Brazil’s quest for yet another World Cup crown began in somewhat uncertain style, though they still managed to battle to a 2-1 victory over North Korea.
The first period was dominated by the Selecao, but the Asians were not totally impotent on the break. Nevertheless, come half-time there was no score. Maicon opened the scoring from an outrageously acute angle before Elano added a lovely second. Ji Yun-Nam scored a late consolation to worry Brazil, though ultimately it was not enough to plunder a hugely unlikely point.
If the five-time world champions had any thoughts that North Korea would prove easy pickings, these were quickly dispelled as the Asian side showed themselves to be proficient in the early stages of the match. Despite the red clad side making a decent impression in the opening stages of the game, ironically the Selecao still managed to look dangerous.
Robinho showed grace, balance and speed down the left early, but Kaka wasted the pass the winger presented to him inside the box. The Santos loanee, however, plowed on undeterred, shooting well wide when presented with a decent scoring chance at the edge of the box only minutes after Elano had gone a little closer from a similar range.
As North Korea settled, the Brazilian efforts grew increasingly desperate as they considered a solution to the problem presented by 11 opponents packing their own penalty box. Selecao full-backs Michel Bastos and Maicon both had strikes from ambitious range, though Ri Myong-Guk, who would also hold a tame Kaka effort, had few problems dealing with the shots.
But the Asians weren’t simply restricted to a defensive briefing, with Jong Tae-Se leading the line with real gusto. A strong burst past two or three challenges by the Kawasaki Frontale man stretched the Brazil defense, though his running came to naught, while shots from Cha Jong-Hyok and Ri Kwang-Chon passed wide of goal.
Brazil were becoming increasingly restricted. A clever Robinho burst into the box ended in the effervescent forward hitting a low shot that proved to be regulation fodder for the goalkeeper, but the player still contracted to Manchester City soon setup Bastos for another pot shot at goal, only for the left-sided player’s effort to be deflected over.
Immediately before half-time the Selecao stepped up their pressure, but committed defending from the North Koreans prevented Dunga’s side opening the scoring and setting up a fascinating second period.
The early stages of the second half mirrored the closing moments of the first. Michel Bastos fired a free kick past Ri Myong-Guk’s right hand post, and a shot from Robinho followed a similar path seconds later.
Ten minutes after the restart, the Selecao would finally have their goal, albeit in somewhat fortuitous circumstances. A strong break from the Brazilians ended with Maicon charging into the box on an overlapping run. A yard from the byline and well outside the six yard box, the right-back fizzed the ball across the face of goal, beating the goalkeeper at his near post. If the Inter man meant to strike, it was a great finish, though a quick glance up to pick out a team-mate just before he pulled the trigger perhaps suggested he was aiming for a hard, low cross, which was to be anticipated from such a position.
With a goal in their back pockets, the South Americans set about trying to find another. Michel Bastos had a fizzing shot fail to find the net before Luis Fabiano chested a pass down in the box before firing hopelessly over.
Inevitably, the second goal came largely thanks to the influence of Robinho, who gathered the ball in a pocket of space 30 yards from goal before playing a sumptuous angled defense splitting pass to Elano that was begging to be placed in the net. The Galatasaray man obliged, side-footing accurately into the corner.
Any tension in Brazil’s play had largely gone. Kaka had a tame shot on target saved, Robinho slashed wide from distance and substitute Nilmar had a firm strike from distance blocked as the Selecao clicked through the gears.
North Korea did have a late opportunity through Jong Tae-Se, but Juan recovered well when it seemed the forward might thump home after being set free of the defence. Incredibly, the huge underdogs did find a late consolation, Ji Yun-Nam finishing strongly from close range.
Though there was no leveler from the Asians, they have given Portugal and Ivory Coast a great deal of food for thought.
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