It was far from convincing, but Brazil is off and running at the FIFA World Cup following a narrow 2-1 win over North Korea Tuesday in Johannesburg.
The main storyline
Brazil against North Korea: the five-time world champions and the global outcasts.
On paper, this was historically the biggest mismatch in the 80-year history of the World Cup, pitting the Selecao (currently the No. 1 ranked team in the world) against the mysterious Asians (ranked No. 105).
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But it was anything but a cakewalk for the South Americans. Brazil was kept at bay for 55 minutes before defender Maicon found a way through the North Korean resistance, scoring a spectacular goal.
It shouldn't have been that difficult.
Boasting an all-star roster of world-class players such as Kaka, the South American powerhouse should have easily brushed aside its opponents. But the resolute North Koreans were defiant, frustrating the Samba kings, who tried to dance their way through the game but were continually stifled by the Asians' stellar defensive play.
Indeed, Kaka, a former FIFA world player of the year, was effectively contained before being substituted out of the match in the 78th minute.
While not exactly on par with the team's outing in 1966, when North Korea stunned Italy 1-0 in one of the greatest upsets in tournament history, the Asians can still hold their heads high and take great pride in their memorable performance against the Brazilians.
And they were rewarded for their hard work when Ji Yum Nam beat Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar in the 89th minute.
The winning goal
With Brazil sitting on a 1-0 lead, Robinho fed a slide-rule pass inside the North Korean box to Elano, who beat goalkeeper Ri Myong Guk with a low, driving shot in the 72nd minute.
Turning point of the game
North Korea frustrated Brazil for the entire opening half, limiting the five-time champions to a few chances. For all of their possession, the Brazilians couldn't find a way through the strong defensive wall erected by the Asians. But Maicon's goal brought the wall crumbling down, as Elano scored shortly after to double Brazil's lead.
What this result means
Brazil leads Group G with three points, ahead of Portugal and the Ivory Coast (tied at one point apiece) and North Korea.
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The South Americans can take a big step towards qualifying for the second round with a win in their next game, against the Africans. North Korea, on the other hand, has it all to do, needing to take at least four points from its next two games. Failure to earn a draw against Portugal, North Korea's next opponent, would likely eliminate the Asians from contention.
Man of the match
Maicon's bombing runs down the right flank caused the North Koreans plenty of grief, and his goal set Brazil on its way to victory.
Goal of the match
The breakthrough came early in the second half, starting off with a perfect pass that was played to the feet of Maicon. He scampered to the goal-line and though the angle on the shot looked too acute, the Brazilian defender bent a gorgeous shot between the post and North Korean goalkeeper Ri Myong Guk that nestled inside the far corner of the net.
The Brazilian perspective
"It is important to start with a victory and we did it. It was a good step toward our goal of being in the final on July 11." — Maicon
The North Korean perspective
"I thought we fought bravely. We defended very well. I think we gained a lot of experience and, for the remaining two games, we have gained confidence." — coach Kim Jong Hun said
Brazil takes on the Ivory Coast in Johannesburg on June 20 (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 2 p.m. ET), while North Korea meets Portugal on June 21 in Cape Town (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 7 a.m. ET).