to ignite before a capacity crowd of 72 000 and came just days after Kaka told reporters he needed to improve his left-footed shooting.

Mission accomplished on this evidence.

In contrast to Kaka’s dynamism, Ronaldo failed to shine and was hauled off midway through the second half, leaving the Real Madrid forward still looking for the goal that would see him surpass Pele as his country’s all-time top scorer at the competition.

His lack of form meant a chance for clubmate Robinho to impress.

Brazil began brightly, Roberto Carlos stinging Pletikosa’s fingertips with a long-distance drive before Ronaldinho again forced the Croatian shot-stopper into action with a low effort which the Hajduk Split keeper turned away for a corner.

But despite early trickery and industry from Ronaldinho, Croatia were not intimidated and Rangers striker Dado Prso burst down the left before cutting in to send an ambitious effort over Dida’s crossbar.

Facing the Brazilian ”magic quartet” of Ronaldinho, Kaka, Ronaldo and Adriano, Croatian coach Zlatko Kranjcar fielded a five-man midfield including former Juventus defender Igor Tudor.

The Croatians had to make a change on 40 minutes when skipper Niko Kovac, already booked for a challenge on Kaka, withdrew clutching his chest after a tussle with Adriano, giving way to Jerko Leko as Tudor took the captain’s armband.

Behind at the interval, Croatia had to raise their game and Prso and Ivan Klasnic forced Kaka’s clubmate Dida into two smart stops in quick succession.

After 55 minutes, Ronaldo, languid in the extreme in the opening period, suddenly roused himself to shoot just over.

Adriano had also been quiet and it was left to Ronaldinho to move into the centre forward position on 63 minutes, his header from a cross by veteran skipper Cafu bringing an athletic stop from Pletikosa.

Robert Kovac then followed his sibling into Mexican referee Benito Archundia’s book for felling Adriano.

With 20 minutes remaining and not satisfied that a blunt Ronaldo — whose weight and form have been sources of much controversy — was going to find a way through, Brazil coach Carlos Alberto Parreira sent Robinho into the fray.

That only spurred the Croatians on as Marko Babic fired straight at Dida and Niko Krajncar headed over.

Kaka then showed he has a right foot as talented as his left in firing a snapshot just wide as Brazil closed out the result. – Sapa-AFP

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