Netherlands, Mexico, Portugal win cup openers
Updated: 2006-06-12 07:20

Portugal, Mexico and the Netherlands beat lower-ranked opposition as the third day of soccer's World Cup ended without the surprises that punctuated the start of the tournament.

Portugal's team lines up prior to the Group D match between Angola and Portugal at the soccer World Cup 2006 at World Cup Stadium in Cologne, Germany, Sunday, June 11, 2006. The other teams in Group D are Mexico and Iran. Portugal defeated Angola 1-0. Players are, front row from left, Luis Figo, Petit, Simoa Sabrosa, Tiago, Miguel, back row from left, Ricardo, Pauleta, Nuno Valente, Fernando Meira, Ricardo Carvalho and Cristiano Ronaldo. [AP]

Pauleta cemented his status as Portugal's all-time leading scorer in a 1-0 defeat of Angola, making its debut in the showpiece. Omar Bravo scored twice as Iran slid to a 3-1 loss to Mexico, and Arjen Robben got the only goal as the Netherlands beat Serbia & Montenegro. Serbia's coach said Robben could be one of the stars of the tournament.

``It's a good compliment but it's no more pressure than normal on me,'' said Robben, who has won the English Premiership two straight seasons with Chelsea. ``It's not important for me or anyone else to be regarded as the player of the tournament. I would prefer to win the cup.''

After Trinidad & Tobago held three-time semifinalist Sweden to a draw yesterday and Ecuador downed two-time semifinalist Poland a day earlier, the World Cup's long shots struggled to upset the form book. Angola came the closest in the most open match of the day, firing 11 shots toward the Portugal goal. Portugal and Mexico are tied atop their group and are favored to advance to the next phase.

Pauleta, who squandered a chance after 15 seconds, got the breakthrough in the fourth minute in Cologne, taking a pass from 33-year-old captain Luis Figo and sweeping it into the unguarded net. Pauleta, after failing to score when his country reached the Euro 2004 final, now has 47 goals in 83 internationals.

Scissor Kicks

The goal spurred the Angolans, a 9-1 chance before the match, into action. Akwa, formerly labeled the ``new Eusebio,'' tried two bicycle kicks and connected with one that sent the ball whizzing over the goal, while Antonio Mendoca and Andre both fired long-range drives.

After the interval, Portugal went in search of the score to kill off the game. Three shots rained toward the Angola goal in the space of a minute -- one was blocked, one sped past the post and another from Pauleta forced Joao Ricardo into a diving save. Cristiano Ronaldo, who headed a Figo corner kick against the crossbar in the first half, also had an effort saved by the sprawling goalie.

Portugal's No. 1, also called Ricardo, had little to do in the second half until the final moments when Mateus blasted a shot directly at him.

Robben's strike after 18 minutes in Leipzig lifted the Dutch onto three points, the same as Argentina, after one game. The Chelsea winger caused problems for defenders throughout and came close to adding a second on several occasions.

`Do Better'

Serbia & Montenegro, playing at the tournament for the first and last time after the countries voted to split last month, remains on zero points alongside Ivory Coast, which lost yesterday 2-1 to Argentina.

``We can definitely do better than this,'' said Serbia & Montenegro coach Ilija Petkovic. ``We have a good team and we will do our best to finish second in the group.''

The Dutch, rated co-sixth favorites at 12-1 by U.K. bookmaker William Hill before the match, stayed at the same odds afterwards.

Robben, 22, ran onto a chipped pass from Robin van Persie and sprinted clear of the defense before rolling the ball past oncoming goalkeeper Dragoslav Jevric for the only goal.

The Netherlands has yet to win the World Cup after losing finals to hosts Germany in 1974 and Argentina four years later.


In Nuremberg, Bravo joined Germany's Miroslav Klose and Paulo Wanchope of Costa Rica on two goals at the tournament as Mexico won its opening match.

A two-time host that's never gone beyond the quarterfinals, Mexico took the lead in the 29th minute when Bravo prodded the ball into the goal from four yards. Yahya Golmohammadi made it 1-1 eight minutes later, lifting the ball into the roof of the net from six yards.

Bravo got his second 14 minutes from the end, slipping the ball past Mirzapour after exchanging passes with Zinha following a miskick by goalkeeper Ebrahim Mirzapour and a mistake by defender Rahman Rezaei. Zinha completed the scoring three minutes later with a header from six yards.

``There weren't any exquisite performances on the pitch but Bravo added the quality and the goals that Mexico needed,'' said Fransisco Maturana of FIFA's technical study group.

Iran's only win in seven games at the World Cup was against the U.S. in France in 1998. It also managed one draw, with Scotland in 1978.


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