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Spain rises above Saudis

Published Sep. 16, 2005

For most of their Group B match Saturday, Spain's airborne attack gave Saudi Arabia problems at the back. It seemed a matter of time be-fore the Spanish would break through.

They did. Once.

In the 79th minute, substitute winger Oscar Garcia banged a header past goalkeeper Hussain Al-Sadig to give Spain a 1-0 win before 28,174 at the Florida Citrus Bowl.

"I was very pleased to have the opportunity to come into the game," said Garcia. "It was a great experience to score the winning goal."

The win gives the defending gold medal champions a valuable three-point lead in one of the strongest groups in the tournament. Spain is scheduled to play archrival France at 7 p.m. Monday.

"It was a very competitive game and there was a lot of nervousness at first," said Spanish coach Javier Clemente. "But once we got to the second half we found a way to score."

"It is simple, in the second half they had a lot of crosses and we didn't," said Saudi coach Ivo Wortmann, referring to Spain's 11-1 corner kick advantage. "I think we had a problem with finishing and the players will have to adjust that."

Ironically, it was the Saudi team that looked more dangerous from the opening whistle. Keeping the ball on the ground and utilizing the width of the field, the Saudis kept Spain backpedaling for the first 10 minutes as they kept the pressure on near the Spanish goal.

But the fluid Saudi play would be short-lived.

The Spaniards took about 20 minutes to find their rhythm, and from then on Saudi Arabia was in perpetual retreat.

The Spanish squad, whose members play professionally in Spain, found the Saudi weak spot. The high crossing passes and deep through passes that dominate the European game obviously were a problem for the shorter Saudi defenders, and the Spanish showed no mercy.

Time after time, thanks to some particularly strong midfield work by Ivan De La Pena and Raul Blanco, the Spaniards sent the ball over the heads of the Saudi midfield, and on at least two occasions the ploy looked set to pay off.

In the 25th minute, Spain's Fernando Morientes glanced his header just wide left, to the relief of Saudi keeper Al-Sadig, who was nowhere close. About 10 minutes later, forward Sergio Corino was in the right place for a corner, but his header hit the post.

ARGENTINA 3, UNITED STATES 1: Hernan Crespo and Diego Simeone scored second-half goals for the final margin before a record crowd in Birmingham, Ala.

The paid attendance of 81,067 was the sixth-largest crowd to watch an American soccer team play. Organizers said 83,810 were in the stadium, counting participants in the pregame show who had reserved free seats. It was the largest crowd to watch any sports event at Legion Field.

After the United States took a surprising 1-0 lead on a Claudio Reyna goal in the first minute, Argentina prevailed with a precise, persistent attack that exposed the United States as a team with a lot of heart, but much to learn.

In other action, Afonso Martins scored both goals as Portugal beat Tunisia 2-1 before 34,796 at Washington's RFK Stadium; and Robert Pires and Florian Maurice each had a goal as the French dominated Australia 2-0 at the Orange Bowl.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.