World Cup favorite Argentina edged past Nigeria 1-0 in Ibaraki, while England and Sweden played to a one to one draw in Saitama, as Group F play got underway Sunday.
Argentina pressured Nigeria from the opening kickoff, but Super Eagles keeper Ike Shorunmu kept the Africans in the game. Argentine goalie Pablo Cavallero matched him with a spectacular save of Nigerian captain Jay Jay Okocha's blistering drive in the 32nd minute.
Star striker Gabriel Batistuta finally broke the deadlock in the 63rd minute. He headed home a corner kick from the back post to give Argentina the one to nothing lead. Nigeria fought hard for the equalizer but was unable to penetrate the Argentine defense. Afterward, Batistuta had this to say: "It was very difficult to play a team as strong and physical as Nigeria in the first game, but I am happy we won. We knew Nigeria would be a tough opponent, but it is important to win your first game."
In the late match, England coach Sven Goran Eriksson's squad gave him the lead but was unable to give him a victory against his home country, Sweden. Sol Campbell gave England a one to nothing lead in the 24th minute as he headed David Beckham's corner kick into the net.
Sweden equalized in the 59th minute when Niclas Alexandersson intercepted a weak clearing pass and blasted the ball into England's goal. Sweden dominated the rest of the half but could not break through again as the match ended in a one to one draw. Eriksson said it was a fair result: "It is because we played better in the first half," he observed, "and they came out very well in the the second half and created a lot of problems for us."
In matches in South Korea, South Africa fought back from a two-goal deficit to draw Paraguay two to two, and Spain beat Slovenia, three to one.
Two Group G matches will be played in Japan on Monday. In the early game, Croatia takes on Mexico in Niigata, with Italy and Ecuador facing off in the late match in Sapporo.