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Argentina beats Brazil, gives World Cup field hope.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Friday, May 1, 1998) -- Brazil is not unbeatable -- even at home.

Argentina proved that Wednesday night, downing the top-ranked defending world champions, 1-0, in Rio de Janeiro before nearly 100,000 fans, many of whom applauded their efforts at the end after booing the home side most of the match.

Striker Claudio Lopez scored in the 84th minute to give Argentina the victory.

Argentina was inventive in attack, won control of the midfield and kept star Brazil strikers Ronaldo and Romario under control. Defenders Nelson Vivas, Nestor Sensini and Roberto Ayala frequently forced the feared duo to move back into midfield to look for the ball.

Brazil in particular faltered in the midfield. Having tried AC Milan's Leonardo and Barcelona's Rivaldo in the chief playmaking role in recent games, Coach Mario Zagallo brought back Paris St. Germain's Rai after an absence of nearly four years. But he was unimpressive and was replaced by Leonardo midway through the second half.

Ze Elias and Cessar Sampaio were similarly outplayed, which may make the recovery of Atletico Madrid's Juninho, who suffered a broken leg in February, essential. Also attacked by Brazil media was Cafu, the right back who had a tough game both on defense and offense.

Argentina suffered much criticism at home when it lost 2-0 earlier this month in Israel. Brazil had not lost at home since it was beaten 2-1 by Uruguay in 1992.

Germany libero/central defender Olaf Thon said Thursday he expects to have recovered from an ankle injury in time for the World Cup and the opening match June 15 against the United States.

"I see no reason why I should not be fit,'' the Schalke star said, adding he wanted to take part in the national team's training camp in Finland from May 18.

Thon, who turns 32 on Friday, became coach Berti Vogts's first choice for the libero slot after Dortmund's Matthias Sammer underwent career-threatening surgery on his left knee last October. He is unlikely to be able to play in France.

Thon's injury sparked a debate in Germany on whether Vogts should recall Bayern Munich's outspoken veteran libero Lothar Matthaeus, whom he dropped from the team in 1996.

"This is not my problem," Thon said when asked his opinion on the matter. "I will do everything to play in the World Cup but the decision belongs to Berti Vogts."

Matthaeus, who captained Germany to victory in the 1990 World Cup, earned the last of his record 122 international caps in December 1994.

Cameroon striker Patrick Mboma, 27, hopefully will be fit to lead his country's attack in the World Cup but he is unlikely to play the final two weeks of the J-League season for his Japanese club Gamba Osaka. Club coach Friedlich Koncilia said he has a 70 percent chance of being ready. A groin injury has kept Mboma sidelined since he scored a hat-trick against Kashiwa Reysol on April 18. He was the J-League's top scorer in 1997 with 25 goals.

With several regulars out, Chile used a last-minute goal by Claudio Nunez to down Lithuania, 1-0, in a World Cup tuneup Wednesday night in Santiago.

Barcelona, which already has clinched the Spanish League title, won the Spanish King's Cup for the 24th time, beating Mallorca, 5-4, in a shootout after a 1-1 tie in regulation.

Ronaldo's chance at the Serie A scoring title and his Inter Milan club's faint hopes for the championship were given new life Thursday when the Italian first division league overturned the Brazilian's two-game suspension for a technical reason. The striker had been sanctioned for comments critical of the referee during Inter Milan's controversial 1-0 loss at Juventus last Sunday.

But the disciplinary committee ruled that since Ronaldo's comments were reported by an assistant official -- and not the game's head referee there were not grounds for suspension. Inter Milan trails Juventus by four points in the standings, while Ronaldo ranks second in scoring with 22 goals, one fewer than Udinese's German striker Oliver Bierhoff.

England captain Alan Shearer (Newcastle) was at the center of controversy Thursday after television pictures showed the star striker kicking Leicester City midfielder Neil Lennon during a scoreless England Premier League draw Wednesday, causing a cut and bruises on his face. Referee Martin Bodenham apparently did not see the incident.

Leicester coach Martin O'Neill said: "I don't care if you are Alan Shearer or the pope, you don't do something like that. It's not in the game." Shearer said the contact was accidental, coming after he was tackled near the sideline and was trying to get up to continue play.

Lennart Johansson, 68, of Sweden was unanimously re-elected as president of Europe's governing body UEFA for a third four-year term Thursday, just a few weeks before he hopes to win the race to become world soccer governing body FIFA president.If he is elected president of FIFA on June 8 in Paris, he will stand down as UEFA president in October.

Jerry Langdon is the Gannett News Service sports editor and can be e-mailed at jlangdon@gns.gannett.com.