samba boys on top
BRAZIL, who beat North Korea 2-1 last night, have specific requirements from their soccer side. Football should not only be functional but beautiful, too. They even have a phrase for it - "Joga Bonito" - meaning "playing beautifully" in Portuguese.
But how can you play the game beautifully when you can't feel the tips of your fingers, let alone the tips of your toes? Footballers need their toes; they need their feet too and when their feet have hardened to the consistency of strawberry ice lollies - as they did during last night's sub-zero temperatures in Johannesburg - the idea of the game being beautiful seems slightly far-fetched.
But play the game these two teams did. North Korea played it ultra-defensively, sometimes defending with as many as five players.
The men in yellow were game for the win but they were too conservative in attack - and the North Koreans too deep-lying - for there to be many first-half chances. Robinho and Elano, showed some deft touches, but Kaká was initially out of sorts.
While Brazil could resort to a bit of bully-boy muscle when they were occasionally stretched, they lacked the piercing thrust of, say, Germany in their match against Australia on Sunday.
North Korea's most dangerous player was their centre- forward, Jong Tae Se, though he frequently wandered about by himself without a teammate in sight.
Brazil started the second stanza with similar industry to what they'd shown in the first. Still the definitive opening eluded them until Kaká, possibly rattled by a few harsh half-time words from coach Dunga, slid a ball through to the overlapping Maicon. The fullback crossed from an acute angle and the ball swerved inside a befuddled Ri Myong Guk in the North Korea goal.
Luis Fabiano's left-footed shot whistled over, and Robinho had a hopeful pot from range. Halfway through the half Robinho popped up again, lacing a diagonal ball through the square North Korean defence for Elano to take the second Brazil goal.
Korea pulled one back when Jo Mun in-Guk struk a late goal. It was a freezing night, so it seems churlish to be overly critical of Brazil. They have pretensions to win this tournament, though, and if they remain as static they will get short shrift from better teams.