Maicon wonder goal fires Brazil to victory

On a night where the sub-zero chill seeped into every sinew, Brazil struggled to warm the senses as their bid for a sixth World Cup began with a narrow victory. North Korea, making their first World Cup appearance since 1966, offered solid resistance in the first half but appeared to be wilting in the second following goals from Maicon and Elano. But as the match entered injury time they earned a consolation for their unceasing commitment when Yun-nam Ji ghosted past two defenders and fired in.

North Korea lined up with five at the back, with Ri Jun-il as a marshalling sweeper and An Yong-hak as the chief protector in central midfield. The system, as closed as the country itself, had worked well in qualification, where the Koreans kept 10 clean sheets, but it was put under immediate pressure in the opening five minutes.

First Robinho lollipopped down the left before nutmegging Jong Hyok-cha and passing to Kaká, only for Brazil's No10 to be tackled as he lined up to shoot. Then Elano's shot from distance flew over the bar. The pressure continued to build as Robinho – showing plenty of early energy – cut inside before shooting wide from a central position.

But as the half went on, the North Koreans grew more comfortable and while Brazil had more possession – 66% to 34% according to the official Fifa stats – it became apparent that this would not be the walkover football's World Cup casuals, the folk who swallow the myth of joga bonito neat every four years, had assumed.

The North Korean keeper Ri Myong-guk had amazingly little to do. A Maicon chip floated into his arms. A Robinho shot was safely held. And only a curling shot from Maicon from the right flank, which he pushed unconvincingly wide, seemed to trouble him. But most Brazilian efforts seem to fly high over his bar.

Brazil's coach, Dunga, has been a pragmatist per excellence in charge of the seleção, and there was no change of his approach for this game: again he employed a 4-5-1 formation with Gilberto Silva and Felipe Melo sitting in central midfield and Elano, Kaká and Robinho behind the lone striker Luís Fabiano.

But with Silva and Melo failing to break beyond the strikers, and Kaká struggling to find his best form, it was left to the full-backs Maicon and Michel Bastos – who often plays as an attacking midfielder for his club side Lyon – and a seemingly revitalised Robinho to carry the attack. Indeed Robinho was Brazil's best player, looking far sharper than he did at Manchester City earlier in the season and delighting the crowd with his tricks and interlinking play.

Perhaps we should not have been surprised that Brazil struggled to break down North Korea. In qualification Brazil took only one point against Bolivia, who also play five at the back, and six of their 18 qualifying matches finished 0-0.

In the build-up much of the media attention was focused of Jong Tae-Se, the North Korean striker who plays in the J-League, drives a humvee and is nicknamed "Inminui Rooney" – the People's Rooney.

He did not disappoint. When his anthem was played he was in floods of tears, apparently overwhelmed by emotion. And he was North Korea's main attacking threat in the first half, dribbling cleverly past Maicon before, much to the excitement of his team's 100-or-so fans in the stadium, shooting high past the far post.

Despite needing treatment for cut on his thigh after a collision with Maicon, Jong Tae-Se continued to be muscular and robust in leading the line. And on the half hour he boldly took on Lucio and won a corner from which Kwang Chon-ri shot wide.

But even on these rare occasions when Korea entered Brazil's half their organisation was apparent, with coach Jong Hun Kim ensuring his side kept four men back at all times.

At the start of the second half, Brazil were given the opportunity to open the scoring when Pak Chol-jin was wrongly adjudged to have brought down Kaká just outside the area. However Michel Bastos's shot, though hard and true, flew five yards wide. Two minutes later, Robinho chanced his arm from a similar distance but his shot failed to find the target by a similar margin.

But Brazil finally found a way through after 55 minutes when the overlapping Maicon took Kaká's pass and, from what looked like an impossible angle on the touchline, curled a low shot into the far corner. As Maicon celebrated, the Korean keeper Ri – who had left a gap by his near post – lay prostrate on the turf , his face one of howled anguish.

Ri had more problems a few minutes later, unconfidently parrying another Bastos shot from distance. And Luís Fabiano really should have made it 2-0 just after the hour when he chested down Robinho's pass only to shoot over.

But the second goal eventually came on 72 minutes when Robinho's pass bisected four defenders and Elano ended his clever back-post run by slotting it across the advancing Ri.

At this stage it threatened to turn into a rout. More Brazil chances came and went, with North Korea rarely getting the ball into their opponent's half until, just before full-time, Yun's shot powered home – much to his, and his coach's delight.

In the context of the tournament, where few teams have laid down a marker, Brazil will be happy with this win. But tougher tests lie ahead, starting with Ivory Coast next week.

© Guardian News and Media 2010

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Printable version | Apr 3, 2020 8:01:17 AM |

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