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North Korea battles -- and provides poignant image
by Ridge Mahoney, June 16th, 2010 2:34AM
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[GROUP G] As expected, Brazil tops the group after one round of play. Yet nothing like its narrow 2-1 win had been expected against mysterious North Korea, which could hold the key to the group by its results against Portugal and Ivory Coast after those teams tied, 0-0. Here's what we liked and didn't like about the opening Group G games ...

WHAT WE LIKED ...

-- Instead of a jogo bonito goalfeast, Brazil scored only once more than North Korea, which didn’t attack much but pushed Brazil back into its own half of the field more often than anyone could have anticipated, and didn’t incur a single yellow card. Ji Yun Nam’s wonderfully taken goal in the 89th minute punctured Brazil’s already thinning pride and punctuated a game that was anything but the anticipated blowout.

-- How can a game with no goals and not many chances still be compelling? Well, a great duel can fill the bill, and watching Portuguese left back Fabio Conetrao battle and harass and frustrate Ivory Coast’s powerful Aruna Dindane during their 0-0 tie offered up some memorable confrontations. Conetrao also got upfield a few times to join the attack without sacrificing is important work against Dindane.

-- There won’t be many World Cup images more poignant than that of North Korean striker Jong Tae Se crying openly as he stood listening to his national anthem just prior to kickoff against Brazil. We can only hope that fans in North Korea were able to see not only their team’s courageous performance, but just what being at the World Cup after an absence of 44 years means to their players.

WHAT WE DIDN’T LIKE ...


-- Maybe this Portuguese team really is trying to find its own identity in the wake of the retired “Golden Generation” (Luis Figo, Rui Costa, Nuno Valente, Nuno Gomes, et al) that never replicated its U-20 success (two world championships), but it disappointed greatly with it flaccid play for much of the match.

-- Especially disappointing were midfielder Deco, who was substituted in the 62nd minute, and Cristiano Ronaldo. Aside from a fierce long-distance shot that hit the post in the 11th minute, Ronaldo seldom glided past opponents on the dribble, or swiveled sharply to get a look at goal. At age 32, Deco looks almost nothing like the man who graced the midfield for two Champions’ League winners (Porto 2004, Barcelona 2006), and Portugal doesn't look capable of repeating its semifinal showing four years ago.
    
-- Another non-sellout is another black eye for the competition, especially with a game matching an African team with a well-regarded European opponent. The crowd at Port Elizabeth Stadium (37,034) for the Portugal-Ivory Coast game fell more than 5,000 short of capacity (42,486). There were plenty of fans wearing the colors of their teams, though their chants and cheers weren’t always audible through a drone of vuvuzelas.



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