Football: France suffer setback

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FRANCE SUFFERED their first home defeat in two years, and first since 1993 in official competition, when they lost 3-2 to Russia in a Euro 2000 Group Four qualifying match.

Saturday's defeat threatens France's chances of reaching the finals after they dropped to third in their group, three points behind Ukraine and one adrift of Iceland, who beat Armenia 2-0.

Russia, who scored a brilliant winner through the Celta Vigo midfielder Valery Karpin five minutes from time, were the last team to beat France anywhere, 1-0 in a World Cup warm-up in Moscow 14 months ago.

Thousands of people in Bucharest toasted Gheorghe Hagi for his role in Romania's 2-0 home win over Hungary, their first victory over their neighbours in 63 years. About 8,000 people gathered in the capital's central square, waving national flags to chant Hagi's name after his outstanding performance came in the first half of the Group Seven qualifier when he inspired his team.

Hagi, who went off with shoulder trouble during the second half, came out of international retirement for the game, which was settled by goals from Adrian Ilie and Dorinel Munteanu.

West Ham's Eyal Berkovic scored twice and Tottenham's new signing, Najwan Grayeb, added the last goal as Israel beat Austria 5-0 in Tel Aviv yesterday to go second in Group Six behind Spain.

The Netherlands came from two goals behind to draw 2-2 away to Brazil in a friendly on Saturday but were denied a historic win by an astonishing miss by Ruud van Nistelrooij. The PSV Eindhoven striker missed an open goal from six yards out when, having dribbled past a defender and the goalkeeper in the 81st minute, he tried to backheel the ball into the net, missed it completely and fell over.

Lothar Matthaus has signed a flexible contract with New Jersey/New York Metrostars, allowing him to join the Major League Soccer side at his leisure. The 38-year-old, outstanding in Germany's 6-1 win against Moldova on Saturday in which he won his 136th cap, is likely to remain with Bayern Munich for next season.