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Streaks halted
Dutch hold French; Irish beat Czechs; Italy downs host

Thursday, 01 April 2004

The Netherlands dashed French hopes of a world record 15 wins in a row with a 0-0 tie on Wednesday while Ireland ended the Czech Republic's 20-match unbeaten streak with a 2-1 victory.

On a night of games building up to the Euro 2004 finals, some of the leading contenders had results and performances they didn't want.

England went down 1-0 at Sweden to make it a disappointing return to Goteborg for Sven-Goran Eriksson. Host Portugal tumbled 2-1 at home to Italy after taking the lead.

But there were victories for three-time European champion Germany, Spain, Greece and outsider Latvia.

In Rotterdam, European champion France had Zinedine Zidane, Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires missing through injury and Thierry Henry was on the bench. Ruud van Nistelrooy, who has a knee injury, wasn't even on the Dutch bench but the home side created most of the chances and Jacques Santini's men were fortunate to avoid a rare loss.

Now the French hold the record of 14 victories in a row along with Australia and Brazil.

Although Dutch 'keeper Edwin van der Sar pushed a shot from Sidney Govou over the top, Pierre van Hooijdonk skimmed the French bar with long range free kicks and Johnny Heitiga almost snatched victory for the Dutch near the end.

At Lansdowne Road, Dublin, Robbie Keane scored an injury time winner for non-qualifier Ireland to end the Czech Republic's 20-game unbeaten streak.

Although Milan Baros had canceled out an Ian Harte free kick, Keane was first to react to a panicky moment in the Czech defense to fire the Irish winner at Lansdowne Road.

"I'm delighted to score," the Tottenham striker said. "But the most important thing is the result. We want to get a few good results before the World Cup qualifiers start.

"The Czech Republic are a great side and fair play to our lads for working their socks off and getting the result."

Karel Bruckner's Czechs were unbeaten in 20 games dating back to November 2001 and, despite being drawn into the same group as two more former champions, Germany and the Netherlands, were considered among the favorites to win the title in Portugal in June and July.

"I'm very disappointed and I can't be consoled by the fact that it's better to lose now than at the championship," Bruckner said.

Three-time champion Germany scored a 3-0 victory over non-qualifier Belgium, Spain beat Denmark 2-0 and Greece edged Switzerland 1-0. Bulgaria and Russia tied 2-2 and Croatia drew 2-2 with Turkey, a World Cup semifinalist which surprisingly failed to qualify for the Euro 2004.

Nuno Valente swapped passes with Milan's Rui Costa to fire Euro 2004 host Portugal into a fifth minute lead against Italy in Braga.

Christian Vieri leveled five minutes before half time with a header from Francesco Totti's free kick. And Fabrizio Miccoli's corner went straight in for the winner 15 minutes from the end.

England has now not beaten the Swedes in 11 games since 1968.

Wayne Rooney hit the post and Bayern Munich's Owen Hargreaves fired a free kick against the corner of the post and the crossbar.

But the Swedes scored the only goal of the game in the 54th minute when Ajax Amsterdam striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic turned home a left wing cross from Kim Kallstrom.

"It was good to see some new players on the pitch," Eriksson said. "That was the only thing we learned from this game."

In the absence of injured David Beckham and Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard took over the captaincy and lost for the first time in his 23 appearances.

"We need to improve on tonight's performance before we get into the serious stuff in the summer," the Liverpool midfielder said.

Stuttgart's Kevin Kuranyi gave the Germans the lead in first half injury time, Liverpool's Dietmar Hamann added the second with a quickly taken free kick and Bayern Munich's Michael Ballack scored the third nine minutes from the end.

Fernando Morientes, now on loan to French club Monaco, headed Spain in front in the 23rd minute against Denmark at Gijon and Raul Gonzalez came off the bench to add the second in 60th.

In Sofia, Bulgaria's Dimitar Berbatov and Russian striker Dmitry Sychev scored two goals each as two more Euro 2004 qualifiers fought out a tie.

Greece made it 15 games without defeat by beating Switzerland 1-0 in a meeting of two more Euro 2004 qualifiers. Vassilis Tsiartas scored in the 56th minute after earlier missing a penalty.

Latvia, the rank outsider for Euro 2004 and in the same group as former champions Germany, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic, began its buildup with a 1-0 victory at Slovenia. Maris Verpakovskis, whose goal put the Latvians in their first championship, scored in the 36th minute.

Croatia, in the same group as defending champion France and England, twice lost the lead and was held 2-2 at home by Turkey.

Tomo Sokota gave Croatia a second minute lead and the home side held the advantage until Zafer Biryol leveled in the 70th. That was the first of three goals in three minutes with Dario Srna regaining the lead for Croatia and Cagdas Atan making it 2-2.

In a game of two non qualifiers, Ukraine gained a 1-0 victory at Macedonia but there was bad news for Milan because striker Andriy Shevchenko broke his nose during the first half.

Tuning up for World Cup qualifying matches, the United States captured a 1-0 victory at Poland thanks to Da Marcus Beasley's 26th minute goal.
- AP





31 Mar 2004
Netherlands 0-0 France
Ireland 2-1 Czech republic
Sweden 1-0 England
Portugal 1-2 Italy
Germany 3-0 Belgium
Spain 2-0 Denmark
Greece 1-0 Switzerland
Bulgaria 2-2 Russia
Croatia 2-2 Turkey
Slovenia 0-1 Latvia


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