Zidane marks return with a goal

London, August 18:

Zinedine Zidane marked his return from retirement with a goal for France on Wednesday, while England suffered its worst loss in 25 years in a 4-1 defeat by Denmark. Also, teenage star Lionel Messi was sent off within a minute of making his debut for Argentina in a 2-1 victory at Hungary, Brazil was held 1-1 by Croatia, France beat the Ivory Coast 3-0 and Italy posted a 2-1 victory over Ireland. All the powerhouse teams were in action in friendlies ahead of World Cup qualifying matches, with Spain downing Uruguay 2-0, Portugal beating Egypt 2-0 and Germany hitting back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with the Netherlands. Ronaldinho was the only big name missing from Brazil’s lineup in Split, where Ricardinho’s free kick cancelled out a goal from Niko Kranjcar. The biggest shock of the night was in Copenhagen. Three goals in seven second-half minutes by Dennis Rommedahl, Jon Dahl Tomasson and Michael Gravgaard put the Danes up 3-0. Though Wayne Rooney replied two minutes from the end, there was time for Soeren Larsen to add a fourth.

Zidane is one of three French stars who have come out of retirement to boost the national team’s flagging attempts to reach next year’s World Cup finals. The others were Lilian Thuram and Claude Makelele. William Gallas gave the French a 28th-minute lead against the Ivory Coast in Montpellier before Zidane and Thierry Henry added two goals in four minutes after the break. Germany hit back from two goals down in Rotterdam after Arjen Robben scored twice for the Dutch. Michael Ballack replied five minutes into the second half and Gerard Asamoah equalised nine minutes from the end. Maxi Rodriguez and Gabriel Heinze scored Argentina’s goals, and Sandor Torghelle replied for the home side.

Andrea Pirlo and Alberto Gilardino put Italy up 2-0 against Ireland in Dublin before Andy Reid replied just before halftime. Clinton Morrison thou-ght he had levelled for the Irish but was disallowed for a foul. Sweden ended Czech Republic’s eight-game winning streak with a 2-1 win in Gothenburg, all the goals coming in a six-minute spell in the first half. Henrik Larsson put the Swedes ahead in the 19th minute, Jan Koller levelled three minutes later from the penalty spot and Ajax striker Markus Rosenberg netted what proved to be the winner in the 25th. Valencia’s Vicente Rodriguez scored from the spot minutes after his pass was deflected into the net by Uruguay captain Pablo Garcia as Spain posted a 2-0 victory in Gijon. Fernando Meira and Helder Postiga scored Portugal’s goals against Egypt in a game played on the Azores island. Friendlies also were played in South America with Paraguay beating El Salvador 3-0 on two goals by Julio Dos Santos, and Cristian Lara also had two goals in Ecuador’s 3-1 victory over Venezuela.

Russia, Slovakia held in WC qualifiers

LONDON: Russia rallied to draw 1-1 with Latvia and Slovakia was held to a 0-0 draw at Liechtenstein, boosting Portugal’s bid to clinch a berth in next year’s World Cup finals in Germany. Portugal leads Group 3 with 20 points from eight games, two more than Slovakia. Russia was third with 15 points from eight games and Latvia was fourth with 14. Only the eight group winners are assured of advancing, along with the two best second-place teams. The remaining second-place teams enter playoffs to determine three more berths. In other qualifiers, Romania beat Andorra 2-0 to keep alive its hopes. The victory gave it 19 points in Group 1, three points behind the leader Netherlands and two behind the Czech Republic. Finland won 3-0 at Macedonia to get to 12 points in Group 1; Georgia won 2-1 at Kazakhstan in a match between the bottom two teams in Group 2; and Cyprus won 3-0 at the Faeroe Islands in a game between the last two teams in Group 4. — AP