Anybody wondering what it means for a footballer to step on to the FIFA World Cup™ stage found evidence aplenty on a day which brought a winning start for Brazil and encouraging bows from their victims, Korea DPR, as well as a New Zealand side who took their first-ever finals point.
The game of the day pitted the FIFA World Cup's best-known team, Brazil, against a barely known North Korean side playing in their first finals since 1966. The significance of the moment was too much for Korea DPR's No9, Jong Tae-Se. He may have been dubbed the Asian Rooney but the sight of him weeping openly during his country's anthem recalled an England player of a different vintage, Paul Gascoigne.
There were more tears later at Ellis Park, but this time of celebration, when Brazil full-back Maicon beat Ri Myong-Guk at his near post to open A Seleção's account after 55 minutes of impressive resistance from the North Koreans. Elano doubled Brazil's lead with a first-time finish from Robinho's through-pass before Ji Yun-Nam burst through to halve the deficit in the closing minutes. It was the North Koreans' first goal in the competition since their famous 5-3 quarter-final defeat by Portugal 44 years ago, albeit not enough to deny Brazil the early leadership of Group G.
There was another notable show of emotion earlier in the day from New Zealand captain Ryan Nelsen, who stood fighting back the tears as the Kiwi anthem played in Rustenburg. Nelsen ended the day with a broad smile on his face after the All Whites snatched a historic point through Winston Reid's injury-time header against Slovakia. Kiwi coach Ricki Herbert played in the New Zealand team beaten in all three games at Spain 1982 and he must have feared the worst when Slovakia struck five minutes after the break, Robert Vittek concluding some fine approach work with a stooping header. Slovakia's hopes of going top of Group F vanished, however, when Reid – who made his international debut as recently as last month – rose to head Shane Smeltz's cross in off the far post.
Where Reid succeeded, Cristiano Ronaldo failed when his first-half thunderbolt struck the wrong side of the woodwork during the Group G stalemate with Côte d'Ivoire at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. That was Portugal's best moment of a match dominated by the defences and which almost slipped away from Carlos Queiroz's men. Gervinho led the line impressively for the Ivorians but it was substitute Didier Drogba who nearly grabbed his team victory in injury time. Wearing a lightweight cast on his fractured arm, Drogba had only goalkeeper Eduardo to beat but got his angles wrong as the ball flew wide. That stalemate helped make South Africa 2010 the lowest-scoring FIFA World Cup after 14 games with 23 goals recorded.
ResultsNew Zealand 1-1 Slovakia
Côte d’Ivoire 0-0 Portugal
Brazil 2-1 Korea DPR
Goal of the dayBrazil-Korea DPR, Maicon, 55 mins: The Inter Milan right-back got Brazil up and running after a tightly contested first half. Racing into the box on to Elano's pass, he looked poised to cross the ball only to smash a shot between North Korean goalkeeper Ri and the near post. Whether he meant it is something only Maicon can tell us but it was certainly spectacular. Elano's second wasn't bad either.
One to rememberSince the satellite went into orbit, the football world has become a smaller place, so watching Korea DPR was like rolling back the years to a time when the FIFA World Cup was a voyage into the unknown for football fans. Although the North Koreans came away from Ellis Park empty-handed, their efforts against Brazil will have won them plenty of admirers, with Jong's tears and Ji's late goal endearing them to neutrals everywhere.
Quote of the day"The atmosphere in the dressing room was really something. There was a lot of singing, some traditional songs from back home, and the TV crew caught us dancing around. Great times," New Zealand skipper Nelsen sums up the mood in the Kiwi camp.
Stat of the day18 – Number of clean sheets that Portugal have now kept in 23 matches under coach Queiroz. It is a good job their defence is so hard to breach given that Ronaldo has gone 11 internationals without scoring.
Voice of the fans"Maicon, holy molie! Is it just me, or could that possibly be one of the finest goals of the tournament?" FIFA.com user transcendant.
Games of the dayThe day ended with a new name at the top of Castrol's FIFA World Cup Predictor leaderboard. beabranches is the the new top man, having made 13 out of 14 accurate predictions. The Brazilian's only mistake in the tournament thus far has been backing Slovakia to see off New Zealand. In McDonald's FIFA World Cup Fantasy, odhank_mania sits top of the leaderboard. Round 1 of our predictor and fantasy games ends tomorrow after the Spain-Honduras match and the leaders after Round 1 will walk away with a national-team jersey signed by a star player.
Have your sayAfter the draw between Côte d'Ivoire and Portugal, which of the two looks in better shape to advance from Group G? Can Korea DPR surprise the Portuguese when the teams meet next Monday?