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June 27, 2017

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Brazil warms up in style; Spain, France win

LONDON -- Brazil showed its national team is in better shape than the country's stadiums with a 5-0 thrashing of South Africa on Wednesday, and defending champion Spain overcame Italy 1-0 in its final big test before the tournament kicks off, as teams prepared for the World Cup in a series of friendly matches.

With less than 100 days before the opening game, four World Cup stadiums are still under construction in Brazil and much work outside the venues remains to be done.

But in Johannesburg, the five-time world champions proved they are more than ready on the pitch, dispatching the Bafana Bafana with a ruthless display at Soccer City as Barcelona striker Neymar claimed his second career hat trick for the Selecao.

Pedro Rodriguez scored Spain's second-half winner in a rematch of the 2012 Euro final that Italy lost 4-0. It was Spain's final game before coach Vicente del Bosque names his squad to defend its title.

Argentina superstar Lionel Messi couldn't break Romania's defence as his team was held to a goalless draw. Cristiano Ronaldo was more prolific, as the Ballon d'Or winner became Portugal's all-time leading scorer Wednesday, netting twice in a 5-1 win over Cameroon.

Ronaldo took his international tally to 49 and overtook Pauleta, who retired in 2006 after scoring 47 goals in 88 games. Ronaldo was making his 110th appearance.

"I knew it would come eventually," Ronaldo said. "It's special because I've been in the national team for 10 years now. It's all down to hard work."

Former World Cup winners England and Germany put on lame performances but still managed to win.

Belgium, tipped as a serious contender in Brazil, drew 2-2 against Ivory Coast.

Having struggled both on and off the field since reaching the 2006 World Cup final — reaching its nadir at the 2010 World Cup when the team went on strike — France showed an attractive face to end the Netherlands' 17-match unbeaten run with goals from Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema and Blaise Matuidi.

"I thought my defense played well for the first 25 minutes. But we lost our way a bit after the first goal. It's not the defense's fault ... we lost the ball too much in midfield," Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal said through a translator. "We can't afford to give possession away like that. It was a good test against a good team and that's what I told the players."

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