World Cup 2010: Brazil is too much for North Korea in 2-1 win

By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 16, 2010

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 lavishly decorated national team.

Bundled against a frigid Johannesburg night in long sleeves and gloves, the Brazilians won the battle of possession with clever passes among themselves. But they struggled mightily to pierce North Korea's stubborn defenders, who for 55 minutes managed to clog up the only space that mattered -- in front of the goal.

As a result, what could have been a comically one-side match, with the world's No. 1 soccer team squaring off against its No. 105th, turned into a genuine tussle before a capacity crowd at Ellis Park Stadium.

In the end, Brazil strode off with a 2-1 victory, with Maicon and Elano scoring memorable goals in a 17-minute span after a scoreless first half.

Then, with one minute remaining, North Korea's Ji Yun Nam sent a blast past Brazil's acclaimed goalkeeper Julio Cesar to avoid the shutout.

But thousands of miles away in Brazil, the closer-than-expected outcome against a lightly regarded and little-known North Korean squad will no doubt only heighten consternation that the prodigiously gifted Selecao isn't sufficiently up to par.

The broad outlines of the matchup suggested dismal entertainment, with Brazil's vaunted defense taking on a North Korean team with no apparent offense, having qualified for only its second World Cup (and first since 1966) with a scoreless draw against Saudi Arabia,

Still, given the nations involved, it promised to deliver a rich study in contrasts.

Brazil is the only nation to compete in every World Cup and leads all with five championships. And its classic style of play is mirrored by its fans -- exuberant, creative and occasionally flamboyant in its virtuosity.

North Korea, given its isolation from the world and global sporting arena, entered the tournament as an enigma. Glimpses of its squad during qualifying revealed its players to be well organized, dogged and defense-minded. But hardly a scoring threat.

One esteemed coach predicted North Korea would fail to score a goal the entire tournament. If they managed a draw, it would be by virtue of it defense.

And through the first half, it seemed that North Korea might just manage the unthinkable against Brazil, denying its opponents a clear path to the goal and fending off the three paltry shots on goal Brazil mustered through the first 45 minutes.

Finally, Maicon broke the drought with a goal that seemed to bend the rules of physics. From the right corner of the pitch, he was nearly in line with the opening of the goal when he fired what looked like a cross with his right foot. But instead of feeding another player, the ball veered to the right, just over the goalkeeper's left shoulder, and arced in for a goal.

Maicon dropped to his knees in relief and was immediately smothered by teammates who patted his head and caressed his face. North Korea's goalkeeper, Ri Myong Guk, fell to the ground.

The goal buoyed the Brazilians' confidence, and a flurry to shots followed. At the 72nd minute, Robinho sent a long pass to Elando, who beast Ji Yun Nam and, with a deft right foot, flicked it past the keeper for the second goal of the night.

Finally, Brazil's party was on.

With Portugal and the Ivory Coast, the other member of the so-called Group of Death, playing to a scoreless draw earlier in the day, Brazil leads the foursome with three points.

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