For Brazil, last night's FIFA World Cup opener represented a test of their ability to adapt. Frequently pulling nine men behind the ball, an ultra-cautious Korea DPR side forced Dunga’s Seleção to completely rethink their attacking strategy.
Known for their ability to counter-attack at speed and strike from dead-ball situations, Brazil also rely on the fluid combinations engineered by Kaka, Robinho and Luis Fabiano. Yet, faced with a North Korean wall on a chilly night at the Ellis Park Stadium, the five-time world champions found their offensive edge blunted and had to employ other resources to make the breakthrough.
The key men in Brazil’s Plan B were the full-backs, with Maicon giving them some much-needed impetus down the right and Michel Bastos performing a similar function on the left. Creating gaps in the massed Chollima defence, the duo laid the foundations of a 2-1 win that sent A Seleção to the top of Group G, two points clear of main section rivals Côte d’Ivoire and Portugal.
“The important thing was to use the resources we have at our disposal,” Bastos told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview. “We knew their whole team would be sitting deep and that we’d have to find some space if we were going to score. The solution came on the flanks and Maicon even managed to score a lovely goal.”
The opener came about when the industrious Inter Milan man surged down the right, latched on to a defence-splitting pass from Elano and fired the ball from the narrowest of angles between keeper Ri Myong Guk and the near post.
Greeted with relief by the Brazilian fans, Maicon’s stunning strike delighted national coach Dunga: “That’s how creative he can be. Goalkeepers almost always expect a cross in situations like that and they usually leave a gap. It’s not the first time Maicon’s scored one like that.”
Habitually employed as a midfielder by his club side Lyon, fellow full-back Bastos was no less threatening on the other flank. Occasionally cutting in to try his luck from distance, his powering runs regularly brought the Brazilian torcida to their feet.
In the opening 45 minutes, the North Koreans made a mockery of the 105-place gap that separates the two sides in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, regularly robbing possession from their more illustrious opponents and stymying Brazil’s posse of ball players.
The underdogs failed to hold out for long after the restart, however, falling behind to Maicon’s opener after 55 minutes and conceding a second when Elano sidefooted home with 18 minutes remaining. Undaunted, the Asians still managed to pull a goal back late on.
“I don’t think we played that badly against the strongest team in the world,” said Ji Yun-Nam, the North Koreans’ goalscorer. “We defended well in the first half and stopped their champion players from creating any clear-cut chances. But we lost our concentration for a split-second after half-time and we paid for it, letting them take the lead after only ten minutes.”
It was a harsh lesson, and one the Chollima will be anxious to learn from before facing Portugal and Côte d'Ivoire.