Brazil's rivals don't let champions get racing start

Brazil's World Cup rivals made sure the champions didn't get away to a fast start.

The first lap of the monthlong championship is over and all but one of the leading contenders are bunched up at the front of the 32-team field after winning their opening games. The 1998 champion France is lagging behind after failing yet again to score in World Cup play.

The French are goalless since that triumph eight years ago and feeling the heat about it.

The Brazilians didn't hit full stride in a 1-0 victory over Croatia.

Of the "magical quartet," only Kaka starred with a top quality 25-meter (yard) strike. Strikers Ronaldo and Adriano played like strangers to each other, and hardly any of Ronaldinho's tricks came off.

Argentina opened up with a narrow victory over World Cup rookie Ivory Coast. Italy, England, the Netherlands and Portugal all started with shutouts without showing signs they are capable of taking the title away from Brazil. Although host Germany kicked off the championship with four goals, it allowed two to Costa Rica.

So the pacesetters are two teams who have never won the title, Spain and the Czech Republic.

The Czechs showed in their 3-0 victory over 2002 quarterfinalist United States that they now have the teamwork and the talent to go all the way to the final. As Czechoslovakia, it was runner up in 1934 (to Italy) and '62 (to Brazil).

Midfielder Tomas Rosicky scored twice against the Americans, including a 25-meter (yard) bender, as well as creating several openings with his vision and quality passing. It was impressive stuff.

That loss means the United States will probably have to beat both Italy and Ghana to reach the last 16. It's a massive chore, but the Americans were totally outclassed by the Czechs, reports AP.

O.Ch.