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June 14, 2010

Brazil Holds Off North Korea in 'Group of Death' Match

It took nearly 60 minutes for Brazil to score its first goal, but the five-time World Cup champions defeated North Korea 2-1 in their opening match of Group G stage play.  

North Korea was supposed to be the weak link in Group G - deemed the "Group of Death" because of the tough company.  But playing in its first World Cup since 1966, "The Chollima" gave the Brazilians all they could handle on Tuesday.  

Brazil struggled in the first half against the defense of the tournament's lowest-ranked club as the North Koreans forced the heavy favorites to rely on long-range shots.  The teams were tied 0-0 at the midpoint of the match at Ellis Park in Johannesburg.  

Maicon opened up the scoring in the 55th minute with a stunning shot from a seemingly impossible angle.  His shot curled into the net from an acute angle to beat the poorly positioned keeper, Ri Myong Guk, for a spectacular 1-goal advantage.  

Brazil doubled its lead in the 72nd minute when a streaking Elano received a beautiful through-pass from forward Robinho and deflected it past the North Korean goalkeeper.  

North Korea later answered by scoring its first World Cup goal in 44 years.  Ji Yun Nam netted a shot in the 89th minute from six meters out but his side was not able to earn an equalizer in additional time.     

The victory gives Brazil three points and first-place in the group standings.   

The Group of Death opener between Portugal and Ivory Coast ended in a scoreless draw, as a highly anticipated scoring duel between superstar captains Cristiano Ronaldo and Didier Drogba never materialized.

Injured Ivory Coast skipper Drogba came off the bench as a substitute in the 66th minute of Tuesday's contest in Port Elizabeth and did little to challenge Portugal's defenders.  But perhaps more importantly, the Chelsea striker showed no apparent difficultly playing with a lightweight cast protecting his fractured right arm.  He was injured June 4 in a friendly with Japan.

Higher-ranked Portugal looked weak throughout the contest with star striker Ronaldo underperforming as he did during qualifying.  The world's most highly paid player had his best scoring chance in the 11th minute but his 30-meter shot hit the left goal post.

The 0-0 result gives Portugal and Ivory Coast one point each in the Group G standings.

Earlier Tuesday, New Zealand and Slovakia drew 1-1 in a Group F match.

New Zealand's tying goal by Winston Reid in extra time gave the All Whites their first World Cup point in team history.  

Although the late goal spoiled Slovakia's chance for victory, Robert Vittek will enter the history books as scoring Slovakia's first World Cup point as an independent nation.


Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.