Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Kaká and Co. Avoid N.K. K.O.

Well that was harder than many people (myself included) expected! It was assumed that Brazil's tournament bow would bring a much needed dose of goals and quality attacking football to a World Cup that has thusfar failed to produce either in great measure, but a resiliant North Korea side had other ideas. The seleção finally ran out 2-1 winners, a result which reflected an intriguing contest; one which, in my opinion, was far more interesting than any Brazil walkover would have been.

The first half saw Dunga's men frustrated by their well-drilled opponents, who lined up with five across the back and Jong Tae-Se ploughing a lone furrow up front. The North Koreans, far from looking overawed by the occassion (with the exception of Tae-Se, who was overcome with emotion during the anthems), looked right at home; starving Luís Fabiano of space and setting up some zippy counter-attacks of their own. Brazil only threatened through a Robinho snapshot, and were decidely befeft of cutting edge. Kaká in particular was not at the races, often drifting into detached positions out wide, and misplacing passes. The seleção went into the dressing room with the weight of a nation's pressure on their shoulders.

Brazil started the second half with considerably more impetus, but required a stunning moment of individual skill from Maicon to break the deadlock. The Inter man made a typical overlapping run on the right, and was found by Elano's precise ball. Looking up to see Luís Fabiano marked, he hit a swerving volley from the acutest of angles that beat Ri Myong-Guk in the North Korea goal. The goal settled Brazil's nerves, and the team finally began to exert some control on the game. After 72 minutes, the lively Robinho threaded a wonderful pass through to Elano, who cooly finished low into the corner. It was a combination reminscent of the duo's time together at Santos, and a rare moment of ruthless incision in the side's play.

The Brazilian fans displayed their usual blend of colour and energy at Ellis Park.

Dunga introduced Nilmar, who looked sharp; promptly firing in two volleys that the North Korea 'keeper was thankful to clutch. Dani Alves and Ramires also entered the fray but had little time to impress. The game looked over, but the real story was still to come. In the final minute, Ji Yun-Nam collected a Jong Tae-Se knock-down, burst into the box, and lifted a shot just over the diving Júlio César. It would turn out to be no more than a consolation, but the players joyously celebrated. It was a pleasing moment for the neutral too; a fantastic reward for a plucky performance which had Dunga and his men sweating for most of the night.

(Photo credits; (1), (2) Tom Jenkins/The Guardian.)

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