World Cup 2010 – Brazil shade plucky North Korea
With the brave and militarily-organised Koreans holding the pre-tournament favourites for almost an hour, the Selecao kept their heads until a moment of brilliance from Maicon broke the deadlock.
The Internazionale right-back’s wicked, swerving shot cut inside the near post at pace to highlight the World Cup ball’s added movement and give his side the lead as the deep-lying, counter-attacking Koreans looked set to pull off a huge shock.
Elano looked to have sealed the win with 18 minutes left when he stroked Robinho’s wonderful through ball into the bottom left as the Koreans, in their first World Cup since 1966, committed men forward.
But a superb goal from Ji Yun-Nam in the 89th minute set samba pulses racing as Carlos Dunga’s side held on to go top of the so-called ‘group of death’ after Ivory Coast and Portugal ground out a goalless draw earlier.
Until Maicon’s freak opener – from some angles it looked like he intended to cross the ball – Jong Hun Kim’s unfancied team belied their FIFA ranking of 105 as they matched top-rated Brazil’s skill with a flat back five and endless endeavour.
Despite apparently only having a few dozen supporters present and with fans at home reportedly unable to watch the match, North Korea played the game of their lives, showcasing what can only be called a defensive master-class as keeper Ri Myong-Guk barely touched the ball in the first half.
Their defence was supported by a tireless three-man midfield and front two, and while a Robinho-led Brazil dominated possession they were constantly swarmed by the super-fit Asians and barely registered a shot on target.
The Selecao’s best efforts were Michel Bastos’s shot deflected over by the head of Pak Chol Jin on 34 minutes, while seconds later Ri Kwang-Chon intercepted Bastos’s superb cross with an equally impressive header to deny Luis Fabiano a simple finish.
Indeed, North Korea had the better chances on the break, with right-back Cha Jong-Hyok marauding rather like Maicon, the excellent Japan-born striker Jong Tae-Se giving Juan and Lucio a nightmare with his direct running and pace and keeper Julio Cesar forced into action on a couple of occasions.
The Korean work-rate was exemplified by Nam Song-Chol and Ri Jun-Il’s flying blocks on Kaka and Maicon late in the first half as Brazil left the field frustrated.
After the break it was much of the same, with Brazil dominating possession but opting for long-range shots instead of pass-and-move into the box, knowing they would be crowded out by the organised Korean defence.
Bastos spanked a free-kick just wide, while Robinho also went close with a fizzing effort from 25 yards and it was one of those audacious attempts that finally reaped dividends.
Elano threaded Maicon through on the right and, with all expecting a cross, he smashed a wicked, first-time shot that Myong-Guk thought he had covered but was powerless to stop swerving at an unnatural angle inside his near post and into the opposite corner.
It had shades of Roberto Carlos, only from an impossible angle, as the new World Cup ball had the desired effect of producing the spectacular.
The goal forced North Korea to come forward and finally Brazil could find space to attack.
Luis Fabiano thrashed the ball over when a super first touch took him clean through, and Elano made it two with a cool low finish after a majestic through-ball by Robinho, who was easily Brazil’s best player and far outshone the disappointing Kaka.
The game seemed won and Brazil took their foot off the gas for which they nearly paid the penalty when a late rally from the Koreans almost forced a draw.
Jong was denied a breakaway goal with four minutes left when he chased a long ball clean through, only to be denied by a last-gasp sliding tackle from Juan.
In the penultimate minute their moment came when, after a quickly-taken free-kick, Jong’s clever knock-down landed at the feet of Nam who, with a super first touch, left Lucio for dead before rifling a vicious effort past Julio Cesar.
The final moments were a mad scramble as both sides exchanged attacks but time ran out for the Koreans and Brazil were left to hold on for a less than convincing opening win.
Brazil v North Korea
1st Half Goals 0-0
Shots on Target 10-2
Shots off Target 10-8
Blocked Shots 6-1
Yellow Cards 1-0
Red Cards 0-0
Passing Success 90.3%-76.7%
Tackles Success 68.2%-77.3%
Territorial Advantage 63.8%-36.2%
Reda Maher / Eurosport