Football: World Cup '94: Brazil start with echoes of the past: GROUP B: Stylish entrance by one of the game's superpowers leaves red-faced Russians ruing their lack of ambition

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Brazil. .2

Russia. .0

BRAZIL announced their presence in the 1994 World Cup with a performance here good enough to excite the imagination of everyone who yearns for them to repeat past glories.

It is too much to expect that the current crop can match the arousing brilliance of Brazil's greatest virtuosos but it will be a surprise if such performers as Rai, Bebeto, Romario and Zinho do not figure prominently and decisively in the latter stages of the tournament.

If Russia never presented any cohesive threat there appears to be enough quality and spirit in this Brazilian team to make a mark for the first time in 24 years.

The first sight of Brazil's colours in a World Cup is always likely to quicken the pulse and especially the heartbeats of a Russian team weakened through dispute by the absence of several important players including the Manchester United winger, Andrei Kanchelskis.

A sense of anticipation filled the arena as the Brazilians came out, holding hands, like a string of buttercups. They quickly settled into a purposeful rhythm taking the initiative away from a Russian team that had clearly pinned its hopes on mounting counter-attacks. Employing close markers on Romario and Bebeto, the most threatening of Brazil's attackers, they had the insurance of a sweeper in the tall, burly Yuri Nikiforov.

The system worked well enough for a while although as the game progressed it seemed inevitable that the three-times world champions would score.

A goal almost came when Romario twisted past two defenders only to have his centre cut out and again when Ricardo Rocha set up an opportunity that Bebeto blasted just over the bar from close range.

Ilya Tsymbalar relieved some of the pressure when he got forward from midfield before his run was snuffed out by two defenders and when the same player found himself with a long-range shooting chance he sent the ball well wide.

There was plenty of support for Brazil's front men, and Leonardo was especially threatening with intelligent surges along the left that had the Russians anxiously funnelling back from midfield.

With Rai beginning to orchestrate attacks, coming more effectively into the game Russia's markers were continually dragged into places they did not want to go and the second of two corners in the space of a minute led to Brazil taking the lead through Romario. The goal was a disaster for Russia's defence as they had left themselves without a marker on the far post and Romario with an easy opportunity when Bebeto's corner reached him there.

Russia did not have much in the way of ambition, but there was an arousing quality, reminiscent of their past in some of Brazil's play.

In the 54th minute Brazil went further ahead when the restless Romario was brought down in the penalty area by Vladislav Ternavsky. Rai majestically drove the ball to Dimitri Kharin's left and Brazil's contingent of supporters, colourful as ever with their samba drums beating ceaselessly, prepared for their first celebration in the 1994 World Cup.

It was futile for Russia to maintain their defensive attitude but attempts at penetrating Brazil's defence with better supported attacks did not get them anywhere and they were soon thrown back again.

Jorginho broke through along their left flank to send in a low centre that Zinho clipped just over the crossbar from in front of the near post and Russia's frustration was borne out by two heavy fouls that led to Nikiforov and Khlestov collecting yellow cards.

Bebeto should have added a third for Brazil but his shot from close range ended up in the arms of Russia's goalkeeper who then lost it beneath his body, scrambling back to prevent the ball from crossing the line.

BRAZIL (3-5-2): Taffarel (Reggiana); Jorginho (Bayern Munich), Leonardo (Sao Paulo), Marcio Santos (Bordeaux); Ricardo Rocha (Vasco da Gama), Dunga (VfB Stuttgart), Mauro Silva (Deportivo La Coruna), Rai (Paris St-Germain), Zinho (Palmeiras); Bebeto (Deportivo La Coruna), Romario (Barcelona). Substitutes: Aldair (Roma) for Ricardo Rocha, 74; Mazinho (Palmeiras) for Dunga, 84.

RUSSIA (5-3-2): Kharin (Chelsea); Kuznetsov (Espanol), Gorlukovich (Bayer Uerdingen), Nikiforov, Ternavsky, Khlestov, Karpin, Pyatnitsky, Tsymbalar (all Spartak Moscow); Radchenko (Racing Santander), Yuran (Benfica). Substitute: Borodyuk (Freiburg) for Radchenko, 77.

Referee: Lim Kee Chong (Mauritius).