North Korea battle past Saudi Arabia

SEOUL - North Korea boosted their chances of reaching their first World Cup finals in 44 years after beating Saudi Arabia 1-0 in Pyongyang yesterday.

SEOUL - North Korea boosted their chances of reaching their first World Cup finals in 44 years after beating Saudi Arabia 1-0 in Pyongyang yesterday.

Mun In-guk's well-taken goal from close range 28 minutes into the Group 2 qualifier was enough to earn the battling hosts three points against a misfiring Saudi team missing four key players.

Wearing gloves and roll-neck sweaters to keep out the cold, the Saudis always looked dangerous but failed to get past a resolute North Korean defence, which packed the area on every attack.

Former Asian player of the year Yasser Al-Kahtani returned from injury and was a constant menace to the Koreans.

Al-Kahtani, known widely as "the sniper" in Asia, came close to equalising when his superb shot from outside the area was spectacularly turned away by Ri Myong-guk seven minutes from time.

The win gave the North Koreans, who reached the quarter-finals of the 1966 finals, seven points from four matches, the same as leaders South Korea, who played Iran later yesterday.

Meanwhile Brazil forward Robinho shattered Italy coach Marcello Lippi's record bid with a breathtaking display in his side's 2-0 friendly win over the world champions in London on Tuesday.

Robinho made the opener for Manchester City club-mate Elano with a defence-splitting pass and scored a sublime second himself to give Brazil an impressive victory at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium.

Lippi was attempting to set a new world record for consecutive unbeaten matches by an international coach, but his run ended at 31 as he suffered a first loss with Italy since defeat against Slovenia during his first spell in charge way back in 2004.

As Lippi reacquaints himself with the unpleasant taste of defeat, Brazil coach Dunga is finally looking more comfortable in one of football's most demanding jobs.

Dunga's perceived penchant for cautious tactics has riled some in Brazil but this performance should earn him some respect at last.

These two giants of the global game have won nine World Cups between them, contested two finals and produced some of the finest matches in the competition's history, but this was their first meeting for 12 years.

In the intervening decade each country had added another World Cup to their collection, yet both teams arrived in England with plenty to prove after spluttering starts to their 2010 qualifying campaigns. - Reuters and Sapa-AFP

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