Brazil comes through against stubborn N. Korea
JOHANNESBURG - To appease the world's most demanding soccer fans, Brazil had to do more than simply beat North Korea in its World Cup opener Tuesday. The Selecao had to win with flair, as Brazilians have come to expect from their handsomely decorated national team.
The Brazilians handily dominated possession but struggled to pierce North Korea's wall of defenders, who for 55 minutes cut off lanes to the goal.
As a result, what could have been a comically one-sided match, with the world's No. 1 soccer team squaring off against its No. 105th, turned into a genuine tussle - one that elevated North Korea's international soccer standing while raising doubts about Brazil's legitimacy as a favorite to win a sixth World Cup.
In the end, Brazil strode off with a 2-1 victory after a scoreless first half, with Maicon delivering a goal that defied the rules of geometry and Elano following 17 minutes later with a deftly struck shot.
With one minute remaining, North Korea's Ji Yun Nam sent a blast past Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar to avoid the shutout and do his part to deliver on coach Kim Jong Hun's prematch pledge to "bring great happiness to our leader Kim Jong Il and show that people of Korea DPR have a strong mentality."
Thousands of miles away in Brazil, the narrow victory over a lightly regarded, little-known North Korean squad no doubt only heightened consternation that the prodigiously gifted Selecao isn't up to par.
Through the first half of the teams' first meeting Tuesday, it seemed that North Korea might just manage the unthinkable and draw with Brazil.
With nine or 10 North Koreans swarming on defense each time a Brazilian striker threatened, the Selecao mustered just three shots on goal in the first 45 minutes. Such ineffectiveness sucked the life from the capacity crowd out at Ellis Park Stadium, the vast majority of whom had come to cheer Brazil's gaudy display of soccer expertise.
Maicon broke the drought in the 55th minute. Having chased a ball to the far right corner, he was nearly parallel to the opening of the goal when he spun and fired what looked like a cross with his right foot. But instead of feeding another player, Maicon applied a wicked spin that made the ball veer to the right, just behind the goalkeeper's left shoulder, and arc in for a goal.
Maicon dropped to his knees in relief and was smothered by teammates, who patted his head and caressed his face.