Skipper Ballack nets Germany’s winner

Portugal, Romania also register wins in warm-up matches

LONDON: France couldn’t score, Spain remained undefeated, and Germany needed a late goal for a comeback win over Serbia in European Championship warm-ups on Saturday.

France was held by Paraguay to 0-0, Spain beat Peru 2-1 in injury time, and Germany topped Serbia 2-1.

Elsewhere, Portugal beat Georgia 2-0 without a goal from free-scoring Cristiano Ronaldo, Romania outplayed Montenegro 4-0 with Nicolae Dica scoring twice, and Croatia drew Hungary 1-1 — both scores by Croatia’s Niko Kovac, including an own-goal.

The European Championship kicks off on Saturday and the 16 qualifiers are making their final adjustments to tactics and testing players’ fitness.

France included several players who are likely to be starters in its tournament opener against Romania on June 9, including goalkeeper Gregory Coupet, winger Franck Ribery, and striker Thierry Henry.

Ribery twice shot wide off passes from Karim Benzema in the first half, and substitute Sidney Govou hit the post before 33,000 in Toulouse.

Something missing

“When you don’t score there is always something missing,” France coach Raymond Domenech said. “We need to be more efficient, we had chances and you have to take them.

“You should not confuse playing well with being efficient.”

Joan Capdevila headed substitute Cesc Fabregas’ right cross over Peru goalkeeper Leao Butron three minutes into injury time for Spain to win 2-1 in Huelva. “To win in the last moments doesn’t change my feeling about the game and about what we need to do ahead of the Euro,” coach Luis Aragones said. “It can’t just be all about playing the beautiful game. You need to have security too.”

Villa strikes

David Villa made his case to be in the starting line-up at Euro 2008 after beating Butron with a low shot into the far corner in the 38th.

But with Aragones experimenting with his line-up in the second half, Sergio Ramos let his guard down in the 75th and substitute Hernan Rengifo was there to loop a header over out-of-position goalkeeper Iker Casillas for the equaliser.

Rengifo’s goal was the first Spain had conceded on home soil in 657 minutes to break a 22-year-old record.

Spain improved to 32-11-4 under Aragones and is unbeaten in 15 matches since November 2006.

Three-time champion Germany fell behind to a 19th-minute goal from Bosko Jankovic in Gelsenkirchen and trailed until the 74th against the defence-minded Serbs, who failed to qualify for the Euros.

Outstanding form

But 35-year-old substitute Oliver Neuville equalised four minutes after entering the game and Michael Ballack, in recent standout form for Champions League runner-up Chelsea, netted the winner with a swerving free kick in the 82nd.

“He drives the entire team, he goads them on and he is in a very good physical shape,” Germany coach Joachim Loew said of his captain.

Joao Moutinho (13th minute) and Simao Sabrosa (44th minute penalty) scored Portugal’s first half goals in Viseu. But Ronaldo, who has scored 42 league and cup goals for European and English champion Manchester United, was subdued until he had a free kick pushed onto the bar by the Georgia goalkeeper.

Luiz Felipe Scolari made nine changes after halftime which broke the team’s rhythm.

“I’m happy, especially with the way we played in the first half,” Scolari said. “And we can learn some things from the second half.”

In the toughest group

Romania is in the toughest of the four groups against former champions France, the Netherlands and Italy. Its first game is against the French in Zurich on June 9.

Adrian Mutu gave the Romanians a 15th-minute lead and Sorin Ghionea scored in the 49th with a close-range header. Dica added on in the 55th and 69th minutes in Bucharest.

Croatia visited Budapest, where both of Kovac’s goals came from corner kicks.

In the 24th, Hungary goalkeeper Marton Fulop badly misjudged a corner by jumping too early and letting the ball go through to Kovac, who headed it in unchallenged. Then near halftime, Croatia goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa didn’t move after a corner kick and the ball bounced off Kovac and into his goal.

The results: Spain 2 (David Villa, Joan Capdevila) bt Peru 1 (Hernan Rengifo); France 0 drew with Paraguay 0; Germany 2 (Oliver Neuville, Michael Ballack) bt Serbia (Bosko Jankovic) 1; Portugal 2 (Joao Moutinho, Simao Sabrosa) bt Georgia 0; Romania 4 (Adrian Mutu,, Sorin Ghionea, Nicolae Dica (2)) bt Montenegro 0; Croatia 1 (Niko Kovac) drew with Hungary 1 (Niko Kovac – own goal). — Agencies

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