Favourites Brazil kicked off their 2010 World Cup quest after defeating a North Korea side who shocked the five time winners with a spirited and heartfelt performance that will capture the imagination of their supporters back home along with the rest of the world.
North Korea had been tipped to be the whipping boys of Group G as they are occupied with prestigious company which along with Brazil includes Portugal and the Ivory Coast, who both contested a highly dull nil-nil draw earlier on in the evening. With the boys from Brazil set to light up their 19th FIFA World Cup as they have done so many times down the years, the fixture against the Koreans had been foreseen to provide a flurry of goalmouth activity via The Golden Squad.
Brazil coach Dunga had been sweating on the fitness of their number one Julio Cesar who had been struggling with a back problem in the run up to the tournament. He was welcomed back to the side after missing out on their final warm up friendly last week. Luis Fabiano played the lone man up top with star boys Kaka and Robinho along with Elano playing just behind to provide the attacking emphasis.
Essentially all Brazilian teams have played with two anchor men in the middle of the park and Dunga would provide no shocks with his selection of Felipe Melo and Gilberto Silva protecting the back four of Bastos, Maicon, Juan and Lucio.
The North Koreans entered this tournament as an unknown quantity but following this display one or two of their players may just end up being recognised in a pub quiz, especially their number nine and star man Jong Tae-Se. The 26 year old who has scored 15 goals in 22 appearances for his adopted nation provided a World Cup moment even before a ball had been kicked.
The Japanese born forward showed his emotion as tears rolled down his cheeks as the national anthem echoed around Ellis Park. It was a wonderful scene as the monumental achievement of playing in his first FIFA World Cup against the competitions most iconic nation got to the young man. His tears must have triggered something inside him as he was Korea’s star man throughout the ninety minutes by showing glimpses of his talent which concerned Brazil in the first half.
The Koreans had essentially parked the bus with a five man defence and providing their attacking emphasis on the counter attack. Jong Tae-Se played the loner up front and Hong Yong-Jo playing just behind.
The opening forty-five minutes were very frustrating for the Brazilians. They enjoyed plenty of possession but lacked a cutting edge in the final third. Robinho looked bright and showed glimpses of his magic with the occasional step-over and nutmeg on an opposing player. Kaka looked a shadow of his former self as his lack of fitness was evident for all to see. As far as attempts on goal in the opening forty-five minutes Maicon and Michel Bastos were the only two to give goalkeeper Ri Myong-Guk any real concerns with two long range efforts.
As each minute passed at nil-nil Korea’s achievement was getting ever greater. They looked tidy on the ball and looked very confident in their distribution. The three midfielders of Mun In-Guk, An Yong- Hak and Pak Nam-Chol who were unknown prior to the tournament gave a demonstration of articulate passing and movement as well as supporting one another with their tracking back and defending.
Dubbed the Asian Wayne Rooney, Jong Tae-Se gave a spirited performance as his sharp movement and trickery gave the Brazilians a few problems of their own. Although no real clear cut chances were architected by the minnows they gave as good as they got in an attacking sense with some lovely neat football.
Brazil come to life in the second half as their dominance finally paid off thanks to a spectacular finish by Maicon who raced down the right hand side to smash the Jabulani ball into the danger zone which swerved passed Ri Myong-Guk at his near post and into the opposing side of the net. It was a magnificent goal, but did he mean it? Only the Internazionale treble winner will know but it sparked a tear or two for the right-back as he realised a dream of scoring in the FIFA World Cup whilst his team-mates embraced him in jubilation.
The Brazilians took utter control of the game from then on as Elano finally sealed the deal in the 70th minute after being fed through – thanks to a divine pass from Robinho which cut open the Korean defence and saw it finished off delicately by the Galatasaray star.
Robinho had a fantastic night. 2010 has certainly rejuvenated a player that was becoming ever so stale at Eastlands. Since his loan to Santos at the turn of the year he has a looked a different player. Ever so sharp, ever so aware. A player who possesses more tricks than a magician. Robinho is indeed back.
The Koreans never once gave up during the ninety. They showed so much heart and determination and were greatly rewarded thanks to a marvelous strike from Ji Yun-Nam which provided another World Cup moment to accompany the tears of Jong Tae-Se. A diagonal ball was nodded down in the penalty area by Jong to the oncoming Tae-Se who set himself up brilliantly with two finesse touches which dazzled Lucio resulting in the ball being smashed past arguably the world’s best goalkeeper.
A lovely moment for the Koreans as only a few hundred of their fans in the crowd in Ellis Park celebrated as if they had won the World Cup. It was their first goal in the finals since that infamous match against Portugal in 1966.
Referee Viktor Kassai blew for full time as the five time winners opened up their quest on a sixth title with a victory. Not the most vintage of performances from Dunga’s side but nevertheless a win is a win and they are bound to get better as this tournament rolls on. Robinho showed his hunger and skill throughout the game which can only be bad news for opposition defenders to come.
The North Koreans however can be ever so proud of themselves. Being tipped to have absolutely no chance prior to the match by the media, they proved their doubters wrong and provided a brave and determined performance which has warmed the hearts of just about anybody watching this FIFA World Cup. It was a pleasure to see the minnows who are the lowest ranked team in the competition go toe to toe with highest and produce a thoroughly competitive fair game of football. They can hold their heads up high for a very long time.