WORLD CUP : Samba boys sluggish in 1-0 win

Berlin, June 14 :

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 44th minute with a 20-yard shot into the top right corner of the goal, turning the whistles of Brazil’s previously frustrated fans into cheers.

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.

Brazil had a bright start, hogging possession and relying on the Emerson and Ze Roberto to win the ball when moves broke down. It faded midway through the first half under tough Croatian tackling and rarely convinced after.

Urged on by Croatia’s vocal fans — who outnumbered their Brazilian counterparts in the 72,000 crowd — captain Niko Kovac initiated a few attacks before going off with what appeared to be a rib injury in the 40th.

Four minutes later, Brazil captain 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. Brazil’s faltering defense let several second-half shots on goal. Brazil’s next game is against Australia on June 18, when Croatia plays Japan.

Roberto Carlos prompted several early attacks for Brazil and had the first effort with

a shot wide of goal. He also had a fierce 35-yard shot palmed over by Pletikosa and, from the resulting corner, Ronaldinho put in a shot that Pletikosa deflected wide.

Coach Parreira took advantage of a break in play to call Ze Roberto and Adriano for a brief touchline meeting. His words seemed to have worked when Kaka got the ball on the edge of the area. The Brazil No 8 went past Kranjcar and placed his shot past Pletikosa.

Croatia continued to attack after halftime. Dado Prso and Ivan Klasnic each had shots saved by Dida within eight minutes of the break. Cafu set up another chance in the 62nd with a cross that Ronaldinho headed on goal, only to be thwarted by a diving stop from Pletikosa.

Parreira broke up his “magic quartet” of attackers in the 69th when he replaced Ronaldo to team Robinho with Ronaldinho, Kaka, and Adriano.v