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Italy stun Germans, Argentina, France also lose

Written by: Staff
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LONDON, Mar 2 (Reuters) Italy scored the most emphatic victory of the night with a 4-1 win over Germany when soccer's major powers began their final preparations for the World Cup finals in earnest yesterday.

Germany, the hosts for this summer's extravaganza, were not the only big losers on the first night of important warm-up friendlies exactly 100 days before the finals begin on June 9.

Argentina, tipped as potential World Cup winners, fell 3-2 to Croatia who won with an injury-time goal in neutral Basel, while France lost for the first time since July 2004, beaten 2-1 in Paris by visitors Slovakia.

World Cup finalists Sweden also had a night to forget, crashing 3-0 to Ireland in Dublin, a little consolation for the Irish who narrowly failed to reach the finals themselves.

World champions Brazil braved freezing conditions in Moscow to beat Russia 1-0, while England, also tipped to do well in Germany, came from behind to beat Uruguay 2-1 in Liverpool with another stoppage-time winner.

CONVINCING WIN Italy, looking to win the World Cup for the first time since their third triumph in 1982 when they beat West Germany, were too good for the Germans in Florence.

They raced into a 3-0 halftime lead at the Franchi stadium with goals from Alberto Gilardino, Luca Toni and Daniele De Rossi.

Juventus striker Alessandro Del Piero added Italy's fourth soon after the restart to give the Azzurri their most convincing win since Marcello Lippi took over as coach in August 2004.

Defender Robert Huth grabbed a late consolation goal for Juergen Klinsmann's well-beaten side as Germany suffered their heaviest defeat against the Italians since losing 5-2 in a friendly in 1939.

DEJA VU It was a case of deja vu for Argentina, who lost 3-2 to Croatia in neutral Switzerland after conceding a stoppage time goal.

Argentina conceded a late goal to England in a 3-2 defeat in neutral Switzerland in November -- but appeared set for a better night after two goals in the opening six minutes from Carlos Tevez and Lionel Messi cancelled out Ivan Klasnic's third-minute opener for Croatia.

Barcelona teenager Messi's first goal for Argentina was to prove irrelevant, however, as Croatia turned things around in the second half with headers from Darijo Srna and Dario Simic -- who scored with a stoppage-time header.

MORE REUTERS DH RAI0744

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