Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Brazil 2, North Korea 1, but let's not go nuts just yet

Even the world’s greatest side needs a right back sometimes. After 56 minutes of Brazilians going nuts in a near-freezing Johannesburg, it was left to Maicon to break North Korean hearts with a curious cross-shot which whipped in from the narrowest of angles.

He’s Brazilian. I’d never accuse him of scoring by accident. But God, how we needed that goal. No side has even been ranked as low as 105 in the world and qualified for a World Cup finals. No side has ever had so many players break down in tears during the anthems.

But those gritty Communists, in keeping with their nation, simply refused to accept the current world order (damn those imperialist capitalist running dogs). FIFA’s rankings may have five-time World Cup winners Brazil at the very top, but it didn’t look that way for an hour last night last night.

Not until Maicon Douglas Sisenando (born 26 July 1981 in Novo Hamburgo, Rio Grande do Sul) produced his bit of magic from right back, dashing down the line to crash his shot past a bemused goalkeeper Ri Myong-guk. We clearly expected, like all his team-mates and most spectators, a cross from that angle. Still, the BBC are calling it “a goal of great beauty”.

Much like the Ronaldinho free-kick which beat David Seaman from 150 miles out in 1998, we will give another Brazilian the benefit of the doubt.

There was no doubt about Elano’s second in the 72nd minute. The former Manchester City man, put through brilliantly by my Man of the Match Robinho, simply passed the ball beyond Myong-Guk to seal the game. Beautiful. Here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uVRlcgFFGTY.

There was still time for Ji Yun-Nam to pull one back for the Koreans, who were over the Ban Ki-moon. But despite their best efforts, and a late rasper over the bar, the world order prevailed. Shame.

But that’s still only 23 goals in 14 games. The only shots from outside the box have been scuffed efforts which crawled through the goalkeepers arms, as England’s Robert Green and Algeria’s Fawzi Chaouchi may recall.

God, it’s been dire. Not a decent free-kick. A single memorable long shot from Cristiano Ronaldo which hit the woodwork in the largely uneventful 0-0 draw against the Ivory Coast.

Plenty of unpunished diving, three red cards, thousands of lateral passes, dozens of over-hit crosses and corners.

Can we blame the ball? It’s called Jabulani or happiness, but it appears to cause unhappiness whenever it balloons over the bar or bobbles on surfaces which appear to cut up, particularly on the coast. And we can’t blame the altitude for the lack of thrills because tonight’s was the fourth sea-level showdown.

Showdown? Even that’s revving it up a bit. Siphiwe Tshabalala’s left footed strike, the first of the tournament for the hosts against Mexico, still ranks as the best but you’d see a couple of them every week on Match of the Day after a Saturday’s Premier League action.

Ji-Sung Park’s effort in South Korea’s surprise win over the Greeks wasn’t bad, and there was drama in New Zealand’s last minute equaliser against Slovakia earlier in the day.

But really, with all the money they’ve spent, all the effort they’ve made, all the abuse they’ve taken, these poor Vuvuzela-blowing South Africans must wonder what they’ve done to deserve such meagre returns on the field.

Robinho’s multiple step-overs at Ellis Park hardly served to warm a near-full house at Ellis Park, where 55,000 sat through temperatures dipping below three degrees. Kaka was kak, as they might say in South Africa, frequently losing possession and ridiculing his £56m price tag.

Tomorrow we have Spain, the world’s second best side and most people’s favourites, playing anonymous Switzerland, ranked at 24, in Durban at 3pm. And the other two sides in Group G, Honduras (38) and Chile (18) play the first game at Nelspruit’s beautiful Mbobela Stadium at 12.30pm.

But perhaps we’ll have to wait until South Africa and Uruguay meet at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria in the 7.30pm clash to see real fireworks. There’s is the first of the second round games in the group stages. These opening games are the ones nobody wants to lose. It’s a case of throwing flamboyance to the wind, safety first.

Germany and Argentina look the strongest teams around, but these are just the first wayward shots of the war I guess. A dreadfully phoney war.

Neal Collins (nealcol on Twitter) is in South Africa to promote his World Cup novel A GAME APART. For more information www.nealcollins.co.uk.

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