The “Group of Death” (Group G) is now officially a very strange World Cup group. After seeing Portugal and Ivory Coast play to a goalless draw, heavy favorite Brazil took it to the field against one of the weakest teams in this World Cup, North Korea. They were theoretically weak before the game started and their limitations were indeed displayed for the entirety of this game.
Dunga has been heavily criticized by the Brazilian press and what happened in this game will not improve that relationship. The Brazilian coach decided to go with a conservative team display against a technically limited opponent; meaning: Brazil fielded four defensemen and two defensive midfields. One of those defensive midfields was arguably the worst player on the Brazilian side, Filipe Melo (Luís Fabiano, one of the strikers, also had a poor showing; he committed more fouls than shots made on goal). What is the purpose of having such a defensive outlook against a team like North Korea?
On top of that the entire Brazilian squad played the game at a training-like pace. They felt no urgency to push the tempo or to create gaps in the Asian defense. And what defense it was! The North Koreans were always behind the ball, trying to defend as much as possible, crowding the top of the box and getting pressure on the main Brazilian playmakers. North Korea fields one of the most technically challenged teams out of all 32 participants. Jong-Tae Se, who plays in Japan, is the only player on that squad with some poise and technique. I guess there’s a reason why they dub him “The People’s Rooney” in NK. But everyone worked hard, we can safely say.
In the first half Brazil played at a terrible pace. They had some shots from outside the box, namely from Elano, Maicon and Michel Bastos. Robinho was one of the few hard-working players and it is clear that Kaká isn’t in top shape.
No substitutions for the second half, the same outlook from Brazil and things were looking bleak. Do not get me wrong: Brazil weren’t threatened by North Korea, they were just unable to implement their type of game, to get things going, to justify – at all – their status as one of the favorites to win the entire competition.
But a team like Brazil has world class stars, making it only a matter of time. After a few outside shots from the “Escrete”, Elano passed the ball to Maicon; inside the box, and when everyone was expecting a short cross, Maicon was able to execute a wonderful goal with a very narrow angle. Myong-Guk did what most goalkeepers would have done in his situation: he stepped out to get the cross. Maicon thought ahead of everyone else, saw the goalkeeper’s position and made a great goal. A good award for one of the best Brazilian players out there.
Would North Korea change its outlook? Absolutely not. They continued defending behind the ball. Again, just a matter of time until Brazil would score again. A terrific diagonal pass by Robinho broke the entire North Korean defense, found its way to Elano’s feet and the midfielder was able to beat the keeper with a crossed shot, for the 2-0 score.
Brazil rotated some players, giving minutes to Dani Alves, Ramires and Nilmar. But it was, against all odds, North Korea who would score against mighty Brazil. In the 89th minute Ji Yun-Nam took advantage of a passive Brazilian defense (a world class defense, I can’t emphasize this enough) and was able to beat Júlio César. A shocking 2-1 score.
The game ended only a few minutes after, with Brazil maintaining possession.
North Korea has defense and the aforementioned Jong-Tae Se. They defend behind the ball with every man they have; their defense and keeper are noticeably “primitive” but they are able to hold things together somehow. Scoring against Brazil was a lifetime achievement for these guys and they will, no doubt, try to defend their ground against Portugal and the Ivory Coast.
As for Brazil, a few optimists will say “a victory equals 3 points”. While that is true, what we saw today was an extremely uninspired Brazilian squad, lacking speed, looking disconnected and this 2-1 victory is obviously a very shallow one. No doubt the Brazilian press and the fans now have more reasons to pounce on Dunga and some players. This was the easiest team Brazil will face in this World Cup. They have to change their attitude if they indeed aspire to win it all.
No Samba, not impressive. At least they didn’t get themselves tired.
Next for Brazil: they face Ivory Coast on the 20th of June. A win here guarantees them a stress-free 3rd group match against Portugal. Ivory Coast will not be as defensive as North Korea were today, so Brazil will probably take advantage of that, while shedding the bad image they left today.
Next for North Korea: on the 21st of June they go against Portugal. These North Koreans will, no doubt, go for another ninety minutes of stifling pressure and defense, and everything that goes their way, in terms of goals and points, is a plus.