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Thursday March 6, 2014 MYT 8:02:02 AM
Thursday March 6, 2014 MYT 8:02:02 AM
by martyn herman
LONDON (Reuters) - Neymar's hat-trick lit up a powerful Brazil performance as the 32 nations taking part in this year's World Cup tested out their squads on a busy night of friendlies on Wednesday which also brought victories for Spain, Germany and France.
Barcelona forward Neymar was unstoppable for tournament hosts Brazil as they demolished a poor South Africa side 5-0 in the Soweto Soccer City stadium which hosted the 2010 final between Spain and the Netherlands.
It was also a good day for Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo who scored twice in Portugal's 5-1 win over Cameroon, making him his country's all-time leading scorer with 49 goals.
But Neymar's Barcelona team mate Lionel Messi had an off-colour night for Argentina in Romania, vomiting on the field early in a dull 0-0 draw in Bucharest.
Home advantage makes Brazil slight favourites to win a sixth World Cup this year, but a host of usual suspects will travel to the south American country with genuine hopes of gate-crashing the Samba party which starts in 99 days.
World and European champions Spain are chief among them and they underlined their pedigree with a 1-0 victory over Italy in a repeat of the Euro 2012 final.
Pedro scored the game's only goal in Atletico Madrid's Calderon Stadium.
Germany, also bidding to become Europe's first winner of a World Cup in south America, edged past Chile 1-0 and 1998 winners France, who struggled through qualifying, beat the Netherlands 2-0.
Mario Goetze was on target for Germany in Stuttgart but they were jeered by unhappy fans.
"It was a lucky win," said captain Philipp Lahm. "I can understand the fans, the people paid for their tickets and they wanted to see something.
"We've got work to do and we know that (but) ... we were up against a good Chile team."
Karim Benzema and Blaise Matuidi sealed France's impressive win over the Dutch in Paris.
Neymar was the day's outstanding performer, though, scoring once in the first half and twice after the break to take his tally for his country to 30.
Chelsea's Oscar had opened the scoring and Fernandinho completed the rout.
"I have no doubt that we are ready," PSG's Thiago Silva said on O Globo's website.
"This gives us great morale, great motivation. Now we can rest the mind in these three months remaining."
With time running out for players to book their places in World Cup squads, Wednesday's friendlies provided a valuable opportunity for coaches to examine their options for the last time before naming their provisional squads.
England manager Roy Hodgson was one of them.
He watched his side labour to a 1-0 win over Denmark with Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge scoring late to ensure they did not lose three friendly matches in a row at Wembley having been beaten by Germany and Chile in November.
"Looking at performances, you would have to be a harsh critic to say anybody played poorly tonight," Hodgson said.
"I've been very happy with the attitude and the desire to get on that plane and grab a shirt."
World Cup dark horses Belgium drew 2-2 with African qualifiers Ivory Coast, for whom Didier Drogba was on target, while Switzerland and Croatia also shared four goals.
Tim Cahill scored twice to become Australia's all-time top goalscorer, although his side squandered a 3-0 lead to lose 4-3 against Ecuador in a thrilling clash in London.
Uruguay, who are in a World Cup group with fellow former champions England and Italy, were held 1-1 in Austria.
Ukraine and Russia, the two countries involved in a tense military standoff in Crimea, were both in action.
Fabio Capello's Russia beat Armenia 2-0 in Krasnodar and Ukraine, who missed out on qualification, enjoyed a morale-boosting 2-0 victory over the United States in a match moved from Kharkiv to Larnaca in Cyprus.
First-time World Cup finalists Bosnia suffered a jolt as they were beaten 2-0 by Egypt in Innsbruck.
Asian qualifiers Japan and South Korea enjoyed victories against New Zealand and Greece respectively.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)
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