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   03 June, 2002 | 1345 IST



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Penalty goal gives Mexico victory

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Stephen Wood

Cuauhtemoc Blanco inspired Mexico to a deserved 1-0 win over 10-man Croatia, after Boris Zivkovic conceded a penalty and became the first man to be sent off in these finals in the World Cup group G opener on Monday.

Blanco converted the 59th-minute penalty after being felled in the area by Zivkovic, who was shown a straight red card for the bad tackle by Chinese referee Jun Lug.

Croatia's Boris Zivkovic brings down Mexico's Cuauhtemoc Blanco. It was a timely breakthrough for Mexico, who are hoping to match their best finishes as hosts in 1970 and 1986 when they made the quarter-finals.

But Croatia, criticised back home for their unadventurous approach under coach Mirko Jozic, showed none of the sparkle that helped them finish third in the competition four years ago.

The triumvirate of Robert Prosinecki, 1998 Golden Boot winner Davor Suker and World Cup new boy Alen Boksic even suffered the ignominy of being substituted as Croatia struggled to make an impact.


Both halves began promisingly enough for Jozic's side, as Josip Simunic -- after four minutes -- and Zvonimir Soldo -- a minute into the second period -- saw their goalbound headers brilliantly saved by keeper Oscar Perez.

But Mexico soon looked to Blanco's probing and, after dropping deep to display some nice touches, he saw his goalbound header clutched by Pletikosa eight minutes before the break.

By that stage, Blanco's strike partner Jared Borgetti had wasted Mexico's best opening as he sidefooted wide from close range after 32 minutes.

But Blanco was a constant threat, even testing Pletikosa direct from an inswinging corner just before the interval.

Thirteen minutes after halftime, he was alert to a loose ball as Croatia's last line of defence -- usually so strong -- wavered.

Blanco nudged the ball ahead of Zivkovic, who sent his opponent tumbling and, with Blanco through on goal, Lu had little option but to dismiss the Bayer Leverkusen player.

Blanco sent Pletikosa the wrong way from the spot to claim his 17th international goal on his 76th appearance.

Croatia saw Milan Rapaic's shot fumbled late on by Perez, but they were disappointing and group G opponents Italy -- who they face on Saturday -- and Ecuador have little to fear on this evidence.

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