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 May 19, 2002 | 1725 IST

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France bid fans farewell with a defeat

World champions France handed their fans an unwelcome parting gift on Saturday in the shape of a 2-1 defeat by neighbours Belgium.

It was their first home loss for three years and hardly the script they wanted as they head off to defend their World Cup crown.

But at least they were in good company on a night that saw a flurry of warmups around Europe.

Italy were another side to go down, losing 1-0 to the Czech Republic in Prague where a first half goal from Vladimir Smicer separated the teams.

However, Germany returned to winning ways with a 6-2 thrashing of Austria, Brazil enjoyed a 3-1 success over a Catalan select side in Barcelona, Poland beat Estonia 1-0 and Nigeria edged past Jamaica in London, also by 1-0.

The French were undone in the dying moments by captain Marc Wilmots, so long the inspiration of the Belgians but at 33 due to retire after the finals.

His key goal against the Czechs last November ensured Belgium's ticket to the tournament and judging by Saturday's winner there could be more to come yet.

A fine volley two minutes into injury time stunned the 80,000 fans and reminded the French that nothing can be taken for granted.

Coach Roger Lemerre observed: "Defeat is always tough to take and we would have preferred a win as the World Cup is getting very close now. We are very keen to play the next match to bounce back."


Germany's handsome win over Austria came at a price with key midfielder Sebastian Deisler hurting his troublesome right knee again.

"All we know is that nothing's torn and nothing's broken but he's in a lot of pain," Germany coach Rudi Voeller said.

"We have to wait to find out exactly how serious the injury is and we can only hope that it's not too bad."

Before the game, an opinion poll found that only six percent of Germans believe the national team will add to the country's three World Cup triumphs.

Conducted after Germany's 1-0 loss to a Wales side ranked 96th in the world on Tuesday, the poll found that 75 percent believe the team will fail to reach the quarter-finals.

Saturday night might just alter that perception with Miroslav Klose netting a fine hat-trick.

In Barcelona, two pieces of cool finishing from Ronaldinho and a fine shot from Edmilson gave Brazil their 3-1 win over a battling Catalan regional select team.

Off the field, Russia's players were given an added incentive when an oil firm promised to give players Porsche sportscars as rewards for victories.

A $100,000 Porsche Boxster is to be presented to the best Russian player in each match the team wins at the World Cup in South Korea and Japan next month, Tyumen Oil Company (TNK) said.

"Seven is the maximum number of games a team can play in this World Cup. As you can see, we believe Russia can get to the final because we ordered seven Porsches," TNK vice president Dmitry Ivanov told Reuters.

Finally, Spain goalkeeper Santiago Canizares was in philosophical mood after being ruled out of the tournament by a freak accident involving a bottle of cologne that severed a tendon in his foot.

"From the start of my career I have had several strokes of good luck," he mused.

"But, just like everyone else, I have also had difficult times which I have had to cope with. Now I have to overcome this blow to my morale."

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