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   June 5, 2002 | 1355 IST



France get the blues

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Russia cruise to 2-0 win over Tunisia

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Stephen Wood

Russia made a solid start to their World Cup campaign when they cruised to a 2-0 victory over Tunisia on Wednesday and moved to the top of group H.

Second-half goals from Yegor Titov and Valery Karpin, from the penalty spot, secured Russia the victory their dominance warranted, though they impressed only intermittently.

In fact, it was not until Tunisia goalkeeper Ali Boumnijel's 59th minute mistake -- he pounced upon by Titov for the breakthrough -- that Russia settled.

Russia's Ruslan Pimenov makes a scissor kick in front of Tunisias Radhi Jaidi The result put them top of group H, but rivals Japan and Belgium, who drew 2-2 on Tuesday, will have seen little to fear.

After failing to qualify for the finals in 1998, and impressing in the first round four years previously, many believe this could be the year Russia will taste success once more.

For Oleg Romantsev, it is an obligation rather than a choice, as the coach has suggested he will quit if Russia fail to make at least the second round.

Yet the absence of playmaker Alexander Mostovoi through injury was always going to restrict their potency in Kobe.

Even though his replacement, 19-year-old Marat Izmailov, tested Boumnijel with two long range shots during the first half, Romantsev's side soon ran out of ideas.

Vladimir Beschastnykh made some intelligent runs on occasions, but too often the talented Karpin and Titov, who also dragged a right foot shot wide in the final moments of the first half, pondered in possession.

In fact, it was Tunisia who nearly took the lead after 21 minutes when Hassen Gabsi burst through on the counter-attack and defenders Yuri Nikiforov and Yuri Kovtun combined to bundle the ball agonisingly wide of the post.

They then began the second half brightly, with Slim Ben Achour firing inches wide from 20 metres and Karpin rescuing Russia with a brilliant defensive header when Adel Sellimi was poised to head home.

But shortly after that flurry, their hopes of only a second ever World Cup finals victory -- 24 years after the first -- disappeared.

Boumnijel's throw out of defence gifted possession to Russia and, after the ball fell kindly to him just inside the area, Titov clipped a right foot shot low past the embarrassed keeper.

Four minutes later, substitute Dmitry Sychev -- on for Beschastnykh -- was tripped in the area by Radhi Jaidi and, after referee Peter Prendergast pointed to the spot, Karpin coolly stepped up to send Boumnijel the wrong way.

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