Twice, Brazil was brilliant, and it was enough to edge North Korea, 2-1, in a first-round World Cup match in Johannesburg.
Maicon and Elano scored a goal apiece in the second half, and Brazil finally broke through a solid North Korea defense on a chilly Tuesday night. Brazil escaped with a hard-fought victory in the Group G match after struggling to get past the conservative 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.
“It wasn’t our best match, but at least we got the win, that’s what matters now,” Robinho said after setting up the second goal.
Maicon put Brazil ahead in the 55th minute after a through ball from midfielder Elano, making a run on the right side and firing 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 penalty area.
Ji Yun Nam scored for North Korea in the 89th minute in 34-degree temperatures with a wind chill of 24.
The victory gave five-time champion Brazil first place in the group.
Brazil has won all its opening matches since a 1-1 draw with Sweden in the 1978 World Cup.
“The opener is always harder,” Brazil coach Dunga said. “There is the anxiety, the players are more nervous than usual, trying to do too much. But we are satisfied.”
Brazil controlled possession from the start but struggled to break through the Korean lineup, which had five men on the back line. Robinho was about the only Brazilian able to create dangerous opportunities. He took advantage of his nifty skills to give Brazil its first chance just two minutes into the match, using a step-over move to clear a defender and set up Kaka inside the area. But Kaka didn’t get off a shot as An Yong Hak stole the ball.
Portugal 0, Ivory Coast 0: Despite Didier Drogba only coming on as a late substitute, Ivory Coast was able to pull out a tie in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, outplaying its higher-ranked opponent.
Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo rattled a 30-yard strike off the left post in the 11th minute, but Ivory Coast created the better chances.
Drogba came on as a 66th-minute substitute for fellow Chelsea striker Salomon Kalou after FIFA cleared him to play with a cast on his right arm, which he broke in a warm-up match against Japan on June 4.
New Zealand 1, Slovakia 1: Winston Reid scored in second-half injury time, lifting New Zealand to a draw in Group F with Slovakia in Rustenburg, South Africa.
Robert Vittek scored early in the second half, giving Slovakia the lead. But Reid sneaked behind the defense to take a long cross from Shane Smeltz and tie it.
The Kiwis are ranked 78th in the world, 44 spots above Slovakia, which is in its first World Cup as an independent nation.
Did you know?
Brazil has won all its opening matches since a 1-1 draw with Sweden in the 1978 World Cup. In that span, the Brazilians have won two World Cups.