International round-up: Brown's winner ushers in the Levein era

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The Independent Football

Scott Brown gave Craig Levein a winning start as the Scotland manager when his close-range finish was enough to see off the Czech Republic at Hampden Park last night.

Chances for the Scots were few and far between in the first half but Barry Robson could have snatched the opener on the stroke of half-time from a free-kick. However, they raised their game in the second half and Brown pounced on Robson's far-post header on 62 minutes to seal Scotland's first win in a friendly at Hampden since beating Australia in 1996.

"The important thing was that we showed everybody that we're a unit and wanted to work hard for each other," Levein said. "We showed some decent football, not as much as we'd like, but Rome wasn't built in a day."

The Bolton striker Johan Elmander hit Sweden's winner against Wales in Swansea. Elmander, who has scored just twice in the Premier League this season, showed quality rarely seen at the Reebok Stadium with a fine finish on the stroke of half-time. Ola Toivonen had earlier had a header ruled out for offside but a youthful Wales side battled hard and substitute Robert Earnshaw twice went close.

A goal from Ervin Skela after 25 minutes condemned Northern Ireland to 1-0 defeat against Albania in Tirana. On a dreadful pitch Nigel Worthington's side improved in the second half with Stephen Craigan going close.

Argentina showed an upturn in form with a 1-0 win over Germany in Munich, the Real Madrid striker Gonzalo Higuain scoring from 35 yards on the stroke of half-time. Meanwhile, Spain underlined their strongly fancied status for the summer with an impressive 2-0 win over France in Paris, David Villa and Sergio Ramos scoring in the first half for the European champions. However, world champions Italy were held to a goalless draw by Cameroon in Monaco.

Hosts South Africa turned in yet another unconvincing pre-tournament display, coming from behind to draw 1-1 with Namibia.

Japan wrapped up a successful Asian Cup qualifying campaign with a 2-0 win over Bahrain at Toyota Stadium yesterday. With both sides already assured of qualification, Shimizu S-Pulse striker Shinji Okazaki opened the scoring in the first half before CSKA Moscow midfielder Keisuke Honda sealed top spot in Group A in stoppage time.

Former Celtic midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura, fresh from his recent return to Japan with Yokohama F Marinos following a disappointing spell in Spain with Espanyol, provided the cross for Okazaki to head home at the far post after 36 minutes in Aichi Prefecture. Japan continued to dominate after the break, Honda failing to convert Nakamura's cross from close range. The home side had to survive a scare as Bahrain striker Ismaeel Latif raced to latch onto Salman Isa's cross but just failed to add a crucial touch.

But three minutes into added time Honda met Atsuto Uchida's cross as Takeshi Okada's side bounced back from a much-criticised performance in last month's East Asian Championship. "Before the game, I told our players to show the people their winning attitude," said Okada. "Considering that we had only two days to prepare, I think we did so well. It's our first time to beat Bahrain by two goals."

In Hong Kong, the hosts picked up their first point of the campaign with a goalless draw against Yemen.

Australia booked a place at the Asian Cup by beating Indonesia 1-0 with a goal from Mark Milligan in their final Group B qualifier yesterday.

On a muggy night at the half-empty Suncorp Stadium defender Milligan got his first goal for Australia three minutes before half-time although he was fortunate to score.

Milligan succeeded at the second attempt, hammering home a shot from a tight angle that was deflected off goalkeeper Markus Rihihina into the net, after the defender had shouldered his first effort against the frame of the goal. "I don't mind how it comes, it's my first goal for the national team," Milligan told ABC Radio. "I was lucky it fell nicely for me off the crossbar."

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