Soccer: Brazil struggle past North Korea

JOHANNESBURG – Maicon and Elano scored a goal each as Brazil broke through a solid North Korean defence to win their opening World Cup match 2-1 today.

Brazil escaped with a hard-fought victory in the Group G match after struggling to get past the defensive setup of the North Koreans, who are making their first World Cup appearance in 44 years and arrived as the tournament’s lowest-ranked team.

“The opener is always harder,” Dunga said. “There is the anxiety, the players are more nervous than usual, trying to do too much. But we are satisfied.”

Maicon scored at Ellis Park after a through ball from midfielder Elano in the 55th minute, making a run on the right side and shooting into the far corner from a tight angle as North Korea goalkeeper Ri Myong Guk went for the cross.

Elano then added to the lead in the 72nd after a well-timed pass from Robinho, finding the net with a one-timer from inside the area.

Ji Yum Nam pulled one back for North Korea in the 89th.

The victory gives Brazil first place in the group after Portugal and the Ivory Coast drew 0-0 in their opener earlier Tuesday.

“It is important to start with a victory and we did it,” Maicon said. “It was a good step toward our goal of being in the final on July 11.”

Brazil controlled possession from the start but struggled to break through the Korean lineup with five men at the back. Robinho was about the only Brazilian able to create some dangerous opportunities.

He took advantage of his nifty skills to give Brazil its first chance just two minutes into the match, using a stepover move to clear a defender and set up Kaka inside the area, but the playmaker failed to get a shot off as North Korea’s An Yong Hak stole the ball.

Robinho had his own chance with a long-range shot that missed the target in the seventh and with a quick strike from inside the penalty area that was saved by Ri in the 20th. Robinho cleared a defender again inside the area in the 34th and set up Michel Bastos’ shot that missed over the crossbar.

The defensive-minded North Koreans played with only Japan-based Jong Tae Se in attack, but he was able to cause some problems to the Brazilian defence. He got past three defenders in the 12th but his weak shot was easily saved by Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar.

The Koreans also had chances with a few long-range shots, but Cha Jong Hyok missed the target in the 17th and Ri Kwang Chon missed in the 32nd.

Brazil continued to dominate in the second half but still without enough poise to break through the Korean defence.

Left back Michel Bastos nearly opened the scoring for Brazil with a powerful left-footed free kick that missed wide in the 51st, and Robinho’s strike from outside the box in the 53rd also barely missed.

Striker Luis Fabiano nearly increased the lead in the 63rd after a pass from Robinho. He cleared a defender inside the area but his shot sailed over the crossbar.

Brazil has won all of its opening matches since a 1-1 draw with Sweden in the 1978 World Cup in Argentina.

The five-time champions begin the World Cup with a revamped squad following the disappointing elimination in the quarterfinals of the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Dunga left out stars such as Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and Adriano and preferred lesser-known players known for their discipline and hard work.

North Korea is hoping to repeat its heroic campaign from the 1966 tournament in England, when it produced a surprising win over Italy to reach the quarterfinals. The Koreans arrived as most mysterious team in the tournament, with opponents having a hard time finding information about the team playing for the reclusive communist state.

It was the first match between the two nations.

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