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Kaka’s laser shot gives Brazil 1-0 win over Croatia

Posted by ssbg on June 13, 2006


Brazil's Kaka celebrates after scoring the game's only goal in the 44th minute.

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Tuesday June 13, 2006

BERLIN (AP) — Brazil brought Carnival to Germany. With the way Croatia behaved, it might not get an invite to the Brazilians' next party.

Kaka delighted the Brazilian fans who have sambaed their way to Europe, scoring in the 44th minute, and the defending champions won their record eighth straight World Cup game with a 1-0 victory over Croatia on Tuesday night.

But beware, all you other World Cup teams. Croatia settled down after a scratchy start and gave Brazil all it could handle. It peppered goalkeeper Dida with several shots in the second half, including one by Dado Prso in the 51st minute that went off the Brazilian's hands.

And if captain Niko Kovac hadn't left with what appeared to be a rib injury just before halftime, the outcome might have been very different.

"We needed a little more movement, creativity," Kaka said. "But I think considering it was the opener, it was a good match. The win was fundamental."

Croatia now plays Japan on Sunday, a game it needs to win after Australia's surprising victory on Monday. Brazil plays the Aussies on Sunday.

The Brazilians are soccer's royalty, five-time world champions and winners of two of the last three titles. They have Ronaldinho, the two-time world player of the year, and a cast of all-stars in Ronaldo, Kaka, Adriano and Cafu. And with reserves who would start on any other team, they're heavy favorites to be partying again in Berlin after the final on July 9.

But Brazil's fans are professionals who aren't about to let a party go to waste, and they helped give this game the feeling of a final. Brazilian and Croatian fans took over the streets of Berlin early in the day, and the sounds of samba filled the air.

Flashbulbs popped all night throughout the stadium, and bright red flares lit up the sky as the game ended. A fan in a Croatia shirt even got on the field with less than 10 minutes to go, running around until Prso led him off.

And just as they usually do on soccer's biggest stage, Brazil came through when it needed to. Even with Ronaldo, he of the great weight debate, looking less than impressive.

Dribbling up the right side in the 44th minute, Cafu spotted Kaka in the middle and made a perfect pass. Kaka collected it and was past Niko Krancjar with one quick tap of the ball.

The 21-year-old son of coach Zlatko Kranjcar has been a concern defensively, and it was soon clear why. Kranjcar wasn't anywhere close as Kaka stutter-stepped, giving the Brazilian time to look up and check his aim from about 20 yards out.

As Kranjcar closed in, Kaka drew back and struck hard with his left foot, and it was clear from the minute his boot hit the ball it was going to be good.

"We had to be compact against them and we did that," Croatian defender Josip Simunic said. "The difference was that for five seconds there we didn't concentrate."

As the ball sailed toward the goal, Brazil's reserves rushed off the bench, thrusting their arms in the air when the ball settled into the upper left corner of the net. Kaka screamed in jubilation, throwing his arms out wide, and Roberto Carlos jumped on his back for a short, celebratory piggy-back ride.

It was the first World Cup goal for Kaka, voted best midfielder in the Champions League in 2005.

"I think I personally had a good start in the World Cup," said Kaka, who has improved tremendously from the player who was the 23rd man on the roster in 2002. "I scored a goal, participated in several moves."

The Brazilian fans, who had been quiet early compared to the rowdy Croats, erupted with whistles, tooting horns and chants of "Bra-zil! Bra-zil!"

But the Croatians weren't giving in that easily. They led Brazil 1-0 in a friendly in Split, Croatia, last summer before settling for a tie, and they showed no signs of being intimidated when they fell behind Tuesday.

Prso gave them their best chance, taking a hard shot from inside the box that went off Dida's hands. Three minutes later, Ivan Klasnic took a shot from about 15 yards, but it went straight into Dida's hands.

Marko Babic also had a chance, but his shot in the 70th minute found Dida's hands, too, and Kranjcar's follow-up header went wide.

Brazil hasn't lost a World Cup opener since 1934, and it appeared early it would continue that streak easily. In the 15th minute, Roberto Carlos took a shot that goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa had to punch over the net.

Less than a minute later, Ronaldinho's corner kick was tipped wide.

But the Croatians settled down, and were soon annoying the Brazilians with their trademark defense. They packed in defensively, refusing to allow many man-to-man chances. It didn't help Brazil that Ronaldo had an off night, appearing slow and out of shape.

The Croatians gave Brazil so much trouble that coach Carlos Alberto Parreira was already up and pacing by the 28th minute, a rarity. When Kovac was pulled down by Adriano shortly after, he called Adriano and Ze Roberto over for a quick meeting.

But 10 minutes later, Darijo Srna sent a free kick into a scrum right in front of Brazil's net. Igor Tudor would have had a perfect header, but he jumped a little too late and missed the ball completely.



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