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World Cup: Brazil vs. North Korea; Brazil wins, 2-1

June 15, 2010 |  1:52 pm

On a frigid night in South Africa, with temperatures dipping below freezing, it was soccer that fell victim to the cold.

Five-time world champion Brazil couldn’t handle it. The Brazilians are a team of the tropics, a team whose creative juices flow best in the sunshine and warmth.

When six of Brazil’s starters wore gloves at ramshackle Ellis Park Stadium on Tuesday night for the Selecao’s game against North Korea, it was a signal that the crowd of 54,331 was not likely to see anything spectacular.

Until, that is, fullback Maicon produced a vintage bit of Brazilian magic 10 minutes into the second half.

Taking a pass from midfield and controlling the ball right at the end line, he fired a right foot shot that flew between North Korean goalkeeper Ri Myong Guk and his near post and curled into the net behind him.

A Frisbee curving in flight was what this shot resembled.

The angle was virtually nonexistent. It was a trick shot that came off, an improbable and audacious effort that received its just reward. The goal will be replayed throughout the 2010 World Cup and possibly beyond. It’s probably already on YouTube.

It was also the goal that put Brazil on its way to a 2-1 victory that propelled Coach Dunga’s team to the top of Group G and left North Korea at the bottom. Portugal and the Ivory Coast, which tied, 0-0, earlier in the day in Durban, occupy the middle ground.

That’s very likely the way the first round is going to end up as well, at least according to Portugal Coach Carlos Queiroz.

“People call this ‘the group of death,’” he said. “With respect to North Korea, there are three teams playing for two places.”

But it would be wrong to dismiss the Asian team so casually. North Korea’s players were not in the least bit intimidated by the fact that they were up against a team light-years ahead of them in experience and ability. Not to mention salary.

In fact, for the first 45 minutes, they played Brazil almost evenly. And they didn’t wear gloves either.

Brazil had two-thirds of the possession and outshot North Korea, 9-6, in the first half, but the edge in shots on target was only 3-2 in the South Americans’ favor.

Japanese-based forward Jong Tae Se and team captain and fellow forward Hong Yong Jo kept the Brazilian defense on its toes and the North Koreans, to their credit, did not sit back in the own half and simply defend.

In the second half, however, the game gradually swung Brazil’s way. Maicon’s goal released a lot of pent-up emotion, giving Dunga’s team a bit more self-confidence after it had run out of ideas while running at North Korea in the opening 45 minutes.

Robinho was the only player, in fact, that the largely Brazilian crowd was not booing when the teams left the field at halftime. He showed some dazzling footwork and was not unwilling to pull the trigger when he saw an opening.

It was Robinho who created Brazil’s second goal in the 72nd minute when he threaded a pass through the North Korean defense. Elano ran onto the ball and side-footed it into the lower left corner of the net. 

The biggest and possibly best surprise of the night, one that warmed the hearts, if not the fingers, of the small contingent of North Korean fans in the crowd, came in the next-to-last minute of regulation.

North Korea — improbably and delightfully — scored a goal against the team that is favored, along with Spain, to win the tournament.

A crisp interchange between three players ended with Ji Yun Nam beating a couple of Brazilian defenders and darting into the penalty area before lifting the ball over diving goalkeeper Julio Cesar.

The astonishment and happiness on Ji's face lighted up the stadium. But not as much as an afternoon game and a little sunshine would have done.

-- Grahame L. Jones, reporting from Johannesburg

Photo: Brazil's Maicon celebrates with fellow team members after scoring the opening goal Tuesday against North Korea. Credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press.